Archive | historic fiction RSS feed for this section

In Darkness by Nick Lake

9 Apr

11451112I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.

Nick Lake‘s In Darkness is the 2013 Printz Award winning story of a nameless teen trapped in the rubble underneath a collapsed hospital after the Haiti earthquake. His only companion in the darkness is a decomposing hand, his own memories, and a psychic connection to Touissant l’Ouverture, a Haitian revolutionary who lived 200 years earlier.

So, this book is…wait for it…dark. And when I say it’s dark, I mean dark in every sense of the word. Half of the narrative’s setting is defined by absolute darkness. The sense of claustrophobia as we experience the narrator’s blindness, his thirst that drives him to drink whatever blood has collected on the floor, to reach out and touch a disembodied hand just to see if his only companion in his coffin is alive, is overwhelmingly visceral.

The subject matter is dark. It is a story of horrible lives, of murder and murderers, of watching your father get hacked apart by machete toting gangsters, of fighting for your country’s freedom only to die in a dungeon on the other side of the world. This is the kind of story that, for the bulk of its telling, makes you want to kill yourself from the overwhelming sense that there is nothing good in the world, at all.

The writing is staggering in its bleak beauty. Some of my favorite quotes include:

“I tried to call out, but bullets are faster than words, and I was just standing there in the middle of all that metal death” (263).

“We have a mouth – we can feel it in our face, an opening into us that can let the spirit out – but when we use it, when we speak, there is no one to listen. The voices that come to us, drifting through the darkness beyond our prison, they might as well be the voices of the dead. (…) We are a slave to this space, to the inevitable decay of trapped things. We can feed ourselves, but there is no food; we can work with our hands and with our minds, but there is nothing on which to work; we have eyes, but there is nothing to see. There is no future and no past. We are in the darkness. We are one” (326-7).

One of my favorite things about this book was the spirit of Om that came through more and more strongly as the narrative progressed; the sense of emptiness and unity, while horribly depressing in context, was also one of the only reoccurring moments in which I, as a reader, felt liberated from the oppressing sense of insurmountable awfulness.

At times I struggled to get through Touissant’s half of the narrative; it just didn’t have the pop that our nameless narrator’s story had. However, I appreciated the parallels of experience that spanned the hundreds of years between their physical lives, and so I was able to deal.

All in all, this is a pretty amazing book that still continues to haunt me even though I finished it about two weeks ago. However, there are parts that can be difficult to get through without wanting to say “fuck this world, I want to die,” so just be forewarned if you do decide to pick it up.

And, just because Biggie Smalls is mentioned every other page, it’s only fitting that he gets the spotlight for this edition’s music match.

Advertisements

Set in Stone by Linda Newbery

28 Feb

535646Title: Set in Stone
Author: Linda Newbery
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Genre: Historic Fiction/Gothic
Page Count: 368

The poster is almost obscured by the press of people in the gallery.

The year is 1898, and Samuel Godwin is a naive young artist who has been plucked out of a London art academy by the wealthy Mr. Farrow to tutor his daughters in art. From the moment he first sees Fourwinds, the Farrows’ sprawling country home, he is captivated by it, and by the three young women who live there: Marianne, young and kind of bonkers but totally bangin; Juliana, passive, reserved, and a bit on the melancholy side; and Charlotte, the governess, who basically tells nobody anything about herself, ever. As time unfolds, Samuel (of course) begins to realize that things are not as they seem, and at the heart of Fourwinds lies a web of scandal and lies more ghastly than he could imagine.

First sentence rating: weak sauce.

OK, so I’ll start by saying that I only read this book because I came across it as I was weeding my teen fiction collection at work. It hadn’t gone out very much so was destined for the chopping block, but when I looked at the blurb and read reviews I thought, by golly, I want to read it! One reviewer even said it was for fans of Brontës. And I mean, I am a fan of Emily AND Charlotte Brontë! Sign me up!

Continue reading

The Diviners by Libba Bray

5 Nov

Remember way back when I said I was super duper beyond excited to read Libba Bray‘s The Diviners? Well, that happened, and it was awesome. So awesome that when I left my library copy at home when I left to fly to New York I bought my own copy from the airport bookstore. Yes. I dug it so much that I couldn’t stand not being able to read it for a week and spent actual dollars on it.

In a town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.

It’s the roaring twenties, and free-wheeling modern gal Evie O’Neill has been sent from small town Ohio to New York City to live with her uncle while a scandal she was involved in cools down. You see, Evie has a gift which allows her to see into people’s pasts by touching something that belongs to them and, being the attention-hog that she is, sometimes she hits the sauce a little too hard and whips out her gift, exposing secrets better left buried. Unfortunately for Evie (and fortunately for the reader!) Evie doesn’t have much hope of hiding her gift when she’s living with her uncle, curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (i.e., the Museum of Creepy Crawlies) and the city is being haunted by Naughty John, a muy muy loco serial killing spirit made manifest by a poorly-timed Ouija game (yes! yes really! I love you, Libba Bray). Evie isn’t the only gifted teen being drawn into the supernatural maelstrom that is enveloping New York; as their stories begin to entwine, it becomes clear that Naughty John’s gruesome murders are just a small slice of a greater evil that is approaching and luring in the Diviners, one by one.

God, where to start. OK, how about this: I FREAKING LOVED THIS BOOK. It was one of those stellar bits of paper and glue that I couldn’t stop gushing about to everyone who had the misfortune of talking to me for more than two minutes. It has everything: mystery; plucky, dynamic characters; seriously SCARY parts (I actually had nightmares); and some VERY slow burning and STEAMY romance. And. AND. It’s Libba Bray, and she is one of my particular favorite writerly flavors.

Continue reading