Monday, January 4, 2021

Review: Alphabet of Thorn

Alphabet of Thorn Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the kingdom of Raine, an abandoned baby is found and raised by the Royal Librarians of Raine. One day the girl, Nepenthe, is given a mysterious book written in a language with an alphabet of letters shaped like thorns. It turns out to be an epic poem documenting the conquests of the emperor Axis and his sorcerer Kane, "the Hooded One," three thousand years earlier. The young queen of Raine and her mage Vevay also come into the story.

I reread this for the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club here on GoodReads and I don't quite know what to say about it. The Axis & Kane story was much more compelling than most of the Nepenthe story. And there are too many points of view in the latter; the female characters were consistently more interesting and maybe McKillip should have kept the focus on them. And the ending seemed a bit rushed. If you have not read McKillip before I would recommend The Forgotten Beasts of Eld instead.

Some bits I liked:
"She could not see the sky, only green and shadow woven thickly above her, yielding not a scrap of blue. She breathed soundlessly. So did the wood around her, she felt; it seemed a live thing, alert and watching her, trees trailing wisps of morning mist, their faces hidden, their thoughts seeping into the air like scent. It was, she thought, like being surrounded by unspoken words."

"Epics are never written about libraries. They exist on whim; it depends on whether the conquering army likes to read."


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Review: Alphabet of Thorn

Alphabet of Thorn Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the kingdom of Raine, an abandoned baby is found and raised by the Royal Librarians of Raine. One day the girl, Nepenthe, is given a mysterious book written in a language with an alphabet of letters shaped like thorns. It turns out to be an epic poem documenting the conquests of the emperor Axis and his sorcerer Kane, "the Hooded One," three thousand years earlier. The young queen of Raine and her mage Vevay also come into the story.

I reread this for the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club here on GoodReads and I don't quite know what to say about it. The Axis & Kane story was much more compelling than most of the Nepenthe story. And there are too many points of view in the latter; the female characters were consistently more interesting and maybe McKillip should have kept the focus on them. And the ending seemed a bit rushed. If you have not read McKillip before I would recommend The Forgotten Beasts of Eld instead.

Some bits I liked:
"She could not see the sky, only green and shadow woven thickly above her, yielding not a scrap of blue. She breathed soundlessly. So did the wood around her, she felt; it seemed a live thing, alert and watching her, trees trailing wisps of morning mist, their faces hidden, their thoughts seeping into the air like scent. It was, she thought, like being surrounded by unspoken words."

"Epics are never written about libraries. They exist on whim; it depends on whether the conquering army likes to read."


View all my reviews

Review: Alphabet of Thorn

Alphabet of Thorn Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the kingdom of Raine, an abandoned baby is found and raised by the Royal Librarians of Raine. One day the girl, Nepenthe, is given a mysterious book written in a language with an alphabet of letters shaped like thorns. It turns out to be an epic poem documenting the conquests of the emperor Axis and his sorcerer Kane, "the Hooded One," three thousand years earlier. The young queen of Raine and her mage Vevay also come into the story.

I reread this for the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club and I don't quite know what to say about it. The Axis & Kane story was much more compelling than most of the Nepenthe story. And there are too many points of view in the latter; the female characters were consistently more interesting and maybe McKillip should have kept the focus on them. And the ending seemed a bit rushed. If you have not read McKillip before I would recommend The Forgotten Beasts of Eld instead.

"She could not see the sky, only green and shadow woven thickly above her, yielding not a scrap of blue. She breathed soundlessly. So did the wood around her, she felt; it seemed a live thing, alert and watching her, trees trailing wisps of morning mist, their faces hidden, their thoughts seeping into the air like scent. It was, she thought, like being surrounded by unspoken words."

"Epics are never written about libraries. They exist on whim; it depends on whether the conquering army likes to read."

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Monday, October 5, 2020

I Have Moved to WordPress!

 I will see if I can update my links for FrightFall #Readathon and I think I might leave the blog up (why not?) but future posts will be at WordPress! Please come find me & comment there!

https://bethsbookishthoughts.wordpress.com/

Monday, September 21, 2020

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2014)

A man visits his childhood home after many years away. His old house is gone but the farm at the end of the road is still there along with its pond. He remembers an eleven year old girl named Lettie Hempstock who lived there, and who had claimed that the pond behind her house was an ocean. He met her when he was seven years old and had since forgotten how they met and what happened when a sinister woman named Ursula Monkton came to look after him and his sister while their parents were away. Everything he has forgotten starts to come back to him.

I listened to the audio this time (read by the author) and really loved the narration. I ended up listening to it twice. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren't.”

“Nothing's ever the same," she said. "Be it a second later or a hundred years. It's always churning and roiling. And people change as much as oceans.”

“I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”

“Peas baffled me. I could not understand why grown-ups would take things that tasted so good raw, and then put them in tins, and make them revolting.”



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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Review: Four Weird Tales

Four Weird Tales Four Weird Tales by Algernon Blackwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Algernon Blackwood (14 March 1869 – 10 December 1951) was an English novelist and short-story writer best known for his stories of the supernatural. Many of his stories are in the public domain and online. I have previously read The Willows and The Man Whom the Trees Loved (online and as Librivox audio recordings). This is another Librivox recording: https://librivox.org/four-weird-tales... I started the collection John Silence but decided not to finish it at least for now; maybe I will try it some other time.) The readers are pretty much professional quality and I highly recommend it. All four stories are variations on a theme: the protagonist sets out to discover the secrets of the universe.

The Insanity of Jones -- A man seeks revenge for injustices suffered in a past life. Or maybe he's just crazy; take your pick.

The Glamour of the Snow -- My favorite! A fine ghost story. Like The Willows this story deals with the terror and awe of the natural world. one of my favorite bits:
The world lay smothered in snow. The châlet roofs shone white beneath the moon, and pitch-black shadows gathered against the walls of the church. His eye rested a moment on the square stone tower with its frosted cross that pointed to the sky: then travelled with a leap of many thousand feet to the enormous mountains that brushed the brilliant stars. Like a forest rose the huge peaks above the slumbering village, measuring the night and heavens. They beckoned him. And something born of the snowy desolation, born of the midnight and the silent grandeur, born of the great listening hollows of the night, something that lay 'twixt terror and wonder, dropped from the vast wintry spaces down into his heart—and called him. Very softly, unrecorded in any word or thought his brain could compass, it laid its spell upon him. Fingers of snow brushed the surface of his heart. The power and quiet majesty of the winter's night appalled him...

The Man Who Found Out -- A man discovers the secrets of the universe and then wishes he hadn't. This one fell a bit flat for me. But there's a good post about it as part of The Lovecraft Reread, a project at Tor.com about HP Lovecraft, writers (like Blackwood) who inspired him, and writers who were inspired by him.

https://www.tor.com/2018/02/21/you-wi...

Sand -- The protagonist travels to Egypt and joins two other travelers exploring the desert. This is the longest story in the collection. I liked the beginning, but I think this one is a bit too long and slow. It drags a bit.

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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Review: The Stone Sky (reread from 2018)

The Stone Sky The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**reread 9/5/2020** Hmm. . . I thought I would have more to say about this conclusion to the trilogy when I reread the series. It was definitely worth rereading, and The Stone Sky certainly makes up for my slight disappointment with The Obelisk Gate. But contrary to what I was hoping for when I started this reread (June), I don't have much to add. I was more emotionally invested this time because keeping track of the plot didn't take up so much of my attention, so that was satisfying.  

Here are some of the highlights:
"Say nothing to me of innocent bystanders, unearned suffering, heartless vengeance. When a comm builds atop a fault line, do you blame its walls when they inevitably crush the people inside? No; you blame whoever was stupid enough to think they could defy the laws of nature forever. Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place."

"What he offers, and what she has finally realized she needs, is purpose. Not even Schaffa has given her that, but that's because Schaffa loves her unconditionally. She needs that love, too, oh how she needs it, but in this moment, when her heart has been most thoroughly broken, when her thoughts are at their least focused, she craves something more... solid.

She will have the solidity that she wants. She will fight for it and kill for it, because she’s had to do that again and again and it is habit now, and if she is successful she will die for it. After all, she is her mother’s daughter—and only people who think they have a future fear death."

"There isn’t a single evil to point to, a single moment when everything changed. Things were bad and then terrible and then better and then bad again, and then they happened again, and again, because no one stopped it."

"But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them – even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky."


**review 9/19/2018** I suspect these books would benefit from rereading. It would be interesting to read them again knowing what's going on and how things resolve, but at the same time I don't know if I loved these books quite enough to want to reread them. Now that I've finished the trilogy I think The Fifth Season is probably the best of the three. There’s just a lot going on in these books, and the first book is the one that does the best job of balancing the focus on the characters with other aspects of the story, I think. In the other two I felt less connected to the characters, but I still definitely recommend reading the whole thing. I don't read very many series, but this barely feels like a series to me because the books are so closely connected.

So I'm left a tiny bit unsatisfied, but still — as someone who rarely reads epic fantasy (or post apocalyptic sf — and these books are a little of both) I am very impressed. I haven't read anything else quite like this.

I'm having a hard time writing a real review for this one, but here are some longer reviews that I thought were insightful.

https://www.npr.org/2017/08/19/542469... (a very good discussion with only minor spoilers)

http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/20... (major spoilers, don't read if you haven't read the book)


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Review: Alphabet of Thorn

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip My rating: 3 of 5 stars In the kingdom of Raine, an abandoned ...