Friday, April 28, 2006

If it's Friday - it must be Book Review Day

This was a good week for books. I blazed through three of them and, with the exception of a few minor flaws, all of them were really enjoyable. That almost never happens!

First up is “The Hidden Stars” by Madeline Howard. This book combines everything I love about fantasy: a richly detailed background world, interesting characters and best of all, a well done “ancient tales told around the fire” voice. The latter is VERY hard to pull off without sounding silly, but Howard does a great job with it. I could feel strong elements of both Tolkien and Andre Norton in this book and yet it was unique to itself and not a rip-off in any way. I agree with the Amazon reviewers who said that some of the characters were perhaps too one-dimensional, but I feel that mostly relates to the secondary characters. Sinderian, Faolein and Prince Ruan all have inner demons to struggle with as well as the problems caused by trying to survive in a sorcerous, war-torn realm.

I only have two criticisms. I don’t care much for the shifting viewpoints - I prefer to follow one or at most two viewpoints in a novel, but that’s more of a personal preference. Secondly, there was no resolution or end to this book. It’s quite obviously meant to be the first in a series (there’s even an excerpt from book #2 at the back), but I’m a little concerned about whether the rest of the series will actually be published. Amazon certainly doesn’t have a listing for it yet and that never bodes well. Plus, I understand that it’s all about the “series” nowadays, but I still think each individual book should be able to stand on its own and be a complete story. So, on the whole, I recommend this, but you might want to wait until we see if the sequel is actually going to get published or not.

From high fantasy, I switched over to urban fantasy with “Nightlife”by Rob Thurman. I thought this book had an interesting concept and a lot of potential, but I’m not sure it completely lived up to said potential. I like the whole “what would you do if you were half a monster” idea, but the end result is a little too “teenage guy” for me. Of course, since the main characters ARE teenage guys, that argues well for the author’s ability to be authentic to the characters. I felt a lot of “Buffy-verse” influence in this book and I also had trouble buying that Niko, the fully human brother, was so much more of a bad-ass than his younger brother Cal AND all of the various monsters.

However, the monsters ARE interesting and unusual. They’re also different from the recent market-overload of werewolves and vampires (although the description of the Auphe reminds me of the creepy vampire in the old “Nosferatu” movie.) The troll in particular is very well done. All in all, I rather enjoyed this book despite its flaws.

And lastly, I went back to high fantasy with “The Shining City” by Kate Forsyth. I’ve been enjoying her “Witches of Eileanan” series for a long time. The first series finished with "The Fathomless Caves" and this book is the second installment of the second series. Forsyth has moved on to follow the adventures of the children of the original characters and has added a new character in Rhiannon, the wild satyricorn girl who tames a flying horse.

This story takes place (as do all the other books) in the world of Eileanan - a well done background world that is richly peopled with different magical races. In addition, the author also gives the reader the intrigue of a royal court and the tragedy of doomed romances. One thing Forsyth absolutely excels at is maintaining tension and a fast pace. Her books are characterized by the reader’s inability to “find a good stopping place” to put the book down for the night. I don’t suggest them as bedtime reading because you WILL be up all night trying to find out what will happen at Rhiannon’s trial and whether she’ll survive or not.

I will warn you that Forsyth does have a (to some) disturbing tendency to kill off main characters when she’s through with them – she proved this quite well in the first series. In addition, I personally find the “brogue” that most of the characters speak in to be rather wearying after a while. There’s a little too much use of “ye ken” and “happen ye will” and “how are ye yourself” for my taste. Lastly, I found in this particular book that the characters seemed a little too ready to overlook the obvious. Having followed them all through about eight or nine books now, I have a good sense that none of them are fools (in addition to which, there are prophetic dreams) and yet there’s a lot that seems to pass beneath the notice of these very intelligent, powerful people. That didn’t ring quite true to me. But, I do always have to find little things to complain about (it’s so fun to be a perfectionist!) so most people probably won’t be bothered by this. I really do highly recommend all of Forsyth’s books and this one is no exception.

That’s it for this week. I hope everyone has a great weekend!


No comments: