SeaKat’s CBR5 Review #10 The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

Book review 3“So you’ve got this Regency-era heroine, some kind of minor gentry – total Jane Austen, right? And, now here’s the hook: there’s a WHOLE magical world that she doesn’t even know about, but her magical powers are the key to saving all of England! It’s Pride and Prejudice meets Harry Potter!”

It sounds like a parody of a film pitch—take two vastly different concepts and mash them together, hoping to somehow come up with a winner. But in the case of The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss, IT TOTALLY WORKS.

The Twelfth Enchantment is the story of Lucy Derrick, an orphaned gentlewoman living in her uncle’s home on sufferance. After an aborted elopement in her youth, Lucy’s marital prospects are slim. When the cold but prosperous local mill owner courts her, Lucy’s uncle makes it clear that she will be forced to accept that joyless marriage. After a series of strange occurrences, including the appearance of a cursed Lord Byron, Lucy learns that the world—and even her own personal history—are not be as she has always assumed. And her choices are deeply important to several powerful occult beings and, in fact, to the future of all of England.

Liss is a talented author and his ability to evoke the tone and time of Jane Austen while writing a story that is so far removed from anything Austen would have considered is impressive. There were moments (especially in the beginning of the book, before all of the magical happenings) that I forgot I wasn’t reading a book written by Austen herself! This is no tongue-in-cheek parody a la Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but an impressive nod to Austen’s classic heroines.

The fantasy world is compelling and Lucy’s reaction to it is believable. While the primary villain was obvious from early on, Liss kept me guessing as to whom Lucy should trust. This was an effective device, as Lucy herself isn’t sure who can be relied upon and who is using her for their own ends. As such, my sympathy for and sense of connection with her character remained strong throughout the book. I was definitely rooting for a happy ending for not just Lucy, but her sister and niece as well. The inclusion of several historical personages (Lord Byron and William Blake and even the Prince Regent himself) were fun, although I suppose others may find them unnecessary or even distracting.

All told, I would highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys both Austen and fantasy. And Iwill definitely be seeking out other books by Liss for myself.

SeaKat’s CBR5 Review #6 The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

ImageThe Night Circus is one of those books that suddenly seemed to be everywhere: promoted in book stores, offered for special pricing on my Kindle, and gripped in people’s hands as they waited somewhere or other. So it had been on my radar for a while when I found a hardcover copy of the book at a used book sale. $1 seemed like a pretty good investment to see what the hype was about.

The Night Circus is the story of a travelling circus that operates as the scene for an ongoing duel between two magicians, Celia and Marco. Both magicians were bound to the duel as children by their shadowy guardians and the duel has no defined rules other than “keep performing.”  The circus attracts a passionate following of “reveurs,” as the circus’ most devoted fans call themselves. But as the duel goes on, Marco and Celia fall in love and seek a way for both the circus and their forbidden love to survive.

I’m somewhat torn on how to rate this one because it is amazingly good in some ways but really disappointing in others. First the good:  Morgenstern has an incredible way with imagery, allowing me to vividly “see” the circus in my mind. And not just see, but smell, taste, and hear it too. She truly has a gift for descriptive writing and the magical circus comes alive at her hands.

Another aspect of the book that deserves special mention is the design of the book. My copy (a Costco purchase, according to a sticker on the dust jacket) had lovely black and white flourishes, including tent-striped endpapers, section breaks with a quote on one side and the image of constellations in a night sky on the other, and delicate, Victorian-feeling motifs alongside each page number. These artistic touches really added to the experience of reading the book as an Event of some sort, rather than just another book. It makes sense that Morgenstern is not only a writer, but also a multimedia artist, according to her bio.

The plot itself is middling. The book starts out as the two magicians come into their overseers’ clutches (yes, this story of orphans committed to and trained for a magic duel warrants the use of such a melodramatic word!) and gains momentum rapidly as the circus becomes real. The best parts of the book, in my opinion, are the scenes in which Morgenstern allows the reader to experience through the eyes (and ears, etc.) of different people: performers, guests, and reveurs. This part is like a dream: meandering, confusing, but vivid and beautiful and utterly fascinating. As the book continues the details begin to overwhelm, the changes of point of view and the breaks to experience one magical event after another, it all becomes unwieldy and tiresome to keep straight. Not unlike the job of keeping the circus itself running, I must note, so perhaps this was intentional. But it still negatively affected my enjoyment as I continued reading the book.

Where the story faltered the worst, in my opinion, was in the characterization. In contrast to the fully-realized circus, most of the characters themselves were flat and lifeless. There were a few exceptions: Herr Frederick Theissen, the clockmaker who establishes (and comes up with the name for) the reveurs, Widget and Poppet, the twins born at the circus, and to a lesser extent, Bailey, a young farm boy who becomes a reveur and then much more. Morgenstern imbued these characters with a sense of self and personality and I really cared about what happened to them. But the majority of the book’s population did not fare as well. Celia and Marco, the dueling magicians and the protagonists of the story, were the biggest problem. I didn’t particularly feel like I knew them, and as a result I didn’t care about them. And I really didn’t care about their love. Given that their struggle to end the duel without either dying or killing the circus was the climax of the plot…that was a problem.

Overall, I give the book three stars. It was a worthwhile read due to Morgenstern’s deft touch with the circus and its dreamy imagery. I suppose the sense of let-down comes from realizing how much more the book could have been.

SeaKat’s CBR5 Review #3: Red by Kate SeRine

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RedThe “fairy tales re-told” sub-genre has exploded in the last several years. On television, in the movie theater, and most of all on the bookshelf, characters once relegated to Disney animated movies and classic fairy tale compendiums are suddenly pop culture’s favorite offering. I am a huge and mostly unapologetic fan of the genre. I just like my escapism frothy and fantastical sometimes, OK?! Stop judging me!

Ahem.

Anyhoo, when Red, an urban fantasy/romance and fairy tale re-telling by Kate Serine showed up in the Amazon Top 100 Free Book list and showed mostly 4- and 5-star ratings, I was curious to see if the book lived up to the high ratings. Continue reading

SeaKat’s #CBR5 Review #1: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

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Graceling.  I’d heard this title being bandied about by Pajibans whose taste I admire for some time now. Finally I remembered to request it from my library. Good call, ‘Jibans. I knew I trusted You People for a reason. Graceling … Continue reading