Review – Shades in Shadow

Cover of Shades in Shadow by N.K. JemisinShades in Shadow, N.K. Jemisin

This ebook is a collection of three short stories set in the same universe as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It revisits some of the characters and the consequences of the original trilogy, giving us a little more of Nahadoth, Hado and Glee Shoth, in turn. I’m fairly sure I missed out on some of the details because I haven’t read the books recently enough; I’m very sure I’ll reread this when I have, to fully appreciate it. As it is, though, they’re well-crafted stories, with the beautiful imagery and clarity I expect of Jemisin’s writing.

There are moments of characterisation that you don’t need to have recently read the trilogy to appreciate: Itempas, confronting change, his body treating it like an infection. Nahadoth, grieving and betrayed, betraying himself with the odd moment of affection for Tempa, with moments of regret. Glee Shoth, claiming her birthright, with strength from both her parents.

I think I liked the Nahadoth story the most, because it deals with that early aftermath of betrayal, and also most directly with Nahadoth’s nature. The various ways of describing him, “that which cannot be controlled”, etc, all work to crystallise the character, to get across in as few words as possible what Nahadoth is, and what he stands for.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Summer Tree

Cover of The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel KayThe Summer Tree, Guy Gavriel Kay
Originally reviewed 22nd January, 2012

Fresh from reading most of Tolkien’s work, and writing a gigantic essay on it too, I have a different perspective on Kay’s work. Especially when reminded that Kay worked on The Silmarillion with Christopher Tolkien. He has a lot in common with Tolkien, really: the synthesis of a new mythology (though not done as history, and therefore lacking all the little authenticating details that Tolkien put in) using elements of an old one (though Kay used Celtic and Norse mythology, and goodness knows what else). The comparisons can’t help but be made, though Kay sees his world as a tapestry and Tolkien as a song being sung.

I don’t think he makes his world as well as Tolkien does. I feel info-dumped, at times, rather than as if I’m just touching on the tip of a giant submerged mass of lore and wonder that even the inhabitants of his world only half-know. His gods are much more touchable, and more concerned with the individual fates of mortal men, and so less distant and thus less awe-inspiring. I think, perhaps more like C.S. Lewis, he tries to handle more than he can really weave together.

But, that’s not to say it’s totally unsuccessful. A book that can have me laughing at one moment and weeping not three pages later can’t exactly be classed as unsuccessful. His style is distancing at first — perhaps too much of a high tone, which Tolkien avoided with his hobbits — but there are some lovely lines and turns of phrase, and undoubtedly he makes me care about the characters.

Another hint that he’s doing quite well is that this is at least my fourth reread of this trilogy, though I could well have read it more than that.

Not perfect, but beloved all the same.

Rating: 4/5

Review – The Winter Sea

Cover of The Winter Sea by Susanna KearsleyThe Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley

It took me a while to read this one, and I think I was slightly less engaged than with the other books. The Scottish setting is great, and I’m always impressed by the sense of place that Kearsley conjures up. I wasn’t that big a fan of the love triangles and such, though; I-love-you-but-you-love-another isn’t one of my favourite tropes, and though it was light, it was played with her. I’d rather not have two romantic rivals.

It’s still a book by Kearsley, though, so it’s an enjoyable read: details of character and place to make you really feel like you know the landscape and the people, so you can picture the scenes. The supernatural element, well, I’m not a fan of memories-in-DNA as a plot point (Assassin’s Creed gets away with it only because I hold games to different standards, I think), so that link between the main characters wasn’t a big thing for me.

I feel like I liked both halves of the novel — the past and the present — well enough, but I’d have liked them more if either was the whole story. I’m not sure what could be made of the modern story, but it felt like the stakes were low, everything muted; it was just a frame story for the storyline set in the past.

There are some beautiful bits of description about the wintery sea, and I think whoever retitled this as Sophia’s Secret has no soul. The Winter Sea is a perfect title for it.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Cover of Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling

Back to my Harry Potter reread! Woo. This was always my favourite of the four books I’ve read, and I was actually a little reluctant to finish it and move on to the next. I enjoyed Harry’s relationships with Lupin and the brief glimpse of his relationship with Sirius, and the way that their inclusion expands the world a little and gives us a hint of Harry’s parents’ lives, and also of the dark frightened world before Voldemort was defeated.

The Dementors, to me, are more frightening than Voldemort. At least as far as I’ve read in the books, he can’t take away your capacity for hope, even if he plunges you into despair. The Dementors… the moment when Sirius cringes in front of them, near the end, is horrible. They’re the first real signs of a darker touch to the wizarding world; something that can’t just kill you, but can steal your soul — Voldemort can’t do that.

The teenage drama of Ron and Hermione is… less fun. I gather it pretty much carries on as it is, and that maybe it’s meant to foreshadow their relationship being different to the relationship with Harry, and it’s not really an aspect I’m interested in. Honestly, I’m not particularly fond of the idea of any pairing up in these books — unless it’s Sirius and Lupin. Uh.

Enjoyed the reread, though I’m not sure I enjoyed it to the same extent I used to.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Poison

Cover of Poison by Sarah PinboroughPoison, Sarah Pinborough

This is a difficult book to decide about, for me. I like the narration, the way it’s written; it’s deceptively simply written, with that fairytale like tone, and yet there’s a lot of rewriting going on. It’s not just the sexual content, but also the ambivalent attitude to the same. There’s casual sex, sex for power, shameful sex… You’d think it would be sex positive, with the powerful figures of Snow White and Lilith, but it really isn’t; sex is a thing that people seem to use to control each other, it’s just taking of power.

I’m not a big fan of all that, though I’m thinking that probably wasn’t what the author wanted a reader to take away from the story. But the ambivalence isn’t just about the portrayal of sex: it’s also about Lilith, the wicked stepmother. She’s young, she used to laugh, and Snow wants to get through to her… but she’s transforming into something wicked. There’s a commentary there on power and powerlessness, too. Sometimes it seems like we’re meant to pity Lilith, to believe she’s doing things wrong but wishing she could get them right. Sometimes she just seems hateful. The line isn’t walked delicately enough to keep both sides in sight.

There’s also all the allusions to other stories — Aladdin, Hansel and Gretel — which felt too obtrusive to be clever, to me.

I’m planning to read Charm, and maybe Beauty as well, and that might help me figure out what to think.

Rating: 3/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday celebrates characters who are fellow book nerds.

  1. Adrien English, Fatal Shadows. He owns a bookshop and it sounds awesome.
  2. Matilda Wormwood, Matilda. Well duhhh.
  3. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter. Oh Hermione.
  4. Cath Avery, Fangirl. She writes fanfic!
  5. Jo March, Little Women. One of my favourite characters when I was a kid. I wanted to sell my hair to be just like her, at one point.
  6. Jo Bettany, The Chalet School. Who else read these books? It can’t just be me??
  7. Celaena Sardothien, Throne of Glass. May have been the first thing I related to about this character.
  8. Beauty, Robin McKinley. Booooks. I want that library.
  9. Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables. Honestly, probably the originator of my hankering for red hair.
  10. Harriet Vane, Strong Poison. She’s a writer as well as a reader!

I always need more bookish characters to be friends with; who’ve I missed out?

Review – The Goddess Chronicle

Cover of The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo KirinoThe Goddess Chronicle, Natsuo Kirino, trans. Rebecca Copeland

This is a really good retelling of the story of Izanagi and Izanami, with a dual thread of story where a young woman’s life echoes that of the goddess as she finally goes to serve her. The translation seems to capture the flavour of the original, a sort of tone that seems to be as distinct to Japanese stories as there is one I find distinct in Russian stories. It’s mostly simplistic language, which maintains that fairytale feel.

I wasn’t a big fan of the narrative voice, though. Sometimes it’s first person, sometimes third, and it’s not always clear where/why the switch has happened. I felt like I didn’t always follow the reasoning behind the characters’ thoughts, particularly not in the last page or so, and Izanami as a personification of all the sorrows of all women didn’t work for me. Like, she’s a “woman among women”, for giving birth and being abandoned by a man. So not to give birth, not to participate in that aspect of femininity, means you’re not properly a woman? You haven’t had real female experiences? Hm.

There are some great moments of tension, grief and understanding, and some beautiful description, but it doesn’t come together right for me. Part of that might be because I’m definitely missing context; my only other contact with the story of Izanagi and Izanami is round the edges in Persona 4, and I’m not sure that even really touches on it much — it’s more from meta about the game than in the game itself. So it’s difficult to really contextualise this retelling and the commentary it makes on the original story, which is always a shame when reading a retelling, for me.

Rating: 2/5