[info]limyaael @ 04:15 pm: Random scattering of thoughts about books I've read in the past two months
These aren't book reviews, except in miniature. They don't contain spoilers, except of an extremely general nature (I may mention "love triangle," for example, but I won't mention the names of the characters involved in the love triangle). And they're not in order. I know I read them, but I don't really remember the dates, so I'm putting them down more or less as they occur to me.

1) The Barbed Coil by J. V. Jones (high fantasy, crossover fantasy)- It's been sitting on my shelves for six years, and I hadn't read it, so I did. And then kept reading, because this is one of those hilariously bad fantasies I've learned to treasure.

It does have one neat idea: that magic comes from illuminations, of the kind that medieval monks drew in their manuscripts. Other than that, everything is wonky. The hero has a scar on his lower lip that is mentioned so many hundreds of times one could play a drinking game with it and be absolutely sloshed by the time that you were done. The heroine, who's from Earth, adapts to a medieval-level fantasy world like that, and doesn't have to learn another language or worry about disease, either. One viewpoint character is so unbelievably precious that it was like reading My Little Pony with the occasional sex mentioned. The main romance happens in the way that you'd expect, with the characters staring at each other lustfully and bickering. The secondary romance happens between two characters who don't even meet in the book itself; we're just told they're getting married in the epilogue. There's a forced reconciliation that happens in the epilogue, too. There's a supposedly major character who shows up in the book long enough to rescue the hero and then just drops out of the story. It's enough material for a whole writing class.

I remember enjoying the Book of Words trilogy, which I read eight years ago. I'm wondering now if distance clouded my memories, or if, for whatever reason, this book was just that bad.

2) Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint (urban fantasy, reread)- I read this one just once, six years ago, then found it again while unpacking a box and thought I'd try it.

I still liked it. The structure is non-linear, but to good purpose; the heroine doesn't have random flashbacks of her past life, but a present timeline intertwined with the past, and de Lint still manages to keep up suspense. Izzy, the heroine, has reassuringly real faults, and the villain, while dark and ugly, is dark and ugly in a way that plenty of people who go to jail in the daylight world are. Also, Izzy is an artist, and her magic comes from painting creatures who come to life. But those creatures aren't always friendly, and don't always do exactly as she says. I find artist heroes refreshing in general after all the warriors and wizards, so this was an especial treat.

I think my main qualm would be with the romance, not because it's bad, but because it's presented more in the light of, "Young handsome man. Young pretty woman. Of course they get together," and there's a Big Misunderstanding involved. Luckily, the romance neither takes up too much page time nor gets too sappy for my taste.

3) The King's Peace by Jo Walton (high fantasy, Arthurian adaptation)- Well, I didn't really read it. I got 50 pages in, I think, before the typos became too much to endure and I realized I was spending more time saying "COMMA" in my head than I was understanding what went on. Also, there was an "As you know, Bob..." conversation about politics that went on for three pages. I've put it down for now. Can anyone tell me if there's an edition out there with fewer punctuation mistakes?

4) The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins (dark urban fantasy)- I really enjoyed this one, despite the presence of elements that could easily have become cliché, such as Dead Parent Angst and faeries. What made it a wonderful book was the characterization. The heroine was not only understandably flawed; the characters who disliked her or went against her were products of realistic psychology. (This did not mean that I wasn't rooting for one of them to die and the others to get slapped in the face with Reality, which happened).

One of the best things about this book is that it turns a few of the expected tropes on their heads. For example, true love doesn't always win out; death is treated as a depressing, horrible thing instead of in a "Boo hoo, how sad," manner; the most beautiful and royal character acts like a Mary Sue and it's shown how annoying that is, rather than the author expecting everyone to love her. There was a lot of heart here, and hurt, and tragedy, and the acknowledgment that sometimes not everyone gets what they want.

5) Taltos by Steven Brust (noir-ish fantasy, reread): This is the one where Vlad Taltos, assassin, mob boss, brothel owner, witch, and sorcerer, tells the story of his childhood. Every few paragraphs, the story of the childhood gets interrupted and Vlad tells the story of the adventure in which he first met some of his "dearest" Dragaeran friends. Intermingled with these at the beginning of every chapter in a few italicized paragraphs is yet a third narrative track.

It works. I think one thing that makes it work is that Brust doesn't overload the story with Portents of Doomâ„¢ that spoil all suspense/make me feel as though the author is trying to pound Symbols into my head. The book does something that would be cause for another book to pause and congratulate itself, and it does it all lightly, breezily, with Vlad and other characters talking in modern American dialogue and offering to kill each other every few seconds.

There's really nothing quite like the Vlad series, and I am very glad of it.

6) Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay (historical fantasy, rereads)- Everyone who hangs around the journal already knows I think highly of these books, so I'll just say three things about them:

1) Lord is far from the only fantasy book that's made me cry or feel joy. It is the only one that's made me feel, when I finish it, that it's possible to comprehend beauty and pain sitting side by side in the world and not have them contradict each other, and that makes me want to go out and write art of my own that will make someone feel the same way.

2) I noticed a lot more Yeats references this time around, courtesy of the Irish Literature class I took in the spring. "Changed, changed utterly," from "Easter, 1916", repeats several times. There are images not only of golden singing birds, but night-walkers, domes, dolphins, and flames in almost the exact words that "Byzantium" uses. And there are images from other Yeats poems, such as dancers, everywhere. It'd be really interesting to go through and try to pull them all out.

3) I care more about Sarantium than any individual character. However, if I had to name a favorite character this time through, it would be Styliane Daleina. I know, chalk me up as weird.

7) Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (historical fantasy, reread)- I hadn't read this for some time, and I was less impressed this time around with some aspects (notably that, other than the spell that takes Tigana's name away, magic seems more like a plot convenience, and there were some scenes that struck me as emotionally manipulative). But I still love the description of living in an oppressed country, and I still love the idea of political revolt conducted in secret and through economics rather than a full frontal assault on the villain, and I have more sympathy for the "heroes," Alessan and his crew, this time.

Also, I think the ending sentence shows more guts than the ending sentence of any other book I've read, and leaves the characters more alive.

8) A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay (historical fantasy, reread)- I hadn't read this book in five years, so I was curious to see what my impression would be.

Verdict: Still my least favorite Kay book. The villains are Evil, and although one of them isn't less scary because of it, there's little attempt to humanize him in the way that Kay does in his other books (except for Fionavar). I like Blaise, but the other characters irritate me. One of the main plot points is a love triangle, and the two living members of it make me want to smack them and scream "Grow up, goddamnit!" But there are some really good cutting repartee lines, especially fun when you're just as happy to see both characters insult each other, and Blaise is neat.

9) Ill Wind by Rachel Caine (urban fantasy)- Eh. There are tons of neat concepts here, including the author sticking very vigorously to science when she describes her weather magic, but the structure is unnecessarily convoluted. The heroine relives random events from her life, and while some of them are definitely important, others are definitely not. And the ending is one of the most blatant deus ex machina thingamabobs I've read. There just isn't enough groundwork laid previous to it for me to believe it's possible or plausible. Add to that that the heroine keeps accumulating power, and I don't think I'll be continuing with the series.

10) Storm Front and Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher (dark urban fantasy)- Really liked these books. They're pretty much detective subgenre books, complete with world-weary, wisecracking, and secretly romantic narrator Marlowe Harry Dresden, except that he's a wizard instead of a strict private detective. They're very cinematic, and they have plenty of dastardly villains who hate Our Hero, mysterious women, plucky reporters, and equally world-weary cops.

I think what makes them different, for me, is that the hero really does get slammed. If he's wounded, he stays wounded, and tends to go to the hospital a lot. When something goes right for him, it's usually a sign that something else is going to go horribly wrong in about two minutes. And Butcher weaves out Harry's dark, tormented background slowly, showing that while it hangs over him like a cloud, he doesn't obsess over it. I'm definitely going to read the rest of them.

Rant coming up later.


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