Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chthon - Piers Anthony [1967]

The Blurb
Aton Five's chance encounter with the hauntingly beautiful minionette named Malice as a boy comes to define the rest of his youth and adult life. The exact circumstances which lead to Aton's imprisonment in Chthon, an inescapable labyrinthine prison, are muzzy, but the reason for the imprisonment is certain: his love for the minionette. What's unclear is why it's an unpardonable crime to love her. In order to find out, Aton devises an escape from Chthon. Among the many problems he faces are the deadly creatures in the tunnels of Chthon, his fellow prisoners, and of course, the small fact that no one actually knows where Chthon is located. But is the terrible truth Aton learns about Malice worth the years of agony she has caused him? I guess you'll only find out if you read the book! (Or cheat and Google the plot...)

The Review
Yes yes, we're once again back in the sixties, but I promise some more recent books are well on their way to being reviewed!
Now, Chthon is told in a non-linear fashion, but do not despair of the fact that we know Aton escapes successfully within the first two chapters! No surprise is ruined here! In fact, Anthony pulls this technique off beautifully, pulling the tension away from "Will he escape?" and instead turning it into, "Is all his effort going to be worth it?", which (in my opinion) works much better with the obsession he has with Malice. Furthermore, Chthon blends elements of scifi and fantasy quite well together. While Aton's journey takes him across the galaxies, since a good half of the book is set in Chthon with man-eating beasts and the rest of the book has him battling waking dreams of the minionette, the "science fiction" definitely takes a back burner to the fantasy elements in this book, so hardcore scifi lovers, be warned! To sweeten the disappointment some might feel however, I will say this: Chthon has zombies.
I repeat, Chthon has zombies. And yes, he actually calls them that. But I digress.
Now I don't mean to sound sexist, but Chthon also definitely illustrates the difference between male and female scifi/fantasy writers when it comes to romantic subplots. Maybe it's because I'm female, but I'm always left a little unsatisfied with romantic subplot development by male authors. Everything always seems a little abrupt, and Chthon is no different, though I'm willing to allow that it may be because Aton is so obsessed with Malice that, naturally, any other romance must seem hurried and unsatisfying at best. Still, the juicy secrets of the minionette were so worth it (to me, as a reader) that any drawbacks of the romantic subplot are not enough to unrecommend this book.
Since Chthon was written in the sixties, it seems to follow the trend of being on the shorter side in comparison to the newer Nebula nominees. (This might be because they hadn't yet placed a lower word count limit for "Best Novel", perhaps?) The pacing is quick enough, so expect things to be happening all the time, especially near the end where Anthony seems to get frighteningly fast with events, so don't space when reading!

The Recommendations
-Phthor: This is the sequel to Chthon and follows Aton's son, also in the tunnels of Chthon.
-The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee: This doesn't have scifi in it at all, but if you enjoyed the gradual progress of unraveling the secrets surrounding the minionette, this has a very similar thing going on in terms of finding out the true identity of the main character. It's also features battling demons, both internal and external.
-If you're into space opera, hard scifi, or fantasy involving magic, this is probably not for you.

Aton Five is sent to an inescapable prison colony for loving the minionette Malice, and stages an impossible escape in order to find out why loving her has doomed him. More fantasy than scifi, though it has elements of both.


Here is the Nebulog's special Thanksgiving review! (If only because the timing happens to coincide.) Happy Turkey Day to all our readers in the US, and to those of our readers who don't celebrate Thanksgiving, Happy Nebulog Update! Also, Daniel, your lead is getting smaller as I update! Muahahahaha. (Now if I can only maintain this updating.....)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Briar Rose - Jane Yolen [1992]

The Blurb
Rebecca and her two older sisters grew up listening to their grandmother Gemma's unique version of Sleeping Beauty, where she was the princess in the castle. That was twenty-odd years ago, and Rebecca's sisters have "stopped believing fairy tales" and moved on and away. When a dying Gemma charges Rebecca with finding her castle, her sisters urge her not to go chasing an old woman's delusions. However, Rebecca has never stopped believing in Sleeping Beauty, and she sets out on a journey that takes her from North America to Poland and from myth to reality to solve the mystery of Gemma's past.

The Review
Briar Rose is part of the "Fairy Tale Series" where noted fantasists rewrite well-known fairy tales with a new twist. In this case, Yolen has written a book that deftly intertwines the story of Briar Rose and the horror of the Holocaust. The reader is treated to Gemma's version of Sleeping Beauty in chunks, with a little more of it revealed every other chapter, thus juxtaposing the reality of Rebecca's search and the fantasy that is Gemma's story. Yolen hints pretty early on that Gemma's version of the story is merely a metaphor for surviving the Holocaust, after which it's no hard task for the reader to fill in what is representing what in the story. This doesn't serve to ruin the book in any way however, in fact, it allows the reader to focus on and appreciate Ms. Yolen's truly lovely writing. Briar Rose does have a drawback, if only because what was happening was sometimes so thrilling that it overtook my caring about the characters at times.

All in all, a very enjoyable read (and quick, too if you're pressed for time), though perhaps a bit more skewed towards female audiences than the other books that have been reviewed on this blog. Yes, there are no less than two romantic subplots running, but don't let that scare you off, boys! (Though I have on good authority that y'all secretly love romantic subplots, too! Whew, that hits my sexist stereotype quota for the week...) But if you need any excuse, let this review be it!

The Recommendations
Other books in the Fairy Tale Series. Or if you're looking for something shorter (you busy busy person you!), Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow edit a series of books filled with short stories that have the same theme. Snow White, Blood Red is the first in that series, but beware it might be out of print! Other books to recommend are other ones by Jane Yolen (who has written other Nebula nominees so you'll be seeing more of her soon!) and, since Briar Rose is technically a Young Adult novel, books by Dianna Wynne Jones would do nicely, especially Howl's Moving Castle or her adult-oriented books, notably Fire and Hemlock.

Do read! Rebecca grew up hearing grandmother Gemma claim she was Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, and when she dies, Rebecca sets out to solve the mystery of her grandmother's unknown past in Poland.

Aha! In an effort to keep up with Daniel's prolific posting, I have posted my own review (soon to be reviewS, with an 's'!!) I will not be outdone!  I will, by sheer coincidence, be reviewing books that are probably considered to be more "female oriented" in my next couple posts, (though I bet Daniel's feeling he's dodging multiple bullets on that note...) but that's okay because the females (and fantasists) must be represented, too! Though.. unless I'm quite mistaken, I think Daniel's actually more well-read in fantasy than I am.... Sad! =[