Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Posted by Simcha 1:24 PM, under | 2 comments

Reviewed by Baruch Speiser

Lev Grossman’s highly acclaimed new novel, The Magicians, tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a high-school junior of above average intelligence who is unhappy and dissatisfied with his life. He has always felt that he was meant for a greater purpose in the world, that he would one day discover a destiny involving magic and adventure, similar to the kids in his favorite books from childhood, which he still secretly reads and enjoys. But eventually Quentin has to face the fact that the universe has no special plans for him and that he must continue to plod on through life, just like everyone else.

But when Quentin shows up for his Princeton interview, one day, he finds the interviewer dead. As he leaves, he is presented with a piece of paper which leads him to the Brakebills College of Magic. Finally Quentin is offered the life he has been dreaming of for so many years.

Training to become a magician is a lot harder then Quentin had imagined, and many of the troubles that he had hoped to leave behind, have followed him to his new life. But there are definitely some benefits at life at the College of Magic, such as Quentin’s new circle of friends, friends who will stick by Quentin when things get tough and will stand by his side when he finally gets the chance to fulfill his childhood dreams.

When first hearing the plot of The Magicians, many readers are likely to think of Harry Potter, due to a few similarities in the basic story, but Grossman anticipates this and shrugs it off with explicit mockery of quidditch and Hermione Granger’s teeth.

While there are many parallels between Brakebills and Hogwarts, Grossman actually takes his inspiration from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, based on her fictional School of Magic on Roke Island. Le Guin is not an exclusive inspiration; rather The Magicians is filled with references to well-known works of fantasy. Grossman doesn’t neglect to reference J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or borrow from the most widely known lore of Dungeons & Dragons.

Perhaps the most important allusion, however, is Quentin’s obsession with fictional author Christopher Plover’s “Fillory and Further”, a series more than reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia. This book-within-a-book plays a prominent role in both the character development and the plot, and Grossman practically uses his novel as a meta-critical review of the works of C. S. Lewis.

Harry Potter? Chronicles of Narnia? If you’re expecting a world of magical wonder and excitement, you won’t find it here. The Magicians is dark and gritty, like a grimy cloud of coal exhaust that hides any hope of a rainbow. It is evident to the reader that the Brakebills curriculum is designed around a dark and disturbing art – and unlike Star Wars, there exists nothing other than the Dark Side of the Force. Quentin and his friends, Alice, Eliot, Josh, Janet and Penny, are all capable of magic because they are deeply unhappy. In particular, Quentin’s inner melancholy has no boundaries; his dissatisfaction is a primary driver in this coming-of-age psychodrama.

Alcohol abuse and sexual escapism are rampant, and it is obvious from early on that Quentin is not supposed to be an affable protagonist, nor are his companions. Of all of them, only Alice is likable in any way, but the author makes her suffer for it. There is nothing pretty about this story, except for the illusory happy-land of Fillory – and Grossman makes it clear that such hopes and dreams couldn’t be more na├»ve. While Quentin loves Fillory as much as we love Narnia, Grossman uses it to make it clear that Narnia is a fool’s tale: it lacks the agonizing complexity of reality. It is magically simplistic, too neat and clean to represent the emotional convolution of the real world.

From an academic perspective, Grossman writes a modern marvel; it is one of the few works I’ve read that successfully builds on top of widely-known fantasy works without coming across as tacky or lazy. The writing style is sophisticated, and the text is stimulating and erudite. While the overall execution has its spotty moments, it is generally excellent, primarily relying on the intensity of the character development rather than forcing the story along rigid plot lines. Grossman’s antagonist is cleverly crafted; it doesn’t take long for the reader to realize that the chief villain is none other than a projection of who Quentin could become. Unlike many of the novels I’ve read lately, Grossman masterfully takes the time to build a clean resolution, but not one that is closed to interpretation - he wraps up the loose ends but leaves it to the reader to decide whether Quentin makes the morally correct choice and whether or not he will ultimately succeed.

Surprisingly, Grossman leverages these sophisticated successful literary techniques well enough to give The Magicians a dramatic sense of authenticity as its own work, rather than merely a derivation of the works the author builds upon. This is not a trivial remark; The Magicians is a solid story, satisfying and meaningful even if one has never read the works it references.

Yet while I respected, appreciated, and even admired The Magicians, I would be reluctant to say that I truly enjoyed it. Grossman makes it clear that there is nothing enjoyable about magic, the people that wield it, nor the lives that they choose to lead. He works hard to deliberately suck the enjoyment out of it, and considering the joy we’ve gotten out of Dumbledore and Aslan, that’s quite an accomplishment. The Magicians is heavy-handed, but only because it is essential to the story – and this makes it a success. If fantasy works are intended to be an avenue for escapism, then Lev Grossman’s tour de force is escapism from your everyday rote fantasy novel. While it may not be the happy fantasy you want it to be, it is the dark and provocative tale it is meant to be; few tales make you question your childhood fantasies, and in that respect, The Magicians delivers. Though I wouldn’t recommend it as light-hearted reading, those who are looking for something more sophisticated will find Grossman’s novel a stimulating alternative.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Finds

Posted by Simcha 1:00 PM, under | 4 comments

Mizb at Should Be Reading hosts the Friday Finds which you can participate in by listing the books that you have discovered during the past week and have added to your TBR pile. These are a couple of books that I came across this week and would love to get a hold of.

Nightlight: A Parodey by Harvard Lampoon
Description: Pale and klutzy, Belle arrives in Switchblade, Oregon looking for adventure, or at least an undead classmate. She soon discovers Edwart, a super-hot computer nerd with zero interest in girls. After witnessing a number of strange events–Edwart leaves his tater tots untouched at lunch! Edwart saves her from a flying snowball!–Belle has a dramatic revelation: Edwart is a vampire. But how can she convince Edwart to bite her and transform her into his eternal bride, especially when he seems to find girls so repulsive? Complete with romance, danger, insufficient parental guardianship, creepy stalker-like behavior, and a vampire prom, Nightlight is the uproarious tale of a vampire-obsessed girl, looking for love in all the wrong places.

Spellwright by Blake Charlton
Description: Imagine a world in which you could peel written words off a page and make them physically real. You might pick your teeth with a sentence fragment, protect yourself with defensive paragraphs, or thrust a sharply-worded sentence at an enemy’s throat.

Such a world is home to Nicodemus Weal, an apprentice at the wizardly academy of Starhaven. Because of how fast he can forge the magical runes that create spells, Nicodemus was thought to be the Halcyon, a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent an event called the War of Disjunction, which would destroy all human language. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell.

Runes must be placed in the correct order to create a spell. Deviation results in a “misspell”—a flawed text that behaves in an erratic, sometimes lethal, manner. And Nicodemus has a disability, called cacography, that causes him to misspell texts simply by touching them.

Now twenty-five, Nicodemus lives in the aftermath of failing to fulfill prophecy. He finds solace only in reading knightly romances and in the teachings of Magister Shannon, an old blind wizard who’s left academic politics to care for Starhaven’s disabled students.

But when a powerful wizard is murdered with a misspell, Shannon and Nicodemus becomes the primary suspects. Proving their innocence becomes harder when the murderer begins killing male cacographers one by one…and all evidence suggests that Nicodemus will be next. Hunted by both investigators and a hidden killer, Shannon and Nicodemus must race to discover the truth about the murders, the nature of magic, and themselves.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brandon Sanderson interviewed by GeekDad

Posted by Simcha 3:05 PM, under | 3 comments

GeekDad, at Wired Magazine, did a really great interview with Brandon Sanderson about his experience with finishing Robert Jordans's Wheel of Time Series. Brandon talks about the pressure involved in taking on this massive project and "the daunting task of not being the one who screws up The Wheel of Time."

I actually never finished the WOT series as I found the female characters to be too annoying but I'm tempted to pick the books up again just because I love Brandon Sanderson's writing. One part of the interview that I thought was particularly interesting was Brandon's reflection on how he views the book characters differently, now as an adult, then he did when he was younger.

    When I was a kid, I found myself resisting the oppression of Moiraine and Nynaeve, and these older people who were trying to keep the younger guys locked in. I read the series now as an adult, and I feel like one of these people, saying, “Listen to Moiraine’s advice, Rand! Don’t do that-you’re being stupid!” I find myself empathizing with the older characters. It’s a testament to Robert Jordan’s skill as a writer, the ability to write so many people from so many different walks of life. As you change and become a different person, as you grow, as we all do, you’ll begin to see the perspective of other people in the book. It was quite shocking to me.
You can read the whole interview at Wired.Com

And if you are a fan of Brandon Sanderson, or if you are just looking for good writing tips, check out his podcast Writing Excuses. I love listening to it, even though I'm not a writer.

You Can Be A Winner Too: Book Giveaways

Posted by Simcha 2:35 AM, under | No comments

To my astonishment, I was recently the winner of two different book blog giveaways.
Considering the fact that I haven't won anything since a pink teddy bear, when I was nine years old (and which I still have, see --------->)
I was quite excited and I've now begun entering every contest I can find.

And to help spread the joy, I decided to make a list each week of all the international giveaways that I come across, to help give you the chance to become a winner too (yes, I'm just that kind of person).

As I mentioned above, all the contests I list will be ones which are open world wide, so that anyone may enter them. Since I live in Israel I always get excited to find a good contest in which I can participate, particularly if it's for books.. Although I understand that most bloggers have financial limitations which prevent them from being able to ship books internationally, its still great when some does offer a contest open to everyone.

And finally, thank you to Bitten by Books and Debuts and Reviews for the awesome books I won at your blogs.

Book Chick City is giving away a copy of Bound to Shadows by Keri Arthur, which you can enter by leaving a comment and tweeting or blogging the contest. Contest ends Nov. 12th

Silk and Shadows is hosting Jocelynn Drake who is offering one lucky winner the complete collection of her books, including Unbound anthology, Nightwalker, Dayhunter, and Dawnbreaker. Contest ends Nov. 12th.

The Neverending Shelf is giving one lucky winner a copy of Christine and Ethan Rose's Rowan of the Woods and Witch on the Water. I've never read these books but I've heard good things about them and they look really cute. To enter, leave a comment and receive extra points for following the blog and promoting the contest. Contest ends Nov. 13th

All Things Urban Fantasy has a $20 Amazon gift certificate to give away. To enter, leave a vampire related question for author Kelly Meding. Contest ends Nov. 13th

Lisa and Laura are giving away a Kindle which you can enter to win by becoming a follower. Extra entries are given for blogging and commenting. Contest ends Nov. 13th

I should be Writing is giving away three books to three different winners (though more books may be added along with the amount of winners). The books currently include Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick and Maze Runner by James Dashner.

To enter you need to become a follower and leave a comment. Extra entries are given if you follow the blog on twitter and promote the contest through your blog.
Contest ends Nov. 22nd

is giving away a copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. to enter you just have to fill out a form. Contest ends Dec. 4th

The Book Resort is giving away a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice. To enter, suggest a good name for a literary agency (it looks like the blogger, whose name I don't see anywhere on the blog, is intending to start one) as well as follow the blog. You can also get extra points by tweeting a blogging the contest. Contest ends Dec. 12th

A Booklover's Diary is having a really great contest in which four winners will be selected. The first winner will receive a .pdf of The Blue Pen by Lisa Rusczyk and a $35 Amazon giftcard. The second winner will receive three books of their choice from a list of books provided. The third winner will receive two books from that same list and the last winner will get to choose one book from whatever books remain. To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. Extra points are given following the blog and promoting the giveaway.
Contest ends Nov. 30th.

Noobie is giving away a free kindle, valued at $259. To enter you just have to fill out a short form with your name and email address. And you get extra entries by forwarding the contest information to other people. Contest ends Dec. 14th.

And don't forget about my Jasper Fforde Book Giveaway where you can win the book of your choice by internationally best selling author, Jasper Fforde.

For a list of more great contests, visit Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Blog Interview with Fantasy Literature Frankly

Posted by Simcha 6:27 AM, under | 4 comments

"Life's Too Short to Read Bad Books," declares the heading of Fantasy Literature Frankly, and I wholeheartedly agree. If you are looking for a good fantasy book to read, then make sure to stop by this wonderful book blog where you will find great book reviews, author interviews and lots of fun book giveaways.

This month we have an interview with Stephen B. Frank, who runs the Fantasy Literature Frankly blog

Hi Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.

Can you please tell me about your blog and what makes it unique?

Fantasy Literature Frankly is the blog of Fantasy, a review site that has nineteen reviewers and aspiring authors. We usually post two reviews per day and have a database of over 900 fantasy authors with reviews and cover art and audio interviews and so much content… It’s really much more than a typical blog. Kat’s done an amazing job of recruiting top notch reviewers, too. Some of whom are short fiction authors who I predict are going to be famous fantasy novelists someday.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not reading?

I have three lovely children. And I am the director of a non-profit business as part of which I write on education reform. I also like to take long walks, but, um, I usually read as I walk. So I don’t know if that counts. I used to have other hobbies. But now, I work on fiction writing.

When and why did you start this blog?

Well, I only started blogging a few months ago. I am waiting for editorial feedback on my first novel before I submit it for an agent and eventual publication. And I thought I’d try my hand at blogging. I started the Urban Fantasy Fan Page and then Kat Hooper asked me to take over the blog at Fantasy I love the site and the other reviewers and am learning a lot. I really love it.

How did you first get interested in reading fantasy?

I came to fantasy as a child. Or, as I prefer to say, I was a fantastic child. My mother might remember this differently. I started with Baum’s Oz books and Tolkien and then graduated to Piers Anthony, from whom I learned the joys of serial punning. Some things you never recover from. And after that, I read just about everything I could get my hands on.

I read on your website that your favorite sub-genre is urban/ contemporary fantasy. What is it about this genre that you particularly enjoy?

I’m not really sure why I’m so addicted. It’s sort of an odd choice for me. I’m pretty much a snob about a lot of things and most people would consider this lowbrow even for genre fiction. I suppose I grew up reading epic fantasy about orphan boys who turn out to be powerful wizard princes. I think I first read Terry Brooks’ urban fantasy series and then Anita Blake. And it was sooo different than my childhood fare that I had to have more. Then I discovered Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. And since I am writing an urban fantasy novel, I started reading it as research. And from there it just snuck up and took over my life.

What do you enjoy the most about having a book blog?

Making connections with new people. I also like being able to write short, funny essays.

Have you found your attitude towards books or reading has changed since you have begun reviewing books?

I’ve been reflecting on that recently. Really, I am more of a fan than a critic by nature. And I’m willing to forgive a lot of flaws in a book if there’s something redeeming about it or the author. I do hate it when I get a review copy of a book and then find it’s not quite up to what I’d hoped and I feel compelled to write something about it. Or, I realize that not everybody is going to love a book as much as I do. So, I feel compelled to pay more attention to the flaws instead of forgiving and forgetting.

Have you ever had an author get upset with you for a negative review? If so, how did you deal with it?

No, but I’m new to this, and I trust most authors to be professional. That said, my job is to invite authors to interview at the site. And with eighteen reviewers, there’s always the chance that I’ll invite someone who has been negatively reviewed. I try to avoid that. But I basically live in a state of perpetual fear.

It sounds like you get to interact with a lot of different authors. Do you find that personal interaction with an author affects the way that you might review that author's books?

I suppose it's possible that I would like a book better for knowing the author, but admitting that in the review (fair advertising) seems like it's enough for people who read the view to understand and adjust accordingly. Personally, I would not avoid interaction with authors to preserve my objectivity because, frankly, I think building relationships (even virtual ones) is far more important than any review I'd ever write or book I'd ever read.

John Steinbeck once said. "Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard." To me this means that authors first and foremost need to have thick skins because few books, if any, will ever appeal to everyone. On the flip side, I think it is also important for reviewers to always remember that what they write, being in the public domain, is almost always going to get back to the author whether or not there is an interview or not. So, I'd hope I write any review, positive or negative, as if I'm giving direct feedback to the author while keeping the author's receptivity and feelings in mind. Even if I didn't like a book I'd hope the things I said would be said so as not to hurt the author's feelings. And if I can't do that, then maybe I shouldn't write a review of the book regardless.

And for your final question- If you decided to join the forces of darkness (hypothetically, of course) which book villain would you choose to join forces with, and why?

Hm. I’d have to say Georgina Kincaid, from Richelle Mead's Succubus Blues series. Yeah, I know technically she’s the protagonist. But she works for Hell; so that’s a force for darkness right? We could probably get Freudian about me wanting to be tied to a demon lover who’d use me for sex. But in addition to that awesome benefit, she’s a very lovely person, for, you know, a hell-bound demon. Off to see my therapist now. Thanks for the interview!

And thank you Stephen for taking the time to speak (email?) with me. It was great getting to know you and learning more about Fantasy Literature Frankly

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L Wilson

Posted by Simcha 5:48 AM, under | 3 comments

Lord of the Fading Lands is the first book in C.L Wilson’s best selling Tairen Soul series and a book that I remember loving when I first read it, about a year ago. With the fourth book in the series just released, I decided to go back and reread the earlier books to refresh my memory as well as to see if the books are really as good as I recall. To my delight, and relief, Lord of the Fading Lands was just as good as I remember it being, if not better.

Rain Tairen Soul is the dark and solitary king of the Fey, the magical immortal creatures who reside in the Fading Lands. A thousand years ago he had decimated half the continent with rage over the murder of his mate and since then he has remained secluded in the Fading Lands. But now the Tairen are dying, his people are in danger of becoming extinct and a darkness is growing in the land of his enemies. Only Rain, the most powerful of the Fey and the only one able to shape shift into a magical winged Tairen, is capable of saving the Fey and their Tairen brethren. Desperate to find a solution, Rain forces a response from the Eye of Truth and is directed to the despised land of Celarians, where the mortals live.

All of her childhood, Ellie has been teased and shunned by the other children for being different. Abandoned as a baby, Sol and Lauriana had taken her in and treated her as their own, even as she was afflicted by horrible seizures and frightening nightmares throughout her young life. Now at the age of twenty-four Ellie is still unmarried with no prospects for marriage in the horizon. So when Den, the repulsive butcher’s son, makes his interests in Ellie known, Ellie’s parents encourage her to respond in kind. Desperate to avoid being married to a man she despises, Ellie prays for someone to come and save her from this marriage.

Rain did not know why he was meant to travel to Celarian, but he certainly didn’t expect the shock of discovering his Sheitan, soul-mate, there. From the moment he spied Ellie in the crowd he was drawn to her, and at the first touch of her skin he knew that this woman was bound to his soul. Not in a thousand years has a Tairen Soul found himself a Sheitan, and this occurrence is a cause for much rejoicing, and concern.

As Rain begins the process of courting Ellie he must also convince the king and his court that they are in danger from the Eld, the evil mages who had caused the death of Rain’s mate. But only Rain can sense the darkness that is brewing and no one will believe that the danger he warns them of is real. And due to growing hostilities towards the Fey, Rain’s allies are few and his enemies more numerous by the day.

Lord of the Fading Lands is a beautifully written book with a wonderful balance of fantasy and romance that is sure to please fans of both genres. While I had highly enjoyed the book the first time, reading it the second time was even more pleasurable as I eagerly anticipated my favorite scenes that I knew were coming up.

The part where Rain and Ellie meet for the first time is definitely one of my favorites, full of tension, confusion and tenderness. And I loved when Ellie’s beautiful nemesis, who never misses an opportunity to taunt Ellis, tries to lure Rain away from her, believing herself more worthy for a king, and- well, you have to read it to find out…

The whole book is just such a fun and magical experience. While the romance between Rain and Ellie is a large part of the book, Wilson did not neglect to provide a wonderfully told story filled with excitement, intrigue, humor and drama. Each character is fully and skillfully developed, from Ellie’s strict yet loving mother and her lovable, mischievous twin sisters to Rain’s entourage of deadly Fey warriors, each a memorable character in their own right. There is also the fairytale quality to the story, of the poor woodcarver’s daughter, discovered by a king and whisked away to become his queen. Ellie refers a couple of times to a Cinderella-like character, who she relates to, as she suddenly finds herself in the unfamiliar, glittering world of the nobility.

Lord of the Fading Lands is a book that I highly recommend and which I look forward to reading again and again. I'm now eager to continue on to the next book in the series, Lady of Light and Shadows, to see if it stands up to a reread as successfully as the first book did.


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