Tag Archives: dark

Scythe

Author: Neal Shustermanscythe

Arc of a Scythe, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

In a world where all the needs of humanity are met, where even death is reversible, Scythes stand apart as essentially the only remaining source of true death. Established as a sacred trust to ensure that the booming and aging population does not completely overrun the earth and exhaust its resources, Scythes kill–or “glean” as they call it–although not nearly enough to mimic the effects of normal death in the past. One such Scythe, Faraday, has chosen to take on not one but two apprentices, in opposition to the traditions of the Scythedom. But the other Scythes turn his decision against him, deciding that only one of his apprentices will survive the apprenticeship, killing the other apprentice. Scythe apprentices Citra and Rowan will not readily bend to this edict, however, regardless of the pressure put upon them–particularly considering the feelings they have for one another.

I know all the premises of Scythe sound really weird and dark and complicated–and they are. A huge chunk of this book is set up and world building and background, which is completely necessary to understand the story as it develops. But Neal Shusterman is such an incredible author that the background doesn’t feel like an info dump at all; rather it’s interwoven as a part of the story such that you don’t even realize you’re being fed these huge chunks of backstory. As for the premise, strange as it is, it works remarkably well and allows the author to focus in on several interesting philosophical and psychological points. In this world, humanity really wants for nothing. Death–however much focus may be put on it due to the Scythes’ part in the story–is incredibly unlikely for any given individual within the next century or so. Even apparent age can be turned back so that a centenarian can appear (and feel) twenty again. In this state, Shusterman draws attention to the stagnation that occurs when people don’t have anything to struggle for, any clock to race against. On the other side of society, he brings in some interesting observations regarding the sort of people who would be chosen to be Scythes–and the effect that such a horrendous job would have on those people. Add to all the interesting world building some absolutely stellar characters and an intense, rather horrifying plot, and you’ve got an incredible book. I would highly recommend Scythe, although I would also caution a certain level of reader maturity due to the violent focus of the story at times. I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume in this set!

As an aside, is the cover of the book not just fabulous?!

 

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Popular Hits of the Showa Era

Author: Ryū Murakami/Translator: Ralph McCarthypopular-hits-of-the-showa-era

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE (21+)

A random act of violence ignites a war between two previously laconic and loosely organized groups of individuals.  On the one hand, a group of young men who gather together for no particular reason and whose highest aspirations are to peep on the neighbor through the window and sing karaoke on the beach. On the other, a collection  of somewhat older women–“aunties” if you will–united by nothing more than a common personal name. But as hatred of the other group sparks, both the young men and the aunties suddenly find themselves united against each other, motivated and inspired in ways they’ve never known before. And the heat of that fervor drives them to find more and more creative ways to rain destruction on the opposing party.

I initially found Popular Hits of the Showa Era through a review by Arria Cross@Fujinsei–which you should go read right away, because it’s excellent and information and also fun. One of the things Arria mentions about this book is the dark humor of it, and I can totally see that it is written to appeal to a dark sense of humor. Personally, I didn’t find it funny (sorry), but I can very much appreciate that there are people to whom this book would be absolutely hilarious in a disturbing sort of way. But even though I didn’t find it humorous myself, I still found this book enjoyable in other senses. For one, it’s an intriguing commentary and satire on contemporary Japanese society, and just the flavor of the culture is interesting. Even more so, I found the psychological exploration of the book to be fascinating–the way in which the characters were just drifting through life and also the way in which this conflict affected them, making them feel alive and purposeful. I kind of think the author’s telling us something dangerous and terrifying but also important about humanity here. And I have to warn, this is NOT a book for everyone, and I would advise to approach it with caution. Because it is very, very violent. Bloody and gory and explicit and violent. There’s purpose for that in the story; it isn’t violent just for the sake of being violent. But it’s still there, very much in your face for the entirety of the story. Finally, I did want to comment on the title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era. Each chapter title  is the name of a song that was popular during the Showa Era, and that song flavors and flows throughout the chapter in one way or another–not that it has a huge effect on the story itself, but it’s a nice touch.

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Clockwork

Author: Philip Pullmanclockwork

Illustrator: Leonid Gore

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a small German town, a group of townsfolk gather by the fireside in the tavern to hear a story. And a horrifying tale it is, in keeping with the usual for Fritz, one of princes and strange happenings and creepy clockwork makers. But things go from typically frightening to truly terrifying when said creepy clockwork maker walks right into the tavern in a gust of wintry air as if he’d stepped right out of Fritz’s story by magic.

I love Philip Pullmans’ writing, both the craftsmanship of it and the variety of it. I think Clockwork might be surprising–and possibly disappointing–to those who know his work mainly from the His Dark Materials books. Rather than being some big fantasy tale, Clockwork is a tightly woven, neat little fairy tale of novella length. And viewed as what it is, I think this book works excellently. The characters are distinct, and you get to know exactly what you need to about them to really appreciate the roles they play in the story. And the interwoven storylines fit together while still leaving just enough unexplained to maintain the eeriness of the story. The atmosphere and the tension that’s developed throughout is one of the strongest points of this story, to my mind–one of the reasons this works best as a novella, since this atmosphere would be impossible (or at least exhausting for the reader) to maintain through a longer story. Finally, this book has the makings of an excellent fairy tale: the sense of rightness, the magic, the darkness, and the happy ending. For those who love a good dark fairy tale, I would definitely recommend Clockwork.

 

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Tender Morsels

Author: Margo Lanagantender morsels

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience/Contains rape & incest

Ever since her mother’s death, Liga has lived in abuse and isolation, first from her father and later from the young men in her village. In a moment of desperation, Liga decides to end her own life and that of her baby daughter–only to have a most mysterious being interfere and offer her another way out: an exchange of her life in the real world for a safe life in her own personal “heaven.” And so, for many years, Liga and her two daughters live safely in peace . . . but the real world won’t be kept out forever, nor will strong-willed girls be kept in.

If you’ve read anything by Margo Lanagan, you won’t be surprised when I say that Tender Morsels was dark and unsettling. I think if you leave a book of hers undisturbed, you’ve read it wrong. Tender Morsels takes several story elements from the classic fairy tale, “Snow White and Rose Red,” and transforms them into a dark but hopeful tale. It wrestles with the harms women can and do receive from men–and with bringing that fact into balance with the wonderful, healthy relationships that are also possible. It deals with the concept of escapism and the fact that life is meant to be lived fully–the hurts, yes, but also the glorious joys and loves that it can bring. I think Lanagan’s handling of these concepts was well done; meaningful, conflicted, and thought-provoking to be sure. I also appreciated that she dealt with some very difficult topics without cheapening them by making them erotic or overly detailed, while still maintaining the painful emotional impact of them. Honestly, I probably should rate this book a 5 of 5, but it just didn’t work that well for me in some regards. I can’t even say why exactly . . . the plot was too loose and all over the place, perhaps? I’m not sure who the actual protagonist even is? I can’t even say how I really feel about the ending? Whatever the case, Tender Morsels was an excellently written story, just not one of my personal favorites.

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The Addams Family (Live Musical)

Addams Family MusicalPresented by The Green Room Community Theatre

My rating: 4.5 of 5

They’re a perfectly normal family. The mother, Morticia, is obsessed with death. The daughter, Wednesday, tortures her brother Pugsley for fun–and he likes it. Uncle Fester is in love with the moon. And the butler may not even be alive. Okay, maybe they’re not exactly normal. But they’re a family. And they believe in love. So when Wednesday decides to bring home the boy she loves to meet the family, they attempt to pull off the impossible–act like a normal family for the evening.

So I’m really not familiar with the original The Addams Family at all, but last Friday (the 13th, no less!) I had the privilege of seeing the musical version performed live at a nearby community theater. And may I just say, it was fantastic! The odd juxtaposition of the morbid and the humorous in the story writing works brilliantly; it was very funny but also enticingly dark. And the incorporation of stuff like family values and true love mixed in with all the madness just serves to heighten the experience. The characters are this fantastic mishmash of strange individuals, and I think the casting for this particular production was excellently done, bringing out the best in the characters. My one complaint (and I think this is just me personally) is that the boyfriend, Lucus, was too bland, even for a guy who’s supposed to come across as just plain ordinary. I mean, he comes across as bland even when singing Crazier Than You with Wednesday, by which point, I was expecting him to show a bit more character. Still, I suspect it’s just me being fickle with my expectations. The music was really, really nice–catchy showtunes with a delicious, dark twist. And some very fun choreography worked into the song sequences, which added a lot to the show as well. I think, for any of you who may be in the greater Hickory area, this would be a show I would highly recommend going to see (there are two more performances, Saturday and Sunday). And for those who don’t have that privilege, I would say that if The Addams Family musical is being performed somewhere near you, you should go check it out there.

Created by Charles Addams/Book and Lyrics by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice/Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa/Directed by Caleb Ryan Sigmon/Musical Direction by Cathy S. Banner/Choreography by Amy Berry/Starring Gardy Muñoz, Amy Berry, Annette Greene, Blake Barrier, Dalton Isaac, Cassandra Barrier, Chris Stone, Grant Sizemore, Tad Fulbright, Christian Underwood, & Grace Bollinger

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The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Blackthe coldest girl in coldtown

My rating: 4 of 5

Tana lives in a world fascinated by death. Vampirism has seen an unprecedented spread across the nations, like some terrible plague. But mostly, anymore, it’s a plague that is contained, locked away in “Coldtowns” where it won’t touch people’s normal lives. Children watch TV shows broadcast from within these Coldtowns and see a life portrayed as glamorous . . . and even though it means death, they think they want it. Not Tana though. She’s seen what it’s like to be turned first-hand, and she wants no part of it. But when a normal high-school party turns into a tragedy, she finds herself dragged straight to the Coldtown she wanted to avoid, protecting her ex-boyfriend Aiden from himself and helping a vampire boy, Gavriel, against her better judgment. But no matter how deep she is dragged, Tana is determined to do whatever it takes to go home.

Having just recently complained about the excess of vampire stories in contemporary literature, I find myself in the awkward position of having read and enjoyed one. To be fair, I didn’t realize The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was a vampire story until after I started reading, and by then I was too into the story to stop. Plus, Holly Black’s a great author, so it was worth at least giving it a try. I did appreciate that, while it is a vampire story, the setting feels almost more zombie/post-apocalyptic. The whole socio-economic setup, as well as the actual dynamics of how vampirism works were well developed and original in this book, making it definitely more than your typical “girl meets vampire” story, although there ends up being some of that as well (you have been warned). The writing style and story development worked quite nicely as well, although I found it awkward that the plot mostly focused on present-tense Tana but also occasionally drifted to other people and other times. I would have preferred sticking to just one, or maybe having a few consistent points of view that are distinctly separated and labelled. Another thing that I found . . . uncomfortable about this book was the excessive emphasis on the topic of death–both in the story and in quotations at the chapter heads lauding death in various aspects. I know the story is dark anyhow, but maybe it pushes the topic a bit far. Or maybe that’s just me. Just, if you struggle with this topic, exercise caution about reading this book, that’s all. I really enjoyed the character development, especially in Tana. She’s not your typical heroine, neither is she totally pure and idealized, but she’s willing to push against the flow, find the truth in the midst of the glamour, and do what is necessary even if it’s not pretty. I think that if you enjoy YA paranormal stories with a darker tinge, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown might be an enjoyable story for you. I enjoyed it in spite of myself.

 

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The Red Shoes

the red shoes

Author: Hans Christian Andersen/Translator: Anthea Bell

Illustrator: Chihiro Iwasaki

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Ever since she was small, red shoes have been an obsession for Karen, a fascination that society frowns upon as quite improper. And yet, she can’t seem to give up her shiny new red shoes; they make her feel beautiful, make her feel like dancing. But when she chooses beauty and lightheartedness over loyalty and love, Karen finds herself cursed to dance and dance and dance her life away in those beautiful, dangerous red shoes. And the cost to escape this curse may be greater than any she could have imagined.

I know Hans Christian Andersen is something of a “classic” author, and of course I’ve heard his name all my life, but I think the extent of my actual exposure to his writing has been basically one poor retelling of The Little Match Girl and an endless string of poorly illustrated versions of The Ugly Duckling. So reading The Red Shoes was an interesting cultural experience for me, if only to gain greater exposure to this renowned author. The story is certainly classic fairy tale material: morally weighted, dark, macabre even at times. This is one of those things that always seems to get glossed over in the cheesy children’s retellings; most true fairy tales are really dark and dangerous, and plenty of them don’t end happily ever after, whatever we may wish. The Red Shoes actually does get, well, a non-tragic ending at least, although it’s awfully moralizing by the end. The whole story is really quite weighty in that regard, which I suppose is largely a reflection of the age and culture in which Andersen was writing. Still, it’s an interesting tale, and Bell’s translation is wonderful. (I actually seek out books translated by her, regardless of the original author, because I love her translation work!) And even if you don’t read this for the story itself, I would recommend browsing through the book for the pictures alone–Iwasaki’s watercolors are gorgeous in every detail. I can’t say The Red Shoes is a favorite of mine, but it certainly was worth the short time it took to read (for the story, the cultural experience, and especially for the art). Recommendation: pick it up at the library or buy used if possible.

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