Review – Fates and Furies

A love/hate review of a novel about the blur between love and hate…Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (3.5/5)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff was published on September 15, 2016 and released in paperback on September 16, 2016.

I loved Groff’s the Monsters of  Templeton. When I finished, I looked into Fates and Furies but wasn’t really interested. As before, I saw it in the library and thought, why not?

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In order to truly review this book I have to treat it as two distinct entities. One is the story within the novel, and the other is the way in which the novel is written.

Because I love one. The other, not so much.

Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage told in two parts: Fates – mostly from Lotto’s perspective, and Furies – from Mathilde’s. It’s how they met, married, their lives, careers, choices, understandings, fights, failures, intrigues, friends, and family. They live in New York – Lotto is a failed actor turned successful playwright, Mathilde is a saintly supportive wife turned business manager. Things are exactly what they seem; things aren’t what they seem.

If you like tense interpersonal drama, a wide-ranging cast, characters you hate to love and love to hate, this is absolutely the novel for you.

Structurally, this book deserves all the praise it’s gotten because it’s dynamic and unique. The writing style, the craftsmanship, the movement of time and place, the lyricism in the language and the asides like a Greek chorus are brilliant. The structure itself is compelling regardless of the story the words are shaping – run on sentences, use of semi-colons, parentheticals. It’s not just the characters’ thoughts, it’s these droplets of an omniscient narrator that provide insight into life in general. If I was going to review just this, 5/5 – one of the most uniquely designed and planned novels I’ve ever read. Groff is a genius.

My struggle to praise to this book to the heavens is the story. I like Mathilde more than Lotto, but I like Mathilde the way I like Claire in House of Cards. She’s a cornered woman who has had to live her life as an incomplete person due to a sense of self-protection; she is ice and fire and secrets. Lotto is the golden child, the one ignorant of the feelings of others but manages to get away with it. Often. There is a goodness in Lotto that means his ignorance is often in line with the needs of others, but he is written to be the worst kind of representation of the benevolent patriarchy. I know that Groff wrote Lotto very intentionally – I know she wrote him to be the person you hate to love, but you also know he’s a deeply problematic person. His arrogant beliefs regarding his wife’s needs and wants, his sense of ownership of her, his belief that love is more important than respect just drove me crazy. When I got to Furies and I was reading Mathilde’s experiences my disgust with Lotto went straight to repulsion. I could not understand why Mathilde wanted to be with him – even if she’d been a whole person she could have been with better than Lotto. And it’s frustrating, because even self-aware Mathilde thinks Lotto is special or deserving and I just don’t see it. I was disgusted with everyone because there are powerful and intelligent women in this novel and they seemed to be reduced to idiocy by Lotto. And there are no good men.

I also believe it’s pretty popular in adult fiction, film, and television right now to have characters who are mostly bad people – we don’t like competent, good people dealing with ordinary struggles. We like knowing about horrible, selfish people dealing with extraordinary struggles. Yes, both characters have redeeming qualities but it’s a very small percentage of who they are on the page. It allows us to live out the worst parts of ourselves. It’s just not my taste. Maybe it’s because most people believe they don’t know a benevolent misogynist like Lotto, or a damaged feral calculator like Mathilde. I see them every day in my work, so it’s hard to be pushed through that experience in my free time. So…3/5.

Anyone would be impressed and compelled reading this book – whether or not you come out of it feeling amazing or depressed is a matter of taste. I can’t say I recommend Fates and Furies, but I am in awe of it. I’ll compromise with 3.5/5.

Review – A Discovery of Witches

Witches, vampires, love, alchemy…it’s got everything. Review of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (4.5/5)

A Discovery of Witches was published February 8, 2011 by Penguin Books. I am upset that I went through 5 years of this book being out in the world and did not read it until now. I’d never even heard of it until this year! If you already read this and enjoyed it, I recommend the River of No Return by Bee Ridgway – there’s a similarity of tone.

I spent an entire Sunday reading this and finished it on Monday, September 19, 2016.

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The blurb does not do this book justice. I immediately loved the cover, but was turned off by the summary. I didn’t buy it when I saw it in the store, but decided to check it out of the library.

Oh my, was I in for a treat.

A Discovery of Witches is the blend of so much of the best stuff in modern fantasy; bear with me because every time I tried to figure out how to summarize this excellent novel it came out sounding like Twilight. Only its a vampire/witch love story. With adults. And depth of emotion. And historical context and obscure references. It’s a novel that takes the cliche of being the Chosen One and makes it interesting again.

Our heroine is Dr. Diana Bishop – the last of the Bishop witches – who spent her life denying and strangling her own magic after the death of her parents as a child. Diana is a science historian with a focus on alchemy; the medieval blend of science and magic that experimented on the transformation of matter. While researching in Oxford’s Bodleian Library she calls up a manuscript for her research: the mysterious Ashmole 782. With her first view of the manuscript she knows its bewitched, and after a brief encounter with the book, sends it back into the bowels of the library in order to keep her life divided from magic. With the finding and returning of Ashmole 782, Diana sends a ripple through the supernatural world: every witch, vampire, and daemon wants Diana and the manuscript. One vampire in particular, Dr. Matthew Clairmont, enters Diana’s world and changes it forever. Diana and Matthew begin fighting a world of magic, segregation, science, and thousands of years of history in order to not only be together, but figure out the blended future of for all the creatures.

Speaking of creatures, there are four types of creatures in this world: humans, witches, vampires, and daemons. I like that witches are distinct creatures, not just humans with magical powers. The vampires are a blend of the traditional myth with Harkness’s own twist, and daemons are manic, creative geniuses – similar to demigods but they are the creature with the most questions in regard to their creation and origin.

This book covers history, literature, philosophy, and science and the way it has shaped the world we live in. There’s so much more to this story than I can possibly summarize – Matthew’s personal history and his family, Diana’s history, her family, and her burgeoning magical powers, not to mention the ramifications of Ashmole 782 on the entire supernatural world. The world is so complete without being over-explained. I know the political landscape of the witches, vampires, daemons, and their fear of being discovered by humans while also adhering to their own strict rules against co-mingling. PLUS, Matthew is a scientist exploring the genetics of the creatures – how they differ and overlap with each other and with humans. If you know nothing about genetics, evolution, and DNA now, you’ll know more afterward. I already put myself on the waiting list for the Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes at the university library.

I could spend an entire post just summarizing all the details of this novel. It is so fantastically fleshed out – the world is dynamic, the threat real, and I am ready for the next book to find out what happens next. I honestly considered not reviewing A Discovery of Witches and instead reviewing the entire trilogy. I feel like I read at least three different books in the span of one anyway.

Most of the novel is spent with Diana coming to terms with the fact the she herself is dangerous – she’s spent most of her life forcing herself to be a human instead of a witch. Diana must embrace her true nature as a creature and all that means – the danger, the violence, and the wonder. Her power is huge, uncontrolled, and unacknowledged and it’s led her to find herself both a risk to those around her and sometimes utterly defenseless. Diana is marvelous – she’s intelligent and decisive, a little stubborn but attempts to be logical when she realizes it, and is aware that she guards her emotions. Diana is fun to read. She was a character I liked following around. Her desire to be her own woman and to make her own way on her merits is admirable and relatable – she demonstrates how easy it would be to get all she wanted with magic, but she’d rather have done the work.

Matthew is a little…predictable. At first. He’s the super-hot vampire who’s lived for a long time and he’s seen everything and knows everyone and is experiencing a new kind of love for the first time, a love which he resisted and brooded about. You see his protectiveness coming from a mile away and the explanation of his predatory instincts is unsurprising if well thought out. What makes Matthew different is that there’s a certain level of self-awareness that his protectiveness is not always welcome or necessary, and that Diana is capable of taking care of herself. Matthew’s violence is also real, not just a threat made or an inference that he can’t control himself around warmbloods. Matthew kills because it’s his nature – not just to feed, but to protect and avenge. Matthew is a real danger, which makes him a dynamic character to follow.

It helps that Deborah Harkness is actually a science historian so her grasp of the background material is deep, and something she’s used to translating and theorizing on. Her ability to simply explain who historical people are, why they matter, and what their work was is done in such a way that someone without any other context can grasp it. It’s interesting because the author is reflected in both Diana and Matthew – the science historian connection is obvious, but the span of knowledge and research needed to write a novel this complete is pure Matthew.

This book is dense – not that it’s difficult to understand – there’s just A LOT going on. It’s a world that is easy and fun to disappear into, and I highly recommend for someone looking for an immersive read that you are going to get excited about. And that you will want the next book, Shadow of Night, immediately.

I give A Discovery of Witches 4.5/5 for being a wild, detailed ride of a novel and for leaving me wanting more. Half-star off because some of it feels oddly placed and improbable; I have full faith however that Harkness will resolve much of my few issues by the end of the trilogy.