Bull Head

This one’s a little bit different from things I’ve reviewed so far.  This is my first short story collection review, but I will still be dealing with it like a regular novel.

As these stories are short, I’ll keep this review short, too.

The collection contains 8 stories, all centering on characters isolated from larger society and city life, all living in the unforgiving world of small towns or work camps.  The focus of the collection is predominantly on men – men with vulnerabilities and welling violence, men in emotionally taut situations, men who have made bad choices and continue to do so, men who know there’s something wrong but cannot articulate it or figure out how to change it.  There is one story in the eight that follows a female protagonist, but it can almost be said that she’s just a different perspective on another male protagonist.

The cover photo is beautiful and captures the essence of the stories so well.  Two pitbulls locked in combat, mouths unhinged, but their eyes cut off at the top, cast in a stark, unplaced field.  It’s violence stripped of identity, raw and unforgiving.  It’s the engine that powers the stories from beneath.

John Vigna knows the inner workings of people extremely well.  His stories are character-driven, and showcase a talent of realizing human emotion you don’t often come across.  His stories have extraordinary depth, packaging complex ‘human’ into his characters while keeping the surface narrative clear and coherent.  They’re intelligent but say what they have to say with restraint and nuance.

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and definitely the best I’ve read in 2016 so far!

Could not recommend enough.  It’s not often that one comes across short stories as powerful and efficient as these ones.

As always, thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

Elliot Quest

Damn my book reading has fallen through the floor in December.  I have two books from last month I want to review, but I’ve been so busy that I’ve been unable to read much, and therefore unable to blog much either.

However, I am resolved to do at least one december post.  I’m going with a video game review because I’ve wanted to do one for Elliot’s Quest for a LONG time now, for months, but it took me until last week to actually find the time to beat the game.

Elliot’s Quest is a gem.  It’s an indie game available on Steam and Nintendo eShop, done in glorious pixel art and combines a lot of elements from esteemed franchises such as Zelda, Metroid, even Megaman (you take the powers of some of the bosses you defeat).  The biggest inspiration is Zelda 2, which is kind of a black sheep in the zelda franchise and usually “not liked” by a lot of zelda fans.  However, zelda 2 is one of my favourite games so already I’m biased towards liking Elliot Quest.  Nonetheless, I’ve played Zelda 2 enough times to figure out that Elliot’s Quest stands entirely apart from it, and is its own game.

So this game is about a guy named Elliot who lives on an island that’s very isolated from the mainland.  His wife, Cara, recently disappeared, and Elliot got it in his head that she had just walked out and left him.  Being utterly heartbroken by the idea, he jumped off a cliff to commit suicide.  The game begins with Elliot waking up by a blue stone in a forest, and within the first few minutes of the game, through a flashback, you learn all that backstory above (presented very minimally through some dialogue), and you learn that Elliot has been cursed by a demon – the Satar, an ancient demon passed down as myth by the residents of the Island – and that if he does not act fast, he will soon be possessed by the Satar as its new vessel.  Now he can’t die because of the curse, and he also knows if the Demon takes him over it can allow the Demon to do terrible things to the Island.  So Elliot begins his quest to find and take down the Satar.

The Island is filled to the brim with monsters, and also bosses.  Four of them – called Guardians – are purported to protect the island and its residents, but due to the minimal storytelling nature of the game, it’s never quite clear if the Guardians actually serve that purpose or the islanders have a misconception about them.  Nonetheless, Elliot travels to the Guardian’s temples and beseeches them to help him, but they attack him.

The thing about this game is that story is absolutely minimal and open to so much interpretation.  It’s possible that Elliot isn’t all that great of a guy and by killing the Guardians he is inadvertently doing the Satar’s bidding, but it’s also possible that the Guardians weren’t as good as thought to be.

The other thing about this game is that the story takes an absolute back seat to exploration and gameplay, where this game truly shines.  The story is pretty lackluster.  It serves the game well throughout until the end when the story just doesn’t leave any impact whatsoever.  But like I said, this game’s potential is not in the story.

No, the beauty of this game is in its gameplay.  You’re dropped into the middle of a forest to begin, with nothing but a bow, and enemies around you, and the game doesn’t even bother to tell you how to jump or shoot your bow.  Seriously, this game is like a classic SNES game, figuring out the controls takes a matter of 10 seconds of experimentation, the fact that it doesn’t bother to tell you anyways is a complete breath of fresh air from modern games and the leashes they put around players, teaching you every little bit of gameplay in excruciating detail.  Fuck mandatory tutorials, I wanna figure things out, it’s the only reason I still play videogames these days.

The lack of handholding continues on throughout the game.  Every time you get an item, it will appear in our inventory, but there will be no explanation as to what it does or how to use it, AND I LOVE THAT.  Again, it’s a simple 10 seconds of experimentation to figure it out for yourself and that just instills such a great feeling of discovery that I haven’t felt for such a long time in any videogame.

Back in the days of NES and SNES, games were made to be extremely difficult for a couple reasons: the limited space on the cartridges meant the games were short, so by having the difficulty really high and challenging the players, the game gets longer just by players dying and trying again; but also to build a community.  In games like the original Zelda, there were so many secrets hidden everywhere, and most of the secrets had absolutely no external indication that they were there, and the only way to happen upon them was by chance.  From here, people would come together to share the secrets they came across and build a communal resource of where to find things and how to progress.  Elliot Quest is a difficult game, but it’s not THAT difficult.  Once you get used to the controls and learn some of the tricks it’s actually pretty easy for the most part.  HOWEVER, that’s only if we’re talking about combat.  The difficulty in Elliots Quest mainly comes from the exploration, where it does such a great job of recreating that second point.  It is SO HARD to find every single secret in the game, and even harder to figure out what each secret does once you’ve found it.

This game is just LITTERED with things to find and places to explore.  And then you can come across an item with no explanation as to what it does, so you look online and find the community where people are compiling their findings, and maybe you’ll learn that nobody else has figured out that item either.  It’s beautiful.  It’s true gaming magic.

Beating the game is less than half of the game.  The real game isn’t going through the main story, but exploring every nook and cranny, getting new abilities that will help you explore further, and finding every single thing this game has to offer.  Screw the main story, it’s pointless.  This game isn’t about it.  It’s about exploring and trying to make sense of the island it takes place on.

However beautiful it is, it’s very niche for today’s gaming audience.  Not many people have the patience to explore a game world with no guidelines given whatsoever.

Anyways despite everything I love about Elliot’s Quest, just as it is littered with places to explore, it is equally littered with drawbacks and potential gamebreakers for some people.

I played it on the WiiU, so i have no idea how the steam version fares, but the WiiU version is a glitchy mess.  It’s suffers framerate issues, occasionally freezes, sometimes loses saved progress and jumps back to a couple saves ago, goes into hyper-slow mode where all enemies keep regular speed and Elliot struggles to move in any direction like he’s swimming through a pool of continuously hardening glue, some bosses have glitches where their attacks aren’t working properly, and beating them is dependent on using their attacks against them so you have to reset to your last savepoint and hope the glitch doesn’t activate again, and the list goes on.  From what I’ve read on the internet, the steam version suffers from nowhere near as many glitches so perhaps go for steam if you want to play it.  But it seems odd to me that Nintendo let this glitchy mess fly – they’re hardcore about quality control, and considering they advertised Elliot’s quest fairly prominently on the eshop page I would have imagined they would have been even extra strict about its quality.  Anyways, most of my ire against this game came from the glitches.  It really slowed down a lot of the game.

I think if this game had a larger team to polish it and optimize it for the wiiu hardware it could have been an almost perfect WiiU eshop game.  and as far as I know, Ansimuz is still working at fixing up the WiiU edition, while also getting a 3DS version ready.  So hopefully it will run more smoothly in the future, when I play through it again in New Game + mode.

The glitches are really the only negatives for me.  I’m biased towards liking it because it’s exactly the kind of game I love.  But I’m hoping I explained it’s premise well enough that you can decide for yourself if it’s something you’d enjoy or not.

Actually, one other negative: the level up system.  It purports to have an engaging level up system but I found that it falls into the usual leveling-up trap: there are more skills than total skill points available, creating the illusion that you can tailor your hero’s playstyle to your liking, buuuuuuuut I found that there’s still an “ultimate” build that kind of undermines the point of the other possible skills.

Other positives:
– music is great and fits the atmosphere
– pixel art is fantastic
– boss fights are challenging and fun (a few are poorly designed and boring because its an easy strategy you just keep repeating to chip away at the boss’s too much health, but the vast majority are challenging).

Ultimately I’d recommend this game to anyone wanting an oldstyle game who likes being thrown and stranded into a world and are left to make sense of everything on their own/with an online community of equally confused people.  Jut be warned – so far there is no walkthrough of Elliot’s Quest online that I could find, and that’s for the better since a walkthrough would defeat the purpose of playing it.

The Darkest Part of the Forest

Awright, so I can’t remember where I saw this book and what compelled me to read it in the first place… I think I just liked the cover to be honest.  And I liked the blurb on the back talking about kids having an absolute sense of justice.  That blurb was intriguing and gave me… a completely different impression of what the book would be like.  Or about, really.

I went into this book expecting it to actually be about kids (the characters are more teens than kids), and thinking it was gonna be about kids’ cruel, absolute sense of justice.  IE, viewing the world in total black and white.  Here’s the blurb in full:

“Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.”

So I thought this was going to be a more morally ambiguous book where kids get violent thinking their doing the right thing but their black and white view of the world ultimately just turns them into monsters themselves (figuratively).  I mean, come on, “CRUEL, absolute justice.”  “kill a monster and feel proud of themselves.”  That’s some ominous shit right there.  There’s something nefarious, something not right about that.

Turns out the book isn’t quite about that at all.  Actually, if I remember right, turns out that blurb is really just an extract verbatim from the novel and is actually the main character’s musings on her younger years.

That the little blurb didn’t at all capture the tone or meaning of the book was a small disappointment but ultimately didn’t matter too much when I began reading the book, because the actual concept of the book is pretty damn cool.  There’s a small town near a forest, and strange things happen in said city; namely, because the forest it’s near is home to scores of Fae.  This takes place in the “real world”, so the concept is that only the residents of this town know about the Fae, and even then some don’t believe they actually exist.  The town survives off of tourism, the main sight being a glass, unbreakable coffin  not too far in the woods with a horned boy sleeping inside, dressed in regal prince clothes.  The highschool kids of that town often party in that clearing of the woods, and it’s not uncommon for people to dance on the coffin, or occasionally even try to break it open (though that usually leads to bad things happening).  The story goes that the boy in coffin has been sleeping there for over a hundred years or something, and nobody is quite sure who he is or how he got there.

The opening is really cool because it shows a lot of really well-thought out characters and social dynamics.  And it’s just a great concept that this human town is borderline enmeshed with the Fae world, yet the highschool kids still act so… highschoolish, having parties at the coffin and whatnot.  The beginning really showed a lot of potential for the rest of the book.  And honestly I thought the writing was pretty good.  It was enjoyable, it flowed, it felt natural.

As the story goes on though, 90% of the opening charm fades away.  The inciting incident of the story is when one morning news spreads that the glass coffin has been smashed open, the horned boy is missing.  Once he’s free from the coffin, shit starts getting weird.  The Alderking, the Fae who rules that part of the forest, wants to capture the horned boy for reasons unknown.  Things happen, the protag and her brother get entwined in the mystery.  Basically once the inciting incident hits, the book’s appeal starts to fade away, slowly at first, and then faster.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but I’ll let a few things loose.  after the horned boy breaks free, he finds the protag and threatens her to help him or else.  Then he kisses her because “that’s what she wants” (her and her brother have fantasized about boning the horned boy since the dawn of time)

oh yeah, the brother is 100% gay which I thought was an awesome part of this book because it doesn’t treat him as a weird character for being gay, it treats him as a totally normal human and there’s only one point in his past where his sexuality was a burden on him but it doesn’t become the main focus of the novel.  I’m a huge advocate for including queer people as normal, everyday human characters because that’s exactly what queer people are – normal, everyday people.  There is definitely a need for and room for literature which focuses on the struggles of having a gender and sexual identity different from cis and straight, but there is just as equally a need to include characters of gender and sexual identities different from cis and straight in mainstream fiction as regular characters.  Both are necessary.  When their struggle is the focus of the novel, that’s great for people who don’t suffer their problems understanding what they’re going through and empathizing.  When their struggle is not the main focus and they are shown as normal characters coexisting with cis straight people, that’s great for normalizing them as people, and putting them on equal footing as cis straight.

Anyways, I mention him kissing her because this book devolves into a really badly written, sappy romance.  And this is where the book starts to go bad.  As it continues on, that really cool opening of all the highschoolers partying on the casket?  Turns out all that info wasn’t actually important at all, it was just setting up the normal (okay, mildly important, but there are so many ways it could have set up the normal, so why through THAT specific scene?)  All the characters mentioned and described are practically dropped from the face of the earth.  A few of them return later on for a moment and then the book realizes it’s making too much use of the social dynamics it set up in the beginning and quickly swipes them all from existence again.  Instead, the book becomes about four characters – Protag (Hazel?), her brother (Ben or something?), Jack (a changeling), and the horned boy (some weird name), and about their super melodramatic romance that ends in a contrived, happy pairing off at the end.  The mystery of the novel is okay but the book forcefeeds you the details and finer points of the mystery to make sure you know everything that happened and realize how oh-so clever the author was with that one.

This book has a lot of jumping from present to past which, actually, I didn’t mind, because while it interrupted the plot of the present quite a bit, the past segments were interesting themselves and did tie into the present-day characters and who they are.

Anyways, when I read this book, I really enjoyed it, started to lose interest about halfway through, and at the 3/4 mark I was ready to call it quits but, out of respect to the beginning of the novel (plus it’s not super long), I decided to stick it out to the end to see if it redeemed itself.

It didn’t.  At least, not for me.  For other people it might, it wasn’t a terrible ending, but I don’t think it was all too satisfying either.  The main mystery started to feel forced and there was an awkward imbalance between the mystery and the author trying to force feelings down our throats.  The dialogue just went out the window in quality and got overdramatic.  The plot was…. okay.  The execution of said plot was a little less okay but was ultimately drowned out by the terrible dialogue and characterizations that took over in the latter half of the novel.  The very very very very ending scene, actually, in theory, should have been satisfying, because it came full circle to the beginning, but the emotional arc of the novel was just garbled so much in that last half that that theoretical satisfaction was lost on me.

The social dynamic between the town and the Fae is really imaginative and well-thought out, but maybe a little underutilized because the characters in the town turned into flat, unimportant people who got blown out of the plot and existence at the slightest draft.

Anyways, I wouldn’t recommend this as a great book.  I think this is more YA and if you enjoy modern twists on fairytales and YA, I’d say it’s definitely a book worth looking into.  Reading the beginning quarter and dropping it is a little worth it, actually, just because that whole beginning premise is so cool.  Other than that, if I were to rate it, I’d probably give it 2.5/5 stars.

As always, Thanks for reading 🙂

It Follows

Alright so I haven’t done a movie in a while, but recently I watched something that’s been getting a lot of hubbub around it for being the greatest horror movie in recent years.  Or, something like that.

Me being somewhat of a horror fan (I don’t generally go out of my way to watch horror movies, but I do go through phases where all I want to watch is horror), I thought I’d take a watch.  At 1 in the morning.  With the light out and headphones in, yadayadayada, whatever else you can dream up for the perfect horror-viewing setup.

Now, for some context, my experience with horror movies usually involved me “not taking anything seriously and laughing at all the contrived shit that tries to scare people.”  Paranormal activity?  Apparently scared a shit ton of people, I thought it was just ludicrously bad.  It’s a paramount example of people acting dumb in order to provoke the scariness.  The movie builds the expectation for scary shit to happen, and “scary shit” just happens EXACTLY as expected, which kind of makes it not scary.  Not to mention the main dude is a douche canoe and I think the most horrifying part of the movie is that the woman put up with his bullshit for so long rather than packing her bags and leaving him to the demon.

It Follows does a masterful job of not falling into a lot of shitty horror traps.  It plays with expectations, and it’s characters serve far more purpose than “provoking the monster.”  They are actual people with actual lives and feelings.  They feel so much more real than the douchebro whose only purpose in life is to be an asshole and provoke the monster so that the monster gets scarier and kills people.

The concept of It Follows is that there’s a monster who is always, always, always following a cursed person.  The monster can only be seen by those cursed, and it takes on the shape of either people they know or total strangers, but it is always walking towards the cursed victim.  If it touches the victim, it will kill the victim.  However, this curse can be transmitted sexually, and if the cursed person has sex, the new cursed person will become the target of the monster.  The monster will continue following whoever is the newest target until it reaches them and kills them, and then it will turn its focus back to the previous target and work its way down the line like that.

Now, one of the crucial limitations of this monster is that it walks.  It does not run, or drive, or teleport.  It walks, and because of that it takes time for the monster to get from one place to another, and so the characters make use of that and drive far away, giving them a few days to rest before the monster catches up, and then just drive back.  They do that a few times.

What I love about this concept is that it’s just so damn eerie.  Because the monster is not all powerful and not constantly present and immediate, the monster often lingers off-camera and creates a subtler, deeper sense of dread than a Freddy Krueger who you know will be there as soon as you fall asleep to kill you.  This monster allows the movie to play with your expectations more.

One of the best parts of how it handled the monster was the subtlety of its appearances.  Sometimes the monster was right in focus, looking bizarrely out of place.  Other times?  The monster isn’t even pointed out.  the characters will think they’re safe for the moment, but you see somebody in the distance walking in their general direction.  You don’t even know if that was the monster or not, but because of the way it’s shot, it lets you know that it could be.  Which is the beauty of this movie.  It constantly establishes and re-establishes that a character walking by in the background might not be the monster…. but it could be.  For 80 percent of the movie, this atmospheric trick worked brilliantly.

Aside from the monster, the writing was phenomenal for a horror movie.  The main cast of characters were very real with very real desires.  There was more to them than just being screaming murder-potentials and the previously described douchebro.

My main problem with the movie came near the ending.  I’m not going to spoil it, but I will say the monster changed its behaviour in a way that broke the tension of the film and kind of just made the monster overall seem ridiculous.  I’ve read some other peoples’ discussions online about the monster consistency, about how some people didn’t like the monster changing its behaviour, whereas others thought the inconsistencies added to messing with expectations.  All I gotta say is, the changing of behaviours to mess with expectations could have been done in a far more subtle way that remained consistent with the rest of the movie, instead of propelling the movie into trite, groan-worthy horror-trope territory.  Despite that, though, this movie is definitely worth a watch.

The Confabulist

Gol darn school will be the end of me.  My mind’s been getting overloaded and torn apart these past few months with the workload that’s just endlessly lining up, out the door and down the street, each assignment politely waiting it’s turn to snuff my life out if the assignment before it didn’t get the job done.

But I read a great book called The Confabulist by Stephen Galloway.  So there’s that.

In this novel, an old dude (Martin Strauss) has just been diagnosed with some sort of amnesia, wherein he’s losing his own memories, reconstructing new, false ones, and will slowly, but surely, lose his mind.

There are basically three perspectives told in this novel.  Martin Strauss as an old dude, who just got the news from the doctor and, knowing he’ll lose his mind, wants to tell Harry Houdini’s daughter Alice (whom he’s known for quite some time), the true story of how he killed Houdini.

Martin Strauss as a young college FRAT KID (not really), which is his recollection of the past when he killed Houdini.

Both are told in 1st POV

The 3rd is Harry Houdini, told in 3rd POV, which I believe is Strauss telling Houdini’s story based on what he had learned from his interactions with Houdini and what he read on the great magician.

I gotta say, out of the 3 perspective, Houdini’s was by far the most fun to read.  He’s an interesting character with an interesting relationship to his wife.  He gets pulled into a lot of internation political intrigue and is constantly on the lookout for his life (bcuz of intrigue and the life-threatening escapes he does for entertainment).

The Strauss perspectives can get pretty bland.  There’s far less personality in Strauss than in Houdini, far less conviction about who he is.  He’s just a timid fluff who, for whatever reason, does something completely out of character (I’ll get to that in a moment), then spends the rest of the book moping.

I don’t want to discuss the plot of this book because it is rather plot heavy and plot dependent, but I do want to talk about one plot point early on which is based off of Houdini’s real presumed death.

There’s a story, IRL, that two college age (i think) boys visited Houdini in a back room and asked him if he truly could withstand any punch to the stomach.  Houdini said he could, so long as he prepared, and the boy who asked immediately flew into battering Houdini’s stomach with his fists.  Houdini finally told him to stop after like 3 punches, saying he was not given time to prepare.  He was in a lot of pain for his performance that night, and over the next few days refused to see a doctor.  He died something like 3 days after from a ruptured spleen or summat.  Look it up, the story is quite available, and I’m an undependable reviewer 😉

Galloway uses that story as one of the plot points early on for young Strauss: this guy, who’s pretty timid and quietly, sees Houdini in a bar after watching his show.  Strauss’s friend (not strauss himself) asks Houdini the question about withstanding a punch, and then it is Strauss who, for no reason whatsoever and honestly I don’t think galloway did a good job justifying the action, stepped into a full-bodied punch against Houdini’s stomach.  Strauss finds out in the news Houdini died from his punch and he goes into hiding, because Houdini is “the most famous man in the world,” and people wouldn;t be happy with what he did, and rightfully so.  I know I wasn’t.

Now, although this book is based on a real man, it is entirely fiction and you should not go into it thinking any of the events you read about actually happened, although Galloway claims he used transcripts of real conversations or what people actually said where possible.

All in all, it’s a fun read and pretty well written.  It’s got a fairly controversial ending that may piss some people off, but i won’t talk about that or spoil it.  I’ll just say this book is an enjoyable read, but no where near as good as the Cellist of Sarajevo, another Galloway book I reviewed a while ago.

Against A Darkening Sky

Against a Darkening Sky, a historical fiction novel by author Lauren Davis is, for the most part, pretty dang good.

I’ve never read anything by Davis before, however I have heard of one of her bigger books, The Empty Room.  But me reading this book was completely random chance by me going to a Chapters store that was selling out because the location was closing (50 percent off like everything), thinking about wanting to read more hist fic, seeing this one with its, quite frankly, beautiful cover, and purchasing it on a whim.

When I started to read the book, I actually regretted buying it immediately.  I thought to myself, “I’m sure this book is in a library, I could have literally read it for free, this is not the kind of book I want on my bookshelf.”  I really hated what I was reading.  I mean, it started out with a prologue that I actually really liked.  It was short and sparse on detail, and set up the backgrounds of the two main characters Wilona and Egan (Both of whom are lone survivors – WIlona’s village was wiped out by a plague and Egan was on a ship that capsized and only he made it to shore) effectively.  And then the story begins years later, Wilona is in a new village where the Seithkona (a healer/translator of the gods) took her under her wing, and Egan made it to a Christian monastery.  Both, however, live as outsiders and aren’t much liked by the authority figures.

The first chapter is Wilona’s introduction, and where I almost closed the book to set it aside into the SHUNNED PILE.  It was a toughie – the chapter was full of very unnecessary descriptive language, bogging down the actual presentation of the setting and story.  I’ve always been against that style of writing, the style where the author spends two pages describing a character’s dress and then four more the facial features.  <— that’s a hyperbole, I’ve not seen an author ACTUALLY spend that much time on something so petty, but the gist is don’t overload with details.  Nobody remembers that shit.  Whenever I hit those sections, my eyes glaze over, and I’ll literally just skip to the next page without reading because, usually, those sections of novels have nothing important in them whatsoever except declaring LOOK AT ME I’VE BUILT MY WORLD SO SPECTACULARLY WITH SO MUCH DETAIL.  So I skip the page and start glazing over the next page, and the next, until I catch a line of dialogue or a sentence that sticks out as story-relevant.  Anyways, that wasn’t the entire reason I disliked what was going on.  Sure, there was too much description, but also a lot of the descriptions were so… amateur and just weird.  Let me quote two particularly bad ones:

“A fierce intelligence lies behind those eyes, and under their scrutiny more than one strong man has been reduced to admitting a lie.”

Lines like these make no sense.  What does a “fierce intelligence” lying behind eyes even look like?  I get that the author is trying to say the woman being described here is fierce and unyielding and gets what she wants, probably carries a certain authority, but there are so many better ways to get that message across, which the author does later on.  She gets that message across in a really good way after getting it across a really bad way first.  There’s a scene later where the lord of the village or town or whatever the fuck they live in – the man whose word is law for everybody living there and he could have anybody executed at the snap of his fingers – grabs the described woman around the throat.  He’s choking her because she’s responsible for making sure his wife gives birth with both the baby and the wife surviving, and he’s drunk and angry that it’s taking so long.  In that scene, despite having the most powerful man in the town holding her against a wall, crushing her larynx, the woman keeps her head up and her eyes looking straight into the Lord’s eyes.  She doesn’t show fear, she doesn’t cave, she doesn’t challenge the Lord but she also doesn’t show herself as entirely meek and subservient.  And that scene shows her the fortitude of her spirit, among a lot of other nuanced detail about the village, FAR MORE memorably and effectively than that stupid line posted above.

“…her hair the colour of a ginger cat.”

And this one.  Seriously?  This one just seems utterly silly.  It’s one of those lines where you can tell the author was trying way too hard to sound poetic or some shit.  It’s one of those sentences which, although not entirely terrible, just makes me ask WHY?  It’s a matter of semantics: what’s the difference between hair being ginger, and hair being the colour of a ginger cat?  Isn’t it the same?  The only reason I’d imagine she’d include the extraneous detail of the cat was to evoke that the hair also had the aesthetic qualities of cat fur (if the real reason wasn’t just to come off as a good writer).  If she wanted to evoke other qualities of cat fur, why not just say “her hair like a ginger cat,” or something like that.  Why specify the colour only?  One of the mantras preached about good writing is “concrete sensory details,” and I think this is an example of the author trying to write to serve the checklist of “including concrete sensory details” instead of writing to serve the story at hand.  Putting in “ginger cat” is more of a concrete sensory detail, appealing to vision, because it puts an image of an orange cat in your head, and not just orange, but it’s a completely UNNECESSARY orange cat that doesn’t serve the story.  It’s a misinterpretation of that “checklist of good writing”.  Throwing in random details willy nilly doesn’t add to the story, it detracts.  If you’re going to evoke the ginger cat, then you want to evoke as many qualities of it as possible, not just the colour, because, like, a ginger cat is different from human ginger hair.  The cat is entirely arbitrary.  The backbone of good writing is evoking as much as possible in as few details necessary.  By specifying ginger cat instead of just ginger, while focusing on the colour, you’re already using more words to evoke the exact same amounts of meaning.  And thought this is such a small phrase, such a miniscule portion of the entire book, it’s sentences like those, especially in the beginning, that indicate what the rest of the book’s writing quality will be like.

Anyways.

I hated that first chapter, and if not for my neurotic need to actually read it because I spent money on it, I would have stopped there, but I carried on.  And I’m glad I did because I ended up really enjoying the rest of the book.

First chapter aside, the book rarely throws details down your throat by the fistful afterwards.  The writing gets better and actually serves the story more than the artificial facade of “good writing.”  Wilona, as a Seithkona, does hallucinogens to have visions from the gods, and all the vision sequences were deftly written with utterly beautiful imagery.  The characters felt real, their actions justified, and the relationships made sense.

The overall story becomes a battle of culture and religion.  Christianity is spreading, and Egan is assigned as the monk to watch over the conversion of the village that Wilona lives in.  The main conflict is between Wilona adamantly defying the new religion and sticking to what she knows, while the entire village pressures her to change.  After all, the Lord of the village converted and ordered everyone to convert.  Egan tries very hard to ministrate the people of the village, and especially Wilona.  Yet, despite her defiance of Christianity, Egan admires Wilona and holds faith she will convert eventually.  While Egan and Wilona are especially devout to their respective religions, they do look past those differences and coexist somewhat.

After the first chapter it was hard to stop reading.  Occasionally the writing dipped down into Serial-Romance writing, which wasn’t the greatest aspect of the novel, but those sections were short and not too often.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to any hist fic fans out there.  It’s probably not entirely historically accurate (I wouldn’t know, I don’t know shit about the history of 7th century northumbria).  But… whatever.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Young God

I don’t think I’ve read a book as troubling yet gripping as this one before.

“Young God” by Katherine Faw Morris is a very short book that is anything but ‘light reading.’ It was recommended to me by a friend on the basis it included “Poverty, terror, hard drugs, young teen prostitutes, the general scum of humanity,” and it certainly lived up to those qualities.

It’s a book that isn’t scared to just be extremely blunt in dealing with generally taboo topics.  It’s designed to  make you feel uncomfortable yet compelled to read further and see how many more boundaries can be broken in the short ride of this story.

It’s a book with such beautiful prose that the shocking subject matter is most definitely earned.  To give an idea of the shocking matter, the protagonist, a 13 yr old girl named Nikki, within the first ten pages, sees her mother die then has sex with her now-dead mother’s boyfriend.  Then steals his drugs and his car and drives to her father’s place.

The whole ride is only about 22000 words.  It’s a single-sitting read, but it’s so gripping and gritty that when I closed the back cover I felt like I had come out of something with far more time investment anyway.  And that’s because this novella carried no less emotional devastation than most ten book series.

Despite the short word length, there was no scarcity of things happening.  Katherine managed to evoke characters and events in as few words as possible, sometimes having only a single sentence on a page to cover an important emotional change.

There is no word out of place, nothing extraneous and nothing missing.  It is exactly right and exactly what it needs to be.  The writing is simple but gorgeous, minimal but evocative.  The characters are fleshed out in such interesting ways, with no dull 2-page character description slogs to read through.  Instead, she shows the characters through their most important actions and traits.

Dialogue is phenomenal.  There’s so much personality in everything characters say.

This book is a hurricane of depravity and fears nothing.  And it’s such a short read, if you’re on the fence about it, you may as well go ahead.

Be forewarned though: “Young God” is full of scum scraped from the bottom of the cesspit.  People easily discomfitted by topics such as “teenage prostitution” should not read it.

5/5 for it’s brevity and expert craft with words, and the lack thereof.