Friday, September 10, 2010

Blameless: A Narcissistic Reviewer’s Examination

This summer I experienced the ultimate in reader dismay, a cliffhanger ending with months to wait before the next book. In a world where every book seems to be a part of a series this isn’t that much of a surprise and really shouldn’t cause such aggravation, but in the case of Gail Carriger’s Changeless, I was so enthralled by the plot and so involved with the characters, that when the book ended I literally groaned. I so loved Changeless that I reread parts of it, hoping to find some clue as to the direction of the next booking the series. I have many a times been the subject of author abuse; where an author goes off the deep end and completely ruins the flow of his/her characters by changing circumstances or ruining relationships, and I was desperate to find within the text of Changeless, some small hint that could assuage my irrational reader fears. Needless to say, Ms. Carriger cleverly hooked me with her volatile ending and guaranteed that I would purchase the third book in her Parasol Protectorate series, Blameless.

It was with excitement and some degree of trepidation that I opened the pages of Blameless. I was thrilled to finally get my hands on the book (and earlier than the stated street date too), but I was fearful that my new favorite protagonist Lady Alexia Maccon née Tarabotti, would be led of the deep end (or placed into a situation that I as a selfish reader did not want to see her go). I’m the usual narcissistic individual who wants everything to happen in books and movies, exactly how I want them to happen, so while this is a rather ridiculous thing to expect authors to do (I’m fairly sure they can’t read my nor any other reader’s minds), I still had this neurotic fear of character destruction that hovered in the far corners of my rather scrambled brain. I also had so many theories as to what happened at the end of Changeless (I refuse to give away plot points because I very much want you all to pick up these books not because of some plot summary that I spit out, but because they are legitimately good books and should be read), that I was fearful I would be wrong in my assumptions. I really hate to be wrong.

What I found when I did sit back on the couch with Blameless clenched between my hands, was pure, unadulterated entertainment. This book took me in directions I had not fathomed, but utterly which delighted me. I can honestly say that this was my favorite of Gail Carriger’s books thus far (Heartless, book four will be out in the summer of 2011) and not only did I finish it in record time, but I nearly read it again just for the fun of it. I have not had a truly fun, inventive, and totally original read in quite a while as on top of my ARC reading, I’ve been slogging through the remarkably dry Millennium trilogy and while not suffering, really needed a good “un-put-downable” novel. Unfortunately, my mother was just as eager to read Blameless, so I had to trek to her house and share, eliminating my immediate thoughts of rereading (I think I’ll reread all three just prior to the release of Heartless).

What I love about this book and its predecessors is the completely unique world and language created by the author. Her use of words, style, and syntax is brilliant. The language of her characters is almost a character itself. Also, the environment she creates with her words is a strong character, often driving the narrative to new heights. One can literally see, hear, and smell (the Thames does come off as having a rather nasty odor) the locations and abodes within this world. Whether it’s her reimagining of Victorian England, tours through flying dirigibles, or descriptions of the Italian countryside (very orange), Carriger uses her distinctive voice to fully create these environs for her readers.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful cast of these books. The supporting figures are distinctive and rich in personality and physicality. They are not mere background characters, but driving forces behind and around the protagonist, continuously manipulating the gears of the story, affecting not just the heroine, but the world in which they reside. Alexia Maccon is one-of-a-kind, a truly dynamic character whose wit and unreserved soullessness made me smirk far more often than I usually do. She also proves that just because one doesn’t possess a soul, doesn’t mean that she can’t feel deeply and reacted emotionally. I can’t suitably describe the richness of this character; it’s something that can only be discovered by picking up this wonderful series and discovering the multitude of layers created by its author.

I realize I’ve spoken more about Gail Carriger’s series as opposed to the book Blameless itself, but in order to get the humor and intelligence of this fantastic read it is of absolute importance for readers to discover its nearly flawless predecessors. I found Blameless to be beyond thoroughly enjoyable, a wonderful treat for the mind and imagination, a gem of a book in a diamond of a series.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

When Extraordinary is Nothing More than Ordinary

Extraordinary, according to, means beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established; exceptional in character, amount, extent, degree, noteworthy, remarkable. To be extraordinary something must stand out, it must be notable, beyond compare, and it must be, well… extraordinary.

Nancy Werlin’s book Impossible was an original, mesmerizing, and edgy faerie tale. It was a book that hooked me with its unique storyline and captivated me with its engaging, earnest characters. I always enjoy an edgy read, combine that with some form of the paranormal and I’m usually hooked, hence my fandom for a series like Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely. So, when handed a copy of Werlin’s soon to be released Extraordinary I was rather excited to see what inventive characters and thrilling new storyline she had come up with next.

Extraordinary it was not.

I say this with sadness because I really wanted to like this book. I loved Impossible and when I am keen on an author I always anticipate reading him/her again. I am a loyal fan, if an author has hooked me once; I tend to be a fan for life (which explains why I still read JD Robb, even though the last several books have been horrendous). So, when I say I really wanted to love Extraordinary, I really wanted to love it. Unfortunately, there was not much in this book for me to enjoy.

Let me start with what I did like about Extraordinary, before I dissect it negatively. I thought the message, which finally makes itself clear toward the end, in a rather banal way, was quite wonderful. This message is best encapsulated here in the following two quotes:

…perhaps—rare though truly extraordinary may be—there is no such thing as simply ordinary. Or perhaps there is always the capability of becoming extraordinary, buried inside any ordinary being.(pg. 373)

Is being…extraordinary—maybe it’s not about being that way all the time, every minute of life? Because that’s not really possible…But maybe it’s about learning that you have something deep inside that you can reach for when you really need it. Strength. Strength that helps you do whatever it is you need to do, when you need to do it.(pgs. 388-389)

I liked this idea that everyone has the capability of being extraordinary, the ability is there, and all you have to do is reach for it. Considering that this book was written specifically for teens and young adults, this message is rather endearing as it is during this age that many suffer from feelings of inadequacy, or as put in this book, ordinariness, when all anyone really wants to be is more than ordinary.

I also liked the main concept of this book, in which a single girl can make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save not only a loved one, but also an entire race. That she is put in that situation because of an ancient pact between an ancestor and the Queen of Faerie adds to the uniqueness, while also appealing to the paranormal fiction explosion that has taken over the world.

Here is what was wrong with this book. It’s predictable. I pretty much was able to anticipate every scene before it occurred. I don’t mind that on a small scale, after all it is usually fun to figure out who the murder is before the detective, but not when you figure out the entire plot, twists and all. The characters are generally unappealing until literally the last twenty pages, far too late for my tastes.

My main issue with Extraordinary is with Werlin’s attempt to tie-in the subject of anti-Semitism. Every so often the main character Phoebe jumps to the conclusion that some statement or action made by other characters is anti-Semitic or racist. I have no problem with this if there are genuine references to create these feelings in the character, but pages later Werlin contradicts the character’s claims through the voice of a different character. If this happened once I could push it aside, but this happens throughout the book. At one point Phoebe even attempts to draw a connection between the dying faeries and the Jews during the Holocaust. This is Werlin trying way too hard to connect this story in some way to the horrors of the past. Using the fae as an allegory for the Jewish race is an interesting idea, but Werlin does it in such a spotty way that it just seems like too far a stretch and in actuality becomes an annoyance instead of—what I assume she meant to do—enlightenment. This theme is spread so thinly across this novel, yet when it does hit the reader it hits with the finesse of a drunk and blind boxer, wobbly and way off course.

While Extraordinary is anything but, please do take the time to check out Impossible. It is worth a read and I promise it will produce far more entertainment than this sadly mediocre new book.