Thursday Spotlight: Martin Eden

I haven’t read many books about writers, but amongst the ones that I have…this one is my favorite. It tells the story of a simple young man who, having saved a member of the upper class’ live, is introduced to a young, well-educated lady. He, of course, falls in love with her immediately and realizes just how unworthy he is. Thus Martin Eden decides to learn to read, and to write; all so he can be closer to the lovely Ruth, that he can talk with her and be worthy of her. His mind is like a sponge — fertile land to the roots of knowledge and of ideas, complicated, conflicting ideas about man’s nature; and soon enough, he decides on becoming a writer.

But it isn’t an easy road, is it? No, it’s not, and no novel could show the hardships of that road–the dangers–better than Martin Eden could.

But what else is this book?

Martin Eden is, in some ways, an autobiographical work which incorporates a number of Jack London’s experiences, with Ruth Morse – Martin’s love interest – being modeled after the author’s first love, Mabel Applegarth. It also serves to illustrate London’s disillusionment with the publishing industry of his time.

Martin Eden illustrates the clash between individualism and collectivism, with the eponymous character being a firm believer in Spencer and Nietzche’s philosophical views. The novel is, nevertheless, a very stark criticism of just these views, which eventually lead Eden to losing his very ability to enjoy life, to feel alive.

Martin Eden is, also, a story of wrong and misguided perceptions, and the toll of consequent realizations – it’s a simple thing to chalk it off as a tale of failed romance, but I never read it like one.

Martin Eden is a tale of madness and sacrifice and of success, and of what comes after. A gripping narrative that will hold you fast and hold you tight until the very last page. It will be worth it.

Spotlight Thursday: Uprooted

untitled.pngThere is something about the woods, some primordial fear that has been nagging away at all of us, at the entirety of humanity, long before we learned to create fires, long before we began making tools; a fear that’s been with us since our very inception, as evident in that most precious of folklore – fairy tales.

Uprooted blends fantasy and fairy tale seamlessly, in rich and imaginative ways. The young protagonist, Agniezska, is a completely charming protagonist, and above all else, she is completely, and absolutely real. The novel is written from her point of view, and it couldn’t be the better for it.

While I enjoyed the protagonist one other character stole the spotlight from Niezsa once or twice – The Dragon, Sarkan!  I’ve a penchant for characters who use a moniker, and being a powerful sorcerer doesn’t hurt. This one starts off a bit undignified and even cruel with the help, but there’s hope yet; and it is when the two main characters find synchronicity that Uprooted develops

There is so much to love in Uprooted, even if we disregard the main characters for a moment. Here’s a few bullet points:

  • Agniezska’s best friend Kasia, who goes through a shock when the Dragon doesn’t choose her for ten years worth’ of maid duty. In another book, Kasia would’ve been our point of view character. She is beautiful and smart, and entirely larger than life, and as soon as The Dragon’s choice is made, she is also a stranger in her own home.
  • Naomi Novik captures the essence of Slavic mythology well, and builds a world that is true in tone to Eastern European folklore.
  • The Woods are a terrifying force that slowly grows, overtaking all in its path. It’s seriously creepy.
  • There’s a fat wizard called the Hawk, or the Eagle, or the Fat Wizard. He’s fun.
  • If you’d like to read Naomi Novik, I suggest you don’t start with Uprooted. It’s just so much better than her first “Temeraire” book.
  • That last point isn’t a drawback—just keep it in mind.

The novel is, at times, far darker than you’d originally assume; that doesn’t stop it from being a delightfully amusing read. Uprooted is something of an emotional roller coaster, but I enjoyed every page of it.

 

Spotlight Thursday: The Black Company

(By Glen Cook)

The Black Company is misery curdled, but also ancient and intriguing.

I paraphrase one of the very earliest paragraphs that caught my eye in the Black Company. Glen Cook’s novel is that rare breed of fantasy that forswears lengthy, intricate descriptions for the benefit of literary minimalism.

That’s not to say that Cook’s prose isn’t memorable – far from it. The gritty world that the Black Company inhabits is realistic and vivid, and it comes alive under the pen strokes of Croaker – Company Annalist and physician of the Company. It’s a position of greater importance than it might seem – the Annalist keeps the very soul of the Last Free Company of Khatovar alive.

It is through Croaker’s perspective that we readers come to know the amoral world the Company inhabits – a world colored in greys and red – and through his experiences that we learn of brotherhood the likes of which is seldom so well captured, even in similar fantasy series.*

And yes, The Black Company is a series of nine whooping books that chronicle forty of the most tumultuous years in the Mercenary Company’s history. There’s a little something for everyone:

  • ancient scary-as-shit wizards;
  • the most badass female antagonists; (to be read as: The most badass antagonists)
  • girls crossdressing as boys to get into the military;
  • great dialogue(!);
  • tiny frog-faced wizards picking at one another;
  • silent types screwing everyone because of their inability to express themselves;
  • snarkiness that would make most everyone and their grannies blush;
  • and much, much more!
  • (feat. “Teach your grandma to suck eggs, Croaker,” an offense so strangely beautiful, it makes reading the books worth it just for these words)

It’s a gripping tale that deserves your attention. A fast-paced series (for the most part) with some of the most memorable characters I’ve had the pleasure to read about in the medium for some time.

It deserves your attention!

*The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which is heavily influenced by The Black Company, manages the same feat quite well.