Friday, December 23, 2005

The Kissing Blades by Jessica Hall

Having now finished the White Tiger trilogy with The Kissing Blades, I understand better how Jessica Hall (A.K.A. Sheila Kelly) writes her romances and why I enjoy them. She writes almost a Russian novel with numerous people coming in and becoming part of a complex story that, while sharing elements with an intrigue romance, is more of a big family than terror and tension. Yes, tension happens, lives are at stake, people betray and make mistakes both of the heart and of loyalties but what sticks with me are the people.

This book brought to a romantic conclusion the story of one man who caught my attention from the very beginning and yet never seemed destined for a happy ending. Every time he came close, even in his friendships much less a romantic relationship, something went horribly wrong, leaving him a drunk who only wanted to vanish from view. It wouldn't have mattered if he was less likeable, if Sean Delaney was uninteresting, rude, boorish or anything to make him less of the man that he has been in book after book. Of all the characters in the trilogy, he seems the most abused, the most left with nothing to live for. Yet, here he gets his own book...well, almost ;). And it's a satisfying one.

My only quibble with The Kissing Blades would be that it seemed a little too determined to tie off all threads. Still, it failed in this endeavor because at least one of them of an age to be paired up is alone at the end. And one of the tie ups struck me as a little pushed. It seems like that relationship still has some angst before it gets settled. Had I been reading this as it was published rather than behind as usual, I would be worried that the Jessica Hall persona was hanging up her pen. However, as I have two more from her on my to-be-read pile, I'll just accept that there's more to come...whether from the extensions of this huge, international family she's formed or from some completely unknown characters. I know I'll enjoy those ones too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

This novel is a Young Adult account of a girl set apart from her family because her parents are both gone: the father ran off and the mother was eaten by a leopard. The atmosphere is strong and the story is well done. She's grandly competent at survival, a side benefit from her avid curiosity and her extended family's use of her as a servant/slave. When circumstances drive her from her home, there follows a lively mix of realistic description and methods of survival tangled into her understanding of and visits from the spirit world. This book was recommended to me as research into becoming feral, and though it ended up being a different kind of feral than I was seeking, it provides a great introduction into relatively modern relationships between the various tribes and racial groups in Zimbabwe and Mozambique as well as giving a real sense of the wilderness areas.

Now in the bigger scope of things, this book does provide a fascinating counterpoint to The Secret Life of Bees. Here you have a dead mother who is still somewhat present and influencing her, an absent rather than ignoring father and a grand, cross-country adventure. Though I had more in common with the Secret of Bees' main character socially, I could identify better with Nhamo. The reason? She suffered her adversity with grace and worked to better her life. She was an active character in her own success while the other girl often blamed others and looked down on those who didn't meet her ideals rather than considering that maybe they had their own place and their own strengths. Is one better than the other? Of course not. But is one preferable when I choose my own reading material? Absolutely. I guess I don't have much patience with whiners when seeking entertainment...must be why so many comedians leave me cold as well :).

Talyn : A Novel of Korre by Holly Lisle

I've come to count on Holly Lisle over the years for a good, easy read. I'm a slow reader at the best of times and so it's rare to find an author who feeds my lust for a complex culture without bogging me down with complex writing. Holly has consistently managed that for me, whether writing in her own worlds or shared ones.

I thought I knew what to expect from Holly, and was happy with it. I was wrong. Talyn goes well beyond what I've come to expect and is even better. Not only does Holly's skilled world building have a place, but also the cultures she's put together are even more tangled and complex than usual while at the same time completely internally consistent. Most books have a single big gimmie that makes the whole thing work. Talyn never asked that of me. I could see how every piece came together based on a rich, dynamic history only hinted at in the book. I can't think of a single thing that I had to accept on faith without foundation and the "big unlikelies" were only that long enough for the characters to discover how wrong they'd been in assuming the easy path.

I read an account from the editor about how Talyn just made her drop everything and say "wow." Now I know why. The characters suffer geographically, culturally and in every other way possible. Nothing is quite what they, or the reader, suspects but when the truth of it comes out, it's stunning.

Basically, I can't say enough in praise of this book. The only bad thing I have to say about Talyn is that it's over :(. I hate when a book makes me want to see the end so much and at the same time I want to drag out each page so I'll never reach it. Talyn did that to me and I couldn't put it down, put it away or anything. It started with extending my short reading breaks for just one more page and worked its way up to stealing the nap that I really need because I'm sick.

Oh, and one writerly comment. Holly does a rather strange thing that took me all of...maybe 30 pages to get used to? Talyn is a first person narrator. The whole book is not told from her perspective and she's the only first person narrator in the book. The odd thing is that her thoughts within the text (unmarked by italics or quotes or anything) are in present tense while the narration is in past tense. In the very beginning, this threw me, not enough to stop me from reading, but enough so I actively noticed it. Then, I just stopped noticing. Did it make her involvement in the story deeper? I'm not sure. But, it was no longer a distraction and Talyn was very much present when she controlled the narrative.

Anyway, if you can, if you like cultural fantasy, if you like anything with a cultural bent, read Talyn. I'd be stunned to find that you didn't enjoy it :).