Showing posts with label Michelle Sagara. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michelle Sagara. Show all posts

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cast in Sorrow by Michelle Sagara

Title: Cast in Sorrow
Author: Michelle Sagara
Publisher: Harlequin Luna
Rating: worthy

This is the Chronicles of Elantra Series #9. There are brief reviews of the entire series on my Novel Series page.

Normally I don't do covers because I don't care what a cover looks like; I care about the content, and the writer has absolutely no say (and no se) in what crap goes on there unless they self-publish, and even then many of them hire someone else to create the cover, so I have to ask on Sagara's behalf: which idiot writes book blurbs like the one on this back cover: "The end is only the beginning"? Seriously? Is that meant to be deep or something? This is the major advantage of self-publishing - it’s all your own. You get to say how it reads, how the cover looks, what the blurb says, Yours may be just as idiotic, but at least it's your idiocy, and not someone else's! Nuff said!

I can't begin to express how thrilled I was when I saw this one on the library shelf. I snatched it up in a spit second. Unfortunately, I couldn't start on it right away because I had two others to finish. But now I am into it, and it's like coming home. Michelle Sagara is a KICK-ASS writer who knows how to build a completely enthralling world, and she's created a serious contender for Hall-of-Fame All-Star All-Time female hero in Kaylin Neya. I will detail this in detail giving you the detailed details as soon as I've had a nap!

As accomplished and skillful a writer as Sagara is, there's still the odd occasion when she could use some editing! For example, on p335 we get this: "…why would be live as a pet?" which should, I'm assuming, be: "…why would he live as a pet?" Sad to say (and I don't recall this from earlier novels, but maybe those had it too), Sagara is yet another devotee of long moments, and long minutes, and even a long half hour! And the number of times she uses the phrase "like, and unlike" or a variant of it, is really, really annoying!

On the confusing front, I found this piece on p49: "The stairs that fronted it were flat and wide, the columns that held the roof almost the height of the trees that stood to the right and the left of the building." When I first read this, I was confused about what she was saying, and I had to read it again to get it. This interrupted the story for me. Leaving aside the interminable argument about the use of 'that' over 'which', it seemed to me that the sentence ought to read: "The stairs that fronted it were flat and wide, and the columns that held the roof were almost the height of the trees that stood to the right and the left of the building." Maybe the whole sentence should have been re-thought and split, perhaps? Yeah, it's a minor quibble, and it's her novel, not mine, but if writers are wanting to keep readers happy, an iota of extra attention to legibility can go a long way.

Another instance appeared shortly afterwards, on p55, where the first four paragraphs at the start of chapter 4 have a character speaking without offering any indication as to who it is. This is why it's a good idea to read what you've written - both at a later date, and out loud so you can get a feel for how others might perceive it. When you read out loud, you read a little differently than when you read inside your own head. Just a thought!

On p305 Kaylin grabs Teela's hand and pulls it down and then says "What are you doing?", but the speech isn’t included with the paragraph of the yanking o' the hand, so it made it seem like Teela had said it. This was unnecessarily confusing. Sagara needs to learn when to identify the speaker. Again this is something a writer should be able to catch if they put the writing aside for a period of time and then come back to it and read it out loud. This is also an advantage which comes en suite with the "tell the story as fast as you can" style of writing, where you write the whole thing off (so to speak!) in one and the hell with editing, but then go back, once it's finished, and read it through, editing as you go.

On p364, there is a real classic: "Which guttered the little bit better entirely". I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what the heck Sagara means by this. It’s not even English in any meaningful sense! But enough of this nit-picking! Let's move on.

So this story takes off where Cast in Peril left off, kinda half-way through. None of her other volumes (at least as I recall - it's been a while!) are like this: they're complete stories even while still an integral part of the series. Oh, and yes, this is a series where you really need to start on volume one to get everything that follows. The Barrani party with whom Kaylin is traveling to a ceremony in which she is to play an important part, is under attack and threats follow them, but within the first few chapters they arrive safely in the territory known as the West March where the ceremony is to be held. Kaylin will be safe until she tells the tale, but after that, all bets, it appears, are off. This writing is some of Sagara's best in her descriptions of the bizarre things which happen in the forest right before they achieve sanctuary in the Lord of the West March's property. It's fascinating to me, but this novel wasn't all plain sailing.

Having said that, I have to also add that chapters five and six are all but unintelligible in far too many places. I don't recall having this problem with Sagara's previous volumes in this series, but I pretty much read those one after another, since I was quite late coming to this series. This not only made the read pleasurable, since I had virtually no down-time between volumes, it also made it a lot easier on me in keeping track of people and events than it must have been for those people who read one novel, and then had to wait a whole year before they were able to continue the adventure. I think I had a real advantage with this flow, and this is what enabled me to enjoy the novels far better than others who had a much more staccato experience.

I know that other reviewers have expressed complaints about her poor writing - where she has a conversation start up and it's entirely unclear who is saying what and to whom. This goes back to what I said earlier about reading out loud what you wrote, and before you do that, wait a month or so. If you can't quite grasp who is doing or saying what, or why, then you know for a fact your readers won't exactly be on top of it either, and it's your fault if they're not!

Like I said, I don't recall experiencing this difficulty before, but chapters five and six in this novel are a classic examples of this problem - of the same problem I had at the start of chapter four, which I mentioned above. These two chapters also recap (after a fashion) some previous events; the problem is that it's been so long since I read those other volumes that the recaps were useless, since they were so very sparse and mentioned names and actions which I couldn't recall well (or at all!), without giving any context for those names.

In another genre, when one reads a series, the names are much more familiar and the roles those people play, much more ordinary. But I think the writer has a real responsibility to help keep the reader enlightened when taking an excursion into a fantasy world where both names and roles are pure invention and unfamiliar to the reader. Sagara fails dismally at this in these two chapters, but then she picks it up somewhat when Kaylin has to once again heal the Barrani consort - who promptly disappears during an all-out assault on Lord Lirienne's West March central (or is it central march west? - whichever it is, they're almost given their marching orders - west, right, west right, quick march - until Kaylin comes to the rescue), and by them it's almost April....

So all is forgiven because Sagara takes off again after the, ahem, bad chapters and takes it to the next level which is the one right after the mezzanine (if you're south of the border that will be the mexanine), but before you get to the sign which says "Next Level and Then Some", okay? If you reach the sign saying, "She's all that and a bag of chips" then you've gone wa-ay too far at this point. All righty then.

So, despite all the itty-bitty annoyances, Sagara puts together a pretty engrossing tale, full of amazingly imaginative scenes, and curious events, slowly but surely adding this volume to the rest in terms of stories I can say are enjoyable and addictive. I love Kaylin and An'teela, and I love especially how Sagara brings them closer as friends in this story, having each of them open up more to the other than they ever have before - but then she threatens to seriously split them apart. I'm not going to say any more on that score, but it made my skin crawl in considering that she might really do this!

So to conclude, I recommend this!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Silence by Michelle Sagara

Title: Silence
Author: Michelle Sagara
Pages: 289
Publisher: DAW
Rating: Worthy!
Perspective: third person past

I'm a fan of Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra series (which I'll review elsewhere on this blog as time permits), but I've read nothing else that she's written beyond that (although I have read with enjoyment the entire series as far as it's been published), so I was interested in this novel. I didn't at first pay any attention to the author: I'd decided to read it before I noticed her name, so I was delighted to find it was written by someone I "know". Her Kaylin character from Chronicles is a favorite of mine up there with Kitai and Molly millions.

The story begins in a graveyard! Emma is out walking her dog (ostensibly), but visiting the grave of her dead boyfriend (really) to sit. She doesn't talk to him like he can hear her or anything like that, she just sits and enjoys the silence and the night and the absence of her mother.

On this occasion, her Rottie, 'Petal'(!) takes off and when she chases her dog, she finds someone there of whom she has distant acquaintanceship from her school. He's with an old woman, who immediately turns her attention to Emma and shockingly, embraces and kisses her on the lips - a horrible dry-paper, musty kiss, whereupon Emma falls backwards and hits her head on the gravestone behind her. The boy she knows, Eric, has the smarts to call Emma's mom who picks her up and brings her home.

The next day, Emma finds that she can see dead people, as she learns upon entering the cafeteria at school. Maybe she's always seen them and not realized they were dead, but after this encounter, where she saw the boy as being part of the group at the table only to see her friend sit down right through him on the same chair, she cannot be left in any doubt at all as to what's what!

Unfortunately, driving home that afternoon, Emma starts feeling absolutely wretched and Eric drives her straight to the hospital where she passes out. When she comes round, she can feel her mother holding her hands, but she hears and then sees her dead father. Suddenly she's out of her body talking to her father. Eric can evidently see her even though she's apparently in spirit form, but no one else, other than her father, can see her. As her father makes to leave, so she goes to him and takes his hands, aware that Eric has said, "No!". As soon as she takes her father's hands, everyone can see her father (but not her in her spirit form). She lets go of him and is instantly back in her body.

Now there's this thing out there that her dead father appeared and was seen by her best friend Allison, by the new weird guy in her life, Eric, and by her own mother, but that's not the worst thing. Emma starts seeing this vision and hearing this child who is evidently trapped inside a burning building. She makes Eric drive her across town (Toronto) and eventually they end up at a burned out town house, which evidently had a fire recently. Emma tries to enter the building, which is no longer burning, but she can feel the heat and she actually gets singed from the non-existent fire when she tries to enter the building.

When the reach Emma's house, she reveals that she's determined to rescue this ghost kid from the non-burning house, even if it means missing the party event of the month at school glamor girl and socialite Amy's house. Eric is dead set against it. As Emma leaves him and goes into her house, Eric's phone rings yet again. It's been ringing almost non-stop throughout the entire trip he just took with Emma. He answers, and the caller asks him if the necromancer is dead. The necromancer is evidently Emma since Eric looks at her retreating body, and answers in the negative. The caller tells Eric that he's being sent back-up and if that won't do the trick of terminating the necromancer, then he will come himself and do it. This evidently does not please Eric.

Emma shares her plan to rescue the ghost boy with Alison. Allison with her that the kid won't leave the non-burning building unless his mother is there. Emma knows that if she touches the boy, then his mother will see him, but she doesn't know how to get the boy's mother to come to the the burned-out building.

Sagara has a habit of framing comments thus: "He said nothing. He said it very loudly", and after many volumes of the Chronicles of Elantra, this format is getting rather old, I have to say! As indeed, is her habit of framing a sentence in mathematical mode, such as this one, where Emma is talking about a robe which she's shown, evidently meant for her to wear in some ceremony: "I could not put it on and blend in here, for any value of here that didn't include Amy's Halloween party." It’s high time to dig up some new catch phrases, Ms Sagara. However, I'll let that slide in this case.

This novel is everything that Ghost Huntress failed to be. Sagara can definitely weave a tale, and I say this because, just as I’d begun to wonder if this one might be heading down the warty path, Sagara turns it around! Emma has met a friend of Eric's at the graveyard. Presumably this is the backup of which we learned earlier. Chase is altogether a different kettle of fish from Eric, and he and the latter, though not related, act like they're spoiled and ill-disciplined brothers, arguing with, and bitching at, each other. And Eric threatens to kill people way more than is healthy in any novel. The suggestion conveyed here is that they've known each other for a lot longer than their ages would indicate they've had the opportunity to do so.

They all go to Amy's party, and they're let in by Amy's brother Skip. Seriously - where the hell does she dig up these names? Anyway, as they're standing around talking to Skip's friend Merrick (whom you know instantly, just from his name, is the villain of the story! Can we please get away from these tropes?), everything suddenly freezes except for Merrick and Emma, and he talks to her like he's her friend, and Chase and Eric (C&E) are her enemies, misleading and lying to her. He conjures up a ghostly female who will not tell Emma who she is despite sharp and brutal commands from Merrick.

Emma notices that the ghost's heart is tied to Merrick's hand by an almost invisible gold chain, and Emma breaks the chain, which breaks the spell. He wants Emma to go with him, but she has refused and right then, Michael of all people, throws a book at Merrick! Instantly the spell is broken, Merrick is running, and Chase gives, well, er, chase (honestly). Eric follows, and soon they're trying to reach Merrick through green silent fire which evidently has substance and slows them down. Merrick is way more powerful than either of those two expected him to be. He's using the hedgerow and the fire to attack and slow them and eventually he gets away, of course.

Amy has seen this and is really pissed about the damage to her home. The way Emma relates information about Amy is masterful I'm starting to admire Amy more than any other character, and she's not even a main character - not yet anyway, but I suspect she may become one. That would be fine! I have a charming niece called Amy!

Chase takes Emma all around the house, looking for something which he feels Merrick might have hidden away, although of course he won't say what. What he finds is a reflection in a mirror. He demands that Emma get Eric, and the two boys (plus Emma, who is told she must stay touching the wall at all times, and not interfere no matter what happens next) touch the mirror whereupon an ancient woman, reminiscent of Elizabeth 1st (we’re led to believe) appears in the mirror, and verbally spars with them. She's clearly the Lord Voldemort figure. When things seem to be getting too serious, Emma turns off the light in the bathroom, which evidently is too powerful a magic for the witch queen or whoever she is, to fight, because she disappears!

Emma next demands an explanation from the boys, but later! Seriously? This is not acceptable! Enough with the patent mystery making for goodness sakes! Tell us something! I can understand it when the mystery is arising out of events which the author is slowly unfolding - even if frustratingly slowly! - and we don’t know any more than the protagonists do, but to create obvious mysteries where a protagonist's life or well-being depends upon her getting answers, and then refuse to part with a single thing at all, is inexcusable. It’s worthy of Rowling and Harry Potter, not of a Michelle Sagara novel.

Downstairs, Emma sees four ghosts chained to a wall in the house. Not even Eric can see them. Emma, again against Eric's advice, decides she will break the chain, and with some difficulty, she does.

It's right after this that they find the robe mentioned above. And so finally they do thrash some things out, in a conference with Michael, Allison, Amy, Chase, Eric and Emma, where everyone learns nowhere near enough (C&E are surprisingly ignorant about whatever undertaking it is in which they've evidently been indulging themselves for a significant amount of time - perhaps more than one lifetime!)

Standing outside on the lawn, they grill C&E (CofE?!) for as much info as they can, which ain't much. Amy is the only one with smarts enough to grab a chair. Everyone learns that Emma is a necromancer. Allison is the only one who seems to grasp that Chase and Eric kill necromancers, and she grills them harshly on this topic for some significant time, quite evidently shocked and angered that they were even contemplating killing Emma. They both give assurances that they no longer plan on doing that (but later we learn, even as they stand watch outside Emma's house that night in case Merrick comes back, that they haven't been exactly 100% honest with issuing those assurances.)

During their conference, Emma talks with the ghosts who are there - the four people who were chained to the wall, and the ghost of Emily Gates, whom she had freed from Merrick's clutches. She learns that these five ghosts are now bound to her, and she can draw energy from them which gives her power, but keeping them bound to her also costs her something. She wants to free them, but C&E tell her it’s not wise because they're only free to be bound again by Merrick if she does.

Amy asks who the heck she's talking to when she keeps turning to talk to the ghosts and Emma, again against Eric's advice, touches all of the five ghosts so that the rest of her friends can see them. Michael is captivated by the two children and entertains them, but Emma's arms start going numb from the cold. Touching the ghosts is like touching ice "without the wet". She learns something more about this from her father that night.

Going home, she doesn’t know that Chase is standing watch outside. She had invited them for breakfast the next morning because they plan on going to free the four-year old ghost trapped in the fire - if they can track down his mom. Amy, Allison, and Michael are also going along. That night, her father visits, and he can’t clue her in any more about what’s going on than C&E evidently can. He offers to give her his energy, and when she takes his hand affectionately, she feels, instead of bitter cold, great warmth. She pulls away immediately. Ghosts evidently can’t touch her unless she touches them first, so her father can give her no more, and she refuses to take any, although she feels very empowered by what she has received already.

The next morning, Emma calls Allison to go get Michael, and C&E show up. They make breakfast. She finds it easy to be with the two of them; they're like brothers she never had - if she can only force herself to overlook the fact that they're killers. They make breakfast pancakes. Eventually, the others show up and the whole crew take two vehicles and drive over to where Maria Copis lives. She's the mother of four-year-olf Andrew, who died in the burned house on Rowan Avenue. With great difficulty and sensitivity, Emma and Allison talk Maria into going with them to save Andrew. They're helped by Emma's ability to make the dead appear to the living.

On Rowan Avenue, Emma can see and hear the fire. And this is where Sagara's superior writing skills really kick in. She tells this portion of the story masterfully. They put the ladders which they ahve brought, up to the window upstairs, and Chase, Maria, and Emma go inside. It's hot and chokingly smokey in there, but only Emma perceives this. She finds Andrew, standing on his bed and he's screaming, feeling scared, but worse, feeling betrayed that his mom left with his two sisters and didn't come back for him. he was jealous that she carried them, and didn't carry him.

Emma has to figure out how to get him to listen to her and see his mom, because he's so panicked that he pays no attention to her even when she touches him. As she tries to fight the cold and figure out how to get him linked up with Maria, Emma's ghosts - the ones who are now bound to her, start to appear, even thopugh she hasn't called them. They give her some power. Her father appears too, and he offers, and she takes a small amount of power form him, but she needs to take power from Andrew if she's to succeed, and this is where Chase thinks she will fail and rturn into a necromancer like Merrick.

Merrick has also appeared, with two others, and now Eric, still outside, has a fight on his hands. beign forewarned by one of Emma's ghosts, Eric has already told the rest of the crew, Allison, who is holding one of Maria's two children, and Michael, who is holding the other, and Amy and her brother to elave, and though msot of them got away, somehow, Merrick has managed to grab Allison and the child she's holding, and eh has trapepd C&E in his green fire.

Emma and those in the house are watching him from a bedroom window, but seeing how much in danger Allison and the child are, she shows herself at the window. Margaret, one of the ghosts which Emma freed from the wall at Amy's home, and is now bound to her, knows a lot more about what Emma is undergoing than she lets on. This is another case of people not passing on to others what they need to know. She does keep nudging Emma as the latter readies herself to take on Merrick, and while he's distracted by C&E, Emma is able to climb out of the upstairs window down onto the porch roof, and then to the ground unseen by her foe.

There she releases herself from her body and visits with the two ghosts which Merrick has bound, the power from which he is using to try and kill C&E. Emma frees each of these ghosts and Merrick's green fire power fails, freeing C&E, but his two necromancer assistants have more to fight with than the spirit world. They both produce guns. Andrew, the newly rescued four-year-old, incensed that anyone would threaten his sister, unleashes his fire power with a ferocity which Emma feels, as the conduit for it, without realizing what it is she's passing on. The woman who is threatening the baby is consumed, and Allison is able to retrieve the baby unharmed.

While two shots are fired, neither of Merrick's assistants fires them. Instead, they both drop dead, and Merrick follows shortly thereafter. The man with the gun is Earnest, C&E's boss, who now turns the gun on Emma, but Eric steps in front of her, and before anything can come of this stand-off, Margaret, who knows Earnest, addresses him and talks him out of it.

Emma decides she's going to let the ghosts pass on, something they have been blocked from doing by the witch queen. No one thinks Emma can do it, or maybe that she'll die trying and try dying instead. Her problem is that there are not enough ghosts to draw that kind of power from, but the papery woman from the start of the novel, who has been conspicuous by her absence, suddenly shows up. We still don't learn who she is, but Emma realizes there is another way.

She brings up the lantern which she got from the mysterious papery woman, and she holds it high. As it blazes out immensely bright light, Emma sees a Stairway to Heaven (I am not making this up! Sagara is!), so she climbs the stairs, followed by a mass of ghosts, and with a huge effort, powered in part by all these ghosts, she nudges this stiff and rather unyielding door open sufficently for the scores upon scores of ghosts to go through.

As the doorway to heaven slams, the witch queen's eyes appear in it and threaten to kill Emma for what she's done.

Emma goes home and her mother is all but freaked at her charred and disheveled appearance. She blows it off, not telling her anything about what really happened, just that there was a fire and she tried to help. They hug. Perhaps she's getting closer to her mom. The next day she shows up at school as usual to find C&E there. Chase is enrolled against his wishes in the school, Eric not. It seems that Earnest has decided that no one on his team is going to kill her, instead they will stick around and work with her.

That night she walks the dog to the cemetary although she doesn’t see the point since not only will Nathan not be there, there are no ghosts left to be there and none of them would be at the cemetary even if they were still around. Only the living hang out in cemetaries - not the dead, she thinks. But as she's leaving, she sees a familiar figure at the entrance. It’s Nathan. He says, "Hi, Em."

Silence is followed by Touched - a novel which Michelle Sagara is, to my knowledge as of this writing, still working on, and even the title isn’t yet fixed. I, for one, welcome our Queen of the Dead overlord and I'm now really looking forward to the next one in this series. Forget about Ghost Huntress! You need Queen of the Dead!

Here's a farewell gift: you can read the first two chapters of this novel here.