It’s All Greek to Me: Misreading THE SCORPIO RACES

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” (The Scorpio Races, 1)

Going into a book “blind” is a fun experience. It’s a mystery between two covers, wrapped up in countless words and pages. One is unbiased, unhindered neither by hype — for good or ill — nor by “buzzwords” or perceptions. One just gets the mysterious map and decides for oneself whether the journey is interesting, the destination satisfying.

10626594.jpgI went into The Scorpio Races blind. This award-winning novel by Maggie Stiefvater tells the story of a fictional horse race that takes place every year on the island of Thisby, where the mounts involved in this contest are mythical, carnivorous horses from the water that are equal parts dangerous and breathtakingly gorgeous.

And that’s all I knew when I went into the book for myself in 2014. I’d picked up the audiobook from my library because, having already listened to the available books in her Raven Cycle quartet, I knew Stiefvater’s writing possessed a musical quality to it that made listening to her novels even better than reading. Rather like how poetry can be appreciated when read, but the rhythm and metre should be experienced in a spoken-word format.

I dove headfirst into this world for however many hours and did not resurface until I had finished. I loved it, but this is not a review of The Scorpio Races — this is me telling you that I completely misread its mythology…and yet, in my head at least, it all still worked.

 

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In the Shadow of ‘The Ring’

Unpopular opinion alert: I’m not the biggest fan of Tolkien — specifically, of The Lord of the Rings.

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I know this is essentially heresy to admit to the teeming hordes of guys and gals who, like me, adore the fantasy genre. But, alas, ’tis true that I am not on the side of Mr. J.R.R. Despite this general dislike, I’m relatively fair-minded and can acknowledge that The Lord of the Rings is one of the most recognizable works of the fantasy genre — even with more modern series such as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings is the ultimate poster-child for marketing fantasy to a mainstream audience.

That being said: I don’t think that Tolkien “inventedmodern fantasy as we know it. This, I’m sure, is also going to rankle even more people, especially given that many would argue that The Lord of the Rings “created ‘fantasy’ as a marketing category” (Yolen, After the King: Stories in Honour of J.R.R. Tolkien), despite the fact that fantasy existed long before Tolkien published his trilogy. 

But I don’t want to talk about the myriad of works previous to Tolkien…I actually just want to talk about one: Der Ring des Nibelungen, or The Ring of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner.

41um5nzquxl-_sy355_For those of you unfamiliar with German opera: The Ring Cycle, as it’s frequently called, is a cycle of four opera seria (dramatic operas) written about a century before Tolkien, that’s loosely based on characters from Germanic and Norse mythological sagas, specifically the Volsunga saga and the Nibelungenlied. It’s got giants, dwarves, gods, forbidden romances, action, adventure — basically everything you could ever want from an epic fantasy story, and all across four operas which, when performed, are staged over the course of several days.

Even with all of those elements, at the very centre of this massive tale is a magic ring fashioned from Rhine gold that allows its bearer to rule the world.

Sound familiar?

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Review: The Progeny

The Progeny
The Progeny by Tosca Lee

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Howard Books for providing me a digital ARC of the novel via NetGalley for the purpose of review**

Okay, I hate to make comparative reviews, but we need to talk about The Da Vinci Code.

It’s difficult for any author nowadays to put out any kind of thriller that (a) crosses continents and countries while (b) trying to find out a hidden, historical-type secret that (c) people — usually secret societies — will kill or die for without b being compared to the Robert Langdon novels. In the same way that no psychological thriller with a female protagonist written by a female can exist without comparisons to Gone Girl or Girl on the Train.

But when I say we need to talk about The Da Vinci Code, that’s not quite what I mean. What I mean is: this book echoed some of the plot twists of Brown’s bestseller so much, that it ended up being to The Progeny’s detriment. The story became formulaic and predictable, which is the last thing I want to feel while reading a thriller — especially a thriller that features an amnesiac protagonist on a quest to rediscover her identity and lineage.

There’s a definite divide between the front half of the novel and the back half. Despite the serious issue of exposition-laden dialogue and massive info-dumps, the front half contains the most mystery and intrigue. As one progresses into the back half of the novel, however, those issues are only exacerbated by a plot that just becomes downright silly and, as I said above, predictable.

Ultimately, I didn’t particularly enjoy this novel and wouldn’t want to recommend it to anyone save those who are just die-hard thriller readers and don’t mind the formulaic, predictable nature of the plot.

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Review: The Immortals

**Nota bene: This review has been truncated due to spoilers. You can find the entire, spoiler-ridden review on Goodreads.**

The Immortals
The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is very very hard for me to write. Had you asked me up to a certain point what I would have rated this book, I probably would have said somewhere in the solid 4-4.5* range. But then the ending just…I’m sorry, we’ll get to that in a moment.

I’ll be honest: I’d had zero intention of reading this book. In fact, I’m fairly certain I even rolled my eyes when I first read the synopsis. Greek gods are real and running around New York City and must suddenly “embrace their former roles” — to solve a murder, no less? Eh…I don’t know. This isn’t a particularly new or innovative premise — the idea of ancient deities in modern settings with powers that have significantly waned — but what an author does with this premise that can make a book enjoyable, and Brodsky does do some things that I liked.

First off: the research that went into talking about the Classicist topics. When one of your (best) characters is a Classicist, I’m going to be notably on edge, bracing myself for something that’ll put me over the edge. But I didn’t! In fact, Theo (our resident Luke Skywalker-lookalike Classicist) became my favourite character. Selene (Artemis) may be our primary protagonist, but any man who starts lecturing a New York City cop on (an admittedly but also understandably conflated) Elusinian Mysteries has my eternal devotion. He’s smart, not fabulous at relationships and, honestly, just not particularly fabulous with people in general outside of the classroom save for a small few. Basically he’s probably not fun at parties. Theo is my academic spirit animal and I loved almost every page in his perspective.

Selene started off as a great protagonist. There was just enough of a cold distance to her that made it easy enough to believe that she is, indeed, not human; while this also sometimes made her difficult to connect with when in her perspective, I thought it was a good way to reinforce her status as a god. However, I have to express some disappointment that the chance wasn’t seized for an asexual heroine. I am aware that Artemis is a dichotomous figure: on one hand, she can be this great feminist icon, while on the flip-side also representing many of the patriarchal aspects of Ancient Greece — yes, I’m referring to her status as a “virgin goddess” and remaining “always chaste.” Here’s an idea: what if Artemis just had zero interest in sex? Not for the sake remaining “pure” and, therefore, divine, but just because sex held no interest for her. Given that somewhere around 1% of the world population identifies on the asexual spectrum, why is it so difficult to believe that the goddess of the hunt, who swore of sexual relations of all kind, is on that spectrum? She always struck me as a veritable poster-child for asexuality — or, at the very least, gray-A/demisexuality.

This would, I think, also help explain the depth of her “affair” with Orion, which is a central point of the novel and of Selene’s character. I’ll be honest: the relationship between Artemis and Orion was one that always interested me. There are many different versions of it, but I will admit to always gravitating towards the more “romantic” version of them being very close before Apollo had a hand in tearing them apart.

[SPOILER REDACTED]

Here’s where I have to air what was, probably, my biggest grievance: the romance between Selene and Theo. I was either rolling my eyes or physically gagging, especially by the back third of the novel, whenever this was brought up. Frankly, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to because, you know, it’s Artemis. Here’s the thing, Theo’s attraction to her, I totally get; it reminds me of the line from the film, Elizabeth, that:

All men need something greater than themselves to look up to and worship. They must be able to touch the divine here on earth.

She’s not human — she’s a goddess — and he’s enthralled. Cool, totally get it. But what happens between them? It really started to kill my enjoyment of the novel, especially towards the end.

[SPOILERS REDACTED]

Also, Classicist pet peeve alert: the poor treatment of Hades. I mean, I get it: it’s the Elusinian mysteries, which are all about Persephone and Demeter, and from the perspective of the goddess who swore of men and hates violence against women. But, still. This isn’t something unique to this book; Hades always seems to get a bad rap and it irks me. He seems perpetually cast as either the antagonist or a power-hungry dick. Let’s get some things straight here: Hades was Zeus’ most loyal brother — for the record, it was Poseidon who tried to lead a coup against Zeus, not (and never) Hades. He was also the only one of the sons of Kronos who actually practiced monogamy; not that that probably matters to anyone, but I think it’s just reinforcement of his loyalty to those he cares about. I’m in no way trying to romanticize Hades, but I just can’t understand why writers (for page and screen) insist on casting him in such a negative light. Just because he’s the Greek god of the dead doesn’t mean he’s a total dick. Okay, moving on.

This was a book that basically started out with a ton of promise and had so many great things, but tripped its finish line so hard that I have to dock stars from it. It actually left me groaning and then sighing in disappointment because this book had really gotten my hopes up.

Would I continue the series? Maybe. Theo is fantastic, but I don’t think I could keep reading the romance between him and Selene — if they’d just stayed partners-in-crime, I’d have been totally gung-ho about going on because the book, for the most part, was fun. I can’t deny that. I’m torn. Very, very torn.

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The Challenge Demands Satisfaction

“My honour has been pissed upon. And I demand satisfaction.” (Golden Son, 104)

Someone once told me that every fight sequence should tell a story, that there should be a point to the fight beyond it just being “cool.” As a girl who prides herself on preferring action to romance, I love fight sequences in my books and my film/television. And thanks to that oh-so-wise person, I also love to give some active thought about why I love the fight sequences I do — or, more accurately, I can’t help but analyze the narrative purpose of a really good fight scene.

I started thinking about fight scenes recently as I re-read a favourite book in preparation for my most anticipated book release of this year: Morning Star by Pierce Brown.

Spoiler-warning

SPOILER WARNING: This post will contain some spoilers for the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown, specifically everything through Chapter 12 of its second installment, Golden Son. Read on at your own risk.

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The Curse of Knowledge

Originally posted on backroomwhispering.com on January 30th, 2016

A COMPANION TO TBT EPISODE 05

51sT1gF5PTL.jpgIn our most recent episode of The Book Table (TBT), we discussed Stormdancer, the first novel in the Lotus War trilogy by Australian writer, Jay Kristoff. Marketed as a Japanese-inspired steampunk series featuring what Patrick Rothfuss called “a strong female protagonist” in his blurb, it elicited some very different reactions amongst our discussion participants.

In our online book club, many people specifically picked upon Kristoff’s use of Japanese language and culture, calling it anything from “random” and “uneven” to “frustratingly wrong” and a little bit rage-inducing. The appropriation that formed the foundation of this book drove those familiar with Japanese culture and language to feelings of annoyance and irritation. A few members of our book club didn’t even Stormdancer, and a few more said they were unlikely to pick up the sequels.

For my part, I rated the book a solid 4 out of 5 stars and said that, despite acknowledging problems, I enjoyed it. I made a point in the podcast of saying that I had read the entire trilogy back in April 2015 over the course of about a week, so many of the details of all three books often blurred together in my remembering. Though, probably most importantly, I also mentioned that Japanese history and culture are not my forte. My knowledge-base on that topic comes predominantly from media, so I shall never claim myself an expert…ever.

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Backroom Whispering Blog

Hey all!

Just a quick note that I’ve got some posts over on the blog that I run for Backroom Whispering Productions. Over there, we write pieces related predominantly to science fiction and fantasy, but also on writing processes and other fun, creative things.

I have written two posts thus far, one dealing with writing characters and the other on the potential effect of historical knowledge on reader enjoyment. If you’re at all interested, please head on over and give them a read and even leave some feedback! I will be posting them to this blog as well due to them being “backlogged” posts, but in general, I will put out new blog posts for Backroom Whispering up over there first before putting them up here. So if you’d like to read me rambling on various literary topics — in a non-review format — then you’ll want to keep an eye on the Backroom Whispering Productions’ blog site!

Also, if you’re at all interested in writing a piece or two for the blog, please feel free to contact me and pitch me your idea!

Cheers,
Mad xx