Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

by Christopher Healy

Grade: 4 1/2 stars
Story: Frederic the dandy, Gustav the gruff, Liam the heroic, and Duncan the insane. Four princes from neighbouring kingdoms all manage to lose their princesses somehow, and as they set out to rescue/run away from them, they somehow stumble into each other and also an evil plot. And then there's chaos! And dragons! And evil child ruffians! And unlikely friendships! And multiple sets of octuplets! Plus, of course, plenty of battles and fights and squabbles and arguments and daring rescues and ungainly captures and adventure.

Thoughts: This was one of the most delightful books I've read in ages.

I'm going to quote the first two paragraphs for you. Because they captured well the feeling of the book, and they're funny.
    Prince Charming is afraid of old ladies. Didn't know that, did you?
    Don't worry. There's a lot you don't know about Prince Charming: Prince Charming has no idea how to use a sword; Prince Charming has no patience for dwarfs; Prince Charming has an irrational hatred of capes.
And it goes on. It's funny and clever and fully of great characters. It has a good ending, with the possibility for a sequel. What more could you ask?

And the chapter titles!
From "Prince Charming Defends Some Vegetables" to "Prince Charming is Completely Unnecessary" to "Prince Charming Has No Idea What's Going On". They remind me of the awesome chapter titles in the Percy Jackson series--they perfectly encapsulate the chapter without giving away anything, and are funny as anything to boot.

And the illustrations!
I wouldn't like this book half so much if it weren't for the illustrations. They capture the characters perfectly. It reminds me of the importance that illustrations have in the Lemony Snicket books, except I actually like the style of these drawings.

But as with the last book I reviewed, I am still slightly torn about this grading. As awesome as it was, it wasn't perfect. I'm just not sure how to describe the main criticism I have. It's something about the writing style, though. I once heard a friend of mine (CJ, I think) talk about a book she was reading that she didn't quite like. She said it was great and really well done, but it somehow reminded her too much of her own writing, except more professionally done. This book had that feeling somehow. The writing was too much like something I would have written, and thus something I would have criticized a lot and not liked all that much. It's something like that, at least. Again, I'm not totally sure how to describe this. But whatever it is, it kept pulling me out of the book.
Plus, as much as I hate to say this, I think it was a little too long--just a tiny bit! It could have skipped some bits and been a bit tighter, that's all. (Especially near the end of the middle, sometime after the famed Chapter 20.)

But I'm sticking with "To Own": because a) I actually already own it (a rare thing with me, to buy a book without having read it); b) I LOVE groups of unique characters saving the world together (again like the previous review); c) I've haven't had a "To Own" grading in a while, and I may as well have one now.

P.S. I think it's obligatory for this kind of book to tell your favourite prince. Unfortunately, this proves to be immensely hard, as they are all awesome and hilarious. So I'm just going to have to pick one. And I pick...
Gustav! Or maybe Frederic? I don't know. I think it's one of those two, at any rate. Frederic is the one I personally find the funniest, but Gustav is all mopey and unable to show his emotions. Plus I like huge guys in books (Flambeau, Porthos, etc.)

P.P.S. See also the sequel, The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle.

Fly Into Fire

by Susan Jane Bigelow

Grade: 3 stars
Story: Sequel to Broken and prequel to The Spark. (Story summary has spoilers for Broken. So be warned.) Sky Ranger has just committed treason and lost all his fellow extrahumans (i.e. superheros), all in one fell swoop. Now he's stranded in the middle of the desert, on the run from an evil government, and everybody hates his guts.

Thoughts: This series has this strange prevalence of polyamory. I don't quite like this, and it's not only because of the moral aspect of it. I really do find that, in stories, any romantic tension or excitement goes way down when people randomly sleep together. Even platonic tensions goes down, if that makes sense. I mean, a lot of this story consists of a largish group of non-related, unique people saving the world together. I love stories like that. They are almost always my favourite. But this time, I didn't have the same intensity of love for this group, even though I liked a lot of the characters quite a lot individually (especially Dee, Felipe, and Roger, although the latter never redeemed himself as much as I had hoped). I'm attributing this partly to this concept of polyamory.

But...maybe I'm misunderstanding something here? Because there are groups like the Study Group from Community that I love half to death, who nonetheless have some small elements of this too. But yet there is a huge difference between the two, which is that in Community, it's only a possibility. You can ship pretty much any particular couple and actually have some real live hope they'll get together. But everybody doesn't actually sleep together all the time. And it really is what you do, not what you feel, that counts for everything, even in stories. Anyhow, an analysis like this always takes a lot of subconscious thought on my part, so I'm going to have to let this percolate.

So this disconnect to the characters meant that the grade was very hard to determine. On the one hand, I read it quickly in a period where I hardly seem able to read anything. And it's a superhero story. I love superheros. And these superheros are all complex and broken, which makes it all the better. But on the other hand, there's the issue I talked about above, which makes the romantic dynamics so much less enjoyable. And I find it hard enough to like Romance as it is. And I was rather disappointed that it didn't delve more deeply into some of the secondary characters some more.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Drowned Ammet

by Diana Wynne Jones

Grade: 3 stars
Story: Mitt lives in poverty with his mother, in a earldom where the earl is pretty much a tyrant. Because he's a "free soul" (his mother's words), he plans to kill the tyrant earl on the day of the Sea Festival (incidentally, his birthday). Things go wrong, and stuff happens, and he ends up ... well, that would be spoiling it rather, so I'll stop now.

Thoughts: This was Diana Wynne Jones, the most consummate story teller I've read, so of course it was going to be awesome. For a DWJ, it was slightly harder to read, though. Every once in a while I come across one like that, that actually continues to be slightly harder to read till the end. Perhaps because it was slightly darker than hers usually are, and Mitt was a bit of a jerk? But no, I don't think so. Because DWJ is often very dark indeed, in some strange but glorious mix between fairy-tale dark and reality dark. And she's also awesome at writing characters that are so real in their jerkiness, but completely sympathetic as well.
So I dunno. I just didn't love Mitt. He annoyed me.

I loved the atmosphere of the book though. Especially the islands. They, and Mitt's first glimpse of them as a young boy, reminded me so much of C. S. Lewis's description of the Island in The Pilgrim's Regress (an awesome book--one of my favourites). And you felt the squalor of the town, and the hugeness of the deep ocean, and the breezy happiness of Mitt's childhood home. It was wonderful.