Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente
Published: Feiwel & Friends, 2013
Series: Book 3 of the Fairyland Series
Awards Won: Locus YA AwardThe Book:

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.”

I have reviewed a few of Valente’s books on this blog so far, and I generally really enjoy her work.  Unfortunately, this will be a little shorter than my usual reviews, because it is months delayed and I don’t seem to have written a whole lot of notes.

My Thoughts: 

This series as a whole is following September as she grows up--in the first book she is a child, in the second an adolescent, and in this one she is a 14-year-old teenager.  The ideas and problems she faces are also maturing with her.  Some of the main topics she struggles with this time include free will vs. predestination, self-identification and purpose, and social responsibility. I enjoyed the new realizations September comes to as a result of her journey, but it seemed a little more meandering than the first couple of novels.  In addition, while September does a lot of talking, thinking and wandering, she has more of a passive observer role in the main adventure.  Part of that might be due to the fact that the conflict of the story is much more nebulous than dethroning a marquess or a shadow queen.

As usual, September travels across a new area of Fairyland, meeting varied new creatures, such as moon-yeti, oyster cities and self-aware tools.  Her old friends A-through-L and Saturday are also much more involved than they were in book 2, and it was nice to see them again.  Valente’s writing was as lovely as usual, though I think that the flowery language coupled with the slower-moving story might make it a little more difficult to get into than the previous novels.  In general, if you thought the writing style of the first two books was charming, this one is pretty similar.  One other thing that I rather enjoy about Valente’s Fairyland is that it is not limited to children-- September doesn’t have to give up her magical world when she becomes a teenager.  Rather than teenagers putting away childish things, it is refreshing to see a story where a girl and her dreams are allowed to grow up together.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, May 25, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  Our host this week is Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow, and her questions cover chapters 19-26.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 26 in the questions and answers below!   You can find the schedule HERE. We also have a Goodreads group for SF/F read alongs. Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section!

1)  We get a lot of political intrigue to wade through this week, plus a couple of pretty big dramatic revelations, not least of which was the twist of fate for Prince Baudoin and his mother. What did you make of the trial, and what became of these two?

I was shocked by how honest Lyonette was, but maybe she knew there was no point in lying since the evidence would condemn her.  I also found it surprising that Prince Baudoin did not expect to be sentenced to death— throughout history, I think treason has always been dealt with pretty horrifically. I was actually relieved that they got to choose their own method of execution, so that we wouldn’t have to read about them being hanged, drawn and quartered or something equally horrible.

2)  On a rather different, much more personal note for the House of Delaunay was the drama that unfolded surrounding Alcuin (poor Guy!). What do you think might become of Alcuin now that he appears to be out of the game?

Based on the things that Delaunay said during this chapter, I get the impression that he would have had an alternate plan for Alcuin, if he’d known how much the boy hated the idea of serving Naamah.  Maybe he would have trained him in arms, and had him serve others as an escort or bodyguard, and he could fulfill his work as a spy in that way.  Maybe, if he is trained up quickly, he could be Phèdre’s escort, now that his marque is complete?

3)  As we'd suspected last week, Phèdre's refusal to use her signale gets her into some trouble with d'Essoms - but it also gets her the result that Anafiel had hoped for... Do you think she'll be more careful from here or will this only make that addictive slope more slippery for her?

The trouble it got her into was pretty trivial, though.  I think the injury would be serious for a normal person, but her fast-healing ability means that she won’t even have a scar.  Instead of being more careful, I think this has probably confirmed her sense of her own invincibility. Also, she got some nice information for Delaunay in the process!  Rather than being more cautious, I would expect the opposite. 

4)  Speaking of Phèdre and trouble, what do you make of the 'relationship' building between her and Melisande?

I think something major is going to happen.  The night with Prince Baudoin and Melisande was pretty tame, I think mostly because Baudoin didn’t really have much interest in that sort of thing.  Phèdre suffered mostly from neglect, when Baudoin got distracted with Melisande and just left her tied up.  I could be wrong, but I felt like the point of it for Melisande was to make Phèdre feel involved in her betrayal of Baudoin.  That’s a much more subtle kind of pain than the sort you get from a whip.  I expect there will be more brewing between the two of them, as we continue.

Other Bits:

—It’s hard not to blame Alcuin for Guy’s death, but I can see where he was coming from.  He had to know that meeting was going to be dangerous, and Delaunay would have stopped him.  If he’d warned Guy, though, I wonder if that would have allowed Guy to take enough precautions to keep them safe.

—I am pretty disappointed that Phèdre’s first safeword disaster was just a side note story, and one that basically came out great for her in the end, at that. I imagine we’ll see more trouble on this front.

—Phèdre’s latest assignation was surprisingly sweet.

—I’m worried about what Delaunay is going to do to bring Bouvarre to justice.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Review: Mockingbird by Sean Stewart

Mockingbird by Sean Stewart
Published: Small Beer Press, 2005
Awards Nominated: Locus Fantasy, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards

The Book:
“Toni Beauchamp never liked her mother's world of magic and visions and six strange gods that took over her body at will. So when her mother died, Toni and her sister Candy thought it meant a new beginning, a life free of magic. But Elena had one last gift for her daughter - a sip from the Mockingbird Cordial. And from the moment Toni held the drink to her lips, her life would never be the same…”

This is the second book I’ve read by Sean Stewart, and I bought it at the same time as Galveston. Both books are fantasies set in Texas, but I had a really hard time with Galveston’s unlikeable protagonists.  I’m happy I gave Stewart’s work another shot, though, because I enjoyed Mockingbird.

My Thoughts:

Mockingbird is a story primarily about familial relationships between women, identity, and coping with the unexpected.  The Beauchamp family was affected by the everyday presence of magic, but I think they were more significantly influenced by their relationships to one another.  For example, Toni disliked the magic because it made her mother an unreliable parent. Toni never knew, when she came home, whether she would be interacting with her mother or with one of the spirits whose fetishes her mother kept in a cupboard.  Toni and her little sister Candy learned from experience which of the personalities would be kind, and which were cruel or abusive.  Their close, dysfunctional family shaped both Toni and Candy’s lives, but in different ways, and it was interesting to see them come to terms with each other as the adults they have become.

While the story has its share of dramatic twists and turns, the focus is always more on the characters and their connections to one another.  Rather than an adventure that has a set beginning and end, this is the story of a specific period in Toni’s life, a time where she struggles to define her chosen identity and path. Toni initially tries to define herself through contrast to her mother--she has a stable job as an actuary, a reliable, self-sufficient personality, and can even take reproduction into her own hands.  The truth is, though, that no one can plan and execute their life with perfect control. Toni’s first curveball is her inheritance of her mother’s magic, but it is by no means the last unwelcome twist in her life.  In a way, it is a kind of a 30-something maturation story, and I enjoyed following Toni as she struggled to find the shape of her future life.

The magic is very naturally woven into the lives of the characters, and I would say this is more of a family drama than a fantasy.  I felt like the it mostly served the story by providing symbols and emphasis to specific events in this part of Toni’s life.  The novel is pretty slow-paced, as well, so I think the plot might risk feeling a little aimless if one is not invested in the characters. Altogether, it’s not the usual style of novel I read, but I enjoyed the change of pace.  Thus far, this is my favorite of Sean Stewart’s novels, and I can see why it received award nominations.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Mockingbird is more of a character-driven story of female relationships and identity than a fantasy, though magic does play a seemingly natural role in the characters’ lives.  It is a slow-paced novel that follows Toni Beauchamp’s life in the wake of her mother’s death, as she passes through the journey “from being a daughter to having one”. Toni plans for her future to be organized and stable, in contrast to her mother’s magic and unreliability, but life has other plans.  I think the novel relies heavily on a reader’s investment in the characters, and I was very easily emotionally invested in Toni.  This is not my usual style of novel, but I’m glad I decided to read it.