Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Epic Reading List Mark Two Updated: Tortall and Other Lands

Reading List Mark Two Updated: 6/21

1. Mockingjay -Suzanne Collins

2. First Test -Tamora Pierce
3. Darkness Falls -Cate Tiernan
4. Page -Tamora Pierce

5. Where Things Come Back -John Corey Whaley
6. Squire -Tamora Pierce
7. Beautiful Darkness -Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
8. Lady Knight -Tamora Pierce
9. Cinder -Marissa Meyer
10. Trickster's Choice -Tamora Pierce
11. The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight - Jennifer E. Smith
12. Trickster's Queen -Tamora Pierce
13. Halfway to the Grave -Jeanine Frost
14. Tortall and Other Lands -Tamora Pierce
15. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer -Michelle Hodkin

I always have a really hard time getting into anthologies. I'm not sure what it is. It might be that feeling that always leaves me wanting more of the story, further world building and development. That's probably it because it's the same reason I'm not good at writing short stories. I like words too much.

This seemed like a pretty much insurmountable obstacle considering what I always want from Tamora Pierce is more length. However, in Tortall and Other Lands I was pleasantly surprised. I have started this book before but, admittedly, to my great shame, I hadn't finished it. It's not the book's fault, this happens to me frequently with anthologies. It usually takes me a couple of tries. I've actually discovered I do better if I read them out of order (actually I used to take tests in school the same way, by jumping around). Anyway, I digress, I was pleased to note that most of the stories had very natural endings to me. They worked really well.

Not only was I surprised by how well the endings worked in stories so short, I was surprised by which stories I liked the most. I'm not going to do a ranked list because there were twelve stories and I read them a little more spaced out than I did A Flight of Angels. Plus, there were things I liked about different ones. I'll try to mention each one.

The anthology starts with Student of Ostriches. I'd read this one previously in Young Warriors, an anthology she edited. I always liked this one because it was a semi-typical Tamora Pierce story. I'm not awed by the story but I loved to see a little bit of the Shangs in there. They always interested me but we never got too much about them. In this one the protagonist learns to fight by watching animals. It's cool to see how the different fighting techniques are applied and I loved how it's used to defend the honor of her sister. Kylaia is a very Pierce heroine, escaping her life to do what she wants.

Next is Elder Brother. This one I'd read before in Half Human. I'd always been curious about the tree that was turned man by Numair in exchange for Tristan in Wolf Speaker. However that is also my least favorite of her books so, while I was interested, I wasn't spending too much time on thinking about it. Pierce shows off how awesome she is at writing about characters who don't understand a society's customs. Qiom doesn't understand humanity and while Numair tries to show up and teach him he is very typical, scatter brained, busy Numair and sort of botches it. Qiom may be a different type of hero, his companion, a female dressed as male, is very Tamora Pierce. Fadal teaches him about people. It's a sweet story but comes off perhaps too typical and predictable.

The Hidden Girl was a new story to me. I don't think I've read it before now though it was published in 2006. I wasn't super fond of Elder Brother but I do really like how The Hidden Girl and Elder Brother tied together. The village where Fadal is discovered for a girl and beaten is the village where The Hidden Girl is set. This one uses the typical girl in disguise device in the end but in a different way. She disguises herself to be older than she is so people will respect her religious teachings. I like that this story has a distinctly Middle East sort of feel. I loved reading about their religion. It gave me just enough to be curious about the religion without carrying the story on too far. The main character works as an excellent foil for Fadal, showing the opposite view and how the veils can be a power instead of a shackle.

Nawat came next. I was pretty excited for this one. It's about Aly and Nawat having children and the struggle between being crows and humans. It's an interesting story, one that I think I might have enjoyed more if I had any interest in motherhood. Pregnancy seemed to have robbed Aly of her spark. It may be realistic but her light hearted snark is what I liked about her and it was almost completely absent. The message of unconditional love came off a little heavy handed. We knew through the entire story something was going to be wrong with one of the children. So, when it happened I wasn't surprised, nor was I surprised when Nawat couldn't "cull" Ochobai to stay a "true crow." I found myself more frustrated with Nawat than sympathetic The story carried on too long. The side plot with the dignitary was unnecessary and made the story bulky and cumbersome. I actually put the book down for two days in the middle of this one. It was a 70 page story that didn't need to be.

The Dragon's Tale
came next. It was an okay story and one I hadn't read before despite it also being published earlier (2009). I liked seeing Daine and Numair again and how Kitten sees them. Daine hasn't lost her stern justice or Numair his scattered, politeness after two children. Seeing everything through Kitten was interesting and I enjoyed her relationship with Spots. But aside from the Daine and Numair parts it was easy enough for my to forget that the narrator was Kitten. The story itself didn't make too much of an impact on me aside from wanting to see Daine and Numair travel with a full sized dragon (how could that not be entertaining?). There was more motherhood story in here with Afra and the baby and the dragon offering protection to mothers. Again, the story lost me there. And, of course, this story was another long one.

After that came Lost. I enjoyed Lost. I loved seeing the darkings in other places. Reading about them in Pierce's other books it was hard not to wonder what happened to them all. Lost is one of the, well, lost ones. I have no interest in math but I love that our main character, Adria, does. I love how lost (no pun intended) she gets in. I also really like how Pierce manages to make this part school drama, part family abuse story, and part fantasy. It didn't come off heavy handed to me. It worked and all the while we got to be charmed by a darking. This one is set in Tusaine, near Tortall. This is another story that makes Tortall seem like a haven. Adria escapes there at the end to study mathematics in Corus. This story does a contain a strong female, working in a mostly male field but she's not in it very much and she manages to not over shadow Adria.

Time of Proving
is very much unlike any of the others. The creatures in it are different and the world strikes me as totally different. I'm not entirely sure how human The Wind People are and we aren't really told. Arimu seems pretty human but I don't know for certain. I did the like relationship Arimu developes with Sunflower. It reminds me a little of Kel and Neal with the warrior and the scholar. Aside from that the story was almost forgettable among the others.

Plain Magic made me happy, partly because the thread magic reminds me a little of the Circle books (which I haven't gotten to here yet.) This is yet another story with a dragon. It is also another story in which out main character escapes her small town life to study the magic that she needs to. I love how Pierce crafts the magic in her world. It's always to normal feeling even while something extraordinary is happening. I always believe it somehow. And Plain Magic works with that. Lindri is a strong female character and her working with thread doesn't diminish her strength, as some people might thick it being too feminine. I think it allows for her to be underestimated and makes moments like the one where the lace expands more dynamic.

Next came Mimic. I think this one is my favorite. It was also the last I read. I liked this one. The main character, Ri, is a less spunky version of Daine but her determination is wonderful. It gives us an awesome insight into a different version of dragons. It's never really clear if this is set in the world of Tortall but given the dragon growth differences it doesn't seem like it. This story reminds me a little of Daine learning to talk to the animals. I loved the changes in Mimic (the creature). I even got a little itty bit teary eyed when he left. I loved how the birds and Mimic tear the tornado apart and I think it's great that Pierce doesn't shy away from talking about the casualties. At first I thought the messed up bird Ri saved was going to be Numair from the beginning of Wild Magic, I'm not sure why since it's obviously Daine who nurses him back to health, but I liked that it wasn't. I understood that she was hearing animal voices but I didn't figure out how before they told me. This was just such a fun story to read.

Huntress I have also read previously in Firebirds Rising. It's the first time I've read anything Urban Fantasy by Tamora Pierce. It's a kind of cool story only becoming really supernatural in the end. It was a tad predictable but way the camaraderie flips to ruthlessness is wonderful. The Pride are just so vicious and cocky that it was hard to regret knowing they were ripped apart, even while being a little horrified that they were so. This whole story has a definite unforgiving quality. The Pride was acting as vigilantes, which are often seen as heroes in literature, but they take it too far and are punished by an equally as unforgiving goddess. The religion is pounded in a little early, making us sure it will come back later, and it does but I didn't enjoy the story any less.

Testing was the last story and another I've read. It is completely contemporary and a story that definitely left me wanting more. I really liked knowing how intertwined it is Pierce's real life. The main character reminds me a little of a character from a Holly Black faerie novel. She's tough and misguided but has a soft spot. It's the sort of story that has a lot of heart.

Overall, I enjoyed Tortall and Other Lands but I was surprised by which stories I liked. For the most part the familiar character stories didn't impress me as much and I always love the older characters. There were a few themes through out, leaving home, family. The leaving home ones struck me a lot (mostly because I'm working on that very thing myself). But the family and parenthood ones totally lost me. I have no issues with parents, I've got a pretty awesome set myself and tend to write characters with parental problems but the idea of the problems faced when raising kids just hasn't appealed to me too much. Perhaps later in life.

So, I give Tortall and Other Lands a rating of: Epic.

Next I'm running with the last book on my list The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. I've heard a lot about it and I'm pretty excited to dive in. Until later.


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