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I've been silent too long.   So I'm going to try to get myself going again by posting about what I've been reading for the last little while.

On the reading front, [personal profile] ethaisa and I have discovered the library!  It's a great way to read books without spending $10+ for an unknown product.  So this has lead to much reading on both our parts.

Going back to November now, I read Jim Butcher's Furies of Calderon and Academ's Fury, books 1 and 2 in his Codex Alera series.  The first one we own in paperback and I thought I'd read it, but apparently not.  They are fantasy, and he has created an interesting elemental-based magic system using Furies instead of elements.  The first book takes place largely on the borderlands of the world, giving you only a peek at the larger society.  There are several major characters - Tavi, a young boy proving himself, Bernard, Tavi's uncle the steadholder with earth and wood crafting who is also ex-military, Isara Tavi's aunt, a watercrafter, who raised him, and Amara, an air crafter and loyal spy of the government who was betrayed by her teacher, and is trying to uncover his plots.  The first book is a fun romp with a bit of a darker edge and largely engaging characters (though at least one of the villians is just a wee bit too cardboardy for my taste).  It gives you enough on the society to wet your appetite for more, and the fast plotting and character interactions tend to carry you past any holes in the greater fabric.

Unfortunately in the sequel, Acedem's Fury, it becomes more and more clear that Butcher hasn't a clue how to create a realistic fantasy world.  What you could get away with in the border areas just becomes downright unbelievable in what is supposed to be a city full of complex political intrigue.  The plot drags a bit in the beginning as he clumsily tries to gather his threads and characters and set up the situations for the book, but I had issues right off the bat with an academy that would stand by and watch a student being outright tortured (near to death!) by a fellow student simply, supposedly, because that student was higher ranked.  Yeah, I get the allusion to the English boarding schools, but when you add the use of elemental magics into the mix, it's hard to believe the instructors are standing by and simply shaking their heads as their students are busily trying to off one another.  And it doesn't get better from there.  We have a ruler (King?) we are told is amazing by his loyal followers, and yet who doesn't seem to have a single true ally of any political weight (just the handful of characters sworn to his service), invading aliens that seem to be a cross between the alien monster movies, the borg, and late night B (for bad) horror movies, and a society full of magic users that apparently hasn't managed to truly integrate the use of this magic into their society for something as simple and fundamental as fast communication!  And we won't even get into the 'Butchering' of what should have been an interesting interlude delving into the politics of the world he's created.  Mostly it just made my teeth hurt.  By the end there was so much eye rolling, that I had ceased to believe any of these characters were anything but inept creations of their author running through a rat's maze of his design.  Very disappointing.  I will probably still read the third book in the series, just because I have some residual interest in a few of the characters, but I'm going to be very happy to get it from the library and give it back when I am done.

After Butcher, I moved on to a book I'd requested from the library - a political, historical romance book called Dark Angels written by Karleen Koen.  After Butcher, her deft political intrigue, rich descriptions of court settings, and complex characters woven into the fabric of true events of the time period (Charles I Restoration Court in England and Louis XIV in France) was a breath of fresh air.  The characters were interesting and involving, the plot dragged a titch at times, but she so perfectly captured the era and the attitudes of the day that I was just enchanted. 

I couldn't wait to get to the sequel book, Through A Glass Darkly, which was actually written first, in the late 80s.  I'm not quite sure what I was expecting from the book, but definitely some kind of continuation of the richness and complexity of the Dark Angels book.  Unfortunately I was sadly disappointed. The second book had none of the worldly sophistication of the first, largely because it's main character is the typical spunky heroine who wants what she wants and kicks and screams and runs away when she doesn't get it.  The author doesn't completely let her get away with it, but after showing us on the first page of the book (via the family tree) that Barbara (grand-daughter of the Alice character from Dark Angels) marries Roger Devane, we get to slog through more than 200 pages of actually getting them together, mostly showcasing the greed and high-handed desperation of Barbara's mother, Diana.  The best part of the book follows, though I found Roger's inability to understand or empathize with his new bride's issues in suddenly being dumped in the decadent court French Court without so much as his introduction to be a bit hard to believe or forgive.  But still, Roger quickly became my favorite character.  Barbara became more and more whiney as she realized that her new husband, 20+ years her senior, might have other priorities than falling in love and spending every moment with her.  In fact Roger has dark secrets of his own (he's in love with a man - the dark Prince of Soissons) that begin to take over his life, and I really, really wish that part had been better developed, as it was far more interesting to me than the perpetual spunk and winey-ness of Barbara (somehow I'm supposed to sympathize with a character who schemed and fought to marry a man she had a crush on because he was nice to her when she was a child, who she knows he wants her solely for her dowery lands, because he is merely nice to her and fond of her, but hardly the wild romance that she craves), and the author's sudden decision to kill off major chunks of her family.  When the inevitable denoument finally comes about, instead of getting to experience it, we are suddenly propelled 4 years in the future and Barbara has become a completely different person.  I understand why - she needed to grow up after all - but still, we are left with no real resolution to his 'dark secret' but a few toss-off descriptions from the author, and now there is more heartache to suffer.  The author seems to delight in killing off every person this character cares about until I'm so weary from reading it all that I can hardly stand it - death from smallpox, death from duels, death from childbirth.  So Barbara suffers, does stupid things, loses nearly everything that matters to her, reconciles with Roger, and then before they can do more than share a romantic kiss, he gets sick and dies as well.  Oh yes, and our dear Barbara who loves children has not only lost all her siblings, but finds out that she's barren as well.  So she heads off to the colonies, leaving her fragile old grandmother and the only person who still loves her (her cousin Tony) behind.  End of story.   I stayed up late to finish the book and honestly I wanted to toss it off a wall!  No book should make a reader suffer so much tragedy to so little end with no real payoff.  The basic theme of this book was that life sucks, so do what you want - it will get you into trouble, but you might have a moment of happiness to treasure before more suckage comes your way.  Blech!  What a bad taste in the mouth!  I just discovered there's a sequel to this book, called Face to Face, but I don't think I can bring myself to read it, especially after reading Amazon comments where people who thought Through A Glass Darkly was an amazing book found that one a let down.  I just can't really imagine getting through anything worse. 
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March 2010

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