Up For Review

Check out some of the books I’ll be reviewing over the next few weeks.

Death of a Saint (Mall Rats #2) by Lily Herne (Puffin Books)

After having a lukewarm reaction to Lily Herne’s first novel, Deadlands, I’m happy to report that I found the sequel, Death of a Saint to be a much better book. Even though it’s a lot longer than its predecessor, I tore through it in under two days. Review to follow on Thursday.

Secrets. Everyone has them. But what if your secret is something so unthinkable that you can’t even admit it to yourself? Lily Herne returns with Death of a Saint, the next instalment in the Mall Rats series.

Exiled from the city enclave for crimes against the Resurrectionist State, teen rebels Lele, Ginger, Ash and Saint — aka the Mall Rats — are hiding out in the Deadlands, a once-prosperous area now swarming with the living dead. With the sinister Guardians breathing down their necks, the Mall Rats face a stark choice: return to the enclave and try to evade capture or leave Cape Town in search of other survivors. But what if the rest of South Africa is nothing but a zombie-infested wasteland? Will they be able to survive on the road if all they have is each other, or will their secrets tear them apart?

After all, only Lele knows the shocking truth as to why the dead leave the Mall Rats unscathed — knowledge that she can’t bring herself to share. And she’s not the only Mall Rat harbouring a dangerous secret…

Death of a Saint was released on 1 April 2012 by Puffin Books, and the series has been rejacketed. The third book is entitled The Army of the Left. Thanks very much to Candice at Penguin SA for my review copy.

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Blackbirds (Miriam Black #1) by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot)
This gorgeous cover was designed by Joey Hi-Fi, who used a similar style for the awesome Zoo City and Moxyland covers.

Miriam Black knows when you will die. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

Blackbirds will be published by Angry Robot on 24 April in the USA and Canada, and on 3 May for the rest of the world.

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The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Normally, I don’t even look twice at books with these kinds of covers, but Lu and I are always looking for books to joint review, and when she requested this one I thought the story sounded interesting and it might give us something to discuss. But either way I’ll be reading and reviewing it soon.

This dark and thrilling adventure, with an unforgettable heroine, will captivate fans of steampunk, fantasy, and romance. On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears.

The Peculiars will be published on 1 May 2012 by Amulet Books.

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The Croning by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
I haven’t read a good horror novel in a while. I hope this one is creepy enough to get under my skin.

Strange things exist on the periphery of our existence, haunting us from the darkness looming beyond our firelight. Black magic, weird cults and worse things loom in the shadows. The Children of Old Leech have been with us from time immemorial. And they love us.

Donald Miller, geologist and academic, has walked along the edge of a chasm for most of his nearly eighty years, leading a charmed life between endearing absent-mindedness and sanity-shattering realization. Now, all things must converge. Donald will discover the dark secrets along the edges, unearthing savage truths about his wife Michelle, their adult twins, and all he knows and trusts.

For Donald is about to stumble on the secret…of The Croning. From Laird Barron, Shirley Jackson Award-winning author of The Imago Sequence and Occultation, comes The Croning, a debut novel of cosmic horror.

The Croning will be published on 8 May 2012 by Night Shade Books.

Thanks very much to NetGalley and the publishers for providing review copies!

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Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Title: Un Lun Dun
Author: China Miéville
Published: 2007; pictured edition published 2011
Genre: YA, urban fantasy
Source: I have two copies actually, one received from the publisher, one received as a gift
Rating: 7/10

Zanna is the Schwazzy – the chosen one. Animals stare and bow at her. Strangers approach her in awe. But Zanna and her friends have no idea what’s going on. Then one night Zanna and her best friend Deeba see an umbrella crawling along the ground. They follow it and find their way in UnLonden, a bizarre otherworldly version of London where buses fly, the trash is alive, creatures like carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets, and the rubbish of London is transformed into strange new things (like living ‘unbrellas’). Deeba and Zanna encounter characters like Hemi the half-ghost boy and Obaday Fing, a clothing designer who makes “the hautest of couture” (39) from the pages of books and uses his own head as a pin cushion. They get followed by a cute little milk carton  who Deeba names Curdle and adopts as a pet.

But Deeba and Zanna have been drawn to UnLondon for a purpose. The city is at war with the Smog, a living, malevolent cloud of pollution that threatens to consume the city. According to an ancient prophecy, the Schwazzy will come to save UnLondon, but Zanna and Deeba aren’t too keen on this quest. UnLondon is very weird and dangerous, and they want very badly to get home as soon as possible. However, the citizens of UnLondon desperately want the heroine they’ve been waiting for, and Zanna starts to enjoy being treated with awe, while Deeba finds that she can be more than just the Schwazzy’s companion.

I really enjoyed Un Lun Dun. I don’t often read YA, but the ones that I do enjoy tell great stories without feeling dumbed down or childish. For that, Un Lun Dun is perfect. It’s adventurous and funny, but also creepy at times, and deadly serious when it needs to be. It’s a really clever novel with loads of cool ideas that never weigh the story down. On the downside, it is a tad long and can drag at parts, but overall it’s well worth a read. Miéville fans will instantly recognise his trademarks – a bizarre city, a plethora of weird characters, creatures and concepts, and a tendency towards the fascinatingly grotesque (downplayed here, as it’s YA). You’ll also find some of the themes he’s explored in other novels – the idea of a hidden city, accessible only by unconventional means (King Rat, The Scar, The City and the City), language and meaning (Embassytown), and some subtle comments on religion and scripture (Kraken). And, as with all Miéville novels I’ve read thus far, Un Lun Dun is incredibly rebellious, going against authority, corruption, and even language itself.

The latter is the most fun. The UnLondon ‘propheseers’ tells Zanna that “it’s been written, for centuries, that […] you will come and save us” (p.108). Because it’s written, no one questions the prophecy, least of all the book in which it’s written. The book itself is alive, can speak and is one of the most entertaining characters in the novel. Terribly self-important, it speaks grandly of its contents and patronisingly assures others of its truth:

‘And we know this because…?’ the book said expectantly.
‘Because it’s in the book?’ Zanna said.
The book said, ‘Bing!’ (p.113)

But then, at a critical moment in the prophecy, when Zanna is supposed to “prevail in her first encounter” with the enemy, one smack on the back of the head knocks her unconscious, and all sense of destiny and genre cliche collapse with her. The book is devastated, “This isn’t what’s written” (128) it despairs, and gets depressed “What’s the point? […] What is the point?” (130).

Deeba, however, was sceptical from the start and isn’t swayed by prophecies being proven false. Having made friends in UnLondon, she feels compelled to try and help them. So what if “[t]he destiny didn’t work out with the Chosen One” she says, “I’ll do it instead” (272). The book might have been wrong about some things, but it still knows how the Smog can be defeated, so Deeba renews the quest to defeat the Smog and win the war for UnLondon. The prophecy details the typical quest structure, requiring the hero(ine) to go on a journey to collect various artefacts from strange, dangerous places, eventually acquiring the ultimate weapon with which to defeat the enemy. At first Deeba follows the instructions to the letter, but as soon as the prophecy becomes impractical she doesn’t hesitate to deviate from the course, proving again that what’s written doesn’t have to be what happens. She doesn’t have the power of destiny to keep her safe and assure her victory – she has to get by with her own talents and courage and her quest (which makes up most of the book) has a sense of real danger and tragedy.

The whole thing with the book and its prophecies completely dismantles the authority of the written word, not to mention cliches of the fantasy genre (the chosen on coming to save the world). In addition, the novel is constantly playing around with language, showing how fluid and adaptable it can be. Some of its word games are phonetic. ‘Schwazzy’ is the phonetic spelling of ‘choisi’, the French word for ‘chosen’. ‘Un Lun Dun’ is the phonetic rendering of UnLondon, but it’s also the city’s war cry. The book’s title then – just a prefix and two nonsense words – has a double meaning that encapsulates the two major features of the story – the city and the war being fought within it.

Cover featuring one of the 'binja'

Other word games play with meaning. The bus conductor, for example, doesn’t just clip tickets but can use his body to conduct electricity. Miéville has also invented multiple words for his novel, using known words as building blocks. The ghosts of Wraithtown are also known as ‘wispers’ (wisp and whisper), referring both to their incorporeal states and the inaudible whispers they speak in. The ‘binja’ are dustbin ninjas (you’ll see them on the covers of some editions); ‘smombies’ are smog zombies; ‘abcities’ are cities like UnLondon, Parisn’t and Sans Francisco, all of which are both opposite and parallel to the cities we know.

Playing with these words, Miéville bends them to his purpose, but at the same time there’s still that awareness that words and language aren’t completely under your control. You see that most clearly when Deeba and her friends encounter Mr Speaker, ruler of the Talklands, where all speech must be authorised by him. Mr Speaker has a gargantuan mouth, and every word he utters is manifested as a small creature – an ‘utterling’ – that falls from his mouth. He promises to allow Deeba to continue on her journey if she pays him in words, but then breaks his promise. “I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT,” he booms, “A PROMISE IS WORDS. I’M MR SPEAKER! WORDS MEAN WHATEVER I WANT. WORDS DO WHAT I TELL THEM!” (296)

This is literally true for Mr Speaker – his every word becomes an utterling and he commands an army of them. But Deeba calmly points out the flaw in his reasoning: “Words don’t always mean what we want them to […] None of us. Not even you” (297). Words can be misinterpreted. Meanings can change over time. Words can have multiple connotations and listeners or readers might pick up on the unintended ones. As any author should know, once words are written or spoken you lose control over them and they’re open to interpretation. When the utterlings latch on to this idea, they rebel against the Speaker who uttered them.

Besides linguistic rebellion, Un Lun Dun has rebellion of the more conventional sort as a small group of bold individuals go up against a seemingly unstoppable force. The Smog threatens to take over UnLondon, and the image of this vast, poisonous cloud hanging over the city is an apt metaphor for hegemonic power. It’s evil, but it still has allies in the city because “there’s nothing so terrible that someone won’t support it” (111). And there are indeed some people who can benefit from an alliance with the Smog. Among the Smog’s allies are a group called the Concern. Their businesses use factories that create more emissions for the Smog to feed on, so they want to work with it. They have a slogan: E=A. Effluence equals affluence.

There’s an obvious capitalist critique here, coupled with strong environmental concerns (Miéville is an outspoken socialist, and his political perspective naturally influences his novels). The Smog was created during the Industrial Revolution, when the roiling mix of chemicals from the factories of London turned a cloud of pollution into a toxic “cloud-brain” (110). The pollution from modern (ie. capitalist) societies continued feeding it and now it has the power to consume a city.

At this point I’ve made it sound like the novel gets very heavy-handed, but I didn’t feel that it was. While these themes give it depth and class, the story comes first, making it a good read all round. Some readers have complained about the force of the environmental theme though, in which case I’d say that if you don’t like books with any kind of social commentary then it will most likely annoy you here. On the other hand, if you can appreciate books with a social conscience then go right ahead. It’s much lighter and more playful than Miéville’s other fiction and I think it’s a great choice for adults who read YA. I particularly recommend it for readers with an interest in language. Oh yes, and for young adults too 🙂

Buy Un Lun Dun
Book Depository
Amazon
Amazon.co.uk

Deadlands by Lily Herne

Title: Deadlands
Author:
Lily Herne
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: March 2011
Source:
Purchased copy for review
My Rating
: 5/10

Buy a copy of Deadlands

It’s been a decade since the zombie apocalypse destroyed Cape Town in the middle of the World Cup. The survivors have established a new but distressingly familiar kind of order in heavily walled enclaves while outside, in the Deadlands, the zombie hordes still lurch. But no one is trying to wipe them out; instead, they’re worshipped.

It’s a brillint, unique twist on the zombie story – zombies are the new religion, revered for ‘cleansing’ Cape Town of its violence and corruption so there could be a better life for all (who survived). Believers are known as Resurrectionists, the zombies are respectfully known as the Reanimated (dissenters just call them Rotters), and the ‘priests’ are the mysterious cloaked Guardians whose faces no one has ever seen. There’s no question now about whether or not there’s an afterlife, because it’s right there in the Deadlands, moaning for your flesh.

Lele (Leletia) de la Fontein sees right through all of this crap. She’s a feisty, rebellious 17-year old, although at times you can be forgiven for calling her a brat. But on the other hand, she’s no doormat and most of the time I admire her spunk. She’s just lost her grandmother, not only to death but to the Guardians, who who take all dead bodies to the Deadlands where the zombies will attack and reanimate them. Now Lele and her brother have to stay with their emotionally distant father and their stepmother, who Lele can’t stand. She also has to go to a new school where, in classic YA tradition, she becomes the free-thinking outcast amidst petty, small-minded popular kids who make fun of her. Like any teenager, Lele thinks that her life couldn’t get any worse, but then she gets selected for the ‘Lottery’ – every year the Guardians choose a few teenagers from the enclaves and take them away, for reasons unknown. And that’s when Lele’s real adventure begins.

Now because Deadlands is the first zombie novel set in Cape Town, my home town, I really wanted to like it. Lily Herne is a psuedonym for SA author Sarah Lotz and her daughter, and as a South African I’m proud to see that SA writers are starting to get published in my favourite genres. At the same time however, my review ethic is to be honest even when I’d rather not be, but more importantly to not be condescending by setting lower standards for certain books as if the authors are mental inferiors who can’t really be compared to their peers. South Africa’s education system is doing that to the country’s youth. I hate it, and I’ve never wanted to do anything similar here. Which in this case means I wanted to like Deadlands, and I think it could have been the novel I was hoping for, but at the end of the day it was disappointing.

There are some really cool things about it nevertheless. Deadlands has an awesome political snarl, particularly in the beginning. Today’s ANC government is there in two different forms. On the one hand it’s followed its current path of corruption and transformed into the embassy – the pro-zombie, authoritarian government of the enclaves, with a firm hand on the necks of its citizens, and institutions like Malema High feeding propaganda to impressionable young minds. Like the ANC it’s also full of struggle heroes, but this time they’re from the zombie war.

Then there’s the ANZ – the anti-zombians – a rebel faction that’s more like the ANC of the struggle years, although they’re criticised for their violent methods which sometimes get innocent people killed. The embassy is of course trying to shut them down, much like the real ANC’s increasing hostility towards dissent and opposition, as they turn away from their own revolutionary ideals towards the racism and small-mindedness that characterised the oppressors they once fought.

Admittedly, I’m not as well versed in politics as I should be, but I can’t deny that it gives sci fi and fantasy the edge that makes for truly fantastic, memorable reads. Unfortunately Deadlands isn’t all that interested in its own political and religious satire. Once Lele gets chosen for the Lottery and leaves the enclave, Deadlands becomes a more conventional action-adventure novel. She meets a group of rebels known as the Mall Rats who turn her into a teen action hero, and the mystery, religious satire and political intrigue gets left behind. The action-adventure bit is the main part of the novel, but for me it was the most boring and it drags on for quite some time.

What I really wanted was to know more about that zombie cult and the Guardians. Who are they? What are they? And what are they up to? These are some of the most interesting and exciting questions in the story, but the answers are predictable, disappointing or just not good enough. It’s not hard to guess why the Guardians are taking teenagers, but you have to wait until the last few pages of the novel for this to be revealed. Having waited so long you expect the secret to be epic; instead my final thoughts for the novel were “that’s it?”. It would have been so much better if Lele had discovered at least part of the truth about the Guardians early on and then gone up against them in the remainder of the story. This could still have allowed for a sequel-ready ending, which is what we get anyway, with a lame line: “this is the end of my story, but somehow I’ve kind of got the feeling that it could actually just be the beginning” (293).

Speaking of lame lines, there are A LOT of them. Almost all of the chapters end with cliched attempts at intrigue:
“But, as I was about to find out, that was way easier said than done.” (15)
“I couldn’t have been more wrong.” (28)
“But by then it was too late.” (106)

To make things worse, there are many, many chapters, most of them bluntly ended with lines like these. Deadlands is only 293 pages long, but it has a whopping 69 chapters. On average they’re just 2 or 3 pages of well-spaced text long. It makes the story feel choppy, and as far as writing goes it seems lazy.

I also feel like the Guardians, the politics and the religion receded from the plot because the author(s) got bored this complex material and wanted to get to the bit about the cute, sexy rebel chick kicking zombie ass, raiding the mall, and trying to decide which of the two hots guys falling for her she can trust. Of course Deadlands is a YA novel so that’s exactly what the target audience wants, but there doesn’t have to be an ‘either or’ toss-up between story and substance. A better novel would have integrated the mystery and social satire with the action and romance.

It would also have sewn up some of the plot holes. Like the mall raids. These are pretty common teenage fantasies – having unlimited access to an empty mall so you can take all the cool stuff you want. For reasons only revealed at the end (very very thin reasons) the Guardians have kept Century City mall up and running, even after destroying all other buildings in the city, and the Mall Rats go there to scavenge for books, toiletries and clothes. There’s a HUGE plot hole here. As far as I could tell, the Guardians don’t restock the shops in the mall (how could they?), but the Mall Rats go there perhaps once a week to fill orders from the enclaves. It’s a big mall, but there’s only so much underwear on the shelf at Woolworths; there’s no way they could still walk in there with a shopping list and get everything on it. I got really, really annoyed when they did a book run at Exclusive Books. I worked at that branch for 3 years and I never, ever saw a copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry or Rustum Kozain’s poetry collection This Carting Life. The Norton is too academic and expensive for a commercial store, and poetry collections are pretty scarce because they don’t sell. Nevertheless, Lele finds both easily, and it’s the first time since she was 7 that she’s even been in a bookshop.

There are other gaps. Unless I missed it, there’s no mention of what happened to the rest of South Africa or the rest of the world. I can only assume that the zombie epidemic was global, given that there is no mention of help from anyone outside of Cape Town. As I said before, it’s not hard to guess what the Guardians do with the teenagers, but apparently no one in the enclaves has tried. I don’t even want to get into the implausibility of the Guardians keeping a mall as large as Canal Walk open, lights, escalators, cameras all running.

But, as I keep having to remind myself, this is YA and many fans of the genre probably won’t mind the glitches, the way the social critiques give way to action, or the short chapters and sloppy writing. I couldn’t shrug off the fact that I do mind these things, but I also have to admit that there were parts of the novel that I admired. So if Lily Herne produces the sequel implied in the closing lines I won’t hesitate to buy a copy, but I hope it’s a better read than this one.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

BeastlyBeastly by Alex Flinn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Technically this review contains spoilers, but if you know the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, you already know the basics of what’s going to happen in Beastly. Not that you can’t see all the clichés getting ready to roll out from the start.

Kyle Kingsbury is a horrid brat spoilt with good looks, status, and wealth, although the reader is supposed to feel a little bit sorry for him because his father is an arrogant bastard who doesn’t seem to care much about his son. Kyle has taken to heart his father’s belief that no one should have to look at ugly people and thus he enjoys tormenting them when he’s not completely ignoring their existence. To punish him, a witch disguised as an unattractive schoolgirl curses Kyle by making him as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside. However the witch gives him one chance to break the spell – fall in love with someone who loves you in return within the next two years, and her kiss will change you back.

Transformed into a hideous beast, poor Kyle can no longer be the most popular guy in school and is forced to live in solitude with only a blind tutor and a housekeeper for company. He develops some emotional depth, as indicated by his new hobby of reading literary classics – the drab conventional symbols of intellect. Kyle also changes his name to Adrian, because he no longer feels that he’s the same person. It’s all very ho hum, particularly since this story is hardly new – a hot, self-centred jock is taught the error of his superficial ways and learns to see beyond physical beauty. Not that he really has to, because the plain, nerdy girl he inevitably falls in love with is not as unattractive as she first seemed but is actually a babe hidden behind poverty, baggy clothes, and an unflattering hairstyle.

The girl in Beastly is Lindy. Lindy lives in a rough neighbourhood with a drug addicted father, but she’s smart, reads most of the time, and hopes to escape to a good university. But then her father breaks into Adrian’s home looking for drug money, and offers to give Adrian his daughter when Adrian catches him and threatens to turn him into the police. This is where this humdrum novel takes a turn for the ludicrous.

Copying and pasting the Beauty and the Beast plot into a contemporary New York setting with high school characters leaves the story awkward and implausible. Giving away your daughter is normal in folklore, but in most of the modern world, women are not considered property, and therefore it seems bizarre that Lindy’s father would so easily give her to the Beast in exchange for his own freedom, even if he is a drug addict. And although Kyle/Adrian needs her for his own spell-breaking purposes it’s even more ridiculous that he, not to mention his companions Will and Magda, would not have more than a slight problem with basically kidnapping a girl and holding her captive indefinitely. Of course Lindy comes to accept her captivity and to care for the beastly Adrian. Again, this might not seem odd in a fairytale where marriage could be a girl’s only ambition and Beauty could learn to live with her situation, but in this case Lindy loses a valuable high school scholarship and her hopes of going to college seem to have been tossed out the window. By the time she and Adrian were waltzing and having snowball fights I’d written this off as painfully contrived junk. You already know how it ends (although it ends up being even more unlikely than you’d expect).

Besides being so clichéd, Beastly tries to be a moral tale about inner beauty being more important than outer beauty but, like its many predecessors, it sounds insincere. Dualities of ugliness and beauty remain firmly in place. The ugly people are still ugly, the beautiful people are still beautiful, although sometimes the ugly people are actually beautiful, they’re just badly groomed. Lindy went from plain to gorgeous as soon as she changed out of her baggy clothes and loosened her long red hair. The witch Kendra wasn’t really ugly or fat – that was just a disguise to test Kyle. And Kyle/Adrian himself is only temporarily cursed. Actually, none of the main characters are truly physically ugly, so whatever the book is trying to say, and whatever epiphany Kyle/Adrian has, it still seems to suggest that only the beautiful are worthy of attention. So what exactly is the message here? Perhaps it’s that you shouldn’t be mean to the hideous because they’re people too. Brilliant.

Not that Beastly didn’t have have potential – retellings of fairytales are often interesting, and writing this one from the Beast’s perspective, explaining how he became a beast, was a good idea. And at least Lindy, in falling in love with beastly Adrian, really does value inner beauty over outer appearance. I also found it admirable that Flinn didn’t completely ignore the disturbing sexual undertones of the fairytale. Lindy’s father is basically pimping her and the idea of a guy locking a girl up in his home immediately implies rape, a concern that Lindy raises, although she refers to ‘sex’ rather than the more explicit ‘rape’. In addition, it was great to see the original Little Mermaid story play out in the chat with SilentMaid. Most fairytales, in their original or earlier versions, are very dark and disturbing, and I much prefer it when this is acknowledged rather than sanitised and glossed over to produce twee little stories for children. Beastly is at least not too childish, but none of this is enough to save what is really a very mediocre novel.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Please note that this review contains spoilers.

I was really looking forward to reading this: it’s written by Ursula Le Guin, and it’s become a classic of YA fantasy, if not children’s literature in general. Unfortunately, I was disappointed, finding it mostly dreary and uninspiring.

At the start, the novel seemed very promising. Ged’s raw talent made for a tense and exciting battle between his village and the invaders, but this turned out to be this high point of the story for me. It slowed down and even Ged’s later battle with the dragons did not carry the same sense of adventure.

The main problem was Ged’s accident with the Shadow, and the effect it has on his life. It’s the key event of the novel, but it weighs the story down rather than giving it the drive that could have made it more interesting. Because Ged is essentially cursed and tormented, he becomes a lonely, depressed character and the reader has to follow him around for the rest of the book. Long descriptions of scenery and travel slow the narrative down even more, and I was bored a lot of the time. I was really interested in some of the other characters like Jasper and Serret, but their roles are frustratingly small.

Also, since I came to know Le Guin primarily as a feminist writer, I was terribly disappointed to find that there were so few female characters. Serret is the most intriguing of these, but she turns out to be a typical temptress who comes to a bad end.

Only at the end did I find some hope for Le Guin’s series. After defeating the Shadow, Ged is able to discard the miserable being who made the story trudge along as drearily as he did. The bold, promising character from the first few chapters returns instantly, suggesting that the really great adventures all lie in the sequels.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Twilight (Twilight, #1)Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The absolute worst book I have ever read. A huge pile of atrociously written, misogynist, utterly ridiculous, boring crap.

Bella is the most annoying, whiny narrator I’ve ever come across, and Meyer’s pathetic, dead writing makes this even more unbearable. Bella is also a complete dismissive bitch to those who care about her and try to be kind to her, including her father. The only person she cares about is the unbelievably arrogant and emotionally immature vampire Edward. Meyer/Bella tells us he’s supernaturally beautiful and attractive (on almost every page) but I never felt it. I don’t think I could stand to spend 5 minutes with such an egotistical, anti-social person, nevermind share a bed with a body that’s ice-cold, hard as stone and has the skin tone of a corpse.

Bella and Edward’s relationship is based entirely on physical attraction (he’s beautiful, she smells good), so it made me gag everytime Bella/Meyer tries to forcefeed you the idea that it’s the greatest, most loving romance of all time. Even worse is the fact that Edward’s creepy, intrusive behaviour – such as breaking into Bella’s home, watching her sleep without her knowledge, dragging her by the collar into his car, constantly “commanding” her, and eavesdropping on her private conversations – is either interpreted as a sign of his great love or dismissed. Which sounds a lot like the excuses made for or by domestic abusers – he’s just overprotective, he did it because he loves me. And Bella seems happy to waive her right to privacy and choice as long as it means this man will always be in her life. Nor does she seem to mind that Edward lays the blame on her for any physical damage he might cause to her – it’s her fault for being so beautiful, for smelling so good, for being irresistable. He even says it’s her fault that a dangerous vampire becomes attracted to her and decides to track and kill her. Another line from the domestic abusers – she provoked me.

The (very poor) counter-argument from fans tends to be that this novel is just meant to be fun, you shouldn’t take it so seriously. Well if Twilight were just badly written, and all I had to ignore were the gaping plot holes (what happens when Bella gets her period?) or the long list of ridiculous plot devices (like sparkling or century-old adults going to high school over and over again), then maybe I could have just enjoyed the romance. But if I read a story that celebrated a rapist and his belief that women deserved it, or a story that vindicated a racist and his ideas about the inferiority of blacks, I couldn’t say ‘oh, it’s not meant to be great literature, it’s not meant to be taken seriously, just enjoy it’. I’d be disgusted, as I am disgusted with Twilight, and there is absolutely nothing in it to redeem its flaws. I remain shocked and saddened at its popularity, and what it implies about the sexist, antiquated views women and men still have about gender and their relationships with each other.