There should be a rule when reading fantasy that you’re not allowed to quit reading before 50 pages. I feel like 50 pages in the minimum needed for world building and scene setting. “World building” meaning (for me at least) the figuring out of how the fantastical world is organized in terms of geography, time, politics, social order, customs, etc. Without the 50 page rule I’d probably have quit The Fifth Season and that would have been SAD because it was such a great read. But those first 50 were disorienting as there’s no quick way to be like “here is how this world works” without being obnoxious and pedantic so this reader just had to accept that the logic of the place was going to unfold and eventually I’d know enough of the things to be clear about what was what. Continue reading
Tag Archives: fantasy
The Library at Mount Char: 3 Life Lessons from Attending a Public Sci-Fi Book Club (and then an actual book review)
- You think you know the kind of people who attend an open-invitation Sci-Fi/Fantasy book club because you have ideas about the kind of people who a) read Sci-Fi/Fantasy and b) attend open-invitation book clubs. Your ideas are not charitable. And they have – for some reason – not expanded to include yourself (even though you are attending said club). Like most occasions when you confront your assumptions (about anything) you discover that there is much more variety involved and far fewer references to LoTR (though there is one).
- Your belief that you can power-read* a novel (in under a day) (the way you did in undergrad) is as steadfast – and as erroneous – as your belief that you can still drink the whole bottle of wine and not get a hangover. You learn that you are older than you once were, and older than you imagine yourself to be.
- Open-invitation book clubs include 500% less conversation about pregnancy, childbirth and baby-rearing than all your other book clubs combined. Which is to say: none. Unless these conversations are relevant to the book. You realize these baby-less spaces are precious and that – right now in your life – you need them.**
You read a book like Octavia Butler’s Kindred and you get to thinking some bleak thoughts. Published in the 1970s, the ‘fantasy’ novel follows Dana through a time travelling slave narrative. Opening in the 1970s the reader is immediately hooked as Dana travels back in time to the pre-civil war South and finds herself – a black woman – among slavery. The mechanics of time travel in the novel are explained by virtue of the ‘kindred’ connection between Dana and her 1800something ancestor, Rufus: Dana is called back to the past each time Rufus is in danger of dying so that she can save his life; Dana is called back to the present each time her own life is in danger. Continue reading
I described Pierce Brown’s Red Rising to C. as a cross between Hunger Games, Divergent and Game of Thrones and then as she was reading the back, she pointed out the same description was on the cover. Probably because it’s an apt way of capturing the plot and theme points. And because I’m a book reviewer genius and the Kirkus Review has nothing on me.
Right… so like the Hunger Games in that we’re set in a dystopian society of stratified classes. Instead of Districts we have Colours (like the Divergent factions) each associated with a different professional role in the Society (capital S on purpose). Like HG the young must do battle with one another in an arena (or sorts) though instead of killing one another the quest is to establish dominance over the land (think Game of Thrones battles, strategy and endless betrayals). It’s a battle within a battle (sort of like Enders Game come to think of it) with our hero – Darrow – working to infiltrate the upper echelon of the Society so he can take it down from the inside and free his people.
There’s some pretty silly bits. In the early chapters Darrow’s realization of his captivity and subsequent awareness of the wider world reads as an obnoxiously similar description of Plato’s cave: like there’s an actual cave and actual fire. There’s a lot of searing pain (think Harry Potter and the interminable descriptions of How Much His Scar Hurts) and teenage hormone.
But these silly parts are endurable for the well-paced plot and the genuine interest and care cultivated for Darrow and his quest (cultivated in no small part in that Darrow is a very well developed character with complex and unpredictable reactions – except when it comes to women, more on that in a minute). I liked reading this one so much I couldn’t wait to order it from the other library and (actually) waited outside the bookstore for it to open this morning so I could get the second installment (it is, of course, a trilogy).
*light spoilers to follow*
I liked reading it even while I was troubled and annoyed with the representation of women. Darrow’s wife, Eo, is a singular martyr and Darrow’s romanticization of her throughout the rest of the book put me off as it made Eo’s entire purpose the inspiration and motivation of her husband-man: “They didn’t create me. She did” (115). His later love interest, Mustang, is more developed as a character, but similarly defined in relation to Darrow: she is a traitor, she is loyal, she is helpful, she is destructive all in terms of what she does to or for him.
A related sticking point is the representation of bodies. The women are – without exception – only loveable or worthy of character development if they also happen to be slight and wispy whiffs of a person: “Though she’s swaddled with wolfcloaks as thick as my own, she hardly comes up to my shoulder. And when we walk through deep snow, it’s almost a laugh to see her try to keep apace with me. But if I slow, I earn a scowl. Her braid bounces as she keeps up [for real. her braid bounces]. When we reach easier ground, she glances over at me. Her pert nose is red as a cheery in the cold, but her eyes look like hot honey” (309-310). Okay, this passage probably won’t make you want to run out and get the book (it really is a fun read and worth checking out). I highlight it because it’s an example of the fragility-made-tough that women are meant to have in the book. And the way our ponytails should bounce. Contrast with the male characters who are worthy of veneration for all kinds of body types and shapes.
All that said it really was a romp of a fun read with Allegory and Importance thrown in for some fun. You could easily enjoy on the beach, a plane or wait until – inevitably – the blockbuster movie comes out (unless you’re in book club, in which case you have to read it because we’re reading it).