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Dreamtrails and Sparkly Horses
SSar's Beast
In the last few years, my reading has decreased dramatically. I would like to read more. Especially, I would like to read more physical books - closing the laptop and focusing only on turning pages, petting my cat, and sipping my cup of tea.

I'm starting easy this year, with two YA/fantasy books.

The Keeping Place is the fourth of Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn books. Up until now, it's the one I've been stuck on - I've tried reading it a couple of times and bounced off. Over the statutory holiday break this year, I not only put it on my dresser, but got The Stone Key and The Sending out of the library to follow it. Well, those were returned late and unread to the library, but I did at least progress through the series.

The Keeping Place certainly starts slow - it feels like it's at least 200 pages before anything happens. There's a lot of inner monologue, lots of Obernewtyn issues which circle around and are unresolved, and events that simply happen rather than furthering anything else. On the other hand, one of my previous quibbles with the series had been that I could not imagine how a society in which beasts are equal could work - and there are long, in-canon meetings that hash out just these questions, so at least Carmody takes the how of the matter seriously.

Good points: the neatly-planned rebellion succeeds in some ways, and is thwarted in others, in a "no battle plan survives contact with the enemy…" way that felt plausible when I read it. Malik was a convincing and difficult villain. I enjoyed learning a lot more about the Beforetimer Cassy in this book.

Bad points: I really wish Carmody had cut down a lot of minutiae. I also wish there were fewer minor Misfit characters whose names we have to remember. I can believe there are a lot of Misfits, such that naming Zarak and Lina and Gevan and Ceirwan and Lirra and Merret and Blyss and… so on… adds colour, but they didn't all feel necessary (and don't ask me to keep Lina vs. Lirra and Gevan vs. Gavyn straight!) There felt like a lot of unnecessary travel - or the travel was not described in an interesting way. (I am also continually confused about the size of the Land. Can it really be right that you can get from Obernewtyn to Sutrium in, like, two days of steady horse-riding? The map feels too small.) The problem of Dragon was not solved by motive and actions, but by nebulous manipulations of fate.

It's only supposed to get more drawn out from here - as anyone could tell, looking at the physical size of those books. Coming to the end of The Keeping Place, I think I'm still interested enough in Elspeth's saga to keep going - and one of my reasons is to learn more about Rushton and his purposes and place. He's been kind of a cipher, and more so than I was expecting in this book. I'd like to see what he does in The Stone Key.

One thing that makes me a little uncomfortable is the repeated theme throughout Carmody's books of spirit/aura healing that can drive or supplant physical healing. I wonder if she believes this personally, not just in fiction - well, I don't actually want to find out.

I picked Foundation up off the shelf last week, when waiting in the library to meet Joel. It's been ages since I read anything of Valdemar. Nowadays I feel like I can't even read the Yuletide fanfic that's written for that world - the details of characters are too hazy. Foundation is the first of a recent series that stands somewhat alone, so I was hopeful it would be a good reminder of the world.

It starts with some promise. Our hero is a mine slave; the emphasis is less on his emotional trauma and more on his daily strategies for survival, which I found engaging. It is, of course, a Cinderella story, and Mags is soon rescued to be a Herald. (With that trope that I find SO annoying, whereby the rescue-ee is whisked away with no explanation, causing them cheap angst while of course the reader knows there's nothing to worry about.)

Mags is fairly smart, if wary and unsocial, and settles in well. I was unconvinced by the plot. Mags's first two friends are made slowly and carefully - all to the good. Then he meets someone in the market who turns out to be A Most Upright Citizen, and this Upright Citizen Soren takes him into his home and family and treats him like a special snowflake and suddenly he's friends with a whole bunch of kids who Help Their Families With Politics. We have a nice, world-buildy description of their winter festivities, and then we don't need to care about that lot [ever] again.

Then the book culminates in a psychopathic kidnap-suicide attempt on Mags's friend Bear, completely out of left field. Most other plot threads are unresolved. The book is clearly a set-up for the next book.

If I were Mercedes Lackey's editor, and equipped with a golden pen, a silver tongue, and a will of steel, I would have told her to chuck the kidnapping (really!), explain more about the mercenaries, and shove the whole section of plot about falling in with Soren and his friends/family to the next book, so as to ensure she had space to develop out some other plot threads she'd previously introduced.

And I would red-pen the hell out of painfully saccharine exchanges like the following. Mags, having met Upright Citizen Soren, tells him about his woeful miner slavery:

Finally, he sighed. "I wish there was a way that all this could be made up to you, and your fellows, Mags. That man stole so much from you--years of your lives that you will never get back." He shook his head mournfully.

Mags could only shrug. " 'Tis what it is," he replied.

"But I never dreamed there could be something like that going on in
Valdemar. It . . . offends me." He paused, and Mags wondered if he should say something. Then Soren nodded his head as if deciding something. "Now that I know that they do . . . Mags, what would be a good way of keeping youngsters from falling into such places?"

Why is he asking me? Mags wondered, feeling stunned. He opened his mouth to ask that very question, but what came out that was not that at all. "Mebbe you c'd do something' with the law," he heard himself saying. "Make it bad t' put kiddies to work or some'thin."

"It would have to be the 'or something,'
[sic] Soren mused aloud. "We don't want to penalize farm folk who rely on their children and extra hands. But yes, I see your point, and I think that would be a good start." He straightened up again, and nodded decisively. "Well, my young friend, is there anything more I can do to thank you?"

All that exaggerated nodding and shrugging and shaking of heads and so forth is rather appropriate to this bare authorial puppet. Um, unless it's normal, sensible adult behaviour to ask an abused young person one's just met how one should fix the world, and then get mired in the smaller details of their suggestion.

I was reading this on a visit to Paul and Sam. We were sprawled about in Paul's common room, mostly on bean bags, with books or laptops to hand. When I got to this section, I sputtered about it. "I don't know," Sam said gently. "Would you have taken that exchange at face value when you were, say, fourteen?" I squinted at it and conceded that I might have. Possibly I should choose better targets to be indignant at than Mercedes Lackey. After all, I only really wanted a Cinderella story.

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It really does only get more minutia-laden from here. She really needs an editor who will go at the book and cut out whole chapters at a go.

And I'm pretty sure the size of the Land changes from book to book. IIRC, in Obernewtyn it takes a week to get from Sutrium to Obernewtyn, whereas in Ashling they get from Obernewtyn to Sutrium in one long day's ride...

Oh thank you! I'm glad it's not just me. I was reading the descriptions in The Keeping Place that went, "Oh, and it took four hours of riding Gahltha to get to here," and wondering, if that was the case, what was most of the plot in The Farseekers about?

Hm. Well, I got through The Keeping Place by being braced for it; I will brace for The Stone Key.

Yes, some of the geographic details change to suit the story! And I totally agree with you on the editing front. I'm pretty sure I skipped about sixty pages of the trip up the mountains in The Sending and didn't miss a thing, plot-wise. It's so frustrating!

Yeah, there's a ~200 page section that could have been cut down to maybe two or three pages without losing anything. Elspeth is going into the mountains with Maruman without sufficient food or water, but it's okay because she's learning an important lesson about how the world will provide, which it duly does, and also it gets kind of cold in the mountains, and somehow whenever she's about to get stuck because of tainted ground, a way forward opens up.

I look back at her earlier books, particularly Ashling, and I'm just like, What happened?

For me, The Keeping Place marked the point where I fell out of love with the Obernewtyn series. So much of that book was unnecessary - the Moonfair at the beginning was completely pointless and anypoints of significance from the event could easily have been dealt with in a paragraph or two. I'm afraid Isobelle suffers from very lax editors, which is sad, because the first couple of Obernewtyn books were my favourites for a long time. Now, I'm just reading because I want to know how it all ends.

Huzzah for your resolution to read more physical books, though! Nothing beats the feel of a book in your hands.

the Moonfair at the beginning was completely pointless and anypoints of significance from the event could easily have been dealt with in a paragraph or two - This is true. And at this point in her writing, I also find that Isobelle Carmody does not have a handle on any kind of "show, not tell" style of characterisation - we are always trying to picture characters through such descriptors as "Maryon's cold manner" or "Zarak's impetuousness" or what have you.

Indeed! I like books in my hands. I like open books in my hands. I like open books in my hands upon which my gaze is fixed.

I wonder about the lax-editor complaint. It is likely - and yet it always makes me wonder what the draft looked like before any editing. You never know, it could have been five time worse. But I hope not.

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