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inevitableentresol: a Victorian gentleman with the body of a carrot (Default)
Books I've read recently:

- Marked by Kristin & PC Cast
This was a profoundly terrible book. Not in its prose, which was fine enough. It was in its casual homophobia, its obsession with women being sluts, and complete lack of understanding of the concept of sexual consent. For instance, there was one early scene in which a girl forces oral sex on a boy, and the narrator is appalled because it's disgusting for him to be using her like that. Yes, really. The boy, who is repeatedly saying no, is the one who is using the girl. Disgusting! This same narrator seems to live in fear that she might accidentally do or say something slutty, wear slutty accessories, drink a glass of water that turns out to be a total slut... well, I might be embellishing with that last one. But she does have a severe and bizarre problem. I swear that "slutty" was the most common adjective in the book. Naturally, apart from the narrator, most of the female characters in the book are "sluts". One exception is the colourless female mentor figure whose interesting name raised my hopes for a second only to dash them. Another rare exception is the grandma, who is literally a magical native American. She can do magic. Yes. And her function is purely to tell the narrator how special she is. Of course.

Then we meet the gay best friend, and that's when I had to put the book down for good at about page 100. This guy is actually kinda cute, we're told, not like your usual "swishy girly-guy" gays, not like one of those. The sad thing is that you can tell that the authors are super pleased with themselves because they're being so progressive. (2/10)

- Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens (link to free ebook)
Now this is more like it. I can't believe I went my whole life without coming across this before. It's utterly beautiful. Sweeping, soaring prose. Funny, daring and unexpected plot twists. I can't do it justice, so here are some quotes:

"I became the king of the salmon, and, with my multitudes, I ranged on the tides of the world. Green and purple distances were under me: green and gold the sunlit regions above."

"A well-packed question carrries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell."

"Still, if you keep on driving a pig or a story they will get at last to where you wish them to go."

This collection of Irish fairy tales was first published in 1892 and lavishly illustrated by Arthur Rackham. I read the unillustrated version for reasons of file size. Now I want to buy a great big paper copy so I can re-read this over and over again and enjoy the drawings as well. The only slight negative were the first and last tales, which were a little dull. But the meat of the story, about Fionn Mac Cuil, was just fantastic. I'd never heard these tales told from quite this angle before. It felt like a lot of liberty had been taken with the originals and I loved it. (8/10)

- Southern Fire by Juliet E McKenna
And if I thought the last book was good, this one blew my socks off. I can't wait to read the sequels. This was an intelligent pageturner, and I can give few better compliments than that.

It's classic fantasy, the main character being a warlord of a tropical island, living a life of ease and political intrigue among his slaves and many wives until a brutal magical attack from the south changes his world. There is a second point of view character but they don't get introduced until much later on. However, they turn out to be the real star of the book, and the two main characters have fantastic chemistry even before they meet. I don't want to give too much away. Unfolding the many layers of this society and the characters in it gave me so much joy.

Let me count the ways that I love this book. Firstly, the writer really knows what she's doing. The more I got into the story the more apparent this was. It's been too long since I felt that, perhaps since the Hunger Games. The pacing is excellent and never at the expense of characterisation.

Next is the worldbuilding. I'm fascinated by fictional universes which include slavery/servitude (Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde is also another favourite of mine). In this book, it's the good guys that own the slaves. There's so much dramatic potential in that. The issue did go a tad unexplored, simply because there were no non-slavery modern-type cultures to contrast with. But the examination of the consequences of slavery was still interesting - for instance, in this culture, a nobleman is not even regarded as being of age until he owns his first slave (invariably a trained bodyguard). And these are the characters that the author wants us to sympathise with, the slave-owners. It takes persuasive writing to do that.

The descriptions of the people, food, islands and buildings are brilliant. There was never a single point in the book that felt awkward or confusing. The only one downside was the warlord's love of augury. Part of his duties to his people were to read the signs - in the stars, in entrails, in the flight of birds and so on. There were a lot of descriptions of this. It was in character, but I did end up speed reading through them.

Still, looking forward immensely to the next book. (9/10)

Sjambak by Jack Vance (link to free ebook)
A quick one to finish. Sjambak is a short sci-fi tale from the 1950s. A journalist goes in search of a big scoop on a backwater planet after he hears a tall tale about an impossible Headless Horseman in Space. I'm a big Jack Vance fan but this is one of his lesser novellas. However, it still has his trademark humour and expert pulpy storycraft.

Classic golden age sci-fi! Space adventures! Mysterious legends! It doesn't quite deliver like his best work does, but it's still an enjoyable way to pass a few hours. (7/10)

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inevitableentresol

August 2016

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