Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Wednesday Book Report

It seems that being out of town on Monday and coming home on Tuesday got my days mixed up this week. I made a point of talking about a movie yesterday because I usually talk about movies on Mondays. I talk about books on Tuesdays, and I have books I want to talk about, but I forgot it was Tuesday. Then I either do a writing post or a post about the Enchanted, Inc. series on Wednesdays. I suppose these aren't etched in stone, and it's even possible that people haven't noticed the pattern, but I do like having some structure.

I think I'll take a break from the writing posts for one more week (I took last week off, too). I've kind of dried up on topic ideas. I'm sure there are things floating in the back of my mind that I could address, but none of them are coming to mind at the moment. I'll open the floor for questions -- is there something about writing or the publishing business you'd like me to discuss or some question you have about writing? I'm also open to more questions about the Enchanted, Inc. universe -- OTHER than when the next book will be published. The next person who asks me that instead of asking the publisher may get turned into a frog. Ask the people who can do something about it. Asking me does no good whatsoever.

I did read a couple of good books while I was traveling, and I'm going to talk about them today, even if it isn't Tuesday (but I may need to put Post-its around the house to remind me that it's Wednesday so I don't forget choir).

First, the book that kept me engrossed during my outbound travel and most of the week of the convention, to the point I skipped going to the Hugos because I preferred to stay in and read and then ended up staying up until 1:30 in the morning to finish it after going to parties. That was The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I would describe this as kind of a White Collar or Leverage type story set in a fantasy world in a Venice-like city that reminds me of a more serious version of Terry Pratchett's Ankh Morpork (there is humor, but it's not a comedy like the Pratchett books are). In this often-cruel city, orphan children are dealt with by rounding them up and selling them to slavers. The lucky kids get diverted to criminal gangs when the gang leaders bribe the watchmen. One particular kid, Locke Lamora, proves to be too clever for his own good, creating elaborate schemes instead of simply picking pockets. That gets him sold to another gang, where he learns a variety of skills that help him find his true calling. The criminal gangs, which all report to one crime boss, have a sort of understanding with the authorities: they are allowed to get by as long as they don't target the wealthy aristocrats. Locke thinks this rule is rather silly and goes about secretly breaking it while still pretending to be a common criminal, but not by sneaking in through windows or picking pockets. He creates elaborate schemes to convince the wealthy to willingly give him their money. He's on the verge of his biggest score ever when a new distraction arises. Someone is killing all the heads of criminal gangs and even though that means he's a potential target, the crime boss wants him to do something about it.

It's hard to put my finger on what I liked about this book, other than "the book." It was kind of a slow build, at least for me. I was skeptical at first (a thief hero?), but it gradually sucked me in, especially once we met Locke as an adult. The narrative bounces around a bit in time, starting with his childhood, then going to his adulthood, with interludes that continue the story of his childhood and how he became what he is. Although he's a thief, there's a core of honor to Locke that made me like him. He's loyal to his found "family" within his gang, he's incredibly clever, and he works hard to improve himself. The pace and the tension keep building until it's almost unbearable, and the main characters really go through hell and have to make impossible choices and great sacrifices to prevail. I had to re-read the ending because I tore through it so quickly while barely keeping my eyes open. I'm about to head to the library to pick up the second book in the series, and that will be my holiday weekend reading.

But after that, I still had a day (and a light day, at that) of the convention to go, plus my trip home, and after reading a book like that, it can be difficult to get into anything else. Fortunately, I had the good luck to be standing by the freebie table at the exact moment that someone brought back a book she'd picked up when they'd put some books out (that were then snatched up in a heartbeat). She'd found that her husband also got a copy and put her copy back. I picked it up because it looked interesting but didn't start trying to read it until I was on the airplane, and then I read the entire book on the flight home.

This book was Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine. I would describe it kind of as a post-apocalyptic steampunk version of the TV series Carnivale (though with an actual circus instead of sideshows). In a world where some major wars have devastated the landscape and left a lot of isolated small communities, a mysterious traveling circus creates awe while giving its participants a home and safe haven -- and something else. The head of the circus had a gift that allows her to repair human beings mechanically -- clockwork lungs, unbreakable metal bones, etc. -- and these repairs are life-changing. It's hard to describe the plot beyond that. The book is written in a more "literary" style, so it's not a straightforward, plot-driven narrative. It jumps about between first-person, second-person and third-person viewpoint and jumps around in time, weaving incidents from the past into the present. At first, that can be hard to follow, but eventually all the timelines click into place so that you really get what's going on. There's something about all that jumping around and vagueness that makes it rather hypnotic, and although I felt that it was skimming past things and never really telling us much about the characters, by the end of the book I felt like I really knew and understood them and their world. When I finished the book with at least half an hour left in my flight, I wished there had been more because I didn't want to leave that world and I wanted to know more about those people. I couldn't make myself get into anything else after finishing it, so I read the SkyMall catalogue for the rest of the flight. It's definitely different and probably not for everyone, but I found it captivating (the book, not the SkyMall catalogue). I think I'll have to re-read this one now that I know how it all fits together because that will likely change the way I see things.

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