Borderline by Mishell Baker

And how is everybody doing on this delightfully chilly, wonderfully cloudy, hopefully soon to be rainy day? And yes, yes, I know, ya’ll love it when it’s sunny and warm and sticky and disgusting outside, but I’m a west coaster at heart. I live here because I love the rain, and there has been nooooone of it for months. Let me have these few days before the heat ramps back up and it gets unbearable again.

Wait…are we talking about the weather? Is this where we’re at now? Is the magic gone? How do we get it back?

Talk about books, you say? Don’t mind if I do!

This is a novel that’s completely built on the back of its protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all here for weird urban fantasy settings and fairies and all that jazz, but I’ve read a lot of that kind of thing. The world building in this one is pretty solid. The rules are well laid out, but not so well laid out that there isn’t some mystery left, the fantastical elements come across as well worn and lived in, and there’s enough difference in the characterization of the fey for them to seem fresh enough (there have been sooooo many books about fairies that it would be next to impossible to come up with a completely and entirely original take. I don’t expect that. I just want you to put enough of a twist on them, on any common fantasy character you write about, so that I can recognize them as your faeries or werewolves or whatever). But the world building alone, with a more vanilla character at its centre, wouldn’t have been enough for it to stand out amongst its contemporaries.

Millie Roper, on the other hand, would draw the eye in any crowd she was in. I don’t know what it is about underdogs that people love so much, that I love so much. Maybe it’s seeing them think their way around problems. If you’re the big guy, the powerhouse, you don’t really have to do that. You just bash your way to the finish line and bobs your uncle. The game’s yours. But putting characters at a disadvantage forces them to be clever (if the writing is good. There’s nothing in this world that bothers me more than a hack writer who puts their character in a problem they can’t solve and then just cheats their way out of it). It turns every encounter they have, every obstacle they run up against, into a puzzle. How do you fight somebody twice your size? Who’s stronger, faster, better trained? How do you beat somebody who can give you a heart attack just by touching you? There’s nothing that we like more than a good puzzle (right? I know I kinda just spoke for everybody, but I can’t be alone on this one) with a clever solution.

Millie is the underdoggiest underdog who ever underdug. She’s got a boat load of mental health issues (borderline personality disorder, mild brain damage, and PTSD, both from her recent failed suicide attempt and the implied sexual assault that played a part in it) and a bunch of physical handicaps to boot. She tried to kill herself a year before the book opens and lost both of her legs in the attempt. She’s got prosthetics, good ones, but it’s still difficult for her to get up stairs or get out of vehicles. Running is generally out of the question. So is standing for too long. Plus she can’t even wear them too soon after getting out of a shower or if her skin gets irritated. The lady’s got about as many hurdles as a person can have. The weird thing was though, despite the fact that the book (and Millie) never forgets about the difficulties that she faces just getting around, I started to. She’s such a tough, smart, capable jackass that, over the course of the book, I forgot to think of her as the underdog. When she came up against challenges that seemed insurmountable, the question changed from “if” she was going to be able to do it, to “how” she was going to get it done.

Recommended for folks that like urban fantasy, darker faerie stories, and protagonists that may be assholes and complete trainwrecks, but are still the smartest person in any room they decide to stand in.

VBR

 

Ps. Just as a side note, I didn’t mention the representational aspect of this novel in the body of my review because it had nothing to do with why I bought it or enjoyed reading it, and it seemed a little…false to bring it up while I was talking about it. I’m here for more representation of all different types of people on the page, and think this book does a good job of getting across some of the daily difficulties (although don’t quote me on that. It felt authentic in the moment, but she could have made all of it up whole cloth and I wouldn’t know the difference) of what it would be like to live with certain physical and mental issues. Baker treats them realistically (sometimes Millie is a straight up jerk), but with compassion. Her story is sad, reaaaally sad, but it’s not a sob story. She’s not made to be pitied. It’s very well done. So if you’re looking for more of that stuff in your books, this is a good place to get it.

 

 

League of Dragons by Naomi Novik (Temeraire Wrap Up)

Ugh, you gals, I finalllllllllllllllllly did it!

Sorry that took so long! It’s partly because this was one big-ass series (9 books), and partly because during the last week I got a weird stomach flu that kept me from doing anything other than throwing up and ruining my best friend’s birthday. But I’m here! I did it! Yay me!

This series was great. I loved it from the first book, but early on there were a few problems that I wasn’t really sure how she was going to address. How do you make somebody root for colonial England, knowing what they’ve done? How do you then set them against Napoleon, when he’s treating his dragons better than those he’s fighting? How do you reconcile what you know about the world, with the belief system that your main character is going to have because of the time and place that he came from? This was set in a pretty savage part of human history, right in the thick of European colonialism, a time and place with countless political sticky wickets to get stuck in.

And honestly? I think Naomi Novik did about as good of a job as a person could do. She skillfully separates your sympathy from the government that’s fighting the war to the people fighting it, by pitting them against each other whenever the government does something immoral (like still supporting the slave trade, or deliberately spreading a disease among the rest of the dragons in the world, to give British aerial forces superiority) and showing them as being as foul and self-serving as they were (and are, and have always been). By the end of the books Will seems to have completely transferred his sense of duty from said government, the thing he used to look up to, to just the general good of the world. He does what needs to be done, no matter where that is or who it’s for. He makes it easy to cheer for him.

I spent some time on Will’s (the main character, other than Temeraire) personal growth in the last post, so I won’t go on and on about it here. Suffice it to say that he continually learns his way past his problematic English ideas about women, and doesn’t seem to really have any problem with racism or homophobia (to be fair, he does get hellllla uncomfortable when one of the party tells him that he’s gay, but I felt it was more his upper-crusty British mortification at somebody having to reveal anything personal about themselves to him, especially about sex, than it was homophobia). He’s a good character, easy to love and stand behind.

As for Napoleon, even though he does seem to have some good points about the treatment of dragons (who in this universe are intelligent and feeling creatures), she makes it pretty clear that his motives are selfish and that he’d do anything to get the supremacy that he craves. The sheer amount of bodies he climbs over to get what he wants solves the problem of connecting with him too much pretty neatly, though Naomi still manages to write him in a way where I didn’t hate him. I still understood him and why he was doing what he did. I had some sympathy for him, just not a lot.

One of the other things that I really, really dug about these books was getting to see how Novik had imagined our world would be changed by having these big, hulking, thinking weapons in it. Because dragons were everywhere, the invention of cannons as effective means of waging war didn’t knock askew the balance of power the way that they did in our world (it was actually more complicated than that, but I’m trying to keep this blog post from completely getting away from me). I’ve always wondered what the world would have looked like if British (and other European) people hadn’t fucked it so hard, if they’d left American and African cultures to develop unmolested. Novik takes a run at what that would look like and it’s great, smart and well thought out. About as good as anybody not within those cultures themselves could’ve done. It scratched a fiction itch I’ve had for a long time. Plus it was just satisfying to see the English try and do all the shitty things that they’d done throughout our history, but fail miserably.

As much as I loved the books, I do have one bone to pick with Naomi Novik, and it’s this: Tenzin and Will. Are you kidding me? You spent the whole series building this beautiful relationship between the two, where they depended on and anchored one another, where they understood and cared for each other (Tenzin was the one that stopped Will from compromising himself morally when he was in despair over being branded a traitor. And when Will lost his memory, seeing Tenzin was the thing that brought it back. Not Temeraire, not his essentially adopted daughter, not his friends. Tenzin) and in the end…nothing. Well, not nothing. They built a wonderful life long friendship blah blah blah. But I was expecting, hoping for, more. It would have been nice to finally get a relationship in fiction between two masculine, heroic characters that generally identify as straight (if you, like me, are looking for varying representation of LGBTQ people in fiction, hit up Black Sails. It’s way, way better than it’s lousy first season would have you believe), and it really seemed like that’s what she was building up to, and then just…nope. I know you can’t always get what you want, but I really, really wanted this and was super disappointed when it didn’t happen.

Okay! I recommend this series for alternate history nerds, dragon lovers (I feel like that might mean something weirder than I meant it to. No judgement!), and anybody who likes long-ass, satisfying, well written, well-thought out fantasy series. Novik put a boatload of work into these books, and it shows. It’s been a while since I liked a series this much.  Just more gays next time please!

VBR

 

Ps. I did have one more tiny quibble that I just can’t bring myself to leave without mentioning. In one of the books Will loses his memory, which is a story trope that I haaaaaaaaaaate, and one that went on for a lot longer than it should have. I’m not really sure why she included it. The story doesn’t seem like it would’ve changed that much if he’d known who he was all along. I kind of held out hope that it was to set up how important Tenzin had become to him, but that ended up being nothing so…yeah. Not really what that was about, but it wasn’t for me. If you’re like me and you hate that kind of thing, be warned, it’s a big portion of one of the biggest books. Other than that though, dive in!

 

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

I know, I know, I know. You’re tired of hearing about Game of Thrones. Trust me, I am too. Twitter has nothing else to talk about and my Facebook feed has been clogged with review posts and spoiler posts and theory posts. Hostelworld even sent me an email to let me know about the “Game of Thrones locations” that were on sale. It’s reaching Star Wars-esque levels of cultural saturation (I went into a grocery store one time during the Force Awakens madness and, I shit you not, saw a Star Wars themed bag of oranges. I mean, just…what?), and I bet you’d all rather read about something, anything, else.

BUT! Here we are. And despite the super cool dude persona I’ve been cultivating by bucking all the trends, seeing the Game of Thrones-y stuff out there has reminded me of how much I love the Song of Ice and Fire books, and why.

These novels are essentially famous for two things: their extremity and their bleakness (three, I guess, if you count the world building, which is bananas good and in depth). They’re hella violent, chock full of sex (mostly not of the romantic, vanilla variety), and filled to the brim with terrible people doing horrible things. Nothing ever goes right for anybody and whenever it does seem like everything might, finally, work out, somebody does something selfish or terrible and everything falls to pieces again. The thing that people don’t often talk about though, is why these books are so brutal and bleak, and what it means.

Brace yourselves, I’m about to get very mildly controversial: George R.R. Martin has written one of the best long-form anti-war series of all time. The world he built is harsh and unfair, yes, but that’s because it’s a world at war. There’s constant commentary about how badly the common people are used for the personal ambitions of the rich and powerful, how little violence solves, how futile and fleeting and empty conquest or power can be. The countryside of Westeros is cracked and fractured, its people broken and hungry, and for what? The leaders who have used that blood to buy them power rarely hold it for long, and when they do they usually find that it’s not exactly what they were expecting. More often than not they meet an end that’s even more undignified and bloody than the people they stepped on to get to their crowns. The horrors he depicts in his series aren’t just for shock value or to serve as a counter-weight to the lighter, fluffier fantasy fare that was popular when this series first arrived, they’re meant to convey his genuine disgust at warfare and the way it had often been treated in fantasy up until that point.

Which leads me to my next point about this series. There have been some accusations levied against the books and their treatment of women as misogynistic. Now before I embark on the sticky wicket that is trying to explain why I don’t think those accusations are entirely fair (with one notable exception), I’m going to acknowledge straight off the bat that what I think doesn’t really matter. If you’re wounded by something, or offended by something, somebody telling you that it’s neither dangerous nor offensive doesn’t really mean anything. The fact that you pulled it out of the text is evidence enough that it was there, somewhere. You get from a story what you get from it, and I can’t, and wouldn’t really want, to change that. I just have a different interpretation of it, and since this blog is my own personal exercise in self-indulgent word spewage, that’s what you’re about to read. Unless, you know, you don’t want to. You’re an adult and the internet is filled with other places to read things. But, if you do stick around and just disagree, please, counter-interpretations in the comments! I’m interested in hearing about the different ways people see and think about things. Just nothing using scenes from the show as a basis for your arguments please. They’ve made some choices there that are different from the novels, ones that I feel absolutely no desire to defend.

Truly awful, terrible things happen to women in these books. They’re beaten, they’re raped, they’re murdered. They’re caged and kept and traded in marriages for political advantage. And while I agree that the behaviour towards women in the books is misogynistic and gross as hell, I don’t think the books themselves are. Those acts are never framed as a positive or (again with one exception, which I’ll get to at the end) used to titillate. The people who commit the acts are depicted as the monsters that they are, and often meet ends that are as cruel as they deserve. The treatment of women by patriarchal societies in wartime (and, you know, always) is one of vilest parts of human history. It’s not pleasant to read about, and I totally get it if it’s inclusion in the books makes you just not want to bother with them at all, but it does fit with the theme of the novels. He’s shining a light on all the ugly parts of war, even the hardest ones to look at, to strip away the nobility and glory and honor that normally gets heaped on them by the genre. At least, that’s what I think (and hope) he’s trying to do. Do I think he always pulls it off perfectly? Hell, no. Our introduction to Dany in the first novel is a particularly bad example. I read something by him a little while ago pushing back against the criticisms of his books by saying that Dany’s wedding night was handled better in the novels than in the show because Drogo asks permission before they sleep together, sort of, but…no. Dany’s a child, around thirteen years old, and Drogo is a grown ass man, which, no matter how you frame it, is pretty fucking gross. Not to mention that she’s in a strange environment, surrounded by only him and his people, with no friends or support, no idea what would happen if she displeased him. That, in no way shape or form, is a situation which is conducive to consent. Plus, the writing of that scene is really…ooky. It’s a major mistep, but not representative of the books on a whole.

There’s also just a ton of strong, badass ladies in his books that either use the rules of the patriarchal system that they’re trapped in to their advantage, or just disregard them completely. Cersei may be vile and short-sighted, cruel and self-centred, but she’s a force of nature. Arya and Brienne are some of my all-time favourite characters, in any stories, and Sansa gets far less credit than she deserves.

Anywhoodle! Just to wrap this up I’ll say that while I loved all these books, and think they’re all definitely worth reading, the first is still probably my favourite. It was so different from anything that I’d read at the time, so completely new, and the ending of the Ned Stark storyline is still, to this day, one of the most bold, surprising things I’ve read in a fantasy series.

Recommended if you like your fantasies big and sprawling and complex, if don’t mind watching people you’ve grown attached to fail and probably die, and if you’re not put off by whole paragraphs devoted to the description of various types of glazed meats.

 

VBR

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

This is going to be a short one for a couple of reasons. One is that this was a pretty light read (in a very not bad way), and two is that I don’t really have that much to say about it (also in a good way).

Chuck Wendig is such a dependable writer for fun, grimy, action-packed books. They’re always fast, inventive, well-written and, most importantly, smart. I never have to whistle past plot holes or mistakes, never have to grit my teeth through a scene where a character acts like an idiot in order to push forward the plot. His Miriam Black series is one of my favourite supernatural mysteries out there, with a great hook and an even better ballsy, brash protagonist. This one has a lot more full-on supernatural elements than I was expecting having read the Black books (blue rocks that act like angel dust and open your third eye, goblins, zombies, demons, and gigantic chthonic worm gods, to name a few) but the quality of the writing and enjoyment of the experience were about the same. I left it feeling like I’d got exactly what I went in for.

Hence the short review. I went in looking for a good time, got it, and now I’m moving on to the next one. Hurrah!

For people that love the grimier, filthier urban/noir fantasies, old school gumshoe tales with a bit of a Lovecraftian spin,  and a well-written, ass-kicking good time.

VBR

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Hello friends!

Now I know that I’ve been saying that I love things a lot lately (and it’s true. I’ve been on a wild hot streak for great books. That and I’ve been dipping into my back catalogue of beloved reads whenever I think I have something to say about them, rather than writing about books that I’m either not that into, or just liked and don’t have that much to say about), but I don’t want that to undermine the praise I’m about to heap on this particular novel. Which, when you think about it, why should it? I say I love people and different things a lot, yeah, but I mean it every time. I love to love things! And why not? Who wants to walk through life searching for reasons to dislike stuff? So I’m just going to say it, and I don’t want to hear anything about it, okay?

I loooooved this book.

There have been lots of books that I’ve liked recently (tons! See previous rambles), but this definitely going in my all-time fantasy favourites. I’d had it recommended to me a bunch of times before, seen it around in book shops and the internet, but for some reason I just never picked it up. I think it may have been my quick, lazy scanning of the description on the back, coupled with the name of the book itself, that made me think it was kind of YA-y and not really up my alley (there’s nothing wrong with YA. In fact, most of the YA stuff that I’ve read I’ve at least liked. I just don’t read a ton of it and I have to be in the mood for it when I do). But I finally received the recommendation that tipped me over the edge the other day and I haven’t seen the sun or any of my friends since.

Right off the top, YA this book is not. It is the complete and polar opposite of YA.  This book is OABBA (old-ass, bitter, broken adult). This is easily one of the most brutal, intense, completely banana-pants books I’ve ever read. And trust me, I’ve read some really weird shit (Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Dark Tower Series, anything written by Jeff Vandermeer). I always really dig it when a fantasy book leans into the limitlessness of the medium. You want a man that runs a library which holds the entirety of the knowledge he’s collected over his sixty thousands years as maybe-God? No problem. How about a family where some of the siblings can talk to animals, others can bring people back from the dead or use their ghost babies to see the future, and one of them has gone a little kooky from spending too much time in the afterlife (having been murdered in every conceivable way by their Father)? Why not? Think you should throw in a little crazy demi-god of murder fighting the US army to spice it up a bit? Go nuts! This novel is so jam packed with good, out there, original ideas that it easily could have rested on the laurels of its imagination and phoned the rest of it in. I still would have given it an A.

But it didn’t. I’m shocked (and jealous and…a little aroused?) that this is Scott Hawkins first book. I think it might be one of the most well plotted, tightly structured fantasy novels I’ve ever read. Even though the framing of the story is massive and sprawling (the search for a potentially dead God, the vying for his now empty throne, the end of the world), the actual core of the story is really personal, almost small. The threats are all legitimate and well established (we know how bad the bads are, what it is they can and will do), but even more importantly than that they’re properly motivated. You may not always know why people are doing the terrible things they’re doing while they do them, but by the end of the novel it all makes sense. It’s incredibly complicated, filled with a complex, diverse cast of characters who are all intelligent (they all do the things that intelligent people would do in their circumstances…for the most part. Sometimes the situations are so wacky that it’s hard to tell what it is a smart person would do), capable, driven by their own agendas, and often at odds with one another. That’s a lot of balls to juggle, but Hawkins nails it. It all just fits, you know? And the ending is so satisfying that, even though I love all the characters and definitely want to spend more time in this world, I don’t really want to go back to this story. It’s done. It’s been told. I don’t need anymore.

Anyways, I could really go on and on about this book (there’s so much good stuff here guys), but I feel like you’ve put up with enough of my barely coherent rambling for one day, so I’ll try my best to wrap it up. It’s big, brutal, surprisingly moving, darkly funny, extremely well thought out and, for all that, still a blast to read. I’d recommend this one for anybody who loves mythology, urban fantasy, dark humour, or just likes a super-duper, fucked up, wackadoodle story every now and again.

Get out there and revel in the weirdness, ya’ll. It’s lots of fun 🙂

VBR

PS. As a brief disclaimer, this book is not for the faint of heart. It’s got just about every type of violence you could think of in it (sexual, psychological, emotional, boybeingslowlyburnedaliveoverthecourseofafewdaysinagiantbronzebullwhilehissiblings-aremadetowatchinordertoteachthemallaveryimportantlessonaboutlisteningtoyourfather-ical) and more than a few that would never cross your mind. If we’re doing a 1 to 10 scale of violence and depredation, 1 being See Spot Run, and 10 being A Song of Ice and Fire, this is a solid 12 or 13. I think you should brave it, but if you’re not the type of person that can handle this type of thing, you’ve been suitably warned.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson

Even though now, when asked, I always list this as one of the best fantasy series of all time, I actually went at this one a couple of times before I was able to really sink into it. I remember my uncle, the man who introduced me to fantasy in the first place, gave me this as a gift when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old (and I know, some of you out there are thinking about the sex and the violence in these books and wondering if that’s an appropriate gift for a twelve year old and I just want to say…cool it, okay? The internet exists. There’s dicks and boobs and karate fights everywhere. This battle you’re fighting is already lost). He really recommended it, and I thought he was just the coolest, so I gave it the ol’ college try, bounced off the first chapter a few times, then shelved it and moved on. Thinking back on it now, I’m pretty sure the thing that pushed me away from it the first time, is the same thing that made me love this series when I actually got into it.

It’s completely and totally fucking bananas. It starts off in the aftermath of this huge magical battle, with a flying castle thing and hell hounds being teleported into a wizard’s tent and a marionette doll with a powerful mage (or maybe a demi god? It’s been a while you guys) trapped inside and a whole bunch of other batshit things just flying around. And it just spirals out from there. There’s a whole race of undead soldiers and weird loner sealmen things that can bring on ice ages and four armed giants and gods from different dimensions and just about everything you could think to shove in a fantasy series. I love it. It’s so crazy. As you can probably tell, I’m all about the weird now, the weirder the better, but back then it was a little much for me. And if it’s a little much for you too, I get it. No judgement.

But you guys, you should really stick with it. This series is sooooo big and well thought out and well written and epic and surprising and amazing and weird (are you allowed to put half a dozen conjunctives in one sentence? I guess that’s what happens when you drink a vat of coffee for your morning meal. Looking back on it, this whole post has been a little more Burroughs-y than normal. Ah, the wonders of cheap and readily available drugs for breakfast). I had a hermitty, indoor summer a few years back where I read through all of them and, even though this series has ten books in it and each are around a thousand pages, at the end of it I was still sad. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is perfect, one of the best I’ve read in a fantasy series. The problem was, I didn’t want it to end at all. What I wanted was to spend more time in this world, more time with the characters and the cultures that Erikson created…..After ten thousand pages. If that doesn’t sell you on this series, than I don’t think I really want to be book friends with you anymore.

Great for readers of epic fantasy who are looking for something a little different, history and anthropology nerds (there’s tons of stuff about ethnic groups and races, meaning other than human, migration patterns of people etc. etc.), and people interested in worlds with a deep, well-conceived mythology and history.

Okay, I’m going to go run a few laps or maybe take a Xanex or something.

Love,

VBR ❤

PS. As a brief side note, I’m aware that there’s somebody else out there writing more stuff in this universe (or was, I haven’t really kept up) but…it’s not the same. I gave it a go a few years back and it just didn’t hit it for me.

PPS. I’m kidding about the book friends. I want to be book friends with all the book people. Even if you don’t like outstandingly written, bonkers epic fantasies. Is there an emoji that I can use that looks like a mildly threatening, sort of joking, sarcastic looking side-eye? You know, that look that you give where you’re like “I’m kidding, but also I’m trying to tell you something”? Asking for a friend.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

So….I just watched the trailer for the new movie coming out and….blegh. Which is a shame, because I had actually managed to get myself excited for this one. I love Idris Elba, and ol’ Matty McC is a really good casting choice for the Man in Black. I mean, I never really thought it was going to do the books justice (which is a really complicated, next to impossible thing for a movie to do. The only time I think I’ve ever seen a movie that I liked more than I liked the book was No Country for Old Men. I love that book, but the definitive vision of it in my head is, and always will be, the movie), but I was hoping it would at least be interesting and weird. Apparently, action-shlock, uber-hollywood, “I’ll save the world for the both of us, just after I figure out a cool new way to load my six shooter” was the way they decided to go. Double blegh.
It’s such a dumb, predictable, terrible direction to take this franchise. To keep the big and the action packed, but remove all the zany parallel world, sf/fantasy stuff. The things that I liked the most about all these books were how batshit weird they were. Even this first one, which adheres the closest to the old school tropes, a good ol’ western vengeance, has streaks of strange marbled throughout (like our hero does mescaline sometimes, just to put a little pep in his step), and it only spirals out from there. I can’t think of any other series that would be able to pull off having an Arthurian culture that uses six shooters instead of swords, nineteen twenties style gangsters, and doombots with explosive golden snitches and lightsabers in the same world. And with Stephen King at the helm, the journey may have been big and wacky and sprawling, but I always felt like I was in good hands. He may not have known from the getgo where exactly the story was going to go, but I always felt like he could get there.
These books are great, and fucking weird, and so much fun. By all means go and see the bland ass movie they’re making (and let me know if I’m wrong about it, because I’m giving this one the firmest of passes. And yes, I realize I have a big, bitter pill stuck in my craw about this, so I’m being more harsh than I need to be but I feel the way I feel), but please, please, if you’re going to do that, put a little time and effort into the books first. There’s a lot to get out of them.

Love you folks,

VBR

PS. As a side note to all the entertainment big wigs that read this blog, when you have a series this big, this sprawling, MAKE IT A TV SHOW YA DUMMIES. There are tons and tons of Stephen King fans out there (even just the mild ones, like me) who would tune in to a Dark Tower series done right. And you just can’t collapse something this large into a two, or even three, hour movie. You’re setting yourself up to fail.

PPS. Did you guys hear about the fact that they’re trying to turn The Sandman into a movie? INTO A MOVIE?! AAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones…And Some Other Stuff

So I’m going to start this one with a little blurb about the direction of the blog. Don’t worry, I’m going to get to the book, but I just want to chat at ya’ll a little first.

After the kicking that I gave Wolf Road last week, I…felt a little weird. A little of it is guilt, Beth Lewis took the time and put in the effort to create something, something that had the germ of a really good thing in it, and I love that. She did something that I’ve yet to, and maybe never will, do. And giving her shit for the mistakes that she made has left me feeling a little…guilty? Or maybe guilty is not exactly the right word, there’s some other stuff in there, but it’s certainly part of it. Another part of it, a big one, is that I don’t like being negative about things. It’s too easy, it’s the cheap way to do reviews, and, if I’m being honest, it’s just not that fun. I’m not going to take any of the posts down, they’re still true, still my opinion, and I stand behind them, but I just don’t think it’s the best use of my time (I could be napping or eating pizza or, I dunno, reading books that I enjoy). I read a lot, like a lot a lot, and I only have the time to write reviews for a small percentage of the books that I read, so why waste the time on the stuff I don’t really like? So, from this point forward I’m going to be focusing a lot more on things that I actually liked. There are still going to be criticisms (I pick things apart, even things that I like a lot. It’s just the way my brain works), but from now on most of the books that I cover are going to be ones that, at the end of it, flaws and all, I’d still recommend.

But enough about that. On to the good stuff.

This book was really, really good. I’m not usually a fan of the classic monsters (werewolves, vampires, mummies, zombies, uh…Frankensteins? I liked Frankenstein. Are there a lot of books about Frankensteins?) but I’ve always got time for a book that takes something old and well worn and offers an original angle on it.

And this novel is definitely original. Mongrels is sharper, grimier, and more human than your average monster book (or not monster book). It, like all good fantasy novels, is heavily allegorical, more about the inheritance of poverty and anger and trauma than anything else. And I know that may sound boring to some of you, but it’s really not. There’s plenty of bloody meat on this bone, enough for even the die hard smash ‘em up monster fans to sink their fangs into (was that too many cheap, hack writer-y werewolf puns? It felt like a lot). Besides, that’s what good fantasies do. By using the fantastic, the exciting, and the impossible, they exaggerate and shine a light on real human experiences. I like sword fights as much as the next guy, but you can’t prop a three hundred page novel on action alone. Mongrels used this device to better effect than I’ve seen in a long time, and I left this novel feeling not only like I’d recognized pieces of myself and my experience as an adolescent man (especially one with an absentee father figure and a less than ideal uncle that I worshiped), but some insight into a perspective and way of life that was crazy different from my own.

As a final note, I loved the empathetic, intelligent way Stephen Graham Jones treated these characters. In the hands of a lesser writer they would have ended up as caricatures. Poor, southern, can’t hold down a job, anger issues, uneducated, impulsive. But they’re more than just a collection of those traits. They’re complicated, flawed people using their understanding of the world to do their best within the bounds of their own limitations.

A great fucking read.

With the sincerest of salutations,

❤  VBR

 

*Brief Disclaimer: My dad is actually great, and in no way comparable to the completely absent father figure from the book. He just lived in a different part of the country from me when I was a kid. And my uncle, well…he’s a good person. He’s got his issues, like all of us, but he’s doing his best. It’s not his fault that I worshiped him as a child, that I created an idealized version of him in my head that had noooo chance of surviving my cynical teenage years. Anyways, I’m not sure why I felt motivated to add this in here. Maybe because people are starting to actually read this thing. Scary. ❤

The Grace of Kings By Ken Liu

Well hello again my pretties.
Sorry it’s been so long, but sometimes I just don’t really feel like doing this, you know? And for a while there I was working and blah blah boring life blah.
But now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can talk about books again! Huzzah! Hurray! Hurrah!

I wanted to like this one a lot more than I ended up actually liking it. (Do I say that a lot? I feel like I say that a lot.)
First off, props to Ken Liu for ambition. This novel is a huge accomplishment when it comes to world building. The setting and the culture were crazy good, complicated and completely believable, while still managing to be interesting. And it was nice to finally read a big, epic, sweeping fantasy (or Silkpunk, which Liu called it, a description I’m all in for) novel that wasn’t set in a European or faux-European setting.
But there were just some things that kept me from really getting into it.
First off is the characters. While the world and the culture that they inhabited were really detailed and well laid out, they mostly seemed pretty one dimensional and flat. Yes, some of them changed over time, and changed their minds about things over time, but they still seemed more like vehicles to explore the extremes of specific ideas or points of view than actual, fully fleshed out characters.
On that same note, and twisted up into the previous point, is the problem I had with the dialogue. A lot of it seemed really weird and stilted to me. More proverbial than conversational, if that makes sense. Paired with the one-dimensional nature of the characters, it just made the whole thing seem oddly parable-y to me. And that can be, and is, a perfectly valid style choice. It just didn’t quite work for me.
Lastly I’ll say that while this didn’t bug me too much, ’cause I love this shit, it’s what I come to big fantasy for, there was a loooottttt of world-building in this book. For some reason I love love love reading the stuff that people come up with for make-believe cultures (I read that entire mammoth history of the world of song of ice and fire book in like two or three sittings), but this book had a shit-ton of it. So much so that I could see it bothering people who aren’t fake history connoisseurs, and all around weirdos, like myself. So if that kind of thing puts you off, just be aware of it going in.
Hmmm…I feel like this has come across as if I didn’t really like it. And I did! Sort of. Mostly. Basically, if you’re a fan of epic fantasy and are looking to try something a little different than the medieval European variety (and the things I mentioned above don’t sound like deal-breakers to you) than I think you should give it a shot. It’s pretty good!

Enjoy?
VBR

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑