Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Glass Trilogy by Maria V Snyder and Sidejobs

Maria V Snyder is the author of the "Poison Study" series that I bought initially for the cover of the first book, but read with great enjoyment once I discovered the finely-wrought prose and fascinating characters inside it.
She did a spin off from that series with a character named Opal Cowan, a magician glassblower who could make glass animals that served as a kind of cell phone, and who could also drain the power from other magicians and encase it in diamonds.
In Storm Glass, we learned about Opal's family and her glass-making powers, as well as her frailty as a person. While she managed to help contain some seriously bad Daviian warpers in glass and save the day, she constantly whined and allowed others to tell her what to do and run roughshod over her own feelings. Even when her boyfriend changes souls with the warper who hurt her, she allows herself to be lulled into sleeping with the guy, though she knows something is 'wrong' with him. I found Opal a bit hard to take in the first novel, because she was so flawed, ignorant and immature, she made me want to slap her more than root for her. Yet I read the next book in the series, "Sea Glass" anyway, and was surprised at how determined and tenacious Opal had become. She spends a great deal of time in this book trying to find Ulrick, the man who exchanged bodies with Develn, the warper who tortured her twice and tried to kill her, and is now supposedly in love with her (that part strained my credulity). Meanwhile, Opals rather fickle affections have been bestowed on a "stormdancer" named Kade, who can magically suck the energy from violent weather and encase it in glass orbs created specially by Opal, until she teaches others to make the unbreakable orbs.Unfortunately, no one believes Opals story that her boyfriend has switched bodies, so she has to find both men and prove it, which she manages to do in the end. Spy Glass, the final book in the series, finds Opal at a loss because, in order to keep some hostiles from causing trouble, Opal had to drain their magic and her own into an orb. These nasty fellows managed to get Opals blood when they captured and tortured her (again), so now Opal, ever dogged in her pursuits, goes after the blood thieves to see if she can regain her messenger-glass making powers. While she's also more mature in this book, Opal is still somewhat niave and takes ridiculous risks without thinking it through. She does learn to defend herself from the marvelous Valek, a uber-spy character from the Poison Study series, but she still manages to get herself into horrible trouble with a cult on the coast who are enslaving people and using black diamonds and pearls to further their magical goals. Fortunately, Opal doesn't take things lying down, as she used to, so with her new backbone and training, she is able to help rout the bad guys (she even kills the man who enslaved her) and find her true love in the former Daviian Warper who tortured and nearly killed her. I know, it still strains credulity that she would throw over the stormdancer Kade for a scumbag who repeatedly hurt her, but he is now supposedly not addicted to blood magic anymore, has done time in a prison and reformed himself by doing everything he can to help Opal. I really don't think any amount of assistance and 'reform' would make me want to forgive someone who had tortured me physically and emotionally twice. But Opal seems to fall into bed with him rather quickly, and seems to believe he's now a good guy on the slightest evidence. Personally, I would have killed him at the first opportunity, but that's just me. I don't forgive that kind of suffering.
However, Opal marries Develn, and adopts two orphans, and things get wrapped up with a nice HEA bow at the end, which is satisfying to me as a reader. It's one of the things I appreciate about Maria V Snyder, her ability to bring her tales to a beautifully-finessed ending. Snyder's prose is, as always, sterling, and her plots have not an ounce of fat on them as they swim along like that Olympic swimmer Phelps--swiftly, cleanly and gracefully. But what I like best about Snyders stories is her ability to craft characters that fascinate and engage the reader because they seem so real and alive. I gather another "Study" book is going to be out soon, and I can hardly wait to pick it up and read of the further adventures of my favorite Snyder characters, Yelena and Valek. Meanwhile, I'd give the "Glass" series a B+ overall and an A- for the final book in the series, "Spy Glass." I'd recommend this series to any artistic teenager or adult who finds glass making and magic fascinating.
I've also just read Jim Butcher's "Side Jobs" a compendium of short stories about the wonderful wizard of Chicago, Harry Dresden. Let me be honest, I've had a tremendous crush on Harry since I first read about him years ago. I love that he's such a hero, but in such a smart-assed, fumbling and often messed up way. He's flawed, but his heart is in the right place, and he's smart enough to be able to use his faults to his advantage to capture or kill the bad guys. He's also a big softie when it comes to dealing with women, children and animals, like his huge Fu-dog Mouse, or his cat Mister. The thing that bothers me about the Dresden Files is that Harry gets beaten to a pulp and nearly killed in every single installment. And in the last full-length novel, Changes, Jim Butcher leaves us hanging as to whether Harry will live or die by shooting him on the last page of the book, which is just a low-down dirty trick, if you ask me. I was told that "Side Jobs" had a short story in it that takes place right after Harry is shot on his boat, so I assumed there would be some hint or answer in that text that would keep me going until the next Dresden Files book is published next year. But nooooo, Butcher gives us a whole story with the marvelous Karrin Murphy, beloved cop friend of Harrys, who can't believe he's dead, but doesn't try to find him during the run of the story, either. Dresden fans are left with a vague feeling that he 'might' still be alive because there has been no corpse recovered and buried, but other than Murphy's hope that he's still alive, we've got precious little to go on. This makes me want to smack Jim Butcher's fanny for teasing Dresden fans this way--its cruel, and I don't like it. Either tell us he's alive or tell us he's dead, but don't insinuate things in such a wimpy way that we don't know squat by the end of the tale. I believe even Harry Dresden himself would be pissed off at his fans being treated this way. That said, I really enjoyed the rest of the short stories in this tome, though I'd already read three of them in other anthologies. Even the first story which Butcher claims is his first attempt and therefore awful, is really a delight. It seems obvious to me, and I am sure to other Dresden File fans that Butcher has a great deal of writing talent, and it shines through no matter where it is deployed. I'd give this book an A, mainly because it's indispensable to those who know and love Harry Dresden. But I reserve the right to give the final story in the book a C for "nice try, but you didn't tell us what we want/need to know." I'd recommend "Side Jobs" to anyone who loves wizards and magic with an urban, gritty feel and a large dose of mystery.

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