Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Naming

Book: The Naming by Alison Croggon
(The First Book of Pellinor)

Description: Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child after her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now she and her new teacher must survive a journey through a time and place where the dark forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.
(from the book jacket)

My Thoughts: As the description hints at, this is not a fantasy full of superficial happiness and glittery fairies. Croggon does not hesitate to grapple with the evil and cruelty in the world and in the human soul. But if the land of Annar is full of darkness, it also full of equally good, kind people who refuse to be cowed by the darkness around them.

Croggon is a masterful writer; her descriptions of the land and the people Maerad and Cadvan see are gorgeous--so easy to read, and they make everything just seem to jump off the page. She is equally skilled at describing Maerad's emotions. Maerad is one of the few characters I've read, certainly recently, that is realistic in ways that I didn't even think about until Croggon brought them up, things like Maerad having her period or not behaving consistently all the time (sometimes she's afraid and timid, at other times brave; sometimes she's mature beyond her years, at other times she sulks). She's just a person. Other characters, although of course not described in depth, are also well-developed, and in a sense that seems true to life where bits and pieces are revealed over time.

The Naming is the beginning of an epic fantasy series, in the best sense of an epic (it is actually supposedly based on an ancient Annaran epic poem). It draws heavily from Lord of the Rings in some ways, and that's certainly what it reminds me of, but I'll admit that I much prefer this series. Croggon includes multitudes of female characters performing awesome feats but also just living, there's actual character development, and it's a world that is both distant and familiar.

My one complaint against The Naming is how quickly Maerad changes after she is rescued from slavery. She's rescued... and two or three weeks later she's happily learning how to write (which she's amazingly good at) and use a sword at a School, apparently well-adjusted to her new circumstances. A bit far-fetched to me.

Overall, a fantastic fantasy novel with strong but imperfect characters and an enchanting world. Highly recommended!!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Reading quote

"If a man wants to be always in God's company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us."
                      ~Isidore of Seville

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Anna Karenina

I'm so sorry for the long silence!! I hope to actually get back to regularly posting now.

Book: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Description: Anna Karenina is the complex story of a group of closely-related people in high Russian society (related by blood, by marriage, and simply by acquaintance). Anna, a married woman, is wooed by Vronsky, breaking Kitty's heart. Anna's sister Dolly is heartbroken by her own husband's affairs. Levin is in love with Kitty but almost too shy to admit it. [Full confession: despite the book's name, all of these people are important! And this is a wholly inadequate description, but I'm not sure how much more I can say without giving anything away.]

My Thoughts: I loved it! Tolstoy's writing powerfully created such realistic characters that I truly felt as if they could just walk off the page. Their thoughts and decision-making processes were so realistic! What created this realism for me was Tolstoy's painstaking attention to every detail about the character: their every movement, action, and thought. At times this became tedious (like real life!), but it always expanded my understanding of the character(s). And an interesting note about Tolstoy's style: unlike the oft-quoted writing commandment to "show, don't tell", Tolstoy tells us huge amounts of information about the characters: what they're doing, what they're feeling, the complicated reasons that they're doing and feeling those things--and it worked!!

A huge part of this realism was the fact that a huge portion of the characters ended up making horrible decisions and being miserable. At times it was difficult to read! It was heart-rending to watch characters change from joyful, moral people to miserable, sinful people, often as a result of one single bad decision that they then repeated and compounded over time.

I know that there were huge parts of Anna Karenina that went over my head. It seems very grounded in a specific time and place in Russian history--a time and place that I know little to nothing about. There were references to religious movements, for instance, that ended up being important, but I didn't understand a lot of the specifics about it. This problem was compounded by the fact that I had to give the beautifully annotated version back to the library and finish with an e-book!

Ultimately, a hugely poignant but also joyful examination of human sinfulness and human strivings for more. I thoroughly enjoyed Anna Karenina, and cannot recommend it enough.

A note on the cover: unfortunately the gorgeous cover above is not the one from the version I read. It's perfect--that is exactly how I imagined Anna. I admit I can't even remember what my cover looked like (a slightly blue-tinted black-and-white photograph? Perhaps of fabric?), so it clearly didn't make a huge impression on me.