Book Review


By Patrick Rothfuss

 Found this lying around the house, and decided it looked worthwhile. It isn’t perhaps the most stunning example of its breed, but was an enjoyable and engaging read.

Our hero is Kvothe, which we are told is pronounced “Quoth” and spelled a rather dizzying variety of ways. For a book about naming, his is rather hard to pin down, but perhaps that is part of the object. 

A seemingly simple innkeep, we are quickly made to understand he is far more than that, indeed. His tale unfolds parsed out in flashbacks and recorded by Chronicler, less a name than a title, who has sought him over over years and much distance to discern and record the truth in the sometimes fantastic and quasi-mythological tales attributed to his life. After some coaxing, the innkeeper submits to his request.

A Ruh, the equivalent of a Gypsy, Kvothe is a gifted and precocious child who’s resourcefulness and native intelligence serve him well when his family and troupe are slaughtered by the mysterious Chandrian. It does not become clear in this volume just what manner of creature these Chandraian are, but we can infer they are possessed of at the very least a nasty and vindictive nature and at worst indefensible supernatural powers. 

Kvothe is traumatized by the loss of everything he knows and understands, but clings to the idea of reaching The Arcanum to study and learn all he can about the entities who have killed his family. Part myth, part nightmare, he knows there is nowhere else likely to have meaningful information about his quarry.

After some misadventures as a street urchin, Kvothe manages to gain admittance to the university and commence searching for information that might shed some light on why and how his parents died. He manages to stun the academic community at large with both his wit and his innate magical ability. He begins to display talents he isn’t fully aware he has, and has no real notion how to control.

Hints and insinuations about larger and more dire possibilities drift into view for Kvothe from time to time, and despite the distractions of infatuation and his schooling, he remains determined to understand the phenomenon the Chandrian present.

Just as we begin to learn about some of the darker truths Kvothe has encountered, the tale-telling is interrupted by a stranger in the present day who seems to be possessed. Though he is dispatched, the incident causes the wary inkeep to halt his tale and retire. We are of course, made to understand the tale will continue, the next day.

Ultimately, we are left with far less information than we are lead to desire, since clearly the author intends to draw the story out into a trilogy. I can’t fault him for it, and his writing is good enough that I’m willing to plunk down for the next installment.

 

By Paolo Giordano

I am a sucker. I have admitted this failing more than once before, but in this case there is a particular series of things which sucked me…

Err…

1) The Sale Table at Powell’s: I understand the object of the sale table at Powell’s is to attract suckers such as myself. And normally I would not fall for such an obvious ploy but for the fact that one of my favorite books of all time was obtained in such sucker-attracting fashion.

2) Trade Paperback: I am vain of my bookcase and and loathe to allow a regular paperback to stray onto my shelves. By the same token I have bought books for their shape, size, heft, and rough-edged pages to my literary dismay more than once.

3) Reviews (!!!): They comprise the bulk of this sucker’s complaint; if I see words such as ” luminous” or phrases like “Elegant and fiercely intelligent.” ( all of which I like to consider myself*) I will simply be unable to resist. I should know based on my own penchant for critical hyperbole that this is unlikely ever to be the case. But, particularly when combined with attractions number 1 & 2 I am hopeless.

As you might have begun to gather, I did not find this book either luminous or elegant and fiercely intelligent. Oh, la.

Giordano begins his narrative in rather uncomfortable territory; inside the zipped up snowsuit of young Alice, who desperately needs to pee. He manages to describe her ensuing ski accident with vivid detail and compelling language, but much like the rest of the novel, this seems to be tragedy without trajectory.

Our next vignette follows Mattia; our precocious boy hero with a mentally impaired twin sister. He resents the many ways he is hobbled by her deficiencies, and in an act both utterly natural and unquestionably brutal, abandons her in such fashion that she is lost forever.

We are meant to understand that these tragedies have formed Alice and Mattia in ways that will eventually magnetize them to one another. Though their trauma has manifested itself in different ways (Alice is inexplicably anorexic because of her accident, whereas Mattia cuts himself, more understandably, in his guilt) the way in which Giordano refers to these physical scars is always vague and shrouded in a thin and mewling sort of mystery; both unmoving as an emotional ploy, and ineffective as a means of creating suspense.

They carry on a stilted and unconsummated romance for most of their teenage years but ultimately move apart as adults. Mattia accepts a professorship in Northern Europe as cliche dictates for his super genius math skills and utter lack of social accumen. Alice becomes the spoiled and indifferent spouse of a physician who seems not to notice or make mention of the fact his wife is starving herself until she refuses to provide him with progeny. When this conflict brings her marriage to an end, she flailingly reaches out to Mattia, long since absent. He, in the aftermath of an awkward and semi consummated affair, inexplicably races home to her side.

Once he arrives, the motive which prompted Alice to contact him in the first place, the supposed sighting of his long lost twin sister, no longer seems a sufficient cause to trouble him and she says nothing about why she summoned him home. Without even the thinnest (rimshot) excuse to offer for the frantic demand he arrive, Alice feebly sends him away. More, Mattia goes without question or protest.

Now, apart from my considerable conviction that human beings would never behave this way, it also begs the question; what’s the fucking point? Such a seemingly dramatic crescendo all going nowhere.

Which is pretty much how this book felt from start to finish.

So, I got suckered, by something that ultimately had the gravitational pull of my bathtub drain. Boo.

 

 

* okay, okay obviously not elegant.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed

Stephen King~

And so begins one of the most powerfully lyrical pieces of fiction in the English language. The unrelenting harshness of the desert sun is somehow cast in tones of twilight, as we meet the Gunslinger about his end-times work. His quest is inimical, his progress inexorable. His intent dimly understood but utterly honorable. He is an archetype driven by a force truer than the shadow he casts on the hardpan beside him.

Stephen King wrote this novel as a young man and it is unquestionably his finest work. The Dark Tower series is his opus and anathema bound between covers and burned into pages. The cadence of his language resonates on a level that is difficult to articulate, but utterly manifest. The impact of his prose is subtle but profound; you look up from reading with the taste of dust in your mouth, squinting from the hard desert light burning at your eyes.

We are introduced to Roland The Gunslinger as he is in pursuit of The Man in Black.  It is made evident in stark and grotesque terms that this Man must be called to account, but we do not know what started the chase to begin with. Roland haunts this figure for reasons that only become clear through the cracked and hazy window we are afforded into The Gunslinger’s memory.

Strewn in his path are obstacles and dilemmas cast there by The Man In Black with supernatural power and demonic glee. As the stakes of these complications mount, The Gunslinger is forced with increasing urgency and against his will to look inward to observe his nature, his actions, and his unswerving devotion to his ultimate end; The Dark Tower.

Within the greater context of the tale, there are constant echoes of a relentless progress toward an ineludible end. Under the mountains in the eye-aching darkness the pull of his ordained act is palpable, hideous, and necessary. When Roland makes the choice he is not at liberty to avoid, and in the service of his quest loses most of what remains of his soul. We must wonder if he can or even wishes to be redeemed if it cost him his aim. 

I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. It should be required reading for any person of imagination and spirit. It will touch and open both beyond reckoning. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve elected not to review this book until I’ve finished the entire Hyperion Cantos. This novel has all of the excellent qualities of the first in the series, and really feels more like a part of the entire rather than it’s own entity. As such, I’ll save the gushing for later.

By Jonathan Franzen

Much praise indeed has already been heaped upon this novel, and justly so. It is one of the most deftly written pieces of modern American fiction I have had the pleasure to read; poignant, witty, and deeply insightful, this book offers a tremendous opportunity to anyone who will bend its spine.

We enter the family life of the Berglands, who at first seem very ordinary, but soon reveal themselves as each in their own way a very archetype of American culture; their interactions with each other and those around them providing a perfect vignette by which Franzen can flawlessly satirize the stereotypes he reveals. His use of language is inspired and leaves no one unscathed:

“[T]he Berglunds were the super-guilty sort of liberals who needed to forgive everybody so their own good fortune could be forgiven; who lacked the courage of their privilege.”

The attention to the family as a whole gives way to a portion of first-person-writing-in-third-person voice. The effect seems slightly tried at first, but it becomes obvious that this is partly because the “autobiographer” Patty, is only just learning to speak in her own voice. Doing so, she is somewhat clumsy and self-conscious; perfectly reflecting the emotional state of her character. She describes herself as undefined without competition to shape her, but most of her reflections lead one to think it is rather opposition she craves. Her portrayal of her mother is a singularly unsympathetic, if nevertheless amusing bit of vitriol:

“[T]he Honorable Joyce Emerson, known for her advocacy of open space, poor children, and the Arts. Paradise for Joyce is an open space where poor children can go and do arts at state expense.”

She classifies the rest of her family of origin in similarly wry and less-than-flattering terms, and in her way she has chosen to be as unlike them as humanly possible, less out of any wholehearted contempt for them, as simply having always thrived on antagonism.

When Patty goes away to a mediocre midwestern school to pursue an athletic scholarship she does so as much to enjoy the best chance to exercise her talents as to confound her parents. Once there she meets Walter who finds her contrariety charming instead of exhausting, and her height enchanting (this was a basketball scholarship after all) instead of merely odd. And while she finds his attention pleasant enough, it is really his glamorous rock-star-wanna-be best friend and roommate that Patty finds herself drawn to.

For Walter, is boring. He is the epitome of The Good Man. He has risen from his humble Minnesotan roots to become a lawyer and advocate of zero population growth. An avowed and vocal feminist, he is impressed by Patty’s independence, her toughness, and her body.

“Patty had never been around a man so obviously in love with her. What he and she were secretly talking about, of course, was Walter’s desire to put his hands on her.”

Which in no way diminished his desire to be respectful and honorable at all times. Which ends up being a bit of a drag for their sex life, as time goes by.

Richard, on the other hand, is Walter’s best friend and the Bad Boy to Walter’s Good Man. Richard (Dick?) is a tosser aside of women. A user of drugs and a shirker of responsibility. Though he knows full well that Walter is more-than-half-but-less-than-all-the-way in love with Patty, he agrees to take her and her heaving bosom across country with the intent of letting something “happen” if it was going to. Though nothing does, it remains a point of almost obsessive regret on Patty’s part after she realizes that the Bad Boy would not think wonderful things about her the way the Good Man would, and flees, mid-road trip, to northern Minnesota to give herself body and soul to Walter’s eager love of her.

Married life produces children also struck in an archetypal mold; the dutiful daughter and the favored son. Jessica, like her father, is hardworking and earnest. She does all that she should and;

“was smitten by books[…] not so pretty as to be morally deformed by it.”

Also like her father, she does not seem to have the natural gift for getting what she wants. All that luck has landed on her brother, Joey.

This golden boy seems possessed of all the traits required for great success; he is handsome, witty, charming, and strong-willed, but he has inherited his mother’s need for opposition. Or at least a healthy unwillingness to submit. In this vein he moves out of his parent’s house while still a teenager to live with a girlfriend he is largely ambivalent about, largely because he knows how much the idea will madden his mother.

The family drifts away, not just from the home they had together while the children were small, but from one another as well. As the fabric of the Berglund family begins to unknit itself, Patty no longer knows who she is or what to do with herself. Having chosen to forgo a career and be a devoted homemaker (as opposed to the working mother she had herself) now that the children are no longer small or dependent upon her, she has no idea of her value or purpose. She falls into a serious depression and as she puts it in her autobiography “mistakes were made.”

These archetypal figures work on each other in mysterious but beautiful ways. Patty seems empty-headed and obstinate at first, but exposure to her Good Man and a series of wounds inflicted by the Favored Son and the Bad Boy create in her a greater sensitivity to her own ability to hurt others. The Favored Son continues to get almost exactly what he wants in every possible situation, but rather than spoiling him, it makes him increasingly mindful of the responsibilities this implies.

Jessica becomes rather a bitter figure, retreating increasingly into the distance, and Walter develops and ultimately unleashes a heretofore unseen rage against a system that he has incrementally become entangled with. All those good intentions getting him much further down the road to hell than he can credit. But when he finally chooses to embrace his anger, it is utterly cleansing.

The collapse the family suffers is inevitable, but heartrending nevertheless. Recriminations fly in the face of the beautiful discoveries they were always on the verge of. Each one of the Berglunds seem unable to relinquish their position; a stance that propagates the unwinding of their lives together until they no longer have one at all.

However, they manage, somehow to pick up the threads of their lives, and weave them back together again. The pattern of their family is irrevocably changed, but what emerges is a more honest and fully realized version of each person as well as the clan as a whole.

By the end of this novel, the family and the autobiographer in it have matured and changed enormously. There is a confidence in Patty’s voice that lends her a sympathy that was hard to muster in the earliest chapters of her story. The greater understanding she extends her own family of origin extends itself around all of the Berglunds like a mantle. And with this, we have the freedom to love them unstintingly.

Recommended


Poor Irulan.

Being an intergalactic pawn must be awful. She is never allowed to have her own destiny, it was hijacked at birth by the Bene Gesserit breeding program. Her husband sees her as a necessary evil and won’t lay a finger on her. Her father never valued her as anything more than a political tool. Really, I pity her. She does little to endear herself to anybody, I’ll admit, but I still think she deserved better than she got.

But I digress…

Frank Herbert created a universe unto itself. There are echoes of Earth, but they are distant indeed. The feudal rule enacted across galaxies is perhaps the most romantic, but the Orange Catholics also hearken back quite clearly. An enthralling admixture of politics, mysticism, social commentary, and psychedelic journey, Dune manages to touch some of the most deeply meaningful aspects of human reality all while offering a thrilling adventure story in the offing.

This book is, however, a challenge. It is dense and byzantine in the truest sense of the word; the political maneuvering and machinations of various clans, houses, factions, and religious orders is dizzying at times. Herbert manages to stay flawlesslyconsistent in his details, and this alone could stand as a mark of his genius. Even the most determined reader might occasionally balk at the laberinthine course of this tale.

For all of that, it is nevertheless compelling enough to make one press on. Reading this book never feels like a chore so much as a complete departure from reality. The details are rich and engage all the senses. The way Herbert describes the arid landscape of Arrakkis, our Dune planet, surpasses anything a human from our gloriously hydrated world could ever truly relate to. It makes one conscious of the tongue sent out to wet the lips; we are parched by proxy. I am profoundly aware of the luxury of submerging my bare flesh in a substance so precious, the Fremen would kill for the portion of it left inside my skin.

This book has fans who are not only devoted, but in some cases, rabid. Just as easily (perhaps even more so) as L. Ron Hubbard turned Dianetics into a cult, so too could have Herbert. His own ethics caused him to dismiss this notion as rightfully absurd (though someone once pointed out that we could easily call them the Bene Jesuits) but it was by no means because there was insufficient passion for the notion, or fodder for the purpose to be gleaned from the novel. 

It’s capacity to do so marks it out as a true classic of literature. Science fiction is often sidelined as trivial and not worthy of status equal to Dickens or Austen. However, in the best examples of the genre, the human imagination is unhampered by the bounds of reality, yet can reveal more truth about the universe we can see as well as what we can only imagine. It is liberating and deserves as much reverence as any other form of truth revealed upon the page.

Ayn Rand was kind of a crazy bitch. I do not say this to dismiss her, I say it because although I find many of the themes she champions to have a profound resonance for me, I find her sort of personally repugnant.

I read a biography called Goddess of the Market By Jennifer Burns and though it is clear the author is not much in sympathy with Ayn’s views, she turned a fairly dispassionate eye on her life and actions. Ayn was a bit of a megalomaniac, and being one myself, I can relate to that part, but her absolute certainty that her own rationale was the only evidence she needed to support her sometimes outlandish claims flies in the face of sound decision making.

All that being said, The Fountainhead is a truly engaging novel about the ways in which well-meaning people with an overdose of white guilt can undermine the efforts of genius. And also, masochism.

The female lead in this story is utterly unlike any woman I have ever met. I understand she is meant to represent Ayn’s feminine ideal, but it is a truly fascinating experience to read a female character, written by a woman who also happens to be a raging misogynist. I can relate to her feelings; some women are wretches. But her wholesale conviction of the female of the species seems, like many of her views, partially justifiable but wholly overwrought.

Dominique fails to convince as a person, let alone a woman. In almost every instance she behaves in a way the defies reason, let alone natural human feeling. When she realizes she loves our protagonist, she forces herself to marry his rival to punish herself and him, for reasons that really don’t make bunches of sense. Ayn subjects this character to a rape that she romanticizes to the point where rather than feeling violated, Dominique feels freed of her pesky virginity and liberated to abuse herself some more, if that was what her attacker thought was best.

Howard Roark is more of an archetype even than his lady love. But he manages to seem more feasible than her because Ayn invests him with some vulnerability, even if it’s hard to see at first. He truly is a genius, thwarted by circumstance and jealousy, as well as his own unwillingness to compromise.

All of the forces and folks arrayed against the protagonists are caricatures meant to make a point about what Ayn saw as the terrifying slide of our capitalist system toward a socialist/communist nightmare like the one from which she fled in the USSR. Her fear and loathing of the type of  “government” serving as a legitimizing force for the abominations that Stalin enacted on his people is understandable, but her slippery slope mentality was a classic fallacy of logic and unlikely to amount to her dire predictions. 

Now, you might be a little confused so far, as this book is listed as one of my favorites, and thusfar I’ve kinda taken it to pieces. I did this mainly because I like it to be clear that I love it in spite of it’s rather glaring flaws. I am not unaware of them, I just see the entire as worthwhile and rewarding even with all of these things in mind.

Despite the extremity of her position, and the exaggerated tendencies of her characters, Rand manages to point out some rather disturbing undercurrents in American political ans social culture. She mocks the entrenchment of the intellegensia, and their fear of  accepted wisdom being challenged in significant ways; this classically because their position is assured by the conventional wisdom, and where would they be without it? She also points out the fundamentally patronizing and frighteningly persistant attitude that government is somehow better equipped to dictate the structure of it’s citizens lives than they might do themselves. She cunningly illustrates the frightening potential of mob rule, and questions why utilitarianism has become just cause to deprive individuals of their rights and the products of their toil. 

Whatever your political bent may be, her critique of the nanny state has moments of luminous clarity, and is phrased in evocative language which has captured the imagination of generations. And though I do not agree with everything she says, I owe her a debt of gratitude for being a voice that could articulate the dignity of the human spirit in the face of oppression, and explicate the value of a reasoned struggle against political forces that serve to undermine liberty.

If you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense, some of the ranting in this post won’t make sense. Even if you HAVE seen The Sixth Sense, it might not, but I feel like it has to be said: Somebody’s a Fuckin Thief. More on that later

This book is actually composed of two novellas. The first is called Sabella: The Bloodstone and is a gothic sci-fi mystery romance. Sabella is the preternaturally beautiful and seductive focus of the tale. She narrates the course of her life in vignettes and outtakes slowly revealing that on her far space colony of Novo Mars, she is in fact one of the old inhabitants reborn; She’s a vampire.

It has it’s advantages, but she’s fairly paranoid all things considered. As she puts it “I’m a lady who’s past is all littered with dead gentlemen callers” She didn’t start out as a vampire, and what happened to her is part of the mystery, but she carries around a palpable sense of guilt for her feeding habits and tries in various ways to repent for her sins.

Ultimately she finds herself with a nemesis, Jace. He’s hot on her trail and seems to have a good idea of what she’s been up to. Jace is determined to make her answer for her actions. As she runs away from her pursuer, she runs toward the remnants of the Christian faith, imported from Earth. She finds herself sitting in a church whispering in Latin

De profundus clamave. Ad te domine. Domine exaude voca meam

Out of the depths oh, lord I have cried to you. Hear my voice.*

When Jace finally catches her, he does not punish her as she expects, but shows her a truth that sets her free of her guilt and teaches her a new way to live. And rather than being based on religion, it’s all about sex. I’m for it.

The second novella is Kill The Dead

In this story Parl Dro is a famous exorcist who travels the landscape leaving his legend to grow as long as his shadow at dusk. His history is melancholy and mostly solitare, but when he does come into contact with other people, his energy and seventh sense tend to impact the course of events rather profoundly.

We begin on a hillside on the outskirts of a small village. When Parl comes down out of the mountains, he can sense the presence of the undead in a leaning house by the wayside. It happens that unlike in some cases, where his services are welcome and wanted, here the ghost in residence is there due to the conjuring of her still living witch-gifted sister. She was called back from the spirit world as means to assuage the guilt the still living sister Ciddy felt after she killed her sister Cilny in the first place. She’s a charming girl, really.

When Parl sends Ciddy on her way to the next world, Cilny is incensed and driven to a mad rage that no human means of revenge could ever satisfy. She goes to the length of drowning herself to exact the particular brand of retribution she has picked out for the ghost-killer.

Meanwhile, back in the village, Parl has made the acquaintance of one Mayal; a minstrel who’s skills mark him as singularly gifted, but leave him generally despised. He hopes to write a song which will make his fortune, and when he sees the famous Dro, he decides to follow him about and try to make a ballad from his exploits.

Less than thrilled with this addition to his journey, Parl attempts to leave Mayal behind more than once. Somehow though, Mayal manages to find him nevertheless. After he catches Parl up a second time, it become clear that not only is Mayal following him, so too is the vengeance bent Ciddy. Dro attempts to exorcise her in the customary manner, but for some reason fail to send her away entirely.

Worried that Ciddy has latched on to Mayal as a source of ongoing energy for her weird pseudo-life Parl keeps the minstrel with him to try and rid them both of her presence once and for all.

Various and sundry transpires, but the ultimate confrontation reveals that Parl is no ordinary ghost killer; no indeed much to his own and everyone else’s surprise he too is a ghost**
There are other revelations I’ll spare you, but it is an engaging tale with more twists than I just gave away for the sake of the following rant…
The Sixth Sense is a move about a kid who is having a hard time because he has the uncanny power of being able to see the spirits of dead people. He has various adventures in the course of coming to terms with this truth. Like when he goes into a church, and in the background we hear the following phrase in Latin:

De profundus clamave. Ad te domine. Domine exaude voca meam

Out of the depths oh, lord I have cried to you. Hear my voice.

Huh. Okay. “But Autumn,” you say “Latin phrases appear everywhere! This isn’t that unusual!”
BUT THEN!!!
We are forced to remember that the person who is most crucial to the process of saving the charming young fella much to his own surprise, he too is a ghost
So.
When I watched this film, I SCOURED the credits for ANY MENTION of Tanith Lee (the author of the book that is herein reviewed) and there was none. Therefore, someone is a fuckin’ thief. Because even though there are lots of differences and plot elements and blah blah blah, there is CLEARLY some inspiration drawn from this book, and no acknowledgement of same and that pisses me off. Plus, anyone who goes by M.Night is a wankjob anyways.

But, despite the ranty digression, I do love this book.

*This will be important for the ranting

**This too.

It is hard to be both heartfelt and earnest, while also being world-wise and wry. They usually cancel each other out in a battle-royale style cage match of competing ideals, but somehow in this novel, they coexist. And the comfortable peace they have made with each other results in an excellent read.

This is Alex Shakar’s first novel, but you’d never know it. He is deft and confident in his storytelling. He handles having a protagonist of the opposite gender with great finesse and utter believability, which is rare enough generally, but more so for a man writing in a woman’s voice. There is almost always something missing, or added that should not be. Shakar speaks as Ursula with complete veracity, and I admire that.

Ursula is a character that is altogether easily liked. She is smart and determined, though it isn’t always clear to her just what she is determined to do. She is picking her way through the aftermath of a dramatic family crisis, and trying to build a world around herself that makes sense. She lives in a large city perched on the side of a volcano, and you get the sense that this very clearly demonstrates the volatile energy that both she and the city are possessed by.

For in addition to her own struggle to decide who she is, her younger sister Ivy is engaged in a much more literal struggle to determine this. She’s suffered a psychotic break and is suffering from intense schizophrenia. Somehow the mental and emotional arc of these sisters is remarkably similar, and appears to vary mostly in terms of intensity, rather than content.

The portrayal of mental illness in this book is different than any i have ever encountered. It seeks to discuss it in terms that are immediately relateable and easy for people who’ve never dealt with it to take in. Catatonia is described, rather than being a lack of awareness, as a response to stimulus overload. The body and mind cannot function with all of the input currently in play, and so in self-defense, all systems lock in place to allow processing to take place. Likewise the way Shakar describes Ivy’s paranoia makes it all too easy to see that, she might be crazy, but she also has a point.

At least, Ursula does. She has taken a job in marketing and finds herself trying to absorb all the countless ways in which we are manipulated every moment of our lives, without losing a grip on a kinder gentler version of reality.Her job has essentially become to watch and observe people so as to use the information to compel them to act in a particular way. Not too far from Ivy’s version of the truth, after all…

Throughout the book Shakar drops in little mini-lectures on advertising and the marketing mindset. Having read this novel several years before Mad Men came out, I recognized many of the compelling themes in that excellent show to have been touched upon here. One of the characters Chas delivers a speech to his clients not unlike the one Don Draper gives to his cohorts. How, not only to exploit desire, but how to create it where none currently exists. It is almost a treatise on consumerism, and it is compelling and deeply though provoking.

As is, to my mind, this whole book. It creates a world where there is a serious push toward and market for diet water. Finding the means to sell this absurdity become Ursula’s job, and though she is appalled at the notion of doing so on some core level, she is also seduced by the notion that she might have the skills to do so. The capacity to enchant a whole population into doing her will. Into traveling lite.



I feel like I’ve been describing a lot of my favorite things by saying they are “charming.” It may be the case, but I cannot escape the adjective with regard to this book. It is a novel, a middleweight example of the genre, and a perfectly enjoyable read.

We join Faris Nallaneen at the gates of Greenlaw College in turn-of-the-century France. She is attempting to gain entry, though she doesn’t particularly want to attend. She is the duchess of a small country called Galazon, which is situated somewhere amidst a semi-fictionalized Europe. The book follows her progress through the gates of the college, and to all else beyond, till she reaches the World’s End.

Most everything about Faris seems rather awkward and ill-fitting, but she is a winning heroine nevertheless. She is nobility, but taken away from her duties and her homeland, she is fiercely eager to return, and it sometimes robs her of her manners. She is feisty and stubborn, and though she is obliged to take her education far from home, she is convinced the claim that students can leave having learned magic is aught but superstition and fancy.

She makes friends and enemies both while at the school, and despite her skepticism, manages not only to learn magic, but even to perform some; accidentally, and later with a will. She is sent away from school to answer larger responsibilities and takes with her the best friend she made during her time in the college, one Jane Brailsford. She also has in her company Reed and Tyrian; one a subject from her homeland, the other a hired gun. As Faris begins to realize the scope of her duties, both to Galazon and the world, she is confronted with ever more dramatic encounters with the magic she wasn’t even sure she believed in.

This book touches on so many themes, yet it manages never to wander away from what is essentially an entertaining romp. Stevermer has a wry sense of humor, and all the characters display a sound appreciation for the absurd. Though the novel focused primarily on Faris, all of her companions and cohorts are fully fleshed out and three dimensional. Even Menary, as Faris’ primary antagonist, manages to be winning in her utter disregard for anything but her own pleasure. As they range all over the face of Europe, we feel more closely drawn in to the tight little clique that Faris has created around her. There is a feeling of friendly intimacy with these characters that is actually rather difficult to achieve in most stories. This sense of inclusion lends itself to becoming absorbed in this tale to a considerable degree.

And though it cannot be called totally uncluttered, the story is engaging in the extreme and touches on various compelling topics; duty, politics, romance, family, and the value of a sound liberal education. As Faris is suffering through deportment, her teacher scolds her for failing to execute her stance with proper finesse. Faris retorts that deportment is a stale discipline, and asks why should she not form her own fashions. Dame Brachet replies

You must form your own fashions in a way which demonstrates that you flout the standards from knowledge, not from ignorance[…]

From the first words, Faris followed this speech with eyes narrowed, “But I may flout the standards?”

“Of course,” said Dame Brachet with some asperity “What do you think standards are for?”

I think in the haste toward rebellion, or the weariness with traditions we feel are pointless, many people forget this very important truth.

Stevermer uses her language with skill and flair. She has as much a sense of fun with her prose as she does with her plot, and this always makes a read much more enjoyable to my mind. She isn’t taking herself too seriously, even though she is communicating some very touching and meaningful sentiments about love and duty throughout. And though the book is indeed romantic in style, the light touch with with Stevermer handles the actual romance in the story somehow makes it touching and dignified in a way with many authors fail by revealing too much; inviting too much scrutiny to be cast upon the most private dealings.

I customarily sit down with this book and find myself completely absorbed. I enjoy being in the act of reading it. It is comfortable and familliar without ever becoming stale. At just under 400 pages I can tear through it in a long afternoon, but I enjoy the process of savoring it. You can tell how much I love a book by how abused it looks; more so if I have a second copy that isn’t for reading, but rather just to have. Mine is edges curled, water stained, sauce be-spotted, and even slightly torn in spots. It’s condition a testament to it’s place in my heart.

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