Scar Night: January Book Club Discussion

Discussion in 'Book Club' started by Culhwch, Jan 2, 2007.

  1.  
    Culhwch

    Culhwch Not actually a dinosaur. Staff Member

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    A thread for discussion of January's Book Club pick: Scar Night, by Alan Campbell.

    If you've finished the book, remember that some of us might still be reading (and some of us might still be trying to find the book) so please use spoiler warnings where relevant.
  2.  
    Culhwch

    Culhwch Not actually a dinosaur. Staff Member

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  3.  
    Culhwch

    Culhwch Not actually a dinosaur. Staff Member

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    Well, I've now read the first chapter, courtesy of the good people at Spectra:

    Bantam Dell Publishing Group: Scar Night by Alan Campbell

    I must say that it was quite intriguing. Certainly by no means the greatest writing I have ever come across, but it was engaging. Campbell does a good job of setting the scene, creating in only a few pages the sense of a place unlike any I've come across in the genre. I love the idea of battle archons (angels) - for some reason that thought particularly drew me. From the looks of it, with any luck, that will be further explored as the novel progresses. All in all, a good start. I'll keep looking, and hopefully pick it up before January ends...
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    They didn't have the book at my local Borders (where I could have bought it with a gift card), so I ended up ordering it from amazon this week. It should arrive early next week.

    In the meantime, I, too, read the online chapter (thanks for the link, Culhwch). It is intriguing. But then I have a weakness for books about dark, decaying cities. I'm eager to see if the rest of the book measures up to that first impression.
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    dsmith

    dsmith Librarians rule!

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    Thanks for the link, Culhwch! My copy of the book should be here in a few days, so it was fun to read the first chapter ahead of time. I really like the book so far- Dill seems like a very interesting character!
  6.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    The book arrived much quicker than I would have dreamed possible (quicker than Amazon dreamed possible, too, since they gave me an estimated delivery date of January 9th).

    After three chapters and a prologue, I'm a bit miffed by the degree of intentional obscurity (meant, no doubt, to pique the reader's curiosity), but I'm loving the setting and as much as I'm able to fathom of the characters and their situation seems quite interesting.

    OK, it should be obvious that I'm not a fan of artful mystification, but in spite of that this looks like it is going to be a very good book.
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    Parson

    Parson This world is not my home

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    Teresa,

    Don't expect much clarity for a while. The world building keeps going right to the end, but with increasing clarity.:)
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    jenna

    jenna smiling politely

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    I'm about 200 pages through so far. Been busy with Xmas and preparing to go away for two months (I leave tonight). But I will have time at the airport and when I arrive where I'm staying. I think I should have it finished soon. I will have internet access where I am, so I'll still be able to participate!

    I actually found it a little slow-going at first, especially the first chapter with Mr Nettle, but that could possibly have been because of my mood and not the actualy book. Or it could have been all those street names that confused me!
    Now I'm pretty engrossed, there's some great ideas in there, even though I do agree with Teresa's "intentional obscurity" comment. The setting is very interesting, I like the mix of old and new sensibilities, with swords but also airships etc. I'm also hopeful about some big battles in this book or the subsequent ones!
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    dwndrgn

    dwndrgn Fierce Vowelless One Staff Member

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    Dangit all! My copy should have arrived long before this. I wanted to read the whole thing before everyone and say 'Nyah, nyah!' I've lost my chance for a silly childish gloat! Hopefully it will arrive soon enough for me to at least join in on the discussion. If not, I'll just have to revive the thread long after it is dead and confuse everyone :p
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    mosaix

    mosaix Active Member

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    Got my copy for Christmas! Not started yet as I have to finish my off-line book club book by Tuesday next and still got a long way to go.

    My one concern is that the book seems a little on the thick side to get finished in January with all my other reading commitments. Still, I'll give it a go.
  11.  
    Culhwch

    Culhwch Not actually a dinosaur. Staff Member

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    Don't worry, DD, I'll join you. I'm still hunting it down. So help me I'll find it if it's the last thing I bloody do....
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    I'm about halfway through. I find it interesting the way my perspective on each character keeps altering (a neat trick on the part of the author), but I can't help feeling that at this point I should know what I'm supposed to be hoping for and/or dreading for the main characters. As it is, I'm feeling a little detached.

    (Still loving the worldbuilding and the descriptions, though.)
  13.  
    dsmith

    dsmith Librarians rule!

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    I'm up to part 2 now, and I'm still a bit confused about everything, but I am enjoying the book because of the interesting world and fascinating characters.
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    Brown Rat

    Brown Rat wandering & wondering

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    I finished the book last night. I've tried to avoid spoilers here, but in some cases, even though I speak in generalities, you might be able to infer certain events from what I say, so I will mark those spots with "spoiler alert."

    The city-in-chains setting intrigued me; it's unique and atmospheric.

    Dill and Rachel are interesting characters. Their problems (low self-esteem, physically oppressive environments, and in Rachel's case, a desire to turn off her emotions in order to deal with her death-dealing profession) made me sympathetic to both of them at the beginning of the novel. I would have liked to see more scenes of the two of them interacting and helping one another deal with these problems.

    **SPOILER ALERT**
    Carnival also interests me and engages my sympathy: after reading the prologue, I wanted to know more about her, and I'm glad that the book contains scenes from her point of view and that she plays a role in the main plot.
    **END ALERT**

    Each of the other characters has something that makes him (yes, "him," because all the other important characters are male) entertaining or interesting, and Campbell has taken care to ensure that no character is one-dimensional: all contain an often quirky mixture of admirable and undesireable traits. But I was increasingly frustrated by the amount of time the book spends focusing on these other characters--Devon the Poisoner in particular. I wanted to watch Rachel and Dill interact with one another, so I had to resist the urge to skim chapters in which they do not appear.

    **SPOILER ALERT**
    It felt to me like Campbell is setting up Devon to be a recurring character in later books, and that's why Devon's point of view takes up so much space. The same may be true of Mr. Nettle. But some of the other point-of-view characters certainly cannot be continuing.
    **END ALERT**

    Overall, I ended up feeling less connected to the characters--less in fear for their safety or involved in the emotions or caring about what happens to them--than I would have liked. I felt somewhat removed from them. Perhaps that is in part because there are so many point-of-view characters. But that can't be the only reason, because I've felt tightly connected to characters in other books with multiple POV characters.

    Maybe I was removed from the characters because I sometimes felt as if the author was standing back and making fun of them--well, no, "fun" is too strong a word; Campbell doesn't make fun of them . . . but there's an "aren't these people quirky" distance at times, an impression that the characters are the way they are because that makes them cleverly entertaining. Theoretically, Campbell gives each character depth and complex emotions, but I ended up too often watching Campbell rather than being thoroughly engrossed and truly believing in the characters' reality.
    (In comparison, Terry Pratchett writes clever characters and winks at contemporary understanding, but I still become engrossed by his characters. Is that only because Pratchett doesn't switch POV so often? I don't know. I'm at loss to explain my reaction.)

    I didn't mind the delay in finding out what was going on in the city and below the city; putting together clues can be fun. I did make wrong guesses, which is no big deal; that's part of the fun. But . . .

    **SPOILER ALERT**
    Parts of the ending fell flat. After all the buildup, I expected a war between the abyss and the city, and that's not what we get. Instead, we focus on Devon's machinations with the tribesman. And Ulcis--well, he is rather easily dispatched, I think, even though it is appropriate and satisfying that Carnival is his undoing.
    **END ALERT**

    Which is not to say that I regret reading Scar Night. I am glad that I read it, glad that I met Carnival and Dill and Rachel. I think Campbell does a deft job of offering description: not too much, not too little; he connects description to the action, offering the reader evocative images that enhance rather than interfere with what the characters are doing.

    But what in the heck happens to all those snails? :)


    (Oh, one other thing: as I read, I kept thinking about Philip Reeve's The Mortal Engines. Both give me somewhat the same feeling. That's not a bad thing. I just wonder if any of you thought the same.)
  15.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    I thought of Mortal Engines, too.

    Now I'm a little more than 3/4 through it, and I'm pretty much in agreement with everything you've said. Maybe if I wasn't reading it in bits and snatches -- if I had time to read it all the way through in a few long sittings which is my usual way with something I'm really enjoying -- I would feel more involved with the characters. Although I can't help thinking that if the plot and characters were more involving I'd be more impatient and unhappy about my limited reading time.

    I'm not sure that the number of viewpoint characters is the problem, or even how much time he spends with each one. Those I find genuinely sympathetic, there doesn't seem to be that much to tell. Dill is so guileless and inexperienced, it makes him likeable, but that doesn't provide much fodder for in depth exploration of his psyche. Other characters don't seem to have much going on beneath an engaging, quirky surface, either. Carnival is someone I would like to know much more about, but since so much of her history is a blank even to her ...

    It seems like the most interesting character of all is the city of Deepgate itself, and fortunately I do find that one sufficiently fascinating to keep on reading those bits and snatches.
  16.  
    jenna

    jenna smiling politely

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    I am about 300 pages through now, wish I had more time to sit down and read, but like I said I have left Melbourne, I am training for a new job, it is really sapping the energy out of me! But still,I am reading as much as I can each night.

    It just seems to me that not much has actually happened, when I think back on it. But I am still quite engrossed. And funny to me that, at the start I couldn't wait for the Mr Nettle chapters to finish, and then they got really good!

    ****SPOILERS****
    I really liked the bit where he went through the glass maze, that was cool.
  17.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    I was finally able to finish it. I think it is a remarkable book and that Alan Campbell is an author that people are going to be talking about a lot in the next few years (at least). I'm looking forward to being able to discuss the book with people here.

    For those of you outside North America and the British Isles who are having difficulty finding the book -- Amazon is offering it in the US for a better price (even new) than they are in the UK, and possibly low enough compared to bookstore prices in places like Australia that it might make up for the cost of shipping. You might want to look into it while comparatively low price copies are still available.

    The detail of the world-building is incredible. One comes away with the impression that Deepgate is a city the author knows very well -- although it could not exist in reality, it must have been there inside his head for a long, long time. The plot and the characters are original and engaging. But the book does have its flaws.

    The central premise is brilliant, and I love the contrast between the two angels: Dill, the innocent; orphaned, isolated, but so eager for connection that he befriends even snails; crippled in ways that go far beyond his (mandated) inability to fly -- and the darker character of Carnival; not even a fallen angel, since she originated in the abyss and the days of her innocence (if any) must have been very brief; hideously scarred inside and out; terrifying competent as a murderer and a warrior, but maintaining a few ghastly remnants of conscience and compassion -- just enough, at any rate, to torment her.

    At the same time, I think these two point up one of the biggest flaws: All of the characters are broken in some way, most of them are fairly seriously shattered, as a matter of fact. Is it the city itself that breaks them? The religion that served as the city's starting point and as the foundation of their lives? Is this something the author has done consciously in order to make a point, or was it the unconscious result of his concentrating so much on bringing the setting to life?

    Characters who are wounded in some way are often fascinating to read about, and the people of Deepgate are no exception. But in this case, an entire cast of broken characters does save the author the trouble of creating any complete portraits of fully three-dimensional personalities. And whether it was a conscious choice or not, I wonder if it was an altogether wise one.

    I also wonder if this might be one reason for the emotional detachment that both Brown Rat and I experienced in reading the book?

    Even so, and despite other flaws that I might point out, I still think it's one of the best new books that I've read in ... probably about ten years.
  18.  
    Parson

    Parson This world is not my home

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    (spoiler alert)

    Teresa,

    I think that the whole point of the book is that they are looking for a "savior." Their religion isn't doesn't offer salvation, or even a satisfying life. I see thie entire book as a run up for the books to follow. With the destruction of Deepgate the way is cleared for a new and better life. Perhaps the new Dill will lead them to it. (see my post "For those Who Have Finished Scar Night for my deeper analysis of this work.

    PS

    I have a hard time believing that this is one of the best books you've read in ten years!!! It seems to me you need to choose better books to read.:)
  19.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Let's just say that what I require of a book may be different from what you require. When it comes to the books that are getting the most attention and praise these last few years, most of those I've read have been extremely disappointing. What passes for originality, realism, daring -- I've seen it all done before, and seen it done better.

    This book, in spite of its flaws, had qualities that impressed me. Even though the characters lacked a certain dimension, they displayed an admirable consistency. They always acted exactly like themselves, not like little puppets the author manipulated to advance an exciting plot (characters who live only to obey an author's whim have ruined many a book for me in the last ten years). The same with the setting: although Deepgate was, physically, riddled with holes, once I accepted the basic premises, I found no gaping holes in the fabric of Mr. Campbell's worldbuilding.

    Awkward prose is another thing that often spoils books for me. There was none of that here, although once or twice the dialogue bothered me a little. And while the book was certainly dark and violent in many places, there was none of the cheap, reflexive, fashionable cynicism that always sets my teeth on edge.

    Too often when people laud a book as something new and fresh, I find myself thinking not that they "need to choose better books" but that they need to read more books. I've been reading SF and Fantasy for a long time, and while I could certainly see some of the influences and inspirations behind this book, I felt that the author was expressing these influences in a unique and personal way, not just following the current trend.
  20.  
    Parson

    Parson This world is not my home

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    Teresa,

    I posted a longish reply here yesterday, and now I no longer see it. I am so frustrated. Did I by chance send it as a personal reply? Is there any other reason that it is not here? I know that when I logged off it was here. Is there somewhere else I need to check?

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