The day 10 prompt for Wyrd & Wonder is Mixed Feelings. Nice, easy prompt. So here’s a list of books that I can’t make up my mind how to feel about.
The Poppy War by Rebecca Kuang
What a surprise, eh? I feel like this book makes a lot of such lists as there are all the good reasons and all the bad reasons for having a mixed opinion on Kuang’s controversial, ambitious debut. I don’t think mine are the bad reasons, but one can never be entirely sure. The main reason I would cite is how much the book’s tone shifts, going from the YA-esque school to the fairly grimdark war to the straight up horrifying textbook tone recounting her not-Rape of Nanjing. I had very different reactions to each part and have never been able to put how I feel about the book into a cohesive whole as a result. It’s definitely a book I’ve enjoyed having read more than I enjoyed reading, but unlike many such books, it doesn’t grow in my memory. But doesn’t completely fade. It’s no surprise this was the very first book I thought of.
The First Law by Joe Abercrombie
I read The First Law once with uneven enjoyment due to Abercrombie’s plot choices. Then I tried re-reading it and found some plot lines very compelling and others just not worth reading. What would happen a third time? I don’t know and probably won’t find out. Overall it’s a book I put on the positive side of the ledger, but I’m really not sure how good a story there is there without that initial shock factor. Watching other people pick it up for the first time after reading grimdark and asking “what’s the fuss about” only increases that doubt for me.
The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso
Caruso is a really slick prose writer. This book was super readable with exactly the sort of voice I liked – observational, warm, a little wry. Can’t say enough good things. I liked the premise of the book too. But I really struggled to like the characters, who came across as too simple, too black and white, particularly considering the moral issues the book brings up. I struggle to balance those two factors against each other when deciding just how highly I rate the book.
The Relic Guild by Edward Cox
I had actually forgotten about this book until racking my brains a little, and then remembered it and thought “I should think about this more often”. Or should I? It was a fun read with a great slightly steampunk, slightly dark fantasy feel that I’ve not come across too much. But I can’t think of anything about it that really sparks the sense of wow. But then, how many other books do I talk about because they were fun and a little different without being wow? Probably quite a few. Should The Relic Guild be in that category. Hmm, questions questions.
Valdemar by Mercedes Lackey
Yes, the whole damn series. To carry over from the last one, I like fun and a little different. Familiar adventure filled commercial fantasy is a good thing in my book, and that’s something Mercedes Lackey really nailed in this series. It’s not one I talk about that much, at least not compared to Feist, Jordan and Eddings, nevermind Gemmell or Kerr. Why? I can never decide whether Lackey’s books are just fun reads if you hit them at a formative age, or a little more. I would like them to be a little more, and maybe they are if you’re strongly drawn to Lackey’s themes – but then, so am I, and I don’t know.
Redemption of Althalus by David Eddings
It would be simpler to hate the Eddings for what they’ve done. Most of their work though, well, it sticks with me. The Redemption of Althalus? Well, the first time I read it, I mainly hated it too. How many times can they use the same damn characters? But a re-read made it connect. I guess there’s just a sense of fun to their writing I find really engaging. So do I hate this book and find it tiring, or do I admire its ambitious and sense of humour?
Temeraire by Naomi Novik
I read the first book. It was fun. I read the second book. It was… I don’t know what. Then the third book dragged. Why? What changed about this series? Is it me or is it the books changing? Did my tolerance for overly formal historical eras vanish while I wasn’t looking? Did I just start wondering why I wasn’t reading Sharpe instead? I don’t know. Did I like the first book enough that I want to persevere and refind the magic?
The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison
Kicking it old school, yo. This prototype for Epic Fantasy has a really cool plotline and some great moments. But the stiffness of the prose and its slow moving nature are real bastards to get past. I finished this, but I didn’t really pay much attention to the last quarter or so. Did I do it a disservice? Or did I find the maximum enjoyment possible in a book that was written to entertain people with vastly different expectations to my own.
Night’s Master by Tanith Lee
Speaking of books I finished but not really, I really like Night’s Master. I know that. It’s a created mythology of the highest order. But, well, see above. I do that. Sometimes I really love books, but I love them partially because I bailed at the right moment, putting my experience over the full story. See also: Le Carre, John. Would I love this book as much if I read the whole thing, rather than just until I’m full of Lee’s mythology. I don’t know. I should probably find out some time. Or maybe I should just treasure a great reading experience.
I just can’t make my mind up.