Category archives: Fantasy

Tangled Up in Denna

by June 6, 2014 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Tangled Up in Denna

One of my favorite aspects of reading is the way a good book will permeate everything else I take in, whether other books, music, or just everyday conversations. I recently had one such connection when, while listening to Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue", I considered the relationship between Denna and Kvothe in the Kingkiller Chronicles. Though the connections aren't literal - Denna and Kvothe don't partake in any of the various events or situations in the song - for me there were definite moments where listening to the song feels like reading about Kvothe and Denna's back and forth relationship.

My reaction starts with title of the song. In The Name of the Wind one does not enter into a straightforward relationship with Denna. You become wrapped up, trapped, and tangled up with her. She permeates your thoughts and life. This obsession is more apparent with the men she entraps, but Kvothe suffers from it as well.

The second verse elicits more similarities:

She was married when we first met

Soon to be divorced

I helped her out of a jam, I guess

But I used a little too much force

Denna is never married, of course, but she is always with a man when Kvothe sees her. Moreover, a not insignificant number of the trouble Kvothe finds himself in throughout the series is the direct result of helping Denna out of a problematic situation.

Split up on a dark sad night

Both agreeing it was best

She turned around to look at me

As I was walkin’ away

I heard her say over my shoulder

"We’ll meet again someday on the avenue"

Tangled up in blue

And, as we see above, the two can never seem to stay together for long, as they each must go there separate ways to deal with their own unique problems. No matter what affection they may feel for one another, it always eventually ends up better for them to split up, until fate brings them back together again.

She was workin’ in a topless place

And I stopped in for a beer

I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face

In the spotlight so clear

Though Denna is not strictly speaking a topless dancer, there is clearly a certain level of impropriety in her life beyond Kvothe. And, as with the nameless singer in the song, Kvothe more or less ignores this aspect of her life, knowing Denna must do the same with the aspects of his life he would rather keep hidden.

And later on as the crowd thinned out

I’s just about to do the same

She was standing there in back of my chair

Said to me, "Don’t I know your name?"

I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath

She studied the lines on my face

I must admit I felt a little uneasy

When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe

Tangled up in blue

Here I'm reminded of the playful and reserved reunions between Kvothe and Denna as they attempt to feel out their relationship once again, and Kvothe struggles with his ever-present uncertainty around such a beautiful woman.

Then she opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me

Written by an Italian poet

From the thirteenth century

And every one of them words rang true

And glowed like burnin’ coal

Pourin’ off of every page

Like it was written in my soul from me to you

Tangled up in blue

How can we not be reminded of Kvothe's time away from the university, in which he wrote songs and poems for another man, but inspired by his love for Denna? What better representation of his affection for Denna could there be than burning coal pouring off of a page (or out of a song), from his soul to hers?

She had to sell everything she owned

And froze up inside

And when finally the bottom fell out

I became withdrawn

The only thing I knew how to do

Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew

Tangled up in blue

Denna and Kvothe both know the struggle of needing to sell their own possessions, even their own safety, either for each other, or just to make it through the next span of days. And Kvothe certainly knows the pain of withdrawal in the face of Denna being gone, being forced to simply survive in the hopes that she will return again.

So now I’m goin’ back again

I got to get to her somehow

All the people we used to know

They’re an illusion to me now

Some are mathematicians

Some are carpenters’ wives

Don’t know how it all got started

I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives

But me, I’m still on the road

Headin’ for another joint

We always did feel the same

We just saw it from a different point of view

Tangled up in blue

In reality, I could probably have restricted this post to this last verse and nothing else. Kvothe, his only thought to find Denna and to meet with her again, to the extent that the rest of the world fades away. Kvothe, on the road, an Edema Ruh with a song on his heart, lute on his back, travelling from town to town. Denna, willing to serve a master who beats her and Kvothe, willing to attend a university where his actions leave him whipped, the same problems, the same outlook, only each looking at it from their own unique perspective - a point of view just different enough to always keep them apart, but still seeking one another out.

Finally, considering Kvothe's own passion for the power of music, the most important insight of all is in the span of a single song Dylan is able to capture many of the aspects that make the relationship between Kvothe and Denna so interesting, heartbreaking, and frustrating. And like with so many connections with literature, by reflecting upon the relationship between these seemingly disparate works, both become richer and more meaningful.

If you're not familiar with this song, you should check it out. It's one of my personal favorites.

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The Lord of the Rings: a Calendar

by April 26, 2014 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Lord of the Rings: a Calendar

At some point in college I remember thinking "The Lord of the Rings is so well-constructed that you could probably put together a complete, day-by-day calendar of events, so that the age old question of "what happened on my birthday in The Lord of the Rings?" could finally be answered.

Well, 10+ years later and I've finally started down the long dark road of creating such a calendar. The efforts so far, which consist of the first book only, can be found here: Today in the Lord of the Rings. There are a few caveats that I should mention. First, since it's only the first book, it only has events from 9/21 until 2/26. Second, Tolkien did not follow our actual calendar, but instead used a calendar with 12 30-day months. As a result, there will be no results for the 31st of any month, and February will have entries on the 29th and 30th.

I'll keep adding entries as I work through the 2nd book, so more days will get added over time, and not all at once like the first. Any questions, suggestions, or corrections are welcome, as are comments reiterating what I huge nerd …

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Brilliance Of The Moon

by Feb. 28, 2012 in Books, Fantasy, Not Recommended

Brilliance Of The Moon

It isn’t a good sign when you start a review of a book as follows: There’s something about writing a bad review that is always easier than writing a good review. If you ask me why my favorite books are my favorites, my discussion will devolve into mumblings about them being ‘so good’. Mediocre, unforgettable books can also be troublesome to articulate. But whenever I come across a book that I think is full of flaws and that I generally dislike, I feel like I could write for hours. Such is Brilliance of the Moon, the third book in the Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn.

I’ve thought a lot over the last week about why I didn’t enjoy this book, especially since I enjoyed so much about the first in the series. I think part of the answer is in the question itself: I really liked the first book, so my expectations were high for the rest of the series. Ok, that’s fair, but why did the second and third not meet my high expectations?

In the first I enjoyed the magic and mystery surrounding the Tribe abilities, I enjoyed watching Takeo learn about them and himself, …

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The Bartimaeus Trilogy

by Feb. 16, 2012 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Bartimaeus Trilogy

I picked up The Amulet of Samarkand last year, the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy, on a total whim. No one recommended it, and I knew nothing about the book or its author. I simply needed a new audio book and the description looked interesting enough. Grabbing a book like this can be risky, but when it pays off, it’s great. Reading an excellent book with no preconceived notions is one of my things as a reader.

The premise: Nathaniel is an up and coming wizard in London. The twist in this magical world, however, is magicians get their power from enslaving demons from “the other place”. Bartimaeus is one such demon, or a djinni to be more specific, who Nathaniel summons early on in his magical career. This makes for an interesting story in and of itself, but what makes the Bartimaeus trilogy so great is Bartimaeus himself.

The books transition between being told from third-person omniscient for “Nathaniel” chapters and first-person for “Bartimaeus” chapters. Of course, if you ask Bartimaeus he might tell you that his sections are from an omniscient perspective as well, such is his charming over-confidence. He’s sarcastic, ironic, and just …

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Giant Thief

by Jan. 31, 2012 in Books, Fantasy, Not Recommended

Giant Thief

Note: An electronic copy of Giant Thief was provided to me for review by the publisher Angry Robot Books.

Easie Damasco is a scoundrel and an thief, and everyone seems to want him dead. Despite near constant threats to his life, nothing deters him from continuing his life of crime at every possible moment. As a result, Giant Thief is a fast-paced, non-stop action fantasy novel full of comedy that never lets up from beginning to end.

From the first line, we learn a lot of what we can expect from Giant Thief: “The sun was going down by the time they decided to hang me.” This is a great opener – we immediately learn that Easie is the type to look at even the most serious situations in a carefree manner. Also, we see that he’s the type of guy who puts himself in a position where people want him dead. Unfortunately, this quick-draw opening and the subsequent chase actually left me a little bewildered. Who is Easie? Why should I care whether or not he is captured and killed? Even by the end I felt like I had only scratched the surface of understanding Easie as a …

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The Dragon Rider

by Dec. 17, 2011 in Books, Fantasy, Not Recommended

The Dragon Rider

I think it's important to note that I listened to the audio version of this book because it is, without a doubt, the reason I disliked it so much. Funke's story seems pretty good, and if I had read it, I imagine it would have been closer to 3 or 4 stars.

However, it must be said that the narrator Brendon Fraser is, unequivocally, the worst narrator I have ever heard in the 150+ audio books I have listened to over the last few years. Here are just a few examples of why he is so bad:

  1. He smacks his lips and chews loudly when characters are eating.
  2. He coughs, moans, grunts, squeals, etc. even when the text does not imply these things are happening.
  3. When the text does note coughing, etc. he exaggerates them needlessly and tediously.
  4. Every piece of dialogue is overacted and extravagant for no reason.

My guess is that Fraser doesn't actually enjoy reading, and so he feels the need "spice up" the book in order to make it entertaining. Maybe others who don't often read would enjoy this type of narration, but it was endlessly frustrating and nearly impossible to get through in spite of …

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Across the Nightingale Floor

by Sept. 23, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Across the Nightingale Floor

One of the things I love about reading is being able to draw connections between the story I just finished and a conversation I'm having with a friend, or some other book I just read, no matter how different the two may seem. Whether it's Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information and getting people to go to church, or the asides of Don Quixote and the Tale of Genji, it's all connected. Or, as Thomas Foster says in How to Read LIterature like a Professor, it's all one story:

"We – as readers or writers, tellers or listeners – understand each other, we share knowledge of the structures of our myths, we comprehend the logic of symbols, largely because we have access to the same swirl of story. We have only to reach out into the air and pluck a piece of it" (192).

Across the Nightingale Floor and C.S. Lewis' essay "On Stories" is yet another example. In this essay, Lewis emphasizes that what makes a story great isn't as simple as a sense of danger or excitement, or not knowing what will happen next. Instead, it is all the elements of that story, combined in their …

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Finnikin of the Rock

by July 15, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Not Recommended

Finnikin of the Rock

We interrupt your regularly scheduled episode of "Talk About How Long The Tale of Genjii Is" to bring you this post on Finnikin of the Rock. (I actually finished this a few weeks ago, and just didn't get around to writing about it.)

I'll admit that I'm a sucker for a good story.  The Hunger Games isn't the most sophisticated piece of literature, but it was a lot of fun to read, and it does contain quality writing.  A good story, however, isn't enough to make me overlook major flaws in a novel.

You may not have seen this coming but, in spite of its promising plot, Finnikin of the Rock has far too many flaws for me to overlook.  Finnikin, the son of the captain of the guard, is from Lumatere.  Ten years ago, however, his homeland was cursed, and since then no one has been able to cross its boundaries, either in or out.

Like I said, this is definitely a promising story.  Unfortunately, between a lack of consistency in the geography of the world, and flat, boring characters there isn't much else to like about this book.

Speaking of boring characters, why can't any of …

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The Well at the World’s End Volume II

by June 22, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Well at the World’s End Volume II

Considering The Well at the World's End was split into two volumes arbitrarily, it's not worth reiterating what I said in my post on Volume I.  No time passes between the volumes, and the quest for the Well picks up right where it left off.  What is worth mentioning, however, is how great the book continues to be.

Without the surprise of the language, or the need to grow accustomed to it, I had a great time reading Volume II.  Unfortunately, there's really no good way for me to explain what exactly I liked so much without spoiling specific moments.  Of course the experience of reading it would still be great, even if you knew everything that happens, but that's no reason to spoil such a great tale.

If, as I hope is the case, I've convinced you that you should read this book, but you don't have a friend or family member you can borrow it from, I have some great news.  You can actually download The Well at the World's End for free thanks to Project Gutenberg.  You can even put it onto your iPhone, iPad, Kindle or any other eReader that will accept ePub files. …

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Goose Girl (Audio)

by June 21, 2010 in Audio Books, Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Goose Girl (Audio)

Goose Girl is not the type of book that would normally catch my eye.  However, after reading Christy's review of the sequel I figured it would be worth requesting from the library and listening to it when I got the chance.  I had it for a few weeks and, honestly, I didn't have a plan to start it anytime soon until I saw Erin's claim that Shannon Hale "has not written a bad book".

Convoluted story of why I started reading it aside, I'm really glad that I did.  Goose Girl seems pretty straight forward at first - a crowned princess of a small kingdom is, unbeknownst to her, about to be sent off to marry the prince of a distant kingdom.  As the story progressed, though, I was consistently impressed both with the number of times the plot surprised me and with how well-realized the world and characters were.

True, I've only read one book by Shannon Hale now, but I can see why Erin would say she hasn't written a bad book.  In addition to a consistent, deep world full of entertaining characters, Goose Girl is also filled with some beautiful writing.  Even the first line ("She was …

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