Book Review: Wyrd Sisters

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This week’s book is Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett.

What happens when you leave Terry Pratchett alone in a room with Macbeth and Hamlet? You get the Wyrd Sisters. Usurpers, lost heirs, a theater troop, and, of course, a coven of witches.

As the title suggests, the witches, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Margrat, are the stars of the story. Granny Weatherwax is making her second appearance here, and brings with her Pratchett’s concept of “headology”, which largely comes down to that if you insist that things work a certain way, most people will believe you, and if you’re stubborn enough about it, you can usually bully the universe into agreeing with you, too. Margrat is Pratchett’s usual “awkwardly normal-looking, even in the right light” heroine, and parodies the new age witches. Granny Ogg is… well, an old woman who likes to sing about hedgehogs when drunk.

I’ve read a fair share of Discworld books, and this is certainly one of them. It’s funny and clever, but never amazingly so. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t get into it the way I did some of the others. If you enjoy Discworld, this book is certainly worth reading, but if you’re limiting yourself to the “Best Of”, there are probably better candidates than this one.

Book Review: Children of the Dawnland

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This week’s book is Children of the Dawnland by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Micheal Gear.

Children of the Dawnland is a middle-grade book that takes place at the end of the ice age. It stars a young girl named Twig, who’s her tribes newest Spirit Dreamer.

First and foremost, I need to talk about the setting. The introduction makes it quite clear that the authors (both archaeologists) have studied the Paleo-Indian tribes, and this is their thoughts on what it might have been like for the Clovis tribes during their last few days.

A heavy focus is put on spirits. Everything has a soul attributed to it in some way. They talk about the Cloud People and the Star Tribes. The glaciers are the Ice Giants. The first chapter is even told from the point of view of a tern. The writing never dwells on it, it merely presents this as a matter of fact, and that helps sell the setting. I never really felt myself looking down at their primitive beliefs. Instead, I accepted that this was the easiest way for them to understand how the world worked.

In contrast to the setting, the characters are a little flat. Twig wants to learn to be a Spirit Dreamer. Her best friend, Greyhawk, is a coward, but brave when it really counts. They’re not bad characters – Twig is easy to relate to, and there’s a certain gratitude whenever you see Greyhawk’s inner bravery peak through, but there’s just not all that much depth to them.

The conflict is twofold. First, there’s the Thornback Tribe, that’s been raiding other villages. And there’s Twig’s dream of the Star Tribes attacking them, which is complicated by the fact that Twig’s mother, the tribe’s current Spirit Dreamer, doesn’t really want her daughter to be one. Twig’s conflict between her desire to be a Spirit Dreamer and her loyalty to her mother add some touches of depth to Twig, and I would have liked to see a bigger focus on that side of things. The Thornback Tribe… I’m not sure how necessary they were. For the most part, they’re an off-screen menace, mostly serving as something to distract the elders. They only really make a solid appearance near the end of the book, and I wonder if that time might have been better spent on Twig’s spirit journey.

Despite these flaws, the book is very enjoyable. It’s easy to read, even when dealing with the symbolic spirit world. The Gears love for the time period shows through in their writing. But this is also their first children’s book, and I think that shows, too. I’m interested in reading some of their adult books and seeing how they measure up. I wouldn’t rush out to buy this book, but if you’ve got older kids looking for something new and different, or if you have an interest in the Ice Age, this book is worth looking into.

 

Book Review: King of the Middle March

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King of the Middle Marchby Kevin Crossley-Holland is the final book in the Arthur Trilogy.

This book continues the tradition of the short chapters as Arthur takes up the cross. Unlike the other books which are side by side, there’s a year-long gap between At the Crossing Places and King of the Middle March, which is slightly jarring at first.

This book is darker than the others, both in what happens to Arthur as well as the events in the Seeing Stone. Anyone familiar with Arthurian Legend won’t really be surprised by the events in the Seeing Stone, as King Arthur’s dream falls to pieces, as a result of both Guenevere’s affair and the machinations of Mordred.

But, as before, the events in the stone are primarily a reflection of the other Arthur’s experiences, and more central here than ever before. Arthur joins the crusade with fairly romantic ideals, but he also suffers some confliction at the same time. In the earlier books, Arthur had received mixed messages about how horrible the Saracens are, and this is only heightened as they begin to mobilize. Over the course of this book he sees good Saracens and bad Christians. He sees rape, theft, and murder. He struggles more and more to find the right thing to do, even questioning if there is a right thing.

Kevin does a good job getting across Arthur’s confusing and mounting hopelessness. Arthur feels very real, and that makes this a satisfying conclusion to the series.

One small qualm I had was that the resolution with Arthur’s mother (I won’t go into any further detail to avoid spoilers) is a bit anti-climactic. It’s built up a lot in the second book, but the third just doesn’t really manage to deliver much on it.

All in all a good finish to an enjoyable series. If you’ve read the first two, there’s no reason not to pick up King of the Middle March.

Book Review: At the Crossing Places

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This week’s book is At the Crossing Places by Kevin Crossley-Holland. It’s the sequel to The Seeing Stone

There’s not much I can say about the plot without giving too much away about the first book. Arthur has to learn to deal with the revelations from the end of the first book. As the title suggests, this is a very transitory stage in Arthur’s life, even more than usual for a coming of age story.

The story’s level of focus both increases and decreases. Arthur’s story meanders less than it did before. He has an important goal now to focus on, and a few slightly smaller goals as well. But the chapters that take place in the seeing stone have changed format a bit. Arthur-in-the-stone has become an adult, while Arthur is still a child. The story stops following King Arthur directly, spending much more time on his knights and their famous quests. The book suggests that the parallels between what happens in the stone and what happens in Arthur’s life are still there, but with a few exceptions, they’re much more subtle, and I have a feeling I missed more than I noticed.

I enjoyed this book more than the first one, I think, largely due to Arthur’s increased focus. If you didn’t enjoy the first book, though, I wouldn’t recommend the sequel.

Book Review: The Seeing Stone

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This week’s book is The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, the first book in the Arthur Trilogy

The Seeing Stone stars a young page named Arthur, who both is and is not King Arthur. Merlin gives him an obsidian stone that let’s him watch the lives of another boy named Arthur who lived two hundred years ago.

The book is a slice of life story. Arthur has to deal with things like his older brother’s insults, getting in trouble for helping the field-hands, and his general desire to find his place in the world. In the mean time, there is odd parallels with what he sees in the seeing stone, sometimes very similar events and sometimes quite opposite ones.

The story itself is a bit erratic. It’s not that it doesn’t know where it’s going, it’s just not in any hurry to get there. It’s split into one hundred chapters, some of which are only a page long (and some of them even shorter).

This defines Arthur’s character, though. At thirteen, he’s a bit unfocused himself. He longs to be a squire, but his father seems to have some hidden plans for him. He want to be betrothed to his cousin, but he also has a deep relationship with Gatty, one of the field-hands. This dichotomy of youthful spirit helps make Arthur seem real.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, but I can’t recommend it for everybody. The flitting style of the book might be offsetting to some. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to pick up the book and read a few chapters to determine if you’ll like the rest or not.

Book Review: The Hunger Games

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As I’ve mentioned, one of my resolutions is to read, on average, one book a week. As an extension of that, I’ll be writing short reviews of each book I read. So come back each Monday to get my latest opinions on the books I’ve read.

For my first review, I’ll be covering the entire Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins.

First up is Hunger Games, and I cannot recommend this book enough. It stars Katniss Everdeen, as she is selected to be a contender in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a brutal blood sport, put on by the Capitol to keep the twelve districts in line. Each district sends one teenage boy and girl to compete in a fight to the death. Twenty-four kids enter. One kid leaves.

However, this isn’t just some mindless bloodbath. In truth, the story is not any more violent than it has to be, and doesn’t linger on gore. We see, from Katniss’s eyes, what this dystopian future is like, from the starving coal-miners of District 12 to the extravagant citizenry of the Capital. Suzanne Collins didn’t just create a bare-bones world to hold the Hunger Games in, but a rich detailed setting that stands on its own.

Katniss is an interesting character. She’s self-reliant and mistrusting, but at the same time she has a low sense of self-worth, putting the needs of her family far over her own. The book is well-written, and while Katniss has plenty to complain about, she never comes across as whiny.

What really got me was how the book handled the romantic aspects. I can’t go into to great a detail without giving too much away, but it’s very unique. In a book like this, it would be easy to end up with a romance that felt trite or tacked on, but Suzanne Collins creates a complicated, believable situation that ties in to the surrounding story.

So pick up Hunger Games, you won’t regret it.

I’m going to group the last two books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, as one, because, like many trilogies, the second act is just builds into the third. It’s difficult to go into detail about the plot without spoiling the first book, but the world and the politics of the first book are greatly expanded.

It’s a little weird to say this, but the last two installments have a darker tone than the first book. Suzanne Collins does not pull her punches, and it’s apparent fairly early on that our heroes won’t emerge from this without losses. While Hunger Games leaves you wondering how Katniss will survive, Catching Fire and Mockingjay change the question to “How much will it cost?”

Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy these quite as much as the first one. They were still great books, mind you, but they weren’t without their flaws. The books keep pushing you from one intense moment to the next, and rarely give you breathing room. The end result is that you can sometimes get a bit exhausted from them.  The pacing is a bit fast at times, as well, although this may be due more to the limited point of view than anything else.

Still, these are relatively small problems in otherwise fantastic books. I highly recommend you pick up the entire trilogy.