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March 25, 2013
The Blade Itself
by Abercrombie, Joe
“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?” – Sand Dan Glokta, The Blade Itself
Shortly after ripping through the "Game of Thrones" series, I found myself scrabbling for another story with the same kind of gritty violence, underhanded scheming, and raw human characters. Sadly, nothing quite scratched that itch. It is rare to find a fantasy story that breaks free from the classic tropes: elves, orcs, dwarves, and an ancient prophecy fulfilled by an unassuming farm boy who’ll face a monolithic force of “pure evil”. All accomplished, of course, with the help of a kindly old wizard who’ll drop in to help just enough to leave room for a challenge. You know the drill, right?
Enter Joe Abercrombie’s "First Law" Trilogy, starting with The Blade Itself. And by “enter”, I mean “kicks the door off its hinges, turns all the old clichés upside down, and shakes them a few times for their spare change.” When the “good guys” are a battle-scarred barbarian who’ll turn on his own allies when he flies into a rage, a cold-blooded imperial torturer with no sense of fear, and a former slave turned assassin with nothing to live for but revenge, you know you’re in for a wild ride. This is a story with no room for simplistic notions of good and evil with characters that are, at the end of the day, merely human. It is all done with a heavy slathering of cruel wit, which one might call parody if the end result were not so true to life. As Logen Ninefingers, terror of the North, would say, “You have to be realistic about these things.”
If The Blade Itself has a weak point, it’s that it is the first book of a trilogy that takes time to reveal all of its twists. If you’re only in it for one serving, you might leave thinking that you’ve got the inevitable love story all figured out, or that Bayaz, the resident wizard, is nothing more than another Gandalf/Dumbledore figure. That would be a big mistake.
Joe Abercrombie is a refreshing voice in the fantasy genre, and readers who couldn’t get enough of Tyrion Lannister, Royce and Hadrian of Riyria, or the exploits of The Black Company, owe it to themselves to check him out.
— Recommended by Daniel Perez, East 38th Street Library
March 18, 2013
after the quake
by Murakami, Haruki
A series of six short stories written in the wake of the 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquake: it was the first thing I read by Haruki Murakami, and it inspired me to devour everything he produced. Murakami, known for his use of magic realism in stories, weaves the effects of the earthquake throughout each story presented in the collection. Some stories are framed heavily by the earthquake, while in others it is only a shadow in the background. The earthquake is the only link between the stories, whose subject matters range from talking to a massive toad living under Japan, to going to see a bear at the zoo.
I had read plenty of short stories previous to stumbling upon this collection, whether it was in English class or just for pleasure. But, for me, collections of short stories always seemed tossed together and random. This collection, however, really made sense to me. Each story in this collection seems purposeful and tied together with the thread of the earthquake weaving through. Each of the stories is well written, easy to read, and engaging. Characters are developed wonderfully in the short amount of time you have with them, to the point that it is painful to leave them. I was satisfied with the length of the stories, in that the plot was completely developed and made sense as a short story, but I would have loved more time with each character.
If you have never read any fiction by a Japanese author, I highly recommend doing so, and this is a great place to start. In my experience, these short stories served as the perfect introduction to Murakami before I delved into his longer novels. And even after reading him extensively, I still felt this collection included some of my favorite stories of his.
— Recommended by Austin Senior, Central Library
March 11, 2013
by Turow, Scott
Surprised to discover his father was once court-martialed and imprisoned while serving in the army during WWII, Stewart Dubinsky embarks on a journey to try to understand his family’s history. You will be touched by the riveting description of his father’s introduction to war when he parachutes into the middle of the Battle of the Bulge, fascinated by the mysterious Robert Martin, a wayward OSS officer Stewart’s father has been tasked with apprehending, and saddened by the tale of French Resistance operative Gita Lodz. How is it possible that these characters play such defining roles in Stewart’s life and yet he’s never heard of them? Read the intriguing story of Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow and you will learn of the horrors of war as well as its heroes.
— Recommended by Suzy Heilman, Franklin Road Library
March 4, 2013
by Hopkinson, Nalo
This lyrical second novel by Locus award winning author Nalo Hopkinson stars the flawed yet sympathetic heroine Tan-Tan. Young Tan-Tan has lived on two Caribbean-colonized planets; she was born on the high-tech and lush planet Toussaint, then was stolen away by her father to live with him on the prison planet New Half-Way Tree, after he was sentenced for murdering his wife’s lover. New Half-Way Tree is not an advanced, urban society like Toussaint; Tan-Tan and her father have to learn to live in much harsher conditions. Her father’s temper and judgment gets worse as the years go on, and eventually Tan-Tan is forced to flee. She has friends within the indigenous population of the planet but when they are endangered by her presence she takes to the jungle. With no control over her own life and in constant fear of being caught, Tan-Tan adopts the persona of the Robber Queen, a character from Caribbean folklore, to right the wrongs she sees done all around her.
Weaving together themes of gender, colonialism and the power of myth and story is not enough for Hopkinson. She also creates an amazing dialect that blends the Jamaican and Trinidadian languages. It is a beautiful narrative voice that can take some getting used to, so don’t give up if you find it difficult right away! Your head will move to its rhythm soon enough. This dialect helps us grasp the sensuous and mischievous feel of Carnivale and sense the heat and humidity of the jungle as Tan-Tan tries to escape her past. We feel the weight of being a folk hero settle on Tan-Tan’s shoulders, and suppress a shudder at her rash decisions while our heart breaks for the girl who had to make them. The language that Hopkinson has created lends immense power to the story by reminding us where it came from and evoking setting in a way that cannot be glossed over or forgotten.
Some people still dismiss science fiction and fantasy as not being real literature; Hopkinson shows us what a talented writer can do with the form. This is a great novel for anyone who enjoys solid world-building, beautifully written prose, and strong and compelling characters.
— Recommended by Carri Genovese, Central Library
February 25, 2013
The Queen and I
by Townsend, Sue
The British have elected a new Republican government and the entire royal family has been ousted from their various palatial residences and relegated to council (slum) housing. This is the premise Sue Townsend’s alternately dark and witty novel.
Queen Elizabeth is doing quite well in her new circumstances, actually, stiff upper lip and all that. She’s trying to comfort Prince Philip, who has collapsed completely and refuses to get out of bed. Princess Anne is being romanced by a local horse trader. Charles is calling himself “Charlie Teck” (the maiden name of his great-grandmother, Queen Mary), and has allowed his infatuation with a buxom next-door neighbor to embroil him in a tawdry alley brawl. Even the Queen’s favorite Corgy, Harris, is running with riff-raff mutts. Can the Windsors learn to cope with life on the dole, cook their own meals and find change for the bus? A truly inspired fantasy!
— Recommended by Emily Talbott, Nora Library