Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dragons and Selkies

I Can't Believe It's Not Blogged...
I first discovered Kantra in an anthology during my Antholopalooza event two years ago, and I really liked the novella that she contributed, so I went out and got the first of her Children of the Sea series and I've really enjoyed them. I had every intention of doing some reviews but for some reason I never managed it (this happens to me a lot).

I kind of lost track of where she was with her series, but then I spotted her name recently and I snatched up Immortal Sea when I saw it on the new release shelf. I guess that officially makes Kantra an auto-buy for me.  Really enjoyed it.

I Can't Believe It Took Me So Long
When this series came out, I was buried deep in vampires and I wasn't so interested in the historical/paranormal combo, so I didn't pay much attention to the hype going around.  But holy moly, this is a good series!  I'm through the first three so I have a couple more to look forward to.

I am hugely impressed by the voicing in this series; by the lushness of the writing; by the way the author makes it feel like a fairy tale and a true story at the same time. I absolutely love the way Abé hints that the Drákon shifters are also the source of human tales of the Fae without ever coming out and saying so; at least, that's what I read between the lines in the description of their human (but more beautiful) forms, and the treatment of the parallel worlds.

Two Great Tastes?
OK that's interesting and all, you might be thinking, but why are they sharing a post?

The thing that really struck me about the Drákon characters is how very alien they are.  With a lot of paranormal fiction, the characters are "superhuman," that is, they are human-plus.  Their perspectives and small everyday habits are relateable. OK, so maybe they also like to drink blood or cast spells or turn into a wolf with the full moon-- but at bottom they're human characters with extra features.

I did not feel this way about Abé's characters.  She would lull me into familiarity, with a sort-of typical Regency ton sort of thing going on, and then the whole scene tilts sideways-- in one of the early scenes in the first book, the two characters spend several days in a completely empty house, subsisting on oatmeal. No servants, almost no furniture.  It's a bit eerie.

There are quite a few more examples where it would just hit me in the middle of a scene how surreal things were and how not-human --yet completely believeable-- the characters' point of view and motivations were (A more perfect blogger than I would have an illustrative excerpt to pull for this paragraph.)

As this occurred to me, I realized it was a familiar-- but not common-- feeling and I was racking my brain to remember what other author had inspired that reaction. Luckily, having picked up Immortal Sea around the same time, Kantra's selkies and fin-folk were fresh in my mind.  Of course!

Kantra and Abé both achieve something rather remarkable: they write characters that are aloof and emotionally chilly, and make them fall in love without changing their essential character.  Furthermore, they make the reader care about them and believe in the love store even with that edge of remoteness.

But What Does It All Mean?
 I'm not a particularly philosophical reader, but I do see some repeated themes in paranormal romance-- animal nature vs. social convention/civilization in shifter/were stories; the meaning of being alive for vampires; explorations of good and evil; intellect and instinct; belongingness and "otherness", mythology and religion and power and humanity.

I think part of what makes both of these authors really stand-out, fresh voices is that they are both allowing their characters to be something truly different, truly alien.  Their characters' struggle to find love gets some imaginative new twists, and brow-raising new challenges.  I wish I could think of 4 or 5 more ways to say "fresh."  These are stories that continue to linger in my mind -- they refuse to blend in with the large population of paranormals in my reading history.

Reading Order - Kantra
1. Sea Witch
2. Sea Fever
3. Sea Lord
4. Immortal Sea
5. Forgotten Sea (June 2011)
anthology adjuncts: Sea Crossing (antho- Shifter) and Shifting Sea (antho-Burning Up)

Reading Order - Abé
1. The Smoke Thief
2. The Dream Thief
3. Queen of Dragons
4. The Treasure Keeper
5. The Time Weaver

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Invisible Box

I take a fair bit of pride in going a little beyond the superficial in my reviews here on Alpha Heroes. Or so I like to think, anyway.

The downside to this is that it often takes me quite some time to put a review together; up to 6 hours sometimes of drafting, editing, formatting, reference checking, etc. And when I get a book in hand or a concept in mind that I really want to do justice to, I sometimes delay, procrastinate, etc. until I feel like I have a nice chunk of time and mental energy to devote to it. Because I don’t want to do a half-assed job.

However, lately this has been getting in my way. So I want to kick off a plan for the next two weeks – kind of like NaNoWriMo, I’m going to post something every day. Might not be as well-thought out or as prettily-formatted as I generally like to do. But there’ll be something. (This one counts).

Here’s a thought for today – not about books or reading or blogging per se, but for those of us with a procrastination problem. Have you heard the term “paralyzed perfectionist”? In a nutshell, you’d rather not start something unless you are sure you can do it perfectly. Which, on the surface, is an admirable thing—if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, and all that. It’s the difference between “properly” and “perfectly” that can become tricky.

I once heard this described very amusingly along these lines: “My house is messy. I was going to take out the trash, but then I notice that the floor around the can had a spill, so I stopped to wipe that up with a rag. While I was down there, I realized that the linoleum was starting to peel up and that we need to get that taken care of right away or water will get underneath and ruin the substrate. So I started working up the budget for that and decided that I’d rather go with hardwood than replacing the lino so I started researching the different woods and finishes. And then I looked up and it was midnight so I went to bed and the trash is still sitting next to the can waiting for me to take it out.” This isn’t really a story about getting distracted but a story about turning a little task into a monstrously complicated/expensive/difficult one.

A couple of good background articles:

A good general view
Regarding perfectionism in kids...

Does this apply to you? Do you have any strategies for breaking loose? As it relates to blogging, this daily-post commitment is my strategy for now (and it has worked before, though I haven’t explicitly discussed it).

So here I go, hitting the post button without finding the perfect image to go with the article or second-guessing the article title...

OK, that's a lie, I did second-guess it and third-guess it, but I haven't come up with anything better, so here goes.


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