This Week, I Read… (2020 #2)

5 - Golden Fool.jpg

#5 – Golden Fool, by Robin Hobb

  • Read: 1/9/20 – 1/13/20
  • Mount TBR: 5/150
  • Around the Year in 52 Books: A book that you are prompted to read because of something you read in 2019
  • Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge: A book with “gold,” “silver,” or “bronze” in the title
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

How can a book where so little major happens in the plot be so good?

Things do happen. The betrothal and alliance with the Outislanders nearly falls through and is salvaged only by a challenge issued for a grand quest–which, even though that was basically the midpoint of this novel, was clearly not happening until the third book. Dutiful gets his Skill coterie, albeit an unusual one and in an unusual way. The first major overtures towards peace with Witted folk are pursued, as well as the introduction of Bingtown/Rain Wild folk to the arena of Six Duchies politics, bringing characters from the previous trilogy into Fitz’s story line.

Things do happen. But even viewing all this as setup for the culmination in book three of however many plots we’re juggling at this point, this book is still so much more.

Every assumption I could make as a reader, in keeping with Fitz’s assumptions about his own life, was challenged somehow in this book. Buckkeep is not what he remembered and he cannot seem to find his place in it, and when he tries to fall back on old relationships and old ways, he finds them absent or altered. What begins as a sad but inevitable decline of Chade as a mentor becomes his renewed magical vigor and previously-unknown ambition. The Queen proves herself to be as cunning a political manipulator as anyone else, even out-thinking Chade at one point. Hap, the good country boy, falls into bad romantic company and pays for it, even as Dutiful, who seemed like he would be a difficult boy to trust and to teach, turns out to live up to his name. Fitz loses the safe harbor he had in Jinna because, in the end, she can’t accept him for who he is, even though she seemed far more likely to than Starling, who truly does know him better and wishes him well, even if she is otherwise blatantly self-absorbed.

And most heart-rendingly of all, Fitz breaks his relationship with the Fool almost beyond the point of repair, because in the mother of all irony, between the two of them Fitz is the one who cannot fully accept what the Fool is, and all that encompasses, and stubbornly wants to put him back in the box that he can understand.

[So I wasn’t wrong in my last review that the Fool has romantic feelings for Fitz. This is not necessarily the way I would want to see my foresight justified, though. Fitz’s disgust at the thought of a homosexual relationship is off-putting to me by modern standards, and even though this book is from the early 2000’s, there were other high fantasy writers at the time who challenged patriarchal and homophobic attitudes in their world-building, while Hobb has created the Six Duchies to be as “traditional” as any medieval-informed, male-dominated society. Which is disappointing. But if I had been following the series from its start, if I had read this back in 2003 when it was published and when I still identified as straight, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at any of this. It was just the way things were, to most people I knew. It’s more of a shock to me that until the story needed Lord Golden to be a dissolute pervert as a plot point, the attitudes of their society about non-straight relationships simply didn’t matter, as those relationships didn’t seem to exist. So then when a hint of one appeared, it was reviled. At the same time, the Fool is also clearly an exploration, to what degree I do not yet know, of a genderfluid character. While Fitz has always known him as male, Amber was clearly female in presentation and lifestyle, and it’s not at all clear at this point what he “really is.” Which is to say, both, or neither. I’m sure we’ll get more on this later.]

6 - Next Year in Havana.jpg

#6 – Next Year in Havana, by Chanel Cleeton

  • Read: 1/13/20 – 1/14/20
  • Mount TBR: 6/150
  • Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge: A book with a pink cover
  • The Reading Frenzy: Read a book with a cover featuring a skyline
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ page 98. I could have stopped as early as 10%, back around page 36, but so many people have said so many good things about this book that I was hoping it just had a rough beginning.

It did not get better.

The prose is overwritten and poorly edited. If I quoted specific examples we’d be here all day, so instead I’ll sum up the problems: overuse of ten-dollar vocabulary words, overuse of adjectives, repetition of many words or phrases too close together or simply too many times overall (“my gaze,” “the wind/breeze blowing through my/his hair”,) chaining descriptive clauses to the ends of sentences that don’t actually describe the subject of the sentence, comma splices everywhere, and a few choice sentences that simply didn’t make realistic sense if you read the words in the order they’re on the page. I’m not kidding–one of the love interests, at one point, is wearing both his pants and his shirt on his legs, if you don’t transpose a few things in your head when you read his description.

It’s bad. Bad enough that I wanted to quit pretty early on. But the story still sounded interesting, and like I said, I still had hope it would improve.

But both romances are instalove, or damn close to it. I stopped just under a third of the way through the story and Elisa, the heroine of the past, is already throwing the word “love” around in her head after meeting the guy twice and exchanging one letter with him. The modern-day romance is also cheesy as hell in spots–he’s staring up at you in the window while he plays the saxophone? Really? I laughed hard at that, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to.

I could have even forgiven that, to some extent, if the stuff about Cuba’s history, revolution, and the musings on Marisol’s conflict about her Cuban-American identity were good. But here, again, it falls flat. The characters lecture each other on history (or current events, in the past plot line) and I honestly feel like I’d be better off reading nonfiction about it. There is one, just one, moment where I was moved and sympathetic to Marisol’s struggle for identity, but out of nearly a hundred pages, that’s not enough to keep me reading any more.

7 - So I'm a Spider Vol. 1.jpg

#7 – So I’m a Spider, So What? Vol. 1, by Okina Baba and Asahiro Kakashi

  • Read: 1/14/20
  • Mount TBR: 7/150
  • The Reading Frenzy: Read the first unread book you find on the highest shelf of your bookcase
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

It’s cute. In fact, it’s freaking adorable. It doesn’t do anything for the isekai genre that at least a few other properties haven’t done already–even the “I got reincarnated as a very small, basic monster” idea starts off That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. (Which, to be fair, I don’t know if predates this or not, I saw that anime before I read this manga. And it goes in a strange direction quickly–I doubt this little spider is going to end up ruling her own empire.)

But she’s a tiny pink tarantula! Tarantulas are adorable! I want her to survive and succeed and kill the basilisks!

The main reason this manga doesn’t get five stars is that the art was not always the easiest to decipher during major action sequences. More veteran manga readers might disagree with me, but I watch anime far more than I read manga, so I’m not as comfortable with the common conventions of how they depict action.

I’m probably not going to keep reading because manga volumes are hella expensive and this is getting an anime adaptation this year, but if it weren’t, I probably would treat myself to the next volume every so often, because tiny pink tarantula.

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