Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Report: What I Read While Sick

The cold seems to be either winding down or moving into a new phase. If it's like the typical cold that fits the pattern, I'll either be almost totally well by tomorrow or I'll move into the bronchitis phase. I'm taking medication and resting and drinking plenty of fluids to try to prevent the bronchitis phase. I guess I'll have yet another dance class to make up because I don't see any way that I'll be dancing tonight.

But this has given me plenty of time to read, and before the cold medicine really kicks in and makes me less than coherent (or maybe less coherent than my current state of not being entirely coherent), here's a bit of a rundown:

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst -- Sarah's a member of the Curly Mafia, and I've enjoyed her earlier children's/middle grade books. This one is more YA, but adult-safe YA in that while the characters are young it doesn't have the more annoying current YA tropes. The world-building in this book is excellent in that it permeates everything. It feels like a real culture that has its own myths and legends, and this book is another legend about these people. Certain young people are designated as vessels for the gods, so that the gods will inhabit their bodies and live among the people to help them with their magic. But something goes wrong and the gods don't show up. The would-be vessels go on a search for gods that have been misdirected into some other place, and they learn that the legends leave out a few key points about what's really going on. I liked the characters, and I liked how balanced it was in that we saw that an opponent might not actually be bad but instead might have a valid point of view that should be heard. That's something that seems to have been forgotten in the real world. I don't normally like the "having tea with the gods" kind of book, but that's not what's going on here, especially since that's the way this culture works.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce -- Although my library has a fantasy sticker on the spine and I read about this in some fantasy blogs, I wouldn't categorize this as a "fantasy" novel. It's more of a mainstream literary novel that uses fantasy elements. It's a fairy abduction story that's not so much about the abduction itself, but about the aftermath. Twenty years ago, 16-year-old Tara went for a walk in the woods and never came back. Now she's knocking on her parents' door on Christmas day, looking barely older. After some vague talk about having been "traveling," she tells her brother that she met a strange man in the woods, agreed to go home with him out of curiosity, then found herself in a strange place where she had to spend six months before it was possible for her to return home, and when she returned home after those six months, she found that twenty years had passed. Of course, her family can't possibly believe that, so they send her to a psychiatrist and have a bunch of tests done. The book goes between accounts of the present day from the viewpoint of her parents, brother, brother's family, and former boyfriend, the case notes from the psychiatrist, and her first-person account of what happened to her. I think to literary readers it was all meant to be ambiguous and probably a metaphor for something, but to fantasy readers it was kind of "well, duh, obviously she was abducted by the fairies." I think it was a good novel and an interesting take on the fairy abduction story, as it showed a realistic view of what would probably happen in the aftermath of that sort of thing, but I don't think it was a very good fantasy novel, if that makes sense. There wasn't really any attempt at worldbuilding for the depiction of the fairy world, and those parts are the weakest of the book (Worst. Fairyland. Ever.), and the weakness of that worldbuilding makes the psychiatrist's analysis of it make sense (which may be the point). It's worth reading, but I won't be nominating it for a fantasy award.

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers -- Tim's a friend, but I've been sadly remiss in not reading his work. After this book, I have to rectify that. It's not subject matter I would usually enjoy, but he wrote it in a way that I did enjoy. This is sort of a Victorian ghost/vampire story centered around the Rossetti family (mostly poet Christina and poet/artist Dante Gabriel). It's almost impossible to describe the plot of the book in a way that makes sense (especially in my current condition), but the Rossettis are plagued/helped by the vampiric ghost of their uncle, John Polidori (who in reality is believed to be the creator of the genre of vampire fiction). This is what gives them the incredible inspiration behind their work, and they're willing to pay the price until they learn that the price extends beyond their family to others they come in contact with and that Polidori is teaming with another vampiric ghost to try to take corporeal form to destroy London. The Rossettis team with a veterinarian, a former fallen woman, some London street urchins and their leader to try to vanquish these spirits for good. I found myself unable to stop turning pages because I cared about these people. I once got into a convention discussion with Tim about the trend toward darkness in fiction, and I could see elements of his viewpoints here in that although the subject matter is pretty dark, it was handled in a "light" way without wallowing in the darkness and with all the main characters fighting against the darkness. There's a sense of optimism throughout, and in most cases the better part of human nature comes through (when it doesn't, it's shown as tragedy, not just the way the world works). This book sent me scurrying to Wikipedia to look up the various real-life characters. I was somewhat familiar with the Rossettis, but not their full circle.

There was an odd little personal link between these last two books. Some Kind of Fairy Tale first pinged my radar because I've been working on a book about a fairy abduction that I've been calling A Fairy Tale, though mine is about the rescue effort rather than the aftermath and there's no doubt that it's a real abduction. I've called mine a blend of the Tam Lin legend and "The Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti. It follows some of the beats of the Tam Lin story, but like "The Goblin Market" it's about sisters rather than lovers. Because of this, I'd done some further reading on Christina Rossetti. So, although these two books have nothing really in common, to me they're linked because they both relate to something I've been working on.

And now I think I've exhausted my ability to be moderately coherent for the day.

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