Saturday, February 4, 2012

The book part. January overview & short reviews

It seems I just can't get around to writing reviews of the books I read. I'm blaming the exams. And Minecraft.

I did get some little reading done last month all the same:

1. The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan. Part 1 of the Moorehawke trilogy.
This is supposed to be alternative universe fantasy set in medieval/early modern Europe, but to be honest, apart from some familiar names, there was nothing of the time period or region or real history in the book . It could have been any traditional euro-centric fantasy world and I read it as such. On the whole it was an enjoyable court-intrigue with mild fantasy flavour romp, with the usual set of characters. I did find it a bit frustrating that Kiernan was so reluctant to show us more of the world. It was strictly 3rd person POV and very little exposition. Maybe that's one of the reason's I didn't feel the atmosphere I was looking for in the worldbuilding.

2.The Crowded Shadows by Celine Kiernan, part 2 of the Moorehawk Trilogy.
Basically the same as the first book, only with slower pace. This is the quest part, after the first book set the court intrigue in motion. Very little happens apart from the characters travelling, sitting in camp, meeting other people sitting in camp and then sitting in camp together. We also have the development of various romantic plots, which produced lots of drama! and emotion! (It is a YA fantasy, there are hormones involved).
There were some points that I didn't like at all, for example: the society we look at is generally homophobic, but in this book we meet a people that seems to treat all romantic relationships the same. Why then, does Kiernan persist in calling the two lovers of the main (and only and very tragic) gay couple "friends"? She perfectly explicitly says the are married, and yet it's always "he sat by his friend", "he hugged his friend" and so on. What's up with that?
The other part I didn't like at all was the constant characterisation of the only POC in the book by his skin colour. He is one of the three main characters and racism plays a huge part in the plot of the first book. We are aware that he an Arab (the king's illegitimate son and possible heir to the throne no less!) in a white European society. We don't need to be told again and again that his "brown face" looks stern/gentle/sad/happy...
Apart from a certain number of -ism fails in the writing, the books was fairly enjoyable on the whole.

3. Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey. Book 2 of A Resurrection of Magic.
I really like the first one, I absolutely loved the second one. It's YA fantasy horror, good characterisation, interesting and unusual story. This book, being the 2nd part of what is supposed to be a trilogy (I think.) is a bit slow in places. I think it suffers somewhat from the premise - a story that hinges on two protagonists (Sadima & Haph) that are separated by a huge time span but are both instrumental to it's resolution which it seems cannot come before their time lines join.
This means that the first book set the stage and posed the questions and the last book will (hopefully) bring a satisfying resolution, but the middle book is mostly concerned with moving the two stories together. For Sadima, whose part began two centuries before Haph's, it means that a lot has to happen, covering a huge time span on a limited number of pages and Haph's story has to fill the same space and yet cover a shorter period. However, Duey mostly manages the trick to give both characters equal room to develop without it seeming like one story is more condensed than the other. It was a bit frustrating to not get at least some answers I've been craving since the first book, which in turn raises the bar of my expectations for the third instalment. I sure hope it will deliver. Kathleen Duey is currently writing it and posts semi-regular updates on her own blog. I have borrowed the books from the library so far, but I'm definitely going to purchase all three for my own library.

4. The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh.
I'm not sure why I picked this up at the library, it's not on any of my wishlists or TBR lists. I wasn't disappointed however: it was a very enjoyable book, I think the first book set in India I have consciously read despite wanting to do so for a while. It manages to present the tension between the modern western-influenced world and its values and the social and political issues in India and the region it plays in without being overly moralistic. I felt like sometimes it didn't go quite deep enough and there was a certain layer of romanticism over much of the book that (in my eyes obviously) gave it a fluffy, shallow feel that seemed to clash with the actual story. On the whole it was pretty good, but it didn't blow me away. It did make me want to read more by Ghosh however.

5.The Rebel Prince by Celine Kiernan, part 3 of the Moorehawk Trilogy.
This was an okay, though fairly predictable conclusion to the the trilogy, however, based on how much actually happened, I think it would have been possible to easily combine the 2nd and 3rd books into one. That would have made for a faster plot and a tenser read. The whole series was pretty standard fantasy that unfortunately didn't utilise it's premise of alternate history as it could have. The writing, especially the dialogue was a bit eye-roll worthy but engaging enough. It's a can-read not a must-read.

6. Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling. Book 1 of Nightrunner.
This book has been written about a thousand times over, and there are plenty of reviews out there. My personal opinion is that it's an average fantasy story, not very innovative with a stock of the usual range of characters and written in somewhat indifferent prose. What makes it worth reading, despite a number of drawbacks and issues is the fact that one of the two protagonists is gay (and the other is bi, though that only plays a part in the second book), which is rare enough in the mass of novels and mostly unheard of in fantasy and also for the sake of the second book, which is much better.

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