Since I’m not currently doing book reviews (a disappointing but necessary situation at present), I thought I’d do a quick follow up on my current progress on the Once Upon a Time III challenge. Since the start of the challenge on 21st March, I’ve read three books that fit the categories and I started on my fourth today.
If I remember correctly, I got this book from on2 of the school book clubs, way back when I was about 12 or so. I loved it immediately. The story of Amethyst (commonly known as Amy), a seventh princess who gets given the gift of ordinariness by one of her fairy godmothers at her christening, is a delightful story. It’s just a short, little children’s book, that even has written inside the back page, in my 12-year old writing: My verdict – Supa. Why I decided to misspell “super” remains a mystery to this day, but the verdict remains the same. The Ordinary Princess is written with an almost sly wit as it makes fun of the usual fairy tale fare full of beautiful princesses, handsome princes and other archetypes. The king wanders around insisting inviting fairies is a RASH idea (often in capitals), while the queen tries in vain to remove her youngest daughter’s freckles and Amy decides to run away when the king considers hiring a dragon to lay waste to the countryside in the hope some rash young prince will slay it and be forced to marry plain Princess Amy. It’s a truly lovely story and it doesn’t matter in the least that it’s theoretically a children’s book; it’s a delight to all ages. My verdict this time around (and, okay I’ll admit it, 28 years later) is 10/10.
I went on a McKillip spending spree last year and bought most of her recent books that I hadn’t read (it helped that Lenneth over on LJ started up a Patricia A. McKillip challenge that I quickly joined). Alphabet of Thorn was one of these. It started out in what is typical McKillip style at present, with a varied collection of characters all apparently doing their own thing. The reader has to have faith that all the separate lines of the tale will come together in the end – and McKillip always comes through. The translator Nepenthe (a orphan so named because the librarians were up to N for names when she was found) finds herself obsessed with deciphering a book written in an alphabet of thorns. Slowly, she uncovers a tale of a mighty emperor 3000 years ago and his quest to conquer the world. At the same time, the new young queen of the kingdom finds her throne at risk, a young mage caught up in family politics meets Nepethene and the aged mage, Vevay, tries to counsel a queen she doesn’t really understand. All of these strands finish up making a beautiful story that enchants the reader. I did guess the general solution to one the the book’s mysteries fairly early on, but it didn’t matter in the least. The how of getting to the end and the beautiful, lyrical language McKillip uses to tell her tale are what the book (and indeed, all McKillip’s books) is all about. I really enjoyed the tale and I’m glad I’m having a year reading McKillip. My rating for this book is 9/10.
There’s been a lot of comment on this book on a number of the blogs I read and that comment has been all positive. So I feel I bit like Scrooge crying “Humbug” to say that the book didn’t work for me. This is a zombie book that doesn’t mention the word “zombie” and while that isn’t generally my reading (or viewing) preference, I have to say that that part of the book was very well done. Mary lives in a village ringed by fences where the “Unconsecrated” live outside in the forest and a forever trying to find a way through to the living on the other side. Mary is something of a misfit, not satisfied with the live she is expected to lead, either as a member of the Sisterhood that is the authority in the village, or as a wife and mother. Her own mother told her tales of the ocean and while no-one else really believes in it, Mary is haunted by the stories and wants to find the ocean. When the fences are breached, she and several others find themselves caught of fenced paths, trying to find their way to some kind of safety. I read on bottle_of_shine’s LJ that this book is an excellent zombie metaphor. Well, I readily admit that I wasn’t reading for metaphor but for story. And as a story, it failed for me. Mary is self-absorbed and annoying as she drags everyone else along on her obsession towards the ocean. She wails about her life and obsesses about her own feelings to a point I found it annoying. Since the book is told from her point of view, not identifying with her in any way wasn’t helpful. It was also frustrating that the author drops clues about the cause of the “Return” (such as Mary finding old newspaper clippings in an attic) but then chooses not to tell us what happened. Now, I can accept that in real life – often we don’t learn the answers we’d like to learn – but in a book where there is setup about the mystery of what happened to humanity, it’s annoying not to get the reward at the end. (And I admit, part of what I like about post-apocalyptic fiction is finding about about the apocalypse through the characters history and discovery.) So sadly, this wasn’t a great read for me – although I do love the cover – and I’m glad I borrowed it from the library rather than buying it. My rating is 5/10.
I’ve also had one DNF since I started the challenge. This was Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, which I received as part of the Christmas Blog Swap exchange. I was very excited about reading this as it sounded like it could be a lovely book (and the pretty cover didn’t hurt). Sadly, by about a third of the way through I was finding myself very ambivalent about reading it and wasn’t sure why. I finally figured out that I didn’t like any of the characters – of the two main protagonists, one was a whinger and the other was manipulating everyone (sometimes into very nasty situations) for her own ends. I just didn’t want to continue on the journey with them. I’m pretty sure I guessed what a big reveal was going to be, but I don’t really even care to know if I was right or not. I guess I should take a look at the back to see.
Right now, I’ve just started The Night Bird by Catherine Asaro, which has been sitting on the TBR shelf since it came out in July last year, so I’m delighted to have something push me to read it. While I prefer Asaro’s SF series to this fantasy one, I do enjoy the stories all the same and while I’ve only read two pages so far, I’m looking forward to the read.