March 3rd, 2011


Book #8: The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hadn't read a long fantasy epic for a while, so I decided to give "The Wheel of Time" a try. And boy am I glad I did.

The story of The Eye of the World is a familiar one. A boy discovers his life is not all that it seems when mysterious strangers come to his town and disrupt his comfortable existence. He sets out on a long quest with friends and allies by his side. Along the journey, he encounters monsters, betrayal, magic, and the truth about himself. It's a story we've all heard many times.

The difference is in Robert Jordan's strength as a writer. His imagination and prose pull you into the text. There are subtle quirks and details in his world-building that make the world of the book unique and fascinating. Though there are familiar elements of other novels (at one point the heroes travel in a dark underground cavern-like system and are chased out by a dark force), Jordan skillyfully presents them as new. Any similarity to other works is tangible, but not distracting.

Being the first book in the series, Jordan obviously had to spend quite a long time on world-building and establishing his characters. As a result, some sections have quite a lot of exposition, and there isn't enough time to fully explore each of the myriad characters. Some characters feel a bit flat, and supporting characters are obviously plot devices. A romance also develops between two secondary characters that feels a bit out of the blue.

I am, however, now enthralled by this series and invested in the fates of its characters. I will continue reading, and hopefully it will get even better.

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Book 21: In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig

Book 21: In a Dark Wood: a Novel.
Author: Amanda Craig, 2000.
Genre: Contemporary. Fairy Tales. Mental Illness.
Other Details: Hardback. 288 pages.

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found that I had strayed into a wood
So dark the right road was completely lost.
- Dante, The Divine Comedy.

Amanda Craig introduces this powerful novel with Dante's famous lines and a folk rhyme that warns children of the dangers of playing in the woods. Her protagonist and the novel's narrator is Benedick Hunter, a recently divorced, out-of-work, actor. He is something of a mess; not coping well with impending middle age, the divorce or his two spirited children on those weekends they come to stay with him.

His life changes dramatically when while sorting out his books from those belonging to his wife he comes across a long-forgotten book of fairy tales that his mother, Laura, had written and illustrated decades earlier. He is drawn to it, convinced that the stories and accompanying illustrations hold hints that will explain his mother's suicide when he was only six. No one has ever talked to him about his mother and so Benedick embarks on a journey, both outer and inner, to untangle his mother's past and ultimately to understand his own nature.

I found this a very satisfying read with a sensitive portrayal of someone dealing with the legacy of manic-depression, capturing especially well the seductiveness of the manic phase. Woods have long been a powerful symbol of the unconscious and Amanda Craig is very skilled in weaving this and the symbols contained in the fairly tales within the novel in a subtle and lyrical way.

The novel does deal with strong themes including mental illness and the effects of suicide upon survivors yet it remains quite an uplifting tale with humour and psychological insight. This together with Hearts and Minds has made me a firm fan of Amanda Craig's work.
der Mut

Bound Fox; Greywalker Division; Twilight Lodger

Running with the Fox, by David Macdonald, charmingly illustrated by Patricia Barrett
Scientific memoirs of a British fox behaviorist. The best part is the part where he talks about raising fox kits from babyhood. I quite loved it, though I'm not sure how accessible it would always be to someone who wasn't also a biologist. Oh, I also geeked out on seeing all the old SEVERELY outdated tracking tech that was cutting edge at the time.

Long Division, by Kiese Laymon
(Pst - you can follow the link above to find a copy of this book FOR FREE.) This was the first whole book I ever read online, I think. Certainly the first novel. Partly that is because my new laptop is so suitably compact and otherwise perfect, and partly because this book was so perfectly laid out (in simple PDF yet) that it was comfortable to read it in the left 1/4 of my small screen while I had other windows open. Anyway! Enough with the reading process! The book itself is a funny, plausibly, charmingly voiced, highly engaging, and downright provocative YA time travel adventure. Which sounds like mild praise somehow, because it was DAMN GOOD. Seriously. I will probably reread it, and I am so happy to have found this author. (He also writes infrequent essays for adults at Cold Drank and I think he should have more books coming out one of these months? Hope so.) This book isn't really *like* anything else, exactly, but it does sort of sit in a Janet Lunn - Colson Whitehead - John Green shaped triangle in my head.

Bound to Last, edited by Sean Manning
Marvelous, absorbing, personable essays. The stated purpose of the collection was to demonstrate the value of the printed book over ebooks via discussion of the authors' most significant experiences with book-as-physical-object, or something like that, but whatever. I didn't care about that part and the argumentative thrust bits often seemed pretty tacked-on and beside the point. But! The storytelling value, the style, the heartwrench, the enthusiasm... those I loved. All of the essays are thick with meaning, all of them made me want to read something else the author had written, and I almost started reading the book over from the first page as soon as I got to the last one. (I probably still will reread it, or at least go through it and take some notes, before I give it back.)

Greywalker, by Kat Richardson
Fun and undemanding. It's true what my friend Mac says, that Seattle is a character in this series, and I am looking forward to the development of THAT character as much as any other. The worldbuilding is more complex than the people, but the world is awfully nifty and what characterization there was, was friendly and promising.

Twilight Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko
Riveting, complex modern fantasy. This was the third of 4 volumes in this series and I loved the first two so much I kept waiting and waiting to read this one, just because I was afraid that someday I would get caught up and there wouldn't be any more. (see: Parker, KJ, complete works of. This is a thing I do.) It was so good! I think the main narrative voice, that of Anton Gorodetsky, minor Light Magician, is one of my favorite narrative voices in the world. (The parts he doesn't narrate, for example large chunks of Day Watch, are also good - but there's just something so... human-all-too-human about Anton.) Everything is gray and complicated and difficult in these books, but they radiate light. Love love love them. Go start with Night Watch though, don't start here! Many things will be BADLY SPOILED. PS Also the magic system is nifty and not terribly much like how people of Anglo descent tend to do things most of the time. No shades of RPGs or Gaiman or Peake steering the things one might expect to find steered.
(32/200, 20/100)

The Lodger, by Karl Stevens
Comic strips that seem like autobiography but (the author claims) really aren't, interlaced with careful, exact paintings (often of naked women) that remind a person of Wyeth as much as anyone else. I really liked it. I'm glad I read it. It's awfully beautiful in spots, and while the protagonist starts out pretty irritating, he grows on one as one keeps reading.
(33/200, 21/100)
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