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Book Review: Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre (Audiobook narrated by Anna Fields)

March 21, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre (Audiobook narrated by Anna Fields)Summary:
On a far future Earth destroyed by nuclear warfare, most people have reverted to tribal living on the desert. These people rely on roaming healers armed with three snakes whose venom help provide healing relief. Snake is on her first year of bringing roving healing, but when a misunderstanding ends in the death of her dreamsnake, she is determined not to return home to the healers until she finds a way to replace him. It is almost impossible to breed dreamsnakes, but maybe the city will be able to help. The city that keeps the tribes mostly locked out and communicates with the people who live in outer space.

Review:
This book made it onto my tbr for three reasons. It’s 1970s scifi by a woman author, known for being feminist, and is supposed to be able to change your mind about snakes. I was surprised to find it on Audible but elated, especially when I heard the sample of the narrator’s voice. She speaks at the perfect speed and tone for my listening taste. What I found, upon listening, was a book that brought everything I had been promised in a unique plot that I still find myself thinking about periodically. It is just so different, and different is good in my scifi.

You can’t talk about this book without talking about the snakes. I have a gut negative reaction to snakes; one that most likely was learned before I have memories, I’m sure. Both my husband and a close friend think snakes are super cute, so I was hoping this book might change my perception to at least be less negative. Interestingly, a key part of the plot revolves around a person minsinterpreting a snake as dangerous and reacting violently to it. Snakes are not seen as not dangerous, just that only certain snakes have truly dangerous venom, and people are encouraged to get immunized against this venom and to be cautious in areas where they might frighten a snake into striking. I came to care about Snake’s snakes and by the end of the book, where there is a scene that normally would have haunted my dreams (it involves someone in a pit full of snakes), I actually was able to react rationally to the situation and be more concerned about the evil of the person who threw the person in the pit and whether the person would be able to get out of the pit eventually than really be concerned about the snakes themselves. The book presents snakes much like other animals. They’re a living creature that can be dangerous or harmless or some mixture of both, and it’s about building your own knowledge so you know how to handle them more so than just being gut afraid of them. If that was all this book gave me, I would have been impressed, but it gave me so much more.

The plot leads through multiple different tribes and cultures, and all are imagined creatively and differently from each other. Cultural understanding is valued but only to the point where the culture is not actively harming innocents. As mentioned earlier, the whole book centers around a cultural misunderstading, and everyone on both sides of it takes responsibility for the situation. There’s a love interest for Snake who seeks to help her but she also helps herself (along with others). There’s a positive representation of adoption, as well as multiple sexualities and women and men both being responsible for birth control. Without giving anything away, the ultimate conclusion is about how changing your viewpoint can bring a solution, which is kind of the other side of the coin of the original cultural misunderstanding. It’s a smart book, largely about how different people interact and how humility and willingness to listen can move everyone forward.

Overall, this is a unique piece of scifi with an engaging plot that will change your mind about snakes. It left me wishing there was a sequel so I could revisit this world.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Trigger Warning:
Readers who are sensitive to discussions of child rape should be aware it is discussed as something that occurred in the past to a character, although not depicted, and the victim is ultimately empowered.

Book Review: The Final Descent by Rick Yancey (Series, #4)

October 17, 2013 1 comment

Cover of The Final Descent. An orange sky with a moon is covered by a black silhouette of birds on tree branches and a bridge. Summary:
The man investigating the folios found with an elderly man who claimed to be over a hundred years old and named Will Henry has reached the final folio containing what this elderly man claimed to have been his life story.  The final folio is discombobulated and poetic, and so the investigator arranges it for us to read following the style of Dante’s Inferno.  And what a story it tells.

Will Henry is now a bitter, cold teenager still serving Dr. Warthrop.  When a man shows up at the door claiming to have a previously thought extinct monstrous snake’s egg for sale, Will Henry takes the acquisition into his own hands.  When they bring the egg to New York City for the annual meeting of Monstrumologists, Dr. Warthrop begins to question Will Henry’s loyalty, and Will Henry increasingly ignores all advice, going off on his own bloody ideas.  What direction will Will Henry’s and Dr. Warthrop’s lives ultimately take?

Review:
There were hints throughout the Monstrumologist series that it was going to continually descend to a dark place.  But I must admit I was slightly fooled by the idea put forth multiple times that Will Henry at least for part of his life is happily married.  I thought there would be a glimmer of hope in the ending.  Boy was I wrong.  This is an incredibly dark book, and a series ending that surprised me.  While still a strong read, it didn’t hold all the all-encompassing power and grotesque beauty I found in the first two entries in the series.

Yancey takes the poetic language found in the first three books and kicks it up a notch with the inclusion of the Dante-styled method for dividing the book into sections.  Beyond that, the language itself becomes increasingly poetic.  One line that is repeated a few times throughout the book is:

Time is a line. But we are circles. (page 4)

I found both the structure and the language interesting and gorgeous, and I really appreciate their inclusion in YA literature.  I can imagine that many of the younger readers of the book might never have read Dante and seeing this structure in this book might spur them on to check it out.  One thing that I’ve enjoyed throughout the series is that Yancey doesn’t shy away from challenging YA readers, and I’m glad to see that continued here.

The monster in this story is delightfully terrifying.  An egg that hatches a snake that eats its prey from the inside out? There’s nothing not terrifying about that.  Plus the monster is revealed early on, a nice change of pace from The Isle of Blood where we’re left to wonder about it for a long time.  There is also a secondary, surprise monster later on that I found to be a disgustingly nice touch.

The plot is quite complex, and yet also makes sense when various aspects of it are revealed.  It also manages to still be fresh, even though The Curse of the Wendigo was also set half in New York City.  The plot revolves much more around Will Henry and his choices and his personality than around the monster itself, which is appropriate.  Dr. Warthrop’s choices are also touched upon, but how everything has affected Will Henry is truly the focus of the plot.  It’s an interesting psychiatric study, and I was left truly wondering how things could possibly have worked out differently for either Will Henry or Dr. Warthrop.  There are no easy answers, and that gray area is a great setting for horror.

The book spends a lot of time wondering both what makes a monster and if madness can be avoided or escaped.  The first is a question addressed earlier in the series, and I think Yancey deals with it eloquently.  The second takes quite a dark turn in this book, and I was left feeling empty, hopeless, and saddened.

Madness is a wholly human malady borne in a brain too evolved—or not quite evolved enough—to bear the awful burden of its own existence. (page 170)

It’s certainly valid to view madness as an inescapable pariah for some.  I suppose I just have more hope for the world than that.  That’s what left me disappointed with the ending.  I wanted more hope.  Other readers might be less bothered by the tragic end.

Overall, this is a strong final entry in the acclaimed Monstrumologist series.  The poetic language is beefed up with a Dante style structure, and the plot is complex, following the ultimate impact on Will Henry of growing up as Dr. Warthrop’s apprentice in Monstrumology.  Some readers may be disappointed or overly saddened by the ending lacking a glimmer of hope but others will enjoy its incredibly dark turn.  Readers of the previous three books should not miss this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
The Monstrumologist, review
The Curse of the Wendigo, review
The Isle of Blood, review