Monday, January 7, 2013

REVIEW: Dust City by Robert Paul Weston

Dust City
by Robert Paul Weston

"I pad over and put out a paw. "Pleased to meet you, madam."
She blushes, the varicose veins in her cheeks swelling with blood. Instead of taking my paw to shake, however, she turns it over as if it's a piece of bruised fruit in a market. "Hmmm..." She pores over my palm, nodding like a fortune-teller. Her spectacles slide comically down the bridge of her nose, and when she looks up at me, her face is full of mock astonishment. "Oh, my! What big teeth you have!" She giggles and kicks her slippered feet."

Henry Whelp is the son of the wolf who killed Little Red Riding Hood. This has been the defining characteristic of his existence. He is currently in St. Remus juvenile detention facility for dropping a brick onto a moving truck (a Nimbus truck like the one that killed his mother). When a sudden death reveals some lost letters from his father, Henry must break out and discover the truth of his father's crime at any cost.

Dust City is pretty straight forward, mostly plot driven. However, the world-building is really fun! All the fairy tale characters live in a modern city. The lower class live on the ground, and the rich live in Eden, the city in the clouds recently and suspiciously vacated by the fairies. The fairies used to use fairy dust to grant wishes and fulfill destinies, but now with the fairies gone, pharmaceutical companies have been making synthetic dust. Not as good as the real thing, but it can fix a headache. And the darker, stronger stuff is sold on the street.

Henry must enter this dark underworld to discover what happened to his father to turn him into a vicious killer, what happened to the fairies, and what the baddies are really up to.

I was so pleased that the author had clearly done his fairy tale homework. Cindy Rella is a social worker, and Officer White is a badass detective, but Weston also includes stories like "The Juniper Tree," "Hans-My-Hedgehog," and "The Girl with No Hands" seamlessly into the fast-moving plot.

If you are looking for a fast, fun, surprisingly dark urban fairy tale pastiche, this is the book for you!

REVIEW: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

by Kristin Cashore

“She couldn't steal herself back from Randa only to give herself away again - belong to another person, be answerable to another person, build her very being around another person.”

Katsa is a Graceling, a person gifted at a young age with a magically enhanced talent. You can be graced with swimming or fighting or painting or really anything, and find yourself preternaturally disposed to succeed in this particular activity. Katsa's grace is killing.

Because of this, she has become the reluctant enforcer of her Uncle, King Randa's tyrannical whims. As an escape, she and the Council she created secretly right the wrongs in the 7 kingdoms. On one such mission, she meets Po, youngest son of King Ror, and a graceling fighter, or so he says. Through her relationship with Po, she finds the strength to break free of Randa's influence, and she and the young prince embark on a dangerous mission against a deadly enemy, a king who may have the power to control people's minds.

This book began very much like a Tamora Pierce book: established world, young girl who is a stubborn fighter who never wants to marry. I thought it would follow the same way: girl meets guy and they are friends until they defeat the evil guy and at the very end they decide that they love each other and want to get married.

Not so with this book, resulting in a fuller, meatier story.

Katsa falls for Po right away, at first in a cute, blushy, must-ignore-his-pecs kind of way. However, in the middle of the book, it deepens into something true and resonant. It makes them weak and it gives them strength. In a book that wrestles with what it means to have power over someone (psychological, physical and magical) it also explores the power of loving someone. Katsa wrestles with giving someone power over her in this relationship, and in the end, the power of their relationship is what gives them the strength they need to endure not just the bad guy, but their own internal struggles.

Neither of them are perfect, but they fight and they communicate and they listen to each other and they wrestle with very real relationship problems. And both characters are so compelling and kick-ass that you are invested in them every step of the way.

There are kingdoms at stake too, and one small girl named Bitterblue who steals the show as a 10 year old who has had to grow up too fast. But the relationship is the core of the book.

Often this would bother me. "Why can't we have a girl story where she is not mooning over a guy?" I would lament. But usually, in those stories, the relationship is a reward, or a sidebar to the main plot. A nice way to tie up the story. In this book, the relationship is the point, the catalyst, the driving force, the problem, and the solution.

The story also explores the idea of self-perception. If someone tells you you are one thing ever since you were little, how does that change your life when you realize you are something else. Katsa thinks her grace is killing. But what if it is not?

This is an excellent book, and I am so excited to read the rest of the trilogy!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

REVIEW: Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art by Christopher Moore

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art
by Christopher Moore

“I love you, Lucien, but I am a muse, you are an artist, I am not here to make you comfortable.” 

Lucien is a baker-by-day, painter-by-night at the height of the art explosion in Paris at the turn of the century. He is at the center of it all, drinking with Manet, Seurat, Toulouse Lautrec, Whistler, and all the greats of the era. When he gets word that Van Gogh has just killed himself by apparently shooting himself in a field, and then walking two miles to the nearest doctor, he is a liiiiittle suspicious. This line of inquiry takes him down the rabbit hole, and soon he finds himself dealing with dark, ancient artistic and mystical forces that both threaten and disturbingly inflame the artistic community of Paris.

Usually, you know immediately that you are reading one of Christopher Moore's books. Witty quips, dirty jokes, characters that defy convention. This felt like a well-researched, regular novel. It takes about two or three chapters before you see a joke that you can shake hands with and say "Oh hello, Christopher Moore's style!"

I do appreciate the time and care he has taken to really flesh out the artistic world of Paris at the turn of the century. Using letters and other primary sources as a foundation, he shocks life into artists I knew by name and by work, but never by personality. He peppers the book with images of paintings of the characters in the book (either real or imagined), painted by this small circle of artists themselves. It is a very intimate portrayal of their world.

The magical mystery is tantalizing. Who is the Colorman? Why is he always accompanied by a mysterious woman. Why do they bring death, disease and memory loss in their wake. Moore drops breadcrumb clues expertly, never revealing too much until just the right moment.

The main complaint I have about this book is the resolution. And since I can't talk about that without spoiling things, I will have to be annoying and vague. Suffice it to say that, first, I never was 100% behind the relationship of certain characters which makes part of the ending unsatisfying. Second, it is a pet peeve of mine that, in many stories, a character kills many people, friends of the protagonist even, and they show no signs of remorse, but we are asked to forget about that because they are funny and have strategically and selfishly changed allegiances all of a sudden. Third, I am unsatisfied with Lucien's place at the end of the story. It seems horribly wrong and disturbing to me. I feel he gets neither of his dreams, and he hurts people in the process.

However, I will leave you to make your own conclusions. It is still a solid, funny Christopher Moore book with great characters.

Other great Christopher Moore books:
A Dirty Job