book review · books · shanti

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Katherine Webber knows some truths: human lives intersect in strange and unpredictable ways. Grief shapes us in ways that we do not understand. Relationships are rarely equal. She knows all this, and she tries to shape these axioms of complexity into a story in Only Love Can Break Your Heart. I quite enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Wing Jones.

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book review · books · shanti

Along the Indigo and Towards Me

This book was not what I expected. I guess I vaguely skimmed the synopsis when it came out, then placed a hold on it and got it some weeks later, then didn’t read it, then waited weeks more for my hold to come through and finaaaaaallly read it a few weeks ago. Anyway, it turns out that it is not a high fantasy about an innkeepers daughter (which is good because I’m going to write that book) but instead an urban not-quite-fantasy about a girl living in a small town (as I found out from another reviewer, in the eighties) that she wants to leave.


 

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books · features · shanti

The Bookish Planet: The Castle

it’s time for another installment of The Bookish Planet, the feature where we give a guided tour of settings seen in a lot of books. Today, the feature is The Castle. They are often found in Magical Forests, within fantasy kingdoms. The Castle is exciting, magnificent, sometimes crumbling, sometimes lavish. No matter which castle you end up in, something exciting will be going on.

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books · features · lists · shanti

#SettinginStone tbr

It’s a new year which means a lot of people are posting tbr’s. I was reading blog posts this morning and was thinking oh yeah, reading challenges, they’re not my thing….and then I remembered that I’m actually hosting the chillest, coolest reading challenge for the first two months of the year, aka Setting in Stone, and if you participate, I would be delighted (and surprised but I’m trying not to betray my low expectations). Anyway, I thought I’d share some books that I want to read for this challenge–and if you add recommendations in the comments, I’ll add them to the post!

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Setting in Stone: Settings vs. Character

Hi Virtually Readers! It’s almost Christmas oh my goodness! I am in New Zealand now which is bizarre but I’m dealing with it. However, I do have a lot of things going on in my life, so I’m not sure how active I’m going to be blogwise for January–but I’m still trying to make Setting in Stone happen. And I would be delighted (not to mention surprised) if you, yes you, joined in. In my last post I mentioned that I was going to write a post about diversity of seting vs. diversity of character. I have not planned this at all but here we go.

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Setting in Stone: The big announcement

Hi Virtually Readers! Do you remember Setting in Stone, the feature I’ve been doing for the last few months about the role that settings play in stories? (you better, because I love that feature). Anyway, I started this because I felt like setting representation is more important to me than character representation (which there will be a post about next time it’s my blogging week, don’t you worry 😉 ). I often feel stuck in a rut with settings: so many of the books I read are set in the UK or the US or another place that feels  very distant to me. Continue reading “Setting in Stone: The big announcement”

books · discussions · features · shanti

Setting in Stone 6: Demographics

Demographics are details about the people of a place. Population size, ethnic makeup, what jobs people have, poverty and literacy levels, all that. I find them fascinating, revealing, and important. I also find them shockingly absent from books, especially fantasy books. In this installment of Setting in Stone, the topic is, surprisingly enough, demographics, why they matter in stories, and how to write them. Continue reading “Setting in Stone 6: Demographics”

book review · books

The Bear and the what now?

A few months ago, I read The Bear and the Nightingale, a story completely saturated in Russian myth, so much that it forms its own kind of myth. The details that the author put in as an expert–she has a degree in Russian studies–formed a nuanced picture of medieval Russia. However, I wasn’t that invested in the story or the perspective.

31344916‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…

Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman. blurb from goodreads


The pacing of the narrative is such that the action is focused really on the last third of the book, so the first two thirds merely detail the world in which Vasya, the heroine, grows up. Along the way, we’re treated to a close third for a variety of perspectives, which humanizes all secondary characters (other than Mozorko, perhaps) I love how the pieces of Vasya’s life added together to her narrative arc, but I struggled with her character. TBatN is a chosen one story: evil rising, magic birthed, trials, tribulations, friends, enemies, and obviously, a bittersweet sacrifice oriented ending. A good story; a formula which works for a reason. But Vasya is an uncompelling heroine—in fact, I found Konstantin, Anna, and Pyotr more interesting than her. Maybe I’m growing up, or maybe Vasya, a cardboard cutout, far-too-perfect Strong Female heroine is too bland. I completely failed to identify with her.
I’ve read several stories of Russia in the last few weeks, and it seems to me that Russia is the setting for more stories written by non-Russians than, say, Uganda, Malaysia, or Vanuatu. The Bear and the Nightingale exemplifies why (according to me), its such a popular setting. For one thing, Russia is an ‘East meets West’ place (and I know those dichotomies are Eurocentric). It’s not the US or Western Europe—it’s a little bit exotic, but similar enough to still be recognizable to the average media consumer, and it has myths that the West does not share, and medieval Russians wear dresses, but they’re called sarafans! How strange, but not weird, right? The endless, mostly empty plains, and the frosty forests add to the appeal too—the blank space is unexplored! (not really) but it practically begs for a story. Russian history is rich, too, and it has enough connections to the familiar Western European history that it turns up in lots of accessible Western TV shows and educational sources (including, say, degree programs at universities). TBatN, in rural medieval Russia, with a forest to explore and myths and details to pop out, along with mentions of Khans, totally shows my theory (which is right, obviously). And it’s not that I mind—Russia is fascinating—but food for thought.
TBatN is heavily critical of religion, particularly the abstract forced kind, which it implies much of Eastern Orthodox was at the time of the story (which to be fair, considering historical context and the devastation that Christianiy has wreaked on fold cultures worldwide is probably true). However, I hope religion and its role in daily life get a bit more nuance in the next bok. (which had an intriguing extract at the end of my copy).
tl;dr: The Bear and the Nightgale: Russia cold. Vasya boring. Story obvious (but still appealing.)

Have you read this? What’s a story you enjoyed that is set in Russia? tell me in the comments!

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Setting in Stone 5: Devilish Details

Welcome back, Virtually Readers, to Setting in Stone, the best discussion series ever probably. Some months ago, I read a fantasy book with four states explicitly named: a fantasy equivalent Russia, where the book was set, a fantasy equivalent France, Persia, and China. In terms of technology which the characters had, this was probably in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Then, a character drank rum. Rum is made from sugar, and at the time (as far as I know) was grown in the Caribbean, by slaves. (and if you want to know more about this, read a Tom Standage book). I did not like said book, for a whole host of reasons (and if you want to know which book it is, go stalk my ‘meh’ shelf on goodreads), but one of the reasons was the author’s ignorance of detail. Continue reading “Setting in Stone 5: Devilish Details”

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Setting in Stone 4: Finding other settings

Hi Virtually Readers! Today, you are reading another episode of Setting in Stone, my discussion feature about how settings work. I started this whole thing with a post about the lack of variety of settings in YA novels, so today I’m going to find the flipside of that, and talk about how to find less common settings and how to support those books. Also, it’s hopefully going to be shorter than most of the posts in this series, but I make no promises. Continue reading “Setting in Stone 4: Finding other settings”