I usually don’t write book reviews on things I feel wishy-washy about. There’s an author behind there somewhere, and I can sympathize wholeheartedly with how hard it was to write the thing, even if it was less than perfect. Which means that I usually admit there were flaws in a sentence or two in the reading list, and then move on to the next book. But I have vowed to write a review of everything I read in conjunction with the reading challenge. And I didn’t have to enjoy the book for it to count as part of the challenge. I just have to have finished it.
Here are two books that I’m counting but didn’t love. I’ll tell you why, and you can decide whether you want to check them out for yourself, and I’ll also suggest alternatives that I liked much better than these. I hope the authors aren’t too upset with me (although one is deceased, so…possible haunting?).
Daughter of Witches by Patricia C. Wrede: (a book filled to the rim with magic)
I love Wrede’s writing. Her Frontier Magic series is one of the most original and fun things I’ve ever read. I love the Cecelia works she wrote with Caroline Stevermer, and will happily swoon over Marleon the Magician.
I am, however, not fond of a fantasy book that reads like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign (of any kind). A D&D campaign is an exercise in shared storytelling, and the disconnected, character-centered thing that results hardly ever feels right when put into novel form. It feels like the author is trying to share a joke with you that you had to be there to understand: it’s just not that amusing in the retelling. Usually either the plot is good or the characters are developed, but not both. It can feel like the characters are being pigeon-holed into a God-driven plot (ala the Dungeon Master) without good reason. Wrede is pretty forthright about the Lyra novels being based on campaigns she ran, in a universe she created.
Despite my criticism of D&D novels, Wrede does a great job of making the Lyra Collection feel like it should in the later books. Daughter of Witches is book 2, and Wrede clearly hasn’t hit her stride yet. It wasn’t quite the confusion of kidnapping and journey with no explanation that Shadow Magic was. But it was character heavy without much plot, and feels too guided. The stakes never felt high for the characters, either. The death is so distant that it doesn’t feel real, and the death that’s in front of them seems unurgent.
The writing was good, I stayed engaged in the world, but ultimately I just didn’t care about what happened to the characters. I wanted to care, but couldn’t get there. If you’re looking for something similar to read, I would start with Wrede’s Caught in Crystal and move to The Raven Ring. Both are excellent, and you don’t need to have read the others in the series to have fun with them. That way you get Lyra goodness with Wrede’s more developed style to back it up. Or, you know, just go read Thirteenth Child, first of the Frontier Magic series.
English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs: (a book with lots of mystical creatures)
My biggest beef with this book was that it proclaimed originality and didn’t deliver. It was written in 1890, though, you will say. So who is to judge whether the stories were perhaps new then?
The Grimms were writing books in the 1860s, and these stories are a repeat of those, almost completely, under the guise of being English instead of German. Even in his time period, he loses originality points…
The book was in the simple folk-writing that fairy tales are often in, with lots of telling and little showing. They were easy to read, and I did enjoy them some. It was also a quick read, which I appreciated. I was expecting much more than a collection of children’s stories that I had heard before, though. So perhaps it was my expectation that was flawed and not the book itself.
Looking for something AWESOME to read instead? Try The Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar. There are 44 tales in there, and she groups them into common themes and discusses similarities between cultures that you can see in the narratives. That’s good and so is Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Family Tales by Valerie Paradiz, where she discusses how the Grimms used their sister to collect the stories, and the importance of the tales in female indoctrination to society. Both are fairy tale plus, and an excellent read. They contain more of the originality that I was hoping for when I picked this book up