Jul 18, 2012

The Arabian Nights

Also known as "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights," this collection of Muslim tales is well known across the world, albeit in many different forms. Husain Haddawy, the translator of this version, includes a fascinating history of the tales and their various translations and compilations. There is no one perfect manuscript, but this translation is based on Muhsin Mahdi's edited Arabic version of a 14th Century manuscript that Haddawy considers to be the most faithful to the original stories. It's understandable that problems of inclusion and translation would arise, since they are written versions of originally oral tales. What results is a rich world into which we dive with Shahrazad as she tries to save the women of her country by telling the king a little part of a larger story each night. Admittedly, after a time, the colloquialisms start to sound trite, but so would anything repeated so many times. Truly, these touching, amazing, and weird stories were a great pleasure to read, and one can easily imagine a group of people, young and old, gathering around a storyteller to hear these fabulous tales. What a treasure, that we are able to enjoy them still.

Jul 9, 2012

Fire, by Kristin Cashore

This is only Cashore's second book, but damn, the lady can write. As I've said many times before, young adult fantasy gets very short shrift, and it's books like this that help dispel the stigma of YA. Fire is the companion novel to Cashore's first book, Graceling. It takes place a bit before Katsa's time (the protagonist of Graceling) in the kingdom of The Dells, in which monsters reside. Monsters are brightly furred/feathered/haired creatures of any kind of animal. They are especially intelligent, fierce and dangerous, and the human monsters are no different. There is only one living in The Dells, Fire (so named for her incredibly colored hair), who is both blessed and afflicted with extreme beauty, the gift of controlling others' minds, and a polarizing effect on people who have not learned to protect their minds from her. She wants nothing more than to be left alone to play her music and live her life, but her nature gets her pulled into the volatile politics of a nation on the brink of civil war.

Cashore's writing is astonishing. While many children's authors shy away from or circle around difficult tactics, or come at them in strange sideways manners, Cashore jumps into them. Her humor and description is biting and fresh, never dull or repetitive. Her characters are beautifully flawed and the story is so easy to fall into. It took me two days to read this wonderful book, and I cannot wait to read Bitterblue, the sequel to Graceling.

Jul 5, 2012

A Clash of Kings, George R. R. Martin

This is the second installment of the Song of Ice and Fire series, and, like the first, it does not disappoint. There's a bit less of the "horrible people doing horrible things" vibe, or perhaps I'm just becoming used to it. As the kingdom crumbles, so do various character's senses of righteousness, and the line between good and evil is starting to blur. We don't get quite enough of the best characters, Jon and Arya, but this is understandable since their stories are more liminal to the action. I must admit to being more interested in the strangeness occurring north of the Wall, but it's clear the Martin is saving up something spectacular to really throw a monkey wrench into things. Again, his writing is fantastic, though heavy on description (as has been noted by many others), and I look forward to continuing the journey.