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What I’ve Been Reading January 2021 Edition II


dino bite! by Dan 2021
dino bite! by Dan 2021


Howdy,


Here's to hoping 2021 will calm down a bit in the weeks to come. In the meantime, I'm going to keep on reading and writing and…you know the drill! The second batch of books for this month is a bit of a surprise–all are fantastical, but I don't know that all fall into the fantasy genre. One that I started out not liking, I really enjoyed. Another that I expected to think is excellent didn't live up to expectations. Still, this is a solid batch, and all the books offer lessons for the aspiring writer.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I expected to enjoy this book, and Ms. Miller does not disappoint. I don't know that this book is quite as good as Circe, but it's still damn good, great if I'm honest. It's a beautiful character study of Achilles' companion Patroclus. The novel has a little bit of everything: romance, adventure, magical creatures, wicked gods and goddesses, plagues, angry kings, loss, and war.


I found her treatment of Achilles particularly interesting. As I recall from the Iliad (I haven't read it since high school), Achilles was a great warrior and an utter dolt. Madeline Miller doesn't treat him as a complete idiot per se. Instead, he is a boy, and later man caught between mortality and godhood, belonging to neither. If he seems daft sometimes, it's because he can't imagine, at least not without great difficulty, some of the tribulations and emotions an ordinary human might experience.


One aspect of this book worth studying beyond the simply superb characterization of Patroclus is how the sex scenes are handled. Miller goes beyond the simple they went to bed together without going into explicit gory details. It's definitely worth studying for anyone planning to write such scenes.


The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

I had a hard time getting into this book; it probably took me 100 pages at least until I warmed up to the protagonist. Why? Well, I am typically not interested one iota in reading a book about a supercilious bureaucrat. That's precisely what the protagonist, Linus, is at the beginning of the story. However, he does change throughout the novel, and it is clear from the start that he deeply cares for the well-being of the children, who are exotic magical creatures.


Overall, the story is lighthearted, although it does have serious undertones. By and large, I found the story charming at times, often mildly amusing, and sometimes I laughed out loud. What Klune does quite expertly is deliver the message people should all be safe and accepted no matter who or what they are (especially children). Although this message comes across loud and clear, the story never seems pedantic. The message is delivered through the characters (especially Linus), who express it authentically as part of who they are.


Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

This is a fine novel, but I did not like it as much as I expected. It's an epic told from the perspectives of a wide cast of characters. I have the same issue with this novel as I have with others that have enormous casts. Some characters are just way more interesting than the others. At some point, I often find myself not enjoying the scenes with the characters I don't really care for. Having said that, all the characters in Black Sun are interesting, if not entirely likable, although I only got excited about reading the scenes from one character's point of view.

My second issue is that, despite the large cast of characters and engrossing world-building, the plot is predictable. I kept waiting for a surprise, like when Ned Stark loses his head in the Game of Thrones, but it never came. Not having any huge surprises might've been okay if the climax felt inevitable; instead, it just felt predictable.

Where Roanhorse really shines is in her world-building. The world of Black Sun feels familiar yet fresh. At least in my imagination, it harkens back to the Inca and Aztec Empires with magic and gargantuan beasts (some that humans ride) thrown in. She creates this captivating and believable story world with a dearth of words and never slowing down the plot. I think this is really hard to do and makes Black Sun well worth studying.

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