Sunday, February 26, 2017

Two Authors - Similar Ground

I haven't ever done this before, this isn't precisely a review, but more of a comparison between two authors who have some things in common in terms of what they tackle and how they go about it.

I'll cover Marissa Meyer first. Marissa Meyer published her debut novel; Cinder, in 2012. Cinder was the first book of the Lunar Chronicles. It was an anime inspired reimagining of the Cinderella legend. It was followed by Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel) and Winter (Snow White). The Lunar Chronicles were popular enough to spawn a prequel (Fairest) and a book of short stories (Stars Above). Given the popularity of the romance infused, anime inspired fairytales, the characters and the world that Meyer created, moving away from it was a fairly brave move for an author to make.

I felt Marissa Meyer took other risks with Heartless. It also involved a much loved fairytale (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), it was however set largely in a world that was very similar to Lewis Carroll's original, as opposed to the Lunar Chronicles world which was a futuristic Earth and vastly different from those of the stories that inspired it. It was also a prequel, whereas the Lunar Chronicles were a retelling of the originals. Audiences love series today, and by it's very nature Heartless is a standalone book. The author also chose to focus on a fairly unpopular character from the original; Heartless is the story of the Red Queen and how she got to be the character audiences encountered in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Now onto Danielle Paige. Danielle Paige released Dorothy Must Die in 2014, she had already had a a prequel novella (No Place Like Oz) set in the world and using some of the characters published electronically by Harper Collins, before the novel was published (it and two other related novellas were later published as paper books). Paige's series dealt with the world of Oz. It differed from what Meyer had done, in that she told reimaging's and the Dorothy Must Die books were sequels of a kind to Frank L. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She did also use characters and settings from some of the other Oz books. Like the Lunar Chronicles (I suspect the two series share an audience, aside from myself, I'm not their target audience at all), they were popular enough to have related books of short work released, and there's actually a 4th novel in the original series scheduled for release later this year.

After having success with her first series, Paige also took a chance by moving away from it. Stealing Snow is a take on Hans Christian Anderson's classic The Snow Queen. Anything related to that story due to Disney's Frozen is almost guaranteed to be successful, this is despite the fact that about the only thing Frozen and The Snow Queen have in common is a character who can control ice and snow. Stealing Snow ultimately takes less risks than Heartless. It's a reimagining of a popular story, currently riding a wave of success that the public can't seem to get enough of, it's also the first of a series (it does standalone, but has sequels planned) and it features a fairly likeable protagonist.

I felt of the two Heartless was the better book. Possibly because I'm more familiar with it's source material than I am with that of Stealing Snow. I also think it was better written and the author stretched herself more. The romance angle aside, Heartless is an ambitious undertaking, it's vastly different to what Marissa Meyer did with the Lunar Chronicles in style and setting. Even the characters are very different. She uses multiple types of story, there are elements of an Austenish comedy of manners, a Regency Romance, the sort of surreal children's story that Carroll originally wrote and a whodunnit. At times I wasn't sure I was reading the same person that wrote the Lunar Chronicles.

Stealing Snow doesn't stretch Paige's talents anywhere near as much. Snow isn't a long way removed from the protagonist of the Dorothy Must Die books; Amy Gumm. She has that same snark and tough girl exterior. It uses one of the same story devices. In Dorothy Must Die, Amy is whisked from Kansas to Oz when a tornado snatches up her mother's mobile home and in Stealing Snow, Snow enters Algid by means of a magical mirror. In both series the protagonist enters the other world to put everything right. Stealing Snow starts with Snow in a psychiatric hospital called Whittakers and housed with other patients who have delusions. The way Snow talks about them is rather like introducing a super hero team and their powers. I was kind of hoping that they'd appear in Algid with their powers real like Snow's were (maybe they will in future books), but once she got to Algid it followed a far more predictable path. The start had me thinking that the author was going to do something like Normal Again, but it was not to be.

Both are good books that will catch and hold a reader's attention, and will no doubt retain the author's existing fans and garner new ones, it's just that on my reading Heartless took me in more than Stealing Snow did.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Great Reread Project Mark III - The Letter D

Last time I did this I went for Dave Duncan's The Reaver's Road (the first of his Omar the Storyteller books), unfortunately while I liked it and it's sequel (The Hunter's Haunt) the first time around, this time I just couldn't get into the whole send up of the sword and sorcery genre and it turned into a DNF. I wasn't sure who I'd do for D this time and I settled on John De Chancie.

John De Chancie wrote a number of science fiction and fantasy books back in the 80's and 90's. He is possibly best known for the Castle Perilous series.

These were short, funny fantasies that were quite popular at the time, along with writers like Craig Shaw Gardner, Robert Asprin and even some of Esther Friesner's work.

There were 8 of these originally (I believe a 9th; the Pirates of Castle Perilous was recently published) and because they're all pretty short by today's standards (I don't think any of them would break 300 pages) I thought I'd be able to read all of them.

They haven't exactly been visited by the 'suck fairy', but I did have to call defeat part way through Castle War! (the 4th book in the series). Partially this was my fault. They came out in 6 month intervals, and that's really how they were designed to be read. It is possible to overdose on something and the Castle books are an example of that. Shotgunning them the way I was only really showed up their flaws and took away from my enjoyment of them. They've dated terribly, as well.

The idea is pretty cool. A castle located in a place of it's own in space and time, which has 144,000 doors, each of which leads to a different world or reality. Unfortunately I don't think the author's imagination was up to the task and many of his worlds wound up becoming rather pedestrian. There was a lot of promise in the world that one of the lead character's; Snowclaw, hailed from, but it was never really explored.

I also found the inhabitants of the castle kind of boring given that premise. Most of them, Snowclaw excepted, were humans, who came from either Earth or a world very like it. There was a race of sentient dinosaurs in the first book, but they disappeared partway through that and weren't seen again by the time I bailed. They may have reappeared in some of the later books, but they can't have made much of an impact as I can't remember them.

I liked Gene initially, until he turned into a raving chauvinist in the 3rd book, something that turned me off the character and the books, and was evidence of how badly they'd aged. I did like Linda and Snowclaw, although the latter was really used as comedy relief most of the time. I found Incarnadine, the ruler of the castle, rather hard to take at the best of times and kind of wished he'd get lost in one of his castle's many aspects and not return.

Another thing that dated the books was the introduction of computers in the 3rd book. What computers could do and were in the late 80's, are a far cry from what they are now, and they simply didn't work in the concept. It's kind of weird when they're talking about mainframes and floppy drives, booting up programs and separate scanning machines, and I sit there and look at my phone and my tablet and think of streaming data and the cloud.

The one thing that kept popping into my head while I was reading them was how like Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree books they were. I doubt John De Chancie had ever even heard of Enid Blyton, let alone read her Faraway Tree books, but they were very similar in concept and execution, although I kind of think Blyton did it better and with more spirit.

Possibly I would have been better digging out Tom Deitz's David Sullivan books.

The letter E has me worried as I'm going back to David and Leigh Eddings. The last time I did that it was The Belgariad, and that was an epic that aged very badly.