Saturday, April 17, 2010

All the Windwracked Stars: A year later, a prequel, some thoughts & questions

A whole year ago, I reviewed All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear. It was my first ever review in blogland. I remember giving this book, the review and my grade a lot of thought. Not only because it was my first review, but because I was quite conflicted at the time. (I posted the review below for your convenience)

This was my first read by Elizabeth Bear and a fantasy book and I remember loving it for a lot of reasons. I didn't want the book to end. It's post apocalyptic/apocalyptic fantasy and it has mythology as a base, two devices I really enjoy in a book. Bear also throws the reader right into her world from the beginning, and that's something I appreciate when reading fantasy. The rest you can read on my review. However, the way she used mythology concerned me at the time and that was reflected in my final grade.

Bear uses Nordic mythology in All the Windwracked Stars, and her usage of it is subtle and well done -- if you are familiar with it. She uses mythological composits to create her characters, as in the case of the Grey Wolf, that I thought were brilliant. However, although I enjoy this type of subtle mythology-based fantasy story, I remember being concerned that those readers unfamiliar with Nordic mythology would pick up this book and would end up hating it. I thought that for them, some of the language used and even part of the story would be confusing and the subtleties would be completely missed. When I wrote my review, I even thought of recommending that readers might want to check out a book that I use as a tool to refresh my memory about Nordic mythology, The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths by Padraic Colum. This is not a heavy mythology book, but a fast read and easy to use as a tool. At the last minute I deleted my recommendation, thinking that my review was already too, too long, lol! This is not something that would concern me now. :)

Interestingly enough, a couple of months ago while looking for a sequel to this book, I found that Elizabeth Bear wrote and released a "prequel" instead, By The Mountain Bound. And guess what the book is about? She addresses the mythology-based part of her world. When I first began reading By the Mountain Bound, I felt almost as if I were reading stories right out of The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths, except that Bear uses her characters and still manages to tell her story. And yes... as with the Grey Wolf, she often uses composits of stories and characters.

However, you'll be surprised to hear that I was disappointed with By The Mountain Bound, even though I initially thought it was would be helpful for those readers who needed a deeper understanding of the mythology used in this series. The book itself is well written and the story is good on its own, heavy on the mythology. My concern is in how By the Mountain Bound effects All the Windwracked Stars as a prequel.

All the Windwracked Stars has a mysterious atmosphere, full of sensuality and sexual tension between the female and two males, and a subtle homoerotic connection between the males, plus a darkness to the book that keeps the reader turning the pages and guessing what's coming next. By going back in time and writing a prequel, Bear not only gives her readers a deeper understanding of the mythology, but she explores the backstory of the three central characters from All the Windwracked Stars. By telling their backstory, part of that mystery is voided and the sexual tension is released because the reader now knows the dynamics that drive the relationships between the central characters.

When I began reading this series, my hope was that the characters, their story and world would be developed and explored in subsequent installments. I wondered how Bear would reveal the characters' pasts as she moved forward with their future. I hoped that the confusing parts of the first book would be addressed in the second installment. After reading the prequel, where she went back instead of forward with the story, I now wonder how it would feel to read this series in a different order -- By the Mountain Bound first and All the Windwracked Stars second. I'm sure it would be a totally different experience. I would certainly view the characters in a totally different light.

What do you think? How do you feel about prequels? Do you enjoy getting the backstory on already established characters in prequels? Or, do you feel authors often use prequels as an easy way to further develop their characters or world? Do you read prequels first when you begin reading an already established series? In this case, which book would you read first?

9 comments:

  1. Prequels...*thinks* It depends :) It depends when I start the series...if I start it later then it may be that I read the prequel first, to familiarize myself with the world and the characters.

    Also...I have to ask myself: is the prequel really necessary or is it just so the author can publish yet another book? 'Cause I've read a few of those as well and...I think they adversely affect your opinion of the whole series.

    Good question Hils :)

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  2. if I start it later then it may be that I read the prequel first, to familiarize myself with the world and the characters.

    I think this is what most people would do, orannia. In this case, IMO although the prequel would give you a better understanding of world & characters, that knowledge diminishes the impact from the first book. I just wondered if by giving some clues in the original book as to background and continuing to do so in future installments, the author wouldn't have accomplished the same thing.

    Also...I have to ask myself: is the prequel really necessary or is it just so the author can publish yet another book?
    Great question! :D

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  3. The first prequel that came to mind was Nalini Singh's Beat of Temptation in An Enchanted Season anthology. It's Tamsyn and Nate's story of how they came to be mated. I loved it but it's not necessary to read for understanding the series.

    Those are the kind of prequels I like. If possible I would read the prequels first, or wherever they fall in the series.

    I don't like prequels that come after the characters are established and the details in the prequels really should have been integrated into the present books. Like you said, it would be a totally different experience. Interesting questions Hils.

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  4. Great minds, Hilcia! LesleyW has a post up right now about prequels as well, though she comes to it from a different angle.

    One of my favorite all time books is Elizabeth Bears' (co-written with Sarah Monette) A Companion to Wolves. Its culture refers to Norse mythology, though not as deeply as All the Windwracked Stars. I haven't read AtWS, and have to admit the in depth Norse mythology in it has made me hesitate. While reading your post, I was reminded of an interview she had done about AtWS on Cover to Cover, a scifi/fantasy podcast I enjoy. After reading your post, I'm more intrigued by this story and may have to give it a try! :-)

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  5. Renee, I must read LeslieW's post, thanks for the heads up!

    I just listened to the podcast. Thanks for the link! It was fascinating... but don't let it put you off, WtWS is fascinating and worth reading. It's funny that when I read the book last year I didn't think of it as cyberpunk, I thought of it as sci-fi/fantasy, but it's definitely cyberpunk! Although she called it: Norse noir steampunk cyberfantasy? LOLOL! That's a bit WOW...

    I see she initially meant for the prequel to be the 3rd book in the series. Interesting. I'll definitely read the next book in this series, I'm too curious to see what happens to the characters.

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  6. Leslie... sorry, I meant to address you first. :)

    The types of prequels that explore side characters in a story are fun! I like those too. It's interesting after hearing the podcast that Renee linked us to, that she means By the Mountain Bound to be the 2nd book... not the 1st. It is the correct way to read it. But I do wonder how many readers will read the prequel 1st... spoiling the impact of WtWS. I wonder if it should be called a "prequel" or if it should be called Book 2 of a trilogy.

    By the Mountain Bound is a good book on its own, but my recommendation is that the books be read in order... they definitely work that way best.

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  7. I can start a series mid-series and work backwards or skip around. It depends on my mood, sometimes the ratings I've read on the books, or how much of the series/author's writing I'm really into...I guess you can say I read all over the place. lol!

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  8. Very interesting post, Hils :D You reminded me that I wanted to check out Ms Bear LOL.

    I'm sorry you didn't enjoy By The Mountain Bound as much.

    As for prequels, well it depends. Luckily, there aren't many out on the market. I think it depends what is the goal of the author. Providing entertainment and more information on a character, that's cool with me. For example, Tamsy and Nate's story Leslie mentioned... or the short stories Kelley Armstrong has. I loved, loved, loved reading about Clay's childhood.

    Yes, they should provide some understanding about characters and such, but I don't think they should be used to explain/elucidate everything.

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  9. LOL, Tabitha... I've been known to do that myself -- start in the middle of a series and work my way backward. :)

    Nath is not that I didn't enjoy By the Mountain Bound, the book was good. What concerned me after finishing it is how it effects WtWS. By going backwards and by calling this a prequel, many readers will read this book first.

    I also like prequels when they're used as "side stories" for secondary characters that won't get their stories told in the main storyline. Those I enjoy. :)

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