Here are some books I’ve read in recent months that I thought were too short or too disappointing to merit a full-length review.
Silverwing: I can just hear the pitch for this book: “It’s like Harry Potter meets Watership Down meets Incredible Journey — kids will love it!” Kids probably will love it, and I didn’t find it half bad either. The heavily anthromorphisized critters of Silverwing are bats, and our hero is the newborn Shade, the runt of the litter who is determined to prove himself but is separated from his migrating clan and forced to blah blah blah … Well, needless to say there’s nothing new in regards to plot or characters — in fact, as I was reading this aloud to The Queen, I would occationally introduce a new character and have her say “oh, this is Professor Snape” or “aha, I knew Draco Malfoy would be in here somehwhere!” But while I’m not one to typically recommend a book on the basis of its unoriginality, Silverwing is at least as interesting as J. K. Rowling’s novels (and, at 200 pages, about a third as long), so it might just be the perfect thing for you or your youngster if you need a Harry Potter fix before Order of the Pheonix is released later this month.
A Wizard of Earthsea: And speaking of Hogwarts … After recently reading several of those wordy-to-the-point-of-prolixity Harry Potter books — not to mention rereading the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in all its verbosity — my initial reaction to this was one of disappointment. A Wizard of Earthsea tells the tale of Ged, an usually gifted young magician who is coming to grips with his powers on a world where dry land is few and far between, and every region is an island unto itself. Ursula K. Le Guin writes the novel in a manner so devoid of description that it seems almost curt. The book was short enough to keep me reading, though, and by the midpoint I was surprised to discover that I had come to appreciate the style. Le Guin is a storyteller in the truest sense of the term: she concentrates solely on the narrative and only gussies things up with description when necessary. The result is less a story less you’d find in a 600 page tome and more like what you’d hear told around a campfire. By the end I decided that I’d quite enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
Legacy: I’d never read a James Michener novel before and, given that this one only runs about 150 pages, I guess you could argue that I still haven’t. (Don’t be fooled by the “288 pages” listed on the Amazon page; in addition to Legacy the book also contains the entire text of the Constitution of the United States and a 30 page preview of another novel entirely.) Written in 1990, the story traces the lineage of several generations of “patriots,” beginning with Jared Starr (who was present at the signing of the Constitution) and ending with Major Norman Starr (who is about to be called before a Senate investigation to account for his role in the Iran / Contra Affair). I found Legacy to be entertaining, but I can’t say that I feel any burning desire to grab one of Michener’s 1000+ page opuses as a result. I did appreciate that the central character, Major Normal Starr, was portrayed as deeply conservative and reverential towards the Reagan Administration; as a lefty-progressive, it was nice to get a peek into the mind of “the other side”.
To Say Nothing Of The Dog: I spent much of this book thinking “Wow: this sure reminds me of Bellwether.” And it wasn’t until I was nearly two-thirds of the way through it before I had my big d’oh! moment, realizing “no wonder: the author of To Say Nothing Of The Dog is — d’oh! — the same person who wrote Bellwether“. The problem, unfortunately, is that Bellwhether was quite a bit more enjoyable than this congenial mess. To Say Nothing Of The Dog starts out as a book about time travel (cool!), but then becomes a book about the Victorian Era (less cool) and remains so throughout most of the middle (zzzzzzzz) before, at the very end, abruptly transmorgifying back into the science fiction novel it had promised to be. That the author tries to shoehorn a mystery story in as well doesn’t help. Willis has plenty of clever ideas about time travel, but they are largely wasted in what is primarily a comedy of errors and manners. The whole thing comes off as a nice try, but Bellwhether is a essentially a refinement of the ideas within and a vast improvement over the somewhat muddled plot to be found here.