Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Book Review: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

September 22nd, 2014

It’s not that I don’t enjoy YA fantasy. In fact, it’s one of the nicest things to escape into – since it tends to be light without being sappy and gritty without being crass. Nevertheless, I don’t often venture into that world.

I’m not sure why exactly. Certainly, YA fiction is a world where you can end up with just about anything – and a lot of YA fiction IS sappy and crass. Also, fantasy and sci-fi often overlap; and while I enjoy fantasy, I am not at all fond of sci fi (notable exceptions: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Ender’s War). So I don’t spend a lot of time browsing the YA section of my local library.

But when my sister-in-law was visiting over Memorial Day, she mentioned that she’d been reading and enjoying these YA fantasies – John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice. Like I do with so many things, I made a mental note of the series and promptly forgot about it entirely. Thankfully, my husband has a better memory than I and he asked me about a month later if I’d picked up that book Joanna was telling me about. Of course, by then I’d forgotten the name of the series, so I had to text Joanna for the title. I put in the request at the library and dutifully picked it up and put it in my bookpile – where it languished for months as I devoured everything pregnancy-related I could get my hands on.

But one day, I guess I’d had enough of pregnancy (actually, it probably was right around the time where I was feeling terribly one-dimensional, like all I did was talk about pregnancy and babies) and I picked up The Ruins of Gorlan.

I read it straight through and it was tremendous fun.

Five orphaned children, 15 years old and wards of the castle, prepare for choosing day – when they will offer themselves as apprentices to craftsmen and will be accepted or rejected into apprenticeships that will set them into their lives courses. Alyss, Jenny, George, and Horace know exactly to whom they wish to be apprenticed. They have already shown interest and aptitude in their desired life’s calling and some even have agreements with their chosen masters that need only to be approved by the baron.

Will, on the other hand, knows what he wants to do – but fears being able to do it. Will dreams of being a hero. He never knew his parents, doesn’t even know their names – but the note left on his basket when he was delivered to the castle in hopes that the baron would take care of him declared his father to be a hero in the last great battle against Morgarath. Will had been cherishing fantasies of his father for years – and dreamt of following in his noble father’s footsteps.

Which meant battle school, of course, and knighthood afterward. But Will is small and not particularly strong, frequently bullied by the clearly battle-school-ready Horace. Will intends to request an apprenticeship to the battle school, but fears that he will instead be rejected by all the castle masters – and end up being sent off to the fields like a common peasant.

Choosing day arrives and goes off exactly as expected. Alyss is accepted as apprentice to the diplomatic corps, Jenny to the castle’s chef. George will learn law and Horace will go to battle-school.

Will requests battle-school and is rejected. He is allowed a second choice and offers horseschool – and is rejected there as well. The mysterious ranger, who many suspect performs magic, slips a piece of paper to the Baron, informing him that there is something he should know about this Will. And the class of castle wards is dismissed. Tomorrow, the apprenticed students will report to their craftsmasters – and Will will go off to the fields.

Except for one thing – Will simply *must* see what is on that piece of paper.

In my opinion, The Ruins of Gorlan is the perfect sort of YA fantasy. It’s set in a medieval-type world with strange creatures, but seems to distance itself from actual magic – thus avoiding the deus ex machina I detest so in a fantasy tale. The protagonists experience a physical and mental coming-of-age, in which they are forced to reexamine old beliefs and establish character through fire. Both the plot and the characters are engaging. It’s just right.

Now that’s not to say that I felt the writing was particularly amazing – the occasional awkward construction and odd simile reminded me that the author is not a genius at his craft – but one can be very good without being a genius, and what Flanagan lacks in genius in writing, he makes up in skill as a storyteller. I can definitely recommend this book.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: YA fantasy
Synopsis: The orphaned Will dreams of becoming a hero like his noble father, but finds himself on a very different path than expected after he is rejected as an apprentice by his preferred craftsmaster.
Recommendation: Recommended for anyone looking for a good coming of age story or light fantasy. An engaging story well-told.

A Dose of Cold, Hard Reality

August 20th, 2010

“There is no such thing as a perfect man,” Evan basically tells her, “and if there was, he wouldn’t marry you.”

Lori Gottlieb was on her way to a new way of looking at dating and marriage–thanks to a dose of cold, hard reality.

She shares her journey in Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. (See my review here.)

Along the way, she provides a dose of reality for her readers–and I couldn’t stop noting down fantastic quotes.

“Clampitt matches people like this: ‘Number one,’ she said, ‘I look at whether the two people have common relationship goals. Number two, I look at values. Things like independence, family, religion, loyalty. Number three, what are the key qualities this person needs? You get no more than five. Things like, he has to be very intelligent. Number four, I look at shared interests. Interests are great because it’s bonding and stimulating and fun to share those, but the other things are more important for the long-term. I put shared interests last for that reason.”

My dad said something similar when I was reeling from a breakup with a guy with whom I shared a lot of interests. Dad, of course, was saying it as an “other fish in the sea” type comment. But the fact remains, shared interests are only one aspect of a happy marital relationship–and a small aspect at that.

“Ferman says she took immediate physical chemistry off her list when she realized that, given a certain level of attraction, she could find someone very attractive over time.”

I tried to explain this concept to a friend. It took a while, but I think she eventually got it. At least for women, physical attraction is about a lot more than the physical. Physical attraction is just as much a function of shared values, experiences, thoughts, emotions.

You say you won’t date someone you’re not attracted to, I ask how you know you’re not attracted to him. Do you know him well enough to know that, really?

No, I’m not saying you should marry someone you’re not physically attracted to. But I am saying that there is a very real sense in which someone you are not attracted to initially becomes very attractive as you get to know them. And I’m not talking about “He has a beautiful mind–so what if I can’t stand his body?” I’m talking about real, honest to goodness physical attraction–but physical attraction that doesn’t exist until other connections have been made.

“So when these matchmakers ask their clients to consider the guy who is too-this or not-that-enough, they’re actually saying something quite simple: You can have rigid expectations and try to find someone who meets them, or you can let go of preconceived notions and find someone you’ll fall in love with.”

I’ve seen the lists a mile high, with dozens of non-negotiables. It’s the Goldilocks phenomenon, except that there’s no “just right” to be found. The problem is, these lists might be lists of what we want, but they’re only occasionally lists of what we need. In the quest for the fantasy man, women are not even giving a first glance to the many real men who might be around–and just might be “Mr. Right”–but who fail to live up to the standards of the non-existent fantasy man.

“Dr. Broder says he sees a heightened sense of entitlement that previous generations didn’t have. Our mothers might have wished, but certainly didn’t expect, that their husbands would constantly want to please them, be attracted to them, entertain them, enjoy sharing all their interests, and be the most charming person in the room. Instead, they knew that marriage involved failing health, aging, boredom, periods of stress and disconnection, annoying habits, issues with children, and hardships and misunderstandings of all sorts. But many women today seem to be looking for an idealized spiritual union instead of a realistic marital partnership.”

Have I ever mentioned that I’m a big fan of Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Marriage? Well, I am. The major question that book asks is “What if God intended marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy?”

If you’re looking for a marriage in which you can continue living as you please without having to make adjustments, without having to be sanctified, without having to love sacrificially, you’re sadly mistaken about the reality of married life. Marriage requires you to learn selfless love, to lay down your life for and submit to your spouse. The quest for the “perfect” man belies this truth–and sets up marriages for failure. Because even if you manage to find the “perfect man”–and he decides to marry you, marriage is still going to be a challenge, it’s still going to be a process of sanctification.

“If this sounds unromantic, when I look at my friends’ marriages, with their routine day-to-dayness, they actually seem far more romantic than any dating relationship might be. Dating seems romantic, but for the most part it’s an extended audition. Marriage seems boring, but for the most part it’s a state of comfort and acceptance. Dating is about grand romantic gestures that mean little over the long term. Marriage is about small acts of kindness that bond you over a lifetime. It’s quietly romantic.

Compared to the “dream world” of chick flicks and romance novels, reality can seem pretty cold, pretty hard. But compared to the reality that living in the dream world creates, facing reality is a lot more pleasant.

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