Sunday, January 18, 2015

2059 and counting...

The Mime Order Samantha Shannon
Publisher:  Bloomsbury (January 27, 2015)
528 pp
3.5 stars (3 for the first half, 4 for the latter half)
Genre: YA series, science fiction, dark fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, romance; now also known as New Adult (half YA//adult, graphic, violent)
Sequel to The Bone Season
Samantha Shannon is a British novelist, recently graduated from Oxford University (read English language and literature at St Anne's). Her first novel, The Bone Season, (2013/14) was well received, published as one of expected seven series. She is an interesting young writer with a vivid imagination and the ability to translate this into riveting reading. If you don't like cliff hangers, wait until the series is more advanced. Each book picks up right where the other left off. Read the charts, maps and glossary first to familiarize yourself with her terminology. They must be read in order.
London in 2059 is governed by Scion, a security force that uses Oxford as a prison (Sheol 1). The heroine, 19 year old Paige Mahoney(#40) is an intelligent, impetuous,  clairvoyant (dreamwalker) who works in Seven Dials within the criminal underbelly, as people with unnatural gifts are targeted (and have been since 1859, hence 20 Bone Seasons). It's a fairly simplistic plot, although the characters are complex and complicated by her world building/foundation.
Her keeper there, the Warden (Arcturus) provided mysterious, initial tension, and indeed I was waiting for him to appear in the second novel where they have escaped the prison and are hunted. The action promptly picks up with his arrival (halfway through!). He balances Paige, having age and experience to her youth and instability.  While he challenges her, she provides the hope he has lost. Romantic tension will be resolved eventually, but is an important story element.
Paige remains a fighter, and is strong and resourceful, a strong female lead, with a lot to learn. She returned to her old Mime boss (Jaxon Hall), who is slowly revealed to be quite a vile human, yet he is protecting Paige. While using her of course. The first half of the book reflects youth with indecision and inaction, although that can also be prudent while fact collecting. Steeped in politics, personal agendas, dickinsonian / penny dreadful details I became frustrated with where the story was going.  Then it galloped right along, with twists and turns to yet another cliff. I am not sure I would reread this when the next installment appears. I do want to know what happens to the characters, but 5 more years? I was lucky to have recently read The Bone Season in the library, and delighted to be chosen to review this book. I loved her command of language, her creative world building (rotmonger, thaumaturge, Gutterlings), her nods to the old order (EA Poe, title, plus Raven - member of Guard Extraordinary, from the ravens of the Tower of London). I am still very impatiently waiting for Patrick Rothfuss to provide us with his trilogy. If you haven't read that, drop everything else.

Read on:
If you like Christopher Paolini, Trudi Canavan's Black Magicians trilogy, Richelle Mead's Gameboards of the Gods, and the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo
NPR quoted a UK source which stated her as the next JK Rowling, but I don't think there is much similarity. I liked it better than the Hunger Games.

Opening: "It's rare that a story begins at the beginning. In the grand scheme of things, I really turned up at the beginning of they end of this one."
"Hope is the lifeblood of revolution, without it we are nothing but ash, waiting for the wind to take us."
Rephaite- pl. Rephraim. A biologically immortal, humanoid inhabitant of the Netherworld. ...known to feed on the aura of clairvoyant humans.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley - thank you!

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Perdita. By Hilary Scharper
Publisher Sourcebooks Landmark (January 20, 2015)
(2013 by Canadian Touchstone)
448 pp
4.5 stars
Genre: historical, literature, gothic, eco gothic, paranormal, mystery, romance, nature and art themes, Canadian sensibilities.
She is a Canadian author, (Phd Yale, Assoc Prof Cultural Anthropology, Univ Toronto). Scharper with her husband also spent a decade as a Bruce Peninsula  assistant lighthouse keeper, later stewards for the Cabot Head Light House and Bird Observatory.
This is her debut novel, very much a product of her love of nature (she describes her fiction as Eco gothic, a new literary genre building on traditional 19th century  gothic, with the landscape as an active, central character).  As a scientist myself I am thrilled with this new genre, as society as a whole should create a sustainable respectful relationship with nature. In our anthropogenic centric society we need to become more aware and familiar with nature but still are over consumers.

How many of you remember the Greek myth of Perdita ("lost one")?
Or Shakespeare's Winter Tale?
Or Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians? (Pongo's mate)?
I was absolutely enthralled with this tale: it is beautifully written, has well paced parallel stories of the present day and late 1800s through journal entries and letters and has a complex message.
Well developed characters include:
1. Marged Brice, 134 year old, who has outlived her time, but needs to pass on Perdita.
Also called dark eyed junco. She gives her diaries (from 1897) to Garth to convince him of her story, and they become a fascinating time capsule. And so much more.
2.Tad or Hugh Brice (Welsh for Dad) who was a light keeper at Cape Prius, Georgia Bay for 30 years, father to Marged.
3. George Stewart, acknowledged by the Group of Seven, and one of Canada's finest painters (I couldn't find any information on him!? I love the Group of Seven (and the latter Canadian Group of painters) and would love additional Scottish connections to this region). George is the mysterious love interest to Marged, but perceptive landscape master.
4. Garth Hellyer, distinguished professor, currently working on a Longevity research project. He is asked to interview Marged, and is entrusted with her journals/diaries and letters. The reader is taken back to 1897/8 when so many things happened to Marged.  Garth, a WWII historian, won the Governor General's Award for Literature. But he's recovering from love and loss, perhaps once burned twice shy.
Clare (no last name for childhood friends?!)
Clare had a job as curator for British Museum, currently back to the Bay to summer and  sort through her life.
This has a charming, romantic story between Clare and Garth while also untangling the mystery of Marged, Perdita, and George Stewart. Nature is a major character in this book, with evocative descriptions of bracing waters, rocky shores and all those who have gone before.  There is tension between city and country life, differences between surface appearance and moral character, wild vs domesticated. There is also an element of artistic temperament, beautiful,descriptions of the process of painting, but also the character of painters. Her language is lyrical when describing nature,  of wind, trees, waves and water.

I am hoping there is a sequel. Or at least a continuation of her themes. While I enjoyed the parallel stories, each could have been further detailed, delving deeper into their times. There is SO much more to the  Marged story after the diaries end and when we find her in the home. I had to look up additional information on George Stewart. I read this in one sitting, just delighted with the detail and coming of age story. It passed the test of second reading, looking for quotes, finding additional clues, finding myself transported to the Georgian Bay shores. I want the painting Sylvan Chapel to exist.

Read On:
Historical fiction, mystery, supernatural, Canadian gothic (see Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Susanna Kearsley) as well as traditional (see Bronte, Stevenson, Doyle and Wharton).
Read if you like Kate Morton (2009) House of Riverton or Diane Setterfield (2006) The Thirteenth Tale.
Of note  Scharper also has a story collection titled: Dream Dresses and God and Caesar at the Rio Grande (UMinn Press, which won the outstanding academic book award). She has several fascinating nonfiction articles as well.

What was the nickname my father had given her smile? Aurora borealis- he had always referred to Clare as his northern lights. 
The secret for old age is that we should sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon, and sleep like a dog.
George called my eyes a Great Lakes blue.
I thought most long stories had a short version. 
What would your trees say about you?
May the wind and the trees always carry your name- branch to branch, breath to breath- across my beloved Bay.

Of special note: the cover art by Amanda Kain is particularly fine and evocative.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley - thank you!
Available at the Rochester Public Library (I requested all three of my libraries to order this book, and will purchase a copy myself!)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Library and Bookstore Magic
I have fallen under another book spell. The Magicians series by Lev Grossman has been on my radar for a few years. This summer I picked up a hardback of Magicians Land (2014) to go with The Magicians King (2011) which I had also found in my beloved Friends' bookstore a year before. As I couldn't start mid series, I put myself on the ebook waiting list of the library. It arrived!
I am not even 100 pages into the book The Magicians (2009) and I know I will be absorbed and lose several days consuming this series. I was absolutely delighted with the writing, the characters, the mystery and finally, the magic. Actually it's all magic!

The Magicians won the 2010 Alex award, given to ten adult fiction books appealing to young adults, and the 2011 John W. Campbell award for best new writer. (NB finding this award list has given me a whole new set of authors as I found many favourites including Naomi Novik, Mary Doria Russell, Gail Carriger, Scott Lynch. GRR Martin won in 1973, currently held by Sofia Samatar.) Grossman has been a journalist, essayist, writer for numerous magazines. "I wrote fiction for 17 years before I found out I was a fantasy novelist." (I loved his interview with Neil Gaiman.) The Magicians was labelled "Harry Potter for adults" but it is much better than that. Briefly, it is a contemporary dark fantasy series about Quentin Coldwater and other extremely gifted people who are admitted to Brakesbills, a secret private college of Magic on the Hudson River.

Don't expect Harry Potter. These are intellectually gifted, relatively normal teenagers, self absorbed, bored, insecure, and unprepared. I found it a bit hard to believe that Fillory (Narnia) could be so intensely important to a college bound student. It is an eclectic group of complex students, each dealing with his or her issues, reality and magic. While it is an original tale, there are a few universal truths about understanding the ramifications of your actions. There is a dour realism to this magic and you don't have the benefits of special effects. Magic has to be learned, like Latin. It is taxing and has consequences. The graphic sex, drugs, violence and swearing (with alcohol, cliques, depression) put this firmly in an adult series. I would have edited out at least half the swearing.

Interesting, complicated thoughts and discussion:
You have to grow up to be happy. You certainly need to live.
How to interact with people who are just as bright as you are, or indeed smarter, for the first time in your life. And the rest of your life.
Not necessarily fantasy as I can relate to most of these people.
If I had read some of the reviews, I suspect I would not have started this series. (Disaffected twenty somethings as a sequel to disaffected teens)
Magic might be the tools left behind after the inverse was created.
Reading a series to completion was worth waiting for.
You never know what magic awaits in the Bookstore or Library!

“He who completes a quest does not merely find something. He becomes something.”
“That was the thing about the world: it wasn't that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn't expect.”
“It didn’t matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home.”
― Lev Grossman, The Magician's Land
"Magic: it's what happened when the mind met the world, and the mind won for a change."
― Lev Grossman, The Magician King
“In a way fighting was just like using magic. You said the words, and they altered the universe. By merely speaking you could create damage and pain, cause tears to fall, drive people away, make yourself feel better, make your life worse.”
"The truth doesn't always make a good story does it?"
― Lev Grossman, The Magicians

Recommend the audio book read by Mark Bramhall.
4 stars, entire series

Read on 
To China Mieville, Donna Tartt, Douglas Coupland
Jo Walton (Among Others, 2011) and Peter Straub (Shadowlands, 1980)