Archive for the For kids Category

Avengers Arena not worth it after all

Posted in Comics, Superhero, Young adult with tags , on July 5, 2014 by Cara Marie

I didn’t read Avengers Arena when it first came out, because I objected to someone taking characters I love and sticking them in a battle royale-type situation. (Even if I do love Battle Royale the movie.) Then after the series was finished, I’d read enough that was positive about the series (and also really enjoyed the author’s run on Cable and X-Force) that I decided I would give it a go. And it wasn’t as bad or sensationalist as I had feared. But it wasn’t that worthwhile either.

Avengers Arena isn’t the series Hopeless originally pitched – that was a ‘straight teen drama set in a superhero school’. In the afterword to the trades, he says:

‘[The editors] pointed to a couple sentences near the end of the pitched that outlines what would have been our third arc. It was something about our kids competing in a tournament with other Marvel Universe schools that turns into a death match when a super villain takes control. The Triwizard Tournament meets The Hunger Games. Tom and Axel pointed to those two sentences and said, “There’s your story. Just do that.”

I never told this part of the story before, but I hated the idea. Instead of my dream project, they wanted me to do a Battle Royale homage. Were they serious?’

Later, Hopeless says he’s grateful for it. ‘They knew the story we needed to tell, long before I did. I’ll never thank them enough for pointing it out or Bill for talking me into giving it a shot.’

Thing is, I can imagine the concept working as an arc in an existing series – you’ve had time to build up to it, it can bring together themes you’ve been hinting at throughout the whole thing. (You won’t be pissing off the fans of existing characters by starting a new series devoted to those characters being compelled to kill one another!) But as it stands, I think Avengers Arena is a weak story. It’s not thematically coherent the way other teens-forced-to-kill stories are.

The basic idea is, I think, to highlight that adult superheroes are already letting these kids become killers. The closing pages of the comic show a couple of reporters discussing the kidnapping of the teenagers involved (before they or anyone else has let slip what happened in Murder World). One of the reporters says, ‘There’s a lot of blame to pass around here … most of which obviously belongs to whoever did this horrible thing. But from there I think you can head straight over to the adult super heroes. The men and women who trained these kids. Who failed these kids. These heroes of ours …’ – and we see Arcade, the mastermind of the whole thing, clicking ‘upload’ on a video –‘they should be ashamed of themselves.’

But this is not a theme that has been pushed through the series as a whole. It would have worked if this had been the end point of a series about training young superheroes – but that’s not what this is. This is a stand-alone story. Sure, half the kids are from Avengers Academy, and I could understand the arc in that context – but others are from Runaways, or other series that don’t involve kids actually being trained as superheroes. The original characters in the series are a UK superhero school, but this needed to come across of much more of a training facility than it did.

Also, Arcade’s motive for pitting the kids against one another is personal – partly him trying to prove his own worth as a supervillain, and partly just for entertainment. It is not political, the way the Hunger Games are political, or Battle Royale is political.

Arcade says to the participants, ‘Got the idea from a couple of kids’ books I read in the pen.’ Which is to *nudge wink* to the reader, yes, we know this is like The Hunger Games – but later, it comes out that book Arcade mostly has in mind is ‘the one about the kids on the island’, that is, Lord of the Flies.

But Lord of the Flies is about ‘human beings are [mostly] bad or at least morally weak people who form bad societies’, not about ‘bad societies force [mostly] not-bad people to do bad things’. Bringing up Lord of the Flies doesn’t strengthen the themes in Avengers Arena, it only confuses them.

And I think that’s what the issue is with the series as a whole – it is confused, and it tries to make an argument at the last minute that it hasn’t been building towards.

On the other hand, I did enjoy a lot of the characters – mostly the ones I wasn’t familiar with. Cammi I really liked, and would be keen to track down her other stories, and Death Locket and Apex in particular of the original characters. Also Arcade’s contractor, Miss Coriander, who was supremely competent and happy to work for Arcade whilst not buying into any of his bullshit.

I was more disappointed with the role of the characters I knew coming in. There was plenty of Hazmat being nihilistic, which is always good, but other than that … Reptil didn’t really get to do anything, Mettle got to die almost straight away … (Also, I was annoyed because there’s a line in there that made it so that Mettle was not Polynesian. Not that it was ever stated that Mettle’s dad was native Hawaiian, but it was a reasonable thing to assume, and it’s not like there are a whole lot of Polynesian characters in comics.)

I think Hopeless would have been better off with all-original characters, because he really did seem more interested in them. Which may be an artifact of this not being the series he originally pitched.

Dangan Ronpa: Sakura + Hina, friends for life

Posted in Games, Science fiction, Young adult with tags on June 1, 2014 by Cara Marie

My Dangan Ronpa overview post turned into 2000+ words and counting comparing the game to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. So I thought I would write about two of my favourite characters instead. Most of the characters in Dangan Ronpa are understandably standoffish – the premise of the game is that they have all been kidnapped and are being compelled to kill one another.

There is a lot of distrust and fear, but Sakura and Hina can’t be bothered with that shit. They are FRIENDS and don’t you doubt it. Sakura is the Ultimate Martial Artist and Hina is the Ultimate Swimming Pro – they bond straight off over their exercise regimes and love of protein shakes. They keep believing in one another, even in the face of the most startling revelations.

The strength of their friendship would endear them to me on its own – but also, here is a picture of Sakura, don’t tell me you don’t love her already:

An extremely buff young woman, with white hair and an impressive scar across her face.

Any game that has a female character that looks like that is alright by me.

Funnily enough, I am also predisposed to like Hina on account of her body type, although it is very different from Sakura’s. Hina is slim and busty, and I automatically feel protective of slim, busty characters (provided that it’s not just a function of the art style …).

Hina gets a fair amount of flack for being busty – notably from Toko, a character whom I find it extremely difficult to like. It seems as if Hina finds it easy to brush off the harassment – until a scene where Makoto and Hina are going swimming, and Hina gets embarrassed, because she only has a T-shirt to swim in. And she says something along the lines of, I don’t know why it matters, I’m sure it never used to. Which I found heartbreaking.

Hina has a warm, bubbly personality, but she’s also one of the most sensitive characters in the game. Which I can’t talk about without getting into massive spoiler territory – but this also relates to why I like Sakura so much, and the friendship between the two of them.

Read more »

Red Unicorn

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Young adult with tags on February 20, 2014 by Cara Marie

Just reread Tanith Lee’s Red Unicorn, which is the third and last of her books about the sorceress’s daughter Tanaquil, and for some reason the only one that I reread.

At the end of the second book, Tanaquil and her beloved mutually agreed to break up, because Tanaquil’s sister also loved him, and really, needed him more than Tanaquil did, so it was for the best.

Tanaquil then returns home to her mother, miserable because of the break-up, because of having put herself in a situation where she has nothing to distract her from the break-up, and because her mother and even her familiar are finding themselves in love.

That’s the first segment of the book. In the second segment, Tanaquil finds herself in another world, curiously disjointed from her own, where there is a Tanakil, who also has a sister, and who is also in love … Read more »

A Natsu appreciation post

Posted in Manga, Science fiction, Young adult with tags , , on November 10, 2013 by Cara Marie

I’ve recently been reading 7 Seeds, which is Tamura Yumi’s other post-apocalyptic manga. The basic conceit is that five groups of seven people wake up in the future to find that most of humanity has been wiped out, and we follow each of the groups at various points, and watch as they come together.

Natsu, who is our first protagonist, is very shy.

Natsu is telling herself off for not being able to talk to another character – she tells herself, 'Stop it. He's a kind person.' Her narrative text then reads, 'I want to say something, but I can't respond properly. Always, always ... I'm ...' and the final text is over a white panel.

I’m not as shy as Natsu is, but a lot of her thought patterns are very familiar to me. And Natsu feels true to me in a way a lot of supposedly shy characters don’t. For example, in Tamora Pierce’s Provost’s Dog books, we are told repeatedly that Beka is shy – but Pierce does a poor job of showing it. The only time Beka’s social anxiety actually seems to affect her is when it comes to public speaking. And being scared of public speaking is not the same thing. It surprised me, actually, because Pierce wrote Kel’s fear of heights so well in the Protector of the Small books. But I guess she doesn’t ‘get’ shyness in the same way.

Tamura clearly gets it.

Natsu's back suddenly starts hurting, and she wonders whether or not to tell the group.

She can't bring herself to tell anyone, so she keeps on walking, hoping, willing someone to notice. Pretty sure I have had this exact conversation with myself.

Over the course of the series, Natsu learns to speak up, to do things she’s scared of, to relate to (and stand up to) her teammates. And this is just as important as is learning to survive in the future, in a hostile and unfamiliar environment.

Semimaru grabs Natsu, and she squeaks for him to let go. 'That's all I needed,' he said.

Semimaru there is a character I’m very fond of, even though he starts off as a complete asshole. He gets a lot better over the course of the series, to the extent that it’s a shock to look back and see just how nasty he was. Now his relationship with Natsu is one of my favourite things. Because, yup, social anxiety can make you very self-centred, and Semimaru will call Natsu on that.

Semimaru calls Natsu out on her habit of talking to herself, rather than making the effort to interact with her teammates.

It’s not easy for her, but she learns. She’s able to become far more of the person she wants to be.

7 Seeds is unusual amongst post-apocalyptic stories in that it’s actually optimistic. To the point that you think, despite the many life-threatening situations, some of the characters are better off than they were in the present day. And Natsu is one of those.

In the present day, Natsu would have gone on as she was, often miserable, never able to connect. In the future, she has to connect to survive, and she’s a lot happier for it. She’ll never be an outgoing, vivacious person, but she’s able to stick up for herself when she needs to, and apologise when she needs to, and be there for people when they need her.

Natsu climbing up something which isn't closely spaced enough to be a ladder, thinking that she'll take responsiblity for her choice, and reassuring herself that no-one is watching, so they can't laugh or get angry at her. 'I'm giving it a go,' she things. 'Please let this not be a mistake ...'

And then it turns out her two male companions do see her, and she has to rescue them as well. And one of them is judging her the whole time. (He has issues.) But she makes it anyway.

Natsu might not be the easiest character to like, but she’s certainly the one I appreciate the most. And I look forward to where Tamura takes her in the future.

Reading The Summer Prince

Posted in Books, Science fiction, Young adult with tags on August 10, 2013 by Cara Marie

Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince was, to me, as good as all the good reviews said it was. Looking on Goodreads after the fact, it seems like it has been pretty divisive. I find a kind of sick fascination in reading some of the negative reviews, just because what they got out of it was so different from what I got out of it.

The most bizarre being the idea that June was in a ‘love triangle’. One of the reviews says June was ‘toggling in her mind whether she should be with Enki or Gil’ [source], and I just don’t know where the idea that June’s love for Gil was romantic came from. (Actually, I know where. It’s because strong friendships between genders must be romantic; and also because June mentions that they lost their virginity together and sex cancels out platonicness for always and ever.)

It makes me sad, because the fact that June and Gil had this really intense, loving relationship, without it being romantic, was one of the things I loved about the book. It reminded me a bit of the Flora Segunda books, except that those did end up putting Flora and her BFF together romantically.

The other thing I found odd was the people who thought this was a dystopia novel. Am I a bad person because I don’t think that having a sacrificial king necessarily makes a society dystopic? It was a society with good aspects and bad aspects (you know, like the real world). I never felt like we were meant to be condemning it. But apparently some people did: ‘There is no destruction of the system that I had hoped would occur, no revolution to completely change the way things are in Palmares Tres.’ [source] Because a society that has bad elements, like any society does, needs to be destroyed altogether?

Or on the other end of the scale, ‘[I wanted] a more oppressive regime that was actually worth rebelling against.’ [source] Note that in this context, rebellion equals scandalous political art projects.

June faces a conflict in the book because she can’t put her name to these projects without threatening her future prospects (though her future prospects are better than many people’s regardless). So she has to decide whether or not the point of her art is more important than those prospects. Even if Palmares Tres is not that ‘more oppressive regime’. Even if June gets on pretty well in her society; even if she’s not the one suffering.

You hardly have to be living under a despotic regime to want to change the society you live in. And wanting to change your society doesn’t necessarily entail revolution or anarchism.

I found The Summer Prince to be refreshing in how un-dystopic it was, actually. It was nice to read a YA sci-fi novel with big themes and intricate worldbuilding that wasn’t dystopian. The worldbuilding in particular I thought was really well done; Johnson didn’t over-explain things, just gave you enough to go on, as much as the story needed.

I also appreciated that Johnson managed to portray June as being stuck in teenaged self-centredness (at least to start) without it becoming annoying. I found it easy to empathise with the intensity of June’s feelings, even when I could see her anger wasn’t always necessary.

Basically, I thought The Summer Prince was fabulous. Even if not everyone feels the same way.

Age inappropriateness and fantasy

Posted in Fantasy, Middle fiction, Young adult with tags , on July 15, 2013 by Cara Marie

So while at Au Contraire this weekend (the local SF con), I made the mistake of going to a panel on introducing your kids to sci-fi and fantasy. And okay, I don’t have children, but I do have a young niece and nephew. I’m an ex-children’s bookshop employee. And as I have no interest in Lovecraft, this was my only other panel choice.

It hadn’t occurred to me that the panel was going to go down the path of ‘all the YA these days is so disgusting’. The impetus being a woman asking for recommendations in the 9–12 age group (not YA, by the way. Also, while middle fiction might not get the press YA does, it’s hardly a languishing genre).

Someone mentioned Tamora Pierce, and the woman responded, oh, but she’d heard they had a lot of sex in them. And call her old-fashioned, but she didn’t want her 11-year-old reading books with sex in them.

Which I didn’t respond to, because I don’t argue with parents like that. But I had two thoughts:

  1. that is not an accurate description of Tamora Pierce’s books
  2. your 11-year-old is not going to be traumatised by reading a book that mentions sex.

Yes, some of Tamora Pierce’s books feature sex. Most of them do not. (There are certainly no 13-year-olds having sex, which this woman seemed to think there were.) And when the characters do have sex, it’s off-screen. You might get the character thinking about whether or not they want to have sex; you don’t get the actual sex.

The fact there’s sex going on may go entirely over your child’s head. But if it doesn’t, so what? They read about girls who consider whether or not having sex is right for them, girls who make sure to practice safe sex if they do, girls who are able to have open discussions with their mothers or mother-figures about sex.

My god, how awful.

Also, you know, I was reading Tamora Pierce when I was 11, and I’m kind of insulted by the idea that that was inappropriate. (I will concede that the Terry Goodkind I read at that age may have been inappropriate.)

The conversation went on to mention Ted Dawe’s Into the River, a book that recently caused a scandal by winning the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards (where ‘children’ includes teenagers, by the way). I haven’t read it, but apparently it features a ‘disgusting’ sex scene. From what my former boss has said, that’s kind of the point. Also the target audience is teenagers 15+. It’s hardly being thrust into the hands of innocent babes.

That was a digression, anyway. But the net effect was me feeling increasingly uncomfortable, and wondering just how rude it would be to walk out (it was a small room, and I wasn’t at the end of a row).

Then someone said that Grimms’ fairy stories originated as dirty jokes told by farmers. ‘And they decided it would be a good idea to write these down for children!’

Which apparently crossed a line for me, because I left then. (What, ‘and then the witch him into a bird!’, hur hur, snicker snicker? Had this woman even read a fairy story before?)

It’s a wonder I even survived to adulthood, reading all the filth that I read.

Just finished When We Wake

Posted in Books, Science fiction, Young adult with tags on February 5, 2013 by Cara Marie

I hadn’t thought Karen Healey’s latest was out till later this month, but I found it in Whitcoulls yesterday and pounced. I couldn’t read it last night on account of book club but I read it this evening. And I aren’t I glad now I flaked on going to the movies? Because it is extremely good.

As I finished it, my flatmate asked me if it was sad. ‘It’s a book about a girl who’s died and is brought back to life after a hundred years,’ I said. ‘What do you think?’ That scenario gives you the grief of someone who’s lost their whole world, their whole family, and thus also encompasses the grief of a parent who’s lost their child. You really cannot get a lot sadder.

Although possibly it was a little disingeneous of me to give that answer, because I was at the end, and at that point my tears were more just an expression of a lot of emotion than of any particular sadness. It’s not an especially sad book … except for the premise.

More than sadness, I am struck by the sincere sense of outrage, and of a desire for change. It is a book that wears its heart on its sleeve, you know? And that is not a bad thing.

Anyway, this isn’t a proper review, this is just me saying I really liked this book. (Also, that even though it is going to have a sequel, it is completely satisfying on its own, thank god.) Although I might have some thoughts later about how it does/does not fit into the dystopia model of YA fiction. (I don’t think it’s a dystopia – the world Tegan wakes up isn’t really any better or worse than our own. But the shape of the story is not dissimilar.)

Last night’s movies

Posted in Action/adventure, Middle fiction, Movies, Science fiction with tags on January 26, 2013 by Cara Marie

Notes from last night’s movie night, which turned out to be ‘surprisingly competent movie’ themed, but only because we switched Mortal Kombat off after ten minutes. Spoilers ahead.

Alien Western

Also known as High Plains Invaders. Not to be confused with Cowboys and Aliens.

This might be a Western in its setting, but it’s more like a horror movie in its structure. Also it doesn’t have enough epic landscapes and, despite nearly all of the characters dying, it isn’t depressing enough to be a Western.

It delivers more on the aliens. Sometimes they even afford the CGI to have multiple aliens in shot at once! The aliens have come to earth to steal our uranium. Not to use it as a fuel source – they’re just addicted to it.

The best line in this movie comes after the scientist has declared uranium more valuable than diamonds, thus ensuring the shifty characters try to run off with it. He then says in exasperation that there isn’t yet an established market for uranium.

Alien Western is more competent a film than I expected, but it’s still a made-for-TV movie and it doesn’t have anything special to recommend it. I guess unless you really like James Marsters. I have never seen Buffy, so I’m Marsters-ambivalent.

Cutthroat Island

This, apparently, was the movie that killed pirate movies (at least till Captain Jack Sparrow came along). It cost a lot to make, and made hardly any of it back.

The beautiful thing about the movie is that you can see exactly where all the money went. It went into crafting a lot of very detailed sets (including full-scale, working ships) … and then blowing them up.

Okay, they only blow up one of the ships. And it’s a thing of beauty – all the splintered wood raining down, the black billowing smoke. It’s always really satisfying to watch an action movie with real explosions. CGI just isn’t the same.

Other satisfying things include watching Geena Davis kick people in the head. She seems like she’s really enjoying it, too. She gets to rescue her love interest, Shaw, a lot (after she buys him), and the movie doesn’t seem too concerned about whether or not that ‘emasculates’ him. I guess because he’s positioned more as a charming thief than any kind of action hero. I also like that Morgan got to be sexy in a way that didn’t require her being prettied up.

L made an interesting comment which was that he felt like for the first two-thirds of the film, the POV would keep slipping whenever Shaw, the love interest, was on-screen. And he’d end up being the identification character in those scenes. But, in the last third, Morgan (Geena Davis’s character) was consistently the one we were meant to identify with. And he wondered if that was intentional or not.

I didn’t especially notice, but I’m probably inclined to latch strongly to my action heroines’ perspectives. You have to be pretty egregious to break that.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

This movie is about how boys have to learn courage and girls have to learn to appreciate boys.

It’s also about how if you beat something up and then treat it kindly, it will follow you forever.

Okay, the ‘it’, in this case, is an ant. And it doesn’t matter that they start by beating it up, because the experience teaches the snotty kid to have empathy for other creatures, and he’s totally sad when the ant sacrifices itself to save them.

I feel like I am being mean but if I’m forced to watch family movies what do you expect? At least it features real teenagers. I think they still existed in the eighties.

End-of-year book meme

Posted in Books, Crime, Fantasy, Science fiction, Young adult with tags , , , , , , on January 3, 2013 by Cara Marie

How many books read in 2012?

76 books. This includes novellas, so they were not all very long books. It doesn’t include comic books.

Fiction/non-fiction ratio?

I read eight non-fiction books … that’s one for every 8.5 fiction books.

In other genre distinctions, 60% of the books I read were sci-fi/fantasy (not including JD Robb, as they’re primarily crime and the SF element is usually just the setting). I read four adult fiction books that weren’t SFF or crime stories! Which is … the same number I read every year.

Male/female authors?

I read 18 books by male authors (including half-marks for cowritten books or anthologies) and 58 by female authors.

I always find it weird when people challenge themselves to read more books by female authors, because my bias is so far the other way! Clearly it is my inner misandry showing through.

Favourite book read?

Michelle Sagara wins this year, because I would be hard-pressed to choose between her YA standalone novel, Silence, and the eighth book in ‘The Chronicles of Elantra’, Cast in Peril.

Silence is a book that, when described, sounds like your typical paranormal YA, complete with antagonistic love interest. But it’s not typical at all.

I really loved that the teenaged characters in it were so sensible and kind to one another. That no-one made stupid decisions to generate tension. There’s a lot of YA that goes the other way, and it always annoys me, because that’s not what my experience of being a teenager was like. I don’t mean to say that there’s no conflict between the characters – but it’s not showy, and it rings true.

This isn’t a complete summary of why I liked the book; just one of the things that made it for me.

Cast in Peril I wrote about at the time, in contrast to one of the books covered in the next question. I went through a period of avoiding series fiction; this book serves as an example of how well fantasy series can work. How you can really dig into the world-building, and discover new things. How a book can be the opposite of standalone and still be completely satisfying.

The part of me that still wants to avoid series fiction is freaking out a little – how on earth did I end up reading an 8+ book series? There weren’t that many when I started!

Cast in Peril was also the book that made me realise me and this e-books thing was going to work out, and that I didn’t need everything I loved in hardcopy.

Least favourite?

Not sure whether to go with Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken (as discussed in ‘Where (not) to end a book‘) or Tanith Lee’s Piratica III: The Family Sea. The former I probably enjoyed more for the first two-thirds, so it was a greater disappointment when I turned out to hate it. But I might say Piratica III anyway – I think I’m quite glad I didn’t read it when it first came out, when I was more invested in the characters, because I would have been hugely disappointed. (skip) I think I can see what Tanith Lee was trying to do, having Art’s marriage fail, and her ending up alone and free. But I didn’t feel that freedom in the end – it just felt bleak to me.

Oldest book read?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Also the first book I read last year. I was quite bewildered afterwards – not about the stories, but about the Sherlock interpretation of Holmes being kind of an asshole. (I’ve never actually watched Sherlock; this is just the impression I’ve received.) Book!Holmes is not an asshole at all! He might not be that interested in people, but he’s still considerate to them.

Also, I was proud of myself because there were a couple of mysteries I figured out before they were revealed. I like to pretend that’s an achievement.

Newest?

The Silvered, by Tanya Huff. Came out in November and I read it in December. I wrote a not-very-deep review at the time.

Longest book title?

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, by Nancy Kress. Long title, short book. This is such a pointless question I feel like I have to talk about the book, now. The three parts of the title refer to the three POVs the book switches between. ‘The fall’ refers to an apocalypse. I enjoyed this quite a bit at the start, but I think overall the pay-off wasn’t there. It had the sort of conclusion that could work for me in a short story, but doesn’t work for me in a longer work.

Shortest title?

Silence or Mastiff. I’ve talked about Silence already, so … Mastiff was the third and final book in Tamora Pierce’s Provost’s Dog series. It was also the least memorable of the three. Enough so that I don’t know if I really have anything to say about it. The first book was my favourite, because it was the one that was most a ‘school story’, with a supporting cast I really enjoyed. And that doesn’t really get carried through into the later books. Which make sense re: the ‘school story’ aspect, but I miss Rosto and Kora and Aniki. (You will note I remember their names, but not the names of the supporting cast in Mastiff.)

I guess Pierce was more interested in the crime novel aspect for this series, but that’s not what I read her for, and it was at the expense of the elements I really love.

How many re-reads?

Only three, which seems low. But then, I guess this is the first year I’ve had a full-time job the whole time, so I’m more inclined to read new things.

Most books read by one author this year?

I read ten JD Robb books – I guess I used these as my comfort fiction, rather than re-reading things. Her ‘In Death’ books are basically a procedural in book form. Except the main couple got together in the first couple of books so there’s no ridiculous ‘will they, won’t they?’ (This shouldn’t necessarily be a procedural trope, but it seems to be.) Also, they’re set in the future! My favourite mysteries are probably the ones that have the most to do with technology – although I think Witness in Death has been my favourite overall, and that one does not, so.

They’re standalone books, and I’ve read them completely out of order. They do benefit from being read chronologically, because of the way the characters and relationships develop over the long-term. On the other hand, there’s more than forty of them. So I think picking the ones with the most interesting-sounding mysteries is probably the best route to reading them.

Any in translation?

Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake was the only translated book I read this year.

And how many of this year’s books were from the library?

About six. For which I accrued some ridiculous fines, so I’m avoiding the library at the moment.

Bloodtide and the Volsunga Saga

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Horror, Science fiction, Young adult with tags on October 7, 2012 by Cara Marie

I first read Melvin Burgess’ Bloodtide as a teenager, and it’s been a few years since my last reread. Bloodtide is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. The post-apocalyptic part is the London that’s been cut off from the rest of the world after the gangs got too big. (Maybe not a proper apocalypse, but it it’s treated as one). The sci-fi part is the genetically engineered ‘half men’, who the humans think are monsters … but they’re no more monstrous than any of the human characters.

And then there’s the gods.

Bloodtide is a retelling of a small part of the Volsunga Saga, the family history before the better known tale of Sigurd and Brunhilde. (Burgess treated that in a sequel some years later.) The Volsons are one of two big-shot families in the city. The youngest Volson children are twins, Siggy (Sigmund) and Signy, and the story starts with Signy being married off, to create an alliance. Hopefully to create peace.

But Odin shows up the night of her wedding. And as always when Odin gets involved with humans, things get fucked.

Because it’s retelling a legend, because it’s a story of revenge that doesn’t get enacted for many years, the novel is weirdly paced. It’s disturbing event after disturbing event, some of which drives the story, some of which just seems random if you don’t know it’s there because it was there in the saga.

I’ve read the saga, or this part of it, since I read Bloodtide last, and it’s funny the way they combined in my head. The way Signy’s fate in the saga supplanted her fate in the novel in my memory. I was struck, rereading this, just how screwed over Signy is by the story she lives in – and also by the way Burgess draws attention to how screwed over Signy is.

The first time Odin shows up, he leaves a knife, embedded in glass like Excalibur in the stone; and none can remove the knife except the youngest Volson, Siggy. This pisses Signy’s new husband off no end (and he never ceases in coveting the knife). So we have this scene:

In a little fit of resentment, Signy made a movement towards the knife, then stopped herself. It wasn’t just that she wanted it for Conor. The fact was, she was scared she might have been able to remove it herself. Of them all, only she had not been given the chance to take the knife from the lift shaft. The boys were all put first. Maybe the knife could have been hers instead of Siggy’s. Odin had touched Siggy, but he had embraced her. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that.

Of course, no-one touched by Odin has a good life. And Signy’s is bitterest of all.

It’s a strange book. And it’s a strange choice of story, to retell as a YA novel. More because of that bitterness than because of all the violence and other disturbing themes. And it’s odd that I like it, because usually I hate stories where all the characters are awful people. Maybe because it’s obvious here how events have shaped that in them. But certainly Bloodtide transfixed me as a teenager. And I wasn’t disappointed rereading it as an adult.