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Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians (The Magicians #1)For most of his life, Quentin Coldwater has used the Fillory (think Narnia) books to escape the doldrums of his everyday life. Now at the age of seventeen, Quentin has been given a chance he never dreamed he had — magic is real and he can become a magician.

Instead of heading to a mundane, normal college, he enlists at Brakebills, a university of magic and begins training. The one thing the books never included was that becoming a Magician is difficult, tedious work and nowhere nearly as exciting as depicted in the novels.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians follows Quentin and a group of students during the course of their studies at Brakebill’s. Rather than having one book equal one year of Quentin’s life, we’re treated to the highlights of his magical training — from the semester spent in Antartica to the rather odd magical game played among his school and others. The episodic nature of Grossman’s novel ensures that Quentin and the reader never get entirely comfortable with how things are going, including when Quentin and his love interest Alice test out of some of the first year and are moved up to second year early. Continue reading

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Kushiel’s Dart Read-Along Week Three: Chapters 19 – 26

phedre_no_delaunay_by_sharimoon-d6mry7uMoving into the third week of the Kushiel’s Dart read-along and things are starting to get very interesting for Phedre and company.

This week’s questions comes to us courtesy of Lisa from Over the Effing Rainbow.

There’s a lot of intrigue to get to this week, so let’s start the conversation.

1) We get a lot of political intrigue to wade through this week, plus a couple of pretty big dramatic revelations, not least of which was the twist of fate for Prince Baudoin and his mother. What did you make of the trial, and what became of these two?

Prince Baudoin’s entire family comes out on the short end of the stick in the trial, don’t they? Two of the family members are exiled and told if they come back they will be killed. And then there’s the prince and his mother who are found guilty and by unanimous vote put to death.

I found it interesting that each of them got to choose how they would die. Their execution can be public or private and I only assume there are a variety of ways for them to go to their end. The mother picks a quick acting poison that puts her to sleep and she never wakes up while the Prince falls on his sword — literally. Reading this section, I couldn’t help but think a bit about George R.R. Martin and his propensity to kill off any character at any time. And while we haven’t yet had a death that is quite as shocking as Ned Stark from Game of Thrones, I find myself wondering if Jacqueline Carey might not be put laying the foundation for a shocking death to come later in the book.

2) On a rather different, much more personal note for the House of Delaunay was the drama that unfolded surrounding Alcuin (poor Guy!). What do you think might become of Alcuin now that he appears to be out of the game?

A couple of weeks ago, one of our discussion topics was about whether or not Phedre and Alcuin were able to fully know the implications of what swearing their lives in service meant.  This section would seem to indicate that while Phedre has taken to this life like a duck to water, Alcuin wasn’t really prepared mentally, physically or emotionally for the implications of the life he chose.  And so he tries to find a way out of it — with dire consequences for everyone involved.

I also think that while Phedre has taken to playing the game of politics, Alcuin never quite got the rules of the game or how to play it.  Phedre gets to experience a bit of that here by knowing what Alcuin is trying to do but not telling him.  I almost got the feeling she was saving this knowledge for some point in the future when it might be useful to her to use it.

3) As we’d suspected last week, Phedre’s refusal to use her signale gets her into some trouble with d’Essoms – but it also gets her the result that Anafiel had hoped for… Do you think she’ll be more careful from here or will this only make that addictive slope more slippery for her?

Phedre’s on a dangerous path and building quite a reputation.  Somehow I think that not only is she becoming addicted to the sexual side of things but she’s also becoming addicted to the political game she’s playing.  It almost seems like she’s playing chicken with herself to see how far she can go to get the information she wants or needs to take back and continue her role in the game.  I can’t help but wonder if the impact of what happened to Alcuin will play out and cause her to take a step back or if she’ll further embrace the political and sexual game she’s playing.  I also wonder if her being the only source of information now for Delaunay might make her more willing to take a risk or two for him because she wants to keep him in the game.

4) Speaking of Phedre and trouble, what do you make of the ‘relationship’ building between her and Melisande?

I see terrible things on the horizon for Phedre when it comes to Melisande.   We see how Melisande is willing to use anyone to get what she wants and then toss them aside.   And I wonder if Phedre might not become a pawn in the game that Melisande is playing that can be sacrificed when her usefulness has come to an end.

I also wonder if Melisande sees a reflection of her younger self in Phedre and that may be part of what the attraction is.   I think that Phedre is drawn to power and it could be interesting to see if and how she gets burned by Melisande.  Or maybe she will find a way to turn the tables on Melisande.

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Kushiel’s Dart Read-A-Long, Week One: Chapters 1-8

Kushiel's_Dart

It’s been a while since I participated in a read-a-thon but when I saw rumblings about one for Jaqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, I was in.   I’ve had the book for a long time now, sitting on my to-be-read shelf.   And the read-a-thon was just the push in the right direction I needed to finally get it off the shelf and start reading it.

This week’s installment covers the first eight chapters of the novel and is hosted by Dab of Darkness.  If you’d like to see what others are thinking about this week’s questions, head over to DoD and you will find links to everyone else participating.

Here’s this week questions and discussions:

1) Here we have the earliest days of Phedre’s life, and we have the story of Elua and his followers. Did you note any similarities between Phedre’s beginning and Elua’s stories? Do you enjoy having these stories upfront or would you rather have had the stories shuffled in later with an adult Phedre looking back? 

 

kushielsdartFirst of all, I have to say that I love the opening line of the book.  “Lest anyone should suppose that I am a cuckoo’s child, got on the wrong side of the blanket by a lusty peasant stock and sold into indenture in a shortfallen season, I may say that I am House-born and reared in the Night Court proper, for all the good it did me.”

 

Early on, Phedre and Elua’s stories are those of people who must be comfortable in two worlds.  And they’re also characters who seem to have little or no control over their destiny.   Elua is only saved on the whim of one of the gods while Phedre has little or no control over where which court or noble that she is indentured to.    She seems to have been fortunate (for now) to have landed in Delaunay’s court because he encourages her to learn — not only “book” learning but also about the world of politics.  He’s also willing to give her freedom to continue her exploration of the city and her friendship with Hycanithe.  But I can’t help but wonder if it at some point this may come back to bite Phedre or if she will find herself in the court of another who isn’t quite as open minded and be forced to try and escape.

 

So far, I’ve enjoyed the stories that Jaqueline Carey has sprinkled in about the myths and stories from this world.  It’s doing a nice job of world-building and (I hope) setting up some things for later in the book (and possibly the series).

 

2) Hyacinthe has become Phedre’s one true friend. Do you think she is the same for him? The dromonde, or fortune telling, fascinates Phedre. Do you have a fortune telling story? 

 

I had to keep reminding myself that both characters are fairly young and that a forbidden romance isn’t likely brewing between these two (at least not yet).  I think that Hyacinthe is fascinated by Phedre’s views and his access to the noble courts that he might not necessarily get in the life he has.   I can’t help but wonder if at some point, as he gets older, he might not see his friendship with Phedre as a way out of that.  But for now, I think the two are just friends and a case of opposites attracting.  Or in the case of Phedre as someone she can talk to without worrying about if and how it might play out in the world of political intrigue that takes place in the court.

 

And, alas, I don’t have a fortune telling story.   Never been to one. The closest I’ve been in seeing how they’re portrayed in various forms of popular media.

 

3) The Midwinter Masque on the Longest Night is a long held tradition in Terre D’Ange. What stood out for you? Have you been to such a fete? 

 

One thing that struck me was the smashing of the glasses after the drink had been consumed.  It seemed like it would create a lot debris to clear up as well as a shortage of glasses at some point.  (I believe Phedre comments on the glasses beginning to run low toward the end of the night at one point).   I was also struck by the elaborate costumes that revelers wore and how you couldn’t be sure who was who.

 

4) Anafiel Delaunay has many secrets. How do you think those secrets will shape Alcuin and Phedre? 

 

Delaunay strikes me as a person who is very good at playing politics — and part of that is by knowing which secrets to keep and which ones to use to his advantage.  I have a feeling what he knows — and who he know it about — will come into play as things continue to unfold.   I also can’t help but get the feeling that his ability to keep secrets and mask his true feelings will come into play in the relationship he has with Alcuin and Phedre and the one they have with each other.  I can see them become rivals for his affections and approval and that his ability to withhold those may something that motivates them as their training and education continue.

 

5) Delaunay has a saying; All knowledge is worth having. Do you believe this is so? 

 

I get the feeling that Delaunay feels that “knowledge if power” and that every scrap that you can have is something that can give you a step up on others.   I think it ties in a bit to his being adept at playing politics.   I can’t quite see yet why he’s willing to encourage Phedre to have a friendship with Hyacinthe or why he’s willing to let her wander outside the gates, but I can’t help but think that he’s not being entirely magnanimous here.   I keep wondering what his motive is and what how he sees this bit of knowledge or favor paying off for him in the long run.  I get the feeling he’s playing a long game that will eventually lead to some kind of move to gain power for himself or to use Phedre to gain some advantage.  What exactly that is, I’m not quite sure yet but I hope to find out as I keep reading…

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Review: Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson

Lord Foul's Bane (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, #1)

Have you ever heard the saying that if you meet a jerk in the morning, you just ran into a jerk. But if you keep encountering jerks all day, maybe it’s you who is the jerk.

Thomas Covenant is a jerk. Or at least as far as I can tell he is. Contracting leprosy, Covenant is sent to away for six months to for counselling and treatment. Upon returning home, he finds his wife has left him and taken their son with her. His community wants nothing to do with him, even to the point that complete strangers are paying his bills so he won’t have to come into town to conduct his business. None of this sits well with Thomas, who decides that he’ll walk into town and pay his phone bill, only to find that he gets hit by a car and sent into a fantasy world.

This fantasy world finds Thomas given the task of delivering a message. It also has Thomas encounter a young woman named Lena who shows him who the dirt of this world can help cure him of his leprosy. He repays this kindness and the kindness of her family’s village by proving himself virile again and forcing himself upon Lena. Luckily for Thomas, the village has some kind of kindness pact that doesn’t allow her family to seek out vengeance on him, but instead forces his mother to lead him to the people to whom he is supposed to deliver his message.

And so they set out on ye olde fantasy quest. Thankfully, Donelson decides not to describe every leaf on every tree, but there are still some long stretches in the middle third of this book where not much happens but Thomas and his guide go wandering around.

Fantasy novels with a less than noble and unlikeable protagonist aren’t exactly a new thing. And yet somehow Thomas Covenant comes across as more unlikeable than the entire case of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire And Ice series. Donaldson seems to have little interest in creating any redeeming qualities in Covenant or at least allowing readers to understand why he’s such a jerk to begin with. That makes it difficult to want to spend much time with him — and all of this is before the infamous rape scene. Reading the book I can see why it’s so polarizing among fans of the genre.

While not being the worst book I’ve ever read, it’s certainly up there among the less enjoyable novels I’ve read in quite a while.

There are more entries in this series, but it’s highly unlikely I am going to pick up any of them.

And I think I’m also done trying to read Donaldson.  I gave his Gap series a try years ago and couldn’t stand it.  Now this one has left me disappointed as well.

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