Sep 30, 2010

Across the Wall: a Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories, by Garth Nix

I hadn't known that Nix had published a book of short stories, and I was a little hesitant lest they dampen my enthusiasm for the Abhorsen trilogy. Luckily, I was proven wrong. The first of the stories does take place in that same world, though it focuses on Nick, the young Ancelstierran man who features in the last of the Abhorsen books. The tale is engrossing and creative, and does not disappoint.

I was most intrigued by Nix's other stories in the collection. While each one holds at least a kernel of fantasy, they are all very different. The thread that runs through them is pure empathy: Nix has an incredible ability to elicit emotional responses through his writing. I am thinking, for example, of his story written to benefit children affected by war. By the end, my eyes were filled with tears and I had to take a moment to gather myself. It's a shame that short stories aren't a more lauded medium, for when they are done well, they can be so much more powerful than full-length novels.

The Darkangel, by Meredith Ann Pierce

I'm on a bit of a nostalgic trip at the moment, and bought myself used copies of books I read as a young girl and loved. One of these is The Darkangel, which I discovered by accident because I thought it was by my favorite author, Tamora Pierce. The two series are, in fact, similar, what with the young, female protagonists and fantastical lands of magic. But The Darkangel is altogether more mystical and lyrical. There is poetry in Pierce's words, not just a story, and the imagination is captivated by her unique take on young adult fantasy. The next two books in the trilogy are even more ethereal, while such writing does nothing to dampen the importance and excitement of the plot. This is truly a gorgeous example of how young adult fantasy is just as much literature as "adult" fiction is.

Sep 10, 2010

The Alchemaster's Apprentice, by Walter Moers

I do have a soft spot for darkly humorous fantasy, and this book definitely fits that bill. Translated from German, the novel is about a little Crat (identical to a cat in every way except for a brain that can hold enormous amounts of information and the ability to speak in every language without having to learn any) who makes a deal with the Alchemist-in-Chief of a singularly unhealthy town. The deal stipulates that the Alchemaster will feed and entertain Echo the Crat until the next full moon, at which time he will kill Echo and boil him down for his fat. Echo agrees because he is starving to death, but immediately betakes himself to finagle a way out of the contract.

We meet Cooked Ghosts, owls with speech impediments, vampire flying mice, and Cogitating Eggs. The book is incredibly imaginative and inventive, and the description is fantastic. I wish more authors were as creative as Moers is. I will definitely be seeking out more of his books to read.

Sep 7, 2010

Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

Once again, another Neal Stephenson book that just blows me away. How this man is capable of doing so much research, synthesizing it, then putting it into an incredibly well-written format is beyond me. Though his interest in math and science is evident in this book as well as The Baroque Cycle, there are no other similarities between the two.

Anathem is firmly science fiction, though it takes a while to work up to it. As all good science fiction does, it deals very much in philosophy, though much more obviously than many other books. Stephenson's world, Arbre, is similar enough to our own to understand, but different enough to be fascinating as we discover it along with the protagonist, Erasmus. Much of the action takes place in what are essentially monasteries, but instead of worshiping God, the monks devote their time to the mathematical and scientific mysteries of the universe. Much of the first half of the book takes place behind the walls of just one math (as the monasteries are called), and then the action slowly spirals outward. The characters are very well developed, and it is a true pleasure to read their interactions.

Again, Stephenson's writing is some of the best I've ever seen. The glibness and humor are less apparent in this book than in the Baroque Cycle, but they still run through the entire novel like an undercurrent. I once again find myself sad that the story has ended, and cannot wait to pick up another one of his books and devour it.