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Reviews: Feed/In the Night Garden

Shorter reviews of the books I read over the last few months (pt 1 :P). Some minor spoilerish remarks in my Deadline review. Skip if you're a purist.

Mira Grant - FeedFeed
Genre: Post-apocalyptic urban fantasy

Ganked from blurb: The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.

This was one of those books I was really looking forward to since it had received a lot of good reviews. Bloggers reporting on zombies sounded pretty awesome. Unfortunately, it wasn't as good as I'd hoped.
I had read up on the internet, so I knew (as anyone reading this book really should) that this wasn't a zombie book per se - it was more of a political thriller with added zombies. I have to admit I did miss the zombie action a bit throughout most of the book, but Mira Grant did an excellent job with keeping tension high at all times. The reader never feels as if the main characters are safe and it's a good drive to keep on reading (although somewhat repetitive at times). Grant is a very capable writer and I enjoyed her style, and Georgia's voice is smart and sarcastic, but also very human. The world itself felt fleshed out. I very much enjoyed her approach to zombies. There was also no real focus romance, which was a good change of gears for me. So pointers for all that. Mira Grant is a brave writer and I really loved some parts about the ending.
I had, however, a lot of nitpicks. The world felt inconsistent at times. There were a lot of details that made no sense to me. Grant makes a huge deal of people feeling uncomfortable in crowds, and how being trapped with someone who might change is a horrible prospect, and then goes on to describe how people only take lifts nowadays instead of stairs. The backstory about how bloggers were some sort of underdog, not taken seriously by traditional media, before the zombie outbreak wasn't realistic at all to me. Bloggers are powerful, y'all, and mankind is pretty much conditioned to see zombies for what they are, I think. I guess I really liked the blurb notion that mankind survived a zombie apocalypse by knowing how to react to them, but I didn't like how it was handled exactly. A second nitpick was the brother/sister relationship between Shaun and Georgina. They've both been adopted but Georgina describes them as really, really close - so close in fact that it sometimes creeped me out. I have a brother myself and I would never behave around him like George and Shaun did around each other. Shaun, at one point, calls something she wears sexy. Creepy zone: totally in it.
The thing that made this a mediocre read for me was the plot itself. A lot of things that made the plot move forward were contrived, in a Dickensian kind of way, with unlikely events conspiring to put the characters in the right position at the right time. One discovery, especially, was bordering on silly - one of the characters found something laying on the ground that a military sweep had missed. The weirdest thing is, the convoluted plot led to a villain that was completely obvious; the only thing he could have done to be more evil was grow a moustache and twirl it. It was way too black and white in an otherwise gray world and it made the conclusion fall flat f. I think this tipped the scales for me: if the intrigue had been better executed, I'd have loved it way more.

Conclusion: I enjoyed this read but not enough to buy the second part in the series. This has a lot going for it though, so I see why other people might like it. I'm certainly going to look at her other series, because I really liked the writing style.
Rating: 3 out of 5

In the Night Garden
Catherynne M. Valente - The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
Genre: Fantasy/Mythology

Ganked from Amazon: Secreted away in a garden, a lonely girl spins stories to warm a curious prince: peculiar feats and unspeakable fates that loop through each other and back again to meet in the tapestry of her voice. Inked on her eyelids, each twisting, tattooed tale is a piece in the puzzle of the girl’s own hidden history.

I actually read this book last year but I was scared, or unable to really, to write a review. On one hand there is so much to be said about this book. On the other, I don't feel like I can really do it justice: the only way to really realize how intricate, lovely and powerful this book really is, is to read it. Well, I'll give it some sort of try :P
Normally, I'm not a big fan of purple prose, so when I started reading In the Night Garden, which is rife with heavy imagery, I was a bit daunted. But after the first few pages I got used to the style, and it took me in completely. I enjoyed Valente's elegant language and the mythological approach to fantasy feels really fresh: she creates characters with a few deft strokes of her pen and then lets them live on in our own imagination, leaning on different world mythologies while at the same time creating something completely new and enchanting. I felt it was quite well done and that was it.
Then, around page 150, I realized how enormously intricate this book truly is. I think I sat with the book in my hands for minutes in a row, just trying to get my head around what exactly Valente was trying to do, and, it turned out, achieved perfectly. I'm in awe of her craftsmanship. I think it's a pity to give away the depth of the story or anything at all really, but suffice to say Valente is the first author I've read in ages that made me stop and think about how difficult it is to make something so fully rounded.
By the time I was done with this book I had shed a few tears (which is quite unusual, since the style is archaic and somewhat detached) and had come to love the characters in the tales Valente had weaved. It's not easy reading and I could see how some people would be put off by the style and substance, but for me it was a perfect fit.
Plus, it also features some truly lovely illustrations which really enhance the story.
This book saved a mediocre reading year from me. I was becoming afraid that I'm too critical of what I read, which might be true, but In the Night Garden proved to me that I can still enjoy excellent books for being excellent.

Conclusion: This is such a refreshing, intelligent, and enchanting book that I cannot for the life of me understand why so few people are actually reading it. Maybe because it's so hard to explain in all its elegance? Maybe because it doesn't quite fit the stereotypical genres? I'm not sure, but this is a book that deserves to be read by everyone who enjoys becoming completely lost in a good book. Because this, ladies and gentlemen, is a Good Book.
Rating: 5 out of 5.

See all my reviews at The Unreasonable Reader


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 15th, 2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
I'm sure Cat and Seanan would be pleased to know they'd been reviewed together.

I didn't have a problem with the idea of people cramming themselves onto elevators and escalators even though they hated crowds. It reminded me of Dragon*Con. It struck me that people were even less prepared for how to navigate crowds if they weren't used to them.

And yeah, Shaun and George's relationship is creepy. I justified it a lot in my head - they're really close to one another, they're the only constant in one another's lives, they're not related by blood - but in the end, yeah. Creepy.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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