In all truth, I did pretty good with the first resolution, but that was back in December, before it was an actual resolution, so I don't think it counts. Still, I read two and a half and a half books (not a typo: I read two complete books and half of two other books) in the two weeks just before Christmas. I think it was mostly because I was on a cruise, though, and there wasn't much to distract me during the sea days.
The first book I read was Robert V S Redick's The Rats and the Ruling Sea (the UK title), which is the sequel to The Red Wolf Conspiracy.
I loved The Red Wolf Conspiracy. As soon as I read it - no, while I was reading it - it became one of my favorite books ever. So I couldn't wait for The Rats and the Ruling Sea to come out in the US (which it does on 16 Feb, with the shorter title of The Ruling Sea), and I ordered it from the UK.
I read it, as I said, whilst on a cruise, and it kind of added to the experience to be reading about the ship on the waves of the sea while I was actually on a ship on the waves of the sea - especially the first couple of days, when the waves were a bit unruly. (I didn't get seasick, but some people did, but that's a story for another time.)
The Rats and the Ruling Sea continues the story of Pazel and Thasha and their friends in their efforts to thwart the destruction of their world, at the hands of either the master spy Sandor Ott, who wants to start a war that he will manipulate so that his country of choice will win, or of the sorcerer Arunis, who for some reason just wants to destroy everyone. There's action aplenty, and humor and love and suspense and betrayal and despair, and plots within plots, and an incredibly well-developed and detailed world for it all to happen in, and all that is good, but the main reason I love these books so much is because of the characters. Each one is so distinctive and well-rounded, and I want only the best for these guys. The good ones, I mean. (I'm sad, though, because one of the main characters from the first book dies in the second book.)
Also, and I've said this before, Redick is a very good writer. He has a control of language - beautiful to the point of poetic, yet always to the purpose - that I admire (finding it so infrequently in many other writers), and he's so compassionate toward his characters.
I want to share with you an example of Redick's skillful writing. I will preface my example by saying that, a couple of months ago, I was listening to a book on tape while traveling in my car. Though not the kind of thing I typically read (or listen to), it started out all right, and the plotting, though predictable, was interesting enough to keep me from falling asleep and killing myself on the highway. However, not far into the book, I noticed that this particular author frequently used really unwieldy similes and metaphors. Either they were obvious to the point of annoyance, and therefore unnecessary, or they went on and on long after the author had made his point. Here are a couple of examples:
"the trees and stony outcroppings seemed to float past as if they were only dream images without real substance"
Okay, that's not so bad, but it is redundant, because dream images are understood to have no real substance.
"his death weighed as heavily on them now as on the day they had lost him, like some colossal moon looming in a low orbit overhead"
If there was a colossal moon looming in a low orbit over my head, I wouldn't feel like something weighed heavily on me. I'd feel like I was on Endor. Besides, I think death weighing heavily on someone is pretty much as heavy as it gets.
There were more instances - many, many more - some so-so, some bad, some worse than my two examples, but I can't share them because I don't have access to the book. I just remember some of the similes going on and on, like a toddler's squawking toy duck being pulled by a short-haired puppy with the string caught on a canine tooth in its mouth as it runs in circles chasing its own tail, while the toddler who owns the toy duck sits nearby, crying from frustration and lack of awareness of how to get the toy away from the puppy; or like a widowed and lonely uncle, white-haired and elderly, brought against his will by his overbearing son to a biennial family reunion in a tree-shaded park and parked beneath a shade tree where he clings tenaciously, like a monkey in a hurricane, or like somebody who really doesn't want to let go of something, to the glory of his military past and tells and retells the storming of the beach to anyone who happens to listen. Or like a river.
So, that's what raised my awareness of unnecessary and unwieldy similes. Naturally, I started seeing them everywhere. While I was on the cruise, one of the activities offered for passengers to participate in was a book club. The ship's librarian loaned those of us who were interested a copy of the book Moloka'i. (This is one of the books I read half of.) It was all right, and well enough written in an adequate sort of way, but nothing special, and I was having trouble maintaining interest. Then I came across this phrase:
"the little steamer was lifted on the next swell, the wave rolling beneath it like lava squeezed from the cracked earth"
I stopped reading and thought, "Why can't the wave roll beneath the ship like an ocean wave rolling beneath a ship? Why can't the author just say the steamer was lifted on the next swell?" Maybe I was being picky (who, me?), having been sensitized by my previous reading experience, but that phrase was one of the factors that contributed to my giving up on the book a few chapters later.
Now for Robert Redick. Here are two of his similes, so adept at doing what similes do, so purposeful and so vivid, that I bookmarked the pages as I read them so I could share them later.
from page 303 (wherein Pazel is being strangled): "A faint sound escaped Pazel's throat, like the squelch of a deck-rag being twisted dry."
from page 374 (wherein Thasha sees a group of ghosts haunting the ship's captain and says to herself): "Is my father dead, and calling me from the land of the dead, and giving me a way to see him? Is he searching for me right now? The thought was like a bone in her throat."
Do you see the difference? Do you see that the last two similes actually give you a sharp image of what you are reading about? Do you see that they do it with an artistic economy of words? "The thought was like a bone in her throat." Brilliant.
The Rats and the Ruling Sea ends with a shocking discovery, and now I shall have to wait, like patience on a monument, till the third book is released, for impatience will be as well rewarded as impatience generally is.
I'll talk about the other books I read (or partly read) in my next post.
PS Points to the first person who can tell me where this post's title comes and can correctly identify all the literary and film quotes and allusions in this post.