Throne Of The Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed – Book Review

This was another book I’d been meaning to read just because it was a non-eurocentric traditional fantasy, and also because it was recommended by a friend. Beneath Ceaseless Skies had a twitter contest that I entered and won an audiobook copy, which was great – I love audiobooks, but they’re so expensive!

There’s a bunch of 1-star reviews on this book on good reads, and almost all of them justify it by saying they didn’t like the amount of blessed this and by the grace of the almighty god, etc. I don’t think that’s fair at all. I think those are all prejudiced Americans who are terrified of other cultures. I rolled my eyes at those reviews.

It was a great book, and nice to see something set in a middle-east inspired setting with such a balanced cast of characters, not to mention not being filtered through a lens of western hatred of Islam. Not only is there a variety of different character personalities – from the uptight, uber-religious Raseed right through the irreverent Doctor Adoulla, but also represented are varying cultures within the middle east, to remind us that there is as much, and probably more, variety of cultures within the middle east as there are in North America. From the crowded city, to the nomads, to ancient empires, I’d say it was richly imagined, but I don’t think it’s far from the reality of the region.

Aside from the golems and alchemists and child eating man-jackal, of course.

As far as the plot, I’ll say what others have said – it’s a good old fashioned traditional fantasy. The author doesn’t hide behind any bullshit “Women didn’t do anything important back then” and has several prominent female characters. I loved that the main character, Adoulla is an aging wizard, and yet he’s not pushed to the background and denied a romantic plot for being the age he is.

The reader was great and I think he did the story justice with different accents and voices. Thanks go out to Beneath Ceaseless Skies for providing the audiobook.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment.

Find it on Goodreads.

Advertisements

Why I Stopped Reading George R. R. Martin

This is not a post about how George R. R. Martin is a bad writer, or his books are lousy. Nor am I here to trash people who love George R. R. Martin and say they have no taste.

This is a post about how, if you don’t want to invest the amount of time required to enjoy his books, or the investment required does not justify the reward for you: it’s okay.

Now, before you go and say I didn’t give it a proper chance – I got to the end of book two. I think I probably read more material written by GRRM than some authors ever publish. I really wanted to like it, and to an extent I did (though, IMHO, he doesn’t write female characters as well as some people think he does). It’s really not the content that bothers me, and I did appreciate his skill in constructing a climax to a scene. I *can* see why he is well loved. And if you’re one of those readers who love him, all the power to you, go enjoy. (What, you’ve read book five and there’s no more? Well, uh, sorry, I got nothing for ya.)

It’s not even because I read it at a time when I was a tad disillusioned with epic fantasy. I read other epic fantasy before and after, and enjoyed that.

My husband has read the first four books, and he’ll go on about how much he enjoyed them. He convince me to start reading them. He has the fifth book in his possession, and has not finished it. He’s tried several times to get into it, and just can’t. He says he got to the part where (yet another) new point of view character is introduced, and he couldn’t get past that point.

What it is, is a severe inefficiency of prose. The only reason I got through book one is because multiple people told me “You have to give it at least to page 100, and then it gets good.” Okay, I gave it to page 100. It actually starts to get good at, I believe, page 81, but that’s neither here nor there. And then I thought, “Okay, we’re getting into the swing of things now, right?”

Nope. Every scene takes forever to get going. It’s like he’s starting things from scratch every time. There’s *so* much buildup.

Speaking of buildup: Arya. She learns sword fighting in book 1. Somewhere in book 2 she gets her sword taken away, and hasn’t got it back yet. Then she’s got another plot line starting with this magician, implying she’s going in a different direction than the sword fighting thing. But it all feels like up to where I left off everything to do with her has been setup. The problem is the whole I-made-it-to-the-end-of-book-2-and-we’re-still-in-setup-mode.

Which results in me losing faith in the author. And I know people are going to run up to me screaming, “Oh, but later she ______!” Only, again, I got to the end of book two. I’ve given it a fair shot, and it’s failed to convince me that this character’s plot line is going to progress at a satisfactory rate. I’ve given up. I no longer care.

Then those people will say, “But…but…You’re going to miss out on all the awesome events that happen later! It gets even better in book three! You stopped at the wrong spot! Sansa gets less pathetically annoying!”

And to that I say, “I’ll watch the TV show.”

See, since I did get as far as book 2, I know exactly how true to the books they were in the first two seasons. And the parts they changed were changed for reasons that made sense to me from a storytelling perspective. They’re true to the characters and the spirit, and any changes to the plot are minor adjustments to make the telling more efficient (see that word? *efficient*) or in some cases to add interest to sections that were not as exciting in the books, like the dragons being kidnapped, or something that was implied, but there were not POV characters to tell the tale, like Renly and the Knight of Flowers hooking up. They’re taking all the awesome stuff and condensing it so that it’s a steady stream of awesome, instead of a dragging scene, dragging on, dragging you along because you know when you get to the end, *something* will happen, and you’re waiting for that little bit of payoff at the end of the scene. I think Daenerys is a psychopath, just like the rest of her family, and people just haven’t realized it yet because she’s doing nice things for brown people. I’m waiting for her to go off the deep end.

And like I said, I was enjoying it. Tyrion is awesome. Tyrion and Bronn are golden. I liked Arya. It’s just, I wasn’t enjoying it enough to keep investing the amount of time it took to get to the good parts. YMMV.

It’s just that I know there are books out there that I will enjoy more thoroughly than that. Even within epic fantasy. You don’t have to resign yourself to slogging through a book to enjoy epic fantasy. It’s like eating ten bowls of chicken noodle soup with one tiny piece of chicken in it, versus a one bowl with lots of chicken.

And saying that is not saying that GRRM is a bad writer. He’s obviously a good one, to have managed the success he has. There’s lots of people for whom this is just their cup of tea, and to them, all the power to you – enjoy. And I applaud GGRM for his success. My criticisms are as a reader, not as a writer. It’s personal taste. Chacun son gout.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say. Lets see how many page hits I get for dissing the Martin.

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

This is a companion book to Wein’s book Code Name Verity, which I loved, and which was one of several things that inspired me to take up flying. Apparently I’m not the only one to start taking lessons after reading it, but I’m the only one the author knows of who’s gone on to get my licence, and she was quite tickled over it.

Anyway, as a companion book, and not a true sequel, it has a different main character, and can be read without having read the previous one. There are a few recurring characters, and it takes place chronologically after Code Name Verity, but it contains minimal spoilers.

In this one, Rose is another ATA pilot, who gets intercepted over france and taken to germany. She ends up in one of the concentration camps, Ravensbruck.

The story begins with Rose writing down her story, much like Code Name Verity did. One of the weaknesses of that format is that you know the character is going to live. In the opening, she’s back in Paris, shortly after her escape. (This wasn’t the case in CNV, as the characters were writing things down more or less as they happened, and there was still uncertainty on their survivability.) The suspense still there was whether her friends escaped. These friends are people you haven’t met yet, but as the story goes on, you do, and then the reminder that the main character doesn’t know what happened to them or if they survived means more and more.

The description of the conditions in Ravensbruck are suitably horrifying. One of the things mentioned early on is the fact that the information coming out of the camps is so horrifying that western Europeans and Americans don’t believe it. They literally didn’t believe it. The stories about the women who were experimented on, the starvation, mass executions, etc. And the Nazis, of course, are trying to hide it, by killing these women they experimented on before the allies can rescue them.

Rose, as she writes, is suffering some pretty severe PTSD. In some ways it made it even harder to read than CNV because I get the PTSD. Maybe nowhere near as severe as Rose would have to have suffered from it, but I understand. I’ve been there, with the nightmares and the waking up not sure where I am, and the panic attacks when someone calls my name or opens the door, or pulls into the driveway. So I get why she’s reluctant to testify in the war crimes trials, which, reading other reviews, seems to be one of the things people have complained about being disappointed by.

Another thing that made me think as I read it, is having just finished the Hunger Games trilogy, and comparing it to Rose Under Fire. In the Hunger Games, Katniss’ suffering and mental breakdown gets a little tiresome and boring. So I had to think to figure out why that doesn’t happen in Rose Under Fire. Rose goes through likely more trauma, sees more death, than Katniss. Why is Rose not annoying in an endless train of poor me‘s? And I think it’s because Rose is constantly reminding herself that she’s not one of the women who got experimented on (the experiments had stopped before she was taken prisoner.) She has people around her who have suffered more and longer than she has, so a lot of her descriptions of suffering are not “poor me”, but poor them. The times when she’s so badly hurt she can’t actually do anything but lay there and feel sorry for herself are mostly glossed over.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It was cathartic.

TV Show Review: Revolution (Warning: Ranty)

I almost stopped watching this show over the opening. Right here at 0:41: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4Bq-h2JCSE

If you go to 0:41, you will see a jumbo jet spinning to the ground.

Let me explain why I raged over this. The premise of the show is something happened that caused all electricity to stop working. Later in the show, it’s explained that there are nanobots in the air, absorbing all electrical current. This means computers won’t work, cars that run on gasoline don’t run, etc.

Okay, I can suspend disbelief for that. In fact, I’m a really easy person for the most part to convince, because I always want to let myself sink into a story, and will happily go with the story as long as it’s internally consistent.

Whoever came up with the jet spinning out of control clearly seems to think that electricity has something to do with lift. It doesn’t. That’s not what happens to a plane when you have an electrical failure unless the pilots are complete frelling asshats.

Engine failures are something pilots are drilled on – to adjust the speed of the plane to maximize the distance you can cover, and try to reach something flat enough to make a decently smooth crash landing. Gimli Glider anyone? If the engine fails in an aeroplane, it does not suddenly drop like a stone or spin out of control like crazy.

That’s an engine failure though. That’s assuming that what happened would cause the engine to fail. An electrical failure does not cause an engine failure in an aeroplane. An electrical failure is an electrical failure. Your electronics will stop working. With the Gimli Glider, the battery eventually ran down, and they were stuck using a ram turbine to power the hydraulics that moved the control surfaces. That’s likely to fail under the circumstances of the show’s premise as well, so I can believe that the pilots would have lost control of the plane entirely. However, they’re more likely to end up in a spiral dive then. That spin? Completely implausible. They’d definitely be in a shitty position – trying to make a landing with no control over the plane, or next to none, over ground that appears as nothing but black, since all the lights on the ground are out, and it’s dark. They will probably crash if they try to land, but they won’t spin. Those planes are built to be aerodynamically stable, and resist spinning.

But here’s the kicker, and you probably haven’t even thought about this yet. Okay, so presumably the plane is in this death spin because of a lack of any electricity working. It’s affected by this no electricity phenomenon, right?

THEN WHY ARE THE POSITION LIGHTS STILL ON?

Why? Because it’s night, and we wouldn’t be able to see the plane in it’s dramatically implausible spin if there wasn’t something lighting it up, and clearly that’s more important than internal consistency to the premise.

Ugh.

This is particularly bad because this is the opening scene, and the scene introducing the premise, so the audience is using everything they see right now to interpret how the premise works.

Anyway, that’s why I almost stopped watching the show.

Now to why I kept watching the show: Rachel. And some Charlie, but mostly Rachel. She’s introduced as a damsel in distress. She’s a prisoner of the Big Bad, and the characters have to rescue her. She falls nicely into the mother-desperately-trying-to-protect-her-children trope. She’s also a scientist, so she’s uber smart, which is also cool.

And they’ll play up all these elements, and then suddenly remind you that she’s also freakin’ badass. Give her a gun, and she’s not the sort of woman who stands at the back whimpering, hoping she’s not forced to make the decision to pull the trigger on someone and then when she is, can’t bring herself to take a life. No, that’s her husband. Rachel? She will shoot your ass. She gets to be brainy, a middle aged mother, and still gets to be a fighter.

And Charlie’s her daughter, and because Charlie is introduced first, you don’t realize right away that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to badassery. Charlie is kind of another subversion of a trope, because she’s the protective character who’s sworn to look after her younger, sickly brother (he suffers from activity induced asthma). The trope is just gender swapped. She’s an archer, so right away has warrior characteristics. She gets a romantic subplot, but it doesn’t overshadow anything else about her.

There’s another warrior female character too, so there’s three major female characters who kick butt. They didn’t just go with the token honorary male character, they’ve got three of them. And the male characters, the writers weren’t afraid to make them weak – Rachel’s husband, and then the teacher character are both non-fighter types out of their element.

Anyway, I’m kind of glad I got over my rage over that four second clip of the plane spinning. The male to female roles are well balanced, and the women in the plot are there as more than arm candy to the male characters. And of course I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings.

And it’s on Netflix, for Americans and Canadians who can hack American Netflix.

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.

Finished Edits – And Title Change!

This has taken longer than it would have if I were just working, rather than working and flying, but my planned revisions on the novel I had been calling The Eyelet Dove are done. I’m pretty happy with it overall, though revisions have a tendency to take the shine off of things.

I’ve been considering changing the title for quite some time though, despite The Eyelet Dove being a phrase that nicely rolls off the tongue. The thing is, it makes it sound more like a novel aimed at female readers, and it’s really not. Not at all. I mean, there’s female characters, but they like to blow a lot of shit up, you know? Which is not to say women won’t enjoy it – I just want to make sure it doesn’t sound like something that only women would enjoy.

At the time I came up with the title, I hadn’t come up with a call sign for the character Michel. When I finally realized that I had subconsciously cannibalized my very first novel (practice novel – will never see the light of day – I can’t even look at it without cringing) for a lot of the themes in this one, I decided I might as well use the same theme for call signs as I had for code names in that old novel. Which was songbirds, and Michel’s call sign became “Redwing.”

Redwing makes a much better title, I think. The feel of it reflects the type of story it actually is, so I’m going with that.

Anyway, I’ve revised my query letter, and I’ve sent out a couple queries. And I’m done that in time for NaNoWriMo to start. Those who know me know I do that every year. I don’t know how well I’ll do this year – I’ve made it to 50k the last four years, but not the three years before that when I was going to school while working. Now I’m in school again, so that has to come first, but I’m hoping I’m prepared enough to be able to make it again. After all, I have a 20 chapter outline already. But I’ll post more about the next project closer to November.

In other news, I’ve posted a review of Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer on the Punkettes Blog – go check it out – the book was everything I was promised and more. I think I’d call it the best steampunk related work I’ve ever read. Book two just came out yesterday, so I’m off to go pick up an e-pub copy.

Safe landings, all!

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.