12.12–Shaman’s Crossing

I just realized that I’m only on my 12th blog of the year. Kind of sad considering how many books I read last year. I will try to be more on top of both reading and blogging.

The novel about which I post today I picked up in the airport as I was leaving Belfast for Barcelona.  I felt a desperate need for high fantasy that was nearly unquenchable the entire time I was in Ireland.  Unable to find a book quite small enough to carry about with me, I settled on Shaman’s Crossing because Robin Hobb was a name I knew from working in the bookstore. Sadly, it was not at all the fantasy I desired.  Having my high expectations dashed by the book I choose seems to be a common theme these days. Still, it wasn’t bad and it certainly wasn’t boring.

Hobb’s novel tells the story of a boy named Nevarre, who has known his destiny from the moment of his father’s promotion to noble status. As a second son, he is destined for the King’s cavalla (the cavalry of the nation) and a glorious future as an officer in the military.  But his father’s well-intentioned hiring of a savage instructor to give Nevarre’s military education a (somewhat unfair) boost results in a change to Nevarre’s character that haunts and hounds him for the rest of the novel.  He is possessed by an old spirit that tugs him against his loyalties and his destiny.  It sounds as though the reader should have a clear idea of which side of him they’d like to win, but in reality I was very torn. I felt, almost, that I was rooting for the wrong side at all times.

Hobb’s novel has an interesting and somewhat unique plot, though the style in which it’s written is somewhat generic and dull.  There is not much about her writing style or word choice to latch on to.  She tells the story and that’s that.  The cast of characters that she creates, especially Nevarre’s roguish cousin Epiny, is varied and well-rounded, with plenty of heroes to encourage and villains to hate. Nevarre’s patrol-mates have a lot of learning to do over the course of the novel, and they each deal differently with the suffering inflicted on them by the older cadets in the academy.  Hobb has a decent grasp of human psychology, and the myriad possible ways different people can react to the same situation.  Though the novel is ultimately about Nevarre, she has a very large group of characters to develop and maintain, and she does this very well.

Epiny is in a class of her own. By far my favorite character of all, she is everything a proper Victorian lady is not.  She is loud and out-spoken, spoiled, flighty, flirty, and a dabbler in the occult arts.  This practice is encouraged by her mother, who sees it as a way to court favor with the Queen, and despised by her father as a dangerous phase that could get his senseless daughter in trouble. Despite the fact that everyone views her as unruly, stubborn, and somewhat airheaded, Epiny proves that she has both a sharp mind and genuine conjuring powers. In a book that can at times be very heavy, dark, and unsettling, Epiny is usually the lighthearted comic relief that always comes at much-needed moments.

Being a book that is almost 600 pages long, a detailed account of the plot would be too onerous. All I’ll say is that, of course, Nevarre’s path goes wildly off course (isn’t that always the way of it?) and he must use everything he’s learned in his short experience to defeat both corporeal and phantom enemies.  It is sluggish at times, but for the most part was an entertaining read. If you’re looking for a novel to read on your vacation this summer, this one is interesting enough to keep you piqued and long enough to last you a whole trip.

Advertisements

12.11–The Pirate Queen

I picked up this book in a tourist shop with an assortment of Irish interest books.  The back cover text makes it seem a lot more exciting than it really is. It is a historical book whose enticing teaser text invites the reader to enter the exciting, adventurous, romantic world of Grace O’Malley–the Pirate Queen. In the 16th century, Grace unofficially ruled the west coast of Ireland with her armada. Theoretically this book should have been really interesting, but sadly it was more a history of the conflict between the Irish and the English.  Grace herself occasionally surfaced in the book, and all the events sort of centered around her, but it wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy my desire for a really good pirate story. The history was interesting, but not what I wanted to read about.

Since probably no one is going to read this book, I won’t spend much time on reviewing it. I don’t even know if it’s available in the US. Maybe it is, but honestly I’d pass it by. There are other, better books about pirates out there.

12.10–Fire

Fire by Kristin Cashore was fantastic in a way that only action-filled, sexually charged teen lit can be.  I read a lot of reviews that condemned the novel for being too mature for teen audiences, but I disagree whole-heartedly.  Fire is 17 year old, is burdened with more than her fair share of unusual problems, and yet suffers the same fears and insecurities as the general teenage population.

I’m getting to an ago where teen lit is a guilty pleasure.  Five years out of teenager-hood, I should be over it. But I still find myself craving it often, mostly because it is fast-paced, fun, interesting, and lacks the forced introspective depth that a great deal of adult literature writers feel it necessary to stuff into their novels. Fire gave me exactly what I was looking for in a novel.  Stuck in the middle of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I needed to find a book that would actually encourage me to like reading again. So I bought it in an Eason in Dublin, and cracked it open immediately, feeling the soothing balm of an engaging story ease my mind and bring a smile to my face.

Fire is the second book by Kristin Cashore set in the same world as Graceling (also amazing) but on the other side of the mountains in a land known as The Dells. The main character is also called Fire, so named because of the color of her hair. In The Dells there are monsters, creatures that look like normal animals except for the fact that their fur or feathers or scales are brightly and unusually colored–magenta, marigold, purple, jade, turquoise, etc.  They are also extremely vicious, and even monsters whose animal counterparts are usually very mild hunger for the flesh of humans and other monsters alike.  Fire is half monster, the result of the union of her insane monster father and one of his human sexual conquests.  She can read peoples’ thoughts and emotions, and even control the minds of weak individuals or collected groups.  She is also extraordinarily beautiful, and men often go wild at the sight of her, either with lust or with hatred.  However, she is part human, and is therefore appalled by her father’s behavior and, for most of her life before the events of the novel, refuses to use her powers at all.  As the political situation in her kingdom deteriorates, she finds herself faced with the choice of using her power to help save her country or watch as it all falls apart.  Either way she risks losing the people she loves.

Of course, being in the Graceling trilogy, there is a romance involved as well.  Fire grows up alongside her best friend Archer, who eventually becomes her lover. But though he constantly proposes to her, is jealously protective, and wants nothing more than to spend forever with her, she is never able to love him in the same way. Instead, she finds throughout the novel that a romance is blossoming between her and someone very different from Archer.  It’s quite sweet and innocent, and I fear I don’t understand my fellow reviewers who seem to thing Fire is a slut.  Yes, she sleeps with Archer.  But she’s only with two men, one of which she marries (we assume).  Except to the ultra-religious, that number (ahem, 2) is extremely low–lower than the number of lovers a lot of teenagers will have. So let’s just reserve our judgement, shall we?

I enjoyed Fire as a character a great deal.  I saw a little bit of myself in her. Extremely beautiful, plagued  by the attention of men…totally kidding.  Her fears and reservations, her insecurities–what girl doesn’t go through those things?  Despite the fact that she’s a monster and therefore not quite human, and incredibly lovely, she suffers the same things as women everywhere.  She doubts the love and intentions of others because of the power she unwillingly has over others.  She is lonely. She is faced with very difficult choices. She worries over the people she loves.  She’s tough, but still delicate enough to be feminine and alluring.  She’s loyal and protective.  And she’s interesting, because at the end of the day, her biggest problems set her apart from us regular humans, and one can’t help but compare her reactions to what oneself might do in her situation.

I wish I could do more justice to how much I loved this book. It is extremely emotional, and Cashore is adept at making the reader feel what Fire is feeling.  In the midst of tragedy, the reader is heartbroken. In romance, the reader’s heart is full and excited with the hope that maybe they’ll have that someday (or maybe they already do?).  In times of fear, the reader fears for Fire and her loved ones.  For regular Bibliography readers, this is a common theme in the blogs about books that I really love: it absolutely has to make me feel some kind of emotion. If it manifests itself physically (tears, a sigh, catching my breath, etc.) then it is truly an effective and moving piece to me.  This is one of my favorite things about this novel, and Cashore wins major points.

As I said, it’s the second book in a trilogy.  I highly recommend this book, but you will definitely want to start by reading Graceling (Book 1 of the trilogy).  Have fun and enjoy it! Great book!

12.6–Matched

Matched by Allie Condie is an interesting story that I enjoyed reading, but it is by no means creative. In fact, it seems to be almost a carbon copy of The Giver, just updated for the 21st century. The technology is definitely more advanced, and there is the added detail of the romance, rather than a relationship between an old man and a young boy. But the similarities are too many for this to be considered a unique novel.

Cassia is a teenage girl living in The Society in a time not given to the reader. The novel opens with her Matching Banquet–the night on which she will discover who The Society had decided is her perfect marriage partner. Cassia’s situation is unique in that her Match is someone she knows; it is her beat friend Xander. But that night when she is alone, another face appears on her screen as her perfect match–the handsome and quietly mysterious Ky. After this revelation, Cassia must decide if she will follow the will of The Society or break all the rules and attempt to be with a person who is not considered her match.

Aside from the romance and Cassia’s struggle to decide who her man should be, the book is basically The Giver. There is a government that decides who owns what, who marries whom, how many children one may have, etc. each house is identical. Clothes are identical. There are “ports” in each house which resemble the screens in 1984, and they are a way for the government to monitor people and communicate with them.

Cassia has always believed that the government makes no mistakes and knows exactly what is best for everyone. When she sees the mistake made in her Match he begins to doubt their wisdom and her perfect world begins to crack. Unfortunately, Cassie is not a very well written character and the reader struggles to empathize with her dilemma. I wish I’d been able to like her more, but she just wasn’t deep or fascinating enough to make me care.

Despite its lack of creativity, it was an enjoyable, fast-paced read. Despite it being a romance, I didn’t want to kill anyone like I did when I read Twilight. As flat as she was, at least
Cassia was willing to fight for what she wanted.

In summary, not the most brilliant novel I’ve read, but I liked it enough to finish the series.

Week 11–Uglies

This week’s book was a quick, YA read (I know, I know, two in a row…the next is a book for grown-ups AND a bestseller, so be patient).  I just snatched Uglies by Scott Westerfeld off my shelf on the way to work one day, which is how I ended up reading two YA novels back to back.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0689865384&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrThis is one of those novels that’s received a lot of hype, and seemed to have an extremely interesting premise, so I decided to read it.  One of the things I need to learn is not to pick up a book based on reputation alone. It was a good story, but the writing was not great.  One may offer the excuse of Well yeah, but it’s written for teenagers.  As Jennifer Donnelly proved with Revolution, and John Green proved with Looking for Alaska, a YA novelist doesn’t have to sacrifice elevated language in order to appeal to a youthful audience.

Tally Youngblood lives in a time at least three hundred years from our present day.  Everyone between the age of 12 and 16 is considered an “ugly” simply for being normal and having an unaltered appearance.  On their sixteenth birthday, all kids undergo major reconstructive surgery to make them biologically perfect to other humans–perfectly symmetrical, with the most appealing size and color eyes, lips, and nose, a healthy and steady weight and figure, and a nearly inhuman elegance of movement–the purpose being for everyone to look the same and therefore finally be equal.  Tally meets Shay three months before either of them are to undergo the operation, and Shay speaks of taboo things like being ugly forever. When Shay runs away to a fabled haven for uglies who do not want to turn “pretty”–known as The Smoke–Tally is given the choice by the authorities to either go after Shay as a spy and reveal the location of this secret settlement, or remain ugly forever. As Tally gets to know the Smokies, she learns disturbing truths about what it means to be pretty, and struggles with whether or not to betray her new-found friends.

Like I said, it’s a fascinating premise, and the plot is fast-paced and gripping.  I have to confess that, although I consider myself adept at predicting plot, there were a few events that caught me completely by surprise.  Tally is a quick thinker and quite a bit braver than she believes herself to be.  However, I wish the characters–Tally, Shay, David, etc.–had been more developed and 3-dimensional.  Tally evolved a little bit through the novel, that being one of the purposes of the book, but I could have done with more.

I’d say if you’re really into this sort of thing, read it. Otherwise, pass it up.