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Meant to Have Dragons

July 4, 2012

I did pretty well with my reading goal this spring – even though it’s such a busy season at work, I easily reached my goal of reading at least eleven books in three months, and at least six of them new (to me) ones. But I never found time to blog about them.

Here is the part that I wrote weeks ago – I still have lots of other books to review, but I don’t know when I’ll ever have time to do that. I read 16 books this spring, and only four of them were rereads. Here are the first nine.

Random dragon picture – this is Gloria, who now lives in my Parthenocissus and guards the entrance to my bedroom.

I’ve been on something of a Robin Hobb binge this year:

1. Robin Hobb, Golden Fool (new, English) and

2. Robin Hobb, Fool’s Fate (new, English):

I’m feeling a little torn about the Tawny Man trilogy. On the one hand, it was absolutely captivating – I was hardly able to do anything but read, I hated going to work, and slept extremely little. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll reread it often, because it makes me unhappy.

I think I’ve read complaints that it’s hard to read because of all the bad things happening to Fitz. But, if I’m honest, I don’t care much about Fitz – but I do care about the Fool. To whom I owe the title of this post, too – his line about the skies being meant to have dragons was the one that really stood out to me – probably because it fits in so well with my thoughts on why I read Fantasy.

One question that I asked myself while reading the Farseer trilogy seems answered now.

I can’ help but wonder: When Hobb started Assassin’s Apprentice, did she have the Liveship Traders, Tawny Man and Rain Wild Chronicles plotted out already, or did those stories come later?

She must have, because some events in the Tawny Man books (particularly one in the last book, I can’t go into more detail if I want to keep this mostly spoiler-free) uses a lot of information from the previous trilogies (Farseer and Liveship Traders) – it wouldn’t work nearly as well if the necessary background for that scene had only been set up in the last three books. It wouldn’t feel so natural for things to work that way, so “simply part of that world”, but contrived, just to make that scene work.

On the other hand, it means that you can’t read the Tawny Man trilogy independently of the others the way you could read the Farseer books and the Liveship Traders. Well, you could, I think you get all the information you need to understand everything that’s going on, but at the same time, you’re heavily spoiled for the previous trilogies. And I don’t know about you, but I hate spoilers.

Speaking of spoilers, I can’t avoid them entirely this time, so –

Spoiler warning, if you haven’t read the Tawny Man trilogy, you’d better skip the next three paragraphs!

Are you sure you want to read this? Yes? OK then…

One of the deaths in Golden Fool, I should totally have seen coming (I’m not sure I want to name the character so near the top of the paragraph, names have an annoying habit of jumping out even from paragraphs you’re trying not to read – maybe it’s the capital letters?) Burrich, of course – isn’t it one of the oldest literary rules that father figures must die? Not to mention that it was the… well… easiest solution to the Burrich/Molly/Fitz thing. I still hate it, though, I liked Burrich. Which is odd, because characters who drink a lot usually make me uneasy. I think he reminds me of my father when I was little, before I realized he was an alcoholic, before it started bothering me.  But, little as I liked his death, it was well done, showing that magic can’t fix everything.

The Fool, though… I spent the whole time of Fitz’s search thinking, “he can’t be dead, he can’t be dead, he can’t be dead!” It was late at night, I had a long day of work ahead the next day, but I just could not turn out the light – I had to read, read, read and hope and wish… I don’t think I’ve ever come so close to actually crying over a book as I did when Fitz failed to heal the Fool with the Skill – I may tear up a bit or sniffle a little, but this was, I think, so far the only time I’ve made the whimpering sounds I did that night.

It was past midnight when I finally gave up and admitted he was dead, and went to sleep feeling thoroughly miserable. I woke up the next morning still feeling miserable, but halfway through breakfast – when I was reading, of course –  I was beginning to smile cautiously, as I began to see what the author had planned, and by the time I left for work, I was beaming again. That was the scene I mentioned above, of course – weaving together wizardwood and Fitz’s own return from the dead – that was another “should have seen that coming” moment, but I’m glad I didn’t – it was a much more intense reading experience this way.

It’s a little hard to write a coherent review of books I’ve read over a month and ten other books ago, so I hope you’ll excuse me if this is a little incoherent sometimes.

One character I was really excited about was Thick. I actually got excited already when I read Fool’s Errand and Fitz got his first glimpse of him – a character with Down syndrome, in a Fantasy book! I can’t think of any other Fantasy character with any sort of disabilities – actually I can’t think of any characters with disabilities, except in books where these disabilities are the focus of the plot. Never a random side character. This made me really happy.

The ending, though, didn’t make me happy. I wasn’t as miserable any more as I was for a few chapters, and I understand why it had to end the way it did – an author has to follow the rules of her own world – but I can’t be happy about it.

Speaking of rules, there’s one of those unspoken “rules” that Hobb has broken with this trilogy – in almost all the Fantasy books I can think of, the main character is young, making his quest a coming-of-age journey. But middle-aged characters like Fitz are pretty rare (at least in the books I’ve read).

So to sum up, a very well-written, hard to put down trilogy, but not one that I will reread endlessly. I mainly reread books for scenes that made me happy, and there are few of those in the Tawny Man trilogy. I’d still recommend it, though (but it might be wise to keep a tissue handy.)

3. Arnaldur Indridason, Menschensöhne (Sons of Dust) (new, German): I borrowed a few books from my father to mix my reading “diet” up a bit. Sometimes I need a bit of a break from Fantasy – but, what does it say about me that I find most Fantasy plots more believable than this crime novel? I do like Icelandic names, though.

4. Robin Hobb, The Dragon Keeper (reread, English),

5. Robin Hobb, Dragon Haven (reread, English) and

6. Robin Hobb, City of Dragons (new, English):

Like I said, a Robin Hobb binge. I don’t care all that much for the Rain Wild Chronicles, though. I don’t know why, but I’ve not really fallen in love with any of the characters. Or maybe it’s just the absence of the Fool – it mightn’t have bothered me so much if I hadn’t just read so much about him just a few days before, but now I was missing him. It was nice to meet some of the Liveship Traders characters again, but I can’t even think of much else to say about this series.

The one mental note I made was that at first I was pretty pleased because Hobb managed to include gay characters without making them either the focus of the plot or feeling like just a “token gay character”. But by the second book, I found myself getting a little irritated, because it feels like too many gay people for the size of the cast.

But although I didn’t care too much about the story and characters, it was still weird to have to put this book down at last and realize I’ll have to wait another year or so for Blood of Dragons. It is always so weird to leave a world I have spent so much time in!

7. Håkan Nesser, Das zweite Leben des Herrn Roos [The second life of Mr Roos] (new, German): Another one of the borrowed-from-my-father books. I read crime the way I eat rice – just so I don’t eat pasta all the time. This one bored me a bit… it starts very slow, and the mystery never quite gets resolved. I suppose to someone who reads a lot of crime novels, as my father does, it is nice in that it doesn’t quite follow the usual structure (the way I was pleased with the Tawny Man’s middle-aged main character), but I didn’t care much for it.

Still, it put a bit of difference between one Fantasy book and the next. I find that if I read too much of the same genre in a row, it all blurs together, and I can’t really enjoy each book as much as it deserves.

Another random dragon picture – Nobody lives in the Tetrastigma and guards the kitchen door. When he’s not sucking his thumb, that is.

8. Tad Williams and Deborah Beale, The Dragons of Ordinary Farm (reread, English) and

9. Tad Williams and Deborah Beale, The Secrets of Ordinary Farm (new, English):

And these books definitely deserved to be enjoyed. I just want to hug and cuddle them, they made me so happy. I don’t know if I loved The Dragons of Ordinary Farm as much the first time I read it, but I think I’ve said it before, blogging has made me read differently, paying much more attention to what I read, what I like about it.

I love both Fantasy and children’s adventure stories, and the Ordinary Farm books could be called a crossover between both – Famous Five with dragons, so to speak – pretty much perfect!

I found the main characters, Lucinda and Tyler, to be very believable kids, and the other characters are at the same time believable and wonderfully fantastical. Uncle Gideon is the stereotypical absent-minded professor, reminding me of Uncle Quentin from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. Would make sense, too – Deborah Beale is British. And whether it is coincidence or a subconscious memory of a book she might have read once, in one of my Famous Five books, George’s family ends up with an evil housekeeper – not as wonderfully creepy as Ordinary Farm’s Mrs Needle, of course, but both of them have a son around the same age as the protagonists.

Well, that might just be coincidence, but the appearance of magic mirrors and labyrinthine houses definitely isn’t – those are old “Tad-themes”, which have, I think, been present in every book he’s written so far.

Maybe I’m just easily amused, but the names “Ordinary Farm” and “Standard Valley” made me grin every time – because there’s definitely nothing ordinary or standard about that place!

The one thing that irritated me about those books was seeing a quote from Christopher Paolini every time I looked at the cover of Secrets.

Clever … mysterious, and best of all, it has dragons!

I mean, yes, true words, but Christopher Paolini irritates me, or rather his books do, and – I know it’s unfair – I feel like he shouldn’t be allowed to say anything about the books of people who are far better writers than he is.

And again: so long to wait for the next book! I want to keep on reading!

I think I wanted to say more about these books, but now several more weeks have passed since I started writing this post, and months since I’ve read them, so I can’t quite remember what. It was lovely to read some intelligently-written kids’ books, though – so many of the newer books just sound so stupid, I don’t even want to pick them up to give them a try, let alone be seen reading them. But I found these enjoyable and exciting although I’m a “few” years older than the target group – and if I ever know a kid who I need to get hooked on Fantasy, these will be a good place to start.

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