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The Witches Are Coming, Book of Night

June 24, 2022

Once again I’m starting to clear my desk, which has gotten more piled than ever in the last two years. I found four books sitting there waiting to be reviewed, looked at them, and decided that even though I enjoyed them, I found them largely unremarkable in the literal sense—I don’t have much to say about them.

Here are the books:
Jolene by Mercedes Lackey
The House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett
The Witches are Coming by Lindy West
Book of Night by Holly Black

Jolene is a good story, a fantasy about a teenager named Anna who goes to live with her Aunt Jinny, who is a “witchy woman” and teaches her to use the powers she turns out to have. Jolene teaches her more about her powers, and how to deal with powerful beings.

The House Without Windows is an odd little story, notable mostly because its author was twelve when she wrote it. It’s a story about a girl named Eepersip who runs away to live on her own, eating roots and dancing about. The descriptions of nature are pretty much what you’d expect from a twelve-year-old writing in 1926: “It was a heavenly morning. The sun rose and cast a sweet golden light over the earth. The grass sparkled as if with diamonds. A fresh spring breeze was blowing gently. Flowers grew here in the deep grass and myriads of butterflies came flocking.”

The Witches are Coming is a collection of essays. “Witch,” West says, “is something we call a woman who demands the benefit of the doubt, who speaks the truth, who punctures the con, who kills your joy if your joy is killing. A witch has power and power in women isn’t likeable, it’s ugly, cartoonish. But to not assert our power—even if we fail—is to let them do it. This new truth telling, this witchcraft of ours, by definition cannot be likeable. We cannot pander or wait for consensus; the world is too big and complicated and rigged.” Nicely said, isn’t it?

The other part of an essay that I really enjoyed is when she talks about pockets; I happen to agree with her about pockets in dresses:
“I know this is going to be tough for a lot of you to hear, but I don’t give a shit about pockets. A coat should have pockets, for cold hands, but pockets on a dress are as useful to me as an electric can opener. Except that an electric can opener will increase in usefulness as I grow older and my joints deteriorate and I yearn more and more for soft peas. A pocket on a dress is a droopy, drape-ruining cotton-poly scrotum at any age.”

Book of Night is a new fantasy novel by Holly Black. The plot didn’t strike me as particularly interesting or original. It’s about shadows and how they can sometimes act independently, so it might have been more fun if it had admitted its connection to the Peter Pan story, but it doesn’t. It mucks around in horror mode, trying to make the “blights” that shadows become when they’re disconnected from people sound really scary. There are good moments, though. I like the main character, Charlie, who makes observations like “psychics were therapists for people who couldn’t admit they needed therapy. They were magic for people who desperately needed a little magic, back before magic was real.”

There is some good writing in the novel. I like the way Charlie describes an experience by saying “there’s a moment of dissonance when people break the social contract. A moment when the civilized mind searches for some reason why a person might be running toward you….” And I laughed out loud at a description of a fancy party: “The fundraiser was being hosted in the home of one of Remy’s ridiculously wealthy school chums. It was to benefit children of some kind. Maybe they’d been sick. Maybe they were going to be given art therapy. Or ponies. Or their ponies would be given art therapy. It didn’t matter.”

I read (and re-read) a lot of books that I don’t intend to review, but these are books I thought I might have something to say about and that some of you might be interested in. If you are interested in hearing any more, I can answer questions in the comments.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2022 1:39 am

    Not everything will speak to you. Time is valuable, entertainment possibilities are vast, and you know what you like.

    A little challenging goes a long way, and is more suitable when what you like is boring for whatever reason.

    My experimental period was a long time ago – when I would read anything with letters printed on it. Then came the weird period in SF, and I didn’t care about the speculations (OMNI magazine comes to mind). Probably because I was in the middle of a PhD in hard science, and so many writers misused the concepts and the language, thought they were clever when what they were doing didn’t add up artistically for me, and their people had little humanity left.

    Then came learning to write well (by my own standards), and, well, I got less patient. Not necessarily the fault of the authors.

    Now I can tell within a few pages, and don’t bother, except to note what got my attention enough to start it. And I now have a huge appreciation for the books which still work.

    “…Maybe they were going to be given art therapy. Or ponies. Or their ponies would be given art therapy. It didn’t matter.”

    Leave the space for the ones which bring joy – note how and why.

    • June 28, 2022 8:26 am

      Sometimes a book brings me joy but I don’t feel like analyzing why or how. Jolene was like that, and the Jim Butcher and Elizabeth Moon series books I save for reading on airplanes.

  2. June 24, 2022 2:05 am

    I also agree about pockets in dresses 😀

    • June 28, 2022 8:25 am

      I was just on a trip and packed a number of knit cotton dresses. Some of them had pockets, which were exactly as West describes them–drape-ruining scrotums.

  3. June 24, 2022 4:52 am

    I can’t comment meaningfully about pockets in dresses, so I won’t! (Though I’ll just add that Scots kilts have a sporran as an optional add-on, but then men always have something they want to squirrel away out of sight, don’t they?!)

    I tried a Holly Black and pressed pause after a few pages, don’t know if I can bear to go back to it. The House Without Windows was a real curiosity, certainly an imaginative exercise in wish-fulfilment for a precocious young girl but I struggled to get much out of it ( I now wonder if Diana Wynne Jones was aware of this title when she wrote House of Many Ways… Hmm, I doubt it but I may investigate further…

    • June 28, 2022 8:23 am

      I think a sporran is just a version of a woman’s small handbag, but tied at the waist instead of hanging from the shoulder. I’m with the people who say that women’s pants should have bigger pockets. Skirts are different–pockets can work because they hang from the waist and if the skirt has pleats or something like that, a pocket won’t ruin the line.
      Wish-fulfilment is a good way to describe The House Without Windows. She lived on roots and air, for one thing!

  4. June 25, 2022 11:22 am

    It’s nice to see short reviews on books. Not every books needs a lengthy reflection! It’s nice to get a flavor for something.

  5. June 27, 2022 7:06 am

    Are you in general a fan of Holly Black? Her books have been very hit or miss for me in the past, with the hits tending to be very big hits, so I keep trying all her new books, just to see.

    • June 28, 2022 8:17 am

      I really liked Tithe and its two sequels, and I loved The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (both the story and the novel she expanded it to). I haven’t read a lot by her in the last few years, though, after Eleanor and I stopped reading some of her YA books together.

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