Sunday, November 01, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 World Fantasy Award Nominees: Novel

The House of the Stag, Kage Baker (Tor)
The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow)
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury)
Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin; Knopf)

We have to start with the one novel I haven’t read: The House of the Stag. I have mixed expectations about this, mostly because the last couple of Company novels from Kage Baker were disappointing and they’ve soured me just a bit on Baker. On the other hand, when Baker is on her game, she’s a damn fine storyteller. I can’t talk about The House of the Stag in comparison to the other nominated novels, but I can’t ignore it, either.

Out of the four nominated novels I was able to read before the World Fantasy Awards was given out, Tender Morsels was easily the most disappointing. Margo Lanagan’s story is a reimagining of “Snow White and Rose Red” and it is a brutal, brutal story. Nominally a YA novel, Tender Morsels features repeated abuse, rape, and incest in an intensely patriarchal society (not that women can’t have positions of prominence, but they also shouldn’t be caught alone with a male…the men have all the power). While the portrayals of these terrible are not graphic in terms of physical description, they are viscerally graphic and hang over the entire novel. I’m not sure exactly how to talk about Tender Morsels. It’s a novel that just failed to work for me in any way, that I had to force myself to continue to read because of the award nomination. Otherwise I would have put this book down after maybe fifty pages. The novel is perhaps too emotionally graphics, but it is also such a bleak story with many men who come across as one dimensional monsters. Simple because it is a fairy tale or not, it’s not something I ever want to read again. Very much not recommended.

The Shadow Year is an expansion of Ford’s critically acclaimed novella “Botch Town” and as such, I only reluctantly read The Shadow Year. I wasn’t a fan of “Botch Town” and that makes me the one person who wasn’t. So much moreso than Tender Morsels, I can see the craft and the skill in the storytelling in The Shadow Year. It’s a quiet novel of growing up and secrets in a smallish town / city, with just a hint of magic in the air. Only problem is that Jeffrey Ford is very much a hit or miss writer for me and despite his obvious skill, The Shadow Year was a miss. I don’t have a good reason for why, only a knowledge that it didn’t hit.

Thus far we’ve briefly looked at two novels I didn’t enjoy and one I haven’t read. Now we’re going to move onto the two novels I could appreciate.

The first of those two is Daryl Gregory’s debut novel Pandemonium. This is what I had to say about Pandemonium when I first reviewed it: The rest of the novel? It’s damn good. It’s a very strong debut. Based solely on Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory is an exciting new author and one to watch.

The second is The Graveyard Book. This is what I had to say about The Graveyard Book in my previous review: The Graveyard Book is the sort of book where you don’t talk about genre or publishing categories when you talk about it. You just hand it to a friend, your mother, your priest, your cabbie, a stranger and say “read this. It’s really good,” and expect them to thank you later.

Outstanding. Spectacular. Delightful. Wonderful. There are all sorts of adjectives to use when talking about The Graveyard Book. Choose one. I’ll probably have meant that one, too.

The Graveyard Book was a superior novel and one of the best of last year. It’s the class of the World Fantasy Award nomination novels. I can see The Shadow Year potentially winning this award, and I definitely appreciate Pandemonium, but I think the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel should go to The Graveyard Book. It’s really quite good and deserves all the acclaim it has received.

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