1. a very small quantity of something; a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor
Sunday Soupçons is where I scribble mini-reviews for books I don’t have the brainspace/eloquence/smarts to write about in depth – or if I just don’t have anything interesting to say beyond I LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO!
It’s been a little while since I did one of these! Alas, today I have mini-reviews for two books that ended up disappointing me.A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy
Representation: PoC cast
Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.
Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance.
I’m sorry, I just don’t see what all the fuss is about.
I got a lot out of the foreword and afterward included in my edition (an omnibus of the whole Earthsea Cycle) but the story itself? Intellectually, I can see and acknowledge that it’s Outside The Box to have a coming of age story with no military-esque conflict; there’s no Big Bad, exactly, but a shadow the MC must confront after he let it loose into the world himself. I think I see what you’re doing there, and I like it.
But it’s just boring. It’s boring and bare and we’re told so much more than we’re shown. It never felt magical, despite allegedly being a magic school book (and really, who decided to categorise it that way??? I’ve seen it described as a magic school story dozens of times, and it absolutely is not). The plot rambles randomly – what on earth was that whole sideplot with the Stone??? – and pointing out to the reader that Ged, our MC, has never interacted with a girl before doesn’t actually get you out of not writing any women into your book. FFS.
And yeah, I know it’s an old book. I really don’t care. Le Guin did a ton of thinking about sex and gender and sexuality, and it would have been nice to see some of it here. Why the fuck can’t women be wizards? Why is women’s magic lesser and base and generally corrupt? Go away.
The writing style reminded me of the Silmarillion, and that is not a compliment. Dry and blunt, with no description of literally anything, and no poetry to the prose.
I have no idea why so many people adore this book so much – I can only say that I absolutely will not be continuing with this series.Not Good for Maidens by Tori Bovalino
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Asexual MC, bisexual MC, F/F
PoV: Third-person, past-tense, multiple PoVs
Salem’s Lot meets The Darkest Part of the Forest in this horror-fantasy retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”
Lou never believed in superstitions or magic--until her teenage aunt Neela is kidnapped to the goblin market.
The market is a place Lou has only read about--twisted streets, offerings of sweet fruits and incredible jewels. Everything--from the food and wares, to the goblins themselves--is a haunting temptation for any human who manages to find their way in.
Determined to save Neela, Lou learns songs and spells and tricks that will help her navigate this dangerous world and slip past a goblin's defenses--but she only has three days to find Neela before the market disappears and her aunt becomes one of them forever.
If she isn't careful, the market might just end up claiming her too.
Where Not Good For Maidens fundamentally failed was the supposed appeal of the Goblin Market.
I love the Goblin Market trope – is that the correct use of the word trope??? unsure – and I’ve devoured it many times in many books. No storyteller portrays it quite the same way; sometimes it’s darker, sometimes it’s fairly toothless; sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s beautiful; sometimes there are only goblins and sometimes other magical beings show up there as well. It’s all good to me!
But what defines the Goblin Market is: it is dangerous, and yet, immensely compelling – sometimes irresistibly so.
And Bovalino missed the mark so hard on giving readers any reason to appreciate the Market. Not once was I presented with a reason that might even tempt me to consider visiting the Market. It’s not beautiful, it’s not magical, there is no wonder or strangeness to it – just a lot of humans getting tortured and eaten. You have stalls of goblin fruit…and stalls of human parts for goblin customers to take home and barbecue. That’s it. No dreams for sale, no songs, no gowns of moonlight – no magic.
Sooo…why the fuck would anyone want to visit??? Why is it that tourists flock to the Market? What’s the appeal? Why is it so irresistible, to both humans who know about magic and those that don’t? I get that everyone thinks to themselves ‘well, I won’t get eaten’, I do. But there has to be something to offset the risk. Aside from adrenaline junkies, people don’t do dangerous things just because they’re dangerous – we have sex because it feels good, we do drugs because it’s fun, we join Fight Club for the thrill and sense of community and meaning it gives us, etc. (I’m simplifying a lot, but you get what I mean.) The Goblin Market in Not Good For Maidens doesn’t even clothe itself in glamour to make itself look beautiful, angler fish style. So how does it have a reputation for anything but dismembered corpses and humans being eaten?
It’s a real shame, because otherwise Not Good For Maidens is a pretty wonderful book – the first half in particular was really strong, with velvety prose and characters I shamelessly adored. And in all fairness, Bovalino orchestrates excellent reasons for all of the named characters to enter the Market – Lou, for example, only goes in to save her aunt, who in her turn only went in to safeguard an idiot friend. I struggled a bit with May’s motivation – in the timeline 18 years before Lou – but it’s clearly supposed to be a reckless impulse in the face of her life plans abruptly falling apart, so I can wrap my head around it. Just about.
But I have no idea what all the tourists and so on see in the place. You couldn’t pay me to set a foot inside!
I thought the ending was pretty weak – although I loved Lou’s journey and overall arc, I felt that everything all came together way too easily and quickly, complete with a magic weapon whose existence is never even alluded to before it appears. Lou’s trump card was awesome, and I was happy with how everything stood at the end of the book – I just wish the big climax hadn’t been so quick and simplistic.
A book that started off incredibly well, but ended up being a bit meh.
Until next time!