Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1)

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1)Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Cassie Clare. We meet again.

I apparently have gained a following because of these reviews, and they have convinced me to use my analytical powers on The Infernal Devices series. You could say I'm easily swayed because I lack dignity. But this is really just too much fun. It's so much fun, I need to be stroking a cat.

First, the usual disclaimer. This review contains spoilers, griping, whining, over thinking, and general ranting. Trolls need not apply.

Let's get started.

Ladies and gents. Gather 'round. I'm about to tear into Cassandra Clare's 19th century version of The Mortal Instruments. I present to you:

The Mary Sue, Tessa Gray! (Rhymes with Clary Fray.) Tessa is a magical orphan girl from across the sea. She can shape shift you see, which isn't really a stretch for a character with almost no personality. Sure, Tessa is a really watered down version of Clary. She's just self-absorbed and judgmental enough to allow me to draw the comparison, but otherwise I could insert just about anyone in her position. She doesn't think she's pretty. Check. She likes books. Check. All the boys fall in wuve with her. Check. She's supposed to be smart, but really isn't. Check.

How hard was it for Clare to round out this girl. I mean, it's only the fourth book she's written. Tessa couldn't be a Georgia peach who's family lost everything during the Civil War when she was just a babe? She couldn't be a textiles factory worker who used to prop her book up on the loom while she worked? (This was actually pretty common at the time.) She couldn't be the daughter of an insightful inventor who used to dream of flying? Come on! If you're going for Steampunk, Clare, go for it! Tessa should have been a goggle clad shape shifting, grease monkey. Her and Henry could have gotten their nerd on. But no. Her writer lacks the creativity to make anything remotely cool and fun.

Speaking of shape shifting. Tessa's special shape shifting ability allows her to change into anyone she wants as long as she has an object they owned. She gains their memories and thoughts, and if they died, she sees how and feels it. If the person is a Down-worlder, she gains their abilities and attributes. At one point, she turns into Camille - a vampire - at one point, and her heart stops beating. Sounds pretty cool and useful, right? Well, here is the thing with Clare's books if you aren't already familiar. If it makes sense, she doesn't use it. Nope. To easy and not romantic enough. Tessa's ability would be really useful in combat, but instead it's a deus ex machina. Clare only has Tessa use her shape shifting to move the story forward. The rest of the time it sits on the side.

Oh, now the fun part. Do you remember the whole Boadicea thing? How Tessa thought she couldn't be a fighter because she was a woman, but she could fight back because it's in her heart? I know, right! I'm laughing to keep from crying. Will tells Tessa there was this badass warrior chick who gave the Romans hell named Boadicea. (Usually spelled Boudica. I know about her because I saw a documentary on her. She was badass. And so were her daughters.) So, Tessa tries to emulate Boadicea by "killing" herself so the baddie can't have her. She fakes it using her shape shifting because apparently, when someone dies nice and bloody, she gets covered in it. Whatever. There was lots of blood, but the bad guy didn't check for a wound. The baddie invents robots and he falls for a trick from a girl who was stupid enough to scream in a room full of vampires. Yes, this girl, who trusted her philandering older brother. Oy vey.

Next up, William "the Scoundrel" Herondale! Will, as everyone calls him, is really just Jackass Jace with the dial cranked to 11. He's the kind of guy who will be dead in a ditch at 19. You know, reckless, rude, and utterly inappropriate. It's supposed to be the Victorian era, and he's making open sexual advances toward Tessa. These are the kind of advances that even a modern woman would have kneed him in the balls over. He doesn't wear a hat or waistcoat or cravat, so he's basically running around half naked. He treats everyone like crap. Do I really need to go on?

Oh, and all the fan girls get hot and horny over him. He's an insensitive, self centered asshole and girls think that's hot. Let me guess, that means he's damaged and only needs love to make him a better person. If that wasn't one of the most popular myths these books portray. Feh. He needs thumped, plain and simple. I can't believe Tessa is even thinking about hooking up with the guy.

Now for James/Jian/Jem Carstairs. This half-Chinese sweetie is just a gentleman. I'm seriously shocked that Clare can even write a character like him. He's so nice. He even saves a cat. Literally. When Tessa is feeling down, he just talks to her. He's the kind of boy you bring home to your mom.

And then there's the venom addiction. Yeah, Clare totally ruined Jem. She couldn't have him be some nice kid. It's like that Simon/Vampire thing all over again. In a nutshell, Jem was tortured by a demon and his parents were forced to watch. By the time he was saved, his body was addicted to the venom. If they try to wean him off it, the withdrawal is bad enough to kill him. So he has to continue to take it or he dies. Flip side, the stuff is killing him. It also keeps his hair and eyes silver. Even then, he's still a way better person than Will. Hands down. There isn't even a contest.

But there is something that Clare uses Jem for that I don't like; to make excuses for Will. Jem is Will's battle buddy. They're buds and watch each other's back. Jem tries to explain Will's appalling behavior to Tessa, saying that there is more to him than she thinks. The problem with this is that it ends up being hot air to make Will look deeper than he is. When Will enters a scene, all this "oh, but he's damaged" talk flies out the window on a fart. Jem was tortured and he's dying, and he's an absolute doll. Will has no excuses.

Now it's time for the parasol twirlin' Jassamine Lovelace. She's the biggest waste of a strong female character. She had the potential to go from opinionated Lady full of spunk, to Tessa's awesome-sauce gal pal. But that isn't how Clare works. Once she thought that Jess would turn out to be "better" than Tessa, she turned her into someone so selfish she would leave a comrade behind. I was shocked because it didn't fit with the characterization that Clare had set up for her.

There's this dollhouse scene where Jess shows Tessa her dollhouse replica of the house she grew up in. She even had dolls of her mother, father, little brother, and her. She tells Tessa that her house burned down with them in it, and it's the only thing left of them and her old life. She tells Tessa that sometimes she imagines that they wake up, go about their day, and then go to bed all safe. Nothing bad ever happens to them. No Shadow-hunter business and no fire. They're perfectly normal. I imagined this very sad teenage girl running her fingers over everything in that house as she tried to explain why she didn't want to be a Shadow-hunter. Why she didn't want a life of fear that you or the ones you love won't come back. Why she didn't want to deal with death and blood.

But here is why I hate Clare's writing. She turned Jessamine into such a bitch that her desire to be married and a mother without being a "warrior" is unacceptable in her world. I mean, Jess is part angel. Why should she want anything else? Why would she want to be mundane? They're worse than Down-worlders. Clare writes her Nephilim like they're perfect, but I can't blame Jess for wanting out. It would be a horrible life to live.

There's more characters: Charlotte, who is 23 and not a very good leader; Henry, who can't get any of his inventions to work right; Sophie, the poor maid who can't catch a break; Agatha, the cook; Thomas, Will's cast-aside childhood pal; but they aren't really worth speaking about. And the villain, I'll get to him when I get into world-building.

Which I'm starting, now.

There is nothing like trying to make sense of Cassandra Clare's world. There are so many gaping holes, that I've mostly given up. Mostly.

First, I'm going to start with the gun thing. Yes. Shadow-hunters don't use guns because supposedly the runes they tried to scratch into the weapon and bullets keeps it from firing, and no one knows why.

I would believe it if she wasn't the queen of convenient. From what I know, not all the weapons are inscribed with runes. I mean, she'll describe the curve of Will's neck, but not every weapon. We know some of them are made of electrum. Why not electrum bullets?

Now, I'd understand if they didn't like using them because guns are loud and they would be afraid to hit an innocent bystander. When they strive for secrecy, there's no glamour in the world that would cover up an accidental bullet wound to the head. But wouldn't they want to keep a couple around. Maybe a Colt Peacemaker and a lever action Springfield. I mean, those would come in pretty handy when they bad guy is a mundane . And he's packing his own heat.

Oh, and what about the automatons? Those wanna-be Steampunk cyborgs. I would have at least tried a shotgun loaded with a slug on one. From some of the appendages those things were given, why would anyone want to get close? But Clare has to have all her Shadow-hunters carry weapons on the archaic side of the scale. And she doesn't even describe them right. She says Will has straps crossing his chest. That is called a bandolier. Clare will describe the parts of a dress (and not even accurately), but she doesn't get into the finer points of melee weapons even though all her characters are warriors. Look at Jem's cane-sword-thing. She describes it like a blade shoots out of the end, but cane swords were really popular in the 19th century, so that seems more likely. He could use the cane part to block and then attack with the blade.

Damn it. I started thinking with logic again. Give me a moment.

Then there is her version of Victorian London.

First, let's start with the fact that the fog was so thick and toxic that you could chew it and it killed hundreds. New York was no picnic at at time, but Tessa probably would have choked on it. Clare describes it like it's some coal dust and mist.

Second, the characters act like it's the 21st century and not the 19th. They were way too informal and ran around without hats all the time.

In fact, most of what Clare puts about "her" London is like she was writing a book report. It doesn't flow well at all. She lacks in the social politics of the time. Tessa is American in 19th century Britain, and a Down-worlder no less. She would constantly be regarded as a sub-human by British Shadow-hunters. They acknowledge she's a Down-worlder, but not the fact that she's a barbaric American.

And I'm not even going to get started on Will kissing Tessa and implying that she should give him her virtue because she probably can't have kids since she's a warlock. (I mean, seriously. How do girls think that's hot?)

Then there's Clare's writing. It never fails in giving me entertainment. She's laid off the similes a bit, but not enough to matter. There are still zingers, but this time I wrote down all the ones I cared to involving glass. Yes, glass. I swear she has a fetish for it.

"... eyes like glass." (p.37)
"... a noise like cracking glass." (p. 39)
"... a gaze as sharp as glass." (p. 72)
"... like snow sticking to a dark glass pane of a window." (p. 172)
"... as if through a pane of glass." (p. 212)
"... it sounded like shattering glass." (p. 248)
"Will's eyes were slivers of blue glass." (p. 304)
"... like thin stems of glass against her skin." (p. 359)

Remember, those are the ones I wrote down. There are a lot more.

Clare's similes really are the one of the true weaknesses in her writing. Even when she uses a strong active verb, she tacks on a simile at the end like no one will understand what she's talking about. But that's when she uses a strong active verb that she hasn't abused. Everything still "gleams, "glints," "glimmers," "shines," and "shimmers" when it isn't "blue," "silver," "white," "black," "pale," "icy," or "gold."

All these weaknesses are apparent in Clare's obsession with appearance. In scenes where emotional description should take precedence, Tessa physically looks at people instead of trying to understand the conversation on an emotional level. Take these lines from when she's talking with Jem on Blackfriar Bridge:

"Tessa let herself stare at him, marveling a little at his strange beauty in the moonlight. He was all silver and ashes, not like Will's strong colors of blue and black and gold." (p.315)

Jem is trying to have an intimate moment with her, and all Tessa can think about is his coloring in the moonlight versus Will's. Not about how much of nice person he is because he was willing to share his favorite place with her. Yeah, I really wanted to smack Tessa.

Clare's heroines are so superficial I don't know how these girls could be considered strong female characters. Whenever she gets remotely close to writing a female character that is worth something (Izzy, Jess), she ruins them. She pushes their heroic actions to the background or covers it up with abhorrent and stereotypical behavior so that her intended "strong" female character can remain the Mary Sue. She doesn't treat her characters like people. She manipulates them to fit her needs first.

Well, my word count is almost up. I can't go into a tireless rant about how this book is unintentionally ironic most of the time with all these profound things Jem or another character floating in the background says that Clare can't apply or covers up. But what I can do is leave you with my favorite one. This is from when the Shadow-hunters surrounded the vampire Axel DeQuincy and the rest of his ilk that survived. I now give you his tirade in response to the Shadow-hunters bringing up the Accords:

"Equal? You don't know what the word means. You cannot let go of your own conviction, let go of your belief in your inherent superiority, for long enough to even consider what it would mean. (p. 254)

So true, and he was a bad guy.

Till next time!

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: The Desert Spear

The Desert Spear (Demon Cycle, #2)The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, here I go.

I started reading this book immediately after I read The Warded Man because it was teasing me from my shelf for about a month. I picked my copy up at a used book store, intending to read the series, but it took forever to get the first book. I'm glad I read them back to back. It made remembering everything so much easier.

The following contains spoilers. Please read responsibly.

The book opens with a new class of demon. I applaud Brett on this decision. Upping the stakes in a sequel is a good move as long as it makes sense, and this makes perfect sense. Mind controlling demon princes and their shapeshifting pets add the perfect creep factor. I loved it and appropriately weirded out.

New demon aside, Brett went in an entirely different direction with the first part. He rewound the tape, relocated the story to Krasia, and gave us everything about Jardir. You remember Jardir, right? The jerk off that beat up Arlen and took the spear after saying they were friends. As it turns out, he felt horrible for it because of his highly ambitious first wife, Inevera.

Jardir was a poor kid raised to fight the demons as all Krasian boys are. You make it, you're set for life. You fail, you're disgraced into the lower caste like Abban. All Jardir is really good at is war. He's relatively intelligent, but pretty impulsive, which has a tendency to cloud his judgement. Skipping a bunch of character development, grown up Jardir comes across as fervent in the beliefs of his people and his mission, but yet he doesn't seem to quite "get it" when it comes to anything outside of blood or sex.

When the Krasian's invade the north, he blunders horribly by invading Rizon at night where he kills the men that resist and has the women raped. It is needless to say that the northerners don't take too kindly to this. In fact, when Jadir wants to unite them all under him, they're quite upset (understatement) because of his entrance. This pretty much sets the tone for a majority of the book.

This book is all about clashing. There are two "Deliverers" (Arlen and Jardir), two cultures, and the choices the characters must make. Many of them are torn in some sense between direction and another. There is a couple sentences that Jardir says that really sum up the struggles the best: "It seems our cultures are a natural insult to each other.... We must resist the urge to take offense, if we are to learn from each other." (p.167)

My general reaction to Jardir, last book aside, I didn't know whether I wanted him to die stick around so I could laugh at his misfortune in the form of his powerful wife. Brett gives him a bit of the "awkward foreigner" vibe in the scenes when he's in Cutter's Hollow to see the strange northern people who fight the demons. It sounds like a horrible gimmick, but Brett makes it work with his personality. Jardir always tries to understand the strange in his own frame of reference, as all humans do, and Brett understands that well. I applaud him for it.

As for Inevera, I loved to hate her. She's a well rounded, strong female character, but I felt bad for her husband. Bitch is manipulative.

Cutter's Hollow is where the stories join together since Leesha and Rojer are still there perfecting their demon slaying skills. It's been a year, and the only things that have changed is that Leesha is running the village. Rojer still doesn't believe he's important and Leesha has stopped trying to hook up with Arlen since he refuses to let anyone in because he's absorbed too much demon magic and it doesn't burn off in the sun like it's supposed to.

Arlen, now with so much ink it would make a tattoo convention jealous, is trying to share his battle runes with the people until he shows up in the places he was raised. This time around, Arlen's story is more introspective than before. He struggles with the idea that his time left may be limited. I usually don't like mopey characters, but I understood where he was coming from. He screwed up, and he doesn't want anyone to make the same mistake.

Until Renna comes along. There really isn't anything like a spunky, corn-fed girl to make everything better for our sad sack protagonist. She keeps him on his toes. I like her.

The extra view points are nice outside of the previous three. Brett arranges them artfully enough that I didn't feel like I was head hopping.

The previous world building is intact. Since it was so well done before, all he can do is add to it.

Oh, before I forget. One niggle. "... his face was a sandstorm." I rolled my eyes. I really did.

Over all, just as good as the first. Brett handles culture clash well, which only adds to the tension. The new characters are structured well and the character progression for the previous ones is logical. They don't stagnate. Going back to familiar settings is also a good call.

So, I guess I'm going to have to read the next one.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: The Warded Man

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally managed to track down this book after having a used copy of The Desert Spear staring at me for months. I was thrilled when I could sit down an read it because it had people fighting demons with not an angel in sight. After what I've been reading, hallelujah!

Warning: This review contains spoilers! I only go spoiler free if it's an ARC. Those who read my reviews should know this.

The Warded Man is really the story of three people who have survived a demon attack at some point in their lives. I'm sorry if the following is a large summary. I feel like rambling.

Arlen is a farmer's kid from a backwater town in a world where demons come out to play once the sun goes away. Every day, he checks the wards around their fields and on their walls to make sure they'll be safe come night. Arlen is good with the wards, he's a smart kid, and one day he wants to be a Messenger; a person who braves the night to deliver goods and the mail. When his mother is attacked by a demon and dies, Arlen runs away, ashamed of his father's cowardice. He grows up in the city of Miln in the presence of good people, but runs away just shy of completing his Messenger training because of his fear of being tied down.

Arlen believes man should fight the demons, not hide behind the warded walls like cowards. They should all fight, like the desert dwelling Krasians. (That name is actually quite unfortunate if you say it out loud. It sounds like an Ocean Spray product.) This belief is both his rise and his own personal demon. He stays on the move, not allowing himself to be tied down to anyone. No wife, no children, no friends who see him for more than a few months. He carries news and goods to the five walled cities, and delves into ruins for new wards, hoping to find the lost battle wards. He finds them, carved into a spear, but ends up losing it to his Krasian friend, Jardir. (He's really a character you don't know much about till the second book. And he is quite the character.) Left in the desert for dead, Arlen tattoos runes into his skin so he can fight the demons since he has no other weapons.

Arlen pretty much has a one track mind, and it made me want to thump him a bit. He's all about saving the world, yet continues to isolate himself from others. He remains aloof and distant despite coming across those who are willing to understand: Leesha and Rojer.

Leesha is the second character. She hails from a household with an abusive mother and a meek father in a small town. Demons burn down half the village, and her unfaithful mother has her lover and his son, Leesha's betrothed, stay with them. After her betrothed says they had sex before marriage, she gets pissed at him for her broken reputation. When the old Herb Gatherer - they work like apothecaries - wants Leesha to apprentice, she accepts and ends up being awesome at it. Once she's learned what she can, her master apprentice swaps her for one in the big city because she feels she can't learn anymore.

Leesha is smart and resourceful, but prudish and a bit disillusioned about love and relationships. Even though all the women in her life keep trying to explain to her that sex is just a part of life and it is okay if she wants it, she continues to act high minded about it.

Rojer is the youngest. He was orphaned at three because of the shoddy wards on his parents' inn. Rojer is more a victim of greed and self-service than of demons. The warder was too busy to check the inn because he was trying to gain favor with the duke, and the duke's harold - a jongleur named Arrick - left his parents to die to save his own hide. At least Arrick tries to make up for it by making three fingered Rojer his apprentice. Rojer's special skill is playing the fiddle so good he can hypnotize or drive away demons.

I like Rojer. He's the type of person you can relate to. He's just trying to get by in the world without realizing how good or important he really is. Unlike Arlen or Leesha, Rojer is happy if he can eat and make someone's day. That is why I like him. In simpler words, Arlen and Leesha want to save the world, but Rojer wants to make you smile. He's what the book needs when The Warded Man dips into its more horror aspects.

Most of the book spends time on their three separate stories until the fourth part when they all tie together. Brett keeps it pretty simple with the three point of views, which is a nice change to some high/epic fantasies. (*cough* Martin. *cough*) Since he skips a lot of time, he also conveniently dates the chapters so the reader knows where they're at. Jumping forward also allows him to progress the story without another 50,000 words of useless.

Brett also keeps the language nice and clear, but he is definitely more tell than show. I'm not going to delude myself into believing it's anything super special, but Brett is good writer in the sense that the sentences are structured well and I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, I ran right through the book at full speed. It's the kind of books that a book snob like me and a person who just wants to read because they like fantasy can enjoy.

Although, my sprint was often interrupted by the phrase, "his/her face was a thundercloud." Brett uses a variation of this phrase often, substituting different violent weather patterns to mix things up. Every time I saw this, it saddened me and drove me a bit crazy. This phrase was like ink smears on a white table cloth. No matter what I did to try and forget they were there, I knew, and still cringe every time I come across them.

Oh, and women's fashion. I wasn't sure what he was going for there. He would stick with the generic "skirts" and "dress," which is cool with me, but then sneak "corset" in there, which would be difficult to make with the limited resources of his world considering the boning was usually whale bone (which they don't have with no access to the ocean) or steel (an expensive commodity). Maybe he was going more for stays made of reeds. Oh well. It's obvious I'm over thinking this.

Aside from my personal issues with the book, it still deserves four stars for simple but well done world building, and exciting, easy to understand writing. It keeps pulling you along even though you might occasionally want to throttle Arlen and Leesha. I recommend it for anyone who needs a break to just sit back and enjoy a good fantasy story without needing a genealogy chart or map.

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