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Four Books - Qualified Perceptions
Four Books
Sea of Trolls (by Nancy Farmer)
I borrowed this one from rif, though it doesn't fit into my preconceived notions of a rif book. It's a fun little romp through the Viking raids on Britain. The back of the book calls it a quest adventure like Lord of the Rings, but it's less serious than that. (Maybe more like the Hobbit). Almost everyone is actually friendly at heart, even the slave-raiders and the scary trolls, which leads to an interesting embedded lesson about humanizing and understanding your enemies (but not letting that confuse you into thinking that they're not your enemies). Three and a half light and fluffy stars.
The Somnambulist (by Jonathan Barnes)
Reviewers claim it's halfway between Neil Gaiman and China Mieville, and suggesting it's going to be sort of like The Prestige (Victorian stage magicians) plus a murder mystery, I was hoping to like this much better than I did. It starts out looking like it's going to be dreadfuly clever and mysterious - how does the Somnambulist do his trick, and who or what is he? What is the reason for the horrific murder? Who is the narrator, and why does he occasionally say that he lied about the scene he just narrated? Why is so much of the cast oddly deformed? Alas, some of the questions are answered unsatisfactorily, some are never answered, and when the Big Reveal happens, it's of something too muddled to be properly dramatic. Two very disappointing stars from a book that promised dozens and dozens of them.
Fire and Hemlock (by Diana Wynne Jones)
This started out intriguingly, and continued on adorably, and meandered through fascinating and compelling and utterly charming, before ending in an unfortunately confusing splash. I was ready to give the book four and a half stars (deducting half a star for the mild Phantom Menance-ish feeling of "Hopefully by the time this actually becomes a romance, it won't be quite as creepy, age-wise...") for the first 90% or so, but the ending just doesn't live up to the rest of it. (I've heard this about other DWJ books). For desireearmfeldt: it's a modern version of Tam Lin, touching lightly on storymaking and worldbuilding, and also how the hardest sort of battle for a hero to face is against embarassment and feeling stupid, not against dragons. Anyway, three and three quarters stars; I had a hard time putting it down, but then the ending just got away from me.
The Vanished Man (by Jeffery Deaver)
The Lincoln Rhyme books are one of my guilty pleasure popcorn series, which I include here only for completeness. They're kind of interchangeable (I'm not at all clear that I didn't skip three or four in the series to get to this one), but some are better than others. This one is one of the better ones, because the conceit of the villain as an Illusionist/Stage Magician meshes well with the insane number of plot twists that Deaver uses. Sure, there's crazy misdirection and trickery, both by the characters and the author, but it's the genre of misdirection and trickery. As I was reading it, I was pleased that I thought I had spotted the Final Twist, but no, it turns out that I picked the force card labeled "Final Twist" like a good little reader doobie. I accept the plot twists as part of Deaver's shtick; the ultra-fast time frame does still bug me (serial killers who kill their victims in a ridiculously complicated way shouldn't be on a four-hour cycle, even if it does make for exciting chase scenes). A four star example of the implausible forensic thriller, which if you don't like that genre, you won't like.


4 comments or Leave a comment
From: desireearmfeldt Date: June 6th, 2008 09:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Fire & Hemlock

Hey, for once you're reading a book I've already read!

I like it a lot and it's one I come back to periodically, but I can never make the ending work. Which is a shame.

(From a small sample set, I have the impression that this is something of a characteristic of Diana Wynne Jones, though Howl's Moving Castle, the thing of hers I've read most recently, mostly did not have that problem.)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 6th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Fire & Hemlock

Ooh, so I didn't have to put in the miniplot at all! :)
greenlily From: greenlily Date: June 6th, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fire and Hemlock holds the number two slot on my Favorite Books list. (The number one slot is occupied by Pamela Dean's Tam Lin.) But I agree with you about the ending being difficult to follow. I read the book first when I was about 13, and came back to it at least once a year after that, and it took multiple re-readings before I stopped getting to Granny's explanation near the end and going "Hold on. Wait. What?"

And yes, the age difference has never sat well with me either. If I'm doing my math correctly, she is 19 and he is 34 when the romance becomes acknowledged. When I was 19, I made very little differentiation between "age 34" and "as old as my dad". And as more and more of my male friends hit their mid-30s (I myself am 34 at the moment), the notion of them pairing off with one of my undergraduate students is nothing short of laughable.
readsalot From: readsalot Date: June 7th, 2008 11:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fire and Hemlock was the first DWJ book I ever read, and it kept me away from her for years. I don't even remember all of what bothered me about it, but I really didn't like it.

However, these days, I pick up anything of hers that I see. I think she's gotten better at endings. I'm fairly sure that I remember Dark Lord of Derkholm as having a pretty good ending.

Oh, and if you ever decide to start reading manga, you should ask me for warnings about age-imbalanced relationships. I have managed to mostly disconnect the part of my brain that would normally be going "ew!" when I read them, but it can be difficult.
4 comments or Leave a comment