A Certain Lack of Focus

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Borders Spree

Well I think it's been a while since I last spent much money on books, but I got a super borders shopping day (or something) in November, so I must have gone through more than I remember. I did buy Fledgling by Octavia Butler, a copy of the constitution and I feel like something else I can't remember a while ago, but it seems like longer than October. At any rate, I've got another supershopper day now because I dropped about 70 bucks on books this week. Hey, if you've got to have a habit, there are worse ones to have than books... right? Right?
It's not entirely my fault... at least that's what I'm claiming. There were a couple of books that I've been waiting FOREVER for the paperback version to come out... and they did. I picked up George R. R. Martin's A Feast For Crows and Gregory McGuire's Son of a Witch. Then I continued to wander for a while in the sci-fi fantasy section... now normally I have some measure of discipline in Borders these days because I really don't have much cash to spare... but...
I mean Neil Gaiman. I HAVE to buy anything that's written by him, it's like a rule. So he's got a newish short story collection, Fragile Things, and I didn't even hesitate to pick up the hardback because, well because it's Neil Gaiman.
Then I wandered over to the children's section, my true weakness. I LOVE children's books and I have several authors that I immediately buy anything new I see of their work. The list includes: Diana Wynne Jones, first and foremost, my favorite children's author and possibly my favorite author period; William Sleator, not everything he's written has been amazing or even really good, but he's had a few grand slams like The House of Stairs that make me give anything he writes a try; Monica Hughes, she's been dead since 2003 and most of her work is out of print, but I love everything I've read by her; Tamora Pierce, I've been reading her work since I was eleven I think; Patricia C. Wrede, though mostly I'm just trying to fill in my collection there, and Bruce Coville for nostalgia value and sheer entertainment, though the age group he writes for is a little younger than what I usually read. So the first thing I saw was a book new book by Tamora Pierce called Terrier: Beka Cooper #1. Obviously I had to pick that up as well.
I read that one first, it was pretty good but not her best I think. Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen are my favorites, but I guess that's because Aly (Alanna's daughter) is my favorite of Tamora Pierce's main characters. You have to give her credit, she is fantastic at writing strong female protagonists, and Terrier certainly continues that tradition. I like Beka, she's bright and has enough faults to be sympathetic rather than larger than life. Beka doesn't exactly have a speech impediment, but she's so terrified of public speaking she may as well have. She's also just a bit overeager, but that goes away quickly, so I hope her speech problem won't clear up to easily... Beka as a character has a great deal of potential to either become far to perfect or to become Pierce's strongest (deepest) character yet. I think Beka's strength is that she's very nearly ordinary... her most striking or helpful attribute is determination. She does have magic... or the gift as Pierce calls it in Tortall, but it is I think a relatively small gift compared to say Alanna. Her gift is more like George's (appropriately) useful (and painful in Beka's case) but small and unremarkable. True, Beka excels as a trainee cop but with the explanation of her background that's not too difficult to believe. My hope is that she stays in the believable, of course I want to see her succeed, but I'd like her to stay as real a person as possible. So far, Pierce's characters are all a bit TOO strong for their own good. Alanna's only fault is crankiness: She has a huge "gift" and fighting ability so amazing that she becomes a legend before she becomes a knight. Fine, great, the Lioness Quartet is the first series I read by Tamora Pierce (and I think the only ones that existed when I was that age) and they're wonderful. It's a fantastic series teenage and pre-teen girls, and I wouldn't want Alanna to be any different, or less, than she is. Then comes, in some order, the Circle series(es) the Immortals series, Protector of the Small, and the two books in the Trickster series (which I hope will be followed by at least two more...). The Circle books are great fun, they give glances at child-mages at different stages of growth (currently into young adulthood). But all four mages are child prodigies, they harness more power than any of the well known and snobby mages they encounter will believe until they are forced to show them. Again, I wouldn't want it any other way, but it does cause a certain amount of predictability and somewhat shallow characters. Good characters though, Daja especially, though Briar's my favorite. The gay themes are subtle and nicely done as well. The Immortals series is probably my least favorite, I'm not sure why. I think that's just a matter of personal taste rather than a comment on the writing though, but in the continuing trend of ridiculously large characters, Daine is not only the strongest and best mage of her type... she's the only one. Nobody can teach her really, because there are no other ani-mages who change form like she does... it's cute, but a bit much for me. The love interest between her and her teacher is interesting though, and although it's very obvious and easy (once it's accepted) I've got to give her credit for making things complicated situationally. The Protector of the Small series is, I think, her strongest writing to date. Kel is a wonderful character, quiet and even tempered. The situations that she finds herself in are a bit over the top, but then, it wouldn't be an interesting story if they weren't. The issues raised about gender roles and relations are important, if a bit heavy handed, and Kel's love life is the most realistic romance Pierce has written. But although Kel has no "gift" she is in her way a bit too much as well, she's a giant physically, and she's by far the strongest student in nearly every field she tries as page, squire and night. Then there's Aly, in the Trickster books. She's so much fun, but she's just SO clever and even her mistakes work out for the best.
So I want an ordinary character. Leave Beka alone please and let her blunder through her duty like the rest of us do. Please Tamora Pierce, give me a story about a girl who's just an average kid, because it's great that you want to prove that women are just as strong as men... but do they ALWAYS have to be stronger? And when you're done writing about ordinary Beka Cooper, I'd like a story about the next female Tortall page, who's not excellent, who isn't helped along by magic, or strange foreign upbringing, or a mysterious benefactor, but who manages, painfully, to make her way to knighthood anyhow. She can be smart, and strong and stubborn and creative, she'd have to be I think, but does she have to be superhuman?

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