Monday, March 20, 2017

Review - Agnes Grey

Original Title: Agnes Grey
Series: -
Author: Anne Brontë
Published: 1847

Publisher: Alba editorial (Spanish edition)

I read this one back in 2014, and I've decided to share the review I wrote back then. 

Agnes Grey has, no doubt, Anne Brontë's mark, in the feminist tone, defending women, that she uses from start to finish. The heroine, Agnes, is the daughter of a humble family, she doesn't know many luxuries, and in the time of need, she insists on making her own living, working as a governess, in a time in which a working woman was synonymous with poverty.

I must say that the best character was Agnes' mother; she seemed a lot stronger than her husband, and ahead of her time, especially when she suggests that her daughters don't need to get married to be happy. She's a determined, willful woman, something she transmits to both Agnes and Mary, and she follows her heart. There were two moments I particularly liked about her: one, when her husband worries about money and wonders what will happen with his wife and daughters when he passes away, and she tells her that how can he think that, if the pain of losing him would be bigger than any material deprivings. And the other, that she's not worried about ending up in misery, because as long as she has two hands and her own will, she would use them to earn her living, the same as her daughters. That is the thinking of a woman ahead of her time, don't you think?

As for Agnes, well... she's very mature for her age, humble, hard-working, and willful. But I feel she lacked depth as a character. She's always in the victim part. It is true that the governess in a big household was, most of the times, treated as a servant, and she couldn't rebel or protest if she wanted to keep her position; that nor the Bloomfields or the Murrays were delicate with her (especially the Bloomfields, I myself don't know what would I have done with such terrible kids), but Agnes rarely has faults. She doesn't seem to make mistakes. She suffers, but she bears it because she knows her salary will help her family, and altogether, the character has a lot of Puritanism in it. And, as I said before, that seems to be a trademark in the Brontës' work; both Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Anne's Helen Graham have that feature of women who suffer in silence, with no one there to care for them, but when they do something to change their stars, there the rest of the world realizes how important they were and that they shouldn't have been ignored.

The love story was... how can I say it? Nice, but not completely satisfying. I like Edward Weston's Christian attitude, that she sees surprised, and likes it; although she falls in love with him, she keeps it to herself, and in despite that the Murray sisters mock her and laugh about it, nothing he says or does makes Agnes think he returns her feelings. Which leads me again to my previous point, with Agnes always in the victim part. However, she knows Edward well, and when Rosalie Murray, who knows herself beautiful and believes herself to be irresistible, says she wants to make Edward fall in love with her and then break his heart, to tick every single man on the county out of her list, Agnes is not afraid. She knows a man like him is too smart and superior as to feel atraction towards a shallow fool as Rosalie. But even so... It didn't convince me. To love each other as they did, Agnes and Edward's relationship lacked passion, plain and simple. All of the sudden he appears at the school and asks her to marry him, without further ado, no tears, no kiss... I'm not saying the book is bad because of that. I know that giving us such a scene is not its point. I just mention it because I would have like it if there was some more feelings developed in that scene. After all, you are talking about two people who love each other deeply, and I, as a reader, have to believe it, right?

Oh, and Rosalie Murray is a whole case on herself, a lesson for life and marriage. She got married without any love for her fiance, on a whim, wanting only to be mistress of Ashby Park, and it had consequences. She paid the price of her frivolity, her flirting and her immaturity. She didn't even bear the sight of the man she would spend the rest of her life with, and I was surprised and angry when she said she had a daughter, and the good thing was that she didn't had to take care of her, because she had servants to do it for her. How can anyone live like that?

In short, it is a good book, a classic that deserves a reading, although, from Anne Brontë's work, I liked The Tenant a Wildfell Hall a lot more. Do not deprive yourself of reading it, especially if you like classics; the Brontë sisters wrote all of their books of great quality, and this one is not the exception.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review - Tehanu

Original Title: Tehanu
Series: Earthsea Cycle, #4
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Published: 1990

Publisher: Minotauro (Spanish edition)

This book confirmed for me that Tenar is my favorite character; I loved her in her previous book (The Tombs of Atuan), and I liked her here it. She's no longer a girl. She's a widow, and mother of two children of her own, and a girl she adopts because she sees herself in her suffering. She takes her in when everyone else thought it was better for her to die, and takes care of her, and gives her the love no one ever gave her.

I honestly didn't expect to find Sparrowhawk again in this book. But the fact that he came back, and even without his magic, had a part in this story, showed me how magic is not what makes a hero. That sometimes, a hero is not such because he saves the world from destruction, but because he can show his courage and his heart in everyday life, in the daily existence, and that his life hasn't ended for the fact that he's no longer a man of greatness (in his case, the Archmage). Finding Tenar again gave him a new goal, and for the first time he stopped serving others, and listened to the voice in his own heart.

"...and there she taught Ged the mystery that the wisest man could not teach him."

Even when he was no longer important for the world, there was someone who, at home, needed him, and only him. And the world was reduced to that. To the simple things, that also can fill and satisfy the soul, beyond all the power and wisdom one can possess.

Therru, poor thing, was an interesting character. I loved seeing everything from her point of view, calling Tenar her mother, and mostly, Ged his father. But I must say, her real name wasn't that surprising, I had guessed it a long time ago. Although her real nature -that I'm not revealing here, of course- was a surprise indeed, and I liked it.

In general terms, was a great conclusion to the Earthsea Cycle. I recommend it, it's worth it!

Review - The Farthest Shore

Original Title: The Farthest Shore
Series: Earthsea Cycle, #3
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Published: 1972

Publisher: Minotauro (Spanish edition)


This book was my least favorite in the saga. I  started it, then left it a few chapters away from the ending, and I didn't take it again for months. Finally, I finished. And it left me with a bittersweet sensation.

I liked Sparrowhawk very much as a character, but in this one, he went down. There was something in him that I didn't like this time. The only salvageable thing about him was his selfless sacrifice, giving everything he had to save Earthsea from a terrible fate. But in general terms, he, as a person, didn't make me very happy.

The book is Arren's coming of age journey, but him, specifically... well, I don't want to say I didn't like him, but neither was fascinating. Plus, the crossing through the mountains of Sorrow, and the whole death thing in that part, was very confusing. There was a moment in which I just couldn't follow them, neither understand very well what was happening.

It wasn't a bad book. It is short, a quick read, and interesting thanks to the world of Earthsea in itself. I recommend it for fantasy lovers who may find a lot more inside these pages than I did. The fact that it was dense for me it's just my thing, maybe for others is a different experience.

And please, believe me, the next book, Tehanu, is a lot more interesting. This one is not bad, and although I don't think it is the best, is an overall entertaining read.

Review - The Tombs of Atuan

Original Title: The Tombs of Atuan
Series: Earthsea Cycle, #2
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Published: 1970

Publisher: Minotauro (Spanish edition)

I loved this book! Even more than the previous one, and definitely, it made me keep reading the rest of the saga. It was a short read, but excellent in every possible way.

Ursula Le Guin does something with words that is pure magic, I can't explain it differently. I don't know if this happened to other readers, but to me, that I devoured the first few chapters in such a little time, it happened that as Ahra came and went through the tunnels underground, she didn't see anything, but she guided herself remembering, and I was the one who had the feeling that I was going to get lost. And that terrible, black, opressive darkness that ruled in there is told in such a way that, when there was suddenly light, Ahra and I went blind at the same time. It was something incredible that took me by surprise. The light, gleaming on the diamonds on the walls, was so sudden that I too, reading from my bed, was dazzled. 

Ged... ups, sorry. Sparrowhawk. Your real name must not be revealed to anyone. Anyway, I loved to read again about him, and seeing how wise he has become, in addition to how powerful, in comparison to who he was in the previous book. I love that character just the way he is, that learned from his mistakes, and truly wants to help Arha, not just get away himself and leave her to her fate.

The only rather unpleasant thing were some of the priestesses' rituals and offerings in the Tombs of Atuain, but it's not that it was the most disgusting thing in the world, so it's not a bad thing, or a fault, and it's not a reason for someone who wants to read the saga to back off. As for me, it was a minor thing, and it didn't stop me from reading the rest of the saga.

And to finish this review, I loved this paragraph:  "Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.". Obviously, in context, it has a lot more meaning, depth and truth.

Anyway, it is a very good book. After all, every fantasy lover can't miss the Earthsea Cycle, right? Really, it doesn't disappoint. Absolutely great!

**Sorry, but as a fan of period dresses and movie/series costumes in general, I loved this: "The heavy black she had worn for years was gone: her dress was of turquoise-colored silk, bright and soft as the evening sky. It belled out full from her hips, and all the skirt was embroidered with thin silver threads and seed pearls and tiny crumbs of crystal, so that it glittered softly, like rain in April." It is a beautiful dress, I couldn't help quoting it.**

Review - A Wizard of Earthsea

Original Title: A Wizard of Earthsea
Series: Earthsea Cycle, #1
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Published: 1968

Publisher: Minotauro (Spanish edition)

I read this book back in 2014, but I decided to translate my original review, to share it with all of you. I couldn't find a good picture of the Spanish edition cover, so I picked this one, by Houghton Mifflin. 

I picked the A Wizard of Earthsea because, back then, I wanted to read fantasy again, after a long time, and I have to say that the Earthsea world always seemed interesting to me; it was something that, as admired of Fantasy Literature, couldn't be missing from my reading lists. I hadn't read many things about wizards in a long time during those days, and I although I liked this book, it didn't have me at the edge of my sit during many pages (as I would have liked). But towards the end, I have to admit that I couldn't put it down. It was very good.

I thought that the whole shadow part was very deep. Although, when Ged turned into a hawk and flew back to his master's house, he gave him an advice I had been yelling at him chapter after chapter: that he couldn't run forever, that, no matter where he'd go, the shadow would follow him, and that the only solution was to face it, go from pray to hunter.

The Earthsea world-building is great, although so many islands and cities' names, I ended up a bit dizzied. My edition came with a map at the beginning, and I kept looking at it every so often, to know where the characters were.

I also like the dragons in this one, on their part as wise creatures, though wild, and although I would have like for them to have a bigger part -because I particularly like dragons-, that didn't take away how good the book is.

Generally speaking, I liked this story. Very entertaining and recommended, that made me read the rest of the saga!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Review - The Blood of Olympus

Original Title: The Blood of Olympus
Series: The Heroes of Olympus, #5
Author: Rick Riordan
Published: October the 7th, 2014

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion Books

I have absolutely no idea why, every time I grab a fantasy series, this is what happens (with rare exceptions, of course). The first couple of books are excellent -or very good- and the final one ends up being… rather disappointing. Don’t get me wrong. I liked this book, and every character on it. But there were a lot of off-putting things, that, in my opinion, shouldn’t appear when the book must wrap up the story that has been built in four whole books. Let me explain myself.

In The Blood of Olympus, once again we join the Seven heroes in their quest to stop Gaia, but this time, we get to perspective and POV from two different characters, who had their own chapters for the first time in the whole saga: Nico di Angelo, and Reyna Ramírez-Arellano, daughter of the Roman war goddess, Bellona. Together, they journeyed back to the States to return the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood, and heal the rift between Greeks and Romans, which has also been affecting the gods and messing with their personalities, making their two versions violently war against each other. Reading about Reyna was probably one of the best parts in this book, I ended up loving her, and admiring her courage. She’s truly worthy of the “heroine” title, and she proved to be a born leader, something that Octavian’s stupid orders couldn’t just change overnight. Her point of view, and her story, were amazing, and I loved how she and Nico grew on each other, almost like brother and sister. After all, war and death are not so different. As for Nico, he really surprised me in this book. He proved to be more powerful than he thought, and learned to be a little more open to other people, understanding that not everyone is going to hurt him, or intends to do so. He was already some sort of a shadow before getting so intensely into shadow travel, barely appearing at camp, and refusing to see that in despite of everything, he could have friends and be accepted; that being the Lord of the Death’s son doesn’t mean that you are -or have to be- dead inside.

Speaking of death, I really didn’t see how “an oath to keep with a final breath” could come true, but Leo, the crafter of the impossible, always finds a way. He being dead, but not dead, thanks to the physician’s cure, could have been so much better if at least we could have had a reunion scene with his friends, that were back at Camp, grieving his passing. On the bright side, I like that Riordan chose to redeem Calypso and set her free from her curse. But I hate when the things I most want to read about end up being left for the very last page, and end before I can truly savor them. I mean, Calypso’s unfair punishment lasted millennia, her heart breaking over and over again by unrequited love, but her redemption and happiness lasted only one page? I don’t doubt she loved Leo, but come on! I was really eager to see how that story played out, but it fell short. On the other hand, I didn’t quite get where Nemesis’ threat lead in the end. Was his death the price she required, after helping him? Or his broken heart in the previous book? And also, we never get to know what Asclepius saw wrong with him. Heartbreak? Lovesickness? We can only guess.

The battle scenes were somewhat disappointing. The gods -the rift finally rectified- appeared at last, making me say “finally they show their faces to clean some of this mess!”. The heroes did a lot more than them through the entire quest, with half of their power, but it was good, however, to see them fighting side by side with their children. As for the battle with Gaia, oh, my goodness! So much expectation, sacrifices, fear and training for it to last only ten minutes or so! As soon as Gaia wakes up, she goes back to sleep! I would have preferred her waking up by the middle of the book, so we could have seen the heroes in action to defeat her, because, although the prophecy mentioned seven heroes, in the end, only three of them were responsible for winning the battle. And there’s something I can’t help wondering: if Piper’s charmspeak was so powerful as to induce such a terrible and elemental goddess into slumber for another eon, then, why did the gods need Piper at all? She has only half of Aphrodite’s power, then, why couldn’t just Aphrodite herself charmspeak Gaia into sleep again, being ten times more powerful? It doesn’t make much sense, at least for me.

Piper is a really good character, even when she isn’t exactly my favorite. Her friendship with Annabeth is great, as she teaches her to let go of so many thoughts and learn that logic not always explains everything. After so many years of being a Greek mythology freak, only now something clicked in my head, after reading Piper’s scene in Ares’ shrine, and I said, “of course, that’s it!”. According to the myths, Aphrodite and Hephaestus’ marriage never worked, and I really never stopped to consider why, but I finally see it. They are complete opposites; emotions (especially one as strong and overwhelming as love) can’t be paired with pure, mechanical logic. The only thing they have in common is fire, but Aphrodite’s is all consuming and uncontrollable, while Hephaestus’ is rather related to a tool, used to bring to life the power of the mind. In other words, to obey logic, something that, when it comes to love, is the same as useless.

As for the other heroes, Jason was also never a favorite of mine, but I loved how much he cared for Piper, and their romantic moment in Zeus cabin’s roof, recreating that memory that never really was. I liked Jason’s low profile, because he doesn’t go around boasting about his lineage. The fact of being Jupiter’s child gave him lots of things he didn’t seek for and gained him angry enemies that shouldn’t have been, like Octavian, but he stayed true to himself. He’s overall a very good character. I just wish we could have seen one or two moments with his sister Thalia before the end of the book, after so many years apart, but she was away with the Hunters, and didn’t come for the final battle.

I missed we didn’t get to read so much about Annabeth and Percy, who are definitely my favorite heroes. I was hoping so, especially after everything they went through in Tartarus, that only brought them closer. Here, we only get to see them through someone else’s eyes. On the other hand, giving Reyna the chance to tell her story, nor Frank or Hazel got their own chapters. I hated that, because Frank and Hazel had grown so much in The House of Hades, that they deserved a final word in the whole quest. But here, their roles are pushed to the backburner, even when Frank was raised to praetor and Hazel handled magic so well, she could have been a child of Hecate herself. Oh, and by the way, what happened with Hazel’s curse washed away by a son of Neptune? Nobody mentioned that again.

This last point was due to my own curiosity. I wish we could have met the children of the minor gods, because I was really interested in their powers. I mean, Percy gave up immortality itself to give them some credit, and help them find their own identity, right? But that didn’t seem to affect the story at all. It’s not that I’m not happy with our Seven heroes, because I truly love them all, but after the whole fuss around them, I would have liked if one of them had been a child of one of the so frequently forgotten minor gods, proving, therefore, that they are worthy of being called heroes, and reaffirming their own right to be claimed and properly recognized for their true value, even when they are not exactly children of one of the Twelve. The heroes in this saga are all children of the “big ones”. And I was left with questions about those “minor” demigods, even when the story doesn’t move around them. I mean, what powers could have a child of Hebe? What can Iris’ children do? Or Nemesis’? But that’s just my own curiosity. Luckily, we got to know a little more about the Hypnos, Nike and Hecate cabins. Perhaps there’s more about them in the Trials of Apollo, which gives me a new excuse to read them next.

The Blood of Olympus wasn’t the best book in this saga (my favorite was The Mark of Athena, along with The House of Hades), but it wasn’t a complete disaster. It just had those moments I mentioned, that raised many questions. I will definitely read more by Rick Riordan, and I’m glad I could get to know his amazing stories and utterly lovable characters! Definitely, one of the best authors I’ve ever read!