top 5 wednesday: Problematic Faves

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

November 8th: Problematic Faves: Characters you don’t want to love, but you can’t help liking.

Before I get to my list, I just want to talk for a second about how much I hate the word ‘problematic’.  It’s a pointless catch-all word people use when they don’t want to think too critically about the things they’re criticizing.  I think it’s so important to engage critically with media, but I find that ‘problematic’ barely skims the surface of the issues that lie beneath it.  We shouldn’t be afraid of words like ‘racist,’ ‘sexist,’ ‘transmisogynistic’ – these issues are too important to write off with the lexical equivalent of a vague wave of the hand.

Moreover, I cannot tell you how much I hate the false equivalence between fictional characters and real people.  I feel like there’s a lot of very bad discourse on the internet which condemns the actions of fictional characters (and worse yet – condemns people who consider themselves fans of these characters) as though they were real.  Here’s the thing – flawed characters make good stories.  What’s the point of reading about a group of faultless individuals?  Stories need conflict, they need characters who exist in moral grey areas.  Characters like Snape and Dumbledore are fantastic examples – you don’t need to ‘like’ these characters (I sure don’t), but before dismissing everyone who does, consider that ‘I like Snape’ does not necessarily mean ‘I condone every one of his actions, and if he were a real person I’d like to shake his hand and take him out to dinner,’ but rather, ‘in a fictional universe populated by people who are mostly Good or Bad I enjoy examining the nuances of this character who exists somewhere in the middle, whose ambiguous loyalties provided a stimulating element that the Harry Potter series would be rather lacking without.’

So with all that said, I love ‘problematic’ characters.  I love books about horrible people.  I love fiction that digs into human imperfections.  Here are some problematic faves who I embrace, whose narratives would be nothing without these characters’ fascinating flaws.

41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Henry Winter (The Secret History by Donna Tartt).  I could easily have comprised this list entirely of characters from The Secret History, but if I had to choose just one, I have to go with Henry.  Henry Winter is one of the most intriguing characters from anything I’ve ever read.  The fact that he’s a murderer barely scrapes the surface of his faults, and yet….. The Secret History would be nothing without his evil genius propelling the story forward.  From the second he’s introduced, how utterly frustrating and enigmatic and ruthless and unknowable Henry Winter is becomes one of the most compelling things about this book.

29441096Ryan Cusack (The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney).  Ryan Cusack begins this story as a teenage drug dealer, and it only gets worse from there… but still, he breaks my heart.  What The Glorious Heresies does so exceptionally well is depict the nuances of inter-generational crime and poverty in Ireland – how it’s such a difficult cycle to break.  Ryan finds himself right in the middle of that, striving to be a good person and only failing because his socioeconomic status is preventing him from succeeding.  Add that to That Thing that we find out happened to him at the end of the novel, and it’s no wonder he’s so messed up.  But never beyond redemption.

22299763Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo).  Kaz is the leader of a ruthless gang, driven singularly by a need for revenge that stems from a tragic childhood.  Though he has a reputation for being monstrous, the more Leigh Bardugo reveals about this character, the more we discover how tragic circumstance has made him the way he is.  The softer side he shows with Inej also makes it difficult to utterly condemn him as heartless.  I have to say, I have such a weakness for characters who lash out or pull up a wall around themselves only because they’re hurting – from the minute Kaz was introduced I knew he was going to be my favorite, and even had the thought ‘I’m probably not supposed to like this character at this point before I reach the tragic backstory, am I.’

33253215Julian Woodbead (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne).  I was initially going to choose the novel’s protagonist, Cyril Avery, but I’m writing this post rather late and Chelsea already did a great job writing about Cyril, so I’m going to instead choose Cyril’s best friend and the object of his affections – Julian.  Julian is ostensibly awful.  He’s a bit of a womanizer, he doesn’t really care about anyone but himself, and yet, he’s so funny, so charismatic, you can’t help but to fall a little in love with him the way Cyril does.  The real strength of The Heart’s Invisible Furies is how simultaneously hilarious and aggravating all of the characters are, and Julian is such a good example of Boyne’s brilliance in this regard.  If Julian were a ‘better’ person, this book wouldn’t be what it is: such a startling reflection of life’s imperfections.

752900Medea (Euripides/classics, Bright Air Black by David Vann).  In one of the most harrowing climaxes in literary history, Medea murders her children.  So.  I don’t think we’re gonna get more problematic than that.  But to write off her character as a monster is to entirely miss the point of how tragic this character is – she leaves her home and betrays her family to help Jason, who she falls in love with, only in turn to be betrayed by him.  She’s wild and ruthless but not utterly soulless, which is the most haunting thing about this character.

Who are some of your problematic faves?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 tuesday: Characters to Team Up With to Rule the World

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm.  This week’s topic:

SEPTEMBER 26TH – Top 5 characters I would team up with to rule the world!

Characters’ moral compasses may vary.

51bcsc2fcflSansa Stark (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin).  My girl!!!  I think I’ve waxed eloquent about my love for Sansa Stark enough on this blog, so I’ll just get right to it.  Sansa is the sort of character who has a tremendous amount of growth, and while I wouldn’t necessarily want to team up with her 11-year-old self to rule the world, the young woman she becomes is one of the most formidable and capable characters in the entire series.  She learns from the best and the worst alike, and she knows how to navigate the complex political situations she finds herself in.  I want to team up with her to save Westeros and then dismantle the patriarchy.

23437156Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo).  (I would just like to point out that Sansa and Kaz are like….. the very embodiment of the two Types of characters I always fall for.  The dichotomy of my being summed up in this one unlikely pair.)  Anyway, this one doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation… Kaz is the sort of character you’d rather have on your side than against you, so while he may not be the most trustworthy person in the world, I’ll take my chances.  He’s the sort of criminal mastermind who could easily take over the world if he decided that would be an advantageous course of action.

41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Henry Winter (The Secret History by Donna Tartt).  Henry is one of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered.  He may not be a Good Person, but I don’t think he’s a bad person either… and at any rate, he’s another one who I’d rather have on my side than against me.  Plus, his idea of taking over the world would probably include ‘make The Iliad required reading for everyone’ and let’s be real, that aligns very nicely with my own agenda.

1371Helen of Sparta (The Iliad by Homer; classics).  Anyone powerful enough to (inadvertently) bring about a war is someone I want to be partners in crime with.  Helen is one of my favorite characters, and the thing that makes me defend her character is how little agency she has in her narrative: she’s stolen by Paris and then her husband Menelaus wages a war to get her back.  The question of what Helen herself wanted has long been debated – did she go willingly with Paris, or was it kidnap? – and anyway, I’m saying all this because I want to give Helen a narrative where she’s in total control.  i.e., Ruling the world.

pillars-of-the-earthAliena of Shiring (The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett).  Aliena is one of the most capable characters I can think of.  She goes from being brought up in nobility to having absolutely nothing, to starting her own business as a wool merchant.  She’s someone who gets shit done, and above that, she’s also just a deeply good person.  I’d gladly rule medieval England with her.


 

Which character(s) would you team up with to rule the world?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo
★★★★★
Henry Holt & Co, 2016
(Six of Crows #2)

I LOVED THIS. Crooked Kingdom is everything that was great about Six of Crows – fast paced action, characters getting out of impossible situations in unexpected ways – but it built something even better upon its already solid foundation, thanks to some truly phenomenal character development. In Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo digs into her characters’ backstories to create even more depth and dimension to this already flawed and fascinating group of individuals, and I came out of it with an even greater appreciation of each of them.

Where the plot in Six of Crows is much more straightforward and I can see where some people may prefer it for that reason, Crooked Kingdom is where Bardugo shows her complete mastery of weaving together intricate plot threads. I was mesmerized by the fact that every time there appeared to be a straightforward outcome to a situation, Bardugo still managed to veer the narrative in an unexpected direction. And it was never a cheap trick or a deus ex machina – just Bardugo cleverly staying one step ahead of the rest of us.

I wasn’t really fond of That One Thing that happens toward the end – I thought it was sort of rushed and thrown in for shock value, and I think Bardugo could have been capable of writing that in a much more satisfying way.

But on the whole, I loved this. I love Kaz. I love Inej. I love Wylan. I love this group of flawed characters looking out for each other and wreaking utter havoc. This duology was such a fun ride, and I’m sad for it to be over.

book review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo
★★★★★
Henry Holt & Co, 2015

I was so afraid that I was going to dislike this book and that I’d be ostracized from the bookish community, but my trepidation about Six of Crows was all for naught. This was just as awesome as everyone says it is.

I’ll have to admit, I had a slow start with Six of Crows. Here’s where I clarify for those who are not familiar with my reading habits: I do not read a lot of fantasy. So when I’m thrown into a world with all sorts of new vocabulary to learn with such a large array of characters, I’m a little unmoored, to say the least. Leigh Bardugo integrates her invented vocabulary seamlessly into the narrative without pausing to explain what everything means – you’re able to discern the meaning through context, and it’s expertly done. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking ‘wait, I’m dumb, though, can’t you just explain it?!’ on more than one occasion. It probably took me longer than it should have to figure out just what a Grisha is, exactly.

But I think at about 20% it really began to hit its stride, and my confusion finally abated. Before I knew it, I was completely sucked into this fast-paced, exciting adventure, and I fell in love with this group of flawed yet compelling characters. Notable to me were Kaz and Inej, two of the most complex and intriguing and heartbreaking characters that I’ve ever encountered in YA lit, Kaz in particular. He’s the first character who really grabbed me in this story, and I just fell more and more in love with him as his devastating backstory was slowly revealed.

The twists in this book were all kinds of exciting. Bardugo keeps the tension high, and every time it looks like things are finally, finally going to turn out okay, another obstacle arises. It never gets monotonous, though, because the stakes are high enough that you’re constantly holding your breath for a positive outcome.

4.5 stars just because of my difficulty getting into it at the beginning (but again, that’s more down to my incompatibility with this genre than Leigh Bardugo’s storytelling, which I admit was technically very well done). I ended up loving this, and I can’t wait to read Crooked Kingdom.