Laura Parkinson (stormfeather) wrote,
Laura Parkinson

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In a Nutshell: Books (Melusine and The Virtu by Sarah Monette)

... I still need to come up with a book-specific icon, don't I?

Anyhow. I was looking for some new fantasy to read recently, and after seeing desdenova review these, and seeing other people say Really Good Stuff about them, I figured I'd give them a try.

The result(1) was... mixed. On the one hand, I was left with some bad feelings from some of the flaws of the books, and not the unabated pleasure which I expected and hoped for. On the other hand, I totally devoured both books ravenously far too quickly, so that shows that I was still sucked into the story regardless.

Let's see, bad bits first I guess. First is that the first book, Melusine (there is an accent over that first e which I can never remember how to type and am way too lazy anyhow), is damned hard to read in some ways because of some Bad Shit that goes down. It's... well, profoundly disturbing in places, and while neither of the two main viewpoint characters is exactly in a Shiny Happy Fun Place, one of the characters is competely and totally screwed in that regard. And unlike some readers, I liked him, so that was tough.

Another thing that got in my way a bit is that because this is first-person narration, from two different viewpoints, the author throws a bunch of terms at us and doesn't bother to try to find some way to explain, y'know, what they are. And they're fairly big book-world concepts that come up again and again. I finally figured out, for example, that a septad is seven years (and this is important because it's used in describing characters' ages in their backhistory and so on), and that a Great Septad is (I'm almost sure) 49 years (or 49 whatevers, if it's not talking about time/age), which is 7x7. Or basically shorthand for 50 years, half a century. And I *think* an indiction is a year. But no where is this explained, or even really hinted at, so you're left floundering a bit until you grasp this.

I'm also don't really like the pacing. First off it's screwy because it's one story in two books more or less, which throws things off. But even then, the pacing seems just... odd. It's like it takes a while for the characters to get introduced, along with the world, then longer for them to get some goal, any goal, and a while longer while they get distracted on the way and try to figure out y'know just exactly what they DO want and what they're aiming for, and then there's a big huge hurdle in front of them and... oh, it's taken care of in a chapter or so... and then... well, you get the idea. And this was a concern in both books, especially the second where there was apparently one main goal, then it is passed, then there's another big concern that pops up and is taken care of over the course of the last few chapters of the book. It just left me wrong-footed, in a way.

Then there were other minor gripes about some things being too predictable and fantasy-cliche (well, one thing especially, but that left a sour taste), but the stuff above were the main gripes I had.

That being said... I still in balance enjoyed and was really absorbed in the books, and will probably get the next one, although I might wait until it's out in paperback. The characters are engaging, and Felix is an arrogant prick, but he has flair, damnit. And, underneath the surface, a good heart. Even if it mostly only shows when his guard is down. And Mildmay is also wonderful. And the world is interesting, and I really enjoy totally character-driven stories like this one (although maybe a leeetle more in the way of actual action and plot and stuff would have been nice).

Plus, it's also nice to see a fantasy novel that doesn't seem to want to trumpet the fact, or make it *all about* that, or something. And I totally love the term "molly" for some reason.

Yes, I realize that the plusses look a lot less than the minuses but... that's probably because I feel less need to bitch about them. :p Plus I'm getting a bit hungry and am wanting to finish the review. ;)

For a bit of clarification:

The disturbing part of the first book is, of course, a) the rape and b) (especially) the madness. Felix's craziness is written way too well, and puts you way too much in that perspective. And I absolutely can't stand the thought of not actually being in control of my actual *mind*... (well, maybe not "in control of," but you know what I mean) to the point where that's probably the main reason I don't drink more than a teensy bit, do any drugs, etc. So that part of the book just made it damn hard to get through because I felt so horrible for Felix, and was thinking too much about what it'd be like to BE like that... blah.

And as for the pacing, I'm still trying to figure out what the main goal of the first book would be. Get Felix uncrazy, I guess? Although that's awkward for poor Mildmay who has absolutely nothing to do with him the first half of the book or so, so for the first good chunk of the book, we're left kinda flapping in intro-land, or so it feels. And then Felix finally decides to bugger off to the gardens, and we spend even MORE time watching them get together and seeing the party develop, and then it just feels like someone looked at the watch and said "oh damn, we have so little time left for, y'know, the actual meat and bones of the journey, so we'll have them fuck off across ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACES FOR THEM TO BE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, and cover it in, oh, a chapter or two, except for a little longer concentrating on some more crazy-people stuff around Nera. That's okay, right?" And after the wreck of the ship, everything just seems a bit protracted and anticlimatic. And then we're left with a feeling of "what the fuck did they get accomplished again?" and the story picks up in the next book. Where we go into the same thing, with them this time actually spending more than half the book getting to the main city it's supposed to take place in, fixing the Really Obscure Important Artifact and thus meeting the main goal of the book (apparently) with what seems like a comparative snap of the fingers, and then at the very end having a totally new side plot crop up with oh by the way Felix is a total dick and suddenly isn't going to care about his brother until he has to go BACK TO THE FUCKING EMPIRE to rescue his pathetic ass, although this time at least we're not going to spend half the book on it, and...

*pant pant* can you tell I didn't really like the way the book was paced?

(Oh, and I had to just throw that jibe in about cliche stuff because dude. Did anyone see Mildmay and Miss Parr and the way they didn't get along, and NOT know they were going to end up in the sack together?)

I cannot, of course, promise that comments will be unspoily, so... you have been warned.

(1)I first started to typo this as "reslut" which is... appropriate given that the review will talk about Felix.
Tags: books, nutshell
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