Book #3 for 2017; Book #2 for the 2017 Mt TBR Challenge
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
– A book with an eccentric character
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge Task: A fantasy novel
Habitica Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book with a chase scene
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A book with an award
– A book based on a fairy tale
– A book with a female heroine
Possible AWSFF Bingo Squares:
– G2: Any Nebula Awarded Novel
– I1: Any Hugo Nominated Novel
– O4: Any World Fantasy Nominated Novel
Personal Challenge Task: An award-winning book
Better World Books Prompts:
– A book based on a fairytale
– A book over 400 pages
– A fantasy novel
– A book by a female writer
Just so y’all know, I have never read La Belle et la Bête and I have never seen any of the film adaptations of it. But I hear tell that if you love that story, you will love this book. I feel like I should read the old story for myself, just for the sake of cultural literacy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I will have the same problem with it that I had with this book: the romantic subplot.
This may be a minor spoiler, but I’m not hiding it because I think it’s important to know about this going in. Agnieszka falls for an arrogant, verbally abusive dickhead of a wizard, and this is presented as a fun and sexy thing. I’ve been through this kind of crap myself, and I see my friends deal (or fail to deal) with this shit on a regular basis, and it pisses me off to see this kind of irresponsible normalizing of dysfunctional relationship dynamics. Why is it that that “romance” tales always seem so creepy when viewed from a modern, feminist perspective? (Do NOT get me started on Turandot, or we’ll be here all night.)
The thing is, the tale in this book doesn’t even need a romantic subplot. It does just fine without any romance at all! And if you really have your heart set on one, why not Kasia? Agnieszka and Kasia had a far stronger and healthier relationship. I would totally dig that storyline.
Okay, so now I’m done with my rant explaining the missing 5th star, and I can start gushing about what an awesome book this is. The prose is beautifully done, and I feel like Novik has succeeded here where Stephenson (Snow Crash) and Wilson (Alif the Unseen) both failed in their attempts to mystically connect language and divine power. In a manner that reminded me of The City & the City, Novik effortlessly yet purposefully includes sections of linguistic uncertainty and confusion that somehow make actual sense in my gut. I really liked Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon, but the writing here is far superior.
Novik also does a great job with the characters, even the minor ones. In just a few lines, she can make you care about a character who exists for mere paragraphs, to the point that you grieve their loss. And believe me, there is a lot of loss in this book. Really gory, creepy loss. Do giant mantises require a trigger warning? Well, just in case, there ya go.
Despite my misgivings, I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed reading fantasy that is both familiar and completely foreign, and I loved watching Agnieszka come into her own. Even her dickhead love interest seemed to grow as a character. Some.