The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: March 28 to April 3, 2017

Another winning tale by Patricia McKillip. This is only the second book I’ve read by her, but I’m convinced she can do no wrong. There’s something delightful and magical about the way she writes that pulls me into her stories, and I don’t surface until the last page is turned.

It doesn’t happen often to me, but once in awhile I come across a book and wish I was young again to enjoy it with an open, less burdened mind, and to enjoy it in the spirit it was written and, just for a moment, be its target audience again. This is one of those rare books in which the magic is real; I just can’t feel it anymore.

Even though I enjoy it now and really like the writing, it’s a cold, intellectual kind of enjoyment. Lovely prose, lovely story. I love the way it reads on the page and can methodically deconstruct all the things that I like about it and appreciate the parts as much as the whole story, but it doesn’t hit me right in the feels like The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Yet I’m certain I would have loved this book more when I was younger, when I would have been eager to be fully immersed in the mystique of the sea and its mysterious magical pull. I think, back then, I would have been able to hear it calling as clearly as Peri.

“Be happy now,” she whispered, aware of all the shining waves behind him reaching toward him, withdrawing, beckoning again. She added, feeling the pain again in her throat, “When I’m old–older than the old women who taught me to make the hexes–come for me then.”

“I will.”

“Promise me. That you will bring me black pearls and sing me into the sea when I am old.”

“I promise.”

[…]

“Your heart sang to the sea. I heard it, deep in my coral tower, and followed the singing. Humans say the sea sings to them and traps them, but sometimes it is the human song that traps the sea. Who knows where the land ends and the sea begins?”

“The land begins where time begins.”

[…]

“It’s an odd thing, happiness. Some people take happiness from gold. Or black pearls. And some of us, far more fortunate, take their happiness from periwinkles.”

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Review: The Last Wish (The Witcher, #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: August 12 to 20, 2016
Recommended by: Milda
Recommended to:

A fast fairytale-filled book of short stories that’s just right for anyone looking for subversive retellings with a wry humorous undertone. A big thanks to Milda for the rec.

Last summer, I had an odd, several-month long fairytale craving and just had to read my fill. The odd thing about it was I was specifically looking for Beauty & the Beast retellings, which led me to that boring Court of Thorns and Roses thing. Fortunately, I branched out after that and found Beauty by Robin McKinley, which was a nice pleasant read and a throwback to the days when I used to read Robin McKinley for fun–Beauty & the Beast retellings are Ms. McKinley’s specialty; then there was Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, which was another pleasant read and a huge surprise because it’s got the same look and feel and marketing as ACoTaR but the writing was so much better; and finally Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier which was so lovely and amazing and easily the best of the bunch.

In the midst of that fairytale-filled summer, there was this Witcher book that a friend recommended. Fun fact: it’s actually the inspiration for the video games, not the other way around. I didn’t know that at the start, so I think I went in expecting something similar to Assassin’s Greed but with magic and magical creatures, and that’s basically what it is. But to my surprise, there was a lot of depth to the world and characters and an assortment of mythological and fairytale creatures, and the writing was good. I’m not a fan of short stories, unless they’re part of a series I’m currently following, but I enjoyed these short episodic adventures of the Witcher’s and found that they work really well for this particular character and the life he’s led.

A witcher is a magically trained and transformed exterminator of the supernaturally wicked. He travels alone from town to town getting rid of monsters, many of which are straight from fairytales and folklore. But the world is a different place now than it once was in the time of previous witchers, and these “monsters” are no longer a threat to everyday life like they once were, some of them even live among people.

Geralt is a witcher going through an existential crisis because he is one of the last of his kind in a world that no longer needs his expertise or services. We follow him through six stories in which he has to face down and defeat something supernatural, as well as confront himself and his dwindling place in the world. Each monster makes him question the purpose of his job and life. Sounds like a downer, but it’s not. It’s a fast, adventurous read, interspersed by unsettling bouts of an existential crisis, but you know, minor details.

I don’t remember what I expected–Assassin’s Creed with magic maybe–but I know I didn’t expect the writing to have any depth or to be a lot of fun, while at the same time quietly poignant. Existential crises in a high fantasy setting can ruin everything run the risk of being too maudlin or comical or both. It wasn’t the case here. I found both the short stories and Geralt to be engaging and strangely realistic, within the context of his world but also outside of it. There’s something about him that rings true.

“I manage because I have to. Because I’ve no other way out. Because I’ve overcome the vanity and pride of being different, I’ve understood that they are a pitiful defense against being different. Because I’ve understood that the sun shines differently when something changes.”

[…]

“Justice will be done!”
“I shit on justice!” yelled the mayor, not caring if there were any voters under the window.

[…]

“The demand for poetry and the sound of lute strings will never decline. It’s worse with your trade. You witchers, after all, deprive yourselves of work, slowly but surely. The better and the more conscientiously you work, the less work there is for you. After all, your goal is a world without monsters, a world which is peaceful and safe. A world where witchers are unnecessary. A paradox, isn’t it?”

Like Geralt, I too had to spend a lot of time questioning my job and purpose in life and whatnot, etc etc. So I empathize with him on many levels. And if I had to kill monsters to make ends meet but the rest of the world no longer needed to have that done, then I’d probably empathize more.

Review: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: June 16 to 22, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended for: connoisseurs of dark fantasy

A children’s book not suitable for children should be a tagline somewhere on the cover because it’s necessary.

That aside, I really like this book and John Connolly’s writing. Fairy tale retelling is one of those things I stay away from because in general these stories are either not well conveyed or they don’t bring anything new to a classic narrative or they rely too much on the existing tale and world to carry the book. Also, I find many retellings boring and predictable, not because I already know how they end, but because the writers fail to bring in new or unique perspectives to keep the tales fresh and interesting. The Book of Lost Things is different in that regard, and I think it has a lot to do with Connolly being aware of and having control over the dark subject matter in which he chose to take on.

What to expect in varying degrees: abuse, neglect, isolation, jealousy, betrayal, manipulation, despair, deadly consequences, the pains of growing up, and of course cannibalism, to keep with fairy tale traditions.

Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for a chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.

The story takes place during the bombing of London. David and his parents live under the threat of war, but being a fairly young child he isn’t yet aware of the situation. He’s only aware of his present surrounding and his gravely ill mother who soon succumbs to her illness. After her passing, his father begins seeing a woman named Rose. Some time passes and they have a child, Georgie, and David and his father move into Rose’s estate outside of London to escape the bombing.

Things get worse for David after moving in as he and Rose don’t get along, he can’t stand the baby Georgie, he and his father also don’t get along and begin to drift a part, and on top of all that, he’s still struggling with his mother’s death. Not long after settling into his new bedroom, he begins hearing her voice calling him to the sunken garden out in the back of the estate, and he follows the voice a few times but finds nothing there. One night after a fight with Rose and his father, David escapes the house and makes his way into the sunken garden to be alone only to find himself in another world, trapped in a place where nightmares come to life. He must find a way to return to his world, but first he must embark on a long journey through the land of living nightmares–Elsewhere–in search of The Book of Lost Things to help him get back.

The premise is so similar to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that I’m sure many people have bought this book for a child thinking it’s basically an updated version of C.S. Lewis’ beloved tale. It’s not. If you’re thinking about getting this book as a gift (for a child), I suggest you read it yourself first. Instead of judging it by the lovely but misleading cover art and brief summary, experience the story for yourself.

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