Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading Journal | Carrie Vaughn, Charlaine Harris, Jacqueline Carey

Well, here it is, the end of 2011, and to tidy up my sense of what I've achieved, and what I need to strive for, here is the final bit of my reading journal, the books I finished before the clock struck midnight.

Definitely Dead (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 6) - There was a hiccup in the smooth flow of the continuing storyline here. It didn't trouble me overmuch, but the short story "One Word Answer" will fill in the gaps in Sookie's plotline, for those of you following along.

All Together Dead (Sookie Stackhouse Series, Book 7) - Bestseller Harris mixes humorous Southern-fried fantasy with biting satirical commentary in her seventh novel to feature Sookie Stackhouse, the bubbly telepathic barmaid from Bon Temps, La. (after 2006's Definitely Dead). Sookie attends an all-important central U.S. vamp summit on the shores of Lake Michigan as a "human geiger counter" for Sophie-Anne Leclerq, vampire queen of a Louisiana weakened by Katrina and who will be tried during the event for murdering her king. Sookie knows the queen is innocent, but she's hardly prepared for other shocking murders, not to mention protests by the Fellowship of the Sun, a right-wing antivampire movement. Her sleuthing skills, along with those of her new telepath friend, Barry the Bellboy, are put to the extreme test. Harris juggles a large cast, including several romantic contenders for Sookie's heart, with effortless exuberance. HBO's True Blood, based on this addictive series, is scheduled to begin its TV run this fall.

I can't say too much that I haven't already said. The series is keeping my attention. Harris is a skilled writer, and it's not likely that I'll stop reading them at this point. However, it is what it is - light, brisk, fun, escapist literature. Are there global themes and character developments and other such literary aspirations? Of course. But mostly, it's entertainment. And that's what storytelling should be.

By the end of this year, I was intent on mixing it up. Keeping with my theme of female authors...

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville, Book 1) - Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station?and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it's Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew...

I've been wanting to read Carrie Vaughn ever since I read her piece in the Warriors anthology last year. THIS book, I finished in a day. I don't know if it was the story pace or the smoothness of Vaughn's writing style, but the pages flew by. Vaughn is smart and witty, which I had guessed; and I also confirmed that her ability to represent the inner workings of the female mind is amazing.

Of course, by the time all was said and done, it was time to get back into fantasy fiction, and one female author I always enjoy is Jacqueline Carey. After burning through these 300 page urban fantasies, picking up a 960 page epic - well, that's what I read this past week, finishing up Saturday afternoon.

Kushiel's Scion (Kushiel's Legacy) -  Imriel de la Courcel's birth parents are history's most reviled traitors, but his adoptive parents, the Comtesse Phedre and the warrior-priest Joscelin, are Terre d'Ange's greatest champions. Stolen, tortured and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood; third in line for the throne in a land that revels in art, beauty and desire. It is a court steeped in deeply laid conspiracies...and there are many who would see the young prince dead. Some despise him out of hatred for his mother, Melisande, who nearly destroyed the entire realm in her quest for power. Others because they fear he has inherited his mother's irresistible allure...and her dangerous gifts. As he comes of age, plagued by unwanted desires, Imriel shares their fears. When a simple act of friendship traps Imriel in a besieged city where the infamous Melisande is worshiped as a goddess and where a dead man leads an army, the Prince must face his greatest test: to find his true self.

While I wouldn't recommend starting off with this book, it holds its own as the beginning of a new trilogy with a new protagonist. Kushiel's Dart is where it all begins, and I would suggest starting there.

I can't say enough good things about Carey. Her prose is beautiful, the world-building is exquisite, and her voice is so smooth and sweet, it's like having a naked woman whispering in your ear and telling you the story (while feeding you grapes).

As fantasy fiction goes, this departs from the norm. It's not as rich in political intrigue as GRRM, but close. It's certainly not crude or direct sword and sorcery. There is magic, and it's powerful and mysterious and delicately flawed. The plots are adept, and while not entirely linear, they aren't difficult to anticipate.

As a male author writing about manly things, it's sometimes easy to overlook those subtle nuances of human frailty, and that's something that Carey expresses so well. In the genre of fantasy fiction, capturing sensuality is often failed miserably, and here again, Carey is outstanding.

Some may say that the story is slow, languid like a lazy river, and that wouldn't be untrue. But in the telling of epic tales, I can appreciate the immersion into the character's life and thoughts, and the slow, gradual growth of the troubled child into a young adult with a little experience and wisdom beneath their belt. The story leaves one wanting for more, even after nearly a thousand pages.

In a holiday week where I found myself heartsick, homesick and agitated, this deep escape into Jacqueline Carey's delicious, smooth, sensual and beautiful story was exactly what the doctor ordered. It became its own homecoming, a return to epic fantasy, and was just what I needed to end 2011.

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