Spinning Silver

Monday, November 5, 2018

Spinning Silver
Naomi Novik, 2018

Premise: Miryem's family was nearly starving until she took over her father's moneylending business. Irina may be the daughter of a duke, but she's not pretty enough to be a useful pawn. Wanda is the only person standing between her brothers and their drunken father. All three young women face marriage, and therefore, danger. Magic only complicates matters.

This is a sister novel to Uprooted, in that it is a fantasy novel which takes inspiration from fairy tales (most obviously Rumplestiltskin) and emphasizes cultural traditions which are often neglected in commonly British-descended fantasy tropes. In this case, the country takes quite a bit from Eastern Europe, and Miryem and her relations are Jewish and face discrimination and danger because of this.

I really liked so much about this book. I loved the three stories and the way they combined. I loved the use and reinterpretation of fairy-tale elements. I loved that tipping point of marriage in all three stories and the danger and horror each young woman was confronted with. I loved the hard choices each of them faced and the way they dealt with them.

My biggest criticism has to do with structure. I think the structure could have been tighter. The point of view changes from chapter to chapter, and I was fine with this while it was the three young women, even though the third didn't appear until the story felt well underway. But then chapters appeared throughout the book adding additional viewpoint characters, and I think this really weakens the impact of the storytelling, making it more like just an average run-of-the-mill fantasy novel. One point-of-view character has only one chapter, and I think it would have been much more compelling to get the information delivered in that chapter from an outside perspective.

I do love the way the magic worked, and the various supernatural creatures. However, another quibble was that I felt there was an alternative ending heavily foreshadowed by the magic early on (matching two characters who do not end up together), but nothing came of it. And I have mixed feelings about aspects of the ending.

Still, while I didn't think it was perfect, I did enjoy it a lot.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

An Unkindness of Ghosts

Monday, October 1, 2018

An Unkindness of Ghosts
Rivers Solomon, 2017

Premise: Aster lives in the bowels of the great ship Matilda. As a dark-skinned lowerdecker, she is constantly in danger from the people of higher classes who run the ship and the society. Then she discovers that an affliction suffered by the leader of the ship may have a connection to her mother's long-ago disappearance.

This is a hard book to review for a lot of reasons. What's good about it is great, but what misses the mark for me personally threatens to derail the whole thing.

The best part of this book was the worldbuilding, the characters, and the texture of the writing. I feel as though I could recognize any of these characters at a glance. I absorbed the brutality of the violence. I can picture the ship in all its complexity and horror.

Most of the major characters are gender-fluid and/or LGBTQ and/or neuroatypical and/or suffering from severe trauma. Their complexity means that while they might not be "fun" or always "likable," they feel deeply, tragically true. Their fragile relationships and identities are all the more valuable because they live under constant threat.

The plot I had a bit more trouble with. Even though whenever I picked up this book I could touch its world, I kept putting it down again. I wasn't pulled along by what was happening, and I never understood certain twists and turns. Sometimes the timeline seemed to jump ahead suddenly.

And then it ended. And the ending... I'm not sure I understood it. It was an emotional and thematic ending, I guess, and lots of actions happened, but the plot feels extremely unresolved. (I immediately googled to see if there's a sequel in the works. There isn't.) There was a lot of action and buildup and then... Huh? There was even some foreshadowing in an earlier chapter that was never followed up on. For me, not sticking the landing can overshadow a lot about a book.

To sum up: brilliant writing but with a structure that didn't work for me. Your mileage may definitely vary.

3 Stars? 4? Good, Great? I don't know.

Princeless Books 1-3 (Save Yourself, Get Over Yourself, The Pirate Princess)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Princeless Books 1-3 (Save Yourself, Get Over Yourself, The Pirate Princess)
Jeremy Whitley, et al., 2012, 2014, 2015

Read Harder Challenge 2018 - A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image

Premise: Princess Adrienne can’t believe her father hired a dragon and stuck her in a tower. She’s had it with expectations and decides to save her sisters herself.

I read the first arc of this book in issues back when it came out, and I had such fond memories of it that I picked up the first three collections. And it’s good, but my recollections were perhaps overly rose-colored.

To sum-up: It’s got a great premise, but the execution is a bit rocky. The first issue and the first arc are fun overall, but a lot of the jokes rely on easy pot-shots at fantasy tropes or wordplay that’s only clever the first time. None of this is bad, just... one-dimensional, I guess?

The plot meanders far too much. The first book is Adrienne getting out of the tower, heading home only to discover her youngest sister isn’t there, find out her (effeminate, shy) brother set up her escape, be mistaken for her own abductor, and meet and befriend Bedelia, a blacksmith who sets her up with fancy armor and tags along on her adventure.

That’s all okay as far as set-up goes, but not one of these introduced elements have begun to pay off by the end of Book 3. In the second book, Adrienne and Bedelia find one of Adrienne’s sisters and eventually rescue her, sort of. It’s complicated, the art isn’t as good as the first book, and it isn’t a very interesting story. In the third book, the story takes a hard left, changes characters and genres, and none of Adrienne’s sisters are in it at all. At this point, I’m just not invested in these characters or this world anymore.

It’s still a fine book, and it’s still probably a really fun book for kids. And maybe it gets better after this; it’s supposedly still going on. Part of why book three was so odd was that the new story of Raven the martial-arts pirate is so much more interesting than Adrienne’s story. The problem is, it’s supposed to be Adrienne’s book.

Looking at this book now, it seems a bit like training wheels for the stuff the author is doing now. I’ve read a little of his more recent work for Marvel, and it has a better balance between charming humor and action, so the later Princeless might find its feet as well.

3 Stars - A Good Book