Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Books that I read in February

5. Rosenberg, Joel, The Sleeping Dragon (253 p.)

6. Selznick, Brian O., The Invention of Hugo Cabret (533 p.)

7. Rosenberg, Joel, The Silver Crown (302 p.)

February total: 988 pages
YTD total: 3649 pages

The two Rosenberg books are books 1 and 3 of his Guardians of the flame series, about a group of early-1980s roleplayers who are, against their will, magically transported into the world of the game as their characters. (As I recall, the author used a roleplaying game loosely similar to Dungeons & Dragons that he and his friends played.) This series is one of the earlier entries in the "fantasy roleplayers find themselves transported into the game" subcategories of fantasy fiction, which I think reached the height of its popularity with the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon a few years later. (Which is, of course, a subset of "modern person is magically transported back in time or into a fictional world", which has been a staple fantasy subgenre for about as long as fantasy has been a distinct genre.)

I first read the series in the late 1980s, just as the later books were coming out; I recently picked up books 1, 3, 4, and 5 at a used books store and decided to re-read them. (Books 1-4 form a single storyline with book 5 as an epilogue of sorts that ended up leading into a few additional books. Since I've read the series before, I didn't have a problem skipping book 2 and picking up what was going on in book 3.)

Even taking the Rule of Twelve into effect, they've held up reasonably well, though the gaming scenes feel horribly dated compared to modern roleplaying games. The writing of the first book starts off rough (especially the initial character introductions, which repeatedly hit the reader over the head with the character's stereotypes), but gets better as the main plot starts to take shape; I think book two is where Rosenberg started to hit his stride. I was also surprised at how violent the first book was beyond the standard for fantasy fiction, particularly in the inclusion of a gang rape--up until that point, I'd've recommended the series for any reader down to junior high school.

Along those lines, one interesting thing that sets this series apart from many other fantasy series is that main characters can and do die throughout the series, so with every combat, there's more than the usual suspense over whether your favorite character will make it. Another is that gunpowder and other feats of modern engineering work in the fantasy world but hadn't been discovered yet; one of the characters was an engineering student in our world, and his knowledge eventually helps the protagonists set themselves up as a power to be reckoned with in their struggle to rid the world of slavery. (In book 3, the slavers discover a way to use magic to create powder for flintlock-like guns, and the arms race is on.)

In general, I'd recommend the series, especially to voracious fantasy readers and fans of the modern-people-in-a-fantasy-setting subgenre. For everyone else, there are better fantasy series out there to read first--but as brain candy goes, these are above average reads.

Hugo Cabret is the winner of this year's Caldecott Award for best children's picture book, and is a significant exception to the stereotypical award winner in that it's a picture book for older children--say, grades four and up. (And as such, was one of a few books that theoretically could have won both the Caldecott and the Newbery Awards, though as it turned out, it was not even a runner-up for the latter.) So much of the story is told through consecutive full-page illustrations that one could argue that it is a prose novel/graphic novel hybrid, though after reading it, I think it is better left categorized as a picture book or in the grey area between picture books and graphic novels. (Scott McCloud would probably consider it to technically be sequential art, though.)

Given the format and how often I'd heard about what a good book this is, I was prepared to dislike it, but I was pleasantly surprised. I don't know that I'd consider it of award-winning quality (I've disagreed with the Caldecott committee about the award-worthiness of the last couple years' winners), but it is a good book, and I'd definitely recommend reading it. The page count is misleading; it may have 533 pages, but around 250 of them are full-page illustrations, so it is a very fast read compared to other 500+ page books. (I read most of it during commercial breaks during the Oscars.)

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that it's historical fiction, set in France between World War I and II. I guessed the big revelation after the first clue (as I'd learned about it in high school), but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book at all, and I think anyone not as familiar as I am with the subject matter might enjoy the book even more as a result.

In short, while I think there were other books published last year that were more deserving of the Caldecott award, you should still definitely try to read this book.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: books

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