Book Review: Tehanu

I’ve hated the entirety of this series so far, but apparently I’m a glutton for punishment (or am stuck due to a sunk cost fallacy).

The Book

Tehanu read 2021

Tehanu
Author: Ursula LeGuin
1990
Amazon Link

Whatever, if you want to see me whine about the earlier books in the series, you can see A Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore here if you want. But you shouldn’t, because literally no one agrees with me that these books aren’t good.

Non-Spoiler Review

Short version: I hated it.

Long version: This book did have the advantage over the others that it wasn’t so plot-ambitious that it glanced over too much information. Zooming in on Goha/Tenar/Arha’s (yes, the one from Tombs of Atuan) feelings was a good way to go. This book didn’t feel as nonsense-mythological or like a story out of the Bible. The narrator focus was also the main character, a change from earlier.

But, like in Tombs of Atuan, nothing that main character did really mattered. The entire book is about how Goha keeps running around trying to not get raped or beaten, trying to keep this 6-year-old child from being raped, beaten, and burned AGAIN, how all of the female characters are raped and beaten for being female, and how male characters like King Arren and Ged/Sparrowhawk are the only ones who effect change.

I was so enraged by the repeated rape threats and constant fear that these characters experienced that I made the mistake of reading the afterword. This thing was considered feminist – how? It’s about ladies being useless and getting raped. There isn’t hope, not really, not when all the problems are solved either by men or non-human women who can turn into dragons. Women who are given the opportunity for different (a.k.a. male) power always turn it down. The characters ask themselves, pretty directly, what women’s power is: the answer is basically “We don’t know, but we assume it’s something.” There’s nothing shown, nothing had, nothing proven that women have other than suffering and death. The only reason I’d call this feminist is it mentions menstruation, which I usually only see in feminist literature.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Like I said above, the main character never really does anything, but things are done to her. In the very beginning, the wizard Ogion dies, and she’s able to stay in his house because people haven’t quite decided who’s going to inherit it (though Ged is supposedly that person). Goha is considered a good placeholder, even when she takes in a 6 year old that has been beaten, raped, and thrown in a fire. Everyone thinks the child is a monster, and three people (the relatives who originally raped the little girl) constantly chase Goha and want to kill and rape the two to death as punishment. Goha never saves herself, just runs around while men like King Arren save her.

Even Ged, whose magical powers had been taken in The Farthest Shore, was able to fight off the rapists when Goha just locked herself in a closet. Goha did think about how vulnerable Therru was after locking herself in the closet, but luckily Ged was around to stab them with a pitchfork. Justice was only sought because Ged made it happen, because male constructs got things accomplished.

Worst of all: a mage in Re Albi’s castle put Goha under a mind control spell. She ran from Re Albi while the spell was weak, since rapists were coming after her and Therru, but she was lured back. Upon coming back, she became senseless and unable to understand language while the mage tied her up like a dog and kicked her “in the breasts.” It was nonsense suffering.

One could argue that Goha did have an effect by keeping care of Therru. This made Therru like her, or perhaps Goha helped the burned child live long enough to show that she was really a dragon. It was completely, 100% bullshit. I saw it coming from a million miles away, and despite being a dragon, Therru was still mostly helpless throughout the book because she is female.

In the end, Ged is all that really matters as he moves into Ogion’s house.

Next week:

I’m starting a new set of books. You can read my reviews of Tales of Earthsea and The Other Wind on Goodreads, because apparently I can’t put things down once I start them.

Book Review: The Farthest Shore

I should have given up after book two, The Tombs of Atuan, but I must be some sort of masochist to believe in the sunk cost fallacy enough to read book three in this series.

The Book

Earthsea The Farthest Shore read 2021

The Farthest Shore
Author: Ursula LeGuin
1972
Amazon Link

Whatever, if you want to see me whine about the earlier books in the series, you can see A Wizard of Earthsea and Tombs of Atuan here if you want. But you shouldn’t, because literally no one agrees with me that these books aren’t good.

Non-Spoiler Review

It might be because I pushed and suffered through the first two books, but I just can’t come up with an excuse for this one.

The narrator, Arren, was never actually the main character. Arren was briefly described as the son of the king, and he was constantly told he was important, but I never figured out why he was important. This book was like reading The Great Gatsby in terms of how the narrator differs from the main character, except it feels like there’s no reason to do so. Arren wasn’t built up hardly at all, and Ged had not changed from the end of A Wizard of Earthsea. You didn’t watch a fall or even a massive character change in either of these people. It wasn’t a good Bildungsroman, nor was it a good epic destiny story. There was allegory (not telling about it because spoilers), but even then it fell flat for me.

Like in the two previous books, Ged/Sparrowhawk is so overpowered that I never feared for anything. There was no tension whatsoever for me. I never cared.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The plot was the same useless plot as the first book where they had to travel all over the world to meet some dark force, learn its name, and tell it its name so as to defeat it.

The only real difference between this book and the first one is that there’s a clear Christ-figure allegory in Ged. Like I mentioned above, I do think I figured out the allegory in this story and why LeGuin chose any of the plot elements she does. In The Farthest Shore, Ged pretty much dies, comes back, has Arren pretty much tell about their successes, then flies off on a dragon (symbol of ascension, I’d say). It also makes sense, because in A Wizard, Ged “suffers death” in the form of splitting his soul in two, then in Tombs of Atuan “was buried” because it literally took place in a tomb, then in The Farthest Shore “rose again on the third day in accordance with scripture.” The dragon, as well, was there at something called the making, so I assume this nigh god-like creature may have been a symbol of a flaming chariot or something like that. I also am not convinced this was planned in A Wizard of Earthsea, because that allegorical link feels weak sauce.

Ged’s supposed to be this all-knowing, super-wise wizard brosef, but he feels insufferable to me. I can’t stand his whining about how magic upsets the balance of things, about how wizards should do things by hand anyway, and then endangers children in order to defeat immortal wizards.

I didn’t read the afterword. I’m now of the opinion that authors should never try to explain things, because these afterwords just kind of piss me off.

Next week:

It doesn’t matter anymore. Why am I doing this to myself.

Book Review: Tombs of Atuan

Honestly, I’m not really sure why I can’t let go of the sunk cost of buying these books. I wasn’t a fan of the first entry in the series, and I find it rare that series improve after that. However, I’m hopeful that this one won’t be as mythological in feel and might show more than tell.

The Book

Tombs of Atuan 2021 read

Tombs of Atuan
Author: Ursula LeGuin
1972
Amazon Link

The first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, wasn’t my jam. I don’t know what to say here because I explained it all in the intro.

Non-Spoiler Review

I found this entry to the Earthsea series a lot better than the previous one. Rather than telling a lot of little tales building up to a single, momentous occasion, LeGuin tells a more compelling story about a single person’s experiences. The character of Ahara is much fuller than that of Ged, the dialogue is better, and there’s much more of a developed feel as to how the book works. The beginning of the book was pretty good, building up the Tombs of Atuan and how the evil, Nameless Ones demanded a nameless priestess.

The back end, however?

No. Straight up no.

*Minor spoilers?* When the main character ceases to be the motivating presence behind the plot, and when she becomes pretty much useless, the story fell apart for me. LeGuin spent so much time creating a wonderful story with tension and depth, but then it completely fell apart at about halfway through. The ending for the main character didn’t feel terrible, but it’s neither happy nor is it fulfilling. The deaths that occurred felt useless and bland, especially as they all happened off screen.

Though I liked it better than the first in the series, it was only by the smallest margin.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

2 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I hinted above that the back end was awful, and it was.

Ged, the hero from the first book, showed up about halfway through this book and stole the show.

Not only is he still the overpowered Mary Sue from the last book, he’s supposed to be basically infinitely wise and trustworthy. Ahara learns her name from him, and I found that disgusting – the whole premise was that the Nameless Ones had eaten her name, and by allowing her to have one that Ged just pops up with, her power is stolen. Ever after Ged tells her her name, Tenar, Ahara is pretty much useless. Even when she helps Ged out of the tombs where he is trapped, she cries and becomes a lump except when he tells her what to do. He fends off the gods that Ahara had worshipped and served her whole life.

So they escape, but Ahara is useless because she only knows the tombs. Ged figures out that Ahara has a great treasure sought by the whole world to bring peace, and he pretty much forces her to go to an island and present it to their king.

THEN HE ABANDONS HER even though she begs him to teach her sorcery. What he doesn’t tell her, and what is established in the first book, is that women are worthless so he can’t teach her sorcery. Ged just destroyed what had been a compelling story by coming in and “solving” the problems in the worst possible way.

Also, don’t read LeGuin’s explanations or afterword. Just don’t.

Next week:

I judge The Farthest Shore, or Book 3 of the Earthsea Cycle. Why the heck did I obligate myself for this torture? I pray the next one’s better.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

Years ago, I had some friends who said many of the ideas in Harry Potter could be found in the much older Earthsea Cycle books by Ursula LeGuin. Though I can’t find the purchase I made back then, rest assured that buying all 6 at the time cost something like 1.5x the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea. 

And I never read any of those sequels.

Since I have a hard time not reading things I buy, I decided to re-read A Wizard of Earthsea so I could continue the series without being lost.

The Book

A Wizard of Earthsea, 2021 read

A Wizard of Earthsea
Author: Toni Morrison
1968
Amazon Link

I’ll go ahead and be honest that when I read this book the first time, I wasn’t a fan. Not in the least. There was a reason I didn’t read the other books in the series despite them being short. I’m here now to see if that original feeling holds up.

Non-Spoiler Review

Compared to my first read-through a couple years ago, I’d say this book wasn’t as bad as I’d originally thought it. It’s still filled with telling rather than showing, and I just don’t like LeGuin’s style in this book. It feels like classic YA, something written between a fairy tale and an adult fiction. Because of this “telling” problem, the book contains a lot of completely disconnected explanations of the different islands on Earthsea. It was enough that I have completely forgotten them and would need them re-explained in the next book.

The dialogue was terrible, though I think it achieved its goal of feeling mythical or biblical. However, if I want to read something as boring as The Bible, I’m probably going to want to read The Bible since it is way more impactful on life, culture, politics, and (for me and a group of other people) salvation.

Ultimately, A Wizard of Earthsea is a Bildungsroman about a main character I don’t like. He’s truly a Mary Sue type character, one with powers far beyond those of any other character or creature in the book. (Other clear Mary Sues in a popular book include Paul from Dune, Ender from Ender’s Game, and General Jedao from Machineries of Empire.) I’ve never been a fan of Mary Sue characters, and this part of Wizard kept me from becoming invested.

The other characters were bland, and the female characters so sterotypically vapid that I didn’t even want to think about them.

The only redeeming qualities of this book, in my humble opinion, are the influences on fantasy and YA as arts. I can see its obvious importance in the formation of books like Harry Potter, and I can see how it connects from the seminal Lord of the Rings series (which I also need to re-read).

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

2 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The plot of the book wasn’t terribly focused. The big enemy was a shadow that Ged/Sparrowhawk created in an attempt to summon a spirit from the dead. In order to defeat the spirit, he must find its name.

One of the things I remember from my first read is the name is freaking easy to guess. Since the shadow chases him forever before he turns around to chase it, and because it looks just like him, it should be well-known that the shadow’s name is Ged. The endless traveling around these islands and having conversations with the locals felt so pointless when the end result was obvious.

I don’t really want to read the sequels, but stupid me, I’m going to keep on with it because I spent money, dammit.

Next week:

All right, I’m going to keep on with The Tombs of Atuan. Blegh.

Reading List – August 2021

You know what people mistakenly believe in their heads? The sunk cost fallacy.

And here I am, giving in to it. Once upon a time, way back in 2016, I had some friends suggest A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in Ursula LeGuin’s highly influential YA fantasy series. I saw on Amazon that you could get all six of the Earthsea Cycle books for the price of like 2.5 books or something like that, and I was like, “Well, if my friends suggested it, that probably means they’re worthwhile. I might as well take this deal!”

And so I read A Wizard of Earthsea.

And I hated it.

And I talked to my friends, who said “Oh, yeah, it’s not that we liked it – it was just highly influential, so you should read it to understand the state of fantasy.” And yes, it was influential. And yes, its main character was brown, which was almost unheard of in English literature at that time period.

I died a little, but I put the books away… until now, because I spent money on this! AND I WILL NOT OWN UNREAD BOOKS!

Ursula LeGuin’s The Earthsea Cycle

LeGuin originally wrote A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968. Given the time period, you already know it’s going to be a little screwed up, but I’m pretty good at forgiving people who write within their own historical time frames. I’m also really hoping that I’ll be more interested in them now, and that they’ll not seem so unreadable.

Also, I’m only presenting four of these books – A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu here on the blog. Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind will only be available on my Goodreads page.

See my old reviews here

Book Review: Mockingjay

When I looked over my performance based on the Amazon’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die, I noticed one easy way to knock three titles from the list was to read the Hunger Games series. I think Amazon messed up by making each book a separate entry, but you know, whatever.

The Book

51zkheo7x8lCatching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
2010
Amazon Link

The first book, The Hunger Games, outperformed my expectations. The second book, Catching Fire, was somewhat interesting, but it felt like a repeat of the first book. I’m hoping this addition to the trilogy adds something new, but I don’t see how that’s going to happen and be successful. I don’t think Katniss is good enough at pushing the plot forward for her to be active in the last book.

Non-Spoiler Review

I will give this book one thing: it wasn’t a repeat of the first book. I didn’t like how book 2 was basically the same as book 1, so I’m glad Collins didn’t just have another Hunger Game for Katniss to finish.

That being said, I can’t believe how disappointed I was with this book.

I don’t think a civil war/rebellion was a bad direction to take the plot. The problem I had was that Katniss’s ability to influence events at the same time that she always discovered information after everyone else made this book feel a bit unreal. For example, early in the book she’s asked to be the “Mockingjay,” the symbol of the rebellion. She doesn’t know what to do until Prim (the younger sister) tells her to make demands in return for being the Mockingjay. She didn’t make the decision herself, just like every other event in the book.

I also had major issues with Katniss being ‘the best shot’ as opposed to people who were soldiers for their entire lives. I had issues with Katniss bringing down bombers with a bow and arrow, no matter her skill or specialness of the arrows. I had issues with the supply chain mechanics of District 13’s total war machine, but I understand few people study that kind of war strategy.

Overall, the problem I had with the book was lack of any semblance of believability. I think it almost pulled its rather ambitious premise off and almost seemed hardcore, but then it would defeat itself by doing something far beyond unbelievable.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

2 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Ok, I’m going to talk about the very end here.

First off, I agree that President Coin wasn’t that great a person, and she was somewhat power hungry. Her desire to reinstate the Hunger Games one last time was a bloodthirsty move, but Katnis agreed to it. Then she shot President Coin instead of Snow.

WTF?! That was such a letdown. It seemed to me that she made an incredibly destructive decision, and I can’t bring myself to believe the rebellion was able to hold itself together after coin’s death.

Then there was the epilogue. For three books, Katniss was bound and determined never to have kids in the crappy, post-apocalypse world. In the end, she talked about her PTSD-induced marriage to Peeta (which I didn’t really like, after what happened to Peeta) and her children. It just felt so disjointed, sort of like the Mass Effect Blue Ending.

Also also, I found out that the Capitol was probably supposed to be Salt Lake City, which indicates to me the author intended them to be Mormons. I found that a wee bit religionist (is that a word?).

Next week:

It’s March next week – if you were around for last March, you might be able to guess what those books are going to be about!

Book Review: Catching Fire

When I looked over my performance based on the Amazon’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die, I noticed one easy way to knock three titles from the list was to read the Hunger Games series. I think Amazon messed up by making each book a separate entry, but you know, whatever.

The Book

51tk519fuhlCatching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
2010
Amazon Link

The first book, The Hunger Games, was perfectly ok. It outperformed my expectations, though I found some of the word choices and style a little stifling. What I’m looking forward to with this book is the relationship with Gail and Peeta. I also don’t have any idea what’s going to happen – after the first book, what can the characters do that will be even half as exciting? Now that the games are over, how can Collins come up with something that will even come close to as heart-pounding?  Since the series was so popular, I have to think there’s a surprise waiting for me!

Non-Spoiler Review

We still have too many instances of the words “blood” and “roast,” but stuff like that isn’t enough to keep me from reading. Collins’s style isn’t my favorite, but she does very cleverly get into Katniss’s head and uses her first person narrator well.

However, this book wasn’t nearly as exciting, sensible, or creative as the first one. A lot of time is spent establishing why Katniss is (spoiler for the first book) now considered a rebel for her act of eating the berries at the end of The Hunger Games. I didn’t think her act all that treasonous, and even more so I thought the Capitol’s response to her actions altogether ridiculous. Similar to the first book, as well, Katniss is often the last person to find out about conspiracies and problems at which she is the center, and it just doesn’t feel reasonable. The first book could get the benefit of the doubt because 1) It’s YA, and some melodrama is excusable 2) Katniss was literally ripped from obscurity and put in the spotlight 3) It was pretty exciting. This book didn’t have 2 and 3 going for it, so the entire problem felt out of place to me.

If I ignore the premise’s unlikelihood and the melodrama of it all, I suppose the book was “Ok.” I wouldn’t tell someone they were wrong for enjoying it, and I’d still say continuing the series after book one isn’t a complete waste of your time. Similarly, I’d also assert that you don’t need to continue if you don’t want to.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Too quickly, I found out what happened between Katniss and Gail after the games: a fairly contrived idea of rebellion forces Katniss toward Peeta, and Gail is just ‘far away’ now. It was a disappointingly quick resolution to what I thought was the only exciting thing remaining unfinished from book 1. There was some more development, but it felt forced and Katniss didn’t really have much say in whether she chose Peeta or Gail.

Next… was this plot basically a dumb repeat of the first plot? Katniss and Peeta are thrown into the arena then defy the capitol by defeating their games. It’s kind of nutty, really. The idea that all the victors are thrown back into the arena for the quarter quell was silly in the first place (as was the explanation that it was all a plan to kill Katniss). The idea that so many competitors were in on a plan that Hamich, the coach, failed to tell Katniss about? Ludicrous.

I would say this was a terrible book, but it still had some elements of tension even if they felt really contrived. I don’t have high hopes for Mockingjay, though.

Next week:

I will finish this series next week as I read Mockingjay. Stay tuned to see how it goes!

Book Review: The Hunger Games

When I looked over my performance based on the Amazon’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die, I noticed one easy way to knock three titles from the list was to read the Hunger Games series. I think Amazon messed up by making each book a separate entry, but you know, whatever.

The Book

51fpao2bjxlThe Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
2008
Amazon Link

I have never read this series because I’ve always found the premise of televised child murder to be an unlikely future for pretty much any current society, much less the future of America. I guess other people would disagree with me, but that’s the way my dice rolled.

Even so, it’s critically acclaimed, there are movies (which I haven’t seen), and I suppose it’s relevant to a modern audience. Let’s see what’s inside!

Non-Spoiler Review

I will admit that this was a fun read. I’m not sure I liked the juxtaposition of clearly YA-characters beside brutally murdered 12-year-olds, but I can also see myself finding the book edgy and “real” if I were a teen. So it probably fits a YA audience well, but parents might want to think about letting an advanced 9 year old read it without guidance or discussion.  

Anyway, I thought the pacing was excellent. The chapters left me hanging perfectly such that I wanted to keep going and find out what happened. I thought Katniss’s struggles were compelling, even if naggingly contrived.

I even think the touches of romance were well done. While I will say more in the spoilers, just know for now that I am VERY picky about my romance in books.

Lastly, my beefs with the book. I still think the premise is crazy, but if I could put that behind me, it was worth the time I spent reading. Collins also used a lot of weird word choices repeatedly, like ‘roast,’ and I kept getting drawn out of the immersion because of this. Finally, some of the plot points felt contrived, and the final solution felt too easy.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I’m going to shock some of you: I thought the romance subplot in this book was good.

Honestly, I kind of want to know how things go with Katniss and Gale when she gets back home.  Her experience with Peeta was harrowing, and now they share a bond which can’t be simulated otherwise.  Katniss pretended to love Peeta in order to eke gifts from sponsors and viewers, so the entire nation thinks they’re in love, further complicating matters.  However, Gale has much more history with Katniss, and he’s shown a long-term devotion.  I actually liked this subplot, which is very unusual for me.

Lastly, I’d like to complain about the contrivance concerning the ‘rule change.’  During the middle of the games, the announcer declared 2 people could win the Hunger Games if they were from the same district.  Then, right at the end, when Katniss and Peeta had won, they revoked this rule change.  Katniss and Peeta decided to commit suicide simultaneously.

Honestly, what did the game makers expect?  Force the competitors to work together, then suddenly pull the rug out from under them?  I felt like this change right at the end was such fake BS, invented just so Katniss could ‘insult’ the capitol.

Still, overall, I’d say my complaints are weak sauce.  I definitely intend to finish this series, now.

Next week:

I’m reading the second book in this series, Catching Fire.

Catch It Soon – Fire’s Hope by E. Kathryn

Fire's Hope

About the same time I got serious about blogging, I started beta reading a book for the indomitable E. Kathryn!  After several months of waiting and holding back on y’all, I’m proud to say that her labor of love has borne fruit.  Check out the snazzy cover she made!

The book releases in November, but I’m just so excited to see how this process is coming together.  I’ll be getting a copy myself, and you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be posting a review here on this site!  Stay tuned for that when it gets closer to the release date!

For those who may be interested, E. Kathryn’s The Shadows series is a collection of YA tales starting with the explosive Fire’s Hope.  You’ll love how much care was put into each of the characters, and you’ll leave this book feeling satisfied while still hungry for the next installation!

(Full disclosure: I did beta read this book, and I’m super pumped to see something I helped work on come to full fruition!  Can you trust my review?  DOES IT MATTER?!  Take a look at her blog and twitter feed so you can get on the hype train too!)