Monday, September 30, 2013

The under side of history

Even though I studied History in my undergraduate, I have vast holes in my knowledge base. There are just too many eras to learn about, though I have tried. I largely focused my knowledge on the medieval dynasties of China and Japan since I felt those nations were horribly misrepresented in my high school education. It was a great learning experience that sparked my research of other nations outside the typical suburban educational experience. This is what makes historical fiction a genre that draws me for me "fun" reading. It blends my reading passion with a love for learning. 

The Code Bearers by John Westwood

Brilliant piece of historical fiction. Mr. Westwood takes a moment in history and builds a relationship to the modern reader. He invests the audience with a sense that this really did happen and it was more involved than a textbook can explain. Instead of boring stoic fact (while having their purposes in recording the "truth" of what happened, they can be dreadfully painful to read and hold in the memory), he uses the power of creation to build depth to what we already know. 

This book made me truly realize for the first time how futile our understanding is, of other cultures, human interaction, how people react, etc. However, it certainly had a slow start and took much too long to get to the goodness that made the ending so brilliant. Bruce Sterling and Yegor Fyodorvich Martynov did not draw me into their world right out of the gate. I had hit the half way point hoping it turned around soon because I do not stop reading books yet really hate being forced to slog through slow narrative. The character development up front was important but could use a little editing on setting a proper hook. All of the leading players meet in off chance circumstances that are much too obvious to the reader. It is quite clear you are going to know these people but not right now. 

After the initial slogging, the book takes a sudden turning point. I'm not entirely sure when it happened. Suddenly I was unable to put the book down as I emotionally connected with the story and realized a whole side of war that has never stood out to me before. The concept of spies and diplomats, social snafus, and language barriers and poor interpreters just really brought home that we have never learned, and can quite possibly never learn, global understanding because of our cultural pride. This book's brilliance did not lie in the writing but in the wisdom it brings out in the reader. I highly recommend this story as a building block for understanding the bigger picture.

Here is to some more ARC galley reading!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Revisiting old friends

From my review of the Lady of Devices series, you may recall I am not a fan of alternate history. I enjoy historical fiction knowing that the researchers have taken great liberties with the information they have uncovered. Besides the standard dialogue, the authors have given personalities to historical figures based on the written word left behind of them. At the root however, the facts are historically accurate and taken from deliberate research. 

Alternate history on the other hand can be a dangerous balance. The steampunk genre seems to hang on its edge quite precariously. You can use the iconic figures of the past combined with the fun of the "what if" game, but I feel authors should have a certain responsibility to not pollute the education of the public. If you are going to write an alternate history, then please make sure it is obvious you have altered the timeline by adding dragons or magic, for instance.

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

I truly enjoy the works of the "gaslight" era writers of Doyle, Dickens, Austen, etc. These are the classics that every English major fawns over and writes 30 page theses dictating how the classics have molded our modern understanding. Of all the characters that have spanned the literature iconography, Ms Holloway has chosen to update one of the elite. Sherlock Holmes is such a monumental figure with such entrenched decorum I was surprised to see a modern author tackle the gentleman in a new series. The plot summary was very interesting and my curiosity was instantly alert (I just had to get a look inside this possibility). So I was greatly pleased when the publisher gave humble me a chance and I hope this review can give it justice. This story could either be a masterpiece of blending classical with modern or a complete travesty of fiction. (I mean, come on now, this is Sherlock Holmes here)

Call it a success! Ms Holloway does an excellent job of making a fantastic revisit to the past. The development of her clockwork hypotheses coupled with magic is refreshing. It revitalized my interest in the steampunk genre. Her leading lady is quite dynamic with an excellent dilemma of fitting in two worlds at once. (Who hasn't been in those shoes their whole life?) There is action, adventure, and love (without exceedingly long bouts of romance). Now my one complaint, sometimes Evelina makes it a little too obvious that she hasn't solved the mystery which spoils the intrigue a little. She clearly is not going to find the murdered in one chapter. I am not a fan of who-done-its, but this novel sucked me in because of the link to Sherlock Holmes (and I am very glad it did).

She stays far enough away to not challenge the brilliancy of Sherlock Holmes but interjects the tone of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quite smashingly. I found myself highly intrigued by the mystery and entertained by the story, that I forgot I was supposed to be looking for clues and was overall surprised by the ending. It was quite a success for the first time author and she has written all three books at once, so now I am able to read the complete series with release dates one month following the next. I greatly look forward to picking up the next two novels.

Here is to only having to wait a month for the sequel!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The next Tolkien

My favorite authors throughout history have made the list by pulling me into a world of escape. They create characters I can relate to and imagine having in my life; they make worlds with landscapes, vivid development, and maps; they have a magic system that is completely reliant on the terrain; they even sometimes create their own language. In other words, they are completely self-sufficient and complete universes. Every character serves a purpose and the dynamics of a functioning relationship. That was the majesty of Tolkien and his Middle Earth. That is what I feel building with Silevethiel.

Silevethiel by Andi O'Connor

Make sure to keep a Celtic and Spanish dictionary next to you. Her elven language has structural similarities to Spanish and her names have pronunciation similar to Gaelic. While the floweriness can trip you up sometimes, I find it to be a positive to the creation of an (what I have deemed) "authorverse." But I'm also just a sucker for the old Irish religion and culture.

Her writings were wise at many moments, and it would do modern readers well to pay attention to the advice given. It could certainly stretch outside the main character into today's society. I believe that makes high quality literature.There is also something pure about the Elven sect in fantasy that feels greater than the world we are in today. There societal structure and cultural interaction with each other is an achievement of purity and intelligence. I would strive to have a society like that. I find most authors who introduce Elves into their writing have some pretty profound advice to give us mortals. Plus, the dynamic between good and evil in this story is vibrant and fresh (hard to achieve in the multitude of fiction out there).

The action of the novel moves smoothly without a glitch. I caught myself holding my breath a couple of times. The pacing didn't feel rushed or drawn out. The plot dynamic laid out for future events seems plausible and not too tired for the genre. I was left wanting at the end of the book, good when there is a sequel coming. My hopes for the upcoming novels would be: sticking with the incredible pacing and character development, not too much focus on the love story, intensive submersion in the magic system, and no continuity errors.

Here is to the ever mysterious Sherlock Holmes!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Interrupting your regularly scheduled broadcast

I have recently been reading quite a few galleys recently. I am not yet able to post full reviews but I can say that the fall has a great line up of books releasing. 

I would suggest heading to your local store and requesting a pre-order for the following novels:

Emma Jane Holloway's A Study in Darkness (I previously encouraged the first in the series and have now made it through the second. No less impressive and can probably safely say the third will be worth the pre-order as well.)

Andi O'Connor's Silevethiel (A great beginning to a promising epic fantasy in the veins of J.R.R. Tolkien).

Also take a moment to go to my good friends blog and learn more about her attempts to get into the published word. She has some amazing blurbs for her upcoming works.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. Enjoy!