Books read, February 2021
Son of a Trickster, Eden Robinson. I can’t remember where I saw this recommended, but it’s got an excellent strapline in its cover copy: “A compelling coming-of-age novel in which everyday teen existence crashes up against indigenous beliefs, crazy family dynamics and cannibalistic river otters . . .” Having said that, man did it take its time getting to the cannibalistic river otters. For a very large percentage of this book, it’s just about the main character trying to stay afloat amid a giant pile of incredibly dysfunctional people, struggling with his own alcoholism, and so forth, while a lot of those dysfunctional people take advantage of him. Once the magic stuff really came to the fore, though, I enjoyed it enough that the sequel is on its way to me.
Digger, Volume 1, Ursula Vernon.
Digger, Volume 2, Ursula Vernon. (Not actually read back-to-back, but I might as well write them up that way.) Wow am I late to this particular party — but it is so worth showing up for. I also understand why, although multiple people I know had raved about Digger, it’s hard to pitch in a way that explains why you ought to read it; anything with starts that “so the main character is a wombat” is already in eyebrow-raising territory. But the wombat is awesome! So is the hyena! And the shadowling thingy that might or might not be a demon! I have confirmed that not only am I not the first person to think Digger is a lot like a friend of mine, said friend has decided that’s one of the nicest compliments she’s ever received. Digger’s pragmatism and face-palming (face-pawing?) are great. I read the first volume, liked it enough to order the second, read the second, and promptly ordered the remainder of the series. Expect that to show up in a future booklog, and not very long from now, either.
Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn. Third of an urban fantasy series about Asian-American superheroines in San Francisco. I have to take these in smallish doses, because part of the brand here involves the characters screwing up for a long time before they sort themselves out, which can be frustrating to me even if I know they will sort it out eventually. And I was particularly uninclined to be patient with Bea’s kind of screwing up, which features her trying to prove how mature she is in some pretty immature ways. But I am glad to report that the story, in the long run, does not agree with her opinion that the ways she’s using her mind-control powers are totally fine — my tolerance for that sort of thing has declined sharply over time. It also made me tear up with some of the stuff about grief and the ways Bea and her sister Evie have or have not been dealing with the loss of their mother. (Not a spoiler; their mother is gone before the series begins.)
Stepsister, Jennifer Donnelly. I’ve read enough fairy-tale-based things now that I’m rather jaded about them; it takes something significant to make me invest in a new one now. This? Succeeds in spades. Partly because Donnelly clearly knows that it isn’t enough to say “I’ve got a new spin on this story” — because honey, at this point I’m not sure there are new spins. You’ve got to bring something else. In this case, that’s a contest between the personification of Chance and the eldest personification of Fate, about whether he’ll manage to change the fate of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, post-tale. That plus a somewhat creepy faerie queen breathes some much-needed life into a story I’ve seen done dozens of ways, and makes good room for some meditations on what one’s “heart” might be (hint: it isn’t always charity, kindness, and goodness). And the narration is strong, too. If you like fairy-tale stories but seem to be tired of all of them these days, this one might jar you out of that rut.
The Never-Tilting World, Rin Chupeco. Does anybody remember a . . . miniseries, I think it was, or maybe just a special, on TV something like twenty-plus years ago, about a world where it was always daylight on one side and always night on the other? I remember nothing else about it beyond that, but the memory made me interested in this book, which has a similar premise. Do not look for solid worldbuilding here, not of the practical sort: there’s a nod toward it being hard to survive in the seventeen years since a mysterious cataclysm caused the world to stop turning, whether you’re on the day side or the night side, but somehow there are still cities (two of them, one per side) that manage to stay fed and produce things like books even though the world outside their walls seems to consist entirely of monster-haunted wilderness and some nomads straight out of Mad Max. On the other hand, I really liked the Avatar-esque spin on magic, where you get different variants depending on what element you channel and what type of gate you channel it through (so that a Starmaker, for example, channels air patterns through a fire gate to make light). And there’s some intriguing mythological worldbuilding verrrrrry vaguely based on Inanna’s descent into the underworld, with twin goddesses and some kind of ritual whose failure caused that cataclysm. I wound up feeling odd about the pacing and characterization, which somehow seemed to spend a lot of words without developing the things I wanted to see developed, but I’m also still intrigued by the unanswered questions about what went wrong. There’s a sequel (and I think this is intended to be a duology), which I . . . may read? We’ll see if this sticks with me well enough to prompt that. The book also has a central f/f relationship, for those of you looking for that kind of thing.
Elfquest: The Final Quest, Volume 1, Wendy and Richard Pini.
Elfquest: The Final Quest, Volume 2, Wendy and Richard Pini. I’m finally catching up on this arc, very late. I’ve read Volume 1 before — possibly twice — and I couldn’t remember anything about it; re-reading it now, I can see part of the reason why. A big focus of this part of the story is on how there are so many different groups of elves in so many different places, and the question of how (if at all) their various ways can be reconciled . . . but the result is that the first half of Volume 1 hops around a lot, making it feel rather unfocused. Even once it starts to gain more momentum, I think it’s choppier than Pini’s storytelling of yore — though admittedly my ability to follow through isn’t helped by the fact that I never knew the later material as well, so I’m constantly going “whose kid is that? Where did they find that guy? How did they get over there, again?”
The story finds its footing much better in Volume 2, where it starts to focus on that big question of ways of life. I’m honestly interested to see how the story addresses that, since as presented, it’s kind of unanswerable: it’s fine to say that people can choose Way A or Way B as they please, but that starts to unravel when, say, two people who have been married for centuries are leaning in different directions, and it’s pulling them apart. You can’t just say, well, he should accept that she’s changed, when what she wants is making him miserable, what he wants is making her miserable, and they both love each other too much to just shake hands and go their separate ways. I don’t know how that’s going to be resolved.
I also don’t know what’s going to happen with the odd strand that started to crop up toward the end of the second volume, with some characters expressing views that I . . . suspect I’m meant to find sketchy. There was a particular bit with one character revealing something big to another, in a context where I was sitting there thinking, “I assume I’m supposed to find this cool, but it’s actually, uh, kind of weird, and I’m not sure I’m very on board with it.” Then I got to the end of that scene, and the character getting that revelation responded by running screaming into the hills. Like, literally. So now I’m pretty sure I am in fact meant to be dubious of some of the stuff going on here. As with Digger, the remaining volumes are on their way to me!