Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Bitter Seeds, by Ian Tregillis

You definitely can’t fault bitter seeds on a sentence by sentence level. From the opening to the finish this book is overflowing with beautifully crafted imagery and interestingly worded lines. Nor can you fault the plot. It’s world war 2. The nazi’s have engineered a team of soldiers with supernatural powers, while the British have enlisted a group of warlocks to broker deals with dark and terrible powers.

And you definitely can’t fault the characters! Will, Marsh and Klaus are well rounded, flawed and believable. Will, an upper class young man whose alcoholic grandfather forced him into a world of dark magic, is charming and genuinely funny. His character arc is the most tragic, as we watch him fight against becoming all the things he hated about his grandfather.

Street urchin turned spy Marsh is dark but will a concrete centre of nobility, he’s believably good at his work and more than a little bad ass. While he has no mercy for those on his level, and time again Marsh defends those weaker than he is. This instinct is handled quite subtlety, and it was an impressive piece of characterization. I also enjoyed the relationship he has with his boss/father figure. An impressive example of showing over telling.

And Klaus, while on the outside should be wholly unlikable, garners the reader’s sympathy through his tragic upbringing and love for his sister. What makes it worse is the guy clearly can’t see how abusive and awful his life has been, all he wants is to impress the man who inflicted much of the suffering upon him. It’s a clever way of making the reader actually care about what happens to a nazi character, without having to make them secretly all noble and good inside. His sister, who has see the future, is a more mysterious character. Tregillis takes full advantage of her abilities and it’s a lot of fun watching her be twenty steps ahead of everyone. He also wisely never lets us inside her head, making us view her through the eyes of others and thereby preserving her mystery.

So, prose, plot and characters can not be faulted. But sadly this book is really, fatally, let down by the pacing. It’s too short, for a start. The whole war is blitzed over in this relatively short volume. But that could have still worked, if it weren’t for Tregillis’s maddening habit of only showing us the aftershocks of events. None of the major decisions were made “on page-” we only ever saw the characters discussing things after they had been implemented. There are few action scenes, instead there are scenes where the characters deal with what has already happened. For example; we have one sentence of Marsh saying hello to a girl, and then the next scene he is in is their wedding. It’s very jarring.

These jumps in time also means that instead of smooth character progression the characters appear almost like new people each time we meet them, Will especially. Of course it’s a good thing when characters change- that’s what we want! But the whole point is for the reader to see it happening, not to jump from a to c with nothing inbetween. It keeps the characters at arms length, which is a shame because like I said they are very well crafted and it would have been easy to get really attached to them, which would have given the book’s ending a much bigger impact.

I think when you out the pros and the cons together what you're left with is a book that’s not bad, but not entirely good either. I think I will read the next one (even though the cover the new publisher has gone with lacks all the grace and charm of the original cover of Bitter Seeds, which is what drew me to the book in the first place), if only to see if Tregillis can bring his pacing up to the same level as everything else. 

I bought this book

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: Blood Rights, by Kristen Painter

I think this book falls firmly into the category of definitely not for me. While I can objectively see why others like it (and I am sure my sister will go nuts for it when I lend it to her) it didn’t really do much for me, and I don’t see myself continuing with the series.

Why did I even pick this book up? I want to say its because the plot sounded interesting, because it does. A centuries old woman who has been raised to serve vampires and feed them her high quality blood must flee to the “real” world when her patron/owner is found murdered. Here she teams up with an exiled and cursed noble vampire to prove her innocence. I mean, it’s not groundbreaking as plots go, but in the rights hands there was a lot of potential there. But even though I want to claim it was the plot that drew me to this book, if I’m being honest I think I have to admit it was the cover.

Blacks, greys and muted gold and that shock of bright blood red. Really striking. It’s sensual and gothic and really drew me in. I was imagining a rich, dark tale to match the cover, something like Anne Rice’s early Vampire books, or Lianni Taylor’s more recent ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone.’ Something stepped in atmosphere and personality.

Yeah… I was sorely disappointed. Despite being set in the future ‘Blood Rights’ rarely feels like anything but present day. Aside from a few token gadgets, technology has barely advanced. And despite the fact that our setting is “New Florida,” and at one point we visit a Iranian controlled Paris, there is no difference in the way society is presented compared to present day. Did you ever go to a high school play and the sets were obviously from a different production with a few token changes made? It’s like that- like the the book was originally set “now” and at the last minute Painter made some purely cosmetic changes to make it more “later.”

It also feels overwhelmingly American. Which, ok, a solid chunk of it is set in America. But a goodly amount is also set in Europe, and these scenes are no different from the American based ones. I didn’t even realise that the vampire sections of the book were European based until a character explicitly mentions it. And our main character, Chrysabell, has lived her whole life in Europe. Yet she comes across as just another all American heroine. And not just that- she’s grown up with no modern technologies, and yet being suddenly thrust into modern American society doesn’t seem to faze her at all. And lets not forget that she’s supposedly 150 years old, yet acts just like someone in her mid twenties. You can’t just say things are so in a book, you have to actually show them to be so as well! 

It made the whole book feel bland and shallow.

This was my main complaint with the book. The characters are nothing new, especially if you’ve read any other urban fantasy novel before, but they’re not terrible. The overall thin plot is ridiculously stretched out and the “twist” is easy enough to see coming, but again, it’s serviceable. The problem is I’ve never been a huge fan of urban fantasy, and this book (despite what I’d hoped) is pretty much a standard, by the books, example of the genre.

Like I said, I’m sure others will really like it- I can even see why. But it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea.

I bought this book