The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (3 stars)
I read this close enough to 20 years ago for me not to want to think too long on it. I was a teenager, and deeply enraptured by fantasy – particularly the weighty tomes that couldn’t quite fit in my back pocket. The kind of books that resonated with a heavy thud when dropped onto a table. The kind of books that probably exacerbated my natural awkwardness around girls. I devoured this book, and its sequels.
So, returning to it as an adult – after having read numerous books that were influenced by it (particularly GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series), I was anticipating a nostalgic trip to an adventure experienced in the dawn of my reading life. What I got, instead, was a painful slog through the brambles of directionless prose. My god, if you think Stephen King and Robert Jordan need editors, get ye to the library and explore these profligate pages.
Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is engaging, and the characters are likable – but there’s just so much here that is wholly unnecessary to the forward momentum of the plot. For every shuttering step forward, there are long interludes of ambulatory indecision.
The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende (2 stars)
But…… for so much of this book I wanted to scream, “show, don’t tell.” The narrative isn’t composed of a bunch of scenes where things happen, it’s long stretches of Allende just describing the passage of time and what happens to the characters. You aren’t there to witness the flight from Poland before the outbreak of war. You’re barely there to live in American internment camps with Japanese citizens locked away for no reason other than their heritage.
This book is more a synopsis of these characters’ lives than it is a true novel. This is my second attempt at reading Allende, and it didn’t go any better this time. I’m thinking I should just put her back on the shelf and move on with my life.
Legend by David Gemmell (3 stars)
Like The Dragonbone Chair, I had expected to return to a world that enveloped a younger me. A world that pulled me in to its comforting and strange embrace, welcoming in its sense of wonder and adventure. What I got instead was a stuffy dirge to antiquated ideals of masculinity and heroism.
David Gemmell, in my mind, is a Louis L’Amour type for the fantasy genre: solitary figures heroically fending off marauders and enemy hordes while beautiful damsels long for their safe return.
In returning to this book, I found my memory to be not too far off, but also a bit unfair. The women (well, one woman) wasn’t quite as one dimensional as that, and the conflict wasn’t as strictly black and white, either. There is a touch of nuance here, even if it’s not enough to keep me engaged.
But, overall, there was an antiquated adulation for heroic masculinity that just didn’t ring authentic to this mid-30s version of myself.
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (3 stars)
Everything about this book should’ve appealed to me. I love Lovecraftian horror, but am deeply unsettled by his unapologetic racism. To read a story called Lovecraft Country set in Jim Crow America and told from the perspective of African Americans was hard to pass up. But this wasn’t really what I wanted. This isn’t a horror novel; it instead focuses on the more supernatural elements of Lovecraft’s mythos. It’s more “weird tale” than cosmic horror. And it’s more a collection of interwoven vignettes than novel – I found that disappointing. Even though the stories are all tied together, I was hoping it was going to be more than that.
My feelings of this perfectly fine, interesting book are tempered by my high (and, perhaps, unfair) expectations. Ruff didn’t write the book I wanted him to write. While that’s not his fault, obviously, it certainly tempers my appreciation of what I actually read.
I’m still looking forward to the show, however.