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The Mulberry St. Blog is a review and writing blog. I review mostly fiction/science fiction/fantasy sorts of books, with the exception of the occasional YA or nonfiction book. The blog is updated daily, excluding Mondays.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Last Dragon

Last Dragon

The debut of a brilliant new voice that will change the fantasy genre forever.

An intricate web of stories weave together to tell a tale of revenge, justice, ambition, and power. Zhan has been sent to find her grandfather, a man accused of killing not only Zhan's family, but every man, woman, and child in their village. What she finds is a shell of a man, and a web of deceit that will test the very foundations of a world she thought she understood.

A tale of revenge that grows into something more, Last Dragon is a literary fantasy novel in the tradition of Gene Wolf and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. J.M. McDermott brings the fantasy genre to new literary heights with a remarkable first novel that will leave critics and readers alike in stunned awe.

I've been talking about Last Dragon practically since I started this blog. It's taken me a much longer time to finish it that I originally anticipated, often spending weeks on the floor of my car, underneath my coffee table, hidden in my bedroom. I was avoiding it because I was avoiding reading. 5 days a week of working in a bookstore, I wanted nothing to do with books. Fortunately for me, Debris renewed my love for books, and, as it turns out, Last Dragon renewed my love for reading.

What is life besides a series of memories? And, really, do you remember the order your memories belong in? Which part came first, what happened most recently? Some of it is clear, but most of it is a jumble, things coming back in pieces, a little bit of everything at a time. This is how Zhan tells her story. It is a series of letters written by a dying women. She is trying to remember, only, "...it's all mixed up in my head. I [Zhan] can't separate lines from lines, or people from people. Everything is in this web, Esumi. Even you. Even me. .... The ghosts all fade the same way. They fade together." In the method of this story telling, there was a different POV besides first person, second person, etc. It wasn't your normal sort of narration. The letters were private, earnest, and honest. They were sent expressly to one person and we are simply privy to that honesty. In this, we see a different narrator. You feel for her, you know her, you see inside her and you begin to really know her. This wouldn't work so well in simple first person narrative, I don't think, and that's the genius of the way the story is told.

There is something incredibly beautiful about this novel. It weaves a story that can maybe be compared to a dance. Back and forth it goes, over and over, back to the same places it had been, but with different things to say, different things to do. Perhaps I've spend too much time reading and I've begun to talk like the novel was written, but there is truth in that statement. The farther into the novel I progressed, the more beautiful I found the book to be. I felt like I knew Zhan, like I was Adel's friend, like Seth had betrayed me, that I wanted Esumi to understand, to come back. I was drawn into the story in a powerful way, and I loved every minute of it.

The narration itself is inconsistent at best, jumbled at worst. The first time, I stopped reading it at around page fifty because the book required a certain amount of concentration I couldn't give it. However, when I picked it back up again, I was able to give it the concentration it deserved, the concentration it required, and I was immediately sucked back in. Focus is required for this book. It is not your "light beach reading" sort of book. It's an honest portray of a journey that wasn't all good. It's confusing if you're not paying attention. The way it is written makes sense, in a nonlinear sort of way. The story is a like a spider web, as she says herself in the very first page of the book. It weaves back it forth. It's a tangle, and it doesn't always make sense, but that's life. Life doesn't always make sense. It's not always linear and manageable. It's confusing, it hurts. It's not always a happy ending.

The one thing that bothered me was that when the narrator switched, you couldn't tell. The thing about switching narrators is that it needs to be obvious, the separate personalities must be reflected in the tone of the words, otherwise it doesn't work. More than half the time, Zhan was the narrator and that was fine. When it switched, the only clues were what was being said. The voice was exactly the same.  I'm not sure if it was intended to be Zhan's voice explaining their words, or if it was just bad writing. If it was supposed to be Zhan's voice explaining their words, that's a whole separate problem; I couldn't tell. The voices merged together too much and in the case of the narrator, too much was left unexplained and I was left more confused than I would have liked.

This book reminds me why I like reading. It's a challenge that you have to accept. It's an invitation to a world that you can only temporarily belong to, but that little bit of time is an epic adventure that you don't want to end. It's a journey that you take with the main character, not one that you sit outside of and watch. This book is different, and difficult. It's not meant to be easy. Throughout the entire novel, I never hoped for a happy ending. I never hoped for a sad ending, either. The book simply was. The events in this book all happened outside its pages. Every word carries the weight of the words before it and after it. It is a story wrapped in itself. Almost from the beginning, I knew I wasn't going to be delighted at the end of the book.  Again, it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea. It's a little bit creepy, sometimes way too honest, and seriously hard on the brain.

Whether all this is good or bad, that's for you to decide. For me, it was a very good and extremely impressive first novel. J.M. McDermott has serious talent in the way of storytelling. He wrote a second book, Never Knew Another, and I'm thinking I'll just have to read that one, as well.

Rating: 9 - Near Perfect
This book was really hard for me to rate. There was so much that I absolutely loved about it, and enough that bothered me that I couldn't give it a 10. I wavered between 8/9, but I settled for 9 because I really loved it. It was a great, engrossing story. I would say its the kind of book that everyone should read, but I'm not sure that it's the kind of book everyone would enjoy. If you're looking for something different or a challenge, definitely give this one a shot.

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