Book Review – HOUNDED by Kevin Hearne

I haven’t read much Urban Fantasy, and as such, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. HOUNDED might have spoiled me, since it was absolutely hilarious. A fun, quick, incredibly engaging and entertaining read, I devoured it in about a day and a half. 

Atticus is old–21 centuries old, in fact. But he looks like a 21-year-old hipster playing at magic in his occult bookstore. Seriously, that might be the best, simplest premise I’ve ever heard. Add to it his Irish Wolfhound who is laugh-out-loud hilarious, a healthy dose of pop culture references, and some pissed off Celtic gods and you have a story that sucks you in and keeps you reading.

I liked everything about this book–the depth of the setting, the obvious research that Hearne put into it, the humor and juxtaposition between Old World and New-all of it. EXCEPT I didn’t love Hearne’s treatment of his female characters, and that kept me from giving HOUNDED five stars. I felt as though every woman (mortal or not) got the “super sexy movie star” treatment, and that Atticus had a hard time concentrating when they spoke because all he wanted to do was jump their bones. We’re talking about seriously powerful women, who can manipulate your perceptions of them. Why would they all choose sex as their manipulation of choice–Why not intimidation? Why not terror? Why not groveling respect? I’ve got no problem with a sexy female character, but I felt like it was a little one-noted.

I look forward to reading more of the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, as the story was clever and funny and greatly entertaining, and I hope that Mr. Hearne has found a way to flesh out his female characters in later volumes.

Next Up: THE MIRROR EMPIRE by Kameron Hurley. You know I’m excited about this one. 🙂

Book Review – ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE by Robin Hobb

 

 

In an effort to broaden my horizons in Fantasy, I have been keeping my ears open for recommendations from authors that I respect and admire. A few months ago, Chuck Wendig posted on Twitter that ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE was a must read, and (I’m paraphrasing) a beautiful, brutal book. If you’ve read anything by Wendig, you’ll be interested to know what he sees as brutal. So, I put it on my to-read list and (when I couldn’t find it locally) ordered it online. 

In the meantime, several other authors and reviewers that I follow brought up the glory that is ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, and I learned more about Robin Hobb. Here’s the thing–I love Fantasy. I think it, and write it, and breathe it, and worship the very ground that it bleeds on. But I didn’t find it until I was an adult, really. So I am behind the times. This book–I should have read it almost 20 years ago. I should have, by this time, been wrapped up in an obsession with this series, and the others that follow it, for most of my adult life. I should have already been as obsessed with this world as I am with Westeros. Hell–even GRRM blurbed about ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, “Fantasy as it ought to be written.”

Those are great big words from a great big author, and I doubt that I have anything to add that others haven’t already said, but I’ll try.

The first thing that drew me into this book was the age of the protagonist, Fitz, at the opening of the novel. He is six years old. I have a six year old, and as Fitz went about some truly life-altering experiences, in my mind, he was my little guy. And that’s where the brutality of this book lies. Fitz, throughout this first book, is a child. This is not the gruesome, bloody savagery of Martin’s Westeros. This is the terrible alone-ness of a little boy, thrust into a world that will only ever see him as a tool.

Hobb is brilliant in her weaving of the tale. Not too gentle, yet not too barbaric. We are dipped, lovingly, into the Six Duchies. Cradled in the warmth of the stables, drawn out, into the intrigues of Buckkeep. We, as readers, are granted the indulgence of seeing the adult characters through adult eyes, while simultaneously viewing them through the hooded, shadowed lenses that Fitz sees them through. Fitz is a remarkable child–observant and kind, intelligent and gifted. But he is also a child. We are given the gift of seeing those around him as he cannot–the silent, secretive protectors, the adroit handlers that do all that they can, including risking themselves, for the love of Fitz’s father who cannot acknowledge his bastard son.

Because I know, so intimately, a six year old boy–I instantly fell in love with Fitz. As he grew, in my mind, he became my older son (now twelve) and full of his own ideas of what a man is. Fitz is flawed in only the way a child can be–beautifully. Brutally. 

In the end, the story left me gasping for more–so clearly is there so much more to tell, and I am infinitely grateful that the next books are readily available. This is a hero’s quest, flawed and damaged as our hero may be, and it has become clear to me that I have only scratched the surface. Robin Hobb has done something stunningly complex–building a man from the skin and bones of a tiny boy. Fitz comes to life, on the pages. Her words breathe into him the stuff of life. Not just the heroics, the kindness and the brilliance, but also the failings, the weaknesses, the hubris. 

I also ADORE the gentle gender-politics that play out, throughout its pages. Certainly there are women that are mistreated and abused, dismissed and ignored. But also, there are men, just as maligned. Beautifully entwined, are women of power and strength. There are leaders among them, there are teachers and masters and Queens. There are petty women, women of integrity, and every sort of women in between. Just like the men. And not a damsel in distress among them.

There was truth to what Wendig said. The book is beautiful and brutal, but it is much more than that. It is not the grim darkness that we’ve come to expect from Martin and Abercrombie, nor the bantering heroics of Rothfuss. It is something different. Something special, a vicious hopefulness. With this book, I have come to understand why Robin Hobb’s name is spoken amongst the greats of Fantasy. She has certainly, in my estimation, earned every fair word.

Stuff and Things (and Guardians of the Galaxy)

So, let’s get this out of the way, first thing. If you enjoy comic book films–Go see Guardians of the Galaxy. If you enjoy witty banter and raucous adventure–Go see GotG. If you are a fan of 1970’s easy listening–Go see GotG. If you enjoy fuzzy raccoons with a bad attitude–Go see GotG. If you like to laugh–Go see GotG. If you don’t enjoy laughter–Go see GotG (It will change your mind).

This movie, hands down, was the most fun I’ve had at the movie theater in years. Hilarious, action packed, sentimental but not sappy, engaging at every turn. It was a giant ice cream sundae, before dinner–and I don’t even feel guilty.

Chris Pratt does an excellent job of playing Peter Quill–a man/boy trying to find his way alone in the universe. His moral compass is a bit unfixed, his put-downs a staple of any twelve-year-old’s vocabulary, and his heart is covered up by bravado, but not absent. Bradley Cooper delivers laugh after laugh as Rocket–a genetically enhanced “raccoon” who is one part genius and one part Conan the Barbarian.  Dave Bautista is incredible as the well-spoken but brutal Drax the Destroyer, and Vin Diesel stole my heart as the short-on-words Groot.

But it was Zoe Saldana that, for me, made this film amazing. Saldana’s Gamora is a bad-ass–stronger, smarter, more agile, and more capable than anyone else in the room, and for the first time, I really felt like Marvel handed the reins to their female star and said, “Go ahead. Knock their socks off.” This is the heroine I wanted to see when Black Widow showed up–and we’ve seen glimpses, as Scarlett Johannson out-tricked the trickster and interrogated a mark, while tied up. In Gamora, I see a female comic character that isn’t sexualized, that isn’t marginalized, who truly contributes to the team and adds depth and heart to the group. (And–thank the Gods–we weren’t subjected to a Winter Soldier style scene shot from between the heroine’s legs, because–well, let’s hope that will be the end of that.)

Seriously. Go see it. You’ll be glad that you did.

In other must mentions, I’m going to link to a couple of very fine articles–

The first is a discussion of rape as it is portrayed in media, today, and especially in SFF. A very interesting look at the “realism” of sexual assault on women, and why don’t we see more rape of male characters in film and fiction. It’s worth a think, or two, and the numbers presented may surprise you.

The second is a couple of links to possible ways to get your hands on the Hugo Award-nominated essay “We Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley. Personally, I’d love to see this essay be required reading for the human race, but since that seems unlikely, I’ll just throw it out as a suggestion.

You can download Hurley’s essay collection here for free until 8/17, or you can listen to Hurley read the title essay on a podcast, here.  I highly recommend either–she’ll make you think about the way that you see the women characters in the stories that you love, and for me, she has really made me question the way that I write female characters, which I feel is contributing to a richer, deeper understanding of the characters I create, and the world in which they live.

Also, I would add that Kameron Hurley has a new novel, THE MIRROR EMPIRE, coming out on August 26th, which is getting stunningly good reviews.