Review: The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

I had seen the lovely book cover for The Assassin’s Curse, but what really got me interested was Tamora Pierce’s recommendation. Pierce wrote The Lioness Quartet, which is (for the record) one of my favorite sets of books ever. Ever. I bought them all again when they came out on Kindle. So I dove in…

What I liked: Ananna and Naji are engaging characters, each with motivations that seem realistic without being over-emphasized. Naji could easily have fallen into the cliche of the tortured male hero, angst-ridden and sulky, but Clarke managed to give him some real heart – not an easy task when dealing with an assassin! In addition, the plot moved ahead at a good pace, with a world that was clearly well-thought out, and Clarke, further, managed to pull off writing in the first person, in a dialect. There were quite a few lines that made me smile, a few more that sparked sadness, and there was a good deal of rapt reading as the story unfolded.

What I liked a little less: The plot moved forward in a few distinct chunks, with Ananna and Naji’s quest separated into different stages. The plot moved nicely, but given the outcome of the book, I didn’t get much of a sense of closure. Further, I would have appreciated a bit more description of the world – what description there was, was well done. But action scenes, in particular, could have been stretched a bit. One always knew when Ananna was walking into danger, but there was very little time for the crisis to build, and then it was all over.

Overall: If you grew up on the Lioness Quartet and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, if you like snappy dialogue and feisty characters, I recommend this book! It is a quick, engaging read, with a romance that is quite sweet without being saccharine.

Now, gentle readers, I am off to write!

-M

A Review and Related Musings

I finished up River of Stars last night. I highly recommend it to authors and readers both – Guy Gavriel Kay has a distinctive, and very well-crafted style, and I love to read the work of those who use language in new and interesting ways. I am in a strange subset of those who have not read a great part of GGK’s earlier works, so my review, unlike many others, will not focus on a comparison.

What I enjoyed: Without spoiling too much, the story focuses on the interweaving between past legends, current events, and future legends. Our main narrators are, by and large, figures whose stories will be written in legend, and they have a sense of this: they wonder how history will portray them, understand the larger moral implications of their actions, and, in a very human way, both believe passionately in their destinies and doubt themselves utterly. The narration follows the defining moments of their lives, both in terms of events and in terms of thoughts, and the writing style echoes this: lyrical, stream-of-consciousness. Kay does, in my opinion, an exquisite job of placing us in the viewpoint of the narrator. The book is worth reading for this alone.

Further, Kay has described the world of Kitai excellently through a patchwork of vignettes from the perspective of minor characters. With protagonists that are so influenced by the social norms of the world around them, this style of world-building is an elegant way to frame our heroes’ fears and motivations.

What I enjoyed less: Plot and pacing. If there is one flaw to River of Stars, it is the plot arc – and to be honest, I am not sure I can think of it, unequivocally, as a flaw (more on that in a moment). Kay speaks in the epilogue about the liberties he took with a particular set of historical events, compressing the stream of events and shifting things around somewhat, but the plot still meanders somewhat. In a very broad sense, it follows the traditional fight arc, but there are times when, chapter by chapter, it seems to be in a holding pattern. On the other hand, this wandering, this back and forth, this unclear path to success – all of it serves to provide doubt and fear to our heroes, and that is the piece of the book I most enjoyed.

Overall: I highly recommend this book. It is a true joy to read. More, I get the sense that the author truly loved this book. I can find no better way to describe it: he crafted every word of it. The whole book breathes love, as one might find with a little wood carving or a baby’s quilt. And that was beautiful to see.

And now, gentle readers, I am off to go running, and to think on what I have read. River of Stars. You should read it!

-M

The Myth of REAL [noun]

“This isn’t real [noun]…”

My, does this come up a lot. Do any of the following sound familiar? “This isn’t real Star Trek.” “This isn’t real Battlestar Galactica.” “Vampire books aren’t real fantasy.” “This is a movie but not real cinema.”

This is all over the place. Science Fiction and Fantasy fans are deeply invested in their genres and in specific works, and this is not surprising: like other forms of art, SciFi and Fantasy show a window into humanity that can be wholly transformative. It is not hyperbole when fans speak of movies, books, and games that have changed their lives. These works showed them a vision of what humanity was, or is, or could be someday.

Where I think we as a community fall down is not in recognizing the uniqueness and power of these transformative moments, but in recognizing their inviolability. When you read life-changing literature, or see a movie or TV episode that resounds, or listen to a glorious piece of music, that moment is yours. Artistic media is not a finished product, it is the start of a dialogue. The creation of media is not the end of the process—it is only the first half. The audience creates the second half. You, reader, have finished the work in your own way by seeing it. Perhaps you didn’t like it, or perhaps you did; either way, it has changed you, and in a way, you have changed it.

We declare that we understand the work or the genre in a way that no one else can, which is true, and that we understand it in the single way it was meant to be understood, which is not true. (Even the creator of the work cannot know all of what it has meant, or will mean.) We believe that our vision is the only vision, and we become its champions, fiercely determined to protect it. We strive to describe the media to others in words that will capture the power of our own response to it.

And because we believe that we can change others’ minds, and influence their vision, we in turn believe that they can change ours. We believe, erroneously, that those who showcase a different lens, a different story, or a different mode of storytelling, somehow diminish the meaning we have derived from the same or other works. We believe that Twilight diminishes Dracula, or that 50 Shades of Grey diminishes literature in general, or that a Star Trek/Star Wars/Battlestar Galatica reboot retroactively ruins the original series. If we do not like dark/gritty/bubblegum/ sunshine-and-rainbows, we assume that those visions diminish the validity of our genre.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Maybe you don’t like vampire books or urban fantasy. Or high fantasy. Or genre fiction. Or horror movies. But, as with Roger Ebert’s now-famous assessment of videogames, we would be wrong to say that we are the final arbiters of what is or isn’t art, genre fiction, or “REAL [noun.]” Enjoy your media and your moment and your vision. Relive it. Discuss it. It is in sharing your vision as clearly as you can that you create those transformative moments for others, not in loudly proclaiming that something else is unworthy.
Don’t fear that your moment can be diminished by others enjoying media in a different way. Don’t tell us why X isn’t really _____. Tell us about something you liked instead. Share your vision.

Behold!

The website has undergone the first wave of redesign, and content is back in place! Thank you for your patience during this time!

On the docket for the next few weeks:

  • Excerpts and sneak peeks – that’s right! Over the next few weeks, you will get sneak peeks of my upcoming works: Origins, Inheritance, and The Heart of the World.
  • More giveaways on Goodreads – in the next two to three months, we will see giveaways for “Shadowforged” and “Shadow’s End”!
  • Character work on Isura for “Origins” – Isura remains a finicky character, perhaps not as rigid and unpleasant in her childhood as she was during the events of “Mahalia,” but always a bit prickly, never one to sit by quietly while people did things the Wrong Way.
  • Polishing the “Inheritance” draft – it is clear that this will take more than one read-through, editing as I go. I don’t think we will make a release date of May 16, and for that I do apologize, but the story will be better for it!
  • Setting the scene in “The Heart of the World” – I’ve truly never been much of a one for zombie apocalypses, but a similar type of calamity is being faced in this fantasy world. How will the disparate races of the earth handle such a threat?

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions!

-M