Thursday 31 December 2020

#CBR12 Book 103: All the books I DNF'd this year

Dear readers, I'm not going to lie, I'm racing against the clock to get all of my reviews finished in time for the CBR12 deadline (12 noon EST - or 6 pm Oslo time). I also need to finish 25% of the final novel I'm reviewing, co-parent my autocratic, demanding, and rather clingy almost-three-year-old, plan and prep a three-course New Year's meal, and possibly do some last-minute shopping. No pressure, right? So when fellow Cannonballer Pixifer posted a review with all of her DNF's for the year, I realised that that's the only way I'm going to reach my goal in time. I probably read enough of each of these books for the total of one whole one - possibly even quite a big one.

DNF nr 1: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke

English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.

But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of England's magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.

All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington's army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange's heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

I first read this book back in 2010, but don't appear to have ever reviewed it (must have been before I reviewed pretty much everything I read). I remember being absolutely enchanted by it (which is nice, since it's all about magic), but I was also childless and had a lot more energy back in 2010. I know that several of my friends have tried to start it repeatedly and never managed to get very far into it, which makes sense, as it's written in the style of a rather dense Victorian novel, complete with footnotes, and it's an intimidatingly huge book (my paperback copy has over a thousand pages). This was my fantasy/sci-fi book club's selection for February, so I started listening to the audiobook, and about 20% of the way through realised that I neither had the time nor the patience to get through it in time for the meeting, so I gave it up. Luckily, several of the other members had gotten through the whole thing, and we also had an interesting comparative discussion about the book and the TV series (which I really do need to watch at some point.

DNF nr 2: Trelegemeproblemet (The Three-Body Problem) - Liu Cixin

Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

This was my book club's selection for August, and I really did valiantly try my very best to read it. I got the Norwegian translation at my local library (if the book is originally in Chinese, it feels like I should read it in my actual mother tongue, rather than translated into English). Science fiction is never going to be my favourite genre, although I keep finding exceptions that entertain and engage me. The type of sci-fi I like tends to be adventure-based, frequently things that could just as easily be some other kind of genre fiction (fantasy and/or romance) set in the future/space. This is very much not that sort of book. 

Obviously, it's set in China, so there's a lot of unfamiliar names to keep track of (this may sound racist, but I feel the same way when reading classical Russian novels - there are just so many names and pet names and sometimes the characters are referred to by their first names, sometimes by their surnames) and I got confused. Then there's the fact that a lot of the science fiction here is heavily science-based and it would probably help to have a much firmer grasp of physics than I do to really enjoy and appreciate it. The book also felt very male-dominated. 

I stuck with it for a full third of the book, with the date for the book club discussion looming nearer and nearer. In the end, I gave in and checked out a detailed plot synopsis online. I'd found the book really boring, and I found the book summary to be the same - it was quite clear that the book wasn't suddenly going to turn into something a lot more to my taste. I know this book is very critically acclaimed, that it's won a Hugo and a bunch of other awards. But I found it way too boring, and will never finish it, or its sequels.

DNF nr 3: Of Curses and Kisses - Sandhya Menon
Will the princess save the beast?

For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. When the loathsome Emerson clan steps up their centuries-old feud to target Jaya’s little sister, nothing will keep Jaya from exacting her revenge. Then Jaya finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, and it feels like the opportunity of a lifetime. She knows what she must do: Make Grey fall in love with her and break his heart. But much to Jaya’s annoyance, Grey’s brooding demeanor and lupine blue eyes have drawn her in. There’s simply no way she and her sworn enemy could find their fairy-tale ending…right?

His Lordship Grey Emerson is a misanthrope. Thanks to an ancient curse by a Rao matriarch, Grey knows he’s doomed once he turns eighteen. Sequestered away in the mountains at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, he’s lived an isolated existence—until Jaya Rao bursts into his life, but he can't shake the feeling that she’s hiding something. Something that might just have to do with the rose-shaped ruby pendant around her neck…

As the stars conspire to keep them apart, Jaya and Grey grapple with questions of love, loyalty, and whether it’s possible to write your own happy ending.

I really liked When Dimple Met Rishi and Menon's other YA romances have also been very favourably reviewed. So when I heard she was making something more fantasy inspired, and a Beauty and the Beast retelling set at a boarding school, it seemed like something I had to read. Sadly, a month and a half after starting it, I was only about 21% through it, because it just wasn't engaging me, and I had yet to care about a single character. Every time I picked it up and read one or two chapters, I kept being distracted by something else, and then it would be days or even weeks before I read anymore. In mid-October, I finally gave it up entirely.

I can see from Goodreads that I was by no means the only person who found the beginning slow and rather boring and the characters unremarkable. I just didn't care about any of them, or how the plot was going to develop and resolve. I may revisit the book at some point in the future, but it feels unlikely.

DNF nr 4: American Demon - Kim Harrison
What happens after you've saved the world? Well, if you're Rachel Mariana Morgan, witch-born demon, you quickly discover that something might have gone just a little bit wrong. That the very same acts you and your friends took to forge new powers may have released something bound by the old. With a rash of zombies, some strange new murders, and an exceedingly mysterious new demon in town, it will take everything Rachel has to counter this new threat to the world--and it may demand the sacrifice of what she holds most dear. 

Back in 2014, Kim Harrison seemingly ended her 13-book paranormal fantasy series The Hollows with The Witch With No Name. That was also back in the day when I'd be able to complete a double Cannonball by late September, rather than scrambling like a loon to get enough reviews in before the deadline on New Year's Eve. But back to the review, such as it is. Back in 2017, Harrison revisited her fantasy world with a prequel, The Turnfocusing on the disastrous event where all the supernatural beings in society actually came forward and revealed their existence to humanity. There were questions about whether she was planning other prequels, but going back and continuing the story about Rachel Morgan is what she seems to have decided to do instead.

I was happy enough with the ending of the original series and especially liked the "20 years after" epilogue, which showed how the characters ended up. In this new book, she seems to brush that off as being a strange dream, which immediately put my figurative hackles up, because I don't want that future to change. In theory, I'm very happy to have more books about Rachel, Jenks, Ivy, and the rest of this world, but only if Rachel stays with Trent. I don't need anyone else to come in and interfere with their hard-earned HEA. Hence, I was probably not in the right mindset to give this book the chance it deserved, and after weeks of listening to the audiobook and only progressing about 22% (it's never a good sign when I start more than one audiobook, splitting my attention). With this one, I will give it another try, sometime in 2021 - but Harrison had better not be messing with my headcanon.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.  

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