Friday, May 13, 2011

Blood And Iron: The Beginning

Greetings, Fearless Readers. Sorry for the wait. I have indeed chosen a book, and here follows the first post.

Matthew the Magician leaned against a wrought iron lamppost on Forty-second Street, idly picking at the edges of his ten iron rings and listening to his city breath into the warm September night. That breath rippled up from the underground, a hot draft exhaled in time with the harsh pulse of subway trains. A quiet night, as nights went in the belly of the beast…

Elizabeth Bear

That’s how you start a book, boys and girls! This month I am focusing on Blood and Iron, a Novel of the Promethean Age by Elizabeth Bear. Now let me warn you: I read my first Bear book back in November and proclaimed her one of my favorite authors, and I do not do that after only reading one book. Clearly, I am under some sort of spell. (It was “All the Wind Wracked Stars.” And yes, I judged the book by its title and loved it.) I don’t know how to put into words what it is about Bear and her prose that hypnotizes me. I have always found “voice” and the reason for liking authors difficult to describe… and I have a feeling this month will be a trying one, for that reason. Her characters and her plots are not simple beings. What will be simple: talking about how much I loved this book.


Spellbound by the Faerie Queen, the woman known as Seeker has abducted human children for her mistress's pleasure for nearly an eternity, unable to free herself from her servitude and reclaim her own humanity.

Seeker's latest prey is a Merlin. Named after the legendary wizard of Camelot, Merlins are not simply those who wield magic, they are magic. Now, with rival mages also vying for the favor of this being of limitless magic to tip the balance of power, Seeker must persuade the Merlin to join her cause-or else risk losing something even more precious to her than the fate of humankind

Link to Amazon: Blood and Iron

The book actually starts with Matthew the Magician. Matthew is also a hunter of sorts, but he is a mage, and they oppose Faerie and their tendency to snag human children. Technically, the kids Faerie are interest in are changelings, or humans with Faerie blood. We are introduced to Seeker, who is really the main character, through his eyes.

“You exist to destroy Faerie, Magus, and I exist to defend it.”

“That’s not what we want.”

“Don’t lie to me, Magus,” she snapped. “Trust me, I see no wrong in destroying Faerie. But you – you should know it’s not safe to talk to fey things. This isn’t a fucking fairy tale.”

Elizabeth Bear

Pretty much sums up one reason I loved this book! Much like Seanin Maguire’s October Daye series (another great favorite after just one book!) Bear takes great dollops of faerie myth and superstition and peppers the book with it. Allergy to iron and the human dependence on it, the value of a name, child snatching, bound demons, shadow stealing, all of these make an appearance in the first chapter. As the above quote shows (between Seeker and Matthew), Bear paints it with a very gritty brush. It’s not all meadows and ponies. As a matter of fact, the pony is pretty frickin’ dangerous in this one. I was led through the first chapter, instantly hooked, by mystery and intrigue. Bear slowly adds layers, not always telling you right out what the characters are up to. Sometimes, you are just a voyeur, watching people you don’t know doing things you don’t understand, until everything is made clear.

I came across this book as a result of loving All the Wind Wracked Stars. That book relied heavily on Arthurian and Norse legend. Blood and Iron relied heavily on the legend of Tam Lin. I was very familiar with Arthur due to reading The Mists of Avalon and The Once and Future King only a few months before. I wish I had more familiarity with the legend of Tam Lin. I think I would have gotten more out of the book.

I’ll probably stick to Friday postings again this month. The next will be all about the wide range of crazy fae characters. Same bat time, same bat station. Hmmm... that didn’t work like I hoped it would.

eta: sorry for the bad spellings!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Forest of Hands And Teeth: Free for All!

Time for the final post after reading the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Time for my thoughts.

eta: I apologize about the first sentence... I came back and fixed it so it was in English, instead of oxygen-deprived raving.

After reading a post-zombie apoxyclips book I got to thinking... about the threat of a zombie apoxyclips. It hangs heavy on my brow. Every time I watch a zombie movie, I get caught up. All I can think is… what if? What if this happened and that was me? All the exits of my apartment face the same direction, and I have no boards or nails to cover my windows! Being that I’m a fatty, I’m toast, according to the rules in Zombieland. I’d like to think I’d go out like a hero though, like getting caught in a narrow space after my friends have made it through, thus blocking the path of the zombies. Until they eat through me of course. But considering how big I am, I’m sure my friends will have gotten away by then. Ironically, I had never read a zombie book. I’m glad to say the first didn’t disappoint, and I don’t think it will be the last.

My mother used to tell me stories about how, long before the Return, the living used to wonder what happened after death. She said that whole religions were born and evolved around this one simple uncertainty.

Now that we know what happens after death, a new question has risen up to take the place of the old: why?

Mary, The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Classic zombie mythos. What happens after we die? No doubt that is the impetus behind zombie movies and books, the reason for their very existence. What sort of life is that, though? The random firing of a brain stem and the never-ending hunger. It’s as if the physical body is an abomination after death, and inhabiting it, rather than going on to some sort of spiritual reward, can be nothing but punishment. And why does Mary think she knows what happens after death? There is a cemetery for the dead in her village, it isn’t as though the dead that weren’t infected will Return. Or does this mean they no longer believe in life after death, or that the focus has shifted? Not just oh Lord, don’t let me die, but don’t let me die like THAT! As if managing to die uninfected is the best you can hope for. Sort of makes you wish you had gotten taken down in the first bloody battles.

We should be safe for now. I don’t think we’ve managed to produce a zombie or a zombie inducing virus yet. It’s only a matter of time of course, but I hope by then I have an old farmhouse or a friend with a cellar. And a 12 gauge. And a van.

You can never be too prepared for the Zombie Apoxyclips.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth: Critisism

We’re at the third post on The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The previous, are here:

The Beginning

Discussion of Characters

Now I’m gonna get my crit on. I was drawn in by the poetic language and the mind blowing setting (a fenced village - surrounded by moaning, teeth gnashing zombies). A little bit of a romantic tangle becomes evident, but I don’t see this as a romance. It’s about survival. And what does that survival cost? Can survival require unbearable sacrifices? Do you have to give up every dream and desire just to walk around and breathe and eat and poop?

Our main heroine, Mary, doesn’t want to linger on behind the fences, never knowing what is “out there”. She longs for the ocean, other places, other villages. The romance is a reflection of this. The guy the Sisterhood (the religious leaders of the village) want her to be with is Mr. Steady and he loves her, but she longs for the forbidden love she could have with Travis. The thought of seeing Travis with another woman, every day, would be unbearable. It would be a fence within a fence.

Then the unthinkable happens. The fences (the physical ones!) fail. This is no spoiler as the blurb tells us this, and come on, if you aren’t running from zombies at some point, what exactly is the point? Now survival isn’t about maintaining the status quo, it requires quick thinking and taking the opportunities that reveal themselves, sometimes doing the things village life has told you NOT to do - like go by the secret paths. I like that.

I have only two complaints. I know it’s a YA book, and there are restrictions due to genre, but this book has the clumsiest physical intimacy I've ever read. I was often unsure what was going on... or what had happened. There is a lot of hovering of lips and bodies. The other is that the end seems rushed, and some things are left nebulous (I don’t want to give anything away, so I can’t expand on that). It’s hard to have: ACTION, ACTION, ACTION, questions..... Even so, it was one of those books were I closed it, and then just sort of spaced out, thinking over what I read, and how I would react. In short, I was satisfied. Despite the ending, it lived up to the expectation I had. I definitely want to read the sequels, but the TBR pile is a mighty behemoth already.

Next week is the final post, and I’m going to talk a little about zombies. What else?

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth: The Characters

Greetings, Fearless Readers. We are in week two of our study of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. If you want to read week one’s blog post, it are here.

I’ve watched many a movie of brain-seeking flesh eaters, but as I’ve said, this was my first zombie book. I don’t know about you, but I require more from a book than a movie. Movies of certain genres have certain character requirements. In the zombie movie, you have the brave leader, probably an anti-hero, thrust into the position. In this case, there is usually a gun-slinging braggadocio trying to take everything over, who will either get eaten as the audience clenches their fist and punches the air, or who will bow to the reason of the anti-hero and become his loyal second-in-command. Or, our leader IS a gun-slinging braggadocio who has learned a difficult lesson, most likely seeing a wife, girlfriend, mother or sister get eaten. These leaders don’t usually have a second. They are all that is needed. Others: a helpless girl or nerdy guy who completely freaks out and is a danger to the rest, or who is suddenly filled with sense and purpose in the face of said apoxyclips. The old man or woman who will die horribly and have to be shot after they turn. The innocent child everyone wants to protect - the hope of the future. Ah humanity. What a stew it makes. There are, and aren’t, some of all of these characters in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. It has what all zombie situations need. Bravery, weapons, and people willing to do what has to be done, in the face of horrors we hope we never have to face ourselves.

Now to the characters.

Mary is the main character and our narrator. She wonders about the ocean and life beyond the fences. We know her dad has left, but it’s never explained why or where he went, only that Mary hopes he found another enclave like their village. I admire that she doesn’t just take what the Sisterhood tells her about life and “the way things are”. But she is also torn. The Sisters tell her the blind hope there is something else “out there” is detrimental to her future. There is only one future: find a man and marry him, oh, and since you’re a special case, you’ll take the man we think you should be with or you come and live with us! Unfortunately, she doesn’t love the guy. Mary tells us that marriage in her community isn’t about love, it’s about commitment. And Mary’s torment between what she wants and what she should do for the good of the community is palpable. You are with her every step of the way, seeing why, in such a tight community, you don’t always get what you want. I think it would be hard to be a dreamer and live in a post-zombie apocalyptic world.

Jed: Mary’s brother. He’s a Guardian: someone who watches and patrols the fences, keeping the community safe. He is also privy to secrets about the fences that aren’t revealed to the other characters until the need arises. It’s one of the first suggestions that things in their community aren’t as open as they all believe. He also volunteers for extra duty when their father leaves, hoping that if he has become unconsecrated Jed can shoot him before their mother finds out. Obviously, Jed knows how to be hard. At times, he comes off a little too hard, but he’s believable. I’m glad he’s not my brother.

Travis and Harry are brothers, and have the annoying habit of not backing their decisions with action. They bounce back and forth between what they want and what they are willing to do to get it. Both love Mary. She doesn’t realize this as she only has eyes for Travis. I give it up for Ryan for not giving us a predictable triangle. Harry isn’t demonized, but Travis isn’t lauded. In other words, I felt Harry and Travis were irritatingly human. I wanted everyone to be happy, but there was no way that was going to happen. Travis doesn’t ask to marry Mary, instead he asks her friend, Cass. I finally just guessed that Travis stepped aside for his bother, despite the face he tells Mary he loves her. In that situation, I would rather not have know. Anyway, Travis professes his love to Mary, but as he is badly injured, and the Sisters are probably putting pressure on him, he is either physically unable, or emotionally unwilling to fulfill any of his promises, leaving Mary confused and hurt.

Cass is Mary’s best friend. She listened to her stories about life before the Return (their name for the apoxolyps) But now, things between Travis and Harry make things weird. Cass isn’t a very strong character, just someone to make Mary feel bad about having the love of both brothers, or that’s how it felt. We really see very little of someone who is supposed to be Mary’s best friend. Of course, my niece's name is Cassie, and if she were in a zombie apoxyclips, that kid would kick some zombie ass. I guess I just expected more from someone named Cass.

So. There you have the characters according to one reader. If you have other ideas, or see more or less in what I've posted, please chime in. Next week is criticism of the plot and book in general. I'm going to talk a little about expectations of books as well. Until then, keep reading.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth: The beginning

YAY! April First! No fool here, just a Fearless Blogger, sending her static out into the blogosphere! We’re here to begin the discussion of The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing toward you and then away. She once showed me a picture that she said was my great-great-great-grandmother standing in the ocean as a child. It has been years since, and the picture was lost to fire long ago, but I remember it, faded and worn. A little girl surrounded by nothingness.

The first paragraph of the Forest Of Hands and Teeth.

Imagine not being sure you believe in the ocean. You’ve seen a picture of it and you still can’t believe, because pictures are relics of such an ancient time you’re not sure if they’re based in truth or fantasy. This simple idea introduces us to the world in Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth. It begins, steeped in melancholy, with a distinctly literary tone. Even the zombies are imbued with mythical terms: they are the Unconsecrated and surround the main character’s village like a neverending forest, their moans filling the air. *shudder*

Product Description from Amazon:

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

Link to Amazon: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

For a zombie book, it starts off quite innocently. You must understand, the apocalypse has already happened, the big cities are crumbled to dust and humanity has drawn behind the fences, regrouped and reformed. Mary’s greatest worries are her mom’s mental health (dad’s gone into the Forest of Hands and Teeth, something that is never explained, and mom wanders the fence line, watching for him) and secondly, is anyone going to ask for her hand at the Harvest Celebration? So it’s not like the characters are running through cities, boarding up a farmhouse and collecting weapons to make a last stand. Humanity has survived, and now, they are just trying to be human. For some readers, that might be a bit of a downer, but I was immediately hooked by the idea of having to live surrounded by the undead, and trying to be normal.

I’m not sure how I came across this book, but I was intrigued that a zombie book had such a poetic title. I read the first few chapters online (Amazon - thank you! You don’t have to have a Kindle, either, you can click on the “read first chapter free” button and it comes up on the screen). I was hooked and got it from the library. This was my first zombie book, unless you count Stephen King’s Cell, which is not exactly about the undead. Carrie Ryan manages to weave the world building among the story, which is told in first person. You get an understanding of the world and its simplicity, as well as the weight of the constant fear, the impending doom lingering beyond the fence line, the Unconsecrated that never tire and never go away.

So, to my way of thinking, this book had a very good beginning. Next week, I’ll talk about the characters and how I found reading a book about zombies a little different from watching a movie... Same bat time....

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good Morning, Starshine!

Hello! Greetings and Salutations! The Earth says "Hello!" How are you?

Welcome to Flights of Urban Fantasy. What is this all about, you may ask? Why, the title says it all! Urban Fantasy. The plan is to pick a novel that I read and enjoyed. One I want to discuss for a month. I hope to pick up some followers (wink, wink) who will want to read the books I suggest and hop on the bandwagon, chiming in on the comments.

I plan to post at least once a week. The first post will be the publisher's blurb, and/or link to Amazon and the discussion will focus on the beginning of the book. Did it have a catchy hook? Did it draw me in with mystery and intrigue or voice and strong character? Also, how I came across the book and why I wanted to read it.

Next post will be about the characters. Who are these people and why should we give a crap about them? Expect many catchy anecdotes about characters I've loved before.

After Next: criticism. How do I feel about the book and what happened? I’m going to try and stick to the info the blurb gives us, not to be a spoiler-ator. Things like: were there any “writing rules” broken? You know, did deus ex machina rear it's ugly head? Did this impress me? Make me think? How eager am I for a sequel?

So: First, Next, After Next and then Last. This will probably be a free for all about the book. Did it remind me of something I want to blog about, or if I'm not sure what to read next, I'll mention books for the following month. I may also mention or recommend books that are forthcoming that I'm interested in, or throw out my opinion on books that don't get a full month's work up.

Now, why am I only going to discuss books I enjoyed? Will that somehow limit the value of the discussion? The reasons are many and varied. The biggest reason: I am not a hater. There is enough hateration out there on the internet, and I don’t want to spend a month gripped in hateriety. Besides, that doesn't mean there won't be things to criticize. No book is perfect, and if I find things to bitch about, bitch I will.

I hope this sounds fun. I hope I get a few read-alongers who will add their voice to the chorus. Our first book will be The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, and the first blog post will be on April 1st. Just in time for April Fool's.