Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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A brief roundup of reviews —

Of other people’s books, positive and negative.

I know I am probably a bad person for enjoying negative reviews of other people’s books. But sometimes I can’t help it. In case you have the same taste, I’ll start with those. Here are a couple I have particularly enjoyed lately.

First, this is a YA story, WATERMUSIC, published in the eighties. Charlotte takes it apart, fairly gently but quite thoroughly.

“In case you ever want to write a high school essay on this book, I will help: Laura’s mother and the anthropologist are both, in different ways, making bad choices by distancing themselves from the world of insects and over-ripe cantaloupe (which is what the swamp mermaid smells like). One can assume that the writer thinks the eighties are/were bad and we are/were killing too many insects with our household toxins, but also thinks that pure thought, devoid of emotion, is bad and we must embrace as well the Mermaid of Fecundity or something.”

I must add: of course there were brilliant YA stories published in the eighties! (Of course I know Charlotte knows that, too.) Having declared that, am only able to think of a couple. It turns out Red Moon and Black Mountain was actually published in 1978, so I guess it doesn’t technically count, though what’s a couple years between friends? But! The Blue Sword! The first Alanna stories were published in the eighties (I didn’t discover Tamora Pierce till decades later). And, hah, DWJ was publishing in the eighties, so there you go.

It really would be interesting to look at YA themes through the decades, though — the reviews published of Watermusic at the time are so interesting. I’m glad Charlotte tracked those down.

Okay, now for something much newer and quite different. No one does devastating reviews with such a fine scalpel as Liz Bourke. Check out her recent review of Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson.

Unwrapped Sky takes all the creative power of language and sets it in service of hollow symbols of dissolution and decay. It turns revolution into a directionless treatise on corrupted wills and compromised moralities: its characters are more symbols than affective individuals.”

Wow, rush right out. I don’t mind sharing this review with you because I’m pretty sure people who like my books are going to join me in stepping slowly away from this one, so I don’t feel bad in saying it sounds awful. I must say, if Davidson had succeeded brilliantly at what he was apparently trying to do . . . I would still totally detest this book:

“Sad, morally compromised people, they drift about rather aimlessly, being sad and ineffectual and morally compromised and reflecting on the state of the world and the state of their selves. . . . It all seems very impressed with its own profundity. That rarely turns out well.”

I don’t know about you, but “dismal” is the single word that comes to mind with all that drifting aimlessly. This is not the tone I enjoy in a book, even if the author brings it off. The review, on the other hand, is great fun. You should particularly click through and read the whole thing so that you can appreciate the last line.

On the other hand! Don’t you enjoy reading recent positive reviews of books you read ages ago and loved? Here is The Book Smugglers’ recent joint review of Jaran by Kate Elliot. This review also raises an important question about what constitutes Science Fiction Romance and what expectations readers have of a book called “Science fiction” versus “science fiction romance.”

I have not previously been aware of anybody identifying a subgenre of “science fiction romance,” and frankly I think the name should have a stake driven through its heart pronto. The term is going to drive people who aren’t big on romance (like me) away from excellent books and as night follows day, books that are called “anything romance” are going to be dismissed as nonserious or lesser quality. Ana nails this by saying “I admit I was surprised at how much of the novel focus on the developing romance between the protagonist Tess and the leader of the Jaran, Ilya. Because I was not expecting it: this seems to show how I have certain expectations of Science Fiction I was not even aware of. If it is not called SFR, I am not going to be expecting a strong storyline involving romance and sure as hell won’t be expecting it to be that good.”

Anyway, they both loved the book. So did I, though I was not keen on how some aspects of the story played out in the sequels, and felt strongly that the series did not come to a satisfying conclusion. So personally, I would suggest reading Jaran as a standalone.

And finally, I really enjoyed this review of Troubled Waters over at Ivy Book Bindings. I don’t always agree with Keertana about specific books — do you know, she actually did not like The Blue Sword? Can you believe that? But we are on the same page when it comes to Troubled Waters.

Keertana also adds, “The world of Elemental Blessings is one of those few fantasy realms I wouldn’t hesitate to live in.” That is so true!

So there you go: a handful of reviews that caught my eye last week. Enjoy!

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2 Comments A brief roundup of reviews —

  1. Craig

    I read Liz Bourke’s review and was actually most struck by the #3 comment by someone who loved the book, including a link to his review at grimdark-fantasy-reader.blogspot.com. Hm. Yes, anyone reviewing under that name is pretty much guaranteed to have diametrically opposed tastes to yours.

  2. Rachel

    Craig, you know, I hadn’t read the comments? Wow, yes, grimdark-fantasy-reader is not likely to line up with me on very many titles.

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