P. Pufferfish: finally able to move on to other books

I’ve purchased 15 new books (almost all Kindle Daily Deal books, by the way!) since finals week of my last quarter. I also just checked out Under the Wide and Starry Sky to read for book club, but forgot to set my Overdrive check-out length to 3 weeks instead of 2, so now I only have until the 23rd to finish it. I bought 2 new books on Prime Day, including Amberlough, which I’ve been eyeing since I first heard about it months ago; I was planning to read that next, but I feel guilty about not starting UtWaSK when I actually have a deadline for that. I also got an email this morning from the library where I work informing me that the book I put on hold, Call For the Dead, is now available. YIKES, WHERE TO GO NEXT? They’re all such different books! Anyways, first things first.

Today’s featured book: Stone of Farewell, by Tad Williams (Book #2 of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy).

stoneoffarewellcover

This is the awful 80s cover I had to look at for (seemingly) weeks.

Format I read it in: Print paperback, unfortunately, from the library where I work. The cover was starting to fall off when I checked it out and had fallen off halfway when I finished, so I spent 5 minutes mending it before putting it back in the stack.

The premise: I’m assuming that if you’re here reading this, you’ve already read The Dragonbone Chair (a.k.a. Book #1 of MSaT), so I’ll just jump straight into this one. The story picks up right from where Book 1 ended, which is with Simon slaying the dragon on the mountain and Naglimund’s fall/Josua’s escape. The first 1/4 of the book is pretty fast-paced, with Simon waking up in Binabik’s hometown and finding out that Binabik and Sludig have been sentenced to death. He and Jiriki are stuck trying to convince the Hunter and Huntress (the leaders of the trolls) to let Binabik and Sludig go so they can continue their quest to get Thorn to Josua, wherever he is, which is just outside of Naglimund, fleeing across the Thrithings land towards the dark forest, Aldheorte, with the 7 survivors of castle’s fall, who conveniently happen to all be important, named characters. Meanwhile, Duke Isgrimnur is miserably traveling through all these port towns, trying to locate Miriamele and Cadrach, who are staying out of sight and traveling under disguise to Nabban. Back at the Hayholt, Guthwulf, who, if you’ve forgotten, was Elias’s best friend and the Hand of the King, is starting to rethink his allegiance to a ruler who he believes to have gone mad.

A few new, essential characters are introduced and some characters who only made very quick appearances in TDC are given more “screen time” in SoF. Williams also utilizes many, many more POV characters (a la ASoIaF, if you’re more familiar with that) in SoF than he did in TDC, where Simon’s POV is the main one.

My thoughts [SPOILERS ABOUND!]: In my opinion, SoF does the opposite of TDC, by putting most of the action in the first 1/3 of the book and then giving us lots of lag time throughout afterwards. Perhaps some will find this more appealing, because by the point it starts lagging, you’ll have already been sucked into the story; that wasn’t the case with me– I much prefer to dawdle and not pay as much attention in the first 150 or so pages and then speed through the remaining hundreds. I ended up reading the first 250 pages pretty fast, and then moaning and groaning and crawling my way through most of the rest. There were some characters’ points of view, such as Josua’s, Rachel’s, Dinivan’s, and Binabik’s, that were always interesting, and then there were others’, such as Simon’s (surprisingly enough) and Tiamik’s, that were so drawn-out and awful that I went and read/finished Carry On before I went back to this book. Miriamele’s POV was just plain frustrating.

One improvement I did note: Josua has become much more likeable as a character, despite not really changing much. Maybe it’s ’cause he’s constantly on the move and being forced to take action and make decisions nonstop, but his character finally stopped screaming “tortured noble hero” and became someone more human that I would want to rally behind. I think Deornoth helps with that a lot– he tries so hard to build Josua up as a savior, but Josua is determined to think practically and in the present.

Despite my approval of what Williams has done with Josua, I have many complaints about characterization in this novel. Williams does a TERRIBLE job writing his female characters. I mentioned in my review of TDC that he set up several characters, notably Miriamele and Maegwin, for success, but I was concerned he would fuck that up and– guess what? He done fucked it up! I wouldn’t even mind as much if he had written these characters as weak and useless to begin with. Simon spends a lot of time complaining, crying, and waiting to be rescued, but he’s done that from the beginning, so I expected that from him and saw it as pretty consistent characterization. Maegwin, on the other hand, has always been more reserved, sharp, and “no-nonsense”, as Eolair observes of her in one scene. It makes no sense to me that upon meeting the Dwarrows in their underground city, she would zone out and let Eolair take the reins while she obsessed over her feelings for him and how she couldn’t focus to help her people while around him. I understand the disappointment and sense of failure that she felt upon discovering that the people in the underground city are Dwarrows and not the Sithi, and I get that she’s grieving over her relatives’ death and the loss of her home, but there is no way that a woman who ran her father’s castle while he was gone and calmly commanded reluctant, inexperienced noblewomen to fortify it against attack would fail to make the connection between the important information the Dwarrows were dispensing and the possible path they could take to ensure it got to Josua. I refuse to believe that she would (spitefully) “accidentally” send Eolair on the right path and just behave like a little girl when her people needed her most.

The same goes for Miriamele. She is daring and sometimes reckless when it comes to making plans, but in her everyday life and on the road, she is resourceful and very cautious. So of course Williams has her lose all her sense of reasoning as soon as she lays eyes on Aspitis, who is so handsome and blonde and “gentlemanly” that she completely misses how sleazy and suspicious he is. Sure, she’s an innocent, sheltered teenage girl, but it’s just not believable that she would dismiss Aspitis’s rapey behavior and let him [SPOILER] push her into having sex with him; it’s so inconsistent with her previous characterization.

Vorzheva remains useless, but I didn’t have much hope for her to begin with. Two of the new female characters that are introduced are there just to be love interests/make life easier for the male characters they’re associated with. I think the only female characters who didn’t disappoint me in SoF are Rachel and Duchess Gudrun, who are pretty bad-ass older women, but I suspect the reason Williams didn’t try to soften their characters somehow is because they’re both mother figures and already feminine enough.

The most unbearably annoying and boring character, though, is Tiamik. His scenes are long and never-ending, his decisions and thought process are eyerollingly awful, and I don’t get why Williams didn’t just wait until Book 3 to give him a bigger role to play instead of tormenting us by having us read about him doing nothing in Book 2.

Rating: 3.5/5. I had to remove one whole star for the injustice done to the female characters and another half a star for pacing. UGH. I hope To Green Angel Tower is better than this!

P. Pufferfish rereads Carry On instead of finishing Stone of Farewell

Well, shit. I think I’ve lost the ability to read books that aren’t in e-book format. It’s taking me forever to get through Stone of Farewell, which isn’t even a difficult read! It’s a bit dense, and there are lots and lots of strange names, but The Dragonbone Chair was the same way (in fact, it was much slower than SoF, and I sped through that. I’ve been a bit busy at work, so most of the reading I’ve done has been in little snatches (meaning during breaks, on the toilet, and lying in the dark on my phone right before falling asleep). Of course, since the copy of SoF that I have is an old library copy, I decided to read a different book on my phone that would be easier to carry around. I was going to read Clockwork Prince, which I’ve been meaning to read for forever, but all the library’s e-book copies were checked out, so I had to go on the holds list. You know what wasn’t on the holds list?

The featured book: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, which I’ve already read, but felt like reading again.

carryoncover

What happened to the old cover? Also, I mentally cast Taron Egerton and Xavier Samuel as Simon and Baz while reading this.

Format I read it in: E-book, the BEST format.

The premise: Simon Snow, a.k.a. The Chosen One, is the terribly magically-inept adopted son of The Mage, the headmaster of a magical boarding school called Watford, which, until recent years, was extremely elitist and would only admit magicians with more powerful magical abilities, which meant that the majority of the students were from old, wealthy families… until the Mage came along and pushed through a bunch of reforms that opened up admissions to all students, so long as they possessed at least an ounce of magic.

As the novel opens, Simon is heading back to Watford for his eighth and final school year. A mysterious threat called the Insidious Humdrum, an entity that sucks up magic from the places in which it appears, is terrorizing the magical population of England. The old magical families are on the edge of open revolt against the Mage, who they see as having crossed a line/on a mission to rid them of all their power and influence. Simon’s roommate, Tyrannus Basilton “Baz” Grimm-Pitch, the heir to the most powerful magical family in England, has gone missing, and Simon suspects he is off scheming against the Mage (and by default Simon himself) somewhere. He attempts to enlist the help of his best friend, the talented and whip-smart Penelope “Penny” Bunce, to find Baz, but she dismisses his concerns as imaginary, a result of his years-long fixation with Baz, and insists that they should focus on researching the bigger problem, the Insidious Humdrum, instead. Meanwhile, Simon’s long-term but lukewarm relationship with his girlfriend Agatha Wellbelove, the most beautiful girl at Watford, is starting to disintegrate.

My thoughts: Before I picked up this book, I had it described to me as “Harry Potter, with extra emphasis on Harry and Draco”, or “Harry Potter fanfiction”. Carry On was probably partly inspired by Harry Potter, but calling it Harry Potter fanfiction or a parody of Harry Potter isn’t doing it justice. Rainbow Rowell, like J.K. Rowling, utilizes many Chosen One tropes and sets up her characters in the traditional roles they would play in a Chosen One-type story, but then, unlike J.K., she goes and turns all those tropes on their heads. The characters start to rebel against their storybook destinies, and the funny thing is that the other characters try to put them back on-course, with varying degrees of success.

One example is Agatha, who gets sick and tired of playing the “supportive love interest” role and tries to spend more time with Baz, whom she sees as a bad boy villain type/a way to break away from the “good girl” identity she’s been stuck with. Baz, who [SPOILERS] is actually a pretty shitty villain (because he’s not really a villain), rejects her advances because 1) he sees them as a bored good girl’s attempt to experiment/flirt with danger and 2) another reason which I shall not mention to save you from a huge spoiler. The only character who sticks to the Hermione/extremely capable female sidekick role is Penny, who I will assume is different from your typical main characters in a Chosen One-type story because she’s a non-stereotypical character of color (half Indian, half white); she and Simon actually have a brief exchange about her ethnic background and his assumptions upon meeting her.

I loved the set-up of this book. The first 7 books in the series (which don’t exist) are referenced as if we the readers actually read all 7 books and know what the characters are talking about. We haven’t, but we do know what they’re talking about because most of us are familiar with Chosen One tropes and Harry Potter. It’s similar to how Galaxy Quest gets to spend just 15 or so minutes setting up its story because most viewers are at least somewhat familiar with Star Trek and will get what it’s parodying. But then it goes off and starts to tell its own wonderful, original, immensely entertaining story. Carry On is the same way; it pokes fun at its “source material” by subtly pointing out things that are illogical (such as the magical world’s avoidance of technology) and fixing some of them, and at the same time, it gets us to care about its characters and their story, independent of the “source material”. 1/3 of the way through, I was no longer thinking of/comparing Simon, Penny, Agatha, and Baz to Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Draco, etc. and just wanted to know more about Simon and Baz’s pasts and what would happen to them by the end of the book.

Rating: 5/5. I wish[MASSIVE SPOILER] that Simon got to learn his parents’ identities the way we do, but he never does. However, it makes sense why he wouldn’t, so I can’t take off stars for it. I really hope Rainbow Rowell considers a sequel in the future.

The 4th of July With P. Pufferfish

As an American working in an American library, I have the 4th of July off, so what nice, productive things have I been doing? So far, I’ve eaten a gigantic breakfast (I usually don’t eat breakfast, so this is atypical); listened to several episodes of the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast, which is an amazing podcast, by the way (it’s run by 3 ladies who are sci-fi/fantasy/horror fans/writers discussing these genres through a feminist lens), so check it out if you haven’t yet; randomly watched half an episode of this super-dramatic Indian soap opera with my mom, who is obsessed with it; aaaaaaand I’ve sort of worked on this blog.

Feels weird to say that, ’cause for me, blogging usually just means creating a repository for the shit that’s constantly floating around in my head and then dumping said shit in there. It’s messy and unstructured and it’s never really pretty. However, now that I’m done with school and my days are more free than they’ve ever been in recent memory (I’ve spent my entire life in school, pretty much), I find my natural library student instincts taking over and wanting to impose some method of organization on my posts. Let’s see how long this lasts.

All that aside, today I’m going to be talking about this book I finished a couple days ago that’s the first in a set of 6 that I just purchased. The other 5 are sitting in my living room, staring me in the face every time I eat dinner or watch TV.

cavernofthebloodzombiescoverThe featured bookCavern of the Blood Zombies, by Xu Lei (Book #1 of The Graverobbers’ Chronicles)

Format I read it in: PRINT, because the Kindle version was ridiculously overpriced. By the way, can I just say that I am having so much trouble reading books in print now that I’ve 95% converted to digital? I don’t care what all you die-hard print fans say, it is MUCH easier to curl up with my Kindle than with a print book!

The premise: The narrator (whose name I can’t recall to save my life) is a rare book dealer (the back of the book says he’s a bookseller, but the glimpse we get into his life makes him seem more like the antique book dealers I’ve met) who’s descended from a long line of graverobbers, and when I say graverobbers, I’m not talking about small-scale graverobbers who are paid by ancient medical students to steal cadavers– I am talking legit tomb plunderers who are well-versed in history, tomb architecture, trap-breaking, etc. Anyways, at the beginning of the story, he comes across what looks like a map to a tomb that very likely contains a huge payload. So he hits up his uncle, “Uncle Three” (or Third Uncle, I’m assuming), an experienced tomb raider with a small, pre-assembled team consisting of the cowardly Big Kui, devil-may-care Panzi, and a mysterious newcomer that the narrator nicknames “Pokerface” who seems to know way, way more about supernatural forces than is healthy/normal even for a high-level graverobber. The five of them set out to the rural village near where the tomb sits and that is when ALL THIS SHIT HAPPENS. [SPOILERS] They get sold out by their cave guides, they run into corpse-eating bugs and zombies, they find out that the tomb they’re attempting to rob belongs to an ancient general who reputedly commanded armies of the living and the dead, etc. etc.

My thoughts: I thought this book was a bit campy, kind of like a B-grade adventure/horror film, and it had very serialized feel to it, but hey, it was originally uploaded in parts online, so it all makes sense! Did I enjoy it less because of this? Nope! I sped through it (it is by no means a dense book) and was very entertained throughout. I enjoyed the level of attention paid to details such as shovel styles, differences in tomb construction based on time period, types of traps laid, etc. The banter between the characters wasn’t exactly laugh-out-loud funny (although I did laugh out loud once or twice), but it was amusing and I welcomed it after the darker reading material I’ve been consuming lately.

I did wish they included footnotes/annotation, since this is a translated work, and some things do get lost in translation between eastern/western languages and cultures, no matter how good the translator is. Quick little explanatory notes, like the kind employed by anime fansubbers, would have been perfectly fine, and would’ve really added to the quality of the book. There are lots of fat jokes and the narrator makes a comment about how disgusting it would be to kiss a man in one scene; I realize this is (unfortunately) a normal thing, culturally, and wasn’t bothered by it, but I know some people who would be put off by something like this, so please note!

Overall, would I recommend this? To a particular crowd, yes. If you’re a fan of humorous horror-adventure graphic novels (or some combination thereof) you can spare a couple hours to at least read through this one book to see if you like it or not. I myself will definitely be reading the remaining 5.

Rating: 3.5/5.

And now, I return to the fireworks that have been going off all day and endless patriotic music that won’t stop playing on the radio. Until next time. Cheers.

P. Pufferfish’s new favorite fantasy novel

dragonbonechaircoverthumbnailI finished reading this book 5 days ago, and I still haven’t written a review for it ANYWHERE (on Goodreads, for the staff summer reading program at work, etc.); in the meantime, I’ve finished another book and started two more, so I told myself I had to get at least A review done before I go to bed tonight. I popped one of my super strong allergy pills about an hour ago, so I’m racing against the clock to finish this before the pill takes full effect and I fall asleep (because these things are fricken potent). Anyways!

The bookThe Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams (Book #1 of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, which I keep wanting to call the Sorrow, Misery, and Thorn trilogy; apt, but not quite right). I don’t know how I’ve gone this long without hearing about this book, considering how much sci-fi/fantasy I consume on a yearly basis. I only found out about it ’cause Amazon was offering it as a Kindle daily deal item, which is SHAMEFUL. I need to read more! This is apparently the trilogy that inspired George R.R. Martin to write A Song of Ice and Fire, which is a HUGE deal and something that I will touch upon later in my actual review.

Format I consumed it in: E-book

The premiseThe Dragonbone Chair is set in the land of Osten Ard. It starts out specifically in the Hayholt, the castle/seat of the high king, Prester John, who is dying and preparing to pass his throne on to his older son, Elias, whom he favors over his younger son Josua; according to John, Josua is too cold and removed from his subjects and would not make a good ruler. From the get-go, we get the impression that the two brothers don’t really get along (they rule lands far apart from each other and are only in the Hayholt at the same time at the beginning of the book because their father is about to pass on), although Josua tells Elias (quite honestly) that he has no intention of challenging him for the throne, which everyone believes is rightfully Elias’s.

The protagonist of the novel is neither Elias nor Josua, but rather a kitchen boy named Simon, a tall, awkward, redheaded 14-year old prone to daydreaming and fond of climbing the castle walls. He’s close to Doctor Morgenes, who’s like the Merlin of the Hayholt (doctor/alchemist/magician/etc.), and manages to get himself apprenticed to the doctor within the first few chapters. Alas, being a magician’s apprentice is nothing like what he’d imagined, and he spends a lot of time avoiding work and climbing/jumping around the walls, which results in him being in the right place at the right time more than once, and THIS is where the story TRULY begins, one year into Elias’s rule, when the tourneys and parties have started to lose their luster, a drought and a plague have caused great suffering outside the castle walls that’s being largely ignored by those within them, and Josua has mysteriously disappeared without any warning. Without any further spoilers, I move onto

My thoughts (which usually contain some minor spoilers): I read many reviews that complained about this book being too slow and having plot inconsistencies. I will admit, Tad Williams really takes his time moving the plot along, but I didn’t have a problem with it at all. It reminds me of the old King’s Quest games, where you spent hours doing chores and just going about your day, with tiny breaks in-between to eavesdrop and steal items to aid in your future escape or whatnot. You WILL be stuck following Simon around as he tends to his chores (or finds ways to get away with half-assing them), plays at being knights with his friends, serves important people at parties, etc., and nothing big actually happens up until the moment I mentioned earlier (where the story TRULY begins!), and then all the things start happening at once, piling one on top of the other, and gone are the days of sunshine and peacefully hanging around the castle grounds. Like I said before, pace was not a problem for me.

I would also like to, once more, bring up the George R.R. Martin thing, because you definitely start to see similarities pretty early on– even the scenes with Simon jumping from one wall to another to get to a high window reminded me of Bran scaling the castle towers for fun. Williams and Martin both use multiple POV-characters (although it’s obvious from TDC who the main character of MSaT is, whereas in ASoIaF, there’s more of an ensemble feel and nobody’s safe), they both include incredible amounts of detail when talking about minor characters’ houses and histories, and so on, so forth.

I didn’t spot any glaring continuity errors when I was reading, so I can’t say I was bothered by those, either. My biggest problem with the book was actually the portrayal of the two brothers, Elias and Josua, and their crumbling relationship/the reasoning behind it. [SPOILERS] Perhaps after they delve even further into the backstory, I’ll get it, but I thought the big reveal about Elias’s wife’s death (which he blames Josua for, even though Josua fought his hardest to keep her alive and even lost his hand for it) was sort of anticlimactic. I think I have a problem with the depiction of Josua’s character, period. Normally, I’d love his type: serious, cold, blunt, fiercely loyal, honorable to a fault– basically Ned Stark, but younger and more tortured (literally), but at the moment, he seems sort of like a caricature in comparison to Simon, Doctor Morgenes, Princess Miriamele, Binabik, and even minor characters like the musician Sangfugol, who barely even has any “screen time”! Elias isn’t quite that fleshed out, either, but I’m just going to assume that’s the result of a combination of lack of screen time and his shady dealings with dark magic. I want so badly to root for Josua, but I need a reason other than “he’s a good guy!” Also, what is with his relationship with Vorzheva? I hope she gets more stuff to do in the second book, because right now, she’s kind of just an extra, unnecessary accessory for Josua, and I just don’t see the point of her.

There are some female characters with real potential in this book, such as Miriamele and Maegwyn, the daughter of King Lluth. Williams seems to be setting them up for greatness, but this series did come out in the 80s, which is a bit before my time, so I don’t know how much hope I have on that front. HOWEVER! Problems aside, I actually think I like this book more than Game of Thrones (I missed having favorite characters that don’t get killed off) I already started the second book, Stone of Farewell, and the plot is moving fast with that one! Still, I really, really want Williams to get on Martin’s level when it comes to filling in characters’ backstories (I do not feel the same anticipation when it comes to learning about the Elias-Hylissa-Josua triangle as I did about the Robert-Lyanna-Rhaegar triangle) and getting the readers hyped up about them.

Rating: 5/5. I simply enjoyed it too much to give it any less.

The return of P. Pufferfish

knifeofneverlettinggoI had the day off for the first time in a long time today, so I spent the past 2 hours watching booktube videos and reading book reviews, which reminded me that I haven’t been on here in a while. Now that I’m finally done with grad school, I don’t really have an excuse any longer, except for but Summer Reading (capitalized) is going on at the library and so I’ve been living at work and I’m so so busy! And but I still have projects and deadlines to meet and job applications are time-consuming and what about the actual reading of books?! I can come up with excuses for anything. So there’s nothing to do but shove them aside and just write. Type. Whatever.

Today’s featured bookThe Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness (the guy who wrote that book that just got made into a movie… is getting made into a movie? I follow him on Twitter and he seems pretty cool)

Format I consumed it in: Audiobook. This is important, because apparently, in the print/e-book versions, there are misspellings everywhere to reflect the narrator’s lack of proper education. I didn’t know that until I was done, since I was only listening. I did get to hear it read in what, to me, sounded like a stereotypical country accent, though.

The premise: Todd Hewitt(? See, the problem with listening to a book is that you have no idea how characters’ names are spelled) is a 12-year-old boy living in Prentisstown, a small settlement on a different planet whose population consists of 100+ men. There are no women around because the women were wiped out during a plague that left all the men alive, but stuck with an affliction called the “Noise”, which makes all their thoughts visible/audible to those around them. There is no privacy, and yet there are still shady goings-on around town (the mayor, Prentiss, holds weird cult gatherings in his house). One day, Todd stumbles upon a swamp on the outskirts of town that throws him for a loop because it’s completely silent. Right after this discovery, he is attacked by Aaron, the town preacher, who reminds me of Father Knoth from Outlast 2. He heads home through the town, trying to suppress his thoughts about the Silence, but later on that day, the mayor’s son, Mr. Prentiss Jr. (*snort*), the town sheriff, pays Todd and his adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, a visit. Then things REALLY go downhill.

My thoughts: I did not like this book. In fact, I hated it for the first 5 or so discs. I moaned and groaned my way through those 5+ hours and couldn’t stop hearing “Tooodd Heeewitt” and “bwoooyyy” in those drawn-out southern syllables when I was doing other things. Don’t get me wrong– I thought the reader did a good job. The accent was not the problem. I just couldn’t stand Todd as a character. At first, I told myself, He’s 12! Give him a break! But Lyra from The Golden Compass was 12, too, and she wasn’t an idiot like Todd is.

Later on, our “hero” [SPOILERS] runs into a girl named Viola, whose scouting ship has crash-landed on the planet. She informs him that the 13-month calendar Prentisstown has been using is “wrong” and, according to the real calendar, he’s actually already past 14. I was reading another book, The Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams, at the same time, and the protagonist in there is also 14. He, like Todd, is obnoxious in that 14-year-old boy way, but he’s nowhere near as annoying as Todd. He listens and he learns. That was actually my main gripe with this character: I just couldn’t get over how he didn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. I felt horrible for Viola, who is obviously the intelligent one out of the two of them– she had to deal with his idiocy for the entire journey! I managed to hate-read (hate-listen?) my way through disc 6, which is when [BIG SPOILER] Todd gets stabbed, after which he is suddenly noticeably (and probably intentionally, on the author’s part) less annoying! I don’t think I should have to wait for the protagonist to get stabbed 3/5 of the way through the book before I can finally stomach the story without wanting to throw the case out the window.

Does this mean I am not going to be reading the sequel? Unfortunately, book 1 ends [HUGE SPOILER] in a cliffhanger, with a character’s life hanging in the balance, and I have to know what happens to this particular character, so I *SIGHHHHHH* will be back. I’ll hate-read my way through the rest of the trilogy, but I will be finishing it.

Verdict: 2/5 stars. I forgot to mention that I watched a walkthrough for Outlast 2 about a week before I started The Knife of Never Letting Go, and seeing the same backwards small town religious fanaticism sexism butchery thing presented in the form of a children’s book (although at the library where I work, it’s in the Teen section) was a bit alarming. I also hate cults and generally don’t enjoy consuming media that features cults or cult-esque groups (even though they’re being portrayed in a negative light), SOOOOO… I might be biased (fyi, I didn’t think about this till now).

Until next time. Cheers.

In which P. Pufferfish gushes about a series which she previously spurned.

cityofbonescover

The cover that almost stopped me from reading this book

I was going to talk about The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, or The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher, today, since I just finished them this week, but I have a talk/discussion on Tuesday with my library book club, so I’m going to wait till then to talk about The Sellout. In the meantime, I’m going to discuss a book trilogy that I read last month, but haven’t gotten around to talking about at all because of life and other distractions.

It’s… The Mortal Instruments (the first three books), by Cassandra Clare! Yes, groan and complain all you want– I know it’s been reviewed and talked about to death by every YA book blogger and booktuber, but after spending a day going down the rabbithole of booktube videos (prior to this week, I’d only ever watched one booktube video, but four days ago, I started watching one girl’s channel and then kept going), I’ve noticed that most of the reviews are about how amazing the books were and how everybody loves the dudes and the relationships, without really giving any details/reasons as to HOW they were amazing or why the dudes and the relationships are so great.

I’m going to backtrack a little: I’m new to YA. I only started reading YA novels last year, so I’ve read a grand total of about ten, give or take a few. I do remember one of my closest friends handing me City of Bones in a Barnes and Noble when we were about eighteen and gushing about how great it was, me standing there reading the first chapter or two, and then putting it back on the shelf and asking her, “Pandemonium? Really? And there’s a gleaming chest on the cover! What the hell?” I’d recently read the first few chapters of Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz (I THINK that’s the title, anyway) a few months before that, and that book also started with the main character standing in line to get into a nightclub. I was equally unimpressed by that book, obviously, so the annoyingly familiar set-up convinced me City of Bones wasn’t worth my time. Plus, I was going through a phase where I read a lot of “finding yourself” novels like Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name (which is still one of my favorite books, btw). Clearly, this wasn’t going to cut it.

Fast-forward back to the present, and I’m stuck eating my words plain, no ketchup allowed, because lo and behold!– I devoured that gleaming chest-book, I am now a fan of The Mortal Instruments, I read Clockwork Angel and enjoyed that as well, and I just know I’m going to read my way through all the Shadowhunter-related books sooner or later. Oh, my. My friend who originally recommended the book to me has since lost her enthusiasm towards the series, and recently warned me not to read past the third book (in fact, she said I could get away with reading only the first two and not miss out on much, but I disagree with that, because who only reads 2/3 of a trilogy?!). “I read all six only for Magnus and Alec! They are the only saaving grace!” she said. My sister also refuses to read past City of Glass because she doesn’t want her “perfect ending” ruined. Unfortunately, I read the preview for City of Fallen Angels that was at the end of CoG and now I’m curious. What the hell’s up with that love triangle involving Simon, though? Just what I need– another love triangle in a YA series that already (arguably) had more than one.

That aside, I would recommend this trilogy (I’m going to refer to TMI‘s first three books as a trilogy) to fans of the supernatural and urban fantasy genres; it’s set in New York and revolves around a group of people called shadowhunters who hunt demons. Cassandra Clare’s world-building, while not extensive or anything, is developed and explained well enough that I found it totally believable for this secret, worldwide network of warriors to exist behind-the-scenes, fighting off demons and other threats using archaic weapons and runes drawn on their skin. Clary Frey, the protagonist and POV character, grew up in the “mundane” world (the ordinary human/muggle world that the rest of us are part of), but gets drawn into the politics and conflicts of the world of the shadowhunters because of her mother’s ties to it (which she isn’t aware of at the beginning of the series). In typical “book with a secret organization” style, we get to know the shadowhunters, their traditions, history, methods of operations, beliefs, narrow-mindedness, racism, etc. through her eyes. The shadowhunters, as another very important character notes, are a dying race, but as the story progresses, we realize, along with Clary, that they don’t have to be so long as they can adapt to the fast-changing times instead of stubbornly doing things the way they’ve always done. There’s definitely a generation gap thing going on with the young vs old characters (with a few exceptions); very relatable, imo, especially now that I’m older (but still young enough) and have found myself in similar situations quite frequently as of late.

So let’s talk a bit about the characters. I personally like Clary and didn’t find her annoying, which was a huge relief, because I find so many YA heroines to be unbearably annoying. There are moments, especially in the third book, where I wanted to join some of the other characters in yelling at her for being reckless and stupid, but hey, which protagonist doesn’t do at least one stupid thing in a series? I thought her accomplishments outweighed her transgressions, so I give her a B+ as a protagonist. The main dude, Jace Wayland, aka he who everyone swoons over in reviews, is my favorite character because he is HILARIOUS. I laughed out loud at some of his lines– I honestly didn’t expect for him to be that funny, because I’m used to the lead male in a YA series being more like Edward Cullen (UGH, don’t get me started) or the dude from Fault In Our Stars. Even while brooding and being angsty, Jace’s sense of humor doesn’t really waver, and I appreciate that about him so much. Another character with some funny lines is Simon, Clary’s mundane best friend who is (*dramatic gasp*) in love with her. Unfortunately, Simon is like Mal from the Grisha Trilogy (but funnier), so his existence and actions are almost entirely dependent on Clary. Then there are the Lightwood siblings (aka the only other young shadowhunters in the New York Institute), Alec and Izzy. I adore Izzy– I love how confident and bad-ass she is. She’s beautiful and aware of it, and nothing really gets to her; she just shakes it off and keeps going, the one truly stable character in a cast of sometimes irritatingly unpredictable and angsty people. Alec, as most of us know, is one half of Malec, the famous ship that compelled my friend to read three whole books that she didn’t want to read. I find him endearing, but also kind of annoying at the same time. He’s beautiful like Izzy, but shy, insecure, cautious, gay-but-closeted– very much a product of his upbringing. He takes a long time to warm up to Clary, he talks down to Simon, and I honestly didn’t get why Magnus was so enthralled by him in the first book (although I strongly suspect it was initially a purely physical thing), but good news: there is character development in the works here! He IS only eighteen, and considering when this book came out, his fear of being outed makes a lot of sense. I grew up in the dark ages, i.e. I’m the same age as Alec, if we stick to book timelines/dates, and I remember LGBTQ acquaintances in high school behaving the same way he did. There was this sense of uncertainty when it came to how people would react, and people like me, who supported them, would show that support by treating the subject of sexuality as if it were a non-subject (yikes), and kind of not talking about it to be polite/show that we were cool with it. It’s hard enough being an awkward teen without having to deal with that shit on top of everything. But yes, Alec is one of the few characters who does change as the series continues, so I was cool with him by the time I finished CoG. Which brings us to the other half of the Malec ship, Magnus Bane. Magnus isn’t really a part of the quintet, because he is Alec’s cool older “boyfriend”/more of a consultant figure that shows up from time to time, but he’s a scene stealer and can give Jace and Izzy a run for their money when it comes to standing out in a crowded room. He’s funny, sexy, and very intelligent. He’s also an immortal warlock, and this here’s my favorite thing– it’s not just mentioned once and then brushed off, it’s actually an essential part of his character. One of my biggest problems with immortal characters, particularly immortal love interests, is that they usually behave exactly like the other, actual young adults around them, but have the label of “200 years of age” or whatever attached to them, and then it’s all illogical and doesn’t make sense. Stefan from The Vampire Diaries TV show is like this (and I am a TVD fan), and so is Edward Cullen. They’re dudes who seem to have been hanging out, not doing much, biding their time for years upon years upon years until their love interests show up– it’s as if their lives have been in stagnation all this time. Not so with Magnus! This is a guy who’s been very busy for the past couple of centuries, sort of like Lestat from Interview With The Vampire. I swear, The Vampire Chronicles have ruined me for all other series featuring immortality– nobody has been able to capture the complicated nature of it quite like Anne Rice did. I think Cassandra Clare has managed to dig past the surface, but she’s still not there yet.

In terms of plot/writing/pace, City of Bones felt like a first novel– some of the dialogue and narration was a bit awkward and/or repetitive, especially Clary’s responses to things. The pacing worked, though, despite Cassandra Clare choosing to tell rather than show us a good chunk of the book. The characters were much more likeable in City of Ashes, thanks to the developments in CoB, and there were some classic humorous scenes, but I was so bothered/turned off by the borderline not-incest-incest that I didn’t enjoy it as much (it also took up like thirty pages or something throughout, so I couldn’t just ignore it). City of Glass is probably the best of the three– the villains are great, the way the book is split up (multiple narrators, parts, etc.) worked well, and all the characters play important parts in the way events unfold. I did think the final battle was a bit rushed, but things were resolved in such a logical way that I can’t really complain about it. Overall, I would give the trilogy combined 3.75/5 stars, because I liked it a lot (going by Goodreads’s ratings system), but it did have its problems, which make me hesitate to give it a full 4 stars.

P.S. I do not watch Shadowhunters, the show, because I tried watching one episode and couldn’t get past the bad special effects and the weird way the scenes are filmed/paced. It’s a pity, because it looks great from the gifsets I keep seeing on Tumblr. I’m also one of those annoying book purists, so it really bothers me that they made so many changes (like introducing technology to the institute WTF….).  The City of Bones movie’s pacing/line delivery is much better, but I prefer Katherine McNamara as Clary, Matthew Daddario as Alec, and Emeraude Tobia as Izzy, so it’s books and imagination only for meeee…

In which P. Pufferfish discusses Romance and the Chosen One trope in Siege and Storm

siegeandstormcoverI never thought I’d say this, but I finally managed to slog through Siege and Storm (thanks, Spring Break!) after two weeks. No offense to Leigh Bardugo or anything, but the Grisha Trilogy just doesn’t have the same oomph that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom do. They’re all pretty dark books, but the casts are very different in how they handle all the darkness and the shit they’re forced to deal with. Quick summary time (spoilers abound!).

The book: Siege and Storm (book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy, by the amazing and talented Leigh Bardugo)

The genre: Fantasy, YA

What it’s about: I’m going to assume anyone who happens to be looking at this has read Shadow and Bone already, sooooo… this book started off slow for me. Alina and Mal are on the run, working the equivalent of a migrant farm labor job to pay for a bed (singular) in a room in a shady boarding house. I forgot that they’re about seventeen years old, so I kept rolling my eyes and wondering how the hell they thought they could just run away from their problems and attempt to live a peaceful life in a foreign country when Ravka’s conflicts are just going to bleed over the border sooner or later. Anyways, since it’s from Alina’s POV, there’s a lot of musing about Mal and his good looks and his loyalty, and then the Darkling shows up and captures them again, taking them aboard a ship he’s commissioned for the voyage home. He uses Alina and Mal against each other, forcing them to do things ’cause “if not, I’ll destroy her face!” or “I’ll throw him overboard!” Typical threats like that.

I should mention that here, things get a bit more interesting, because they introduce a new character, the notorious Sturmhond, privateer and captain of the ship they’re all on. Sturmhond is all about the money, but that’s okay, ’cause he also seems to have morals and a sense of honor (of sorts). So without any further spoilers, the rest of the book involves hunting legendary creatures, war plans, behind-the-scenes battles for the Ravkan throne, the overturning of traditions and convention, fanaticism, etc. “But wait!” you say, “This totally sounds like your kind of book, P!” It does, and in a way, it still is my kind of book, but there’s the glaring issue of

The romance: There is a lot of romance in this book. It’s not in the background, like it is in Six of Crows. It’s very in-your-face, and unfortunately, it’s kind of interwoven with the plot, as in, if this romance did not exist, I don’t think events would play out the way they do. This is also the reason I took so long getting through the damn thing, ’cause Mal and Alina are so meh as a couple. They don’t have much chemistry. When I was reading Shadow and Bone, I kept hoping Mal would get with Zoya and Alina would get with the Darkling, but of course the Darkling turned out to be pure evil and no longer a romantic possibility (*siiiggghhh*). It sucks, ’cause Leigh Bardugo wrote so much chemistry into the Alina-Darkling “relationship” that now everything else pales in comparison. Even her strange not-really-romance with the other male character that plays a prominent role in this book (I wonder who?) doesn’t work– I personally prefer the two of them as friends/a power duo in a professional sense, so I hope she doesn’t go down that path in the third book.

Towards the last twenty or so pages, though, I did start reevaluating my stance on the Alina/Mal romance. I wonder if the reason why I don’t ship them is because I’m so used to the Chosen One character (in this case, Alina, obv) being destined for a greater romance than just her childhood best friend. You all recognize the familiar fantasy tropes, right? Usually, it involves a male Chosen One who more often than not does show interest in one of the village girls (a laundress or something– pretty, kind, would make a good wife) and then has to leave his old life behind to go on his quest/fulfill his destiny/save the world, and along the way, he meets somebody else, somebody more “worthy” (a duchess! A princess! A sorceress!), and everyone knows he’ll end up with that person in the end because halfway through the book, he’s no longer the poor, insignificant village boy he was at the beginning. Mal is by no means an ordinary person himself (he’s extraordinarily gifted and would probably have risen pretty high in the ranks if Alina and her destiny hadn’t gotten in the way), but he’s no Grisha lord or prince. And both Alina and Mal realize this. It comes up a lot in their arguments. They spend the first half of this trilogy fighting against the roles they’re expected to play in a traditional Chosen One fantasy story arc. It would really be something if they managed it. Huh. Perhaps I can get behind this pairing after all. More on that in the review for book 3.

Overall, would I recommend this? Uh, considering that it’s the second book in a trilogy (which was off to a great start!) and ends in a cliffhanger, yes, I think you have to read it, if only to know what happens to everyone. Also, one word: NIKOLAI. Read it for him, if anything.