Back to fantasy land.
It’s kind of an odd thing, maybe, since I enjoy a good adventure including mythical monsters and swordfights and demigods and magic, but there’s never been much fantasy on my bookshelves: The Lord of the Rings has been there since around 1976; so is The Sword of Shannara (but none of its sequels, of which I read only one); and Dragons of Autumn Twilight; and The Princess Bride. Once up on a time, you would have found the Dungeons & Dragons choose-your-own-adventuresque Pillars of Pentegarn and Mountain of Mirrors there, too. The only newer entrants in the genre are the seven Harry Potter books.
I think, though, the last fantasy I read was in January 2008 – the fourth book in Lian Hearn’s Otori saga, Harsh Cry of the Heron.
They don’t look like the kind of books I’d have stumbled onto – when I was reading Stepsister, my wife’s first chuckling reaction was “What’s up with the girls’ book?” and I can’t blame her, really, given that the cover image really doesn’t look like anything she’s seen me read before:
Now, when I started reading this, it was in large part because a) Jim was just a really nice guy when Kelsey & I met him at Penguicon, and b) I wanted to check the book’s suitability for my daughter. What happened, of course, was that I totally got sucked into the story, digging Hines’ weaving of the dark side of fairy tales into new takes on old favorites Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
While there are rescue quest at the heart of both Scheme and Madness, I thought the unfolding of the princesses’ back stories and their evolving relationships was as engaging as the main storyline in the first book.
That said, I enjoyed the sequel even more, I think, precisely because the primary tale – a meaty mix of love, powerlust, magic, warring kingdoms, and some land-and-sea battle action – really carries the day here. Not that the heroines don’t grow significantly along the way, but we get to see them much more as they are in the story’s present, if that makes sense, as opposed to hearing the tales that shaped their lives.
I also found the sequel easier to read because I already knew the characters, and as the story gained steam, I wasn’t losing track of which princess was which. (This was a problem for me toward the end of the first book, because when the action was really cranking up, I had to constantly slow myself down and make sure I understood which Hines’ character equated to which “real” fairy-tale character – which matters because of those interlocking backstories – what with three princesses and assorted stepsisters and mothers all kicking ass all over the place.) In Madness, Talia, Danielle and Snow all hold their own places from the start.
I’m glad to have crossed paths with Mr. Hines this year, and to have gotten back into the fantasy realm through his stories, and I’m looking forward to the sequels, and to sharing the series with Kelsey.
(On a semi-related note, his “20 Neil Gaiman Facts” – the literary equivalent of those Chuck Norris hyperbole lists – is one of the funnier blog bits I’ve read in a long time, and when it comes out on a T-shirt – yes, Neil’s given permission! – I’m all over it.)