Book Review: Mockingjay

People warned me that I might not like how this story ends. I have really mixed feelings about this book. It has some aspects that kind of drag – I get that Katniss is suffering from some pretty severe PTSD, and through the whole book, she’s barely holding it together. It does get to be a bit much, though, and I wonder if it might have been better written in third person point of view, and switch POV characters every so often, to give us a break from Katniss’s slow mental degradation. It wasn’t a problem in book one – it wasn’t old then. But in book two it was getting old, and in book three it gets tiresome. The author had already established that this was a first person, single POV series in book one, though, and it was probably too late to change it. I think that’s why many people have found the movie, especially the second one now, more palatable. The movies don’t drag you through Katniss’s mental anguish ad-nauseum, however plausible that mental anguish is.

The story itself – I though was great. The last book really puts the finishing nails on a theme, and it’s not just a theme about oppression, or poor versus rich, or even about reality TV. It’s a theme about media, and the massive amounts of power that control over information gives the people who have it. In this book, Katniss is no longer a pawn of the Capitol, she’s been rescued and brought to district thirteen. Where now she’s a pawn for district thirteen.

Her act of defiance in book one makes her a mascot for rebellion in book two, which she desperately needs to suppress, but fails miserably. Now in book three, she’s asked to embrace that role, but finds, as in book two, that she can’t act to save her life. They end up taking her into combat situations in order to force something genuine out of her, because her acting is so terrible, they can’t otherwise put together any footage of her that would inspire people.

So now we have the Capitol and District Thirteen in a media battle, with Beetee periodically wresting control of the airwaves to broadcast inspiring footage of Katniss, while the Capitol is trying to vilify her.

I couldn’t help but think that District Thirteen’s leader was given a name like “Coin”, with it’s capitalist connotations deliberately as foreshadowing.

I won’t bother spoiling the climax, but the climax was great, as was the followup to it.

Then there was these last five pages tacked on the end that fucking ruined it all.

*spoiler alert*

Of course she had to resolve the Peeta/Gayle thing, right?

No. No, she didn’t. Katniss spent the entire story progressing towards a mental state where I couldn’t believe she could ever have a healthy relationship with anyone, let alone either of them. The story ends with her a shattered human being, the world and the war having left her that way. She gave more than her life, she gave her sanity, to fight for a better world, and she paid a price and that’s the way the story ends.

And then there’s the last five pages that basically go “And then a couple years later, I got over it, Peeta was still around so we got married and had kids and lived happily ever after. Gayle? Who’s Gayle?”

I felt betrayed by the author, but have a theory. My theory is that the author submitted the manuscript without that tacked on the end. And my theory is that her editor or agent told her, “You have too many fans who won’t be satisfied with that ending. You have to resolve the Peeta/Gayle thing.” And I think they made her add that. Or maybe it wasn’t her editor, maybe she just felt so much pressure from fans to give Katniss a happy ending, that she caved, even though she knew how the story should really end. Because that bit on the end feels tacked on as an afterthought – it’s so out of sync with the rest of the book, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the same story.

That’s what I think, and I’m just going to keep imagining the book without that bullshit last couple pages.

Book Review: Thunder Road by Chadwick Ginther

I put down Mockingjay to read this one.

I don’t normally read urban fantasy at all, but it’s a first novel written by a local author and acquaintance. You know that fear, when you go to read a book by someone you know, that it might not be very good, and you sometimes just hope you’ll be able to find a few nice things to say so you don’t make them feel bad? Well I can’t say I’m surprised, but I certainly didn’t have to search for nice things to say about this one. It didn’t read like a first novel. I’ve read a number of debut novels by authors I really liked, and there’s often a precocious, unpolished quality to it. Not so here.

The novel follows Ted, who’s inadvertently got dragged into the plots of mythical figures from Norse tradition. I probably don’t know enough about Norse mythology to truly appreciate the amount of research the author’s done – the worldbuilding is rich with it. But at the same time, it’s modernized. The characters of myth have adapted to the modern world.

I think Chad knew that every urban fantasy with a male protagonist that came after the Dresden Files is going to be compared to the Dresden Files, so the main character, Ted, is definitely not a Dresden clone. He’s rougher around the edges, and not the gentleman that Dresden is. He’s a jock, and believably so. It’s not an archetype I’m very familiar with – it tends not to be one you see often in genre fiction. I figure it’s because it doesn’t tend to be one that readers often identify with – the people who would identify with it, don’t really read genre fiction. But I think it was made real enough to make up for it.

Loki was a great character. I think the author has done his job in making a character who’s entertaining comic relief, sympathetic at times, but you’re never really sure if he’s a “good guy” or not. Which is exactly what a trickster god should be, I think.

I think the ravens were underrated as well, though. They’re a voice that fills in gaps of information for the main character, and they might have been annoying as deliverers of exposition, but their sardonic tone made them entertaining enough to overlook that, and I enjoyed them.

Right, there was a romance, wasn’t there. Yeah, I’m not a romance person, so it was good that the romance wasn’t the entire point of the story, but it was also nice to see a character with a battered heart get some romance. Ted’s not such a young guy, and he’s got an ex that he still has feelings for, which is totally understandable. Tilda, the new girl, has her own hangups. She’s wound up in her  fate, and feels trapped by it. Fate is a major theme of the story, and I get the sense that the series is going to be exploring whether fate is written in stone or sand. Tilda certainly seems to think it’s written in stone, but Ted doesn’t. I’m hoping this doesn’t end up being too Damsel-in-distressy in later books. I’d like to see Ted supporting her while she breaks free of her fate, rather than rescuing her from it.

The only other female characters so far are her mother and grandmother, and her mother is a pale background character. The grandmother was an old battle-axe character type, though – she was cool, but it would have been nice to see more of the middle aged mother character come out – it’s one you don’t see much of in genre fiction. Maybe there will be more in book two, I’m looking forward to it.

Book Review: Catching Fire

I finished this one a while ago, just haven’t got around to the review. There’s lots of reviews on this book out there, so I won’t go too in depth – this will just be a weigh in.

Most people have said that the second book wasn’t as good as the first one. And you know what? I do agree with them. The Games themselves, the arena, the spectacle, the first time around, it was all new. This second time around, it’s not new anymore.

The first half of the book I enjoyed more – the victory tour and the emotional turmoil involved in that. The political maneuvering, and the whispers of revolution promised me something. Only it promised me something that never got going in this book. I was waiting for it to build into a revolution, and instead, it’s back to the arena.

But the thing that bothered me the most about this installment is that in this one, very little that Katniss does has any effect on the story. It’s not as if her desperation and helplessness isn’t believable – it is. But it’s her helplessness that’s frustrating as a reader, because I like to read a story where the main character takes action, an in this book, Katniss is an oblivious pawn in a game played by those around her.

That said, it’s not a total wash by any means. It’s just not *as* good as the first book. I’m heading into book 3 now, and I’ve heard two schools of thought on the third – one is that the books get less good as the series goes on, and that the third one isn’t even as good as the second, and the other, that the second book is less good, and the third is better. From what I hear, the revolution I was promised is going to be coming into fruition, so I expect I might be leaning towards the second opinion.

I’m curious to see how things turn out on the Gale vs Peeta front, not because I’m really into the love triangle, but because I’m curious to see why some people were upset by the ending. I’m not really a “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” sort of person. If anyone asked me, I’d probably say I was “Team Katniss” because that girl has more important things to worry about than which guy she’s going to have kids with, especially since she’s made it quite clear so far that she does not want kids.

If I were writing it, I dunno, I think I’d probably kill both of them. Actually, no. I’d kill Katniss. And she would die a heroic, fiery death as a martyr doing something that will seal the rebel victory, or at least make sure they have a shot. Or I’d kill all of them. Yeah, I think I’d kill all of them.

Review up on The Punkettes Blog: The Warlord Of The Air

My poor blog has been neglected, and I’m behind on the reviews on the books I’ve read lately for pleasure, but I’ve finished up the review for Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord Of The Air over on The Punkettes Blog, among others.

As for my flying below the radar blog wise of late, I’ve been very busy making arrangements to start flight school. Crazy tons of stress, trying to organize a student line of credit, figuring out which course I’m going to take, doing taxes (yeah, I’m a bit behind on that), etc. But don’t think I’ve been quiet because I have bad news on that front. I just keep thinking, ok, I’ll write a post once I have something official to post about it, but I keep running into road blocks and stalls. But I have official stuff now – conditional approval on the student line of credit, and an official start date with a letter of proof of enrollment, so I’ll whip up an update in the next day or so. I’m so excited, and I can’t wait to start.

Review: Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear

I’m getting behind on reviewing the books I’ve been reading. Back on my reading female authors thing, the next one up was Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear.

I wanted to read one of her novels after reading her short story on Tor.com, “The Horrid Glory of it’s Wings” which is a beautiful story. I decided to pick up with this, her newest one, and I have not been disappointed.

The most interesting part was the worldbuilding, from the astrological quirks of the world, to the societal. They sky of this world reflects whoever is ruling the land. Under the psuedo Mongol horde, the sky has countless moons, one for each of the Great Khagan’s heirs, but in Samarkar’s land, there is only one moon. And when the characters come to a land where the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, they go “Oh crap….”

Also interesting and refreshing is the dominance of what North Americans would consider non-normative marriage customs. Among Temur’s tribes, women are very sexually free, even when married, though men may have many wives. And in Samarkar’s land, when a woman marries, she marries all of a man’s brothers.

The world is immersive, and it’s nice to see epic fantasy that’s not set in the done to death western european medieval fantasy world. Have I said that before, that I’m sick and tired of medieval western Europe? I have? Oh, well, there it is again. I really, really am. I’ll put up with it for George R. R. Martin, but I can only handle one of his books a year, and my quota for medieval western european fantasy is shot right there.

But that’s getting me side tracked. I think it’s because I was so impressed that someone somehow made the exiled-prince-destined-to-overthrow-his-evil-usurper-uncle fresh. Because that really is a huge part of the plot. I kept looking at it and thinking “am I really reading this and not rolling my eyes at it?” Funny how a change of setting and some really great worldbuilding to take you away from the familiar can do so much for such a cliche. The societal dynamics put an interesting light on things, especially when characters are not expected to restrict themselves to a single lover, and taking another is not a betrayal of the first. I’m curious to find out if jealousy plays into things later, and how much.

The characters are likable, and I always like strong, active female characters. Samarkar is definitely that, and pushes the story along by the force of her will. Temur, too, treats Samarkar as an equal, and it makes me like him more.

Anyway, it’s a book that was nice to settle down into. It doesn’t move at a breakneck pace, but it’s a comfortable an enjoyable read for those who love epic fantasy, and Bear has an expertise with the English language that drew me into the story all on it’s own.

Review: Incarnate, by Jodi Meadows

I picked this book because the premise intrigued me. A world where everyone is reincarnated perpetually, and suddenly a new soul, Ana, is born, replacing an old one, and Ana sets out to find out why. I thought it was a neat idea and wanted to know how the author was going to play with it.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed with it. The writing itself was decent, and there was nothing really wrong with the story for what it is, but I went into the book wanting to know the explanation for why everyone is reincarnated – expecting the story to be about that, only to find that it was about eighty percent romance, and the premise that drew me into the story was reserved mostly for worldbuilding and the climax.

The worldbuilding was cool, I only wish there was more of it. I liked how there was some of the traditional fantasy props, like the dragons and centaurs and sylph, alongside a technologically advanced civilization. It made sense that they would be technologically advanced, since they do get reincarnated indefinitely, and have all the time in the world to pursue a project. The culture and practices of the people definitely reflected the fact that the people have infinite time to accomplish things, but also were very much set in their ways, without being a culture full of elf-like imperious wisdom where everyone is as rational as a vulcan. Longevity in this world doesn’t preclude mischievousness or passion.

On the other hand, while being a believable cast, they are, by and large, black and white. You can tell the black hats from the white hats from the first time you see them, and no one surprised me later. But not only that, it also seemed like most of the characters were run through the filter of whether or not Ana thinks they’re a threat to her relationship with Sam, and I felt through the whole thing that there was more importance put on that than on whether or not they were going to stop her from trying to find out the truth about her origins. Which, of course, was what was most important to me.

The romance itself – I’m no connoisseur of romance, but I thought it was ok for what it was. It’s a guy-rescues-helpless-girl romance, and that’s a hard sell for me, but I understand it appeals to others more, so I’m quite possibly just not the target audience for this book.

I was also a little frustrated by the lack of progress in the main premise – the search for Ana’s origins. There was some, but I had expected far more by the end of the book. We don’t get to understand what happened any more than at the beginning, only learn who was behind it.

And then there’s Soul Night. It was mentioned several times, characters wondering aloud what would happen on Soul night, but when Ana asks what it is, she’s brushed off, and it was terribly obvious that the author has something regarding Soul Night planned for the next book and was slipping in a hook. If Ana knew what it was, and just didn’t bother explaining in the narrative, that would be fine, I could accept that it was being saved for later book when it became relevant, but in dialogue, the brush off seemed so artificial.

But the book is really not as bad as I’m making it sound – I think young women who love a good romance would definitely enjoy the book, and it’s a good debut novel, overall.