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Posts tagged ‘comedic fantasy’

Coyote Blue

coyote blueHi guys! Long time, no post – but I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. (Summer has been insanely busy!) My latest read was Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue.  

I’ve read and reviewed Moore before and he is a hilarious author, though he can be a bit hit and miss for me – sometimes I can’t put his books down and sometimes I can see that they’re funny but I don’t actually have a reaction to it.  This one hit the spot.  

It’s the story of Sam Hunter, a Crow (the Native American, not the bird) who left the reservation at a young age and became a successful insurance sales man in Santa Barbara.  Unfortunately, Sam’s spirit guide is the trickster Coyote, who decides to enter his life in a major way. 

I read this after a bit of a Native American book kick (The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian and Navajo Weapons, both excellent) and it rounded out the trio rather well.  It’s a fictional work (the other two are quasi-fictional and non-fiction) and though Sam’s relationship with his Crow heritage is focused on, the focus comes more on his spiritual connection and reconnecting with who he is, rather than what it actually means to be Native American or exploring Native American traditions in detail.  

I also liked that Moore pulled from a tradition that is largely ignored in the literature scene, though I can’t say I learned a large amount about the Crow people or their religion. However, Moore did use it to explore something that is both familiar and foreign to every American without romanticizing the culture or othering his main characters.  They were the same wacky everyman that Moore generally writes about.  Sam’s struggle with his heritage and going home, while unique to his situation, is something most people can identify with. (Though, generally not with a crazy spirit guide leading the action.) 

That being said, I did like Anasazi Boys more in terms of using a religious or folklore tradition not usually scene within Western literature.  Coyote Blue was still really good, though, don’t get me wrong. 

The plot was fast-paced but not terribly convoluted.  I had an easy enough time following it and by about halfway through the book, I had reached a “can’t-put-down” state of reading.  Moore used flashbacks and storytelling to great effect – though I like short legends interspersed throughout, I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks but his usage didn’t bother me.  

The characters were actually very well-done.  I wanted to hate Sam, but instead found myself rooting for him.  Calliope should have come off as annoying but instead came off as sympathetic.  And Coyote – you wanted to pity him but rather found yourself amused by his bravado.  Some of the side characters were a little too caricature-ish for my tastes, but they didn’t play prominent enough roles for me to get annoyed by it. 

The humor was good, though expect it to get a tad crude or violent at times (nothing too horrible!).  There are a few one-liners you’ll want to quote to your friends and more than one scene where I found myself chuckling in public, though not outright laughing.  

Overall, if you like comedic fantasy and you’re looking for something bright, funny, and a bit different, you should definitely check this out! If you’re into a humor that’s more wit and wordplay than zany wackiness, or if a hard-to-like main character isn’t your thing, then, alas, this may not be the book for you! 

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I Shall Wear Midnight

I shall wear midnightby: Terry Pratchett

Ah, two Pratchett novels in less than 7 days! My mom got them for me for Christmas and I ended up reading them one right after the other, due to my current need for light reading to relieve stress.

I Shall Wear Midnight is the most recent installment in the Tiffany Aching series that Pratchett writes for the young ones.  They follow the tales of Tiffany Aching, who starts off deciding to be a witch in The Wee Free Men and finally comes into her own as a witch in I Shall Wear Midnight.

My favorite Pratchett quote comes from The Wee Free Men, actually. It is sheer Tiffany, though she doesn’t say it, and goes as such:

“If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

Tiffany is a great character.  She’s smart, perceptive, and full of common sense.  I’ve liked her in both books, even as she is noticeably more mature in this one. It’s hard to grow a character well, but Pratchett does it.  Tiffany, from whose point of view the book is told, in third person limited, has a sympathetic yet firm way of looking at people. This is helpful, as a dark force is beginning to turn the population of the Chalk and Ank-Morpork against witches and Tiffany must find a way to save herself without turning against the very people she’s supposed to help.

The book starts off with (spoiler!) a man having brutally beaten his daughter.  There are somewhat extenuating circumstances – dark forces are at work – and this and that happen, but in the end, the man never really receives punishment for his actions.  In contrast, there is a female character who is rather unpleasant, yet still a good person, and she receives a distinct comeuppance.

Don’t get me wrong – there was a whole lot this book got right but… That really didn’t sit well with me.  Perhaps because domestic violence, especially against women, too often goes unpunished in our society. Perhaps because the man who was deplorable but maybe redeemable didn’t require a punishment but the unpleasant yet good woman did; why is it easier to freely forgive a man beating his daughter than a woman being rude?

Anyway, onto things I really liked about this book.  Tiffany, like I said, is amazing, and the whole crew – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Oggs, and the Nac Mac Feegles – is there.  I loved Tiffany’s insights into growing up female and her interactions with Leticia, the other main female character.  Though they don’t quite develop a friendship, I thought the interactions between Tiffany and Leticia were the best parts of the book.  I especially loved how Tiffany, now working full-time as a witch and making adult decisions on a daily, if not hourly, basis, does not let anyone call her (or Leticia) a girl.

Tiffany’s narration of the plot was a nearly perfect blend of observations, reactions, and analysis.  Enough mundane things happened that you got a sense of who Tiffany is, and how the village runs, but never get bored.  Then the exciting and adventurous things occur, of course, and while I got swept up in them, I never lost the narrator.  It always felt like Tiffany was present and experiencing and reacting to the events rather than telling a story.

On the whole, it’s an excellent older child’s/YA fantasy book – better than most, I would say.  But – Pratchett’s Aching novels always feel to me like a simpler, slightly diluted version of his adult work; a toning down of the sharpest edges of wit and very little cynicism.  And I just prefer his adult novels.  I read these ones when I have a chance – but I don’t seek them out.

On the whole, if you’re looking for a YA novel with witty observations and great humor, or if you love Pratchett, you should definitely try reading this book.  If you don’t like escapism books that deliberately provoke thought, however humorously, or if you want your Pratchett with an adult edge, then, alas!, perhaps this isn’t the book for you.

Men at Arms

menatarms

by: Terry Pratchett

Men at Arms is Pratchett’s take on guns – or, as it’s known in the Discworld, a gonne.  I, of course, was re-“reading” this on audiobook, with the same talks too quickly narrator as last time.  I’m on a Terry Pratchett kick, so don’t be surprised if you see them popping up on my blog fairly frequently for the next month or so.  (Terry Pratchett, by the way, is a British comedic fantasy writer who uses his universe, the Discworld, to do wonderful satires of the Roundworld.)

First off, Nigel Planer read this and while I generally liked him, he got Vetinari wrong.  In my humble opinion, everyone gets Vetinari wrong; I’ve yet to see a depiction that matches the vision in my head.  Also, again, he reads a tad too fast and you can’t slow him down with really screwing up the audio quality.   Finally, the audio quality varied wildly from chapter to chapter.  (The audiobook breaks up the recording into chapters even though Pratchett generally doesn’t.)

Onto the book itself:  I rather like Men at Arms.  It features many of my favorite characters – all of the Night Watch, but especially Vimes, Vetinari, and the occasional appearance by Death, who’s working on his delivery.  (Death is my all-time favorite Discworld character and he usually has a hilarious little side story going on.)  It’s set in Ank-Morpork, which is not at all like a Discworld version of London.

The Night Watch is being forced to implement a diversity program, incorporating dwarfs and trolls and Om knows what else into their forces.  And Pratchett rather brilliantly satires prejudice here – oh, not the overt prejudice that people really notice, but the little, tiny comments and attitudes that can nearly silently and subtly attack people.  It’s funny but very relatable.  And no one is free from these attitudes – it’s nice how even the best of his characters are shown to have some sort of unrealized prejudice.

So, we have the Night Watch, highly diversified.  We have Captain Vimes, a few days away from his marriage to the highest-ranking lady in the city and coming apart a bit at the seams at the thought of his impending retirement.  We have a gonne, the only gonne in the Discworld, being used by an unknown perpetrator.  And we have Corporal Carrot, universally well-liked, respected, obeyed, and born with a fancy sword in mysterious circumstances.  Good times are to be had by all.
I think my favorite quotes were to do with the justice system and how justice ought to be served.  (Vetinari is of the belief, of course, that every crime ought to have a punishment and if that punishment happens to fall upon the perpetrator of the crime, well, so much the better.)  There were also some zingers about a monarchy vs. a dictatorship (Ank-Morpok’s current regime) which I thought were full of some commonly unrealized truths.

Now, Pratchett is British and he does share what I think is (but have no idea if it’s true) a British dislike of guns.  This is a book with the underlying message that guns are evil and shouldn’t be used.  (If you have a different reading, please let me know in the comments!) I’m a Texan and while I believe in reasonable laws regulating ownership of guns, I don’t believe in the abolition of guns – this is one of the few subjects on which Pratchett and I disagree.  It didn’t take away from my appreciation of the book or from the humor; I just didn’t agree with all the points he was trying to make.

So if you don’t want to read a book extolling, however hilariously, the virtues of gun control, if you don’t want to read a comedy where a well-developed and likeable character dies – sorry! but it is a comedy and you do deserve fair warning – or if you don’t like a Douglas Adams’ type wit, than I’d give this one a pass.  If, however, you love absurdist comedy, you love satire and clever truths delivered with a laugh, and you’ve been dying for a book that takes on modern police work, you should definitely give this one a try.

Small Gods

SmallGods_Coverby: Terry Pratchett

Pratchett is one of my very favorite authors and I decided that a little bit of Pratchett was what I needed to get through an incredibly busy workweek. (I have a very repetitive job that allows me to listen to audiobooks while I work.)  I was scrolling through his backlist when I saw Small Gods, one which I adore but had only read once. I decided it was exactly what I needed.

On the audiobook itself, the narrator, Nigel Planer, talks a tad too fast.  I really loved him but I wish he talked about 25% slower.  It looks like he narrates most of Pratchett’s books (or at least the two I’ve downloaded so far), so I would definitely give him a listen before buying – make sure it’s something you can put up it.

As for the book itself, Small Gods is the story of Brutha, a novice acolyte of Om (the god of Omnia and the Omnian religion, a monotheistic religion that draws heavily from the Catholic Church in particular and Abrahamic religions in general.) In a country run by the church and full of fanatics, Brutha is the last true believer, the only one on the Discworld who can hear the God Om, who was come to visit his believers in his latest godly form – a tortoise, if you please.  (Death be unto eagles!) Brutha has a perfect memory, a unique talent which Vorbis, the head of the Quisition, decides will be of use to him as he strives to rid the world of non-believers.

This is religious satire and religious satire at its best.  I love the way Pratchett deftly separates believing from participating, no matter how fervently, in organized religion.  Don’t worry; he gets in a few well-placed jabs at atheists as well as priests, brothers, and overly religious grandmothers.  The critiques are sometimes aimed at the gods – after all, in the Discworld, gods are much like people – but the majority comes from human interpretation of the god’s will, fair game and always relevant.  Pratchett manages to comically expose how much humans have misinterpreted the gods’ will in general and, using the truthful and steadfast Brutha as a foil, how little the current interpretation of Om’s will has to do with Om’s actual will.  Also, the evolution of Brutha’s faith is fantastically done; Brutha learns so much about Om, about the Prophecies, the Prophets, and how the faith is executed (somewhat literally, there), that one would expect his faith to disappear.  Rather, it changes into a more mature and realistic faith which seeks to meld the realities of the world with idealism that religion promotes.

Pratchett’s work, if you let it, challenges the meanings of faith, religion, and belief and satirizes how things are done or have been done in much of the Abrahamic traditions for most of written history.  Fun and easily digestible, certainly, but easy to find yourself thinking about it seriously as well.  You’ll never feel like he’s forcing a point down your throat; rather you’ll find yourself laughing at an exaggerated point that has described exactly how you felt at one time or another.  It’s a great satire – using humor to both mask and make his point.  If you want only an easy and fun read out of it, you’ll get only that.  If you’d like to read further in, you certainly can.  The best of both worlds!

Sometimes I have a hard time following Pratchett’s plot points – I just read along, certain that at the end everything will come together – but that didn’t happen this time.  Perhaps because I was rereading or perhaps because it was an audiobook, I was relatively sure of what was happening and why the entire time.  If you’re a fan of the Discworld series, you shouldn’t expect the normal cast of characters – Death shows up but not anyone else.

If you like religious satires, this is one of the best ones I’ve read.  If you like Pratchett or comedies, you should give this book a go. If you don’t have much of a sense of humor about religion, or if fantasy really just isn’t your thing, you may want to give this a pass.

 

Heroics for Beginners

heroics for beginners

by: John Moore

Something a little lighter after all the war school and traumatizing of children in Ender’s Game.  I’ve read this before (a couple of times, actually – on the recent topic of rereading books) but I was sitting in my living room, thinking of what I wanted to read next and I saw this lying on the floor and thought it was perfect!  Also, books are on my floor because I’m out of bookshelf and trunk space.  I desperately need to  go through and sell some books to Half-Price.

This is a fantasy parody (comedic fantasy?) book – written by a native of Houston! – in which Prince Kevin, son of Eric the Cool, finds himself in competition for the hand of the curvaceous Princess Rebecca.  Unfortunately, whilst at court kissing babies and giving speeches on the foundation of a strong economy, evil Lord Voltmeter makes known his plans to use his Ancient Artifact to take over the 20 kingdoms.  It is only by defeating He-Who-Must-Be-Named (Lord Voltmeter has this thing about pronouns) that Prince Kevin, supply officer extraordinaire, can win the hand of Princess Rebecca.  Luckily for Kevin, he finds The Handbook of Practical Heroics and soon finds himself on his way to defeat Lord Voltmeter, save the princess, and survive the Fortress of Despair, all without buying something horrendously overpriced at the gift shop!

I really enjoy books that poke fun at the all-too-perfect world of fantasy and fairy tales and Heroics for Beginners is no exception.  Moore’s writing is decent – somehow, it’s just not smooth enough to be excellent – but his knack for practical considerations makes the books strike a chord in any writer. He actually reminds me a lot of Terry Pratchett, whom I absolutely adore, although not as good a writer, with much less convoluted plots, and definitely much more American in his style and sense of humor.  Moore has a knack for catching you unawares with a joke or plot point – there were a more than a few times where I just wasn’t expecting him to go where he did.  He also has characters which are delicious parodies of themselves; everyone is over exaggerated just enough to seem funny, without going into the ridiculous and overdone.  Some play on the fairy tale world , as “Dangerously Genre Savvy,” according to TV Tropes, while others play on characters within our world.  (In light of the recent sequester, the evil scientist really tickled my funny bone.) The Evil Assistant plays on the natural conclusion of her character; that is, the reality of a dangerous, whip-wielding woman rather than the fantasy of a leather-clad beauty with a crop.  I laughed at lot at her, though he walked a fine line there.  He does a really great job of walking the reader along the expected fairy tale path and then suddenly stopping to insert a dose of reality.

In short, this is better than most other comedic fantasies I’ve read, though it does fall short of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett’s work.  If you like fairy tales and comedy, I’d definitely give this one a shot.  If you’ve a high brow sense of humor or if you are a stickler for excellent writing, then, alas, this may not be the book for you.