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Book reviews - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Book reviews
I do apologize for being scarce, but I'm learning to hate McAfee and its incessant, time-consuming update downloads, which seem to slow me down every time I log in, making my unpleasant return to dial-up actively tortuous. Hence, only going on a little bit every day.

Anyway, I've rejoined the ranks of wage-earners, getting my first check. First thing I bought? Books! What else? The new Warrors (Dark River) and the new Stephen King (Duma Key). Both enjoyable, but flawed. Here be reviews, with mucho, mega spoilers.

Warriors: The Power of Three: Dark River
by Erin Hunter

Second book of the third series. Firestar's and Tigerstar's grandchildren this time around. Last time, we met them as they started their apprenticeships--politically ambitious Hollypaw, strong warrior Lionpaw, bitter (and blind) medicine cat apprentice Jaypaw (who I'm not at all convinced is even remotely related to Tigerstar, unless Tigerstar had a little fling in WindClan at some point).

Jaypaw has the ability not just to have prophetic dreams, but to project himself into other people's dreams and, essentially, eavesdrop. In this book, he also begins to dream about a cat who lived at the lake before the Clans, and sees a coming-of-age ritual in which a cat has to navigate complicated tunnels which fill up with water when it rains. The cat he dreams of never makes it out. Naturally, Lionpaw and his WindClan inamorata, Heatherpaw, discover these tunnels, which lead between the two territories, and Hollypaw is trying to stop a war (set off by RiverClan's odd behavior), and the three siblings--if that's what they are--set out together in the caves, through which the titular Dark River runs, to rescue some WindClan kits and stop an unnecessary battle. In this, they are aided by WindClan apprentices Heatherpaw and Breezepaw. Breezepaw is Crowfeather's often unpleasant son. They're successful, but Tigerstar has infiltrated Lionpaw's dreams, and has convinced him to give up Heatherpaw.

Yup, that's it.

The good stuff?

As usual, the world is nicely realized, and cat behavior is well-observed in the minor things. Because we were there for the backstories of older characters, we see the little clues that the point of view characters don't (for instance, we know why Leafpool and doesn't entirely get along with Crowfeather's mate, even though Jaypaw hasn't a clue). This gives an automatic layering to the story that's quite a nice effect. The story is serviceable, and I found myself interested in the ancient cats Jaypaw dreamed of. Jaypaw himself--despite flirting with Gary Stu-dom, talentwise--is just an odd enough hero to be freshly interesting: unpleasant, resentful, tending toward amoral until pushed to the limit, and physically unable to participate in the kinds of adventures we've seen before, but powerful in his own way. I'm hoping he'll get some serious time with Crowfeather in the next book.


I know that the further we get from Firestar, the more we'll see the flaws and idiosyncrasies, as we saw the other leaders when Firestar was the narrator. And why bring Graystripe back at all if the plan is to just sideline him? Give him something to do, kthnxbai. But I'd rather have him more active. Just a personal thing. Hollypaw and Lionpaw remain ciphers, though at least Lionpaw had a little bit of personality sparking through. We hear about Tawnypelt's kits, but where's Tawnypelt? The other traveling cats get around. Give a ShadowClan girl a break, eh? She and Brambleclaw are supposed to be close! (Which brings us to, paradoxically, they've got too many cats on stage with too many plots. I'd love to know about all of them, but there's no room.)

The bad?

The RiverClan plot--they're building a dam to scare away "twoleg kits" who are scaring their prey--goes way beyond cat behavior, which is very noticeable. You can justify most of the oddball stuff as interpretations of things you see cats doing, but building dams so they don't have to hurt humans? Nyet. No. Non. Uh-uh. And the usual careless editing happens--cats randomly being renamed, names that are too close and should have been rethought--Mousefur and Mousepaw, Whitewing and Whitetail, etc. Those are simple technical things.

The WTF?

Onestar. Heh? What? I recognize that he had to establish himself as independently strong, but he was always one of Firestar's best friends. Once he got WindClan strong again... why is he still doing the bastard-next-door act? You might as well have kept Mudclaw.

Crowfeather. Continuing the WindClan WTFery (witfery?), I know that Crowfeather wants to prove his loyalty by taking a WindClan mate, but is there some reason this makes it necessary for him to unlearn everything he learned on the journey, and from the two non-WindClan cats he fell in love with? This is just goofy character work. It makes no sense. WindClan has no motivation to suddenly become BitchClan.

Firestar... not wanting to help? I could see this being because of losing his friendships in WindClan after trying to help, except that the continued hostility from WindClan makes no sense, so anything predicated on it makes no sense.

Oh, well. It's the second of six, and I'm certainly going to keep reading, and hope that the answers to the WTFs come clearer over the next four books.

Duma Key
by Stephen King

Why is it that the critics have started to lay accolades on Stephen King as his stories become less daring?

Oh, well, again.

Duma Key is the title and setting of the new book, about a haunted Key off the Florida coast near Sarasota. Edgar Freemantle takes up residence there after losing his arm, damaging his brain, and being sued for divorce by his wife of twenty-five years. He rediscovers his talent for drawing... and so does something else, a dangerous power that can use him to manipulate reality. He meets the elderly owner of the Key, Elizabeth Eastlake, who now has Alzheimer's, but in her youth, suffered a brain injury and also began to draw, attracting the attention of the same entity. Her attendant, Jerome Wireman, is a third brain injury victim--this time self-inflicted--and has minor empathic and telepathic abilities. The Key calls them all. With the help of Jack Cantori, a local gofer, they all take on the evil, and, after suffering, prevail. Standard King fare. Nothing wrong with that.

There's a lot of good stuff here. Edgar's very well realized, and I have to love a story that leans on surrealistic painting as a plot device. By the end, you're more or less inside a Daliesque painting, and it's very creepy. The setting is nicely drawn, and the trade offs between the present and the past work well. (The most asinine review I read suggested that he should have cut out all that past stuff, since the present-day story was more interesting. Er... the present-day stuff is interesting because the past stuff exists as a place for it to grow from. Without it, you lose the entire gothic frame. So, essentially, you're saying, "Gosh, I'd like it better if it were an entirely different book." No, he can't chop off a third of the novel. Good God, knock it off with the junior high whining about, "But it's so long!!!! It'll, like, take me for-EV-er!!!" already.) The scenes when Edgar realizes that he has the power to save Wireman's life are quite extraordinary.

The mediocre stuff? Elizabeth herself. We don't get to know her, except in reflected light, which makes it difficult to care as much as Edgar claims to. But it's all right; there's a lot of reflected light, so you get what you need. The horror stuff is run of the mill--it's a haunted island, but nothing that really knocks your socks off, like the bogeymen in the Overlook in The Shining. It's a little disconcerting, though, which is good enough for government work. The issues between Edgar and his ex-wife Pam are okay, and decently done. None of it is as vivid as the scenes of painting, though.

The bad stuff. The end just flops. I mean... really flops after all the build-up. For one thing, it's predicated on the death of a character who we've been told Edgar cares a great deal about. In fact, we're told about it over and over. But in the interactions we see, she's just not a character the reader has any particular attachment to. In a lot of ways, it would have been more effective to kill off Jack Cantori and have the actual dead character take his place in the ending sequence. We're expected to take too much on a general idea of what the word for the relationship is. See, I'm being careful not to say who dies here, but really... you just won't care that much. He didn't do the groundwork. She's just... there. Very generic and nice. In The Body, King reprints a story by "Gordon Lachance," which was actually one of his own early stories, and the commentary on it--supposedly by an older and more experienced Gordon--is that "two of the women are bitches and the third is a simple receptacle who says things like 'Come in, I'll give you cookies.'" Take door number three, and that's the dead character. Very difficult to care about.

Also, well, I find it hard to be unnerved by a monster who fits in Edgar's pocket. It's fine when she's just acting on the mind--she's everywhere then--but when she takes physical form, all I can think of is the Hallowe'en Buffy ep from season 4: "Who's a cute little fear demon? Aw!"

The WTF point was that the main character's name is Freemantle. As in, Mother Abigail. This is from the man's most famous and best-loved book, The Stand. It's not a name like "Smith." I kept waiting for some memory of "Grandmother Abigail, in Nebraska," or some such thing, but there is none. I still assumed he was related until his daughter was described with corn silk blond hair. That makes JK Rowling's little "Mark Evans" mistake look small in context. Two major King characters, same last name, both with psychic powers... and no discernible connection.

Anyway, that's all, folks.


4 comments or Leave a comment
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: February 1st, 2008 01:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Nice to see you here. :) Yeah, McAfee does have the annoying feature of constant updates, although I still prefer it over Norton. But I can see it being even more irritating with dial up. :/
nundu_art From: nundu_art Date: February 1st, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
*waves frantically!* I thought you'd disappeared forever! Yes, McAfee is slow with those annoying updates. Check and see if you can schedule them to happen in the middle of the night or while you're at work (I think you can). That would get it done while you're away, leaving the computer ready for you when you're ready for it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 1st, 2008 11:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Alas, it has to be connected to the internet, which means it has to be when I'm actively logged on and tying up the phone line. Grrr.
aerrin From: aerrin Date: February 2nd, 2008 05:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Just finished this tonight, after a marathoning of the second half of the book, so I couldn't wait to see what someone else thought! Spoilerific, of course.

Aw, I dunno, I definitely cared about said dead person before she was dead - I actually thought a lot of their relationship, pet names and conversations and the like, was pretty well-realized. What /did/ throw it for me was the excessive and heavy-handed foreshadowing. Is it even foreshadowing when you pretty much flat out say what's going to happen? It felt lazy and weird to me, and the death would have come as /much/ more of a shock if I hadn't been pretty much flat-out told it was going to happen thirty or sixty pages before. If I'd been allowed to remember-or-forget the painting on my own, and if I'd been allowed to feel a sense of relief when the disaster was barely averted. I /did/ really love the balls rolling in on the waves. Lovely visuals. The whole book was lovely visuals.

Also agreed that the final battle was a little anticlimatic. I liked the trip to and through the house and the revealing of the backstory (and it was such a /lovely/ backstory, one of the sort that fit really nicely with the present story in a way that made /both/ of them good stories), but once they started out for the cistern it kind of fizzled and ran out of steam. Most of the /good/ action happened where we couldn't see it. I think it might have been more effective had Edgar battled harder with Perse's bribes. I am particularly baffled about the why and the how of the final vision on the beach walk and the talking of the shells. The bribe of being together, and whole - that would have been better earlier, I think, when Perse was wooing Edgar with talk of 'we don't need them' and 'they're only crew'. Made it an actual struggle of the psychological creepy sort, not the tiny biting statue sort. I could handle the statue as a sort of /focus/ - but as an actual fighting thing it was kind of lame.

I would have liked to have seen the poor souls put to some sort of rest, but perhaps that is a little too neatly-wrapped.

I agree that I could have stood a little more of the feisty Elizabeth Wireman and everyone else loved so - the book is long, sure, but there was maybe room for a bit of fleshing out of Edgar and Elizabeth. Or perhaps even some of the revelations about what a vital part of the community she'd been earlier in the book would have given it some time for her to 'sink in.' I did quite love the Elizabeth we saw in flashbacks - I will have more paper. My name is ELIZABETH (although I half wish he'd kept the mystery a bit longer and used Libbet) - but I had a hard time connecting the pieces between that Elizabeth and the old and mostly senile woman in the wheelchair - we don't get those pieces until pretty late in the book, and definitely not before I was in the page-flipping-things-are-going-to-happen-soon mode.

I feel like there is something to be said about the name - Perse and Persephone - but I don't quite know what it is. Do you have any thoughts on it? It seems like it should matter at least /some/.

At this point, I will stop rambling.
4 comments or Leave a comment