Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Humanity was a plague. Locustlike, we ripped holes in the world’s fabric.

About :

Wow. What to say about this book. Well, it’s all about Arslan, a young Asian general from the European-created state of Turkistan, who takes over the world’s military powers without firing a single shot. His methods and reasons remain a mystery from most of the world, but he gradually reveals his vision to two men in small town Illinois, where the modern conqueror makes his capital.

Arslan was just republished by Open Road Integrated Media last month, and that’s how I heard of it, but it was originally published in 1976 to much critical acclaim. Being a fan of Dystopias and occasionally tempted by SF classics of the 70s-80s, I couldn’t resist a classic of the subgenre coming in at only 288 pages. I’m glad I got the chance to read it.

Thoughts :

Two very different, unreliable and extremely well-realized characters narrate the story, telling us details of humanity’s deterioration and of Arslan, the man causing said deterioration. Franklin Bond is a Christian conservative and school principle in the small, rural town where Arslan appears, and he cares very much for all under his responsibility. Therefore, he risks the wrath of the town by enforcing the hated general’s every rule, having quickly determined that a resistance would only survive its initial stages if he kept it a secret from Arslan; he’s all action and no talk. He gets most of the page time, since he helps run everything from food distribution, to the resistance, to the town government itself.

The other narrator, Hunt, is one of Franklin Bond’s sixth graders and only twelve years old when Arslan takes him as a sex slave. Over the course of the book, Hunt grows in and out of physical captivity and learns to play both sides of the conflict over Arslan, whichever offers him the best chance of survival. Though clearly a victim, Hunt’s pretentiousness and love of literature—his ability, as he grows, to express his anguish through poetry, and his pride, which prevents him from addressing it in any other way—make him a strong, complex narrator of indeterminate sexuality whose reactions defy prediction. His quotes from Milton express his situation particularly well:

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Hunt’s perspective is just…I had to take breaks from reading it. Anguished is probably the best word for it. Cynical, yes, but also constantly flirting with death of all kinds. It’s awful and beautiful. Hunt’s perspective gets all the psychological depth of Franklin’s perspective plus the benefit of literary allusion and a poetic lens. I don’t normally swear, but literally the only word that can properly express Hunt’s perspective is “mind-effery” lol But it is through Hunt’s perspective that we get the clearest and most in-depth ruminations about Arslan—since Hunt is unable to form a coherent picture of himself, he puts all his energy into defining Arslan to himself and to readers in observations such as the one below:

Confronted unignorably with a phrase he was unsure of, [Arslan] would turn it back, with a straight face, in question, threat, or provocation, to elicit more data. I thought, too, that one reason for his inscrutable looks, his reluctance to show surprise or annoyance or enthusiasm, was a simple fear of betraying misunderstanding by an inappropriate reaction.”

I can’t share anything about Arslan without spoiling the plot, since it relies very much on revelations about his purpose and actions. Although the details of his conquest ultimately feel inadequate and somewhat disappointing, even those aren’t really the focus of this novel—Arslan himself is. And his plan for the world is what makes the novel so interesting. [Highlight to view SPOILERS: Arslan’s concerns seem largely environmental. “To save the world from mankind.” “But man, man is too strong. He fouls and exhausts too rapidly, and nothing checks him for long. There is only one end for such a species: extinction.” ].

But since we can’t get into those details, let’s talk instead about the fascinating and disturbing silence of the women portrayed in Arslan. In the beginning, women are dolls.

I made Luella stay inside, but I stood out on the front steps to watch…I wasn’t about to crawl into a hole.”

I don’t think Franklin Bond meant to make this sound like Luella was crawling into a hole—rather, he was trying to show defiance against the army invading his town. Still, why “make” her stay inside? The general treatment of women is degrading in Arslan, even before the “Dystopian” part happens. Halfway through the book, women become a tool of the enemy (through no fault of their own) or they have simply died of housework.

I constantly wondered about the lack of female presence and agency in Arslan, as I read. Thus it shocked me to find out that M. J. Engh is a woman. BECAUSE ONLY MEN CAN BE SEXIST, RIGHT?! lol. Apparently I’m just sexist like that 😂 Anyway, after further consideration, I found more than meets the eye in the “silence of the women.” It has been argued—successfully, I think—that Engh may have been commenting on the male view of gender roles during the 1970s. It’s hard to say for sure, since this was actually published in the 70s, and not in retrospect, but my personal opinion is that the female silence itself tells of “her” experience. Perhaps their conspicuous silence suggests, “it’s obviously all drudgery and degradation, so much so that nobody was listening to us.” Or perhaps Engh was just trying to appeal to the male reader of the 1970s-80s. That’s also a possibility. At the very least, complete immersion in the unreliable male perspectives undeniably provides food for thought.

Overall :

Full of stunning insights into humanity—or at least into the male half of it, lol. Although the plot falls short in terms of feasibility, the unreliable and fascinating character narratives by far make up for that. I think I would need to read Arslan several more times before I came away with a clear, full picture of Engh’s intent. And Engh’s riveting prose, full to the brim with poetic and historical allusions, gives Arslan a depth that a lesser writer could never have accomplished.

Characters: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Worldbuilding: 3/5
Plot: 2/5

3.75/5 Stars

Arslan is adult Dystopian fiction authored by M.J. Engh and originally published in 1976. Digitally republished on 18 Apr 18, 2017 by Open Road Integrated Media.

Huge thanks to M. J. Engh, Open Road Integrated Media and Netgalley for this free eARC. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

The Immortals

“I protect you, just like I protect all the women who come to me. And all I ask in return is two promises: You won’t tell the cops about me, and you won’t hook up with ***holes again.”

About :

The pantheon of Greek gods is alive, though not exactly well, in the city of Manhattan. Artemis—or Selene the Huntress, as she calls herself these days—wearily goes about her age-old task of saving women from male predators, but in truth her powers waned long ago as mortals began to worship other things.

But a brutal murder puts Selene back in touch with her ancient calling, and suddenly her powers begin to return…In her search to find the murderer, she finds herself disarmed and, alarmingly, charmed by a handsome classics professor, Theodore Schultz, who doggedly pursues the same answers. The Immortals is adult urban fantasy authored by Jordanna Max Brodsky and published February 16th 2016 by Orbit. Hardcover, 447 pages.

Thoughts :

Let’s start with the good things. The publisher marketed this as Percy Jackson for adults, and I’d say that’s about right. How could I not at least try “Percy Jack for adults”? So much potential in this premise! Brodsky clearly researched the pantheon, too, and developed an interesting faith system for modern life, as gods try to stay relevant to today’s worshippers. (Selene’s brother Apollo tours with his rock band, catering to adoring crowds and groupies.) Brodsky combines a murder mystery with this brilliant idea, and it held my attention, although I’ve read enough murder mysteries to have pinpointed the culprit immediately.

My other favorite thing? Nerdy and hilarious academic references abound. I love Theo’s pseudo swear, “Holy Roman Empire!” which had me literally laughing out loud as I listened to the audiobook. Brodsky represents the world of academia with great color and life. This goes beyond just the killer premise of bringing the Greek pantheon to life in modern Manhattan; Theo’s university scenes left me feeling totally nostalgic for college.

So it kills me to write this, but…

DNF at 33%

I could not get into the characters. I couldn’t help getting the impression that both protagonists are condescending snobs. Selene condescends to everyone except her dog, but especially to men and specifically to Theo, who practically prostrates himself before her. In one scene, he proves his credentials by helping her with a lead, then pleads to be allowed to help her investigate the murder. This response characterizes Selene’s attitude during the entire conversation:

She put on her baseball cap and pulled it low, so he could barely see her eyes glaring at him from beneath the brim. ‘But don’t think we’re partners, because we’re not.’”

Uhhh okay. Why does he find her attractive again? And she’s just like that all the time. It’s sort of inhuman, which I guess might be the point: Selene is a vengeance goddess. She doesn’t want or need to be liked.

At least Theo’s a nice enough guy, but both he and Selene spend the first 150 pages condescending to the police in ways that just irritate me. Just one example: Theo physically grabs a cop and then gets all amped up when the cop supposedly “trumps up” assault charges on him; but the fact is, grabbing anyone will legitimately earn you an “assault” charge. These kinds of misunderstandings always bother me because my husband is in law enforcement and depends on these laws for protection in the field.

I almost can’t blame Theo and Selene for their attitudes, though, because the cops in The Immortals are all bumbling idiots. They fail to investigate leads and, as poor Theo observes, can’t even remember to Mirandize their suspects (or perhaps don’t want to?). Brodsky’s narrative about law enforcement feels more angry and targeted than the humorously inept “Lestraudes” of normal mystery stories, going beyond humor and straight into using police corruption, brutality and neglect as the main antagonists of the investigators. I don’t know if this is just a clumsy mishandling of the mystery trope or if Brodsky is trying to set up a narrative, here, but unfortunately it made the book difficult for me to enjoy.

Overall & Recommendation :

If the things I mentioned above don’t personally barb you, and if you like the sound of the synopsis, I would definitely recommend trying The Immortals. I think most urban-fantasy lovers and mythology geeks will enjoy it; and luckily for you who do enjoy it, book II just came out in February!

The Hunted

“‘What do you think you’re playing at, Father?’

Without stopping to pause, Tacit powered a fist square into his face and the man went down in a motionless heap.’”

About :

Tacit Poldek is not a normal priest: he’s an inquisitor traveling through an alternate-20th century Europe to neutralize supernatural threats wherever he finds them. Today, he seeks the murderer of a priest in Sarajevo before that murderer can reach its next target: Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Hunted is adult horror/alternate history written by Tarn Richardson and published February 20th 2015 by Gerald Duckworth & Co.

I ran across this series on Tammy’s terrific speculative fiction blog, Book, Bones & Buffy, and after reading the synopsis of book III (of which she was running a giveaway), I knew I had to try it out. Speculative fiction set against historical backgrounds can often balance entertainment with details that bring a period to life at the same time. Winning! Bonus: The Darkest Hand also deals with church history, something I find endlessly fascinating. Max Gladstone introduced me to the sort of fiction that explores both faith and magic in the same volume, and I’ve been addicted ever since. So finding the short story prequel to the series (available for free on Amazon!) was really exciting.

Thoughts :

“The pavement around the Priest was slick with blood, thick rivulets of darkening crimson snaking from the body drying fast beneath the hot Sarajevo sun.

A priest is dead. The crowd assumes he fell from a window, but Tacit Poldek sees the signs: someone—or something—threw this priest to his death. As Poldek sets off to find the murderer, we quickly learn that this violent brandy-swigging priest will stop at nothing to get answers. The story moves at a good clip and I enjoyed the chase, although the predictable outcome and the repetitive, violent nature of the priest’s investigative techniques left me feeling “meh” about the final third of the story. I think the constraints of the short story form hindered potential character development and clever plotting in The Hunted.

Overall :

However, this free prequel does provide a fast and helpful introduction to the author’s style, the world of the Darkest Hand series and to the hero (or, rather, antihero?). I’m certainly interested in continuing the series to find out more about this dark, gritty world.

Recommended To :

Anyone intrigued by the idea of mixing horror and urban fantasy, set against a background of 19th century alternate history. I would recommend skipping this prequel, though, and going straight to book I. This feels more like a prologue than a standalone story, mainly published to promise series potential.

Plot: 3/5
Worldbuilding: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Writing: 3/5

***3/5 STARS

 

 

‘The woman is a danger…What she does is an abomination.’”

About :

Shai is a MaiPon Forger in a country that despises Forgers as abominations. When she gets captured during a routine palace art theft, she scrambles for an escape plan; but before she gets the chance to spring herself from prison, her captors change the game.

‘She is a valuable tool. This woman can save us. We must use her.’”

They visit her prison cell and demand that she complete a job for them, a job so secret that Shai knows she will be murdered at its close: reforge the emperor’s soul. The Emperor’s Soul is a Fantasy Novella written by Brandon Sanderson and published October 11th 2012 by Tachyon Publications. Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fantasy (2012).

Thoughts :

This novella opens with the emperor’s staff debating the fate of their captive Forger, and this first layer of cultural tension immediately intrigued me: What is Forging? Why do they hate it? And why must they use it to save the country?

Nearby in prison, Shai desperately seeks a way out of her cell before the next day’s scheduled execution, and her technique introduces readers to the unique Asian stamp magic of the novella:

To Forge something, you had to know its past, its nature.”

At this point (on like page four), the cultural tension and the magic already have me intrigued. Then the emperor’s councilors arrive and explain the situation to Shai and to readers: the emperor has been attacked and needs a new soul to survive.

Whoa. What?

They grant Shai a stay of execution for the next hundred days, during which she must create the soulstamp—a task that will involve a huge amount of complex, untested magic.

Her ambitious artist’s soul longs to create the perfect soulstamp, but she knows she must prioritize one thing over this primal urge toward faultless creation: she must escape before those 100 days are up or she will never leave the prison alive. The 100 day countdown heads each new section, and I totally felt the squeeze by the end of the novella.

Over the course of the story, Shai uses her magic in a variety of ways: transforming her room, making various stamps to reforge the emperor’s personality and history, etc. But a constant war rages inside her between the need to create a perfect soulstamp and the need to escape with her life. Her escape plan is just one more layer of mystery that kept me reading.

The final layer that got me fully invested in the story relates to the characters. In order to escape, Shai knows she’ll need to do something that makes her cringe: she’ll have to manipulate the elderly Arbiter Gaotana who visits her cell to test the soulstamps.

Gaotana seems to have the most integrity of all those palace staff, as he alone regrets the need to forever silence the young Forger after she completes the stamp. So when he criticizes Shai’s choice of profession—thief, Forger, abomination—Shai feels his disappointment keenly.

Why? Gaotana thought again. Why would someone capable of this artistry, turn to forgery?…Why not be a true artist?”

Aarcanum-unboundednd now she has to trick him—just to escape with her life? It made my heart hurt just thinking about it!

Overall:

I love the human psychology and the theme of cultural misunderstanding in The Emperor’s Soul. And, of course, I love the Asian-inspired stamp magic. It ties in with the “form” type magic present in Stormlight Archives, I think, too—or it sounds like it does, anyway. In fact, I love the format and pacing and characters and everything about this story! I’m so happy it was included in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, even though it was published previously. I kinda wish we could hear more about Shai because her potential as a heroine is limitless; but I understand that Sanderson wants to finish a few series before starting an entirely new one, haha.

Recommended To:

Although the novella is set in the same universe as Elantris, the reading order doesn’t matter. In fact, this might be a great introduction to Sanderson’s work, if you’re not ready to jump into The Way of Kings. There’s no fat to trim.

*****5/5 STARS

wordsofradiancecover2

About:

The Way of Kings launched readers into Roshar, the world of The Stormlight Archives, by introducing us to key members of the cast. We learned Kaladin’s backstory and we got some teasers about the magic in store for us in this ten book series. But as you can probably tell from the title of book II, Words of Radiance, this second installment begins revealing some of those secrets we wondered about in book I: secrets about the Radiants, about spren, about voidbringers and parshmen, and about the mysterious oaths that gave Kaladin his own powers in the exciting battle scenes of book one.

And Bonus!

Shallan is the backstory character for this second book, and behind her veneer of “scholarly Brightness,” she hides some pretty dang scary secrets. Epic High Fantasy published March 4th 2014 by Tor Books.

SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1! Not too many, but there’s at least one big one!

And if I tried to summarize book II, I would spoil it, so I’m going to skip the plot details. Because the actual plot-development of a ten-book series like this is so slow, revealing almost anything will seriously, seriously spoil the books. In fact, here’s my advice: if you like high fantasy, I recommend just skipping the rest of this review and picking up The Way of Kings. But if you want more than my blanket recommendation, by all means read on…

Thoughts :

I seem to be in good company when I express my potential inability to properly review Words of Radiance. The Way of Kings was my #1 favorite read of 2016, but book II is even better.

The pace starts off at a sprint and pretty much keeps going, only slowing down in Kaladin’s POV sections and during the Interludes. Even Shallan’s backstory feels like forward motion as we learn about her past and how it affects her present-day narrative. And there’s plenty of conflict to keep the main storyline hopping, too, as two major high princes of the war camps openly battle each other for allies and the prophesied Desolation draws nearer, clue by menacing clue.

As in book I, Dalinar Kholin continues to cop a King Arthur-like role, working to bring together Roshar’s equivalent of the Round Table. He pushes the main plot forward in a way lesser-ranked characters don’t have the ability to do. And it’s. So. Exciting! He doesn’t get as many scenes in Words of Radiance as in The Way of Kings, but I’m looking forward to looking backward on his life. He’ll get his backstory eventually, I’m sure….and it sounds like he was kind of a bad boy.
words-of-radiance2
Kaladin, my favorite narrator from book I, spends most of book II fighting metaphorical demons from his past. He leaves book I as an angry, bitter soul, despite managing to pull himself and his men from the depths of Hell by his cracked and bloody finger nails (with Syl’s help, of course). Basically, he wavers back and forth on one all-important character-building and plot-development decision, and can I just say that it’s completely agonizing to read about? Haha. But in a good way. That way a good book can give you an ulcer.

And SHALLAN! I literally cheered (on Goodreads) when we started getting Shallan’s backstory! In book I, Shallan’s tense narrative feels like a subplot (as opposed to Kaladin’s and Dalinar’s sections, which interact more); but in book II, Shallan slams herself into the main plot, refusing to be benched from the action. Now that Sanderson has loosed her into the middle of things, Shallan is a really really really ridiculously good lookin-…I mean, proactive narrator. I love her! Like many of Sanderson’s women characters, she continues to challenge the status quo for women in ways that make for totally entertaining or enlightening moments of social impropriety. I could go on and on about the characters, all of whom are doing interesting things (Adolin and Jasnah Kholin, the princes of war, the bridgemen…even Renarin Kholin and the spren!).

But I must mention the plotting and worldbuilding: the new secrets revealed in Words of Radiance color both Shallan’s arc and Kaladin’s in really engaging and interesting ways, not to mention how they set up the plotlines of the series…and I can’t share any of them here because they would spoil you 😉 But rest assured, we learn a ton about Roshar and its history in this book.

Everything about Sanderson’s writing, in this series, distinguishes itself noticeably above the first books I read by him (his original Mistborn series, which I enjoyed largely for their setting, creatures and plot twists). In terms of humor and messaging, there’s no comparison. I can’t stress enough the subtle and effective way Sanderson manages to keep up a running commentary on big topics, especially racism, elitism/classism and sexism. He does it with genuine insight and emotion and without harping on any crowd in particular. Kaladin’s sections in this book strike an especially thematic chord, as he deals with the trying situation of being a powerful darkeyes in a culture of elitist lighteyes:

‘…Of course. I keep looking at those captain’s knots on your shoulder, but—‘

‘But I’m just an ignorant darkeyes.’

‘Sure, if that’s how you want to put it. Whatever.’”

Yeah, that’s gonna put him in a great mood, haha. And as I mentioned earlier, Shallan’s narrative also shares moments like this. Here she’s remembering some advice from her enormously pragmatic mentor Jasnah Kholin, as she masters the art of [Highlight to read SPOILER: conning everyone around her].

‘Using a fetching face to make men do as you wish is no different from a man using muscle to force a woman to do his will,’ she’d said. ‘Both are base and both will fail a person as they age.’”

Yeouch!

I really enjoyed alternately reading and listening to this book, as I did with book I. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to sit and read through back-to-back tomes of 1,000+ pages, but this worked out really well!) I recommend either or both forms; get ready for some late nights!

Overall :

A High Fantasy that reads quickly, despite its huge scope, largely because of the highly personable cast of humans and other species. The series will give you a second home for 10,000+ pages—and give you a serious book hangover.

*****5/5 STARS

crossroads-of-canopuAbout :

The opening novel of Thoraiya Dyer’s “Titan’s Forest” series takes place in the world of a giant forest. Three realms live at different levels of this forest: “Canopy” claims the privileged position at the treetops, Understorey clings the boughs, and “Floor” settles in the shadows at the foot of the trees.

Crossroads of Canopy opens in Canopy, the most privileged of the three realms. Here, thirteen theocracies rule the Canopian citizens and interact through the usual ways of war, trade and peace. When a god or goddess dies, they are reincarnated into the body of a human babe. Unar lives in the Garden, a theocracy ruled by the goddess, Audblayin. Having run from poverty and barely escaped slavery, Unar plans to find glory by winning the position of Audblayin’s next bodyguard. But she becomes sympathetic to the slaves from the lower realm of Understorey, a complication that gets her into trouble with the Gardeners.

Then, suddenly, Audblayin dies. With her death, the magic that bound Unar to service and mandatory abstinence disappears, and new, overwhelming distractions get in the way of her plans…Crossroads of Canopy is fantasy published by Thoraiya Dyer. Published January 31st 2017 by Tor Books.

I requested this one immediately, when it popped up on Netgalley. Look at that cover. And the description?! Sounds amazing, right?

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it and ended up DNFing it at 47%

Why DNF?

When I started Crossroads of Canopy, I expected political divisions among the theocracies, adventure among the trees and a sense of wonder about the gorgeous forest realms. I hoped for some interesting philosophy about the religions, perhaps debated among friends.

But this book focused on other things, and unfortunately I struggled to connect with the characters, who often provoked each other with hostile attitudes; also, most of the action felt uninteresting and incidental to the plot. The purpose of each scene got lost in Unar’s focus on other things, mainly her sexual awakening.

Following the death of the goddess’s abstinence magics, most of the cast seems fixated on sex and sexual organs—and we’re not just talking about during a few sex scenes. One minute, we’re discussing religions/climbing gigantic trees/social inequality, and out of the nowhere, we’re talking about male “organs” and lady “flaps” and unrequited crushes.

Some of this makes perfect sense and would have been fine, had it remained a minor distraction from Unar’s plans; but it goes overboard and we end up spending lots time oogling Unar’s love interest or exploring Unar’s theories about masturbation when meanwhile, we only know the names of three of Canopy’s thirteen theocracies.

Since Crossroads of Canopy is book 1 in a series, the author seems to be taking her time in exploring the world (and adding in sexual tensions and drama-rama to keep us interested) instead pushing forward with the plot. Unfortunately, while the descriptions did a great job portraying the social stratification, I felt like they neglected other areas of worldbuilding—although some of the imagery of the garden flowers blew me away. Clearly Dyer spent a lot of time developing the flora of her three realms. Check this out:

The exotic plot was filled with rare blue and bronze-colored grasses from the places where Floor met the edge of the forest. A messy hedge of maroon guavas, interspersed with purple sugarcane thickets, formed a semicircle around the western boundary.”

Overall :

The worldbuilding has lots of potential, if you find the style appealing, but the book just moved too slowly for my tastes.

Recommended To :

Reads who might enjoy slow worldbuilding through the eyes of a single narrator. Also, readers who really appreciate gender and racial politics might enjoy the book’s diversity enough to keep reading. A couple of Goodreads reviewers really enjoyed the book for that reason.

Thanks so much to Thoraiya Dyer, Tor and Netgalley for this e-arc!

the-witch-of-portbello

What happened to Athena? 

About :

Athena was a lot of things, but nobody’s labels seemed to stick. Everyone who knew her had an opinion…but did any of them really know her? Told in “transcripts” taped by Athena’s “biographer,” The Witch of Portobello is an unusual mystery tale. Not only does the reader discover Athena, Athena discovers herself—through the eyes of others. The Witch of Portobello is adult fiction by Brazillian author Paulo Coelho and published in 2006. Coelho also wrote The Alchemist.

Thoughts :

What happened to Athena? This question drove my interest in The Witch of Portobello. Early on in the transcripts, we learn from several of the narrators that Athena was murdered. But how? And by whom? Details, details!

This is the second Paulo Coelho novel I’ve listened to, and I enjoyed it as much as the first (The Alchemist). When I realized this was an epistolary novel told through the alternating “transcripts,” I worried that I might confuse the narrators over audio; but it worked out just fine, although I occasionally had to rewind to figure out who was speaking.

We hear the story of Athena’s journey through the eyes of her parents, her teacher, a besotted journalist and his ex-girlfriend…and they all share really strong opinions about her! Conflicting opinions! It was so entertaining to go from the love-struck journalist to his poisonously jealous girlfriend, etc. Athena evoked strong reactions wherever she went.

The central question of the novel relates, of course, to self-discovery. (If you’ve read anything by Paulo Coelho, you probably know how important this theme in his fiction.) Here’s the pitch:

How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are?

While Athena discovers her own identity, we hear a lot about the New Age beliefs she comes to devote herself to—seriously, a lot. And they’re weird. As a foster-child adopted from a Transylvanian gypsy woman, and as a young mother, divorced and cast from the Catholic church, Athena struggles to recover from loads of internal wounds. She searches for her identity in a goddess who may or may not speak through her (depending on who is narrating at the time) and trances and dances and other, er, strange places. I admit that sitting in on these meetings is a little awkward, but the rotating narrators make it more fun than preachy. I love when authors use a multitude of narrative perspectives to share different versions of the same story, ultimately leaving the interpretation up to the reader.

And anyway, the central mystery—“What happened to Athena?”—has such a strong pull that I would have listened through ten more of her bewildering New Age sermons just to find out.

And then that surprise ending! Good stuff.

Overall :

A short, refreshing contemporary mystery by the bestselling author of The Alchemist.

Recommended To :

If you don’t mind wading through the weird stuff, I think you’ll be hooked by this posthumous tale of Athena’s self-discovery. Some have complained that it’s too preachy—most of Coelho’s books could probably find warm spots on those lists of “most controversial books”—although I didn’t mind at all. It’s a relatively short book and, I think, really brilliant.

****4/5 STARS