Feed, by M.T. Anderson, took me completely by surprise.
“An eerie futuristic novel.…Kids’ brains are wired into the television and other entertainment media from birth, making them totally driven by consumer marketing. This is fiction?” —Boston Globe
“Nightmarish.…Like those in a funhouse mirror, the reflections the novel shows us may be ugly and distorted, but they are undeniably ourselves.” —The Horn Book (starred review)
In Feed, everybody is connected to the Internet through the feed, a chip in their brain. This means that you’re never alone. You’re always up to date, instantly. You’re at the height of everything. The feed knows what you want before you do; it advertises nonstop.
“What we wish for, is ours. It is the age of oneiric culture. And we, America, we are the nation of dreams.”
In Feed, the global government is a complex place, but nobody really cares. The main character, Titus, receives brief snippets of worldwide news through the feed, but he barely even registers their existence, even when it might involve him, personally. America has become a place of consumers and suppliers, citizens and corporations. These corporations control the feed, so they basically know everything possible to know about you; they live in your head.
“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Feed opens with Titus and his friends on the moon. They went there for vacation, but it turned out that the moon wasn’t what it had been last time they were there, and they were bored. They roamed around and found this girl named Violet, who Titus immediately found fascinating. Violet accompanies them to a place where a hacker malfunctions their feeds, and they end up in a hospital, feedless.
This is a strange experience. They don’t have anything to do but talk, and Titus falls in love with Violet.
When their feeds are fixed, they go home, and Titus and Violet spend more and more time together. Violet is a fresh perspective. She’s always new; she’s slightly disjointed, slightly at an angle to society that Titus has never really thought about before. She always has something interesting to say to him. But, inevitably for someone with this sort of opinion in a society such as this one, Violet’s conversation turns steadily darker—as the book does exactly the same thing.
“…It’s like a spiral: They keep making everything more basic so it will appeal to everyone. And gradually, everyone gets used to everything being basic, so we get less and less varied as people, more simple. So the corps make everything even simpler. And it goes on and on.”
This book has so many different layers of depth that I don’t even know where to start. There is so much symbolism—so many semi-pithy statements that may or may not have originally been intended by the characters to result that way, but that are hard to understand. This book deserves at least a second reading, probably even a third. This is a book group book—a discussion book—a dissection book. This is book is a classic, an explanation of How We Got This Way. Like Brave New World, this book shows the dangers of life today, and it can only get more relevant, unless humanity—consumers—stop being so passive and start looking at who is actually controlling their lives, consciously and subconsciously.
“You’re the only one of them that uses metaphor.”
Titus is an interesting main character to pick. He seems to have slightly more depth than the others. He speaks—thinks—with far more poetry than is demonstrated by any other character: “She rubbed my head, and she went, ‘You’re the only one of them that uses metaphor.’ She was staring at me, and I was staring at her, and I moved toward her, and we kissed. The vines beat against each other out in the gray, dead garden, they were all writhing against the spine of the Milky Way on its edge, and for the first time, I felt her spine, too, each knuckle of it, with my fingers, while the air leaked and the plants whacked each other near the silent stars.”
However, he is still incredibly shallow. At the beginning of the book, I didn’t mind him, because he was an example of the time the book takes place—as, being the main character, he should have been rightfully. As the book progressed, I began to like him more and more the more time he spent with Violet. However, the last fourth or so of the book I began to despise him. He seemed to give up, like he’d almost reached some sort of epiphany about life or something, and then he just said, “Whatever” and walked away. I didn’t really understand what happened near the end. It all just sort of fell apart.
Everything in this book was from Titus’ first-person perspective, which is really difficult at times, because that means that the book has to be written roughly how the character talks. In this case, everybody in Feed used a unique jargon. Every sentence was splattered with slang. In most books, this is OK because you figure out the basic idea of what the words mean but, in this case, I really ended up just skipping over certain words. A couple of words I’d think I got and then they’d be used in a different context. It’s not that you can’t understand what anyone’s saying, it’s just that sometimes you have to think. There are also lots of random question marks, sentence fragments, and loss of description, because as a flighty teenager Titus probably isn’t paying attention to that much. There are also a ton of swears.
I’m going to give a 4/5. This type of writing was necessary to the story. It really helped it and wouldn’t have been as good without it. However, it was still difficult to ignore and at times distracting.
Nothing incredibly surprising happens. In fact, there’s not that much of a plot at all. It’s one of those stories that just traces someone’s day-to-day life, so plots are difficult to work in. There is a Violet arc, but not much else really changes. This doesn’t detract from the book, though, so I’m going to give 4/5.
Another hard one. None of the characters are especially deep. If they were, that would sort of defeat the purpose. Violet has some depth, but I think it’s hard for Titus to notice these things. None of the characters develop, either, except for Violet—a little, although it’s mostly that more and more of her personality and history is revealed throughout the book—and Titus, but he sort of goes into relapse. I think 3/5.
Je Ne C’est Quois
This isn’t a world you’d really want to live in—a world where everything belongs to the rich and if they can’t map you, they don’t want you, and if they (the corporations) don’t want you, that’s it. That’s it. It’s a world of dreams, but sometimes dreams aren’t enough. If your birthday came every day, it wouldn’t be special anymore.
As the feed tells Titus,
“…First, in the deserts and veldts arose oral culture….
But we have entered a new age. We are a new people. It is now the age of oneiric culture, the culture of dreams.
And we are the nation of dreams. We are seers. We are wizards. We speak in visions. Our letters are like flocks of doves, released from under our hats. We have only to stretch out our hand and desire, and what we wish for settles like a kerchief in our palm. We are a race of sorcerers, enchanters. We are Atlantis. We are the wizard-isle of Mu.
What we wish for, is ours.”
Nevertheless, there is something about this book. Its deep sadness. Its many layers. It isn’t so much the world, or the characters. It’s that you’ve grasped the edge of something, and you don’t want to let it go. 4/5.
Seeing all of these “meh” ratings might make you wonder, Okay, so why did she like this book? Firstly, it’s funny. For example, Titus’ brother’s name is not mentioned once throughout the entire book. When forced to refer to him, Titus calls him “Smell Factor.” The closest you get to seeing his brother’s name is when Titus’ dad says, “Your brother has a name,” and a scene when Violet is over for dinner: “[Titus’ brother singing loudly]
‘Smell Factor!’ [said Titus]
‘That’s not his name,’ said my mother.
[Titus’ brother singing loudly]
‘Hey!’ yelled my mother. ‘Hey, you! We don’t sing at the table!'”
But it’s not just funny. It’s an obscenely charicatured image of society as it is today. It is us, but more. That’s what Feed is about—life, but more. Stuff, but more. All the suppliers want to do is sell, and all the consumers want to do is buy, and meanwhile, suburbs are disappearing, America has annexed the moon, the Global Alliance is declaring war on us, the forests have been cut down for air factories, and the moon completely sucks. And the truffle is totally undervalued.
It’s also just so ridiculously stupid—the feed tells Titus, “It’s dance. It’s dance, dance, dance. That’s fun. Fun’s fun, and fun’s what you can have…” “…craziest prime-time comedy yet. What happens when two normal guys and two normal girls meet in their favorite health-food restaurant? Lots of ABnormal laughs, served with sprouts on the side, is what!”, and his brother watches a show called Top Quark: “Cap’n Top Quark, that whole planet is so sad that I think they’ll need a whole lot of good thoughts and hugging!
That’s why, lickety-split, we’re on our way. Charm Quark, prepare the Friend Cannon. Boson, turn out biggest, orangest sails toward Cryos, on the planet Sadalia.
Aye, aye, sir! You’ve made me one happy particle, sir!”
“Yeah, we’ll sing a song for you! It’s a happy, zappy song, full of chuckles and chortles.”
Words like “um,” “like,” and “thing” are grossly overused. The President says “um” in most of his speeches that Titus (unintentionally) hears. The adults use the same level of “stupid language”—unprofessional sounding words such as the ones previously mentioned—and this perfectly captures what the book is trying to say. Nobody can really read, because there’s no point; nobody writes. Everybody rich enough lives in a bubble—literally—where he can control the weather and the season and the time of day. Nothing is real in Feed: not the Earth; not life (people are conceived in conceptionariums and designed by their parents); not the pretense of government; not society’s view of itself; not even the clouds. Is it better to be free or to be fake?
I have some history with this book. (Like how I thought Maximum Ride was about a boy on a roller coaster for no apparent reason until I actually picked it up.) When I was really young, my mom would give me books to read, and I’d usually give her some equivalent of a negative-sounding “Hrmph.” Most of these books I reread at a later date and liked better. I could read them when I was young, but I didn’t like them.
Artemis Fowl is about a genius, the millionaire criminal mastermind of the same name (to quote Charles Dickens, “the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this [post]”), and potential thief of fairy gold. He has discovered something hidden for ages: the fairies were kicked off their land by humans and have retreated underground, where they can be safe. Artemis Fowl wants to capture one and take its ransom gold. He thinks he’s prepared. But he isn’t quite ready for Holly Short, the first female LEPrecon (fairy police officer) ever. These fairies are real. And it’s possible they’re prepared even for Artemis.
My initial impression was, Great, a really annoying male hero who’s rude and unfriendly, and an underground fairy culture that’s supposed to be years ahead of humanity, yet still hasn’t managed to have a single female police officer. I put it down.
But recently I picked it up again and I was blown away (if I gave credit to Sophie every time she made me read something, you’d get bored of the repetition, but here I must). Yes, there is that little issue of fairies having more sexism than humans, but honestly, it’s an amazing story of one boy with too many brains dealing with being human, and a bunch of hidden fairies dealing with being not (human).
And I loved it.
OK, I don’t know if it’s something to do with being Irish (I’ve seen multiple books with Irish authors who do this), but the author, Eoin Colfer, writes weirdly (in my opinion). His punctuation is messed up and, because of the font he uses, it looks worse than it is (don’t ask me how THAT works). However, it’s really mostly distracting in retrospect. That’s the technical aspect. In terms of description, etc., he doesn’t go overboard and does not use flowery language. In fact, he often utilizes clichés.
But here’s my rating system’s weakness. See, there’s the technical piece (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.), and there’s the descriptive piece. These things do matter. It’s important that you’re technically correct, and that you write elegantly. However…some authors don’t, and they still manage to produce a wonder. Mr. Colfer writes for children (I think Artemis Fowl is supposed to be for the 3rd-7th grade level, approximately; but since when should you care?), which I think many people regard as an excuse to allow slack in regard to these types of errors, the thought being that children won’t notice. People tend to ignore the fact that most adults won’t notice, anyway. The point is, Artemis Fowl is written really well. The characters are portrayed well, the scenes are portrayed well, reactions are portrayed well, the plots are portrayed well—what’s the goal of a writer? To make you feel like you’re there. To make you stay up into 3am finishing the book. To make you call “One second!” when you’re summoned while reading—and have that “one second” become half an hour (or until you’re caught out, whichever comes first). Mr. Colfer might not have the technical perfection that makes me comfortable, and he might not go overboard in terms of metaphors or descriptions. Yet I’m inclined to give this a 5/5 anyway.
The plot is strong and unpredictable. It’s at times touching and at others vaguely confusing, but it always makes sense eventually. There’s more loss than you would expect. Don’t think nobody is going to die. Don’t think somebody will. I’m just putting it out there that magic works in weird ways, and, therefore, the book might end with something that looks unsolvable. You know what? 6/5.
Mm…OK, here’s the problem. I personally, as I read the books, didn’t find any specific issues. But this is why I don’t make much sense: I write reviews, but I really don’t think people should read reviews. I’d write a list of books and say, “READ THESE.” But you wouldn’t, so here we have it (and you could just look at the titles of the posts, anyway). The problem about reviews is that I have to tell you what it’s about. Have you ever read a book without having any idea what happens in it? Try it sometime; it’s much more satisfying. (Yes, then you don’t know whether or not you’ll like it, but it’s still more satisfying, in my opinion.) I also end up, whether I want to or not, influencing your opinions. If I say “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD” (…*cough*…), you’ll probably be slightly more inclined to think that it’s amazing, and vice versa. Actually, if you read something I rate badly you’ll probably notice it twice as much, because I’ve pointed it out.
I saw shallowness in the characters at times, and cliché, but before I read these books I read a few reviews, and they said that the characters would have shallowness and cliché, so I found it. It’s entirely possible that it never really existed in the first place.
The characters can get predictable (except for Artemis Fowl, because he’s supposed to be smarter than you are. But even he gets predictable). When they aren’t, it’s occasionally annoying—I mean, sometimes they act totally out of character for no apparent reason. Also, they’re sort of stereotyped in ways. There is huge development, but it leaves you wondering, Is this too much development to be realistic?
See? Evil Magical Dubiousness of Doom. Nuh-uh. This is No Good.
The characters, however, are important, lovable, hatable, real. They’re smart, witty, funny, and sad. They’re creative and quick. They make you ache, laugh, and smile indulgently. They make you nod knowingly and/or sigh. (Sometimes the sighs come from them not acting “right,” i.e. what they would if this were “real,” but honestly, I don’t think that’s too often.)
The important thing is that I wanted to meet these characters. That’s really what matters. So I’ll give 4/5 and don’t look for where that extra point went. You’ll regret it.
Je Ne C’est Quois
I think I messed up the order a little. I’m sorry. I’ve been busy. READING. But I am back! So, we will now continue, as you have so delightfully been doing, to ignore the messed up order (however it messed itself up), and proceed to Je Ne C’est Quois, which I believe I have already established to land on an unfair 6/5.
P.S. I think it’s really popular but it’s still really good, and I think you’ve been under the impression that “Bling” won’t be good, so it landed in Obscure Gems as well. I know that defeats the purpose of the categories. You should know by now that I don’t make sense. 😉
P.P.S. An Explanation of Tags
Child thieving: He’s a criminal mastermind. But he isn’t an orphan grabbing things from street vendors, he’s an international embezzler. Yeah.
Environment: The fairies are partly underground and hiding because humans have messed up the earth’s environment, so there are a lot of semi-subliminal messages about how we shouldn’t mess up the earth.
Magic that’s really science: There’s magic, and there’s science, and there’s magical science. So the magic isn’t really science, but the legendary fairy magic is partially technological achievement.
On the run: …uh…criminal mastermind…someone’s got to be chasing him.
Orphans: His father may or may not be dead, and his mother’s sort of out of the picture in a way that doesn’t totally make sense but sort of does. They both make sporadic appearances as Artemis falls into and out of the time stream, does weird things, and comes back home. He’s not an orphan, but his parents really don’t have anything to do with what he does with his life. Or about much of anything he wants, really.
War: It’s entirely possible that there may be a war between fairies and humans. I mean, we kicked them out of their homes. And Artemis kidnapped one of them. And Artemis is the only human they’ve spoken to in a long time. And he’s a jerk.
Photographic memory & genius: He’s a genius….
I believe that’s that 🙂
(Publish on the 7th)
CHERUB, by Robert Muchamore, is—to start out—pretty graphic. It’s about child spies in England. It centers on James Adams, a troublemaking teenager whose mother has died. He’s taken to CHERUB campus—CHERUB once meant something, but nobody knows what it stands for anymore—from his foster home and trained to become a professional spy. He’s sent on missions, kills people, nearly gets killed, isn’t invincible, and suffers with moral issues of right and wrong, including girlfriends. There aren’t that many, though. Moral issues, not girlfriends (there are far too many girlfriends for my taste). The writing isn’t that deep. That’s because there isn’t much time. It’s one of those boom-boom-boom ones where there’s action on at least every other page. It’s fast and full of violence, mystery, codes, clues, captures, imprisonment, and thrill.
I’m not easily disturbed by most things except being eaten from the inside out. (Whatever you do, do not read the book called Gone by Michael Grant if you agree with me.) If you’re easily disturbed, you might not like this. There is some gore. But if you can skip around it, you’d probably be able to ignore it. It’s a Harry Potter-esque book in the way that it’s plausible. And while you know it isn’t true, at the same time, you wish it is. You can see how maybe, CHERUB—the spy campus and organization—might actually exist. It makes sense.
If you like mysteries, death, justice, adventure, action, martial arts, espionage, etc., these books are for you.
Once you’ve read CHERUB, try Henderson’s Boys, the sequel that takes place during World War II, and a few other series about CHERUB. CHERUB is pretty long, but it’s satisfying. Henderson’s Boys is very in-depth about WWII, so you’ll learn a lot.
Not deep; but fast-paced, interesting, thorough. It’s written in British (I know “British” isn’t a language; who saw the “Learn To Speak British” thing during the Olympics?), so it has single-quotes, “ou” instead of “o,” and that sort of thing. He has little punctuation irritations. But overall, they aren’t that distracting simply because you can’t remember to be distracted. These are delicious books you don’t want to put down. 5/5
Many of the characters are pretty shallow and none of them develop that much. Well, maybe they develop a little, but if that’s so, it’s told, not shown. Actually, perhaps it’s that you see them change so it’s so gradual you don’t notice, like how it’s sometimes hard to tell how much a child’s changed if you see him every day, and that’s why he needs every single aunt and grandmother to say “Look how tall you are now!” I don’t think so, though. The characters are solid and do have flaws, but they aren’t deep. They’re real, but they aren’t deep. I’ll give 4/5.
The plot is great. It’s not as huge and weblike as the first two, but it’s a really solid plot. 5/5
Je Ne C’est Quois
It leaves you with an ache and you want it to be real, even while you accept that you’d probably never be in the same condition—mental and physical—that they are and you’d die halfway through their grueling training. Even when it’s terrible and horrifying. You want it. 5/5.
It’s entirely possible that you haven’t noticed this, as I’ve only reviewed a few books so far, but I really enjoy books about people with disabilities. I don’t know why. I think it’s because I used to love books about people with magic (an advantage I don’t have), so now I’m interested in what’s…sort of the opposite, a disadvantage I don’t have. But in a way, disabilities are magical too. If you have one, you probably don’t think so, and I don’t mean any offense by what I say. I like to learn new things, and I like to learn about people different than I am (like people from other cultures, or times, or situations; remember that quote about reading giving us experiences we couldn’t otherwise have?). Reading about disabilities is also always enlightening because even if the disabled characters are at a significant disadvantage, and even if they’re depressed about it, the book usually resolves with them coming to terms with their disabilities, so it’s usually hopeful.
Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper, centers around a girl named Melody with a photographic memory. She’s smarter than probably any other kid in her school. But nobody knows it, and she has been stuck listening to the ABCs over and over and over again in her Special Ed classes. This is now a metaphor for her life. She has cerebral palsy.
That means that she can’t move most of her muscles according to what she wants; they move randomly or not at all. I’ve read a few books in which the character can’t even move his/her eyeballs, but this isn’t the case with Melody, thankfully, and she can also move her thumbs a little. She lives in her wheelchair, but she doesn’t so much have an issue with being unable to move as with being unable to talk.“‘Melody, if you had to choose, which would you rather be able to do—walk or talk?’ [my neighbor asks.] Talk. I pointed to my board. I hit the word again and again. Talk. Talk. Talk. I have so much to say.”
Melody is a deep character with wit and humor despite her situation. She has an exceptional mind, but she can’t tell a single person what she feels and thinks. She can point to different words on a board on her wheelchair (using her thumbs), but clearly this is difficult and frustrating and easily misinterpreted.
Melody gets excited when she finds out about a machine called a Medi-Talker—a machine she could manipulate, using her thumbs, to speak her mind. But not everybody’s prepared to hear her; even this achievement does not remove the behavior of the other students in her class or her teachers—people fueled by ignorance. They either don’t know how to respond to her, or bully her for being different (in subtle ways, of course). She is seen as a liability even when she clearly demonstrates that she is the smartest of them all. I can’t reveal the end of the book, but several unexpected things happen, and the conclusion is ultimately uplifting as Melody finds out that she doesn’t need much more than her own inner strength and the support of those who really matter.
Sharon M. Draper is an excellent author and this was a marvelous example of her talent.
I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.
Cathedral. Mayonnaise. Pomegranate.
Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.
Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.
Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry.
Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes–each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.
Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs.
From the time I was really little-maybe just a few months old–words were like sweet, liquid gifts, and I drank them like lemonade. I could almost taste them. They made my jumbled thoughts and feelings have substance. My parents have always blanketed me with conversation. They chattered and babbled. They verbalized and vocalized. My father sang to me. My mother whispered her strength into my ear.
Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them.
I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.
But only in my head.
I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.
5/5. One of the important things about this work is that you feel for Melody. You don’t just sit there thinking, Hum, I wish they would stop being mean, or, Wouldn’t it be better if she could talk? You ache and scowl and want to cry for her. Maybe it didn’t always feel like I was Melody—how could it? I don’t have cerebral palsy, and no matter how good an author is, they can’t simulate something constant throughout your entire life that you’ve never experienced—but the connection, the empathy, was strong enough for me to be inside her head, if not inside her body. I think it’s sort of clear that these were pretty different things for Melody.
Melody definitely develops. Some of the school characters—students and teachers—that we do see are shallow, but not because they aren’t deep characters: because their personalities are shallow. There isn’t a large amount of development in all of the characters, but several of them end up seeing that the way they treated Melody wasn’t right. 5/5
The plot is occasionally predictable, but it has some severe twists as well. At times there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the book other than a glimpse into Melody’s life. But then, that is a point. That’s what realistic fiction is about. This book is not driven throughout, but Melody does have determination and she does have goals. And the world around her has goals as well. 5/5
Je Ne C’est Quois
I think a lot of the je ne c’est quois here was actually voice, but as I’m not sure I can make the distinction, 5/5.
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, is a story about dragons.
“Naomi Novik, New York Times bestselling author of the Temeraire series:
‘A book worth hoarding, as glittering and silver-bright as dragon scales, with a heroine who insists on carving herself a place in your mind.’”
Which is a perfect way of putting it.
Seraphina is an incredibly talented musician in a land of tentative peace between people and dragons. The Treaty has been in effect for 40 years of peace, but the people of Goredd still maintain distrust for their long-lived, coldly logical dragon neighbors. Oh, and dragons have the ability to take on the appearance of humans at will.
Seraphina arrives at court for her position as assistant to the music master just as a member of the royal family is murdered in “suspiciously draconian fashion.”
Suddenly, the Treaty is being questioned and hate explodes between the peoples. Seraphina, half-dragon, with a dragon tutor, doesn’t fit in anywhere, and she’s got her own problems to deal with. But suddenly she’s swept up into the case, trying to find the rogue dragon causing the trouble, while trying not to drown in the sea of lies she’s spun around herself.
That was a slightly awkward summary. Rachel Hartman is not any sort of awkward in her writing. Even if the plot were gaping open with implausibilities and plotholes, this would be a beautiful book. She writes with an elegant grace. For example,
“I became the very air; I was full of stars. I was the soaring spaces between the spires of the cathedral, the solemn breath of chimneys, a whispered prayer upon the winter wind. I was silence,and I was music, one clear transcendent chord rising toward Heaven. I believed, then, that I would have risen bodily into the sky but for the anchor of his hand in my hair and his round soft perfect mouth.”
And, a song she wrote, that I found beautiful:
“‘Peaches and Cheese’:
The vagabond sun winks down through the trees,
While lilacs, like memories, waft on the breeze,
My friend, I was born for days such as these,
To inhale perfume,
And cut through the gloom,
And feast like a king upon peaches and cheese!
I’ll travel this wide world and go where I please,
Can’t stop my wand’ring, it’s like a disease.
My only regret as I cross the high seas:
What I leave behind,
Though I hope to find,
My own golden city of peaches and cheese!”
This is a book of trust, conspiracy, revenge, choices, family, love, mystery, politics, music, and…so much more. The characters are true and complex, and even if there is war, it is a world that you want to live in. Everything is tangible and true. Some parts of it are more…simple than NOTW (grr), and it’s nowhere near as complex as either of the first two in terms of plot. But it still manages to span a graceful arc. It takes place in the present and the past; inside Seraphina’s head (literally) and out of it; in the land of the humans and the land of the dragons and the inside of the palace; surrounded by family and all alone. The dragons are logical, and dispassionate, and distant, aloof and calculating and rational—and still lovable. The humans are flawed and awkward and full of emotion, like real people. And the names. “Ardmagar Comonot.” This name just pops into my head at the most random of times. I always am very careful when picking names. Clearly Ms. Hartman shares this philosophy.
This is an author with talent. She speaks at times with simplicity and at times with complexity and builds a world around you, of sparkling lights against midnight skies, and sharp-edged scales, and mud in the cracks.
And of course if none of this convinces you, the back is covered with reviews by people like Tamora Pierce(!!), Christopher Paolini, Alison Goodman (Eon), and more.
I think I’ve answered that. I’ll give 5.5/5 stars, because I have very high standards for writing quality, but this was gorgeous.
Seraphina is tangible. She has flaws, and she lies to hide the parts of herself she’s ashamed of. Then she gets caught up in the lies. She has problems trusting. Her dragon teacher Orma is always cold, and detached, and aloof, like all dragons, but he’s still fallible and lovable and sweet in an awkward way. All of the characters have flaws and depth, and over the course of the book most of them learn important things about themselves (at risk of being trite and simplistic, Seraphina learns that sometimes the truth is OK and you need to trust people; Orma learns that sometimes, emotion is not deplorable, and love is wonderful; etc.). 5/5. I’m not sure exactly what would elicit a rating higher than that here, but this was slightly above average. Just not enough for that.
The plot is strong, without plotholes, and unpredictable. It’s not the most intricate, but it’s complex in comparison to “normal” books. 5/5
Je Ne C’est Quois
Hurt Go Happy, by Ginny Rorby, is a touching story about a stubborn girl and a chimpanzee.
Joey is 70% deaf. She has been since she was six years old. She, her mother, her stepfather and her half-brother live together in a house in a forest that she can’t hear. She hates school but overall enjoys life. However, there is one thing she wants to do—learn sign language—and that is the thing her mother is most firm about not letting her learn.
Then, one day, when Joey is in the woods, she comes across a (slightly quirky and) kindly old man named Dr. Charlie who lives with a chimpanzee named Sukari (which means “sugar-bottom” in Swahili). And the both of them speak sign language.
Joey soon becomes fast friends with them, despite her mother’s adamant protests (they’re both quite hotheaded and obstinate). With Dr. Charlie’s help, she ends up at a school for the deaf and learns how to speak sign language. And something happens that lands Sukari in an animal testing facility.
It will take all of Joey’s stubbornness, determination, and confidence to save this loving chimpanzee, and she’ll have to learn a few things about herself and the man who was her father before she’s done.
Hurt Go Happy is an incredible testament to humanity in multiple ways. It says something incredibly depressing about us that we test things on animals, and the scene in the testing facility is quite graphic and disturbing. However, this book is also a testament to hope, and love. Joey and her mother have many conflicts but eventually overcome all of them. Likewise, Sukari and the world are often at odds, even though she has shown herself to be nearly as intelligent as Joey’s young brother, and just as, if not more, caring. Most of the world doesn’t speak Sukari’s language. But Joey does, and she’s the only one who can save her.
Ginny Rorby tells this story beautifully, leaving images, both good and bad, imprinted on your mind. One that stuck out the most to me was when we see Sukari in the testing facility. She was sitting in her cage, rocking back and forth, signing, “No hurt. Hug, hug.” But of course, none of the scientists know sign language and they are as deaf to her as the deaf would be to their language.
Ginny Rorby is a fantastic author overall, but this was my favorite of her books. She sends such a strong message about animal testing, about humans, about relationships, about love. This is a very educational book, but it teaches—about being deaf, about sign language, about conflict between mothers and daughters, about all sorts of relationships, about determination, and, as I said, about love—subtly, in a way that doesn’t detract at all from the story, so that you emerge both with that good-book feeling and with a wealth of new information if you were previously naive to these things.
You feel like you are there. It’s not overly eloquent, but it is touching and cutting and soothing. 5/5
There weren’t a large number of characters in this book, and of those that are in it, Joey being deaf and all, you don’t hear many of them speak. Also, for large parts of it Joey is alone or with strangers. Joey does develop and does have depth. Sukari doesn’t really develop that much, but she does develop, and while she doesn’t have a ton of depth, she is an animal. All of the other characters have implied depth but there isn’t enough time to really get into it in most cases, which is OK, because it isn’t really necessary to the story. The story is also about solitude and exclusion, and so the characters’ voices are not important. 5/5
The plot is strong, not implausible, and while occasionally predictable, not in a jarring way. 5/5
Je Ne C’est Quois
Hurt Go Happy speaks with raw intensity, and while this world is my world, it is not a world I’d necessarily like to live in. This is very impressive. And yet, somehow, it’s also a world I would like to live in: a world of secret languages and talking animals—this book is full of the magic of real life, the magic that’s there if we only bothered to look. When I finished, I felt satiated—and also mournful, that it was over, that that was it. It ended with completion, but you didn’t want it to end at all. 5/5
Note: This might look vaguely unimpressive. But take a step back. This book got 100%, not 110%. If you’re reading this in order—so you started with NOTW, then read Mistborn, and then came here—you should know that anything, although I’m writing these in a vague approximation of my order of favorites (it’s more what pops into my head), will feel slightly anticlimactic compared to the first 2 books.
If you’re reading this thinking, Um, duh, it got 5/5 ratings everywhere—why would that be unimpressive?, congratulations. 😛
Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson: possibly another one of the best series I’ve ever read in my life. (According to what I’ve written they should come in second to NOTW, but I read them too far apart to be completely positive and from the ratings I’ve given this one appears to come out at exactly the same level. I’m not sure why I unconsciously rate NOTW higher; perhaps because it was the first book I’ve ever read to meet this standard, so I sort of forced myself to make it better than anything else.)
Writing a summary for Mistborn won’t be as hard as it was for NOTW, because there’s a concrete plot for Mistborn. However, I think that to describe Mistborn I need only to steal a quote from one of its characters: “There’s always another secret.”
Mistborn is followed by Well of Ascension and then Hero of Ages. In many books, you’ll find small inconsistencies or little questions that are vaguely niggling but don’t imply or suggest anything and don’t come back to you. In fact, because this is so common, you end up ignoring them completely. Okay, so what if clearly people don’t walk around London in cloaks (actually since I’ve never been to London I can’t verify this, but I’m fairly certain of it, as they definitely don’t in America). J. K. Rowling stuck that into Harry Potter for a reason—probably, that she liked it—and we don’t question it. If we do, it’s to acknowledge that this is, in fact, a story, and there is no secret community of wand-waving wizards lurking under (and between) the streets.
But Mistborn is always one step ahead of you: “There is always another secret.”
Imagine a world where the sun is red and ash falls like rain, where nobody ventures outdoors after dark besides the mysterious Mistborn, because of the insidious mists that creep over the planet while the sun’s down, and the soul-sucking monsters that thrive, shrouded in myth, within.
Imagine a world with a supreme dictator and a mass populace of slaves.
Imagine a world of poverty, hunger, cold, and theft, complemented by the mysterious courtly parallel nestled within, of dances, glittering lights, and scandal.
Welcome to Scadrial.
(To ruin the mood for a second, I don’t think you actually find out that’s what the planet’s called until Alloy of Law, which isn’t technically even part of the series and takes place 300 years later. Meanwhile, you dance between thinking this is some twisted dystopian future and that it’s another planet. Even up until the very end of the 3rd book, I was convinced that this took place thousands of years in the future. I’d invented a whole, convoluted filler how-we-got-here involving nuclear mutations and a society that ripped itself to shreds. No, just another planet, which works better.)
Mistborn centers around the girl Vin, who grew up on the streets with her abusive brother Reen, who saved her life from her mother (a woman about to murder her) and then whisked her away. She managed to stay alive by begging, stealing, and worming her way into various thieving crews who tolerated her because of her “Luck,” which seems to be just a strange…well…good fortune that she can draw upon if she’s saved up enough. She doesn’t know that this is abnormal. People in today’s world are superstitious without proof, and maybe that’s just the way this world works.
But nope. There’s always another secret.
Reen’s long gone—he abandoned her, just like he always told her he would—when Vin discovers that, in fact, she is not just lucky; what she is is special. She is an Allomancer, a half-breed. A thousand years ago, when the Lord Ruler rose to his seat of absolute power as dictator and possessor of strange and wondrous magical powers (such as immortality), he granted to his 9 closest friends and supporters powers known as Allomancy. Over time, genetics diluted these powers. Now, many children of nobles—for of course the Lord Ruler’s friends became the nobility in his new kingdom—have one of a certain number of powers (I forget the number). These come from metals, which can be “burned” and used until they run out, at which point more metal needs to be swallowed. People with one metal’s ability are known as Mistings. (There are 2 “races”: the nobility and the skaa, who are less than slaves. Even though it’s illegal to interbreed, sometimes a noble will take a skaa by force and a child will be born. These are half-breeds and, depending on the genetics, often Allomancers.)
However, occasionally one appears who can use all of the metals. Such a person is called Mistborn.
Vin is Mistborn.
She’s discovered by the thieving crew of a man named Kelsier, who also happens to be Mistborn (one of a very, very small number). Kelsier’s dream is to take down the Lord Ruler. The Lord Ruler has been in power for a milennia. Rebellions have happened. They have failed.
Kelsier is very probably insane.
Yet, for some reason—promise of money, of life outside of the oppressive dictator’s rule—his crew, including Vin, help him. And they start to see that, just maybe, he isn’t so crazy after all.
The story continues to spiral outwards, from focusing on one girl, to the thieving crew she’s part of, to a larger thieving crew, to the Lord Ruler, to powers unknown and shrouded in uncertainty and mystery, to gods.
There is always another secret.
So, there. I’ve summarized it as best I could. I’ve barely brushed the tip of the iceberg, and that’s only taking into account the things I actually remembered. Mistborn becomes a romance, a tragedy, a theological…wonder. It is dark and cruel and deep and awesome, and sprinkled all the way through with crumbs of humor. It travels by leaps and bounds, as each secret you haven’t thought of, each layer revealed by peeling the previous one away, is so much larger than what came before.
The ending was totally unexpected, and if anybody else had written it it would have been a terrible ending. But somehow, Brandon Sanderson managed to tie everything together to create a conclusion powerful and satisfying. Neither of those words are quite right, but I don’t think there are words for what he wove. Fulfilling. It was fulfilling.
Mistborn is very dark. It’s a lot darker than NOTW, which I think is why it ended up with a lower Je Ne C’est Quois rating originally. But it is beautiful and wonderful and amazing, and it has so many metaphors and morals and layers I can barely even try. I think the brightest one is hope. There is always hope. And there is always another secret.
(That quote, by the way, didn’t even catch my attention until I read a review that observed that this, there always being another secret, was carved out quite masterfully in the book itself.)
Sanderson has been described as “an evil genius.” I would agree. His touch is subtle and glorious.
Mr. Sanderson doesn’t write with flowery language all of the time. There’s too much action in a lot of places for that. However, he does write with metaphor and poetry, it’s just slightly harder to see than in NOTW. (Great, I thought I’d promised not to compare to that. I guess it’s a bit late now.) He conveys everything beautifully, and the writing is never, ever distracting. The single issue I had with anything in the entire series was this one…quirk-ish thing of his. He uses the word “paused” instead of the word “hesitated.” For example,
“‘I could always eat one of them, if you wish,’ OreSeur said. ‘That might speed things up.’
OreSeur, however had a strange little smile on his lips. ‘—- [my people’s] humor, Mistress. I apologize. We can be a bit grim.’”
See, you can’t pause if you haven’t been doing anything. (The —- is a spoiler, sorry.)
Anyway, like with Patrick Rothfuss’s capital letters (again!!), I’m only commenting to observe something that won’t bother any but the most grammatically attuned of us. It isn’t even an error, it’s just slightly distracting.
So, 5/5 stars for writing.
This is one series in which the characters were pulled of gorgeously.
I can’t recall a single instance of implausibility in the characters. In fact, I can’t remember one in the series as a whole. There was a good deal of coincidence, yes, but if you play that right (as he did), it comes off wonderfully. After all, you can’t have an all-powerful hero, a flawless hero. It’s got to be the villain who’s flawless—or at least appears as such—or you’ve got a boring story. And if the villain’s near-flawless, and the hero has large flaws, how else is the hero supposed to win but luck? This was something else I noticed about Mr. Sanderson—there are certain guidelines to writing novels. They aren’t rules, per se, but they’re…almost clichés. They’re like the formula to a successful novel, except, of course, that there is no such thing. Brandon Sanderson, in these books, followed these “rules” practically to the letter and did it in a way that made it feel as though he were actually adding rules while he did it. Does that make sense? I sometimes don’t. Anyway, not only did he do this, but he did it in a way where nothing was predictable. Okay, I predicted the main theme of the ending, but, 1. I’m exceptionally good at predicting things (not to brag) and 2. I predicted only the vaguest part of a hugely complex conclusion. It wasn’t really predictable in the sense that it wasn’t obvious. Was it possible to predict if you thought hard enough? Yes. But the other thing about these books was that it felt like they were gum and they’d grabbed my brain. That’s vaguely disturbing imagery, but it was like this: I read, and I vaguely noticed certain clues, but I couldn’t wrench my mind away from reading enough to think about them.
Also, the characters developed, and they developed hugely. From the beginning of the first book to the end of the last book, many of the characters were either dead—most books you can be reassured that certain characters won’t die; not here; don’t have any expectations…or do have expectations, because it’s so much more fun when they’re dashed—or changed so much. They were still recognizable, though. You could tell who they were and how far they’d come, and they kept pieces of their pasts in ways that were believable and at times charming. Nobody was left untouched on this adventure. Most characters that were mentioned became full characters with histories, personalities, and traits, and were brought up again.
I would venture to give 6/5 stars to Mistborn for Character Depth/Development, even though what I meant by going over 5 stars was mostly for Je Ne C’est Quois.
I can’t even start. Like…I literally can’t start, because I’ll give it away. 6/5 stars for this. And actually, NOTW originally had 5/5 stars for plot, but there are just some books so well thought out you just can’t… I can’t finish that sentence. This was another one of those “What am I doing even trying to be an author??? You’d never in a million billion years be able to write anything one-fourth as good as this!!!!” books.
So yes, 6/5 stars.
Je Ne C’est Quois
This book made me want to cry at the end. Not because of the plot. Not even because it was over. Je Ne C’est Quois, boom, there you go. 7/5 stars.