Curates Eggs: Nine Books I Can’t Make My Mind Up On

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?

Yes.

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.

Image credit for the W&W logo to Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

10 thoughts on “Curates Eggs: Nine Books I Can’t Make My Mind Up On

  1. I def agree with the first two, although I don’t have mixed feeling about the Poppy War so much as I know I didn’t enjoy it. It’s just not a very well put together book I thought. The First Law I def have mixed feelings on. The first book in the series I really enjoyed, the second I thought was poor and the third was ok on its own, but hampered by some of the knock on effects of book two. Same as you, I questioned some of the plot choices, particularly the long pointless walk to nowhere which, given some time and distance from the story, I can see as a subversion of the classic fantasy trek – I just didn’t find reading about it very compelling in the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The walk to nowhere was less a subversion of the classic fantasy trek and more just the classic fantasy trek only less interesting for me. Doing a thing and pointing at it and going “I’m subverting it” isn’t subverting it, it’s doing it.

      Poppy War… yeah. It could be put together better. The spirit of it was it did, it nailed. Which do I value more…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol very good point about the fantasy trek. Which is probably why it fell flat. Could see what he was TRYING to do, but it didn’t work and it was boring.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Regarding “Temeraire”, they are part of what I call “soft books”, and the only description I can make for that is “short, calm, not-really-engaging-brain” books, up there with TV period drama when you just want to be entertained, hehe

    There are 9 books in the series: I read books 1 and 2 (got in charity shop), then 4-6 from the library, and finally 9 (which again found in a charity shop). I wasn’t hurt in my understanding of the story by skipping books, but I enjoyed having a proper ending.

    When people ask me about those books I say that, apart from the first, they are: Laurence and Temeraire go to a different part of the world (there’s China, Africa, Australia, South America and I think North America and continental Europe as well), dragons there are exploited/different/feral, they manage to solve their problems and bring them to “british enlightment”, more or less. That’s the summary for every single one, just replace the location and type of dragon 😀
    (ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but only a small bit…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I fully agree they’re very much pure entertainment and not a lot else – just I found myself questioning whether they were even that. You’re not wrong about the repetitiveness of the plots though!

      Like

  3. I think your observations hit the mark on so many levels. Poppy War, First Law, Valdemar, and Temeraire — all good books, but leaving something “missing” from the reading experience, or so it felt at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think with Valdemar the characters don’t have enough truly hard choices, so it never hits full emotional Oopmh for me. Except for Burning Brightly, which I liked and never read again. Maybe I should rectify that…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “It’s definitely a book I’ve enjoyed having read more than I enjoyed reading” – this is such a good way of phrasing something I’ve been trying to articulate this year about a few books I’ve read that I was sort of dragging through but felt goo about getting to the end of..? This is a great list. I haven’t actually read any of these books but quite a few are on my TBR so I’ll have to see how I feel when the time comes! Though I think I’ve seen enough posts and reviews of The Poppy War to make me think I just won’t read that one, haha!

    Liked by 1 person

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