January 2008

Booking Through Thursday

This week’s question is suggested by (blogless) JMutford:

Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

Hmm. That’s a tough one. Generally speaking, I like non-boring characters (and I think lot of other people like them too :)) and quirky characters tend to be more interesting ones. As long as a quirky character is likable I tend to like them.

I agree with some other answereres that Sherlock Holmes is quirky but he’s not always likable. I also think that Steven Brust’s assassin-sorcerer Vlad Taltos and his familiar Loiosh are quirky and fun. Most of the Dragaeran characters in his books are also quirky: proud, quick to take offence, and powerful.

Gaiman’s Sandman characters are also quite quirky; especially the Endless Despair, Desire, and Delirium.

I’d also call Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan to be a quirky and very fun character to read about. Zelazny’s Sam from the Lord of Light is a con man and quirky.

I’m hoping that the short story collection Coyote Road, which is on my to-read-pile, has lots to quirky characters.

Scot R. Stone’s The Chimes of Yawrana (The Snowtear Wars)

When you read the review, please remember that I have a Major in a Language (English translation) and a Minor in History (actually that Minor was just a thesis and a few credits shy of a Major) so I’m biased.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

Since I read mostly fantasy of course my favourite books are those that people who don’t read that genre, don’t know about.

I think that some of my favourite books belong to this category. Apparently only a few people have heard of Anne Logston’s books. The Shadow books are my favourites: Shadow, Shadow Hunt, and Shadow Dance. Has any of you heard of them?

Oh, and since Gaiman is the only one of my favourite writers who has been translated into Finnish, most of the other Finnish fantasy fans don’t know my favourite writers: Logston, Bujold, Brust.

This is the first book about the adventures of the Superintendent Trewley and Detective Sergeant Stone.

The book starts by familiarizing the reader with the inhabitants of a small English village Redingote; the feuds and friends and competitions between people. It’s the day of the annual summer fete and the village’s new reverend and her wife are also coming to live there. The day is very warm and the tempers of the locals are running very high partly because they compete fiercely among themselves who wins the largest amounts of money during the holiday. This year the bank manager’s Scandinavian wife is the chair of the Ladies League and she has decided that everyone should build their own stalls which raises people’s tempers some more. 

Then she is found murder in the center of the local manor’s maze. The detectives are called in and they have to wade in to the local mysteries, secrets, and lies. The local witch and her apparently feebleminded and incestuous son add even more suspicions and local color.

The mystery is quite cleverly written and entertaining. However, I found the people to be quite, well, small-minded and very, very cliquey with their own circles of friends and enemies. Entertaining for a while but I certainly wouldn’t want to live there! I was also quite annoyed by some stereotypes. The main pair of detectives, an older man and a young woman, where not very original and they weren’t introduced to the reader practically at all. This could have easily been any book in an ongoing series instead of the first.

This is the first book in the Jacqueline Kirby series. Jacqueline is a librarian past her thirties and she solves crimes. At least in the first book she does it a bit reluctantly, at least at first. Unlike the Amelia Peabody series, this book was written in a tight third person point-of-view and Jacqueline wasn’t the POV character. 

The story start when the main character, Jean Suttman and her fellow student Michael run into Jacqueline in one of Rome’s largest libraries. After Jacqueline regains consciousness she’s introduced to Jean’s circle of friends and even though Jacqueline is quite a bit older than them, she seems to fit in quickly. All of Jean’s friends are fellow student-scholars although they are from different fields: archeology, history, sculpting, painting. There is also one member who’s not welcome and who the others are often annoyed with. The group is affectionately called the Seven Sinners.

The group catches some sights around Rome and then Jean finds one of the group’s members almost dead in an underground temple of Mithra. He writes a mysterious symbol, seven, on the floor and dies. The police suspects that it was suicide but soon enough Jacqueline and Jean are convinced that it was murder and that Jean’s life in danger.

The book starts surprisingly slowly; the death doesn’t happen until 80 pages into the book. But once the mysteries start, it moves quickly and cleverly.

I liked this cast of characters more than the one in the Peabody books and I really like Peters’ writing style. She describes Rome very well at least for my Finnish eyes and made me long for Italian pizza and pasta.

Booking Through Thursday

This week’s question is suggested by Puss Reboots:

How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?

If the review is done by a person who I know has a similar tastes than me, then quite a lot. It also depends on the review: if it mentions things that I would like or dislike either as negative or postive it has, of course, more value. If, say, a reviewer mentions that a book has multiple POV characters, it doesn’t really matter if the reviewer likes the technique; I don’t.

One bad review can influence me so much that I wouldn’t read the book. However, usually I do seek out at least three different reviews before deciding. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve bought a book by just browsing on stores. I do have over a hundred books in my to-read-pile. 🙂 So, I tend to research carefully books that I do buy. I’m more casual with library books, though. And I have to get my review books almost blindly because usually I don’t know anything about the writers available there.

This one has a far different structure than the previous book. It introduces two new point-of-view characters, a cybrid of John Keats and the president of Hegemony, Meina Gladstone. Cybrid is an artificial intelligent made from the memories of John Keats in a human body. The parts where the cybrid is the POV character are written in first person and present tense. The parts were Gladstone is the POV person are in third person and in past tense. When the cybrid sleeps, he can see what is happening to the pilgrims on Hyperion and this is written from one pilgrim’s POV in third person and present tense. This might seem messy but I hardly even noticed the tense shifts when I was reading.

We get to know lots of more about the characters, the plot to destroy humankind and who are actually behind it, about the TechnoCore, Ousters, and the Shrike itself. Even though this is a sequel to Hyperion I feel that it might be possible to read it without reading Hyperion because there is quite a lot of recapping. However, I think that the first book was better so it might not be worth it.

While this was also a good book, I didn’t like it as much as the first one. I also realized that these days I feel rather impatient with chapters that end in cliffhangers when there are multiple POV characters. I was very much tempted to just skip the chapters with the new POV characters. However, my brother said that I would have missed some of the plot if I had and he was right.

All in all, I rather enjoyed the two books. According to my brother the Endymion books aren’t as good so I’m not likely to read them. I might read something else from him, though.

Even though I generally don’t like YA, this series was recommended so many times that I took the chance and read the first one. I was pleasantly surprised. Duane knows how to grab the reader and keep the plot running. 

Nita is a thirteen-year-old American girl who has Spanish roots. She’s a voracious reader and because she doesn’t like to do the same things that girls her age do, she gets into fights often. Her main tormentor is Joanne and her group of cronies. The book starts with Nita running away from Joanne and her group. Nita runs to the library where she finds a handbook for wizards. She starts to read it and thinks at first that it’s a practical joke. However, she loans it and takes it to home. The next day she takes up the oath of wizards and starts to learn spells. With them she wants to make Joanne stop bullying her and made even bully Joanne for a change.

She finds out that she can talk with plants. Then she finds a boy who is trying to do a spell of his own, Kit. Nita offers to help him and together they perform the spell. However, it goes terribly wrong; it puts them into terrible danger but it also brings to them a new friend, Fred who is the manifestation of a white hole.

Duane writes well. The plot flows along smoothly and the characters are interesting. However, the plot is very intense and the stakes are very high. I’m curious to see what she’s going to do to top the danger in the next book. Also, we see only a small glimpse of the wizarding world and I’m also curious to see a larger picture of it.

Now this is impressive epic fantasy!

Sanderson has created a very intriguing secondary world. The world’s sun has gone red and the sky rains ash almost every day. The population has been divided into two highly segregated groups: the nobles and the skaa. The skaa are a totally oppressed slaves who do all of the work in the Final Empire. The world and the people are the way they are because a thousand years ago the Lord Ruler fought the Deepness in the Well of Ascension and came back as the god-like ruler of the world. Most people, especially those taught by the Lord Ruler’s theocratic Ministry, think that the Lord Ruler is the rightful ruler of the world and he’s perfectly within his rights to reward his former allies by making them the nobility and punishing all the others by forcing them into slavery. Or rather, since the Lord Ruler is immortal and has ruled over a thousand years, their distant descendants by this time. However, the characters in the story are rebels who don’t agree.

The nobility has the inborn and hereditary talent for magic. Even though there are strict rules against half-breed kids (noblemen can have sex with skaa women but the women must be killed quickly after wards) some still manage to be born and survive. Magic in this world is done by swallowing certain metals and then “burning” the power gotten from them. There are specific metals that will cause specific effects. For example, burning tin enhances the person’s senses and burning pewter makes the body supernaturally strong, fast, and durable. The talent for magic is uncommon so majority of the nobles doesn’t have it and the user has to go through a traumatic event which causes the talent to surface. The huge majority of these “magic-users”, if you will, can burn only one metal and they are called Mistings. However, in some very rare cases a person can use all of the ten metals. They are called Mistborn and not surprisingly the nobility prizes them.

The two main characters in the book are both Mistborn half-breed skaa. Kelsier is the older one. He’s was a rebel and a thief long before the book starts, and he was caught and sentenced to the most brutal prison and labour camp in the Empire. While he and his wife, who was also a thief, were there she died and Kelsier found out the he was a Mistborn. He killed all of the guards and escaped – the only one to escape as fas as anyone can remember. He’s become a legend among the skaa. Now he has the most ambitious plan ever: to overthrow the god-king, to topple the nobility, and to free the skaa from their servitude. A frustrated rebel leader has hired Kelsier to take on the job and to hire all of the men he needs to. Kelsier heads a very experienced and dedicated group of men: skaa who work as various craftsmen at day and as thieves,infiltrators, or thugs at night. Almost all of them are Mistings.

The other main character is Vin, a street urhcin and a thief who can instictively use “Luck” to influence people’s emotions the way that she wants to. Her abusive brother has left her and at start of the book she’s working for the almost equally abusive thief master to pay off her brother’s debts. Kelsier and his crew notice her using her talent and promptly replace the thief master with a more suitable leader. Kelsier also starts to teach Vin to use her Mistborn talents and later she has to infiltrate the nobility in order to spy on them but also to create chaos among them.

Although the book is over 600 pages long, it feels very compact. Scenes are short and events follow rapidly. Vin’s growth from a scared street urhcin to a confident Mistborn and beyond is an interesting and convicing journey. She learns to trust people even though she comes from a history of betrayals and mistrust. And yet, in the world of thieves and spies, how sensible is it to trust others? Kelsier’s past contains also a bitter betrayal and yet he manages to live on, and to look stubbornly to a brighter future for all skaa. However, he can’t help but to be affected by the awe that the common skaa feel for him.

There is quite a large cast of secondary characters who are almost all male. Some other reviewers have complained that these characters are shallow. However, I have to disagree. In contrast to the darkness of the world the camaraderie and trust between Kelsier’s crew was striking. Kelsier and Vin are also the only point-of-view characters so they can’t have insight into the other characters’ minds. It would have been nice to see more of the other characters, but the book is long enough and I’m not entirely convinced that additional viewpoints really give much to a book. Marsh was really the only one who I would have been really interested to see more of, perhaps even as a POV character.

Each chapter starts with a small excerpt about a man who was appointed the Hero of the Ages and who is traveling to the Well of Ascension in order to destroy the Deepness. He’s and his companions’ struggles are also an interesting read.

There is another species in the book: the Terrismen who were mercilessly hunted by the Lord Ruler to near extinction. Now the remnants of the race serve the nobility as stewards and yet they manage to keep a few secrets and surprises.

The world of Mistborn is very dark, violent, depressing, and oppressive place. Yet the writing emphasizes the excitement and dangers in a way that doesn’t make the mood too depressing. The world is also very patriarchal: the only female characters aside from Vin in the book are either servants or noblewomen and they are very much in the background.

I got the next book in the series as a review book and I’m already eager to continue the tale. Alas, it seems that it will be quite a while until Sanderson starts to write the third book.

Booking Through Thursday

  1. How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift?
  2. Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?

1. Usually I come by them because of recommendations from people who I know have a similar reading taste as I do or they could just be talking about good writers. Specifically, I remember that Lois McMaster Bujold was talked about from time to time in various places such as a role playing e-mail list (In Nomine) and spaceopera forums. Brust I think I come by at the local library so he’s sort of an anomaly in my usual pattern. Gaiman… gosh, it’s been so long! I remember picking up a translated Sandman comics album but I can’t remember if he was recommended before or not. Probably not. I think I picked up Logston’s Shadow by chance, too, but can’t remember anymore where.

2. I know very quickly if I like a writer’s style or not. Usually, if the first book isn’t good I don’t bother to read another. Why should I?

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