Mar 24, 2011

Last Battle of the Icemark, by Stuart Hill

This is the third book of a trilogy that I started out absolutely in love with. I am very sad to say, however, that the second book was merely okay, and this last was downright bad. I was incredibly disappointed. Either Hill's writing has genuinely gotten worse since the first book (which was also his first published book), or the success of the series led his publisher to forget the whole editing part.

The plot is pretty good, but the writing is beyond contrived. I would very much like to know how many times he uses the word "hideous;" my bet is somewhere in the mid-hundreds. Some of the characters' dialogue is realistic, others' sounds incredibly forced. Medea, the antagonist, sounds exactly like the author himself, and also uses/thinks the word "hideous" far more than is necessary.

The lack of originality in setting also starts to wear in this third installment. Yes, it was very clear in the first book that Hill was using Celts and Romans as his basis, but in this third it is painfully obvious. The main road of "Romula" is the "Eppian Way." Just like how the main road of Rome was the Apian Way. If this were meant as a fictionalization of the fall of Rome, it would be understandable, but at least from what I can tell, that's not Hill's intention.

It saddens me that an author with such potential at the start seems to have already run out of steam, but I will keep my fingers crossed that his next endeavor is a little more original and rather less staid.

Mar 18, 2011

Madame Bovary, by Gustav Flaubert

What a wonderful book! True, the eponymous protagonist is a detestable woman, but what fantastic writing! I very much want to read the book in its original French, but I do feel that the version I read was an excellent translation. There are, of course, the expected dated colloquialisms, but I still feel that such writing easily holds its own among today's literature. Even more, I feel that its theme is relevant to today's issues of romance and expectations. Recently, there have been essays and the like that comment on how modern romantic films portray love, and the cult of "Prince Charming." This, it is argued, has lead a generation of women to develop unnaturally high expectations of love, and when they don't achieve them, to disillusionment.

As Madame Bovary proves, this is hardly a new phenomenon. Women and men alike have always engaged in romantic fantasies, and literature throughout the ages has both fed off of and promoted them. Can we really say that Tristan and Isolde, or Romeo and Juliet, have not presented idealized versions of romance and love to the masses? Of course they have. Madame Bovary is just one more casualty in a long history of the war against expectation.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and can't wait to try out the original French. I'd absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for classic literature but is afraid of the stuffy, verbose stereotype.

Mar 8, 2011

Sandry's Book, by Tamora Pierce

This is my favorite young adult fiction author, but when I read this series many years ago, it didn't appeal to me like her other books did. This series takes place in a different world from the Song of the Lioness books, and the characters are rather more juvenile. I did, however, like it better this second time than I did when I read it long ago. Her writing is still approachable and engaging, and the world she created is interesting and full. I still don't like how juvenile the characters are, but then they are all about 9 or 10, whereas Alanna started out as 11 in the Lioness series. I will read the other books, to see if they get better, since I love Pierce so much. I'd probably start a young reader on these before introducing them to the Lioness books.

Mar 4, 2011

Fluke, by Christopher Moore

I really love Christopher Moore's writing. He has a true sense of irreverence and a similar sense of humor to Larry Niven, though his books are much more far-fetched/fantastical. This one is about whales, and gets weird right around the time when Nate, the main character, sees a whale with the words "BITE ME" written on its flukes.

Compared to Fool, another book of his that I've read, Fluke is rather tame in terms of vulgarity. It's good to know, though, that Moore can still write a damn good novel without having to resort to shock value. I'm incredibly excited to read more of his stuff, and have a feeling he might turn into one of my favorite authors.