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Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart (Book)

Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart
Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart

Silent Hall (Kindle: $6.99 Paperback: $7.99) is a classic fantasy novel written by a dear friend from my college days. The novel is written for a new generation of readers, while hearkening back to some familiar themes. As I began this book, I immediately recognized the internal sensation that is discordant with most fantasy published in 2016, the sensation of comfort. This would be a book about characters who did the right thing, often despite themselves, became close unexpectedly, and found themselves in the process. This book features five very different characters who all have reason to be unhappy with their lives but none of whom would have voluntarily committed to the journey they end up taking together, as refugees. Of the many things that guide their actions, one of the main things is their struggle with their own moral compasses, with trying to understand how to be good people in a complicated world. The book does some new and unique things as well; it consciously addresses certain political challenges that are relevant to today’s struggles, and it also features an endearing and surprising system of scholarship the characters use as they interpret the world around them.

I knew this reading experience, because when I grew up in the nineties, I read Patricia C. Wrede, and Tamora Pierce, and Melanie Rawn and Mercedes Lackey. These authors presented similar tropes, in fantasy settings.  Most striking for me is the sure knowledge from the get go, in both these authors’ novels and in Dolkart’s Silent Hall, that these characters take it as a given that there is a shared ethic. It is simply assumed that there is a right thing to do.

Today, for the same group of readers, instead of these tropes, fantasy mainly refers to paranormal romance, and to tropes that can and often do glorify lack of control generally and rape specifically. In library school, we talked about how fantasy has gotten so much darker. It was largely seen as a liberalization of standards, of permissions. We now accept that kids and young adults (who are commonly seen as the target demographic for fantasy novels, although of course this leaves out a non-trivial minority of adults as well) can read this stuff without becoming crazed and violent. But perhaps there’s something else going on, too. In reading Silent Hall, I began to reflect on how the key difference between Dolkart’s work and that of say, Stephenie Meyer, is that in Meyer’s work, a lack of control has largely taken the place of the moral standards Dolkart’s characters struggle to understand and abide by. This is a substantial difference in both theme and literary mechanic. In paranormal romance, we sympathize (or don’t, as in the case of my grumpy self) with these new characters because of the way their individuality is subjected to forces beyond their control, and we are meant to thrill at the idea that possibly we, too, could one day live without the burden of ethical choices on our shoulders.

Dolkart’s Silent Hall is a refreshing and comforting reminder that there remains in the literature, and in the minds of some people, an idea of a morality that is upheld by us all and individually manifested. This morality is not one that speaks to identity, but to the basic human interaction.

If you are a reader of fantasy, I highly recommend Silent Hall, the first in Dolkart’s new series. Read it because you like a comfort read. Read it because you like to read about close friends succeeding together. Read it because you appreciate the value of ethical interaction that is so lost in most of the fantasy literature coming out today. Read it for its cleverness, read it for its endearing Talmud like study of a fantastical theology. Read it because of its feminist bent or its discussion of the value of knowledge and the fear that knowledge can generate. Read it to watch characters learn to love themselves. Read it because it’s raining outside. Whatever. Read it!

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Books Media

Austerlitz (Book)

41uSvSpj-6L__SX338_BO1,204,203,200_Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, translated from the German by Anthea Bell, is a slow, meditative, and at times haunting account of a Jewish man who was sent away as a small child to England from Czechoslovakia when the Nazi threat loomed large. It is only late into his adulthood that he begins to explore his past, and unravel the mystery of what happened to him. Both the delay and the search are reflected upon in this beautiful novel chock full of entrancing imagery and humanity. But more than that, this book recalls a Europe that – though tragic in many ways – represented an entire civilization that is no longer accessible, some of which was also beautiful and (it turns out) fragile. This is an astonishing work that seems to call to us from a different time when time itself moved slower, and an insightful look at violence stretched over time.

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Books Graphic Novels and Comics Media Star Wars

Herky Jerky: Star Wars between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens (Review of Media)

As some of you may be aware, Disney has been publishing content in the Star Wars universe that covers the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. You can find an aggregated list of the media here.

Shattered_Empire_1_CoverJourney to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire by Marvel Comics. This four part comic series explains Poe Dameron’s background and clarifies what many of us probably suspected: the war doesn’t really end with the fall of the emperor, because the Empire is not centralized, it is exists on many planets throughout the galaxy. The only difference is now, the Empire is occupying territory that belongs to the Republic. The most gratifying moments occur when we see characters we know and love hanging out. The center of the comic series is on Poe’s mother, Shara, and perhaps the most obnoxious part of this comic series is the recurring “you’ve done so much, go home and be a housewife now” conversation that happens between each thing Shara does. Nonetheless, it’s a light, sweet read, and it occurs right after Return of the Jedi– you even get to see the after party. Kinda neat.

 

aftermath_new.6.red_Aftermath: Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Chuck Wendig is a novel that zooms around between characters that we know pretty well (Wedge Antilles!) and characters we’ve never met.  I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty badly written. Every sentence. Is. Dramatic and short. And eventually. You want to punch someone. Like the author. Yes, the author. The author did this. And WE WILL SEE JUSTICE.  I mean, you get the idea. That said, I appreciate its pretty in depth world building. You really get a sense of the fatigue that accompanies the post-victory life for rebel sympathizers. And there is substantial plot (the Empire is up to no good). I decided to listen to the audio book and was highly amused by it, the reader does voices but is a dude and therefore all the female characters are not super believable. My favorite moment so far in all the Star Wars media I’ve seen appears in this book, though, when a pilot refers to his ship’s ability to out maneuver most obstacles with the phrase “HERKY JERKY.” Overall, if you are a Star Wars fan, I think you should read this for actual plot reasons and for world building reasons…but not for good writing. Not that. Never that. We’ve been on this desert of a plant too long. We knew what to expect.

 

Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know by Adam Bray and Cole Horton should really be called Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know Organized So Poorly That It’s Probably Worth Just Doing Your Own Research. I’m not joking. Do not read this. It will only frustrate you and make you sad.  The information is probably more scattered than it actually is on the internet. The fact of the matter is, all of the information in any given reference book on Star Wars is going to be on the internet, so if you’re reading a book like this, it’s because you hope it’ll be organized neatly for you and look pretty. Well it ain’t. If you don’t believe me, here’s an example. This is what EVERY PAGE looks like:

star-wars-absolutely-everything-you-need-to-know

I hope Ships of the Galaxy turns out to be better.