Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit

I was recently recommended Wraeththu, an omnibus edition of the Wraeththu Chronicles trilogy by Storm Constantine (consisting of The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, and The Fulfillments of Fate and Desire). I'd never heard of these books, which were inspired by Goth culture and written in the late 1980's, but now that I've read the first one, I'm really glad I did - it's now one of my favorite books of all time!

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit is the testament of a Wraeththu by the name of Pellaz. As a young boy, Pellaz had heard horror stories of this mysterious new race known as the Wraeththu who stole boys away from their families. One day a young man named Cal comes to town and stays with Pellaz's family. Pellaz knows in his heart that Cal is one of the Wraeththu, and finding him to be beautiful and fascinating, he leaves with Cal to become one of them.

The Wraeththu are a race created by the blood of a mutant human, known as the Aghama, who has become a sort of god to them. They are both male and female, are more beautiful than humans, and possess some "magical" abilities such as telepathy. While they always think of themselves as being better than the humans, the Wraeththu are still part human and are not as immune to creating gender barriers and being emotional as they would like to think they are.

Thiede, a very powerful and well-known Wraeththu, takes an interest in Pellaz and it is his genes that are used to make Pellaz into a Wraeththu. Pellaz excels in his studies, and together he and Cal travel to many different Wraeththu tribes, each having its own unique culture, so Pellaz can learn from them. They are happy for a while, but it turns out Thiede has his own plans for Pellaz, which have some rather tragic consequences.

This is a beautifully written book with a very classical Victorian feel to it. It is at times rather poetic and reminiscent of classical literature, but without the hard-to-wade-through wordiness that is often associated with older books.

This is not an action packed story, which is not to say that nothing ever happens, but it does focus a lot on the characters, their relationships with each other, and what it means to be a Wraeththu. The characters all seem real and each has their own unique personality. I loved them all, especially Pellaz, through whose eyes we see the story unfold.

This book had me mesmerized by page 3. I did not want to put The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit down. When I got to the end, I wanted to read it all over again (but there were two more books left, so I went forward instead!). It was one of those books where I did not rush through it but often read the same passage a couple of times. When I finished it, I went back and reread parts of it. I thought about the characters and story for days. It's not a book I'll forget about quickly, and being immersed in the world Constantine created with her well-drawn characters is a pleasure.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Telling

The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin is a part of her Hainish Cycle, a collection of science fiction stories that do not need to be read in any particular order (at least from what I've heard). I was pleasantly surprised since all I had read by Le Guin were the first three Earthsea books, and while I liked them well enough, I wasn't overwhelmingly impressed by them. However, The Telling has definitely made me want to pick up more of the books in the Hainish Cycle.

Sutty is an Observer living on a world that wants so badly to be modern that they have banned the past. Owning and reading books, using certain expressions when speaking, and being different from what is acceptable will get people sent to reconditioning camps. Sutty is sent to a backwoods town to learn about the people there, who do keep the old ways through their idealistic religion known as The Telling. Knowledge is encouraged in this little society, where people tell stories and keep to the old ways.

The story is short but elegantly written and Le Guin manages to say more in 231 pages than many authors do in books 3 times the length. I was not sure if I would like something that short because I really like character-driven stories and that many pages is not normally enough to delve into the development of a character. This was not a character-driven story, but it was very thoughtfully done and gives a lot to think about on issues such as religion, understanding people outside of societal norms, capitalism, and throwing away knowledge.

It is also refreshing that Le Guin writes a more unique story than a lot of American authors writing in science fiction and fantasy today. The main character is an Asian female who was in a relationship with somebody of the same sex, and the cultures in the book have a strong Eastern influence. I had to keep reminding myself that Eastern religions were very different, because I had a very hard time at first seeing The Telling as an actual religion instead of just a communal way of life. It is supposed to be an ideal, but it is so far from what I've known as religion that I couldn't see it as fitting into the definition of "religion" at first.

The Telling is a compelling and thought provoking book that is unique compared to a lot of what is out there. It was not an action packed story with excellent character development, but it was a book that I came away from feeling like it had given me a lot to think about.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Coming Up

Unforunately, I haven't had that much time lately and am a little behind. I've still been reading when I can, though - right after The Name of the Wind, I read The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin and now I am reading The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, the first book in the Wraeththu trilogy by Storm Constantine. I'll have to get a review of The Telling up here soon.

Wraeththu was highly recommended by a friend and thus far it is quite compelling.

The Name of the Wind

If you haven't heard by now, The Name of the Wind is the much-hyped fantasy debut by Patrick Rothfuss and Day One of a trilogy called The Kingkiller Chronicle. I heard so much about this book that I was afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations, but it certainly did.

The book covers the first day of a three-day long story as related by the main character Kvothe to Chronicler. Kvothe grew up in a troupe of travelling actors and musicians, which allows him to meet an Arcanist who piques his interest in studying at the University. When he is older, Kvothe is accepted at the University, where he excels at his studies yet manages to get into enough mischief to upset some of his professors and make his life rather difficult.

The story is exceptionally engaging and well-written - after suffering through so many badly written debut novels, I found it very hard to believe that this was Rothfuss's first novel. Honestly, it was better written than a lot of novels, regardless of whether or not the author has had a lot of practice. The words just flowed off the page and Rothfuss did an excellent job of giving detail without overwhelming readers with too much.

The character of Kvothe is rather well done. For a while, I was afraid he was going to turn out to be one of those perfect characters that annoyed me since he was so exceptionally brilliant. However, he still had some flaws (such as recklessness and failure to think before speaking/acting) and since he had to work at least somewhat to gain what knowledge he did have, it was believable. He may have picked things up fast, but you do hear about people who are like that sometimes.

Another high point of this novel were some of the humorous conversations between Kvothe and his friends. It wasn't overdone, but it was certainly necessary once in a while since our story was not always happy (and hearing them talk about their professors reminded me of a few of mine).

I also really enjoyed how fantasy was parodied in this book. Once in a while, it would seem to be heading toward some sort of cliche, and then things would turn out differently than I had expected.

There really is not much bad I can say about this book. The only problem I had with it was that there were a couple of points where the story seemed to be moving a little slowly, but neither of those times lasted for very long.

The hints in the book to what's coming up in the next book certainly piqued my interest, and I can't wait for the second part of the trilogy to come out!