July 10th, 2013

Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

Another graphic novel finished today:

Star Trek Volume 5 gives some background to several of the bridge crew in this alternate ST universe that the last two movies deals with. Not bad at all, as far as it being set in somebody else's imagined world.

Book 125: The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

Book 125: The Iron Wyrm Affair (Claire and Bannon #1).
Author: Lilith Saintcrow, 2012.
Genre: Historical Urban Fantasy. Alternative History. Steampunk elements.
Other Details: Paperback. 323 pages.

For Queen, for country, for staying alive . . .

The game is afoot! London's geniuses are being picked off by a vicious killer, and Emma Bannon, a sorceress in the service of the Empire, must protect the next target, Archibald Clare. Unfortunately he's more interested in solving the mystery of the murders than staying alive . . In a world where illogical magic has turned the Industrial Revolution on its head, Bannon and Clare will face dark sorcery, cannon fire, high treason and the vexing problem of reliably finding hansom cabs in the city.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I had been looking forward to reading this having been intrigued by its synopsis and drawn to its attractive cover art. Yet quite early on I began to feel that it was fatally flawed. Not quite a 'book fail' but skirting pretty close. To make it worse I had already bought the attractive looking second in the series. Oops!

So what was wrong? First off her world-building was very poor. Saintcrow changed the names of various locations: London becomes Londinium and Queen Victoria becomes Victrix and so on. It seems that magic is rampant and has brought about an unusual take on the Industrial Revolution that has manifested in the form of clockhorses, logic engines, people being altered to be part automaton and various other aspects but why, when and how?

I also never really took to either Emma Bannon or Archibald Clare as lead characters. Saintcrow was trying far too hard to have Clare emulate Sherlock Holmes and it just didn't succeed. In addition, Emma Bannon was so all-powerful in terms of her magical skills that there was no real sense of threat to her. To make matters worse she flounces. I was able to handle this kind of behaviour in the Gail Carriger's 'Parasol Protectorate' series because it was done in a tongue-in-cheek manner and Alexia Tarabotti was both charming and sexy. However, that sense of fun just wasn't present here. Despite the fact that all the males in the story seem drawn to her, Emma Bannon comes across as a cold and prickly woman so when she acts coquettish or fusses about her appearance it struck another off note.

Then there was the pacing: there was almost non-stop action from start to finish. Fine if you like that sort of thing but I prefer a more organic pacing. Yet it seems to be a hallmark of some urban fantasy writers that they write one dangerous encounter on top of another with hardly a breath in between. This is the case here with very little exposition, which seriously detracted from the world-building and made for a seriously muddled plot. The actual underlying story itself wasn't bad but it was struggling to emerge and the elements mentioned above seriously detracted from my appreciation of the novel.

Though heavily marketed as steampunk I felt the steampunk elements were more set decoration than in the spirit of the steampunk sub-genre. It seemed more like alternative history with magic and this was borne out by Saintcrow's interview in the Orbit UK edition in which she says: "I didn't think it was "steampunk" when I was writing it... For me it was a variety of alt-history mixed with urban fantasy." I suspect her publisher's marketing department felt differently given the current fashion for steampunk. It was also quite obvious before I read that same interview that she was rather taken with Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes films, both of which I felt were hot messes.

On the plus side, I did appreciate the concept of the ruling monarch as the living embodiment of Britannia and the gryphons and dragons were quite cool. Given I've already bought it I likely will read Book 2 though with far lower expectations than I had for this.

Wild Park Antidote; Service Lies

Wow! May was a long time ago! I am going to try to catch up though, in bits and pieces. [spoiler: the book I finished reading today was number 106]

Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
A quarter of the way through this memoir, I was in love with it, but by the end I felt kinda meh. I mean, I still liked it, but I didn't feel like it lived up to its potential. The trail bits were great - very vivid, very immediate, and fun. And the parts about her mom were equally vivid, and heartbreaking in the way very good books are. But the memories of self-destructive behavior (and there are lots of those) were distant and disconnected. I wondered whether perhaps in the act of pulling herself together after all the traumas described herein, the author had also pulled herself quite a ways from the person she was when they were going on? Like, she wasn't that person anymore, she didn't feel the same way about the people she was describing in those sections anymore, and so those bits just ... didn't fit? didn't ring true? I can't quite put my finger on it. I'm going to read other things by her, because the best parts of this book were very good indeed.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Glorious all the way through. Heartbreaking and honest and not cleaned-up the way YA books (even good ones) sometimes are. The author is very very very good at describing certain momentary experiences in a way that casts one back to being young and finding out what it's like to fall in love - without bowdlerizing the experience. (Warning: one of the families in this novel is very fucked up. This made the book better for me, but also a lot more difficult.)

Anastasia at Your Service, by Lois Lowry (reread)
Charming and light and full of unexpected salience. Glad I'm rereading these.

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, by Oliver Burkeman
Hm. While I was reading this, I thought it was absolutely brilliant, and I kept wanting to share bits of it out loud with people, and I felt like it helped me remember Important Things about myself WITHOUT being a self-help book. Despite the self-helpy title, it's really more a work of microhistory mixed with opinion? Like a travel memoir, only about ways people have tried to be happy instead of about a place. It seemed like a Personally Significant Book and I made a mental note to reread it some time. However, a month and a half later, I ... don't remember almost any of what the book covered, specifically. It was a very intense week, that week I was reading this book, and I spent a lot of it out late with friends or out early walking alone by the creek. So my blank spots are probably nothing to do with it, and completely to do with me. But there you go. Oh, also, the narrative voice is wonderful - full of that British dry humor that I find delightful in all its forms, and skeptical, and self-aware. So if you like those sorts of voices, you should definitely find this book.

Love and Lies: Marisol's Story, by Ellen Wittlinger
This was quite good in many of the same ways that Hard Love was, but it suffered a bit from sequelitis. And trying too hard in general, which led to some of the non-main characters being a little too 2D. Which, you know, made it a fun book instead of an excellent book, so I'm not actually complaining. It's a fun book! But Hard Love was excellent.
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