Monday, 28 May 2012

Book Review: Tender Morsels

Title: Tender Morsels
Author: Margo Lanagan
Year Published: 2008
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (?)

Tender Morsels is a disturbing book. Though the cartoonish covers and the YA categorisation may indicate otherwise, it is actually a very dark retelling of the folktale Snow White and Rose Red. To put it bluntly, the story involves rape, incest and bestiality. This is not to say that it's unsuitable for teen readers (abuse, after all, is not unique to adults) but rather that anyone who is not prepared to handle these topics should steer clear.

The main story begins with Liga, a thirteen year old girl who is psychologically and sexually abused by her father. Her ordeal is so heart-wrenching that you'll either put the book down or read faster to make sure that her life improves. In time, it does, and Liga escapes to a world where she is free to bring up her babies in safety. While you're happy for her at first, you know that things cannot last for her and her daughters – this new place is, after all, a fantasy.

There is no obvious plot as such; things just happen, much like in dreams or in life, and at times it is unclear where the story is going. Though some may find the pacing slow, I didn't mind it at all. The tension lies in whether and how Liga, Branza (Snow White) and Urrda (Rose Red) would come back to the real world, and this kept me interested throughout. Lanagan's writing is lovely; it has that dreamy, cosy quality perfect for the fairy-tale unreality of the world the three women inhabit.

The point of view jumps around, sometimes jarringly so, intersecting with the stories of other characters, namely the dwarf Dought, the witch Annie and the two Bears. While these threads were interesting, they were always secondary to the main story of Liga and her daughters, and I am unsure as to whether they just enrich the main story or whether they were insufficiently fleshed out as stories themselves.

I only took two or three days to finish this book, which for me is extremely fast. The main characters are likeable and you feel for them, and the reason I got through it so quickly was because I needed to make sure things got better for everyone, and (mild spoiler) they sort of do, which is just as well as the book would be too depressing otherwise.

Though there are light-hearted happy moments, the darker aspects of the narrative are never far from mind. This isn't one of those stories where the victim emerges triumphant, or where everything spirals into a melodramatic weep-fest. There is no easy fix for things, and indeed it is the realness of Liga's experience (and to a lesser extent, Branza's), with its attendant complexities, that makes the book such a painful and beautiful read. Difficult subject matter is handled sensitively and woven into the fabric of the story – thankfully, it is neither gratuitous nor used simply for shock value.

Tender Morsels left me emotionally drained long after its end. This book is undoubtedly good, but I can't say it was an enjoyable one.

Alex's Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, 11 May 2012

Book Review: Uglies Trilogy

Series title: Uglies Trilogy
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Year Published: 2005-2007
Genre: YA, Science Fiction

Trilogy titles:
  • Uglies
  • Pretties
  • Specials

I’ve always been a fan of Young Adult science fiction novels. They tend to be simple, creative and carry a message. The Uglies trilogy has all of the above.

This story is about 15 year old Tally Youngblood. She lives in a future society where our world has come to an end due to our own negligence. New cities have been built with a new order, an order of the ‘Pretty’. In this new order, when one turns 16, they have an operation that turns them from an ‘Ugly’ to a ‘Pretty’ where a high-tech paradise awaits.
(Yes, the author uses the words Ugly and Pretty to separate the society.)
Unfortunately for Tally, her friend Shay decides to run away from it all just before they turn 16. Hearing this, the authorities force Tally to choose between finding Shay and bringing her in, or never turning ‘Pretty’.

I enjoyed this book. There’s an interesting/absurd idea for a plot, future kids being turned pretty. Obviously the twist involves the lead characters' perception of beauty and how they over come the idea of being ‘unpretty’.
So there’s a moral behind this story. Is the moral clear? Yes. Was it written, in terms of story telling, well? I’d say so. Was the novel itself entertaining? Yep. Would I recommend it to anyone? It depends on who you are.

This book is definitely entertaining for the young readers out there who enjoy science fiction novels that are ‘grounded’ or ‘light’. There’s no need to think too hard or to try and join long twisting plots. The characters are your typical teenagers up against the evil adults who run the cities.
As for adults, this book is not deep enough. There are no aliens, no time travel, and no dimension portals. No powerful descriptions of  relationships being torn apart, no in depth detailing of the cities ‘evil ruling’ and no big destructive war that threatens human kind.

Having explained all that, this novel was not meant to be a full fledged massive adventure. Scott Westerfeld was clear on who his audience was and delivered perfectly. A plus to this book, considering the writer is male and the genre is YA science fiction, he creates a female lead that is first thought of as just another naive teenager but turns into a strong tough lead character. It is rare to have a man write a science fiction novel with a female lead without there being an equally strong male character.

I also enjoyed his cliff-hangers between the 3 books. It was continuous without feeling forced or choppy like he just came up with it on the spot. It made me want to follow on to see what will happen next.

Overall, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies Trilogy hits the mark with his target audience. Even though I am not in his target range, I still enjoyed it from book 1 to the last. There is not much more I can say about this novel. If you would like a light read or just want to live the more simple days of science fiction books, I recommend this book to you.

Terri's Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Book Review: Perdido Street Station

Title: Perdido Street Station
Author: China Miéville
Year Published: 2000
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Horror

This book has been showered with critical acclaim, described as “revolutionary”, “brilliant”, “complex” and “exhilarating”; having now finished it I can see why this is so. Not being an avid sci-fi reader, I can't really say whether the ideas and world that Miéville has imagined are filled with cliches or what have you. What I can say is that they feel original and are complex and rich, having a depth that goes beyond the narrative of the book.

The story takes place in the steampunk-y city-state of New Crobuzon, a deeply realised and terrifying police state, oozing with its own life, an organism in and of itself. The apparent plot involves scientist Isaac, who is commissioned by a fallen bird-man to restore his flight. Beyond that, I won't reveal more; this is one of those books where there are a few different plot threads going on which (you realise at about a sixth of the way in) end up coming together in some kind of explosion of awesomeness. At first, the going is a bit slow, but after a certain point, everything just kind of snowballs and it becomes quite the page-turner.

As mentioned, I'm not usually a sci-fi reader; my tastes in fantasy usually run towards floaty mythical beings, pretty magicks and boy wizards. It thus came as an off-putting shock when I read that Isaac's lover was a woman with an insect for a head (causing me to have the very reasonable objection of “ewwww” and so on). But once I got past that, it was relatively easy to accept the other terrors in Mi
éville's world, the worst for me being the process of Remaking, whereby criminals are surgically mutilated in various creative ways as punishment. In short, this book will not be everyone's cup of tea – there is nightmare fuel everywhere.

Other concepts and entities though are simply fantastical. I really enjoyed, for example, reading about the cultural aspects of the non-human races in New Crobuzon, as well as the way magic and science are integrated (though not being nearly as clever as the author, I am out of my dept critiquing the logic of it all). My favourite parts though must be the descriptions of the entities to which the mayor appeals. Yup, I know I'm being vague here, but a large part of the joy in reading this book was in concepts like those – things that aren't explained fully, but rather just glimpsed, so you get the sense of something much greater than that which appears on paper.

The writing was another thing I had to adapt to, being dense with description, particularly with regard to the city. You feel sick reading about the churning sludge of polluted rivers, about the layers of grime upon sorry buildings. The language itself is beautiful but thick. It's great, but again, not everyone's cup of tea. If it helps, you get used to it and the writing does (objectively) get less description-heavy as the story progresses.

This isn't the kind of book I'd normally pick up, but I still enjoyed it and found it technically brilliant; it appeals to the intellect more than anything. I am wont to fall in love with much fluffier creatures and did not fall in love with Perdido Street Station. But that is a purely subjective matter and no indication of the quality of this book; I am, after all, someone who happily read
through Twilight.

Alex's Rating: 4/5