A meditation on depression

The best way I can think of to describe The Magicians trilogy is that it’s a meditation on depression: the feeling of apartness; the struggle and the desire to feel normal, like a part of the group; coping by constantly working (if I’m just a little smarter/better/faster I’ll be fine!); coping by not doing anything (why bother if I’ll never fit in/be the best/whatever); coping by drinking.

A couple of characters are allowed to find their way out of their depression, one by finding his purpose in life, one after a serious trauma where she spent time interrogating her emotions and feelings. Mainly, though, it’s about how to live with depression and acceptance that it is what it is. That there will be times everything will be fine and there will be times when it all sucks and both are ok. Magic doesn’t automatically make everything better.

Or maybe this is just my reading too much into things. The trilogy takes place over ten years and there is a magical university and a Narnia-like land that certain magicians can travel to. There are magical animals and quests and all kinds of things. You might be able to read it on that level.

Would I recommend it? Maaaaaybe? Look, most people want fun adventure and this has some of that. But to like these books, I suspect you have to have a certain tolerance for the less-happy things in life. They’re not for everyone.

Magical adventures!

One of my favorite things about traveling is going to bookstores in different cities. Why? Because they feature different books; different people like different things, and a people in a different city will read different stories. That was how I found A Darker Shade of Magic.

The deal is: there are three Londons, Grey (ours and Lila’s), Red (Kell’s), White (Holland’s), and Black (no one talks about Black London). Only Lila, Kell, and Holland can move between them. There’s magic and romance and pirates/privateers and a crazy coat. Of COURSE Black London comes into play.

I don’t want to say more because these are glorious adventure novels and you shouldn’t know what’s going to happen next. I bought the first one, A Darker Shade of Magic, on vacation and then went to my local bookstore on our first day back to buy the next two, A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light.*

Recommended, especially if you like some fun fantasy. And bonus: it’s a complete trilogy, so you won’t have to wait to read the whole story.

* Note: A Gathering of Shadows ends with a cliffhanger. You’ll want A Conjuring of Light around when you finish it.

Government that works

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been re-reading a handful of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels – of which Going Postal is one – that show a government that works. There’s political grandstanding, but never for long. The main feature of Ankh-Morpork is that its government works – it’s a mess, but shit gets done and it benefits the largest group of people. The reason that the grandstanding fails is that its been rigged by a group of elites who care more about their privileges than the mob. Beware the mob.

Going Postal is about the ins and outs of the post office and taking it from a non-functioning building full of undelivered letters to a working concern that quickly moves information from one place to another. It’s funny and interesting – our hero is an energetic con artist, and the bad guys are the people unwilling to put in the maintenance to keep a system going.

It gives me patience and hope, honestly.

It’s about a balance of power, not about winning

Good Omens

Good Omens is an old favorite.

There is good in the world, and there is evil. God has his agent on earth and so does the Devil. They’ve been here for awhile, influencing events. It becomes time for the apocalypse to come along; it doesn’t quite go the way anyone’s planned. Good Omens is more about the yin and the yang of the world – there has to be evil for there to be good and visa versa. Humans are comprised of both – why would God create the world like that if He or She wanted everyone to be good all the time? Hmmmm?


Time travel as a hook

river of no return


What’s it about?
The River of No Return is a novel about a lovesick time-traveler. Nick was a minor English lord who went off to fight against the Spanish. Just as he was about to be killed, he leapt forward in time to the present day. He encounters a group of people called The Guild who help people like Nick. He establishes himself as a landlord in Vermont, when the Guild asks him to go back in time to England. He re-falls in love with his neighbor Julia, who, it turns out, may be able to help forestall the end of the world.

Why should you read it?
If it hadn’t been my book for book club this month, I’m not sure I would have. It was a fine book, but nothing to write home about.  It does set up a sequel, so I have my usual issues with it not being a complete story. Otherwise, eh?

A supernatural adventure

the ocean at the end of the lane


What’s it about?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a series of unfortunate events wherein a bookish boy ends up having a supernatural adventure. Someone dies, a monster from somewhere that isn’t here comes here and terrorizes our bookish boy. He eventually bests the monster with the help of his friends who have been around since the beginning of the universe. Or so it is implied. It’s also kind of about a sporty father who doesn’t understand his bookish son terribly well and the son’s coming to terms with that.

Why should you read it?
Gaiman writes beautifully and the story is well-told and shorter than I’d expected, honestly. It’s not super-deep or revelatory but it is a lovely little story that makes you care about the characters, with Gaiman’s characteristic oddnesses. It checks all the boxes.

Finishing up

Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

What’s it about?
The Blood of Olympus is the last one of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, he of the Percy Jackson fame. It was a pretty standard Rick Riordan book – mythical creatures, snarky teenagers, two heroes that it’s maybe kind of hard to tell the difference between.  There are battles, one of which happens in Greece, the other of which happens at Camp Half-Blood. The prophecy was fulfilled. Nothing was surprising – it was comforting that way.

Why should you read it?
You should read it if you’ve read the first four books. If you’ve made it this far, why not finish up the series?