November 2007

Booking Through Thursday

Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on?

I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that… Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors…

Well, I have such a huge to-read-pile that I usually select a book from there unless it’s a review book or a book I’ve just bought and have to read *right now*. So, most of the time the genre is the same and sometimes I read something from the same writer but otherwise there’s rarely a theme like that. Indeed, often I find myself reading deliberate something different in mood or theme.

Deerskin isn’t a light read. It deals with the aftermaths of brutal violation; how a person can deal with it and rise above it or not. So people looking for bloody battle scenes and a few titillating rape scenes are going to be disappointed.

The story starts in a fairy tale manner and it does have a fairy tale-like quality to it through out the story. However, it’s far more darker than most modern, sanitized fairy tales. Also, this story does appear to happen in the same world as The Blue Sword and the Hero and the Crown. There is one sentence that talks about Aerin and the Dragon. There are a few small dragons in the story as well, which remind me of tHatC’s small dragons.

Once upon a time there was princess who was the most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms. Her father loved her so much that he set impossible tasks to the suitors. But one of the princes captured her heart and managed to do him tasks. And so they were married. However, this is not their tale. This is the tale of their only child, a daughter who grew up so much in the shadow of her magnificent parents that practically nobody even remembered her, not even her parents and certainly not the people she was destined to rule one day.

When she was still a little girl, her mother the Queen fell ill. Everyone where frantic and especially her father the King who seemed to go mad with grief. In time the Queen died and the whole country mourned for her forgetting everything and everyone else. The King received many, many grand mourning gifts but her daughter got only one: a fleethound puppy from a young prince. The puppy, Ash, brings love and hope to the princesses’ life and she founds out that she isn’t as powerless and insignificant as she has thought. She makes some changes in her life; she has never had a friend before but now she finds a friend in Ash and then Viaka, another girl at the court, and later an old herbalist who teaches the princess the use of some plants.

But the princess starts to take after her mother in beauty and eventually the courtiers and even her father notices this. She tries her best to continue in her live and ignore this even though she starts to feel that something is wrong. Then comes her seventeenth birthday and the ball where she was supposed to meet her first suitors. But her father doesn’t want that. He dances with his daughter the whole night and then the King announces that he will marry his daughter.

The poor princess goes half mad and barricades herself into her room with her beloved dog since everyone else has abandoned her. Alas, the half-mad king forces his way into her room, almost kills Ash, beats her, and rapes her. She almost dies. Her beloved Ash brings her back to life. She has lost most of her memory and staggers out to escape the castle. Her beloved dog with her, she sets out to survive a harsh winter on her own and to continue with her life.

McKinley writes a heart-wrenching tale about the love and devotion between a girl and her dog, and the girl’s struggle with identity after her ordeal. She can also surprise the reader. Just when I thought I knew what would come next, most of the time I was wrong. I was even wrong about how it would end. And her language is absolutely beautiful, dreamy and horrible at the same time.

Some people might have trouble believing that a princess could grow up so forgotten and sheltered; that someone would at least try to take advantage of an only heir. But that part isn’t meant to be believable. It has a fairy tale beginning showing what can happen if the people involved could be as beautiful and perfect as they are in the tales.

This is a bit different sort of fantasy. At least in the Finnish message boards people are clamouring for fantasy that doesn’t have princes or generals or Chosen Ones as the MCs. Well, here is exactly what they would want: Valder is an ordinary scout in an army before he gets a magic sword by accident. Still, even with the sword he doesn’t want to be a ruler or shaper of the world. He just wants to do his duty preferably without killing anyone.

Also, even though there is a war going on, he doesn’t influence it greatly; he’s just one soldier among many. After the war ends, he does leave military life behind and settles down in a non-violent profession.

Valder is perhaps one of the most likable soldier characters I’ve come across. Also, even though he’s 23 when the book starts (yeah, not a teenager anymore but young even though by the standards of fantasy MCs he’s almost ancient) this isn’t a growing up book. No Dark Lords, no MC romance, no teenager squabbles, a magic sword without an intruction book to the various enchantments in it… A very good book indeed! Although the end is a bit mushy. 😉

Watt-Evans’ style isn’t too wordy but not sparse either. While I wasn’t immediately addicted to him I’m very likely to get another book by him. I was lead to expect an almost Pratchett-type book but those people where wrong. While Watt-Evans has a humorous undertone there are only a couple of very funny moments.

Booking Through Thursday:

Joanna and Brad are asking about “connecting words,” and they don’t mean conjunctions like “and” or “but.” No, what they’re looking for are unique, or treasured words that we’ve found out and about in our daily travels, words that might not be common usage, or often heard, but which struck a chord for some reason.

The only unique words that I’ve used are from Farscape (frell) and the New Battlestar Galactica (frack). Sometimes I find them useful to use instead of swearing. Of course, they aren’t from books so they might not really qualify. Then again, I don’t actually speak in English so I’m not likely to use any old English words.

Avram Davidson’s Adventures in Unhistory: Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends

Athyra is quite different from the other Vlad books because it’s written in a tight third POV and not from Vlad’s first person POV. The main character is a young Teckla boy named Savn who helps Vlad out and gets dragged into a very dangerous situation.

I knew beforehand that the book wasn’t from Vlad’s POV and I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t like it as much as the previous ones. I was wrong. Savn was easy to like and Brust’s dialogue was as good as ever. In fact, I rather enjoyed learning about the everyday life of the Teckla and about the world outside Adrilankha and the nobility. The only thing that I slightly missed was Loiosh but even him we got to see through the eyes of his mate, Rocza. The change in the narrative style was quite refreshing.

Most of the book is about Savn starting to realize that not everything should be taken at face value. The other strong character in the book is his sister Polyi. I rather enjoyed the brief appearances of the minstrel Sara, too. Hopefully, we’ll see her again at some point but I’m not holding my breath.

Overall, Athyra is a good Vlad book although not quite as good as, say, Issola. Of course, this book didn’t have my favourite character and neither did the previous Vlad book that I read, Dzur. Grumble, grumble.

Matthew Cook’s Blood Magic , Book one of the Ballad of Kirin Widowmaker

Booking Through Thursday:

I’m still relatively new to this meme so I’m not sure if this has been asked yet, but I’m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

I’m a Preservationist most of the time. Sometimes I correct translations (usually when my pet translation peeves come up) but even that I do very, very rarely these days.

The second Amelia Peabody book starts when Amelia and her husband’s son* is five years old and around seven years after the previous book. The Emersons are pretty bored in England but Lady Baskerville, an amateur Egyptologist’s recent widow, asks them to continue her husband’s dig in the Valley of the Kings. So, the Emersons and the Lady journey happily to Egypt. There’s a rumor that the late Lord Baskerville was killed by a Pharaoh’s curse but Amelia thinks that he was murdered and is busy solving the case. Soon enough, they are in the middle of disappearings, murders, and hauntings.

This is again a fast-paced book, humorous and witty. The plot offers lots of red herrings and enjoyable minor characters. I liked it better than the previous book. Even though it included the (obligatory?) romance, it wasn’t the main point of the book but rather quite a minor one. I’m still baffled at what Amelia could possibly see in her husband who’s just loud and obnoxious. The minor characters were well done rather than an afterthought which they are in quite a few books.

Both playing in a Star Trek game and watching the Borg collection inspired me to visit some old friends in the form on this Deep Space 9 book. It’s one of the Section 31 series. I assumed that I could read it as stand-alone just the Next Gen books that I’ve read before. I was wrong, again.

There have been quite some changes to the DS9 crew and even to the place itself after the end of the show: Colonel Kira is the station’s commander, Ro Laren is the security chief, and there’s a completely new first officer, Commander Vaughn. Also, I presume that the engineering chief is also a new person unless it’s Nog but that would be very, very quick promotion indeed. They also have their very own Jem’Hadar, courtesy of Odo. There are also enough older issues resolved and some new things started that it felt like I was tuning in in the middle of a story arc which is what I apparently did.

However, since I already knew the characters and the situation it was pretty easy to jump in and most of the book dealt with the main plot anyway. A new Section 31 agent, Cole, tells Bashier how they had first recruited another genetically enhanced human doctor to their cause, then they had taken the doctor and a team of 31 people to an abandoned Jem’Hadar factory in the Badlands, and finally the doctor had taken over the building and started to engineer his own Jem’Hadar soldiers and is apparently bent on ruling the galaxy. Yup, they created a genuine mad scientist and they want Bashier to mop up because nobody else can! Of course, Bashier can’t resist that and he takes Ezri, Ro, and their very own Jem’Hadar with him. The mission turns up to be quite a bit more complex and darker than they realized.

Now, I’ve read more than my own share of the mediocre Next Gen novels. Indeed, I’ve read them all up to the Gemworld novels and some after that (they where quite difficult to get here for a few years but apparently are now easier to get again). But this is only the second DS 9 novel I’ve read and was very pleasantly surprised. The characterization and the atmosphere of the novel are very close to the TV-series. It’s not the best Trek novel I’ve ever read (which is Diane Duane’s Dark Mirror) but it’s definitely in the top 5. It’s inspired me to get the Avatar books through BookMooch and I hope they’re as good.

Much to my surprise I had quite a bit of trouble remembering the Dax isn’t Jadzia anymore. To my mind, Ezri is… Ezri, not the competent Dax. Sigh. Maybe I should read some of the older DS9 books with Jadzia.

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