Monday, 6 September 2010

81: "I Shall Wear Midnight" by Terry Pratchett

Publisher: Doubleday
Page count: 349 pages
Date begun: September 4th, 2010
Date finished: September 4th, 2010

Tiffany Aching is a witch. This mostly means that she helps women give birth, cuts old ladies' toenails, bandages wounds and helps the dying in the area whose witch she is. She has first sight and second thoughts, meaning that she sees what is really there and thinks twice about what she sees. She does the things that need doing, but that few really think about or get round to doing. People respect her, but lately that respect seems to have changed to fear and suspicion. There are tales about old, eccentric ladies all over the countryside being hounded and killed by paranoid villagers.

The old baron dies, and Tiffany has to go to Anhk-Morpork to give Roland, her childhood friend, the bad news and fetch him back to Lancre. Tiffany once saved Roland from the Queen of the Fairies, but he doesn't remember anymore. Now he has an excessively sniffly fiancée and a battleaxe of a future mother in law, and seems to be making all the wrong decisions. He is suspicious about Tiffany's role in his father's death, and Tiffany finds herself locked up in the dungeon, right next to where they keep the goats.

Something old and very evil is spreading its influence, and Tiffany needs to find a way to stop it, before it gets more innocent old ladies, and herself, killed. She can't ask for help from her fellow witches, as once she's shown herself incapable of dealing with such things, who is really going to trust her to manage anything at all without assistance in the future?

I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth, and according to Terry Pratchett, final Tiffany Aching book. It's the first of the books to really integrate more into the wider Discworld universe, Tiffany leaves Lancre for a while, goes to the capital, runs into familiar characters from the City Watch. It may be a book written for young adults, but it's also a dark book, and Pratchett does not shy away from writing about the harsh realities of life. The book covers things like domestic abuse, miscarriages, neglect, false accusations, wrongful imprisonment, jealousy and thoughtless hatred. Pratchett never underestimates his audience, and that is probably why he is such a great author, whether he's writing for children or adults.

"Scott Pilgrim vol 1-2" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Scott Pilgrim is 23 years old, in a not very successful band, and dating a 17-year-old high school girl who adores him. He lives in a tiny one room flat with his gay room mate, who owns most of the stuff in said flat. He keeps having weird dreams about this girl with brightly coloured hair who Rollerblades through whatever he happens to be dreaming about. One day at the Toronto library, he sees the girl in real life, and at a party, he discovers her name. Ramona Flowers.

Scott promptly orders something from Amazon.ca, just so Ramona can deliver it to his door, and asks her out on a date, conveniently forgetting about his adoring high school girlfriend. Ramona is reluctant to accept, but eventually does. Soon after, Scott discovers that in order to be with Ramona, he will have to fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends, each in more and more spectacular fashion. In volume 2, he finally has the good graces to break up with Knives Chau, who is not exactly delighted when she runs into Ramona at the library, and discovers Scott's careless treatment of her. At the end of volume 2, Scott has defeated two of Ramona's exes, but his life is about to get more complicated when he realizes that not only is his ex-girlfriend back in town with her very successful band, but the guy she dumped Scott for, is also one of Ramona's exes.

With the movie already out in the US and UK, and due for release here in Norway at the start of October, I decided to check what this Scott Pilgrim comic is all about. Mark, my husband, claims that as far as he's aware, almost everyone but him loves it. I don't quite know if I love it yet, but I did really enjoy the first two volumes, and have ordered the remaining four from the Book Depository already. Scott is an idiot, and a bit of a careless douche, and it's not cool that he cheats on the totally adorable Knives with Ramona (who to be fair, is not so pleased when she realizes he did so). Jobless and aimless, I'm pretty sure the reader is meant to think Scott is a bit of a pathetic loser, but the supporting characters are all very entertaining, and if you can get behind all the classic computer game references and suspend your disbelief that adversaries turn into coins after fights, then it's a fun little book, and I'm looking forward to seeing if Scott grows into a more likable character, or if everyone around him, from his roommate to his exes to Ramona, will continue to be too good for him.

80: "Blameless" by Gail Carriger

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 320 pages
Date begun: September 2nd, 2010
Date finished: September 3rd, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SOULLESS AND CHANGELESS, THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE SERIES.

Alexia Maccon, nee Tarabotti, has been cast off by her husband and is causing somewhat of a scandal in London. Her sister has unwisely let it slipped to some friends that Alexia is expecting, and it does not take long for the whole of society to know. As Lord Maccon is a werewolf and thus believed completely unable to father children, everyone assumes Alexia has been unfaithful. The Queen dismisses her from her supernatural council, and it soon becomes clear that all the vampires of London want Alexia dead.

Once Alexia's family discover that she's not just visiting them for a spell, but is accused of adultery, they also force her to leave, so as to not endanger the marriage prospects of her half sisters. She can't stay with the flamboyant Lord Akeldama, her gay vampire friend, as he has mysteriously vanished. She needs to prove to Lord Maccon and the rest of society that she has not been unfaithful, and that clearly the fact that she has conceived is connected to her preternatural state. She realizes that she will have to go to Italy, to see the Templars, the only people who may be able to explain her seemingly impossible pregnancy.

As mentioned on the blog before, I loved Soulless, but was a bit disappointed with Changeless. As I hoped, Blameless was more light-hearted and more in the vein of the first, and while Lord Maccon spends quite a bit of the book incapacitated, his Beta werewolf, Professor Lyall gets all the more to do instead. We also find out more about Alexia's father, and his past with the Templars. This book ends on a more conclusive note, but Carriger has confirmed that there will be at least two more books in the series, and she is rapidly becoming one of the authors I will be buying immediately upon release.

79: "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic
Page count: 480 pages
Date begun: August 31st, 2010
Date finished: September 2nd, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE HUNGER GAMES.

Katniss Everdeen lives in post-apocalyptic Panem, where the U.S once used to be. Panem used to be divided into 13 districts and the Capitol, but after a rebellion, District 13 was destroyed. To keep the various districts in check, the Capitol demands that every year each district send two teen tributes, one male and one female, to compete in the televised Hunger Games, a fight to the death where there can be only one victor. However, Katniss thwarted the Capitol in the last Hunger Games, and both the tributes from District 12 survived. She pretended to be madly in love with her fellow tribute Peeta, and would have poisoned them both, forcing them to let both survive rather than have no winner.

Katniss does not realize just how much her defiant act has inspired people in the various districts. There is discord and discontent, and the President of Panem threatens to kill not only Katniss, but Peeta and everyone Katniss ever loved if she doesn't help him improve the image of the Capitol and the power of the government. Katniss has to continue her act as Peeta's beloved, made harder by the fact that Peeta genuinely loves her, and she prefers Gale, a miner in District 12. When travelling around Panem on their victory tour, Peeta and Katniss play at being passionately in love, and Peeta even proposes, but this does not stop rebellions in several of the Districts.

Every 25 years, there is a Quarter Quell as well as the regular annual Hunger Games. This year, it seems the contestants of the Quarter Quell will be selected from previous winners. Katniss is the only female contestant ever to survive the Games from District 12, and therefore has to go back and fight for her life once more, this time against people who have already proven their battle prowess by killing all their opponents. Peeta insists on being the male tribute, and this time, hoping that the Capitol and the President might spare her family if she dies, Katniss is determined that Peeta will be the one to survive.

Catching Fire is a very dark book, and the world that Suzanne Collins has created is a very bleak one. The book is set in a dystopian and totalitarian future, where the government forces its subjects to volunteer and send their young to get killed, in order to keep them subjugated and too scared to rebel. In the Capitol, the Hunger Games are prime time entertainment, it's clear that the people who live there have no idea of the suffering of the people in the various districts.

Katniss realizes that unwittingly, she has become a symbol for the rebellion against the Capitol. She thought that by surviving the Hunger Games, she could live out the rest of her life in relative comfort with her family, and that outside the occasional television interview, she could forget about her time in the Games, and her pretend romance with Peeta. Instead, she discovers that the Capitol have been keeping an extra close eye on her, and her one kiss in the woods with Gale has pretty much ensured that he will be the first to die if things don't go the way the Capitol wishes. Also, while she's unable to return Peeta's romantic feelings, she values him as a friend and their shared experience in the Games means that only he can understand how she feels on occasion.

Both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are very well-written, gripping reads, if dark and a bit depressing. Having heard rumours that the third and final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, which was released at the beginning of September is the most depressing of the three, I'm holding off on reading it for a bit, as I don't think I'm up for it at the moment.

76-78: "The Mortal Instruments trilogy" by Cassandra Clare

Book 1: City of Bones
Book 2: City of Ashes
Book 3: City of Glass

Publisher: McElderry
Total page count: 1584 pages
Date begun: August 20th, 2010
Date finished: August 25th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Clarissa "Clary" Fray's life changes one evening when she and her best friend Simon are at a night club, and she sees three mysteriously tattooed teenagers killing another teen, who then disappears right in front of her eyes. She finds out that the three are Shadowhunters, they keep the world safe from demons, and Clary, a mundane, should not have been able to see them or the demon boy they killed. Simon did not see a thing, and wonders why she is acting so strangely. Not long after the incident in the night club, Clary's mother Joscelyn disappears, and it becomes clear that demons took her. Clary manages to kill one of the demons, and Jace, one of the Shadowhunter boys, is very curious as to how a seemingly normal human can do all these things.

Of course Clary is not as normal as she first seemed, and she discovers that her mother was in fact a Shadowhunter, and that the reason she was abducted is because she is the only one who knows the whereabouts of the Mortal Cup, a mystical artifact that is needed to create more Shadowhunters. Valentine, a crazy and dangerous Shadowhunter, believed killed in an epic battle many years before, is apparently very much alive and he wants the Mortal Cup to create his own army of Shadowhunters, so he can rid the world of all Downworlders (werewolves, vampires, warlocks and fairies). Clary needs to figure out why she has a massive mental block in her head, and discover a way to rescue her mother from Valentine.

In City of Ashes, Clary has discovered the identity of her father, and the existence of a brother. She has rescued her mother from Valentine, but Joscelyn is still in a deep coma. Clary is living with Luke, an old friend of her mother's, former Shadowhunter and leader of the local werewolf pack. Jace is under suspicion by the Shadowhunter Inquisitor and mistrusted by his foster parents since Valentine has been revealed to be his father. Valentine needs to get the Soul-Sword, the second of the Mortal Instruments, and he also needs the blood of four Downworlder children to turn it into a weapon only he controls. He wants Jace to join him in his purification of the Shadowhunters, and is not well pleased when Jace refuses. Clary tries to fight her feelings for Jace and seeing if she can return Simon's feelings, but after an unfortunate incident in the court of the Queen of the Fairies, it becomes obvious to everyone that Clary only really loves Jace, and Simon runs off and does something rather stupid as a result. When he and one of the young werewolves in Luke's pack get captured by Valentine, Clary has no choice but to risk her life once again to save her friends.

In City of Glass, Clary needs to go to the main Shadowhunter city, Alicante, to see a warlock in order to wake her mother from her coma. Jace doesn't want her to come with him and the Lightwoods, as he is afraid of what the Shadowhunter ruling council will do when they discover Clary's unusual powers. He asks Simon for help to keep Clary in New York, but the Institute is attacked, and Jace is forced to drag Simon through the portal to Alicante to prevent him from being killed. Clary is furious when she realizes the Lightwoods left without her, and manages to open her own portal. Luke follows her, trying to protect her.

Once in Alicante, Clary stays with Luke's sister, and tries to find the spell that can rescue her mother. She doesn't know that Simon is in the city, and has been put in prison by the new Inquisitor, believed to be an ally of Valentine's. Jace is not happy to see her, and she is not happy to see Jace kissing another girl. She makes the acquaintance of a young, handsome Shadowhunter named Sebastian Verlac, who offers to help her, but it turns out to be Jace who can help her find the spell book she needs to wake Joscelyn. In the basement of the estate where Valentine raised Jace, they discover Valentine's abandoned library, and realize the extent of the experiments he performed. On the way back to Alicante, they realize that the city is in flames, Valentine has managed to break the seals of protection, and demons are swarming all over the place. Now they have to stop him from summoning the angel Raziel out of the lake outside Alicante, and ending life as they know it.

The Mortal Instruments trilogy is very entertaining and I'm sorry I waited to so long to read them (mainly put off by the Stephenie Meyer quote on the cover). I guess I was afraid they'd be just another Twilight ripoff. They're not. The trilogy reminds me more of Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossed with Star Wars than anything else, with impossible love affairs, love triangles, a myriad of supernatural creatures, wise-cracking teenage heroes and heroines, evil parents, long-lost siblings, unrequited crushes and the like. Much of the plot is quite cliched, but still greatly enjoyable, and I was very eager to reach the conclusion and see if everything ended the way I wanted it to. Apparently Cassandra Clare started out writing fan fiction, and if you've read some of it, these books are rather derivative. I'm glad to say that as someone unfamiliar with her fan fic, these books were an entirely new experience for me, and I will probably be reading both the prequel trilogy she is writing about the Shadowhunters, and the sequel trilogy, where City of Fallen Angels is set to come out in April 2011.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

75: "The Sleeping Beauty" by Mercedes Lackey

Publisher: Luna Books
Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: August 16th, 2010
Date finished: August 18th, 2010

Lily is fairy Godmother to the kingdom of Eltaria. The kingdom needs to be carefully watched, and Lily's job as Godmother is to make sure the Tradition goes in the favour of the rulers and inhabitants of the country. The Tradition is a force that pretty much takes any situation and tries to turn it into a fairy tale or folk tale direction - not necessarily one with a happy ending. Eltaria is a very rich kingdom, with many bordering kingdoms who would like nothing better than to conquer it and take control of those riches. Princess Rosamund is without a doubt the fairest in all the land, her mother was a shepherdess who married the king, and as a result, the princess has learned a number of useful life skills most princess might not be in possession of.

Now her lovely mother is dead, however, and Tradition is trying to get the king to marry a sorceress so princess Rose gets an evil stepmother. Lily poses as a sorceress and pretends to marry to the king, calming Tradition for the moment, but soon the king dies in battle, the princess is an orphan, and before Lily can react, an evil huntsman has chased Rose into the woods, where she is found by seven very unpleasant dwarves and forced to be their kitchen slave. Lily manages to rescue Rose and trick Tradition again by causing her to fall heavily asleep with a potion. Two princes arrive, both wanting to kiss Rosamund awake, but Lily wants the princess to be able to choose her own husband, and makes sure she's the one who wakes the princess. Now Lily just needs to figure out a way to secure that Rosamund can find true love, and that Eltaria is safe from outside invasion for the foreseeable future, without the Tradition interfering too much.

Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms novels are a fun concept, taking various well-known fairy tales and turning them into something new and different. There are traces of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Rings of the Nibelungen and a number of other traditional stories in The Sleeping Beauty, and at the same time, it's entirely its own story. Rose is not an insipid and stupid princess, she is resourceful and clever and helps Lily as best she can with sorting out the mess her kingdom is in.

Both the main princes, Siegfried and Leopold, are charming and good potential husbands for princess. Siegfried is trying to fight Tradition as well, as he is meant to rescue one of his many aunts from a burning circle and marry her, thus also bringing about his own doom. Naturally, he does not really want to do this, but Tradition is becoming more insistent and he keeps finding sleeping armored maidens in burning circles all over the place. Having slain a dragon at an early age, and drunk a drop of its blood, he can talk to animals, and with the help of a little bird, he does his best to find a different fate.

The Sleeping Beauty is the third of Lackey's 500 Kingdoms-novels that I've read, and I will absolutely be checking out more of them, if she keeps writing as well as she has so far.

74: "Fire" by Kristin Cashore

Publisher: Gollancz
Page count: 400 pages
Date begun: August 14th, 2010
Date finished: August 16th, 2010

Fire lives in the kingdom of the Dells. As well as normal animals, the Dells is populated by jewel-coloured monsters that are so beautiful that they can mesmerize their prey. Fire is a human monster, she has to keep her flaming locks covered at all times, both because she is the favoured pray of all the carnivorous monsters, and because she doesn't like the way humans get rendered helpless around her. She has the ability to get into the heads of humans and influence them to do her bidding.

Her father was the chief "advisor" to the old king, but in reality controlled him like a puppet. Her father loved his power over people, and only showed real affection and occasional kindness to his only daughter. However, he caused the King to act very rashly, and drove the kingdom towards instability, so Fire is determined to be as unlike him as possible. She lives on a small estate far away from the capital, teaches everyone around her to put up mental shields to protect them from mental manipulation. She teaches music to children, and tries to stay out of trouble. But soon mysterious hunters come to her home, and then get killed before they can be questioned.

The young king, Nash, and his brother Brigan, who acts military commander, are struggling to keep control in the kingdom, there are forces both to the south and the north who want nothing more than to take power. They need Fire's help, but Brigan especially is very suspicious of her powers and suffered terribly while her father was alive. He would like nothing better than for her to die, but is forced to set aside his misgivings to help his brother secure the throne and peace in the kingdom.

Kristin Cashore's previous book, Graceling was a very original and interesting fantasy novel. Fire is a prequel of sorts, set in a country neighbouring the one in Graceling. It is actually even better than Cashore's debut, and that is great praise indeed. Fire is a fascinating heroine, who has great powers but is deeply reluctant to use them due to the heartless and irresponsible behaviour of her father. From an early age, she saw how her powers could be abused if she was not careful, but having been mostly raised by the former king's crippled military advisor, she has learned goodness, loyalty and responsibility, but is not confident that this can counteract her monster instincts. She understands why the king's sons are both sceptical about her, and wants nothing more than to prove herself useful to them, to atone for the sins of her father.

Fire is set in a fascinating world, and all the characters are complex and wounded in their ways. There is adventure, and suspense, and political intrigue, but Fire's personal growth makes up the core of the novel, and is fascinating to read about. I could barely put the book down, and can't wait for Cashore's next novel.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

My wonderful recent book haul

I'm another year older, and as always, my wish list consisted mostly of books. Not that most of my friends seemed to have read most of it - or if they had, they had certainly not checked with each other what they planned on getting me. At my party, I ended up with not one, but two complete sets of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments trilogy, as well as a third copy of book 3: City of Glass (am working on a review of the trilogy now, and this will appear in due time). I also received two copies of Lucifer 11: Evensong, just to increase the number of duplicates.

Still, lots of duplicate books means going to swap them, and there are two extremely well stocked fantasy book stores in the Oslo city centre now. Taking four books and a trade paperback in, I emerged a short while later with six new books and a different trade paperback. The same day as I decided to go book-swapping, a number of parcels from the Book Depository also arrived, increasing my collection further. I also had to go back today to purchase an additional couple.

So in the last week, my book collection has increased with 17 books - such a happy thing.
Comics:
  • Lucifer 11: Evensong
  • Unwritten 2: Inside Man - both by Mike Carey
  • Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - both by Brian Lee O'Malley
Books:
  • City of Bones
  • City of Ashes
  • City of Bones - all by Cassandra Clare
  • The Ruby in the Smoke
  • The Shadow in the North
  • The Tiger in the Well
  • The Tin Princess - all by Philip Pullman
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • Galilee by Clive Barker
  • Storm Born by Richelle Mead
  • Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
  • Blameless by Gail Carriger
  • I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
Few things make me happier than new books. I shall try to force myself to actually review the books I have completed in the last month as well, so there's some updates on this blog soon.