Good morning/afternoon/evening/dead of night (hey, why discriminate?), and welcome to the second installment of Fiction Wednesday. Last week’s post turned out to be a lot of fun and convinced me that I must make this into a regular feature. I’m not sure if I’d call this reviewing, per se, but I do enjoy literary analysis and it gives me a chance to stretch those muscles. That means it’s time for you to buckle your seat belt, as things are going to get wild FO SHO. Literary wild!
This week I’m looking at three titles, as I finished Infernal Devices between last week’s post and this week’s post. Let’s just say that, even though we’re only a few weeks into January, I have a good feeling about this year’s crop of books. Even as my tastes broaden I’m beginning to find a common thread that unites the works that interest me, and these examinations help me to better understand what I can do with my own fiction. If 2013’s crop of books turn out to be half as strong as 2012, it could be a good reading year. Let’s dig in…
Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner. Ms. Young-Turner is actually a Friend of the Site and a member of my critique group. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to give her preferential treatment, as I’ve tried to be objective with other friends’ books. I know it’s not always possible, but I feel that soft-selling your views on a book does no one any favors, from the author to prospective readers.
That said, I don’t really have to be critical of this novel, as it’s fantastic so far. I would think that my body of work to this point indicates how much I enjoy a strong female protagonist (blame the fact that I saw Alien at such a young age), and Young-Turner’s Sydney certainly qualifies for that mantle. She has something of an intriguing, checkered past and a legacy that she seems to carry like a millstone around her neck. I emailed Cindy the other day to ask her if she’d read Brandon Sanderson‘s Mistborn series, as I see echoes of that series here, especially in Sydney’s character. For the record, she had not read that series, which wouldn’t really matter as Sydney would come across as more of a loving homage to Vin rather than a ripoff, but it’s interesting to note the parallels between the characters: both street urchins who have done what they had to do to survive, careful to stick to some code of ethics (Sydney would likely protest this as she feels she’s betrayed the legacy of her father figure/mentor but she does have a code of ethics, even as a thief), and possessed of power that not even they suspect.It’s good company, let me tell you.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this, with two authors expressing similar ideas that arise very close to one another in complete vacuums. I’ve come to believe that sometimes these ideas arise in several different places at once, for many different reasons, including common “literary DNA”. That appears to be what’s happened here, and I’m quite happy to pay witness to it.
I’m ten chapters in, about a quarter of the way, and really enjoying it. I’m not ready to give a recommendation yet, but I will be reviewing it in full in the near future, so watch this space.
Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter. I discussed this one last week, but I’ve since finished it and…welp. Where to begin? I guess I can get the rating out of the way first: I gave it three stars on Goodreads. Why? Welllll…let’s discuss the positives first. It’s an interesting premise, especially given its vintage: a series of strange visitors to a clock shop open the door to a world previously unimaginable for its staid owner. This all begins to unfold when a protagonist pursues information about a strange coin and a misshapen toy brought to his attention by his manservant. As he chases down the provenance of these items he gets drawn into the insane rabbit hole that his genius father dug over many years of building clockwork inventions for factions in a secret war. I know, it’s a crazy premise, right? That’s not even mentioning the Lovecraftian influences, with lost races and ideas that should have been kept out of the hands of humanity. The whole setup has a great deal of promise, and given the context, the setting is unique and interesting.
Sadly, I just can’t recommend the book as anything other than an interesting historical footnote. The protagonist is staid to the point of parody, and while he does grow, the growth is a bit of a cheat, which I can’t give away without spoiling the plot. Ideas that arise either go nowhere or become ridiculously convoluted. I still don’t 100% understand the motives of one important character. The female characters in the story seem to be focused on sex alone, whether they’re sex-positive or sex-negative. The themes are somewhat muddled and unclear, several characters switch allegiance for either no clear reason or with no indication that they’re capable of such a thing, and the prose is lifeless. On top of that, the Angry Robot version features numerous OCR errors and some poor formatting, pretty much inexcusable for a fairly well-known press. If this is supposed to be a comedy or a parody the tone is so inconsistent that it falls flat there, too.
I desperately wanted to love it as I’ve found a shortage of decent steampunk writing (which makes me think that I should write my own but that’s another matter entirely), and it’s an interesting artifact of its time, but it’s not a good novel, unfortunately. I’m quite sure Jeter is capable of more, but I wouldn’t call this his shining moment.
Divergent by Veronica Roth. My understanding is that this is the “new Hunger Games,” which does a disservice to both this book and Suzanne Collins’ book. How so? Well, in no way is this as good as the Hunger Games, and yet it’s a damned good book so far. Let’s do the opposite of Infernal Devices and first talk about the weaknesses of Divergent as I see them (and I’m only halfway through so take these with a grain of salt – they could well change): the protagonist, Tris, is interesting but nowhere near as strong as Katniss Everdeen. Katniss had a strong sense of self right out of the gate, where Tris does not. Yes, that’s part of the point of the story and Tris’s character – and I think it can be argued to strongly cater to a certain age group that suffers from the same identity issues – but that doesn’t make Tris a better character than Katniss. Again, I’m talking relative strengths here. I think Tris is still an interesting character, she’s just no Katniss.
Still, I’m enjoying the novel even at the halfway point and plan to read the sequel already. Again, I wouldn’t say it’s on par with the Hunger Games by any means, but if you enjoyed the Hunger Games I think you’ll enjoy Divergent. I’ll talk more about it next week, when I should hopefully have it finished.
So what are you guys reading this week? Any recommendations that seem in line with what I’ve shared here? As always, you can hop on over to Goodreads and send me a friend request – I use the site more as a reader than an author (though I do some interaction in that way too), but would love to have you as a friend and/or fan.