Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: Contrasting fantasies

So, over the weekend I finished THE VOYAGE OF THE BASILISK by Marie Brennan

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and DEAD HEAT by Patricia Briggs

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And wow, what a contrast. This was not a coincidence, as if I’m going to read one book after another in quick succession, I vastly prefer to choose titles that are quite different from each other. These two are definitely as different as two novels can be and still be included in the fantasy genre.

They are both very good!

Brennan’s title is, as you know, written as a memoir, by an intellectual, reserved, emotionally distant woman who assumes we are familiar with the high points of her life. This gives the books in this series a dramatically different tone than a more typical novel that pulls us into the action. I enjoyed VOYAGE very much, but it is an intellectual enjoyment, despite various adventures with sea serpents and whatnot. I must admit I cannot at all work out what the evolutionary history of dragons could possibly involve. Very weird stuff going on back in their history. I *think* I trust Brennan to put it all together in an intellectually satisfying way eventually. I hope she does!

It’s really funny how Lady Trent keeps being thrown out of every single country she visits. I wonder if that’s going to continue?

I appreciated how Brennan handled Isabella’s nine-year-old son, Jake. I personally know of several scientists who took their little kids with them while they did research in Africa. The helicopter parents that have gotten so ubiquitous in the past twenty years would have an absolute cow. Even there, though, I think Brennan toned down the massively less protective attitude toward children, just as she’s toned down her world’s racist attitudes compared to the real past, and toned down the perfectly cheerful way naturalists used to kill every animal they came across. Plainly she’s doing all that in order to make her book more appealing to modern audiences. It’s a fine line and she walks it like a tightrope artist.

I’m looking forward to seeing where Isabella goes next, and I want to see how the relationship between Suhail and Isabella develops. Also between Tom and Isabella.

Incidentally, there’s no need to be creative when it comes to the text inside a print book. BLACK PRINT on white paper works just fine. BLUE PRINT is not as easy to read. What was with that?

Now, DEAD HEAT was utterly different.

OH MY GOD THAT TERRIBLE COVER. What is it with this series? Every cover is worse than the last. Now that we have reached the absolute bottom, the next cover might actually be better?

I actually got this one as an ebook despite having the others in paper because a) much cheaper, and b) I never want to see that cover again. Who ARE those people? Not Charles and Anna.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way. I know not everyone likes the Alpha and Omega series as much as the Mercy Thompson series, but I do. I’ve always liked Charles and Anna, especially Charles. I liked seeing them meet and I have enjoyed watching them work out their relationship and I appreciate how much trust they have in each other now.

The murderous fey subplot worked fine for me. I trusted that Patricia Briggs would not ACTUALLY let that mother kill her own children, as it seemed she might have in the subplot, because that just does not seem like a Briggs thing to do. I was right, so that was fine.

The ultimate outcome of that situation with Beauclair and his daughter does look like it’s going to be war and that will certainly be dramatic. This low-level nastiness is quite believable in the meantime.

And, of course, I really enjoyed the horses. I mean, horses! And talking about conformation in a knowledgeable way! Perfect subplot for me. If Patricia Briggs had gone out of her way to deliberately chose a subplot that would particularly appeal to me, she couldn’t have done a better job. The selecting-a-horse-for-Anna thing supplied calm moments between disasters and crises, but I’m the sort of person who would have enjoyed the whole book if there hadn’t been any disasters or crises, but just day-to-day life with horses. Did I mention that I read nothing but animal stories when I was a kid?

As a side note, never buy a horse with straight pasterns. You really need the whole front end to be correct, but straight pasterns will give you worse than a choppy, uncomfortable trot. The front pasterns are major shock absorbers and quite liable to injury; that horse is probably going to have serious issues with lameness later in life. You see the same thing in dogs with straight pasterns, though dogs’ pasterns are not supposed to slope as much as horses’ because their functional anatomy is very similar but not the same.

Wait, have I digressed?

What I meant to say is that the whole point of an urban fantasy series is to get you to connect emotionally to the characters, make you feel they’re real people you actually know, and draw you into the story. These are stories you’re supposed to read with your heart, not your head. I mean obviously if the plot falls apart in some major way, or if there are gaping holes in the worldbuilding, that can be a problem. But the author gets a lot of leeway in those respects because ultimately, super-tight plotting and utterly consistent worldbuilding are not the point.

I didn’t notice anything major wrong with either the plotting or the worldbuilding, by the way. I’m just saying that I wouldn’t necessarily care too much if I had. The Memoirs of Lady Trent are all about worldbuilding. The Alpha and Omega series are all about character and story. Reading these two books back to back really makes one feel that the term “fantasy” tells you nothing at all about a book, because they are so utterly different. I could imagine a genre system where we distinguished between the emotional dimensions of different categories of books rather than details of the setting. If we did that, these two would be widely separated. I really enjoyed them both.

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