Welcome to yet another edition of Fiction Wednesday. I’ve been a busy reading bee of late, and will have quite a few books to report on over the coming weeks. It’s an exciting time, as I definitely find that more reading leads to more writing, which then leads to more reading. Not much wrong with that.
This week I’m offering a review of the baseball book Bottom of the 33rd, updating my thoughts on Cindy Young-Turner’s Thief of Hope (now very close to finished), talking some about The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – The Man in Black graphic novel, and digging into the first half of Brandon Sanderson’s The Hero of Ages, the third book in the Mistborn series.
Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…
Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball’s Longest Game by Dan Berry. I almost finished this one in time for last week’s deadline, but missed it by a hair. Shame, really, as the book has faded in my mind somewhat. Still, I think I can get some thoughts down here.
Chaos. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of Bottom of the 33rd. That’s not to imply that the game, or this book, are chaotic in nature, it’s more an observation of the random chaotic events that conspire to make things happen. Part of my love of baseball is borne of my love for seeing so many different influences and factors come together in one place. Baseball is a beautiful illustration of the Buddhist chains of causality. A player might end up in Arizona rather than Seattle because someone exercised their no-trade option, which might have resulted because of another player’s negative experience in Seattle, which in turn resulted from a chance collision in the outfield, and so on up the chain. Statistics may skew wildly in one direction or the other, but the laws of probability eventually pull them to an equilibrium, giving us a hint of some sort of order driving these random changes.
Bottom of the 33rd is about understanding how those causes converge into one place. Every game, viewed through this lens, is a miracle: the collection of talent from around the world, all brought into this one place in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; the hits that didn’t fall, the great pitches that just missed, the blown umpire call.
Bottom of the 33rd is, of course, about the longest baseball game ever played, in April, 1981, between two minor league teams, the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox; even more than that, it’s about the fates of the men that played that game, the many divergent paths that brought them to that one place in history and the paths that they would follow onward from there. Barry takes us through the game in chunks of ten innings each, hitting the high points of the game and casting a spotlight upon the lives of each key player in those points. Through this approach, he weaves a complex tapestry of lives, showing us that even one simple evening at the ballpark contains more guiding factors than we normally consider. It gives the reader a greater appreciation of not just the game, but of life in general and the enormous factors that must come together to put us at any given place at any given time. The book is highly recommended just for that, let alone the quality of the writing and the behind-the-scenes information that holds your attention throughout. If you’re a baseball fan, you can’t go wrong.
Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner. I wasn’t sure if I’d have this one knocked in time for today’s deadline, but I made it after all, so apologies for a rather long entry this week – I need to share my thoughts now, while the book is still fresh in my mind.
Thief of Hope continues a trend that I’ve noticed of late: a female protagonist as something of a “chosen one”, with a mysterious past that lends her to great things. Hard to criticize the trope when I’ve written my own take on it, and honestly I think the idea is still fresh enough to offer interesting takes on it. Thief of Hope is one such book. While superficially the character of Sydney bears a resemblance to Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, Syd is a very different person; where Vin finds a side of herself that she never expected in courtly society, Syd doesn’t seem nearly as comfortable in it, which makes a whole lot more sense to me than Vin suddenly taking to a highly superficial, fake atmosphere with very little trouble.
Of course, I’m not here to talk about the two characters in comparison, simply to state that Young-Turner’s character, story, and world are very much their own thing. Since we’ve discussed Sydney some, let’s dig into plot first. Sydney starts the story as a common street thief, albeit one raised by a man with a strict code of ethics, one who became something of a hero to the people. Sydney fears that she’s strayed far from Edgar’s principles and betrayed his method of raising her, even as we see that she has her own code of ethics driving her onward. Syd’s journey truly begins when she robs a representative of The Guild, something of a socialist worker collective that has seized control of the government and run amok, its original goals twisted by the top party members. This brush with the Guild leads to her discovering that magic is still alive and well in the world, that there is an active resistance to the Guild, and that her own mysterious heritage will push her onto the central stage of the coming conflict. The story is a good one, and I especially enjoyed the peeks at the lives of the Tuatha, or “Fairy Folk”. More of their culture and story would be appreciated in the sequel, along with the story of the Shadow Folk, but I feel that Young-Turner gives us just enough here to whet our appetite; I’m quite satisfied with what I received on them, for now.
For better or worse, Young-Turner devotedly sticks to Sydney’s point of view through the events that follow. I found myself a little bummed at points, wishing that I could witness some of the other events that were going on (maybe some of these could make interesting short stories), and while the pacing slowed a bit here and there, it was never enough to keep me from reading onward.
Young-Turner’s strength lies in her characters and their interactions, and they shine through here. Even the subtlest of interactions is laced with meaning and feeling; these characters hesitate and stumble, they feel awkward in the presence of others and don’t know how to deal with certain situations. There’s a particularly poignant moment toward the end of the book that I’d love to share with you, but unfortunately it would be too big of a spoiler.
All in all, I found the book very enjoyable and have already started the prequel novella, Journey to Hope, which I hope to review soon.
Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Man in Black by Robin Furth/Peter David. I really don’t know what to make of the Dark Tower comic series. It started with the near-brilliant inception of The Gunslinger Born and has had some stunning highs and groan-inducing lows. I never expected the series to even approach the lower points of King’s series, though some of the high points in the early books could have proudly stood next to some of the better spots in King’s version. Even so, I just…well, like I said, I don’t know what to make of it. The creative team has remained the same and they have often worked from King’s source material as time has gone on. Still, it’s so spotty that I don’t see how the same team writes this from one graphic novel to another. They went from the absolutely abysmal take on The Little Sisters of Eluria to the solid Journey Begins through to the so-so Battle of Tull, then on to the great Way Station and now to this.
I’m not even halfway through, but already the adaption is bizarre. Furth finally acknowledges at the beginning that they’ve veered somewhat off-course from the source material and that this, definitively, not the same universe as the one in the books. That’s somewhat disappointing and a relief at the same time. It still makes for a jarring read, as one moment I’m seeing something that I’d always visualized rendered on the page and then the next moment some completely new element pops up that doesn’t entirely work. I love glimpses of the past of Roland’s world, but I’m not sure if they serve a further purpose here.
I’ll have more to say in the future, but not a promising start.
The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.
I probably shouldn’t love this series as much as I do. I’m sure lots of people find flaws in Mistborn. It’s undeniably built around familiar fantasy tropes. Some of the story’s contrivances shine through, at times showing Sanderson’s hand at work behind the scenes. Still…I can’t ignore what a great job it does turning the fantasy tropes on their heads and, even more so, its adamant refusal to be what you expect from it, constantly turning corners that you don’t expect. It’s very much like a mystery that way. I’m still very early in this one, but expect to hear a lot more about it in the next few weeks.
And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!