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Book Review: Japanese Fairy Tales for the Casual Western Reader

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Click to visit the WorldCat listing for the book for a summary.

This Dover edition has only five of the stories that Yei Theodora Ozaki published in 1903, selected and edited by Philip Smith in 1992.

I got a distinct sense that these were Japanese tales written up for a Western audience. The tongue-cut sparrow for example is described here as a fairy, but fairies are British; the fairy has no directly correlating Japanese equivalent. So what type of creature is the sparrow? Yōsei is the Japanese word that I can find most closely related to British fairies, but this doesn’t seem the right word for the sparrows of this tale any more than does fairy. Without the proper terminology, digging deeper into the folklore was difficult, though I tried to supplement my reading of this skinny paperback several times. The Westernization at once made this translation more accessible but also less complete, somehow lacking. I don’t know a lot of Japanese folklore. After reading this, I feel a little more informed but skeptical too about how much this textbook was altered for a Western audience and of how much I might be missing.

A few words were translated either in parentheses or via footnotes, sometimes smoothly within the text as “Momotaro, or Son of a Peach,” but the choices of which words to translate seemed odd. Sake, for example, was translated as a rice wine. Several titles and names were within the same story translated only sometimes (O Jii San as old man, daimios as lords, Suzume San as Miss Sparrow, Murasaki as Violet, Ojisan as Uncle). These were rarely names that needed translation for the story to have meaning. Particularly Murasaki only lived for the span of two pages, and violets played no part in the whole of the story (“Princess Hase”). “Princess Hase” itself is an odd phrase to have translated and oddly translated besides. Within the story, she is known primarily as Hase-Hime meaning Princess of Hase. Tamtate-Bako is translated as the Box of the Jewel Hand. The translation here lends no more to my understanding of Tamtate-Bako than would a good description. O kage sama de was not translated at all, which was an odd choice (that phrase I was able to look up). Dokoisho was translated with a footnote, and this I liked because knowing that this is an exclamation used primarily by the lower classes helped me to better grasp Urashima Taro’s character.

In these five stories there are many themes and characters that are familiar from Western/European stories. In “Momotaro” there is the child born already overly mature of a piece of fruit to a kindly old couple (Thumbelina-type but also Disney’s interpretation of Hercules). This child, like Hercules, is excessively strong and defeats monsters. There’s a nagging wife in “The Tongue-cut Sparrow.” In “Princess Hase” there’s a jealous stepmother who tries to kill her stepdaughter (that’s “Snow White”). In “Urashima Taro” there’s a creature saved from harm that turns out to be royalty and who offers itself to its rescuer in marriage (I recognize that actually most from Yep’s The Dragon Prince, which calls itself a Chinese Beauty and the Beast story). Several of these stories, “Urashima Taro” and “Tongue-cut Sparrow”, feature boxes that the characters are warned never to open like that given to Pandora. The “Ogre of Rashoman” reminds me of Tailypo, “The Headless Horseman,” and other nightmare creatures that come through campfire stories searching for their severed body parts.

Though of course it is difficult and probably inaccurate to generalize Western heroes too much—and certainly my sampling here of Japanese fairy tales is not broad enough to do so—these five bear as much similarity to the Grecian mythologies as Western fairy tales.  In Western fairy tales, most masculine heroes seem to be tricksters who outwit villains. The women—no, the girls—are gentle and kind; grown women are more often villains—or die. Here the masculine heroes seem either to be strongmen and warriors, or they are kind and compassionate. “Princess Hase” offers the only feminine heroine in this group.

Ozaki was uniquely qualified to bring these stories to a Western audience. Her parents were Baron Saburō Ozaki, one of the first Japanese men to study in the West, and an Englishwoman, the daughter of one of Ozaki’s teachers. Yei Theodora was raised in England but went to live with her father in Japan as a teenager. As an adult she split her time between the Japan and Europe, and eventually married a Japanese politician who shared her last name and who kept receiving her mail accidentally prior to their marriage.

So she was uniquely familiar with both cultures.

In all, I was glad for this introduction to Japanese fairy tales—I enjoy fairy tales—but I wish mostly that Ozaki had more sparingly translated names and phrases and particularly creatures into English.

In reading these stories, Westerners will find familiarity among that which is unfamiliar, new names for characters whom they recognize or whose situations bear resemblance to their own childhood tales.  In that familiarity, there’s a call, a reminder that we—humanity—are more alike than we are different.

***

Ozaki, Yei Theodora. Japanese Fairy Tales. Ed. Philip Smith. Illus. Kakuzo Fujiyama. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1992.

This review is not endorsed by Yei Theodora Ozaki, her estate, Philip Smith, Kakuzo Fujiyama, or Dover Publishing. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Individual Trials and One Light Jog in These 9 from the Nine Worlds

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Click to visit the author's page for links to order and summary.

Spoilers are written in white.  Highlight the text to view the spoilers.

I’ve just reread this short story collection in one sick day. The first time I read it through I was disappointed by the fluffiness of these stories. Reading it a second time, I found them not as excessively airy, still treated with the lighthearted tone with which Rick Riordan writes most things, but on a second reading, I was more into it, less annoyed by it.

Full disclosure: Rick Riordan is currently, easily one of my favorite authors, perhaps even topping that list.

This book hasn’t the tightness, intricacy, urgency, or gravitas of any of the series or even of the Demigods and Magicians, another short story collection, but rather than a plot to instigate war, overturn the cosmic order, or become a god, these stories are connected by a jogging route. Specifically Thor jogs implacably, unswervingly through the Nine Worlds in too tight, leather, running shorts, listening to the sounds of rocks and farting “like a sputtering engine” (99).

These nine stories take place over the course of maybe 24 eventful hours, the time that it takes Thor to loop through the Nine Worlds. Thor’s run through the Worlds affects each of the stories in a unique way, sometimes the cause of the story’s trouble and sometimes the answer to a hero’s quandary.

The individual dangers that the heroes overcome are more serious than Thor’s jog. [SPOILERS] Odin needs to find a leader for the Valkyries. Amir escapes a sorcerer. Blitz saves Thor.  Hearthstone saves Inge.  Sam does some intelligence gathering in Jotunheim.  TJ helps Hel. Mallory escapes Nidhogg. Halfborn fights dragons. Alex faces off against Surt.

Starting with a food fight in the Great Hall in Hotel Valhalla (a story narrated by Odin) and ending with a foiled meeting in the palace of Surt in Muspellheim (narrated by Alex Fierro), [END SPOILERS] each story is written in first person from the POV of one of the side characters of Riordan’s Magnus Chase series. The narrative style of each story is fairly similar to every other, though Riordan does do a good job peppering each story with perspectives unique to the character’s backstory, which help to distinguish the voices, though I did often have to look back at the title halfway through the first page to remind myself who was narrating.

Most of these are solo trials. There’s not a great deal of interaction between all the characters of Magnus, and there’s no Magnus (he’s away visiting Annabeth during this jog). The characters are great individually. There’s a sort of intimacy in interacting with these characters away from their friends. But it is different, and I don’t think that I prefer it, especially when I feel like these characters all have fairly similar voices if they do have diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and especially when Magnus was so much about ultimately the power (dare I say, the magic) of friendship (I see a great bit of parallel actually between Magnus Chase and the modern incarnation of My Little Pony).  The final line of this anthology is that same “friendship is magic” chord that I so enjoyed, but it seems an odd last note almost in a book where so few of the characters sought help.

All in all, it was enjoyable to spend some time with these characters again, to learn a little more about them and about the Norse cosmos. I just kind of wish that there had been higher stakes and more that connected the stories to one another; I expect both of these from Rick Riordan, and Demigods and Magicians taught me it was possible even in a short story collection.

Minor complaints that these are, they bear mentioning: I don’t like ragged pages, and the glossy pages of illustrations are oddly placed, intersecting two stories, the first time even interrupting a sentence. That was distracting and a) interrupted the flow of the stories and b) had me hurrying past the illustrations to find the end of the stories, but then because of the ragged pages, struggling to find the illustrations easily again to peruse them at my leisure.

****

Riordan, Rick.  9 From the Nine Worlds.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2018.

Intended audience: Ages 8-12.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion, or Disney Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Rogues: The Good and the Bad of the Short Stories

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roguesA copy of Rogues, an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozios, recently followed me home from the library.

I had been introduced to one story from it—Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Lightning Tree”—by a friend during a delightful trip to the ocean. It is sometimes frustrating not to own a piece of fiction that I remember so fondly—both as a piece alone and for its association to those memories—by one of my favorite authors, to not have it readily accessible whenever I’d like its companionship. So first I reread “The Lightning Tree,” a story from the perspective of the Fae Bast, Kvothe’s often truant assistant innkeeper. This story gives us a better grasp on the inhabitants of the village around the Waystone Inn, particularly its younger residents, for whom Bast does favors in exchange for favors, and its women, who excite Bast and whom are excited by Bast. During The Kingkiller Chronicles so far there’s been little mention of children and entrances by only a few characters from the village. The helpful guardian Bast depicted in “The Lightning Tree” is one that I’d like to see more of, even though I recognize that there’s no room for him in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Kvothe may not even know about this side of Bast. I really enjoyed this story for its focus on the children, on their problems—big and little—and its depictions of their different personalities.

Rothfuss’ story is followed in the book by one by George R. R. Martin, “The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother,” an excerpt from a history of Prince Daemon Targaryen, whose misadventures along with those of his family lead up to the mysterious dance with dragons. This read like a history, and it was more difficult to get through for that, though the insertions of stories told by the jester Mushroom did help to lighten the tone and the intrigues and romantic trysts were plentiful even in these 32 pages. Pretending myself in Westeros and this book being forced on me by a maester did make it seem more fun. I mean, serious points for accurate tone since a history tome is what Martin claims to be translating here. But while it is really interesting history, I’m just not sure history is what I looked to read—especially since so much of “roguishness” is in a character’s attitude and performance. It’s difficult to make a character in a history textbook seem attractive—and most rogues are by connotation if not definition attractive—or else they are criminals or cads.

I’ve read too little of Neil Gaiman and really ought to rectify that, so I hopped backwards to his story, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” next. Gaiman presents a fantastical, underground London, where each neighborhood more accurately reflects its name, Elephant and Castle being ruled by an elephantine man—not just large, but possessing a trunk and huge elephant ears—and Shepherd’s Bush being ruled by shepherds who turn unwary travelers into mindless sheep whose only desire is to remain a part of the flock. A thief called the Marquis de Carabas loses his coat, he tries to follow it, has to do a favor for a man who has devoted himself to a Mushroom and has mushrooms growing on his moist skin, he is betrayed, his past catches up to him, and his coat ultimately saves him by being so forcefully his. I really enjoyed this world, especially knowing a bit about London, and I enjoyed the Marquis and his brother particularly.

Gwen suggested that I might enjoy Scott Lynch’s short stories even more than his novels and even sent me a link to “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” online without realizing I had my hands on a copy of Rogues. Like Gaiman, Lynch built an interesting fantasy world here. Theradane is ruled by feuding wizards. A thief frightened by the government into retirement gets drunk with retired gang, but their debauchery is interrupted by a monster falling through the ceiling. This thief, Amarelle, goes off and drunkenly rails at one of the wizard rulers, who records her threats, then uses that recording to blackmail Amarelle into stealing a rival wizard’s locus of power—which is an entire street. Three strong female characters, two of them lovers, an automaton, and a government paper-pusher are our protagonists. The story is broken up into chapters for easy reading, and leaves open the possibility of the group returning in more stories of thievery and government overthrow. This was by far the most lighthearted of the short stories I’d yet read in this collection because of its camaraderie, outlandish hijinks, and irreverence.

I’ve heard good things about Joe Abercrombie’s books and have wanted to read some of them, so I went back to the very beginning to read “Tough Times All Over,” with strong females abounding in many positions of power, including thieves and leaders of thieves’ gangs. The genders are actually fairly well balanced here. The story follows not a character but a package across the Venetian city of Sipani, the perspective changing every time the package changes hands. Like Lynch’s here are a pair of female lovers—or would-be lovers if the time and tide allowed. This story I really enjoyed. Short stories make a great canvas for form experimentation, and I think Abercrombie took good advantage of that canvas.

Gillian Flynn’s “What Do You Do?” followed. A female sex worker who does only hand jobs turns aura reader then gets drawn into the employ and into a friendship with a woman whose husband is a regular customer. Though when Susan introduces herself to the narrator it is as the victim of a potential haunting—or the stepmother of a sociopathic son. Flynn leaves open to interpretation the truth of the situation at Carterhook Manor. I didn’t dislike Flynn’s style, but her subject matter—and she deals with the dead with the hurting often (the sole survivor of a ritualistic massacre, a missing woman from a crumbling marriage, a journalist investigating murders)—is raw enough for me to have left a free copy of her novel Dark Places behind. I’m glad to have sampled, but I’m not sure hers are dishes I would order for myself. If you like a bit of fictional darkness more than I do, though, I think I’m ready to recommend Flynn.

For “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” Matthew Hughes has created an interesting world where fantasy and religion meet science in the form of machines meant to leach power from captured minor gods and half-men created by experimentation gone wrong who hunt for ritualistic meals of human flesh. Raffalon did not overly appeal to my sense of feminism, capturing instead the sort of womanizing, self-idolizing rogue that, well, is typical of the fantasy trope. The woman he joins up with proves herself competent but he is desirous of her only because she is the only thing there until a goddess of sexual desire gets hold of them both, transforming her into a more classically sexy woman and him into a more endowed man. I would happily spend more time in the world, but I’m less certain that I’d want to spend that time with Raffalon.

Joe R. Lansdale wrote a short story as an addendum to a series with which I am otherwise unfamiliar. In “Bent Twig,” with his partner Leonard elsewhere, Hap helps a female friend find her missing daughter, a girl who has before fallen into drug abuse and prostitution. This contemporary, sort of rough-and-tumble vigilante detective adventure worked pretty well, I thought, as a standalone. The details in this story were dark too, but Lansdale painted clear black-and-whites where Flynn did not and the distance between myself and the characters was greater in Lansdale’s than Flynn’s. This was a tour down a gritty back alley. Flynn’s was a walk in someone else’s body.

Michael Swanwick’s “Tawny Petticoats” is a con job in a corrupt dystopian future where the U.S. seems to have become wilderness and city-states, but technology is more advanced than at present, which makes me hesitate to call it post-apocalyptic. Our three con artists try to swindle three wealthy marks out of silver and then out of payment for worthless black paper that they believe ready to be made into untraceable counterfeit bills. I was intrigued by the world where debtors and criminals are made zombies via puffer fish poison and humanoid canines are a possibility, but the characters for the most part seemed a bit caricature-ish.

David W. Ball’s “Provenance” took research. His is the story of an aging art dealer, unafraid of an under the table deal every now and again, who finds a missing Caravaggio and goes to sell it to a televangelist. He tells the televangelist the piece’s history, but then sells the same piece to the arms dealer from whom it was stolen. Neither of these though are the original and the art dealer’s story turns out to be the most fascinating of all. The unexpected revelations towards the end of this story are probably its highlight (and I just dropped a few spoilers and for that I apologize).

Carrie Vaughn sets her story “Roaring Twenties” in an underground bar and jazz club that can only be found if one possesses at least a little magic. I was reminded of Taki’s Diner in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, where Shadowhunters and Downworlders mingle and dine—though Gigi’s establishment in Vaughn’s story has much more class. Partners Madame M and the narrator, Pauline, go to the club to speak with the owner, but are left waiting, and while they wait, help a couple of star-crossed lovers escape their warring and dangerous bosses. Vaughn’s prose glitters a bit more than others’ in this anthology (at least than the last few mentioned above, which were all a bit more direct). The story itself is… a bit odd. The protagonists don’t do much but wait and pass the time. The ultimate goal seems to be to prevent a raid on Gigi’s place, which they cannot do, though by being late they are on hand to help minimize the damage. Particularly, the narrator, Pauline, seems to do little. Her job seems to be to keep Madame M safe through sharp observation and a quick mind, almost a Watson to Madame M’s Sherlock, though the metaphor does not hold very well beyond the partnership of the impossibly capable with a less capable but more human partner.

Bradley Denton’s “Bad Brass” is a contemporary piece about the theft and resale of band instruments, a love of music, tangled family histories, and love triangles that get in the way of rational thought. This was a well-executed story. I can appreciate it, but I don’t think I particularly enjoyed it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but the characters are varied and solid, the writing itself was good.

Cherie Priest’s “Heavy Metal” was more poorly executed (though I am struggling to identify what exactly I found offensive in the prose), but I was more on-board for the low fantasy monster-hunter adventure. It took me about two pages to get sucked into this story, but once I was in it, I really enjoyed it. It was almost exactly my cup of tea: monsters plaguing nature activists who are outsiders in a tiny town, monsters fought by old or new gods or both….

By this point in the book (I’d read more than 500 pages of the anthology), I was frankly getting pretty tired of the rogue trope and of short stories too, and Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love” was not doing much to inspire my patience, one protagonist being a melodramatic flop and exiled prince in ridiculous and childish Romeo love/lust. (That being said, “killing” someone to help them is always interesting, and the Sovereign North Bank is an interesting setting, a sort of riverside Tortuga built like an early 19th century city slum and treehouse.)

The rogue is definitely likeable; that is almost implied in the title “rogue” which could easily be replaced by a title with less pleasant connotations like “thief” or “idiot,” “crime lord” or “arrogant snot.” But often the rogue comes too with less likeable personality traits, the type associated with those alternate titles, and often adding “condescending” and “womanizing.” I can only have so much patience for such a character especially when the format in which he is presented doesn’t allow for much character growth or often the portrayal of a broader range of human feeling or action.

Short stories have their place, but I am a novelist and read novels almost exclusively. I like novels because they allow for a broader canvas, a broader range of human experience and a more sweeping plot. Some writers are very good at condensing all of that experience and story into a smaller illustration, but it is a rarer talent. I think a lot of the challenge is in picking a broad enough topic to be interesting and a small enough topic to fit the piece. Alternately, some good short stories read like scenes of a broader piece with the rest of the story being provided by the readers’ imaginations instead of the writer’s, but these scenes have to have an arc, have to have an end and have to have enough of a beginning so as to not throw the reader too jarringly into action. These are thoughts of mine. I am no expert on short stories.

I still had a few days left on my library loan, though, and maybe I’d stumble onto another gem, so I kept reading.

Paul Cornell’s “A Better Way to Die” was next, a science fiction where parallel worlds have been discovered and transportation between the parallels made possible. Some people are harvesting the bodies of younger selves and transplanting their older minds into these younger selves. Some worry that they’ll be replaced by newer models. One person of the latter mindset meets his younger self at a party and they play a card game for the highest stakes—enough to bankrupt their purses and, though neither has spoken it, the chance to survive in this world. The loser storms away and steals the money—or so it seems. In a parallel “heaven” it is revealed that they’ve been set the one to try to kill the other. This is an interesting look at the meaning of self, the influences of time and of circumstance. It’s an interesting warning to future generations who might discover parallel worlds. The science of the story is not very clear, but I don’t think that it really has to be. It’s focus is not on the science, but on the implications and the questions.

Steven Saylor’s “Ill Seen in Tyre” reads like a not particularly well-researched historical fiction—but maybe that’s not fair; I’ve not done the research, but a few details jarred against what I thought I’d remembered from various classes, and that kept me from really investing in this story. A student from the city of Rome—but before Rome becomes an empire, maybe?—is travelling with his teacher, Antipater, a man from Tyre. The story is set in Tyre, described as an old city even now, but a bit of a cultural backwater, taken with folk heroes, whose stories seem chronologically impossible, suggesting that these heroes did not age in 200 years. But these are Antipater’s childhood heroes, and he seeks a book of magic from their adventures. He thinks he has found someone willing to sell him that book. The folk heroes are rogues themselves, but so too are the protagonists tricked by a rogue, and maybe they are rogues themselves. This story taps against the 4th wall, the characters questioning the narrative form and the definition of rogues, so it seemed a decent ending place.

Though I started in on Garth Nix’s “A Cargo of Ivories” too and got enough of a taste to decide that, after a break from rogues, I may want to return to this anthology.

An anthology like this really has its merit in its ability to provide a sampling of authors that a reader might not otherwise encounter or might not follow so easily into a whole novel.  Already, reading his story in this anthology has prompted me to snatch Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King into my hands when I saw it at the local used bookstore.  Only a few of these authors had I read prior to this anthology.  Several other authors here are ones whose works I was familiar with prior to reading this anthology–in at least so far as having handed copies of their books to customers.  Now when a customer asks me about one of these authors I can give a more informed opinion.  Not only will I know whether the author sells, but I’ll have some idea of her style and her subject–and I did not have to devote much time to reading a whole novel by the author to be able to do so.

Rogues.  Ed. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.  New York: Bantam-Penguin Random, 2014.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Bantam Books, Penguin Random House, any of the contributing authors, or anyone involved in its production. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Demigod Files Restores My Love of Riordan

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For whatever reason, maybe even just because it has been so long since I’ve partaken of a book by Rick Riordan, whom I have called both my current favorite author and the next J. K. Rowling, I enjoyed The Demigod Files far more than I did the similar, later The Demigod Diaries, by which I felt sadly let down if not betrayed.  The Demigod Files’ stories happen between books four and five of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, a climactic time for the series.  Percy Jackson was my introduction to Rick Riordan, and it has always been my favorite of his three series.  Perhaps that’s another reason why I should prefer The Demigod Files to the Demigod Diaries, which corresponds to the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus.

Like The Demigod Diaries, The Demigod Files consists of three short stories by Rick Riordan alongside interviews with several key characters and a few easy puzzles.  Also included are illustrations of some of the characters and a useful chart of the Greek gods, their domains, their sacred animals, and symbols.

All three of these short stories, unlike those of The Demigod Diaries, are written from the point-of-view of Percy Jackson, who perhaps at least partially because of his familiarity and Riordan’s ease in his voice, is one of my favorite of the many voices that I have seen Riordan capture.

In these stories Riordan expands several key side characters, especially Silena Beauregard.  By the end of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the beginning The Heroes of Olympus, Silena is regarded in a better light by campers at Camp Half-Blood than I have ever regarded her, and the campers regard for her has always thrown me.  She almost needs the bolstering from “Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon.”  I will be interested to reread either The Last Olympian or The Lost Hero to see if I can be more sympathetic towards her now that I have a better grasp of her character.

The others with whom Percy interacts in these tales—Clarisse La Rue, Charles Beckendorf, Nico di Angelo, and Thalia Grace—I feel are fairly well understood through the Percy Jackson series alone.  I did not need to learn more about them in these short stories, as I needed to learn more about Silena, but I was glad to spend time with them and to share in their adventures.

Riordan is a master of adventure stories.  In all of these, the demigods face monsters, deadlines, and impossible odds (the usual trials of a Riordan book).  Riordan also tempers all of the dread with his usual humor, a somewhat dry humor, I suppose, that relies a lot on a tone and sarcasm that does not match the situation.  These stories are scattered with such lines as “A girl starts trying to kill you, you know she’s into you” (35), “One dragon can ruin your whole day” (33), and “It’s great when you’re a celebrity to squids” (22).  Out of context none of those have made me laugh, but when paired with the imminent danger in which the demigod finds himself, these nuggets of humor are so unexpected that they do wonders to lighten the tone without killing it.  That balance of humor and peril takes talent.

*****

Riordan, Rick.  Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Demigod Files.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2009.

This review is not endorsed by Hyperion Books, Disney Book Group, or Rick Riordan.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Of Author Blindness Lost and The Demigod Diaries

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In reading reviews on Goodreads, I stumbled across the term “author blindness,” possibly coined by Andrea Caro.  Andrea “lost my awesome-goggles” that had blinded her to John Green’s flaws.  I think I have lost mine in regards to Rick Riordan, and this is a sad fact, because while I remember the thrill of the blindness, I am no longer experiencing it, and that makes almost every new thing that Rick writes at least a little disappointing.  I can recognize that with The Mark of Athena and The Demigod Diaries (his most recent works, excluding the graphic novel editions of previous novels), his writing is not becoming poorer, and other fans are not as disenchanted, yet I am not as enthralled, as I’ve already discussed in my review on The Mark of Athena.

The Demigod Diaries are a collection of short stories set in the world of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series.  It includes three tales by Rick Riordan, author of those two series, and the premier work by his sixteen-year-old son, Haley.  Rick writes an entry from Luke Castellan’s diary, expanding the scene recounted in The Last Olympian where Annabeth meets Luke and Thalia; a short adventure that takes place between the two series involving Percy, Annabeth, and Hermes; and a tale of Leo, Piper, and Jason of The Heroes of Olympus series battling Maenads while on a quest to make peace with an enchanted table.  Haley’s story is the tale of one of the children of the minor gods who sided with the Titans who is rejected after the war by Camp Half-Blood.

This book also includes puzzles and author’s notes.  The puzzles were all too easy for me, but I enjoyed reading Rick’s conversational notes.

While all of these are enjoyable escapades, there is little overarching plot- or even world-building here.  Haley’s story may actually do the most to expand the world—and I’m not sure whether or not to consider his tale canon.

Possibly because I’d already read The Mark of Athena, the deadlines here, though just as imminent as any others written by Rick, seem to me to be less threatening.  Percy and Annabeth must complete their quest or Hermes will not finish his deliveries on time and will be greatly embarrassed.  Leo, Piper, and Jason must complete theirs or Argo II will self-destruct, taking a large section of the forest with it.  While Argo II is essential to the later save-the-world plot, it is not immediately necessary and I know that the Argo II does sail, and so I really wasn’t feeling the pressure as strongly as I’d have liked.  Luke and Thalia’s reads most like an excerpt from a larger Riordan novel—but then, it sort of is, since we’ve already seen the ending of that tale in The Last Olympian.

Haley’s story is the darkest, the tale of a demigod forced to go it alone, pursued by and dueling to the death with his godly sister.  Haley chooses and interesting point of view, taking the voice of a jaded, mortal author rather than his jaded demigod hero.  The writing itself is not as polished as I should like, occasionally shifting out of his narrator and occasionally breaking character, but it is certainly commendable for a sixteen-year-old.

***

Riordan, Rick.  The Demigod Diaries.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2012.

This review is not endorsed by Hyperion Books, Disney Book Group, or Rick or Haley Riordan.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs, a Wonderfully Illustrated Anthology

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Paul Goble is an author/illustrator whom I know from my childhood.  He and I share a fascination with horses, attested to, for one, in Caldecott medalist The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses.  Several of the stories in his latest book, The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi, which I won from a Goodreads giveaway, prominently feature horses, and Goble illustrates each tale in his characteristic style, reminding me of that childhood favorite.

Unlike The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs is not a picture book.  It reads most like anthologies of fairy tales and folklore that I have read.  The stories here are mostly if not entirely from oral tradition.  Could this anthology be read to children?  Easily.  These seem to be the type of tales that would have been told to people of all ages around a campfire, and yes, were probably told too as bedtime stories.  Parents should probably use discretion when deciding whether this book is one their child would enjoy, simply because its tone is more serious than many of today’s kid’s books.  I found there wasn’t a lot of humor in these tales.  These tales would be a great introduction into Native American religious beliefs, and would also fit nicely alongside of other myths and folktales in a curriculum.

Goble uses a combination of watercolor and ink to achieve bright earth- and jewel-toned illustrations that favor detail and texture.  He also favors a bold, white outline seeming to separate each of his colors and particularly each of his figures.  Interestingly, all of his human figures—at least in this book—are mouth-less.  What emotion is portrayed in the illustrations seems to come from the tilt of the head or the gestures, which I think might leave the images a little stiff, save for the tone set by color and text.  Both this and his bold white outlines are intriguing and unexpected features; I don’t feel well enough qualified to discuss why he may have made these choices in his illustrations, but I think them worth noting as creating a style that is very much Paul Goble.

Goble is a Caldecott-winning illustrator.  He shines in The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs.  Reading this, some of the illustrations seemed to almost magical meld themselves with the text so that I felt as if I was reading both at once, or being ushered into each line by a splash of color, the colors building as the words did into a full picture.  Unless you experience this feeling with this or another book, I don’t think I’ll be able to capture it.  And maybe I was just reading too late at night when this happened, and exhaustion was getting the better of me, but I want to attribute this to the careful planning and pure magic of Goble.

Goble’s illustrations certainly add to the vibrancy of these tales, but they take a backseat for me to the text, rarely told stories, carefully collected and headed and footed with cultural notes, and notes about the collection of the tales, and sometimes with Goble’s interpretation of the stories.  I enjoy the illustrations, but this book will stay on my shelf as a colorful anthology of folklore.

****

Goble, Paul.  The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales, 2012.

This review is not endorsed by Wisdom Tales Press or Paul Goble.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.