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Endless War Wednesday

What I've Just Finished Reading

I finally managed to burn my way through the rest of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which has beautiful worldbuilding and a complex plot involving scheming humans and scheming gods in a dreamlike royal city-in-the-sky where backstabbing is the rule.



I think if the plot had been less twisty or the narrartor more immediately convincing, I would have had an easier time enjoying it from the start. I did get around to enjoying it for most of the middle 2/3, though I always had difficulty with the pacing and with the narrator, Yeine. When I first started this book, I thought that it would be easier to connect with her as a character if she had a third-person narrator to do most of the talking for her. She takes on more of the burden of exposition than she should, sometimes in ways that confuse her perspective, like when she reflects on Darre martial customs in order to explain things that were already clear enough from context and the previous conversation. The need to explain too much to an unseen audience prevents her from building a coherent perspective and distracts from her goals, which have already been thoroughly distracted from by defeated-god skulduggery and rival-heir skulduggery. At least, that's my working theory for why I never got as invested as I felt I should. Still worth reading for the intensely imaginative and thoughtful depiction of the defeated gods and their relationships with each other and with the humans, and for the worldbuilding in general, even though I didn't feel like it was always as well-served by the narration as it could have been.

I feel like this is a book I might be able to read again in a few years and get more out of. There was so much to like about it, yet no one in it really managed to hook me on an emotional level, and I could have taken the plot or left it. But I don't know how much of that is just me being a bad reader, and how much of it is some aspect of the book just not clicking with me for whatever reason.



Also finished another long-term resident of the unfinished pile: The Fountain: Secrets of Seulmonde is a good-natured self-published fantasy romance about a woman who accidentally finds herself in a secret colony of somewhat unimaginative immortals and falls in love. The author, Vernell Chapman, visited the bookstore where I work early last year. The heroine is likeable when she isn't suffering from inexplicable attacks of jealousy, there are some excellently suspenseful moments early on, and the premise has a lot of potential, but the book suffers badly from a lack of editing, both structurally and at the comma-and-spelling level, which meant that my editorial brain got switched on early and never had the chance to turn itself off. A very superficial third-party check for misplaced apostrophes and repetitive dialogue would have made a world of difference, and still could if Chapman comes out with a revised edition.

What I'm Reading Now

Still only about a hundred pages into A Distant Trumpet, the longest book in the Water Damage Club. It's slow, slow going, and I'm not sure why. I think it's hitting a weird tone for me, one I keep thinking of as "Oscar bait." It's not yet sharp enough to feel like a really thoughtful or attentive picture of the past, but it's not an escapist one, either; it's neither here nor there. Serious without being serious. But I'm not far enough in to know if that's fair or not. Every time a new character is introduced, there are two or three chapter sections about their family background and what they were like as adolescents and how they came to enter the story. I'm not opposed to this in principle.

The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer is not the first book on Anthony Burgess' 99 Novels list, but it's the first one that happened to be in reach. I'm only about a hundred pages in, and it's already kind of a patchwork. The first forty pages were very slow for me, then it became suddenly, enormously interesting for about ten and then it went careening through WTF Junction for a little while. Now it's interesting again. It's an ensemble novel about American soldiers in the Pacific during World War 2, very humid and earthy in a way that sometimes feels affected and sometimes not, and the best parts by far are when the men just talk to each other. There are a lot of conversations of the kind that happen between people who have been forced by circumstance into proximity who would not ordinarily like or even notice each other. They end up revealing more than they would to their friends back home, because they are far from everything and always uncomfortable, because they might die and can't understand what that means, and because at the time it seems like the right and the inevitable thing to do.

Mailer is interesting to me as a writer who obviously puts a lot of effort into crafting sentences I don't like, which is not to say that I dislike all of his sentences. He makes a lot of small and deliberate decisions that disrupt my reading like tiny ingrown hairs. I don't think it's "bad writing" (though there have been passages in The Naked and the Dead that I would characterize as genuinely bad; I'm withholding judgment on them for now because I'm not sure where he's going with it) but Mailer's ear and my ear are disjunct enough that I am thrown out of the writing on a microscopic level an average of once per page.

I think for the 99 Novels, I'll try to read each book first and then take a look at what Anthony Burgess has to say, like a dialogue! Maybe that will be interesting?

What I Plan to Read Next

P. D. James' An Unsuitable Job for a Woman just arrived in my mailbox, along with a chapbook of short stories, All Small Carcasses by Gina Goldblatt, so I guess those two are next! And maybe some others from the unfinished pile; it's a pretty big pile. We'll see.

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