October was a month for reading material with fantastical elements. All three of the works I read were promising, but only one ended up satisfying me.
White Cat by Holly Black
My husband and I started reading this contemporary YA paranormal, which Jia reviewed favorably awhile back, after it was recommended by a friend. We started reading it, but it went back to the library unfinished. I can see why other people enjoyed it – it’s got a twisty plot, solid prose, complex yet consistent worldbuilding, and an intriguing premise. But neither of us connected with Cassel, the main character – a teenager from a family of con artists.
The other problem (for me anyway) was that it was clear from the beginning that things weren’t what they appeared but it was so difficult to know what was actually going on in the story. I mean, when every significant character in the book is a con artist or criminal of some kind, and even the narrator may be under a spell that makes it hard for him to know what is real or unreal – whether he’s playing a con or being played himself — well, as clever and cool as all that sounds, it also makes it hard to know what we readers can believe, and when I can’t believe or trust anything, I can’t make myself care about it, either. DNF.
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
This was another Jia recommendation, and one that worked better for both of us. We picked this up because I was intrigued by the setting, a fantastical place modeled on China in a historical era I couldn’t identify. Silver Pheonix turnedout to be as much about its milieu as anything.
After a leering merchant tries to force her to become his fourth wife, our intrepid heroine, Ai Ling, embarks on the journey to the emperor’s palace, in order to retrieve her missing father. Along the way she makes some friends, including the serious and brave Chen Yong, whose history is connected to hers, unbeknownst to either of them. As they battle various threats, Chen Yong remains steadfastly at Ai Ling’s side, and she falls for him, but it’s unclear what his own feelings are.
Although the romance was subtle and the characterization wasn’t that deep, this story was very enjoyable at the level of an adventure story. Based on Jia’s review of the sequel, I’m not sure whether to continue with the series, but this book had a great setting and was fun to read. B-.
Witches’ Blood (Installment #4 of The Rifter) by Ginn Hale
Back in August, Sunita and I reviewed the early installments of Ginn Hale’s ten-part fantasy serial, The Rifter. Sunita reviewed installments 1-5, and I reviewed 1-3. The Rifter excited me not only because of its intriguing premise, its detailed worldbuilding , and its appealing main characters, Kyle and John, but also because of its structure.
The early segments contained shifts not only in POV and setting, but also in time. What I mean by this is that as we switched back and forth from John to Kyle and back, we learned that although they no longer occupied the same point in time. This device allowed the author to show not only events as they unfolded, but also their consequences years later, and not always in that order.
Right or wrong, this set up an expectation in me that the book would continue in this fashion, and we would shift back and forth in time and POV in each installment. Installment #4, though, was set completely in the same time and place that we had already visited in #3, the Rahtal’pesha monastery. This made Witches’ Blood feel static to me, and it didn’t help that event-wise, not much that was pivotal happened in this installment.
Rathal’pesha is an austere setting, and John finds himself persecuted at times, so Witches’ Blood felt oppressively dark to me. Since I didn’t anticipate having to wait to wait so long to return to Kyle’s POV and time frame, I felt frustrated by the slow pacing of Witches’ Blood, especially when it came to things like descriptions of food. Despite the consistently good chararacterization, language and worldbuilding, my main thought was that I wanted the story to move forward more.
I really wanted to love Witches’ Blood, especially after waxing enthusiastic about the first three installments of The Rifter. Instead, it took me a couple of months to read this installment, which was only 100 or so pages long. C+.
The Rifter at Blind Eye Books
What about you? What did you read in October? And if you’ve read any of the books I mentioned, what did you think of them?