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Today I had to defrost my freezer, which has got to be the single household task that is most capable of making me face my utter and complete worthlessness. But listening to The Adoration of Jenna Fox on my iPod player helped a bit with distraction...

So, being very behind on the book write-ups, I decided to shove together two that seem to have little in common, but illustrate my total lack of consistency. The books are Maggie Stiefvater's Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. What they don't have in common? Lament is - I started to describe it as high fantasy, but of course it's not - it's concentrated, essence of fantasy, with not a quest in sight, and there's ice cream rather than stew. The Hunger Games is fast-paced, gripping science fiction, set in a dystopian society. As punishment for an earlier rebellion of some sort, each of the 12 Districts must choose one boy and one girl 'Tribute' to go to the Capital and take part in the Games - a televised reality-show competition which runs until just one tribute is left alive (more of the competitors killed nice and gorily by others than dying of starvation or exposure, if it's a good Game).

What they do have in common is heavy emphasis on the romance, and in both books it's the common set-up of the girl who has a guy best friend (her only close friend, in both) and competing love-interest is introduced, messing with everyone's heads. The inconsistency comes because the romance in The Hunger Games drove me MAD. I found it irritating, heavy-handed and felt it unbalanced the story. While reading Lament, on the other hand, I lapped it up and found myself marveling that it was the only YA I could think of in which I didn't lose liking for the old buddy when the heroine started fancying the socks off the new guy... or vice versa. The other thing I found myself marveling at was the number and closeness of the Diana Wynne Jones resonances.



Lament first, because I loved it, despite being able to see exactly how much it might not be some people's cup of tea. First time reading, I tore through it, loving the sheer, glorious piling on of every element of Faerie-intruding-into -modern-world- story you've ever encountered, with the odd new one thrown in for good measure. I loved the fact that the clues were all there and I got most but missed the odd one, while there wasn't a lot of annoyingly drawn out lag before the protagonist finally copped on. And it's funny! The dialogue was often great, and there are touches that are just wonderful. Then there's Luke - personally, I think the inside jacket flap blurb gives away way too much about him and his role too early, but the intensity of the suffering he's felt is -- well, it matches Mordion's, and that says a lot. The scenes of - not to spoil anything - the scenes in which Deirdre sees how he got all his scars - are shattering. Not only does the intensity of suffering match Mordion's, but there's a similarity to the -- purpose -- for each character's present existence which I found striking.

Deirdre is interesting as a character. She's rather sheltered at first, shy, though a talented musician, and considers herself 'invisible' at school. There's quite a change from the girl we first meet about to throw up from performance nerves, who's driven to that music competition by her mother, to whom she responds quite passively, to the hero she is by the end. (Yes, that 'hero' is a reference to Fire and Hemlock.) She's inexperienced romantically as well, and literally thinks 'He kissed me. He kissed me.' at one point - italics and all. It's shocking to the reader as well as her when she then overhears (using the 'telekinetic crap' she's just discovered herself possessing) Luke responding to some unknown voice's telling him to "Just fuck her. Finish it." with an unhesitating "I can't wait."

By the end - while small voices in the back of the head may be wondering quite why Luke would be so 'fascinated' with her after a very long, weary one thousand, three hundred, forty-eight years' worth of potentially fascinating girls (boys, whatever) - I felt that Deirdre had grown into the heroic stature more than might have been expected. Her going out to face the Faerie Queen (a nasty bit of work if ever there was one), knowing she has only the determination to make it happen that Luke has seen in her from the start, really worked for me.

And then there's James - the best friend. Even if it was obvious from the very beginning that there was going to be a revelation that James wanted to be more than just her best friend, there were really nice departures from the standard plot-line with respect to the best friend role. Like, he was more than a bit psychic, instead of the expected totally unaware of the otherworldy all around him, in which Deirdre is so involved. He's also a good musician, and also 'a freak', and is invited to join what they come to call the 'freak school' - really a conservatory for teens with 'psychic ability'. (I loved that, and hope there's lots of it in the sequel.)

On my second read through, I thought the weakest parts were some odd vagueness of depiction of some of Deirdre's family, though again a lot was given in the clues, and explained by a revelation near the end. "This explained so much..." being an exact quote from Fire and Hemlock, relating also to family history involving the heroine's grandmother. And that brings me to the scene that amazed me with its likeness to the one in Fire and Hemlock. Fairly near the beginning, before Deirdre knows much about Luke, her grandmother arrives at her house for Deirdre's birthday just as Luke's been persuaded to come in for cake. She does the warning away of Luke that Granny does of Tom when Polly brings him home from Hunsdon House after the funeral. Granny saw that Tom was "one of Hers" and would be lucky if he could call his soul his own. As would Luke. (In Lament Granna doesn't need Mintchoc to sniff out the association with Them - since to her Luke reeks of Them.) And she gives Deirdre a birthday present, which had been hers -a piece of jewelry to try to keep her safe from the Queen and her Court. Polly's much more pleased with the pretty opal necklace than Deirdre with her ugly iron ring, but neither is enough in any case. And I'm sure I won't be the only reader to have seen it likely that They will go for people close to Deirdre as they did to Polly.

I did wonder early on if Lament was going to be a Tam Lin story, but it isn't quite, although there are certainly elements there. And I loved the scene in which Deirdre finds the curly-haired Thomas the Rhymer sitting in the grass. The ending was wonderful, and I'd definitely take a book which had a few uneven patches along the way and ended strongly over one that went limp at the end. Sequel due out this year, thank goodness. (Oh, which reminds me - another thing I loved is that the threat of sending Luke to Hell really meant to Hell - there was no heavy dose of religion, certainly, but the scene in the church in Richmond? Wonderful.)

::Shakes head violently to switch gears:: The Hunger Games. Right. First thing I should say is that I listened to the audiobook rather than reading this one, and it probably does make a big difference - I have no doubt that this is the kind of book you tear through, at whatever risk to task accomplishment, family care or the like. Listening to it meant the speed could -- not -- be -- adjusted. So every time the action was interrupted for yet another dose of Katniss's damaged self and her cynical interpretation of Peeta's obviously sincere behavior, I had to listen to it drone on and on. No skimming and page-flipping for me! It really hurt in this case, because I didn't much care for Katniss, although at least I had ample time to keep reminding myself that she'd been hurt and abandoned in the past, and she'd had to make herself tough to survive and take care of everyone else. It was never quite enough, though, and she always seemed to be so late in seeing the excuses for other people's behaviour, or even in seeing a simple act of kindness as such.

I do think I'd have been somewhat frustrated even had I been reading at break-neck speed (or the closest I come to the same), because - aside from finding out what happened in the Arena, what I wanted to know was what had happened to the US to devastate it so there'd been a complete breakdown and - civil war, I guess. And what had left the resultant country, Panem, with such an unjust and unbalanced power structure? What about the rest of the world? Still there and interested in Panem or all countries isolated and insular? Or everyone else dead? Things felt off about the meagre explanations given, but of course some of that was the lack of knowledge forced on the people living outside the Capital. Is almost all the technological knowledge being squandered - along with almost all the resources - on a decadent lifestyle for those - few? Or many? living in the Capital? And what I most wanted to know was how had such a large portion of society become so morally bankrupt that the savagery of the Games could be enjoyed as entertainment?

But there's another book to come - or at least one, and maybe more. Oddly, I think the sequel to this and Lament are even out the same month this year.... That could be a good thing, if all the indisputable strengths of the story are there, and there's more depth to the background story of the whole of society. Or it could be awful, if it becomes merely "torn between two lovers" teen angst with the futuristic society as just a bit of setting spice. That would be a real waste, though so many people have loved this one exactly as is, and seen the romance as deeply moving, that I might be almost alone in thinking that. (I did find quite a few things in the book deeply moving, really, just not the romance bits. And much was fascinating.)

In the interests of full disclosure, since I'm already pointing out my wild inconsistency over the lurve triangles in these two books, I will admit that though I was bored with the romance element of the book, and hope it's played down in the next one, I'll be royally peeved if Katniss chooses the Wrong Guy. Well, consistency is highly over-rated anyway, right?

Date: 2009-04-15 01:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] m-stiefvater.livejournal.com
*dies* I love this review. The ones that pick it apart and still love it are so much better than the OMG I LOVE IT THAT'S ALL READ IT THAT'S ALL!!!! reviews.

Date: 2009-04-15 08:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lady-schrapnell.livejournal.com
Oh, I'm so glad you like it! Picking a book apart to talk about it is interesting - I've often found that some aspect I hadn't really noticed pops up when I start the on-screen burble. That happened with James - I thought he was wonderful right from the start and noticed what I said about the triangulation not changing that, but hadn't noticed quite how you broke the convention of this kind of fantasy best pal set-up in making him a 'freak' too, right from the start. Love it.

And what you said about Shiver in your Easter post blew me away. The anticipation may prove fatal!

Date: 2009-04-15 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] m-stiefvater.livejournal.com
Hahahah! Also, SHIVER will be uber fun to analyze. ;) I guess the reason why I love these reviews so much is because I love to do this to the books on both ends of the spectrum -- books I love AND books I hate. I was greatly charmed by the FIRE AND HEMLOCK, actually, because it's a book that I consider deeply flawed and yet love madly.

And I was very happy to switch to James for the protag in BALLAD. It's fun to look at the things I broke in LAMENT and see if I can put them back together in different shapes.

Date: 2009-04-15 08:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lady-schrapnell.livejournal.com
Oh, you've never written anything anywhere about Fire and Hemlock, have you? It'd be fantastic to read it if so, and find out what you think its deep flaws are. (I love it madly too, and can't even imagine getting tired of talking about it, ever.)

It's fun to look at the things I broke in LAMENT and see if I can put them back together in different shapes.

I was just thinking this morning how much I love being able to listen in when authors talk about their writing. It's fascinating. Even if it does increase the pain of waiting as much as your comments have!

Date: 2009-04-16 12:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] m-stiefvater.livejournal.com
Sigh, I don't have anything written in my LJ about it -- but I just got my copy back from my sister so that once I get LINGER's deadline out of hte way (the 22nd) I can reread it. I can't wait. My biggest issue with DWJ is the fact that she reuses character types in a major, major way . . . a fact I can overlook because I like those said character types, but she does tend to explore the same sort of relationships over and over again, with different names.

Also she likes to be deliberately sneaky about facts which I dimly suspect comes from being a pantser-writer rather than a plotter.

But you know what I love best about FIRE AND HEMLOCK? The fact that she so cunningly pulls off that mentor-to-friend-to-lover transition that is soooo drool worthy and achingly teen and just perfectly angsty.

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