Tuesday, April 14, 2009

#9--Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher

Ah, the Dresden Files. I owe my enjoyment of this series to my father, whose book recommendations I should really listen to more often.

I'll admit I didn't pick up the Dresden Files until really late in the game expressly because the Anita Blake series burned me badly enough to turn me off of urban fantasy. But my dad pushed a copy of Dead Beat off on me a couple of years ago, and I finally read it, even though it took place late in the series.

Then I bought every single book available up until that point and devoured them. I had Turn Coat pre-ordered months ago, and when I received it on Friday, I sat down and started reading, and finished it on Saturday. I so very much appreciate that this series is up to book 11, and rather than turning to shit or devolving into porn, the groundwork for an overarching plot laid out from the very first book is building up and turning extremely rewarding.

For the uninitiated, Harry Dresden is a wizard. Seriously. And he's a professional and everything--he advertises in the phone book and works primarily out of Chicago. Each book more or less follows one of his cases, and they are all written in a way that you could pick up any single one and read it as a standalone without missing out on anything important. I still recommend you start from the first one and work your way up, just because you'll get more out of each one if you have the groundwork from what came before.

Besides, after reading Dead Beat, I spent the whole damned series waiting for Mouse, Thomas, and Butters only to have them appear a book or two before the one I'd started with.

For most of his life, Harry has been persecuted by Morgan, a warden (a wizard cop, so to speak) for some misbehavior from his youth. There's been nothing Morgan would have loved more than to chop off Harry's head (in a very literal sense). He's a stick-up-the-ass, rules following asshole with no room for compromise in his moral code, and Harry totally chaps his ass.

So one day Harry gets a knock on the door, and there's Morgan, bleeding to death and begging for help. He's been framed for the murder of a White Counsel member, and the other wardens are on his ass.

Since Harry's gotten a taste of what it's like to be wrongly accused and almost executed for crimes he didn't commit, and because he suspects there's something a whole lot bigger at play inside the White Counsel, he takes the case.

And it make for a really fun, quick read.

It's not perfect, of course. Harry's chauvinist pig attitude at times makes me want to kick him, and he keeps refusing to learn important lessons that have been taught to him more than once (like keeping your friends in the dark about important things can and will get them killed). And his long asides sometimes remind me of something mentioned in the Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction:

Expository lump. A chunk of exposition that, whether or not relevant to the plot, is insufficiently integrated into the story being told. As such, is seems to come from left field, as if a page from an encyclopedia accidentally got shuffled in. Asimov is famous for these. A subheading, known as "I've Suffered For My Art (And Now It's Your Turn)" occurs when the author, having done masses of boring research, proves this by unloading them on the stunned reader.

Sometimes they're amusing, sometimes they make me want to shake either Harry or Jim Butcher and beg them to just get back to the damned story already.

Still, it was more than enjoyable enough, and I'll be looking forward to book 12.

Up next: Let the Right One In

#8--The Host, by Selina Rosen

I'm a total worthless shit, and I misspelled Selina's name not once, but twice. I know how to spell her name, and have for years, but something switched off in my brain and not only did I get it wrong, I didn't catch it to fix it until several days later. No excuse. In penance, I'm going to buy a few extra books next time I see the Yard Dog folks.

Also, if you're interested in the Yard Dog Press books, you can get their ordering information here. You can find copies of the Host on Amazon here, but if you go that route, order a new copy.

And if you really need an explanation for why you should always buy books new from small presses, micro presses, and new authors regardless of how big the house is that published them, I don't think we can be friends.


I really, really wanted to like this book. And I arguably gave it more of a chance than I should have, even after I continued past several points that made me want to hurl the thing across the room. Part of that may be that I'm using the cannonball read as an impetus to finish all of the books I start.

I like Selina Rosen. I love, love, love what she's done with Yard Dog Press. Every time I see them at a con, I pick up a few more books, and some of them have been real gems. So naturally, I was excited when I decided to pick up her Host series, especially with the promise that the vampires were seriously evil and the good guys weren't stupid.

Awesome, right?

And the thing is, I think all the potential for that awesome was right there in this trim little book. It's just...

It was like reading a NaNovel that had been edited once (poorly) for spelling and grammar. The plot was there, the idea was good, the characters at least had the potential to be likable or despicable, depending...

And yet this was missing so very much.

A lot of the writing felt rushed, like she had this great idea and wanted it out as fast as possible so she wouldn't miss anything. Which is a fine way to write a novel. But it seems like she never went back to flesh it out, smooth out the rough edges, and round out the characters. I also wanted to take a red pen to the thing and mark up every time I found a typo, a quotation that hadn't been either opened or closed, or the wrong word in the wrong place.

I can forgive a few typos here and there, especially coming out of a small or micro press, and most particularly when the work I'm reading is good enough to suck me back in.

Also, I hated that so many of the characters had names that started with the same letter. It's something really stupid, but when they're as thinly drawn as this, it makes it that much harder to keep Burt, Bill, Devon, Davil, and Damon all straight.

And for the love of God, if you're really wanting to show that your good guys aren't stupid, please show me. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT actually have one of your characters utter the words, "Good isn't stupid." And really, really try to refrain from doing it twice.

Finally, I thought that all of the not-entirely-subtle "look at how awesome Judaism is, wouldn't you like to be part of it" stuff was kind of weird. Mind you, as an outsider to all of the world's major religions, you could substitute Judaism for Christianity or Buddhism or Islam or whatever and I'd have exactly the same reaction. I guess it's hard to avoid some kind of discussion of faith in a vampire novel, especially when your main character is a Rabbi, but it got a little heavy-handed and obnoxious. I also got kind of annoyed by the trashing on other religions, including Christianity and one character turned into all of the worst parts of paganism in one cliched asshole.

Now that I've shit all over it, I'd like to say again: the idea here was pretty great. I liked the new vampire mythology (or rather, another take on the psychic vampire as opposed to the blood sucking variety). I liked the idea of the host presented in the story, and I did like Tracy, and I got a real kick out of disposing of the vampires by running them through an industrial chipper/shredder and working them into customer's gardens. Ha.

There are two more books in this series so far, and although this one let me down, I'm still going to pick up the next one at the next convention I attend. I'm hoping the second will be better because the first was there to get the origins nonsense out of the way so the real fun could start. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed, and I'm also going to pick up a few more books from some of the other authors, because far more often than not, I find the Yard Dog books to be well worth my money and time.

Up next: Turn Coat

Monday, April 13, 2009

#7--Maledicte, by Lane Robins

I found Maledicte by chance while browsing through the new books at the book store, keeping an eye out for new authors. I picked up a copy, got it home, and more or less forgot about it.

Months later, I unearthed it and read most of the first chapter, then forgot about it again.

This is often to kiss of death for a novel with me. Once I've picked it up and started it once, I have a lot of trouble ever making myself start over. When I do get around to it, I very often find myself richly rewarded, as when I made myself pick up Harriet the Spy again, or when I finally sat down and read all of Dracula or Puck of Pook's Hill.

There honestly wasn't much to recommend the book when I did pick it up: a novel of love and vengeance. A girl pretending to be a boy to maneuver through court politics in a decadent kingdom. Gods meddling in human affairs. All well and good, but...yawn. We've all been there and done that, right?

This novel definitely has its flaws, with many earmarks of a new author. While reading it, you're often reminded of details that have been many times discussed, just in case you've forgotten since it was last mentioned earlier on the page. While the story unwinds itself through tragedy, betrayal, love...there's nothing here you don't sort of expect.

And yet...

And yet, I really loved this book.

I loved the world, with the tumbling, god-ravaged Relicts to the glittering, festering court. I liked Miranda, who became Maledicte after stumbling upon a dead goddess who wasn't quite so dead, and very ready for a new foothold in a land deserted by its gods. It was a pleasure following the twists and turns of the story, and if the path was maybe a little familiar, it was so in the way of the best fairy tales--it isn't so much that you know how it's going to end, or even maybe how it will get there. The pleasure is in the players, and how skillfully the game is laid out before them.

Despite its flaws, or maybe in part because of them, I was absorbed in this book. It's the first one I've had in a long time that stayed with me, nibbling at me until I could pick it up and read further. When I was close to the end, I stayed up late into the night, and only gave it up before I hit the final page because I needed to get to work the next day.

And who each of the characters was at the beginning was not who they were by the end--and their journey there was convincing as I read through each step, through each little change that brought them to the endgame, and finally to an ending that thoroughly satisfied me in an almost guilty way.

Is this great literature? Not particularly.

Do I care? Not in the least. I pre-ordered the second in this series, Kings and Assassins, which is due out in late April. And this time, I won't put it down after reading only a couple of pages.

Up next: The Host