As I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t read a lot of new (or new-to-me) fiction this past year. Here’s some miniature reviews of the five books I consumed in my brief summer spurt of new-book-reading. Sorry, I’m feeling too lazy to provide book covers or even links. I’m sure you know how to look them up if you’re interested.
A Dance with Dragons
George R.R. Martin
After a five year wait, my enthusiasm for this book was sharpened to a fine point by the HBO series that finished airing just weeks before its release.* I reread the first four books in the intervening weeks and plunged into the new one as soon as it was available.
Sadly, the book was a huge letdown. While Martin is skilled at creating compelling characters and dramatically interesting scenes that keep you locked in the moment, there was a lot of wheel spinning here. 1000+ pages of wheel spinning. People going a lot of places, but never getting there. Waiting for things to happen, but they never do. Gratuitious violence, sex and death that just doesn’t make sense to the plot. And as a feminist I have some serious issues with the increasing sexism and misogyny in the series, which I plan on addressing more fully later.
I’ve been reading Martin’s blog for the past few years, and I recall him mentioning frequently, as he was finishing this book, that he just had to work out the “Meernese knot.” If I had a time machine I’d go back in time, shake him by the shoulders and tell him, “Nobody gives a damn about what’s happening in Meer! Take us back to Westeros!”
Martin’s fantasy world has gotten too big, and while I appreciate that every detail of it is dear to him, it’s Creator, he’s lost the focus of the story that captivated readers of the first three books: the titular “game of thrones” and the struggle between two powerful families (and their allies) to control the destiny of a kingdom in the face of a growing threat of doom from the North. He’s gone from one story with many sides, to many interconnected stories being told simultaneously—an interesting storytelling technique in it’s own right, but it doesn’t work when presented as a novel, which requires a more cohesive structure, from beginning to end. I cannot even imagine how he is going to possibly conclude this story with any degree of satisfaction for the reader.**
Frankly, I think Martin’s experience as a tv writer is showing through, spinning out storylines from episode to episode instead of thinking about the overall plot arc. It reminds me a bit of LOST, which started with such a great premise and characters, but had to keep sticking things in because they didn’t know how long they needed to make the series last. A Dance with Dragons feels a lot like one of those middle years of LOST, filled with things just because the space had to be filled.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is one of those books you need to read when you get confused and think that “magical realism” just means “fantasy set in the real world.” Here’s the big difference: Magical realism doesn’t have to make sense.
I don’t have a lot to say about this seminal work by Marquez. His prose was lovely, as much as I can appreciate it in translation, and I recognize that deeper levels of interpretation, as a metaphor for the history of Colombia, are lost on me, as I don’t have much knowledge of South American history.
It’s filled with strange characters, many of whom aren’t very likeable or who have fates that just left me scratching my head. Things happen that are never explained, and only at the very end is any really effort made to draw out a thread that connects the seven generations of history the book relates, and provide a conclusion that wraps things up. I’m not saying it’s bad storytelling…just not the kind of storytelling I generally prefer.
It’s literary. Which I guess is why I tend to prefer genre.
The Whitefire Crossing
This is the first book by a new author, which is not something I tend to experiment with lately***. But as I won this from an online contest, I figured it was worth a shot, and was rewarded for my barvery. While not a break out or a stand out, it’s perfectly entertaining, and should earn the author the right to a second shot at publication. Its setting is inspired by the Sierra Nevada mountains, and it’s plot by the author’s own love of mountain climbing. But it’s got a clever magic system and characters you want to root for. The villain is maybe a little too over-the-top evil, but I can live with that. I’ll be happy to support the author by buying her next book when it comes out.
The Cloud Roads
by Martha Wells
Martha Wells has been a favorite of mine since I first picked up The Wheel of the Infinite more then 10 years ago. What Wells does best is non-traditional fantasy (bordering on SF, a lot of the time) without the sense of estrangement that comes with so much of the so-called “New Weird” movement. In this case, she’s created a world filled with completely original non-human species but told their story in a way that doesn’t feel at all alienating. I admit I’m partial to the worldbuilding here because it’s filled with hints of civilizations long dead and forgotten, something I personally find fascinating. Wells is an author that deserves more attention than she’s gotten in the past ten years, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in this series.
Pure fluff, this one, which I picked up at a Borders close-out. I’d read the first two volumes in this “Rogue Enchanter” series, and found them amusing (much more so than the author’s more “serious” fantasy published under another name****). This book was a little bit of a let down, as I think it took itself too seriously, and the author seems to have confused the “conflict on every page” writer’s maxim with “have your characters squabble a lot because it’s funny!” But it’s not funny, it’s just annoying. My guess is that this will be the end of the series, which is kind of a shame, because I think it would have worked as a sort of cozy mystery series set in a fatasy-cognate of early 20th century England.
* Very clever marketing on the Publisher’s part!
** With my personal marker of reader satisfaction being set to the point where I may not have predicted everything that’s going to happen, but what does happen, it makes complete and utter sense, because it’s all been set up properly in the earlier parts of the story.
*** Too many bad experiences! I need a pile of good reviews from people whose opinions I respect before I’ll jump on board with a new writer. I’m a terrifically snobby reader.
****One of the afore-footnoted bad experiences, I’m afraid.