Eragon by Christopher Paolini

eragon by christopher paolini

Publication year: 2002
Genre: Fantasy
Time and place: a fictional world, unspecified time
Narrated in: third-person limited
First sentence:Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.
Verdict: A promising start to a series.

Summary
Eragon is fifteen and out hunting to help feed his family, when all of a sudden a big blue round stone fell from the sky. He took it home hoping he’ll be able to sell it for a big sum, but no one knew how much it was worth, so the stone remained in Eragon’s possession. Not for long though: one night a small baby dragon hatched from it :)

Determined to keep the animal a secret, at least for the time being, Eragon hides the dragon, Saphira, away from the village. As time goes by the two become fast friends, especially since they can read one another’s minds. Not much time later, two mysterious strangers come to the village, chasing whoever had the blue stone. Luckily for him, Eragon was away with Saphira, but his uncle was killed and their house destroyed. Together with the village storyteller, an old man who clearly knows a lot more than he tells, Eragon and Saphira start tracking the two culprits, looking for revenge and having no idea that they will never see the small village again.

General impression
Most people say this book is heavily inspired from the Lord of the Rings, starting with the very name of the protagonist, but the similarities I noticed were with Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World1. An orphan boy who doesn’t know his parents and lives in a very remote village goes on a voyage where his party is periodically attacked by horned beings, led by a more powerful magical creature (a Fade in EotW, a Shade in Eragon). There’s also a special sword, a hand marked, the hero discovering magic within himself, a storyteller with a hidden past, and the list probably goes on. Would I go as far as to call the book plagiarism? Of course not. The hero-chosen-to-save the world story has been told countless times; the secret is in the details.

Some criticize this book because the author has started writing it at fifteen, and it was published by the author’s parents’ publishing house. This in itself doesn’t make it a bad book, however. Sure, I wouldn’t go as far as to call it brilliant, but I have enjoyed reading it, and I am planning to read at least one of the sequels. Sure, some times it’s obvious that shortcuts were taken — when it comes to Eragon’s love interest, for example: instead of building a believable characters, with flaws and all, the author has created this perfect, supernatural being that Eragon was instantly attracted to. I would have, of course, preferred it wasn’t so, but on the whole the sum of parts is a positive, and I won’t complain.

Setting
The book takes place in the fictional land of Alagaësia — a world where once upon a time ago men and dwarves and elves lived together in peace. Everyone was protected from the forces of evil by the Dragon Riders, powerful people who could wield magic. One of them however has gone mad and turned to the dark side, so he killed his brethren and proclaimed himself king. The dragons were almost extinct (only three eggs remain), the dwarves and elves each hid in their own worlds and wanted nothing more to do with humans.

As the book opens, King Galbatorix has been ruling the land for decades. One of the three dragon eggs has been stolen, and the king has called on the forces of evil to help him get it back. But when the Shade and his Urgals attacked the elf who was transporting it she used her magic to send it in a remote place — which is how it found Eragon, or how Eragon found it.

I liked the world building, and thought most of it is original (although, I know, elves and dwarves were also in Tolkien’s books, and others’). It is not perfect — for example the lore says that the dragon egg hatches in the presence of the one that is supposed to be its Rider; this is why people and elves came to see the egg, just in case one of them will be the chosen one, which implies that the hatching will happen instantly, or very close to that, when the Rider was there; but Eragon had the egg for a few days before it hatched –, but some bits of it were fun, and I really liked it. I liked the werecat, Solembum, that alternated between being a larger-than-normal cat and a shaggy-haired boy. I liked the way magic works, physically tiring one, and even killing one out of sheer exhaustion if one tries doing too much. I liked the way the dragons were connected to their Riders, and how one Rider could technically live a very long time because of its dragon’s influence on him. I am looking forward to exploring more :)

Characters
The dialogues are not, perhaps, the author’s forte, and yet I did like most of the characters — even Arya, who’s probably the sum of all cliches2. Everyone has their well established role: Eragon is the hero, Saphira the loyal sidekick (who just happens to be a dragon), Brom is the hero’s teacher, and Arya the hero’s love interest. There’s also Murtagh (the hero’s human companion, so he won’t feel lonely) and Angela (the mysterious witch). The former is my favorite character — a brave, loyal young man, having to bear the burden of his father’s sins. He keeps mostly to himself because of that, which is why I think his friendship with Eragon is so precious: because it’s earned. Brom would probably be a second favorite: a former hero, he’s been through much and knows a lot, and it is for Eragon the father figure he needed at this challenging time of his life.

Writing
The writing is what attracted me to the book in the first place. The descriptions in particular are the author’s strongest point. One of my favorite bits is the first description of Saphira:

“The dragon was no longer than his forearm, yet it was dignified and noble. Its scales were deep sapphire blue, the same color as the stone. [...] The wings were several times longer than its body and ribbed with thin fingers of bone that extended from the wing’s front edge, forming a line of widely spaced talons. The dragon’s head was roughly triangular. Two diminutive white fangs curved down out of its upper jaw. They looked very sharp. Its claws were also white, like polished ivory, and slightly serrated on the inside curve. A line of small spikes ran down the creature’s spine from the base of its head to the tip of its tail. A hollow where its neck and shoulders joined created a larger-than-normal gap between the spikes.”

Trivia
According to the author, he had spent a lot of time trying to pick the perfect names for his characters. He considers himself lucky to have thought of Eragon, as it’s “dragon” with a letter changed. Also, Angela the Herbalist is inspired from the author’s own sister, also named Angela :)

What I liked most
The first time we meet Angela the herbalist she is described as “holding a frog in one hand and writing with the other“. When asked about it, she said that the frog was in fact a toad, and that she was trying to prove that toads do not in fact exist. I loved the unexpectedness of the answer, and the reasoning that follows is funny too:

“If I prove toads don’t exist, then this is a frog and never was a toad. Therefore, the toad you see now doesn’t exist. And,” she raised a small finger, “if I can prove there are only frogs, then toads won’t be able to do anything bad—like make teeth fall out, cause warts, and poison or kill people. Also, witches won’t be able to use any of their evil spells because, of course, there won’t be any toads around.”

Which pinpoints Angela once and for all as a bit eccentric, if you will. But still I liked that :)

Also, although not directly related to the things in the book, here is a quote from an essay written by the author:

I hope that Eragon will leave you with the same sense of wonder that I had while writing it. I do believe in magic—the magic of stories to give you wonder, awe, and revelations. Such feelings can come from small things; in a fey vision of fairy dust swirling in marble moonbeams, or at the end of an epic where a wave of emotion washes over you, sweeping away the mundane world for a moment. Either way, I hope that you find something special in Eragon, something from the other side of the looking glass.

Enjoy the journey!

What I liked least
The author seems to have a problem estimating periods of time. This is most jarring when it comes to Eragon’s training — the guy goes from zero magic powers and zero sword training to unbeatable hero in just four weeks or so. Now, I can get there’s such a thing as a natural talent, and that helped, but still that was too much. Particularly as afterwards Eragon is the equal of Brom, who albeit older has spent most of his life in battle (and has killed at least one enemy hero, so by all means he was a good fighter), and a bit later Murtagh’s, who also has studied swordplay for most of his life.

Also, show spoiler

Thoughts on the title
Well, it is the story of Eragon :) So it’s a fitting, albeit unimaginative name. I am looking forward to see how come the 3rd(?) volume ended up being called Brisingr :)

Thoughts on the ending
Darn, knowing that the book was written in early 2000s I was hoping it had escaped the wave of ‘everything should be trilogy’ that plagues us nowadays3. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Not only there are still untied threads left at the end of the book (I for one am very curious about who Eragon’s father may be — probably a Dragon Rider hero, but which one), but a new challenge is set for Eragon in the very few pages. Why yes, I still hate this scheme.

Other than that I actually liked the ending more than I thought I would though. Of course there is a big battle, and of course the forces of good win. I really did like, however, the way this was accomplished: show spoiler

Recommend it to?
People who love dragon stories :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | The series’ website | Christopher Paolini on Twitter

  1. and yes, I know that EotW itself draws heavily from LotR []
  2. well, at least she’s generally not the damsel-in-distress cliche, but the I-need-no-help-I-can-slay-anything-myself one, which I happen to love :) but she also needs rescuing at one time, so… []
  3. yes, I did know there were many books in a series, but I was hoping that the first one was written as a standalone []

(The Extraordinary Adventures of) Foundling Mick by Jules Verne

foundling mick by jules verne Publication year: 1893
Genre: Fiction
Time and place: 19th century Ireland
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence:Ireland, which has an area of 31,759 square miles, or 20,326,209 acres, formerly formed a part of the insular tract of land now called the United Kingdom.
Verdict:I’ll always have a soft spot for it.

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Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

the daughter of time by josephine teyPublication year: 1951
Genre: Mystery
Time and place: a detective in the ’50s UK reads about Richard III’s times
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence: Grant lay on his high white cot and stared at the ceiling.
Verdict: I learned some history and I love that.

Summary
Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is in the hospital, stuck in bed after an accident. He’s bored, as he has nothing to do, so he decides he will try to solve one of the history’s unsolved mysteries, to pass the time. Captivated by a portrait of Richard III, and the way his physiognomy did not match the awful things that people believed about him, Grant wants to find out all about the man, and perhaps find out who killed the princes in the tower in the process. He sets to work, with the aid of Brent Carradine, a young American who works at the British Museum. Bit by bit, Grant’s theory takes shape, a confirmation of his first impression, as in his version of events Richard is a loved and just king, a victim, not a perpetrator.

General impression
I started reading this book around the time Richard III’s remains were found. People here and there were promoting the idea that Richard may not have been a villain after all, and cited this book as support. My curiosity was then aroused, and I picked up the book with no idea what to expect (I had a vague idea that it must be something with a female time traveler, because of the title). To my (slight) disappointment, there was no time travel at all involved, just a modern-day inquest in things that have happened centuries ago.

A lot of the book is tell, not show, as very little happens in modern times — the bulk of the book consists in the information Alan Grant and his research assistant dig up and interpret. It reads like a non-fiction book seen through the conversation of fictional characters, characters that are there only as a means to present the results of the author’s research to the reader. An interesting approach, though it did feel at times like something was missing. I did however love the novelty of having a detective solve a crime that has been committed many centuries ago :)

220px-King_Richard_III_from_NPG

History-wise I found the book very interesting, although I am not sure how much of it is actually non-fiction and how much of the information Brent digs up has been simply created by the author — let’s not forget that the book is marketed as fiction. The conclusion Grant arrives at is not shared by many historians today (Alison Weir for example heartily opposes it), so the chain of events must have been less clear in reality than Ms. Tey wants her readers to think1.

Be that as it may, I have found very interesting the arguments that the author brings forth to support her case. The three that had me almost convinced were:
a) Richard had no political reason to want his nephews dead, as he was already a legitimate king, so they were no threat (plus there were other people with similar claims to the throne as the two princes, and nothing happened to anyone else);
b) Henry had a lot to gain from exposing Richard’s crime, but he never did;
c) Henry’s claim to the throne was lesser than the princes’, plus it is his modus operandi to have his rivals killed.

Sure, none of these is ironclad, but together with others they do make quite a bit of sense. There was at least one moment when the book had me wondering how come this is still a mystery, since the author has gathered up so many proofs to support her theory :)

What I liked most
The “Tonypandy” bits — during the course of their research Alan and Brent come across various pieces of history that were widely believed to be true, but in fact were anything but. Such as the Tonypandy Riots:

“If you go to South Wales you will hear that, in 1910, the Government used troops to shoot down Welsh miners who were striking for their rights. You’ll probably hear that Winston Churchill, who was Home Secretary at the time, was responsible. South Wales, you will be told, will never forget Tonypandy!”

Carradine had dropped his flippant air.

“And it wasn’t a bit like that?”

“The actual facts are these. The rougher section of the Rhondda valley crowd had got quite out of hand. Shops were being looted and property destroyed. The Chief Constable of Glamorgan sent a request to the House Office for troops to protect the lieges. If a Chief Constable thinks a situation serious enough to ask for the help of the military a Home Secretary has very little choice in the matter. But Churchill was so horrified at the possibility of the troops coming face to face with a crowd of rioters and having to fire on them, that he stopped the movement of the troops and sent instead a body of plain, solid Metropolitan Police, armed with nothing but their rolled-up mackintoshes. The troops were kept in reserve, and all contact with the rioters was made by unarmed London police. The only bloodshed in the whole affair was a bloody nose or two. The Home Secretary was severely criticised in the House of Commons incidentally for his ‘unprecedented intervention.’ That was Tonypandy. That is the shooting down by troops that Wales will never forget.”

Or this story:

Scotland has large monuments to two women martyrs drowned for their faith, in spite of the fact that they weren’t drowned at all and neither was a martyr anyway. They were convicted of treason—fifth column work for the projected invasion from Holland, I think. Anyhow on a purely civil charge. They were reprieved on their own petition by the Privy Council, and the reprieve is in the Privy Council Register to this day. This, of course, hasn’t daunted the Scottish collectors of martyrs, and the tale of their sad end, complete with heart-rending dialogue, is to be found in every Scottish bookcase. Entirely different dialogue in each collection. And the gravestone of one of the women, in Wigtown churchyard, reads:

Murdered for owning Christ supreme Head of his Church, and no more crime But her not owning Prelacy And not abjuring Presbytry Within the sea tied to a stake She suffered for Christ Jesus sake.

They are even a subject for fine Presbyterian sermons, I understand—though on that point I speak from hearsay. And tourists come and shake their heads over the monuments with their moving inscriptions, and a very profitable time is had by all.

I find it terribly fascinating how flimsy history (and by extension, what we take as truth) actually is.

What I liked least
There’s nothing that has truly bothered me (although admittedly I was a bit confused about Martha’s place in the story at first, and I would have liked a bit more details about her and her relationship with Grant; I get that this is book 5 in a series so many people already know this, but a few words allowing me, the newcomer, to catch up wouldn’t have hurt).

Thoughts on the title
Brilliant :) But also very much the opposite of obvious. I had no idea what it referred to until I read about it on Wikipedia: it comes from a quotation of Sir Francis Bacon: “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.“. Which, as I said, I happen to find it brilliantly relates to the idea behind the book — that the truth has been found now, after all these centuries, despite what the then-authorities (the Tudors) have tried to pass on as facts. Put in another way, time has brought on the discovery of truth, not the authorities. A perfect match between the book and the quote the title is from.

Thoughts on the ending
It would have been a silly murder, that murder of the boy Princes; and Richard was a remarkably able man. It was base beyond description; and he was a man of great integrity. It was callous; and he was noted for his warmheartedness.

Predictably enough, shortly before he gets discharged from the hospital Grant reaches the conclusion that Richard is in fact innocent of the crime everyone thinks he committed. I liked that Brent plans to even write a book about it, to clean up the dead king’s name; all the book would have seemed futile otherwise, if Grant and Brent had spent all that time doing research and then had kept the solution for themselves.

Recommend it to?
Everyone with a penchant for medieval history or classic detective novels :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | josephinetey.net

  1. It is worth noting, however, that there is at least one fact that Ms. Tey got right in the book — “According to Sir Cuthbert, the hunchback is a myth. So is the withered arm. It appears that he had no visible deformity. At least none that mattered. His left shoulder was lower than his right, that was all.“. While everyone knows this now, after the remains were found, keep in mind that the book was written more than half a century ago. []
wag the dog by larry beinhart Publication year: first published in 1995, with a different title
Genre: (Wikipedia says it’s) Satire
Time and place: mostly US in the 80s
Narrated in: first-person/third-person omniscient
First sentence:He believed that he was Machiavelli incarnate.
Verdict: Had some good bits.

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Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett

murder is binding by lorna barrett Publication year: 2008
Genre: Mystery
Time and place: contemporary Stoneham, New Hampshire
Narrated in: third-person limited
First sentence: “I tell you, Trish, we’re all victims.”
Verdict: It was okay.

Summary
Five months ago Tricia Miles, newly divorced, finally had the money and the means to open her own business. She has moved to a small town and she opened a small mystery bookstore, and business goes well. Her next door neighbor, Doris, the owner of a cooking book store, cannot say the same: money is tight and the owner wants to increase the rent. Doris is trying to rally the town people against the rate change, and she arranges a meeting with the owner to discuss it. That very evening she is found dead, with a knife sticking out her back and one of her most expensive books stolen.

Tricia is the one that found her, and, as she is new in town, the sheriff considers her the main suspect. Since all the locals are considered above blame, and no one in the police force moves a finger to prove the opposite, it’s up to Tricia to discover the real culprit and clear out her name.

General impression
This would have been a nice little book, and I would have quite enjoyed it, if it weren’t for the main character. Tricia and I just didn’t click, as I found her annoying above all else, and as such I wasn’t able to get lost in the story as I might have done otherwise.

Setting
Stoneham used to be a dying town, until the owner of some of the buildings on the main street had a great idea: he rented out the stores to booksellers, catering to tourist buses passing from and to cities nearby. There is a mystery book store, a cooking book store, a history book store, and so on :)

As the book opens, Stoneham has been considered the safest town in New Hampshire for the last ten years — but of course that will change after Doris’ murder. The townspeople are a bit upset about losing the title, as its PR value was good for the business; there’s even a mention of a crew having to take down the Safest Town banners from the north and the south ends of the street, and I found that (their pride in their title, the fact that they even had banners about it) quite endearing1.

Characters
Ah, Tricia. I spent quite a few pages wondering what it is that I can’t stand about her. Among other things, she’s a snob. She is repeatedly described as a passionate bookworm, and books are supposed to be her life and all — but she cares more about the form than she does about the content. Sure, she is said to love the classics of the genre — her little store is fashioned after Sherlock Holmes’ address and her cat is named Miss Marple — but she is also the type that judges a book by its cover. She makes her living selling (mostly) rare books, and she despises cheap editions (in her defense, the editions she was referring to were also abridged). I may be wrong about her, but this is the feeling I’ve had.

She also thinks herself smarter than she is. Not that she’s not smart, she is a business woman perfectly capable to take care of herself, and I admired that about her. But there is at least one moment when something was obviously amiss and, although her sister pointed it out to her repeatedly, she just wouldn’t consider it. Eh.

I think that the idea was to have Tricia as the sympathetic sister, while Angelica was supposed to be the tiresome, unlikable one. Perhaps we were even supposed to commiserate with Tricia, shaking our heads at just how tough her lot in life is with such a sister. But in my case it was the other way around, as Angelica I have really liked. Sure, she’s not perfect, and her outlook on life is more fit to a big city than a small town, particularly at first, but on the whole she felt more real. Her passion for cooking is obvious and makes her endearing, unlike Trish’s passion for books, that felt anything but authentic.

Relationships
There is another reason why I liked Angelica more. The author has apparently wanted to add depth to Trish by hinting at a less than happy childhood, having been wronged repeatedly by her parents and/or sister. The trouble is that we are not told exactly what her issues are — we just see Trish disliking Angelica with all her might, even when the latter makes amends. For me, the reader, they are both blank slates, and I cannot stand behind a resentment that I have no reason to support; which meant that I kept feeling that Angelica is being unjustly treated, so of course I sided with the wronged party, and disliked the other one. If only the author had been a bit more specific about the bad blood between the two I think what she had tried to do would have worked a lot better.

I liked the fact that there was no love story introduced for Trish. I like the fact that she can stand on her own as a character, solving her own problems and not needing a man to rescue her. There is a certain guy that she rather dislikes but I think sounds promising for the future, but I am glad it wasn’t all neatly packaged in a single 200-something pages book.

Plot
The actual plot is not that bad. Sure, the sheriff’s insistence to pin the murder on Trish requires some vast suspension of disbelief — especially when Angelica finds the stolen book in Trish’s store and the call the cops to declare that and the sheriff considers this a sign of Trish’s guilt2. Speaking of the sheriff, the one moment I really did not like Angelica was when she suggested that the reason why her sister is considered a suspect is because Trish is thin and the sheriff is fat and jealous of her good looks. A low blow, even if (perhaps) true.

Back to the plot, it was satisfactory enough (at least for me, others say it employed an overused trope), with other misdeeds uncovered along the way and more than one culprit. There weren’t any major surprises, but it would have been hard to since we only get to encounter a handful of people, and I thought the “whodunnit” bit was pretty nicely done (the reason behind it and all).

What I liked most
The idea of having a bookish-themed town :)

What I liked least
The book would have benefited from tighter editing. Starting with the mention of a “meatloaf-shaped loaf of bread” (which I read as “a loaf of bread shaped like a meat dish shaped like a loaf of bread”) from the fact that one sentence almost appears twice (Angelica and Trish find themselves twice “exploring” other people’s houses at night, and in both cases as they climb up the stairs we are told that Angelica is so close to Trish that the latter can feel her breath on her neck; I find the imagery a bit confusing — how can they climb up the stairs if they’re almost touching? — which is why I noticed that the same thing is mentioned twice, and in almost the same words).

Thoughts on the title
I have yet to discover the connection between the title and the content of the book. It is obvious that it wanted to hint to something bookish, since our main character is a bookstore-owner booklover, but I would have liked it better if it had had an actual connection with the events, other than the “murder” bit.

Thoughts on the ending
Okay, I guess. Everyone’s happy, the perpetrators punished, all’s well when it ends well, that sort of thing.

show spoiler

Recommend it to?
People who like cozy mysteries. It’s rating on goodreads.com is above average (3.70) so I guess people usually like it more than I did (I gave it two stars).

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Lorna Barrett’s website | Lorna Barrett on Twitter | Lorna Barrett on Facebook

  1. On the other hand I also find sort of amusing just how much down the drain their title is heading to: since there is a whole series of murder mysteries taking place in Stoneham I imagine that eventually the town will be a good candidate for “the small town with the most murders” in New Hampshire []
  2. “I contend that you stole that valuable book and killed Doris Gleason for financial gain.”, she insists. Leaving aside the fact that there was actually no financial gain in it for Trish, since she and Doris were just neighbors. []

The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey

the storyteller's daughter by cameron dokey Publication year: 2002
Genre: Fantasy/Retelling
Time and place: 13th century Asia
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence:Once upon a time, there lived a king whose heart was heavy.
Verdict: Four stars out of five.

Summary
His wife’s betrayal has turned King1 Shahryar’s heart to stone. Afraid that history will repeat itself, he concocts a plan: on every full moon he will marry a young woman, and the next morning she will be put to death. His decision, of course, was not well received — people ran away with their families, or hid their daughters well. But Shahrazad, the blind daughter of the king’s vizier, thinks that this is the very moment she was born for: her duty is to revive the king’s heart and thus save her people. Despite her father’s entreaties she marries the king, and then on their wedding night she starts telling him a story…

… a story that she does not finish when the morning comes. The king, happy for the reprieve, promises her that she will not be put to death until her story ends. And the story goes on and on and on, for many days.

The king’s people however were less happy with the situation than they should have been. Rumors start circling around, that Shahrazad is actually a witch, and she is still alive because she has enchanted the king. The rumors are planted by the five brothers of the previous queen, who want revenge2. Their army is small and they cannot defeat the king in fair fight, so they send the youngest to the court, disguised as a kitchen boy, to gather info and discover the best moment for a surprise attack.

General impression
I have seen that a few reviews criticize the writing style for various reasons; in my case the writing was one of my favorite things. I loved the poetry of it all, with stone hearts, and hearts overflowing with feeling, and everything in between. I loved the idea of having Shahrazad be a cloth reader, who didn’t know the stories beforehand but found them hidden in bolts of cloth. And I loved the very idea of a retelling of the story of the thousand and one nights.

Characters
I don’t remember how the original Sheherezad found herself in her unenviable position (whether it was by choice or by design), but I liked very much that the Shahrazad in this story has taken matters into her own hands. Not only she is the one who decides she will take the risk, but she does so before the king has had a chance to put his threat into action (and in doing do she has rescued him from the consequences of his decision). This Shahrazad is the quiet, confident type, intelligent and with a courage I admired more than once. She is no damsel in distress — quite the opposite, she faces danger to rescue her prince.

Shahryar himself is by no means evil, he’s just a powerful man with trust issues and with his heart closed off. I wonder whether he could have gone through with his plan, putting a random girl to death if he found himself in the position to. The author has done a good job in explaining his inner conflict all the steps of the way. As a consequence, the king is never an unsympathetic character, he just feels terribly misguided at times, and I for one have read the book in a single day, so curious I was to see how he will get to know and accept what his heart wants once again.

Relationships
Another thing I liked is how the relationship between Shahryar and Shahrazad was built little by little. Ever since he was a child Shahryar has been intrigued by little Shahrazad, and now, seeing her for the first time as a woman, the last thing he wants to do is put her to death. He is torn between his initial decision and this reluctance he finds surprising (for hasn’t he already decided on a course? And he’s a king, his will must be steady!), yet still his heart is closed off and unfeeling. Actually, that wasn’t it: his heart was not dead, quite the opposite, but Shahryar, just like the king in Shahrazad’s story, was simply refusing to see what was in front of him.

And the same goes for Shahrazad, in a way, although she is smart enough to realize it sooner: she too falls in love with the king and does not initially realize it. Since it’s a short book, however, this trope is not prolonged for too many pages — another thing that I couldn’t but like.

What I liked most
The prologue, written in the words of a Shahrazad enticing the reader in, to listen to her story :)

Two of my favorite quotes:

“A story is alive, as you and I are. It is rounded by muscle and sinew. Rushed with blood. Layered with skin, both rough and smooth. At its core lies soft marrow of hard, white bone. A story beats with the heart of every person who has ever strained ears to listen. On the breath of the storyteller, it soars. Until its images and deeds become so real you can see them in the air, shimmering like oases on the horizon line.”

and

“I wished to be the one to truly see, to come to know your heart. At least, I wished to try.”

At her words, Shahrayar felt his stone heart give a crack, and the pain surged forth into his veins, scalding as lava. Too late. Your wish has come too late, he thought.

I so love the imagery in this last one :)

What I liked least
The ending. It had the potential to be great, but then something happened that it seemed to me broke the previously established rules, and I did not enjoy that a bit.

Thoughts on the title
While the title has a poetic ring to it, I don’t think it’s a particularly good fit. Shahrazad’s mother was indeed a storyteller, one of the best in her tribe. But Shahrazad herself was foretold to be the greatest storyteller ever, so she went far beyond being simply her mother’s daughter. “The Storyteller” would have perhaps been a better title, methinks.

Thoughts on the ending
The ending is the reason why I did not give it 5 stars.

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Recommend it to?
People who enjoy fairytale retellings :)

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  1. he is referred to in the book as being a king, but I would expect him to actually have been a shah. []
  2. …with a rather interesting motivation: first they were angry at their sister, who brought shame on the family, and then after a while they started thinking that it was all Shahryar’s fault for giving her too much freedom. []
  3. speaking of which, I loved the idea that everyone found the exact piece of cloth they needed, with a story addressed just for them. []

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

the dust of 100 dogs by as king Publication year: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Time and place: seventeenth century Ireland and Jamaica / US & Jamaica in the 90s
Narrated in: first-person/third-person limited/third-person omniscient
First sentence:Imagine my surprise when, after three centuries of fighting with siblings over a spare furry teat and licking my water from a bowl, I was given a huge human nipple, all to myself, filled with warm mother’s milk.
Verdict: Liked it for the most part.

Summary
If I have no option to be happy and good, then why not be as bad as I can be?

The day she turned fourteen Emer Morrisey was sent by her uncle far away from her native Ireland. She had been sold to be a wife to a much older man, in Paris. Luckily for her, once she got there she managed to run away from her husband-to-be. After living for a year on the streets, she boarded a ship to Tortuga, hoping for a better life. She was wrong; she sailed again. The ship she was on was attacked, and she fought valiantly. And this was the turning point, the moment that set her on the path of becoming nothing less than a pirate captain.

Years later, having attained everything she wanted, she was planning to retire and start a normal life. She never made it though: not only she was killed right on the beach where she first landed, but she was also cursed to spend 100 lives reincarnated as a dog. And so she was reborn as a French poodle puppy…

Fast forward to the twentieth century. It’s the 70s, and, having finished her due, Emer reincarnates again, this time as a human girl. Now Saffron, she amazes everyone with her knowledge of past events. Everyone thinks she will have a wonderful career in any field she’ll choose. But Emer has a plan and one plan only: once she will turn eighteen she will go to the beach where she died and dig up the immense treasured she has buried there.

General impression
Well, the book was a tad more violent than I would have expected (the former Emer relishes imagining various gory ways to maim the ones she find annoying; which is basically everyone she talks to). I get that Emer had lived a violent life in violent times; I get that after being around for three hundred years she has very little patience with the people around her. And yet this part seemed to me a bit overdone.

The story is told in alternating chapters, some telling the story of Emer’s life and others narrated by Saffron. There are some pages dedicated to a third character, Fred, the modern-day owner of a house on the beach Emer is interested in; there are also small stories, now and then, about some of Emer’s lives as a dog, complete with lessons learned. Each of these has a different point of view, yet they manage to come together as a whole quite nicely. I wasn’t too fond of the contemporary bits, mostly because I didn’t much like the characters involved; Emer’s original life however kept me on the edge of my seat more than once.

I was sad to see that Saffron doesn’t really suffer any effects after having spent so many years as a dog. It would have been interesting/quirky to see her having trouble adapting to being a human again (after all, she has been a human for less than 50 years, and a dog for six times that). She has some memories left, of course, but it would have been interesting to see more of a “cultural shock”, if you will. If anything, modern day Emer, although she has now lived such a long time, feels even more immature than she ever felt before, and I didn’t enjoy that.

Characters
The story of Emer begins when she is five, a happy child in the middle of a happy family. By her sixth birthday she loses everything, as her village is destroyed and its people killed by Cromwell’s army. Emer has to go live with her uncle’s family, in a very poor area. The uncle is aggressive and beats everyone; the cousins aren’t particularly friendly either. Emer’s new life is anything but happy. And it’s not going to get much better for a long, long while. Under these circumstances I have to say I was quite fond of Emer, and the way she grit her teeth and powered through the adversities that life threw at her. I liked that she had a fiery personality and she wasn’t afraid to fight for what she wanted. Sure, she does enjoy killing people a bit too much for my taste (her signature move was tearing people’s eyes out of their sockets), but I do get that this can (sort of) be put down to the fact that almost everyone in her life has treated her bad.

Emer reincarnated however is nowhere near as interesting. Perhaps because her appeal consisted in her piratey ways, and of course she can no longer act as a pirate in the 20th century. She’s just… bland. Sure, she knows a lot, due to her having witnessed a lot of history first hand, and she has that quirk of maiming people in her mind; other than that however there is not much that can be said about her. The fifth child, she isn’t particularly close to anyone in her family, despite the fact that her parents were pretty okay people throughout her childhood. I sort of resented that about her — the way she thought of everyone, her parents included, as being her inferiors (now it is true that they weren’t particularly bright people, but up to a point they were doing their best, and I was sorry to see that Saffron/Emer did not appreciate their efforts).

Another character is the guy owning the house on the beach, Fred Livingstone. Kudos to the author, as she has managed to create the creepiest and most unlikable character I have ever read about until now. Even as I write this, a day or so after I finished the book, thinking about him makes me shiver a bit. It’s not just the way he treats his (good natured, albeit not very bright) dog, although just this and made me despise him and dislike him on the spot. It’s in the way he thinks about women around him. Ew. And to think that people like that do in fact exist.

The rest of the cast consisted mostly of placeholders, unidimensional people that play a single role and have no complexity at all. Take Seanie for example, the only man Emer has ever loved. He was just there. He has no trait of his own other than the fact that he loves Emer and is loved by her. The same goes for David, Emer’s first mate. He’s there to take care of all the jobs Emer, as a female, cannot do, and in the process he of course falls in love with her (since she is so very beautiful and courageous and one of a kind). And that’s all there is to him. When Seanie comes back and there’s no more need for David, the latter disappears without a trace. Emer’s uncle was abusive and treated her bad, to provide for a challenge in her early life. Saffron’s parents become addicted to pills, to provide for a challenge in her new life. And so on, most of the characters being there as plot devices and nothing more.

A detail that I liked
Emer’s first ship was called Emerald :)

Something I did not understand
If Saffron is Emer reincarnated, how come that as she arrives in Jamaica she complains about losing Emer?

Thoughts on the ending
The ending was the part that sort of ruined the whole book for me. I liked it that it was a nice, happy ending, but I thought that its plausibility left something to be desired.
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Recommend it to?
People who enjoy YA books and are not afraid of some gore. There isn’t anything too graphic but it’s not overly tame either.

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