Friday, January 27, 2012

The Wretched of Muirwood

"Imagine a world where words are so precious they are only etched in gold, and only the privileged are allowed to learn how to read. Muirwood Abbey is one of the few places where learners are taught to read and engrave, and thirteen year-old Lia wants nothing more than to learn both of these skills—yet she is a wretched, an orphan, and doomed to remain in the Aldermaston’s kitchen, forbidden to read and subject to his authority. Her future is destined for preparing recipes in a privileged household until, unexpectedly, a mysterious knight-maston abandons the wounded squire Colvin at the Aldermaston’s kitchen in the middle of the night. Soon after, Sheriff Almaguer comes hunting for Colvin, and Lia is thrust into the greatest adventure of her life as she and the squire are forced into a partnership that brings her closer to her dream—and Colvin closer to his fear of dying on the battlefield. The Wretched of Muirwood is the first book of the Muirwood Trilogy."

He had me at "words are so precious they are only etched in gold". I love the idea of learning being a treasure and reading more precious than any other skill. I'm also drawn to the underdog protagonist, beating the odds and all that. I think I loved this book. Actually, I hated it. I don't know. Both.

I like the world and the mythology, and Wheeler's pacing is almost perfect. And his characters are delightful.  Not just Lia, but all of the characters are pleasantly real and varying. I came away loving Pasqua the cook, perhaps most of all. Lia herself is a fine protagonist, brave and resourceful and most of all clever, with just enough faults to balance all of it out.

In terms of atmosphere the book has no more or less than Wheeler put into it. That is to say, it does not linger with me afterword the way the best books do, but I was drawn in for the read and believed it while it lasted. His imagery is solid, and he leaves some lovely mysteries unresolved. It's a well built world with even better built characters.

Those characters are not, however, well spoken. Or rather, they are too well spoken. I think his choice to avoid any contractions (always I am or I will or We had, never I'm or I'll or We'd) was a deliberate one based on the notion that words are priceless. However, it made some dialog seem artificial and strange. Likewise his use of dialog to convey information meant characters gave some odd speeches, saying three unrelated things in one breath without linking them. In those moments one feels the author speaking through the characters, rushing to tell you what he wants you to know.

Dialog aside, this book has one flaw that I can't really handle. I was suspicious at the beginning with some of the mythology, then there were some quotes that seemed a little to familiar.

Then the Liahona showed up.

Dude! It's one thing for a fellow Mormon to sneak onto my kindle, but then to flaunt it in my face with blatant use of LDS mythology!?! Not cool, man. Not cool.

Except, it should be cool. He's a solid author with a great handle on building a world out of the mythology he's using. And anyway, one of the things I love about sci-fy and fantasy is the religious ideas an author builds. And come on, I LOVED Tathea and Come Armageddon. But this time...ick. Once I knew what he was doing, I kept seeing the strings and being creeped out by it. It does not matter how he renames them, I'm freaked out by the presence of Urim and Thumim and... hello Strippling Warriors WTH are you doing here?

So, no. Only, yes. I get the feeling that if I weren't LDS I would dig it. It seems cool and well thought out. But because I am LDS it feels like someone has taken my religion and made it into science fiction. Dudes, I don't need to read a novel to get that. Just read the comment section of any online article about Mormons.

I will not be reading the sequels. Except that I will because, as previously mentioned, I dig Pasqua the cook.

Rating: ZERO!... wait, no... Four!.... nope, negative one million. Oh, who cares?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive."

How's that for an inaccurate cover synopsis? I'll leave it be, since it isn't too misleading and I don't want to bother coming up with my own. I'll file this one away as a book I don't regret reading and probably won't be reading again.

Ransom Riggs tries very hard to create an atmosphere in this novel. He's got some nice ingredients for it, too. A crumbling house with a mysterious past, strange old photographs, and cryptic messages from a deceased grandfather. However, while Riggs does manage to dig up some nice imagery and a few creepy scenes, it never coalesces into a full atmosphere. His writing is clean but contrived, and that never allows a real mystery to build. I enjoyed romping around the world he created, and his pacing was just quick enough to keep me turning pages. His main character, too, was pleasantly real. Reading him felt like walking around with a real sixteen year old boy who is both awkward and self-conscious as well as stubborn and unknowingly brave. His reactions to the girl (yes, there is "a girl" for him) are refreshingly simple. He doesn't look upon her once and see his soul mate or read her mind or any of the other popular "this is love" things you see in most YA novels these days. He's confused by her, a little intimidated, and he'd probably like to kiss her if he gets the chance.

I only wish the other characters felt as genuine as the narrator, though. Riggs makes his brief introductory sketches for each new character with bold strokes, but the characters quickly flatten out and become mere tools to the plot without substance of their own. That means the relationships between the characters are stunted as well, and that is a great pity indeed with such a plot and backstory.

All that aside, my main gripe with this text is the photos. Fairly early on it becomes clear that instead of using the photos to tell the story, Riggs is writing the story to show the photos. After the first few admittedly creepy photos, he comes up with stranger and stranger reasons to include more photos that are neither creepy nor believable within the context he gives them. Instead of drawing you into the story as he hopes, they draw you out again as you wonder why they are there at all. Who took all these photos? Why does whoever has this photo have it? I wonder if the photos would have made more sense had Riggs made something more of the desire to have/take photos or used visual imagery as some sort of theme within his mythology.

A sequel is promised, and while I'm glad to see these characters get another chance I've also heard the author has "started collecting photos already".

Rating: Three out of five. (Three out of five what? Stars? Bookmarks? Smiley stickers? I haven't decided yet. And does it really matter?)