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Lloyd Alexander's Westmark is the first book in a much-loved trilogy of the same name. I didn't love this book, and while I've been warned that it's not as good, I suspect that I don't love it for different reasons that most people.

This is a YA Ruritanian fantasy set in a country where the king is ill with grief over the death of his only child, and his chief minister (a power-hungry manipulative bastard) is plotting to take control of the country in name as well as fact. Theo is an orphan apprenticed to a printer, and the plot happens when the chief minister's oppressive policies turn him into a fugitive who encounters con artists and would-be revolutionaries.

The way the book handles the political side of the plot is admirable. As [livejournal.com profile] rilina says in a thoughtful and spoilery discussion, "Westmark is distinguished by its refusal to offer anything close to a definitive answer to the questions it raises." I genuinely could not tell what path the book was going to take or wanted us to approve of. That's a hard thing to do.

But while I admire this book, I don't love it. I found the prose a barrier: I was constantly feeling that the sentences were a little short, the rhythms a little choppy, the descriptions and characterizations a little sparse. (Maybe I was off form today, but I completely missed the romance until it was explicitly stated, for instance; I think I mistook the ages of the characters in question.) My overall impression was of an excellently-constructed skeleton, which is nevertheless not entirely satisfying in the absence of muscle and skin. Put another way, I'm not too old for the content of Westmark, but I felt too old for the way it was expressed.

Somewhat like The Ordinary Princess, I suspect I would have loved this if I'd found it when I was young. Everyone says that The Kestrel is excellent, and I own it thanks to a mistaken purchase, so I will read at least that one; perhaps the expected jump in content-quality will pull me past the prose (I'm expecting that the prose stays constant over the series, which may not be correct). At any rate, I would certainly recommend this to kids in late-elementary and middle school.

kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

A couple of weeks ago, I needed to fully unwind, sink all the way down into a book and completely lose myself in it. I'd recently had the pleasure of recommending James D. Macdonald's The Apocalypse Door to someone looking for chaste Catholic priests in action novels, so it was on my mind and just what I was looking for.

Because the booklog is currently down and I can't link to it, I'm going to reproduce my original comments behind the cut. I'd talked then about Crossman and Sister Mary Magdalene, but I'd not really mentioned much about the new Knight, Simon B. LaRouche, who is also fun to read about and had a larger part in the book than I'd remembered. And since then, I've learned a thematic thing about the backstory thread that I didn't know enough to spot then; I don't think it's too much of a spoiler, but I'm going to ROT13 it just to be safe: fgngvbaf bs gur pebff.

Finally, I was surprised to find that some people had different opinions on the substance of the plot; in my opinion, the last three pages make it crystal-clear, but perhaps they tend to get overlooked in the adrenaline rush.

Anyway, still a great book and just what I needed when I was stressed out.

Original booklog post )

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This post contains SPOILERS for The Surgeon's Mate. Here's the non-spoiler post if you got here by mistake.

spoilers )

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Rather like the prior book, The Surgeon's Mate is very closely connected with its predecessor in the Aubrey-Maturin series, in this case The Fortune of War. It opens quite soon after that book, and part of the plot springs from managing the aftermath of their doings in America. In structure, I think of it as something like a criss-crossing two-parter. The book's first half covers non-naval doings in Canada and Europe, and strands from it cross over into the second half, a mission in the Balitc Sea.

(This is the book where Jack and Stephen see Elsinore and Jack reminisces about being one of the Ophelias. I giggled quite immoderately, in-between reminding myself to look at a map of the Baltic (which I never actually got around to).)

I did not find this book quite as striking as The Fortune of War, but it has its fair share of good moments. I do like the way O'Brian develops consequences in and across books; secondary characters act as it's in their character to act, even (or especially) if that creates useful plot.

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This post contains SPOILERS for His Majesty's Dragon. Here's the non-spoiler post if you got here by mistake.

spoilers for His Majesty's Dragon )

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(My booklog is down and I'm just waiting for it to come back up long enough to get the most recent database dump and move to a new host. In the meantime, I'm going to post entries here; they'll eventually be reposted at the booklog.)

Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon is being talked of as "Patrick O'Brian with dragons," which may, combined with the first chapter, give a slightly inaccurate impression. It's not a naval story, but is instead somewhere between "if Patrick O'Brian were writing about dragons instead of ships" and "if Stephen Maturin were a dragon." It's set in an alternate history where dragons have been domesticated from early days, and "now," in the Napoleonic Wars, are used as an air force: everything from scouts to bombers, with crews of an appropriate size. The dragons are sentient, articulate partners; and Temeraire, the dragon partnered with our human point-of-view character Will Laurence, holds anti-authoritarian political views rather like Maturin's, which sit uneasily with their military service. In short, this isn't about ships, but has a great many of the virtues of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels all the same. (Indeed the overall feel is fairly concrete and low-key; there may be some magic necessary to the dragons' functions (hand-waving about airsacs aside), but if so, that's about the only place for magic that I can see.)

It has virtues of its own, too, the most obvious of which is the dragons. They are a bit like Anne McCaffrey's in that they bond with one person upon hatching; but they communicate orally not telepathically, can outlive their first handler, and are generally smarter and have more personality. The largest can also carry quite sizable crews, including riflemen and bombers; and generally speaking the Royal Aerial Corps doesn't feel far off from the Royal Navy in its professional aspects.

It is different in some of its social and personal aspects [*], which serves two purposes: it makes the company more palatable to present-day tastes, and it pushes Laurence even further out of his entrenched habits of thought and helps him grow. Laurence's development individually and as a partner to Temeraire is one of the book's strands; the other is their training and first engagements in the Corps.

[*] I have a minor quibble about one of these aspects, but I'm not sure whether something that comes on page 145 should be counted a spoiler or not. I'll put it in a separate post just to be safe.

I enjoyed this very much, finding it a solid, thoughtful, entertaining and absorbing creation. I'm looking forward to the next two, which will be released at the end of this month and the end of next; I believe, judging from advance reviews, that they are largely set out of England as relatively stand-alone stories. I do hope that we'll get some exploration of the alternate part of the alternate history; things start diverging in this book, and I'm quite curious how important those divergences will be. On the whole, unless you're absolutely allergic to both the nineteenth century and dragons, I'd say to check this out.

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