Bloggers are killing literature? Um, no.

Bit of a head-scratcher in the twitterverse today as I discovered a link to a well-known literary critic (in those circles at least) who complained that book bloggers are causing problems for literature. Huh? You can read what Mr. Stothard had to say here: His premise is basically this: the proliferation of non-professional book critics via blogging is going to drown out the voices of serious, literary critics making it more difficult for readers to discover great works of literature.

Yes, I know. You can quit your snorts of laughter now. I’ll be the first to say that the vast majority of book bloggers do not provide critical analysis of literary fiction. A few do, I’m sure, and if you are actually looking to find them, I’ll bet it’s not too hard to find. The fact is, if you are looking for great, literary fiction, it’s not hard to find sources that discuss/critique those stories. There are bloggers out there who are not professionally paid literary critics, but have the background, interest, and where-with-all to tackle literary fiction. Most readers, however, are not. The general reading public reads for entertainment mostly. Do these stories require deep, critical analysis? Probably not. They do require thoughtful opinion though, and that is within the purview of most readers.

Book bloggers offer their opinions on books because of one thing, they love books. They want people to know about them. Let’s face it, there are way more good stories out there for you to read than you’ll ever be able to get to. Finding good ones can be difficult.  Are you going to find them among the literary critics? No. Popular fiction isn’t something they examine, which is fine. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if they look down on popular fiction or have the pretentious attitude that they aren’t worth reading. We all know they are. Literary works are too. Some books are works of art when it comes to language and/or expressing the human condition. Literary critics can continue to work in those circles. It’s worthwhile and useful. Will they be drowned out by the rest of the book blogosphere? No.

The thing is, people talk about books. A lot. People who read popular fiction also read literary fiction. Word gets passed around. Bloggers are interconnected. If anything , a proliferation of book bloggers will only enhance the ability for an artful piece of fiction to get notice. It will also get more good popular fiction noticed.  To those literary critics out there pretentious enough to think so, readers read more than one type of story. We read romances, mysteries, biographies, fantasies, and hey, even literary fiction. Why? probably because a trusted blogger resource heard from another blogger who heard from a blogger who read some lit critics analysis and decided to give the book a shot and then spread the word.  It happens.

So, lit critics, get off your high horse, if you’re currently on one. Not every book out there is or needs to be worthy of the Booker Prize or  Pulitzer. Nor are we immune or ignorant of your analysis and critique of said books. We hear about them. Word gets around. Just because your pond has become an ocean, doesn’t mean we don’t know where to go looking for the beautiful fish.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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