Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hope's Folly Is Out Today/Update

Hope's Folly
, the third book in Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five series, is out today. The copy I pre-ordered is now on its way! This one is about Philip instead of Chaz and Sully. As much as I liked Philip, I'm a little worried he'll be too normal and uncomplicated to carry a whole book for me (which is why I preferred Gabriel's Ghost/Shades of Dark over An Accidental Goddess - the characters in the latter were much more normal with fewer complicated, darker issues than the former). Guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Over the weekend, I started a review on Catherine Asaro's The Charmed Sphere, the first book in The Misted Cliff fantasy series. It looks like I may not have a lot of time to make progress on it this week, unfortunately - but I'm hoping I'm wrong about that. The next books in the review queue after that one are:
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore (had to read this before the movie came out)
  • A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
  • Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (I'm about halfway through this one now and really enjoying it now that it's gotten going)
After Moon Called, I'll be starting Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower in preparation for the March Blogger Book Club.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dead Witch Walking Review

Finally done with work and groceries and have gone through and read all the comments from both reviews, so here is where you go to read my guest dare review of Dead Witch Walking over at The Book Smugglers. For Rachel Morgan fans, there is lots about her over there - reviews of all the books, including White Witch, Black Curse which is not out until later this month, and an interview with Kim Harrison.

If you haven't yet, be sure to check out Ana and Thea's excellent review of Melusine.

Guest Review: Melusine

Recently, Ana and Thea of The Book Smugglers asked me to participate in one of their features, the guest dare. Every month they dare someone to read and review a book they may not read otherwise (which is a fabulous idea and a lot of fun!). So today I'm over at their blog with a review of Dead Witch Walking, the first book in one of Thea's favorite urban fantasy series, The Hollows by Kim Harrison. In return, I dared them to read the first book in one of my favorite series, Melusine by Sarah Monette (The Doctrine of Labyrinth #1).

These two wrote a fantastic review on the book, as always - very in depth and insightful, straightforward and honest, and lots of fun to read. Give a warm welcome to Thea and Ana!


Author: Sarah Monette

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Publisher: Ace
Publishing Date: June 27th 2006
Paperback: 496 pages

Stand Alone/Series: Book 1 in the Doctrine of Labyrinths series (currently 3 books published with the 4th and apparently, final, book to be published in 2009).

Why did we read the book: We dared Kristen to read Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison and Kristen dared us back!

Summary: (from Amazon.com)
Mélusine-a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption, and destinies lost and found...

Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But the horrors of his past as an abused slave have returned, and threaten to destroy all he has since become.

As a cat burglar, Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. But now he has been caught by a wizard. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay, but for Felix Harrowgate...

Thrown together by fate, these unlikely allies will uncover a shocking secret that will link them inexorably together.


First Impressions:

Ana: I confess that when Kristen dared us to read a Dark Fantasy I trembled inside. Dark Fantasy is not one of my genres of choice but considering that the whole purpose of these dares is to get us out of our comfort zones, I decided to man-up, take a deep breath and read away. To my surprise, within the first two PAGES, I was completely captivated by Mildmay, one of the two main characters and as I kept on reading, this feeling only grew exponentially to also include the uniqueness of the world I was stepping in and the author’s distinctive narrative voice (or rather, voices).

Thea: Unlike Ana, I am a sucker for books (or films, or whatever) of a darker nature. I'm not much for happy endings, and I'm a bit of a sadist with my characters--I like it when they suffer a little bit. After talking with Kristen about darker fantasy novels and she decided to finally read Kushiel's Dart (one of my personal favorites) she recommended Melusine to us. I eagerly ripped into this novel, and at once fell in love with co-narrator Mildmay. Melusine is an enjoyable novel set in an intriguing city in a world of magic. I have to agree that the biggest strength of this novel is Ms. Monette's convincing voice for both main characters, Mildmay and Felix, making Melusine a unique read.

On the Plot:

Felix Harrowgate is a powerful, arrogant young wizard of the Mirador – the upper fortress, the political and magical centre of the city of Melusine - who seems to have everything: power, respect, the love of his lover Lord Shannon and the jealousy of those that can’t stand him. But all comes crumbling down in one single night, as the book opens, when his enemy Lord Robert, tells everyone his worst secret: that his past is a sham, he is no lord and that he used to be a whore from the lower parts of the city. Suddenly all of the darkness of Felix’s past comes rushing back and he makes a series of mistakes that takes him back into the hold of his former master Malkar who uses Felix ( in a ritual that is violent and dark) and his power to break the Virtu, a crystal that contains the magic of the Mirador. Malkar then binds Felix with a compulsion spell that prevents him from telling anyone the truth about who broke the Virtu and which sends him into madness hell.

Mildmay, the Fox is a cat burglar and former hired assassin who accepts a new commission from a young woman called Ginevra and falls in love with her. Their path cross with a blood witch called Vey Coruscant with tragic consequences. When things start to heat up in the Mirador and past seems to be catching up with Mildmay, he ends up with a new commission by a wizard, away from Melusine and which will lead him to Felix Harrowgate – when the two parallel stories will finally converge.

Ana: Plot-wise Melusine is a very simple affair: not very much happens in the way of moving the plot forward from the moment Malkar breaks the Virtu using Felix’s power and his descent into madness and Mildmay’s path that will inevitably lead him to Felix.

What is complex is the world-building and the narrative itself. The book opens and we are right bang into action with Felix being shunned by his peers after Robert exposes Felix’s past and it all feel very abrupt. There is absolutely zero preparation, no info dump, no buttering up for the set up of the story. It is as if, the reader is supposed to be part of this world and in the know already about the Magic, the terms the characters use, the different orders and lineages and heresies - and as much as I like this writing technique (who likes info-dump?), I sometimes felt lost. And it was extremely frustrating because I wanted.to.know.more – about the decadence of Melusine and the obvious ignorance of the wizards of the Mirador, for example.

Although it is clear that the author has this incredible world she created I thought she failed in some aspects to convey these details to the reader. It was as if, I was standing outside this amazing Christmas shop with the most fascinating toys inside that I would never be able to touch. There were only glimpses of this world in the small droplets of information the characters deemed to give me. For example, I still have no clue what exactly the Bastion is and what is the different between the Bastion and the other order of magicians or even if the Bastian IS an order.

At the very least, I would have welcomed a dictionary of terms ( I still have no idea what the frak a septad means) and a map (a map! I SO needed a map!) .

With regards to the narrative: this is where Melusine shines brilliantly. It alternates between Felix’s and Mildmay’s – both in first person - and each voice is completely distinct, coming from different places but equally gripping. If I was to judge this book based on the narrative alone? It would have been a resounding 10.

Thea: What Ana said. Plot-wise, nothing really happens in this book. Everything happens in the opening of the novel. Melusine begins with crash as Felix is exposed for his past as a whore, and he reverts to his cruel former abuser's comfort, and then is brutally placed under a spell and his magic used to break the Virtu. Subsequently, Felix goes batshit insane...and spends the rest of the novel (some 400 pages) in this state. Mildmay goes through his day to day shenanigans, eventually meets up with Felix and they skip town together. Simplicity is not a bad thing at all, but the plotting of this novel is unremarkable. It's with the characters that Melusine draws its strength. This is all fine and good...but I'm a sucker for heavy, twisting plotting, and I wish there was MORE going on.

That said, the world Ms. Monette creates is fantastic, lush and darkly appealing. Melusine is a city of decadent wizard lords and cutthroat thieves, with bleak people and an awe and fear of the magic that surrounds them. The depictions of the city and the people in it, their customs and fears were wonderful--I loved especially Mildmay's illustration of life beneath the Mirador as a former kept-thief. The ruling court of Melusine is as many courts are portrayed in fantasy novels--petty, corrupt and self-absorbed with games of power and control.

I do, however, have to agree with Ana's assessment. I caught glimpses of this wonderful world but was never allowed to appreciate it fully. Ana used the kid looking inside the christmas toy shop analogy--I'll be the hungry scrawny kid, looking at cafe diners eating delicious food on a cold winter's night. The smells, the sights waft out to me, but I'm never allowed to taste the delicious smorgasbord of delicacies. Such is Melusine. There was a lot of potential, a lot of teasing, but never enough information to really comprehend this world. And a MAP, a map, my kingdom for a map! So many locations are talked about and traveled to, and I dearly wish that there was a map to give a more tangible picture of this city and the other realms of the land. Even something this small would have been an invaluable addition to the story.

My only other gripe was how unfinished things felt with this novel, and how many characters and plot lines seemed to be dropped completely. What happened to Gideon and Mavortian, and everyone else? How about Malkar's fate? WHY did he want to break the Virtu in the first place? So many motivations, so many plotlines were dropped completely, and I assume they will be picked up in the next novel...but the manner they were just shrugged off was incredibly frustrating for me here.

On the Characters:

Ana: This is strictly speaking, a character-driven book. It alternates between Felix and Midlmay’s POV – and where one is engulfed in darkness and despair and madness and misery, the other has a conspicuous levity and sense of humour that contrasts with his own inner demons. Both characters go through a lot and even though Mildmay is by far my favourite and the most sympathetic of the duo, after great consideration I came to the conclusion that it is Felix’s journey that is the meat and bones of this book: and the greatest trumps of Melusine. What makes it unique. Because his narrative is 99% madness. The very few moments we have a small glimpse of a sane Felix, all we see is an arrogant, pompous ass with self-destructive and violent tendencies, who is ashamed of his past and who wears a mask in public. When is driven insane by the spell Malkar sets on him – and he is AWARE that he is going insane, he is aware that he has a compulsion spell that prevents him from the speaking what needs to be spoken to absolve him from everything people accuse him of - he is stripped of this mask and all that there is left is a man and his fears and own demons and it is very basal , primary even that he keeps going back in his mind to his horrible childhood when he was a kept-thief and was horribly abused and sold, and slaved, and raped.

Felix narrative is made of repetition: of monsters everywhere and of creeping darkness but it is this very repetition that makes it so gut-wrenching. A strong man that is reduced to tears and to begging and is absolutely horrifying. As much as I adored Mildmay’s voice and heart and cunning smarts (or giant stupidity depending on the way you look at it) , I kept turning the pages because I wanted to read about what was happening to Felix and how he was going to get away from it all.

When the two character’s path converge I KNEW what was going to happen what they would mean to each other – and I was extremely happy that I was right. Mildmay’s immediate acceptance of the reality and Felix’s reluctance were much attuned to these characters as well and I want to read more of what will happen to these two.

Thea: This is indeed a character-driven book, alternating between Mildmay's and Felix's point of views. I found myself drastically preferring Mildmay's frank and hilarious narration to Felix's repetition, and unlike Ana, I found myself rushing through boring crazy Felix to get to more Mildmay. Honestly, I could care less for the insane and pompous Felix--of course this is a personal opinion made of a fictional character. In terms of writing, Felix is certainly written well. He hides behind his layers of deception since his past as a whore on the streets of Melusine, pretending to be a high born lord--and when his deceptions are stripped bare, Felix is weak and alone, turning to his tormentors for comfort and then driven to madness. Felix is weakness personified--he is a deeply flawed character, and I applaud Ms. Monette for writing someone so unlikable. For all that I found myself irritated with Felix's intrinsic weakness, it made him all the more real and tangible as a character.
I took my clothes off, deliberately, one garment at a time, not looking at Mildmay, giving him his chance to stare his fill at the wasteland of my back.

He said nothing until I was settled in the tub, my knees practically up around my ears. Then, as I was working the soap into a later, he said in a quiet, careful voice, "What happened?"


"The guy who...?"


It was a comfortless lie, but I could not admit that being a kept-thief, so commonplace to him, had damaged me so deeply. If I told the truth now, he would remember I had not told the truth earlier, and that would tell its own tale as clearly as my scars did. Let Malkar bear the weight of blame.

We were silent for a while as I applied soap vigorously, and then he said, "I got my face laid open in a knife fight."

I looked at him; he met my eyes steadily. "They thought it would heal okay, but it got infected. This side of my face ain't moved right since."

No wonder he would not smile. I looked away, scalding with shame. He had answered my lie with truth, my silence with honesty. I plunged my head underwater, but I did not feel cleaner when I came back up.

Such is Felix, and the relationship between these two characters. Infuriating, selfish Felix, assuming that his experience as a kept-thief was so much more traumatic than Mildmay's; that Mildmay's experiences on the street are "commonplace". Such is Mildmay, with his open acceptance of Felix, despite his madness (though this is one of his saner moments) and his haughtiness. The relationship is skewed, but coldly realistic with one character determined to give and the other to take.

My only writing gripe with Felix was how repetitive his narrative was. This book is nearly 500 pages long, and half of that is devoted to Felix saying the exact same things over and over again--seeing animal heads and colors in his madness. For the first 100 narratives or so, this was a novel and fascinating technique, but after reading it every other page, it becomes extremely tiresome.

In contrast, Mildmay (or Milly-Fox, as he calls himself sometimes), was what made the book for me. A thief with a troubled past, Mildmay wears his scarred face with an honesty and humor that makes him irresistible as a protagonist. He tells stories, narrates with a crude voice, and yes, faces his own inner demons in this book. Although he's seen as a murderer and lower than scum in seemingly everyone's eyes in Melusine, he has much greater strength than the supposedly high-born and noble Felix. Mildmay does not pretend to be something he's not, and he meets criticism head-on, knowing everything he did was to survive. And I can get on board with that. Many times I felt compelled to skim Felix's sections, but never so with Mildmay. Needless to say, I'm a huge fan.

Final Thoughts, Recommendation and rating:

Ana: For all of its narrative splendour, beautifully draw characters there was something …hollow about Melusine. It is as if all the potential I felt, especially with regards to the world building were never truly explored. In the end, after many hours of turning the pages rather rapturously the one question that I had in mind was “is that it?” and not “where can I get the next book”. Still, I recommend the book, and I will most definitely be reading the next one…I will just not be running to be book store to get it.

Thea: I enjoyed and liked Melusine for the well-written characters and especially for the narrative voices of the novel. But I have to agree with Ana--I felt as though something was missing from this book. Perhaps this is because of the lackluster plot, or the dropped storylines, perhaps it was something more, the literary equivalent of a soul? I don't know. I did like this book though, I just saw the potential for much more. I will, however, definitely pick up book 2, The Virtu, and give the series another go.

Notable quotes/ Parts:

Ana:I loved when FINALLY the stupid wizards from the Mirador realised that Felix was under a spell and were able to help him. I actually clapped my hands when he left the asylum. The build-up was so tense, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Thea: I loved the section where Mildmay, Bernard and Mavortian are traveling down the Sim and run across the lake monster, the Kalliphorne. For safe passage they must help her sick husband. It's a creepy, fantastic scene.



Thea: 7 Very Good

Thank you, Kristen, for the lovely opportunity! It was a blast!

Thank you for the guest dare idea and the fabulous review, Ana and Thea! It was definitely a lot of fun!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tomorrow is Guest Dare Day

Wednesday the 18th is the day Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers are reviewing Melusine over here, and I'll be over there with a review of Dead Witch Walking. Their review will be up tomorrow morning. I'll be gone at work all day tomorrow and after that I desperately need to go grocery shopping, but when I get back I'll put up the link to the review on their blog. At least I should be back earlier than tonight... it's 10 and I haven't even had dinner yet (of course, I ordered food when I got back an hour and a half ago and it's still not here yet).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Review of Inside Straight

Inside Straight is the first of a trilogy of newer books set in the Wild Cards universe of superheroes. The sequel, Busted Flush, was released in December 2008 and the next book, Suicide Kings, should be released around December 2009. There are also 17 older books in the series, and most of these are written as anthologies containing contributions by several different authors. Inside Straight is also a compilation novel, a complete story with portions written by Daniel Abraham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn, Michael Cassutt, Caroline Spector, John Jos. Miller, George R. R. Martin, Ian Tregillis, and S. L. Farrell.

Wild Cards take place in our world with one big difference: shortly after World War II, an alien virus that changes human DNA swept through the world. This virus killed 90% of people affected, but 9% only became deformed (jokers) and the lucky remaining 1% developed awesome superpowers (aces). At least some of the aces gained amazing superpowers, while others (deuces) just had silly powers that did not seem particularly useful for anything.

Inside Straight demonstrates that in spite of the existence of superheroes, much of the world is still the same as ours, including the popularity of reality TV shows. Various aces audition for the opportunity to compete on the new show American Hero, which is similar to the typical reality show but with more card analogies. Once chosen, the contestants are divided into four teams: Aces, Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds. Each team must learn to work together to complete challenges, such as rescuing some stuntmen and a fake baby from a burning building. The winning team has immunity from elimination while each of the three losing teams has to select a teammate to send to the discard pile. Discarded members are no longer eligible to win but live together in a mansion and continue to provide entertaining footage for the show. Meanwhile, there is political upheaval in the Middle East but it is overshadowed by the American Hero craze that is sweeping the nation.

This is the first Wild Cards book I have read and it worked well as an introduction to the series even though there were several other books published before Inside Straight. There were some people and events referred to that I suspect were discussed in more detail in previous installments (particularly Peregrine and Fortunato's backstories) but I never felt lost.

This novel was very easy to get into, difficult to put down, and a lot of fun to read. I did feel that the end was not as good as the earlier part of the novel. This was mainly because I really liked some of the characters introduced toward the beginning, such as Curveball and Earth Witch, and they no longer had their own sections toward the end of the book since most authors stuck to one or two characters for their section and the next one would focus on a different hero or set of heroes. The only character who had a point of view throughout the book was Jonathan Hive, who had sections in between the others and lots of blog entries (he joined the show because he was an aspiring journalist and wanted to write about it on his blog).

The other reason I did not like the end as much was because even though I hate reality TV, I was enjoying reading about it and and the various characters interacting with each other. Although I did like the fact that the heroes went from doing challenges that didn't matter to making a difference in the real world, I also did not find it as much fun to read about. The conflict was also only introduced a little at the beginning so it was a bit disorienting to jump back to it and I had trouble keeping track of the characters who had been mentioned in that one little section when it came up again later.

With the exception of one or two characters, the powers were either too specific to be extraordinarily powerful or had a disadvantage in place to keep them from being too great. For instance, there was one character who could split into smaller copies of himself, but his intelligence was divided among all of him so the more copies he made, the stupider they were. Another contestant, Stuntman, was capable of healing from any sort of injury; however, he did not recover immediately, and the worse the injury, the longer it took him to recuperate.

Several of the characters were not at all static and my favorite to read about was Ana (Earth Witch), who really did not care about winning the title of "American Hero." Although she could dig a hole in the ground using her mind, she thought her power very unexceptional and auditioned for the show only at the urging of her brother. She was shocked when she made the cut and later underwent a transformation of her attitude toward her powers as the challenges and some help from Curveball helped her discover her capabilities. Other favorites were Curveball (an overall nice girl who could control any object she threw), Jonathan Hive (the aspiring journalist who could transform part of or all of himself into wasps), and The Amazing Bubbles (a former modelling superstar whose power relied on being fat).

There were also plenty of amusing conversations and situations. I particularly liked the description of the first challenge for Ana's team. Everyone on the team tried to think of a way to use their powers to rescue people from a fire and it was only after failing miserably that someone thought to try the nearby fire hose.

Inside Straight was a delightful read populated with well-written characters with some unique powers. Although I didn't find myself as interested at the end of the novel due to the changes in character point of view, I did enjoy it and look forward to reading Busted Flush.


Other Reviews:

Eight Chapters from Diamond Star Available for Free

The first eight chapters of Diamond Star, the next book in Catherine Asaro's Skolian Saga, are available on the Baen website. Diamond Star will be released in May 2009. Here is the description from Amazon:

Del was a rock singer. He was also the renegade son of the Ruby Dynasty, which made his career choice less than respectable, and gave him more to worry about than getting gigs and not getting cheated by recording companies, club owners, or his agent. For one thing, the Ruby Dynasty ruled the Skolian Imperialate, an interstellar Empire, which had recently had a war with another empire, the Eubian Concord. For another, Del was singing on Earth, which was part of a third interstellar civilization, and one which had an uneasy relationship with the Imperialate. Del undeniably had talent, and was rapidly rising from an unknown fringe artist to stardom. But, with his life entangled in the politics of three interstellar civilizations, whether he wanted that or not, talent might not be enough. And that factor might have much more effect than his music on the lives of trillions of people on the thousands of inhabited worlds across the galaxy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review Meme

John at Grasping for the Wind has another meme. Given the success of the last one, I figured I'd better add to the list. The instructions are as follows:
Here is how it works: Find a favorite book, movie, or videogame review (Science fiction and fantasy related) that you have written, no matter where it was posted, and add it to the following list. Make sure to repost the whole list, because in doing so, we accumulate what the reviewers themselves think is their best work, and give each other some linkages, increasing everyone's rankings.

Use the format of [Blog /Website Name] - [Book Name in CAPS w/ Link] by [Book Author Name]
It was hard to pick just one, but I ended up going with The Book of Joby (after considering Archangel Protocol, Blood and Iron, The Player of Games, and Maledicte).

The Book Review Meme @ Grasping for the Wind
1. Grasping for the Wind - INFOQUAKE by David Louis Edelman
2. Age 30+ ... A Lifetime of Books - A COMPANION TO WOLVES by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
3. Dragons, Heroes and Wizards - ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE by Robin Hobb
4. Walker of Worlds - THE TEMPORAL VOID by Peter F Hamilton
5. Neth Space - TOLL THE HOUNDS by Steven Erikson
6. Dark in the Dark - GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY by M.R. James
7. A Dribble of Ink - THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
8. Fantasy Book News & Reviews - EMPRESS by Karen Miller
9. Fantasy Debut - ACACIA by David Anthony Durham Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Overall Review Afterthought
10. All Booked Up - THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley
11. Fantasy Cafe - THE BOOK OF JOBY by Mark J. Ferrari
12. AzureScape - ANATHEM by Neal Stephenson
13. The Book Smugglers - THE INFERIOR by Peadar O'Guilin
14. Besotted Bookworm - PARANORMAL FICTION FEAST by Christine Feehan, Julie Kramer, and Jayne Castle
15. Renee's Book Addiction - WANDERLUST by Ann Aguirre
16. SciFiGuy.ca - THE BLACK SHIP by Diana Pharaoh Francis
17. Literary Escapism - FOR A FEW DEMONS MORE by Kim Harrison (with spoilers)
18. Speculative Horizons - THE TERROR by Dan Simmons
19. Stella Matutina - NEW AMSTERDAM by Elizabeth Bear
20. Variety SF - MISSION OF GRAVITY by Hal Clement
21. WISB/F&SF Lovin' Blog - SEABORN by Chris Howard
22. Highlander's Book reviews - A MADNESS OF ANGELS by Kate Griffin
23. The Old Bat's Belfry - THE CROWN CONSPIRACY by Michael J. Sullivan
24. Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews - THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
25. The Sci-Fi Gene - PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Mieville
26. Against the Nothing - MAY BIRD AND THE EVER AFTER by Jodi Lynn Anderson
27. Flight into Fantasy - AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman
28. Subliminal Intervention - UNWIND by Neal Shusterman
29. Items of Interest - BITTEN TO DEATH by Jennifer Rardin
30. Necromancy Never Pays-- FICTION AND LIES by Daniel Waters

Edit: Updated book review list - 03/06/09

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Kristen and I saw Coraline tonight...excellent job overall. The pacing seemed a bit off to me, a little slow to get going, a little quick at the finish, but it came through with all the wonderfully screwed-up humor and perspective I've come to expect from Neil Gaiman. I haven't read the book, or any of Gaiman's "children's" books, actually--being a grad student and teaching four courses a semester has annexed most of the time I'd normally dedicate to such things--but I may have to pick it up.

I thought the stop-motion animation style really fits the attitude that pervades Coraline and many of Gaiman's other works. Though Dave McKean and company did some fantastic work on Mirrormask, the visual style never completely clicked for me. Obviously there's a tremendous difference in budget there, but as in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and other similar films the aesethetics of stop-motion added tremendously to both the wild imagination and childlike perspective of the movie. If Coraline had been done as either pure CGI or mixed live-action and effects it would have been too much glitz. For example, the opening sequence consisted of nothing more than restuffing a doll, but the visuals were creepy, grotesque, and charming all at once, which is more than could have been asked for from CGI...but exactly what the story needed.

I also have to say that I loved Gaiman's take on the Cheshire Cat, as well as the whole Alice in Wonderland transfomation in general. It was a little painful to sit through what I'd call an extended setup showing how Coraline's parents were ignoring her. (Though, I'd have to say she didn't help the situation since she passed up the one time her mother did reach out to her, so it's not all a bad-parent sort of story.) It didn't seem to fit the rest of the story since those sort of extended sledgehammer-to-the-forehead type backstories are usually a feature of stories targeted at young children while the rest of the movie was decidedly adult in complexity and theme, but maybe I'm just missing how they expect young children to enjoy the second half of the movie because I was so absorbed in interpreting it on a different level.

Anyway, short version is: good flick, go see it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Review of Childhood's End

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke has become a classic of science fiction since its publication in 1953 and has been very influential in the genre. This fairly short, stand alone novel is light on characterization but heavy on ideas. For some reason I'd categorized this book in my head as "scary science fiction" that I'd probably find dry or difficult to read, but that was not the case at all. Although I did find it moved slowly toward the middle, it was a very thoughtful book and I enjoyed it very much.

Childhood's End is divided into three parts, each exploring a different theme. The first section deals with the arrival of a fleet of spaceships in the sky over Earth, beginning the reign of the aliens known as the Overlords. These Overlords create a peaceful utopia in which not even cruelty to animals exists. Their leader, Karellen, will only speak to Rikki Stormgren, the Secretary General of the United Nations, although none of the Overlords will allow any human to know what they look like. Because of this, people distrust the aliens even though they have made the world a better place for its inhabitants. Rikki informs Karellen that humanity would feel better if they knew what the Overlords look like, but Karellen says that the people of Earth are not yet ready to handle the knowledge of their new ruler's appearance. Once 50 years have passed and most people do not remember a time without the Overlords, Karellen and his kind will reveal themselves.

The second part of the story is about the golden age that appears once humanity has accepted the Overlords. Poverty and war are nonexistent, crime is exceedingly rare, and no one has to work if they do not want to. However, creativity and scientific discovery have dwindled - after all, what is the point of exploring new theories when the Overlords have known about them for ages? Also, it remains to be seen why the aliens are interested in Earth and if there is a price to be paid for their influence, which is the topic of the third and final section.

Despite being over fifty years old, much of the power of Childhood's End is still in the revelations that unfold throughout the course of the story. Because of this I am only going to speak in very general terms here, but suffice it to say that I found the various revelations, along with their impact on humanity (both what was discussed and what actually happened), to be the most interesting part of the book and well worth the relatively short time investment required to read the book.

The first section was very intriguing. The changes made by the Overlords and the speculation on what they looked like and what they were hiding made me very curious about their true intentions for Earth. I was enjoying reading about the Secretary General's attempts to see Karellen and when the mystery of the aliens' appearance was finally cleared up at the end, I thought it was just starting to get good.

I found the story told during humanity's golden age to be less interesting overall, though there were some interesting aspects to that world. Much of the beginning of this was exposition on the world the Overlords had created, but it was quite fascinating to read about the problems resulting from near perfection since they were so plausible. Even though people were more educated than ever before, creative works drastically decreased. Art and literature are outlets for making statements and if everything is perfect, it does not leave much room for expression and making points about social injustice and conflicts. Once the advantages and disadvantages of the golden age were established, the focus changed to some new characters and events that did not make much sense until later. It was still more drawn out than it needed to be, but it did at least seem as though there was a point to it in the end.

None of the characters were particularly well developed and the only really interesting ones were the mysterious Overlords with their unclear motivation. Throughout this short book, there were several characters who played a role but this was a concept-heavy story and not a character driven one. Although a lack of characterization is often a deal breaker for me, the story was interesting enough that I wanted to find out what happened anyway and read through until the bitter end (which was rather depressing).

Childhood's End is a thoughtful novel examining society containing a bit of a mystery concerning the Overlords and their intentions for the world. There are some pacing issues and characterization is not explored, but those aspects are not why you read a book like Childhood's End. It is about reflecting on both our past and our future, and in that area there are many well developed ideas and a fascinating future scenario.


Monday, February 9, 2009


Now that I finally got that Kushiel's Dart review written, I've been working on a review of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. That was one of my "scary science fiction" books and I made it my challenge book for the month of January.

After that, I will be reviewing:

Inside Straight edited by George R. R. Martin
The Charmed Sphere by Catherine Asaro

I also finished Dead Witch Walking, the first Hollows book by Kim Harrison, last night. Although I'll be reviewing it, it will be over at The Book Smugglers a little later this month, since they dared me to read it. In return, I dared Ana and Thea to read and review one of my favorite books, Melusine.

In preparation for the movie next month, I've just started reading Alan Moore's Watchmen graphic novel, and I've been reading short stories from Storm Constantine's The Oracle Lips collection here and there.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Review of Kushiel's Dart

Kushiel's Dart is the first book in the Kushiel's Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. The series contains two related trilogies, each about different main characters with Naamah's Kiss, the first book in a third trilogy coming out in June 2009. Kushiel's Dart is followed by Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar, and the second trilogy consists of Kushiel's Scion, Kushiel's Justice, and Kushiel's Mercy respectively.

This is one that has sat on my shelf for a while even though I've heard a lot about how good it is from many different people. Since I'm not the world's fastest reader, I found the length of 901 pages a bit daunting and thought I'd have nothing to review for a month if I read a book that long. So I kept putting it off, which is unfortunate because I loved the alternate European setting, the characters, and the world mythology and religion Carey developed in this dark fantasy novel.

Kushiel's Dart takes place in Terre d'Ange, the equivalent of France in an imaginary medieval Europe. The country was settled by angels who chose to follow Elua, the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, instead of the One God. This god of Terre d'Ange was created when Mary's tears fell on Christ's blood after he was pierced and was rejected by the One God. Elua wandered the land with the angels (known as the Companions of Elua) and gave only one commandment: Love as thou wilt. The result is a society populated by the descendants of the companions that considers sex in all forms a holy calling in the service of the angel Naamah. There are thirteen houses of the Night Court whose inhabitants are dedicated as courtesans and work to fill their marque, represented by a tattoo extending from the tailbone to the base of the neck. As they earn money, the ink is gradually drawn in until the entire area is covered and the courtesan is officially free.

As a young child, Phedre is sold to a house of the Night Court by her parents, who are struggling financially and have another child on the way. Because of the flaw of a scarlet mote in her eye, Phedre will never be a courtesan herself - until it is discovered that her defect is actually the mark of Kushiel's Dart. Kushiel, a companion of Elua, was an angel of punishment and the red fleck in Phedre's eye symbolizes her ability to experience pain as pleasure. Phedre is then bought by Anafiel Delaunay, who trains her not only as a courtesan but also as an observer and spy. As Phedre becomes further in demand by the nobility of Terre d'Ange, she learns many secrets that will aid her master and eventually leads to her knowledge of a conspiracy against the king.

Kushiel's Dart intrigued me from the beginning, especially the mythology behind the world and Elua's teachings. It did take me a while to read the first 125 pages because it often referred to some characters who had not really been present and I found it hard to keep track of who was who. Fortunately, there is a handy glossary in the front that I referenced often and once the book got going, I found I did not need it nearly as much.

Since Phedre is a courtesan and the society has no qualms about sexuality, there is a lot of sex in this book, including BDSM since that is the main character's special skill. Although it is described in detail, it never seemed cheesy or overdone. Carey does not shy away from specifics but she also writes it in such a straightforward manner that it seems very natural. It did not feel like the sexual encounters were added for shock value since they were very relevant to both the plot and character. Phedre's clientele are her main way of gathering political information that is useful to Delaunay, and being one touched by Kushiel influences Phedre's actions and is a strong part of her identity.

The prose is flowery and a bit convoluted. The entire story is told in first person from Phedre's point of view. At times it is somewhat dramatic, such as at the end of the first chapter when Phedre states: "When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity upon me." Personally, it didn't bother me and is exactly the type of writing I enjoy, but I can see how others may find it distracting, especially earlier in the novel.

There is a wide cast of characters and they are well developed. In the beginning, Phedre is a child and the story gradually progresses through the years until she is a young woman. At times, Phedre seems a bit perfect since she does play a big role in important events and is very good at putting the pieces of the puzzle together to reach the correct conclusion. Yet sometimes she does not realize what is happening in time, and she still has insecurities about her gift of Kushiel's Dart, her intelligence when compared to Delaunay's other apprentice Alcuin, and Alcuin's relationship with Delaunay. The minor characters were likable, too, and my favorite was the warrior-monk Joscelin who guarded Phedre. I found his attempt to balance the rules of his order with what is necessary to protect his charge interesting reading and his character underwent many changes throughout the story.

Kushiel's Dart is a fantasy book that has mythological elements such as some prophecy and legends of gods, and actual magic is a rarity. It is not one of those books with mages throwing fireballs or people with special abilities. However, there is a great balance between a great plot and a character-driven story, lots of political intrigue, adventure, and a love story.

Other than some difficulty with keeping track of various characters and their role in the world in the beginning, the only real problem I had with this novel was that the time spent with the Skaldi was a bit slow and the culture (peopled by stereotypical Nordic barbarians) was not as unique as the land of Terre d'Ange.

Overall, I loved Kushiel's Dart and the characters, world, and story Carey told. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.


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