Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Bone Season…

… was BORING.

I wanted to like it so very badly. I was interested because it takes place in London and Oxford (and references Port Meadow), so I had that connection immediately. I loved my time in Oxford and love reading stories that take place there. The author, Samantha Shannon, got a huge advance and was being quietly touted as “the next J.K. Rowling,” so I wanted to hop on that train and enjoy another great fantasy adventure book.

Alas.

Even if I’d carried low expectations, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this.

The writing is weak. There’s no way around it. It’s full of awkward descriptions, there’s a monster-truck-load of vocabulary introduced and only about 20% actually explained, there are about three potential love-interests and the reader can’t tell who to root for until way too late, and the syntax (which I’m sure is supposed to reflect the short and to-the-point thoughts of the first person narrator) is stunted and simplistic. Even when it finally becomes (pretty) clear which love interest demands the focus, it’s completely awkward because the narrator childlishly refuses to see it; I kind of wanted to slap her every time she had a petulant thought.

I was annoyed the whole time I was reading it, and only finished all 450 pages because I’m stubborn like that–and, perhaps, was holding out the hope of something redemptive.

WHY WEREN'T YOU BETTER? WHY, BOOK?

WHY WEREN’T YOU BETTER? WHY, BOOK?

Admittedly, around the 350 page mark things started to pick up, but that is an unacceptable amount of set-up. When my novel got rejected this summer, two of the main points were “get to the point faster” (Shannon has the narrator’s world turn upside down right away, so at first glance she follows this advice, but then nothing actually happens until that 350-ish mark I mentioned) and “don’t use character dialogue as exposition dumps–they shouldn’t all sound like teachers to the main character.” Well, all the characters, especially “Warden,” are massive information-dumps and half of their dialogue sounds like a teacher trying hard to explain things to the narrator… and to the reader. Yet with all those words, words, words, it still doesn’t make sense.

For my complaint about the weird vocabulary we’re supposed to accept, take a glance at these from the first chapter:

mollisher | mime-lord | oxygen bar | dreamscapes | voyant | meatspace | aether | NVD | amaurotic | Scion | spool | colobomata | threnody

Sure, some of them are guessable and/or explained, but the continued intersection of meatspace, dreamscape, cord, spirits, and the aether are never fully clarified, in my opinion, and that really harms the story.

By the way… there are 108 total terms in the glossary. :/

Tamora Pierce had her narrator use a unique vocabulary set in a similar way in the “Bloodhoud” books, but she had the talent to pull it off. There were only a handful of words compared to Shannon’s, and they flowed organically within the rest of the story. “The Bone Season” didn’t have that flow at all.

I don’t mean for this review to sound like an attack, but I do hope that my disappointment is evident. I deeply, truly was rooting for this book and my hopes were dashed like a dummy in a Mythbusters’ explosion. The author is young, which is awesome, but her writing sounds young, too, and that’s a shame. I think it will affect how seriously she is taken in the future and they should have kept her tucked away in the publishing stable for a little longer, working with an editor who could fix the numerous issues she faced.

The sad part is that it’ll probably get turned into a movie anyway.

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a reflection on Samwise Gamgee

Is there any literary character greater than Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings?

I think not.

He begins as a simple gardener, a hobbit who is not the best or brightest. He’s too shy to talk to Rosie and scared to take the step past the cornfield, because “if [he] takes one more step, it’ll be the furthest away from home [he’s] ever been.” But his bravery is evident, even at the beginning, because he takes that step anyway. Gandalf asks him to watch after Frodo and Sam takes his charge very seriously. At all steps, even when others in the Fellowship falter, Sam keeps Frodo’s safety as his first priority, even over his own. When he sees Frodo sailing away, he chases him through the water even though he can’t swim. When things seem hopeless–and the poor hobbits have no idea how much more hopeless they’ll feel later–Sam inspires Frodo to keep going, with his speech:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.” (Frodo asks) “What are we holding onto, Sam?” “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”

Okay, he’s mean to Gollum/Smeagol, but he trusts his gut and his gut says (eat second breakfast and) that Gollum has ill intentions, which we all know is true. He complains a bit, but hobbits are used to comfort and he’s a far ways off from his hobbit hole–I can’t blame him too much for that. He’s devastated after the Shelob incident, when he believes Frodo has been killed, but he doesn’t let despair drive him to inaction; he overcomes the grief and does what is required. He takes up the ring and vows to finish the mission to destroy it by himself, because he understands the extreme importance of this task.

And then, when Frodo is alive but overwhelmed with the power of the ring, Sam has his great line: “Mr. Frodo, I may not be able to carry the ring for you, but I can carry you.” He picks up his hobbit friend and the ring and carries them up Mount Doom. Epic battles fill Middle Earth during this time period, but it all hinges on the two tiny hobbits and the Gollum-creature trying to destroy a horrible, powerful ring.

So after the whole Nazgul/orc/Mount Doom adventure, Sam finally has the courage to talk to Rosie, and they have thirteen baby hobbits together.

I love it! Sam is so brave despite his fear, which is the best example of bravery. He grows so much over the course of the books in manners big and small, even though he is in no way a conventional hero. All of the characters are important in their own way, but I like to think that Sam is the most important in the long run.

I know this post is really random, but it’s on my mind… I cheated a little because Jeff and I are currently re-watching the movies, instead of re-reading the books, but Sean Astin did a great portrayal of Sam, so that’s okay. I really like Samwise and I wanted to try to put into words “why.” :)

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introvert

The fact that I’m trying to carve out a living for myself as a teacher and a writer is actually pretty strange when one stops to consider how incredibly introverted I am. “But writing is the realm of introverts!” some may retort. Yes, for that lovely solitude of actually sitting down to write. But the agent hunt, marketing game, world of reviewers, and idea of “fans” brings all of that into a strange land where someone with a lot more energy and sociability would fare better than I’ll ever be able to. The hope of readers diving into my worlds and loving my characters: awesome. The stress of reviewers ripping it apart in that soulless manner they have: terrifying.

Teaching, meanwhile, is its own beast. If I allow myself to stop and think about it, it’s not that bad–I’m only up in front of people for about 5 hours of my “7” (uh first year teacher, try 10 to 12) hour day, and the fact that my students are young little tykes… of 17… helps, since public speaking is far worse in front of peers. Still, I start each period feeling like I must take a deep breath and put on an acting hat, one full of confidence and energy and zeal and a loud projecting voice that doesn’t really want to be trying to entertain (and teach and assess and counsel) all these growing minds. I love it but I’m scared of it. I thrive in it while getting to Friday afternoon and feeling a wave of relief wash over me that I made it another crazy week. (Confession, this last Friday night the relief had to be partnered with a tall pint. We had a campus lockdown and I was with my last period for almost 5 extra hours… the “emergency toilet” (a blue bucket with cat litter that every classroom must have) was even put into use. We were escorted out of the classroom by SWAT teams. Long day).

So what does this mean? I don’t know. I’m still trying to make sense of this blessing, that I get to do what I love while not even understanding why I love it when I don’t seem perfectly built for it. My life seems so overwhelmingly busy and yet there is so much more that’s going to be added at some point. I need to get involved in a ministry again, especially now that Jeff and I seem to have found the church we’ll call home. I can’t imagine juggling all this life PLUS a baby (ooor multiple babies) some time in our future. And still I carry the far-off dream of a book tour, too.

At least as an introvert, I and my loved ones understand my limits and will let me crawl into my shell to recover with no hard feelings.

Anyway… my progress with the Huck Finn adaptation is going slowly (like 100 words a day slowly), but still, I’m proud to be writing SOMETHING even in the midst of all my busyness. I hope to bust out the majority of it over Thanksgiving break and Christmas break this year. The voice is really fun and catchy and I think, if I finish it and take it seriously, that this, rather than Copper, could be the first thing I sell.

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