Monthly Archives: March 2015

Review: Dark Legacy (Hidden Heritage #2)

I should note that, as with Dark Hollow, I obtained a copy of this book for free through Goodreads’ First Reads feature.

I don’t have much to say in terms of introduction so let’s jump straight to the review.

You’re forgiven if you thought this was a cover for a Jupiter Ascending novel.

Dark Legacy picks up right where Dark Hollow left off, with Tabitha going to meet her father, a prominent politician in Caska. Although she is initially pampered and treated with the utmost respect, as is the way of so many other stories of this type, all is not as it seems, and for Tabitha, betrayal hits close to home.

On some level, I don’t mind cliche plots as long as they’re well executed. The problem with Dark Legacy is that it’s not well executed at all. Although the writing has improved since the last book, it’s still awkward and dull. One particular scene of note is the scene in which Tabitha encounters Katie, a pregnant teenager being cared for by her father’s underlings. I was under the impression that Katie’s dialogue is supposed to indicate that she, like many teenagers, talks a mile a minute, but the way her dialogue is presented is just plain confusing on the level of “I don’t know what the heck is going on here” I had to read the passage at least three times to make sense of it. Occasionally the prose does become a bit purple, in a notable case, Antoine’s description of Tabitha’s mother when she was young, with long white hair and golden brown eyes (a description that could have come out of an anime or the sort of fanfics you probably wrote as a teenager) made me laugh, it just sounded so ridiculous. The book also suffers from the same problem that plagued the last book, namely that characters don’t act like you would expect someone in their age group in their circumstances would act.

As with the first book, Dark Legacy suffers from a major case of telling instead of showing. We’re told, for instance, that the townspeople speak highly of Tabitha’s father, but also that they are afraid of him, because of course. The way to make a “Town/Political Entity/Pet Rat with a Dark Secret” plot interesting is subtlety, a sort of “wrongness” that lurks in the back of the protagonist’s mind until it’s too late, and they’re caught in it. Unfortunately Dark Legacy doesn’t even attempt to do that, it’s blatantly obvious where the plot is going.

As if the uninspired writing and the cliched plot weren’t bad enough, the book also has some glaring formatting issues. For instance, I noticed Berton was accidentally rendered as “BertOn” (with an accent on the O) as if the author replaced the character in MS Word with the wrong symbol. Once wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but this typo showed up about six times in one chapter, which is something an editor really should have caught. Some of the chapter titles are written with numbers rather than words (Chapter 18 instead of Eighteen) which is again something an editor should have caught. I also noticed that the “About the Author” section is identical to the one on the back cover of the first book. This wouldn’t be an issue normally except for the fact that it kept the line about this being her first book. Again, they aren’t huge issues but they are definitely jarring.

While I have definitely read worse, Dark Legacy certainly isn’t on my top ten list or even my “so bad its good” list. Between the awkward and dull prose, cliche plot, and general habit of telling instead of showing, I’m not feeling compelled in the least to pick up the next installment in the series.

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Disconnected

There are times when I feel very disconnected from my religious communities: from the Pagan community (if it can even be called that) and certainly from the Heathen community. I’ve always been the sort of person to go off and do my own thing, but eventually, I’ve discovered, I’ll want to connect with other people and talk about religion, and I’ll do that and for a time I’ll be content with that.

But then, inevitably, I’ll start feeling like I don’t belong in some spaces. I don’t feel comfortable in heavily Wiccanate Pagan spaces because I don’t identify with that tradition, I don’t feel comfortable in Heathen spaces because so much of what I do doesn’t look like what they do, even though we honor the same deities, and I don’t feel comfortable in devotional polytheist spaces because I feel like that term has been co-opted by the sort of folks who really don’t give a shit about people but who simultaneously complain when people don’t give them the time of day, and as someone who honours “people” deities, I like to think they’d like me to give a shit about people.

In any case, what this means is that I pretty much go back to doing my own thing.

I think what needs to happen is that I need to recognize that I do my own thing, and that is okay, and that engaging with other people doesn’t mean I have to have beliefs that match up with theirs. It sounds like such a simple thing to do, and yet, in my experience, it doesn’t often go that way.

Review: The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales

You’ll recall from my review of The School for Good and Evil that I am a fairy tale enthusiast, so when I heard that Penguin was publishing stories from a collection compiled by Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth–lost until very recently–which would mark the first time these tales were available in English, I knew I needed to add it to my collection.

In the 1850s, Schonwerth travelled all over northern Bavaria recording fairy tales, many of these tales were told to him by labourers, women and weavers, people who expressed disbelief that a learned man like Schonwerth would be interested in their stories. This book includes over seventy of the stories that he collected. The stories in this book are divided into several categories: Tales of Magic and Romance, Enchanted Animals, Otherworldly Creatures, Legends, Tall Tales and Anecdotes, and Tales About Nature. Most of the stories are only a couple pages long.

Some of the stories in this collection will be familiar to many readers, and include variations of tales like “Cinderella”, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, “The Devil’s Three Gold Hairs”, “The Clever Tailor”, and “Our Lady’s Child”. In fact, it would be interesting to compare these stories side by side with a book of fairy tales by the Grimms.  Some stories have recognizable mythological motifs, such as the princess turned dragon who is burned three times in order to transform her back into a human, a woman who trades sex with a dwarf for a necklace (their names indicate that they are thin disguises for Odin and Frigga or Freyja), to golden apples and friendly ice giants. I was pleasantly surprised to find a variant of a Finnish story where a boy makes a bargain with the devil that whoever loses their temper first will obtain enough skin off the loser’s back to make a pair of boots, only in this story, a priest is the villain and the prize is gold. There were also plenty of stories I’d never heard of before, such as one where a mother rescues her children from mermaids with the help of a magic belt and necklace.

Many readers will be happy to hear that unlike their more famous counterparts, these stories haven’t been subject to censoring. Some of the protagonists are far from heroic (including one who is a serial killer) and some of the stories end on depressing notes or wouldn’t be out of place as a modern horror movie. Although the tales are more violent than sexual (a woman moons one of the protagonists in one of the stories), the stories don’t sugarcoat the violence and at least one story is a darkly comedic yarn involving a corpse stuffed in a trunk, and while encounters with wood sprites are usually benign, there are at least seven stories in this collection featuring evil mermaids, Bavarian storytellers have something against mermaids, apparently. Some stories feature unlikely allies: beetles, weasels, and even the devil himself help out protagonists who are down on their luck.

The stories also address class conflicts (those of you who are interested in discussions of class and fairy tales need this collection, because there’s a lot of it) and do some interesting things with gender. Heroes are just as likely to faint when frightened as heroines, heroines rescue their lovers or family members, and in “The Scorned Princess” a hero gets his happy ending by burning down the titular princess’ city (killing her and the entire court in the process) and reigns as king over the country.

Some of my favourite stories in this collection include “The Figs” which contains elements of a tale I loved as a child called “The White Snake” and also involves the hero making friends with Death and the devil, “The Enchanted Quill” where the heroine obtains a magic quill from an enchanted crow, “The Scorned Princess”, “The Belt and the Necklace” where a woman rescues her children from mermaids, “Tricking the Witch” where a princess defeats a witch by cutting her way out of her stomach, and “The Ice Giants” where the titular ice giants end up marrying mortal women and having ice giant children.

The only negative thing that I have to say about this book is that some of the stories might be a little confusing for some readers. Sometimes plot elements are introduced seemingly at random, and some things just aren’t explained even by fairy tale logic, which is frequently bizarre but makes sense if you can accept that talking animals and magical fruit exists. The translator also chose to insert some modern phrases into the text which, while they aren’t especially jarring, might look odd to people who are used to translations with flowery language.  However, if you are at all interested in fairy tales, or particularly if you’re interested in Bavarian folk and fairy tales, you need this book in your life, trust me on this. This review can’t do these wonderful stories justice. Do yourself a favour and pick this one up, it’s a rare glimpse into a world of enchantment that hasn’t been butchered into an attempt to make it “child-friendly”.