bloodygranuaile: (we named the monkey jack)
It's been almost two weeks since I read A Conjuring of Light and I kind of forgot what I was initially going to say about this? I've got a really bad habit of starting series and then being so excited for the remaining books in the series that I sort of put them off forever 'cause I want to save them or something, so I'm honestly not sure what to make of the fact that I immediately put in for the next one at the BPL each time I finished one of these. Clearly I was having a lot of fun but not getting too hung up on ~appreciating~ it as ~literature~. It had an extremely high body count, which was fun, and a lot of angst, which was kind of fun too. We get a lot of interesting backstory on Holland, who somehow winds up being the most fascinating and least hateable character. Osaron, the bit of magic inexplicably imbued with consciousness that now thinks its a god, is a great villain, not because he is genius-ly villainous but because he is deeply infuriating to witness, the sort of puffed-up dipshit wrecking ball of a creature that thinks being able to destroy things real good is a sign of strength and not just an acceleration of the natural direction of the universe toward entropy, and who is too undisciplined to notice that maybe the reason his worlds all keep getting wrecked is him. I think he's a metaphor for industrial capitalism or toxic masculinity or something. At any rate, the dynamic is familiar.
 
This book is a bit longer than the others, and it could easily have been trimmed down, but it wasn't, and I'm OK with that? It slows down the pacing a little but I liked a lot of the random side characters who got little bits of perspective. The King and Queen, who were pretty tertiary figures in the earlier books, get a lot of interesting backstory just in time to make it interesting when they die heroically. There are all sorts of fun adventures like a secret black market of incredibly magical objects that is also a ship. Combined goblin market and pirate ship tropes is very up my alley.
 
Rhy also comes into his own with being kingly and useful, especially when he literally rides out to collect his people that have survived the shadowy brainwashing fever thing Osaron is doing. If you survive the shadowy magic brainwashing fever, you are then immune and your veins turn silver, which is another one of those things that would work great on TV if done properly. And might also be a metaphor. Magic stuff is always a political metaphor to me because magic is power and politics is also power. (Some authors write explicitly political fantasy and I think I find those fun to read because it's like, it's already there so I don't have to work too hard on reading it into it.)
 
Anyway, I think I might have messed up on book club tomorrow by reading the whole series, so now I've got to remember what was in which book, wish me luck. Also it's going to be 80 degrees so I can't even wear a fabulous coat to book club. ::sadface::
bloodygranuaile: (bitch please caligari)
 As a longtime pirate aficionado and an even more longtime women's history aficionado, I was pretty stoked to find a copy of Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers who Ruled the Seven Seas at Porter Square Books this summer. I'd missed the author event, which I was bummed to find out about after the fact, but the book was signed, so I happily shelled out for the slim little purple hardcover.
 
I had great hopes for learning a few new things when I brought this book to Maine last weekend, or at least to have some fun revisiting the things I already know. Fifteen years of on-and-off piratical reading means I'm already fairly familiar with the stories of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, of Grace O'Malley, and of Cheng Yisao, who are basically the Big Four of female pirates who occasionally get talked about.
 
In respect to the number of lady pirates whose stories are addressed, the book does not disappoint. The author, Laura Sook Duncombe, doesn't want to leave anybody out, and seems of the mind that more pirates are better than fewer, even if some are apocryphal, or outright fictional, or if they stretch the definition of "piracy" a little — for example, most of her ancient world examples are queens for whom raiding was considered a more or less legitimate form of warfare. This is fine and I think it was a good choice, since I also think more lady pirates is better reading than fewer lady pirates. As a result, I learned about a whole bunch of interesting women whose stories I hadn't previously heard of — Mary Wolverston, Lady Killigrew in Cornwall, whose entire family was engaged in piracy and fencing (not the swords kind) in the Elizabethan era; the New York river pirate called Sadie the Goat (a nickname that has only improved with age, as Sadie is indeed the #GOAT); Sayyida al-Hurra, a Barbary Coast pirate queen of the early 16th century; and many others.
 
What is disappointing about this book, though, is that there is still not enough lady pirate history, in that the amount of page space dedicated to actually telling the reader about lady pirate history is heavily diluted with a lot of editorializing, moralizing, and trying to guess at/manage the reader's impressions. This is bad enough when Duncombe's reactions to things align with my own, since there is far too much of it; when we disagree on stuff, it becomes wildly distracting. I found much of Duncombe's editorializing to be frankly quite condescending (albeit condescending in a different way than you'll be condescended to if you're reading books on maritime history by old white dude naval historians who address these figures).
 
The first example that really, really annoyed me was during the recounting of the "War of the Three Jeannes," a conflict in medieval Brittany that I'd inexcusably never heard of but is exactly the sort of vicious war of succession that is exactly what people read about medieval European history for. After her husband is killed, one of the Jeannes, Jeanne de Clisson, brings her sons to Nantes to show them that their father's head had been mounted on a pike for public display. To this, Duncombe says "To a modern reader it seems a bit puzzling, to say the least, that Jeanne would choose to expose her young sons to such violence."
 
Like... actually, lady, as a modern reader, I already got past the sentences where King Philip put the dude's head on a pike for public display, which would expose everyone in Nantes to it, and while I am not a medievalist, I have also not lived under a rock for my whole life and I am familiar with the general concept of the Middle Ages. So no, it's not puzzling to me at all that the nobility of 14th-century Brittany would raise their children under different standards than those used by middle-class 21st-century Americans who have access to knowledge from the field of child development psychology, a field that was established in the 1920s.
 
This is what I mean by condescending. I don't have a problem with Duncombe relating her own opinions — I'd never chastise a woman for expressing her opinion in a book about female pirates — but you come at me trying to feed me my own opinions, you'd better not miss and you'd REALLY better not miss THIS HARD. And frankly, you probably just shouldn't ever try to tell me my own opinions on stuff anyway even if you're correct, because I hate it.
 
But even more awkward than the assumption that the reader has never heard of the Middle Ages are Duncombe's attempts to spin the history of women engaging in piracy as something that is uncomplicatedly FEMINIST AND EMPOWERING AND YAY. There are certainly shades of this in why people are interested in stories about pirates and other outlaws and about why women would be interested in stories of women pirates particularly. But Duncombe has fallen victim to the romance of it too hard to write about historical piracy with any sort of credibility, because when you start writing about piracy as a real thing that has happened, you quickly run up against the complication that, while feminism is good, piracy is actually bad. Duncombe writes things like "The heart of piracy is freedom" and it's like, that word "heart" is doing a lot of work there, because the core concept of piracy is "using boats to steal stuff." Freedom and following your dreams and escaping the confines of society are associations we have with piracy that are a part of why regular people who would probably not enjoy being the victims of crimes are often nonetheless fascinated with stories about criminals, whether it's pirates, gangsters, Western outlaws (not the same thing as cowboys; cowboy is an entirely legal profession that involves herding cattle), bank robbers, or what have you.
 
The constant attempts to get inside historical figures' heads by randomly speculating and imputing high-minded values to them, such as "valuing freedom above all else" and the desire to do your own thing and what have you, are at best heavy-handed and annoying, like, it's OK to admit that they're criminals and that's what we find interesting about them; no need to try to pretend Anne Bonny is Mother Jones. It all comes off a bit "In 18th-century England, women weren't allowed to wear pants or to murder people and steal their stuff, maaan, think about it ::bong rip::". Duncombe seems to want to revel in stories of women transgressing the social boundaries of hundreds of years ago without having to deal with the bit where these women's careers are still transgressive of norms we have today, like that stealing people's boats isn't nice and neither is shooting them, with the result that it sort of ruins the actual transgressive thrill of reading about crime that is why I picked up a book about pirates in the first place and not one about, say, suffragettes or labor activists.
 
The worst offense here comes when Duncombe gets to the end of relating to us the deliciously macabre story of the apocryphal streetwalker-turned-pirate Maria Cobham, a tour de force of over-the-top Gothic brutality in which the young Maria discovers that she LOVES MURDER and is just SO GOOD AT MURDER and gets more and more into committing INCREASINGLY GRUESOME MURDERS, all while her pirate husband who got her into this life is starting to go off the whole murder thing. They eventually get away with all of it and pull off ONE LAST MAJOR HEIST and use the proceeds to settle down in the French countryside and thumb their nose at the entire world by integrating seamlessly into respectable society and never having to account for their deeds. IT IS A GREAT STORY, and if you like reading about wacky morbid criminal shenanigans, you will enjoy it thoroughly. Duncombe promptly laments that Cobham "hits a discordant note in the ballad of pirate women" because she is "hard to root for," what with having been "a vicious, ruthless woman who was not drawn to the freedom or adventure of piracy so much as the murder."
 
Girl. I say this with love, because you are clearly deeply committed to feminism and apparently friends with Jia Tolentino: YOU ARE WRITING THE WRONG BOOK HERE. You are raining on my Reading About Criminals parade with your moralizing, and if you want to put a spin of deep ideological commitment to freedom and liberty on stories of women doing crimes, I would suggest you find a way to get interested in any of the many female political activists and revolutionaries who engaged in violence and terrorism whose stories are also not told nearly enough, instead of dancing awkwardly around the entire idea of what piracy is. I'm sure there's a market for books about female political assassins just as much as there is for female pirates! 'Cause right now, you sound like this:
 
Cartoon children in pirate costumes hold a sign saying "A good pirate never takes another person's property!"
 
Probably the best thing about the whole book is that Duncombe does religiously cite her sources, so it's easy to find further reading on all the many and varied stories that are touched on so shallowly in the book itself. I now know of a lot more interesting female pirate(ish) characters who may or may not have existed, and I have an extensive Further Reading list for all of them, all in one handy bundle with a very attractive purple cover. So that's good to have on hand even if I know I will never read the actual body text of this again.
 
And I agree with the author and with probably every other lover of pirate stories that it's a shame none of these histories have been turned into decent movies. I think I'd love a souped-up costume drama TV series on the Killigrews of Cornwall, especially. Organized crime families make for some of the best TV series out there already; surely someone could pull it off without screwing it up.
bloodygranuaile: (wall wander)
For BSpec's book club I finally got around to reading the first book in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence, which I have been meaning to do for at least two years now. I have the last two books in the sequence signed, but the first one only in paperback, and am missing the second and third. To make it even more complicated, the books take place in a different order than they are published -- they are ordered by the number referenced in the title.

The first book, therefore, is Three Parts Dead, which follows the adventures of young Craftswoman Tara Abernathy as she is hired on probation at the necromantic law firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao under the mentorship of terrifyingly efficient senior Craftwoman Elayne Kevarian. Tara graduated from Craft school under dubious circumstances that involved her trying to kill one of her professors and getting thrown out of the school, literally, which is pretty dangerous because the school floats up in the sky, as all the best magic schools do.

Tara's first assignment is in the city of Alt Coulomb, which runs off the power of its god, Kos Everburning. Unfortunately, Kos has died under mysterious circumstances. Tara, with the help of a hilarious sheltered young priest (or Novice Technician, as he is called) named Abelard and his junkie policewoman friend Cat, has to help Elayne figure out who killed Kos and why and how and who benefits and all that stuff and generally unravel the massive conspiracy hidden in the heart of the Church.

While the story is plenty funny, it's not as much of a comedy as one might think from some of its elements -- demon lawyers! a vampire pirate captain! divine contract law! -- and the world of magical techno-corporatocracy that Gladstone builds is convincing, at once both weird and distressingly familiar.

Tara is a great protagonist, driven and talented and badass and definitely in a bit over her head, and Abelard is a great dual lead, being an earnest bumbling weirdo in an arcane religious order who chain-smokes to show religious devotion and doesn't know what a newspaper is. They're a fantastic, fantastic team, especially since the book very sensibly eschews the unnecessary romantic subplot that I think a lot of authors would have found obligatory.  Instead of romance we get, like, shape-shifting gargoyles and blood magic libraries and a nine-story demonic BDSM nightclub and stuff like that.

The philosophical underpinnings of the main conflict ends up having a lot to do with free will and consent and the dangers of clever, talented technolibertarian douchebags being allowed to exploit other people without adult supervision, so suffice it to say that the book is not all fluff and explosions, although like any good urban fantasy it certainly has quite a lot in the way of fluff and explosions, and even an instance of leather pants.

I think we're going to get a really good discussion out of it. I've already started reading the next book in the Sequence, so we'll see how many we get through by the time book club rolls around.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
When I was in high school I went through a period of studying pirates very intensely and buying a lot of shirts from PirateMod, back when they actually used to ship me the shirts I bought. (Long story, ask me about it sometime.) One of the best books I read during this period was David Cordingly's classic book Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. It was an excellent resource and an excellent read, so you can imagine how excited I was to find out that Cordingly had also written a book called Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways and Sailors' Wives.

After actually reading it, I'm much more ambivalent. The book is short, but it covers a lot of ground, and sometimes it strays into territory that seemed kind of off-topic at the expense of giving us more details on the stuff that was on-topic. I didn't mind that the whole book wasn't entirely about female sailors; the discussions of the lives of women whose lives were shaped by the sea anyway were still pretty fascinating. The book opens with a  look into the lives of the dock prostitutes in the U.S. and Britain who served predominantly naval clientele, and there are other sections that focus on how sailors' marriages worked and on communities like Nantucket, where the women ran nearly everything on land because most of the adult male population was gone at any given time. Unfortunately, there were also some chapters that were just about male sailors who slept with a lot of ladies, which is not the same thing as being chapters about the ladies, especially considering the complete lack of the women's perspective given. I would have preferred a lot more detail about the female sailors, female pirates, and female lighthouse-keepers whom we do know about. This would require a wider focus than just the 18th and 19th century British and American maritime history that Cordingly specializes in, which I would have been totally fine with.

The result is that the most promising part of the book for me is the section in the afterword/acknowledgements where he explains how he came to the decisions in scope and focus that he made: The original plan of focusing exclusively on female sailors in a wider time frame would have resulted in too much overlap with another book called Female Tars by Suzanne Stark, about women in the Royal Navy. Looks like I'll have to go read that one next!

Scope creep issues aside, Cordingly is a solid writer and a reliable historian, and the material he's working with here is quite colorful. The book provides an interesting and easily digestible look at each of the many and varied topics it touches upon, and I'm happy to have read it.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Well, I am on a roll with reading books wrong. In the case of Diana Gabaldon's Voyager, the third book in the Outlander series, it's because I got it out of the library, only read 25% of it before I had to return it about two months ago, got back in line, and read the rest of it last week when it finally cycled back to me.
While Outlander took place almost entirely in Scotland, and Dragonfly in Amber brought us as far as France, the aptly named Voyager brings us basically everywhere. Acting on news from the research project she, Brianna, and Roger started in 1968, Claire moves from Boston back to Scotland, travels back through the stone circles at Craigh na Dun to sometime in the 1760s, tracks down Jamie in Edinburgh, and from there a relentless flood of shenanigans takes them all around Scotland, then to France, and then back over the Atlantic to the Caribbean. And that's just the main plotline, from Claire's perspective. We also get POVs from Jamie, as he does all sorts of dramatic Highlander things like hide in a cave for seven years and escape from an English prison; from Roger; and from one Lord John Grey, who seems to have a bunch of his own spinoff novels now.
The book is also kind of all over the place in other ways, too. Some of it is very serious--Jamie's time in Ardsmuir, for example, is pretty dark, treated with all seriousness and mostly not filled with highly improbable action-hero hijinks. Other bits are, uh, not--once they get on a boat everything basically becomes "Highlanders of the Caribbean" and it's all very colorful and almost absurdly action-packed, and develops a serious case of Les Mis-level small world syndrome (you know how in Les Mis, Paris has like twenty people and one policeman and one apartment to rent? In Voyager, the entire British Empire has about twenty people, one ship, and two military officers).
One of the big effects of leaving the rural Scottish highlands is that there are a lot more people of color in this book, which is a thing that can obviously go very wrong very quickly, especially considering the time period is really the height of British colonial power in the New World (it's like, 10 years before the American Revolution starts, I think) and the slave trade is in full swing. I have... mixed feelings about how this is handled. It's clearly well researched, which certainly helps it avoid some of the more common myths and pitfalls about the time (most notably, Gabaldon knows what involuntary indenture is and the ways in which it is similar to and different from chattel slavery; this shouldn't be noteworthy but it is). But the general approach she takes to characterizing pretty much all ethnicities--which is not so much to avoid stereotypes, but to deliberately walk straight into them and then try to build up more perspective/characterization on top of it--works slightly less well with, for example, the one Chinese character--a short, frequently drunk man with very bad English whose skillset is basically a grab bag of Chinese Things, including Chinese herbal medicine, acrobatics, calligraphy, acupuncture, and, of course, magic--than it does with any one of the ten billion Scots that populate the series. (Granted, one of the things I do kind of like about the books is that every culture the characters come into contact with has its own magical traditions and they all appear to work equally well, but the execution can still feel a bit clumsy--like, this random English lady keeps finding herself in situations where every time she meets new people she gets to witness their magic in action. Every single time.) The one Chinese dude is an especially interesting case of both being an interesting character and giving me wincy feelings because he's a fairly major secondary character and he gets a good amount of page time. He's known throughout the book as Mr. Willoughby, which is obviously not his name but was bestowed upon him in a well-meaning but ultimately worse-than-useless attempt to help him blend in. He's sometimes a comic character but other times a very tragic one, especially when you finally learn his backstory--something I found particularly interesting was that a major part of his backstory is that he is actually kind of a sexist dillweed, in the hopeless-romantic-with-ludicrously-unrealistic-views-of-women method that made me like him a bit less as a reader but is clearly a huge point of commonality between him and a lot of the white dudes in the book. By the end of the story I actually did like him, but there were a couple of cringeworthy scenes to get to that point.
Also cringeworthy is an appearance of one of my least favorite tropes EVER, actually I don't really know if it's a trope but I have seen it in one other book at least, which makes two too many--where a nice white lady who is very opposed to slavery gets so upset about it that she winds up owning one, because that is totally a thing that happens, and it is very upsetting, because clearly the important thing about slavery is how hard it would be on anti-slavery white people to be landed with one, and now she has to decide how best to go about being a good white savior, which in both cases I've read have inexplicably involved steps other than "ask person what they want and do it." I partly don't like this trope because it smacks very strongly of "author's personal self-examination and thought exercises leaking onto the paper"; in this case, many of the compounding issues that cropped up in the Jackie Faber book where this happens are thankfully avoided, but at least in the series so far, I can't help but think that the entire subplot with Temeraire could have been completely excised with no harm done to the rest of the book whatsoever.
These are the low points. There are many, many other things going on in this book (these books tend to be pretty densely packed with a wide assortment of Things), including the reappearance of Geillis Duncan (who is a major creeper), our first gay character who isn't predatory and terrible, hints of family backstory and things for Claire's Boston doctor friend Joe Abernathy (JOE ABERNATHY IS GREAT), lots of ladies with lots of agency in different ways all along the moral spectrum, and, as usual, a lot of sex, although kilts have been sadly outlawed at this point so Jamie is reduced to constantly wearing breeches. And have I mentioned the MELODRAMATIC ADVENTURES ON THE HIGH SEAS? It is everything you could want out of a melodramatic adventure on the high seas; I think Gabaldon had a checklist of Stuff That Happens When Adventure On the High Seas and made sure every point got in there somewhere--there is kidnapping, espionage, shipwrecks, slave revolts, an outbreak of plague, naval battles, pirate attacks, smuggling, big storms, seasickness, hardtack with weevils, a Portuguese pirate with too much jewelry and a cutlass, stowaways, a parentally disapproved-of romance, and even a dude with a hook for a hand, although the said dude is Fergus, who we actually met in the last book and who lost his hand long before becoming a sailor. At one point there is even a big hat. (Note: People for whom melodramatic pirate adventures are NOT catnip might find this half of the book frustrating, the way I find cartoon physics in non-cartoon movies frustrating, because it kind of pushes against one's suspension of disbelief sometimes. I'm just willing to overlook this because for me, melodramatic pirate adventures are SUPER CATNIP.)
On a more serious note, the looks we get into the British penal and colonial systems, in Scotland and elsewhere, are really, really well done, I think--they're very informative but also very emotionally engaging, and involve a lot of heavy stuff about power and identity, which is especially apt since the British relied even more heavily on eradicating people's identity to conquer them than they did on brute force (not like brute force wasn't a major component, of course). I particularly appreciate the looks at the basically decent English people who were still complicit in and perpetrators of these colonial systems that very definitely weren't at all about "helping" or "civilizing" any of the people in the lands the British took over and who the English definitely never saw as their fellow countrymen, even the sort of nice ones, no matter what the official imperialist rhetoric was.
This book's story arc never particularly wraps up--it just leads right into the next book, which I have dutifully added to my library queue. The line is shorter than it was for the last few books, so with luck I will have it within a few weeks.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Nonfiction reading for March was Granuaile: Ireland’s Pirate Queen by Anne Chambers, a biography of Grace O’Malley aka Granuaile aka fifty million variant spellings. Going into this I mostly knew that Grace O’Malley was a sixteenth century Irish pirate queen who had met with Queen Elizabeth and is supposedly buried on Clare Island, which I take as a message from the universe that I need to go visit at some point.

This is a slim book, largely because not very much is known about Grace O’Malley’s life. A lot of the book details the political shenanigans in Ireland that the O’Malleys were dealing with, including rivalries between Gaelic chieftains, administrative tightening by Tudor England, and occasional interference from Spain. The book contains a good selection of maps and family trees, and explains the different factions and developments in a way that’s easy to read for someone unfamiliar with Irish history. It’s also pretty good about presenting the oddly spelled, wordy Tudor primary sources in a way that’s easy to decipher but still shows off the delightfully weird writing style.

My biggest issue with this book is that the edition I was reading (revised American edition from 2003) seems to have been rushed to print without so much as a single round of proofreading. For such a short book there were dozens of random misspellings, sentences missing words, and punctuation strewn about.

Granuaile herself comes across as a fascinating, complex, and shrewd historical character, highly political and nigh impossible to keep down for long. The family drama aspect of her life—all her relations were also political chieftains, making deals and alliances and factions and things—makes me think there could be a great serial drama made about her life. She was fighting and pirating and politicking, leading men into battle by land and sea, all the way up until at least her mid-sixties. She had an arch-nemesis—Sir Richard Bingham, the Puritan English governor of Connaught—and reading about her manipulating Queen Elizabeth herself into getting Bingham to back off is deeply satisfying.

Overall I’d really like to learn more, both about Granuaile and about the world she lived in, but this makes a very good primer for both.
 
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In preparation for the release of Republic of Thieves next week (OMG NEXT WEEK), and also to get my dear friend Josh to shut up and stop bugging me about it, I read Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies, the sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I read in August.

I liked The Lies of Locke Lamora quite a lot, but I think I like Red Seas Under Red Skies better. This is not necessarily because it’s a better work in any literary sort of way. It because Red Seas Under Red Skies is a lot like The Lies of Locke Lamora, except with more lady pirates, and more cats. I really don’t think there’s much more Relevant To My Interests a book can get. Maybe if one of the next GB books somehow manages to also be a Gothic novel? Help, now I’m distracting myself.

In Red Seas Under Red Skies, Locke and Jean, having barely escaped Camorr with their lives, have set up new identities and are peacefully working away at a long-term scheme to rob the shit out of the Sinspire, the most exclusive casino in Tal Verrar. The Sinspire is supposed to be uncheatable, a supposition which, of course, Locke and Jean take as a challenge. They are still being pursued by irate, entitled Bondsmagi, who are still all pissed off that Locke dared mutilate one of their members merely for killing four of Locke’s best friends. (Bondsmagi are assholes.) The Bondsmagi decide to fuck with Locke and Jean by tipping off Tal Verrari’s archon, Stragos, about their real identities. (Tal Verrar basically has two ruling branches of government—the Priori, which is a largely merchant-occupied city council, and the Archon, which is sort of a military dictatorship that’s not really supposed to be ruling when there isn’t military need, but nobody likes giving up their dictatorship just because it’s not needed.) Stragos poisons them with a long-acting poison for which only he has the antidote, and then sends them off to enact a wacky scheme, in which they are supposed to get pirates to attack Tal Verrar so that Tal Verrar will rally around its Archon and its navy, who are currently not #1 in the public sentiment and who the Priori are trying to cut down to size. Locke is unwilling to give up the Sinspire scheme over this, partly because he’d just hit the part of the scheme where he’d confessed to the owner of the Sinspire that he’d been cheating (this is part of a plan to gain them access to be able to do more stealing), and so he has to figure out a way to tie the two stories together so that he can continue playing both games. It is all very complicated.

Things are further complicated by the fact that Locke and Jean don’t know shit about boats or sailing or piracy or any of that stuff at all. Stragos furnishes them with a sailing master to help them fake it; however, the voyage is basically cursed from the beginning according to the prevailing nautical superstitions in this world, as they managed to set sail without any female officers or cats. It’s very, very bad luck not to have at least one female officer on board, and it is also terribly bad luck to not have any cats. Havoc ensues, and then awesome badass lady pirates ensue, and then more havoc ensues, and everything is great, at least if you’re a reader. (It sucks a lot if you’re Locke, as usual.)

Our main badass lady pirate captain in this book is Zamira Drakasha, former captain in the Syrune navy and a single mother of two: Paolo, a boy of about 4, and Cosetta, a girl of about 2. Her crew is filled with a colorful variety of other badass pirates, male and female, from a variety of nations, although none of them are quite as badass as Drakasha, otherwise they’d be captain. Drakasha runs her ship in an eminently sensible and occasionally-almost-democratic fashion (equal shares, etc.); I envy her administrative and organizational powers. She is also occasionally quite funny, particularly when hazing new crew members. Zamira is, in fact, so awesome that some sad little bigot once got all offended by her existing, prompting this glorious smackdown. I could talk about what a great character Zamira is all day.

Zamira’s first mate, Ezri, a runaway noblewoman, is also pretty badass, and she develops a very adorable romance with Jean, and you know what, you guys, I don’t even want to tell you about all the awesome stuff she does, you’re gonna have to read it for yourself.

Another one of my (many) favorite characters on the pirate ship is Regal, a small black kitten with a drooly nose, who adopts Locke whether Locke likes it or not. Adopting Locke largely consists of sitting on his head when he’s trying to sleep and giving him lots of drooly kitty kisses. I related to this part as I have recently begun living with a cat again, and our cat is fond of climbing up on people’s chests and just sitting there, sticking her face in your face and occasionally kneading your collarbone with her front claws.

The end of the book seems to be setting up for Regal to continue to be a character in the third book, but I won’t actually find out for A WHOLE WEEK.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
These past coupla weeks I've been reading a book I picked up at the doctor's office last year: The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd, by Richard Zacks.

Captain Kidd, as you may have heard, has become a rather legendary pirate; known for making one of the biggest pirate hauls in history (a ship spelled variously as the Whydah or Quedagh Merchant) and burying treasure all up 'n' down the eastern coast of the Americas, which nobody has yet found, but a hell of a lot of people have looked for.

This picture is almost entirely false. For starters--and this is gonna blow your mind, until you remember that money is the root of all evil--Captain Kidd wasn't even a pirate.

There is totally a pirate involved in this story, a clever, charismatic douchebag named Robert Culliford, whom history has mostly forgotten. (Note to self: Write movie about Robert Culliford.)

The situation was more or less like this: Captain Kidd was hired by a bunch of très riche Lords (plus one very bad-tempered, gouty, perennially broke Lord named Lord Bellomont, who would later be Governor of Massachusetts) to hunt pirates and French ships. His mission was (a) secret and (b) a bit shady, because it contained legally iffy clauses that any goods recovered from pirates would *not* be returned to their owners, but be considered revenue for the mission (ie, it would go to the Crown, the investors, and some would become shares for the crew, etc.). Kidd hired on a crew in what was then the very small walled city of New York, most of them pirates or former pirates. The first, like, two years of the mission were fantastically unsuccessful, and involved Kidd pissing off a lot of East India Company representatives and other hotshots who snottily decided that he must be a pirate because he was insufficiently deferential. His crew mutinied or threatened to mutiny several times. They did not meet a single pirate or French ship.

Near the end, Kidd made some great hauls, including the capture of the Quedagh Merchant, and so did Robert Culliford, now not on Kidd's crew anymore, due to all sorts of complicated logistical shenanigans that I will not recount for you now because I do not remember them properly.

By the time Kidd got back to the Americas with his booty, he was Wanted with a capital W as a Notorious Pirate (or Pyrate, or Pyratt, or pirouette... they hadn't really got the hang of inventing spelling yet), his secretive lordly backers pretty much hung him out to dry, Lord Bellomont was super cranky that Kidd did not end up bringing back quite as much treasure as he'd hoped (because he'd hidden some of it, but also because he'd traded quite a bit of it away), and he was shipped off to Newgate and eventually (he was held without being charged for a VERY long time, like two years) tried and convicted as a pirate and murderer in an absolute farce of a trial, which was pretty much the standard sort of trial.

ANYWAY. The best bits of this book are all the Wacky Historical Tidbits, as far as I'm concerned. I learned about why Wall Street is called Wall Street (it used to be along the city wall at the outskirts of NYC, when NYC was a tacky pirate haven with a populaton of 5,000), and that it was already the investment hot spot in New York, because it was full of taverns where ship captains would hire crews/pirates/smugglers and trade shares of voyages. I learned some really gross stuff about Newgate Prison and the church-going fashions of late seventeenth century Dutch New Yorker women. I learned that the first citywide shutdown-and-manhunt in Boston's history was in November of 1699, for the pirate James Gilliam, who had sailed under Kidd. (The shutdown was because it was the Sabbath and Boston used to always shut down on the Sabbath. Also, the city was a lot smaller then.) I learned that some ships used to use logs painted black to appear more heavily armed than they were, and these dummy cannon were known as Quakers. I learned so many things!

Also, all the old-timey spelling is hilarious, particularly from less-educated people, or people who were in a big hurry. Some of it is nigh incomprehensible! It is like a little game, trying to figure out what in the blazes they were on about. (Turns out, usually death and money.)

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in pirates; it's very well-researched and very readable, and it's one of those cases where the truth turns out to be a better story than the legend.
bloodygranuaile: (rosalie says fuck you)
Err, so I finished reading this book over a week ago. And have not written anything about it because I have been busy with moving and also I has no brain. But I will try to give you what passes for my thoughts on it!

The book in question is Libba Bray's Beauty Queens, which is about a plane full of teenage beauty pageant contestants who crash on a desert island. No, seriously. Well, maybe "seriously" would be pushing it; the book certainly deals with a lot of serious topics, but it does it in a hilariously gooftastic way, thus proving once again that people who complain about feminists having no sense of humor are just feeling threatened.

Anyway, the setup is as thus: The Miss Teen Dream pageant is run by a corporation known as The Corporation. As far as we can tell, The Corporation produces beauty products, entertainment and what-passes-for-news media, and illegal weaponry. The plane carrying the contestants for the pageant crashes on a desert island upon which there is a secret Corporation base, where they do Nefarious Corporation type things like test products on the local wildlife, exploit the indigenous population to extinction, make exploding jars of Lady 'Stache Off (a hair removal cream), and broker illegal arms deals with genocidal pseudocommunist dictator Momo B. ChaCha of the Republic of ChaCha, who is hopelessly in love with Presidential hopeful/former Miss Teen Dream/Sarah Palin parody figure Ladybird Hope.

Many of the contestants die in the initial crash, but our core cast of beauty queens includes: an aspiring investigative journalist/undercover reporter/cranky feminist; a transgendered contestant who used to be a member of a hugely popular and widely mocked pop/emo/corporate boy band called, ironically, "Boyz Will B Boyz"; an African-American girl and an Indian girl who start off as rivals because everyone knows (but nobody says) that only one "ethnic" contestant can ever place (but never win); a deaf girl who is starting to get sick of the expectation that she be all chipper and inspirational and shit about her disability; a lower-class contestant who placed into the pageant through a program for at-risk youth; a girl who has been doing pageants since she was two weeks old because her parents assigned it to her as "her dream" and then spent years putting guilt trips on her for all they'd sacrificed so "she" could follow "her dream," and who is woefully undereducated about everything else; a "wild girl"; and a Miss Texas who is like, the embodiment of all wacky stereotypes about femmes-with-guns bitchy fabulous Texan women, and who really, really, really believes in all the peppy Teen Dream rhetoric.

The girls put all of their wacky over-accomplished extra-curricular skills together and end up building a ludicrously pretty, functional, eco-friendly village as they wait for rescue. Rescue does not come. There are some sketchy incidents with the shady Corporation people that the girls do not know are there. There are some weird power plays as some of the girls ditch the expectations of femininity and other expected behaviors faster than others. There is some eating of bugs. About halfway through the book the cast of Captains Bodacious IV: Badder and More Bodaciouser, a reality TV show about fake rock-star pirates, also crashes on the island in their pirate ship that none of them can actually row, and REALLY wacky hijinks ensue. There are lots of jokes about maxi pads, because apparently Libba Bray really likes writing about maxi pads.

This book has periodic commercial breaks for hilariously fake products, many of which end up being used in the story itself, such as Lady 'Stache Off.

The girls are finally "rescued," in that The Corporation decides to use them in part of an elaborate plan to get Ladybird Hope elected President and then start a war with the Republic of ChaCha and open malls there. The girls learn about the plan, which involves them tragically dying, and have to develop their own plan to fuck it up and not die, and I will not tell you how this goes down but it is all pretty awesome.

Anti-corporate, pro-social-justice, full of sequins and things exploding... this book is totally awesome.

PS I kind of want to be Libba Bray when I grow up.
bloodygranuaile: (Default)
So I'm a bit out of order on my Bloody Jack books these days! I managed to go back and read the one I'd skipped, which is Rapture of the Deep: Being an Account of the Further Adventure of Jacky Faber, Soldier, Sailor, Mermaid, Spy. In this one, British intelligence kidnaps Jacky right out of her own wedding to force her to go treasure-diving in Florida, bringing up some long-lost gold from a Spanish treasure galleon that had sunk some years ago. There is a hand-waving attempt to explain why they decide to pick a practiced thief for this job, but I still don't get why they didn't keep a much, much closer eye on her.

I am sort of running out of things to say about these books. In traditional Bloody Jack fashion, they are fabulously fun and hilarious if you read them too fast to register all of the wildly problematic bits, like (a) the increasingly weird attempted rape scenes, which are starting to get so weird that they seem to be trying to be funny, (b) all of Jacky's "charming" man-friends being pushy assholes, and (c) Jacky's amazingly selective sense of morality, which careens back and forth between being very modern (in a frequently uncomfortable, Great-White-Savior-y sort of way) and totally non-existent (when the author feels the resulting scenes will be entertaining). In this one, Jacky makes lots of sadfaces at a bullfight, then promptly sets out to become a cockfighting champion; buys a slave and sets her free and keeps her on as a proper employee; and impersonates various ethnicities. It is a bit iffy. I'm not entirely sure how to not-iffily treat these subjects in a book series that is basically a set of light-hearted goofy picaresque swashbucklers, and it could be much worse, but I still find myself giving it the side-eye and trying to read faster so we can get to the bits where people get chased by alligators and Jacky steals shit and is generally awesome. Jacky is so awesome, apparently, that she invents swimming flippers, the bathing suit, sterilizing things in alcohol, and probably some other anachronistic stuff that I don't even remember.

Jaimy is still sort of stiff and irritating; sadly, there is a bit less than usual of Higgins being awesome; a lot of crazy shit happens FOR SCIENCE, Joannie Nichols is an adorable little Jacky-in-training, and like fourteen of Jacky's old paramours show up to embarrass her.

I don't think  having read the next book before this one really spoiled it at all, because it really isn't the most surprise-plot-twist-heavy book and the ending is precisely what you'd expect it to be if you're at all familiar with the series.
bloodygranuaile: (jack the monkey)
I have discovered I can get through my freelancing a lot faster if I put a movie on. It stops me from wasting time "multitasking".

Yesterday I watched most of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and today I finished it and watched all of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. I put them on on the basis that they are the longest movies I own, and that I would be less distracted by something 'comfort movie' like that I had already seen a billion times.

This mostly worked, except that I am basically reawakening all my high school fangirliness that I had left behind for the past couple years to wibble about the new nerdy fantasy things. You guys, there are SO MANY AWESOME QUOTES in these movies. So many that I had forgotten most of them! And there are even more terrible in-jokes that I had with all my friends! Many of which were based on shit we found on the Internet!

I think next week I'll watch Notre-Dame de Paris, and then my brain will implode into period/pseudo-period silliness and fandom even worse than it did in April when every premium channel decided to premiere a new medieval costume drama at the same time.

Can I go to grad school for "becoming Tolkien"? Is that an option? Can I make my own program? It would involve linguistics, learning nine languages, medieval literature study, calligraphy, medieval history study, world religion and mythology, language construction, and creative writing. Final project is to translate, adapt and film a version of Beowulf (or another ancient epic) that doesn't suck.
bloodygranuaile: (we named the monkey jack)
I skipped a book. I read The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, On Her Way to Botany Bay without reading Rapture of the Deep. This is very unlike me and I do not know how I feel about it. *has identity crisis*

Anyway, The Wake  of the Lorelei Lee was extremely entertaining and irritated me a lot less than My Bonny Light Horseman, as I feel it had less suspension-of-disbelief-shatteringly pointless fanservice. Also, Jaimy Fletcher is actually badass now, so this is the first book where I actually wanted them to stay together.

I this book, Jacky is sentenced to transportation for life in the penal colony at New South Wales, Australia. Her ship, the Lorelei Lee, is confiscated and given to the East India Company, which... uses it as a transportation ship to bring a boatload of female convicts to Australia! Jacky is not happy about being reduced to a lowly passenger on her own ship, and immediately begins social climbing as well as she can. This is aided by the fact that she has a completely ridiculous set of assets at her disposal--in addition to already knowing the ship inside and out, her manservant Higgins has been employed as Assistant Purser, there are at least three guys on the ship's crew she already knows, Mairead McConnaughty is also a convict on board, and Higgins has secured her seabag (which is either enormous or a Magic Bag of Holding, considering the amount of shit she keeps in it at this point in the series) and all of her musical instruments, and this and that and the other thing...

Actually, the main theme of this entire book is Let's Recap Everyone Jacky Has Ever Met On Her Adventures Thus Far. I think the Chinese pirates Jacky gets captured by near the end might actually be the only entirely new group of characters. I realize the world's population was a lot smaller then, and that Jacky has met a lot of people in her adventures, but damn. It's getting soap-opera-y. However, the whole series is so goofy that I am not sure this is a bad thing; the only times it ever annoyed me was when I couldn't remember who someone was because it had been so long since I'd read their book.

I was worried that this book might end up being a little too much like a rewarmed version of In the Belly of the Bloodhound, what with the whole "big ship full of captured young ladies" plot, but it really wasn't. Jaimy's bits of the story were actually a lot more like Bloodhound than any of Jacky's, which was actually pretty cool, because orchestrating mutinies is never not exciting. I was also somewhat amused at the bit in Jaimy's chapters when he was talking about some of the guards threatening the comely young Daniel Connolly in a rapey sort of manner, and was all like "I AM SURE THIS SEXUAL DEVIANCE MUST SHOCK EVEN YOU", and then we cut to Jacky's chapters where she is essentially being held as a lesbian pirate's bedslave and is all "THIS IS THE BEST CAPTIVITY EVER".

Shortly after I finished this book I discovered the hilarious yet depressing notracistbut.com, and found that Australia is nearly as well-represented there as the US in terms of posts of cranky white people being Not Racist But worrying about "those people" taking over their culture and speaking different languages, and was all like "Ah, yes, THOSE PEOPLE, they are not descended from GOOD BRITISH CONVICTS like us!" But I shouldn't make fun of Australia, because said descendants of convicts appear to have built a much nicer and more functional democracy than ours, or at least if their Congress or Parliament or whatever they have almost imploded the world economy last week from sheer deliberate fuckery then nobody has seen fit to tell me about it. Also, the American colonies were also used as a transportation destination for quite a long time, only nobody likes to talk about it; we seem to think the Pilgrim Fathers came over on the Mayflower in 1620 and then the entire country was populated by nothing but their offspring until the mid-nineteenth-century immigration waves. Our history, we totally knows it.

I sadly do not have many intelligent thoughts on this book, as I ripped through it rather quickly, but overall I liked it, and I found it somewhat less problematic than usual on the things I usually think are problematic about the Jacky books, so that is a good trend and I hope it continues.

Also, I think they should make Bloody Jack movies and cast Ellen Page as Jacky; she is small and cute and apparently pretty badass, and also I just watched Whip It this evening so she is right at the forefront of my brain.
bloodygranuaile: (we named the monkey jack)
One of them is named Boudicca.

Totally not in honor of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie at all, because I totally forgot about it, I finally got around to reading what was once and Advance Reading Copy of Adrienne Kress' Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. I don't know what you would call it now, as it is no longer in advance of the release of the book, which happened in 2007. If I ever am blessed with advance reading copies of anything else, I will try to read them in a timely enough fashion that the review will be all hip and useful to people and stuff. 

Anyway, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman was something halfway between the sort of thing I really like to read and the sort of thing I could see myself writing on a day when I was feeling inordinately clever and pleased with myself, in that it is a fun swashbuckling adventure involving kidnapping and pirates and conspiracies and lost treasure and a spontaneous musical number, but it is also distinctly aimed at nerdy ten-year-olds who consider themselves immensely superior to their peers, and not twenty-something-year-old overeducated former nerdy-ten-year-olds-who-considered-themselves-immensely-superior-to-their-peers. So some of the tropes struck me as a little tropey and some of the jokes struck me as a little twee, but this is hardly surprising, since I basically picked it up off the shelf at random because I was annoyed that I did not have my copies of A Song of Ice and Fire on hand for rereading. (Waaay different kind of story.) It makes ample use of Authorial Voice in the tradition of Victorian children's stories, and it still contains pirates, and it never quite tells you when or where the story is supposed to take place, which sort of leaves the reader (if the reader is me, anyway) sort of assuming it takes place in late nineteenth-century England from the diction, and then getting very jarred when things like laptops and plastic gloves and sophisticatedly computerized refrigerators show up. 

Our Heroine is ten-year-old Alexandra Morningside, a nerdy ten-year-old who is immensely superior to her peers. She goes to the very prestigious Wigpowder-Steele Academy, and becomes very good friend with her sixth grade teacher, Mr. Underwood, who is a pretty cool dude and teaches her fencing and things (she is, of course, quite good at fencing, because no matter how nerdy your Adventure Protagonist For Nerdy Children is, they are always good at martial athletics. This is why I could never be a nerdy children's book Adventure Protagonist). Alex learns of an ancient feud between the families of Wigpowder and Steele, where Wigpowder was an infamous pirate and Steele was the philanthropist that made sure half of his fortune got turned into a prestigious academy after his death. The feud concerns the other half of the treasure, which has, of course, been buried. Several generations later, Steele's last descendant has become an infamous pirate, and Wigpowder's last descendant is Mr. Underwood. Mr. Underwood gets kidnapped by pirates who think he knows where the treasure is, which he doesn't. Alex finds out, but does not get kidnapped by the pirates because she gets temporarily kidnapped by hilariously evil and gross old ladies instead, and so when she escapes she goes on a grand quest to rescue her teacher and help him find the buried pirate treasure that is his birthright. Alex' adventures on her way to kidnap her teacher are ridiculously funny and just to the side of the sort of thing you'd expect them to be. In addition to more run-ins with the hilariously evil old ladies, Alex meets a drunken magician, a super-fancy hotelier who is attempting (rather disastrously) to run his hotel via mind-reading, a kindly Navy captain, a movie crew attempting to film a movie with a (or rather, the) Extremely Ginormous Octopus, and a train full of rather twenties-style partiers where time doesn't move right. And this doesn't even get us to the pirates, who are quite an entertaining crew indeed. 

I quite enjoyed this book but I must admit that at the end I found myself less wanting to read Kress' second book than I did just wanting to hang out with Adrienne Kress, because I think that we seem to both have similar interests, such as pseudo-Victorian children's stories, badass lady pirates, and making personal asides to the Reader while ostensibly talking about someone else's story in order to show off how witty we are. 
 
I may read the second book anyway, once I am off my books-buying abstinent stint.
bloodygranuaile: (we named the monkey jack)
Okay, I have no idea how to go about reviewing a choose-your-own-adventure book. And before you ask, it was RESEARCH. For serious. Okay?

Um, this one was called Pirate Treasure of the Onyx Dragon and it was as glorious as the title suggested. Description-free, second-person You and your sister Hannah go to spend the summer with your aunt Lydia on her island off the coast of Seattle, and decide to investigate the whereabouts of a sunken ship that one of your ancestors sunked a hundred years ago. There are many ways to go about this, landing you in various tropey situations such as chasing smugglers via scuba diving, getting shanghaid off to Shanghei by Chinese mobsters, and being the very special white people who get the privilege of listening to sekrit tribal stories by a bunch of wise old Indians. (You may not have any description, but from the illustrations and descriptions of your relatives, you're probably white.) In one story arc there is a badass lady pirate; in another one, some jewel thieves and their overdressed patron known only as The Duchess. You may also end up in a cave with bats! As is necessary for any good CYOA book, about a third of the fourteen possible endings result in your death.

I seriously do not know what else to say about this; it was very short and it was a CYOA book about searching for pirate treasure with your little sister. It was fun and cheesy. I would not particularly recommend it unless you are under 12 years of age or are, for some bizarre reason, in need of doing research on choose-your-own-adventure books.
bloodygranuaile: (Default)
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Both. Duh. Ninja-pirates, if possible. One with acquired skills of the other. Pirates who do karate and ninja who suck down rum like it's water. Because my friends and I are above such petty, artificial rivalries, which accomplish nothing and distract from the important things in life (maximizing awesomeness and ridding the world of zombies, in case you were wondering), and this is why we are twice as awesome as the rest of you.




Omfg I am the biggest and most pretentious dork ever. I am so sorry. I couldn't resist.
bloodygranuaile: (CaptainJack DMC)
You scored as Mary Read. You are very unconventional, you defy the rules as often as you can and like to take as many risks as possible. You will probably end up living happily under a bridge somewhere laughing at all the unsavory deeds you once instigated.

</td>

Mary Read

92%

Captain Jack Sparrow

83%

Captain James T. Hook

67%

Dread Pirate Roberts

58%

Long John Silvers

58%

Sinbad

50%

Morgan Adams

42%

Captain Barbosa

33%

Black Beard

33%

Will Turner

33%

What kind of Pirate are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
bloodygranuaile: (CaptainJack DMC)
Saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest yesterday.

There is NO WAY to start describing how awesome this movie is. It is fucking EPIC. And it is absolutely beyond hilarious.

I think I will need a new icon to replace this one, though, as it is past July 7th. I will think of something.
bloodygranuaile: (Default)
Am not being a pirate who doesn't do anything this weekend, as am going to BOSTON (yay!) and it is fall. Will be out of school Monday.

Yesterday was one of the most amusing days I've had in a long time.

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