Monday, September 25, 2017

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things couldn’t have a more accurate and fitting title as it does.

It is a painful and difficult read, and I lost count of how many times I wanted to rage quite it, but I had intentionally spoiled myself about the ending, which made me go on, and I am so glad it did!

Going into the story, I was quite wary, but it has turned out that the number one reason for that was not at all justified, because of all the horrifying and frustrating things in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, the one thing that never disgusted me was the relationship between Wavy and Kellen.

Of course, objectively and on principle, I wouldn't condone a relationship between real people their age. However, in their particular circumstances as described in this book I can’t judge them – not even Kellen – at all.

Because of all the terrible things in Wavy’s life – from her drug-addicted and neglectful parents to poverty and the general, mostly non-understanding, atmosphere of her time and environment – Kellen was not only the least terrible, but the best thing of only few good things in her life.

Bryn Greenwood does an astonishing job with her unique story-telling style with multiple POVs (I especially loved the ‘growth’ of Wavy’s voice) which enable the reader to grasp the full picture, making it obvious how Wavy and Kellen's love must have looked to outsiders and thus make their reactions perfectly understandable. But she also provides what we don’t get in real life: an unobstructed insight in the protagonists’ minds and hearts that made it impossible for me not to root for the pair.

Therefore, as much as All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is heart-wrenchingly poignant, its pay-off is also heart-warming, and I couldn’t but end up loving this book.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien

Cover of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s letters are at times tedious and repetitive – just as life can be – but for the most part very compelling reading material.

For a fan of Tolkien’s works, it is interesting to read about the process of how they came to be written and published. Moreover, reading about his writing process itself is both inspiring and motivational to a writer, although Tolkien might be turning in his grave if he knew that people find his writing struggles either. Equally inspiring and thought-provoking are Tolkien’s world-views and philosophies, both general and academic, even if I disagree with some of them (which were a product of his time.)

The language, style, and tone of his letters range from intellectual and strictly formal to warm, familiar, and humorous in places, with an occasional special brand of ‘saltiness’ shining through which I greatly appreciated, and show him not only as an author but as a nuanced personality.  

Tolkien’s letters are probably best appreciated if read and digested little by little and not to be sped through, although I have done precisely that with the second half of the book because I got fed up with myself that it was taking me so long.

Overall, Tolkien’s letters are a fascinating read and therefore I definitely intend to return to them in the future.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

The Cold King by Amber Jaeger

Note: This review contains SPOILERS.

At first, this was so bad that it was sort of entertaining.

We have a Cinderella-meets-the-Beauty-and the-Beast-with-a-hint-of-the-Phantom-of-the-Opera-like story that reads like terrible BDSM, just without sex (which actually makes it worse), but with a generous dash of brainwashing.

The male protagonist (aka the villain, I am certainly not calling him a hero) is a sadistic and manipulative asshole, who throws the female protagonist in a dungeon to make the transition from her old life to the new one ‘easier’ – for him, of course. After all, it is much easier to brainwash someone to accept common human decency and having one’s basic needs met as luxury if one has only ever been shown cruelty – though, as they say, the absence of cruelty is not the same as kindness – than win them over by treating them right from the beginning.  

The cold king is a typical abuser, targeting the weak and isolated and tearing them down before building them back up to his own desires by making them completely dependent on him, all of which he justifies as improving their lives and showering them in luxury they could never experience otherwise.

Even Calia recognises that as shitty but falls for it hook, line, and sinker, as does everyone else – who, by the way, does nothing to help her at least with good advice. But, after all, that is neither Calia’s nor the others’ fault, since they are all victims and Calia with her reasoning the most typical of them all.

The cold king is supposed to be a tortured hero, but even if his pain is understandable, it doesn’t excuse his behaviour. I couldn’t feel even remotely sorry for him or his predicament for being cursed (with the curse of his own doing.) He also has a giant ego, and naturally, as people of his kind do, knows better what is best for Calia and others then they do themselves.

Calia herself is an ‘extreme Cinderella’, ignored and disliked by everyone, including her horrible, abusive, and neglectful mother. Her poor fortune and suffering (in comparison to everything else, all her crying was the least of a bother) is exaggerated to the maximum in order to garner sympathy. Needless to say, it didn’t work for me.

She is also quite a bit of a Mary Sue, suddenly becoming pretty (no, hair growth does not work like that!), graceful, and smart (she learns to read very fast, knows things she had nowhere to learn (such as doing cuff-links), passes sound judgements, etc.), except, of course, for her own situation.

All of the above perpetuates the terrible message that if a woman suffers quietly through abuse, accepts her lot in life, and moulds herself completely to the abuser’s wishers, she will get her fairy-tale ending.

Because, of course, in the end the male protagonist falls in love with her (which also undoes the curse, duh!) and learns the error of his ways and changes for the better and treats her like a queen (literally) – which doesn’t happen in real life.

Calia only develops a bit of a spine towards the end, but only because she is hurting by her love not being requited, and not, you know, because of all other terrible things the cold king has done to her.

The book only gets worse after the half-way mark when we suddenly get multiple, jumping POVs, including the omniscient POV (either that or Calia becomes telephathic), and every ridiculous romance (but not romantic) cliché in existence is used and abused for the contrived quasi-love story.

With putting Calia in the role of a personal servant – who basically does what a valet would – and other characters’ occupations, Jaeger tried to subvert gender roles, which would be commendable, but fell flat due to the characterization which was unflattering in Calia’s case and virtually non-existent in other characters who were mostly bland and one-dimensional.

Add to this an attempt of ‘progressiveness’ by having the cold king be accepting of a same-sex couple, except that it was poorly executed, since kindly ‘overlooking’ their ‘friendship’ is not exactly the same as not being homophobic.

I won’t even go into all the inconsistencies within the story. For example, the setting is undecided on whether to be steampunk-ish with some ‘high’ tech, such as a likeness of modern plumbing and the use of diamonds for industry and craft, or one of a pre-industrial impoverished agricultural society.

Perhaps indecisiveness is at the core of this book’s problems. The blurb says that “… Not every Beast is a prince charming at heart and not every Beauty is a maiden just waiting for love…” and perhaps the author wanted to be edgy and actually re-tell The Beauty and the Beast as a story about abuse, but failed at it, because the end result is something that goes back and forth between trying to be just that (mostly) and a classic HEA fairy-tale but ending up as a horrible mess instead.

Overall, by the end of the book, I wasn’t entertained by the bad-ness of it anymore, only disgusted.