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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine (Great Library #2)

 I tend to read sequels when I absolutely loved the first book.  The mission of a sequel, should it choose to accept it,  is to develop the concept further.   Paper and Fire is the sequel to YA dystopia Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine which I reviewed here.  This series takes place in an alternate universe in which the Library of Alexandria owns all books and determines what people read.   The publisher offered me the opportunity to review an ARC which I received from them via Net Galley.  As you will see, my review is an honest one.

                                     


I feel that the most central theme of this second novel in the series is that the suppression of books also suppresses progress.   Sometimes a technological advance can be re-invented in every generation, but if everything that's written about it has been suppressed, then no one will ever know.  At one point, a character comments about the Black Archives where all the banned books were stored, "this is the graveyard in which they buried our future".  Advances that can bring the most change are the most likely to be suppressed because they threaten those who are in power.  In Paper and Fire we are also shown that there can be technologies that are in limited use and only available to the elite while the rest of the world believes that they're useless. This is an important theme that has current relevance.  Technologies that are more environmentally sustainable have been ridiculed or suppressed for some time in the U.S. by those who advocate for the industries using non-renewable sources of energy.  

As in Ink and Bone, I noticed that there was a subtle parallel between e-readers and  the blank codexes that contain the magically transported books which people read in this timeline.  Many people in our current world don't realize that their location can be tracked when they carry e-readers.  Codexes can also track people.  Readers learn this when the characters must discard their codexes in order to conceal their eventual destinations.                                     

I thought that the new development in Paper and Fire that had the potential to be the most interesting was the Mesmers.  Mesmers are hypnotists who can discover information hidden within the unconscious mind through hypnosis.  Rachel Caine obviously named them after the hypnotist  Franz Mesmer who must have existed in this alternate timeline as well as our own. 

I found one mythological discrepancy.  In this novel, Horus is said to be the Egyptian god of scribes and is  therefore the patron of the Great Library.  Actually, the Egyptian god of scribes would be Thoth.  In Egyptian mythology, Thoth invented writing and was the scribe to all the gods.  The Wikipedia article I've linked calls him the Egyptian god of knowledge which would make him the most likely Egyptian patron of libraries that do encourage the spread of knowledge.  Horus is the god that the Egyptian pharaohs became.  When a pharaoh ascended to the throne he became Horus incarnate.  Horus was the god of kingship.   The Great Library apparently has replaced the pharaohs in this alternate timeline, so Horus probably is the most appropriate patron for that institution.

The plotline in Paper and Fire was very dramatic and intense, but it ended with a cliffhanger which I really don't appreciate.  Cliffhangers are emotionally manipulative and unnecessary.  I am quite certain that readers would want to read the third book in this series without a cliffhanger.  This will cause me to give this book four stars on Goodreads rather than five.        

                                     
                            

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Eagle Tree--Can an Autistic Teen Save The Tree That He Loves?

 The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes is another book that I nominated on Kindle Scout like Melophobia  and The Lost Tribe.  In this case, the author's name was familiar to me.  I had reviewed his rather unusual historical mystery, Sinful Folk, on Book Babe here.

 It seems to me that there was a long delay between the selection of The Eagle Tree for publication by Kindle Press in October 2015 and its recent publication this May.  I confess that I forgot that I had nominated it and was entitled to a free copy according to Kindle Scout's rules.  So when I first encountered it on Goodreads, I became as enthusiastic as I had been when I nominated it.  I then proceeded to purchase it right away on Amazon.   This didn't happen with Melophobia or The Lost Tribe because the authors of those books sent me a free copy via e-mail when they were published.  With The Eagle Tree, there is a link for me to claim my free copy on my Kindle Scout account which promptly informs me that I already have it.  I assume that Amazon has made a policy change which means that I must now check my Kindle Scout account on a regular basis.

So why did I jump at the chance to acquire The Eagle Tree?  It combines two elements that are of tremendous interest to me. The protagonist, Peter March Wong, is an autistic teen.  I have reviewed some non-fiction books dealing with autism.  Most recently, I wrote about In A Different Key, a history of autism in the United States which I reviewed here.  This novel's protagonist is also deeply concerned with climate change and other environmental issues, as am I.   I have reviewed a number of eco-fictions.   Most recently I wrote about the YA climate change dystopia, The Memory of Water, here.  Yet in dealing with autism and the environment, The Eagle Tree is unique. I think we need novels that depict autists as defenders of any cause that they care about.

                                   

Since today is Endangered Species Day,  I will point out that The Eagle Tree deals with endangered trees and birds. I learned about why climate change is a threat to ponderosa pines and why marbled murrelets are so rare.  The Procession of the Species in Olympia, Washington which was created in honor of Earth Day and Endangered Species Day is described in this book.  It's a parade that involves people dressing up as non-human species.   For more information see Procession of the Species Founding Principles.   I am very impressed with the approach of the community to this event.

The protagonist, who prefers to be called March, is also endangered.   He's endangered by his penchant for climbing very tall old growth trees, and he's endangered by people who don't understand him.   Should a fourteen year old be protected from climbing injuries?  Many would say that March should be kept away from trees even though they are the center of his life.  After all, he has been hospitalized despite the detailed plans that he makes before embarking on a climb.  Some parents might fear that autistic teens could read this book and end up in the hospital as a result of emulating March.  I think that this is highly unlikely.  Autists are usually very internally motivated.   Parents of neurotypical teens should be more concerned.  A lonely neurotypical teen with no friends  could be excited by March's unusual accomplishments and consider him worthy of imitation.   The book makes clear that March's activities can be extremely unsafe.  I am sure that author Ned Hayes would not recommend him as a role model.   So don't try climbing very tall trees at home, readers.   Even if you plan it in advance, there are changeable conditions.   Any mistake made in climbing an old growth tree can be fatal.  March is very lucky in his climbing adventures.

Is March foolish?  His courage, persistence and sense of commitment to his goals are all admirable qualities, but yes he does do foolish things.   On the other hand, he also becomes an environmental hero.  

There are women in March's life who are notable.   His mother isn't perfect by any means.  She can be fiercely protective of March, but she makes mistakes in judgement and there were points in the narrative when I wondered about her fitness as a parent.  I absolutely loved March's therapist for her empathy, insightfulness, practical coping strategies and her encouragement of March's pursuit of his goals.  Pastor Ilsa who studied botany before she joined the clergy is also a wonderful supportive figure in March's life. 

I consider The Eagle Tree the most original piece of contemporary fiction that I've ever read about an autist, and it also excels as eco-fiction.   It will definitely be among my favorite 2016 reads.

                                     








                                  


Friday, May 6, 2016

Melophobia: When Music Must Hide

Melophobia by James Morris was the second book that I nominated on Kindle Scout that was selected for publication.  Because I had nominated it, I received a free copy of the book when it was published.  I should have read and reviewed this sooner, but I've been busy with the work for my MLIS degree.  The first of my Kindle Scout nominations that has been published by Kindle Press was The Lost Tribe, an alternate WWII baseball fantasy which I reviewed here.  That review explains Kindle Scout.  So if you're interested,  you can take a look.

 If you are familiar with this blog, then you know I have a taste for the unusual.  Melophobia represents an alternate fate for The Summer of Love in the 1960's.  One of the defining attributes of the sixties was its protest songs.  What if the authorities struck out at music calling it subversive? What if all music had to be approved, and all unapproved music was banned?  This is the harsh dystopian premise of Melophobia.

                                           



I noticed a review on Goodreads from someone who didn't understand why the authorities in Melophobia condemned music.  I was very young during the sixties, but I was there.  So I learned then that music could give voice to rebellion, and that protest was bound up with music.  I was exposed to anti-war music, and labor activist music such as the hauntingly beautiful Bread and Roses.  I was a huge fan of the Pete Seeger album Dangerous Songs which included historical protest songs such as Die Gedanken Sind Frei (Thoughts Are Free), a German anthem in favor of intellectual freedom of unknown origin.   I am also aware that U.S. slaveowners suppressed the music of African slaves and prohibited drumming because they knew that music maintained a sense of cultural identity which would encourage rebellion.  There are American Christian sects that are opposed to music because it leads to dancing.   Anyone who doesn't know that dance can cause social disruption really needs to see the movie Footloose.  Melophobia emerges from this extensive background of music as dissidence.   I imagine that Morris expects readers to be aware of it, and grasp the rationale behind his dystopia intuitively.  I certainly did.  That's why I nominated this novel on Kindle Scout.

The central character, Merrin Pierce, goes undercover in music communities in order to arrest and disband them.   Her father, Tarquin Pierce, is the Minister of Broadcast Standards who approves all content created for the purpose of entertainment.   Historically, Tarquin was the last Etruscan King of Rome who was reputed to be a terrible tyrant.   It wouldn't surprise me to learn that James Morris is aware of this fact.  So Merrin was brought up to believe in the suppression of unapproved music, but there is a great deal she doesn't know about what happens to those most resistant to re-education.   There is also a secret in Merrin's family history.  Learning the horrifying truths that have been hidden from her changes Merrin.  She eventually transforms into a true hero.

This is a very dark book.  Don't expect happily ever after.  Yet there is a glimmer of hope in the end, and that was really all I needed.