bloodygranuaile: (sociability)
I've been waiting to read The Raven Boys for a long time.

In December of 2013 I read Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, a standalone YA fantasy about water horses on a small island in Ireland. I am pretty sure that at the end of this book there was the first-chapter preview for The Raven Boys. I think. I remember the preview itself pretty vividly, because it sounded very intriguing. There were ghosts and prophecies and creepy aunts and stuff. Then I started following Maggie Stiefvater on Twitter and Tumblr and stuff, because she's hilarious, and since the Raven Cycle is her most popular series of books, I started hearing more about it. Something about Welsh mythology. A lot of stuff about death and cars. I don't know much about cars but it sounded like the sort of demented Gothic stuff I like. I decided I needed to read it, but for a while I didn't get around to it. Then, sometimes after it was announced that the fourth and last book was coming out this year and it was also announced that there would be a Raven Cycle tarot deck designed, I decided I would wait until the last book came out, find a good chunk of time when I could really relax and do the thing properly, and try to read the whole series in one go.

Last weekend I went up to my father's cabin in the woods in Maine by the lake and for two days I sat on the porch and looked at the lake and read the Raven Cycle books. I finished the first two and got a little bit into Book 3 before I had to come back to real life. I'm hoping to get back up there sometime this summer to finish the series.

The Raven Boys is the story of a young lady named Blue, who is the only non-psychic in an all-female family of psychics. Blue can, however, amplify other people's psychic powers, so she is a pretty integral part of the family psychic business. Blue doesn't really have friends at her public school, but she actively avoids the shit out of the boys at Aglionby Academy, a private prep school for rich powerful sons of rich powerful families, where basically the entire student body is as insufferable as Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl except even more insufferable because they have cars since they are in the suburbs and not NYC, and cars amplify rich boys' the-worst-ness by a factor of at least 4.

Anyway, Blue is burdened with a prophecy that if she kisses her true love he will die, so Blue very sensibly does what any independent-minded young lady not gruelingly trained in putting up with teenage boys' bullshit would probably do anyway: She decides to forgo this whole romance thing entirely, which is a decision I approve of, but which honestly can be quite hard to do without cracking at all during one's teen years and young adulthood, if only because that is the time of one's life when one is meeting lots of new people and trying new things and going new places and generally having one's world get bigger, and it takes practice to make one's world bigger without having any boys get into it at least once or twice.

In this case, Blue ends up reluctantly making friends with a quartet of Aglionby boys who are on a quest to find and resuscitate the sleeping Welsh king Owen Glendower, and also Blue knows from a vigil she held on St. Mark's Eve that one of the boys, Gansey, is destined to die within the year. Since Blue actually saw his shade herself, it's also likely that either he's Blue's true love or that it's Blue who kills him, or, considering the prophecy, both. Since Gansey is a rich smartass who wears terrible loud polo shirts, Blue is skeptical that he could be her true love, but apparently decides to stick around helping him look for Glendower anyway, even though anyone who's ever watched a movie can see where this is going. PSA: DON'T GO ON MAGICAL QUESTS WITH PEOPLE YOU'RE TRYING TO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH, FOR CHRISSAKE.

The other boys in this friend group are Ronan Lynch, a fighty Irish boy with massive emotional problems stemming from his father's murder and his older brother's total assholery; Adam Parrish, a non-rich scholarship kid from an abusive family who works three jobs to pay the non-scholarship-covered part of his Aglionby tuition; and Noah, who tells Gansey right at the beginning of the book that he's been dead for seven years and everyone kind of treats it like a random lame joke right up until they find Noah's body that's been rotting in the woods for seven years. Seriously, Stiefvater's ability to straight-up dump spoilers into her own books like three hundred pages in advance and have the reader totally blow them off is amazing. No wussy foreshadowing here! The line of dialogue is literally "I've been dead for seven years" and then when they find the body in the woods you're like NO WAY, WHAT A SHOCK, GANSEY MUST BE SO SURPRISED.

Also, Gansey's name is Gansey, which sounds suspiciously like geansaí, the Irish word for "sweater." Blue often measures the likelihood of Gansey dying on any given outing by whether or not he is wearing his Aglionby sweater, since his shade was wearing that when she saw it, which means he's going to die in the sweater. I am 99% sure that Maggie Stiefvater did this on purpose but now I've got to go ask her just to check. *runs to Tumblr*

While the book has many jokes and general scenes of humorous mayhem, it also doesn't fuck around with the stakes: lives are at risk; the sleepy little town of Henrietta and the prestigious stuffy halls of Aglionby Academy are sites of omnipresent violence, secrets and danger; magic is not to be casually fucked around with, even by the psychics. Every character is memorable, if only because all of them could kill you (except for Noah) but all in very different ways. The story starts off slower than is quite usual for YA, and the writing tends toward the poetic and descriptive in a way that will probably annoy a lot of people who don't like to notice the words when they're reading, but since I'm a shameless fan of a well-turned bit of description I think it builds the atmosphere well--beautiful and slow and muggy like the Virginia summer the book takes place in. In short: Excellent lakeside mood reading.

I read it in less than 24 hours. Then I immediately picked up the sequel.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Sometimes I pick up books in odd places. One of the oddest was earlier this August when I was housesitting for my cousins, and I found a trade paperback copy of Daphne du Maurier's classic Gothic romance Rebecca in the pantry.
Well, somehow in all my adventures in Gothic lit I'd never read Rebecca--except for Sarah Rees Brennan's Gothic Tuesday version ( my Classics book club (the one I haven't been to in a year) is reading it this month, so I stole it borrowed. Borrowed without permission, but with every intention of giving it back. (Which I did.)

My initial thoughts are that Rebecca is one of the absolute house-iest iterations of the "girl meets house" style of Gothic that I have ever, ever read. The book is a weird sort of love triangle between our nameless heroine, her broody and much-older husband, and her husband's dead first wife, except that it's really more of a triangle between the girl, her husband's house, and the dead first wife's influence within the house. Or possibly it's a love triangle between Max and Rebecca and the house, and the heroine is just watching it all trying to figure out what the hell is going on, which she's not very good at (admittedly, neither was I).

Our heroine is never given her own name, and is known throughout the book predominantly as Mrs. de Winter, or often "the second Mrs. de Winter." This is not really entirely because her individual identity is subsumed under her husband's as it is because the psychological conflict surrounding her ability to take on the role of Mrs. de Winter--within the house, within the local society, within the minds of all the people who knew Rebecca--is a driving theme. Being Mrs. de Winter has at least as much to do with being mistress of Manderley as it does being a companion to Max.

Max is, by Gothic romance standards, not all that terrible. This is a low, low bar, since Gothic romance boys are generally creepers of the highest order. Max is about twice as old as our narrator, which is pretty sketchy, and he is, of course, terribly broody, but at least unlike many other terribly broody Gothic heroes he is not all like LET'S TALK ABOUT HOW BROODY I AM ALL THE TIME and seems to be mostly trying to move on and think and talk about other stuff, he's just not good at it. He's also kind of obtuse about what an enormous lifestyle change he's thrust upon our narrator, formerly a penniless middle-class schoolgirl whose only previous occupation was a traveling companion to a hilariously obnoxious American woman, and he ignores her entirely too much once they return to Manderley. There is also the small matter of THE BIG TWIST AT THE END where we learn about what *actually* happened to Rebecca, which I think is where the real literary genius of this work comes in.


So the heroine has spent most of the book thinking that Max loved Rebecca and is sad and haunted that she died tragically, but it actually turns out that he hated her and murdered her when she told him she was having somebody else's child. The heroine is THRILLED at this news that Max is a wife-murdering murderer, having lived in the shadow of everybody (especially Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper) making a lot of noise about how awesome Rebecca was, and some other people making noises about Rebecca that were really vague and which the narrator assumed were about how awesome Rebecca was. How exactly Rebecca is awful is left rather vague in a very literary and infuriatingly Victorian fashion (PS this book was written in the 1930s), but it appears she slept around, was a drug addict, was sleeping with her cousin (oddly enough the fact that it was her first cousin did not seem to weird out any of the characters as much as it did me; the times, they have a-changed apparently), and was cruel to horses and to their mentally disabled neighbor/tenant. Other than that it's just like "she was selfish and rotten" and that is told more than shown, which is unusual for this book, although I think there is enough textual evidence to support the idea that she was highly controlling and narcissistic (as a temperament, not trying to diagnose literary characters with anything here). Anyway it twigged enough of my Ugh I Have Known That Asshole (not ones quite as skilled, thank God) buttons that I too was right on board with Max shooting her, except for the fact that she seems to have been deliberately goading and lying him into it in order to make sure she could still mess with him even after her death. And this is the sort of thing that literature has to be really, really good to accomplish, because I am HIGHLY anti-men-shooting-their-wives as a rule. There are also good solid reasons in real life why you can't go around shooting That Asshole just because they're That Asshole and I am generally on board with keeping those rules in order to have a non-murdery and civilized society, but in literature things are allowed to be more messed up than that.

All in all, while I'm not sure Rebecca is the most romantic of the Gothic romances in the sense we currently use the term "romantic," it's certainly one of the Gothic-iest that I've read in a while, and very much one of the most romanticism-y. It's dark and full of secrets. In addition to the big crumbling house and family mysteries, there's an almost absurd emphasis on natural beauty, mainly the sea and all the flowers around Manderley. The flowers are used to almost every literary purpose that flowers can be used, from being a creepy blood-red to set a creepy tone to being the focus of a weird power play between the heroine and Mrs. Danvers keeping alive the will of the dead Rebecca (JUST PUT THE STUPID VASE OF LILACS WHEREVER OMG). The heroine is highly sensitive and imaginative, and despite failing to pick up on any of the clues about what actually happened with Rebecca, she's more than capable of picking up on every slight and bit of judgment directed at her, of being excruciatingly and paralytically aware of when she doesn't fit in, and generally being an anxiety-brained basket case such as I myself am prone to being. She also spends nearly as much time playing out scenes of how she imagines things have gone or will go in her head as she does actually reporting on stuff that she witnesses happening, which is definitely something I relate to. I actually found myself getting sucked into the heroine's head and going along with whatever she thinks very easily, because not only is the book well-written enough to pull a reader in convincingly, but I actually have a lot in common with the heroine personality-wise and thought-patterns-wise. (Her and Catherine Moreland from Northanger Abbey. Deep down, I essentially am a dimwitted British Gothic novel heroine.)

Apropos of nothing I'm sure, who's going to see Crimson Peak with me this fall?!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
People give and recommend books to me at a rate faster than I can read them, because I know many awesome people who are way nicer to me than I deserve, and the result is that it often takes me much longer than I would like to actually read books I acquire.

And then occasionally, someone gives me a book and it looks so awesome and timely and Relevant To My Interests that I actually drop everything and read it next. This is what happened when a friend gave me a paperback copy of Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham, a historical fiction police procedural murder mystery set in 1845 New York. Two very important things happened in New York in 1845: one, the NYPD was formed, and two, the Irish potato famine  started, sending waves of destitute Irish flooding into the city, bringing all the misery and social upheaval of rural Ireland with them, and also typhus.

Our protagonist is a young guy named Timothy Wilde, who at the beginning of the story is doing well enough for himself as a bartender, saving up nearly enough money to ask Mercy Underhill to marry him and trying to not get too tangled up with his morphine-addicted firefighter brother Val, who is heavily involved in the Democratic Party machine. Tim and Val are orphans, as their parents had died in a house fire when they were kids, leaving both kids with all sorts of issues and the need to become independent very quickly. Unfortunately for Timothy, another fire incinerates his bar, his house, and all his money, which is how he ends up assigned to Ward Six—the slummiest ward, obviously—as one of the first “copper stars” of the NYPD.

Timothy spends some time breaking up fights and generally feeling miserable until he meets Bird Daly, a ten-year-old “kinchin-mab” (you’ll have to read to find out what that is) who leads him to a horrifying series of crimes involving dismembered children. Timothy, who cares about children more than a lot of people in the mid-nineteenth century, insists upon investigating, and follows a dangerous and convoluted path to the truth, uncovering a lot of sordid secrets about a lot of people along the way—including himself, his brother, and his beloved Mercy Underhill.

The aforementioned sordid secrets are all pulled off really well, both believable and shocking (and not repetitive), in part because the characterization in this book is brilliant. Timothy Wilde is very smart but he is often clueless about certain things that turn out to be rather important, and he’s often—but understandably—misled by his own misunderstandings of people. Valentine is a larger-than-life figure in every way, as you’d hope a guy with a name like “Valentine Wilde” would be, but is surprisingly complex. The secondary characters are hugely colorful, from the sickly children’s doctor Palsgrave to the brash, grown-up-too-fast newsboys. There is literally nobody in this book who is boring, not even Mercy Underhill.

To be frank, I expected Mercy to be boring, because she is the Designated Female Love Interest and they usually are. More so when they are dedicated charitable types—they always come off as squishy, bland, selfless constructs of idealized feminine nurturing whatever. Mercy is none of this. Mercy is a more fully realized character than our narrator has any idea of until about three-quarters of the way through the book. I would love to read a book that was entirely about Mercy Underhill.

One cool thing this book does is that each chapter starts off with a quotation—a standard enough practice these days, and one that I usually enjoy—but instead of being quotes from works of great literature or whatever, they’re all excerpts from letters and news reports and other “nonfiction” pieces of the time. A lot of them are really nasty anti-Catholic propaganda, which I think does a good job of underscoring the degree to which Catholics were considered Definitely Not Christians and to which the Irish were considered Definitely Not White People, which are both things that I think are hard for modern audiences to really grasp—I remember learning in school that yes, every new wave of European immigrants was met with fear and suspicion, but I always kind of assumed that it was only middling-level xenophobia, because the Irish and Italians and other “white ethnic” groups have since become so well-established. But no, the stuff people in the 1840s were saying about Catholics and about the Irish in particular reads today like complete batshit-crazy tin-hattery. Some of the other quotes are about things like the sanitary conditions of New York at the time and newspaper reports on the potato famine. Overall, they’re very well-chosen and really do manage to provide some background, and don’t seem tacked-on at all.

Since this is a big scary sprawling Gothic that took place at an extremely volatile time in New York’s history, I would issue a content/trigger warning for probably every single thing that could warrant a content warning, including graphic murder, child abuse, infanticide, child prostitution, attempted lynching, racism, use of the n-word, fire, gross medical stuff, and probably other things. It’s all handled well, I think, but this is definitely a book for morbid individuals with strong stomachs.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
It’s October, and October means it’s time for me to read at least one classic vampire novel. I bought Varney the Vampire last year, but it’s intimidatingly ginormous and I don’t have enough spare time right now, plus I don’t want to lug the stupid thing around on the T. So instead I read J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 novella Carmilla, since it is short and I had it on Kindle.

The main thing I knew about Carmilla is that it involves lesbian vampires, or at least as lesbian a vampire as you could get away with publishing in the 1870s. Which actually turned out to be pretty blatantly lesbian, unless of course you are our terribly sheltered and Victorian narratrix, who has never head of lesbians and wonders if maybe Carmilla is actually a dude in disguise like in some of the old romances she’s read, but then decides she’s not manly enough to be a dude in disguise, and is just TERRIBLY BAFFLED.

In many ways, Carmilla follows the form of the traditional Victorian vampire Gothic, taking place in a secluded old schloss somewhere in Eastern Europe. The main character is Laura, the daughter of a British expat, who lives in the aforementioned giant crumbling castle with her aforementioned father, her old nursemaid, her less-old governess, and a handful of servants who are essentially invisible. Their nearest neighbor is an old German expat who lives in the next schloss twenty miles away.

The story begins when the German neighbor’s niece, who was supposed to come visit so that Laura could have a friend her own age, has to cancel her visit because she is unexpectedly dead. However, a carriage accident on the road brings Laura another visitor instead, a sickly but beautiful young woman named Carmilla. Carmilla’s ailment is ill-defined and mysterious but appears to be some sort of chronic fatigue thing, as Carmilla sleeps for much of the day and is locked in her room all night. In traditional folklore-vampire fashion, peasants start dying, one every couple of weeks, and Laura begins having weird dreams and developing a languor similar to Carmilla’s. Much of the book is dedicated to the odd friendship that grows between Carmilla and Laura, in which Laura is mostly delighted to have a friend her own age and partially irritated with Carmilla’s refusal to talk about her life and some of her weird behavior, including her bouts of rapturous affection, which are pretty gay even by Victorian friendship standards. (Victorians had much more affectionate friendships than modern people usually do.)

The plot comes to a head with the visit of the grieving German neighbor, who thinks he has figured out what killed his niece—it was a mysterious lovely guest she’d been hosting. Then there is the usual telling of long backstories and the fun vampire-killing stuff, much as you would expect, all of which is still a great deal of fun for all that it’s been mimicked too many times to be at all surprising.

One thing I particularly liked about this story is that it’s in epistolary form, but there’s little to indicate who the letters are to, except that they are written several years afterwards, and that Laura is writing to some sort of lady who lives in a city, and so feels the need to apologize and explain a lot about what it’s like living in deep seclusion in a castle in the woods. Since I am a lady who lives in a city, this was pretty cool, as it sounded like Laura was addressing me particularly rather than like I was snooping on somebody’s letters.

One thing I liked somewhat less was that the ebook I picked up was an “illustrated” version, but instead of contemporary illustrations (which were cool; I have seen them elsewhere), they were modern photos of random Goth ladies—very pretty pictures, but that didn’t really seem to fit. But I suppose you get what you pay for when you decide to get the free ebook versions of public-domain classics.

Overall, though, Carmilla was a fun, quick read, and why the hell aren’t there more lesbian vampires? Or lady vampires at all, really—there were a lot of gay vampires back when people still cared about Anne Rice and obviously there have recently been quite a lot of broody heterosexual dude vampires, but the ladies always seem to be secondary characters. More female main vampires, please! Or perhaps I’m just reading the wrong books, in which case, will somebody point me toward the right ones?
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Ladies and gentlemen, it has finally happened. THE THING WE HAVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR. Or at least that I have been waiting for. And some of my friends. Anyway, the third Lynburn Legacy book was released this Tuesday! *Kermit arm flail*

Since I am a very busy adult person these days, Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan took me two whole nights of staying up too late on a work night reading and drinking comforting drinks.

Unmade is not all pain and tears, of course. We have the specific strains of signature sass from all of our signature sassmasters, mainly Kami, Jon Glass, Rusty, Jared, and Angela. Holly gets a couple of good one-liners in there too, something that she is very proud of and which melted my cranky little heart. Jon Glass in particular sassed so sasstastically well that I was afraid he was going to get killed off. (And Lillian quoting Jon’s sass without comprehending why it’s funny… I was afraid I was going to get killed off!) At one point, Jon and Rusty sass each other and then the universe collapsed in upon itself. Jon Glass wins the Best Literary Dad award.

I also think I spotted a small shout-out to Mark Oshiro, who is reading Unmade starting quite shortly in October. (I have commissioned the first three chapters already.)

The jokes, of course, are but the lighter half of the experience that is any Sarah Rees Brennan book. A lot of the jokes that Kami tells (and sometimes that other people tell) are basically psychological defenses, refusing to take things seriously either out of insecurity or just because stuff has gotten too serious.

And stuff gets very, very serious indeed. The first two books had some pretty serious stuff in them, with murderous sorcerers taking over the town murdering people, and Kami’s parents’ marriage falling apart, and lots of emotional distress about nasty psychic tetherings, and also The Terribly Gothic Thing That Happens At The End. But this installment definitely turns it up to eleven, as a final installment should, and succeeded in me not being able to guess any plot twists ahead of time (except possibly “oh god, shit’s about to go up to eleven”). This is the bit where it gets hard to write a review because I don’t want to spoiler anybody even the tiniest bit—I just want to rock back and forth and cackle a lot. And so I will. *rocks back and forth* *cackles*

This book, like the rest of the series, continues to be deeply and fabulously informed by both the traditions of Gothic literature and the tradition of intrepid girl reporter/sleuth mysteries, often gleefully subverted. The story is still quite entertaining if you're not familiar with these tropes, but it has added layers of awesomeness if you’re a big enough genre nerd. It also explores a lot of issues of identity, sexuality, family, and fate, way the hell better than 99% of “literary” books about professors having midlife crises or whatever. It’s easy to write it off as fluff since it’s fast-paced and fun and full of ridiculous sarcasm and evil sorcerers, but there’s really quite a lot of depth and Exploring the Human Condition stuff buried in there. What does it mean to have a legacy, and what do you do if that legacy is fucking awful? Where is the line between honoring your cultural heritage and being goofy about it? (I am not the person to ask about this; this weekend I went to IFest Boston and bummed free cheese off of a Kerrygold marketer.) What price is it acceptable to pay to keep your loved ones safe? Serious questions here! Also boob jokes!

Obviously, I recommend the crap out of this book and the whole series to just about everybody.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So the third Lynburn Legacy book came out yesterday. And my book club read the first Lynburn Legacy book about a week ago. So of course it was the perfect time to reread the second one, Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold.

I read Untold when it came out last year and then I listened to Mark Oshiro read it and it is still just as fabulous and fun and heartbreaking the third time around. Jon Glass sassing Lillian Lynburn is right up there with Lady Bracknell saying "A handbag?" in a funny voice and Eliza Doolittle's perfectly enunciated "Not bloody likely!" in instantly classic comedy that will never not be funny (thus continuing in a century-plus long tradition in where there is nobody funnier than an Irish writer writing about British people). Now with more hindsight, there are some moments that take on additional significance than they did the first time around, particularly Lillian Lynburn claiming that she has no intention of ever running away to live in the tavern. Oh, Lillian. You always think your intentions are going to matter. (Intentions: not magic, even for sorcerers.)

If you never hear from me again, I am dead of Lynburns.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Hello dear readers! By which I mean: Hi Mom!

For my writing group's book club, we followed up the summer's Coldest Girl in Coldtown with another fabulous YA Brat Pack read, Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken, the first book in her Lynburn Legacy trilogy. I read this book for the first time back when I had fabulous red hair, and my copy is signed, and bearing a note that Ms Rees Brennan liked my fabulous red hair. Man, I miss that hair.

2012-07-05 20.11.02
Words cannot express how much I miss being this fabulous.

2014-08-31 21.43.18
It really was, wasn't it, Sarah?

Anyway, my review for the first time I read this book is here, and my review for the fabulous second book, Untold, is here.

Upon reading the book for the second time, I still love all the stuff I loved about it the first time basically, particularly the way the series plays with goofy old British Gothic tropes. I'm a little more aware of some of the author's tics--words she uses a lot or jokes that she makes in multiple works, that sort of thing--but I don't really mind them that much. Since some of the big plot reveals no longer surprise me, they don't have quite the punch that they did the first time (like, yes, I already know there are evil sorcerers), although they were still enjoyable to read.

This is a sad excuse for a review but we just spend three hours talking about this book in book club (seriously, it was such a long book club, there was so much to say!) and I don't really want to go over it all again so I'm just leaving this at THIRD BOOK COMES OUT SOON AND THEN SARAH REES BRENNAN IS COMING TO BOSTON YAY.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I reread Holly Black's fabulous decadent vampire novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for BSpec book club! I adored it just as much the second time around and I particularly enjoyed being able to subject book club to my long rambly opinions about the meanings and evolution of the vampire myth. The original review is here.

And don't forget this bit of very important life advice from Bela Lugosi (as portrayed by Martin Landau): "If you vant to make out with a young lady, take her to see Dracula!"
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Not too long ago, I went into Porter Square Books with the intention of not necessarily buying any books (I was there for an Event and I was very, very broke), but then I saw a book that called to me, and seemed to have been written for the express purpose of tempting me into buying it no matter how much I couldn’t afford to. It was even in hardcover! A beautiful, creepy black hardcover.

The book was The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime, by Judith Flanders.
The subtitle is a little misleading as it makes the book sound like it has a stronger thesis than it really does; it’s not really arguing a point so much as dumping lots of fun information on the reader. The book covers about fifty murders that took place in the UK in the nineteenth century. For each one, it describes the murder, gives some historical background about how it fits into general fears of the time or trends in murders (poison panic, burial-club panic, etc.), then discusses how the murder was dealt with in the, um, ‘nonfiction’ press, and lastly discusses instances in which the murder shows up in nineteenth century fiction. There is also some discussion of the development of the police, and particularly detectives, as a professional and cultural institution. The book’s thesis, essentially, is just that the Victorians were SUPER INTO  murder, and that the ways in which they were SUPER INTO murder laid the groundwork for modern crime entertainment like murder mystery novels and TV procedurals. I, for one, am willing to accept this argument as being pretty well supported.

I was already familiar with some of the issues discussed here; I had the good fortune to do a short unit on “sensation novels” in undergrad as part of a nineteenth-century British novel course, and a few years ago I read an excellent, in-depth book about the Road Hill House murder and early Scotland Yard, Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. I also remember gawking over the Jack the Ripper crime scene photos at CrimeLibrary like a proper little babybat sometime in high school.

This book introduced me to so many more murders, though, including some really weird ones. I found it fascinating to compare which murders caught the public’s imagination, and which ones didn’t, even when it seemed like they should have—and I was particularly interested to see how the ones that did get turned into entertainment for mass consumption got written and rewritten, with the victims or, sometimes, the murderers getting cleaned up to be more sympathetic, class and political attitudes grafted on to the “narratives”, sometimes narratives being created nearly out of whole cloth from a handful of sensational details (Jack the Ripper may be the most egregious offender in this category), newspapers picking this side or that—the victim, the murderer, the detectives, the family, the press itself.

For me, most of the fun in this book comes from the excerpts of plays, newspaper articles, interviews, etc., particularly the really trashy ones. Trashy Victoriana is very, very trashy; in many cases, it is also quaint and badly spelled. Awkwardly scanned verse abounds (“We beat him dreadfully upon the floor,/We washed our hands in his crimson gore” –from a broadside reporting on murderess Maria Manning). There are a lot of awkward Victorian line drawings of dismemberments and public executions, which have to be seen to be believed. Judith Flanders has an excellent talent for summarizing penny-blood and melodrama plots in a sort of snarkily affectionate tone that makes me really want to read these pieces even though they are clearly laughably dreadful. (I am sure this is partly because I am the sort of person who just purchased a copy of Varney the Vampire.) Flanders is a social historian, and the weird historical tidbits she gives us paints a great picture of just how weird the Victorian era was—excerpts from Punch & Judy shows, magazine advertisements for arsenic soap, and the solidly shameless behavior of the highly respected Madame Tussaud’s waxworks company, who never met a piece of murder memorabilia they didn’t try to buy. I finished this book kind of wishing I could time-travel to the Victorian era but also being really glad I don’t live there, which is just as it should be.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in weird history or Gothic fiction.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Much like everyone else who has gone through the American school system in the past few decades, I have read Shirley Jackson’s famously creepy short story, The Lottery. I think The Lottery is one of those pieces that I had to read multiple times at different grade levels; however, I had never read anything else by Shirley Jackson, until now. In honor of it being Halloween, the latest book for my Classics book club was We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a short but exquisitely creepy novel about the last living members of a wealthy family, who live in a big house overlooking a small New England village.

Our narratrix in this novel is Mary Katherine Blackwood, generally known as Merricat, who is eighteen years old. The other two remaining members of her family are her older sister Constance, and her Uncle Julian. Uncle Julian is very sickly, having survived the poisoning that killed the rest of the family six years earlier. We discover, eventually, that Constance and Merricat were the only family members not poisoned, Constance because the poison was in the sugar, which she never used, and Merricat because she had been sent to her room without dinner.

When the story opens, the three of them have adapted to a very regimented and quiet life within the big Blackwood house. Merricat is the only one whoever leaves the property, going down to the village to shop on Tuesdays and Fridays. Merricat is also in charge of security, ensuring there are no holes in the fence keeping everyone else off their land, and performing a lot of odd magic rituals, mostly consisting of burying things, but sometimes including other superstitions such as breaking glass, nailing stuff to trees, and avoiding certain words. Merricat is a bit of an odd person, and her narration comes off as particularly odd because she is so matter-of-fact about things like her magic rituals, and her imaginings about living on the moon, and wishing people dead, which she does quite frequently. Constance never, ever leaves the property, or even goes into the front yard, sticking entirely inside the house and in its back gardens. This is because it was Constance who was accused, and then acquitted, of the poisoning of her family. Even though she was acquitted, most people still think Constance did it. (She didn’t.)

Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian’s idyllic and highly ritualized existence is interrupted by the arrival of their cousin Charles, who, as far as Merricat is concerned, disrupts everything. She continually refers to him as a ghost and a demon, and believes that he was able to enter the house because one of her magics failed, and she keeps attempting to do more magic to get him to leave. Charles is basically a normal guy, in all of the ways that cause him to be the most disruptive and displacing possible element in their household. In addition to taking up much of their father’s space (such as staying in his room and going through his things), Charles smokes constantly, gets angry at Merricat for burying things, is generally loud, and is somewhat obsessed with the amount of money they have in the house—mostly in the safe, but he also gets extremely agitated when he discovers that Merricat once buried a handful of silver dollars in the lawn. He gets angry at the general weirdness of the household, a lot, but refuses to leave, being committed to saving them from themselves and, rather transparently, to acquiring their money. Eventually, being essentially a symbol of great big messy dudely oafishness, he leaves his lit pipe unattended, and Merricat throws it into a wastepaper basket, which causes a fire. The fire succeeds in getting Charles out of the house, but not before the firemen show up, Uncle Julian dies, half the house burns down, and the townsfolk gleefully trash most of what is left.

Constance and Merricat, being proud and weird and now deeply regretting letting anybody into their sanctuary, retreat even further, building an even stranger and more secluded life within the two remaining rooms of the house, the kitchen and Uncle Julian’s room. The townspeople start leaving food at their door, apparently in penance for having trashed the place, and possibly because they seem to think that anyone strange enough to live in half a burned-down house is probably a witch or something, and, as far as Merricat is concerned, they are very happy.

Much of the creepiness in this story comes from Merricat’s bizarre narration, particularly once you begin to suspect—and finally find out—that it was actually Merricat who poisoned everyone, back when she was only twelve years old. Merricat is willful, stubborn, somewhat narcissistic, and will absolutely not have anything other than exactly as she would have it; at the same time, she is very disciplined, adhering to a long list of things that she is and is not allowed to do, plus engaging in endless rounds of exacting magic rituals. It’s never really clear if the magic is real or just something Merricat believes in. It’s also somewhat unclear if everyone else is quite as terrible as Merricat believes or if Merricat is just a really hostile person, especially when you consider that she is the sort of person who murdered almost her entire family for sending her to her room, but it’s very easy to believe her observations of people and generally be on her “side.”

While this book avoids many of the goofier elements that characterize so much Gothic fiction—and I say this as someone who adores Gothic fiction—it still fits itself firmly within the Gothic tradition, both by being extremely creepy and by focusing on very dark themes such as death and destruction and the decline of very rich families. Unlike most traditional Gothics, it is short and very tightly written, avoiding both sentimentality and overwrought vocabulary. The degree to which anything supernatural happens is unclear, being either little or none at all. There is also surprisingly little violence, but a heavy focus on domesticity and domestic ritual, particularly food. (Constance does all of the cooking; Merricat is “not allowed.”)

Constance, to me, is the most interesting character; while Merricat clearly adores Constance, Merricat is also 100% certain that she knows how they both best should live, and actively sabotages any attempts Constance might seem to be considering making to their lives. Merricat does not want Constance to go out into the village, which means, in practice, that she does not want Constance to stop being afraid to go out into the village. When Charles shows up and Constance starts having thoughts that perhaps Uncle Julian should be in a hospital and Merricat should be in school and Constance should leave the house ever, Merricat sees this as Charles’ demonic influence and redoubles her efforts to get him out of the house, and to show Constance that they ought to stay in the house. Merricat, in short, molds both of their lives to Merricat’s specific preferences, and rather than wondering for a minute if Constance is okay with that, seeks to make Constance okay with that, by proving that all the alternatives are intolerable mistakes. Merricat doesn’t seem to be aware of how manipulative and possessive she is, and seems to honestly believe that she is looking out for her sister. The book ends with Merricat telling Constance how happy they both are.

Charles is probably somewhat unfairly maligned in the story, seeing as he is a regular person and Merricat insists upon referring to him as a ghost and a demon; however, I admit that even without Merricat’s opinions, I really didn’t like him either; he falls into the role of Man of the House very easily, even though he is just a guest, and he makes no effort to try and figure out why they are so weird or what the culture of the house is, and as far as I am concerned that makes him rude and presumptuous.

The creepiest part of the book, I think, is how hard it is not to like Merricat, to sympathize with her and agree that all the people she thinks are terrible are terrible, and that they are being small-minded and rude for being hostile to her and Constance, and that it makes perfect sense to try and protect your house with magic and anyone who gets mad at you just because they don’t get it clearly deserves a bit of shaking up anyhow, and that it’s really invasive of people not to leave them alone all shut up in their weird house. Being able to make the reader sympathize with a murderer—and not any sort of tragic-backstory of justifiable-homicide sort of murderer; just the cold-blooded murder of her whole family, for petty and objectively stupid reasons—is evidence of the disturbing sort of genius of really, really great writers.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I have been into vampires for a very long time. I started reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in eighth grade, which is way too young to be reading anything other than the first book in that series and I think it may have screwed me up for several years. I read horror vampire novels and paranormal romance vampire novels and ~classic~ vampire novels like Dracula, and I watched old terrible old vampire movies and terrible new vampire movies and parodies of vampire movies and this Eddie Izzard clip:

And then I read books on vampire folklore and the science and history behind vampire legends, from Father Montague Summers’ dense, old-world demonologies to Paul Barber’s gross but eminently readable Vampires, Burial, and Death.

In tenth grade I wrote a research paper on the development of the vampire in stories, noting their periodic booms in mainstream popularity, and I wondered if the next vampire revival would happen in my lifetime. It happened just a few years later, kicking into high gear sometime around my sophomore year in college.

(Overall this has made me as happy as a vampire in a Red Cross donation facility, although I would like to rant for a moment: it is tiresome as shit when people insist on comparing every single fucking vampire story ever directly to Twilight, immediately, as if there are only two, monolithic kinds of vampire story, Twilights and anti-Twilights. The two fastest ways to turn me off a vampire story are to promise me it’s just like Twilight, and to promise me it’s nothing like Twilight. If you’re too stupid to even tell me about the story you are supposedly telling me about, I’m not taking your book recommendations. And if Twilight is your only fucking reference point for vampire stories, you don’t know enough about vampire stories to be telling me anything about vampire stories.)

The point here is, I have read A LOT of vampire stories. So I was very, very excited to learn that Holly Black, fabulous modern Gothic YA writer extraordinaire, was writing a vampire story, because if there’s anyone I would trust to write an absolutely awesome one, it would be Holly Black. I got a gorgeous little “teaser” of it last year at her book signing with Libba Bray and Sarah Rees Brennan, when she read to us from the first chapter of what was at the time her work-in-progress, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. In this snippet, a girl named Tana wakes up in a bathtub after a party, and finds out that everyone else in the house is dead.

Then I spent a year anxiously keeping an eye on all the news for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown—release dates, cover art, etc. And the book signing tour. The book signing tour included an event at the Cambridge Public Library, two days after the book’s release. I went with a bunch of people from my writing group, and we listened to Holly Black talk to us about how she almost didn’t write the book because she wondered if it was really a good time for another vampire story (thankfully, she concluded that it is ALWAYS a good time for another vampire story), and how she used to pretend her Barbies were good vampire Barbies who could defend her from the evil non-Barbie vampires outside, and all the different vampire stories in varying degrees of melodramatic trashiness that she read when she was younger—Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Les Daniels. (I had somehow never heard of Les Daniels but it sounds like I ought to go check him out IMMEDIATELY.)  I also got a shiny signed book!

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is every bit as awesome as I would expect from Holly Black. Like her other YA books, it draws heavily on old stories—and you can tell she really knows her stuff—but it’s also thoroughly contemporary.

The thing that really intrigued me about the worldbuilding in this book was that the development of vampires in society is basically backwards from the way the idea of the vampire has developed through time. In old vampire legends, vampirism was usually a plague—a vampire would be created in a town or village, and it would come back at night and feed off of other townspeople and turn them into vampires, and if you didn’t dig up and kill all the vampires quickly, the next thing you knew, the whole town would be dead. As the vampire moved from a folklore monster into a literary one, and the world moved forward, getting smaller and smaller so it became harder to explain how a creature could hide if it caused mass death like that, and as our fear of plagues dwindled and newer, more modern fears took its place—fear of venereal disease, fear of loneliness and alienation, fear of the world changing too fast, and, in the case of heterosexual women living in a patriarchal society, fear of being attracted to predatory beings with power over you—the vampire became a figure that hid, that went to great lengths to space out the deaths it caused, or make them unsuspicious or unmemorable; in the most modern incarnations, even to feed without killing.

In Holly Black's world, the vampires used to be like that—hidden, nearly unknown. They kept their numbers carefully low so that they wouldn’t come into public view. They had a tightly controlled hierarchical secret governance thing. The process for making new vampires involved the progeny drinking its maker’s blood. It was all very twentieth-century-vampire-novel-y.

Then, about ten years before the book opens… vampirism went viral. A baby vamp with no idea what he was doing went around biting people without killing them. These people would then go Cold—basically, they had an infection that made them crave human blood. It took almost three months for the infection to wear off. If they actually drink human blood in that time, when they’re infected, they turn into vampires. (Weaker vampires than ones that had been fed a vampire’s blood before their full transformation, but still vampires.) In this way, vampirism came into public knowledge, and became a widespread, deadly plague—like in the old vampire folk legends.

The areas with the worst outbreaks were quarantined and walled up. These quarantine cities were called Coldtowns, and the first, biggest, and most famous of them was in what used to be Springfield, Massachusetts. Outside of the Coldtowns, vampires were hunted, and if they were caught, were either killed or sent to Coldtown. Infected humans would be sent to Coldtown if they were found out by law enforcement. Inside the Coldtowns, vampires hunted freely, preying on the population of humans walled in with them, and the seemingly endless supply of humans who voluntarily migrated to the Coldtowns, hoping to get turned into vampires. They also threw ridiculously decadent parties, and filmed them, and put them online. Some vampires basically became reality TV stars.

The most famous reality TV star Coldtown vampires is Lucien Morales, who fits into the fine tradition of batshit crazy, spotlight-hugging blond vampires who revel in being vampires, like Eric from the Sookie Stackhouse books and Lestat in the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles (alright, so Lestat goes through phases of reveling and being broody/guilty, but he’s introduced as a reveler), and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer—that is the Blond vampire archetype, and Lucien is a Blond. Holly Black describes him as “slick” and having “a face like a pre-Raphaelite painting,” although I’m not sure what that second part means, as I tried Googling “pre-Raphaelite paintings” and they are 99.9% pictures of ladies, but at any rate, there is a fine old tradition of describing vampires by what school of art they look like they belong to, so I’m going to go with it. Lucien throws the bangin’est parties in Coldtown, and he’s batshit nuts, but very charming.

In an interesting break with tradition, the Dark vampire character is even more batshit crazy than Lucien! The Dark vampire is the brunet male vampire who is the love interest and has more of the broody/guilty/missing-his-humanity thing going on. Bill Compton, Louis du Point du Lac, Angel, and Matthew Clairmont are all Darks. The Dark and the Blond are sometimes friends and sometimes enemies, but usually it’s more complicated than that; they are invariable foils for each other. In this book, they are actually described as “frenemies.” Our Dark is named Gavriel, there are about five different plot twists involving reveals of various aspects of his identity throughout the story, and he is actually mad, as in, he’s been tortured so badly that his mind is sort of fragmented, and he says and does a lot of really weird stuff, because staying coherent is very taxing for him. He is an amazing character.

Our main human girl is a high school student named Tana. When Tana was little, her mother went Cold and attacked her, and her father had to kill her mother. Tana now lives with her little sister Pearl and her extremely depressed father. As mentioned earlier, one day, she goes to a party, and wakes up in the bathtub, and everybody is dead—except for her amazingly obnoxious attention-whoring jerkface ex-boyfriend, Aiden, who is infected and quickly going Cold, and the vampire Gavriel, who is chained up and apparently being hunted by other vampires. Tana is almost-maybe-bitten by one of the other vampires in the process of getting them all out of the house, and doesn’t know if she’s infected or not. The three of the head towards Coldtown, where they pick up a brother-and-sister pair of blue-haired teenagers who go by the names Midnight and Winter, and are seeking to get turned into vampires. When they get into Coldtown, things start to get even more out of control.

The pacing in this story is a little odd in terms of page count—they don’t even get to Coldtown until nearly halfway through the book; what the real plotline is going to be—who is the bad guy and why, what is the evil plan they have to stop, etc.—doesn’t become clear until pretty late in the book—but it doesn’t feel weirdly paced when reading it. The story is deeply rooted in the idea of decadence that permeates so many of the older Gothic novels: much of Coldtown is falling apart, post-apocalyptic, insufficiently maintained since the walls went up ten years ago and with a death rate much higher than that of anywhere in the civilized outside world. It’s also bloody as all get-out: although this is a teen book, I think if they made it into a movie, it would be so far into an R rating that it couldn’t be marketed as a teen movie.

The major moral theme in this story is, as Gavriel puts it, the sin of mercy. I found this both fascinating and unexpected, because one of the more frequently-used endeepening subjects of the modern vampire novel is that killing is always inherently bad, and therefore the good vampires feel guilty about this, and they can take steps to try and mitigate it (only killing bad people like murderers and child molestors, etc.), but it’s still bad. Wrestling with whether acting as a vigilante rather than just giving in and eating babies is enough to make one good or if that’s all just rationalization is a classic way to give vampires, and particularly Darks, moral depth. Even Twilight sort of gets into this, with Edward having a broody confessional fit about how he ate a serial killer once in the twenties and that’s why he’s a monster and Bella shouldn’t be with him, and Bella is like “Who cares, you probably saved lives actually” and Edward’s like “It’s nice of you to say that but NO I AM TERRIBLE” and there’s really no follow-up to that, it’s just part of their eternal difference of opinion about which one of them sucks and which one of them is perfection incarnate.

In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the idea is that doing the right thing can be hard, and sometimes this is because you are not a sociopath who enjoys killing people, therefore killing someone might be hard, but sometimes killing is the right thing to do. Holly Black takes the old Catholic idea that infects so much of Western culture about worrying about the purity of your own soul over paying attention to the actual consequences of your actions, and throws it out the window, then jumps out the window after it and stomps it into the dirt. There some science talk about accumulated toxins, but mostly, there are a lot of cases in which some entity or other is goddamn dangerous to others and is better off removed from the picture. Tana’s big moral quandaries tend to be variants on: Can she kill without hesitation if she has to? Can she resist the temptation to take pity on the concrete, begging entity immediately in front of her, and save the lives of the nebulous, faceless, not-present, other people that will die if the danger isn’t removed? When is saving somebody a good idea, and when is it stupid? The trouble at the core of the plot all started with one act of badly judged mercy. I found this line of thought particularly interesting because there are a number of really manipulative characters here, most obviously Aidan and Lucien, and it reminded me of discussions over at Captain Awkward about how manipulative people are able to get smart, nice, good people into bad situations by playing directly on their good qualities—loyalty, sympathy, empathy, niceness, sense of fairness, desire to help, desire for inclusiveness, etc.—and the only way to get out of or defend yourself from these kinds of people is to develop the ability to put your good impulses on hold.

There is also a bunch of stuff about reality TV and the romanticization of vampires and death and violence and all that. Particularly involving Midnight the blue-haired runaway, and twelve-year-old Pearl, who likes watching both Coldtown feeds and vampire-hunting shows.

If any of this makes it sound like this book is a deep philosophical meditation on moral quandaries… don’t worry, it mostly isn’t. There some thought-provoking themes there, at least if you find the same stuff thought-provoking that I do, but mostly the book is a fast-paced, decadent, bloody adventure. A lot of authors have been trying to modernize the vampire story lately, the way Anne Rice did in the eighties, but Holly Black has officially succeeded in reinventing the vampire story for the early twenty-first century. I mean, there are gifs. Gifs!

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
About a year ago, I picked up Sarah Rees Brennan’s ([ profile] sarahtales) Unspoken, largely out of not-wanting-to-look-like-an-asshole-itude, at a book signing where the at-the-time-unknown-to-me Ms. Rees Brennan was accompanying my longtime favorites Libba Bray and Holly Black.

Reader, I married it I would totally marry this series, actually. Unspoken turned out to be one of the smartest, most well-written YA books I’ve read in ages, as well going up to 11 on the Relevant To My Interests scale.

Unspoken ended on a totally WTF-y note and I and legions of other readers have spent a year shivering in antici… pation for Untold, the second installment of The Lynburn Legacy.

But now—oh frabjous day!—Untold is out! And I have read it! And BRB, have to go pick up pieces of my soul from the floor and mail ‘em to Sarah Rees Brennan for her collection.

Untold continues the story of Kami Glass, editor and lead intrepid girl reporter of her high school newspaper The Nosy Parker, as she seeks to save her sleepy little English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale from being taken over by evil sorcerers want to use human sacrifices to fuel their magic. The evil sorcerers are the nuttier faction of the town’s ruling sorcerer family, the Lynburns, whose less nutty faction is actually still quite nutty and sometimes douchebaggy too, but at least they get that human sacrifice is wrong. Kami is also dealing with the fallout from having severed the magical telepathic bond that had connected her to one of the non-evil sorcerers, Jared, for her whole life (although for most of that time she’d thought he was an imaginary friend).

The story opens with Kami and her awesomely cranky BFF Angela getting attacked on Halloween night by evil magically animated scarecrows, and gets weirder from there. The evil Lynburn faction, headed by Rob Lynburn—the one who always seemed like the nicest—moves to consolidate power in the town with disturbing ease, promising the other sorcerers in the town power while simultaneously terrifying them out of thinking they could possibly decline. Kami and her friends are a small but awesome faction, but they have their work more than cut out for them in resisting Rob and his cronies, and things are additionally complicated by the fact that their social group is ridden with incredibly awkward interpersonal situations. The cast list includes:

KAMI GLASS: Is basically awesome, and dedicated to fixing everything. She tries to be constructive about stuff like figuring out how to fight the sorcerers and adjusting to not having Jared in her head anymore, but it is hard. She never gives up and always has something sassy to say even when she doubts herself. She also cares a lot about her family because her family is freakin’ awesome.
ANGELA MONTGOMERY: Kami’s BFF, Angela is very beautiful and also massively cranky as a human being. She likes naps and dislikes most people. She is a lesbian and has a thing for Holly, which has made their friendship a bit awkward. Though she is massively lazy, Angela learned self-defense from her older brother, and can and will beat the shit out of you if she has to.
HOLLY PRESCOTT: Holly’s family is sorcerers, who used to be prestigious within Sorry-in-the-Vale and somehow fell from grace, and now her home life is kind of shitty. Holly is very pretty and is mostly a boy’s girl, except for her friendships with Kami and Angela. Holly usually manages to keep up a fairly sunny personality, at least in public, except when there are major plot points happening.
JARED LYNBURN: A mashup of the in-distress Gothic heroine and a broody rogueish bad boy. Occasionally a tavern wench. He is a sorcerer, and he is dealing with no longer being mentally tied to Kami even worse (MUCH MUCH WORSE, which is a LOT of bad) than Kami is dealing with not being connected to him. His mother Rosalind is with the evil sorcerers, and is in love with his uncle Rob Lynburn, head of the evil sorcerers, because THAT’S NOT CREEPY AT ALL.
ASH LYNBURN: Ash Lynburn wants to be good and nice and make people happy! As a result, he almost became an evil sorcerer, because his dad is Rob Lynburn and he wants to please his dad. His mom is Lillian Lynburn, head of the nutty-but-not-evil sorcerer faction, and now he wants to please her, but he can’t, because she’s still pissed off at him for almost becoming evil. Ash also seems to have a crush on Kami which is very awkward, since Ash and Jared are cousins (and might be brothers because JESUS CHRIST ROSALIND) (ALSO ROB, YOU ARE NOT OFF THE HOOK HERE, ASSHOLE) and look very much alike, leading to at least one super awkward scene involving romantic entanglements and mistaken identity.
RUSTY MONTGOMERY: Angela’s older brother. Almost as lazy as she is, but much happier—his picture is in the dictionary next to the phrase “laid back.” Owns a gym, and teaches his sister and all her friends self-defense. Rusty is very handsome, and likes to talk about how handsome he is all the time, but not in a snotty way.

They are occasionally joined by some very colorful adults, including Lillian Lynburn, ice queen extraordinaire, a woman so arrogant that I am surprised that she doesn’t walk into doors and then be offended they didn’t open for her of their own volition; and Jon Glass, Kami’s fabulously sassy (and apparently hot) dad. There is a scene where Jon Glass sasses Lillian Lynburn and I laughed so hard I almost vomited.

I don’t really want to talk too much about the plot outside of “evil sorcerers” because the plot is MADE OF TWISTS and therefore EVERYTHING IS SPOILERZ  plus I already went and told you about the scarecrows. As usual, Sarah Rees Brennan lives on our tears, so the plot veers wildly back and forth between high-octane nightmare fuel and interpersonal soul-crushing, and the dialogue oscillates beautifully between heart-wrenching and hilarious. The ending is somethin’ else, as usual, although differently than the last one—in Unspoken, the Thing That Happened at the end was itself massively shocking and I was like “Noooo my feelings” as soon as it happened; in this one, the ending is the Unfair Cliffhanger of Doom, so I zipped right through the last plot point—which, though not in this instance predictable, is a Gothic classic—going “This is riveting! What happens next?” and it was only when I realized that there is no next for another year that I started shaking my fist in the general direction of Ireland (or wherever she lives) and shouting “DAMN YOU, REES BRENNAN”.

On a happier note, I finally learned what a honey badger actually is! And why he don’t care! I do so love learning things.

Recommended strongly for people who like one-liners, Gothic novels, ladyfriendship, and awesomeness.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I reread The Diviners! Everything I had to say about it six months ago still stands.

bloodygranuaile: (Default)
I am supposed to be doing work but I cannot make myself, so instead I am going to babble at you about the awesome new YA fantasy author I have discovered, Sarah Rees-Brennan, and the awesomeness that is her new book, Unspoken.

I saw Sarah Rees-Brennan at a book signing a few weeks ago with Libba Bray and Holly Black, both of whom I had been fans of for a while, but sadly I had never read any of Ms. Rees-Brennan's stuff so I felt like kind of an asshole at the signing, asking her to sign this book that I had just bought and had no idea what the flying fuck it was about, but she was super nice about it and said nice things about my hair and gave me a necklace with a UK penny, which I would later find out is very relevant to the plot of Unspoken.

Unspoken is a teen novel in the genre that Ms. Rees-Brennan refers to as "Sassy Gothic," which I think she made up but which makes a lot of sense. It follows in the Jane Eyre-y Gothic tradition of "Girl meets hot but totally fucking insane dude who lives in a big wacky house full of secrets." Since this is a teen novel, totally fucking insane dude is also an insecure teenager who has not grown into his totally fucking insane-ness and sexy manly scars yet, therefore there are lulz. Also, Sarah Rees-Brennan is like Ms. Witty One-Liner, therefore there are even more lulz, like "I do not think people who are freaked out by each other's physical existence should date" or "I can defenestrate my own thugs!"

Anyway. Plot is as follows: Kami Glass lives in the painfully adorable wittle English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and has an imaginary friend, a voice in her head named Jared. Sorry-in-the-Vale has a Big Spooky Manor which belongs to the local aristocratic family, the Lynburns, who have been gone for most of Kami's life. Then they move back, and it turns out Kami's imaginary friend is actually Jared Lynburn, a real dude who is actually kind of an asshole (and, as mentioned previously, totally fucking insane and bearing scars). Kami decides to go on a bout of Teen Investigative Journalism to learn about the Lynburns and their dark family secret (she is pretty sure that they MUST have a dark family secret), and also who is killing small animals in the woods, and also who seems to be trying to kill her.

This book has many fun things in it. In addition to big sketchy manors, lady detectives (or lady amateur investigative journalists, which is basically the same thing), and witty one-liners, it also has A Pair Of Evil But Hot Brothers/Cousins/Similarly-Aged-Male-Relatives (I have actually forgotten which; I think cousins?), Awesome Lady Friends, A Main Character Who Is Not White, Dark Family Secrets, some wacky creatures from Japanese folklore, delicious-sounding food (this is an important part of the British fantasy tradition), Magic With Babies (I am a total sucker for magic involving babies; I don't know why), and an ending that RIPS YOUR HEART OUT AND STOMPS ON IT and leaves you angrily waiting for the next book because THAT CANNOT POSSIBLY BE RIGHT OH MY GOD WHAT AN ASSHOLE. And it isn't even a character death. It is more upsetting than most endings involving character deaths! (Except maybe, like, Ned Stark's. Maybe.)

Ms. Rees-Brennan gives some of her own thoughts on this book over at John Scalzi's "The Big Idea," which is why the cover of the book looked so darn familiar when I finally did buy it.


bloodygranuaile: (Default)

September 2017

     1 2
10 11121314 1516
1718 1920212223


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 21st, 2017 03:41 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios