narfna’s #CBR5 Review #97: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff

Kinslayer FINALFirst of all, I really liked this book. It’s a good sequel to a book that I enjoyed, and I actually think I enjoyed it more than its predecessor, Stormdancer. I think Jay Kristoff is really talented, and I can’t wait to see what he writes after this series and gets all his ‘first book impulses’ out of the way (there’s some stuff mostly with his sentence construction, especially in the first book, that rubs me the wrong way).

Kinslayer is the second book in Kristoff’s Lotus War trilogy, which takes place in a fictional world that is analogous to ours, but doesn’t quite match up. Our hero, Yukiko, is a young girl who is able to hear the thoughts of animals, and this is something that makes her a subject of persecution in the country she lives in. This same country is heavily inspired by Japanese culture. It’s people are split into clans, and magic is real, if rare. Mythical creatures like griffins and dragons are real, but long absent from the world. And their country, and the world, is slowly being poisoned by their dependence on a magical steampunky fuel source that poisons the ground its grown on, overtakes other healthier crops, and can also be used as a drug (that is highly addictive and dangerous). It’s a complicated world. The clans are on the verge of war, the ruling class threatens to collapse, and revolution is brewing. Meanwhile, the Guild that grows the Lotus flower (the poison crop) has mysterious sinister motives of its own. Maybe all I need to say is ‘Japanese fantasy steampunk.’ Yukiko happens upon the first ‘thunder tiger’ seen in generations and forms a bond with him in book one, and it is this relationship that forms the backbone of the series, and this novel. I’m not going to go further into the plot than that. Again, it’s complicated. And you should just check it out if you’re interested. I don’t feel the need to regurgitate plot in this review.

Instead, I’m going to go off on some tangents.

There is a dearth of young adult authors who can actually write prose not only competently but with actual style. Kristoff is one of the few that I think pulls it off. And, I’m not even sure this is young adult? I’m of the firm opinion that just because a book has a young adult protagonist doesn’t mean that book should be categorized as young adult. The difference between adult and young adult literature lies entirely in the content and themes of the story, not in the age of its protagonist. This is something I’ve noticed lately that really bothers me and my OCD. Fangirl and The Ocean at the End of the Lane both make me want to do random Twitter and Goodreads searches, find everyone who calls both books young adult, and then all caps shout at them THIS IS NOT YOUNG ADULT until they realize the error of their ways. I realize this is stupid, which is why I haven’t done it. I’m just telling you how I feel. Anyway, I think this book falls into a similar category. It feels more adult to me than not, and I think the young adult association has hurt its chances of being read by a larger audience (not that young adult literature is inferior, just concerned with different things).

One of the reasons I never wrote a review of the first book concerns the area of my second tangent. There was a lot of furor over the first book about Kristoff’s supposed appropriation of Japanese culture for his story, and people got really upset about it. I didn’t feel comfortable jumping in with my opinions at the time. Kristoff defended his story, saying that because his story is fictional, he is under no obligation to faithfully recreate Japanese culture, and I have to say, I think I agree with him. I don’t understand getting upset about authors writing in worlds they don’t live in. Are writers only supposed to write books and stories about the worlds they live in? That seems limiting, and boring, and horrible. Writing and reading are exercises of the imagination, and if someone wants to take a culture and play around in it, changing things here and there, I guess I just don’t get why that’s such a crime. The world of the imagination shouldn’t have limits. Perhaps this is a bad example because American culture is so out there and trying to homogenize the world anyway, but I wouldn’t get angry if someone in Japan wanted to play around with, I don’t know, the Revolutionary War. In fact, it might be fun to see another perspective on it, and even if the person got things wrong, who bloody cares? I also don’t see how issues of race or privilege come into this. Kristoff’s characters are beatiful human people, fully realized. (I think it might be worth noting, all of the angry reviews I saw personally were written by white people. I don’t have an interpretation for that, and I certainly haven’t read every review written of this book, but I do think it’s interesting.)

Anyway, that’s a short, poorly worded and, I’m sure, poorly informed opinion, but nevertheless it’s my own, and I wanted to express it. I felt I needed to address this issue because the accusations in other reviews of Stormdancer bothered me enough that I’m still bothered by them a year later. I have seen no anger in regards to this topic over the publication of Kinslayer, but maybe that’s because all the people who were angry with the first book decided not to continue with the series.

Anyway, that was two tangents, as promised. If you have thoughts about these tangents, I’d welcome your opinions.

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narfna’s Book Exchange Post

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So I got a package from Austria the other day, and it was pretty exciting. I’ve never gotten mail from Austria before. I don’t actually think I’ve gotten mail from any other country before? Yeah, that sounds accurate. Or maybe not. I’ll have to think about it. Anyway, it was SUPER exciting.

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It came in a neat little bag with some Austrian candy and rubber ducks, which I think are an allusion to the book/author I got? Some quick googling tells me he wrote a book with rubber ducks int the title. Cinekat, you’re going to have to help me out here. If they’re just cute rubber ducks, let me know. Otherwise I will continue to read way too much into them.

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I’ve never heard of Christopher Brookmyre before, but I have a couple Goodreads friends who’ve given his books five stars, and the plot sounds delightfully kooky, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. Also, I really need to get better at reading literature from countries besides the U.S., Canada, and England.

Thanks, Cinekat, for the book, and thanks to Jen K for organizing!

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #96: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

repiblic of thievesThere’s always a moment of worry when you go to finally open up a book that you have eagerly anticipated, and that worry’s size correlates directly to how much you loved its sequels or its author’s previous works, and how long you’ve been waiting for its release. The Republic of Thieves isn’t my most anticipated book ever, or even the one I’ve waited the longest for, but I waited long enough for that worry to surface. What if it’s not as good? What if something really bad happens to these characters? What if everything I’ve waited for is a lie?

Glad to report that my worry was unfounded.

The Republic of Thieves (the third book in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards sequence) picks up several weeks after Red Seas Under Red Skies. Locke has been poisoned, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure of any kind, magical or otherwise, though as Locke grows weaker, his best mate Jean’s efforts to find one for him grow even more desperate. Their only way out is with a deal sure to go wrong from the start, with the bondsmagi or Karthain. Said bondsmagi made Locke’s life a living hell in The Lies of Locke Lamora, so he is understandably reluctant to take the deal, but it’s either that or die. And, well, if the bondsmagi are planning to kill him after they’re done with him, what’s the difference, really, if he dies now or later?

But really that’s just the set-up. The real meat of the story is two-fold: First, the story of what the bondsmagi want Locke and Jean to do for them in exchange for curing Locke, and second, the parallel narrative of a con that went wrong back when the Gentleman Bastards were teenagers and still in training. How are these two narratives connected, exactly? Well, the first is that Locke and Jean are being paid to make sure that a particular side wins the most seats in an election in Karthain (the ‘election’ is too complicated for me to explain further) by almost any means necessary, and their political opposite (not by coincidence) just so happens to be one Sabetha Belacoros, she of the Gentleman Bastards and she of being loved by Locke Lamora for their entire lives. So the parallel story tells us the history of Locke and Sabetha, with a focus on the earlier mentioned con, which involves the GBs learning how to act while apprenticing in a theater company. All the while in the present narrative, Sabetha and Locke clash furiously over an election that neither one of them really care about. It is glorious.

I’m not going to go too far into detail about the plot because the twists and turns of the Gentleman Bastards’ plans are a large majority of the fun of these books (the other fun parts being the bromance between Locke and Jean, and the witty and profane dialogue). I will say that it is incredibly refreshing that each book in this series essentially tries out a new sub-genre (or two), instead of dragging the same old harried plots through the mud over and over again. The first book was essentially a long con, the second was a hybrid heist novel and swashbuckler, and this one tries on political games for size as well as being an ode to renaissance drama in the vein of Shakespeare and Marlowe. In this respect, my respect for Scott Lynch actually increased, which I didn’t know was possible. He really knows his shit when it comes to the theater, especially in regards to the play the Bastards perform (the titular Republic of Thieves), of which we actually get to see large bits of dialogue and action. Frankly, it’s unnerving how great he is at replicating the structure, the syntax, and mechanics of 16th/17th century drama. I had a total nerdgasm while reading those parts.

On top of all that, it was really satisfying to finally meet Sabetha. I felt she was a great match for Locke, in addition to being a fleshed out character in her own right, and the dynamic between the two of them was like, whiz-bang fantastic.

Also, the ending was frakkin’ NUTS, and if book four doesn’t come out next year like Lynch has promised, I’m going to have to bash in some heads.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #88-95: The Walking Dead, Vols. 9-16 by Robert Kirkman

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And thus concludes my journeys into the mind of Robert Kirkman, volumes 9-16. It has been a foul year. SPOILERS AHOY:

Vol. 9 — Here We Remain

I’m glad I took time off from reading this series. That last volume was brutal.

Vol. 9 of The Walking Dead handles the events of Vol. 8 the only way it could (and still keep readers from wanting to kill themselves from sadness). The first half is relatively quiet, with Carl and Rick moving slowly down the road, ambling to nowhere basically, and dealing with their grief over the loss of Lori and baby Judy, as well as their other friends. On top of being physically ill, Rick seems to be losing his mind, hallucinating and just generally feeling horrible about himself. Carl has a really neat — and sad — moment where he realizes he’s not a kid anymore, and he could survive without his dad if he had to. Thinking about kids living in this world Kirkman has created is just the worst.

[Full review here.]

Vol. 10 — What We Become

Aaaaand I’m already starting to get fatigue again with this series. I mean, these guys just can’t catch a break, and the minute you think Kirkman can’t pull anything worse or more disgusting or more horrifying out of his sleeve, he does.

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narfna’s #CBR5 Review #87: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Napoleon

7936477So, these books are pretty much the silliest things ever.

They’re satire, sure, but the satire is so silly, it’s lost most of its bite. And not that I’m complaining, mind you, because I laugh my ass off when I’m reading them. Every one of these books has the same basic structure: the Pirate Captain gets an idea or has a problem, the crew resists due to common sense, they run into one or two famous historical figures, have verrrry deeply silly adventures, and then everything is reset at the end. The pirates don’t have real names (except for Jennifer, the lady pirate who used to be a Victorian gentlewoman), but are instead called things like ‘the pirate with a scarf’, ‘the albino pirate,’ and ‘the pirate who liked kittens and sunsets.’ There are anachronisms EVERYWHERE. All the pirates are completely neutered. The worst thing any of them do in this outing is trick Napoleon into pretending he’s having a dream where he meets famous historical generals (and Napoleon remains entirely convinced it is in fact a dream).

Actually, it’s hard to convey just exactly how silly this book is, so I’m just going to give you some examples:

“The best thing about he seaside,” said the albino pirate, “is putting seaweed on your head and pretending you’re a lady.”
“That’s rubbish,” said the pirate with gout. “The best thing about the seaside is building sexy but intelligent looking mermaids out of sand.”
The rest of the pirates, spread out on the deck of the pirate boat for their afternoon nap, soon joined in.
“It’s the rock pools!”
“It’s the saucy postcards!”
“It’s the creeping sense of despair!”

“All the best people aren’t appreciated in their lifetimes,” Scurvy Jake continued. “Look at Baby Jesus — nobody took him seriously. They thought he was a tramp!”

“Listen, do you know what I’d be doing if I was still a Victorian lady instead of a pirate?” Jennifer persisted.
The pirates didn’t have a clue, but the pirate with long legs tried a guess. “Having a shower?”

“Well, I think it’s very exciting to have Mister Napoleon as a neighbour,” said the albino pirate. “I mean to say, he almost conquered the whole of Europe.”
“And I ate the whole of that mixed grill that time. Not ‘almost ate,’ you’ll notice. I finished the job,” said the Captain with a scowl, moodily buttering his Weetabix.

“It’s not the same on dry land,” muttered the pirate with a nut allergy. “Without the romance of the sea, pirating just seems like quite antisocial behaviour.”

And then of course, there’s the Pirate Captain and his impeccable logic:

“Baby kissing is a tried and tested way of getting votes, Captain.”
The Captain didn’t look convinced. “Thing is, number two, what’s the voting age nowadays?”
“It’s eighteen, sir.”
“Exactly!” The Pirate Captain waggled an informative finger. “So there’s not much point lavishing all this attention on babies when they can’t even vote for me, is there? I should be concentrating on the eighteen-year-olds. And you know which other bit of the electorate is overlooked? Women. So really it makes a lot more sense for me to spend the morning kissing eighteen-year-old women.”

Napoleon is pretty great, too. At one point he writes this fake suicide letter in an effort to discredit the Pirate Captain, after a giant squid washes up on the beach:

To Whom It May Concern,

I cannot go on any longer. I know people think us giant squid are just unfathomable monsters of the deep, but we have feelings, too. And it is time the world learned the terrible truth. For several years now the Pirate Captain and I have been carrying on an illicit affair. Many times I have asked the Pirate Captain to do right by me, but he refuses, always telling me that he cannot be seen having a relationship with a giant squid because of the harm it would do to his public image. Also, sometimes he hits me. Anyhow, just yesterday I discovered I was pregnant with the Pirate Captain’s secret love child! I told the Pirate Captain about this and he flew into a rage and said he would never help support his half-squid/half-pirate progeny and then he hit me some more. So now I am going to commit suicide by beaching myself.

Goodbye, cruel world
The Giant Squid

Really, that’s all I have to say about this book.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #86: City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

city of glassHOO BOY.

So, I finished this book over two months ago, and that means that this review is not going to be as, er, detailed as I had originally planned. It’s also going to be much, much shorter, so either boo or cheer as appropriate (personally, I do enjoy a good long review, especially when the book in questions is contentious). And, oh boy, is City of Glass contentious.

City of Glass picks up where City of Ashes left off, with Clary and Jace in the throes of misery due to not being allowed to bone one another otherwise INCEST. All the men in her life also insist on trying to ‘protect’ her with their ‘masculinity.’ Everybody ends up in the Shadowhunter city Alicante (in the magical, mythical country of Idris), even poor vampire Simon. Forgive me for my incomplete summary, but I do not remember why everybody was going to that stupid city. I’m sure there was a reason, but it’s not important. What is important is that nobody wants Clary to go, so of course the first thing Clary does is break laws and rules, and go to the city. Anyway, once everybody finally makes it to the city, Valentine breaks the city’s wards (which should be impossible!) and warns all the Shadowhunters even though he doesn’t want to kill them and waste their pure blood, he totally will if he has to, and it’s totally not at all exactly like Voldemort and the Battle of Hogwarts. Nope, not at all. Then this guy named Sebastian shows up and a bunch of shit starts happening, and Clary and Jace are even mopier and lovestruck than usual, and they make out in her bed and also on a hill, even though they think they’re brother and sister at the time, which is . . . I can’t even . . . GAG. Then more stuff happens, and Sebastian is really Clary’s brother! And Jace isn’t! And Valentine dies! And Clary can do special things other Shadowhunters can’t! And other stuff!

Damn. Lost opportunity here. I really should have written this review two months ago. My snark would have been epic and cleansing to my soul.

Before I start on what I didn’t like about this book, I do have to give Clare credit for the few bright spots. The mid-book angel-in-basement thing was surprising and really interesting, mythology wise, and Simon’s storyline continues to be the most interesting of everything. This one also had a much faster moving plot, with even the Clary/Jace moping scenes having the extra benefit of being wackjob certified crazy (seriously, making out all the time), and things actually happen! The main villain (aside from Valentine, who remains underdeveloped and not frightening) is actually really creepy and effective. Idris was pretty cool as well, but either because it’s YA, or because she chose to focus on other stuff, it wasn’t as developed as it could have been.

Actually, that’s one of my main issues with this book. Clare and I differ vastly on what’s interesting in her story. All the things I found really interesting (Simon, etc.) were underdeveloped and in some cases ignored almost completely in favor of other, more melodramatic and rather stupid developments (so. much. melodramatic.moping). Clary is still nothing but a cipher, with Jace continuing be neutered by his love for her, and Clare’s incest obsession borders on the perverse. Her prose is still middling to bad, but is disguised by the presence of an actual plot. She also telegraphs her ‘plot twists’ a mile away. Anyone who didn’t know after page fifty or so that Jace was not actually Clary’s brother, and Sebastian was, is basically an idiot. Sorry if I just called you an idiot. The only truly surprising thing that happens in this story is the stuff with the Angel, and it’s not a coincidence that’s the only bit I really *liked*.

And yes, she still steals things from other stories like mad. From front to back, this trilogy has been an exercise in pastiche writing, but in the worst way possible. I’ve seen everything that’s in these books before, and I’ve seen it better. If you’re going to do pastiche and steal people’s stories and ideas, at least do your own take on the stuff. (Clare didn’t.)

And of course, I have a nagging suspicion that she has a tendency to steal her best lines from other people:

Aline was the first one to break the silence. Fixing her pretty, dark gaze on Simon, she said, “So – what’s it’s like, being a vampire?”

“Aline!” Isabelle looked appalled. “You can’t just go around asking people what’s it’s like to be a vampire.”

I’m not going to lie. This sentence gave me a rage blackout and I woke up to find I’d hurled the book across the room and maybe screamed too, I think, because my throat hurt afterwards.

Look, you can tell me all you like that this is an “allusion” or “homage” but what it actually looks like to me is an author who can’t come up with clever things to say on her own using a quote from one of the most clever movies in the past decade, and changing the words just enough so that people who aren’t as intimately familiar with Mean Girls as I am think it’s something she came up with on her own. And that is not okay. Not to mention, her use of the construction completely misses the sly greatness of the original. This is probably something I would be annoyed about with anyone else, but it makes me genuinely angry with Clare because of the entire context surrounding her writing, which I’ve already written about ad nauseaum. She has already used up all her free passes with me. And who knows what other things she’s paid ‘homage’ to in this book? I could have read many a lifted line and not even known it. And that pisses me off.

Overall, I don’t think I will be be going on with this series for its cash grab ending ‘second trilogy’ (when this one ended just fine), or its five million prequel and sequel series yet to come. So, goodbye Cassandra Clare. Goodbye Jace and Magnus. Goodbye Lupin Luke. Goodbye Clary, you incestuous fucko. I shall not miss you.

[2.5 stars]

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #85: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

city of ashesCity of Ashes is the weakest installment in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Trilogy,* and that’s saying something. I’m not giving it one star, because I did rush through it in some enjoyment, but as discussed in my previous review of City of Bones, it was enjoyment based mostly on seeing what nutbag thing was going to happen next rather than enjoyment based on good characters, good plot, and exciting developments. Book one had the advantage of introducing the world, and book three (as problematic as it is) has a crazy amount of plot development and action. This one mostly felt like filler to me.

*I’m not counting books 4-6, which sound mostly like cash cows to me.

The basic plot of City of Ashes is that Jace and Clary believe they are brother and sister and they are also in love with one another, so this causes them angst. That is 75% of the content of this novel. Jace basically turns suicidally depressed and Clary decides to try her best friend Simon on as a romantic partner, mostly because she wants someone to mack on, and she can’t mack on Jace. 95% of her thoughts surround Jace, how beautiful he is, how tragic, how much her DNA wants to be with his DNA forever BUT IT ALREADY IS BECAUSE THEY ARE BROTHER AND SISTER WAAAAAHHH. There’s also some stuff in there about Simon turning into a vampire, Jace’s adopted family rejecting him because they think he’s working for Valentine (?), and Valentine causing trouble by stealing the Mortal Sword, killing all the Silent Brothers, and threatening to call up a shit ton of demons to overrun the Earth. Clary also seems to be developing SUPER DUPER SPESHUL MAGICAL POWERS that no one has ever seen before, and Alec continues to deny that he is gay for Magnus Bane.

The stuff with Jace and Valentine is probably the most interesting, or at least it had the most potential to be interesting. Jace’s desire to be a good person and his love for Valentine as his father conflict with one another in a way that could have been mined for content, but Clare mostly just uses it to cast suspicion on Jace that the reader never believes for a second. The stuff with Simon, again, also interesting, although I laughed out loud at the scene that pushed Simon to finally visit the vampires. They all visit the faerie underworld or whatever it’s called and because Clary tastes faerie food, the faerie queen won’t let her go until she’s been kissed with the kiss she truly desires. I will give you three guesses as to whose kiss that is, but you will get it in one. Simon witnesses this, er, display, freaks the fuck out, and then goes and gets himself turned into a vampire.

Really, though, I don’t blame him. I might even sort of understand the impulse for Clare to milk the Jace/Clary tragedy for all its worth, as long as she didn’t cross the line between conflict and exploitation. All the pining doesn’t cross the line. It can easily be interpreted as both characters coming to terms with their awful circumstances. But that kissing scene? WAAAAAY crosses the line. She doesn’t just manufacture a moment for her to characters to kiss. That would be bad enough. And she doesn’t just have them kiss each other quickly and be done with it. She doesn’t even make it a lingering kiss filled with regret or whatever. No. What does she have Jace and Clary do? FULL ON FUCKING MAKE OUT PASSIONATELY IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY AND EVERYONE THEY KNOW. WHILE THINKING THEY ARE BROTHER AND SISTER.

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