Sunday, July 09, 2006

Past the Size of Dreaming, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I first read this, and wrote about it, sometime in late 2001.

This book is an urban fantasy, I guess, though mostly rural. The magic systems were rather incoherent: demons, talking sidewalks, spirit guides, elemental magic, witches and old-fashioned cookbook magic. Oh, and the gold bands that were never really explained or served much purpose. The characters were well enough done, I guess, but I seemed to be missing context. Perhaps they appeared in Red Heart of Memories?

It was the magic that bothered me, though. Anything could happen: at any point a character could pull out a new spell or ability, turn a house into a person or a dog, change sexes, fly, whatever the plot required. As a result none of it came to matter very much, there wasn't any wonder, any sense that the magic meant anything.

I've seen the charge leveled against fantasy, that where anything can happen nothing matters (some science fiction writer, I guess?), but this was the first time I've seen it played out. I think it's more an effect of incoherency than fantasy. I mean, in a mystery the author could reveal the conspirators at any time, or cripple them, or not leave any clues, have the killer be someone she never introduced at all; anything can happen that is within the scope of the book. It matters because the writer arranges things so it seems to matter, so things flow from who the characters are rather than how the author manipulates their circumstances, so if something unusual happens, it's significant and surprising, not just 'oh. The author described something unusual.'

Fantasy works the same way, it's just that the scope of the book is different. And this one was never clearly defined; no way to know what was within the scope of the book.

I did keep reading, though. I liked the characters, especially Matt.

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