American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods

Rating: – – – – –
Date read: June 5 to July 15, 2017
Read count: 2

This one gets an honorary 3-star rating because I liked it enough the first time to finish it, but not enough the second time to finish it, not even on audio.

So… is it a DNF if I already read it once but couldn’t make it through a second time?

I still recall a lot from the main story arc, surprisingly. For a book that was just “all right,” it has stayed with me longer than other equally “all right” books. Maybe because the settings and roads traveled were familiar. Maybe it’s the way Neil Gaiman writes scenes, with lots of focus on visuals. It’s been years and I still recall with lots of clarity Shadow’s trip through Spring and that scene on the frozen lake.

But despite all of that, I couldn’t get through the reread. Well, not exactly “couldn’t.” More like wouldn’t, like “ain’t nobody got time for this” kind of thing.

I mean, I tried and there was effort, but there was a lot going on at the time–still going on–and I could have tried harder, sure. But. Lack of time. Summer. Dogs. Broiling heat. Deadlines. New projects. The destruction of the planet. Treason. Institutions dismantling right before our eyes. These things tend to get in the way, you know.

I did, however, finish the TV series which was pretty good–for summer entertainment, with some caveats–so there’s that at least. Just to sum it up, because this was the thing that surprised me the most, I liked Shadow and how he was portrayed. There’s a raw, simmering, subtly volatile quality to the character on screen that really drew me in, and I did not get a sense of that at all in the book. So good on the show for adding interesting dimensions to him.

I’ve been seeing people compare the book and the show a lot over the past few weeks, which they ought to, I suppose. But to me, doing the book-vs-show side-by-side is like comparing apples to those yellow spiky fruit things* at the farmers market. They’re both fruit, but distinctly different flavors and texture. I can’t really say whether people who like/dislike the book would like/dislike the show. Just something you gotta try.

The book is the apple and the show is the spiky fruit in this analogy. Both are fine it in their own ways. I, however, much prefer the weird fruit thing because it’s more interesting overall and not something you see every day unless you frequent the farmers market. The farmers market here is the combination of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and all those other streaming providers. They’re producing great work and I wish I had more time to enjoy them. If only there’s much less treason so we could all stream a whole series in peace… This month’s been a long year.

 

*called horned melons or desert pears, depending on the region your local supplier is from

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Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters, #1) by Juliet Marillier

Rating: – – – – –
Date read: May 1 to July 15, 2017

I’m leaning toward 4 stars overall but with lots and lots of reservations which I can’t go into without hitting on spoilers. So beware of spoilers.

This book was Beth‘s pick for May and I just finished it today. In July. I’m not even sure where she is because we kind of let it drop after hitting a wall, but I think she’s still pushing on. I’d like to say it was my fault, because I’m usually the one dropping out of buddy reads, but this time it’s a combination of bad timing and a brutal rape scene that put a nail in this buddy read.

The story loosely follows the Six Swans fairy tale and it’s set in Medieval Ireland. There are druids, magic, and mysticism, and the writing does a lovely job of setting the scene and creating an otherworldly atmosphere. We follow Sorcha, the youngest and only daughter of a lord, and her six older brothers through their lives from when they lived at the castle in the middle of a strange magical forest to when tragedy struck and tore their family apart.

I had known of the rape scene going in–it’s part of some retellings of this tale–but I didn’t know about the aftermath, that the main character Sorcha had to live with it, alone and in silence, as she was in the middle of her vow of silence that she had to make to the fae in order to save her brothers. And then her dog, her only companion, was brutally killed. How much worse could it get, right? Not much worse, but bad things did keep happening. Sorcha had to continue knitting six sweaters from nettles to save her brothers and break the curse that turned them into swans.

I don’t like fantasies featuring the fae as it is, so when this scene happened, followed by the dog’s death and Sorcha’s suffering in silence and the fae’s meddling and the nettle knitting, I checked out. It was too much and the amount of brutality seemed somewhat unnecessary. But I get it–objectively, intellectually, whatever. I get why Marillier had Sorcha suffer in silence; I understand it from a big-picture perspective and see the need to portray the aftermath of rape, but still. It was too emotionally consuming, too close to real life, so I checked out and set the book aside. Every time I picked it up, I could only get through a couple of pages, and that’s why it took over two months to get to the end.

I’m glad to have read it because Juliet Marillier’s writing is always lovely and the stories she’s telling are much needed in fantasy. They exist in that tenuous border between folktale and historical fantasy, and Marillier weaves those elements so well, but this is one of those books I don’t think I’ll revisit. And I will pass on the rest of the series too, even though I know I’ll be giving up on an amazing world rich in history, culture, and magic.

Reading this book was kind of like a coming of age experience–I appreciate it and am glad I got through it, but I’m more glad it’s behind me now.

* * * * *

My first Marillier was Heart’s Blood, a retelling of the beauty and the beast fairy tale, and I loved it. I went into Daughter thinking it was like Heart, and in many ways, it is. The setting, time period, prose, magic, and atmosphere are very similar, but the amount of suffering the main character is put through is incomparable.