Tobias Bucknell, a Caribbean-born SF&F author, talks about why he doesn’t wear dreads.
Monthly Archives: November 2009
Warning: this review is full of spoilers.
I just couldn’t resist the premise of this book: a boarding school for the descendants of the Greek gods. I’m a sucker for books that take place in schools and particularly boarding. And come on! Greek gods! How cool is that?
Phoebe is an interesting character for YA. We often see shy, bookish protags (probably because that was what most authors were like), but Phoebe is a B student, doesn’t love to read, and her major interest is running. This book passes the Bechdel test in spades, with Phoebe’s three main female friends. Phoebe’s mom comes back from a family reunion in Greece with a fiance and a surprise move to a tiny Greek island just in time for her senior year.
There were a ton of things I liked about the book, but in the end, I didn’t quite connect with Phoebe. Her voice was a little adult at times and there were character inconsistencies that were hard for me to ignore. And the premise wasn’t executed as well as I wished. The students pretty much could just do “whatever” and the issue was only one of control. But then some people seemed to have specialized powers, so that was a little… The whole thing just seemed not terribly thought out.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who was excited by the premise or who was in the mood for a teen book with a pretty satisfying romance and a different kind of main character.
I read two romance-y books yesterday, in what seems to be a developing pattern of genre rotation, but I digress.
The first was Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. This one can’t be properly called a romance, as the emphasis was on Becca’s growth as a character and not her relationship with a certain man. I liked the book. While I am almost nothing like Becca and many of her quirks annoyed the heck out of me, I still sympathized with her and was cheering at the end as she came to her own. On the other hand, I was happy enough with the ending that I don’t want to read any of the other books. I know that Becca must, in the later books, revert to her old self in order to create interesting tension and I just don’t want to read it! Because this is a shortie review, I’ll give it a rating: 3.5/5
The second was a real romance, The Courtesan’s Daughter by Claudia Dain. This is not Jane Austen’s Regency England. Lady Sophia Dalby, an ex-courtesan, is trying to get her daughter, Lady Caroline Dalby, married. And she does it through an intense, and I mean intense, amount of manipulation. There was so much set-up for the rest of the books in the series, so many extra characters, so many viewpoints that I think it took away from the romantic plotline. Which I’m not that upset about, cause I wasn’t very fond of the hero and I’m undecided on the heroine. I will probably be reading more from this series with the hopes that I will like the other pairings better than this one! I have those high hopes because the writing was clever and the characters interesting. And the plots insane! 3/5
My brother asked an excellent question in the comments of my last post and since I’m trying to post close to every day, I thought I would respond in a new post.
“Some say you HAVE to read a book, because it’s excellent… but DO you have to read it? If instead you keep reading other excellent books instead, and you never read that book in your life, have you actually lost anything?”
Well, you’re asking a couple of different questions there. If you just look at what you’re reading, no, you haven’t lost anything. But on the social side, you are losing out on the possibility of a shared experience and good conversation. There are some people who recommend books to me that I don’t see very often. I usually file those away in the back of my brain and it’s only a little more likely that I will pick it up than if I just saw it at the store. On the other hand, when people I see regularly and talk about books regularly give me a recommendation, I really attempt to remember it. If they shove it into my hands, I will put it in my TBR pile and the guilt will poke me for not reading it until I finally break down and read it. Which, as you know, may be a while.
I used to read three or four books at once, now it’s more like one or two. And one of those books is usually a book for school. I have, in the past, started a book, not been thrilled and kept trying to plug through it hoping that it will get better any second now. Which they usually do, especially if I have it off the recommendation of someone. But I’ve learned that it’s usually better to put that book aside, read something that I’m excited about, and then pick it up later. This provides a much more satisfying reading experience and I still eventually read the book I set aside.
The last, actually first, part of your question was a question of necessity. Do I have to read it? Of course not. I don’t have to do anything. :P But the more a person raves about a book, the more they try to give it to me, the more likely I am to take it and read it.
So what about you? (That is the plural you, and not the singular I’ve been using to answer my brother!)
Aww, who’s been neglecting you, poor wittle blog? Mommy has! Yes, she has!
Anyway, I have just finished the big epic fantasy that I mentioned a while back. It was good, better than the first hundred or so pages, after which I was pretty well hooked. It is called the Name of the Wind and is by Patrick Rothluss. Here is the hero in his own words. (Excuse the long quote, but, as I often find, the beauty of prose is most poignant with context.)
“My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as ‘Quothe.’ Name are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to.
The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean ‘The Flame,’ ‘The Thunder,’ or ‘The Broken Tree.’
’The Flame’ is obvious if you’ve ever seen me. I have red hair, bright. If I had been born a couple hundred years ago I would probably have been burned as a demon. I keep it short but it’s unruly. When left to its own devices, it stick up and make me look as if I have been set afire.
’The Thunder’ I attribute to a strong baritone and a great deal of stage training at an early age.
I’ve ever thought of ‘The Broken Tree’ as very significant. Although in retrospect I suppose it could be considered at least partially prophetic.
My first mentor called me E’lir because I was clever and I knew it. My first real lover called me Dulator, because she liked the sound of it. I have been called Shadicar, Lightfinger, and Six-String. I have been called Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller. I have earned those names. Bought and paid for them.
But I was brought up as Kvothe. My father once told me it meant ‘to know.’
I have, of course, been called many other things. Most of them uncouth, although very few were unearned.
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the twon of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.” (pages 56-57)
Things I loved: it is a fantasy novel and the protag is a big damn hero, BUT you really get a sense that he hasn’t “fixed” the world and that there is a lot going on around him that he a. has no control over and b. doesn’t even necessarily know about. I think that this first thing I loved might change as the series/trilogy/I
have no idea how long it is goes on, as this first book is essentially a set up (I have a feeling it might even be the set up for the set up, though it is already setting things up and I should stop talking now), but it is a thing that I loved. From the quote above, you also know that he isn’t universally beloved. Like many real ‘heroes’, who is a hero and who is not depends entirely on who you ask.
Thematically, I loved this book. Rothfuss is questioning what makes a hero, which is a question my favorite book (The Last Unicorn) also takes on. He is also tackling what unmakes a hero, which is just as wonderful a question. See below for an example of the gorgeosity of his wonderments.
Also, holy carp, that prose. It’s intelligent: from near the end of the book (but spoiler free, of course): “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always . All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” (pg 716) It’s also beautiful, as I think I have already proven. And, lastly, it’s often funny! “I also felt guilty about the three pens I’d stolen. And since there was no convenient way to give them back, I stole a bottle of ink before I left.” This is a book written by a guy who thinks about life and about people and he does some really amazing things with his words.
Of course, it was written by a guy, and while I really enjoyed the female characters and thought they were interesting and wanted to learn more about them… I didn’t get to. The main female lead is a romantic one that Kvothe worships. And ya’ll know how much I love it when a guy worships a gal!* (*pukes*) There are four(?) other female characters who have any significance in the book: Kvothe’s mother, his loan shark, a peer, and a… girl who is hard to describe. To compare numbers, I count well over ten male characters of similar significance. Also, all four (five, including the romantic lead) are, in different ways, very attractive, which would enough to raise flags by itself, to be honest. There are huge swaths of the book where women don’t show up at all, including the time in the inn. And lastly, it seems like women are very rarely in positions of power. For instance, all of the masters at the University are male. So it fails a bit on that front, although not nearly as badly as many other things I have read. It also doesn’t, to my memory, mention anybody who’s not white. So, you know.
Honestly, I hate to keep harping on this subject. I would love to not feel I have to mention this lack that keeps appearing. But as long as it does, I will keep talking about it.
But all in all, I am ever so glad I read it and it was well worth getting past the first hundred pages or so. I should mention that the first hundred pages are far from bad, and looking back it was a wonderful way to start the novel, just that they didn’t grip me. As usual, if anybody would like to borrow it from me, just let me know! I will need to hold on to it, though, because I think this is one I’m going to reread at least once. And I think I’m going to buy the sequel as soon as it’s out in paperback. Or maybe when it’s out at all. ;___;
*For anybody who might not know, when I see that what I see is a guy who wants to get to know a girl because he wants to get into her pants (essentially). I don’t see a guy who wants to get in a girl’s pants because he knows her. And all too often, though this isn’t the case with Kvothe imo, the guy doesn’t actually really want to get to know the girl. He just wants to worship her. And get in her pants.