Friday, September 03, 2010

Surrender Monkey Gives Up

Before I start on things I have finished, let's do a wrap up of the things I haven't.  Sometimes when I have too many library books out, I suddenly become aware of my own mortality.  This is because I'm so excited to read all these books that when something fails to live up, I can't bring myself to let it keep me from the real meat.

So the last couple of weeks have been full of attrition.  I quit most of them within 40 pages, but I'll give you a rundown so you can decide if you want to concur with my catty conclusions out of sheer love of trash talk.

In reverse order:

Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon.  I heard about this book because of the great Cover Controversy: the hardcover version features, appropriately, an Asian character, while the paperback has a more ethnically neutral girl.  That's what brought it to my attention, but everything else about it--YA, fantasy, strong female character on a quest, the type of world it's set in--all implied to me that I'd like it. 

And Ai Ling is just my kind of character.  She starts out ordinary, but circumstances--her father's failure to return from a trip to the Imperial Palace, mysterious hints at his scandalous past, and unpaid debts--make her confront her assumptions about the world she lives in and herself.  Right up my alley.

But it turns out that, as a YA fantasy author, your literary model should probably be someone other than Ernest Hemingway.  This is a book composed of short, declarative sentences.  It's not quite Hemingway; it took me 40 pages to realize it.  But here's the passage that made me realize I wasn't in love with the book:

"She eased the shed door open.  The morning air rejuvenated her as she scanned the horizon.  The rays of the sun were just beginning to wash the skyline.  She reeked of farm animals and damp hay.  Ai Ling scratched her itching scalp and wished for a mirror, then decided it was probably better she didn't have one."  Noun - verb - direct object - prepositional phrase. 

But what really did me in was the magic.  Whenever something magical happened--a mysterious animal drags her into a lake, her amulet protects her from attack--I literally had to flip back a few pages to make sure I hadn't missed something.  Where did the magic come from?  She's always shocked by it, yet seems to expect it.  I'm the queen of suspended disbelief, but I got lost very early on here, and was never won back.  Which is a shame, because I love the flavor that the Chinese cultural basis brought to the kingdom of Xia.

The Italian Secretary, by Caleb Carr.  What could be better: the author of The Alienist and Sherlock Holmes?  They were made for each other!  Anyone else ever set up a failed blind date and been unable to see that it was going to go wrong?

Really, I don't think the book was awful, and it was really short, so I'm even surprised at myself for giving it up.  But I realized that we were a third of the way through the book--litearally--and they were still on the train heading for the location of the murders while Holmes is spouting exposition about Mary Stuart's murdered title character of a music instructor, Rizzio.  Also, the book spends a lot of time setting you up to think Holmes believes that Rizzio's ghost is responsible for the present crimes, but does so in a way that it's pretty clear that he's going to later surprise Watson by revealing that no, he just means that a society can still suffer from the memories of old crimes, not that an actual ghost is doing the killing, silly ol' Watson!

Saddest of all, Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn.  She's my current author crush, and it shocked and dismayed me to put this book down.  And I'm not going to claim that you can't do Jane Eyre in space, because I think you could.  But you have to get all Frank Herbert--all High Imperial.  Your formality can't be Victorian; it has to be Elizabethan.  And you have to really, really sell me on the class distinctions and stiff use of language, which she tried, but couldn't do.   I'm convinced that if it hadn't been a Jane Eyre knockoff, if I hadn't known where the plot was going and what forces were supposed to be behind things, I would actually have liked the book. 

But as it is, I just don't have the time for halfhearted right now!  Not with 600-page Between Silk and Cyanide due in a couple of weeks, and me taking forever with it even though it's great and funny and fascinating.  Not with Mistress of the Art of Death begging for my attention (I finally started it, and it's really good).  And certainly not with the raves I've been reading about The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers

So, coming up: my pants-wetting wait for Mockingjay and my first review.  Maybe Hunger Games?  Or one I recently finished, Blame?  Or an old favorite, Shining Through.  Since I view it as an exercise and I have a schedule to keep, I'm going to dig into the backlist for good reviews to write.  Votes?

1 comment:

JMLC said...

It's funny, Shining Through is also the name of a workbook for girls who have been abused so it took me several seconds to realize that's NOT the one you're reading.