Maybe you thought there weren’t going to be new characters in the penultimate book. Maybe you thought you could stop updating your cast flow chart. Finally laminate it and put it up on the wall to use as a reference. Well put that frame back in the box. Dreece put in more people. Never fear, the delightful Tee, Elly, and Richy are still with us. As are many of the old favourites from previous installments. Plus all the backstabbing, plotting, and double-dealing we’ve come to expect from Dreece’s writing. But wait, there’s more! Airship battles! More explosions! Rocket packs! Here I thought shock sticks and mechanical horses were enough excitement. Dreece disagreed, and we all benefit. Something he didn’t add more of was bloodshed. The level of violence has been pretty consistent since it was upped in the second book, and there isn’t much else to warn for. This is a really decent series, and I’m looking forwards to seeing how everything gets tied together in The Day the Sky Fell. Stay tuned!
Just when you thought you knew all the characters. Dreece keeps stuffing them in, with more betrayals and flashbacks than you could shake a shock-stick at. If your memory is anything like mine, it isn’t the gripping plot alone that keeps you from putting these books down. It’s the fear that when you pick it up the next day you won’t remember who is on what side anymore. Tee, Elly, Richy, and Nikolas Klaus haven’t left us, nor have the Cochon brothers from Along Came a Wolf, but the leaders of the Tub and the Fare join the Pieman family in seeing just how many people can fit into a 340 page steampunk romp. (Answer: about 30). I wonder if Dreece reads much Russian literature? Tolstoy would be proud.
It seems that Dreece uses All the King’s-Men to start tying the history of Eorth with its present political climate, as he brings the series to its climax. Tee and the Yellow Hoods are joined on their flight through the wilderness by new friends and questionable leaders as they flee the agents of the Fare and other rogue factions bent on toppling the government and taking over the world. Again, some bloodshed, gunshots, and deaths. Suggestions of child abuse and mentions of kidnapping, but written from the perspective of the (safe) survivor which takes out much of the sting. An even mix of female and male characters. With an even mix of strong and weak traits. Take a spy novel, add teenagers, set it in the medieval era and then hose everything down with a good spray of steampunk and you’d have yourself The Yellow Hoods series. It’s good stuff.
This is where things start to really pick up. Tee, Elly, and Richy are joined by a steadily increasing number of characters as Dreece weaves several parallel plot lines; chapters on missing children in the previously peaceful town of Mineau tag team with secret societies plotting to steal steam engine plans in a universe where inventing has been outlawed. If you had a tough time putting down Along Came a Wolf, clear your calendar when you start Breadcrumb Trail. You can put it down if you really have to, but there aren’t exactly breathers built into the plot. It’ll be a struggle. This was also the book with the strongest fairy tale influences, thanks to the plot line with the disturbing “Ginger Lady.” The fairy tale influences in the first book seemed to revolve around names and titles rather than having those old stories come to life, or be rewritten in a novel way. Compared to the first book, this one has more violence. Actual bloodshed, gun shots, deaths. No racism or sexism. Child abuse and kidnapping are present in this installment, however. Only hinted at, but they are there. Having finished the series, I can say they are mentioned again later in the series, but only in passing in two other books. Dreece writes a good story without resorting to sensationalism, and his non-stop plots make for a quick read.
With Along Came a Wolf Dreece launches a steampunk-fairy tale young adult fantasy series with ample excitement, danger, and plot twists to keep you engaged until the last page of book five. We follow the spunky Tee, Elly, and Richy as a visit from a mysterious messenger to Tee’s grandfather plunges the four of them into a world of intrigue and danger. The action barely pauses until the last page. The characters are pretty well fleshed out and a good balance of gumption and terror. There isn’t a single thing for me to offer a content warning about. Very little violence, no sexism, no racism, nothing. Only the editing could have been better. There are some sentences that could have been more polished, and a few times where Dreece used the same word in two adjacent lines, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine. However, I will say that I started book two Breadcrumb Trail immediately upon finishing Along Came a Wolf and the editing has much improved, so if it bothers you push through it and the rest of this page-turner of a series will be your reward.
When Moira James dies in a car crash while taking a time-out from her marriage, her husband Ronin moves himself and his two daughters to a tiny town in British Columbia to try to reassemble their lives. The stunning mountain scenery makes an incredible backdrop to the grief Trofimuk explores in his incredible, heart-opening story. It has been one of my favourite books since I snagged it on a whim in the library one day. I liked the title. I love the writing. Every page has poetry on it. There’s weight to the grief, to the range of emotions. Depth to the confusion. There are also monks. Scotch. Wine. Music. This book always makes me want to put on some classical and pour myself a drink; I could see it being a problem for a recovering alcoholic. There is also a lot of emphasis on womens’ bodies that rubs me the wrong way. Of the five adult women in the story, four are depicted on the basis of their sexual attractiveness to Ronin. But I can’t tell you what Ronin looks like. This gets under my skin. As I mentioned at the beginning the novel is built around an automobile accident death, but there are also discussions of bombings and suicide. Some not-great language surrounding abortions. While Ronin doesn’t outright condemn abortions, the words he chooses when discussing them are pretty judgmental and someone who actually supported a woman having the right to choose what happened to her own body would most likely use different language. Again, not outright anti-choice, but not as good as it could have been. No book is perfect. For the delight I have gotten – and continue to get – from this wonderful work I am content to overlook a few flaws.
Commit to Antigone. That’s what you will need to do if you read Oedipus at Colonus. It’s a cliffhanger. It’s also not as good as Oedipus Rex; I see even in ancient Greece sequels failed to live up to their precursors. OaC is longer than OR, but less violent. Sophocles has developed Oedipus’ character in the twenty year gap between the setting of the first play and the setting of the second play. He and his daughter Antigone have wandered and begged across Greece, arriving eventually at Athens, hoping Theseus will give them shelter. Meanwhile we discover Thebes is beset with governmental discord; Oedipus’ sons are battling for the throne and his brother-in-law intends to forcefully return him home. But Oedipus has been doing some thinking. His realizations about the nature of sin are comforting to read. Watching him stand up for himself was cathartic, after the craptacular hand he was dealt in OR. He’s still a proud and willful character, but he’s stopped self-flagellating. He really needs some advice on supporting the bereaved. Take this gem, spoken graveside to his heartbroken children immediately before his death: “You shall never have more [love]/From any man than you have had from me./ And now you must spend the rest of life without me.” If your goal was to completely crush someone’s heart right before dying, you could hardly have hoped to do better. Oh Oedipus. You tried. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find the cliff’s notes for Antigone and end this cycle.
You know the story. The famous king who *spoiler alert* unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. There are no surprises in this play. Except for the writing. Sophocles (and our hard-working translator) are amazing. The entire work is dialogue and choruses, but the writing is so evocative I was completely swept away. Such a gem! In a tragic, bloody setting, but still. There’s suicide on top of the murder and incest, and self-harm, too. Oedipus Rex is most definitely not in the ranks of feel-good literature. But it’s really short. You could whip through it in an afternoon, and have the rest of the day to think about it. Or read the rest of the trilogy; Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone continue the story of Oedipus and his children after he is exiled from Thebes. You can have a little more Oedipus to round out your day. It may help you appreciate the good things in your own life.
A tragic play written in the 1800s, Goethe’s Faust bears many resemblances to Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Both main characters are scholars who have grown disillusioned with their search for knowledge and make pacts with the devil; his service for the remnant of their lifetimes in exchange for their service for an eternity in hell, and of course realize this is a lopsided bargain much too late. Doctor Faustus was better. Faust is disappointingly sluggish, stuffed with dull poetry and crummy rhymes, difficult to follow, and has all kinds of Latin to translate. It’s also as sexist as you’d expect a work from the 1800s to be, with the full gamut of a young woman being seduced, impregnated, and then not so much abandoned as forgotten by her lover. He apparently just had other stuff to do for a year. At least Goethe is sympathetic to her. Any other race is most noticeable by its absence. I suppose this is all standard fare for books of that era, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Really I feel that if you’ve read one of these books you could check them both off of your to-read list, and that if you haven’t read either Doctor Faustus will keep you more engaged. After discovering the edition I was reading only had part one I will be following my own advice. Don’t bother looking for a review of part two here.
A heavily abridged version of the first book of the tetralogy that makes up Gargantua & Pantagruel, this book has some unique features to offer the discerning reader of classic literature. Sermons. Multiple occurrences where thousands drown in urine. High minded discussion of classical education syllabuses. Potty humour. Soliloquies praising god and king immediately follow a lengthy, detailed discussion of codpieces. Of course Gargantua has the most fashionable codpiece, covering the most wondrous junk. Plus he’s a giant so his codpiece is huge. But how huge, you ask? Don’t fret! Rabelais includes measurements in case you want to make a scale model of Gargantua’s outfit. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book where the author’s giddy squealing about the perfection of the main character eclipsed the plot. It’s also been a long time since I read a book with so many codpieces in it. It’s been even longer since I had call to use the word codpiece five times in a row. Rabelais used it more frequently though. It’s a good thing this Great Books edition didn’t edit out all the talk of wardrobes and meals or the story would have been 10 pages long. Basically, Gargantua’s parents do the hokey pokey; after 11 months (because he’s awesome) Gargantua is born. His bad tutors turn him into a useless lump, he gets a better tutor and goes back to being awesome, goes on some awesome adventures, pees on some people, fights in a war, his horse pees on some people, and then he founds the most awesome monastery in the history of the world. Pantagruel doesn’t show up in this book, but he’s Gargantua’s son so he’s probably awesome too. If you’re really committed to fleshing out your classical literature checklist then I guess you should pick up Gargantua & Pantagruel, but otherwise only read it if you really like lowbrow humour. I basically covered it for you here, with mentions of sexism and some gore in battle scenes you now know all the pertinent details. You’re welcome. I know, I’m awesome.
Sometimes it seems like all of my book reviews start off this way, but The Left Hand of Darkness was not what I was expecting. It begins with political intrigue swirling around a clueless ambassador, and slugglishly morphs into a polar expedition that would make Shackleton proud. Emphasis on slugglishly. I didn’t get really drawn in to the plot until after the first 100 pages. This edition is only 300 pages long. That’s a lot of slogging for not a lot of payoff. Even if this book is practically legendary now. The world of Gethen and its nuanced cultures, religions, and governments certainly merits praise. Though I wish things were more fleshed out. There’s a lot of vocabulary to puzzle through and not quite enough contextual clues to easily unpuzzle it. I’d speculate that what really made this story famous are the Gethenians themselves. This is the first story I’ve ever read where the characters are ambi-sexual. It’s fascinatingly done. Like human women, the Gethenians have a monthly hormonal/sexual/reproductive cycle. Unlike humans, during the reproductive portion of each cycle a Gethenian may become either male or female. And perhaps the opposite during the next cycle. One may father children, then mother children. There are no rigid sexual roles. They may vow fidelity or not, as they please, and neither choice is praised or denigrated. For a book published in the 1960s, The Left Hand of Darkness is ground breaking. With so much flexibility in genders, it’s a little difficult to determine if this book passes the Bechdel test. Anyone not actively female is referred to as “he.” There are no homosexual relationships. There’s mentions of incest, but only from the perspective of equal consenting adults. Minimal violence. Almost no gore. As befits a tale of political intrigue, Le Guin has written in forcible confinement and drugging too. It’s quite the package, and if the beginning hadn’t been so boring I would have given this book five stars. Should you be bored and bookless one day, consider The Left Hand of Darkness.