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November 22, 2002

Narcissus in Chains by Laurell K. Hamilton

Narcissus in Chains is the latest (until Cerulean Sins comes out) Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter book. I waited to buy it in paperback, if you know what that means.

Now that I've been completely weaned from even re-reading the pablum of Lackey's Valdemar series, I have replaced my "candy reading" with the Anita Blake series. It's sexy soap-opera splatterpunk, with less and less redeeming value in each addition to the series. Which isn't to say that I'll not be picking all of them up... just that I'm aware it's not mind-broadening work.

On the other hand, I realize there are people who read for entertainment, so I'll try to accept that as a potential. Me, I'm constantly trying to do something with what I've read, either work it into a project (usually gaming) or, well, something else. (Yes, I'm thinking pornography. Just once every seven seconds or so.)

Erm. Anyway.

So, in this latest installment, Anita discovers (as soon as she stops fighting it) that she's picked up some of the abilities and drawbacks of both her magically-superglued partners. The majority of the book is spent in sexually-charged situations, but the violence counterpart is still well represented. The main storyline suffers significantly to the intercharacter politics, making the inevitable climax unfulfilling.

It's hard not to describe Anita Blake books except in sexual metaphors, and that may be why my interest is waning. See, before with Anita, the relationship was charged. It had "maybe she would, maybe she wouldn't" in it. She had personal grit and that grit opened the world to her, not any powers she might have had (and using her powers usually came at a significant cost.) Personal grit is attractive. Assertive women can be sexy. This book showed that her vulnerabilities, however, are overwhelming the aspects that attracted me. After Blue Moon the seduction is over, and now the excitement is gone as she is swallowed by the dark forces.

Some of the conflicts are resolved, but others are developed in the continuing storyline. Frankly, it's hard to say if Hamilton took the "easy way out" or if she's just complicating things to the point that it'll be very hard to work new (or lapsed) readers into the romantic plot. While the BDSM community is being better represented, as well as a bit of the genderbending one, so that's a positive. On the other hand, there are scenes that certainly qualify as pornographic in this one. (Down to copious amounts of male reproductive fluids, I must admit. It takes the phrase, "She certainly shows some spunk!" to a whole new level.)

With that image left sticky in your mind, I'm going to say that to its credit it does develop some new information on the lycanthropes, as well as setting the stage for more on vampiric politics. While it's still leaving us wanting on that level, this book fails to satiate.

Posted by Meera at 12:23 PM

"Mordant's Need" series by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through make up this series by the fellow who apparently wrote a fairly controversial series ("Thomas Covenant") my husband has told me I shouldn't read.

I was able to fit these two books in my severely overstuffed suitcase on the way back from ACNW, where I received them (and some other books I'll be reviewing later) as a gift from the lovely Louisa and not-so-shy Sean. [grin] The Kitten was hoping to run an Imager as described in the series in one of my sillier convention games ("The Devil's Playground") and I had no experience with the books until afterwards. Louisa's clever breakdown and description of the powers was invaluable in truly comprehending some of the more pertinent limitations and concerns I didn't quite understand from the story itself.

First things first, I spent most of the first book wanting to scream at the protagonist. It wasn't really her fault, I suppose, that she had less motivation than Merlin in the second Amber series. She was enough of a non-person that I had to look up her name a day after having finished the series. Anything she seems to accomplish seems done purely out of reaction, rather than purpose.

Now, truthfully, it does lend a certain definition to her character, but not one which interests me as a reader. Yes, I understand the metaphor between Dorothy's grey Kansas, and the colours of Oz, and yes, adventure tempers you into something else. I understand that...but it's hard to watch someone you suppose is fairly intelligent (if underapplied) simply go through life as if in a dream.

It's even worse when you figure in the slimy antagonist, a fellow who is seemingly irresistable to women (of course) bringing a needless level of intimacy into the story. The suggestion of rape, along with the lack of willpower associated with the protagonist makes for an unpleasant and unnecessary sideplot. Frankly, as stereotypical as it is, it made me very aware that the author wasn't writing as a woman. You didn't get the feeling that Terisa (I looked her name up on Amazon) was helpless because of her past, or her emotions, or even her expectations of womanhood (which would have fit her background), you get the idea that she was so out of touch with reality that her naivete allowed the situation to develop...and that makes the ending even less believable on a character-study basis.

I'm getting ahead of myself. The story is fairly in-depth. I wouldn't call it epic, but it's certainly solid. There's magic, war, love, family, and checkers. I have a very hard time justifying the train-of-logic the author suggests is in place for the reasoning behind the actions of certain characters. I suspect it is a plastic train with a rubber squeaky top and an alignment that leans it towards the left. At the same time, while I did not entirely understand the personal vehemence the antagonists held towards the protagonists, I did get a fairly comprehensive view of the action (which was fairly sensible and well described.)

The characterization (with the exception of Terisa and her main antagonist) is fairly consistent, and several come across as rather genuine and were a pleasure to read. Overall, the right people die, the story is fairly engaging, the dialogue is adequate, but the main characters make me grit my teeth.

Posted by Meera at 10:22 AM

November 21, 2002

Devlin's Luck by Patricia Bray

Devlin's Luck by Patricia Bray. It's apparently the first book in the anticipated (by someone, I suppose) "Sword of Change" series.

From the "anticipated by someone," comment you're probably thinking, "she didn't like this book." Honestly, it's rarely that simple. While there are definitely books I simply do not like (Jennifer Roberson's Lady of Sherwood and Holly Lisle's Minerva Wakes come immediately to mind, as does the soothing memory of my throwing them down the stairs repeatedly) generally I try to find something redeeming about a book. I hate the thought that I would have just completely wasted my time, short though it might be.

The truth is, the book simply breaks absolutely no new ground. The writing style is decent. Heck, given some of the books I've been reading lately, I would consider it fairly solid. The problem is, I read through the entire book thinking, "Um, yeah...and so?" There's a couple of nice resolutions, but it doesn't surprise you. The moral solutions are fairly transparent, and I kept getting the nagging feeling that I had read this book before, just in about a dozen other fantasy selections.

Honestly, it started out with kind of an anti-hero set-up. It has a fairly obvious cultural map of the protagonist being from a seemingly agrarian celtic-style area against the bureaucratic aspects of the conquering civilization. (Country mouse and city mouse, with country mouse's ways having more merit...again, you've read the story.) I had hoped when the protagonist asked for the blessing directed by the somewhat suspicious god of luck that that would have more of an impact on the story, but if it did, it was too subtle. While the first adventure had aspects that were disturbing, the second and third didn't even dent the mold. By the conclusion, you know the protagonist has turned around and while he started by looking at the end, he's starting to look towards the future.

Now to talk about the good parts, there's no ubiquitous romance. The fellow mourns his wife, and he doesn't go out to replace her, nor is there really anything but a moment or two of potential flirting between anyone else in the story. The hints of politics have some promise. The feminist angle is covered nicely as there's nothing that seems to say women don't have equal roles with men, including (especially) in the martial arena. Characters are developed according to their importance in the plot, and you get a fairly good sense of who is who. The workings of magic are fairly obscure (as they should be to a non-mage type) although there is a reference to "levels" and hints of a sorcerous enemy. It's a fairly compact read.

On the other hand, my overall impression is, "Unless you're a real fan of the genre, it's nothing you need to pick up or borrow."

Posted by Meera at 2:59 PM | Comments (2)