Monday, July 20, 2009

Doomsday Book

By Connie Willis.

I should probably say up front that I liked Eifelheim better. More about that in a bit.

This book is about a determined young student who manages to convince... someone... that she should be allowed to travel to the 14th century. Of course, you know from the beginning that it can only go downhill from there...

What I liked: As a disaster story, it's not much good if you don't care about the characters. The problem is that I didn't care much about the modern characters, only the medieval ones (and Kivrin and maybe Mr. Dunworthy). Despite all the things I didn't like, it's quite readable. You get history as part of the deal.

What I didn't like: It's a disaster story, and it's depressing. The end isn't any kind of triumph, just survival. Too many characters are introduced too quickly which makes it a little hard to keep track of who's who and who's important. The Middle English dialogue is just short of impenetrable but fortunately you get to read it in translation after a little while. The theology is heretical or worse (Dunworthy thinks that God wouldn't have sent his son if he had known what would happen, and that he didn't stop it because he couldn't). On the trivial side, the phones seem very dated next to a future that has time travel and (kind of) advanced medicine.

It's inevitable that Eifelheim is compared to this book. They both involve parallel stories between the present (or future) and the Middle Ages. There is also a priest in both who turns out to be a good guy (the one in Doomsday Book isn't nearly as intellectual but he has a servant's heart). Eifelheim, though, seems to go somewhere with the story, while the characters in Doomsday Book end up almost where they started, perhaps slightly wiser, but really just alive. (Except for the ones who die.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009


By Aprilynne Pike.

The first time I picked this book up, I put it down again because of the uninspiring description, which ended: "... everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever." I figured if the book was really special, they would have been able to highlight something more intriguing than that vague promise.

The second time, I decided to give it a chance and started reading. I enjoyed seeing the little mysteries surrounding Laurel and was particularly amused by her brand of denial. I also liked how she develops friendships, with her friends helping to draw her out of seclusion.

You should be able to guess what I didn't like. (Ask if you want to know.) It also seemed to force the plot slightly, answering some questions in an entirely unsatisfactory manner. I also didn't like the name dropping scene near the middle: it wasn't nearly as convincing as the process of discovery Laurel goes through before and after that point.

Overall? I ended up enjoying this quite a bit more than I expected when I first saw it, but will still be hesitant about picking up the sequels. (Four books are planned for the series.)

And now a plug for the 2009 Debutantes: As you may have noticed, quite a few of the books I've read this year have been gleaned from this LiveJournal community for debut young adult and middle grade authors. Not only is it a great way to find new authors (there's also a 2010 community), these books often lack many of the elements I find unpalatable in "adult" books. The downside is that, being debuts, you generally have to wait a year to read another book by any of them. Take a look at their books.