Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beauty and the Werewolf

I knew when I started reading Mercedes Lackey's Beauty and the Werewolf that there was a very good chance I wouldn't really like it.  A friend of mine at work read it and told me the main character is pretty annoying.  When I first started reading, I thought Isabella (or Bella for short) wouldn't be too bad. I mean, she was taking care of her stepsisters and seemed to have a good relationship with them (which is very much at odds with a fairy tale type story, especially one set in the land where the Tradition pushes your life into a tale for good or ill).  But then Bella gets bitten by a werewolf and the king sends her to live in seclusion with said werewolf for three months in case she was infected.  And that's when she starts getting really whiny and annoying!  Whenever she distracts herself in some fashion, she wasn't too bad.  But whenever she stopped to think, she'd just start feeling sorry for herself.  It was really annoying to read that sort of thing over and over again for the first half of the book.

Another issue I had was with the villain.  It was super obvious who it was pretty much from the beginning.  I kept hoping that I was wrong, that something would happen and the villain would turn out to be someone else.  But no such luck. 

I feel like I should give a bit more of the plot here, but there really isn't much to say.  The beginning is a bit Red Riding Hood, where Bella goes to visit a wise woman in the woods (conveniently named Granny), who trains her in herb lore and the like.  The werewolf attacks her on the way home.  Then, as I already mentioned, she is sent (or "kidnapped" as she keeps calling it) to the home of Duke Sebastian, the werewolf who bit her.  The house is full of invisible servants who can only speak by writing things on chalkboards.  The only other human in the house is Eric, Sebastian's half-brother (unacknowledged by their father) who works as the Gamekeeper and keeps everyone off the land so Sebastian won't accidentally kill someone should he break free.  Bella had a couple of run-ins with him before coming to the house.  So now Bella has to adjust to being away from her household and family, learning to live with Sebastian and Eric (again, for only three months if she doesn't become a werewolf herself).

I gave this book only 2 stars out of 5 on Goodreads.  I originally gave it a 3 because I like Lackey's writing style.  But this is not one of her better books.  The Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms overall has been kind of hit and miss, and in my opinion this was the worst of the misses.  The plot was too predictable in most regards (I think the biggest mystery for me revolved around the invisible servants, and that didn't really develop throughout the book) and I couldn't stand Bella through a good chunk of the book (as M- says in her review of the book on Goodreads: "the heroine is a spoiled manipulative child with flagrant Mary-Sue tendencies," which is unfortunately quite true).  Unless you're a super dedicated Lackey fan, you'll probably want to give this one a miss.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hart's Hope

I first heard about Hart's Hope when I started reading Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (which I haven't actually finished reading!)  I was looking for help with worldbuilding at the time, so I was just reading that chapter.  Card started talking about drawing the city of Inwit (which ended up inspiring me to start drawing maps again) and later making the magic system for the book (magic comes from blood and sacrifices).  The whole thing sounded really interesting, so I ordered Hart's Hope to give it a read.

I started reading it over the July 1st long weekend.  I first tried reading another book, The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, which I unfortunately lost interest in rather quickly and decided not to continue with.  So I started reading Hart's Hope instead.

When I first began reading, Hart's Hope was really promising.  Already interested in the setting, the characters of Palicroval, his friends (Sleeve the wizard, Zymas, and the Flower Princess) and Asineth (Queen Beauty) were all really interesting.  I was enjoying it (although, I must add, I don't approve of what happens in the beginning to Asineth.  That was terrible!!!!)

But then the book sort of changed.  Rather than follow all the characters I was liking so far, it started following another one, Orem.  It went through Orem's childhood and birth, and followed him for the rest of the story.  And while Orem is a really important character in the story, he was very boring.  I was less than half way through the book when I first considered putting it down.  And that feeling stayed with me for a good long while as I struggled to keep reading.

In the end, I did persevere.  And I'm glad of that.  I decided to keep reading for three reasons.  The first was that I took a quick look on Goodreads and was intrigued by some of the ratings; a few people really, really liked it, and I wanted to know why.  The second reason was that somewhere around the middle, I started to notice that the book was written in second person.  But there was no indication of who the narrator was.  So of course now I was curious and wanted to find out, all the while trying to figure it out based off the way they talked about the different characters (btw, I was wrong about who it was).  And finally, I really felt like Hart's Hope was going to pull a Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time on me.

Let me explain that last one.  When I first tried playing Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time, it was the same night I tried out Ninja Gaiden Black.  And to me, Ninja Gaiden was a much better game in many, many ways.  Years later, when I finally went back to Prince of Persia, almost the entire time I was playing it I kept thinking "I could be playing Ninja Gaiden instead."  But then the ending of Prince of Persia happened and I was completely wowed by it.  So, based off of the reviews and the second person narrative, I was expecting to be wowed in a similar manner.

Hart's Hope didn't exactly wow me like Prince of Persia did.  But the ending did pick up quite a bit and I found that I enjoyed the book overall. This is a rather dark fantasy tale, a power struggle in a really neat world.  Unfortunately the middle of the book is quite a slog to get through so this book lost a lot of points with me there.