Review – Over Sea, Under Stone

Cover of Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan CooperOver Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper

It’s time for a The Dark is Rising sequence readathon again! If you wish to join, you can do so via this blog. It’s the perfect time of year to reread the books, at least the second one in particular, with the winter solstice coming up. I always try and read them around this time of year!

With that said, here goes my millionth (ish) review of Over Sea, Under Stone. I’ve noted before that it’s basically an Enid Blyton adventure/mystery story, with Arthurian trappings. This time through, I noticed a bit more than that; despite the fact that it is much lighter than the later books in tone, for the most part, there are moments of darkness and fear: the moment on the top of the cliff with the standing stones, Barney captured, Barney in the cave, the last few pages before the epilogue… Because of that link to Arthur, because of the figure of Merriman, the seriousness that we see later in the story is still there. The Dark doesn’t go away safely in the way that the criminals always do at the end of a Famous Five book.

I think it’s partly that which makes the books survive for me — under the concerns of the children, there’s that darkness and fear.

Another thing which gets me is how all the people act like people. Jane and Barney and Simon get scared, they get jealous of each other, they puff themselves up and act important… The adults are indulgent, complacent. And then there’s the poetry of the quiet moments, the moon on the water and the quiet dusty attic and… Yeah. Brilliant writing. Not as compelling as the later books, but even here it’s very fine.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Wizard of Earthsea

Cover of A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin

This month’s challenge in the Book Club on Habitica is reading (or rereading, in my case) Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books. I scarcely need the encouragement to come back and read them again, so of course, I was in for this. It’s interesting reading this first one as an adult, having gone through my own coming of age and seeing Ged as young — just seventeen! It’s also interesting because I’ve read some of Le Guin’s critiques of her own work: the lack of place for women, “weak as women’s magic”, the typical male-centred quest story. It’s interesting to think about what could’ve been changed, and how that would have changed the canon of fantasy.

At first glance, the world of Earthsea is relatively typical fantasy. Yet there’s a spirituality here, too, and Le Guin’s interest in anthropology — her references to the customs like Sunreturn and the Long Dance — give it depth. It’s definitely its own thing, not derived solely from the fantasy tradition. And I’ve thought of Ged’s flight away from and then toward his shadow in very personal terms for a while now: to me it echoes my struggle with my anxiety, the way that I was weak and unable to fight it whenever I tried to pretend it away or avoid it. I had to face it and admit it was part of me, as Ged does with the shadow he’s unleashed. And like Ged, I didn’t stop being scared of it, but I gained strength from finding the way to fight it.

(Don’t get me started on the parallels in The Tombs of Atuan between the forces of the Nameless and depression, abuse. Now that I’ve thought about it, I think I could write a paper on it.)

“Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life.”

Rating: 5/5

Review – Of Bone and Thunder

Cover of Of Bone and Thunder by Chris EvansOf Bone and Thunder, Chris Evans
Received to review via Netgalley

Once I read some reviews pointing out this is essentially a novel about a fantasy version of Vietnam, “slyts” and all, I couldn’t unsee it. I found it surprisingly absorbing at first, though I’m generally not that interested in war stories. There are some amazing bits of description — mostly gross, but it still makes you really feel the world in which the characters live, the heat and dirt, the discomfort of riding a dragon, the futility of the fight.

But… the dull grind of it started to get to me. When they talk about this being anything like Tolkien, they really mean just because it’s got dragons. It’s basically a very thinly veiled version of Vietnam. Everything’s dirty and futile and there’s no justice in it. I couldn’t keep track of the characters, given their fantasy-fied names (which made me wonder if Evans actually bothered thinking about the language these people speak and what their naming conventions are, because I couldn’t really detect patterns), and I just… lost interest.

If you’re into war novels, though, it might be more up your alley. It’s definitely more Abercrombie than Tolkien in terms of tone, though. If you’re reading this for the dragons… to me, they were just a prop, a way of making the Vietnam War into a fantasy war.

Rating: 2/5

Review – A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

Cover of A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas SniegoskiA Kiss Before the Apocalypse, Thomas E. Sniegoski
Originally reviewed 10th April, 2011

Eighth book for the readathon in 2011. I was having to force myself to read the seventh book, but this was fun and absorbing, so I had no problems with falling asleep.

As might be predicted for me, I loved the references to Raymond Chandler (the detective is called Remy Chandler; his dog is Marlowe). I also loved the fact that in my head, Remy totally looked like Castiel from Supernatural, as portrayed by Misha Collins.

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse is basically the story of a sort-of-fallen angel who works as a private investigator, and who then finds himself caught up in investigating where the Angel of Death has got to and who wants to start the apocalypse. His closest sidekick is his dog, and not his cop friend, which was not what I expected — I wish supporting characters had been used better, actually. Francis and Lazarus were amazing. He should’ve used ’em and abused ’em.

The thing that I liked most was the relationship between him and his aged wife — given that, being an angel, he can’t age — and the tenderness between them, even when to outsiders she appears old enough to be his mother. I love Remy’s devotion to her.

Nothing amazingly special, but a fun (and quick) read.

Rating: 3/5

Review – The Seventh Bride

Cover of The Seventh Bride by T. KingfisherThe Seventh Bride, T. Kingfisher
Recieved to review via Netgalley

I actually bought this initially, but the Netgalley page said something about it being an updated version, so I went for it. I originally picked it up for the promise of a heroic little hedgehog, and I was very happy with that aspect — the hedgehog is brave, helpful, clever, and funny. It can’t speak, so it communicates with the protagonist via miming and yes/no answers. It sounded so cute. I want one!

The story itself, aside from the hedgehogs, is a nice reimagining of a Bluebeard fairytale — but darker, really, because instead of death, the antagonist steals things of worth from the women he marries — their voices, their eyes, their ability to die — and leaves them alive. I found the tone somewhat at odds with the perceived historical/mythological time it was set in; the protagonist was too modern in thought and sensibility in some ways, it seemed. But overall, I found it very enjoyable, and I loved the way it treated the other characters. The other wives, for example, are each different, some very strange, and each of them copes with what has happened to them in a different way. As people do.

And, just to reiterate: hedgehog!

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

Hello, everyone! This week, I have a relatively small haul — I think it might be the first time in a while I’ve really shown any restraint! I’m now trying not to buy any books until Christmas, so it’ll hopefully just be library books from here on out… I have just one new-to-me owned book this week, and that came via Illumicrate (which I need to review).

Cover of Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

I’ve heard a lot about this one, so I’m excited for it!

Library

Cover of The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie Cover of Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie Cover of Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Cover of Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey Cover of Arrow's Flight by Mercedes Lackey Cover of Arrow's Fall by Mercedes Lackey

Cover of Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater Cover of Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins

The Abercrombie books are rereads; I’ve never read Mercedes Lackey and spotted the omnibus of those at the library and thought, eh, why not?; Cait @ Paper Fury demanded I read some Maggie Stiefvater; and finally, I had access to Wolfhound Century on Netgalley… many moons ago. It’s time I actually reviewed it.

How’s everyone been? Interesting hauls? Tell!

Incidentally, I recently passed my 1,000th post and my 1,000th follower, and this is my 100th STS post. Definitely time to celebrate! But, does anyone know of a giveaway widget that works with WordPress-hosted blogs? Rafflecopter does not, as I recall.

Review – War of the Flowers

Cover of War of the Flowers by Tad WilliamsWar of the Flowers, Tad Williams
Originally reviewed 1st June, 2009

I read this book a long time ago — it was the first book by Tad Williams that I read — but never wrote a proper review for it. Both times I’ve read it I ate it up in about two days. The writing was pretty good — or it tasted good, anyway, from a synaesthete’s point of view — and the plot was interesting enough to draw me on and make me read it in great big chunks. There was something unmemorable about it, though. I have a pretty good memory, like my dad, and my dad is one of those guys who can tell you what happened in an obscure episode of the old series of Doctor Who that hardly anyone even remembers seeing. But I just didn’t really remember what happened in this book, so reading it again was actually mostly discovering things all over again.

One of the things I like a lot about the book is that it isn’t some great multi-volume epic with hundreds of characters. You stay focused on one main character throughout and don’t go off on too many tangents. Speculative fiction seems to, by default, come in trilogies, which drives me a little mad when I want a relatively simple/quick read. Unfortunately, this can be a bit of a pitfall, too. The War of the Flowers is pretty dense, and the main character, Theo Vilmos, is a bit slow and a bit of a jerk. He seems to sort of mean well, but he keeps saying and doing the wrong things.

There are some pretty awesome supporting characters — particularly Applecore, who is a little sprite with a foul mouth and a temper and, despite an odd soft spot for Theo, she calls him on his behaviour a lot. There’s a lot of other interesting characters, both good and bad, although some of them are more concepts than fully realised characters — for example, the Terrible Child.

There is also a lot of world-building packed into the book. Because parts of it rely on political machinations, there’s a lot of social/historical background packed in. It’s also complicated by the fact that Williams uses the old stories about Faerie, but his Faerie society is what we would consider to be more advanced: out of the medieval era into the world of “electricity”, etc. I liked the world he built quite a lot, although the obvious parallels with our modern world were somewhat intrusive. I don’t know how much it was intended to be a commentary on our world, but some parts felt rather pointed.

Overall, I think it could have been a shorter, slicker read, but I kind of liked the slow build. I’d say it’s just good summer holiday reading, but I know the first time I read it I read in the gaps between classes and so on, so it’s not something you can only stand if you settle down with it in the evenings or whatever. Depends how you read, I guess.

Rating: 4/5