What are we without our memories?

If there was one thing I would say about our species, it’s that were highly vision-dependent. This is apparent when you read a book. The imagery is always very conducive of sight with descriptions like “the rotting bridge sagged under its own weight, leaning perilously to one side so that if I were to step onto it, it would collapse under my feet.” There is very little that conveys to our other senses such as hearing, feeling, or taste, and yet the novel I just read breaks many of these boundaries.

The Chimes by Anna Small.

The chord is death and sorrow and torture. Like millions of people all screaming at once. Just when I think I can’t stand any more, the harshness fades and crumbles. It doesn’t resolve. That is the wrong word. It doesn’t move into harmony, but it breaks, and as it breaks, it shows the possibility of change. It walks forward. It carries the pain into the next chord, but it softens there and there is sweetness again. (276)

Because it’s hard to translate sound into a book’s structure of visual text, this book makes a lot of comparisons between sound and images. It creates metaphors and similes, anything to translate music into something that we can comprehend because this is how the book’s whole world communicates: Through music, sound, and voice. And this is where I partly love the book. I’ve never been one who can understand music. I can’t play instruments. I can’t sing (well). So to ask me to comprehend music is a large jump for me to make especially since each character in this book is given an instrument to learn and master beginning at their childhood.

I love their language, how everyone communicates by song, tunes, and verses.

A plaintive three-note cry from a sweet-potato man who sings as he pedals a bellow wheel. A tune of golden meat pasties sung by a fat woman with a wink. There are tunes for sandwiches and potatoes fried in goosefat, and there is a seabrimmed song sun by a boy with dark hair and a shucking knife. A song with a gleam of pearl in it for the oysters he sells. The oysters are from Essex, the song says. Like me. (7)

I love how music is something that can’t be forgotten even when each person loses their memories each night, driven out by some unseen force. Almost like how modern music refuses to abandon our minds and digs in its own unrelenting claws. People use these tunes to hawk their wares, to give directions.

The boatpeople are already traveling downriver to trade from Richmond. They sing the sightlines of the river and the meter of the tide upstream and down. Their melodies follow each curve of the banks so if you listen close, you can almost see it. Voices low and wordless in the half-song of navigation, a sort of la la leia la that is almost the sound of the river itself. (27)

It speaks of how when an individual’s unique experiences are removed, we become nothing but labor, with no more purpose beyond baker, musician, pactrunner. Even the people within the novel recognize this, always giving out their best piece of advice: To find a prentisship. Their  second advice, more tradition than advice at this point–to hold your memories close–is to relish in the fact that it is only with the addition of our memories that we become individuals, who believe and feel whether that’s pain, happiness, love, tragedy.

This book is unique and original and lyrical, which makes it one-of-a-kind.

Small, Anna. The Chimes. New York, NY: Quercus, 2015. Print.

Edit: I will say as a side note, that it is very interesting to relive average days with the main character as he tries hard to remember, which is very difficult to do given the fact that nobody else within the city can. 


Splitting perspective like light

Phew. I’m exhausted. I just finished reading 624 pages of book, and it was a monstrosity of a story. Not monstrosity as in bad but enormous. A Conjuring of Light is what I would’ve called the equivalent of an epic. And that’s a huge change in tone considering its sister volumes weren’t anywhere close in length, at least, not in terms of page numbers.

About two brothers whose fates are intertwined, literally – the two brothers share a lifeline after what happened the previous story. I guess that’s what happens when you die and your brother’s a magician – they both are in the midst of a tragedy after a magic-demon takes over their city and threatens their kingdom. Oh. Did I forget to mention these brothers are royalty?

What I really enjoyed about this book was not necessarily its plot line, but it’s unique strategy in presenting that plot. I was used to reading this book from a few of the main characters perspectives, either Lila (magician of grey London) or Kell (magician of red London) or Rhy (prince of red London). But in this book, I read from multiple POVs. And plenty of them characters I’ve never heard from before. And that’s what I really want to examine in this post. So forgive its length.

Chapter Character Why their POV?
1.1 Lila Because she is testing her magic to the extent of an Antari, testing if she is in fact Antari, and if she can save Kell in time.
1.2 Holland To show that Osaron’s will had conquered Holland’s, that it was no longer Holland’s body but Osaron’s.
 1.3 Kell Because Kell’s magic is disappearing due to the collar, and Rhy is dying.
 1.4 Rhy Because he’s dying.
 1.5 Alucard Alucard can see the strands of magic, watch them disappear as the threads tying Rhy to this Earth disappear.
 1.6 Lila  Because Lila is fighting to save Kell, to save Rhy.
 1.7 Kell  Until Kell gets his magic back and fights to reach Rhy, realizing along the way that Lila had a fake eye the entire time. That she was Antari, like him.

As you can see, there’s no specific order to the perspectives. It just jumps from character to character, but I kind of like this method. If you notice the first 6 chapters, even though they center on different characters, they center on one plot-point event: Kell wearing the collar that saps your magic strength, making it so you can’t access magic at all. Leading to Rhy dying.

And I really like this idea because when you read a story, it feels very linear. This happens often when you see an event only from one character’s perspective, but when Schwab changes this pattern, showing us at least 5 different perspectives, it gives the event a sort of 3-dimensional perspective, almost like you were Neo in the Matrix when all the cameras went off to create a 360-freeze-frame effect. It’s a very good way to flush out an event and fill in a scene.

And if you haven’t notice, she doesn’t use the same characters every time.

Chapter Character Why their POV?
1.11 Osaron To reveal the arch enemy of all worlds, and how much he thrives in Kell’s magic-filled world.
2.1 Kisimyr Because even though Osaron can take over some people, for others, he burns through them too quickly. Part of the population of Red London dies like Kisimyr.
2.5 Lenos The man who has the sixth sense of foreshadow, and warns the reader that the demon king is taking over the city from a citizen POV.
3.2 Emira The queen and mother of Rhy, who regrets not better raising Kell, to use him as more of a guardian than a brother, even though it was part of that closeness that saved Rhy.
4.1 Nasi To show that scars are a sense of pride for London citizens; it shows that you’ve survived.
4.3 King Maxim Because the King is willing to do whatever it takes to save his city, same as his son and Kell.
6.1 Ned Tuttle To show how close Osaron is to taking over all the Londons, including the Grey.
9.1 Tieren  To reveal a small theme, that”Love an loss are like a ship and the sea. They rise together. The more we love, the more we have to lose. But the only way to avoid loss is to avoid love. And what a sad world that would be” (371).

As you can see, Schwab switches perspective quite often. But, there’s not as many as I initially thought. With this book, there are 13 different perspectives, as well as an omniscient perspective that pops up once or twice. But with fifteen sections, each with their own series of short chapters, this multiple POV doesn’t feel as overwhelming as it should in a normal-sized book. And because each character adds a piece to the resolution of the plot, it helps make this book feel like a world rather than just a theater, with the spotlight focused on one character or one perspective.

I think I would definitely feel inclined to use a technique like this in the future.

Schwab, V. E. A Conjuring of Light. New York, NY: Tor, 2017. Print.

Inventing Vocabulary

The best part about being fluent in a language – you’re allowed to decimate it.

It’s terrible, though, isn’t it? You spend your whole life trying to get a firm grasp of the language you converse in, and then as soon as you’re judged fluent enough, you can break the language apart and ruin it. Which, I guess is okay because that’s how our language grows, right? We’ve gained a lot of words through invention.

But the child-buyer ignores Mother. His footsteps come closer, and they’re…strange. Damaya can sess footsteps. Most people can’t; they sess big things, shakes and whatnot, but not anything so delicate as a footfall. (She has known this about herself all her life but only recently realized it was a warning.) It’s harder to perceive when she’s out of direct contact with the ground… (Jemisin 27)

When I think about sess, I think about sense. And I’m sure it’s not a coincident that these two words are so close to each other. But, I think the idea with sense is that the sensation itself must be a physical experience, especially when you’re talking about the five senses.

And with sess, I think Jemisin was going for something more sensual, something more spiritual, less physical. Which is Damaya she did not have to be in direct contact with the ground to “sess” footsteps.

This is a good word for this book when the characters work with a skill/sense that is not available to the whole population, where it’s not a true physical sensation but another “muscle” you use when manipulating rock material. Which is why, looking back, it seems necessary that a word was invented for this purpose.

When you’re building a world, where the laws of physics aren’t always 1-to-1, there is almost a requirement for you to invent a language, or to redefine it. Which is why Jemisin invents so much. In fact, books that do this usually contain a glossary at the end, just like Jemisin does. I don’t think that’s necessary, but it’s nice for the readers who idolize perfect comprehension.

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.

Write by example

You want the good news or bad news first?



Bad News: 

I don’t like parts of this story, particularly…

As he watched the eyeless face with the jaw moving rapidly up and down, Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not a man’s brain that was speaking; it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck. (Orwell 56)

This is not the part I don’t like. It’s what follows immediately after this:

“There is a word in Newspeak,” said Syme. “I don’t know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck.” (Orwell 56)

I think it’s not the topic of discussion that bothers me so much, it’s the fact it repeats itself. It also hits me as a bit strange for the character to think that, and then the other to voice his exact thoughts – too much of a coincidence or stretch for it to go un-notice.

I don’t think it would’ve taken much to fix this, only a simple call out with the character recognizing that this was a strange coincidence as well – a neat fix-it-all technique for when something out of the ordinary or strange happens in your book.



Good News: 

Page 52 to 54.

All about Newspeak – the revolutionary language of the totalitarian society in this novel – this part of the characters’ discussion talks about how language is being destroyed and minimized to the bear roots, meaning “every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller” (Orwell 54).

I loved how Orwell didn’t only invent a language, he invented a language with the sole purpose to limit the range of thought, to limit their expression, therefore destroying the people’s creativity and individuality, adding to the novel’s successful portrayal of his totalitarian society.

It just shows the amount of effort and thought he’s put into creating this world, showing he’s not only successful with realistic social behaviors but world building as well.

This book would be a good example of how to build your world: create a routine for your characters, a language, a setting and time period, a history, a future…etc.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Centennial ed. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.