Read? I haven’t even heard of some of these books:
Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category
I recommend everyone go here and read Alix’s essay and the comments. Very interesting.
I can’t believe arguments like Savage’s are still getting airtime. What year are we in?
My friend JC introduced me to Jo Nesbo’s books. Nesbo is the most accessible of the Scandinavian mystery writers, and there are at least seven books featuring his detective Harry Hole (we would probably pronounce it “Holy”).
Nebro introduced his eccentric, brilliant alcoholic detective as a “fish out of water” in the first book, The Bat. Harry comes to Australia from Norway to investigate the death of a Norwegian woman, and discovers a serial killer. The rest of the series is set mostly in Norway and northern Europe.
I’ve read three, and it turns out I’ve skipped around, but at least I’ve moving forward chronologically. In The Redbreast, Harry shoots and wounds an American Secret Service agent who is out of position during an American presidential visit to Norway. In a darkly humorous stratagem, instead of firing him, the brass decide to make him a hero. They promote him to Inspector. Soon he is investigating a murder with tendrils that lead to neo-Nazi groups and arms smugglers.
The Redbreast moves back and forth in time, following a group of young Norwegian soldiers who are fighting in the German army against the Russians in the 1940s. Norway’s history during World War II is complicated. Their king and royal family fled to England, and, safely there, sent back patriotic and reassuring messages via radio addresses. Many people supported Hitler because they saw him as protection against a greater threat – Joseph Stalin. When the war was over, Norway tried and imprisoned a number of people for collaborating with Germany. Harry (like the author) views this with a somewhat jaundiced eye; thinking a government that did nothing to protect its people is a perhaps slightly hypocritical for prosecuting those who tried to do something.
This does not mean that Harry thinks Norwegian neo-Nazis are right. The racism and hatred of the group angers him. His mistrust and disgust with the group puts him at odds with another policeman, one Harry believes has Nazi sympathies (as do many of the characters we meet in the course of the book). Harry doesn’t play by the rules, and this doesn’t just mean that he oversteps in investigations or hurries off without backup in the time-honored American tradition. Harry, a dedicated alcoholic, shows up to work under the influence; he disappears on binges for weeks, usually after the culmination of a case. He keeps his job because he is protected by his superior. In The Redbreast, I wasn’t clear exactly why, nor did I understand why Harry is treated with such suspicion by his colleagues, except for the drinking thing. A later book cleared some of that up for me; Harry’s workplace is riddled with corruption, and not small time corruption, either. There is almost no one he can trust. His inconsistent behavior means that there is almost no one who can trust him.
Nesbo’s depiction of women is interesting and I don’t know if it represents Norway, noir, or both. Both on and off the police force, women characters are strong, smart and dedicated. They are also almost always the victims of discrimination, sexual harassment both verbal and physical, and sexual coercion. Older men, men in power, view professional women as sexual targets. Nesbo presents this as part and parcel of the corruption that infects government.
Nesbo drifted into Bonanza Bride Syndrome for a while (Harry loves her; she dies), but I am pleased to report that Harry’s love interest in The Redbreast is still alive at the end of the book. This is a great step forward! Of course, she has a child… that may buy her a free pass.
I just finished The Devil’s Star, in which Harry matches wits with another serial killer. A bit more is explained about Harry’s past, and the environment in which he works. And we see a bit more about Harry, in dark and funny moments, like the one where he and a suspect, trapped and waiting for the killer to show up, spend time trying to list all the Iggy Pop songs that begin with the letter “C.”
With Steig Larsson, US publishers “discovered” Scandinavian crime writers. You can find half-a dozen of them on the shelves in the mystery section. With Nesbo, you will find a character who lingers in the memory as a real, if wounded, person.
In Empires of Light, the story of Thomas Alva Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla and the “War of the Currents,” Jill Jonnes has written a book that is entertaining as well as highly informative.
Jonnes did a prodigious amount of research, but her goal was to write a readable book, and she doesn’t drown us in academic discoveries. Her extensive Notes section, a thorough Index and bibliography section should provide enough for the scholar. (I actually ordered two books based on her bibliography.) The book doesn’t read quite like a novel, but these men – these characters – are larger than everyday life, and Jonnes gets out of their way and lets their story unfold.
Edison is known as the father of electricity, but his big contribution to the process was the incandescent light bulb (no small thing). Edison was the first to bring electric lighting to the city of New York in any major way. Edison loved direct current, a charge that ran only in one direction rather than in pulses like alternating current; but direct current was expensive to transport over copper wire any distance; so the uber-wealthy who wanted electric lights added boilers and generators to their property. This made DC expensive anywhere outside of a dense urban area. Edison’s vision was probably thousands of small power plants generating juice for the nearby businesses and homes. Clearly he hadn’t given much, if any, thought to rural areas.
Westinghouse realized that alternating current could be pushed through copper wire longer distances. The drawback to alternating current was that nobody, yet, had an efficient electric motor that didn’t throw sparks.
Enter Nikola Tesla; the father of radio, and the inventor of the electric motor, an enigmatic Croatian, the shy genius who was best known in his lifetime as a wonderful showman who ended his “lectures” on electricity by wreathing his body in sparks. Tesla probably understood electricity better than either of the other two – or, maybe, better than anybody, ever — but he had the true curse of a genius. Tesla wasn’t a year or two ahead of everybody else; he was decades ahead in his thinking, which meant that people couldn’t understand what he was talking about.
George Westinghouse was one of the Long Gilded Ages millionaires. I was surprised to find out just how progressive he was. He paid his workers a fair wage; he compensated inventors very well. He was a genial, calm and ruthless competitor. Edison, on the other hand, was a showman, content to take credit for the breakthroughs others made, and a union-buster. Both men personally, however, engendered great loyalty; both men were willing to roll up their sleeves and plunge into the work when it needed doing. When Edison was running underground wire to light a neighborhood in New York, he was there every day checking the work and sometimes climbing into the trenches to see what was what.
Jonnes makes the technical aspects of electricity simple and accessible. About a third of the book focuses on the legal and patent wars between Westinghouse and Edison, and the vicious media battle fought over alternating current. Edison hated AC. Part of his hatred seems to stem from a sincere belief that the higher ampage was dangerous (“a deadly current” he called it); part of his animus seems to come from the fact that he started working with DC and didn’t want to change. Tesla, who worked for Edison for several years, finally left because he could not get Edison to show an interest in his AC electric motor. Westinghouse, on the other hand, was very interested.
The book makes a detour to follow one of the most bizarre aspects of the Current Wars; the invention of the electric chair and the argument over DC or AC current. Edison and a strange champion of DC named Brown, who came out of nowhere, argued that DC would not consistently kill a person. Brown staged “demonstrations” where he electrocuted animals to show how more efficient AC was at killing. (Did you say “Ick!” just there? Apparently, so did many members of Brown’s audiences. The SPCA finally made him stop.)
Westinghouse argued that AC didn’t kill consistently either. Yes, this was the actual argument. I can’t do this whole gnarled political, propagandist, random story full justice, except to say that I fell really, really, really bad for the poor murderer who actually did die in the first electric chair.
Contrasting with the twisted darkness (pun intended) of the “death current” debate is Westinghouse’s triumph at the 1893 Chicago Exhibition; and the genuinely amazing Niagara Power Project.
Jonnes weaves in the economic turbulence of the time, and points out how incidents across the globe had an impact, such as the attempt of a man with the unlikely name of Hyacinth Secretan to corner the copper market. (And why hasn’t some steam-punk writer put Secretan into a novel? That’s my question.)
Both Westinghouse and Edison lost their electrical companies to the “money-men;” Westinghouse to the bankers he was forced to add to his board; Edison, to former friend J. P. Morgan who betrayed him, not only merging the Edison General Electric Company with another company, but striking Edison’s name from the merged company. If readers are looking for a villain in this book, I suggest looking no further than Morgan.
Jonnes has a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins. What I appreciated the most here was her fluid, humorous writing skill. Her admiration for all three of these giants of electricity comes through; she is fair to each of them. And it’s an awesome story.
“At the highly visible headquarters for the Edison Electric Illumination Company, Edison quickly rigged up a steam engine generator and by mid-April (1881) had equipped its tall-ceilinged rooms with numerous “electroliers” (electric chandeliers) and other attractive light fixtures. Illuminated every evening and long into the wee hours, 65 Fifth Avenue was the glorious and radiant new electrical reality, where Edison held court most nights.”
“…Tesla rapturously gestured to his simple designs in the dirt and declared to Szigety, ‘Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it sublime? Isn’t it simple? I have solved the problem. Now I can die happy. But I must live, I must return to work so I can build this motor so I can give it to the world. No more will man be a slave to hard tasks. My motor will set them free, it will do the hard work of the world.”
“Electrical power made possible the important and the frivolous, the noble and the idiotic.”
Quotes from Empires of Light, by Jill Jonnes.
With Never Go Back, Lee Child has officially become a guilty pleasure. This most recent Jack Reacher adventure is more wildly improbable than ever, and that’s saying something. Reacher plots have never been realistic; but they are (somehow) plausible, at least in the moment, and his paragraph by paragraph descriptions of everyday life are so realistic that he can sell us on almost everything.
Never Go Back shows Reacher going into the lion’s den. He has gone back to Arlington to military headquarters, to meet Susan Turner, who helped him in 61 Hours. It took him longer than he planned to make it from the Dakotas to Arlington, and when he gets here, the person he meets isn’t Turner, isn’t female and isn’t friendly. Reacher soon finds himself in legal trouble, and then discovers that Turner (who the readers last saw being sent to Afghanistan, like, overnight… or at least that’s what we thought happened,) is, in fact, in military jail on a charge of accepting a bribe.
In short order Reacher has managed the impossible, again, and he and Turner are on the run. They must untangle the frame against Turner, debunk the fake assault charges against Reacher and discover whether, as the military says, Reacher does in fact have a fourteen year old daughter he never knew about. As Turner and Reacher navigate one crisis after the other, two
invisible figures, who speak only by phone, try to stymie them at every turn.
The whole thing is completely unlikely from start to finish, but it’s still a big old treat of stunts and chase scenes, interleaved with dialogue that is snappy, and sometimes heart-tugging, studded with juicy weird facts about numbers, about American history, about words. While I didn’t believe a word of it, I loved Turner and Reacher on the run through the Virginias in a stolen red Corvette (the perfect getaway car, right?)
Even I had to consciously suspend disbelief on the plane ride to LA, though. This was an overreach. Maybe big hub airports are different, but the fact that our two heroes are able to get on a transcontinental flight with fake IDs and someone else’s credit card seemed highly unlikely. The high-security stuff in this book was like a light-switch; on when Childs needed it (the bad guys track their every move), and off when he needed it (no one at the airport questioning, for example, why Reacher doesn’t look anything like the picture on his ID).
Once on the plane, Childs goes over the top with Reacher. This sequence, while emotionally satisfying, left me gasping with disbelief. And how fortunate that while Reacher is doing what he does, he and Turner managed to get an airplane that didn’t have an armed air marshall on it. (Or maybe they don’t do that anymore and just didn’t tell us. Yeah, that’s probably it.)
Once everyone gets to LA, the action slows down way too much. This is a mistake. Childs should not allow his readers enough time to think of anything but the book, because then we start to have questions. And the end, the denouement of the scheme Turner was framed to protect was too ordinary for all the work.
I was disappointed in part because we were set up to think the whole conspiracy had something to do with Reacher himself. Childs is not cheating here; Reacher is also set up to believe that. I’m not crying “foul,” I’m just disappointed. Reacher is an unusual person. As we learned in The Killing Floor, his brother was an unusual person also. I would like to know more about how Reacher became the man he is. Maybe we will some day, but not in this book.
So, it sounds like the book was bad. That might be true, but it was grafted to my fingers for a whole day and far later into the night than I like, because I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I’m still not sure how Childs does that. Maybe for me, the Reacher books are like the Twilight saga for others. I can see how unreal it is; I can mock the coincidences and the suspensions of logic, but I can’t book the books down. Reacher’s adventures remain firmly and proudly on my Guilty Pleasure list.
I hadn’t read anything by Sara Gran until I picked up Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead out of the 50% off bin. Perhaps, like Claire DeWitt’s introduction to detection, it was meant to be.
Claire DeWitt is nearly forty, and the best detective in the world. Or she’s completely crazy. Or, maybe, both of those things. She charges a lot of money and she gets results, but her clients usually end up hating her – and that’s not at all surprising.
Claire has come back to New Orleans, a city she knew well, two years after Hurricane Katrina, to find out what happened to her client’s uncle, who disappeared during the storm. He just vanished, like so many others, but he was an assistant district attorney with money and connections. Victor Willing was probably the only uncorrupted DA in the entire parish, but there still is a hint of possible foul play. Vic’s nephew, Leon, just wants closure.
Claire learned the art of detection from a book written by the eccentric Frenchman Jacques Silette. The book is called Detection. The book came to Claire in an unusual way when she was a child. It seems that the book often comes to future detectives in unusual ways. Claire also had the chance to work with Constance Darling, on the Silette’s finest students, until Constance was murdered in New Orleans.
“ ‘Never be afraid to learn from the ether,’ Constance told me. ‘That’s where knowledge lives before somebody hunts it, kills it and mounts it in a book.’”
To solve the mystery, Claire uses clues she finds on the street or on billboards, in dreams, or from I Ching hexagrams that are like none I’ve ever read.:
Hexagram 25: Snake on the mountain. The snake swallows his own tail and is never satiated. When the queen weeps, the rice weeps with her. A good man feeds rice to the snake, and at last he is full. A home without rice is a home without joy.
This makes the book sounds airy-fairy and woo-woo, and it is not. This is one of the grittier mysteries I’ve read lately. Gran’s descriptions of the battered city, the devastation and the continued corruption are clear and concrete. Part of the reason Claire’s less-mundane techniques work is because Gran plants them right next to the hyperrealism of her descriptions.
Claire has to figure out what happened to Victor Willing, but the genesis of her role as a detective is a case that remains unsolved. It is the disappearance of her girlhood friend. Three girls together discovered the book Detection, but one of them vanished. Claire is still haunted by this loss.
City of the Dead is about dualities; Vic is a complicated person. So is Claire; so is Andrey, a street-kid she meets during the investigation. Claire is a fascinating character, who lies to almost everyone, never keeps a promise, never met a drug she didn’t try, and has had at least one psychotic episode. She is a loyal friend, a deeply insightful person and a brilliant detective. Vic Willing embodies the best and the worst of people. Maybe I should say Vic embodies the best and worst of New Orleans. Gran focuses his last few hours on a part of the Katrina tragedy that everyone knew about but didn’t get much air time, and makes it a heart-wrenching part of the story. Vic is an honest DA. He is a man who victimizes other to satisfy his appetites. He is heroic and venial.
The name Vic Willing is a play on words that curves back to the enigmatic Silette and his method of detecting. The book is full of word plays, symbolism, and eerie imagery. Gran includes information about the crewes, the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras clubs, and introduced me to the Indians, another group associated mostly with Mardi Gras, but based around music.
It would be easy to say that New Orleans is an exotic, haunted city and it is easy to write a clever book about it, but that’s a cop-out. Post-Katrina New Orleans has become a popular setting and all kinds of writers are using it, but they aren’t writing a book like this one. As a writer, I think Gran might be a master surfer; perfectly, perilously balanced, riding the wave, using the force of the ocean to direct but not control her story; still, maintaining perfect control. I’m envious. I’m filled with awe.
I recently finished The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. (I did review it for Fanlit.) After I read it I looked at reviews and comments. The folks at Goodreads and Amazon are split on this book. So are the professional reviewers. When I went a step further and asked one of Copperfield’s employees what he thought of the book, he said, “I was disappointed. It was hyped as his first adult book since Anansi Boys, but the main character is a seven-year-old. I guess I wanted another Anansi Boys or American Gods.”
Rather than argue with him (he wasn’t done yet) I told him we’d talk when he finished it.
And now, the obligatory warning; I intend to discuss the book in this post. Several people have gotten very snippy about “spoilers,” in both directions (I won’t link to it, but if you really want the book spoiled for you, go read the UK Guardian review. Edward Docx spoils the plots, quotes line by line from the most visceral and dramatic scene in the book, and then dismisses the book. It’s really as if, rather than reviewing it, he wanted to make sure no one read it, and I digress).
While I don’t like spoilers Ginger tomcat! There’s a ginger tomcat in the book! in general I think sometimes you havNobody Goes to Australia! Nobody! There! I’ve spoiled it, spoiled it for all of you! Bwahahahaha!
There, now that’s out of my system. Trust me, you can still enjoy the book with those two pieces of information in your possession.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a slim novel, and some people are complaining about that. They wanted a big, wild, shadowy adventure with lots of twists, like American Gods. It’s summer. That’s the book we all want. Ocean isn’t that one. This one is a meditation on memory, imagination, childhood and the nature of innocence. That is perhaps not the book we wanted to read by the pool while sipping our umbrella drink. And maybe we didn’t want to follow the adventures of a seven-year-old boy.
Paradoxically, Gaiman gets into trouble because he is such a good writer, and he pulls off the difficult point of view here too well, because SPOILER ALERT
– this is not in the POV of a seven year old. It’s in the point of view of a forty-seven year old, remembering with preternatural clarity events that happened when he was seven. He can remember which such clarity because of where he is. SPOILER ALERT
Some of the book’s power comes from the sadness and yearning at the end, as we, the readers, realize what has been happening in this man’s life… things we know that he will not remember, because that is the nature of the book.
The book is littered with clues. At one point, the unnamed first person narrator says, “I was not a happy child, but I was often content.” This is not the thought of a seven year old about his own life; it’s the thought of someone looking back.
The story is a traditional tale, and a traditional Gaiman tale about evil and powerlessness, with a trio of magical helpers. I did think the plot was thin in spots, I just didn’t care, because I was so caught up by the inner life of this lonely, precocious little boy. Gaiman’s story is really about imagination and memory, and this created a stumbling block for him. There are scenes he has to approach obliquely, because of how the main character remembers them. These scenes are perfectly rendered, but become less emotionally satisfying because Gaiman can’t give them the immediacy we expect.
On the other hand, he writes passages like this one: “The soup was rich, and warming. I had never drunk soup in the bath before. It was a perfectly new experience.”
Can every one of us remember a moment of wonder, because something was a perfectly new experience? I can. I just don’t think that until I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane I would have defined it that way.
The most intense, revealing, terrifying scene in the book does not happen in the darkness, in a forest, in a cave or facing a shadow or a traditional monster. It happens in a bathroom in the little boy’s house. This is not an accident.
For me, though, the passage that brings tears to my eyes every time I read it is this one : “… In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, “Be whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.”
One commenter on Goodreads said that as they continued further into the book they became more angry and depressed, because it was clearer and clearer that the book wasn’t going going to have the ending they wanted. I think, even though the commenter hated the book, they got the book. The book isn’t about being heroic once and defeating the bad guy. It is, to some extent, about every minute of your life. The Guardian reviewer, on the other hand, wants Gaiman to “open a vein,” and write a realistic book, maybe about “fathers and sons;” because his realism is so… well, real. In other words, leave behind the stories that feed you, Mr. Gaiman, that captivate you and sing to you (and us), the stories that engage your passion and your imagination, and write the typical quasi-confessional literary novel we’ve all seen too many times; because that’s the kind of book that is in Mr. Docx’s comfort zone.
I had a journalist friend. He worked briefly for a small-town weekly, and one of his stories was a profile of a man who lived in the town square (before the phrase “homeless” became fashionable); on some sort of public assistance. He was an alcoholic. My friend spent time with him and interviewed merchants with shops on the square, the man’s family, and mental health professionals. He wrote a deep and sad profile of this local “town drunk.” The paper was deluged with letters and e-mails. Many locals were highly indignant that the paper would “glorify” a drunk in this way. Many locals were appalled at the paper’s “lack of compassion.” I asked my friend what he thought of the uproar. “Both sides are pissed off,” he said, “so I think I got it about right.”
Gaiman gets it about right in this book. It isn’t a book about a there-and-back-again journey; it isn’t good versus evil, nor is it just a “realistic” novel about a boy growing up in the early 1960s. Poor Neil Gaiman, able to envision worlds and characters, monsters and heroes that the rest of us only dimly see; able to create to touchable realism the little details that make up a life; and able to braid both of those skills into one slim, dense novel. Both sides are pissed off, Mr. Gaiman. Keep up the good work.
Books are machines, in a way, are they not? They are communication devices; televisions, telephones, time-travel machines, letting a person we don’t know and may never know share their thoughts, fears, visions and beliefs with us. Books are diagnostic devices… and sometimes, incendiary devices.
When I write “books are machines,” I’m writing about content. Except for the pages, books do not have a lot of moving parts. A page is almost the mundane world’s icon for something two-dimensional—it has length and breadth, not height. (I’m not speaking scientifically or mathematically here).
Books do not have a lot of moving parts, except when they do. And a page is not three-dimensional, except when it is. Books are collections of two-dimensional pages, except when they are something more. A book’s content may reach up and grab you emotionally, but it doesn’t reach up and grab you… until it does.
Books are not mechanical, except when they are mechanical books.
From the book Robots
Mockingbird Books bought a treasure trove of pop-up and mechanical books from a man Brandy knew from her time at Copperfield’s. He had hundreds; she didn’t even buy them all. They range from children’s books, to specialized, to R-rated (The Pin-Up Pop-Up Book).
Motorcycles, trucks and firetrucks are all well-represented.
Books with parts of pages that move actually go back a long way, it turns out. The first recognized “moveable book” is attributed to the mystic poet and astrologer Ramon LLul of Majorca, who published a book in 1305 that contained a volvelle. We’ve probably all seen volvelles and maybe even made them in grade school; two pieces of paper, circular, fastened at the center loosely enough that they can turn (like with a rivet or brad). Often a notch is cut out of the first one and pictures/words are written on the bottom sheet; the top wheel turns and the notch uncovers the writing or picture on the bottom wheel. The first example I remember is a color wheel my mom had. I’ve seen them for astrology, wine-tasting, herbalism, astronomy, tables of elements and many more things than I can name.
A teaching aid for astrology?
Volvelles were quite common in scholarly works, but the next big jump in mechano-books came in the 1770s. Common among these were tunnel books, where a hole die-cut through the pages allowed the viewer to see a picture as if through a tunnel or a telescope. Some of these were elaborate, with cutouts left in the foreground to create a 3-dimensional effect. Basically, this was burrowing through the pages of the book; in effect, cutting a hole through it; not unlike hollowing out a book to hide your drugs or your money. Well, not your drugs, of course. One’s drugs.
Or perhaps your camera
(I did hollow out a book when I was a teenager – and no, I didn’t hide my drugs in it. I hid two ten-dollar bills in there, in case I needed them, and then a couple of peso-notes that I brought back from Mexico,and later a really pretty button that I found on the street. Yes, I was a weird kid. In my defense, the book in question was a paperback novelization of a TV show called The Mod Squad, so I don’t think the universe went into mourning at the desecration of that particular batch of deathless prose.)
A handful of names are attached to moving-character books. Ramon Llul is the first. Dean and Son publishers, who started in London in the late 1790s, claimed to have originated the “moveable character book for children.” From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, they produced at least 50 titles of books with things that moved.
Lothar Meggendorfer (there’s a name to conjure with!) a German illustrator who worked in the 1860s is justly famous for his pop-up books. Meggendorfer’s books used levers and rivets to create pages where more than one thing moved. The most common example of his work is The International Circus.
The International Circus
Rafael Tuck, who started off with greeting cards, set himself up as Dean and Son’s primary rival with his series of “Father Tuck’s Mechanical Stories” in the 1870s. Earnest Nestor added the innovation of scenes that were set so that they canted out perpendicularly as the leaves of the book were opened. This is probably the image most of us hold of the Pop-up book today.
Not even the most racy page in the book.
Pop-up and books with things that move are feats of engineering as well as works of art. I think part of the reason I am fascinated by them is that I have trouble visualizing in three dimensions. These truly are mechanical, using the same principles as mill-wheels, levers and pulleys to bring a picture to multi-dimensional life as a book falls open.
Do you remember your first pop-up book when you were a kid? What was your children’s favorite? These charming book-toy hybrids have a longer and more storied history than I imagined.
Mockingbird Books, 6932 Sebastopol Ave, Ste D and E, Sebastopol, CA.
During a quiet few moments at the bookstore yesterday I talked to Brandy about my disappointment in Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare’s third book in her Infernal Devices series. You can read my review here. Basically, Clare buried the true climax of the book one hundred pages from the end, resorted to borrowing heavily from the Harry Potter novels, and worst of all, cheated on the ending so that the three leads do not have to live with the consequences of the supposedly serious choices they made a few pages earlier in the book.
I had a few other quibbles too.
I said that I thought she had basically sucked all the air out of the Shadowhunters stories. They’ve degraded into incomplete paranormal romance. My suggestion was, write a stand-alone book about some other character. I would read a novel about a young Magnus Bane, for instance.
Brandy had a different approach. Since it sounded like Clare has become interested in paranormal romance (all the current books now just erect obstacle after obstacle between the lovers and their happiness) – maybe she ought to write one.
I thought that over and I agree.
So, Cassandra Clare, since this part-time bookstore clerk who has sold three stories in her entire life feels perfectly comfortable dictating career moves to a highly successful writer with eight books (nine books?) under her belt and a movie of the first one about to be released, here it is: Go for it. Kick out the jams and write a full-on, gooey, steamy, hot and racy paranormal romance. Don’t hold back. Don’t limit those soft lips meeting gently, then growing more urgent; those manly/soft contours; that growing heat in his/her body; the near-tragic yearning for the other as he/she walks away; the flashing eyes; the swirling hair the color of midnight/copper/sunlight/violets/whatever. Don’t hold back on the best friend who says “Do it!” and the conniving villain/relative who wants to keep them apart to claim the inheritance or whatever. You’re already writing all of that now, and trying to squeeze it in around an actual adventure plot, and killing the adventure plot to do so. Take the adventure plot out of the picture.
The unspoken but well-understood words that follow, “Just write one,” are, of course, “and get it out of your system.”
Seriously, though, Clare might not get it out of her system. She may discover she likes paranormal romances. There is nothing stopping her from writing both and publishing the romances under another name. And then the publisher could put “Cassandra Clare writing as Velvetia Dulcimer Hawkwood,” on the cover and everyone would be happy.