Thursday, December 29, 2011

Friday Review, 12/30/2011

So, I actually wrote this, but didn't post it, I guess?

Samuel Holt - One of Us is Wrong

A pleasant detective novel. Shades of the Rockford Files and Magnum PI. A little like Steve Barnes' gigilo detective, without the lurid sex. Major terrorism as a plot point - a little "all terrorists are Arabs/Muslims," despite efforts to counteract that (a significant character asserts that all Arabs/Muslims are not terrorists, but there is no discussion of non-Muslim terrorism). A little dated. Also a little prescient - the discussion of sectarian violence within Islam feels very current, if a little shallow. I'll hunt down the rest of the series, or at least the next of the series.

Anton Strout - Dead Waters

Delicious! 4th in the series, but with enough back-story explanation that I didn't feel like I needed to hunt down the first three before finishing this one (which is good, since my library system doesn't have any of them - might have to hit the paperback bookstore in town). Compelling characters (such that I found myself dreaming about them - always a good sign), a pleasantly twisty plot, enough dark humor to keep me happy. Possibly the character depth in the earlier novels will be less - by the time you've written the same characters 4 times, perhaps you begin to imbue them with a certain humanity? But the secondary characters, and, more tellingly, the villains created fresh for this book, had significant depth as well. Good stuff.

Janni Simner - Bones of Faerie

Initially, this was a little fluffy, with a few really hard bits. Later, the hard bits started coming a lot more frequently. It's a conundrum. On the one hand, the writing level almost screams the young end of young adult - especially the oddly large print, so as not to dismay struggling readers (?). Something about the font and the page set up (I'm stretching here, perhaps) demands illustrations (which were not there). But the subject matter is out of sync with the sort of writing Simner engages in.

The novel is about child abandonment and death, and the harshness of living in a deeply diminished post-apocalyptic world. There are some death scenes which, while not graphic in anyway, are pretty raw. There's some parental violence which is pretty raw as well. There were several scenes - the discovery of a baby, the death of a cat - which made me wince, and which, I suspect, would have a 12 or 13 year old in tears. Which, now that I think back on what I and my peers were reading at 12 and 13, is fairly consistent with the YA model, isn't it? So, perhaps, this book is perfectly composed - it's the sort of YA novel that, perhaps, you hide from your parents. Not because you think it contains material they won't approve of (ie, sex, or drugs, or rock and roll), but because it contains material that you don't think they, as adults, can handle.

Anyway, it is a very well written book, and the bits I liked I liked a lot. Good world building, excellent character building, and some really gut churning (emotionally) scenes that gave the book some real punch.

Hmmm. Further musing - to what extent is YA fiction serving the same purpose as poetry in A.E. Houseman's untitled poem which starts: "Terrance, this is stupid stuff"?

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,        60
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,        65
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;        70
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
—I tell the tale that I heard told.        75
Mithridates, he died old.

Houseman suggests, in the above stanza, that poetry allows us to experience misery and unpleasantness in a dilute form, so that when we experience it full on, it doesn't cripple us. To what extent do YA fiction - or some YA fiction, anyway - do that?