The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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This fairy story begins with a vision of a horned boy asleep in a glass coffin, and a small town’s troubled relationship with the fairy world at its border. The sleeping fairy prince in his unbreakable box is a tourist attraction and a site of illicit high school revels. The action gets started when one morning the horned boy is gone, his coffin shattered.

The main characters are brave Hazel and Ben, her gay brother who has an amazing musical talent, gifted from a fairy. As children they made a game of protecting the town from dangerous fairies and hags. Years ago, Hazel made a bargain with a fairy, the results of which are revealed slowly and dramatically. Their friend, Jack, a changeling, also becomes involved as the fairy court intrigues are uncovered.

This is just the kind of YA fantasy I love. A mystery. Two love stories. A dangerous but enchanting fairy world hovering just below the surface of reality. Complex relationships and moral questions and issues of guilt and complicity and unintended consequences. Nontraditional gender roles. A story that works on a metaphorical level as well as literally. Startling, strange, and fantastic descriptions. Sparkling sentences. Highly recommended to anyone who likes this genre.

Shadowspell

Shadowspell by Jenna Black

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This is the second book in a YA fantasy series I began reading a long, long time ago, before this blog. I’m not sure I’ll pick up the next book in the series, although I must have liked the first one enough to put the second on my list. Maybe it’s a sign of my taste getting more refined, or the series not fulfilling its potential.

The story is about Dana, a Faeriewalker, a girl of mixed human and fairy heritage who has the power to bring fairies into our world and to bring technology into Fairie. In the first scene, she’s fighting her fairy boyfriend off her in a theater, in a way that’s presented as cute and hot rather than rapey and disrespectful. The bad guy is the Erkling, the sexy leader of the Wild Hunt, who abducts her boyfriend and gives Dana a nasty Scarpia Ultimatum, which, disappointingly, is also presented as hot and seductive rather than rapey and exploitative. Dana stupidly makes a bargain with the Erkling, when everybody knows there’s always a catch in deals with faeries.

The world that’s built here had the potential to be really cool, so it’s a shame what Black has done with it as far as those creepy rapey moments. Dana makes a kind of annoying narrator in a very materialistic, stereotypical, and exaggerated teen girl way. I’m curious about what comes next here, but I’m not sure whether I’m curious enough to get through another book like this.

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

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In this last book of the Artemis Fowl series, Artemis Fowl’s nemesis, Opal Koboi, escapes from fairy prison with the help of her clone, and begins orchestrating the destruction of humanity. She hopes to resurrect fairy Berserkers buried on the Fowl property. Of course, Artemis and his fairy, dwarf, centaur, and bodyguard friends have to stop her. As always in this series, the book is jam-packed with improbable action scenes and witty banter. Artemis’s twin brothers are major characters this time, adding both to the humor and the stakes for their brother. Artemis himself completes the growth process that began in the first novel, becoming a hero capable of real sacrifice and impressive planning. It’s a good ending to a good series.

Darkest Mercy

Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

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This book ends the Wicked Lovely series. I’ve enjoyed the other books and the ending that this book gives to the various narrative strains. All out war between the fairy courts made this volume an exciting climax to the entire series. In addition to the action, there were some intriguing dramatic and romantic scenes, with characters making big choices, some of which seemed surprising, yet inevitable. As the novel opens, the characters are positioned like chess pieces, threatening or protecting each other. Aislynn and Keenan, the Summer Queen and King, are each in love with another and struggling to rule their court together without being together. One thing I really appreciate about this series is that Aislynn doesn’t fall for Keenan, despite all the magic urging her to.

The motivations for some of the characters sometimes seemed weak because they were based on “rules” of the fairy world, like the need for balance between the courts, or the fact that Summer must be happy and when the Summer King and Queen aren’t happy and aren’t together, their court is weak. Bananach, the villain, the embodiment of Disorder, nicknamed War, was transparent in this same way.

If you grant Marr the right to make the rules for her world, though, these criticisms fade slightly. They also pale in comparison to the quality of her prose, which is far better than average for YA lit.

Tara Maya’s Wing Blog Tour

Today I’m participating in a blog tour for Wing, the fifth book in Tara Maya’s The Unfinished Song series. Earlier excerpts from the first chapter can be found at Once Upon a Time, Anna Kashina, and E-Reading and Ray Tracing. I’m currently reading the first book in the series, Initiate, and hope to share my thoughts on it and the other books soon. Until then, enjoy the exciting excerpt below!

Vessia

Vessia found a clear spot and landed. Vio held ready his weapon, a hardwood club spiked with lion teeth, and she half-expected him to run bellowing out into the crowd, but he did not move for a few minutes. Although he was monitoring the fight, his focus was turned inward.

He reached out to stroke one of her wings. “So fragile, yet so strong. Why did you not tell me you were the White Lady?”

“I didn’t know. I didn’t even know I was fae.”

“How is that possible? Aren’t fae… quite different?”

She had to smile. “Not so different. Not the Aelfae.”

“But the wings…”

“I can hide them. Even remove them.”

“Can you show me?”

She folded back her wings, danced briefly in a circle around him, then reached back and pulled. A small white opal, a pearlescent shimmery rainbow rock, fell into her hand. She showed it to him. “Things do not always look as you might expect.”

“May I hold it?”

She hesitated.

“Don’t you trust me yet, Vessia?”

“It’s not that. It’s just…for so long I knew I was meant to fly, yet I was unable to. I never want to be without wings again.”

She handed him the opal.

“So small, yet so precious.” He hefted it in his hand. “Amazing. Look—it fits in my salt bag.”

He slipped the opal into a tiny leather salt bag he wore tied into the waist-tie of his legwals. Desert warriors habitually carried salt at all times. In the extreme heat, a lick of salt could be more valuable than water. He treasured the bag, one of the few items he had inherited from his father rather than the Bone Whistler, so she was touched when he pressed it into her hands.

“Keep the bag if you like.”

“Thank you, Vio. But I think I prefer—”

Suddenly Vio cussed.

An eyeblink later, he shoved Vessia behind him and raised his club to parry a blow.

“Time to join your master, Crusher!” Vio snarled at his attacker.

“Not before you, Skull Stomper!”

Chezlio the Crusher, former Blue Zavaedi of the Bone Whistler, was a big, ugly man. Like all the Bone Whistler’s coterie, he wore human bones; in his case, mingled with piranha teeth. Underneath the mesh of bones, he had daubed blue paint over naked muscle. Blue feathers trailed from his human skull headdress and shells clacked in the legbands around his calves.

Chezlio hammered blows down on Vio. The lighter man darted in and out of five swipes for every thrust of his own. Then Chezlio managed to lock his arms around Vio’s neck. The two men scuffled in the dust, locked in a deadly hug.

Vio flipped Chezlio over his back. Chezlio landed hard but nothing stopped him. He barreled toward Vio again.

“Get to safety!” Vio commanded Vessia, as if stone clubs and flint spearheads were more dangerous to her than to him. The reverse was true. She was immortal. Slain, she would die for a day. His life would spill out with his blood, irrevocably.

But she ran. There was someone else she needed to kill.

The Opal Deception

The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer

As I promised myself I would after attending Eoin Colfer’s reading and talk at the library, I picked up the fourth book in the Artemis Fowl series. This volume had all of the things I remembered from the first three books: a lightning-fast action plot, seemingly inescapable predicaments, prickly heroes sniping at each other. In this volume, villain Opal Koboi, fueled by obsession, breaks out of the asylum where she’s supposedly in a coma, and tries to start a war between the fairies and humans. On my audiobook she had a hilariously evil baby-talk speaking style. She exacts revenge on our heroes, and there’s even a death of a major character in the beginning, which serves to prove that things have gotten serious now. I think that pretty much had to happen, sad as it is, because it’s hard to sustain a series like this over so many books without having several major characters die. After the bloodbaths in Harry Potter’s last three books, no one can write a long adventure series in which no beloved characters die anymore and be taken seriously (I’m looking at you, Stephenie Meyer, with your over-hyped battle-that-never-happened in Breaking Dawn. You didn’t have the stomach to kill a single Cullen, but Fred Weasley had to die?)

One reason I like the series, and one thing that made me quit it for so long after the mind wipe at the end of book 3, was the moral development of Artemis. I appreciated how he learned and grew and became more selfless through his adventures, and it seemed such a shame to lose that through a memory reboot. At the beginning of this book, though his mind had been wiped, Artemis hasn’t totally reverted to where he was at the beginning of the series. He still enjoys stealing and doing bad, daring, risky things, but it’s somewhat tempered by his love for his family. It takes only one life-threatening episode for him to learn to trust Holly again, and his memories come back quickly once triggered. He comments on how he feels warring impulses inside him, pulling him between good and bad, and says with surprise that good seems to be a stronger motivation. At the end he’s even musing about becoming a sort of Robin Hood figure. It seems clear that this moral development is something that’s intended to spread over all 8 books of the series. One of the things that attracted me back to the series is that I heard that in book 8 Artemis truly becomes a hero. I’m interested to see what that will mean. He’s already pretty heroic in that he makes smart decisions that save everyone just in the nick of time, often risking himself in the bargain.

The characters in this series are cartoonish, but not necessarily in a bad way. They all have certain qualities that are exaggerated, played for laughs, and used strategically in the plot and as fodder for witty banter. Mulch Diggums is one big fart joke. Opal’s vanity and devious plotting are deliciously over-the-top. At the reading, Colfer said that the first book is finally being made into a movie by Disney. I wonder if it’ll be Pixar, or more traditional animation, or live with tons of CGI, or what. I think a somewhat cartoonish art style would be fitting to the humor and tone of the story, and there are certainly lots of story elements that could not happen in real life. So I guess I’m rooting for Pixar to handle this one. And after meeting Colfer and seeing how hilarious he is, I say he deserves a part or a character to voice, or at least a cameo. I could see him as Artemis’s dad or as the voice of some fairy beaurocrat.

Overall, it’s a fun book and a fun series for action-packed adventure and humor. If you ever have to buy a book for a boy age 8-13, this series is a good bet.

Sexism in The Wise Man’s Fear, part 2

The sexism in The Wise Man’s Fear was so pervasive and wide-reaching that I had to split my discussion of it into two posts. Here‘s my full review, and here‘s the first part of this feminist critique.

The most problematic part of the book for me was the fairy Felurian. Felurian is a stereotypical siren. She’s seductive and dangerous, using her sex appeal to lead men into the fairy realm, where they waste away or go insane. Kvothe, the hero, follows her singing and falls into her fairy trap. Here’s a really good video explaining why this trope is sexist:

My favorite quote from the video: “female characters written as The Evil Demon Seductress are portraying women as manipulative, conniving and controlling. These demon women always have ulterior motives, their sexuality is dangerous, and they’ll probably bite your head off. The harmful, misogynist myth that this trope reinforces is that women primarily use their so-called sexual power as a way to manipulate, trick and control men.”

So the mere inclusion of this trope is in itself an issue. What’s even worse is the way the character deals with it. Kvothe tricks Felurian into letting him leave the Fae by singing her a song with understated compliments, and saying he can’t truthfully give her greater praise because she’s the only woman he’s been with, so he needs to go sample some mortal women, and then he’ll return. She agrees, and an inherently sexist situation has just become even more disempowering. Because of the trope, the only power Felurian has is erotic power. Kvothe takes even that away through outsmarting her, proving that his intellectual power is greater than her legendary sexual power. She becomes yet another example of a hot and sexy female who’s vain and not too bright. Worse still: before he leaves the Fae, she teaches him lots of sexual techniques, so now we all know how amazing in bed our hero Kvothe is. (Since technique, not emotion and connection, is what makes sex good, of course.) All this just felt like so much penis-waving. “Look how big and potent I am, guys!”

Kvothe returns to the real world and no one believes his tale, until a lusty barmaid compares pre-Felurian virgin Kvothe to the self-assured, worldly bachelor before her, and speaks in his defense. He beds her later, of course. (Did I mention he’s just 16 at this point? Not to mention that he’s supposed to be in love with Denna. This feels dirty.) Here’s his reaction to his first human woman:

How could any mortal woman compare with Felurian?

It is easier to understand if you think of it in terms of music. Sometimes a man enjoys a symphony. Elsetimes he finds a jig more suited to his taste. [blah, blah, blah, more objectifying tripe] Each woman is like an instrument, waiting to be learned, loved, and finely played, to have at last her own true music made.

Some might take offense at this way of seeing things, not understanding how a trouper views his music. They might think I degrade women. They might consider me callous, or boorish, or crude.

But those people do not understand love, or music, or me.

The problem with that metaphor is that it gives all the power to the man, the musician or listener. The man is active and the woman is passive. The woman is just a song to be selected and then played. It doesn’t give room for a woman to have similar variety of appetites. Each woman has only one tune. The man is encouraged to collect women like a bard collects songs, or like any collector collects objects, one for every mood or season, regardless of whether women prefer to be part of a collection, or a single showcase piece.

Maybe my offense means I don’t understand Kvothe, love, or music. I’ll give him two of the three. I do, however, understand sexism, and I know it when I see it. I just hope that Rothfuss has some distance from his narrator here, that these are Kvothe’s ideas and not his, that he’s saying this to show that Kvothe and the society he comes from are sexist. Because I wouldn’t want to say Rothfuss doesn’t understand women, sex or writing. That would be insulting.

PS. I’ve responded to many comments on this post, and many of the comments say the same things. I’ve started to resort to linking to my previously written comments. Please read the comments and my responses before leaving your own note, in case your issue has been addressed already. 9/28/2014