by Sarah Monette
Why Picked Up: On recommendation from a friend at 'GoodReads', and was absolutely blown away. A Ph.D. in English doesn't always translate to a compelling or elegant or convincing writing style; in this case, however, it did in spades. No scene was overwritten, not once did the reader confuse which character held point of view due to clear and adept distinction between education level, personal experience, and personality of protagonists. The author is a master of the most basic writerly rule of all: 'Show, don't Tell'. The story takes place in a world with unfamiliar calendar, currency, time measurement, languages and slang, social order, etc. etc. but the story hurtles ahead in full expectation the reader will grasp what is going on. Somehow, it works.
Cover: Another of the bare-chested male variety, but this one thankfully has a head, and for a change, is facing away and looking over his shoulder. Both the multi-colored tatoos running up to his elbows and his red mane are critical to the story. Apprentice Writer wouldn't particularly have been drawn to this cover without word-of-mouth, but neither does it repel her. The title itself gives precisely zero clues about the content; Apprentice Writer kept wrongly thinking of 'Melisande' (as in, the French ballet) instead.
Thoughts: The author tells this first of a series of connected tales in dual first person, through the eyes of Felix the wizard and Mildmay the cat burglar. Both live in the magical city of Melusine, a Dickensian place with a brutal suvival-of-the-fittest philosophy that forces everyone to live by whatever wits and skills they have or be trampled. Despite his strength as a wizard, ties to the brother of the Lord Protector (somewhat like a king), and dwelling in the priviliged area of the Mirador (inhabited by the upper class/wizards), circumstances expose Felix to a physical and psychological sadist who commits crimes that severely destabilize the city and then pins them on Felix. Due to abuse suffered and spells cast upon him, Felix cannot tell anyone what truly happened, and keeps slipping back and forth across the fine line of madness - made all the worse by attempts of various parties to punish him and force him to give up information.
Like many in the Lower City, Mildmay was sold to a brutal and exploitative Keeper in early childhood and has grown up with underworld talents and internal as well as external scars proving the high cost of staying alive. Despite the horrendous things he was forced to do, Mildmay (known as the Fox due to his red hair) has somehow developed an innate sense of justice and decency. Fleeing the city, the two main characters' paths eventually cross and make them journey across the empire together. They meet many human and magcial creatures along the way in their search for political sanctuary and healing for Felix. When the story ends, there remains many a loose end; but at 477 pages, it is understandable that author chose to bring this instalment to a close, and at an emotionally satisfying and significant moment.
Based on this book, seek out this author again?
Apprentice Writer cannot recommend this book highly enough. Be warned: Though the abusive scenes are not explicit, it is nevertheless always abundantly clear what is going on. AW's friend described it has 'hardcore', and AW took care not to leave the novel in a place where her children might pick it up.
2. GAMES OF PLEASURE
by Julia Ross
Why Picked Up: Had seen the author praised by other authors in cyberlandia.
Cover: Bland landscape. Generic title. AW would never have picked this up on her own.
Thoughts: The author is indeed talented at evocative description. She described objects, landscapes and people in ways this reader had never encountered before. This is a wonderful talent, but AW is of the school of thought that a person's greatest strength can also be their greatest weakness; in this case, there came a point when she wished there might not be quite so much description of everything all the time.
The story involves a highly influential British arisocrat rescuing a young woman from drowning. She turns out to be a courtesan who claims to have committed a murder she can't quite remember and from who the rescuer must distance himself lest he be tainted by association with her crime. He, however, is convinced that she has been wronged and was only defending herself. Thus the two journey across England incognito, to evade her assailants and puzzle out who and why really committed the murder.
The story is entertaining and well-written, and the characters engaging enough (apart from the heroine's much-repeated refusal to provide information about what happened or accept assistance growing very tedious). Reading was fine up until the ending, when there was a triple blow to this reader's suspension of disbelief. The first two (having to do with reaction of noble families to liaisons of their firstborn sons with couresans, and manner of a rescue) were of a nature that Apprentice Writer was more or less willing to tolerate for the sake of the story and the drama provided. The third, however, made her snort "Oh, please. Enough already." It involved the same biologically so-improbable-it-should-be-impossible pet peeve that diminished AW's enjoyment of Elizabeth Hoyt's The Raven Prince.
Based on this book, seek out this author again?
The author writes well and overall the story was entertaining. She would not mind reading more, but other works will not fly to the top of the TBR list.
3. THE PERFECT KISS
by Anne Gracie
HISTORICAL ROMANTIC COMEDY
Why Picked Up: Kept encountering author's name in cyberlandia.
Cover: Rose petals, a letter, a necklace. Title clues reader in that it is part of a series of 'Perfect's from this author. Apparently, this is the (or one of the) last of the series, and the aspect that binds them - protagonists being taken in by a non-relative and trained as servants despite their aristocratic background, or something like that - was not quite clear to this reader.
Thoughts; A perfectly (ha!) pleasant, quick and breezy read. Pairings and ending can be seen a mile away but that's not the point of such a story: it's how the characters get that that matters, not the final destination. And as promised, there were funny bits.
Based on this book, seek out this author again? Similar to above, AW enjoyed the writer's style and wouldn't mind reading more, but the story wasn't unique enough for further works to kick other books out of its path on the way to the top of the TBR pile.
Any Gentle Readers have an opinion on these stories? Please share!
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