Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Books I Chose Not to Finish - Part II

The Dresden Files – Turn Coat

The Dresden Files is my guilty pleasure. We all have one. At least mine isn't Twilight *shudder*.

I really only stopped this one because it was that time. This is the eleventh book in a fourteen book series (planned to have twenty installments in the end!), and reading them all straight through is an impossible feat. At some point, you just get tired of the main character. His trenchcoat. His talking skull buddy. His unending snark. But he isn't even the main reason I like the series.

What makes The Dresden Files so endlessly exciting for me are the creative and dangerous antagonists. Of these, though, not all of them are successful at engendering my interest. The last book had the twin threat of the Faerie Courts and Fallen Angels. Imagine the faeries of A Midsummer Night's Dream... The off-putting splendor of Titania, the creepy mischief of Puck. Imagine the eerie magnificence of Queen Mab from old Arthurian legends. These are old characters that are very interesting that you don't often see in fiction. On top of that, putting them in the same book with the corruptible and manipulative Fallen Angels (titled in series as the Knights of the Blackened Denarius), agents of Satan? You have two antagonist groups that are deeply rooted in our culture and religions; learning about them can make the pages fly.

By contrast, the antagonist of Turn Coat (as I determined by reading the first fourth of the book) is a Native-American shapeshifter monster... thingy. It sounded dangerous, but after reading of two previous antagonists which have a significant mythic background, you can color me disappointed. I'll return to it later, like I always do, but The Dresden Files turns me off when its antagonists either are disappointing (werewolves, shapeshifters) or tired (vampires, undead).


I believe that this book caught me at the wrong time. Around the time I picked up this novel (my first foray into Kurt Vonnegut, who is a world renowned writer), I was in the mood for an epic, long book with a great attention to detail and setting. Basically, while looking for a Tolkien, I ran into a Vonnegut, which is anything but.

The style of the writing in Galapagos is very sporadic, random, and quirky. It isn't bad, by any means, but it struck me at a time where I really wasn't in the mood for it. Vonnegut is humorous, self-deprecating with his writing, and prone to fantastical and amusing tangents. Is it my style of writing? I don't know. But it sure wasn't at the time.

I think it was supposed to be a murder mystery at the heart of it, but I didn't get very far before I had to try something else. Vonnegut's writing style also wasn't very conducive to me understanding what his overall plot or focus with Galapagos was going to be, even 15-20% into the novel, so pardon my lack of detail as to what the novel is about.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

In my efforts to find an 'epic' that would be detailed, lengthy, and rewarding, I browsed the internet languidly for great 'modern' fantasy books. Of them, I found Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell to be the most intriguing. Set in Great Britain during the time of the Napoleonic Wars (around 1803-1815), it tells the story of various characters in their efforts to rediscover magic which once (apparently) used to exist. Thus begins a tour of Britain, the ruminations of a bunch of old codgers who write histories of old magic but don't practice it, and a search for the answer of the question: why don't we have magic anymore? In the process, an eccentric magician is discovered (one Mr. Norrell) who decides that he must prove to people that magic exists. But, given that he has been by himself with his books for far too long and thus doesn't really know how to make this happen, he quite mordantly bumbles about playing pranks on the French for the British Parliament, resurrecting dead wives despite the peculiar consequences, and making poorly thought-out deals with faeries.

Now, see, this sounds quite entertaining, and it really is. The writing style has one helplessly echoing the dry wit and tones of a droll British gentleman without even meaning to. But there's something... missing. The overall plot is too vague, too hard to pin down. And the characters aren't relatable, intended instead to be members of a comedy of errors. Consequently, what you get is a series of humorous moments without anything special to keep you around or tie them all together.

And this brings me to where I am today. I could keep reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but I don't feel like I really want to. Nothing is bringing me back besides the knowledge that I'll likely be amused and temporarily turn my inner voice into an English gentleman. So where to now? I don't know. I just hope that my recent habit of not finishing books will come to an end soon.

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