Ambitious, weird, metafictional horror-fantasy set in a magical city where all but three faeries have fled post-war. It’s now occupied by tightropers who spit out ropes and live in the air, and gnomes who live belowground. Faeries are immortal and every part of their body has its own sentience; they shed glitter constantly and each speck of glitter has its own awareness, which they tune out because otherwise they’d lose their minds. They are not considered dead until there is literally nothing of them left, so the heroine carries her father’s ear and eyeball in a jar; it presumably is still able to see and hear, though not speak. Pre-war, faeries had a wary co-existence with the gnomes, which eat faeries, usually bit by bit. Each eaten limb stays aware until digested. I think. It’s a little unclear what you have to do to a faerie part before it ceases to be aware.

And that is just one of the many, many, many things which are unclear in this odd, frustrating book. The ideas are intriguing, original, and horrific; the execution often uses that maddening trick of excusing its flaws by pointing them out and saying that they’re deliberate. The plot makes no sense? Well, real life often makes no sense. The emotions are weirdly distanced? The narrator is traumatized and emotionally numb. Key incidents are incredibly confusing or elided altogether? The narrator is traumatized and doesn’t want to think about them. Basic facts like how the body part sentience is actually experienced, how big faeries and gnomes are relative to each other (the gnomes can eat a faerie in one bite, but can also have normal-sounding sex with them), what the tightropers look like, the characterization and relationships of major characters, how any race survives when almost all females are killed by the act of giving birth to their first child, etc, are vague or confusing or contradictory or make no sense? It’s because the narrator is a traumatized teenager writing about experiences they don’t understand or can’t face, not a professional writer.

Here’s an example:

Once upon a time there was a writer who couldn't write a fucking book.

I don't know what comes next. That whole chapter's going to need to get thrown out anyway. You completely forgot halfway through that you'd said it was raining at the beginning.

Was it raining?

No one's ever going to know and it's all your fault.

Put a fucking map in the next draft.


The novel held my attention and is certainly plenty weird and ambitious, but using “in real life a traumatized teenager would write an incoherent mess of a book” as excuse to write an incoherent mess of a book did not work for me. The novel was too realistic to work as surrealism, too inconsistent to work as fantasy, and the whole “everything makes no sense because the narrator is a traumatized teenager” device didn’t work for me. These are the exact same problems I had with Moskowiz’s other novel I read, Break, so this is clearly her signature style and I’m just not her audience.

The worldbuilding is really interesting, which made it all the more frustrating that it had so little focus and what we did get didn’t make much sense. However, the novel also does some unusual (spoilery) things with narrative and metafiction, so if you like that sort of thing and don’t mind the issues I had with it, it’s worth a try. The horror is more conceptual than graphic, but dismemberment is crucial to the plot. (One of the things I found most frustrating was that I was really intrigued by the concept of having scattered awareness via shed glitter, eaten body parts, clipped hair, etc, but because the characters tune this out, you rarely get a sense of what that actually feels like.) Note that it contains underage (late teens, not children, but still) sex work (not graphic, but still).

A History of Glitter and Blood
This is for bookelfe/skygiants. Of course. (Yes, I'm out of order.)

I’m sticking with books here. A lot of manga and anime operates on different narrative rules, so the bizarreness makes wacky internal sense. I do have to mention, though, the complete works of Kaori Yuki if you have any interest in things like random flying Heavenly whales, apocalypse by army of flying zombie angel embryos, and people getting turned into masses of writhing tentacles and kept in the bathtub.

Even so, it was very, very difficult to narrow this down to five. There are bizarre premises (“I will break every bone in my body because then they’ll grow back stronger and I WILL BE INVINCIBLE”), the sheer weight of ridiculousness in a single book (the bone-breaking book also featured the near-death of the hero’s milk-allergic brother when the hero’s cheating girlfriend ate pizza, then kissed the brother), the sudden intrusion of absurdity into a previously non-bizarre book (two-thirds sensitive exploration of sketchy power dynamics, one third EVIL BALL OF MASKED S&M SMALL PRESS POETS), and unwanted intrusions by the author’s peculiar id (of course the most desirable whores have hooves.) Not to mention Terry Goodkind's infamous evil chicken. How to choose?

I have so many contenders that I was forced to name winners in categories.

Most Stupid Protagonist

Runner-Up: Oscar, the hero of Myke Cole’s Control Point. When faced with the difficult decision of who he should get help from— a) his best friend, b) a friendly acquaintance, or c) the sociopathic supervillain who is currently locked up after going on a mass slaughter rampage but who promises to help him out if he’ll only release her from the magical wards laid on her to stop her from slaughtering everyone in sight— guess who he picks?

Winner: Summer in Mary Brown’s Master of Many Treasures, for failing to get rid of a traveling companion whom she easily could get rid of, after he repeatedly and deliberately endangers her and all the rest of her companions, including trying to kill a friend of hers in a random fit of temper. Also for ignoring all advice by people who clearly have her best interest in mind, and taking all advice by people holding up HI I AM EVIL signs, and for failing to learn from very consistent consequences, like falling into quicksand full of rotting corpses because she couldn’t bear to take her best friend’s advice that the left-hand path led to the Swamp of Rotting Corpses. Also for believing that a good excuse for stalking her dragon ex-boyfriend is explaining that she actually fell in love with him when she thought he was a flying pig.

This doesn’t have anything to do with her intelligence, but I just want to mention that during the course of the book, she lays an egg.


Once Is Tragedy, One Million Times Is Hilarity

Crazy-Beautiful, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Gee, if I'd known spilling my orange juice was this effective, I'd have spilled it in Dad's direction every day when I was younger. Then maybe he'd have made time to do things with me like, I don't know, play catch in the yard. Not that I'm complaining or playing the neglected child card. I'll never do that. I know what I've done. I know who's responsible for everything in my life, past, present, and future. Still, a little catch would have been fun, when I still had hands.



And what of me and my hands? Or, I should say, lack of hands.



I finish loading the dryer, hookload by hookload, use my hook to set the dial at seventy minutes, use my hook to depress the button.

Most Ridiculous Plot Twists

Runners-Up:

All books by Sheri Tepper. Future ones too. Every Sheri Tepper book in which infanticide is presented as the solution to the problems of the world. Also the one where the heroine turns out to be a de-aged squid-person. She might lay an egg too, I forget.

The indie gangster movie, name forgotten, in which the screenwriter’s poorly thought-through desire to add on one more surprise reveal meant that the entire action of the movie consisted of a drug lord hiring people to steal his own drugs.

The Isobelle Carmody books with the love quadrangle between two humans and two transformed dogs.

Dan Simmons’ The Rise of Endymion. The climactic revelation of the entire series is that quantum strings are made out of love.

Frank Herbert’s God-Emperor of Dune. It makes sense in context, but I still find it hilarious that the climax consists of the main character becoming a million worms.

Lord of Legends, by Susan Krinard. I still have no idea why the heroine’s housekeeper turned into a talking fox.

And finally… drum roll… the winner!

Spider Robinson’s Starseed. The heroine is paralyzed via drugs, has multiple bad guys holding guns on her, and isabout to be killed. As her last request, she asks for a moment to meditate. When they grant it, she achieves enlightenment. This enables her to become telepathic, overcome the effects of the paralyzing drug, and slaughter the bad guys with kung fu.
This book required the creation of a new tag, "bad medicine." God knows many books have merited it in the past, but none more than this one. It is also the only book I've ever read which would have been improved by adding more vomit.

Teenage Jonah is on a quest to break every bone in his body, filmed by his friend Naomi (whose implausibilities as a character only begin with her nickname being "Nom") on the theory that they'll grow back stronger and thus demonstrate to his beyond-dysfunctional family that healing is possible.

His brother Jesse, whom Jonas is massively protective of, is deathly allergic to everything, including all forms of milk. Including breast milk. Even if all he does is touch it or inhale a vaporized drop of it. Their parents have cleverly had a new baby, whose very existence, feeding as he does on deadly milk, is a life-threatening risk to Jesse.

Jonah eventually lands in a mental hospital, where the inmates are so awed by him that they too begin breaking their bones, as does a hospital volunteer. The volunteer also breaks him out so that the final and utterly random plot twist and implausible "everything's fine now" resolution can occur.

I could continue with the plot, but it will be easier to note down the implausibilities.

- Jonas breaks something like thirty bones, over the course of one year, in seven or eight separate incidents. Many of these are large, important bones, such as arms, legs, ribs, and jaw. He should never have gotten out of rehab at all, but somehow manages to continue school and be well enough to break more bones in skateboarding "accidents." I refer you to [personal profile] truepenny's journal (page down a bit) for a vivid account of how much impact breaking even a single significant bone has on one's life.

- From what I've heard from people who have actually done it, you will notice if you break your jaw, even if you have other injuries as well.

- If your jaw is wired shut, preventing you from eating solid food, you will be unable to carry on long, easy conversations for the rest of the book like nothing has happened.

- Jonah should be in so much pain that he is unable to concentrate in school, and should be on meds that will also interfere with his life. He should be in physical therapy. He should struggle with performing basic everyday tasks, getting up stairs, holding pens, and skateboarding. He should not be easily running around and being athletic, only pausing to be in pain when the author wants him to be emo.

- I can't believe I'm saying this, but the bone-breaking scenes are so incredibly unrealistic that they would have been improved with vomit.

- If Jonah is that obsessed with Jesse's health, he should know what Jesse's allergic to, rather than offhandedly saying, "Milk, bread, strawberries, and so much other stuff I can't remember it all."

- His parents are oblivious and uncaring about Jesse landing in the ER on the verge of death once a month, Jonah breaking nineteen bones in one year, and their baby being a constant threat to Jesse's life. I can buy bad parenting, but if you're going to depict parents as that abusive and crazy, they should be seen being abusive and crazy in general. In fact, they are largely absent from the story, and behave that way because otherwise there would be no story.

- Where is the money coming from to pay for all those bones and episodes of anaphylactic shock? If it's out of pocket, they should have long since been homeless. If it's insurance, why hasn't the insurance company noticed that something is up, despite Jonah "cleverly" going to a different hospital each time?

- Why does it take a year for the school to report the family to child protective services? Why does the psychiatrist who eventually talks to Jonah brush off his claim that his parents broke his bones, given that abuse is way more plausible than the real story?

Really terrible. It needed to be either completely over the top and explicitly non-realistic, or else way more understated. Also, not actually that entertaining, except for the hilariously over the top scene when Jesse touches the baby and keels over from milk poisoning. I only finished it out of incredulity and because it was so short.

Break
.

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