I first fell in love with Frances Hardinge’s Fly By Night more than five years ago, a pleasurable read enhanced by the fact that the good friend who recommended it to me knew my reading tastes so well. I’m not as well-versed in Young Adult fiction as I should probably be, but I connected with the airiness of Hardinge’s prose, which painted a vibrant world teeming with humor and verve.
It’s through this lens of great expectation that I viewed Verdigris Deep, her sophomore novel. A young adult urban fantasy set in contemporary London, it trades the sense of wonderment for something more brooding and unsettling, a stylistic choice that made me more disappointed than I probably would have had I picked up the book cold. Continue reading
It’s a little weird, writing this post months after having read the book and having given my copy away, but my personal need to chronicle my reading life is compelling me, so here we go.
Naermyth by Karen Francisco is a take on post-apocalyptic YA that combines the tropes of the genre with uniquely Filipino references. In this world, the creatures of mythology suddenly emerge and lay waste to most of civilization. In the Philippines, these are the creatures parents used to invoke to strike fear into children’s hearts, such as the aswang, sigben, and the manananggal. Only pockets of surviving and resisting bands of humanity continue to exist, including a fort in Manila that is protected by the so-called Shepherds.
The Shepherds venture to the aswang-infested territories of Manila to find surviving humans and lead them to relative safety. One of the most efficient and competent aswang-killers among this ragtag group is a girl that answers to the name Aegis. One day, she finds an unconscious man who is about to be attacked by aswangs and saves him, only to find out that this man has absolutely no recollection that the end of the civilization has occurred.
So far so good, right? I was initially interested in reading this book because of the premise. A sustained novel of this genre from a Filipino author has been a long time coming. I was ready to experience some intricate worldbuilding, a spunky heroine, and copious amount of Filipino mythology thrown in. All requisite boxes are checked. However, I found no pleasure in reading it because the first person point of view, the dialogue, and the plot twists struck me as utterly unconvincing.
Diana Wynne Jones recasts Shakespeare’s warring families of Verona into two magical houses in the charming book The Magicians of Caprona. Instead of the Montagues and Capulets, however, we have Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi, rival families as old as the city-state of Caprona. Their rivalry often causes the citizens to run away and take cover because their confrontations inevitably lead to spells flying all over the place, littering the streets with cowpats and the like.
The story is told through the eyes of brothers Paolo and Tonino Montana. They grew up hating the Petrocchis like true Montanas, and they strive to be as good magicians as the older members of their family. When a series of bad things begin to happen around the city, the Montanas naturally suspect their old rivals. But when the magical disturbances start becoming more sinister, causing even the Chrestomanci to take notice, Tonino and Paolo begin to suspect a force much stronger than petty rivalry.
Day 14 – Favorite character in a book
Jonathan Strange from Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
I have already written about some of my favorite characters in my previous meme entries (Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, Chabon’s Sam Klayman, Frances Hardinge’s Mosca Mye). Jonathan Strange and his quest to save the woman he loves is the driving force behind Susanna Clarke’s sprawling doorstopper of a debut novel.
In the book, I loved the anecdotes of Strange gallivanting around Europe trying to help the English forces defeat Napoleon. He is made of both genius and madness, a man who managed to show up Lord Byron. Just when you have him pegged as a dandy seduced by the prospect of magic but who is ultimately not taking it seriously, a personal tragedy adds layers to his character.
Day 01 – A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just freaking end already (or both!)
Naomi Novik’s Temeraire Series
This choice may come off as a bit unfair, since I enjoyed the three titles I’ve read so far (His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War) and I can sort of see the appeal of an extended narrative within this universe. But my enjoyment has steadily diminished with each subsequent book, mostly because there’s an accumulation of instances that seem iffy or problematic.
They are very fannish books, in that they invite readers to fill in the blanks in terms of Laurence and Temeraire’s motivations and their interactions with the minor characters, but I guess that the thing that make them less enjoyable to me as time wears on. I keep expecting a complete narrative within a single book, where overarching themes and repercussions are pretty much laid out by the end of the novel. And there are times in Black Powder War where I feel like the narration already boils down to minutiae, perhaps because Naomi Novik is trying to stretch out the characterization over several books.
I guess if it was a trilogy or a quadrilogy, it would’ve been fine, but nine books, I feel, is stretching it.
I’m aiming to have vaguely noticeable themes for my webcomic recommendations every week and for this one is a tribute to aviation. Indulge me, dear reader, I’m sick and have so joys in life.
Kitty Hawk by Braden D. Lamb (creator and illustrator) and Vincent LaBate (writer and letterer) is the story of a female fighter pilot in Pre-World War II US, with a penchant for fighting villains in jet packs and discovering mysterious artifacts. There’s a subtle steam-punk flavor but it doesn’t take away from the vintage feel of the entire work. The art is particularly beautiful. I love the fight scenes on air.
Unfortunately, the comic hasn’t been updated since 2009, but I still recommend it for the incredible art and the sweet pulpy nostalgia it evokes.
Red Moon Rising by Rose Loughran is about Adrianna, an airship mechanic and rogue pyrokinetic who is caught in a web of political and military intrigue. The story is set in a fictional world that promises to be elaborate and breathtaking. The steampunk elements are heavier on this one, but there’s a juxtaposition of magic and technology that unfolds through the story. The painterly style is so evocative you can stare at a single page for minutes. I particularly enjoy the many moody scenes and the subtle humor that pierces through tension.
Note: I’m going to repost some of my old essays/blog posts for posterity’s sake. It has been years since I’ve done this one but I’m still relatively proud of it, and my affection for both Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe remains the same.
Planetary Pariahs: Bradbury and the Influence of Edgar Allan Poe
I. “Bradbury is the Louis Armstrong of science fiction”
More than sixty years after publishing his first story and creating a career full of contradictions, Ray Bradbury has firmly cemented a reputation as an oddity of the American Letters. As part of the so-called Golden Age of science fiction in the 1940’s and 50’s, he achieved a fanatical following through his mass production of off-beat stories, spitting them up by the dozen for pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, and Imagination! He later gained mainstream celebrity for his brilliant novels, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. One novel is a pioneer-type tale about humans colonizing the planet Mars, the other a futuristic allegory warning against the dangers of censorship. Both of them are generally accepted as part of the SF canon. Aside from that stories had also appeared, in such highbrow publications as Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and Collier’s and he has been awarded both the National Medal of Arts and the O. Henry Memorial Award. He also earned lavish praise from more “literary” (as opposed to “pulpy”) writers such as Chistopher Isherwood and British writer Kingsley Amis. Is he then a hack, or a genius, a veritable master of the bizarre or simply a writer of childhood elegies? Not many have ridden this fence like he has, balancing between what Amis calls his “dime-a-dozen sensitivity” and literary respectability.
His reputation among SF circles is shifty as well. Despite being constantly mentioned in the same breath as other SF greats such as Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, many science fiction purists refuse to recognize Bradbury as a legitimate SF writer, and have criticized his stories’ “science,” with good reason. In Bradbury’s fiction, Venus skies are full of rain and not toxic ammonia, and improbable rocket ships scoop out burning pieces of the sun while the crew recites poetry.
Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge is a YA novel about Mosca Mye, a girl who escapes her desolate life in a village where she is treated with suspicion because of a dangerous skill: knowing how to read. Her flight gets her tangled up with a disreputable Eponymous Clent with whom she travels to the city of Mandelion. There they engage in acts of conspiracy and espionage as rival guilds wage a war of dominance within the kingdom called the Fractured Realm.
How much do I find it amusing that Mosca helped free Eponymous Clent from the village stockade because he’s a poet who uses words like “mellifluous?” He blinded her with
science! words. I love that this is a dominant part of Mosca’s personality, that she gets into these dangerous situations because she is seduced by words, the texture and the sound of them.