Tuesday, June 27, 2017
I am a child of the 1980s and 1990s, and like many, the first movie I remember seeing is Star Wars: A New Hope. I was that kid wore my VHS copies of those movies out, I played Star Wars with my friends, I had action figures, I had Empire Strikes Back sheets on my bed, etc. Later in life I read all the books in the Extended Universe (through the whole Yuuzhan Vong thing) and somewhat tolerated Lucas’ shenanigans with updating movies and the whole prequel thing.
But I had largely given up on Star Wars. Part of it was age and simply moving on in life. Part of it was realizing that all that came after just couldn’t live up to the magic of original. But then something unexpected happened: my children started watching Star Wars and loving it. Suddenly I was experiencing the wonder of Star Wars through them – yes, even the prequels are wondrous to young kids. We’ve watched the Clone Wars together and Star Wars Rebels, and my oldest and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens together. That was it, that was when I decided that Star Wars was back for me – in part because I wanted to support my kids’ love of it, but a large part was that it reawakened that wonder for me as well.
Of course life now is a lot crazier for me, so it’s a slow process, but I have copies of audiobooks for several of the new canon Star Wars books and I started listening to the Star Wars Aftermath Trilogy by Chuck Wendig.
First, I have to comment on the production of the audiobooks, because it really impacts how I reacted to these. It is terrible in all the worst ways of audiobooks. The voice acting narration by Marc Thompson is so overdone that it’s nauseating and then they top that off with sound effects and alien language, making the whole experience rather horrible. I barely made it through the first chapter before stopping and swearing I couldn’t continue because the production was just that awful. But Star Wars and all that…so I gave it another shot.
I learned to tolerate the production. That was the best I could do. Sometimes I simply rolled my eyes at it, and sometimes I had to take long breaks because it is really bad.
All this is very unfortunate, because I know that it influences what I feel about the content of the stories. I can’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable I would have found them if I read the books rather than listened to the audio. But I can’t get that back, just know that my opinions of the stories are heavily influenced by audio and not in a good way.
Basically, the books play out with a major imperial remnant in the Outer Rim gathering its power and other remnants for a final confrontation with the New Republic. Through this we see the liberation of a few planets, we see the fledgling republic forming up its government, and we see old favorites like Wedge, Han and Leia. We see that Palpatine had plans for the eventuality of his death and how those come to shape, and we see a few very big battles. And through all of the imperial happenings, a strong sense of mystery is present. I believe that we get many hints of what is to come and how things shape up for new movies we are getting now. We see some of the origin for the First Order and maybe even the Knights of Ren. We see a lot of unrelated interludes that don’t add anything to the actual events of the trilogy, but seem to setting Easter Eggs for fans to feast upon. We notably do not get any hints of Luke Skywalker and what he’s up to.
And of course Aftermath introduces us to a new group of characters through which we see the end of the imperial remnants after the events at Endor. My first reaction is that I found it a bit hard to really become very emotionally invested in any of them – would I have cared if they didn’t survive? I chalk this up mainly to the audio production that I mention above. How can one become invested with such horribly over-read dialogue and annoying sound effects?
Norra is a character that was always hit or miss with me through the trilogy, Temmin is mostly an annoying teenager, but its overall a good origin story for him and I hope we see something focused on him in the future. Mister Bones is genuinely amusing and perhaps the one place where sound effects weren’t absolutely horrible. Sinjir and Jas really steal the trilogy as the most interesting pair – the way their friendship develops and plays off of each other was by far my favorite parts of these stories.
I guess there is some controversy over the books among the insecure Dudebros of the world and their objection to having a diversity of sexual identity for the characters in these stories. I have zero sympathy for that position and I’m very happy to see Star Wars start to take its problematic misogyny, xenophobia, and shocking lack of diversity for such a vast creation more seriously. The new movies take things further, though there still remains a long, long way to go – hopefully the movies can finally man-up with a nice LGBTQ star and relationship.
Overall, I enjoyed the further exploration of the Star Wars journey through this trilogy as I loathed the audio production of it. In terms that I deal with, I would place Aftermath as pretty decent quality in relation to old Expanded Universe – better than a lot of it, but not as good as the best of it.
I do plan to continue exploring the books of the new canon as I have audio copies of several. I’m currently listening the audiobook of Bloodline by Claudia Gray and I plan on either Thrawn or Ahsoka next. The audio production Bloodline is much better if still annoying at times. The audio narration is orders of magnitude better, the sound effects are still there to drag things down. So I think that this production will be less of a barrier as a result.
Star Wars Aftermath Trilogy
Life Debt: Amazon
Empire’s End: Amazon
Other Star Wars Books I Mention
Monday, June 26, 2017
By day I am a mild-mannered engineering geologist and by night I read fantasy and science fiction once the rest of the house has gone to bed. So…the word geomancer is the only part of the description of Breath of Earth by Beth Cato that matters. Once I read that word I knew that I had to read this book. I was not disappointed.
Blah Blah Blah. Yeah, I’m a geologist and this isn’t the first time I’ve written a review where that is the lens through which I (at least initially) view a book and focus my review. Magic derived from the energy of the earth, specifically in the form of the earthquakes – sign me up. Set in San Francisco at the time of the infamous 1906 earthquake – keep it coming. Throw is a provocative look at the society of the time, a view not from the ‘winners’ of society, but from those that the winners oppress – excellent.
I have read (and reviewed) The Clockwork Dagger by Cato and it can clearly be seen that Breath of Earth is its decedent. ‘Victorian-type/regency’ society with a young woman on the outside, a bit naïve to the world and thrown into a serious situation. Plus, a dashing young man who both saves the day (and is saved by her) complicating things. A woman who struggles to break the chains society has placed on her. A woman who awakens to her own power within. I enjoyed The Clockwork Dagger, and Breath of Earth takes that solid foundation and improves it, adds experience, and has geomancers (hey, I would never claim objectivity in a review).
How does the geology stand up? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s not gotten into. The alternative world that Cato creates is one where most of the myths of origin of nature are true to some degree. There are magical creatures in the world – unicorns, selkies, etc. There are giant magical beasts that live in the earth where earthquakes happen. And a select few people have magical powers of various sorts. As a fan of fantasy, as a fan of myth, as someone who has a great curiosity of other cultures and how they came about, I found Cato’s approach to be wonderfully creative and simply a lot of fun. And there are geomancers.
Another fun aspect of Cato’s alternative world is her rewriting of political powers. It is a world of great superpowers, often at war with each other, in various states of conquest and rivalry. Wars are cold, hot, and just waiting to happen. Geomancers play their role, so do other magical people, dirigibles and other ‘steampunk’ engines of war. The US is aligned with Japan, currently bent on destroying China, the British have an empire focusing on the conquest of India, the Russians are out there and others. Being set in San Francisco, the main players are the Chinese, Japanese, and Americans in this (partial) exploration of some dirtier realities of actual history.
So, whether you are looking for a super-powered woman of color coming finding her power and kicking ass, a bit of a Victorian/regency Romance, an interesting alternative history of San Francisco, or the awesomeness of geomancer, I strongly recommend Breath of Earth. And I am very much looking forward to the sequel – Call of Fire. Bring on more geomancers!
Blood of Earth Trilogy
Breath of Earth: Amazon
Call of Fire: Amazon (Will be released in August)
Book 3: Forthcoming
Friday, May 26, 2017
This post is something that I’ve always resisted: a single post with a bunch of short reviews in it. Some of these were read nearly a year ago and it’s just time to pass by. I think the main reason that they have languished is that I don’t have that much to say beyond things like ‘I enjoyed them’ and ‘others have said a lot about this book and I don’t have much to add’.
So…enjoy my brief thought on a wide range of books I’ve read lately.
The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky
The Immortals (Book One of the Olympus Bound series) is a fun urban fantasy based on the idea of Greek Gods still hanging around, if a bit reduced in power, and being up to no good. I enjoyed it. It’s tempting to say something along the lines of Percy Jackson for adults, which is horribly cliché, but not entirely a mischaracterization either. I’m tempted to pass it along to my friend who is a bit of a Greek Classicist. I imagine that I will read the sequel, Winter of the Gods, at some point.
Olympus Bound Series
The Immortals: Amazon
Winter of the Gods: Amazon
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
The Grace of Kings is the first book in the epic fantasy series: The Dandelion Dynasty. I very much enjoyed this Asian-inspired fantasy epic and I encourage you to look up much of the more in-depth commentary out there about this book and its sequel. Good stuff and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
The Dandelion Dynasty
The Grace of Kings: Amazon
The Wall of Storms: Amazon
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
I read the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series at the same time as my son. I think it is a very fun book and I enjoyed it a lot. I look forward to reading the rest of the series with him (though he’s buried himself in Harry Potter for the moment). We recommend the book to a friend who is a philosopher and a bit of a Greek classicist and she and her 3 boys devoured them and then started an Ancient Greece Club at school. Which I think is a pretty positive endorsement.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
The Lightning Thief: Amazon
The Sea of Monsters: Amazon
The Titan’s Curse: Amazon
The Battle of the Labyrinth: Amazon
The Last Olympian: Amazon
The Demigod Files: Amazon
Chasing Embers by James Bennett
A bit of an urban fantasy about a dragon in human form, living on the fringes of modern society. The book was fun, though there was a bit too much of the ‘maiden in distress’ who needs a man to rescue her going on. Some troubling ideas about possessive relationships as well – if it was trying to be subversive, it didn’t work well. The book was good enough to finish, but I’m reluctant to recommend it.
Chasing Embers: Amazon
The Crow of Connemara by Stephen Leigh
This is a mythic fiction book about an American musician who travels to Ireland and gets caught up with remnants of the fay. Very much in the style of Charles de Lint in the way it integrates music into the modern world and impacts from the ancient world. Basically I found it to be a very pale imitation of de Lint's work. The music parts of the book felt like a plot device rather than the underlying binding of the book – it lacked any real emotional connection.
The Crow of Connemara: Amazon
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
I picked this up since it’s been so highly regarded around the web. I can certainly say that I enjoyed it and look forward to its sequels, though I expected to enjoy it more based on the opinions I’ve seen about it, which left slightly disappoint. I did pass the book on to my wife who really enjoyed it, and she quickly moved on to the second book and is not reading the third. Anyway, there’s a lot out there that’s been written about this series (and how it’s coming going to be adapted as TV show), so search it out.
Shades of Magic
A Darker Shade of Magic: Amazon
A Gathering of Shadows: Amazon
A Conjuring of Light: Amazon
Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer
This is a YA level book about a young woman coming of age in a world of gods and societies living in giant trees. I gave up about half-way through the book. It didn’t really connect, the main character was more annoying than anything, and I simply got bored. So, a did-not-finish (DNF) for me.
Crossroads of Canopy: Amazon
Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez is an outrageous series adventures and take on the life of a superhero. These adventures, with seemingly no real rhyme or reason or even a sense of logical design through in everything and the kitchen sink – if kitchen sink is an evil cyborg alien musical pirate magician and maybe Yakuza enforcer as well, or just Verity’s grade school teacher. Every ridiculous form of an ‘evil antagonist’ is possible, likely, and quite possibly combined in some improbable match with another to make things more interesting and humorous.
Constance Verity is said superhero – magically endowed at birth to have adventures, she’s good at them and repeatedly saves the world. But…she’s tired, and it becomes almost a buddy adventure when Connie teams up with her (mundane) best-friend for her ‘last adventure’.
But, through all of the wild, over-the-top fun of this book, I couldn’t help but begin viewing it a metaphor for women in modern American society. Perhaps I’m reading into this book too much, but stay with me for bit. The entire universe is literally throwing ‘adventure’ after ‘adventure’ at Constance Verity. She can’t get a cup of coffee without some Yakuza ninja enforcer getting in the way. Or maybe a lizard alien magician. Etc. She never gets a break. The universe is literally a machine designed to make sure she has no close attachments, distractions or anything else in her life that could keep her from doing what it want her to do. She’s exhausted, she’s tired. She just wants a ‘normal’ life and some rest. She was literally cursed to this life this by a sadistic fairy godmother working on behalf of the machine of the universe. Hell, the book opens with us learning that the earth is nothing more than a giant monster that a cult wants to feed Constance Verity to as a sacrifice of appeasement. Yes, the whole world is literally out to eat her.
Then I take a look at my wife, all the shit life has thrown at her lately. All the responsibilities that the machine of society throws on her. All of the asshole men of the world who make it that much harder. The impossible expectations that society forces up on her. To not be too assertive, but not be timid. Too appear how society views is appropriate, but not to be too much. Etc. Etc. How completely beat down she can get by it all. How she so often just wants to give up on all of it. And how she gets out of bed the next morning (after not getting enough sleep since sometime in the ‘90s), and saves the world…again.
Once I captured this vision of The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, I couldn’t see it any other way. It transformed the outrageous, fun adventure into something more – bitter, angry, and intensely sarcastic satire. Which is right where my warped sense of humor lives.
Further, take a moment to think about what the name Constance Verity means.
Constance: Firm of purpose, constant
Ouch! And fuck you!
And then my sense of humor kicks in and I laugh for 5 minutes.
Look, I don’t know Martinez and from what I gleaned from a quick bit of reading blog posts and the like, Constance Verity gets its origins more from superhero lore with a good bit of discussion of free will, determinism, and agency in life. Plus you know, fun, humorous, and completely over-the-top adventure. It doesn’t look like Martinez set out to write a dark, satirical feminist manifesto about women ‘having it all’. And I’m sure with a close look the metaphor would probably break down in some troubling ways. It for sure breaks down toward the end of the book – a happy ending plus some nice balance in life achieved? That only exists in Hollywood, self-help books, and mommy blogs. But I simply cannot un-see my view of the book, and I think it’s better for it.
So…most readers will joyously take The Last Adventure of Constance Verity at face value – and more power to them, because it is completely ridiculous in all the best ways. You can feel the fun that Martinez had in writing it, and that fun is contagious. Or maybe you’ll see it through a similar lens as I do and your own sense of humor will allow for a different level of amusement. Or maybe something entirely different. But do read this book, because however you choose to filter it, it’s outrageously fantastic. Oh...and my understanding is that this was not actually Verity's last adventure and more are to come with Constance Verity Saves the World expected in 2018.
Constance Verity Series
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity: Amazon
Constance Verity Saves the World: Amazon
Friday, March 17, 2017
John Scalzi begins a new space opera with The Collapsing Empire which is sure to please fans of science fiction. In short it is fun, fast-paced and very accessible. Or…just the book I was needing to read when I read it.
The set-up is a 1000+ year old empire spanning multiple space systems that utilize a sort of parallel energy called the flow to travel between systems where standard travel would never be possible because of the true distance between stars. The empire has been intentionally designed to be interdependent, where no single system will have the ability to survive independently of the others. A few individuals learn that the flow that ‘connects’ systems is about to shift over a period of only a few years, fragmenting humanity into isolated worlds that are doomed to tragic ends.
Along the way we learn that the entire socioeconomic structure of the empire with its monopolistic guilds, strict societal class delineations, and dynastic rule is all just a con job to further enrich the powerful and keep the masses just content enough to not cause too much trouble. In an entrenched, bureaucratic society the will to actually meet an existential threat simply doesn’t exist, and often the will to even acknowledge the possibility that such a threat could be real is lacking.
The Collapsing Empire largely serves as an introduction to the empire, to the physics of Scalzi’s created universe, and to the characters who personalize the story. In this, there is a lot of exposition, but not so much that I was ever bothered by it. Scalzi writes with a brisk pace and a slight irreverence that sets a nicely balanced tone for the book (and presumably the rest of the series). Humor is a big part of it, but it’s more a sense of levity in the face of what’s to come that drives the story. The end result is that things feel more hopeful than anything, making the story fun to read, even in the face disastrous consequence for humanity. And through all the levity, Scalzi still manages to set the stage well for an empire that has stagnated or even regressed, where innovation and flexibility is stifled by tradition and economic interest in the status quo.
It is often said that Scazli writes some of the most accessible science fiction, and I certainly agree. Concepts are not that difficult for someone on the outside of the science fiction world to enjoy, yet they are thought through enough to satisfy (most of) those who are long-time fans. It’s full of high adventure and fun with consequences that matter to story.
For all of this to be successful, it comes down to the people of the story, and Scalzi excels in this. Three main characters are built up as the protagonists of The Collapsing Empire – the newly ascended Emperor, the scientist son of the researcher who discovered the impending collapse of the flow, and familial representative of one of the largest trade guilds. Or the inexperienced political outsider who unexpected ascends to the most powerful role in the galaxy, the naïve young scientist from a remote backwater, and hard-edged and exquisitely foul-mouthed business person who doesn’t take shit from anyone. Even the antagonists of the story are somewhat likable as they are really more self-interested in the extreme than actually evil – cutthroat is perhaps the better term.
The two most powerful characters in the story are women – and I could probably write an entire review just on Kiva, the foul-mouthed trade representative mentioned above. She steals every single scene she is in, and is only briefly upstaged when we meet her mother. It’s choices like this that help make Scalzi’s writing so accessible, or to put another way, consistent with modern sensibilities as it projects some progressive advances for a far-future civilization (contrasted with the stagnation discussed above). For example, sexual identity and gender are subtly shown to be accepted for what they are and normative for the society. And it really is important when a popular science fiction novel that will likely land itself on multiple best-seller list makes these choices.
Given what I’ve said above, as I close out this review, I really feel the need to emphasize something about this novel: FUN. It is fun to read. Scalzi’s humorous, fast-paced, and slightly irreverent writing takes over this book. I raced through this book, finishing in a just a few days, at a time when I typically take a few weeks to read a book. Call it escapism or just simply fun readying, The Collapsing Empire delivers. But damn it, a cliff-hanger* ending? That’s not cool, because I want the sequel now!
*Cleverly, the cliff-hanger moment is more intellectual and not action-based. Which is a nice bit, though not really solace when I want to read the sequel now.
The Collapsing Empire: Amazon
Friday, March 03, 2017
I love books, which really isn’t much of a surprise coming from someone who has a blog about books. So, it’s not much of a stretch for me to love libraries too – after all, they are huge collections of books, and I do have my daydreams of one day having a perfectly snobbish private library for all of my books, but I digress.
So…fantasy stories about libraries…I’m rather predisposed to liking them. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman is just that, a fantasy adventure centered on a great library where librarians have magical powers that they use to cross between worlds to collect books. Yes, there’s a greater struggle across all the worlds between order and chaos, full of fantastical beings that fall on various ends of that spectrum – chaotic fae, orderly dragons, etc. But it all comes back to magical librarian doesn’t it?
The story is pretty basic…a mid-level librarian is assigned a new apprentice and a new task that should be pretty straight-forward. Collect a book in a mildly chaotic world and bring it back. Of course it turns out to be more complicated, of greater importance and way more dangerous than anticipated. There are mixed loyalties, betrayals, mysterious origins and all that jazz. Even a nice hum of romantic tension is thrown about as it mingles with Victorian-style propriety and modern ideas of sexual freedom.
This is Cogman’s debut book, and it sometimes reads as such with a bit too much exposition and pacing difficulties. But then I can forgive pacing issues when librarians are the stars – how many librarians have you known have a tendency to go off on a tangent right in the middle of the search for that precious book?
I quite enjoyed The Invisible Library and heartily recommend it for a bit of bookishly fun diversion. I haven’t yet made it to the sequels, though the beckon from the shelves of my want-to-be library.
The Invisible Library: Amazon
The Masked City: Amazon
The Burning Page: Amazon
Monday, January 23, 2017
Tad Williams returns to the world of Osten Ard after 20+ years in The Heart of What Was Lost. In part, this short novel serves as a reintroduction of Osten Ard in advance of the forthcoming trilogy: The Last King of Osten Ard. But more than a simple reintroduction, I found The Heart of What Was Lost to be a very meta coda to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series – a response coming 20 years later, in part admitting the shortcomings of the previous series and state of epic fantasy fiction of the times, a message of leadership and the future for today, and what I suspect is a tease of changes to come in The Last King of Osten Ard.
The Heart of What Was Lost is set in the aftermath of the events that end the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, and feature dueling perspectives of a human army pursuing the remnant forces of the Norns with intent to eradicate them and that of the Norns themselves. One of the strongest aspects of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series was its portrayal of the horrors of war, rather than the traditional glorification often seen in fantasy (or at least fantasy of the 1980s and 1990s). This is the core of The Heart of What Was Lost as the army of the Northmen seeks genocide in vengeance to the horrors the Norns brought upon people and the world. This is balanced by the perspective of the Norns fleeing, only thinking of the survival of their race and doing everything they can to achieve that survival.
The Heart of What Was Lost is the story of two leaders of their people, how they fight to survive, and ultimately, the sacrifices they will make. One leader serves as the heart of their people, the other people have lost their heart and are seemingly directionless in their efforts to survive. Both are forced to look at the traditions of the past and confront what the future can be. Are the traditions and actions of the past going to bring about a future they can be proud of?
While it’s not the focus, the weight and responsibility of leadership is on full display. True leadership is not an act of the selfishness, but one of sacrifice. Leadership is about the people and the future, it doesn’t relish in the past, and it makes the hard choice. In The Heart of What Was Lost, the balance of life, death and survival brings focus and immediacy to it all. Can the leaders do what is needed?
A third perspective is brought in, not only as a balance, but to give those of us who aren’t leaders something we can directly relate to. An everyman, a plain soldier far from home. This third point of view isn’t a portrayal of grand sacrifice or such, but this is basic survival. In the survival rivalries of the past and home are discarded as unimportant, basic friendship is the mean to survival, and continuing when death arrives. Of course there’s plenty of ‘war sucks’ to all this, but the way things end is tear-jerking tragedy. The journeys of The Heart of What Was Lost feel like interwoven Greek Tragedies, but none more than that of our every soldier. And the tragic end, is also the challenge that Williams sets for us all. For the sacrifice of leadership is not enough. The every person must step as well, and it isn’t easy. For the sake of the future, you may be asked to cut off the head of the reanimated corpse of your only friend. Over dramatic? When I look at the world around me today, I think not (but I sure wish it was).
For all of the powerful ideas on display in The Heart of What Was, I must admit that it took me time to really get into the book, even though it’s a relatively short novel. I think that this is in part due to it being over 10 years since I read the books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, so while I don’t think it’s needed to be familiar with those books, a lack of familiarity may make it a bit more difficult to connect with the story initially. Though I also believe that bleak, dark, horrors of war basis was also a barrier for me as it’s just not the sort of story I gravitate toward right now. However, as indicated by my thoughts above, perseverance is rewarded.
At the top I mentioned some of the meta feeling I got from The Heart of What Was Lost. Yes, much of this is routed in a message of fighting for the future that resonates with me right now. But it’s more – let’s be honest, some of the world and society in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn feels dated in the context of the epic fantasy being written today. So, how does one deal with that dated feeling that is so obvious in a sequel? Most obvious is that The Heart of What Was Lost is man’s story – men are everywhere, with only a couple of token women. It’s striking and it was one of the barriers to me getting into the story. But in the end, Williams acknowledges this shortcoming, and further mocks the concept of ‘women and children’ not standing up for themselves. My hope is that this is his way of clearing the page for changes to come in the forthcoming trilogy.
In short, after a slow start, I very much enjoyed The Heart of What Was Lost. In spite of a few shortcomings, it resonates deeply with what I see in the world around me. It encourages and shows of view of hope, hope that we’ll need to fight for.
Books/Series of Osten Ard:
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn (my review of the trilogy*)
The Heart of What Was Lost (Amazon)
The Last King of Osten Ard (Forthcoming Trilogy)
The Witchwood Crown (Amazon, coming June 2017)
Empire of Grass (forthcoming)
The Navigator’s Children (forthcoming)
*These reviews were written near the beginning of this blogging adventure, and I like to believe that I’ve gotten a lot better through the years. So, enjoy these ‘early years’ reviews.
An Aside for Some Personal Indulgence
Feel free to ignore the following as it’s more about me than The Heart of What Was Lost….
The Heart of What Was Lost brought about another reaction in me that I feel like writing about, even though I suspect it matters to very few. It brought back a passion for reviewing. It’s no secret that I review far less these days than I once did, and the vast majority of the few reviews I do put up are ‘Mini-Reviews’ that say little more than ‘I liked this book, you should read it’. It’s rare for me to really dive in, fully review a book, and explore my response to it.
Reality is that this is likely more of a one-off than a trend. Life keeps landing punch after punch these days, meaning I don’t have the time or emotional capacity for much deep reviewing. And the backlog of reviews I still plan to write shows that even the short, basic reviews will come at a rather slow pace. But, it was nice to be reminded that I do have ideas that I want to share, that I feel I can add to the conversation about a book beyond ‘read it, it was good’. And that is another reason why I really enjoyed The Heart of What Was Lost.
I could go on about ‘The Heart of What Was Lost in Reviewing’, but that level of wankery really isn’t necessary J
Tuesday, January 03, 2017
Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe is the third Tufa book which is a ‘series’ of interconnected novels that all really stand on their own with independent stories. Of course the reader familiar with the other books in the series will experience things at a deeper level.
Anyway, as evident from my reviews of other Tufa books, I really, really enjoy them, and Long Black Curl is no exception to this trend. It always surprises me that I don’t read more Mythic Fiction – books that loosely fall into category of Mythic Fiction seem to connect with me at a deeper level, bringing me a much more holistic and satisfied reading experience. Not merely entertaining or escapist and not really the sort of book that makes me feel like I’m a better person for having read it, but books that truly connect, books that awaken deeper awareness of myself.
Bledsoe’s Tufa books are about an exiled faerie clan who settled in the Appalachian Mountains long before humans came along. These stories tell how the Tufa people interact with the modern world around them and show how they are connected to their land and their music at deeper levels than the people around them. While set within the modern world, they bring the reader back in time, reminding us of the deeper connections to nature and the land around us. For the Tufa, music is the vehicle that this connection is founded within.
Long Black Curl is specifically about two exiled Tufa who have lost their ability to sing. These exiled exiles are cursed in a fundamentally horrific form of suffering for their people, further complicated by their means of surviving in the modern world – both work in the music industry. This forms the back bone for a story of revenge, loss, and redemption. A large part of the success of this story works because of duality of the modern world and the ‘other’, timeless world of the Tufa, and it’s an approach that I am especially fond of.
I love the Tufa books because they really embody Mythic Fiction in a way few books achieve. The emotions invoked are full of mystery, darkness, fear, love, and a whole host of other primal emotions for us all. While I believe that it’s the connection to nature that leads me to back to Mythic Fiction, the vehicle of music to form this connection is fully realized in these books. This is a very tough balance to achieve as it’s quite easy to nerd out on the music without ever creating the deep emotional connection that is really necessary1. Charles de Lint is another author I who can achieve this balance and I rank him and Bledsoe at the top of a short list of authors who do.
Long Black Curl is another wonderful addition to the collection of Tufa novels by Bledsoe and another reminder of how much I enjoy these books.
The Tufa Novels
Long Black Curl: Amazon
Chapel of Ease: Amazon
Gather Her Round: Amazon (Forthcoming)
1For an example of a Mythic Fiction book where the bridge of music between the modern world and something other never quite works out an fails to achieve the emotional connection needed, see The Crow of Connemara by Stephen Leigh (I’ll eventually get to writing a full review for it).