Book Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

So when you have a spirited toddler, it can be challenging to sit down and read. This is why Audible is my friend. Yay for audiobooks, which I can listen to in the car!

I’ve always been a huge fantasy fan. My favourite book when I was 12 was Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce.  Here’s a list of some of my fantasy favourites, in no particular order:

  • Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid’s Tale, MaddAdam
  • Ursula Le Guin – Tales of Earthsea
  • N.K. Jemisin – Stone Sky trilogy
  • J.RR. Tolkien – Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Phillip Pullman – His Dark Materials trilogy

The one annoying thing though, is the lack of diversity in all of the fantasy books I know and love. Except for Le Guin’s, of course. So! This is why it’s been wonderful reading more local Malaysian work – plenty of diversity to spice things up.

I really enjoyed the audiobook version of Sorcerer to the Crown. It’s a refreshingly different fantasy story by a talented Malaysian author, Zen Cho. The two main protagonists are people of colour, which is already a big plus. She weaves a hilarious tale of magical hijinks set in England, against a backdrop of racism, sexism, and all the fun things I love to see deconstructed. Lots of witty banter!

It does take some time to build up to the action, so you’ll need to be patient. Totally worth it though, so hang in there and enjoy the story. Here’s more info on the book from Zen Cho’s website.

Next book review – N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series.

 

Book Review of Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin

There is sEarthseaomething captivating about epic fantasy classics. I’m rereading one of my old favourites – The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin. This quartet includes the first four books from the Earthsea Cycle: A Wizard of Earthsea; The Tombs of Atuan; The Farthest Shore; and Tehanu.

While I witnessed of Sparrowhawk’s journeys in A Wizard of Earthsea, I could feel the crisp sea breeze on my skin, smell the salt of the ocean, and taste his desolation while he sailed into uncharted waters. The ability to transport the reader into another world is one of the hallmarks of well-written classic fantasy. As much as I enjoy my brief forays into dystopian YA novels, there is a lush, complex and gorgeous terrain only found in well-written, classic fantasy. Books like Tolkien’s and Le Guin’s take much, much longer to complete.

Le Guin’s writing style is both richly descriptive and tantalisingly sparse, leaving plenty of room for the reader to imagine the world of Earthsea. She expertly weaves themes like friendship, loneliness, the cost of pride and other human foibles into her stories. Any good story must have character growth, and Le Guin’s characters go on humbling journeys of self-discovery.

You know the old joke about fantasy novels? About how all fantasy worlds can somehow fit on two pages? Ha. It’s true, even in Le Guin’s case. This time, I actually made the effort of tracing Sparrowhawk’s journey on the map of Earthsea, and it made for even more vivid imaginings.

Without giving away too much, I’m curious about your thoughts on Le Guin’s take on gender, magic and mythology. Her depiction of women’s ineffective hedge magic versus the more serious craft of male wizards is…intriguing, particularly in today’s context of female-centric heroic narratives. If you ask me, I prefer a balance of both male and female protagonists. Le Guin is 85 years old, and she is unapologetic about her earlier works embracing the male-centric heroic narrative. I read one of her interviews, to help me understand the context she wrote in. Fascinating! In the Earthsea Quartet at least, the contrast between Le Guin’s gendered character descriptions to Margaret Atwood’s is very stark.

I’d like to end with an inspiring quote by Le Guin, given at the November 2014 National Book Awards:

I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Eulogy for a library & Last of The Mohicans

mohicans

I loved this piece on Daily Life, by Alecia Simmonds: Eulogy for a library.

As much as I enjoy my Kindle and the ease of accessing all kinds of books, there will always be a place in my heart for the sacred silence of a library.

In my brief time at the University of Sydney, I also have fond memories of Fisher Library. I remember borrowing an ancient copy of The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. It felt like I was touching a piece of history – the musty tome, the yellowed pages….that book took me back to 1757, to the wildnerness that was America. I discovered that it was a very different story to the movie adaptation, but no less powerful. My favourite parts had to do with descriptions of the Native Americans, the lush descriptions of the rugged terrain, and, of course, the doomed love story between Uncas and Cora Munroe – not Alice, as seen in the movie.

Spoilers ahead!

In the book, Cora Munroe is actually not the all-white American heroine seen in the movie. Her mother is African American, and she is described as the stronger of the two sisters, compared to her waif-like sister Alice. Uncas and her fall in love, but back then, interracial marriage was a complete no-no. The solution? Killing off Uncas and Cora, so they could be together in the afterlife!

I was really shocked to read that America only legalized interracial marriage in 1967! Prior to the Loving v. Virginia case, it was literally illegal to marry someone of a different race. This boggles my mind. I’m of mixed ancestry (Malay, Indian and Chinese), and my future children will be too.

When The World Ends, NY Times Fiction Piece

799138_battle_begins_iiThe New York Times ran a great fiction piece today: When The World Ends, by Elyse Pitok.

Elyse’s piece is short and powerful, much like a punch to the gut. It really makes you think – what would happen if we were at the end of the world? All these luxuries that we take for granted will vanish. We’ll all be stripped down to the basic act of survival. How will that change you?

She very cleverly juxtaposed the protagonist having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) with, well, the world ending. That takes mastery. One of my favourite lines:

But you realize that there is so much healing to be done, and no more. Tomorrow you will still be skinny. The next day you will still be obsessive. The day after that you will still be compulsive. No amount of therapy or medicine or patience is going to change that, but somehow you will find a way to coexist with your neuroses.

Her piece reminds me of Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, a novel which disturbed me for weeks. At this point, I wouldn’t re-read it. I have no intention to watch the movie, either. But was it a good book? Yes, so good I think it might have given me nightmares. Apocalyptic fiction is not for the faint of heart. The scary thing is that at the rate humankind is burning up resources – how far away are we from the point of no return? It’s a harrowing thought.

As one of my teachers taught me – tread lightly upon the earth. It’s the only one we have.

On Moby-Dick

I have a confession to make. It took me several years to finish reading Moby-Dick. It took me ages to read it, but to actually understand what happened…um. I’m still working on it. If anyone has any tips about how to get a better understanding of the events and symbolism in this novel, please let me know!

I loved the powerful opening line – Call me Ishmael. First lines are meant to grip the reader, and propel them to the second line, and so forth, and Moby-Dick did exactly that. The language befuddled me at several points, so I definitely need to do several re-readings.

I don’t know much about sailing, boats or whaling, but by the end of the novel, I learned that the ocean is not a force to be trifled with. And that whales can be SCARY. Especially hulking old ones with a vendetta against a one-legged madman. It goes to show the double-edged sword of relentless ambition….you may get what you want, but is the price something you’re willing to pay? Hm.

On Young Adult fiction

When it comes to my most-loved book genres, young adult fiction has to be right up there on my list. Yes, I know, I’m almost 30, but I suspect that I will always have a special place in my heart for YA fiction. There’s something so compelling in well-written YA – the alienation, the feelings of displacement, the longing for belonging….ah, nothing like angsty YA, I tell you.

Total Constant Order has to be one of my favourite YA books. I don’t know anyone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), so reading this book gave me a sneak peek into what it must be like for someone to live with that, day in, and day out, and what it’s like for the people who love them. I really like Fin, the protagonist – she’s spunky, likeable, and of course, troubled, but ultimately, she rises to the challenge of embracing who she is, OCD and all. I like that it ends on a hopeful, but not picture-perfect note. That makes it more relatable, which I feel makes the best kind of story.

On Multi-Tasking and Charles de Lint

“The major work of the world is not done by geniuses. It is done by ordinary people, with balance in their lives, who have learned to work in an extraordinary manner.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley

Today, my desk looks slightly more organized. I have a glass of water to my right, Craisins to my left. Paper… everywhere. 🙂 It’s been a rough and rewarding past week, with my completion of my first project. Editing transcripts is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Getting my first payment? Now that was a good feeling. I’ve signed up to another freelance website, http://www.elance.com, and I’m working on another project; I’ll be writing a 20-page report, this time. While I edit my latest piece for Daily Life. And work on my counselling workbook. And – not to mention – juggle the various roles of wife, daughter, sister, and friend.  Eep. I have lots to do. Balance is key!

On another note, check out this beautiful post on the difference between a short story and a novel. As much as I love reading a satisfying novel, there’s something incredibly special about a superbly-crafted short story. One of my favourite short-story collections has to be Charles de Lint’s Dreams Underfoot: The Newford Collection. Charles de Lint has crafted the mythical town of Newford somewhere in Canada, and created an unforgettable cast of characters. I need many, many more blog posts to cover how much I love his work. My first exposure to his genius was actually through audiobooks, from Audible.com – Memory and Dream was my first Charles de Lint experience. And certainly not the last! There is something so magical about how he’s weaved these stories together. His stand-alone novels are fantastic enough, but his short story collection felt like an absolute treat. The appetiser, so to speak, before the main course. Each so very exquisite, and leaving you wanting more.