I have to be honest, when I first requested this on NetGalley, I didn’t realise this book was part of a series and, embarrassingly, it took me a while to realise once I’d started. So, what was I going to do at that point? Stop reading altogether? I was invested now. And who is to say that you can’t just totally ignore the first book in a series? Well, pretty much everyone but it’s okay. This was a children’s book and, if I’ve learnt anything from trying to re-read The Chamber of Secrets over and over again, it’s that the second book in a kid’s fantasy series is just going to recap the whole of the first book anyway. In the case of JK Rowling, that almost literally means retelling the whole story whilst writing some half-arsed plot about a massive snake. Sorry to go off track as always but I bloody hate The Chamber of Secrets. Nothing happens for the first 2/3 chapters. It’s just Harry thinking about everything he did in his first year. It’s no wonder she had to keep spacing out her releases. It’s only when you read those babies back to back that you realise how repetitive she is. But, let’s not let She Who Must Not Be Praised ruin this extra bookish post. On with the review I should have written on Wednesday.
I’ve had this book sat in my NetGalley account for a while now and, as I’m trying to get better at sending my feedback, I decided it was finally time to read it. This was one of those books that sounded like a really interesting read. I don’t tend to read much fantasy these days and I tend to particularly avoid fantasy for younger readers. It’s the kind of genre that can be done so well but, on the flip side, just be turned into a horrible stereotype of things gone before. There is a fine line between creating a brilliant fantasy world and just shoving a load of random letters together to get a magical sounding city name. But, despite my misgivings, I’m always willing to give the genre a chance and this one sounded interesting.
You know that thing where you’ve been saying something for years and then everyone jumps on the bandwagon? I feel like that about JK Rowling. I’ve been ranting about that woman and the damage she’s causing the Harry Potter series for years and now, all of a sudden, it seems that people are finally catching up with me. It was way back in 2012 that I first started complaining about her ability to fuck shit up. Then, with every passing year and every new revelation, I’ve continually begged her to just leave the series alone. I was definitely in the minority back in those days. Now? Now I’m reading articles in The Guardian saying exactly what I’ve been saying. It’s really infuriating. But also good, I guess. It helps to know that I’m not just being petty. That I’m not just targeting a famous and successful writer to make myself feel important. I’m just a fan who is sick of this dead horse being flogged for everything it’s worth. A fan who went into the new Fantastic Beasts film expecting to come out in an absolute rage because I’d already reached my limit thanks to the Nagini and McGonagall news. Plus, you know, Johnny Depp.
I was less than halfway through this epic fantasy story before I went on holiday so I wasn’t entirely sure I would even finish it whilst I was away. Thankfully we had one incredibly rainy Sunday where we spent nearly the entire day inside reading. It meant that I was able to get quite a way through it and finish it in the middle of the trip. Of course, I hadn’t brought either of the other books in the trilogy so was unable to continue with the series but I was actually grateful for a break. It was a fairly long and intense book. And not necessarily what I expected. I’d heard a lot of people celebrating Brandon Sanderson on Instagram and the like so, during a book slump, I decided to pick up the first Sanderson book that I came across. It was simply luck of the draw that the book in question happened to be The Final Empire. I haven’t read much fantasy besides Tolkien and George RR Martin. I guess I’ve been put off by some of the overly silly stuff I read as a kid. But it felt like Sanderson was a good person to start with.
So, I’m having a bit of a Ron Howard moment right now thanks to Solo and the newest series of Arrested Development. He’s the kind of director who has done more films than I remember. I know his Dan Brown films, Apollo 13, American Grafitti etc but he’s done a lot more that I always forget about. It was only after the character of Ron Howard brought up the film Willow on an episode of Arrested Development that I was reminded that he directed that film. I think I just get stuck on the George Lucas part that I just ignore anyone else that actually had a hand in making it. In my head, this is a film that was made by George Lucas, Val Kilmer, and Warwick Davis. But no. The ginger kid from Happy Days, obviously, had a hand in it too. So how much of this film have I forgotten over the years? It seemed like a good time to revisit it so, ignoring the rules of my TBT jar, I went ahead and watched it for today’s review.
Back in January this year I had the fantastic opportunity to take part in the cover reveal of Alexis Marie Chute’s debut novel Above the Star. It was such a fun project to be a part of and I really enjoyed being able to use my creativity to help promote the novel. After the reveal took place, I was given the chance to receive an ARC in exchange for a review and, completely selfishly, I accepted. Of course, I still wanted to help make the book a success if I possibly could but, really, I just wanted to read it. Having regurgitated the plot summary so many times I’d become desperate to find out what would happen. So as soon as my copy arrived in the post I pushed aside the book I was currently reading and started it there and then. For the first in a long while, I found myself undeniably immersed and invested in a novel. I’ve been finding it difficult to read lately but this was something I couldn’t wait to dive into. It was such a revelation and I think I’m totally hooked at this point.
Dear His Dark Materials,
I feel weird writing this letter to you because we barely know each other. The truth is, I tried to read you when I was younger but, once I’d finished The Northern Lights, I put you aside never to go back. I just didn’t get you. I really wanted to love you and there were plenty of aspects that I did enjoy. I just got to the and realised I hadn’t really taken in what I’d just read. I’d basically been sleep reading the whole book and taken no real notice of the plot. It made me think, it’s probably not wise to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’re bad. I enjoyed the writing. There was no part of me that thought ‘this book is too bad to carry on with’. I just didn’t feel compelled to continue.
It’s something that I’ve always been vaguely embarrassed to admit to. I think I’ve always felt that it was, in some ways, super shameful to have not read you. You’re an important part of literary history. I remember when we got you. My mother found you in a bookshop in Scotland and bought them so I could read you. I started the first book almost immediately but, as I’ve already said, you remained incomplete. I don’t think I ever mentioned it to her that I didn’t finish it. In fact, I remember getting a copy of Lyra’s Oxford a few years later for Christmas. Clearly I’d managed to fool my family into thinking I’d read you. I imagine I did the same thing with everyone else. Which is crazy. No matter how great your reputation, you are still just a book. I shouldn’t have a problem with not having read you.
The problem is, this seems to be a bit of problem for a lot of people. Whenever I’ve mentioned on Bookstagram that I never finished you there are people who can’t believe it’s possible. Now I’m super happy that you have such dedicated and loyal fans. It’s great. However, the more people tell me to read you the more I pull away from you. I imagine nowadays that you and I could become friends. We probably do have a lot in common and would get on well. But you only get one chance to make a first impression. And, quite frankly. the first time we met you did very little to sell yourself to me. You’re like that one really popular person that all your friends love but who I have “a weird feeling about”. It’s not that I think you’re a terrible person but there’s something about you that bugs me.
So I don’t know if I’ll ever read you. I kind of want to and I kind of feel as though as I should. But, there are books I desire to read more. I can’t forget that year. That year young me (I can’t remember how old) made the decision not to do what people thought she should. When I made a choice not to read something for the sake of it. When I decided that this series probably wasn’t for me. I made that choice years ago and it’s difficult to go back on it.
I can’t choose my nature, but I can choose what I do,
As a book lover your requirements for reading change every time you pick up a new book. Sometimes you want to be challenged. Sometimes you want to be lazy. Sometimes you just need to be taken away from the world around you and forget about life’s worries. It all depends on a whole bunch of factor’s that might be affecting you as you stand in a bookshop/ browse online. However, there are times in your life when you come face-to-face with a book that you can neither justify nor walk away from. For me, that time was a few weeks ago and that book was this one. I was first attracted by the holographic cover. Was further pulled in by the hilariously simplistic yet superbly effective title Wizards and Robots. Finally, I was inescapably hooked as soon as I read that Will.I.Am was a co-author. Reader, I married it… ahem, I mean bought it. I am unapologetic to have picked up this book instantly without knowing anything about it and, also, for doing so expecting (nay hoping) for it to be shit.
Dear George RR Martin,
First and foremost, I have a confession to make: I didn’t start reading your A Song of Ice and Fire series until after I’d seen the TV show. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but I think I’ve been too afraid to say it out loud before. You know what some bookish people are like. To be fair though, I was only 8 when the first book came out. If the publishing industry didn’t give a shut about fantasy at that time then why would you expect me to be? I was probably too occupied by whatever 8 year-old me was bothered about. Probably my dog or Dawson’s Creek or something.
So I was in my 20s by the time I read your books but, from that moment, I adored them. You were like Tolkien and JK Rowling had a child who grew up to write awesome books. Combining the epic fantasy setting of Tolkien with the hard-hearted attitude to character death of Rowling. Plus a bit of uncomfortable sex scenes for good measure. And we all know I love a creepy book sex scene. Especially if it involves a dwarf whose nose got cut off in battle.
As the years went by your books got harder to read but not because they’re bad. You’ve just put so much into them. There are so many additional characters and subplots that it’s difficult to keep track. And that book that focused on the South despite all the good shit happening in the North? Not the best. However, I’m not really writing this letter because your books changed my life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore them and would call it my favourite series. But I’m writing this to you, George RR, because you get a lot of shit these days. It’s been… a while since the 5th book was released. And, you may have noticed, people are getting frustrated. Very frustrated.
I bet you look back to the pre-HBO times and just think “remember when I only had a few loyal fans who were willing to wait years between books?” Not anymore. The TV crowd, people like me, are more impatient. They’ve never has to wait for your books. So this is hell. And they’re taking it out on you. I say “fuck them”. Readers like to think they own books but we just loan them from the writer. We share them and take what we need from them. But these books are yours. I’d rather read a book you’re proud to publish than a book you’ve rushed to meet a deadline. Yes, maybe you did put too much into the story. Maybe you’re finding it too difficult to tie up all of the loose ends. But the loose ends are the reason we love the books. So take the necessary months and years it’ll take to finish.
Because these books are like no other. You’ve introduced to some of my most loved characters and have made me feel a cavalcade of emotions. I read the Red Wedding scene and literally threw the book across the room I was so upset. I’m always terrified you’ll kill off someone I love. Like Brienne. I swear, if she meets a grisly end I’ll find you. Liam Neeson style. She’s perfect. She speaks to me in a way no other female character ever has. We’ve shared so many experiences. Shared so many feelings. I need her to survive. Just like I need your books. But I need them to be finished. So finish them and take as much time as you need.
A true man does what he will, not what he must.
Dear Lord of the Rings,
When I first decided to do this project I knew that this would be an important letter. You’re one of those series of books that I have such a deep emotional connection to simply because you were a gift. A gift from my father who, I knew, had liked the books when he was younger. Reading them made me feel closer to him. After the first one, I even read his old copies. It was a strangely bonding experience even though we’ve never actually discussed the series. Maybe I’m just putting too much sentimentality onto an act that, in all likelihood, he’s not thought of since but, goddammit, I’m a bit of a drama queen so indulge me.
As I keep proving my memory of significant literary events from my childhood is abysmal. So, really, I have no memory of the exact date I first got given a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring but I do know I got it for Christmas. I remember sitting on my parents bed early in the morning with my twin and opening our presents. I can’t pretend I was necessarily thrilled when I first saw it but I was young and distracted by other things. I was an idiot, basically.
And I continued to be an idiot for a good few years. I tried to read you as soon as I got you but I didn’t get too far. I’m not even sure that, on the first try, I even made it through the first chapter. Sorry but, in my defence, you are a bit of a slog. I think I tried a few times over the years but never got all the way through you. Until I watched the film. I know I probably lose some bookish points for admitting that but, unfortunately, it’s the truth. I adored everything about Peter Jackson’s first installment and it inspired me to pick you up again.
I finally made it through your first book and I fell in love with Tolkien’s writing. I get that he uses too many songs and has too many pit stops along the way. He’s incredibly descriptive and takes his sweet time making a point. It’s a difficult and indulgent read but there is so much charm within your pages it’s hard not to want to carry on. He created more than just a story: he created a whole world that you want to immerse yourself in. You want to meet these characters. You want to walk these lands. You never want to leave. It’s an epic tale that was unlike anything I’d ever read before. The only fantasy that I’d probably consumed up until this point was likely only watered down YA nonsense. You were the real deal. You didn’t hold back or speak down to us. You challenged me as a reader and I was desperate to prove myself.
So I sped (compared to the journey I went on with the first book anyway) through The Two Towers and mourned for Boromir all over again. I rejoiced at seeing Theoden as he should be: powerful and wise. I welcomed back Gandalf and begged Aragorn to leave Arwen for Eowyn. I loved every minute of it… and, let’s be honest, there were a lot of minutes. I was cocky by the time I’d finished. I thought I understood you and could beat you. Thought I had become the kind of reader that could sail through your final book with ease.
I was wrong.
It was about halfway through The Return of the King that I realised I hadn’t prepared enough. I was like those hikers you hear about that try to climb Ben Nevis wearing trainers and a pair of shorts. Yes, I didn’t nearly die of hypothermia but I think the analogy stands. I thought I’d be okay without proper boots and walking gear but I got stuck. I left you for a bit before carrying on. Still I failed. You were too tough a climb. I don’t know how many attempts it took before I reached your summit but, eventually, I made it. And it felt great. I was exhausted, obviously, but it was an accomplishment.
I’ve never dared to try to read you again but I’ll never forget how it felt the first time. How it felt to finally achieve the very thing I’d worked so hard for. I’ve never put so much effort into reading. I know it probably seems like a bad thing but it’s not. You weren’t difficult because you were bad but because you’re so good. Maybe too good. Tolkien put so much into you that it’s difficult to come to terms with that. You’re the original bookish nerd. You’re the ultimate social introvert. You don’t let every reader in but the ones that prove themselves are friends forever. It just takes that little bit longer to get to know the real you. And I’m glad I never gave up.
All’s well that ends better.