Tag Archives: low fantasy

Book Review: African Myth and an Adult Hero’s Tale in Anansi Boys

Standard

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

Reader’s confession time again: Anansi Boys is the first novel of Neil Gaiman’s that I have ever read. And I didn’t even read it, really; I listened to Lenny Henry read it and give voices to each of the characters while I drove my car back and forth across town.

While Anansi Boys is sometimes billed as a sequel to American Gods, I can attest that it works just fine as a standalone as long as one is prepared to accept that the old gods live still. And I am more than used to the idea, being a fan of Rick Riordan’s.

I’m familiar with Anansi as a trickster spider god from Africa. I think it was Reading Rainbow that first introduced me to the character (but now that I’m looking, I can’t find any reference to such an episode). Much beyond that, I didn’t know. I still don’t know much, but Anansi tales are woven into the text, making any background on the character unnecessary. Gaiman even gives some of the evolution of the tales, explanations of how some people sometimes think that Anansi is a rabbit, how Anansi’s tales became African American Br’er Rabbit tales.

Because according to the novel all stories are Anansi’s, I think of this almost as much as a story about stories and the crafting of a story as it is about the way that the characters maneuver through their complicated and twisted relationships and situations, particularly because stories and songs are given such power in the novel. As a hero’s journey, as someone who reads primarily children’s and teen’s literature, it’s nice to read a bildungsroman for an adult where the everyday complications are bosses, difficult clients, worries about money, worries about adult relationships, and future in-laws. All of that is becoming more relevant to me than worries over turning in homework on time, seeing school bullies between classes, my tier in the social hierarchy, difficult teachers, or parents being unsupportive.

In this tale, Anansi dies of a heart attack while singing karaoke and flirting with young tourists in a bar in Florida. His son, Fat Charlie, who is embarrassed by his father whom he thinks made it his mission to humiliate Charlie, flies from London for the funeral. The only other attendees are a few old women, neighbors of Anansi’s and Fat Charlie’s and his mother’s when they lived in Florida. One of the older women reveals Anansi’s godhood to Fat Charlie and also reveals that Charlie has a brother about whom he has forgotten. She tells him to tell a spider if he ever wants to contact his brother.

Back in London, Fat Charlie continues at his job as an accountant for the Grahame Coats talent agency. Charlie and his fiancée Rosie continue wedding preparations, and Rosie insists that Fat Charlie should try to reach out to his brother to invite him to the wedding.

After drunkenly whispering to a spider that it would be nice if his brother would visit, Spider shows up, moves into the house, and begins an initially perhaps well-intentioned but increasing hostile takeover of Charlie’s life, house, and girlfriend.

I wish the ending of the romantic tangle had been a little less obvious.

I was mostly entwined in the story of the mystical coexisting with the everyday—and before Spider, Fat Charlie’s life is very everyday—the way that Spider’s powers manifest, the way that Tiger manifests in the world, the spirit journeys that Charlie takes with the help of the older women.

Maybe because it’s taken me so long to read a Gaiman novel, maybe because many are saying that this is one of his least, I was not as blown away by Anansi Boys as I maybe even wanted to be. I enjoyed it. I think Lenny Henry’s voices may have done much to keep this story exciting. But I didn’t love it, though I did rave when given the opportunity the morning after I’d finished it to a willing party.

I think this would be a good read for those who want to learn a little mythology without reading mythology straight—though I’m not sure why anyone would want not to read the mythology straight. I doubt Riordan will never touch African mythology—though someone from his imprint might. I do wonder how someone from the African diaspora reacts to Gaiman’s take on their mythology. I wonder if Anansi is still a god anywhere in the world. I wonder if Gaiman should have taken on this subject, as much as I enjoy it. Most of the characters are from the Caribbean, members of the African diaspora, and to my knowledge, Gaiman is neither. He seems to have handled the mythology well, but I’m not the one to decide.

****

Gaiman, Neil. Anansi Boys. Narrated by Lenny Henry. HarperAudio-HarperCollins, 2013. Audiobook, 9 CDs. First published 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Neil Gaiman, Lenny Henry, HarperAudio, HarperCollins, or anyone involved in the production of the book or audiobook.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Advertisements

Book Review: We Need to Talk About Alex Fierro and Magnus Chase

Standard

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, clip, and author's bio.

We need to talk about Alex. And we need to talk about the Magnus Chase fandom.

Having enjoyed the first audiobook in this series, I found the second too. This second book is narrated by Kieran Culkin. I didn’t love the voices that Culkin did for these characters as much as I loved Guetig’s, but I found his Magnus more palatable, so I was not displeased. Of the voices that Culkin does for the characters, Blitz’s is most memorable. He has a strong accent that actually sounded more like a Brooklyn accent than a Boston accent to me, but Boston is a diverse city, and Blitz is from Nidavellir, so really he can have any accent that the narrator fancies and who can tell him that he’s wrong.

I went running to find the audiobook after the announcement that this book had won a Stonewall for 2017. The Stonewall Book Award is given to books that best relate the LGBT experience. Usually this award ends up going to books that could be qualified as issue books, books that set out with the primary intention of relating the LGBT experience. I would argue that that is not The Hammer of Thor’s primary intention. This book remains—as all of Rick Riordan’s middle grade novels have been—an action/adventure story, a quest, and a fantasy adventure, but Alex Fierro is gender-fluid, sometimes using he/him/his and sometimes she/her/hers. Alex’s experience as a central and primary character in the novel is highly visible, but the story is not wholly his/hers nor is his/her story the focus; preventing Loki from starting Ragnarok is the focus. I was impressed that any book that isn’t an issue book could win a Stonewall. I was going to probably eventually read this story anyway because I do very much enjoy Riordan’s adventures and they are perennial bestsellers that are easier to discuss with customers after I’ve read them, but my pleasure at this surprising win did push me to search harder for a copy to listen to.

Alex says openly to Magnus that he/she does not want his/her story to be taken as the story of every trans, queer, or gender-fluid person. I highlight that because I think it important to recognize that there are different experiences within the LGBTQIA+ community. Riordan explicitly uses Alex to represent but not to define the LGBTQIA+ experience.

The primary characters of the novel are all fairly accepting of Alex’s gender fluidity. The einherjar at large and several of the gods are less so. Alex like Magnus comes from a well-off family but has spent time on the streets.

The more time I spend on Pinterest and the more pins about Magnus Chase that I find the more that I fall in love with Magnus. Other fans (particularly I credit Tumblr user magnusglows for these revelations) have noticed some of his more loveable quirks, like his tendency to refer to friends as “his.”  The series has made a point of discussing found family. Magnus is wonderfully supportive and respectful of his friends’ choices and feelings, and its wonderfully heartwarming to have a hero who is no less heroic for being so and no less heroic for being associated with healing and sunlight.

The more time I spend with this series the more disappointed I am by the first two Percy Jackson movies and particularly Riordan’s reaction to those movies. The representation in this series is so important, and I want this story to reach as many people as possible, but I know that Riordan will probably never allow another film to be made. He seems more supportive of the Percy Jackson musical, though, so maybe there’s hope for a filmed staged version.

*****

Riordan, Rick. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

Riordan, Rick.  Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor.  2016.  Narr.  Kieran Culkin. Listening Library-Penguin Random, 2016.

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

Book Review: Quick Thoughts on Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Standard

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reading levels.

This book… I struggled through a little bit. And I don’t know why. I don’t know what caused it. But I suspect the fault is somehow mine and not the book’s. It took me more than a month. I started it sometime around January 9 and didn’t finish till February 16, and you see how long it’s taken me to even begin the review. I love Maggie Steifvater’s writing no less. I love Henrietta and its surrounding settlements and wilds no less. I love these characters no less, and I may have found new favorites in this book. (“She drifted toward the bedroom, on her way to have a bath or take a nap or start a war.” That’s the moment I decided I would love this character despite her very glaring faults. And then of course “I AM JESSE DITTLEY. DID YOU NEVER EAT YOUR GREENS?” Maybe not as many of them as I should have done, Jesse, and I’m sorry, Jesse.) I still sent a flurry of photographs of fantastic quotes that spoke to me to my friend Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master (or at least took the pictures. Did I send them to you, Gwen?).

I don’t know why it took me so long.

This book does not so narrowly focus on a single one of the quintet the way that Dream Thieves did. We are given glimpses into each character’s psyche, though perhaps Blue’s and Adam’s most vividly as each has a more personal quest (or two) here that intersects with the search for Glendower.

This story is about madness and sanity. This is about magic and mundane, past and present and future. It is about the line and the crossover between these “divisions.”

This is about friendship and family and love: the different expressions of each, the irrevocability of each, the growth and loss of each.

Like in the last book, the prologue is creatively laid out. There are three parts and three perspectives to the prologue: Above, Between, Below. This pattern was not repeated in the epilogue, and I was a little surprised and upset that it did not—but not really, because the epilogue. Three has always been and is explicitly an important number for this story. Which makes me wonder and worry about the five in our quintet. One of whom, I suppose, is already dead, so four. That’s still one too many, but I suppose if the prophecy of book one cannot be outrun or outmaneuvered: three. Oh gosh! Is this a series about winnowing down to three, about the sacrifices necessary to make three?

As I’m sitting down to write this review, and skimming back through the book, and thinking about all that I read, I’m falling more in love with this book. I really can’t wait to finish this series so that I can reread this series (one more book to go!).  It didn’t hurt me as much as the previous book did do, but the quest moves forward, and the players advance, coming out of the shadows.  This might be a set-up book, but I expect the final moves of the game will be bone-chilling in the best way.

Update: I stumbled back into The Raven Boys after writing this review, and that book at least is every bit as magical and wonderful and relaxing and awe-inspiring to re-read as I hoped it would be.

****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue. New York: Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Dream Thieves: I Couldn’t Wait, and I Didn’t Wait (Long) Afterward

Standard

Click to visit the publisher's teachers' page for links to order and summary.Note: I try not to do so, but this time, I just couldn’t resist: I started reading the next book in this series before finishing my review of this book, so there may be some bleed from book three into my review of book two. But I can definitely tell you that I loved book two.

I started this second book in The Raven Cycle pretty immediately after finishing the first, which is usually for me an accolade for the previous book, but The Dream Thieves I loved even more than The Raven Boys. The only reason I think that I didn’t continue on to book three straightaway after putting The Dream Thieves down is because a few books that I had been waiting for were released (ironically, I have not started the one that I paused this series to read, because I fell into a deep well of favorite rereads while waiting for that book to actually arrive—thinking of course that I’d be able to put those rereads down in the middle).

I was a bit surprised that I loved The Dream Thieves so because Ronan, arguably the primary protagonist here, is spikier than I usually like my characters, though in this story we got to see past some of that caustic, tattooed armor to the mushy, homesick, heartsick center—the Ronan that Gansey knew before and which the books reference rather frequently.

The story begins, “A secret is a strange thing. There are three kinds of secrets,” and the epilogue begins that way too. I would have been all over that if I hadn’t been hearing so forcefully the echoes of “The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.” I remember my burbling excitement when I first realized the circular echo that Rothfuss was employing in The Name of the Wind and then used again in The Wise Man’s Fear. Rothfuss definitely did it first (The Name of the Wind was published in 2008), but I want to believe—and do believe—that I’d have been as excited to see Stiefvater use language this way and employ this particular device as I was to see Rothfuss do so if I had seen Stiefvater’s first. It is a beautiful technique and a wonderful way to frame a story and a trick that requires a great deal of finesse and mastery.

Without dropping lots of quotes into this review, I really can’t explain to you why I have come to so love Stiefvater’s prose, her poignant observations and vivid, succinct images. While reading book three, I have taken so many pictures of wonderful lines that I wanted to remember. For this book, I took just one for this line: “His mind was a box he tipped out at the end of his shifts.” That line. I get that line. It captures a feeling that I never would have thought to describe so, but it describes that feeling with such cutting accuracy that I immediately conjure the feeling, the aches and pains and exhaustion.

The Dream Thieves introduces us to more magic. Such wonderful, awesome, terrifying magic. Magic that’s difficult to control, that comes at a terrible price.

While The Raven Boys, I’d be comfortable handing off to a mature 13 year old, this book introduces some darker and more mature topics: homosexuality, drugs, explosive, uncontrollable anger, suicide, murder, more of a romantic subplot, redemption, identity, love in its many forms…. This is a book for an older teen: maybe 14. Maybe. I asked Gwen whose opinion on such matters I trust, and she guessed maybe better to introduce the book to 15 or 16 year olds. As she said, there’s a lot of violence in this book, and an appreciation of the “shades of violence” is important to an understanding of this book’s plot and themes.

*****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 2: The Dream Thieves. New York: Scholastic, 2014. First published 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Save

Book Review: Thanks for Magnus Chase, Rick Riordan

Standard

9781101916988So I thought that I knew Norse mythology, and now I’m realizing that I knew as much about Norse mythology as Magnus Chase did before finding out that he was a demigod: to paraphrase a book from his childhood and quote a chapter title: “Freya is pretty! She has cats!” (274) Yep. That, and then what I gleaned from the “ridiculously inaccurate” Marvel movies (27). Did you know that Bifröst is supposed to be pronounced more closely to “beef roast” than “by frost”? I’m actually very pleased that I chose to listen to this book on audio because looking at the Norse names, I think I would have stumbled and fallen out of the book often. Tanngnjóstr, Hlidskjalf, even einherji… no kids book or Marvel movie ever prepared me to pronounce these. Mjolnir is hard enough. I stumble over the Hammer’s name like Darcy does in Thor: The Dark World (though after listening to this audiobook, I’m stumbling less often).

I waited a long time for this series. I’ve wanted it ever since I heard a rumor that Rick Riordan might do a series about the Norse gods. I knew enough to know that in Norse mythology, the gods lose, they die, the world ends, and I wanted to see how Riordan could play with that (—admirably, very admirably). Then somehow I was late purchasing it. I think I put it off till I could get a deeper discount, and now, I’m only getting to it a year later because I felt pressured to have read the first book before I began selling the second (I missed my self-imposed deadline but only by five days) and because I found the audiobook at my local library and decided that a new Rick Riordan book would likely make my road trip drive fly past—and then when I got sucked into another book during my road trip, I let it help speed my commutes.

I really enjoyed the different voices provided by Christopher Guetig. I enjoyed everyone’s voice—except Magnus’, which is somewhat problematic. The voice Guetig provided for Magnus seemed too high-pitched and young to believably be 16. Moreover, I felt that Magnus warranted more bitterness and flat delivery than Guetig did. Magnus’ lines were delivered flippantly, breezily. I thought of Magnus as much more careworn, as hard and bitter, his lines dripping with hard sarcasm. I can’t say which of us is right in our reading, and it probably doesn’t matter because a book can be read differently by different readers, but that disconnect kept me from being enveloped as deeply as I could have been in the world. Luckily, Blitz and Hearth and Sam and Loki and Fenris and T.J. and Mallory and Otis the goat were there to help draw me in when Magnus couldn’t. Their characters were all much improved I think by Guetig’s reading. (I found myself the other day adopting Otis’ tone and voice.) I loved that Hearth, a deaf elf who speaks through sign-language was given a unique voice by Guetig. Thank you.

While we’re talking about Hearth and his deafness, can we talk about how Riordan deftly, I think, described the struggles that Hearth had being accepted by his family and peers, how he had come to cope, and his deafness not even seem to be any kind of impediment to him in Boston, and then on the quest how it became the very strength that the team needed? And can we also talk about how rare it is to see any character who is deaf and speaks through sign language? I can think of one other, a recurring but not main character on The West Wing and was reminded by a Google search that there was a character in a two-part episode of Doctor Who, season 9. I just need to thank Riordan for including this awesome character and for bringing light to this often unseen community.

And for shedding light on the homeless community too, presenting homelessness in honest, real terms: the fear but also the ingenuity, the community and the alienation. I feel that most homeless characters that I encounter in children’s literature—and I can think of very few—are either saints and angels in disguise (sometimes literally), demonized, or are background characters there to add realism to a place but not as characters.

And I want to thank Riordan and Guetig too for not caving to the pop culture/Marvel versions of the gods. Guetig could have tried to imitate Tom Hiddleston’s accent when presenting Loki, but he didn’t. Riordan specifically distances his Thor from Marvel’s Thor:

“I couldn’t help it.

“When I heard the name Thor, I thought about the guy from the movies and comics—a big superhero from outer space, with bright Spandex tights, a red cape, goldilocks hair, and maybe a helmet with fluffy little dove wings.

“I real life, Thor was scarier. And redder. And grungier.” (353)

I understand that to reclaim Norse mythology from the Marvel franchise was probably part of Riordan’s mission, but I still appreciate that he didn’t take the easy way in this novel, but gave us something new and less familiar.

I’m thanking Riordan for a lot here. I haven’t even mentioned Sam, an Arab American with immigrant grandparents from Iraq in an arranged engagement but in love with her betrothed and caught between wanting a normal life with him and wanting to be a warrior and a Valkyrie, who wears a hijab but only when she wants to do or when she feels like she should. (Oops. Now I have.) There is so much diversity here. And the presentation here is so much better than it is in The Hidden Oracle where Riordan seems to shout, “LOOK AT THESE DIVERSE CHARACTERS JUST HERE TO REPRESENT OTHER CULTURES!” That might not be fair. But yeah, maybe it is. These are characters—characters I can care about. The diverse characters in The Trials of Apollo seem more like props (though admittedly, some of that I might be able to believe is because Apollo narrates, and Apollo believes he is the sun around which everyone else dances, but it does not excuse that sense).

Riordan was more subtle than I thought he would be too when I heard that Magnus was going to be Annabeth’s cousin.  Yes, Annabeth is a character here, but she is not obtrusive, though I do sense that we’ll see her again–and with her more of the Greco-Roman crew.  After a quick Pintrest perusal I too really want to see Nico and Magnus meet.

And I ought by now to be prepared for Riordan to pull the rug out from under my feet at the last moment, but I was unprepared and caught gasping and wanting the second book.

So look for that.

Because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this series, but I can’t let that plot twist rest. Not forever.

I’m teetering on the edge of giving this book a coveted five stars, and may revise it later, but for now… let’s stick with

****1/2

Riordan, Rick. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2015.

Riordan, Rick.  Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer.  2015.  Narr.  Christopher Guetig. Compact discs. Listening Library-Penguin Random, 2015.

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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Maybe Too Much in Too Little of The Raven Boys

Standard

13449693

Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle is another recommendation from Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master. She already you might remember introduced me to Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. I left that book enamored with Stiefvater’s writing and happy to try more.

The Raven Cycle—or at least the first book in the series, The Raven Boys—is set here, in Virginia, not more than a few hours’ drive from me, and in the same mountains that I call home. Another friend of mine who doesn’t even know Gwen raves to me about these books too. She’s a local. She says that she knows the mountains that Stiefvater describes and communities like Henrietta and loves how well she has captured the atmosphere of this region.

Well, I expected to like—no, I expected to love this series. When I found out that we were dealing with Welsh mythology, I expected to love it even more. I expected to fall hard.

And I fell. I texted Gwen reactions when my feelings could not be contained and my poor mother got snapped at when she quipped at me for rebuking one of the characters aloud (sorry, Mom). But I didn’t fall as hard as I would have liked to do, and I think I know why:

This hit buttons—different buttons—for Gwen, Katie, and I. It contains independent story threads and independent goals from at least four point of view characters—and the background characters, those who don’t get to narrate, are reluctant to be background characters; how could they be when every woman in the Sargent household is larger than life and every member of Gansey’s found family is inseparable from the others? The story tiptoes along the blurred lines of several different genres: fantasy quest, romance, ghost story, realistic fiction bordering on issue book for grounding…. It was—perhaps—too much to put into one book. There’s something of this book that reminds me of a television season written when the writers expect to be cancelled.

This series is shelved in romance in our store, but it seems an odd choice. It begins with the promise of a true love, and then a second promise that Blue is either Gansey’s true love or his killer (jury’s out on that one), but it feels as if Stiefvater was least interested in the romance in this series. Or maybe I was least interest in the romance. I see the prophecies about Blue and her true love to be like the pressures I feel and see that are slowly killing the population’s ability to have a platonic relationship with members of the opposite sex. It almost seems to me that the romance and the prophecies exist perhaps primarily because of the pressure exerted on writers to include romance and love triangles in their teen fiction.

I would put this in fantasy and choose to focus on the quest and hope that it inspires people to pick up dowsing rods and wander the woods around my home instead of hoping that it inspires girls to long for two boys competing for their attention.

I feel like I’ve come down hard on this book, that I’m focusing too much on what I didn’t like and not enough on the fact that I did tear through this book, I did long to return to it when I had to put it down, did read it whenever I had a moment, and did get emotionally invested enough in the characters to chide them aloud and be hit with at least one reveal hard enough to leave me reeling—even if I sensed that some reveal was coming.

I just wanted more time–more time to spend on the individual threads of this story and with the individual narrators of this story.  Luckily, there are another three books.  I finished this book on September 24, and I’m already anxiously awaiting the return of book 2 to my store’s stock so that I can return to Henrietta.

****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 1: The Raven Boys. New York: Scholastic, 2013. First published 2012.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Just a Bit about Demigods & Magicians

Standard

9781484732786

Spoilers in white. Highlight to view.

Demigods and Magicians collects in a hardcover volume three stories released as e-books and as short stories in paperback editions of some of Rick Riordan’s longer books. These stories marry two of his stories: Percy Jackson’s (which is found in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, and now continues in The Trials of Apollo) and the Kanes’ (from The Kane Chronicles). The first story, “The Son of Sobek,” I had read before in my paperback of The Serpent’s Shadow. That short story was every bit as exciting and well written as Riordan’s longer works. In it, Carter Kane hunts a monster in the swamps of a Long Island park. Percy Jackson hunts the same monster. The two need to team up and fight the monster together to defeat it. The end of the story promises a time when the two will need one another again.

And I waited on that second story for a long time. “The Staff of Serapis” where Annabeth Chase meets Sadie Kane was released in the paperback of The Mark of Athena, but I already had a hardcover copy of that book and could never justify creasing the spine of a paperback that I hadn’t purchased just to read the next short story. And I still don’t own an e-reader nor have I downloaded any app that would allow me to read e-books on my computer; judge me. Ditto to The House of Hades, the paperback version of which hid the final crossover story, “The Crown of Ptolemy.”

The first story is told from Carter’s first person. The second switches to a third person limited from Annabeth’s POV. The last is in Percy’s first person. Since the release of The Red Pyramid, the first book to veer from Percy’s close first person narration, I’ve admired that Riordan is a risk-taker; he does not confine himself to a single style, but tries something new with each series (or did so through the first three; The Trials of Apollo returns to close first person): the Percy Jackson series are close first person, The Kane Chronicles are two first person narrations done as audio transcripts, The Heroes of Olympus are several close third narrators. This is the first of his books to combine the first and the third person narrations, and it feels almost seamless (anything that involves Sadie Kane is going to strike with a bit of a bang; she has that effect).

I was further impressed that Riordan was able to rationalize the fun that he was having with a crossover story. He found an enemy that could not be defeated without a crossover; most crossovers that I’ve ever read (or written) have had no justification other than fun, no plot reason for the crossover (and most have been fan-written rather than canon). He not only found a reason to connect the two stories, but found a way to make this story a continuation of the Kanes’ story in particular, the ultimate baddie being a character from their past, someone they worried about leaving loose in the world.

I realize that there’s not a lot of substance to this review, but suffice it to say that I finished this story on May 27. I began it again the other day.

Sometimes I need the slight commitment of a short story. The three stories together are a mere 212 pages. From Riordan especially, whose characters and humorous but dramatic and action-filled writing I often miss, I appreciate having short stories. 212 pages is so much less of a commitment to make than any one of his novels, none of which I easily read only a part.

****

Riordan, Rick. Demigods & Magicians: Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

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

Save

Book Review: Difficult Characters and Prose Hide a Wicked Twist in The Hidden Oracle

Standard

1484736672Spoilers have been written in white.  Highlight the white space to view.

Rick Riordan has begun his fifth series, The Trials of Apollo, a sequel to The Heroes of Olympus which is itself a sequel to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. For those keeping score at home, this makes The Hidden Oracle, first in this series, the eleventh story to follow in Percy Jackson’s story in an easy chronological fashion (several side stories exist including The Demigod Files, The Demigod Diaries, and Demigods and Magicians, which are harder to place). Percy is not our hero this time, but he and his friends from The Heroes of Olympus—particularly Nico di Angelo, are perhaps more heroic than the hero—the god Apollo, punished by his father Zeus for the third time by being made a mortal. This time though his mortal body is young and scrawny and saggy and pimply. He is, as Apollo puts it, average.

We’ve met Apollo in his godly state on numerous occasions throughout Percy’s story. Interestingly, Apollo first appears in The Titan’s Curse, which is the book that introduces us to Nico too. There he is confident and boastful and full of really awful haikus.

When we last spoke to Apollo in The Blood of Olympus he and his twin sister Artemis were trapped on the island of Delos because it was the one place where they remained unaffected by the paralyzing confusion of being torn between their Greek and Roman personalities—a confusion that incapacitated most of the Olympians.

Flung into the garbage when he falls from Olympus, Apollo is promptly accosted by two bullies and rescued by a young girl clad in bright, mismatched clothes and spectacles. Meg at Apollo’s behest takes him to Manhattan, where we first meet up again with Percy Jackson and we learn that there is a new Blofis on the way. Riordan takes time in this book to create a reunion between the Heroes of Olympus and the readers, to check in on everyone by word of mouth or in the flesh. In some ways the attention given to old friends detracts from the new story. That may be reader error, but I looked forward to seeing them almost more than I did learning about whatever new danger awaited Apollo and Meg. That being said, Riordan does a good job working the old characters into the new plot—for the most part. That Percy needed to return to defeat the Colossus seemed a bit… I don’t know, pander-y. We can’t have a new expert fighter rising from the ranks of campers? Leo and Calypso I was happy to see and because they came only at the very end—after the action—it seemed less obtrusive—that, and I won’t mind a little Team Leo time in the coming books. I was going to be seriously upset if Nico was not involved in this story with his boyfriend, Apollo’s son Will, but while I got a few cute lines of banter, I didn’t get a lot of growth from their relationship; it sort of seems like Riordan skips to the part where they are comfortable and perfectly at ease with one another and the other campers with them—even though the very idea of coming out to just one modern demigod and one god of Love who already knew was making Nico leak death shadow not but two books ago (less than two months ago?).

Another reason I may have looked forward to the reunions more than the driving plot was because both protagonists of this book—Apollo and Meg—are kind of obnoxious in their own way—Meg I think mostly because she was never developed in a way that I found particularly compelling and Apollo because he is self-centered and narcissistic (that was far less annoying when it was a few pages of dialogue with other more honorable characters and Apollo had the godhood to back it up). Apollo’s voice—the whole book is of course first person narration by Apollo—is short and clipped and riddled with references to pop culture that will be dated soon or are dated now. I won’t say that those pop culture references did not make me laugh because they did because they are relevant now but it speaks to Riordan’s either lack of interest in creating a book with staying power or disregard for creating such a book. This book will I think feel like a time capsule in maybe even 5 years.

The true worth of this book comes at the end as the plot itself is really taking off and the quest such as it is (having stumbled their way to Greece, the action actually all takes place within the parameters of Camp Half-Blood—a first for Riordan) is beginning. Really I only felt like the book came to fruition when the villain appeared in the flesh. That climax I loved. I look forward to reading the resolution in coming books. The climax connects this book to the others and gives extra weight to past books—which I wasn’t really sure was possible. For that I like it. I like adding a more human element to the villainy I’ve already lived through, because fighting a god, well that’s the stuff of legends, but fighting a megalomaniac with too much power—that’s the kind of fight to which I can relate. Getting to the climax, to the quest—getting Apollo to move away from whining to heroism—that… dragged more than I wanted it too. I can’t say it was slow, because the tone doesn’t allow it to be slow, but there was just not much happening.

Overall, this is not Riordan’s greatest work—not for me. I wanted to like Apollo’s voice; I was excited for Apollo’s voice. I was glad to see the haikus as chapter titles because that has been the most memorable thing about Apollo in previous works. But this was just… too much narcissism. And after the depth to which Riordan plunged with The Heroes of Olympus, this whole book, like Apollo’s worldview, seemed shallow. But I will stick with the series and see what happens.

***1/2

Riordan, Rick. The Trials of Apollo, Book One: The Hidden Oracle. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

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

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Atmosphere and Subtlety and Poetry in The Scorpio Races

Standard

Scorpio-paperback-website

I was a horse fanatic who grew up reading all of Marguerite Henry’s books, My Friend Flicka, National Velvet, The Pony Pals, and dabbling in The Saddle Club. Pretty much since the introduction of Harry Potter to my life, I’ve read fewer horse books and more fantasy books and epic quests. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races combined these two genres and gave me more than either in some ways. This story takes place on the fictional island of Thisby at an indeterminate time (though because of the mention of women’s suffrage movement I can place it probably somewhere between the early 1800s and early 1900s presumably off the coast of the U.K. for the capaill uisce are a British myth and the name is borrowed from the Irish. The capaill uisce or water horses are sea creatures that can come on land and take on more equine features and natures when they do, but they are believed to be faster and are more vicious, eating flesh and blood instead of hay and oats. Iron and red ribbons and bells and knots in their manes can all be used to curb some of the capaill uisces’ power and make them less menacing and more manageable, but none of these is all-powerful, and a capall uisce will always be dangerous.

Every autumn the bravest of the men of Thisby capture, train, and race the water horses along the beach, where the siren song of the ocean is loudest and the capaill uisce are most unpredictable and dangerous. This year—driven by poverty and a belief that running in or winning the race may change her circumstances—Kate “Puck” Connolly has entered as the first woman and on the first land horse to ever race among the capaill uisce.

Ostensibly this is a story about the races but it is more the story of the islanders and particularly the racers—particularly Kate and Sean Kendrick. Sean is the four-time returning champion who trains thoroughbreds and water horses to race and loves the mount from which his father once fell while racing. Corr did not eat Sean’s father, but he couldn’t save him either. Sean needs to win to be able to buy Corr and to leave the service of the stable owner Malvern.

Kate is a woman in a man’s role, but she sacrifices none of her femininity, none of herself in order to race.

In Kate, I believe Sean sees some of himself, the same love and understanding of horses, the same bravery. He reaches out to her, and the two form an unlikely partnership.

I have been feeling overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of romance in especially teen literature of late, and Stiefvater here snuck in a budding romance so subtle and so sweet and so understated that I forgave her and even rooted for the pairing. I don’t think that’s a spoiler only because of the pervasiveness of romance in teen literature which seems to dictate that if there is a male and a female protagonist in the same story they will inevitably get together. There’s a kiss, but gratefully there’s nothing more to make me reluctant to recommend this to younger readers. This will be a book I’m putting in the hands of the middle schoolers who are reading at a higher level without fearing the wrath of the (almost) most conservative parents.

Stiefvater pulled me in with her poetic prose, her love and understanding of horses, which for me was nostalgic—not only for the literature that I grew up on but also for my own childhood, much of which was spent horseback, loving and learning to understand horses.

Stiefvater relates to Thisby itself as a character and it’s hard to argue with her on that point; The Scorpio Races is an atmospheric book, one that makes you a part of the circles and relationships of its characters. It’s a difficult thing to describe if you’ve never experienced that sort of embrace and envelopment from a book. It’s a difficult thing to achieve, and a sense that is ignored or overlooked or slacked off by many writers. It was something my high school English teacher discussed in reference to Thomas Hardy and Return of the Native (which is not a book I particularly enjoyed, but it seems worth mentioning if only because this is the level of prowess I sense in Stiefvater—and if I didn’t enjoy my fling with Hardy it makes him no less revered).

I recognize that perhaps a great deal of this book’s appeal to me is nostalgic and personal, but it is nonetheless something different, something magical, and something subtle.  I’ve already picked up another book of hers to see if that magic extends beyond what is nostalgic–and I’m hopeful that it will.

*****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic, 2013. First published 2011.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.