It’s been a long two weeks, but in addition to packing, working (including one road show in Alabama), and having Mr BiPolar show up unannounced a few days ago and raid my internal medicine cabinet for all of my Serotonin, I managed to plod ahead on my Midwest Gothic writing project. I also finished a book, abandoned one (probably for good, though I’m willing to listen to advice from people who’ve read it), and started two more. I’ve been a busy little sushi roll. But, today is Book Date Day, so here is my weekly list of what’s on my reading table.
First off, I finished one of the books I last blogged about and immediately charged into Book Two of The Expanse, Caliban’s War. Even with work this past weekend, I now find myself some 350 pages into it, and will probably be done soon. Current verdict: Well, at first, I thought it was less “Vol. 2” and more “Ver. 2.0” but it’s since differentiated itself a little more. Plus, the characters I already knew are becoming a little deeper and the new characters fit in very nicely. I’ll have a full review soon. For now, based on the first book-and-a-half of this series, I’ll just say that if you haven’t read this yet, that’s a problem, and you should fix that.
I’ve been doing a lot of writing and especially writing about my writing lately, as this book has completely taken over my Muse, and she will constantly chatter about nothing else. When I’m writing something, I’m always looking for parallels in my life or in other things I’ve read, and one of them jumped up and bit me while I was hanging out in a flea market this Saturday. Fortunately, I wasn’t actually dealing with a customer when it did; crazy vendors jumping up and down swatting at their thigh because an idea bit them in the bottom is a good way to lose sales.
I’ve already settled on an unreliable narrator, and I’ve been having a lot of fun trying to decide what “N” covers up or omits or implies or downright lies about. But there’s another level to the concept of the Unreliable Narrator, and that’s the one who doesn’t know he or she is unreliable. A lot of stories written from a child’s point of view (such as the creepy “Dress of White Silk,” found in this anthology by Richard Matheson, among other places) use this technique, and if it’s used well, it can have a profound effect on a reader, especially during a reread. And after I thought of that, my mind jumped over to Severian the Torturer, perhaps the king of unreliable narrators. He lives in The Book of the New Sun, a creepy, dramatic, surreal work of fantasy/ dying world science fiction, and between the stuff he omits, the stuff he lies about, and the stuff that he simply isn’t prepared to understand, a good careful reader can spend months or even years teasing apart the layers and treasures hidden within. I finally finished all four books last summer (it’s not a tetrology so much as it’s a book published in four short novel chunks) and nothing seems more enjoyable right now than reading it again, and seeing if I can add a little more color to my Midwest Gothic story. And if I can’t, well, it’s a great book anyway.
So that brings me to The Curse of the Mistwraith. This book is one of the many proofs of my hypothesis that I should always try a book twice, a story I talked about two weeks ago. It’s been three days since I binge-read the last 300 pages, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. The first half (well, everything up to the chapter entitled “CONQUEST”) still felt overwritten, and even though I’d read a little more than 200 pages my first time through, it still felt like a slog in parts. Then I got to the second half, and I realized that everything Ms Wurts was setting up in the first part needed to be there. In fact, it would have been really nice if there had been even more there. She has a great command of drama and tension, and uses the occasional “spoiler” as a way of making the reader even more concerned about whether what will happen at the end is what an unnamed narrator or untrustworthy character stated will happen. And that battle scene… well, not since Malazan have I had a flashback that intense. The Wikipedia page for the book says that she was inspired to write the book, or at least that battle, by the Battle of Culloden, and a desire to show pre-modern warfare without any of the heroic romantic trappings, and by the great Beard of Odin does she succeed.
Rating: Four Stars. I loved this book, but I’m also more than curious about where the series goes from here. There is a lot to process in the beginning, and a lot to put together in the end. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, you will be rewarded. Bonus: It’s nearly a stand-alone book, so if you don’t want to go on to the others, you don’t have to. I’m most definitely going to, though.
Next up: I’m not sure. I’ll be reading The Book of the New Sun for a month, since my rereading habits have me just reading it at three chapters a day and taking notes. On my shelf I have Buddenbrooks, which will be my third Thomas Mann book (sixth if you count the four novels in Joseph and his Brothers) and an Enlightenment-era mystery that the free library had, An Instance of the Fingerpost. Plus, I have the next books in The Expanse and the Mistwraith series (properly, The Wars of Light and Shadow). And I have an audiobook of War and Peace, plus a lot of knitting to do while listening to the only major Tolstoy work I’ve not yet read. And, I’ve been craving novellas again, so I’ll have to work one or three in. Recommendations and/ or advice is more than more than welcome.
EDITED TO ADD: I’m abandoning Of Human Bondage, unless someone can give me a damn good reason to proceed past the first half of the book. I consider Mr Maugham to be one of the masters of the English Short Story, and I think I would rather read the rest of the stories I haven’t gotten to. The first two hundred pages was gorgeous and reminded me a lot of my own childhood as a ‘too-clever boy’ who found himself surpassed by the boys who weren’t as smart but actually worked for what they learned, but from the hero’s trip to Heidelburg and thereafter, it descended into a fit of blahs. The writing itself is wonderful but the story is tedious.