Thursday, February 28, 2013

Super-Review #2

Another super-review of stuff that I can't write whole reviews of. Fun!

Swann's Way
The Quest for Literature continues! This is one of those books that is supposed to be so important, etc., that I was glad I finally read it (and I confess, I don't think I would have finished the book if I hadn't been required to read it). This is my first experience with stream of consciousness, and I have to say that I was not a fan. Things shift rapidly from event to event (which I understand is the point), but the overwhelming amount of detail made me turn off my brain--I'd read an entire page of the novel without actually comprehending a single word and would then have to read it all over again. It was a very frustrating experience. The "Swann in Love" section was the star part of the book, lessening the pressure to follow a consciousness stream so heavily and allowing Proust to demonstrate his prowess at character creation: he really takes the time to flesh out Swann and Odette and as a social satire and love story, it is stunning. If only the whole book had been this way.
My rating: 3/5

Jacob's Room
Another experiment with stream of consciousness. My problem with this Woolf text (my first!) is almost exactly opposite to the Proust novel: Swann's Way features mind-numbing detail about every event and sensory experiment and it overwhelms. Jacob's Room, conversely, is an exercise in taking out all of this detail. We are presented with fractured snippets of conversation and thought and there's nothing to anchor us to them. How can we care about what's going on if we can't understand who is thinking/speaking or why it matters? It's an interesting attempt to capture experiences like walking through a room full of people (one that succeeds), but it fails as a cohesive novel. Woolf's writing is beautiful and enchanting, but it's not enough to make up for how incomplete it feels.
My rating: 3/5

Fables, Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland
Another volume of Fables. Like volume 17, it was good but not great. We are focused again on some of Bigby and Snow's children; one of them ends up in the land of misfit toys and becomes the queen. The story certainly had potential to be interesting--there are some great thematics with regression and animalistic behavior and abandonment--but as is the case with a great many story lines in the Fables series, it gets dropped before it has a chance to really develop. Everything gets wrapped up by the end of the volume (which features some interesting Fisher King symbolism that I would have appreciated being used more heavily than it was; in its context, it felt more like a name drop than something intended to stir in the reader strong emotion), but I think the material here could have been sustained for several volumes. Special "hooray" for making me interested in the cubs (as I've mentioned before, one of my issues with the Fables comics is the increasing reliance on characters that aren't original fairy tales, which kind of goes against the purpose of the series).
My rating: 4/5

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Last Dragonslayer (Jasper Fforde)

I have mentioned before how much I love Jasper Fforde. He is one of those authors with an absolutely fantastic imagination and a marvelous ability to weave and untangle very complex story lines. I try to read everything he writes (so far all I haven't read are his literary detective books). One of his newer books, The Last Dragonslayer, is his first non-adult book and his most traditional fantasy novel: we are in (another) alternate universe, one where magic is real and commonplace. It's fading from the world, however, and wizards/sorcerers who were once capable of great feats have been reduced to fixing people's pipes or de-pesting their gardens.

Jennifer Strange, a 15-year-old orphan, runs the Kazam agency; it's her job to loan out the wizards who reside there to do aforementioned menial tasks. One day, prophecies come rolling in that the last remaining dragon will die. Dragons were once a problem, but have since been confined to the specially demarcated lands. With the last dragon set to die, people are eager to grab all of the previously untouched land for commercialization and their own private uses. Through a typically Ffordian series of events, Jennifer finds out she is the last member in an order called the Dragonslayers, who protect the regular citizens from bloodthirsty dragons, and that she will be the one to kill the dragon. There is one problem: after meeting the dragon, she realizes that she likes the dragon and has absolutely no desire to kill him.

Like other Fforde books, the characters of this book are very memorable. One of the author's (many) talents lies in the way he can conjure up a world that is almost recognizable as our own, pervert the image a little bit, and then populate it with wacky people. The Last Dragonslayer is no exception, and I look forward to the following two books in this trilogy because it means returning to these characters. Jennifer reminds me of what I imagine a teenage Thursday Next would be, and the cast of wizards is as eccentric and wildly-named as I could have ever hoped. I often felt like I was reading a Diana Wynne Jones book (I say that as if I've read more than one), which I intend as a compliment.

The fact that the book is meant for younger readers becomes obvious, and not in a good way. One of Fforde's best qualities (as I have mentioned above) is his insanity-level plotting, and you can tell that he held himself back in the creation of Dragonslayer's storyline. There was potential for things to get crazy, but Fforde only draws near the line without crossing it. Everything wraps up a little too quickly--the book is not very long--and it feels truncated. I know that there are two more parts coming (though part two is already out in the UK), so I would have appreciated an ending that seemed less packaged and tied-up.

Nonetheless, I've never read a Jasper Fforde novel I didn't like, and this is no exception. Even when his books aren't amazing, they're still really good. So don't hesitate to pick it up, especially if you've got a young fantasy lover on the premises.

My rating: 4/5
The Last Dragonslayer on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!