Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Book Report: A Natural History of Dragons
I'm very pleased to still be on a reading kick. I didn't quite get this book finished as fast as The City of Woven Streets but I did read it on my lunch break and while at home, which is always a good sign.

Relatively high. I bought this book for Rebecca for her birthday last year, and she's since read it and enjoyed it. Plus, the concept is just excellent. A book about a Victorian-esque lady who goes off and studies dragons in a society where dragons are just an expected feature of natural history and there's no other magic? Sign me up!
This book was, as expected, excellent. It was actually even more excellent than I thought it might be. I particularly loved how Lady Trent managed to be both active and adventurous while still being aware of the social mores of the Victoria-esque society in which she lives. There was none of that fantasy cliche of the main character being the only person to see how her society is flawed and rejecting all of it. There were moments in the book where Lady Trent was very much of her time - which provided a nice sense of realism amid her fantastic adventures. 
I also really liked the narrative style, and Lady Trent's thoughts on the publishing process, and her looking back at her youth from a position of age and a relatively more permissive society. 

I thought all (or at least most) of the characters were well drawn, rather than just Isabella and Jacob, which is always nice. The plot was exciting enough to keep me reading - and to ensure I picked up the next book immediately. 

Final Thoughts
I'm honestly not sure I can think of any negatives. A Natural History of Dragons is a great concept executed well. It's not astounding, but it's very, very solid. 4 stars.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Book Report: The City of Woven Streets
It's been a distressingly long time since I finished a book. I almost finished a reread of Devices and Desires - which I love - but then I just sort of stopped. Sometimes it happens, and I wish it didn't because when I start reading again I remember how great it is! Fortunately, I had a little prompt recently, about which I shall be mysterious for the time being, and so I've finished one book, one audiobook and am already working on my next book. 

Honestly, my expectations for this book weren't that high. I was reading it for A Reason, which is never the most auspicious beginning, and it didn't sound like quite my sort of thing. The blurb on the back reads: 
In the City of Woven Streets, human life has little value. You practice a craft to keep you alive, or you are an outcast, unwanted and tainted. Eliana is a young weaver in the House of Webs, but secretly knows she doesn’t really belong there. She is hiding a shameful birth defect that would, if anyone knew about it, land her in the House of the Tainted, a prison for those whose very existence is considered a curse.

When an unknown woman with her tongue cut off and Eliana’s name tattooed on her skin arrives at the House of Webs, Eliana discovers an invisible network of power behind the city’s facade. All the while, the sea is clawing the shores and the streets are slowly drowning.
It sounded a bit dystopian, which isn't usually something I'm into. However, it had good reviews and I quite liked the first paragraph (always my litmus test) so I picked it up. 

As indicated by the first sentence, the writing was good. Better than just 'readable', as well (though I'll take readable without complaint if the story is good enough). I didn't think it was quite on a par with Scott Lynch, who is my personal fantasy pinnacle for great description, but it was definitely noteable as a positive feature.
The story was nowhere near as dystopian as I feared. While the world is a dystopia, in the strictest sense, it doesn't feel like one enough to be oppressive. It's restrictions and dysfunctions are revealed slowly, which is what I'd much prefer. This is also definitely a fantasy world, not a future-of-earth or a science-fiction setting.
The story was solid and the characters were nicely established, though outside the two main characters they weren't given that much depth. Without giving away too much, there were a few character / relationship facets that came as nice surprises.

The italicised dream sequences didn't really work for me. But then, italicised dream sequences that take part outside the narrative of the novel rarely do. I could see what Emmi Itäranta was trying to do, and I'd be curious to see what happens if you read all the dream sequences as one long piece — but not actually curious enough that I've done it, which is rather the point.
I also found the ending a little confusing / unsatisfying. Again, I feel like I understand the aim but it just didn't quite work for me. I'm sure it would work for other people, I just tend to prefer all-threads-tied-up to ambiguity.

Final Thoughts
This was a good book to get me out of my drought, and I'm glad I read it even though it wasn't usually the sort of thing I'd pick up. 3 stars.

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