Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review - Voices

Voices (Annals of the Western Shore #2)
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Date: 2006
Publisher: Harcourt
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 341
Format: hardcover
Source: Indigo

Ansul was once a peaceful town filled with libraries, schools, and temples. But that was long ago, and the conquerors of this coastal city consider reading and writing to be acts punishable by death. And they believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is the only place where she feels truly safe.

Then an Uplands poet named Orrec and his wife, Gry, arrive, and everything in Memer's life begins to change. Will she and the people of Ansul at last be brave enough to rebel against their oppressors?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's funny that I chose to read this book right after Pearl North's Libyrinth, as both books deal with an oppressive invading force that views the written word as evil.  But while Libyrinth was a mish-mash of ideas, loose plotting, and weak character development, Voices was an engaging study in character development and world building.

Beginning with the maps at the beginning of the book (something which Libyrinth, annoyingly, lacked), Le Guin colourfully paints the world of the Western Shore.  This is actually the second book in the series, but you'd never know it just from reading the story; in fact, it wasn't until I read the synopsis for the first book, Gifts, that I realized that I was reading about some recurring characters.  The main strength of this book, though, is the world building.  The whole thing seemed so clear.  We know why the characters are in the situation they're in, why the Alds invaded, and how the citizens tried to cope with living under an oppressive invading force for seventeen years.  We get to see the prejudices and social mores that differ between the two cultures, and why that's important, and how it drives the story forward.

My main complaint about this story was that the plot was quite... well, political.  It wasn't something I, personally, found all that interesting, but other readers might love it.  I'm not really sure what else I would have liked to see instead; it's one of those stories that seems fine the way it is, even it wasn't exactly my cup of tea.

The first and third books in the series, Gifts and Powers, have good reviews, and I'm eager to read them both (especially Gifts, if I can find a copy).  If you like good, old-fashioned fantasy novels that are well crafted and immerse you in another world, you might find something you like in Voices.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

Friday, May 11, 2012

Deals at Kobo!

This weekend, you can get 30% off titles from Algonquin.  Plus, US customers can also get 30% off Water for Elephants and A Reliable Wife.  Pretty nice deals, eh?  Head on over to Kobo to check out the deals.

30% Off Kobo eBooks with code "Algonquin30"

30% Off Water for Elephants eBooks with code "Algonquin30" (US Only)

30% Off A Reliable Wife eBooks with code "Algonquin30" (US Only)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review - Libyrinth

Libyrinth (Libyrinth #1)
by Pearl North
Date: 2009
Publisher: Tor
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 336
Format: hardcover
Source: Indigo

In her debut novel, Pearl North takes readers centuries into the future, to a forgotten colony of Earth where technology masquerades as magic and wars are fought over books.

Haly is a Libyrarian, one of a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting the knowledge passed down from the Ancients and stored in the endless maze of books known as the Libyrinth. But Haly has a secret: The books speak to her.

When the threat of the rival Eradicants drives her from her home, Haly learns that things are not all she thinks they are. Taken prisoner by the Eradicants, who believe the written word to be evil, she sees the world through their eyes and comes to understand that they are not the book-burning monsters that she has known her entire life.

The words of a young girl hiding in an attic—written hundreds of years before Haly’s birth—will spark the interest of her captors and begin the change necessary to end the conflict between the Eradicants and Libyrarians. With the help of her loyal companion Nod, a creature of the Libyrinth, Haly must mend the rift between the two groups before their war for knowledge destroys them all. Haly’s life—and the lives of everyone she knows—will never be the same.

A powerful adventure that unites the present and future, Libyrinth is a fresh, magical novel that will draw in young readers of all genres.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What a lousy synopsis! It leaves out half of the plot and one half of the character action (there are two main characters in this book, not just one).  But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  Everything about this book is shoddy.  If I wanted to read a grammar-abusing first draft with tons of plot holes, I'd go find some online fan fiction.

First, let me say that the basic premise of the plot (see synopsis) is really not that bad; it's what kept me reading through more than 300 pages of ridiculous prose.  It did fall short for me in a few areas, though.  I wanted to know more.  How did these people (presumably descendants of... well, us) get onto this far-away planet?  Why did they take so many books with them?  Wouldn't it have been easier to use e-books rather than use the fuel to transport paper copies halfway across the galaxy?  When did this exodus take place?  (I think there was some reference to the story taking place a few thousand years in the future, but that brings up even more questions than it answers.  Based on the books available in the Libyrinth, this planetary colonization must've happened around now, in the early 21st century; there weren't any newer books quoted.  For that matter, Harry Potter and Twilight weren't even quoted.  Guess they didn't make the cut.)  And once they got this new planet, what made these people devolve into brutal, slave-holding, superstitious morons who created new deities and religions as quickly as they could imagine them?

Aside from those questions, the writing and editing of this book made for an almost excruciating read (well, it probably would've been excruciating if I wasn't almost laughing).  In the first chapter or so, the author abuses the semicolon until it's nearly dead.  Then that nonsense stops... and we're treated to the complete absence of an editor.  I don't think I've ever seen so many missing words and extra words in a traditionally published book in my life!  "She regarded at her" makes no sense; "she looked at her" and "she regarded her" are probably the choices the author was debating.  Unfortunately, you can't combine the two.  Even worse, in one instance, the spelling of a character's name actually changed!  Also, suddenly, in the last 50 or so pages, we're treated to two instances of "s***" and one of "f***", which was pretty jarring.  The characters also spoke just like we do (aside from the religious references) in 21st-century English... which makes no sense, since this is so far in the future and surely language would've evolved somewhat.  The characters also all sounded the same, so you often couldn't figure out who was speaking, and the author didn't always tell you.  There was even one place where the person listening to the speaker changed... so I guess even the author couldn't keep track of who was taking part in the conversations!

Add in the forced romance (extremely forced... I don't think I've ever seen anything so unnatural) and the token homosexuality that had nothing to do with the story and the total let-down of an ending... and you have yourself one very lousy book.  There are two more books in the trilogy?  Ha!  If the author and editors can't even be bothered to make a good impression with the first book, why would they expect me to keep reading?

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 0/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5