Let me be honest with you. I’ve always preferred Through the Looking Glass to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Even so, it is rare that I can resist anything with a bit of Alice in it. There were two reasons why I requested a review copy of this book via NetGalley. Number one was the beautiful cover. It drew me in and made me read the blurb. Number two was just that blurb. The little descriptions of the four short stories all included some buzz word that made me go “ooh”. Let’s see how I ended up liking this small volume.
Published by: Candlemark & Gleam, 2011
ebook: 219 pages
My rating: 5/10
First sentence: The boy has managed, so far, to displace himself four meters off the ground.
In 1865, Alice went on an adventure to Wonderland. Today, four modern authors follow her down the rabbit hole…
This is the first in a planned series in the (re)Visions line, which is devoted to exploring the lasting legacy of classic works of speculative fiction on our genres and on our lives. In each book in the series, four authors will tackle a classic work of imaginative fiction, and give it their own spin; along with each of these novellas will also be the original work.
I read few to no anthologies or short story collections (a fault I am trying to remedy at the moment) and it may be because I feel the need to read the stories in order and not skip any of them. Reading short stories online (at Clarkesworld, etc.) has brought me enormous amounts of pleasure, though, so I thought I’d give this little collection a try. After all, not much can go wrong when you know you’re getting spins on a favorite classic, right? Well…
Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I won’t say much about this. It is Alice as we know and love her, and if I ever do write a review on that book, it will get its own post. This was very nice beginning for the anthology, of course, and gave me an excuse to re-read it. Luckily, I can continue in my Annotated Alice which includes Through the Looking Glass. That one is definitely worth its own review…
I will talk about each of the four contained novellas separately, as they were all written by a different author.
Kaye Chazan – What Aelister Found Here
Blurb: It is 1888, and Aelister has never felt at home, not even in his own skin. Now that he’s been expelled from school, he sees no reason to stick around his house in Warwickshire, so he runs away to another world altogether: London. The city is a maze of heat and rain, where a murderer stalks the streets of Whitechapel and a Crown Prince flouts his mother’s laws, and Aelister soon finds himself dealt into a series of deadly games—ones that put his life, and far more, on the line. And while London may not be the wonderland Aelister expected to find, he is far from the only person in the city looking for that very place.
Now this is what I was hoping for. The story opens on our practical boy-protagonist in avery Alice-like style. The witty prose and clever asides were totally up my alley and reminded me very much of Victorian prose. There are references to Alice and they are very neatly incorporated into the real-world setting. While the main story has pacing problems as soon as Aelister arrives in London, it picks up once a very peculiar game of chess starts. I enjoyed how Jack the Ripper was mixed into this strange little tale, but the end came extremely abrubtly and was somewhat anticlimactic. The Alice-elements are subdued, you will recognize a lot of characters from the original. Altogether, a story that I enjoyed more for its whimsical tone and its practical protagonist than for its connection to the original Alice. Recommended. Rating: 6,5/10
Amanda Ching – House of Cards
Blurb: There’s Alice, who fell down a rabbit hole and had an adventure. Then there’s the Queen of Hearts, who loses her temper quite frequently. But before that, there was Mary Ann, a servant pressed past patience, past duty. As all three hurtle toward an inevitable meeting, a creature has broken from its coffin and is even now tunneling to meet them. When the deck is stacked like this, even the strongest foundation could crumble.
This story featured surprisingly many characters for such a short piece and the climax was probably supposed to be when it all comes together and the separate storylines make sense as a whole. But the story as such failed to grab my attention and I mostly just read on because I wanted to get to the next story. The Queen of Hearts as well as some other known characters do show up but mostly to spout nonsense. And not the brilliant kind of nonsense Lewis Carroll gave us, just plain nonsense without much humor. Except for the occasional badam-tish line that made me roll my eyes rather than smile. I was hoping for some fantasy elements but even that bubble was burst. I’ll give the writer props for the idea but I think it would have needed more characterisation and depth to work. Rating: 3,5/10
Hilary Thomas – Knave
Blurb: In the city they call Wonderland, the Queen calls the shots. If she doesn’t like the way you’re playing the game, she’ll give you the axe. Permanently. Jack Knave is an investigator, a man of many talents, an occasional blade for The Crown; and he’s the best at what he does. He knows every face in the city, every move they make, every connection. Except one.When a mysterious woman shows up in town, Jack is sure she’s not just here for the tourism. But the more he digs, the less he knows. Finding the answers means getting close to her, but she’s not the only one with secrets. Somebody’s been stealing from the Queen, and it looks like Jack’s taking the fall. Alice could seal his fate with a word—or not. With no options left, and the odds stacked against him, Jack must make a desperate gamble to survive. Whether his luck holds out or he’s left out to dry, one thing’s for certain: he can’t afford to lose his head.
Jack Knave lives in the city of Wonderland and the arrival of a certain dame named Alice turns things upside down. This is Wonderland goes noir. I was surprised by how much that genre mash-up appealed to me. But an idea alone does not make a good story. Characters may have names that sound like they are from Wonderland (Jimmy Cheshire, Jack Knave, The Queen, Kingsley, Alice) but they are walking stereotypes. I don’t read noir fiction but I have seen a few movies that fit the description. There is nothing new or original about this story. There also happens to be no magic whatsoever and the big reveal (if, indeed, it is supposed to be a big reveal) was painfully predictable. All of that said, I enjoyed the story more than “House of Cards”. The prose wasn’t a revelation but easy enough to read and the plot was fast-paced and had a nice flow to it. Probably not a story I will remember for long, but enjoyable, nonetheless. Recommended with reservations. Rating: 5,5/10
C.A. Young – The World in a Thimble
Blurb: Toby Fitzsimmons hates the creepy sculpture of Alice on display in his gallery, but when it drops him into Wonderland for real, he’s not prepared for what he finds. From real living furniture to scoutmasters and cowboys to coyotes who really do go everywhere, Toby finds himself in a Wonderland that’s more deadly, and much more American, than the one he remembers reading about as a boy. At the heart of it all is the Catmistress, who rules over the city’s dark alleys and knows the secret of the Cheshire trick. In this strange new world, Toby will need all the help he can get to find his way home. Before that, though, he’ll have to find a way to keep from losing himself. Wonderland, it seems, changes everything it touches. And then there’s the thing in the sewers…
This time around, the story starts in a modern day setting with gallery owner Toby, who spends his time as a punching bag for Hambrick, a man whose collection he’s showing in said gallery. With a little help from the Alice sculpture on display, he falls into Wonderland. I was insanely happy to actually read a story that took me to Wonderland and showed me some of its marvels. There are flying coyotes (who can talk, of course), cats who know the Cheshire Trick, depressed fountains, and bottles that say “drink me”. It could have been so nice. But the writing is clumsy at best, the characters – including Toby – are very flat, and the storyline is predictable. I did enjoy the craziness of Wonderland and its inhabitants but the description dumps and the characters left me rather unimpressed. Rating: 5/10
Overall, the first story was my favorite because it hit the tone of the original most closely and, while not showing us actual Wonderland, gave well-known characters a new personality. It had atmosphere and a good plot. I liked “Knave” second best, despite its stereotypical characters and predictable plotline. At least the idea was original and the execution okay. As a collection, I didn’t love it and wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. But if you love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and want to see its characters wearing new cloaks, this might be right for you.
RATING: 5/10 - Meh
I planned to make the Books of the Raksura my first Martha Wells books because so many people have raved about them. But, as these things go, Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot’s YA imprint) offered e-ARCs of Wells’ young adult novel on NetGalley and I couldn’t resist.
Published by: Strange Chemistry, April 2013
ebook: 320 pages
Series: Emilie #1
My rating: 4,5/10
First sentence: Creeping along the docks in the dark, looking for the steamship Merry Bell, Emilie was starting to wonder if it might be better to just walk to Silk Harbor.
While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.
Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.
With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.
It is rare that I can’t make up my mind whether I liked or disliked a book. I suppose one emotion always outweighs the other and if you pinned me down I’d have to go with “rather disliked it”. Emilie and the Hollow World is a nod toward the wonderful Jules Verne adventures, discovering new worlds hidden within our own, meeting strange peoples and making new friends. The idea is wonderful and adding magic to it seems like a nice bonus. But there were many little things wrong with this book that add up to a rather unengaging reading experience.
It starts with a minor qualm – the protagonist’s age. Emilie is supposed to be 16 but from the get go, I though of her much more as a 12-year-old, maximum. She acts and speaks like a much younger person and if her age hadn’t been mentioned, I would have happily continued imagining a little girl. But the fact that we are told how old she is, bothered me. Emilie runs away from home, intending to buy passage on a ship. Instead, she realises she’s spent too much of her money on food, has to run away from people who suspect her of being a thief, and ends up as a stowaway on the Sovereign.
Of course, that much fancier ship has its own crew but just when they disocver Emilie, chaos ensues. I assumed the issues of her being a runaway and hiding on their ship would be talked about when the characters were out of immediate danger. But no, people just seem to take things the way they come without asking questions. The author seems to expect a bit too much suspension of desbelief here and while I am willing to believe pretty much anything for the sake of a good story, it needs to work within that story. This tale is set in a world that seems to believe in reason and science and rules. So it should strike somebody as odd that a young girl has run away from home, and even though Emilie explains her reasons, there were still two points that annoyed me. First of all, her reasons sound very good but unfortunately we are told them, never shown them. If the book had opened with Emilie suffering from her uncle and aunt’s treatment, her entire character would have been much stronger. Secondly, even if I accept that the ship’s crew feels empathy for Emilie and there’s not much to be done about her (now that she’s on the ship) it strikes me as very unlikely they would involve her so quickly and deeply into their venture and lay open all their plans. If anything, it would have been believable for her to become a kitchen maid on the ship to pay her passage and cleverly overhear these plans.
Once they arrive in the Hollow World – via aetheric engine (read: magic) – a lot of stuff happens but nothing of real consequence. Of course, there are things afoot that will have consequences for the people of the hollow world, but since they aren’t the main characters of this story, there was not much for me to engage with. At that point, the focus of the story shifts from Emlie to the politics of the Hollow World – since we don’t get enough time with any of the parties involved, I had a lot of trouble working up enough interest to keep reading. This not very thick novel took me a good two months to finish. It just lacked drive, after the initial action-packed moments with Emilie running away from home.
The characters, including Emilie, were flat and underdeveloped. There would have been so much potential for this young girl to realise she can take things into her own hands, that she doesn’t have to depend on other people. But Emilie comes out of this story pretty much the way she entered. The only exception to this was Kenar, the most interesting character in the entire book. Unfortunately, we get see very little of him in the second half, which made it even more tedious to read. Another problem I had with the characters was that there was no real bonding between them, despite being through quite a lot of adventures together. If the protagonist doesn’t seem to truly care about her companions, why should I? Again, we were told that they were sad to say goodbye, but we’re not shown why.
The bottom line for me is: Reading this book felt more like a job, something I had to do, instead of a story I couldn’t wait to get back to. Whenever I put it aside after half a chapter, it took a lot of willpower to pick it up again. A novel, especially a novel aimed at children, should at least get the entertainment factor right.
THE GOOD: A good premise and a nice tip of the hat to Jules Verne.
THE BAD: Emilie came over much too young, despite non-stop action, there is very little development or emotionally engaging moments.
THE VERDICT: It’s a gamble. Maybe if I were 10 years old I would have liked this book more. This way, it was neither horrible nor good. The few elements I enjoyed didn’t get enough screen time and most of the time, I didn’t care enough to pick the book up and continue reading. And I certainly won’t be back for more of this series. Wells’ other books though… probably.
RATING: 4,5/10 – Bad but not terrible
Why did I read this? I had mostly lukewarm feelings about Shades of Milk and Honey, the first part in this series. But Mary Robinette Kowal is so likable and seems so clever in her interviews and podcasts that I wanted to give her a second chance. If the first novel was – and such a thing is possible, I’ve learned – too much like Jane Austen and read like all the characters were ripped off, this one has its own voice and mood to it. Unfortunately, it was a mood that bored me almost to death.
Published by: Tor, 2012
ebook: 213 pages
Series: Glamourist Histories #2
My rating: 6/10
First sentence: There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party.
Mary Robinette Kowal stunned readers with her charming first novel Shades of Milk and Honey, a loving tribute to the works of Jane Austen in a world where magic is an everyday occurrence. This magic comes in the form of glamour, which allows talented users to form practically any illusion they can imagine. Shades debuted to great acclaim and left readers eagerly awaiting its sequel. Glamour in Glass continues following the lives of beloved main characters Jane and Vincent, with a much deeper vein of drama and intrigue.
In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to Belgium for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, Jane and Vincent’s concerns turn from enjoying their honeymoon…to escaping it. Left with no outward salvation, Jane must persevere over her trying personal circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison . . . and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country’s war.
After Shades of Milk and Honey, I was hoping for many things to happen in the second novel. I wished Mary Robinette Kowal would be a little less like Jane Austen (who but Jane Austen can really pull it off, after all?) and more like herself. Check. I was hoping that the characters weren’t such obvious copies or amalgamations of Austen’s own Elizabeth Bennet or the Dashwood sisters. Check. I was hoping that her magic system, Glamour, would be further developed. Check.
Despite all of these good things that were delivered as per my personal order (or so it seems), there was one element this book was missing. Badly. It was drive, it was that thing that makes you go “wow” and get really immersed in a story. Frequently, the five-year-old that I secretly still am on the inside, wanted to shout out “This is BOOOORING” while I was reading. I shushed her and everything, pointed out the nice writing and the depth of research that must have gone into the novel. But five-year-old me didn’t care. She wanted a good story. And that’s where Glamour in Glass was truly lacking.
It opens on a dinner scene where Jane, who, with Vincent, has just finished a magnificent glamural commissioned by the Prince Regent, describes the dinner conversations, all the rules of propriety that go with such and the separation of the sexes once the whisky and cigars are brought and the discussions start going in a political direction. This may be very interesting from a historical point of view but it lacks any wit that Jane Austen always provided in her work. And the plot (if you can call it that) meanders along in the same manner until the last quarter of the book, when finally something happens that requires action. I am by no means averse to slow-moving books that focus on characters. But let’s take a look at the characters we meet here.
Jane, for the most part, is incredibly sulky and passive throughout the novel. Until said event in the last bit makes her come out of her shell and become pretty awesome. I liked her a great deal in Shades of Milk and Honey, but here I found myself not caring very much about her and actually being annoyed with her a lot of the time. Vincent has lost his brooding mystery and what little we see of him didn’t excite me either. This may be entirely my fault or it may be due to the inconsequential conversations the newlyweds have. I don’t know. It just didn’t grab my attention at all.
What Mary Robinette Kowal does brilliantly is paint a picture of the era. I’m no expert, not even an amateur, in the field, but everything just feels right. The way people behave, the differences between England and France and Belgium, the clothing, the carriages and horse-drawn carts… simply guessing from what I’ve read in her two Glamourist Histories, I would say, Mary has a firm grip on her research. The afterword gives us a clue of how thorough she has been, creating a list of words with all the words Jane Austen used in her works, and eliminating or rephrasing any words Mary used to fit the vocubulary of 1815.
I was also very happy to learn more about Glamour and see Jane come up with new ways to use it. It is like reading steampunk – you read about inventions that could have been made in the past. Only this is glamourpunk. The scenes where Jane and Vincent work on their theory and try to put it into practice were the first ones that got me really hooked and that offer a myriad possibilities for future novels in the series.
What did I think? In the end, the story left me rather cold. The fact that I didn’t particularly like Jane or Vincent for most of the book is surely a large factor in this. The lack of a driving force behind the plot made this, to say it in my five-year-old self’s words, simply boring. I need something to want to read on, be it characters, action, magic or world-building. None of these things were interesting enough to hold my interest. I am somewhat surprised to see this on the Nebula shortlist and I have the strong suspicion that, like with the Hugos, sometimes authors just make it onto that list because they are very present. Or because “it’s kind of their time to get an award”. Mary is a great writer, no doubt, and has a firm grip on her research and craft. But for this second Glamourist History the elevator pitch “Jane Austen with magic” does not work anymore. There may be magic in the shape of Glamour, but there is none of Austen’s wit or clever critique, there are none of her ridiculously funny characters. And so, for me, there wasn’t really much magic at all.
The Good: Well-researched, with perfect French (that made me squee a lot) and an ending that redeems some of the earlier problems I had.
The Bad: Three quarters of the story were painfully boring, except for one scene involving Glamour. Lacks the Austenesque humor and fun characters.
The Verdict: Slow burning historical piece with threads of magic woven into it.
My Rating: 6/10 – Okay
The Glamourist Histories:
- Shades of Milk and Honey
- Glamour in Glass
- Without a Summer
It’s my own fault, really. I have had a good run with YA novels lately and I thought my streak of bad luck was over. But this was such a huge fail that I suppose I’ll stick to writers of young adult literature that I already know and respect. Or maybe I shouldn’t listen to people who recommend every book they read. This makes me particularly sad because it begins really well, only to throw all its potential out the airlock…
Paperback: 398 pages
Series: Across the Universe #1
My rating: 3/10
First sentence: Daddy said, “Let Mom go first.”
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone – one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship – tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.
I will sum this up quickly: Great set-up, lousy story. The premise offers and promises an exploration of themes that just weren’t delivered. Amy wakes up too early from cryogenic sleep, finds herself all alone in a strange society on the ship Godspeed and has to deal with the consequences of not being able to be frozen again. But the author opted for a crime/mystery story and an incredibly silly romance. There are several problems with that. As for the mysteries that keep the society on the Godspeed docile, it is blatantly obvious from the beginning. The villain can be spotted miles away. And the romance really isn’t one.
Across the Universe suffers from a severe case of insta-love. Amy’s entire life has been turned on its head - by going into cryogenic sleep and leaving Earth in the first place, and then once again by waking up early and violently – and two minutes after being faced with a completely new environment, an almost alien culture, and the knowledge that she may only see her parents again when she is older than them, the one thing that she thinks about is the boy she saw for ten seconds! I cannot root for a “heroine” who is so dumb.
Elder, at least, has seen Amy twice before thinking about her constantly. And she looks so strange to him that I find his reaction much more believable. To Amy, though, all these people are simply strangers, one of which is Elder who happens to be her age. Other than that, I see no reason why, ten pages after seeing him for a minute, she should already miss him! Even without that “romance”, Amy isn’t among the brightest people. Which makes her perfect for Elder who is surprisingly dense. As I said, the solution to the “mystery” is obvious from miles away, yet our protagonists take the entire novel to figure it out – and even then, they have to be told.
The writing is okay, but not great. There are logical mistakes, flaws in the world-building, and even sentences that you have to read twice to understand.
I am empty inside, frozen like before, and I see nothing, and I feel nothing, but that’s not true. Because as soon as I think that, I feel again, I feel everything, and I can’t see, I can’t breathe, but I do feel.
Amy, who has been a runner her entire life, who even trained for a marathon, is outrun by a group of men who have been born and grown up in a space ship! Elder sometimes understands and reacts to references he shouldn’t really get, having been born on the Godspeed. I did like that the sheep-like behavior of the population is explained (and believably so) – and there was something that would qualify as a twist at the end. But at that point, I already didn’t care about any of the characters, I couldn’t find a plot in all the clunky writing and none of the ideas or themes were properly explored.
This book clearly tries to raise the issue of being different. Looking different, coming from a different place, living by different moral and social standards – but instead of showing us a good rolemodel, Beth Revis smashes us across the head with her message. Hating others because they’re different = bad! Thanks for the lesson. If it had come wrapped in a good story and with characters who show some depth to them, I would have been all for it. But if I want a lecture, I don’t pick up a book that is sold as a YA science fiction romance. None of the promises from the blurb were kept.
At least that’s one more YA series I won’t have to read and another writer I can cross of my list of interests.
THE GOOD: A great and gripping beginning, some nice ideas, the writing is acceptable.
THE BAD: Stupid, flat characters, not much plot to speak of, insta-love and wasted potential, plus badly-concealed lectures on racism.
THE VERDICT: If you don’t mind any of the negatives mentioned above, I guess this could be a nice popcorn-book. There is no substance to it, there was no romance and personally, I can only recommend the first chapter.
RATING: 3/10 Bad
I look forward to your comments.
- Across the Universe
- A Million Suns
- Shades of Earth
Thanks to Becky from Pan Macmillan for my first ever paper review copy. Yay! And such a beautiful book, too. The hype had kept me from picking it up even though the cover art and design are amazing. And I love steampunk – when done well. So all you Clockwork Century fans out there, brace yourselves and get the tomatoes ready. You’re not going to like me very much for this one…
Published by: Tor, 2012 (2009)
Copy: review paperback from the publisher
Series: The Clockwork Century #1
My rating: 4,5/10
First sentence: Unpaved, uneven trails pretended to be roads; they tied the nations coasts together like laces holding a boot, binding it with crosed strings and crossed fingers.
Cherie Priest’s much-anticipated steampunk debut has finally arrived in the form of a paperback original. Its plot features the sort of calibrated suspense that readers of her Four and Twenty Blackbirds would expect. Boneshaker derives its title from the Bone-Shaking Drill Engine, a device designed to give Russian prospectors a leg up in the race for Klondike gold. Unfortunately, there was one hitch: On its trial run, the Boneshaker went haywire and, long story short, turned much of Seattle into a city of the dead. Now, 16 years later, a teenage boy decides to find out what is behind that mysterious wall. Can his mother save him in time? Zombie lit of the first order.
Oh dear… So this novel is marketed and sold as a steampunk civil war story with zombies. What’s not to like, right? But there are so many things wrong with it that it’s hard to begin. First of all, the civil war aspect doesn’t come through at all during the entire narration. We are told once or twice that there is a war going on and that, once it’s over, Briar would like to move east. That’s it. We’re not shown the poverty or the suffering or any repercussions of the actual war. I expected something more epic, but this is a very small-scale story. Seeing as the setting is fairly closed and the novel takes place in and around the city of Seattle, I can live with that. I am also under the impression that it is supposed to be an adult novel – not that there’s any great amounts of sex or violence in here – but adult nonetheless. However, the writing reads very much like a YA book. The language is simple, the story straight-forward, there are very few characters, and I didn’t like the style at all, to be honest. What gave me this YA impression was the difference between the playful, funny first chapter, and everything that followed. I adored that intro chapter that sets up the entire book with Leviticus Blue’s invention of the Boneshaker. After that, the style became simpler, the dialogue was very convoluted. I got the feeling that these things may have sounded much better when said out loud than they did on the page. The many mid-sentence stops, the constant use of “look…” before someone starts explaining something. It got on my nerves fairly quickly.
Another negative for me: the time period does not come to life at all. Women wear men’s clothes, there doesn’t seem to be any prejudice towards what is a woman’s job and what’s a man’s job – it all felt way too modern. What bothered me more, though, was that the city of Seattle didn’t get any character either. In interviews Cherie Priest said that she was fascinated with this underworld-like system of tunnels existing under the city. While we do spend a considerable (and very boring) time in these tunnels, the descriptions of them didn’t bring them to life for me. Pretty much the same thing goes for the steampunk element. It’s peripheral at best and, again, not well described. People have to wear masks in order not to turn into Rotters, and there are airships. How these operate, we aren’t told. Sure, there are a lot of levers everywhere but, again, we don’t really get to see the inner workings of any machinery.
My biggest pet peeve, as I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph, was the writing style. There are so many things wrong with it that I should really just make a list. But I’ll be a good reviewer and explain to you why it bothered me so much. First of all, the dialogue was atrocious. Nobody talks like that, in no period of time. It felt unnatural and took me out of the flow of the story. Whenever somebody points into a direction or points at something our characters are supposed to look at – we don’t get a description of that particular thing. Instead, we get strange, mid-sentence-stop dialogue.
“Where’s the fort?” the captain demanded. For the first time he sounded flustered, maybe even on the edge of afraid. “Six o’clock.” “From which…? From where…?” “Over there.” “I see it,” he said suddenly, and yanked at the lever above his head.
There were also some pieces of dialogue that made me wonder if my grasp of the English language is simply not firm enough to understand them or if there are logical mistakes (I am still learning English after all, so if it’s me, please tell me).
Parks leaned over the slumping form of Mr. Guise and pulled a lever, then stretched his foot over the slouching body to push a pedal. It was the wrong pedal, or maybe the right one.
Well, which one is it? Shouldn’t the effect of pushing the pedal make it very clear whether it was the right or the wrong one? Aren’t you expecting something to happen when you push the right pedal – and if that effect does not come to pass, can’t you logically conclude that it was the wrong one? Seriously, this bit just had me lost.
You know how important characters are for me. If all of these things were still as bad as they are but if I cared about the characters, I could have forgiven them. BUT. We only get two protagonists who, while decently introduced, remain extremely bland and pale. As for other characters, they are basically just cardboard cut-outs with names attached to them.
Varney and Willard stayed close on either side of Lucy, and Swakhammer led the way with Briar beside him. The rest of them – Frank, Ed, Allen, David, Squiddy, Joe, Mackie, and Tim – brought up the rear. They marched together in silence, except for Frank and Ed, who were grousing about Hank.
Cherie Priest throws names at us, without any attributes. Not even a hair color (which, granted, doesn’t make a character, but at least gives you something to hold on to). No no, except for a random few characters who we’re told have only one arm or a strange voice or are particularly tall, we don’t get anything at all. So why should I care if one of them gets killed? All I know is their name and, by deduction, their gender.
So let’s move on to the plot. After that brilliant prologue and the first few chapters, the situation is set up. We – the readers – know about it and we want to follow our two protagonists along and see how the plan works out for them. On her way, Briar meets some people, tells them her plan in its entirety. Then she meets new people, so hey, let’s rehash the plan again. And of course how she got to be here. The same things got repeated over and over, by different characters in different situations and it took out soooo much pace. Cherie Priest said in this interview (click to go to Youtube – the part I mean is at about 4:50) that she always knows the beginning and the end of her books and kind of muddles around the middle. Well, I can tell. Because the beginning was not only good, that very first chapter was even wonderful. It was quirky and funny and I loved the narrative voice. That changes when we meet Briar and Zeke – but even their first chapters were still fine and interesting. The middle part, though, was an entirely different story. Boy oh boy, I would have edited the shit out of those parts. All the time spent repeating things the reader already knows could have been used for character development or for plot twists or for new ideas. Or some world building.
The world building has one fundamental flaw. Apart from a lack of atmosphere (maybe that’s just my taste), the question that remained open for me and makes the entire story completely unbelievable was: How the fuck do these people get food? They live inside the walled city of Seattle, they mostly live underground. Air gets filtered, they even built machines to distill water so they have something to drink. But what do they eat??? There are no animals (maybe zombie-animals), no plants grow there, the Blight destroys everything. Sure, some of them trade sap (a drug made from the Blight) and I’m assuming they get some food in return. But how does the majority of the population live? All those Chinese people? From what we learn of airships going to the city, they don’t come often and there’s not many of them. So tell me, HOW THE FUCK DO THESE PEOPLE EAT? Zeke only eats once that we know of and Briar doesn’t eat at all while in Seattle. They also don’t seem to suffer a lot of hunger. Wow… last time I didn’t eat for half a day, I was cranky and ravenous.
After that huge rant, let me say that I will give Cherie Priest another shot. Why? Because of that first chapter. It leads me me to believe that she can write, that she has good ideas. This may be a small hope to hang on to, but it’s the only one I have.
THE GOOD: A wonderful prologue and some interesting ideas.
THE BAD: Could have benefited greatly from some more editing and a course of Writing 101.
THE VERDICT: A good idea. It felt like the author was too lazy to do any of the hard bits – world building, good dialoge, suspense, and good prose.
MY RATING: 4,5/10 Really not that good.
The Clockwork Century:
I have great stamina when it comes to reading and I hardly ever lem a book. The possibility of missing out on a great ending is too big. But sometimes, a novel drags you along and leads nowhere and it’s just not worth my time to finish it. So this is a review of a little more than the first half of the book (plus, I peeked at the ending and am glad I didn’t plough all the way through to get there – so not worth it).
THE WHITE FOREST
by Adam McOmber
Published: Touchstone, September 2012
Copy: ebook via NetGalley
My rating: 4/10
First sentence: When Nathan Ashe disappeared from the ruined streets of Southwark, I couldn’t help but think that the horror was, at least in part, my own design.
Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father in a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret – an unexplainable gift that allows her to see the souls of man-made objects – and this talent isolates her from the outside world. Her greatest joy is wandering the wild heath with her neighbors, Madeline and Nathan. But as the friends come of age, their idyll is shattered by the feelings both girls develop for Nathan, and by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic popular with London’s elite. Day encourages his followers to explore dream manipulation with the goal of discovering a strange hidden world, a place he calls the Empyrean.
A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events that led up to Nathan’s disappearance. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane realizes she must discover the origins of her talent, and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.
Once more I am reminded that a beautiful cover is just not enough. Even good writing isn’t enough. Adam McOmber’s style captivated me and for the first 50 pages or so, I was drawn into this strange world of Jane Silverlake, the girl who hears and feels the souls of inanimate objects surrounding her. What drives this story is that you want to know what exactly this gift is, who Jane really is, and – of course – what happened to Nathan Ashe. But you can only string your readers along for so long.
When, after more than half of the book, there still was no movement in the plot, I threw the towel. There was one hint that made me suspect Jane’s identity and a peek to the ending told me I was right. This was not the plot twist I was hoping for while reading the first 170 pages. With so much build-up, there really has to be a big bang waiting for a reader at the end to make it all worthwhile.
As the characters go, they were interesting enough. Jane – an introvert, an outsider, almost completely isolated from society – paled in comparison to her two friends, Maddy and Nathan. Maddy, obviously jealous and visibly not as loyal to Jane as she likes to pretend, was probably the most interesting character in the entire book. She actually does things. But even when the girls take matters into their own hands and investigate Nathan’s disappearance, the author gets lost in memories of the past. Just as the plot inches forward a tiny bit, Jane remembers some really boring episode from the past – either where Nathan is curious and wants to experiment with her gift and/or when Maddy is jealous because of that and talks down to Jane. This structure is repeated over and over – until Nathan’s diary is found. Now, what normal person would read a few pages and then put it aside? Jane, of course. If you’re looking for your best friend and potential lover, wouldn’t you plough through that diary to gather as much information as possible? Apparently not. Jane puts it aside often and only reads a few pages at a time. Which makes for an even slower plot.
I am sorry to say I didn’t finish this novel because the writing was really well done. There is atmosphere hidden in these pages and the characters have potential. It just wasn’t realised very well. I read the last pages to find out the one thing that interested me – what the fuck is Jane’s gift all about? – and was disappointed there as well. The answer to this question is, to say it in simple terms, lame. Maybe this book is better suited for more patient readers, and I might be tempted to try another novel by this author (like I said, good writing there), but this was not my kind of book.
THE GOOD: Atmospheric writing, a mystery that sucks you in quickly. Tension between the leading ladies.
THE BAD: Gets boring after a while, very repetitive, drags you along without any real pay-off.
THE VERDICT: I wouldn’t recommend it. Read the first few pages on Amazon and if you love it, think whether you want exactly the same for 300 pages and don’t mind any lack of plot. If the answer is yes, go for it.
RATING: 4/10 Not that good
Okay, my first fairytale month book was not great. That doesn’t mean anything, right? There’s plenty more out there and while the McKinley hype didn’t convince me personally, I’m not giving up on fairy tale retellings (or McKinley, for that matter) just yet.
published: David Fickling, 2011 (1978)
my rating: 3,5/10
first sentence: I was the youngest of three daughters.
The author loses herself in descriptions of the castle, the gardens, the forks on the table, literally every single detail. There are authors who can pull that off – Tolkien’s descriptions of landscapes never really bothered me – but here, where the plot is nothing new, I felt the author should at least bring something new to the table. And she simply didn’t.
Reading Beauty felt a lot like watching a boring version of the Disney movie (granted, the book was published first) without singing or fun or a good love story. If you tackle a well-known fairy tale, the only way to make it interesting to readers is to give them something they don’t expect. Here, everything is as expected. The only parts that were slightly more interesting to me, were Beauty’s sisters stories. I actually hoped Grace would end up happily ever after.
The characters are practically cardboard. But that is also not surprising. Most fairy tales don’t have a lot of character variety, after all. But at least the Beast should have shown more temper, not been so damn nice all the time, and maybe talked more to his “guest”. The few conversations they do have don’t really teach us anything new about either character. It is usually just the Beast proposing and Beauty refusing him. Wearing pretty dresses, riding her horse and walking around the castle, reading books, does not make for a page turner.
I liked the introduction well enough, the writing style is enchanting, the idea of Beauty actually being very plain ingtriguing. It takes very long until the Beast appears, though and then, McKinley does nothing but describe interior decoration to us. Beauty wanders through the endless corridors of the Beast’s castle and looks at each candlestick in minute detail – which makes up pretty much the complete middle third of the book. The few glimpses of plot in between did not keep me intersted.
I was ready to drop the book and start my luck with something else, when Grace’s story became more important again. As I said, I cared about Beauty’s sisters (perfect as they are) and wanted to see them happy. So I raced through the last third of this novel to get my happy ending. The breaking of the curse and the Beast’s transformation are done so quickly that there was no way for me to build up any emotion. I did come to care for the characters, in the end, but not enough to want more by McKinley.
This reminded me a lot of the Walt Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. Magical, invisible servants, blankets that tuck you in themselves, doors that open as if by magic… and a protagonist who loves books. I’m assuming Disney was borrowing heavily from McKinley’s reimagined fairy tale. Unfortunately for me, this made the story not only 100% predictable, it also made it look bad. Because, let’s be honest, Disney did a much better job. And offered a bunch of sing-along music that I still love.
THE GOOD: Appropriate, magical writing style, characters often stand for one particular quality – very reminiscent of old fairy tales.
THE BAD: Very, very boring at times. How a child is going to push through this, I don’t know. I was tempted to lem the book. Ending feels rushed.
THE VERDICT: A story that very likely inspired Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – Disney did it much better, however, and I recommend the movie over this book any time.
RATING: 3,5/10 Didn’t like it, but it had potential
Listed among the classics of fantasy, this book has embarrassed me long enough. I finally picked it up, immediately liked it, only to lose interest around the middle. I definitely prefer Le Guin in the sci-fi genre.
by: Parnassus Press
My rating: 5/10
First sentence: The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.
Ged grows up in a little town where he is taught some hedgemagic by the local witch. Soon his overwhelming talent is noticed by a wandering magician who takes him on as apprentice and sends him off to wizard school. During his studies there, Ged accidentally unleashes a dark force that follows him wherever he goes. As he leaves school, he’ll have to decide whether to keep running from this evil shadow or to take a stand and fight it…
Le Guin tells this classic high fantasy story in a fairy tale-like manner. There are very few dialogues, a chapter may months or years go by and action is described to inform, rather than grab the reader’s attention. While the author knows how to write beautifully, I’m not sure this dry style really suited the plot of this particular book. Le Guin’s language was enjoyable to read but the book had many things not working for it.
Earthsea, for example, is – as the name suggests – a collection of islands, groups of islands, and little islets in a vast and unknown sea. I find the idea of such a world quite charming and the cultures that resulted interesting. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see a lot of those. There’s hints, obviously, at people being fishermen and sailors but it didn’t really come alive for me.
Same goes for the characters. While we follow Ged’s journey, he remains kind of in the background. We are told about his feelings and motivations but I didn’t really feel it. As for the other characters, they all felt very much like cardboard to me. There is one rival during Ged’s school time, he meets a ton of people when travelling but nobody came close to me. They are introduced only to have no real part in the story later on. Not caring about the characters, even the protagonist, is a bad thing for me. I’m a huge fan of character-driven books, I don’t have to have a lot of plot or action as long as I find the characters intriguing. I don’t even have to like them. Give me an interesting asshole any day. But this? Meh.
The story arc as such felt unoriginal and standard fantasy, but then this book was published in the late sixties when the market wasn’t as overhwelmingly full of Tolkien knock-offs as it is now. I’m sure it wouldn’t have felt as generic then as it did to me now.
So while I did enjoy Le Guin’s style in general, this book was not a great read for me. The fairy tale-like story telling worked much better in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books (which are aimed at children but are highly enjoyable even for adults) and felt very episodic and disjointed. Since I didn’t care about what happened to the characters, I’m probably going to forget about this book very soon. I will eventually give the second volume in the series a try but I’m keeping my hopes down, this time.
THE GOOD: Short book, nice writing.
THE BAD: Uninteresting characters, episodic plot, not very surprising ending.
THE VERDICT: Interesting to read from a (fantasy-) historical point of view but nothing that will last in my memory.
When I first found out that Marvel was publishing comic adaptations of Jane Austen’s work, I got excited and sceptical. Pride and Prejudice turned out really nice, however, and Sense and Sensibility absolutely blew me away. Marvel picked the perfect woman for the job of writing the adaptation, Nancy Butler, who makes the stories come to life without long narratives or exlpanations. While she’s been doing all of the Austen graphic novels so far, the artist has been a different one for each novel. And with Emma, I’ve been disappointed for the first time.
Art: Janet Lee
Adaptation: Nancy Butler
My rating: 4.5/10
First sentence: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, had achieved nearly twenty-one years with very little to distress of vex her.
Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen’s most flawless work.
I’m not going as far as to call myself an Austenite but I do enjoy Austen’s books and re-read them quite a lot. The transition into movies and graphic novels works surprisingly well and her characters feel as alive today as they must have in the 19th century. To call Emma “one of my favorite Austens” seems a little silly, seeing as Jane Austen only ever finished six novels, but this one is definitely up in my top 3. Naturally, I was excited to get my hands on the graphic novel, even though the cover already made me a little cautious.
This is surely a question of taste but I didn’t warm to the drawing style at all. In fact, I quite hated it. The characters just look ugly. The have round blobs on their necks and if it weren’t for different hair colors and styles I would have had a hard time knowing Emma from Harriet or Mrs Weston from Jane Fairfax. And I’ve read the novel many times! That’s a clear flaw in a comic book, if you ask me.
Plot-wise, many things and details have been left out but all the essentials are still there. My compliments to Nancy Butler who really has her Austen down and manages to deliver all the information needed to understand the story and watch the characters grow. Emma, in particular, didn’t lack any of the qualities I know from the well-beloved book. Mr Knightley may get a little less screen-time than I liked and Miss Bates’ silliness wasn’t quite as pronounced as in the novel or some movie adaptations. But it’s all there, more or less.
So why am I feeling so negatively about this comic book? It’s really just the drawings. While I devoured the other two Austen adaptations by Marvel in one go, I caught myself drifting from reading Emma, putting it down for a day or two and picking it up hopefully, only to sigh at the weird, shapeless lumps of characters and the pastel colors of Janet Lee. Sadly, this was my least favorite Austen experience (concerning the comics) so far but who knows? It might be your favorite…
THE GOOD: Fantastic adaptation. Even if you’ve never read Jane Austen, you should be able to follow the story and characters easily.
THE BAD: Drawing style and colors – I personally hated them.
THE VERDICT: Still a recommendable Austen adaptation but leaf through the first pages before you buy to see if you can bear the drawings.
MY RATING: 4,5/10