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28.141 ratings and an average of 4.16. I can only ask one question: what am I missing? As Jane Austen said, one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other. But now seriously, it can only be explained by age. When I was 16 I was reading Tolstoy and Zola and didn’t even know there was such as genre as fantasy or a whole range of books just targeting young adults. Now, almost the same period of time later, I’m reading the likes of City of Bones and wondering if all the 13.146 people who gave it 5 stars read the same book I did. It wasn’t exactly the worst book of the year since I didn’t give it up, it was just extremely weak and unsatisfying.

I’ve been reading a lot of children’s and YA lately and I think I need to give it a rest for a while. After the RIP Challenge I’ll also take a break from anything supernatural.

Shortly, City of Bones is the first book of the widely popular Mortal Instruments series. It’s about Clary, an apparently normal 15-year-old who started seeing invisible people. Right about that time her mother disappears, seemingly captured by horrific demons. That event triggers Clary’s search for clues about the disappearance, backed-up by a team of Shadowhunters (demon police).

The whole thing felt like a mix and match of all the supernatural and fantastic books and movies you can think of. You got glimpses of Harry Potter, Star Wars (“Luke, I am your father!”), Buffy, Twilight… Sometimes, the similarities are almost to close for comfort: mortal instruments = deathly hallows, mundanes = muggles, girl & boy best friends sleeping together without sleeping together = Dawson’s Creek 😛

And the similes! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many per sentence. Bad ones too (“His voice was as oily as steel greased with butter.”, “She deflated like a balloon pricked with a pin”.) Look at this example:

In the half-light of the big empty rooms they passed through on their way to the roof looked as deserted as stage sets, the white-draped furniture looming up out of the dimness like icebergs through fog.

When Jace opened the greenhouse door, the scent hit Clary, soft as the padded blow of a cat’s paw: the rich dark smell of earth and the stronger, soapy scent of night-blooming flowers–moonflowers, white angel’s trumpet, four-o’clocks–and some she didn’t recognize, like a plant bearing a star-shaped yellow blossom whose petals were medallioned with golden pollen. Through the glass walls of the enclosure she could see the lights of Manhattan burning like cold jewels.

Now a disclaimer: the problem might have been less about the book and more about the audiobook. It was like being trapped inside Clueless. All sentences felt as if they would end with a “As if!” or “Hellouuuu?!”. Maybe Cassandra Clare wanted to go for teen-speak and just pushed it too hard. Or maybe, her vocabulary was just as bad as, like, whatever.

** SPOILER ALERT **

I’m assuming the people who are reading this already read the book, so I won’t bother with story summary.

Finished it last night. Haven’t read any other reviews, not even the ones without spoilers, because I didn’t want to be influenced, but just from Twitter I can tell people are divided on this one. Here’s my 2-euro cents: I liked it. A lot. Not as entertaining as the two first, but it fitted the series. It was a solid closing, perfectly aligned with the characters and the world Suzanne Collins has woven up to now. It was perverse and messy but also hopeful and human. When I closed the book I couldn’t help feeling that somehow the human race will manage. A perfect happy ending would have sounded contrived and a betrayal of the powerful realism of this dystopia. I think one of the reasons why this series was such a success was because of how possible such a future can be. For the ending to be true to its spirit, it would also have to be realistic, even at the expense of perfectly happy endings.

The first chapters were slow and less exciting than the standards Collins set before, but in her defense, we did escaped the comfortable ringed-fenced scenarios of the actual Games. It was like abruptly jumping out of a series of those who-dunnit stories set in a moving plane/train: a closed environment, a defined group of suspects, a relatively fixed set of rules. But now all bets are off and I can imagine how it must have been nerve-racking for the author to try to meet our expectations. (You can tell she still tried to create the same scenario later in the book, but it didn’t work so well – I got a bit lost among all the pods and Holos.) The slower pace however, allowed us to  know the dynamics of District 13. Well enough so that everything that happened next had it’s deserved impact. Unlike the other books, this one wasn’t about the action and what ingenious traps lie around the corner, but about fear, doubts and what really happens after the heroic act. It’s because of this that Mockingjay is way more disturbing and powerful.

The strongest point of the series for me has always been how Collins dealt with the use of psychology in dictatorship and war – with this one she kicked up a notch. It was fascinating how in the midst of macabre physical pain and torture, it’s the mind games that are really terrifying. I’m including propaganda in this category. Isn’t it interesting how it’s used by both sides and accepted as something normal? Katniss didn’t questioned the use of staged videos, she just wasn’t good at it. This and other wickedly creative elements (the roses, the jabberjays) were brilliantly used to create a sense of nightmarish discomfort that I only remember also feeling with Orwell’s 1984. Aren’t the Hunger Games themselves a form of achieving submission through the mind? For the Districts they’re worst than physical threats and for the Capitol they’re numbing entertainment. After what I’ve been reading lately (City of Bones review shortly) it’s a breath of fresh air to have such complex issues so smartly woven into a YA story.

Katniss could not have come out of this as the happy victor. It couldn’t have ended with her as president of Panem or with a white wedding. We see her being transformed from a strong leader into a puppet in the side lines. It might have been this that disappointed so many people. In Mockingjay Katniss is taken from the centre of the action into someone who just watches it. Yes, she was strong, resourceful and cunning, with amazing survival instincts but that was in the arena. In District 13, the political game is clearly beyond her and we see the consequences. From where the reader stands, her egocentrism is at times almost too much (How many Katnisses does it take to change a light bulb? One: she holds the lamp and the whole world revolves around her – I heard this one applied to Harry Potter :)) but that’s how she’s always been from the start. Considering where she grew up and what she was doing at 17, it seems a pretty likely picture, including how this impacts the love triangle. I must admit I was on Team Gale, but once again, I felt she ended up with whom she should. Gale was absolutely right: Katniss would chose the one who would help her survive (how Scarlett O’Hara of her, don’t you think?) and that’s a fair choice for her to make in my book.

The last 3rd of the story was the one that did it for me. I can even pin-point my wow moment, when I knew I was going to love it. It was at the end of chapter 17, when Katniss asks Johanna if she really did hear Peeta scream when they were both prisoners:

“Johanna, could you really hear his screaming?”
“That was part of it”, she says. “Like the jabberjays in the arena. Only it was real. And it didn’t stop after an hour. Tick, tock.”
“Tick, tock,” I whisper back.
Roses. Wolf mutts. Tributes. Frosted dolphins. Friends. Mockingjays. Stylists. Me.
Everything screams in my dreams tonight.”

I can’t really explain why these lines had such an impact, but it hit the right chord for me.

Now that I’ve managed to be all over the place with this post, I’m finally going to read all of yours and enter the discussion. Hope I’m not too late!

You know what’s the sign of a true hero? When at the peak of pain he faints… and does not wake up in a bed of clean white linen in a peaceful room where he slept deeply for the last three days. (Not even the likes of Frodo and Harry were immune to this easy escape) You recognise a true hero when he wakes up, his ankle is still broken, he’s still in a pool of mud and he manages to get himself out of that mess. With this in mind, I have nothing but r.e.s.p.e.c.t. for the heroine of The Hero and the Crown.

This is the story of Aerin, princess of Damar. Her mother was the king’s second wife, said to be a witch who won his heart through magic. It is also said that she died of despair when her child turned out to be a girl. Her father is kind but strangely ineffective against the (not so) veiled attacks from the rest of the royal family and the rumours spread by the people of Damar. As if that’s not enough, Aerin’s own magic (her birthright as royalty), is either embarrassingly late or completely missing. She’s out-of-place and disregarded, but consoles herself by making friends with her father’s injured horse and experimenting with the magical potions found in an obscure book.

If you’re a regular fantasy reader, you’ll recognize this plot as the proverbial story of the ignored and ill-used child who turns out to have rare powers and who, by a series of adventures, saves the kingdom. Not very ground-breaking apart from having a girl/woman as the action hero. I was actually hoping that Aerin had no powers at all but still saved the day using the knowledge she took  from her books. But alas, it was not to be. There was also an incredible amount of sorrow throughout the whole book, mixed with lots of physical pain. Aerin is not a character who tries to see the bright side, she doesn’t laugh at herself or uses wit as a weapon. There’s deepness and darkness about her, even in the midst of victory. I’m sure this will hit a cord with many people, but it only made me distance myself from her. I prefer my heroines bright-eyed and tongue-in-cheek.

In the end, I felt the same about this book, as I did about The Wizard of Earthsea: I wish I had read it when I was an awkward pre-teen. Now I found it only kind of… Meh. Still, I would definitely recommend it to a child of mine, especially a daughter. In an age of passive Bella Swans, girls need all the kick-ass female heroines they can get.

In a distant future, our society has eliminated pain and hardship by converting to “Sameness”. The other side of the coin is that through a mix of medication, social control and genetic engineering, we have also eradicated emotional depth from our lives. The Giver follows the story of a boy named Jonas who on his twelfth anniversary is selected to become the “Receiver of Memory,” the person who stores all the memories of the time before Sameness, if present leaders need advice in handling new situations.

Apart from the previous Receiver, Jonas is the only person in his community who knows, for instance, what snow is, since all hard climate conditions were with the Sameness.

The book is a typical blue pill/red pill scenario: would you prefer ignorant bliss or the hard truth? I always answer the truth without hesitation, but then again, I’m not starving and have a warm and safe bed to sleep in.

The Giver is also one of the most “challenged” children books in libraries and schools across the US. It deals with harsh topics, topics we wish children wouldn’t have to deal with, but it’ done in an intelligent way, without paternalism or white lies. The euthanasia and suicide scenes creeped the hell out of me, but I remember myself at 12 and wish I had read this book at that time. It would have had a bigger impact then. Why not talk openly about depression, suicide, massification and loss of individualism then, at the threshold of adulthood? But then again, it’s easy to talk now, when I’ve been through it and still don’t have children.

Ursula K. Le Guin was one of those authors that everyone seemed to have read except me. Still on that list are Stephen King and Michael Crichton – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are only saved by Good Omens. I was even more curious about her after watching “The Jane Austen Book Club” (talk about a movie better than the book!), where Grigg is constantly recommending her as much more than your “average” fantasy writer. I also saw Ghibli’s Tales from Earthsea, which although far from being their best, is still visually stunning.

So I decided to give Le Guin a try with the audiobook of the first of the Earthsea novels – A Wizard of Earthsea – read by Harlan Ellison, himself a Hugo, Nebula and Edgar-winner.

This is the story of Ged, aka Sparrowhawk, a powerful and gifted young wizard who is led by vanity into summoning to his world a shadow-evil set on possessing him. After realising his mistake, he at first tries to run from it, but after some adventures and much growing up, Ged decides to pursue and confront his biggest fear.  To support her tale, Ursula Le Guin developed a complex world of islands and a philosophy behind the magic in it: in order to have power over people and things, wizards must know their “true name”. This recognition of the power of words was my favourite part of the book. It reminded me of Orwell’s Newspeak –  if people don’t have a word for freedom, will the concept even exist? If you dumb-down the language, are you also dumbing those who use it? These questions always fascinated me. Words and language are potent stuff and this is what I took from Earthsea, more than the redemption and coming of age themes.

I cannot escape the feeling that I would have enjoyed this book much more if I was a 12-year-old boy. I kept wishing for her to go deeper into Ged’s personality and show, not tell us, about his evolution.

On the audiobook itself, Harlan Ellison reads if he’s reading poetry and sometimes at the end of a particularly enthusiastic sentence you feel like shouting AMEN!, as if he’s preaching from the pulpit. I’m still of two minds if I liked his reading or not and how much it influenced my impression of the book.

This is my first fantasy on audio and I missed the map at the beginning of the book as well as actually seeing the magical words written in different Earthsea languages. In the end, I’m interested enough to read the sequels, but I’m also hoping for a bit more character development and hoping for a strong female in the near future.

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