Monday, April 6, 2009

Wonder vs. Grittiness

I've read a lot of gritty novels lately, and I'm beginning to crave that sense of wonder again. I've blogged on this before, just over a year ago. My point then--and now--is one of the reasons I read fantasy is for that sense of wonder.

I like gritty stories as well, but the pendulum seems to be swinging too far over on the gritty side of late. Rare is the author who can combine the two. Alex Bledsoe managed it in The Sword-Edged Blonde, which is one of the reasons I liked that book so much.

Of the recent debuts I've read, The Warded Man was the grittiest. It was also one of my favorites. The last book I read with a true sense of wonder was The Name of the Wind. It wasn't really gritty at all.

I'm thinking that wonder must be very difficult to pull off. Interestingly, Arthur C. Clarke stands out in my mind as a writer who could really do a sense of wonder well. And he, of course, wrote science fiction based on hard science.

What do I look for in wonder? Anything that can give me a moment where I just think, "Aaah." It's kind of like a bit of dessert nestled among the pages. Book candy. It could be anything from how overwhelmingly huge Jupiter is up close (2001: A Space Oddessy) to the first glimpse of an ancient abandoned mountain city (Rhapsody: Child of Blood by Elizabeth Haydon). It can even be leaves stirring in a courtyard (The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss).

I went to my shelf and pulled out the books that I thought were most likely to contain a sense of wonder. One was Slathbog's Gold, which I blogged about a few weeks ago, where I was having a hard time getting into it because of a lack of conflict. The other is Seekers of the Chalice by Brian Cullen. Tor sent it to me last year, and the cover is so beautiful that I think a attempt at wonder must be hiding within. I had a hard time getting into it last year, but since Tor sent me the sequel, The Valley of Shadows, I'm going to give it another shot, in between the other books I'm reading. Fortunately, neither book is very long.

Has anyone read Seekers of the Chalice? It seems to be under-reviewed in the Blogosphere.

What are some books you've read lately with a sense of wonder?


Deborah Blake said...

Maria Snyder's books. Anything by Tamara Pierce (YA). Lois McMaster Bujold's "Sharing KNife" series.

Maria Zannini said...

I much prefer wonder over grittiness. Real life is gritty enough. I want to escape to a world of wonder.

I think the last "wonder" book I really enjoyed was a novel called AIR, by Geoff Ryman.

Amy said...

I've been rereading 'The Chosen' by Ricardo Pinto, as the final book in the trilogy is coming out in a few months. There's a fair amount of cruelty and hardship in the book, but there's also a huge amount of beauty and wonder. Actually, I'm noticing it a lot more reading it the second time.

Tia Nevitt said...

I love rereading books, but I haven't gotten a chance to do it much since starting Fantasy Debut.

Mihai A. said...

Well, that sense of wonder can come from a hole novel, a particular chapter, a few pages or just one phrase. But it always brings me joy and an inner peace. The last one is Jasper Kent's "Twelve".

As for re-readings are fewer now, but maybe someday I'll be able to re-visit all those places of wonder I read before :)

Kimber Li said...

If you can read 'gritty' once in a while, Tia, you're doing better than me. I've been running (uh, waddling as fast as I can) and screaming in the opposite direction as a book reviewer for at least a year. I am so very sick, sick, sick of

Dark & Gritty

Dark & Gritty & Sexy

Kick-Butt Heroines who traded in their wombs for swords, guns, or other weaponry

Blood Sucking Dead Guys who are knock-offs of TWILIGHT or any of the other bestselling vampire books (I'm only asking for originality here.)

Graphic Sex Scenes in every doggone book out there. Whatever happened to romance, foreplay, and tension? It's like being married to a man with absolutly no imagination!

Okay, I'm done ranting now.
;) I don't blame the authors either. In fact, I think it's unfair to them. They might have something truly wonderful in any of those categories, but it'd make me gag simply because those categories are glutted right now.

Trend Hell - when will it ever end?

Please, yes, bring on wonder and also the fun and adventure!

Maybe this is why I'm reading more Young Adult these days.

Tia Nevitt said...

My bookshelf has a lot of YA as well, of late.

Great analysis!

I enjoyed The Warded Man despite its grittiness because it was so danged original.

Oh, and everyone, Kimber waddles because she is very pregnant right now. And we hope she doesn't waddle too vigorously!

Kimber Li said...

"And we hope she doesn't waddle too vigorously!"

Seriously! It's hard enough keeping my babies in long enough. Send me some fun and adventure and wonder and I'll gobble it up while I'm on bedrest and review it on my blog when I can.
P.S. I'm hoping to get my mini laptop today so I can start accepting eBooks again.

Tia Nevitt said...

I read SO MUCH when I was on bedrest. Too bad I wasn't running a review blog then!

Please post a product review of your mini laptop!

Kimber Li said...

I got it! I got it! And it's soooo cute. I'll post about it tomorrow at Enduring Romance.

Chicory said...

Hi. First time commenter. I just wanted to say the book that really impressed me with a sense of wonder was `The Princess and the Goblins' by George McDonald. I first read it when I was a kid, and the description of the bathtub full of stars made me shivery.

Tia Nevitt said...

Chicory, welcome! The Princess and the Goblins hooks be by the title alone!

Patrick said...

Thunderer, by Felix Gilman. I believe its also a debut novel, so its topical as well.

Patrick said...

Oh, and The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden.

That book deserves a lot more attention than it seems to get. Its sequel, likewise, since they're really all one story that didn't quite fit into one book.

Tia Nevitt said...

I tried The Thunderer last year, but it didn't grab me. Maybe I should have read a bit further.

Patrick said...

Tia- Remember the very first part of the book, when the god of birds arrives at the city? At least for me, that did an excellent job at creating a sense of wonder. And then it stopped, and we got dragged through a kafka-esque bureaucratic nightmare as the main character tries to wade through an apathetic city government's rules, regulations, and apathy.

...But then the wonder comes back. I won't spoil anything, but I will say that the book has a definite beginning, middle, and end. The beginning, with the bird god and the voice, has a sense of wonder. The middle is about man kind living alongside of it, and mankind... not very wonderous. And the end is about digging beneath that, and what's been buried behind the everyday.

Of course, if the bird god didn't grab you, the rest of the book might not either. :-)

Anonymous said...

I also loved Alex Bledsoe's The Sword-Edged Blonde. I listened to it on audiobook -- the reader was excellent. Highly recommended! We've got 2 reviews for it over at FanLit.

Tia, I think we live about 15 minutes away from each other! I emailed you about it, but I'm posting it here, too, 'cause I think that's so cool! Let's get together at Barnes & Noble soon.