Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Sword of Straw

The Sword of Straw by Amanda Hemingway

When I posted about The Thief, I explained how it was the first book in a trilogy, the third one was getting buzz, so of course I had to start at the beginning.

But then I read the post at Bookshelves of Doom about Pern, that reminded me about reading books out of order. It got me thinking; when I was a kid, I didn't care. I found a book that looked interesting and read it. If it turned out to be a part of a series, I shrugged and then found the others, but I didn't obsess about first finding the first book and then reading the rest in the proper order. If I had a choice, I read in order; but between no book and out of order book, I as book girl every time. Reading "out of order" did not ruin my love for the books or series. Some books I recall reading "out of order": Pern; Dark is Rising; Little House on the Prairie; All of a Kind Family.

What reading out of order taught me:

1. to immerse myself in the world that I enter. It doesn't matter that things aren't fully explained; I accept it, I read it, I fill in details if need be. Now, when I read books I don't expect to be told every little detail from the beginning, or to have my "hand held" by the author as they set up the story.

2. to enjoy the journey as much as the end. Since I'd go back and read the prior books, I knew things about the characters or plot. And it didn't matter; it was about enjoying the place and the characters. And it's why I hate it when someone knowingly (and happily) tells me the surprise ending of something on purpose (what is it with people who enjoy spoiling?); but I still read and enjoy the book (so the deliberate spoilers win the battle but lose the war.)

3. to like a good prequel. Because when you've read the 3rd book 1st, the other two tend to be "prequels". Which means I appreciate books that fill in details of the present by taking me into the past. I don't need to read about the world in chronological order. And I understand why sometimes you need to read (or write) a story out of order; linear isn't always best.

4. to enjoy fast forwards and flashback theatre. Again, when you read out of order that is what happens; you find yourself 2 years further than you should be, or suddenly reading about Charlie's birth. So that when this happens in one book, instead of over several, you're cool with it.

5. to read for more than the "what." The "how" and the "why" are equally important. I think this is why I enjoy nonfiction, especially history and biography. I've actually had people (including librarians) ask why read NF when all it does is restate the facts? Or, since you know what's going to happen, why bother reading? Because the how and why are important; not just something you rush thru to get to the what.

In other words, it taught me to be a better reader.

So why, I wonder, am I now so insistent about reading books in order?

Just in time, I got an ARC of The Sword of Straw (second in the Sangreal Trilogy) to find out if I still had it in me; could I read and enjoy and understand a book out of order?

The answer is yes. And now I'm eager to read book one, The Greenstone Grail.

(Mini rant aside: I had an awesome post on this, if I do say so myself, and blogger ate it. Ggrr.)

The Plot: When Nathan, 13, dreams, he goes to other worlds and universes. Literally; go check his bed and you'd find it empty. He sometimes goes to sleep in clothes because showing up somewhere else in pajamas? Awkward. The previous year, dreaming had taken him to worlds where he found the Grail, and brought it back to his quasi uncle/mentor Bartlemy Goodman, a mysterious, older than older magician. Bartlemy is one of the good guys; and as Bartlemy relates the tale of the Sword of Straw, Nathan dreams of a dying city with a wounded king. Ready or not, another adventure is about to begin.

The Good: This has a bit of everything: science fiction, with the multiple worlds, universes, and aliens. Nathan himself may be half alien, but he doesn't know it.

There is also fantasy; magic and witchcraft; Nathan's friend Hazel is tempted to make a spell so that the boy of her dreams loves her; and while she's at it, why not take care of that popular mean girl?

And, as you may have guessed, references to Arthur and Celtic mythology and legends. It's equal parts retelling, reinventing, and reinterpretation.

Plus, it's funny! Not over the top situational funny; and not because of a character's POV funny. Rather, there are lines that are almost throw away, that you read and it takes a second and then you chuckle. Very dry, and impossible to take a line out of context and put it here and have you laugh.

The many references, that are quick and varied: Donald Rumsfeld and Narnia. Carrie and Lorelies. Politics, books, movies and pop culture. And the best possible references, in that the author never pauses to explain them. Like Joss Whedon, you either get it or you don't.

The author is also known as Jan Siegel; Michele at Scholar's Blog has info on her previous trilogy. The trilogy was good, but I was unhappy at the ending; Michele's blog is very spoilery (not in the "I want to tell you all the ending" way, but in the way I am spoilerish; it's the only way to have a proper discussion of a book.)

And I'm publishing this before Blogger eats it. Again.


Michele said...

Liz, thanks for the linkage again... I do try not to give TOO much away, but as you say, sometimes spoilers are necessary to have the discussion you want to have...

I confess I absolutely HATE reading books out of order when I'm reading them for the first time. But I will happily read a series in reverse order (done that with HP twice now) and I'll also start re-reading a series in the middle (recently did that with HP too - started with the last few chapters of HP4 and went from there)... Wonder what it is about HP that lends itself to this ? Maybe it's just that I've read the first 3 so often, I know the well enough not to need to re-read from book 1... ?

Anyway, Amanda's books are on my mental TBR list if not the physical pile !

Anonymous said...

Hey Liz, a lot to think about in terms of 1)my current out-of-order LotR re-reading, 2)my argument that Pern must be read at least partially recursively, since the books overlap each other in terms of time, and 3)my insistence that the Narnia books be read in PUBLICATION order, not internal-chronological order. I'll write more about these connections sometime...

Btw, LiveJournal has a self-save feature - I wonder why Blogger, it's main competitor, doesn't. But then again LJ is open-source, and I get the feeling that most of its developers are under 20 or so, so you never know...

Liz B said...

Jill & Michele,

I think this will be a stand alone experiment; and I think its more about childrens flexibility in what & how they read more than anything else.

Because personally? I still prefer to read "in order", and can get quite insistent on what that order is.

Narnia -- publication order, absolutely.
Dark is Rising -- start with DiR as the first book is weak.

Pern -- I think for the first 6 published books, read in order of pub and then go chronological? There's so many!

Anonymous said...

Hi Liz,

As long as I can remember, I've always been pretty compulsive about reading series in order. I go out of order accidentally sometimes, and am bothered by the spoilers. But all that said, I think that you make some good points. And I do agree with what Michele said about re-reading series out of order. That I have no problem with. Well, ok, maybe a small problem, but there I KNOW that it's ridiculous. Thanks for writing about this series, too. I added it to my "to read" list.