Friday, June 24, 2011

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn, and a long comment on ebooks

It's interesting reviewing an ebook vs. having read the other two in this series as paper books. When set so close together, the reading experience was a different one; not completely, not necessarily bad different. I prefer reading an ebook to not reading at all, for sure (er, how's that for a ringing endorsement?) but if I am honest with myself, I do prefer paper books. I like having the object in my hand, I like the feel of turning pages, and I like the, for lack of a better phrase, "mind-feel" of reading paper.

There is something about reading on a screen that blurs the experience for me. I've always been the sort of person who can remember exactly where on the page a certain thing was said or a certain thing happened; I don't tend to need bookmarks or dog ears to remind me where I've stopped reading. There is a 3-dimensional component for me in the reading experience, something that appears to be inextricably linked to the overall experience of the words and the story. That is entirely missing from the e-reading experience, at least on a laptop. It might be different with an actual e-reader, but the story blurs together for me. I can't tell you approximately how long a chapter is, or even how long the book is. I'm not sure where certain things took place, exactly; I can tell you what came first, and second, and third, but I can't tell you necessarily how close that was to the beginning, middle or end, unless it was something that was strongly dependent on internal chronology. For example, in Silent on the Moor there are puppies born; right now, I can't tell you whether that was closer to the middle or the end, and if I had to find it again I'd have to start somewhere around chapter... 18, maybe? And just keep clicking through until I found it.

This is not to say that I don't remember the story itself or that the experience of the story was somehow less vivid. As I say, reading on the laptop is better than not reading at all, and I'm not positive that it changed how the content sticks in my head, other than the structure of it. Though I'm not even sure about that. It is a faster reading experience, and it does feel like a less permanent one; but I do still remember large swathes of The City & The City, more of that than of many paper books I've read.

All of this to say that I am now confident in saying that I don't think all of my e-reading reluctance, my small anxieties when people proclaim that paper is finished and going the way of the LP, is based in curmudgeonly clinging to the past. Reading an ebook is a fundamentally different experience for me than reading a paper book, one with some distinct and identifiable changes to the way I experience reading flow if not necessarily the story (I will need to read a few more ebooks and maybe read the same couple books as paper before I can say whether or not my experience of story changes significantly). Whether or not these changes are something to bemoan is still up in the air, but I do know that my current preference still lies strongly with paper, and now I can point to why.


Silent on the Moor
by Deanna Raybourn
Mira, 2009
351 pages

As stated, I couldn't wait for the library system (both my local library and the library I work at have copies of this book, but in both cases they were checked out such that I would have to count on the person bringing it back on time, and still days from now even if they were on time) so I actually bought this book via eHarlequin. I am glad I did. It's a book worthy of ownership, like the previous two in the series (although I am, for reasons discussed above, more than likely to buy a paper copy eventually as well).

Fair warning: though it's not necessary to read the previous two books before this one, I think there are significant benefits to doing so and I would strongly encourage it. As such, the following paragraphs may contain unintentional spoilers for the first two books in the series. I don't think there's anything startling or unexpected, but they may be there.

Julia, with her sister Portia and their brother Valerius, are off to pay a surprise visit to Nicholas Brisbane at his new manor in Yorkshire, the ominously-named Grimsgrave. Portia was really the one invited to help Brisbane set up his household and get things in order because she's very, very good at that sort of thing; but Julia isn't about to let a chance to see Brisbane slip through her fingers despite the fact that he has explicitly instructed Portia that Julia is not to come. Julia's rather had it with not knowing where their relationship stands and she intends to figure it out once and for all. But perhaps Brisbane was right; when they arrive at Grimsgrave, they find it not only a terribly rundown, impoverished old place in the middle of nowhere, but a couple of unexpected inhabitants in addition to Brisbane. Before long there will be a mystery for Julia to solve beyond her relationship with Brisbane.

I've added the "romance" tag to this book, having left it off the other two, because the relationship between Julia and Brisbane is a significant focus. Not to the exclusion of everything else, but Julia states up front that she is going to Grimsgrave to sort things out with Brisbane, and so it is necessarily a major component of the story -- even though Brisbane himself is pretty scarce for significant portions of the book, particularly in the beginning.

Once again, the setting of the novel changes the tone. Here we have a much, much more gothic piece of writing than the previous two books. Grimsgrave is an ancient, crumbling hall on the moors of Yorkshire; the season is a rainy, grey spring; the unexpected inhabitants of Grimsgrave are themselves somewhat stereotypical Gothic players: the aging matriarch and beautiful, aloof daughter of a dying bloodline, along with a second daughter who is distinctly unfriendly (although Hilda isn't particularly menacing; I quite liked her). The tone is somber, dreary, and damp, and fraught with dark tensions that the reader feels but Julia is occasionally oblivious to.

The crime to be solved in this, or the main one, I suppose, is suitably gothic too. It's melodramatic and very, very creepy. Actually, it occurs to me that if you haven't read this book yet, even if you have read the first two you might want to stop here because I might be a little heavy-handed with the hints. Suffice to say I knew what was up well before Julia did.


Interestingly, I knew almost right away what had happened; Raybourn wasn't as subtle with her clues, or perhaps because of the mood of the book I was already looking for something sordid and insane. The nice thing about the fact that there were sub-plots I was invested in, along with the main two of the crime and the relationship, was that though I solved the crime early it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book. I did get a little frustrated with Julia here and there, because it seemed so obvious to me, but I can excuse her inability to see the truth because I suspect in her place I wouldn't want to see it, or even consider it as an option.

/possible slight spoilers done

There are other things that happen in this book in relation to Julia's family that were as interesting to me as the first plots. The family was largely absent from this book, even though Valerius and Portia are around for portions of it, but what does happen is in some ways monumental and I believe sets up the fourth book in the series. It's sad, too, and a reminder that happy endings are not always possible, and not permanent. I wanted more of the family, but that's a good thing; it wasn't a problem with the book, just a marker of how much I enjoy these characters that Raybourn has created to surround her main two.

Dark Road to Darjeeling is sitting on my desk right now, but I am thinking that, having finished the first major arc of the series (many, many loose ends get tied up) I will maybe try to get some of the reading I have to do for work done first. I have a couple of books I've been meaning to get to, as well, that sort of died on the pile when I fell into my slump. Now that Deanna Raybourn seems to have pulled me full out of it, and in style, I might try something different for a bit before going back to see what Lady Julia and Brisbane get up to next. Well, that and the fact that book six isn't available yet, and book five is going to be a couple weeks in getting to me, so there's no point in rushing and putting myself through Potter-like agonies.

Other books in the Lady Julia Grey series:
1. Silent in the Grave
2. Silent in the Sanctuary


Marg said...

I definitely agree with you about the experience of reading on a laptop, but it is different on a dedicated ereader.

The best thing is that this series just gets better and better. The last two books have been fabulous - The Dark Enquiry and Dark Road to Darjeeling.

Unknown said...

Marg, I think I will eventually get an e-reader. I'm kind of waiting for things to settle out in that market a bit before I do, and I'm still not completely won over by the idea, but there are certain advantages that are hard to argue.

I am excited to read Dark Road -- Dark Enquiry isn't in for me at the book store yet, though, so I'm trying to hold off because I know I'll want to read them close together!