That is, in and of itself, isn’t unusual. During lockdown, curbside service was invaluable, and I have always been the sort who goes to the library and stocks up and jets off on a reading jag for a few weeks, then putters around reading only one or two in a month.
After reading The Seven and 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I went on to read House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin Craig. As a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales–“The Twelve Dancing Princesses”– I wanted to love it, and in the end, I liked it, but didn’t love it. Craig’s world building is quite thorough and very detailed and her characters fully fleshed. Her take on the tale is unique and largely sticks to its outlines.
But (you knew that was coming, right?) there are things she does that I didn’t really understand. She leaves the readers confused as to the ages of all the girls, and this is compounded by giving them really similar names, including, for no. real reason that I could discern, ones right out of Poe (Lenore, Ligeia, AnnaLeigh). Eventually I gave up and simply thought of them as older or younger than the narrator. (Almost all of the living ones were younger.) I didn’t like being frustrated in this fashion, and it made me put the book down early on the first night of reading, and I can envision some readers never returning.
Though I do like the twist at the end (I’m not going to spoil it), I felt there were nagging loose ends, like the deaths of the oldest sisters. Those were just…chance? (No, they were actually plot devices to get rid of some of the twelve sisters so the cast of characters was more manageable. As a wrier, I can see that, but as a reader, I’m not pleased.) And I’m not a fan of the end of the step-mother’s character arc. I just didn’t believe it, but maybe that’s just me. The book had been passed on to a former student, and I’ll report back her thoughts if and when she gives them to me. We’ve had excellent discussions about books. in the past, and I’m curious what her take on it is.
But I had purchased House of Salt and Sorrow. Today’s trip to the library brought me books in a different vein. Cookbook aside, I seem to be on a dark mystery reading jag. The previous two books have been just that, and today’s read fits the pattern.
Yup, you read that right, the book I read today– The Last by Hanna Jameson is about as dark a mystery as one could choose. Set largely in a hotel during the aftermath of a nuclear armageddon, The Last takes elements from pop culture, in the form of an unsolved hotel mystery, Mad Max, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In some ways, it is reminiscent of The Sanatorium, but much better.
Obviously, I liked it because I read it in one go–about four hours. It’s beautifully paced and the characters are really engaging. The mysteries (because there are more than one) are multi-layered, and the entire story is delightfully twisty.
There are a few things I didn’t like. The first is the main character, Jon, I smile and the author is a female. Generally speaking, I don’t like POV written from the opposite gender of the author, especially one so intimate as a first person POV and such a tortured soul, too. I’m not a guy, so I can’t say how accurate it may be. That’s not what bothers me, though, it’s that it wasn’t necessary for it to be from Jon’s point of view. There was already a wonderfully kick ass and equally tortured Tomi (Tomisen) to work with. Nothing was gained from Jon’s POV, and I might have liked hers better.
The second thing that bothered me was how little the characters knew about the after effects of nuclear war. I kept wondering why they did things like stand in the rain. Did they never watch Threads? The narrator kept saying he knew little about radiation poisoning…but he and his wife had protested against nuclear war. Did they just go because it was the cool thing to do?
I think that some of this may have had to do with the fact the author is, from what I can tell, a Zoomer, and born after the end of the Cold War. As a Gen X-er, I cringed when they took the cover off of their water and wondered through the mist looking at the rust colored sky. Granted, the story takes place in the three months after nuclear war and radiation poisoning might still have been latent, there should have been some signs.
Would I recommend it? Definitely, especially given all that is happening in the world right now, but I’d also recommend curling up with Threads afterwards. That movie scared the crap out of me as a teen, but it’s very timely and quite a few people could do with a reminder of the horrors of nuclear war.
Now to decide if I’ll re-read Salem’s Lot or tackle The Twelfth Enchantment.
And yes, I’m still writing. You check check out my Vella stories here.