My Paradoxical Relationship with Samantha Shannon’s THE BONE SEASON

December 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

Disclaimer: Yes, I have worked out how to insert gifs into WordPress posts.

the bone season coverThe Bone Season was one of the first books I reviewed when I first started my blog. I’d heard the buzz about the girl who was poised to become the next J. K. Rowling, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her book.

Shannon was only twenty-two when The Bone Season was published. We are just about the same age, and I was so jealous! Not only had this girl managed to write a manuscript, but she had scored an unusual deal – seven books, based on a debut. The last person to do so successfully, at least that I could think of, was…well, you know who it was.

The first time I read The Bone Season, I was completely underwhelmed. It was messy and sprawling, and I didn’t get much of a sense for any of the characters, including the protagonist. The world building was choppy and shallow at first, and then unnecessarily detailed as the book progressed – a quality that I find difficult to overcome. The most unforgiveable aspect of this much-anticipated book was much simpler than all of that. It was the way in which the author introduced the reader to the world of Sheol I.

Fantasy authors should show readers their world, not tell them about it. I can’t remember who said this, but I think that they were spot on. For two thirds of The Bone Season, Shannon condescends to tell the reader in lengthy, sometimes clumsy paragraphs, all about Scion and Sheol I. The story grinds to a halt while the reader is, quite literally, lectured about the various caste systems of each society (different, but equally detailed), about the seemingly endless types of voyants, and the many translations of the terminology used by each level of each caste of each system.

Brave1

Reading The Bone Season for a second time, I can feel Shannon’s relationship with her world. Her passion for it, her desire to bring her readers into Sheol I, is alive in the pages of her book. This is a wonderful thing, but for the first two thirds of the book, she falls into the same trap that Robert Jordan did toward the end of the Wheel of Time saga – both Shannon and Jordan created rich, detailed worlds, but in doing so, forgot about the stories that brought them there in the first place.

Like Jordan, I think Shannon could experience some issues with pacing, but hers will be in reverse. Robert Jordan forgot what was happening in WoT, and went rambling with his characters. He led us through his immersive landscape in the process, but his readers were left wondering about what was happening to their beloved protagonists. Pacing in The Bone Season is quite different – it’s all very quick. In the space of one book, the author tells us about the establishment of a fascist government in London (Scion), Scion’s failure to take root in Ireland (the Molly Riots), the existence of an ancient and formidable race called the Rephaim, the troubling relationship that they have with Scion, the existence of an underground city under their control, the criminal world of the rebel voyants, the history of the rebellion against the Rephaim, when and where the language of Scion came from, and all of the many ways in which one can be clairvoyant.

Fascinating stuff, but it feels irrelevant, because there is no accompanying story – at least, not for the first two thirds of the novel.

GAH

 ***

Prior to and during my reread of The Bone Season, I have been reading another book. Shrewd readers will have already made the connection between my gripes about world building and Robert Jordan, and will have realized that this book is Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson.

The second in his Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance is a testament to Sanderson’s complete control over his world building. If you’ve read The Mistborn series, you’ll know that Sanderson does not get lost, even when it seems that that is exactly what is happening. You pay attention to every detail, to every interlude, because they might become pivotal at some later point in the narrative.

It’s really unfair of me to compare The Bone Season to yet another master of the fantasy genre. First, it was J. K. Rowling, and now it’s Brandon Sanderson, who is probably my favourite author. At first, I felt bad, like I’d fallen into the trap of disappointing myself again – but then I saw it in a new way.

Samantha, if you’re reading this: I’ve been harsh on you, I know. But that’s only because I think you can take it. It’s only because I’ve been comparing you to Brandon Sanderson and J. K. Rowling.

Yes. Sanderson and Rowling. I see it. Roshar, The Final Empire, Hogwarts – and Sheol I.

Now that I’ve finished The Bone Season for a second time, I’ve taken a step back. I’ve been reading it so closely this whole time that all I could see were its faults. But this is one part of your writing, and there’s so, so much more to it.

The Mime OrderReaders, in the final third of The Bone Season, Paige steps off the page. Her spirit unspools itself and slams into your dreamscape, and suddenly, you’re there with her. Warden, Paige’s brooding Reph keeper, is revealed to have a depth of character that I did not expect of him. A rebellion has broken, and its second wave is brewing. Paige is in a kind of triumphant state of shambles, and everything is up in the air. She’s got a million choices to make, and whichever way she turns are the tips of the many swords surrounding her.

I’m about to start book two of the series, and I promise you now, Samantha – I’m in for the long haul.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – A Review

January 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you’re into Young Adult Fiction, chances are that one author made it happen. To paraphrase another editor, what writers like J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins started, John Green finished with his small but exquisite collection of novels about adolescent life that tell it like it is. But how and why has Green succeeded in winning the hearts of so many, when many more before him have tried and, if not failed, then not succeeded on the same scale? How did a young author from the American Midwest write novels that got the entire world (including a good number of adults) to fall in love with fiction for youths all over again?

 

Surely you've seen this cover around?

Surely you’ve seen this cover around?

Put simply, Green knows his teens. With his background as a youth chaplain and drawing from his own days at boarding school, he’s created a world of beautifully rendered youths who go about life, love and sometimes, death. His characters harbour deep crushes on the opposite sex, played out through snappy comebacks, thoughtful insights and intellectual referencing (think Walt Whitman, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even wholly original Mathematical theorems). More often than not, they encounter a crisis, which forces them to re-examine the beliefs they’ve held all along, whether about themselves or about the people around them. And it’s in re-evaluating their lives that Green draws the reader in: we, too, with the characters, are brought around to a new perspective that stays in our minds and lingers in the heart long after the story is over.

Amazingly, Green has built a strong following of his works based on these few similar plot elements, so what exactly works so well for him? To me, it’s the understanding he displays, not just of what it means to be a teenager, but also what it means to be human. After all, the questions of love, life and death don’t only plague us during teenhood, but continue to haunt us even as we grow older. Green’s teens, despite their age, bring to the story reflections that somehow make sense even to adults. There are life lessons that we should already know but don’t – love the person, not the idea of them, for instance – or new interpretations to things that we take for granted – the cliché, for example, that remembering the dead through writing will somehow immortalize them in memory. Together with his band of wisecracking, painfully insightful, prematurely mature youths, Green manages to reach out and touch us deep within a place that we may have long forgotten about or assumed could no longer be moved.

John Green (left) with the young stars of the film.

John Green (left) with the young stars of the film.

Green’s latest novel and most successful work to date, The Fault in Our Stars, deviates slightly from the pattern described above. His protagonist is not a boy but a girl, Hazel Grace Lancaster, and from the onset her fate is never anything but determined – “her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis”, as the novel puts it. She starts the story not attracted to anyone, and in fact determined not to be, because in her mind terminally ill people like her are “grenades” who will eventually blow up and hurt the people around her for life. Against all odds, however, Hazel meets Augustus “Gus” Waters, a stunningly good-looking cancer survivor who falls in love with her and whom she grows to love in return.

As we have come to expect of Green’s protagonists, Hazel is wonderfully fleshed out, if not in body, then at least in character. She is smart and well-read, and finds in Gus an intellectual opponent worthy of verbal sparring. Their conversations are an enjoyable cocktail of philosophical musings, nods to authors both famous and fictional and inside jokes (“Okay? Okay.”). Perhaps such humorous wisdom is due to their accelerated adulthood; both teens are forced to grow up far too soon with the cancer clock looming over them, constantly and conspicuously ticking away their life. Yet ironically, in numbering their days, Green has created characters that are more vivid and full of life than one would expect cancer patients to be (incidentally, a stereotype that Green hoped to correct in writing this book).

The first official poster for the highly anticipated film adaptation.

The first official poster for the highly anticipated film adaptation.

The pair’s budding relationship, as the upcoming movie poster puts it, is “one sick love story”. Gus is inexplicably (to Hazel, at least) attracted to Hazel from the first, and refuses to distance himself from her despite her warnings: “All efforts to save me from you will fail”. The two gradually bond over their mutual love of Hazel’s favourite novel, the fictitious An Imperial Affliction, and Gus, in a gorgeously Cinderella moment, plays fairy godfather when he spends his cancer wish from the Genies (a play on the real-life Make-a-Wish Foundation) on trip for himself and Hazel to Amsterdam to meet the novel’s famously reclusive writer, Peter Van Houten. From there, the pair’s romance is sealed and sees them through the second half of the story as an unexpected discovery turns Hazel and Gus’s lives upside down forever.

This story is unmistakably a tragedy, and Green himself acknowledges as much through the title’s nod to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and explains further via the character of Van Houten, who notes in a letter to Gus that “there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars”. Both Hazel and Gus are marked with a sense of fatality through their battles with cancer and respond in different ways: Hazel desires to live an ordinary life without hurting anyone, whereas Gus fears oblivion and not leaving a significant legacy behind. Yet, there is also love among the ruins, through Gus’s unflinching devotion to Hazel, and the latter’s eventual reciprocity (“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”); Hazel’s words, which also close out the book, carry a promise of eternal commitment to Gus.

As with Green’s other novels, The Fault in Our Stars contains the perfect blend of likable characters, witty humour, poignant scenes, topped off by Green’s splendid writing. In addition, it offers a reassurance somewhat to the fear of mortality, through the reversal of a age-old mantra: that while we are in the midst of death, we are too in life.

This review was written by Nicola Cheong, a guest writer for The Novelettes. Thank you Nicola!

Top Ten Gifts for Booklovers This Christmas

November 25, 2013 § 5 Comments

Being a booklover yourself, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to do some holiday shopping for the other bibliophiles in your life. So, what to buy? To some, the answer would be obvious: a book. But we readers know that picking out a book for someone who collects them can be a little hit and miss. What if they already have it? What if it’s not quite their style? It can be kinda risky. So, I’ve put together a list of the top ten book-related gift ideas for the holiday season that booklovers are guaranteed to love.

1. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Okay, apologies for the immediate hypocrisy – I did just say that buying books for other readers can sometimes be risky. However, when the book in question is stamped “Man-Booker Prize Winner”  the risk is nearly entirely eliminated. The Man-Booker prize is one of (if not THE) most prestigious literary awards, and this year, twenty-eight year old Eleanor Catton’s hefty historical novel has taken the cake. I treated myself to a beautiful hardcover edition a few weeks ago and I can’t wait to start. By all accounts, The Luminaries is a life-ruiner – you won’t be able to do anything but read once you’ve started it.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - This year's Man Booker winner

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – This year’s Man Booker winner

2. Frostbeard Studio Candles

Tom and Rox, the married couple behind Frostbeard Studio, are nerds, just like me.Being the creative powerhouse that they are, they drew upon their vast well of nerd-culture knowledge to create beautiful handmade crafts that you can buy online. Frostbeard Studio’s candles take their inspiration from books, games and literary goodness. Tom and Rox are the makers of the infamous Bookstore candle, which will fill your home with the scent of timber, driftwood and just a little coffee. Featuring scents such as Sherlock’s Study, Dumbledore’s Office, Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey, Mockingjay and The Shire, I guarantee you will find the perfect scent for each and every booklover on your Christmas list. Check them out here.

Who doesn't want their house to smell like a bookstore?

Who doesn’t want their house to smell like a bookstore?

3. Spineless Classics

Spineless Classics are the ultimate wall-art for literature lovers. High quality posters with entire manuscripts printed on a single page, they are designed to fit easily obtainable frames from Ikea. I was lucky enough to be given a Spineless Classics copy of Macbeth, my favourite Shakespeare play, and I love it. Macbeth is printed in the shape of Scotland and although tiny, its text is entirely legible. Spineless Classics are a perfect gift for someone who already has every edition of their favourite book!

Macbeth from Spineless classics.

Macbeth from Spineless classics.

4. Megan Lara’s Artwork

Megan Lara is a self-proclaimed pop-culture addict and a highly talented artist. Famous for her stunning art-noveau style portraits, Megan portrays her favourite fictional characters to life. Her digital artwork is nothing short of phenomenal, and I don’t think there’s anything else like it out there. I have her Katniss and Luna Lovegood shirts, and I just placed a rather large order of her prints in sticker-form on Red Bubble. Her art is available on t-shirts, stickers, high-quality prints, tote bags (my next purchase) and more. I suggest checking out her store on Red Bubble and also liking her page on Facebook. She also does a mean Rose Tyler cosplay!

The wonderful Megan Lara. She's only cosplaying Rose, but you'd be forgiven for think it was Billie.

The wonderful Megan Lara. She’s only cosplaying Rose, but you’d be forgiven for think it was Billie.

5. Gaming Concept Art books

I am a horrible gamer. I have no hand-eye co-ordination and watching the screen swing around makes me dizzy. I do, however, appreciate the incredible amount of effort that goes into the artwork behind the games. In fact, I love it. I recently bought the art book for The Last of Us, which features countless portraits of Ellie and Joel, as well as in-depth  drawings of the transformation of the in-game monsters. The book itself is a lovely keepsake, but the artwork is what really makes it special. The CGI characters are the result of hours of tireless sketching and re-working, and the concept art books let non-gamers like me see this process. On top of that, they explore the story too! Pulp Fiction Booksellers has an excellent range of gaming and general fantasy art books, including a few that you’ll have trouble finding anywhere else!

Gaming concept art books are a way for non-gamers to enjoy the vast worlds within current games.

Gaming concept art books are a way for non-gamers to enjoy the vast worlds within current games.

6. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch is the highly anticipated third novel from reclusive author Donna Tartt. After the wild success of her debut, The Secret History, and the dismal disappointment of The Little Friend, the release of The Goldfinch had fans waiting with bated breath. But the reviews are in, and it’s decided: The Goldfinch is a masterpiece. I’m a quarter of the way through it at the moment (review to come, naturally), and I’m engrossed in it. There’s something about it that reminds me of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind – that intangible compulsion to explore. I tentatively suggest that this book will be beloved by readers all the world over. 

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

7. Pulp calendars

Who doesn’t love pulp art? If it were up to me, I would wallpaper my house with the stuff. Seeing as that option is not available to me, I will have to settle for one of these awesome pulp calendars, available from Pulp Fiction in Brisbane. Give the gift of pulp art all year round!

Pulp calendars from Pulp Fiction!

Pulp calendars from Pulp Fiction!

8. Catching Fire Soundtrack

In the interest of transparency, you should probably know that I am one of the original Katniss fangirls. I also adore Jennifer Lawrence in her own right. On top of this: I love Lorde, cried at a Coldplay concert, secretly believe that The National is the soundtrack to my life, watch Imagine Dragons’ video to Radioactive when I need a pick-me-up and listen to Ellie Goulding just about daily. So I was always going to recommend the Catching Fire soundtrack to you, given that it combines so many of my favourite things. I’m just sorry about the Christina track. I don’t know why it’s there. Otherwise, Catching Fire’s soundtrack is a brilliant album, and a lovely gift for the musically inclined readers out there!

Lorde. Can she just stop being such a prodigy, please? It makes the rest of us feel inadequate.

Lorde. Can she just stop being such a prodigy, please? It makes the rest of us feel inadequate.

9. Audible Membership

If you haven’t listened to an audiobook recently, you’re missing out. Since the advent of the iPod, audiobooks are enjoying a well-deserved renaissance. No longer are we forced to listen to the droning voice that George Castanza despised when he listened to his books-on-tape. Stephen Fry, beloved by humans in general, read the entire Harry Potter series. Could you think of anyone more perfect to undertake such a task? Listening to your favourite books is a whole new way to experience them, and when it’s done right, it’s wonderful. Audible has a whole variety of gift packs you can buy for the busy reader, starting at $45 for a three month pack, which entitles the giftee to one audiobook per month. 

Audible is designed to work with iPhones, so you can always have your books with you.

Audible is designed to work with iPhones, so you can always have your books with you.

10. Folio Editions

If you know someone’s favourite book, why not treat them to a Folio Edition? I think the Folio editions are some of the most beautiful hardcovers in the world. Although they don’t come cheap, they make a lovely gift for someone special, and are sure to be treasured for a lifetime. The Folio Society has a surprisingly large range of hardcovers available, so you’re bound to find a favourite in stock! 

Lovely Folio Edition of The Handmaid's Tale

Lovely Folio Edition of The Handmaid’s Tale

What we’re looking forward to in September!

September 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

We’ve decided to put together this series of posts to keep you all updated with what’s going on in our little corner of the blogosphere, any bookish news and life generally. Going up on the first of every month (Australian time), keep your calendars handy, people!

itsnotnatalie:

–          Brisbane Writer’s Festival – The Brisbane Writers Festival runs for four days, and is a collection of lectures, workshops and panels featuring prominent writers who will discuss areas of their particular expertise and I am so unbelievably excited to be attending my first BWF!!! I will be breathing the same air as Garth Nix; excuse me while I quietly fangirl in a corner. I’m also very excited to have a more or less willing Kalystia attend the Jane Austen presentation with me (I shall convert her eventually – resistance is futile).

Brisbane Writers Festival 2013

Some of the 2013 BWF art! (Check the Mockingjay – Kalystia)

–          Australian Federal Election – I know, not book related, but I am also a political science major and elections make me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. I shall celebrate election eve by FINALLY finishing Downfall by Aaron Patrick. See, now its book related! You can buy it here for Kindle  or here in paperback.

–          Start the 30 Day Challenge – I’m hoping that this fantastic challenge might spark a bit of friendly debate among you, lovely readers. It is aptly named as a challenge; I’ve read over the questions and I am really struggling to find answers for some (and to be honest, not answer everything with Stardust!).

–          One of my best friends has promised me a book date at a fantastic second hand bookstore in the city and I can’t wait to take him up on it! It may even result in a post series Kalystia and I have been pondering for a while, so watch this space!

–          Start reading some of the Netgalley books on our shelf.  Short, sweet and NEEEEEEW!

–          Picking and starting the next book for itsnotnatalie does neil. Choices, choices.

–          Getting back on track with my reading list.  Even though there is no accountability whatsoever with my reading list, having put it out into cyberspace, I feel a bit slack for having only read HALF of one of the entries. Having said that, I freely acknowledge I will probably be distracted by the first shiny, new book I see in Dymocks. I have no shame.

Book Hoarder

And this is why neither of us can keep on track with our reading lists.

Kalystia:

In September, I’m looking forward to some exciting new releases. I’ve preordered them, and anxiously await their arrival in the mail!

–          The Returned, Jason Mott: I’ve mentioned this one before, and although it’s been posted, I STILL haven’t received it. Can’t wait to read it, though!

–          Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson:  Any new Brandon Sanderson would be enough for me to be bouncing off the walls in anticipation, but a kind of dystopian venture? CANNOT WAIT. September 24, it’s here.

–          Vicious, Victoria Schwab: Everything I’ve read about this seems to indicate that it will be some kind of hybrid of X-men, Flatliners and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Yes, I’m probably going to love it. Coming from Tor on Sep 24th!

–          More than This, Patrick Ness: Although I’ve been meaning to, I’ve never got around to the Chaos Walking Trilogy. But I picked up the most beautiful hardback edition of this book the day it was released, and I’m itching to start it. It looks like philosophical post-apoc. Yes, please!

More Than This, Patrick Ness

I’m excited about my introduction to Patrick Ness!

–          The Rook, Daniel O’Malley: An unexpected find from Pulp Fiction. I actually don’t really know what to expect of this, but the recommendations in the front few pages are astronomical. It’s shot to the top of my to-read pile.

 I also have the capacity to get excited about things that are not books. It’s a small capacity, but exists nonetheless. Here are a few other things I’m looking forward to in September:

–          The dystopia lecture at BWF, featuring Scott Westerfield as a panellist

–          Planning a trip to Melbourne in October with my boyfriend. I’m somewhat of a shopaholic, and I’ve never been before, so this is very exciting! Any Melbournites with tips on the best book stores, leave me a comment below!

–          On the topic of the Melbourne trip, I’m already excited to visit the Melbourne zoo and see the gorillas there. I’ve never seen one in real life, and it’s something I’ve always wanted. I’ll probably cry. I can’t wait.

–          I’m also looking forward to reviewing some of the books I’ve read lately, particularly The Bone Season. So many mixed emotions, readers, and I’m looking forward to getting them out of my head and onto the page.

–          Seeing Elysium! I still haven’t seen it, and I’ve been looking forward to it since its teaser trailer.

–          Oh, and I’ve finished The Book Thief. I’ll be needing to discuss this soon. Need to share the feels.

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