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10 June 2010 @ 02:27 pm
capsule book reviews  
Books I've read lately:

The good:

1. White Cat (The Curse Workers: Book One), by Holly Black. In which Cassel Sharpe, the only non-worker in a family full of magic workers (in a world where magic is outlawed and so frequently has ties to underground crime), begins to think that his memories--especially those of killing his best friend Lila--cannot be trusted after he begins dreaming of a white cat. I read this book yesterday in basically one sitting, with a break for dinner. Cassel's first-person narrative is engaging, the hints of a world in which magic can be worked with the touch of a hand are intriguing*, and the book moves at a fast clip. The back of the book suggests that the book is full of surprises, which is amusing to me because I'd figured out most of the plot pretty early on--which almost never happens; I rarely even bother to read mystery novels because I never guess who did it, and I was definitely not one of those people who figured out what was going on in "Amy's Choice" before the ending. This is not a strike against the book, though, merely an observation.

*Though I still think that in a world where everyone has to wear gloves all the time, people would have developed the habit of eating pizza with a knife and fork. Or would get disposable gloves at pizza places. Possibly this is just me.

The indifferent:

2. A Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner. In which Alice Tuckfield, having witnessed the murder of her father, runs away to York and gets taken in by the boys of the York Minster choir, who pass her off as a boy while the men who murdered her father continue to search for her. I appreciated that this book had a different setting from the many children's books set in the Elizabethan theatre, but the whole thing was a bit too "jolly lads having fun" for me: the supporting boy characters are not-especially-different variations on the "lovable scamp" theme, and Alice mostly seems unbothered by her father's sudden death. The ending, too, is fairly pat.

3. A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin. In which Matthew Swift, a sorcerer who's been dead for two years, comes back to life and tries to figure out who brought him back, and why. He also spends a good deal of time fighting your basic nefarious, shadowy organization, in none too interesting fashion. I started this book back in May and half-skimmed my way through 300 pages or so, when my lack of interest abruptly tipped over into outright apathy, and only a mad completist spirit got me to finish it at last. This book was frustrating and disappointing because the concept of magic that Griffin comes up with here is very appealing, especially to an Anglophile such as myself: cities create their own magic, out of the life and history and energy that build up in them, and each city--in this case, London--has its own specific magic. Accordingly, the best bits of the book for me were the ones in which Matthew interacts with that magic in some way: when he uses his Oyster card as a protective spell in the Tube, for example, or when he calls up the spirit of the railway to guard a magic circle (which, annoyingly, never actually gets used for anything).

Unfortunately, the one-off characters and magical projections, like the spirit of the railway or the nurse who staffs an abandoned hospital now used for those with magical ailments, are far more interesting and compelling than the main and recurring characters, who are fairly flat and lifeless. This is a particular problem with Swift himself, who (even taking into account his being dead for two years) seems to have no particular feelings about anything he encounters. Occasionally it's suggested that there are people he cares about; the name Dana Mikeda gets tossed around occasionally, and because Matthew says things in reply such as, "You'd better not touch her," one is meant to infer that he cares about her in some way, but as we learn nothing about her until very near the end of the book, he might as well be talking about a cheese sandwich he had his eye on for lunch. Anything to do with Matthew is related to the reader as though he's watching a film of his life and narrating it for us, but has no particular emotions about anything he sees. Partly because of this, the plot is also not very compelling.
Valancy: FoyleRightvalancy_s on June 12th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
I read one book by Kate Griffin and had the same problem with the main character - didn't really learn anything about him. Or anyone's interior life, really. It read like a screenplay. I haven't sought her out again.
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on June 12th, 2010 07:30 pm (UTC)
Well, it's useful to know that this seems to be a feature of her work. I've read a lot of positive reviews, but it seems like this is just one of those times when a writer and I don't get along.