The World of Leigh Bardugo

The World of Leigh Bardugo

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I read Shadow & Bone several weeks ago because I had a special $1.99 e-book deal on it come to my email. I had heard good things about it and wanted to read it anyway, but hadn’t given it a very high priority.

Holy. Shit.

Shadow & Bone is one of those books that reminded me why I continue to read YA books well into my adulthood. Leigh Bardugo is brilliant. In a genre heavily inundated with fantasy stories based on Celtic mythology and vampires, this author has constructed a world that is entirely new. With its strong themes of eastern-European nomenclature and mythology, yet possessing its own unique twists, I’ve never read a story like Shadow & Bone.

“Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life–a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.” –Indiebound

This book has everything you love about a YA novel. Danger, romance, a powerful female trying to find her own way separate from the men who would influence her. Darkness. Creepy creatures. Tragedy. Heartbreak. Betrayal. Nothing about this novel is predictable or boring. It kept me engaged from start to finish. When I finished this one, I had to read the rest of the series, too.

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The rest of the series was very strong, too. At the risk of giving away what happened in novel one, I won’t give synopses for two and three. Be satisfied knowing that I simply devoured this series and was completely obsessed. In fact, I wasn’t happy when it ended, and bought all of the short stories and novellas associated with the world in these novels.

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I love this series. I love everything about it. The plot. The characters. The setting. The darkness. The suspense. The intensity. The fearlessness of Bardugo’s writing. I highly recommend all of these novels. It never slows down. From start to finish, it is beautiful and intense, and I believe you will love it as much as I did.

12.26–Shadowfell

12.26–Shadowfell

Remember how I said the next blog would be about the Doctor Who book? I lied.  I just couldn’t get into that one while I had a Juliet Marillier book waiting to be read.  So, today’s blog is about her latest novel for teens, Shadowfell.  While I much prefer the depth and challenge of her novels for adults, I still felt the satisfaction that I always get from reading her novels.

This novel is set in a fictional land called Alban–one that much resembles Ireland in its landscape and its lore.  It once was a place of happiness and beauty, but a tyrannical king named Keldec has turned it into a place of suspicion, fear, and death.  He has clamped down on his kingdom with an iron gauntlet, forbidding his people to use their “canny” abilities or to question his rule.  Anyone who shows the least sign of magical talent is hunted down and brainwashed to enter Keldec’s service. Every autumn, bands of his Enforcers scour the land, rooting out rebellion or canniness and burning down entire villages for the sins of one.

Neryn is a 15-year-old girl who has been on the run for years, ever since her grandmother and brother were murdered by Enforcers and her canny abilities made her a prize for Keldec’s cause.  Neryn’s powers are more than just keen sight or musical ability.  Neryn can see and speak with the Good Folk, and Keldec wants her bent to his will, for anyone who controls Neryn holds a powerful weapon–the power to harness the spirits and magical beings of the land of Alban itself.  Neryn must find a hidden, legendary stronghold called Shadowfell–a haven said to be safe for people with magical abilities or rebellious leanings.  She is aided on her journey by a mysterious and stony-faced stranger, who she has great difficulty trusting, and her powerful Good Folk friends.

Everything that Marillier writes is infused with the magic and mystery of folklore. Her prose is stunning in its loveliness.  She constructs beautiful plots that always entail a heroine who must find her courage and undertake a journey most girls would shrink from.  They also always end with these girls finding love in strange and unexpected ways.  This novel was no exception.  From what I can recall, it is the first novel she’s written that isn’t set in the world we know.  Alban is a mythical land with its own geography, history, and lore. However, like I said, this lore very closely resembles Irish folklore, and it’s for this reason that I was mostly in fits the entire time I was reading.  For those that don’t know me, I’m absolutely obsessed with Irish folklore, and being in Ireland this summer and getting to learn about it first-hand was pretty much a dream come true. But I digress.  The beauty with which Marillier writes about this lore, the magic of the land, the land itself, and love, are all things that make me adore her writing.

Of course I struggled to find flaws with the book. It was predictable, sure, but I couldn’t tell if it was because I know her body of work so well, or a genuine lack of creativity.  Somehow I very much doubt that it’s the latter.  And there were parts that surprised me, pleasantly and not-so-pleasantly.  Ultimately, I was once again awed by her writing.

Her characters are always pleasing. She often blurs the line between good and evil, and when it comes to the Good Folk, she never really clarifies that line. They are, rather, mostly neutral, choosing to remain aloof of the petty squabbles of mankind. Until, that is, they affect the fate of the Good Folk as well, and that is very much the case in this novel.  Though they are beautiful, elusive, and powerful, they are also arrogant, most of them believing they are better than humankind (and rightly so).  Neryn, however, does manage to form a bond with a few of them, and earns the grudging respect of others.  Always, they are the self-possessed, regal beings that they always are in Marillier’s body of work, and I receive the most delight in reading about them in all of her novels.

The only thing that bothered me was the ending. Being a teen book, and therefore, naturally, a series, it did not have a true ending. It bothers me when authors do not wrap up a book well, leaving the reader impatiently waiting for the next installment of the story. It is, perhaps, my biggest pet peeve in writing. Still, I will anxiously await the next chapter in Neryn’s journey to free Alban from its tyrannical king.  Other than that, it was a delight to read, and I recommend it highly, as I do with all of her books.


12.21–The Princess Bride

12.21–The Princess Bride

After years of wanting to read this book, I finally got around to it! Sadly, it was the e-reader version I bought when I was going to Ireland and planning on not buying books/lugging books in my backpack (which I did anyway).  This was the first real e-book I’d ever read, and it really took away from the reading experience. I cannot stand them! It also took me five months because I didn’t want to pick up my stupid phone and “read.”

Anyway, the book was pretty good, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would.  I know I’m going to get a lot of flak for this because a lot of people love the book as well as the film. Since everyone has seen the movie at least 500 times, I won’t go too deeply into the synopsis.  Everything that happened in the film happened in the book, though obviously in much more detail.  A few include:

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

The dialogue in the book is fairly close to that of the film.  You get a lot more backstory on all the characters though. Much more on Inigo, for instance. The reader is privy to the death of his father.

Mawage

This guy was actually written with that hilarious speech impediment that we all love to imitate.

Here is the kiss that blew all other kisses away.  Don’t you just love them?

Ok, enough of that.  The novel is a lot more political than the film. Goldman writes as if he has simply abridged the narrative of the famous S. Morgenstern, the Florinese author who wrote The Princess Bride as a political and social satire. This gets really confusing at times.  Of course, the reader figures Goldman’s asides are also fictional, but he is extremely convincing, mostly because he tells anecdotes from his own life and the events leading up to his decision to abridge the old text.  He screws with reality  throughout the book and it frustrated me at times. It did, however, make it memorable.

I was really impressed that the movie was so close to the novel. I suppose that’s because Goldman worked on the movie too.  But the dialogue, especially the most famous lines, were almost exactly the same.  It gave the novel the same whimsy and frivolity of the movie.  The story, too, is the same we know and love, though more in-depth histories and rivalries of Florin and Guilder are present.

If Goldman had ended it with the escape of Westley, Buttercup, Inigo, and Fezzik from Prince Humperdink, it would have been the perfect ending.  However, there is the epilogue, or sequel (I’m not sure which), called “Buttercup’s Baby.” It’s a stupid name, for one.  Secondly, the plot is ridiculous. It plays with time entirely too much.  And it goes virtually nowhere. Also, there’s a pseudo-sex-scene between Westley and Buttercup and it sort of shatters their image of youthful and pure romance.

In the end, I did enjoy it, simply due to its similarities to the film that I adore.  But there are things that distracted from the story itself and I really wished they hadn’t been there.  While it was a clever way to write the novel, and I’ll admit I’ve never seen anything like it before, it was still fairly irritating at times.  I gave it 4/5 stars on Goodreads, but only because I felt guilty for rating it any lower. However, no matter the weird narrative, The Princess Bride will always hold a special place in my heart.

 


12.19–Frankenstein

12.19–Frankenstein

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So sorry I’ve been out of it lately. I’ve been job hunting, and we all know how fun that is. Also, I’ve been creating a new domain all my own, www.BibliographyBlog.com, and that’s taken some work.  But I’m back! And hopefully back to normal.

Obviously, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein needs no introduction.  It is read every year by perhaps millions of kids all over the globe (or it’s supposed to be…we all know teenagers don’t love to read the things they’re told to read). This, then, is less of a review and more of my reactions to the text.

In school, I loved studying the Romantics.  As bombastic, long-winded, and miserable as they are, I felt at that time that I identified with them.  In some ways I still feel that way, but it is mostly their regard for nature and their hope for escape from the complicated society of man that I feel.  The melodramatic sorrow is something I’ve mostly left behind. Still, I love the Romantics.  In the center of this movement exists Gothic literature, and at the center of this–perhaps the most famous work of Gothic literature–is Frankenstein.

The incredible thing is that this enduring work of literature and the infinitely infamous monster therein were created by a teenaged girl as the answer to a challenge by her older husband and friends.  For those that do not know the history of the novel, Mary Shelley and her husband Percy visited Lord Byron in Switzerland.  One night, Byron proposed a challenge to the poets residing in his home: create a ghost story.  For days Mary strained her brain in an attempt to come up with something good enough to compete with the Romantic titans around her.  According to Mary herself, she was visited by the specter of the very monster she would proceed to create, and out of that visitation arose one of the greatest stories of all time.  It has been adapted for the screen more than any other work of fiction in history. It certainly makes one reflect on our present society.  It was written by a teenager, and most teenagers now can’t even read it.

The text itself is beautiful, and utterly different from what most people think they know of it.  There is not much of a description of the monster himself, and what does exist is nothing like the public’s common conception of him. He is large, yes, and ugly.  But he is extremely smart, well-spoken, and very fast.  He possesses super-human strength, but his massive size seems to reflect the massive heart within him, capable of great love, or of great sorrow and hatred.  Sadly, it is this last emotion that he settles upon in the end, after his creator has rejected and betrayed him. Events do not move swiftly and the novel is not packed with action. As with any good work of Romantic literature, it is mostly self-reflection, thoughts on the great beauty of the surrounding landscape or the nature of man and beast, or long passages of “woe is me” written in about 14,000 different ways.

So, what’s to like about the novel? After all, it’s full of sorrow and tragedy and wrath and destruction. To start, language.  Call me a nerd (I’m totally ok with that), but nothing really gets to me like beautiful, elevated language.  In Mary Shelley’s time, people spoke and wrote in a way that is elegant and thoughtful.  There is a lot of vocabulary in the book that was unknown to me, and I like to think I have a somewhat expanded vocabulary. Both Frankenstein and his monster are bombastic and loquacious. The monster tells a story that lasts for several chapters. Though it could have been shortened drastically, the language is so mesmerizing in its eloquence that one hardly notices the passing of the pages.

Frankenstein’s story, similar to those of the infamous Doctor Faustus or Lord Byron’s Manfred, tells of a man who seeks knowledge far above what man is entitled to know of the universe.  He seeks to create human life, but the unnamed forces of nature do not seem to appreciate this, nor does Frankenstein truly understand how to do so, and his experiment goes horribly wrong.  As with other Gothic heroes, Frankenstein is extremely melodramatic. It is possible for him to solve his own problem in one of several ways, but he must choose to focus on something other than how horrible is the abomination he has created.  Sadly, he cannot move past the hideousness of the creature and the things it does when it is hurt and lonely. He loses everything and everyone he loves due to his single-mindedness, and the creature pulls Frankenstein down to the creature’s own level: completely alone and devoid of happiness. Frankenstein is punished for his arrogance and ambition by powers much greater than himself.  It is this epic human struggle, so common throughout this literary movement, that I find so emotional and compelling. Having never seen any of the numerous Frankenstein adaptations, I had virtually no concept of what the story contained (excepting the obvious). It was extremely intense and stressful for me to read this book, as I knew that nothing good could happen, but I couldn’t help but hope anyway!

I loved this book. The fact that a girl so young could write such an enduring and tempestuous work–one that caused numerous powerful emotions to arise within me–is incredible, and I admire young Mary Shelley greatly for her brilliant work.  It is so unbelievably beautiful.

 

12.17–A Clash of Kings

12.17–A Clash of Kings

This novel, in case you don’t know, is the second in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.  By no means as interesting as the first, much of it feels rather like filler.  It takes a very long while for the events to get moving. For a novel that’s 969 pages long, reading through 400 pages in which mostly nothing happens is pretty difficult.  Still, the events of the latter half of the novel make pushing through the first part worth it, and I very much look forward to starting the next novel.

As ever, the story of the Seven Kingdoms is told from multiple third-person points of view, following a large number of different characters.  One of the most frustrating things about this series is the sheer number of characters (I believe I read somewhere that throughout the series of five books so far there are over 1,000 named characters).  Their names are unusual and some of them are very similar, making it extremely difficult to keep track of everyone.  At times I only followed the story based on some vague concept of a person’s character–this man is bad, this woman is benevolent, this man can’t be trusted, this one can be bought for gold–instead of attempting to memorize all the names. It helps to read the appendix at the back, and keep referring to it as the novel progresses.

I will say this for Martin: with his main players he takes a great deal of care, crafting them into multi-faceted, many-sided characters.  My favorite in this novel is Tyrion Lannister, a witty man whose lack of brawn has turned him into a clever schemer–the man who really controls the country, though from the shadows so that no one knows it. Arya, my favorite in the last book, lost most of her spunk for this one, though she gained it back at the end to reclaim her place in my heart. Sansa, whom I hated in the first novel, certainly earns the reader’s sympathy in this one, as her mad betrothed, Joffrey, abuses her horribly, both emotionally and physically.  Cersei Lannister and her son Joffrey are both evil to the core–Joffrey a spoiled, mad child who has been given a crown, and Cersei the mother who will do anything to protect her son and see him hold on to the Iron Throne.  Each of these characters, and the others, evoke specific emotions within the reader, and once the chapter ends and we don’t know how soon we’ll see them again, there is a little bit of disappointment.  I’ve considered skipping ahead to the next chapter belonging to a character I’m particularly interested in, but I know that by the time the novel gets around to that next chapter, so many things have changed that nothing will make sense.

The plot moves swiftly and the fortunes of characters change in a flash.  In this novel, as in its predecessor and presumably its sequels, nothing is certain–life or death, good or evil, victory or defeat.  Even when it looks as if a battle can have only one outcome, Martin surprises us with some new trickery.  With five kings vying for one throne, and two more self-styled monarchs eyeing the throne from a distance, there is no well-defined line in the sand, no clear hero for which to cheer.  In this, Martin creates realism far beyond what most authors will do.  These people could be walking around in an alternate universe, where fate does not always favor the noble or the good.  Though the world he created is very thorough, complete with topography, geography, history, religion, language, culture, and the previously spoken-of characters, it is this ability of his to not give us the happy ending we want that truly brings the story to life and makes it believable.

Though I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as the first, I still had difficulty putting it down, especially the nearer I drew to the end.  The simmering pot of the Seven Kingdoms explodes into a boil, and it gets to be a very exciting read.