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Reviews: Christopher S. Stewart, Erin Bow, Sophia McDougall, Greg Van Eekhout, E.K. Johnston
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim (The Story of Owen, #1), by E.K. Johnston
book cover: The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim (The Story of Owen, #1)This book... doesn't quite bear up under its own weight? It has interesting ideas it doesn't quite follow through on, and emotional beats it doesn't quite earn. But I would check out the author's next book that isn't in this series.

So. In this book, dragons are attracted to carbon from, like, fire, and always have been. So you're a cavewoman, thinking "hey, this burnt food tastes kinda neat!" and then a dragon shows up and eats you. You'ld think think that would have altered the course of human history quite a bit. And yet, the world is incredibly recognizable. I mean, I wouldn't expect colonialism to have followed the same course, and yet Canada and the USA look mostly similar, aside from the dragon-burnt wreck of Michigan.

Surely, if burning fuel put you at risk of being et, the adoption of the automobile would have followed a different course? But our heroine drives an SUV.

Maybe it's a commentary on global warming, and our disinclination to disengage from fossil fuels in the face of overwhelming evidence that it's BAD FOR YOU, SHERLOCK. Maybe.

Anyway, so dragon-slayers exist, and it's a mostly hereditary position, despite there are more and more fossil fuels being burnt, and more and more dragon attacks. But dragon-slayers don't appear to be genetically endowed, just willing to strap on a sword and go. So really, anyone could be a dragon-slayer. But it's the year 20-mumblety, and this has not happened. Maybe dragon-slaying families are large, but the largest in the book is one brother-sister dragon-slaying team.

I'm gonna try to let this stuff go now.

So, a retired dragon-slayer comes to town, and Siobhan is not super into it, because she's more interested in mastering as many wind-instruments as she can so she can get a massive scholarship to pay for her massive music hard-on. But Dragon-slayer lady says: "would you like to follow my dragon-slayer nephew, Owen, around and be a bard, in the historical manner not really practiced for the last hundred years or so?"

And Siobhan is like, "well, I was kinda wondering what to do with my music degree. Barding sounds good." So she uses her position as bard to mould the story of Owen into tales that will encourage people to practice safer dragon-adjacent behaviour, like not standing around and gawking and taking photos while someone nearby is trying to kill a fire-breathing dragon.

(And again. Humans can be pretty stupid, but I cannot believe that 350000 years of evolutionary pressure wouldn't have at least made sure most cultures would evolve moderately effective routines of 'what to do in case of dragon.')

I was actually most interested in the highschool dynamics encountered by Owen and Siobhan, and let me tell you, I generally find depictions of high school about as fun as getting a full leg wax. But Siobhan was interestingly fixated on her musical ambitions, which became less interesting when I realize every teenager in this book has weirdly plot-adjacent agenda and for none of them is it 'getting laid.' They're just not interested.

I dunno, a lot of this book was 'interesting because different', and some of it was 'interesting because what are you doing?' but then when I found out what it was doing, it got less interesting. Siobhan and Owen and their friends and family team up to save their town from dragons! A community learns a heart-warming lesson! I stopped caring about five chapters from the end, but finished because I was so close.

There are lesbian characters! And, in my head, a whooooole bunch of asexual teenagers.

Also, an attempt to make Lester B. Pearson interesting.

xpost of this review originally published on goodreads Sun, 16 Oct 2016.

Jungleland: A Mysterious Lost City, a WWII Spy, and a True Story of Deadly Adventure, by Christopher S. Stewart
book cover: Jungleland: A Mysterious Lost City, a WWII Spy, and a True Story of Deadly AdventureI don't read a lot of non-fiction, so this review is in the vein of "Hey, check out these Beatles! Some of their songs are kinda catchy!"

This is a story of a dude who tries to find a "Lost City", interspersed with some other dude in history who tried to find the lost city, and maybe found it, or claimed to find it, but really who knows? But also he was a spy in WWII, so.

And I'm not very familiar with non-fiction, but I feel like one of the things that always surprises me about it is how much it is an exercise in making meaning. There seems to be... permission? For writers to search for ~meaning~ in life, and in history, in a way that is not really done in fiction.

And the other thing that surprised me is how much purpler the prose is allowed to be in non-fiction. Here's a bit I transcribed:

"The rain comes without warning, persistent and forceful, a harbinger of some bigger, more malign force that presides out of sight. In places, mountains climb as high as 4,000 feet, with steep, intermingling hills packed close like bad teeth."

I mean, that's great stuff, but I think your editor would weed it back in a fiction work.

xpost of this review originally published on goodreads Sat, 15 Oct 2016.

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall
book cover: Mars EvacueesLike if Mordecai Richler wrote Space Cadet. Is that meaningful for non-Canadians?

This is pretty decent book, I think in the 'middle-grade' category, which is (I think) aimed at kids who are ready for more sophisticated concepts, but not really interested yet in sex.

Alice Dare is evacuated from Earth, as it slowly succumbs to alien invasion, along with several hundred other kids who either seemed like they might be useful to a future resistance, or had important political connections. Mars isn't really ready to house them, but needs must. At first, Alice is not really much bothered by her situation, because her old school was moderately terrible too, but then it becomes obvious that the situation is rather more dire than the adults have been telling them.

Can plucky pre-teens and a goldfish robot save the solar system? (Yes.)

This book's main attraction is Alice's narrative voice, and the cast of characters, which are what reminded me of Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. It's very... sassy? I don't know how to talk about it without sounding about a million years old, but it's quite delightful, if occasionally it does ring a little forced.

xpost of this review originally published on goodreads Thu, 13 Oct 2016.

Pacific Fire, by Greg Van Eekhout
book cover: Pacific FireHard to write a follow-up to a story in which your protag. defeated the big bad and consumed his power. Eekhout manages by having him unconscious for the first third so that he's playing catch-up. Most of the story follows his son's attempt to live an independent life, which unfortunately he interprets as "defeat supervillains using blind luck, and own superpowers (tbd)."

Sam does a decent job of carrying the book, although he is not quite as likeable as Daniel. I mean, teenagerhood is a difficult stage. It happens to us all.

xpost of this review originally published on goodreads Thu, 13 Oct 2016.

The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace, #1), by Erin Bow
book cover: The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace, #1)One thing I enjoyed about this book, which will make me sound like a whackjob, is that the author had clearly thought about the logistics of holding several dozen children of various ages hostage, and, further, the uselessness of an empty threat, and the effects of carrying your threat out.

These kids are a small group of children of world leaders, held hostage by the overlord, space-capable AI, to help encourage their parents to pursue peace. The AI wants what's best for humanity and the world, and if sometimes you have to kill a child to ensure that heads of state really think before they launch a war, well, it's unpleasant, but demonstrably cuts down on warfare.

The children are all clearly traumatised, would be post-traumatic if their trauma could ever actually be post-, and living their lives the best they can. Greta deals by trying to do everything correctly, as if compliance and flawlessly written essays will save her. Her roommate, Xie, deals by sneaking out at night to have sex with other hostages in her age-group. Then a new hostage is brought into their group, and refuses to follow the rules set down for him.

This sounds like it's going to be about Elían, the new hostage, but Greta is the POV character, and from her POV, Elían is a dangerous destabilizing force, upsetting the her illusion of control over her surroundings. Greta gets through the day-to-day of being a hostage, caring for the small farm that supports them and following the rules that allow them to escape punishment, whereas Elían breaks rules to be contrary, putting his age-group at risk.

Then the politics of the outside world intrude, and Greta has to make choices.

People seem very split on this book, with a lot of people describing it has boring, which I wonder if might be in part due to the flatness of Greata, the narrator's, affect. I attributed this to the trauma, which granted, may not make it more fun to read.

Anyway, about 80% of the way through the book, it takes a turn I didn't expect but sort of enjoyed? Also, a book in which not everyone is straight. More of not everyone than you thought.

xpost of this review originally published on goodreads Wed, 12 Oct 2016.

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