Monday, January 21, 2013

Battle of the Books, Fall 2012, First Round :: Bloodthirst in Babylon by David Searls vs. Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

We turn to the bottom half of the draw in the Fall 2012 Battle of the Books, beginning with Bloodthirst in Babylon by David Searls against Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal. As always, the winner will be the book I most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Bloodthirst in Babylon: Samhain trade paperback, May 2012, 335 pages, cover art by Angela Waters. David Searls is the author of the horror novel Yellow Moon, published by Warner Books in 1994, and has resurfaced with two new books this year from Samhain Publishing, Bloodthirst in Babylon and Malevolent.

Bloodthirst in Babylon is set in Babylon, a small midwestern town that seems strangely determined to attract newcomers. In the prologue, one of these new residents meets an untimely demise. The first two chapters then show us two other new arrivals. Todd Dunbar was driving his family cross-country in a desperate search for work when the Babylon sheriff stopped them and suggested, then finally ordered, that they head into Babylon. And Paul Highsmith relocated there after a big score in the stock market, which may now be unraveling due to a securities fraud. From the title and cover, savvy readers expect that these folks are being lured to Babylon by hungry vampires.

Glamour in Glass: Tor hardcover, April 2012, 319 pages, cover art by Larry Rostant. Mary Robinette Kowal won the Campbell Award for best new author in 2008, then followed that up with a Hugo for her short story "For Want of a Nail" in 2011. Glamour in Glass is the sequel to her well-received first novel Shades of Milk and Honey.

Like Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass is written in the style of Jane Austen. The series is set in an alternate version of Regency England, where artists use "glamour" to create impressive optical illusions, such as bringing indoors all the images and sounds of a beautiful garden complete with birds and waterfalls. Our heroine Jane Ellsworth is a talented glamourist who is convinced she is physically unattractive, even though she won over our leading man Vincent, also a skilled glamourist, by the end of the first book. In the opening pages of Glamour in Glass, Jane is bewildered to find herself accepted among the highest echelons of British society. The book jacket promises that an encounter with Napoleon lies ahead of Jane and Vincent.

The Battle: Bloodthirst in Babylon begins with a mass vampire attack, while Glamour in Glass begins with a formal dinner party. There is certainly more drama in the opening pages of Bloodthirst in Babylon, but one thing I've learned doing the Battle of the Books is that pulling me in as a reader has less to do with the action than with the writing. What most makes me want to keep reading is a nicely written passage, especially one that gets me to care about the characters.

There is nothing wrong with the writing in the opening chapters of Bloodthirst in Babylon, and Searls does get me to feel some sympathy for the Dunbar family by showing their anxieties at their desperate financial situation. But the book's opening passages can't quite match the charm of Mary Robinette Kowal's writing. Here, for example, is Jane noticing that her husband Vincent has dressed according to the latest fashion she just heard the Prince and a friend discussing:
Jane took a strange and momentary pleasure in that before she chided herself. They were not fashionable members of society who had to worry about these things, and being in such people's company would seduce her into wanting pretty clothes which she did not need. Still, she thought her husband cut a fine picture, and that there was no harm in thinking so.

"Will you not sit?" She turned to find him staring at her with an endearing smile.

"Because you ask, I shall. Muse." He leaned forward as if to kiss her, and then gave a side-glance at the company, who had all turned in their seats to watch them. Straightening, he offered her the most correct of courtesies from husband to wife, and returned to his seat.
The image of Jane and Vincent having to restrain themselves from showing the affection they would like is very endearing, and it makes me want to read more about them.

THE WINNER: Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

Glamour in Glass moves into the second round, to face either Erin Hoffman's Land of Earth and Sky or Ian C. Esslemont's Orb Sceptre Throne.

To see the whole bracket, click here.


Mary Robinette Kowal said...

Please imagine me expressing my thanks with a modicum of decorum rather than a fist pump. A lady would surely never do that, or laugh out loud with glee.


Aaron Hughes said...

If anyone could manage a genteel fist pump, it would be you!