Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Critical Distance/The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

My reading of the otherwise charming Waterless Sea by Kate Constable * was marred by my concurrent reading of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, the hilarious how-not-to write fantasy book by Diana Wynne Jones. Justine Larbalestier was recently talking about it, and it was the only one of DWJ's books I'd never read, so I ran by the library.

The Waterless Sea is a sequel to The Singer of All Songs, a fantasy about a young woman who knows ice magic coming into other magical powers and facing off against an evil wizard. There's a very nicely sketched story about the kinds of magic in this world, all tied to particular places--except our heroine Calwyn has the ability to pick up all of the magics. Anyway, in the Waterless Sea, Calwyn and her friends go to a desert continent to rescue imprisoned children who can do 'ironcrafting' magic, and this involves her sort-of lover Darrow, was once one of the imprisoned children.

The characters are compelling, the story is interesting, but I kept thinking of The Tough Guide: ooh, this is a Vestigial Empire crossed with Desert Tribes, and ooh look, she sings for someone when they die, and ooh yes, he must be a Missing Heir. Being fully cognizant of some of the genre conventions, and in an (albeit gently) mocking sort of way, made it very hard to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the book. I'm learning that I read for plot more than I'd like to, racing through to find out what happens; giving myself that sort of critical distance really changes the experience. This may be linked to my compulsive re-reading: maybe I save the thinking for the re-reads? I'll try to be more reflective about my reading process and see if pleasure and critical thinking can't co-exist.

*I'm sick of being linked to amazon pages for books folks talk about. I want to start a trend of linking to book information through librarything.



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