Wylding Hall

Wylding Hall, written by Elizabeth Hand, was published in 2015 by Open Road Integrated. The audiobook was narrated by a talented cast of actors and published by Blackstone Audio, Inc.

4 star

Wylding Hall was recommended to me when I asked on /r/fantasy for a horror book which¬†isn’t actually scary. I know, I’m probably some sort of cheater, but even though I’m desperate to finish my Bingo cards, there are some genres I just can’t read. Horror is one of them. My nightmares are bad enough without literary fuel!

Wylding Hall

Wylding Hall is structured as a series of interviews about a supernatural and mysterious event that happened to them in the 70s. Because the people who experienced the horror are now speaking in the interviews, there is definitely a sense of safety that takes away almost all of the scary factor. While reading, you know the characters are going to survive.

In the audiobook, each of the interviewed individuals in the book – a total of seven or so – has their own voice actor. Though the reader/listener is thrown straight into all of the characters, since the actors are each so distinct the book is not difficult to pick up. Add a yummy set of accents and you’ve got a feast for the ears. I don’t say this often, but I can’t imagine that reading this book is any better than listening to it.

I have read criticisms that Wylding Hall doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion. It’s true that not all questions are answered, but I don’t think that’s to the detriment of the book. Wylding Hall is an ambiance book, not a story or plot book. And that ambiance is incredible – a dread that looms just as heavily as the titular house does.

If you want a spooky book – not a scary one, but one full of moody atmosphere and and eerie aura – I highly recommend listening to Wylding Hall.

And you know, the accents. Those are quite the bonus ūüėČ

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The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife, written by¬†Audrey Niffenegger, was published in 2013 by Zola Books.¬†The audiobook was narrated by¬†Fred Berman¬†and¬†Phoebe Strole¬†and published by¬†HighBridge Company.

3 star

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife when I was young and it absolutely entranced me, so I was very excited to revisit it for /r/fantasy’s Time Travel bingo square.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is at its core a love story between main characters Henry and Claire. But because Henry is a time traveler, Claire meets Henry when she is eight and he is forty, and Henry meets Claire when they are both in their twenties. The novel’s main strength is its incredible romantic core. The main characters’ love for each other is obvious – and almost painful in intensity.

The Time Traveler's Wife

I also love how the book blends genres – it is a wonderful mesh of sci-fi and romance. Each are given equal weight and respect.

Though others disagree, saying the time travel sections can make it confusing to keep track of where characters are in time, the structure of the book works well for me. Even when only a few paragraphs are spent in one time, I never felt lost or disembodied from the story. I was worried when I started listening to it, since I feel like audiobooks can amplify ambiguities or confusions in books (plus, you can’t refer back to the chapter header if you lose track of time). But I never felt lost.

There is one major content issue which I’m not sure how to address, and which ultimately affected my score of this book. Claire’s family is very wealthy and employs a black cook. Henry’s downstairs neighbor and beloved babysitter is Korean. Both of them speak with heavy accents and play into racial stereotypes. I’m not sure if it was a result of the voice actors in the audiobook (which I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit) or how the dialogue was written, but their accents and mannerisms came across as cringe-worthy and insulting. The black cook is particularly disturbing to me – she is the family’s Mammy in pretty much every way. Claire’s family, all rich white and “proper”, treat her like a “treasured servant”. Gross.

Although those disturbing parts of The Time Traveler’s Wife are very minor in terms of number of words, they stick out horrendously in an otherwise romantic and fascinating present-day sci-fi.

Edgedancer

Edgedancer, written by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2016 by Tor Books. 

I somehow completely missed¬†Edgedancer¬†when it first came out. I even bought my husband Arcanum Unbounded, where it was first published! But I’m not generally a fan of short stories, so I planned to read it when I was bored or really needed a Sanderson fix.

But then I started reading¬†Oathbringer.¬†In the introduction for that book Sanderson explicitly states that it is best read having already enjoyed¬†Edgedancer. I trust him, of course, but I was¬†way¬†too hyped for¬†Oathbringer¬†to put it down and read a short story I wasn’t particularly interested in.

But then I got to the part of¬†Oathbringer¬†where¬†Lift, the main character of¬†Edgedancer, shows up. And oh ya, I didn’t read that story about her, and ugh, I guess Brandon was right after all.

So I PUT DOWN OATHBRINGER (it was hard and it hurt my soul) and picked up Edgedancer.

And it turned out to be a pretty ideal situation!

Edgedancer

The first third of Oathbringer is very slow. The book itself is massive, with very thin pages, small margins, and tiny type. In the story, there’s a lot of introspection and standing around – not much action at all. I am by no means upset about the pace – books where nothing happens are my favorite kind, after all.

I bring it up because Edgedancer worked as a perfect break in that slow, awesome haul.

Edgedancer is¬†fast. Something is always happening. At every moment, Lift is either moving, talking off, or eating. She causes things to happen.¬†Edgedancer¬†reads even faster than Sanderson’s lighter stories, incredibly.

And the characters! I have been a Lift fan since her first appearance, but in Edgedancer she and her spren get time to be ridiculous for a whole novella. Lift and her “voidbringer” are delightful foils, and their affection for each other is so endearing it makes my heart hurt.

In terms of the Cosmere, there is quite a bit revealed in the story – definitely enough to warrant a necessary read before Oathbringer. I do wish we had spent more time learning about Lift’s past, but I suspect that will come in phase two of Stormlight Archive, when Lift is a main character.

Overall, I love this one. It’s tighter and faster than the main Stormlight Archive books for sure, but has some sweet characterization and major main story implications. Definitely read it before Oathbringer – or, maybe, during.

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni, written by Helene Wecker, was published in 2013 by Harper. The audiobook was narrated by George Guidall and published by HarperAudio.

5 star

The Golem and the Jinni¬†features, truly, some of the most spectacular characters I’ve ever read in a standalone novel. And I’m not just talking about the titular golem and jinni –¬†¬†but also every other person in the story. There is so much humanity to love in this book. That does mean that the book is fairly light on plot – the villain, for most of the book, is just another fascinating character. But I’ll trade fight scenes and mysteries for an engrossing character study any day.

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The setting, too, becomes a sort of incredible character. The neighborhoods and cultures the golem and the jinni join are fleshed out, fascinating to read, and, it seems, historically accurate.

If you are a fan of either character-driven fantasy (Robin Hobb’s books, the Temeraire series) or magical realism (The Night Circus, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell) I would highly recommend this incredible book. If you’re a fan of both, like I am, you’re in for a spectacular treat.

 

The Boy on the Bridge

The Boy on the Bridge, written by M.R. Carey, was published in 2017 by Orbit. 

4 star

The Boy on the Bridge is a sort of sequel to¬†The Girl With All the Gifts, sort of prequel to it, and sort of side-by-side story. Since¬†The Girl With All the Gifts¬†is best read knowing absolutely nothing, I’m going to keep this review extremely light.

If you have not read¬†The Girl With All the Gifts, you should get right on it. It’s a quick read, a page-turner, but highly emotional and satisfying with a fascinating world and engrossing set of characters. Don’t read anything about it before you go in – including the Goodreads synopsis or the back of the book.

The Boy on the Bridge¬†mostly takes place before¬†The Girl With All the Gifts, adding a wonderful amount of context and world-building. It also provides closure and completes the duology. I feel like “end of a series” is so rare nowadays, and it feels very good. Refreshing.

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If you’ve read and enjoyed¬†The Girl With All the Gifts,¬†The Boy on the Bridge¬†is more of the same interesting setting, just with different (but as fascinating) characters (including a deeply troubled one which struck me as particularly impactful). If you haven’t read¬†The Girl With All the Gifts, then you need to get right on that!

Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Cloud of Hate and Other Stories

Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Cloud of Hate and Other Stories, written by Fritz Leiber and Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Howard Chaykin, was published in 2016 by Dark Horse Books. The original comics were published in 1973 .

1 star

For this year’s /r/fantasy bingo, I am attempting to complete a card just for comics and graphic novels. Some of the squares are easy (sequel, time travel, horror) and fit in nicely with my current habits and tastes. For others (/r/fantasy Goodreads Book of the Month, fantasy of manners), it’s proven difficult to find¬†any¬†book for the square, much less one that appeals to me.

One of the toughest squares has been¬†/r/fantasy author appreciation. Most of the authors are older, more obscure, or both, and none of them are primarily comic book creators. I am so lucky that comic adaptations of Fritz Leiber’s creations exist; it’s the only title I’ve been able to find that actually works for this square.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

All that to say – this book is not for me. Artwork in a comic is very important for me, and the art style of “retro” comic books is not to my taste. I need my comics to have a respect for women (even if the two main characters are horny men) and this comic…does not.

As a more specific complaint, I have some serious issues with the text. For one, every sentence, excepting direct questions, ends in an exclamation point. This fact, combined with the all-caps lettering and aggressive artwork, makes it seem like every character is yelling all the time. It’s disturbing, exhausting, and very distracting.

Also, most of the commas seem to have been replaced by ellipses and dashes. Here is an actual example of dialogue from the book:

“I TELL YOU, MOUSER — I LIKE IT¬†NOT!¬†WE SHOULD BE SEEING THE RAYS OF¬†DAWN — INSTEAD WE RIDE INTO EVEN¬†BLACKER NIGHT!¬†SEVERAL LEAGUES BACK, WE CROSSED THE BORDER OF SHADOWLAND! NO LIGHT OF THE SUN EVER PENETRATES THIS BLEAKNESS!”

Ugh. Exhausting.

On the bright side, the stories are simple and read very quickly. Considering how much I disliked both the artwork and the lettering, my enjoyment of the plots themselves was a surprise and a relief.

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Howard Porter, was published in 2001 by DC Comics. 

2 star

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel is another comic book I would never have read if it weren’t for my attempt at doing /r/fantasy’s book bingo with comics and graphic novels. This one is for the /r/fantasy’s under-read and underrated list square; as far as I can tell it is the only comic on the list! Unfortunately, while I certainly understand why it’s on the list, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the book.

JLA Tower of Babel

Most notably, the artwork is just goofy at times – people are way out of proportion, boobs don’t function according to physics, and expressions are ridiculously exaggerated. I wonder if this is just a product of the late 90’s. Since artwork in a comic is so important to me, this was a significant drawback.

The story, in contrast, is very interesting and a fun read. The ways the members of the Justice League were taken out were highly creative.

I was disappointed with Lady Talia’s character. She was (and, I think, still is?), in love with Batman, but steals all of his information and technology for her father, who wants to decimate humanity. Then immediately after completing her plan, she conveniently sees the error of her ways and betrays her father. It’s all just too convenient, and lacks conviction from the writers.

JLA: Tower of Babel¬†is a volume which had a very cool idea and overall story, but suffered from poor characterization and bad (or possibly just dated) artwork. Still, I’m so glad I was forced to read something so outside of my wheelhouse!