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Book Review: ‘River of Stars’ A sweeping saga of a swordsman and a poetess

Friends,

ROSOccasionally, I come across a book review written so well, that it causes a curiosity within me so strong, that I must let my fingers do the “walking” to my favorite website & purchase the novel & read it immediately.(Note that such a review need not be favorable to be well-written per se, although this one is.) Author, editor & book reviewer for the Seattle Times Nisi Shawl has written such a review and I wanted to share it with you all. I have shared here, on my website & throughout social media my thoughts on the importance of book reviews, so I’m always excited to share great ones, as I look for new books to spend my hard-earned money on & read.

This book’s plot is fascinating to me because I love the overall fantasy genre but get tired of the same old archetypes. I’m always looking for books to read, that don’t have elves, a dark lord, a farm boy who doesn’t realize he’s “the one” or talking non-human characters, so I am so looking forward to this. The review is of Guy Gavriel Kay’s RIVER OF STARSGuy Gavriel Kay is a Canadian author of fantasy fiction. Many of his novels are set in fictional realms that resemble real places during real historical periods. Kay has written over 10 novels and numerous shorter works. His works have been translated into 22 languages, and have sold over two million copies. Nisi Shawl has been reviewing fiction for the Seattle Times for nearly 12 years & I thoroughly enjoy her erudite analysis of the works of so many authors. Here is the review:

Why would a white man want to write an epic fantasy based on Chinese history? Why would he do so twice?

In the case of award-winning Toronto author Guy Gavriel Kay, the answer could be, “Because he can.” “River of Stars,” (Roc, 576 pp., $26.95), the follow-up to Kay’s acclaimed “Under Heaven,” takes place in Kitai, a land closely modeled on China. Set during a period mirroring the centuries-long Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE, as “Under Heaven” mirrored the Tang Dynasty of 618-907 CE), “River of Stars” tells the intertwining stories of a swordsman and a poetess. Not the most iconoclastic pairing for this milieu, but Ren Daiyan and Lin Shan are fully realized characters rather than the shadows those labels suggest.

Beginning with Ren’s sudden understanding that the bandits he confronts as a boy may hold the key to his future — that he needs to live in their midst rather than fight against them — the novel takes several surprising turns. Yet though the plot is blessedly unpredictable, its hero is no inscrutable warrior type: Ren is motivated by understandable emotions born of a culture well described. Brilliant, stubborn, loyal, daring, he does what he must. But his tasks are often determined by chance and other elements beyond his control, elements he as a character and we as readers recognize only in hindsight.

Lin Shan is a woman brought up by her idealistic father to break the far-too-­restrictive mold defining her sex. Through his characters’ unobtrusive reflections, Kay carefully differentiates the ways changing eras affect the roles of upper-class women. Whether she and her father travel to take part in a far city’s celebrated peony festival or to visit a country gentleman, the mores of the Song Dynasty dictate that Lin must stay in their destination’s women’s quarters; she must dress so as not to incite lust, must remain virgin till her wedding night and so on. Her literacy, while not forbidden, is viewed as eccentric.

To continue reading this review, please click HERE.

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Book Reviews, Fictional Writing

 

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J.K. Rowling Enters Adult Fiction: The “Type-Casting” Has Begun

J.K. Rowling Enters Adult Fiction: The “Type-Casting” Has Begun

It’s no secret to those who know me that I am not a huge fan of the Harry Potter novels. I have all of them except the last two on my shelf but couldn’t/didn’t read past Book II. Since so many hailed the novels as children’s books that adults can enjoy too, I decided to give them a read years ago,because I love the fantasy genre so much. Then later after the first couple of movies I decided to watch the first, I fell asleep. That was the end of my effort to try and like Harry Potter. Needless to say, if the novels encourage reading in children, that alone is reason enough to throw some admiration JK Rowling’s way. So yesterday, JK Rowling enters the adult fiction genre with her latest book, The Casual Vacancy. I am going to read it so I can write a review and since I was never a fan of the Harry Potter books, I might actually like this one, we’ll see. After reading all of the “professional critics” reviews I must agree with a person who criticized the critics in the comments section of a blog saying:

“These reviewers have just made themselves look stupid. I imagine a 10-year-old HP fan would would have a similar reaction. “Where is Harry? What about Dumbledore?” They are professional critics who should be reviewing the book for what it is, not what it isn’t.”
Some of the reviews include:
“And forget trying to find a ­character resembling Harry or Hermione.” —Henry Sutton, the Mirror

“It’s that the characters in The Casual Vacancy feel so much less fully imagined than the ones in the Harry Potter epic.” —Michiko Kakutani, the New YorkTimes
 
“Harry Potter fans may long for a few more unicorns, though.” —David Sexton, the Evening Standard
I may not have liked the Harry Potter books that I read (or movies I attempted to watch) but at least I have the sense enough to start reading it knowing full well that it’s not a children’s book & that it is in no any way related to Harry Potter. Surely, the famed, erudite book critics of the New York TimesLA Times or  New York Daily News received the memo that The Casual Vacancy  was not Harry Potter Book VIII, right? What were these reviewers thinking?  Many of the reviews are simply unfair. This book has to be read with a fresh set of unbiased, non- Harry Potter spectacles and evaluated on it’s own merits. If the writing is dull or characters under or over developed fine but references to the Harry Potter world are ludicrous. I can completely understand those who simply don’t like this book, for reasons unrelated to the Harry Potter series, but when I see reviews replete with statements about hogwarts, magic & wizards it’s more than disappointing from a professional reviewer. You just can’t compare The Casual Vacancy to Harry Potter because there is no comparison. Last I checked…that’s called comparing apples & oranges. Now obviously, this is not the case for every review, but many of them have this bias. I’m going to read this new adult novel from J.K. Rowling, but you better believe, that if I don’t like it, it will be simply because it’s not a good book, not because a lingering  nostalgia & appetite left over from Harry Potter needs to be fed. Ijs…
 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Fictional Writing, In The News, Pop Culture

 

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