I like many kinds of books, as most readers do. I like time-traveling love stories and Man Booker prize winners, space operas and fairytale retellings, Steinbeck and Rowling and Morrison and Ondaatje, cheap paperbacks and classic reprints. I like many kinds of books because they do many different things (they do despair and hijinks and truth and love and magic), and I need all of them at different times. The thing E. Catherine Tobler’s Rings of Anubis does is simple but often undervalued: it does fun.
After a lifetime of disappointment—from Jurassic Park 2 to the second season of Heroes—I should be prepared for sequels that don’t live up to the original. But instead I choose to inflate my hopes impossibly high and have all my dreams crushed under the brutal boot of reality later on. Example: The new Star Wars is going to be amazing and finally live up to the legacy of the original and bring the magic of the Millennium Falcon to the next generation.
Which brings me to Tower of Thorns, the second book in Juliet Marillier’s Blackthorn & Grim series. I didn’t have Star-Wars-level expectations for it; I was just hoping it would mimic the first book, Dreamer’s Pool, and give me a well-stuck-together medieval fantasy featuring myths and magic and women doing cool stuff (read my review here). Although Tower of Thorns had some of the same basic ingredients—and some really lovely retold fairytales—it was ultimately weighed down by clunky pacing and predictable plotting. (more…)
If you’re interested, follow this here link to find an odd little story about changelings and loss and the Dust Bowl. You should also check out the rest of the issue, with stories by K.L. Owens, Stephen Case, and Rachel K. Jones.
If you do follow that link, and end up scratching your head and wondering how a story like that came into the world, here it is:
In the fantasy genre, the medieval period of European history has always taken center stage. Perhaps it’s the allure of feudal hierarchies that attract so many writers and readers; maybe it’s the undeniable appeal of the bubonic plague or the sheer romanticism of open sewers. More likely it’s the manufactured nostalgia of the twentieth century, which looked backwards into time and discovered that princes made better heroes than plutocrats, and swords in stones were more straightforward systems of kingship than this messy democratic business.
Nineteenth century Britain, though, comes in as a close second in terms of popularity. Steam power and corsets and carriage rides and people whose dialogue has manufactured exclamations in it! Oh! What a sight! (I should note that I’m allowed to make fun of it, because I love it dearly). The popularity of this era is more complex. I like to think part of it’s the sense of swelling, inescapable, world-altering transition permeating the century that gives it such attraction, and the series of dramatic juxtapositions that creates—queens and railroads, arranged marriages and evolutionary theory, all jumbled together.
But it also seems like there are other, less savory motivations behind the veneration of the 19th century, particularly when it’s the white, male, British, upper-class experience of the 19th century that is most often recreated. Once can’t help but feel there are large contingents of readers and writers eager to escape into an imagined past without all these nasty complications about race and gender and class, where the superiority of Anglo characters and the silence of everyone else is a convenient byproduct of the era. Recent works in the genre have absolutely challenged that narrative, that let’s-never-talk-about-imperialism, don’t-worry–about-the-slave-trade, there-are-totally-only-white-dudes-here nonchalance. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books do so slowly, almost timidly, accumulating radicalism as the series progresses, so that even though her protagonist is the picture of an English gentleman, he is plagued by questions of freedom and equality. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is perhaps more direct, with Stephen Black and Lady Pole and Vinculus and Childermass scurrying unseen at the edges of the story, undercutting the singular agency of the magicians themselves.
But none of them—or none that I’ve read—are as ferocious and delightful an attack on exclusivity and racism as Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown. It is this cleverness and awareness and bravery that ultimately makes the book so worth reading, and gives surprising depth to what might otherwise feel frivolous. (more…)
This review will tell you what any Google search would say: Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is real good, and you should read it now. The rest of this post will just be that sentence repeated with different emphases (Uprooted is good, and you should read it now) and a few rambling ideas on what makes it so good. You’ve been warned. (more…)