The Magicians

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The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Rating: ⭐️⭐️
Thoughts: Definitely a Lot of Good Parallels for Fantasy Fans; Too Much Exposition; Narnia Spoof; Really Hard To Get In To, But Wrenching Once You Do; The Story Doesn’t Start Until The End

I was really excited to read Lev Grossman’s series because I’d heard it was like a “Dirty Harry Potter” and as a thorough Harry Potter nerd, I really looked forward to passing my judgement. Outside of a few joking references, though, The Magicians has nothing to do with Potter, but a lot to do with The Chronicles of Narnia.

Grossman was clearly creating a Narnia spoof, and with good reason, but I couldn’t help but feel like he didn’t actually get to the plot until maybe the last 150 pages of a 400 page book. The protagonist, Quentin, gets invited to a magic college early on, but then we spend the entirety of the first half of the book learning next to nothing about Quentin’s school, but rather passing his way through time through a series of large time-gaps and exposition. Characters are plucked from nothingness only to be tossed back in (and occasionally repeating the process). It was as though Grossman had gotten the idea into his head of a magic college and then married the idea when, in fact, the college had almost no significance to where the story was going other than that they thereafter (and somewhat feebly even) knew magic. I’m not even sure why the first half of this book exists.

Basically, the first half of this book is prolonged exposition scattered with a smattering of actual scenes that seem to take on no real significance. What is the point of Welters? for instance. Or the whole South Pole thing? If you’re looking for a book about a magic school, this is not it. You get very little from Q’s time there.

The strongest point of this book is definitely the coming of age aspect, which I felt didn’t really shape up until quite late as well. Quentin, of course, has a lot of growing up to do. I like that Grossman puts his character through the ringer, that he has him make almost catastrophic mistakes, that his personal life is in shambles. I’m tired of this genre of writing having everything work out so perfectly. Quentin’s life gets messy and not everything goes well. That’s a hard lesson for him to learn, but a lesson so quickly left out of Young/New Adult literature. I definitely enjoyed that theme abutting the Narnia-spoof.

Honestly, I didn’t love this book. By the time we FINALLY get to Fillroy (the Narnia-esque land), it’s a bit rushed to me. I hated most of Quentin’s friends. I hated the way Grossman tossed around characters, the way I always seemed to know less about the character’s lives than what was happening, and–most of all–I hated all the exposition. Is it so wrong to want to be in a story, rather than hearing about a story? But I did like the adult themes, the way he clearly dirties up a typically innocent cannon, the way he could create issues out of one’s grasp.

But honestly, I didn’t get into it until the end. It was hard slugging for a long time there, waiting merely for the inevitable Fillroy plot to finally manifest. I’m probably not going to be reading on, albeit I’m a bit curious and angry about a curveball that’s mentioned entirely without comment, as if it’s perfectly usual, at the end.

SPOILER

Seriously? Where did Julia just come from? YOU CAN’T JUST DO THAT!

His Dark Materials

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His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass)
Author: Philip Pullman
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thoughts: Why Am I Just Now Reading This; Heartbreaking; Perfect Ending; I Cried; Every Kid Should Read; They Really Messed-Up The Movie; Please Read This

I feel like it has geniunely been a long time since I was as invested in a book as I was in Pullman’s trilogy. Sure, the first book took me a little while to get in to (I was not convinced for the longest time that Lyra was a particularly likable character), the second seemed more like a transition than an actual story, but the third… Pullman’s last installment in this series is nothing short of a masterpiece in his genre (all of his genres, since I felt this series covered quite a few).

I’ve actually needed a few days since finishing the series to process it all. Recover, even.

I remember after finishing The Subtle Knife that I wasn’t even quite sure what the conflict was, yet alone how there could be a conceivable ending, but Pullman really speeds things up for The Amber Spyglass, which moves so quickly, both action wise and, particularly, character development. Even the most hated character from The Colden Compass, by the end, is so thoroughly flesched-out that you understand her perfectly, even empathetically.

Lyra starts out a little silly, but she’s brash and interesting enough that I was curious, albeit maybe a bit wary of her. For me, Iorek Byrnison (and Lee Scoresby (and Serafina Pekkala (and the Gyptians))) is the real hero of The Golden Compass. It’s the side-cast that kept me reading. That and a wild fascination at the world Pullman had created–just familiar enough that you still felt grounded enough to understand it, but fascinated by some bold differences. PUllman’s world-building is exemplary.

The Subtle Knife (second book), almost impossibly, starts out in our world with a whole new character. Will is a whole person, no half-formed thing of paper. He is not some hyperbole of a “child.” Pullman never writes his own characters off, never, even for a second, underestimates what they are capable of.

I would love to discuss the ending of this series at length, but I genuinely don’t want to ruin it for any of you. I can’t even bring myself to bring up The Amber Spyglass without giving too much away. All I can say is that I loved this work, I wish I’d read it sooner. I see why it never caught on, though; if Harry Potter could be satanic in any way, His Dark Materials is borderline blasphemy (I’m not sure how, but Pullman managed to write a modern day Paradise Lost for children). But get over it and see that what he’s trying to say is godlike in a very genuine way.

So read it an try not to cry at the end. Will and Lyra are everything that I think popular teen novels are missing and their conclusion leaves you salty with disappointment, but the perfect anecdote for growing up and finding one’s purpose for life.

It’s every message I could hope for my own work.

Book Review: What’s all the Fuss About Divergent?

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Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Rating: Two Stars
Thoughts: Readable, but not life-changing; Another dystopian romance; I’m just not buying it (Literally)

I felt compelled to read Veronica Roth’s Divergent, mostly because I’d heard rumors that there was a rape scene and, well, when a book sweeps through the YA world, a young girl gets curious.

Roth has a very matter-of-fact way of writing, nothing unusual for her genre, which made for a quick, action-packed read. The premise is a bit thin (strong/fearless means you must be fairly dumb and cruel; intelligent means you must be greedy; caring means you must be meek? She doesn’t even talk much about the other two factions, at least not in this book) but enough to keep the pages turning even without much historical justification for this world. Her protagonist, in my personal opinion, was fairly lackluster though. The draw of seeing a young girl capable of great physical feats was done better in The Hunger Games, and by a more compelling narrator, too (and I’m not even a huge Hunger Games fan).

So what, I wondered, as I eagerly (yeah, I’ll admit it) flipped the pages of this book looking for the answer, had everyone so up-in-arms about this book?

Four, of course. It may be just me, but does anyone else find it a bit sad that the only thing that keeps young girls reading are feeble, unrealistic romantic connections? I liked Tris more before Four became her white knight. And I never quite saw what was so special about him, too. I mean, the boy hardly ever speaks. If she’s so badass that she’s top of her murderous, selfish class then why does she even need a protector?

But I’ll admit I was into it all until the ending. This books packs some biblical allegory with a tough punch, but Tris watches both her Mother and Father die with little more than a page of mourning and we’re supposed to believe it’s Four that she just can’t stand to kill?

How did we go from a girl remarkable for her ability to conquer her fears to a sniveling love-bug, making out on a train in 2.4 seconds? Serious thought: Has anyone ever witnessed this sort of teen-love in all these novels in real life? And while we’re at it, why are the intelligent people the bad guys? And if they’re so smart, why do none of them question this whole murder-plot except Tris’s brother, who has to be told to do so?

So I’ll just say, not worth the hype, but still worth a read if some 16-year-old loans it to you, but I won’t be seeing the movie or reading on. Sorry, Roth, but more power to you (Good luck with all the money!)!

An Interlude on Mistakes

Ok, I’m only human, but, as far as being human goes, I’m pretty flawed.

I’ve made a fair few mistakes and, for some reason this time of year brings out the worst in me. So… Needlessly, I’ve been kind of a mess.

(And I’m sorry to everyone whom I have hurt because of it!)

I worked really hard last Thursday to finish Chapter 17 and that puts me FIVE chapters away from being done with my manuscript. The more I look at things, though, the more flaws I see.

Every level of my life hits a crushing point. I’m not trying to complain. I’m merely pointing out that my life is hanging by a thread, the crux of which is my writing… Which is all well and good, but the writing itself has so much wrong with it.

Am I ever going to get anywhere with this? Have I used this feeble thread to try and hold the entirety of my life together? Oh man, I need to get it together. The more I hang on the thin line of my writing, the more I feel the line grown taut with stress. It can’t hold it all.

If everything is riding on my writing then my writing is sure to fall apart.

That’s why… I’m going to finish this draft and shelf it. Not shelve it forever. But I think it needs fresh perspective. It needs the perspective of being in a better place. Meaning, I gotta get my life together so that everything isn’t riding on this one book. If I tried to do anything with it right now… I think I’d be pushing myself to the brink of devastation.

So… after these final chapters are drafted, I will be moving on in every sense of the word.

Day Fifty-Six: Just Keep Writing

After almost a whole week of waffling around, I’m finally writing again with a bit of procrastination consistency. Wrapped up Chapter 14 and have started 15… Hoping to have it finished today/tomorrow. Only seven more after that!

The exciting bit is that I’ve written large chunks of my ending so these last few chapters will have large potions already waiting to be incorporated. I’m actually just impressed that my plot has managed to stay on track… although I must admit, it’s more political than I’d originally imagined.

Thank god for detailed outlines!

I have one friend who has actually kept up with my story. It’s wonderful to hear his predictions about the ending… mostly because it helps me realize what’s working and what isn’t. I’ve planted so many Red Herrings in my narrative that I’m not sure I’ve planted enough actual clues. Every time I do (since I already know the ending) they just feel wildly obvious to me! I need that outsider/reader’s perspective so badly.

I swear, though, there is nothing like a friend texting you to request more to keep you motivated.

Just. Keep. Writing.

The finish line feels so close on this first draft!

Day Thirty-Seven: Boredom

The rains came today bringing with them laziness. Spent most of the day lounging, although I managed a bit (not as much as I hoped, but enough to stay on track). I stayed up much too late writing my ending last night, so I don’t feel too sick about lazing around all afternoon with a book.

However, I plan on finishing Chapter 12 very soon and editing the last section this weekend. 12 out of 22 chapters… It doesn’t sound like much, but I’m proud of it nonetheless.

This isn’t the first book I’ve tried to write. I have three or four really solid starts on my laptop. I have five chapters of a subversive chick-lit anti-love story for new adults. I have three chapters for a sisterly-bonding/self-discovery tale that I quite like. I have a paranormal love story. I have a lot of strange books of all genres that never quite got past the opening before I lost attention and steam.

Most of my finished projects are short stories. They’re the only works I never grew bored of. How could I? They were just short enough to get the story down without lingering. It was really the perfect length for my attention span.

I am proud of myself that this project hasn’t fallen into that document folder. I’m trudging along, but the best part is… I haven’t lost interest. I am still excited to wake up every morning and start working on this project! To me, that is all the sign I need.

I think what I am learning to love about the YA/Juvenile genre is that it’s so wide. I don’t have to write a bleak comedy. I don’t have to write a serious novel. I just get to write.

My book so far has mystery, jealousy, bitterness, an old man with a long beard, love, laughter, sadness, death, a bad prank, fear, destruction, time-travel, confusion, betrayal, new friends, a man in a tweed coat, ridiculous nicknames, a woman who looks like a clock, an imaginary garden, a new sport and a million other tales. It’s not just a story… it’s a universe.

How could I ever grow bored with such a wide world to keep me busy?

I have let my imagination run rampant. I’ve never been so happy.

Day Twenty-Nine: From First to Last

Rough writing day today. Managed a few feeble pages before succumbing to the long list of errands I’ve been putting off. (I.E. I went to the grocery store then took a two hour nap.)

Have settled in for day two of my Harry Potter/Painting marathon. I’ve finally reached the deadline for priming my apartment and (like all good procrastinators) I work well under deadlines. The paint job is patchy at best, but I’m a little buzzed and almost done with my third Harry Potter film (Alan Rickman in a dress!) so I’ll consider it a success.

I haven’t read a Harry Potter in almost four years. I haven’t watched a movie since the last one was out in theaters. I know the books are better than the movies and that a bottle of wine sometimes has this affect on people, but Harry Potter is so good! It has always been so good! It will always be so good!

I was a Harry Potter fan girl at age seven, carrying around the books that were bigger than me at the time. I’ll probably always be a Harry Potter fan girl. I look at my own writing and I can’t help but think “You’re still writing Potter FanFiction…” Even after all this time and devoting myself thoroughly to my own work, I think I owe so much of who I am to J.K. Rowling.

She taught me how to love to read. She taught me the power of learning to write. She’s irrevocably changed me as a person.

I once wrote in a photography course that Harry Potter was my favorite book only to get mocked openly for it all year. I never answered that way again (Count of Monte Cristo, for the record, has been my answer since… and it’s just as exciting as any Harry novel, but old enough to be taken more “seriously”). Literature and academia don’t always look fondly on those sorts of things. It disobeys all sorts of pretentious concepts (I swear the literature community was into the obscure way before it was popular… the original hipsters. The term was even first popularized by Mailer) of being a “serious writer”, but Harry will always be my first literary love. I’m not ashamed to admit that.

I think that’s why I’m so into this children’s literature thing. These are the books that will teach a whole new generation of children how to love to read. Let’s make them good!