Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Book Depository: Part X

131: Alice Adams - Booth Tarkington. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel from 1922 is the sort of thing I would normally hate. I put down The Age of Innocence for some of the things contained in this novel: high society and classism, pretensions of upward mobility in society, and being with the "right" people. Yet I ended up enjoying this novel. Why? Well, because of Alice Adams. Not the book, the title character. Alice used to be her era's version of the "It" Girl in her community. Beautiful, from a good family, and style perfect. But with her father's lack of rise in income comparable to those of her friends and peers Alice's star has fallen. She is desperate to get it back but is also loyal to her family. Her desperation mixed with the understanding of her father's situation makes her an immensely likeable character even as she is attempting to be part of a crowd which I detest as a reader. This is a comic novel, though I would not go so far as to say it is "Laugh Out Loud Funny". Alice goes through a period of growth and her desperate maturity is charming. That's the word of Alice Adams: Charming. Considering that I find many novels of this era to be a bit dreary, Alice Adams is a charming novel and far more enjoyable than I had anticipated.

132: The End - Lemony Snicket. Here it is. The final volume in A Series of Unfortunate Events. The End. After setting the Hotel Denouement on fire and escaping with Count Olaf, the Baudelaires find themselves stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean with the nemesis Count Olaf. Thus begins the end. Or, The End. Whichever. With the wit and sly remarks which over twelve previous volumes we would be fools not to expect, Lemony Snicket tells one last Baudelaire tale and it is, of course, and Unfortunate Event. To expect a gleeful happy ending would be to misread everything the narrator has told us thus far.

Instead we have the Baudelaires struggling to keep their moral compass pointed in the right direction. Because of the events forced upon them they find themselves committing acts that could be considered villainous despite their best intentions to use those acts for good. But might not villains have best intentions? Snicket here shows us a grey area of morality which he has been slowly leading his characters for twelve volumes from the start where we can clearly see the Baudelaires as righteous heroes and we still do, but if we take the time to examine all of their actions without context (and sometimes with context), they are not all pure. But they are human. Snicket tends to give us caricatures of various personalities throughout the books, except for the siblings, and he continues to here, but what we have is an interesting story about this series of unfortunate events.

The End is perhaps the perfect end to the series. It fits with everything that has been presented so far and the ending rings true to the characters and the tone of the series and yet is not wholly downbeat.

133: House of Chains - Steven Erikson. Erikson returns to the Raraku Holy Desert with House of Chains as Sha'ik (Felisin Paran) has her army set to face an invasion by the Malazan Empire with an army led by her sister, the Adjunct Tavore Paran. Tavore does not know that her sister is now the leader of the whirlwind, all Tavore knows is that Felisin is no longer in the prison mine Tavore left her in. Tavore sets two agents to find Felisin's path.

But before we can get to the story about the impending battle between the Whirlind Goddess and the Malazans Erikson opens with an entirely new character: Karsa Orlong, a Teblor Warrior. For the first couple hundred pages we follow Karsa as he leaves his village with two warriors under his command and through his success and rare defeats he grows stronger (you know all those heroes from legend and other novels from other authors? Karsa is likely greater than all of those combined) and stronger and then we realize that Karsa is with Sha'ik as a bodyguard and that Erikson was bringing us up to speed in how this great warrior became part of Sha'ik retinue.

As the fourth book in a series most authors would let us follow the same group of characters from book to book but Erikson opens up new characters and new settings and makes them feel real and distinct and raw. At the start I wondered who this Karsa Orlong character was and why I should care, but after a while I was wrapped in his story. This man, this Teblor, may legitimately challenge a God. Or several gods.

Erikson would never limit the scope of his novel to simply two events. Oh, no! We have the Karsa Orlong Story, A Claw and a Red Blade searching for Felisin, a new T'lan Imass and a Tiste Edur on some sort of quest with an unknown goal, a Malazan sergeant named Strings on the march with the army heading to Raraku and oh yeah, Strings happens to be the Bridgeburner Fiddler, the Bridgeburner assassin Kalam heading towards the desert, Apsalar and Crokus (from Gardens of the Moon) questing for the Throne of Shadow and then set on something else, Ascendents, Intrigue in the leadership of Sha'ik's following, Shai'ik's adopted daughter Felisin the Younger, the fallout of the massacre of the Chain of Dogs (Deadhouse Gates), and the Fist Gamet.

Phew. It is tiring to try to list everything that Erikson is doing with House of Chains and this is standard for one of his novels. There is even more to the book but to go into greater detail would ruin some of the pleasure in discovering what is going on and what we think is going on, and what the characters suspect might be going on. It's crazy.

It's also a damn good novel. I tend to prefer the ones which have a greater emphasis on the Bridgeburners (Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice) so the Fiddler / Strings and the Kalam sections were the most interesting here (besides something at the end which I absolutely will not get into), but Erikson is spinning a story so vast that it takes several hundred pages to grasp what he is doing with this individual novel let alone with the series and how it connects with the previous novels and possibly the future novels. One could argue that Erikson needs an editor badly, but everything in the novel is building to something else and we just may not realize it until much later. There is also a real pleasure in reading these epic tomes of The Malazan Book of the Fallen and seeing how Erikson is fitting the puzzle pieces together.

Normally I have no intention of going back and reading an entire series, let alone one which each volume is at least 600 pages and is projected to be ten volumes, plus several novellas, plus another five by a second author who helped Erikson create this world, but I think that I would read earlier events differently knowing what happens later (and in some cases earlier because Erikson messes with some chronologies, like the early Karsa chapters are set even before Deadhouse Gates but the later chapters are set after Memories of Ice). This is an impressive work of fantasy.

134: Guilty Pleasures - Laurell K. Hamilton. Guilty Pleasures is the first of the long running series (now over ten volumes) of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. Here we are introduced to Anita, a twenty something woman (I believe her age is mentioned as 24). Anita Blake is an Animator: She raises the dead. But she also kills vampires and her nickname is The Executioner. She has killed 14 vampires before the novel starts. She is contacted to help solve the brutal murders of other vampires. Anita does not want to take the case because she kills vampires, she does not work for them. But, we would not have much of a novel if she doesn't take the case.

Hamilton introduces us to Anita and to her world and the various inhabitants: wererats, vampires, animators, zombies, ghouls, freak parties, and other oddities.

This is a hard boiled world and Anita is a hardboiled woman. Change her gender and she would fit in as a character in any Raymond Chandler novel or others of the hardboiled detective genre. Except for the vampires. That is what Hamilton is writing here.

She does it well. What I know of Hamilton is that her novels are laced with sex and erotic acts, but Guilty Pleasures features none of that. As I understand it, Hamilton only adds to that facet of her work with each subsequent novel (which may explain her ever increasing sales). Guilty Pleasures is just a good fantasy detective horror mystery novel and is a good story.

I was not enraptured with Hamilton's work here, though, and while I may or may not read a couple more books in the Anita Blake series, I feel no compulsion to do so. Guilty Pleasures is a decent enough novel, but not spectacular. Hamilton moves the plot along quickly with short chapters and a dialogue and internal monologue style that fits the genre and the character, but Guilty Pleasures did not move me to proclaim Hamilton's greatness from the mountaintops (as John Scalzi, Karen Traviss, and Octavia Butler more recently did).

Read at your own discretion and without a strong recommendation.


Count Olaf said...

The End, for me, offered almost nothing I wanted and everything I didn't.
They (Baudelaires) didn't need to be in the hands of an ignoramus caretaker mysteries did not need to be brought up...and it felt like it just...ended. Even with the 14th chapter I was left with a big empty feeling.
I don't need stories wrapped up nicely with a bow, but even with this End the whole story feels like a midseason Lost episode (or any of them, for that matter) with so many things unresolved or unknown. Almost pointless.

Joe said...

Indeed. I don't disagree with anything you said...and yet I did feel mostly satisfied. Snicket (Handler, whatever you want to call him) was telling us this is how the whole thing would end from the very first book. So, I thought it was fitting.