Book Review: Bloodlines #2 – The Golden Lily

Title: The Golden Lily
Author: Richelle Mead
Year of Publication: 2012
Series: Bloodlines (Series sequel to the Vampire Academy series)
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.37
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3.5

Spoilers… and all that.

The golden lily

Plot Description: In the course of her new assignment protecting Jill Mastrano at Palm Springs, Sydney Sage gains new insight into the working of her organization – the Alchemists, about rogue vampire hunters who call themselves grandiose and cultish names, and even goes on a couple dates. Oh, and there’s like, fighting and stuff at the end.

Anyway, the progress of Sydney and Adrian’s relationship in Golden Lily is wonderful to watch. They start looking out for each other, thinking about each other’s mood, doing little things to cheer the other person up. They went from strangers to friends in Bloodlines, and Golden Lily upgraded the S.S. Sydrian to best friendShip.

One of the biggest themes of the Bloodlines series is Sydney’s journey from being a brainwashed bigot to someone more sensible – someone capable of thinking rationally. In Golden Lily, she’s already seeing the Moroi and dhampirs around her as people, caring about their problems in the human sense rather than as logistical issues standing in the way of the mission. But she’s still not completely free of bias – and in this she can’t exactly be blamed because it’s a bias shared by the rest of the supernatural world (with perhaps the exception of the Keepers). Humans and vampires don’t mix, don’t date, don’t marry, don’t interbreed.

      He reached out and pulled me to him, one hand on my waist and the other behind my neck. He tipped my head up and lowered his lips to mine. I closed my eyes and melted as my whole body was consumed in that kiss. I was nothing. I was everything. Chills ran over my skin, and fire burned inside me. His body pressed closer to mine, and I wrapped my arms around his neck. His lips were warmer and softer than anything I could have ever imagined, yet fierce and powerful at the same time. Mine responded hungrily, and I tightened my hold on him. His fingers slid down the back of my neck, tracing its shape, and every place they touched was electric.
      But perhaps the best part of all was that I, Sydney Katherine Sage, guilty of constantly analyzing the world around me, well, I stopped thinking.
      And it was glorious.
      At least, it was until I started thinking again.

The pacing is just right, bearing in mind the fact that this series is six books long, and we’re still only on the second. Sydney’s progress is phenomenal, but not enough. The notion of humans and vampires dating is also explored outside of the Sydrian dynamic – notably with regard to Jill’s relationship with the human boy Micah, or Angeline’s background as coming from a family of Keepers.

A major factor which has no doubt helped along the process of removing Sydney’s bias is her tutelage in the use of human magic under Jaclyn Terwilliger. In the final, climactic scenes of Golden Lily, Sydney uses a number of magical items and spells in the course of a battle, to their ultimate advantage. Once again, the pacing is perfect.

Golden Lily (and by extension the Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series) are a wonderful exercise in perceptions, and how drastically changing perceptions can alter the narrative as we see it. Vampire Academy saw the Moroi world through the eyes of a perceptive dhampir who wasn’t afraid to question norms – and on occasion, through the eyes of a privileged Moroi. Bloodlines sees the Moroi world through the eyes of a human who was brought up to fear and hate the supernatural, and that of a Moroi guy battling Spirit induced mental illness. When one adds in the storylines of Mia Rinaldi, or Dimitri’s family in Baia, or Angeline of the Keepers, the Vampire Academy universe takes on further depth and meaning, becoming a layered entity.

Without a doubt, Golden Lily is still very much Sydney’s story – her quest to discover the truths that her Alchemist bosses are hiding from her, the truths behind the cult of vampire hunters, her continued efforts to protect her little pack of Moroi and dhampir, her study of magic, and yes, her struggle with body image and eating disorders. Adrian’s final chapter intervention might have seemed ham handed if it weren’t for the fact that his lecture came – at least in my opinion – several books late.

    I handed the gelato back. “I can’t. Not with you watching. It’s too weird. Can I eat it later?”
    “Sure,” he said, returning it to the freezer. “If you’ll really eat it. I know how you are.”
    I crossed my arms as he stood opposite me. “Oh?”
    He fixed me with a disconcertingly hard look. “Maybe everyone else thinks your aversion to food is cute—but not me. I’ve watched you watch Jill. Here’s some tough love: you will never, ever have her body. Ever. It’s impossible. She’s Moroi. You’re human. That’s biology. You have a great one, one that most humans would kill for—and you’d look even better if you put on a little weight. Five pounds would be a good start. Hide the ribs. Get a bigger bra size.”
    “Adrian!” I was aghast. “You… are you out of your mind? You have no right to tell me that! None at all.”
    He scoffed. “I have every right, Sage. I’m your friend, and no one else is going to do it. Besides, I’m the king of unhealthy habits. Do you think I don’t know one when I see it? I don’t know where this came from—your family, too many Moroi, or just your own OCD nature—but I’m telling you, you don’t have to do it.”

And yet, it’s also beginning to show us how Bloodlines is as much about Adrian as it is about Sydney. The Vampire Academy series was forever Rose Hathaway’s story – there’s no doubt about that. Everyone else, Dimitri and Lissa included, were supporting characters. But Golden Lily begins to dip into Adrian’s family, his background, his psyche, building the set up for what I would call one of the finest depictions of battling mental illness I’ve ever read.

Next in this series: Bloodlines #3 – The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead

Next Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #2 – Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card

 

Book Review: Dark Tower #1 – The Gunslinger

Title: The Gunslinger
Author: Stephen King
Year of Publication: 1982
Series: Dark Tower
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

Spoilers, For The Other Books in This Series As Well

gunslinger

Plot Description: A lone man trudges across a vast desert, chasing after a stranger in a brown robe. He’s Roland Deschain of Gilead, the titular Gunslinger, and he’s on a quest to find the Dark Tower – whatever that may be.

*Cue lamentation* Oh Gunslinger! How I wanted to love you! You and every character, every plotline, every single repeated phrase and cringe-worthy expression of emotion and…

Oh well. The Gunslinger opens on Roland trudging through the desert, then flashes back to the village he’d stayed in a while back, then back to Roland trudging through the desert and thinking deep thoughts, now back again to that village, and now Roland is thirsty in the present and that reminds him of how he was thirsty a while back and had come across a random farmer after he’d left the village…

The flash backwards would have been an interesting narrative device, but they get swallowed up in the vast, navel gazing desert that is The Gunslinger. The book tries to keep the mystery of Roland and his quest alive by dropping tantalizing hints – and this works, but not for too long. And all the while you’re being distracted by scenes, themes, parallels, and Easter Eggs – all the things, in short that a fan would want to see while doing a re-read.

Roland’s universe is – as far as I understood it – set far in the future. So far in the future, in fact, that the human race hit the ultimate limits of technology, surpassed it, had themselves a couple of nuclear wars and worldwide plagues, managed to find Magic in an alternate universe and marry it to technology in an attempt to keep the world alive… and then disappeared/ died out, taking their knowledge and most of their tech secrets with them. What came after (the Great Old Ones, which is what these masters of technology are called) is a mixture of the medieval era and the wild, wild west. Roland is of the line of Eld, started so many years ago by King Arthur of Eld, who was I suppose the first gunslinger. Arthur founded an order of gunslingers – legendary law enforcers and fighters, and Roland is the last of them. It is imperative, it seems, that the reader understand just how important and awesome and cool and effective Roland is.

Yeah, we get it.

The plot isn’t bad, as far as fantasy novels go. The universe is a fascinating mix of futuristic technology, the Wild West and medieval europe – a holy trifecta for fantasy readers. But then we get to the details, and I start wondering just how disturbed the mind of Stephen King is.

Don’t get me wrong. I can read smut, and crass stuff, and I’m often impressed by it. Because masterfully placed smut can jolt the reader like not much else can. But – and here’s what I think is a golden rule – smut should never be used purely for shock value. There has to be a point. It must further or enrich the plot somehow.

So hearing about a crazed religious preacher who claims the man being chased by Roland has magically impregnated her, and who then tries to kill him… is a bit confusing, to say the least. Like, what is the point of this pregnancy? Why was it mentioned? Does all of this serve to heighten the atmosphere of strangeness and occult horror, making the reader jumpy and on edge.

Yes, it sort of does. Until the reader is saturated with this nonsense and no longer feels surprised at anything not even a mutant spider-man hybrid baby that was born of two human and two supernatural parents, and whose only goal seems to have been to murder all of its parents… by eating them, and anything else that gets in its way. 

The reader is supposed to focus on Roland. Roland the man, Roland the deadly killing machine, Roland who is blindly focused on his quest, Roland who regrets killing the people he doesn’t completely hate, but can’t care enough to do anything about it.

The moment where Roland sacrifices a newly acquired travelling companion (a young boy called Jake) for the chance to face the man he was chasing is a turning point in his life. While he remains unsure of whether he’d repeat this act if he had to, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have. If he’d ever been faced with the choice of Tower versus the life of a loved one, Roland would pick the loved one.

Roland is so impossibly perfect (as far as gunslinging goes) in this book that you can’t help but admire him. But that’s about it for this book. The writing is sloppy, there are plot holes that you won’t notice until you get further along in the series, and the whole experience is dry and distracting, thanks to all the flashing back and forth.

Stephen King refers to this series as his magnum opus. I agree, if by magnum opus you mean the biggest story you’ve ever written. Just like with Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series, the first book in the Dark Tower series is a set up. It has just enough background and slow plot to keep the reader interested, and it ends on a pause, not a stop. And just like with Alvin Maker, the Dark Tower series seems to spin rapidly out of control the further you get.

I honestly cannot decide which series is worse – the pros and cons cancel each other out – but like with Alvin Maker, this book (and by extension, this series) shouldn’t really be picked up by anyone who’s going to feel cheated by an unsatisfactory ending which comes on the heels of pages and pages of word vomit.

Next In This Series: Dark Tower #2 – The Drawing of the Three

Next Review: Bloodlines #2 – The Golden Lily

Book Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #1 – Seventh Son

Title: Seventh Son
Author: Orson Scott Card
Year of Publication: 1988
Series: Tales of Alvin Maker
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.86
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

Mild Spoilers, If You Can Call ‘Em That

seventh son

Plot Description: In an alternate universe version of America – back in the Frontier days – Orson Scott Card presents a world filled with magic, and a reimagining of various historical persons and places.

I recently finished both this series as well as Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and my reaction to both of them were pretty similar, so I’m going to try and review them together.

The reaction I refer to is one of extreme annoyance coupled with my ever present compulsion to have to finish the story, to know what happens at the end – no matter how badly off the rails the whole thing is going. This is, however, a reaction one forms over the course of reading the Alvin Maker series, and Seventh Son is mostly exempt from such feelings.

The title refers to the myth of a seventh son of a seventh son being a wizard – Terry Pratchett incorporates this into his Discworld novels, and Jo Rowling gives it a nod via the Weasley family (it is implied that Arthur is a seventh son, and that Ginny is the seventh child of a seventh child).

In Card’s Frontier America, almost everybody is magical in some way or the other – magic which represents itself in the form of oddball talents called ‘knacks’. But Alvin Maker, as the seventh son of a seventh son, is extremely powerful – his knack is Making (i.e. Creation of stuff).

Because of his potential for greatness, an evil known as the Unmaker keeps trying to kill Alvin from since before he was born. It is up to Peggy, a little girl whose knack is being a Torch (or seer) to foresee the dangers the Unmaker puts in little Alvin’s way and protect him from them.

Seventh Son touches on the way of life for families on the Frontier, weaving his ideas of a magical world into an already familiar tapestry. So far, so good. He also takes on religion – the Unmaker is a parallel to the Devil, or Satan, or Lucifer or whatever we want to call him, and he’s fighting to destroy Creation. As a Maker, it’s Alvin’s job to to keep creating as a way of fighting the Unmaker, but it’s made clear that it’s not a battle he’d ever win in a definitive way. Just something he’s got to keep doing. All this is told to Alvin by Taleswapper (an alternate history version of William Blake), a wandering storyteller who collects stories – personal tales – and tells them to other people.

It is also strongly implied that organized religion is really the work of the Unmaker, promoting evil through its good intentions.

There are references to the Native American tribes and the battles of the settlers with them, but this is only properly dealt with in detail from Red Prophet (second book in the series) onwards.

There are also supposed to be a number of parallels to Mormonism, but I don’t know anything about that, so I didn’t catch any of those parallels. :/

A lot of GR reviewers have complained that this book is merely – and clearly – a set up for the rest of the series, and they would be right. Seventh Son is not a stand alone book – there is just a pause at the end, and a promise to continue the tale soon. The first book however, was interesting enough to suck me in – enough that I’d probably have hunted down the second book in the series if I didn’t already have it with me. But – and here’s the catch – the rest of the series doesn’t live up to the promise of Seventh Son (let alone surpass it), so taking up this book (and by extension the rest of the series) would, in my opinion, be a waste of time.

Next In This Series: Tales of Alvin Maker #2 – Red Prophet

Next Review: Dark Tower #1 – The Gunslinger

Book Review: Bloodlines #1 – Bloodlines, Richelle Mead

Title: Bloodlines
Author: Richelle Mead
Year of Publication: 2011
Series: Bloodlines (Series sequel to the Vampire Academy series)
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.22
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

Insert the Usual and Mandatory Spoiler Warning Here

bloodlines.jpg

Plot Description: In this series sequel to Mead’s Vampire Academy series, we revisit the world of dhampirs and Moroi – and the much overlooked human component of this world, the Alchemists. We’re following the continued story of Sydney Sage, a minor but favourite VA character who made her first appearance in Blood Promise, the fourth book of that series.
We’re also following complete fan favourite Adrian Ivashkov, who, broken hearted and looking for meaning in life, is drawn to Sydney as the two of them work on a new assignment together.

I have to admit, when I first heard of the idea of Adrian and Sydney getting together, I was skepticalYou cannot imagine two people MORE different than these twoBut I tried to be open minded, and by the time I got to Book 6, I was Team Sydrian all the way.

The main characters from VA – Rose, Lissa, Dimitri, Christian – barely make an appearance in Bloodlines, which is filled with supporting cast members coming forward to take center-stage. And they each bring their share of secrets and problems to the table, which, as everyone knows, is the recipe for a really good book.

Adrian’s broken-hearted following the end of his relationship with Guardian Rose Hathaway. Sydney, on the other hand, is in a LOT of trouble with the Alchemists – the organization she works for – for her involvement in Rose’s adventures from Last Sacrifice. She’s suspected of having colluded with vampires, and of having developed feelings other than disgust or contempt for them. (Yes, this is a really serious accusation that is levelled amongst Alchemists. They’re all insane.) Although there’s no formal inquiry, Sydney manages to dispel the cloud of suspicion in time to be assigned to the latest Alchemist case in Palm Springs. Her biggest reason for taking on the case was to ensure that her sister Zoe doesn’t get caught up in the Alchemist life, which she will if their domineering father has his way.

The rest of the characters in Palm Springs are Jill Mastrano,  along with her dhampir guardians Eddie Castile and Angeline Dawes. While Jill (Lissa’s half sister) and Eddie were very prominent in VA, Angeline barely got a mention for the first time in a subplot involving the reclusive  keepers in Last Sacrifice.

The important subplots are the ones involving possibly magical tattoos being given to humans, of Sydney’s teacher trying to get her to learn human magic (sort of like Wicca), teen drama among the younger set of dhampirs and Moroi, and Sydney’s relationship with Adrian.

My God, Sage. Your eyes. How have I never noticed them? The colour, when you stand in the light. They’re amazing . . . like molten gold. I could paint those . . . They’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.

– Adrian Ivashkov, Bloodlines

Sydney’s character development kickstarted early on in this universe – right from the moment she was introduced, in fact, although there was no way I would have imagined that she’d come to lead her own series. As an alchemist, she’s been indoctrinated to hate, fear and hold in contempt these ‘unnatural’ and ‘unholy’ creatures – vampires, and dhampirs by association. But since there’s always the greater Strigoi threat to be dealt with, Alchemists have an uneasy alliance with the Moroi. Sydney’s bias and bigotry are evident in her behaviour towards Rose, but by the time we come to the end of the series, it’s evident that she’s beginning to think of them as just a different kind of people – not monsters of the night.

Adrian, on the other hand went from alcoholic party boy to good boyfriend who gave up his debauchery in order to impress his girlfriend. Even if personal change is precipitated in you by another person, it should never stay that way. If the only ever reason why you change is another person, that change is going to fall apart the minute that person leaves, or is taken from you. So it’s kind of a one step forward, two steps back kind of situation that Adrian is dealing with. And to cap it all off, he’s now spirit bonded with Jill.

Yes, the reason Jill is incognito in Palm Springs is because there was an attempt on her life, she died as a result, and Adrian brought her back. The concept of a spirit bond was a lot cooler back when it was two teenage girls who were sharing thoughts. Now it’s a high school freshman (or however old Jill is supposed to be) who has access to the thoughts of a highly unstable grown man. Eek. After Jill is punished for being drunk and then having a hangover the next day, Sydney figures out what’s going on and reams Adrian out.

Jill’s guardian is Eddie Castile, long time best friend and sidekick to Rose Hathaway. Eddie was the only guardian to attempt to protect Jill during the attempt on her life, since all the other guardians were busy protecting the Queen, Lissa. The reason for this is because he’s really in love with her, which is the cue to kick off all of the teen drama and love triangles quadrangles that take place in this book.

I would choose this space in order to rant about the impropriety in Eddie falling for a girl whose initial nickname was literally Jailbait (courtesy Adrian, who else), but hello. This is the series that brought us the great Rose-Dimitri love saga, where they could barely wait for her to hit eighteen before ripping each other’s clothes off. And the age gap in that case is a LOT greater than in the case of Eddie and Jill.

Any age-propriety rants in this universe are just going to fall on deaf ears. So it’s one of my blind spots in this fandoms – one of the things I have issue with but choose to ignore in order to continue enjoying the fandom itself. Other examples include all time fan favourite Damon Salvatore engaging in an abusive relationship with Caroline Forbes in early first season The Vampire Diaries and the subject never being brought up after that storyline wrapped up. Till date, the only sign that something like that ever happened is Caroline’s continued dislike of the guy – despite the fact that one of her best friends is soul mates with him, and her other best friend is his best friend too!

But, this is not a review of The Vampire Diaries. Nor is it a review of the Ezria relationship in Pretty Little Liars, which was pretty outrightly illegal at the start. So, coming back to the final main character of the Bloodlines series – Angeline – let me just say this:

Angeline is the most fun. Ever.

Angeline flushed. “It’s not my fault.”

“Even I know you can’t write an entry on Wikipedia and then use it as a source in your essay.” Sydney had been torn between horror and hysterics when she told me.
“I took ‘primary source’ to a whole new level!”
Honestly, it was a wonder we’d gotten by for so long without Angeline. Life must have been so boring before her.”

– Adrian Ivashkov, Fiery Heart

Angeline has trouble adjusting to civilization because she was raised in a moroi-human-dhampir communeity that felt they were keeping to the old ways by staying in contact with (and reproducing with) humans, unlike current Moroi society. The Keepers refuse to submit to the Moroi monarchy, and therefore must do without the little luxuries of life. I.e. Electricity.

Now, I’m pretty sure Mead drew on many, many stereotypes for her portrayal of the Keepers, but… it’s kind of hard to care about considering it’s not a main plot point. And it makes Angeline REALLY funny because of all things she doesn’t know is considered appropriate or inappropriate in society. (Like random violence and sexual harassment: inappropriate; cheating on class tests: inappropriate).

Angeline provides a fresh voiced perspective on society – all of society, not just the parts with vampires and stuff in it – through her constant questioning of everything. She poses a very important lesson for – (and I cannot stress this enough) – each and every one of us:

Question all the facts you’ve been handed since you were born. I mean, you can’t think out of the box without first seeing the box itself, which is a huge problem when it comes to challenging social norms (like their school’s dress codes) and why and how they came to exist in the first place.

In most cases, when asked to explain the rationale behind oppressive norms and customs, those defending them will have the option to either shut you down – which is what schools do when they hand out detentions; or hide behind stupidity and blind faith. [“Because I said so” type arguments brought out by religious leaders come to mind.]

Two more characters that need to be discussed are Keith Darnell and Jaclyn Terwilliger. The latter is a teacher at the school and the leader of a witch coven who’s trying to recruit Sydney. Imagine the kind of conflict an indoctrinated magic and vampire hater faces when they’re told they have the innate ability to do magic flowing through their veins.

Keith is the subject of a more serious topic – and also the reason why Sydney was so deeply obligated to Rose Hathaway’s gangster father Abe Mazur in VA. Sydney was the only person who knew about her father’s Golden Boy Darnell raping her older sister, and her sister made her promise not to tell anyone. So when Sydney grew up and joined the Alchemists, she did what any sane person would do – took a hit out on Darnell, and used Abe Mazur’s contacts to do it. Keith thinks a random Strigoi attack took out one of his eyes with an arrow. Keith can apparently be very gullible.

The first time I read Bloodlines, I wasn’t entirely impressed with the book. Something about it – the style of writing, the editing maybe? – rubbed me up the wrong way. But my second read this year didn’t pose too many problems in that direction, so perhaps it was the crappy pirated pdf version that was the problem.

It’s a great set up book, establishing Sydney as determined to do the right thing and imbued with a great sense for fairness. It also shows us a side to her that goes beyond indoctrination and machine like obedience, both in her affections for her vampire friends and in her dealings with Mrs. Terwilliger.

Containing much of Mead’s hallmark comedy and teen drama, Bloodlines is a light read that touches on bigger and darker issues to be explored as the series progresses. It’s a must read for Vampire Academy fans, but you don’t really need to know the history of the series in order to pick it up and start reading.

Next in this Series: Bloodlines #2 – The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

Next Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #1 – Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: The Sisters Grimm #7 – 9

Title: The Everafter War; The Inside Story; The Council of Mirrors
Author: Michael Buckley
Year of Publication: 2009; 2010; 2012
Series: The Sisters Grimm
#: 7, 8 & 9
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.31; 4.28; 4.39
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3; 2; 2

SERIOUS AND MAJOR SPOILERS (Especially for Book 9) INCLUDED.
Don’t even think about reading this book unless you don’t care about spoilers. 

Also, REALLY long review. Sorry, but there was a LOT to rant about.

Plot Description: The final three books in this series are darker, edgier, and the plots get more wilder and implausible than ever. To add to this mess, there’s more sexism and problematic plot points, story lines that drag on forever, and TERRIBLE editing and continuity issues.
To summarize, The Everafter War deals with a Civil War between factions led by Charming and the Queen of Hearts respectively. Oh, and the children’s parents are finally awake – which is not the good thing I was hoping it would be. The Big Bad is finally revealed, and while this reveal is impressive at first, I was progressively less impressed and more annoyed by the Master’s plan, motivations, minions… everything.
The Inside Story is a bizarre and completely meta journey through the original book with which the fates of all the Everafters are entwined. Sabrina and Daphne follow the Master through all the fairytale stories as they try to stop the Master from rewriting their story.
The Council of Mirrors features the final showdown/ battles/ curses et cetera et cetera. It also features what was possibly the most random subplot; inserted as the most random plot twist ever, and about which I’m completely conflicted.

While Sabrina and Daphne are finally beginning to show signs of solid character development, the appearance of their parents on the scene kind of sets the whole family back by about ten steps. To be more specific, it turns out the girls’ dad is a controlling idiot who won’t listen to reason, doesn’t consider his daughters’ opinions worth listening to despite everything they’ve achieved so far, and follows a policy of requiring strict obedience. Including from his wife.

Suddenly, the girls’ mother getting involved with the Faerie in NYC is put into greater perspective. She went to great lengths to keep her activities secret even though she was standing up for something she believed in – all because her husband will throw a temper tantrum and ‘forbid’ her from doing things he doesn’t like.

[Full disclosure: The girls’ father is only unreasonable when it comes to Everafters, and that’s because he watched his father die because of them/ at their hands or something else. This, however, does not excuse a grown man for dragging his family out into the woods in the midst of a war, with NO plan, NO money or supplies, and NO agenda except for ‘you’re all supposed to just listen to me’. ]

One of the characters in the book tries a retcon justification for his behaviour by calling him the ‘protector’ of the family. But dude, no.

I think this nonsense about confusing protection (and the affection that comes with it) with the need to control people needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW. Too many fathers and other kinds of paternalistic figures have justified the most unacceptable kinds of behaviour by claiming that they were acting in the best interests of their dependents. And this is despite the fact that in a LOT of these cases, their behaviour when evaluated from an objective perspective was found to NOT to be in the best interests of their dependents.

Clearly Mr. Grimm isn’t the only person to ever have engaged in such nonsense behaviour, and he certainly won’t be the last… but let’s not confuse protection with control, and let’s not ignore this issue.

From an objective plot perspective, The Inside Story is convoluted and largely unnecessary. It’s clear by this point that the story is being stretched as thin as it can be without it falling apart.

But I won’t deny that The Inside Story was kind of fun to read. It’s every reader’s fantasy to be able to step into their favourite books and get to enact parts of it out – maybe even change stuff around. To suddenly be the star of your favourite show – that’s what this book is all about.

And that brings us to The Council of Mirrors and an end to this whole… experience (for lack of a nicer word). The final scenes of the story involve Snow White – a character who has always been a part of the story without really taking centre stage at any point of it. Her on-off relationship with Charming is one of the running gags throughout the stories. Snow is someone who actively works to shed herself of the damsel in distress tag – she’s a Ferryport self defence instructor, and she refuses to allow Charming’s self absorption to define her or their relationship.

In the final plot, it is revealed that the story of Snow White has been faked – it wasn’t the version included in the original Grimm stories. In the real version, she’s married off to a sadistic and abusive husband, at whose hands she dies. Unable to watch her daughter’s life play out in this manner over and over again, her mother – the Evil Queen – steps in to modify the story and edit the abusive husband out of it (replacing him with herself as the villain instead). Charming, the sadistic Prince’s younger brother, was written into the story as Snow’s love interest, and that was that.

Or it would have been, if Sabrina and Daphne (and the Master) hadn’t crashed through the Fairytale book in which he had been trapped, and freed him. In a final showdown between this man and Charming, (after Snow has been kidnapped and taken away as the guy’s lawful wife – and property), he’s finally overpowered. It took like, a bunch of people to get the job done. And then Snow delivers the killing stroke – and with that action supposedly reclaims her identity and her life.

Heavy stuff, huh. At first I felt it a little inappropriate – introducing such a horrible sub plot into what’s essentially a book for children. But then I remembered that the original tales by the real brothers Grimm had been graphic, gory and ugly.

This evocation of the spirit of the original tales – be it conscious or unconscious – seems to be a theme in the Sisters Grimm series. I was discussing Sleeping Beauty a few days ago, and we were talking about how in the original story, the Prince rapes her in her sleep, causing her to become pregnant and to deliver twins – whilst still asleep. She only woke up when one of the twins accidentally sucked the cursed flax/ needle out of her finger.

At the time, I couldn’t remember where I’d read something similar. At least, not until I began reviewing books 4 – 6 of this series. The girls’ mother, Veronica, is pregnant at the time when she’s kidnapped by the Master along with her husband and put into an enchanted sleep for two years. She delivers the baby while in her sleep – because yes, THAT’S how childbirth works. (I don’t know why he didn’t just throw a stork in there too, just for kicks.)

I mentioned in my review of Books 1 – 3 that I had issues with the subtextual messages being sent by this series. In addition to the conflation of protection and controlling & my issues with this trivializing of subjects like childbirth and murder (remember the juvenile homicidal maniacs from book 2?), I find the way Snow White’s story was resolved extremely problematic.

For one thing, that entire subplot was completely unnecessary to the plot – the homicidal husband was never a part of the Master’s plan – so clearly it was thrown in there because Buckley thought this a masterful retelling of the story on his part. Now, I’ve mentioned that he has managed to that very thing with the story of Little Red Riding Hood earlier.

But whatever worked for that subplot does NOT work for this one. For one thing, trauma is not easily or instantaneously gotten over. If years of training herself hasn’t helped her yet, putting a knife through a man she didn’t even help overpower is not going to do it. Life’s not that easy, and if you’re going to try and make it “realistic” for the kids by including homicidal husband storylines, then you really ought not to pull a last minute cop out and wrap it up neatly in a very unrealistic bow.

The final three books in the Sisters Grimm bring a series that started out promising to a very disappointing (and badly edited) finish. The story was dragged out unnecessarily, and at times, it felt like the only thing keeping Buckley’s universe together was a thin strand of fiction – which is the only thing every character and subplot in this series have in common after all.

Next Review: Bloodlines #1 – Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

Book Review: A Wild Sheep Chase

Title: A Wild Sheep Chase
Author: Haruki Murakami
Year of Publication: 1982
Series: N/A
#: N/A
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.94
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2 3.5

MOST SPOILERS EVER. SERIOUSLY, I’VE WRITTEN ALL THE ENDINGS; DON’T READ THIS REVIEW UNLESS YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT SPOILERS.
AT ALL.

Nooo don’t make me review Murakami, please! I don’t want to. *sob*

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Plot Description: So there’s this guy – he’s the narrator. And he’s on what he feels is a wild goose chase, except he’s chasing a sheep. A magical sheep, which may or may not be real… but whose goal is WORLD DOMINATION. No less.
And the narrator guy is on this sort of treasure hunt, picking up a trail of clues left behind for him by a friend called The Rat, after whom Murakami’s Rat Trilogy is named.

Quick! Save yourselves. Run while there’s still time!

So there are some truly inventive reviews of this book on Goodreads. Please be sure to check out the one by this person called ‘j’ (trust me, you’ll know the review i’m talking about when you see it, but just in case, it’s the first review you’ll see and it’s filled with trippy pictures.

Incidentally, that’s also how I could describe A Wild Sheep Chase. A collection of trippy scenes, transcribed by a guy who’s high and dreaming all at the same time. I mean, this is original dream literature; which is to say it makes NO sense.

Murakami’s protagonist – and, by extension, Murakami himself, fixates on the weirdest things, like his girlfriend’s ear. (Or that damn sheep). There’s a government conspiracy – other people are looking for the sheep too.

It’s a race against time. The protagonist MUST find his friend, The Rat, before it’s too late.

Mmm, yeah. The Rat’s already dead by the time the protagonist catches up with him. But the protagonist very smartly figures out that The Rat’s still with him because his spirit is possessing a local hobo.

The Rat tells him (through the hobo) that the Sheep is a power hungry creature that can possess the minds of certain humans it considers worthy of its attentions. The Sheep creates a tumour in their brain and uses it to blackmail them into doing its bidding – if they refuse, the Sheep lets the tumour loose and they die.

Innovative. Ten points to the Sheep.

Aaanyway, the Sheep then uses the hapless human to climb the ranks of government or society or whatever it is that matters around there, and so to further its agenda of WORLD DOMINATION. Once the human is of no use to the Sheep, it leaves his (or her, I suppose, but there’s no mention of the Sheep ever having possessed a woman. Go figure. Even the insane, megalomaniac, magical Sheep is kind of sexist) body and mind.

The minute the Sheep leaves the person, the tumour is let loose and they die, while the Sheep moves on to the next worthy candidate.

The protagonist’s friend The Rat went looking for the Sheep, and it found him instead. Rather than allow it to blackmail him and stuff, he waited until the Sheep went to sleep – in his mind – and then killed himself.

Which explains the necessity for hobo possession, but it doesn’t explain much else about this book.

OH, and at the end of the book there’s an explosion in which some of the bad guys are killed. For no apparent reason, since the Sheep’s already dead and everybody’s missions have kind of become irrelevant.

Wut.

I’m not even going to pretend to be intelligent about this book. It is either SO highbrow that it requires like, fifty readings and interpretations before you can get to the bottom of it, or it’s just an excellent example of what happens when writers go crazy, and their editors do nothing about it.

[Historical examples of the same happening before do exist. See J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy (2012)].

If you’re in the right mood for it, A Wild Sheep Chase is a marvellous read. You need to be prepared to be random and all over the place, and you’ll enjoy the book just fine.

I don’t hate it, but I don’t think I can give this book a higher rating after only one reading. This is because my first, most superficial interpretation of the book translates to an evaluation of 2.

I honestly do think this is a great book, but don’t attempt it unless you’re in the right mood, or you could be put off Murakami for good.

You know, on second thought… what’s cooler than a crazed, blackmailing, magically possessive Sheep – sheep!!!! – on a power trip and bent on world domination? Give this guy all the awards just for thinking that shit up.

Next Up: The Sisters Grimm # 7 – 9 by Michael Buckley

Book Review: Aftertaste by Namita Devidayal

Title: Aftertaste
Author: Namita Devidayal
Year of Publication: 2011
Series: N/A
#: N/A
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 2.96
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

Spoiler Alert

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Might I start off by saying that I cannot believe this book has a average Goodreads rating of below 3, when SO MANY terrible books are rated 4 and 5 out of 5 stars?

Plot Description:  The powerful matriarch of a wealthy business family (they sell sweets) has suffered a str0ke, and lies dying. Aftertaste is the story of how her children and her children-in-law deal with her impending death, while also fending off personal troubles of their own. In addition to metaphorical interpretations, the title also directly refers to the theme of Indian sweets that runs through the book in the form of the Todarmal’s business.

The one word I’d use to describe this book is “stark”. Stark as in “stark reality”. Stark as in “stark truth”. Stark as in “stark naked”.

[Note: This has nothing to do with the well known and generally unfortunate House of Stark, located at Winterfell.]

‘Mummyji’ is what she’s called, and that term itself is SO typically Indian – of the way we’ve managed to blend English customs with customs of our own from all over the country. So far, she’d run the family business with an iron fist and an eagle eye on the accounts. They’ve zillions of rupees stashed away in a Swiss bank account – the details of which are known only to Mummyji. Then there’s also the matter of Mummyji’s extremely valuable jewels (emeralds or diamonds or something. I forget exactly which). These too, have been squirreled away with none of the children the wiser to their location.

Mummyji clearly doesn’t trust her kids, and with good reason, because as it turns out, they’ve kind of been waiting for her to die for quite a while now. Each of them for their own personal reasons – her eldest son, Rajan Papa, is in debt to a local money lender. Her daughter, the beautiful yet indifferently married Suman seems hell bent on finding those jewels or die trying. Her other son Sunny – the spoilt brat who’s cheating on his wife, and her youngest daughter Saroj, who’s been estranged from her husband under the weirdest circumstances ever – they all need money from her for some reason or the other.

Mummyji herself is no saint, and as the story progresses, she’s revealed to be a master manipulator, and the ultimate controlling parent – determined to keep her kids tied to her apron strings way after they’ve grown up, gotten married, and, in some cases, had children of their own.

The story explores numerous sub plots as it switches between narrators, including side characters like the largely overlooked and invisible servants of the house, Sunny’s young mistress, and one of Mummyji’s grandchildren, who’s struggling with issues related to his less than heteronormative sexuality. Not many of these sub plots – if any at all – are boring or annoying. Rather than distracting the reader from the main narrative – which is my main gripe with many multiple narrator stories – the subplots combine to make a perfect whole.

What you end up with is a lazy, comfortable Sunday afternoon read that doesn’t pretend to you that life is any less difficult, messy, ugly or complicated than it really is; but makes you feel like maybe you can deal with it all the same.

As long as you take it slow and relaxed, like the pace of this book itself.

P.S.: I haven’t done a very feminist critique of this book because it represents more than half the types of quintessential Indian women you can ever come across. Reviewing it from a feminist perspective is going to require a scholarly article on Indian Feminism, no less.

Next Review: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami