booklog, end of October and November 1
On with the books!
Walter Farley, The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt. I heard of this book as a kid but couldn’t find it, which is in retrospect okay because I thought it was about a sad and rebellious horse. But hey, the Haunted Bookshop had it! As well as others!
Surprisingly full of mental stuff-- this is only partly about the horse and mostly about Alec trusting himself to be awesome. Plus harness racing, training, and all the long race-stuff that make up a Farley book.
Spoiler alert: they win.
Rae Carson, The Bitter Kingdom. Angela was surprised I liked this, as she remembered me being rather cooler toward the first book. This is probably true, though I’m not going to hunt through the 2011 booklog to verify it.
I’m not sure what to say about this book beyond that it hits a lot of my happy buttons, and it does so with a really great ending to a trilogy. I like Spanish in my fantasy. I like Elisa’s now-unapologetic fatness. I like Hector. I like competence and stubbornness coupled with innovation. I like brown people being the default.
And it turns out to be a narrative about colonialism and elves.
I mean really.
If you had asked me after the first book if the series was going to be anything like this, I wouldn’t have said so. The first book, if I remember correctly and have extrapolated properly from Angela’s memory, was a wedge. And then it turns out to be about colonialism. And elves. None of this is explicit, especially not the elf part, but it’s there.
Walter Farley, The Black Stallion and the Girl. Angela remembered this as a Book of Her Childhood. I grabbed it from Haunted because of the title, the blurb (What! A Girl in Racing?), and oh the chapter titles-- including “Sexism”. I figured it would be the usual.
It is, but also fiercely weird.
The book was written in 1971, which puts the series squarely in the Historical Contemporary, Moving Target category (along with Judy Blume and possibly the Baby-Sitter’s Club, rather than with Homecoming). Alec has grown up, but he’s still described as a boy. Horses have multiplied, but I have no idea how many in-series years have passed-- I haven’t even read most of the intercalary books.
So along comes a manic pixie dream girl who’s great with horses. The adults of the series talk a lot about how she’s drifting and rootless, how so many kids these days are just bumming around, no ambition, no reality. She continues being manic pixie dream girl, plus horses, and it’s a little embarrassing but also a little off.
Then I realized.
She’s a hippie.
Car painted with flowers, barefootedness when possible, posters meant to suggest she is a hippie but I don't know the language for this, resolute optimism about making a better world, scorn from the hidebound elders. Fascinating.
The Horse-Tamer. I wanted this to be a different kind of book. Instead, it’s a sort of historical Black Stallion tie-in. Meh. Back to Haunted it will go.
MJ Putney, Dark Destiny. End of a trilogy involving magic, Napoleon, time travel, WW2, love, and teenagers.
Among the many things I would like to study someday is what genre writing looks like from someone outside the genre-- the In Death books’ movie/moving-future SF, things like that. This would be a useful data point, as Putney normally writes historical romance and it shows. I made a lot of expressions during this one.
Sarah Prineas, Summerkin. A good book, somewhat young for YA in terms of issues dealt with. No romance, yay, and especially not with fairies. It threw me pretty significantly that Prineas’ fey can lie, though. That’s right up there with ‘don’t eat the food’ in terms of fairy lore I know. I loved Rook, though, and the oaths.
Heather Tomlinson, Toads and Diamonds. Not a mindblowing book, but it’s meant to be a fairy tale and they aren’t usually mindblowing. I loved the number of female friendships in the book, the setting*, and that both miracle girls are immediately recognized as valuable. And dangerous, but in different ways-- one speaks cobras, one destabilizes the economy word by word.
*There are two groups of people, the natives who wear dress wraps and worship the Twelve Gods and the Believers who wear white tunics and pants and cover their faces lest they be thought immodest. I thought, “Huh, that’s a weird thing to make Christian-analogues do.” Except this isn’t British India. It’s Moghul India. The Believers are more Muslim than Christian, filtered heavily through fairy tale. It never occurred to me that a story about India with two religions, one polytheistic and one monotheistic, could be anything but British India.
I’m not sure that *facepalm* is the appropriate gesture for being smacked in the face with one’s cultural assumptions, but *facepalm*.
Anne Bishop, Written in Blood. Bishop’s strength is that she doesn’t let much of anything get in the way of her id. Or someone’s id, anyway. She worldbuilds so she can do whatever she wants. This sometimes works out beautifully and sometimes really, really sucks.
So a story about humans being the colonizers in a New World populated by creatures that see them as occasionally clever meat... could go either way.
The problem is that the Others correspond to werewolves (and other flavors of were, all charismatic), vampires (interesting ones, at least), Elementals who are all women, and Tess, who is written just a little bit too scary for me to take the scary effectively.
These are not New World monsters. These are not monsters that, given an entire continent to themselves, should have any stake in looking human. It’s interesting that they do and the proposed mechanism for how they do it, but... no.
Also, Bishop really, really sucks at writing female characters who are not the Queen. You are either conventionally nonglamorous with great ideas tempered with genuine sweetness or you are beautiful, petty, sexual, and viciously shallow in your ambitions. There’s a vanishingly small middle ground, but I happen to think that women are interesting and come in a multitude of varieties, most of them pretty much okay.
Also also, and hilarious, Bishop makes a dig at paranormal romance by having a character bash books in which Others are really just humans who need to be loved. In a book where a woman’s inborn abilities and genuine sweetness make her beloved by all the Others she meets except the ones who don’t know her well enough yet, including the boss Other, who is drawn to her inexorably.
Also also also, I notice when people are given talents rather than skills. It doesn’t annoy me strongly yet, but I expect it will within a year or so. This is the difference between Carson’s The Bitter Kingdom, where Elisa has superpowers and kicks ass, no ‘because’ or ‘in spite of’ necessary, and pretty much all Bishop ever.