Tuesday 28 July 2015

Review: Wolf

Wolf Wolf by Alma Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a review copy of this book from the author, since I'd reviewed the previous book in the series.

The viewpoint character in this book is the brother of the previous book's viewpoint character, and spends the entire first part of the book going over the backstory from his perspective. In a sense, then, you don't need to read the previous book in order to orient yourself, but I really suggest that you do read it, because it was one of the best books I read last year.

I'm not certain whether the version I received was the final version. It felt to me as if it needed another round of revision, mainly because of the periodic appearance of 80, 100, even 120-word sentences that rambled from topic to topic, interrupting themselves several times along the way. I'm not sure if this was deliberate characterisation, the mind style of the character; it seemed to disappear later in the book, when the young man gained more sense of purpose and direction. If it was deliberate, it didn't work that well for me.

Something else that annoyed me slightly (and added to the sense that the book was just going on and on) is the lack of chapter breaks. I several times stopped reading partway through a scene in order to go to bed or get back to work after my lunch break, since I didn't know when the next stopping point was going to be.

So much for the flaws. I thought I might have found a third, in that the viewpoint character doesn't himself take most of the actions which progress and resolve the plot, relying on his friends to do so instead. On reflection, though, this isn't really a flaw. There are multiple kinds of main characters, just as there are multiple kinds of leader, and this character is the kind who inspires others around him by his devotion to a cause, by his willingness to risk everything for what's important to him, and by the fact that what's important to him is helping someone else. Even if it's important because of his guilt over past actions, it's still inspiring--not only to his fellow characters, but also to me. I found myself moved by his devotion to his sister and by the loyalty that inspired in the other characters.

Overall, then, while it wasn't, to me, as good as the previous book, and tended to wander and ramble at the beginning, I did find this book enjoyable, and the end both emotionally moving and satisfying.

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Review: Falcon

Falcon Falcon by Emma Bull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the upside, Emma Bull writes beautifully and competently. On the downside, she has a tendency to be on the downside--to write beautifully about tragedy and despair and things going terribly, horribly wrong.

Which is why, when I was a bit down emotionally because of some pain issues, I stopped reading this at about 92%, since the last thing I need in that mood is tragedy. It turns out that I stopped just before the most tragic part--but it also turned out that, immediately after that tragic part, the story takes a previously unsignalled turn for the positive, via what amounts to a deus ex machina (because it, too, struck me as completely unsignalled, and also unlikely).

Apart from that, it's wonderfully done, though it's not my favourite kind of thing.

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Monday 27 July 2015

Review: Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf

Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf by Sherry Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I also read and reviewed the previous book in this series (via Netgalley, as with this one), and found it enjoyable enough that I picked up the second as well. While I thought it had some flaws, they're not fatal, and would be relatively simple to correct.

Once again, we have a freshened-up sword-and-sorcery world, charmingly rendered. It's surprising how a couple of elements from the USA in the 1930s (movies and gangsters) perk up a potentially paint-by-numbers D&D-style fantasy world, making the familiar tropes into background furniture rather than subjecting us to grinding through another dull iteration of them.

Mabel is a delightful heroine, authentically brave in a quiet and determined way. There isn't much outright action, and the story starts with a lot of preliminary throat-clearing and doesn't show us any conflict to speak of for a long time (one of the flaws I mentioned), but once the conflict does start I found it kept my interest. I did feel that Mabel perhaps triumphed a little too thoroughly, given the overall situation, but otherwise her success was satisfying.

The writing had some basic (albeit common) issues. Most notable were commas before the main verb (and in other unnecessary places), and commas missing before terms of address, but to me the biggest problem was the long parade of simple declarative sentences. While the narrator was intended to be unsophisticated and naive, the writing style, to me, overdid that aspect. There were also a few other commonly-made errors: homonyms (backwards/backward, definitively/definitely, compliment/complement, reigns/reins, breech/breach), "a millennia" instead of "a millennium", "may" used where it should have been "might", and missing past perfect tense from time to time. All of these are errors that I see a lot of authors making, but there were quite a few of them, more than I felt there should have been in a book that credits an editor, from an author who has graduated from the Seton Hill MFA program and from Clarion.

One thing I thought was mostly done well was the recap, reminding readers of what had gone on in the first book. Since I read that book a while ago, and have read a lot of others since, I needed the refresher. However, there were two things missing that I noticed: firstly, we're never explicitly reminded of what exactly the problem was with Mabel's mother that caused her exile, and secondly, there are several mentions of dwarfs braiding (or not braiding) their beards before we're reminded of what that signifies in their culture: that they're looking (or not looking) for a relationship.

Mabel's own relationships with family and friends were well explored, I thought, and made sense. Character and character relationships are definite strengths of the author, and with a bit more cutting to the chase and some revision on sentence structure and other writing basics, this would be an excellent book. As it is, it's entertaining and enjoyable.

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