bloodygranuaile: (sociability)
 This past weekend was Readercon, where, for the first time, I only went for one day, a decision I regret and will not be repeating. (I have been unusually bad at scheduling and time management in 2017, for some reason, so I keep missing stuff I actually want to do.) Anyway, one of the guests of honor was Naomi Novik, the author of Uprooted, which I've been meaning to read for at least a year. After having some logistical difficulties trying to form or execute a workable plan for myself to buy a copy of the book and get it signed, I wound up borrowing Gillian's freshly signed copy off her, and promising I'd actually read it and give it back in a reasonable amount of time (unlike the copy of Kelly Link's Get In Trouble that's been sitting on the TBR Shelf of Doom for ::mumblemumblecough::).

I accomplished the reading bit in record time for a borrowed book, starting it first thing Sunday morning and finishing it just before dinner, because Sundays in the summer are for lounging around reading entire books in one sitting. 

Uprooted follows in two of my favorite longtime fantasy traditions, which are "books based on fairy/folk tales" and "books about teenage girls with magic powers." Mostly it draws on Polish fairy tale traditions that I'm not super familiar with (for example, I did not catch that the witch Jaga was Baba Yaga until she was actually referred to as "Baba Jaga"—but I do know who Baba Yaga is). The premise of the book refers clearly to the well-known fairy tale trope of dragons capturing or demanding princesses and/or village maidens—a trope I've enjoying seeing upended since Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and that I think more authors should do stuff with—although it becomes pretty clear the second it is explained that the Dragon here is actually a wizard that we're looking at more of a Beauty and the Beast type of situation. 

Beauty and the Beast, obviously, is a not entirely unproblematic sort of situation to be in, and Uprooted features a bunch of tropes that are sort of problematic if you think about them seriously, or that some readers might be tired of, but they were also the sorts of things that I was expecting and I think they were handled about as well as they could be without turning it into too serious of a novel. There is the usual Mr. Darcy problem that someone who is a gigantic asshole but really is nicer or better in some way underneath, or otherwise is an asshole for a reason, is still an asshole, because being terrible to people is bad. Agniezka, our heroine, does at points confront the Dragon about the ethics of terrorizing the village by taking one of its girls every ten years, even if he doesn't do anything bad to them; there is, of course, no way to actually make it not terrible that he's been scaring the shit out of his entire constituency for a century. He's also an awful, awful teacher at the beginning, well into being abusively so, especially when there's no communication about what it is that he's actually teaching. While we're at it, feudal monarchy is a terrible form of government.

Also, this is one of those books where the main character is special, and while she's not good at everything, the one thing she is really good at she is the best at. You are either in the mood for this sort of story or you should go read something else. I like this sort of story when it's executed well; this one, because of the nature of Agniezka's magic, has some parallels to Tamora Pierce's Immortals series, which was one of my favorites when I was wee.

The initially really harsh mentor is a fairly common fantasy trope that probably is bad praxis for anyone trying to become a teacher, and the "has important knowledge but is hilariously bad at actually teaching" trope is a less common one but a situation that I always find sort of hilarious (although the prize for this goes to Alabaster from N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series, if only for the bit where Essun has to teach the basics of teaching to him before he can teach her the magic stuff). The inevitable romance between the Dragon and Agniezka actually only ends up happening once they figure out how to work their two very different types of magic together, and as a result, even though the Dragon spends most of the book being almost Edward Cullen-level intolerable as a person, the resulting romance, born as it is out of highly charged drift-compatible magic workings, ended up being more compelling to me than most other Obligatory Romantic Subplots. (Magic is sexy, OK?)

The villain in the book is the Wood, which is, as one would guess from the name, an evil forest that periodically sends out all sorts of horrors to carry people off and infect cows with some sort of grotesque hell-demon disease and make people go mad. The term used throughout the book for the malevolent essence of the Wood that gets into stuff is referred to just as "corruption," which I like, because it avoids having to use the word "darkness" for what is basically the age-old fantasy convention of having to defeat Darkness as a sort of literal force, like we see in The Dark is Rising and A Wrinkle in Time and that one Dead Alewives sketch where a dude casts Magic Missile at it. So it's the same idea, but corruption has a sort of dirty rotting biological feel to it rather than grand moral absolutism; a little more like Hexxus in Ferngully except it doesn't sing and is not played by Tim Curry. Eventually Agniezka does figure out what the Wood is and starts to fix it, but not before a series of events with a numbingly high body count, especially considering that the rest of the book is generally not that dark. In fact, I found the final battle to be perhaps the weakest part of the book, but I admit that writing climactic battles is very tricky to pull off.

The real key relationship in the book, though, isn't between Nieshka and the Dragon, or between the Wood and all the people around it, or between all the various intolerable political factions. It's the relationship between Nieshka and her childhood best friend Kasia, played in my brain by the late Russian model Ruslana Korshunova. Kasia was the one everyone assumed the Dragon would pick, because she was beautiful and clever and brave and kind and basically perfect, whereas Nieshka was basically a slatternly mess who was really good at gleaning mushrooms and berries and stuff in the woods, but nobody noticed because Kasia was around.

Ruslana Korshunova
Ruslana Korshunova, the "Russian Rapunzel." RIP.

Kasia and Nieshka's friendship apparently cannot be ended by anything, whether it is the lifelong knowledge that Kasia will be taken away, or any of the strange things that happen to her after Nieshka is taken instead. Their friendship endures a lot of separation and some embarrassingly soul-baring magic as they both slowly transform into increasingly bizarre and powerful creatures, Nieshka essentially being the second coming of Baba Jaga, and Kasia turning into some sort of preternaturally strong tree warrior. I want a sequel of Kasia's adventures kicking ass and taking names and being a warrior-dryad. The I want an animated movie of it.

Overall, this is a very delightful book that was exactly the sort of thing I find restorative and comforting to read, provided you don't overthink it, and it makes me wish I knew more Polish fairy tales.

 

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
WELL THAT ONLY TOOK ME THE ENTIRE MONTH OF JANUARY.

But I did pull it off just in time for book club, by which I mean I was reading the last twenty pages or so at book club.

This is the BSpec book club, and we read Ken Liu's Grace of Kings, which had been on The List for a while. It's a political/military epic fantasy, drawing on pseudo-medieval Chinese myth and history rather than pseudo-medieval European myth and history. I do kind of wish I'd read it closer to when it first came out, though, if only because it's really hard right now to get invested in the collapse of fictional empires when the real-world empire I live in is actually for reals collapsing right around me. Also the real world one has more spies. Like, there are some spies in Grace of Kings, but the news is like ALL SPIES lately.

Anyway. The short version of the plot is that a bunch of squabbling kingdoms have been forcibly united under an oppressive Emperor for about a generation. When the Emperor dies, his young son becomes Emperor, but the kid is deliberately spoiled and kept away from governing so his aides can jockey for power. Against this backdrop, a popular uprising against the Empire starts, which eventually becomes a whole bunch of different factions reclaiming their own lands (sound familiar?). The two biggest players in this struggle who emerge are Kuni Garu, a jovial trickster type, and Mata Zyndu, a preternaturally tall and strong scion of a deposed royal family who is fearsomely unbeatable in battle and super uptight. He's basically a Terminator. Despite being polar opposites, they team up to become the rebellion's power couple for a while, but eventually fall out over something stupid that Mata is too rigid-minded to ever patch up properly. In the background of all this, a pantheon of gods all designate certain characters their pawns and try to influence the situation so "their" favorite mortals can "win."

We discussed our nitpicks at book club--such as that the female characters were memorable but there were a limited number of them; meanwhile, the overwhelming number of male characters with often-similar names meant I got a lot of them except the two leads mixed up--but overall this was a pretty solid example of the type of book it is, with a lot of factionalism and strategy and death and fighting. Some elements of the worldbuilding were a little inconsistent or episodic--like, at one point there were mechanical giant whale submarines, but then they were done being used so there just... weren't any more whale submarines. You can't just do this to a girl--if your book is gonna have giant whale submarines at all, it's gotta give us a LOT of giant whale submarines. They are too awesome to be a minor throwaway plot point.

That said, the intrigue is really good, and it's got some interesting meditations on power, morality, the limitations of militarism, and all that sort of stuff that's necessary to make the gods' chess game have more meaning than just a chess game. I'm not as enthused about the sequel as I'd hoped I'd be, though, but that might be partly because I've decided to dedicate the next two years to reading about Nazis. It's really not Ken Liu's fault--anyone writing political fantasy has just had their job made infinitely harder by the vagaries of reality.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Aaaaaaaahhhhh it's the last Harry Potter book!

I'd only read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows once, since it came out, and since then I've seen bits of the movies, but I basically remembered next to nothing of the plot other than a) Horcruxes and b) the epilogue was boring, because those are the two things that have the most filtered into our cultural consciousness in the decade (!!!) since it was published. So most of this book was very much like reading something brand new.

This book deviates from the previously established structure of uncovering a plot over the course of a year at school, and instead borrows that timeless (or, in some hands, timeworn) fantasy classic structure: a Quest, or more specifically, a Long Ride. After aging out of the blood protection he got from the Dursleys and escaping with the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and Ron and Hermione wander around England for several months, searching for Horcruxes. Over the course of this quest, Harry is systematically stripped of most of his support system and prized possessions — starting, heartbreakingly, with Hedwig, who could easily be included in both categories — in a process that is clearly a metaphor for something. We've had this sort of thing in miniature before, right from the very first book, when Harry goes into the obstacle course defending the Stone with Ron and Hermione but ultimately must face Voldemort alone.

In Deathly Hallows, though, you know stuff has gotten real destablizing, because people are losing their wands. Ron memorably had his wand broken in Chamber of Secrets, but it was a secondhand wand (which means it probably didn't work all that well anyway), and its being broken caused problems for an entire year. But here, people are losing wands and having them broken and confiscated and stealing them from one another all over the place. It kind of makes you wonder why this sort of thing didn't happen more often earlier in the series, but maybe it's also just one of those things that happens more when society has largely collapsed. And make no mistake — wizarding society here has indeed collapsed.

In among the examination of authoritarian takeover and its attendant ills — mass surveillance, militarized public life, blackmail, betrayals, schools being turned into police states, propaganda about "undesirables," registering people based on their "blood status," does any of this sound familiar yet — is a Redwall-esque riddle quest (ha, do u see what I did there) through the history of the wizarding world and its great families to find and destroy the Horcruxes. The heart of the mystery is at Godric's Hollow, ancestral home of Godric Gryffindor, of the Peverell family, and of Harry's father. The crux of the action, however, occurs on the hallowed ground at Hogwarts, as it assuredly must. Harry has to figure out when to rely on his friends and when to stand alone; when to hide and when to draw attention to himself; when to fight and when to face death unarmed and accepting.

The body count is high, and whether the victims are characters introduced in the first book or in this one, they're all pretty devastating. Having grown up with these characters and this series, having so many of them die right when this book came out, as I was at the end of my teens, felt like my childhood was being killed off in a way that's more viscerally upsetting than I wanted to admit. It was no less traumatic the second time around, ten years later, even though in the intervening time I've read dozens or probably hundreds of books with vastly more death and violence.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows marks the end of an era, the end of the formative years for a generation that became better people because of this series, according to science. And now, it's time for us to take what we've learned and to go out and fight fascism in the Muggle world — without wands, but with love and courage and inquisitiveness and a sense of justice and a commitment to equality and all of our wonderful friends.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In the latest edition of Failing At Book Clubs, one of the books clubs I'm in read the entirety of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series, which all in all is probably about the length of one regular adult novel. Despite being given plenty of lead time, I managed to only read the first book, The Book of Three, and then missed the actual book club because I was sick.

I remember the Chronicles of Prydain very fondly from my childhood but I think I hadn't quite realized how long ago in my childhood I read them since I was very surprised at how quickly things moved along when I started reading. I guess I haven't actually read them since my reading level surpassed a 5th grader's, nor have I read much in the way of other books at quite that level. Middle grade is about as young as I go these days, except for the Victorian classics.

Anyway, the book was still cute and adventuresome for all that, and had that early-medieval British Isles thing going on that I like so much. I'd forgotten that it takes place in basically Wales, not England. I really need to learn more about Wales; it seems an interesting place with a lot of wacky history.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Do you ever, like . . . read a book wrong? Because that's sort of what I felt I did with Kai Ashante Wilson's short but intricate debut novel, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. Though it's less than 250 pages long, it took me nearly three weeks to read, mostly in small chunks of 10 pages or less.

This is not the recommended way of reading this book. There's too much going on, and it's not all laid out and explained as clearly as one might need if one is, you know, not actually fully paying attention.

The basic storyline is that of a demigod (put simply) named Demane, a healer, who is traveling with a band of mercenaries/security guards to escort a caravan across a magically-guarded road through the Wildeeps to its destination. The road is supposed to be protected from the mysterious time-and-space-bending monster-filled magic of the Wildeeps, but there are reports of something coming onto the road and eating people anyway. Demane and another demigod-posing-as-a-human, who goes by "the Captain," have to protect their fellow mercenaries and hunt down the threat, while simultaneously pretending to be humans and hiding their relationship with each other from the humans, who are apparently not OK with that sort of thing. If that sounds boring, it's because I'm explaining it badly. The narrative is structured nonlinearly, with a lot of flashbacks and bits that are hinted at, and it's a very character-driven story, so the main point of the thing is really more Demane's struggles to find a place within the humans' weird ways of doing things, managing his relationships with all the other fighters in the caravan, and, eventually, learning to go back to and harness his demigodhood to protect them.

The language in the book is a big glorious colorful tapestry of code-switching, blithely ignoring the constraints of any one register or sensibility of real-world history. Some of it dips into a sort of modernist, poetic stream-of-consciousness style; other parts are gory and action-movie-y; some bits are silly to the point of slapstick (some humans are silly to the point of slapstick too, so I supposed that's realism); the setting is mostly in the pseudo-medieval-fantasy vein--although it's more of a McAfrica than McEurope--but there's elements of science fiction, or at least science fiction terminology, woven in there too. There's slang that sounds very modern to my ear, which I admit I could be entirely wrong about since it's mostly Black slang and I'm not very well educated on Black slang, and there's bits of French and Spanish tossed in (which was fun but frankly a little jarring since it's a secondary-world fantasy), and basically the point here is that it's a ridiculous ton of fun if you like playing with language! Also it keeps you on your toes.

People closer to the topic than me have written, and in all likelihood will continue to write, insightful things about what it means that nearly the entire cast of characters in this book is black men, and the two leads are queer black men. I will read those things; right now I'm only going to say that I don't think this should be such a rarity. (Also I don't think reading it damaged my fragile white lady brain or anything.)

I'd be very interested to read more things set in this universe, partly because it was really engaging but also partly because there's clearly a lot more to it than was actually explained in the book itself and now I'm curious. I'm also not sure if this is a standalone novel or the first in a series; it has an abrupt ending that really seems like it could go either way.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, despite generally falling super far behind on reading along with Mark Reads, I did manage to finish up Terry Pratchett’s Sourcery only a day or two after the final post went up.

Sourcery is one of the books that I have only read once ever, and therefore have forgotten basically everything about. There are quite a number of these, particularly early in the series. I’d had it mentally filed away as one of the “not very good” ones, comparatively speaking, and for some reason I thought it was a standalone (perhaps I was mashing it up with Eric in my head?), even though it is actually a Rincewind book.

This time around, I think it’s still not going to stick with me as a particular favorite Discworld book, but hopefully I’ll remember that it is good, because it’s worth remembering. Sourcery charts the rise and fall of Coin, a sourcerer—the eighth son of a wizard who was already the eighth son of an eighth son, and so who is himself a source of magic, instead of just someone with the ability to wield it. This is deeply, deeply dangerous, particularly as eight-year-old Coin, armed with his father’s deeply creepy staff, sets out to have wizards conquer the world. This, of course, causes chaos and death and destruction and, as usually happens, opens a path for the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions.

In all this, Rincewind, having run away, partly due to his own cowardice and partly on the urging of the Archchancellor’s Hat, falls in with a couple of weird adventurers and proceeds to have lots of chaotic shenanigans where Rincewind keeps trying to run away and his damn friends keep trying to save the world. Eventually, Rincewind, with the help of the Librarian, who continues to be awesome, manages to figure out what’s really going on with little Coin, and then things get deep and sad as well as chaotic and wacky, because that’s how Terry Pratchett books work.

There are some particularly excellent puns in this one that I am glad to have rediscovered, especially the one about appendectomies, and it’s great to start to see some more continuity and character development across books as the series starts settling into being a series, and with Rincewind’s sub-series specifically.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I have been falling dreadfully behind on keeping up with Mark Does Stuff because reasons, but today I was finally able to catch up on his reading of Mort, the fourth Discworld book. Mort is about the time that Death took an apprentice and then hijinks ensued, but I couldn’t remember what the hijinks were.

Mort, short for Mortimer, is a gangly and slightly daydreamy teen boy when he is taken on as Death’s apprentice at a job fair. Contrary to popular opinion, his name is not “boy.” Death seems to mostly want an apprentice so that he can go off into the human world and attempt to learn about human emotions and experiences, like attending parties, drinking strong alcohol, fishing, and finding employment. He is very bad at all of it, except for being a fry cook.

Mort, oddly, is not the only human person living (or residing, at any rate) in Death’s house. There is also Ysabell, Death’s sixteen-year-old daughter who has been sixteen for thirty-five years and is getting a bit sick of it, and a crotchety old dude called Albert whose purpose is apparently to fry things in grease. The only other creature around is Death’s great white horse, Binky.

Death teaches Mort “the duty,” which is to show up at certain person’s death scenes and sever their soul from their body and usher it into whatever afterlife it’s supposed to go to. This mostly goes well except for that one time that Mort was supposed to administer the death of Princess Keli of Sto Lat, but, due to having a bit of a crush on her, he kills her assassin instead, thus changing history and leading to instability in the universe. Mort tries to fix his mistake without having to tell Death about it, which goes about as well as you’d expect.

In this book we expand on a bunch of stuff we’ve seen before, mostly to do with Death, but also the nature and effects of belief on the Discworld, a little history of Unseen University, the lives of nonacademic wizards (well, a nonacademic wizard), some minor history of Sto Lat and its cabbages, other parts of the Discworld including the Agatean Empire, and basically a whimsical grab bag of stuff, none of it too in-depth, as the book is pretty short.

If this book has a theme, it is either that good intentions can cause some really big messes that only the gods themselves can possibly clean up, or that giving humans godlike powers is not a good idea and only anthropomorphic personifications should have them. There might also be an idea in there that even anthropomorphic personifications want their lives to have meaning, and that meaning is to be found in other people. Otherwise, Pratchett’s pun game is as good as ever but his deepness game is not up to where I know it’s going to get.

Also, Princess Keli of Sto Lat is everything a princess should be. Haughty, kinda mean, but very dedicated to doing right by her station and her country.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Mark reading Terry Pratchett has been the highlight of these many last long work-filled weeks since I have returned from Paris. He has just finished The Light Fantastic, which I read yea these many long years ago. I think I have read it twice, actually, once in high school and once in college, but that doesn’t mean I remembered it all that well.

The change in quality from The Color of Magic to The Light Fantastic is noticeable. All the things that are awesome about The Color of Magic are still awesome, like the puns, the cinematic writing, the puns, the absurdly logical worldbuilding conceits, the puns, the Luggage, and did I mention the puns? But the plot starts to look a lot more like a plot in this one, and Pratchett starts developing his wonderful gift for sending up fantasy tropes by adding an unusually-seen element to them rather than just parody-exaggeration. For example, TCoM had Hrun, who was funny, but mostly his sword was funny; TLF has the octogenarian warrior Cohen the Barbarian, a lifetime in his own legend, who is hilarious and a much more memorable character.

I had somehow managed to completely forget what the climax of the story was—this is surprisingly usual for me since Pratchett’s climaxes are always very chaotic and strange—so I was pleasantly surprised at how adorable it was and I will never forget it again, I hope.

I feel like I ought to have more to say on this book but it was rather short and a lot of my favorite stuff about Discworld hasn’t really been developed yet at this point in the series.
 
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Finishing out the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Mark Oshiro, and therefore I, just got through the fourth volume in the series, Talking to Dragons.

Talking to Dragons is the one I read the least frequently when I was younger, and as a result, it is the one I had forgotten the most about. I remembered that it took place several years after the end of Calling on Dragons, and that the main character was Daystar, and something about a fire-witch, and obviously that it wrapped  up the whole Wizards Have Imprisoned King Mendanbar plot. I also mostly remembered not liking it as much as the others, probably due to the relative lack of Cimorene.

While there was indeed a sad lack of Cimorene, I found I actually did like the book quite a bit this  time around! I cannot help but wonder if some of my change in opinion comes from knowing that this book was actually written before the other three, rather than before. The style is definitely a bit less developed than the other books, particularly the humor—it’s cute and silly and funny but I still feel like it’s a bit less polished than the rest of the series. I’m also really, really super impressed that the references to/summaries of the previous books match up exactly and quite specifically; I guess even if she wrote this book first she had the whole series outlined or something? I mean, I was basically listening with an ear towards seeing if she fucked up, and she didn’t, and I think that’s very impressive because honestly, there’s continuity errors between the first and second Discworld books and they’re just one story.

The basic plot of this book is that Daystar, son of Cimorene and Mendanbar, has no idea who he is, and is therefore very surprised when one day, following a visit by the wizard Antorell, his mother gives him a magic sword and kicks him out of the house in the general direction of the Enchanted Forest. Daystar survives the Enchanted Forest largely by being very polite to everyone and everything. He means a dreadfully impolite but sasstastic fire-witch named Shiara, a small excitable lizard named Suze, Morwen (yay), Telemain (also yay), a silly princess and her doofy knight, and a small, nameless, genderless, slightly whiny adolescent dragon, not necessarily in that order. At one point, Daystar, Shiara, and the dragon are in the Caves of Chance and they all meet an ineptly demanding pile of animated blackberry jelly, which is something I had clean forgotten about right up until they met it and then it all came flooding back to me that I had once thought this thing to be the cutest little monster ever.

`Overall I think it makes a solid conclusion to the series in most ways, but it will probably forever remain the odd one out for me.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I’ve been terribly, terribly exciting to be following along with Mark Reads, even more than usual, since Mark has finally started Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I have adored the crap out of Discworld since I first discovered it in… um, ninth grade? And there are now forty books in this series. Which means that, while I consider myself a pretty big fan and to have a pretty good grasp of Discworld, since I have spent so much time reading Discworld over so many years, there are actually a ton of things I’ve forgotten and am looking forward to rediscovering, since most of these books I’ve only read once or twice.

We’ve just gotten through the first book in the series, The Colour of Magic, and I am revising my opinion of this book from three stars to four. I didn’t read this book first when I started Discworld, so it struck me as being underdeveloped and episodic—and it is, compared to the later works, when more worldbuilding has been done. However, going through it slowly, pun by glorious pun, rather than ripping through the whole thing in one sentence, both made the episodic nature less obvious, and reminded me how absolutely glorious the puns are, even right at the very beginning. The turtle thing is truly bizarre, and I hadn’t thought to stop to think about quite how much bizarreness is squished even into just its first introduction (THAT BIG BANG PUN), having spent ten years being just like “Yeah it’s on a turtle lol”. Rincewind is never boring, even sans potato obsession. And the Luggage… the Luggage is perfection itself.

Ze plot, for the uniniated: Rincewind, an expert coward and gloriously failed wizard, is hired as translator and guide for Twoflower, the Discworld’s first tourist, an inn-sewer-ants analyst from the mysterious and wealthy Counterweight Continent. Rincewind is also tasked given a stern lecture on inflation by the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and tasked with making sure this tourism thing doesn’t catch on and that Morporkians don’t all decide to go get gold from the Counterweight Continent. Then there’s fire and fighting and running away, and then dragons and shipwrecks and running away, and basically a ton of absurd wacky hijinks that take them all over the Disc, particularly as they run away. And that is ze plot. Sort of. Plot isn’t really the point; groanworthy but clever puns and making fun of popular eighties fantasy tropes are the point.

Basically, it’s a pretty mediocre Discworld book, but even a mediocre Discworld book is better than most other books.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
When I was at Readercon over the summer, I attended a panel where Scott Lynch introduced himself as the author of the “increasingly non-fictional” The Republic of Thieves. Knowing absolutely nothing about the Gentlemen Bastards series or the whole thing where the publication date of this book had been pushed back by a few years, I assumed that The Republic of Thieves must be some sort of political dystopian book about, like, corruption and oligarchy and banking fuckery, or something.

I was extremely confused when I first figured out what the Gentlemen Bastards series actually was.

Oddly enough, it turns out that The Republic of Thieves largely is about corruption and oligarchy and using massive amounts of money to illegally bork up elections, but simultaneously, that was the most wrong I was about anything that entire summer.

To start with the basics: The Republic of Thieves was published in October. It is the third book in the Gentlemen Bastards series. It is exactly 650 pages long; you could kill someone with the hardback. But you wouldn’t want to, because the cover art is too sumptuous to get blood on. Also, my copy is personalized and autographed, so nyah nyah.

The book opens with Locke dying a horrible bleedy death due to the poison he was given in Red Seas Under Red Skies, and he’s even more of a whiny, suicidally self-pitying mess than he was at the beginning of that book. Jean is again doing the If You Die I’ll Kill You Myself angry caregiver thing, and does a fabulous bit of psychoanalyzing Locke (he diagnoses him with a death wish, complete with awesome German-analogue name for it).

Locke is saved from his horrible bleedy death at the dramatic last minute by a Bondsmage of Karthain, one of the terrifyingly powerful band of sorcerers who have been messing with Locke and Jean ever since they mutilated the Falconer. This Bondsmage lets us know that there are political factions within the Bondsmage society, and she is of the team that has not been the one actively fucking with Locke and Jean. She is also the Falconer’s mother. She offers to unpoison Locke in exchange for Locke and Jean helping the political party backed by her faction win a majority of seats in the upcoming elections for the Konseil, Karthain’s governing body.

The opposing party also has a shady campaign advisor backed by the opposing faction of Bondsmagi. The shady campaign advisor turns out to be Sabetha Belacoros, former Gentleman Bastard (or Gentlewoman Bastard), the one and only lady Locke has ever had any sort of romantic interest in. She is also the only lady who has ever been able to trounce Locke in trickery, thieving, and general rogueishness—essentially, she is his Irene Adler, but with more swearing.

The book switches back and forth between this storyline and “Interludes” from Locke’s youth, mostly involving a summer when all the Bastards, now in their mid-teens, are sent off to an absolute clusterfuck of a theatrical company in Espara in order to learn ACTING. They put on a rather fabulous-sounding ancient Therin play called The Republic of Thieves, about a prince who is sent to put down a crime ring and instead falls star-crossedly in love with its fabulous lady-thief leader, Amadine the Queen of Shadows, and nearly everyone dies. During this summer, Locke and Sabetha have an awkward and bickering-filled start of a romance while working together to build like four different elaborate cons in order to keep the clusterfuck of an acting company operating.

As usual, all of the cons in both timelines are completely delightful—heavy on both fast-paced action and sneaky cleverness, with plentiful side helpings of wonderful swearing and insults. It’s one of those books where the main distraction is trying to stop and memorize lines for future use. (The second main distraction is stopping to drool over the food and then go get a snack and a beer.) (In completely unrelated news, I am mysteriously out of beer.) The entire GB lineup falls squarely into the Loveable Rogues category, but they are all distinct (and distinctly fun) characters.

Especially Sabetha.

I admit that, as we’ve only seen Sabetha as Locke’s Mysterious Red-Headed Fixation Object so far, she would turn out to be a flat or Manic Pixie Dream Girl-ish type of character. I should not have worried. Sabetha is a great character—she’s courageous, but entirely aware of (and, yes, afraid of) the dangers that she and the other Bastards face. Like Locke, she’s incredible clever and skilled in various kinds of shenaniganry, and, like Locke, this doesn’t prevent her from getting into real, interesting conflict and trouble. She’s much more socially aware than the rest of the Bastards in certain ways—she’s got an excellent grasp of the GB power dynamics, for example—and, as a result, she’s deeply cranky and suspicious of everyone and everything. She’s incredibly bitchy and difficult in a way that speaks to me on a deep level. Some of this has to do with what is basically exhausted cranky feminism; more personally, Sabetha is extremely choice- and agency-conscious and is extremely wary of ideals of fate, inevitability, destiny, etc. in romantic love. She is unwilling to get pinned down into a relationship just because That’s How It Works or The Universe Says So or whatever. The result of this is that she keeps running away from Locke and then I am sad for Locke because he is our awesome viewpoint character but at the same time I am like “I feel u, girl! Go have adventures!” Also, I think for a lot of properly socialized ladies, and particularly shy ones like me, there is an element of power fantasy in bitchy lady characters. The fantasy of freely telling people what you think of them without stopping to deflect and minimize conflict at every turn is an alluring one. (Witness the popularity of the Dowager Countess Grantham even amongst very liberal women, despite her being an archconservative entitled bigot.) (Plus, fantasizing about being an asshole is much less dangerous to one’s health than, say, dating the tactless dude assholes who say all the things you’re too nice to say to people.) (This is your official answer to Why Do Nice Girls Date Assholes. You can stop asking now.) ANYWAY, BACK TO SABETHA. She is not above using Feminine Wiles™ to con people if that’s how they would most effectively be conned, and she doesn’t apologize for it, but it’s not her only trick. She curses just as delightfully as the rest of the GBs. She can apparently rig an election like nobody’s business. You guys, I am like this close to making an Honest Book Copy submission for this book just because I think the current copy does a weaksauce job of wibbling about how awesome Sabetha is.

There is also a cute but sadly small cameo by Regal the ship’s cat, which was still enough for my own cat to develop an absolute vendetta against this book, and she spent the better part of three days constantly maneuvering to sit on the pages so I could not read them. I have pictures.

The book ends on the OMINOUS NOTE of a deeply dangerous and complete assbag of a character being not as dead or disempowered as we had previously thought, so I’m sure The Thorn of Emberlain will contain lots of excitement in the form of creepy painful things happening to Locke and everyone around him. CAN'T WAIT.
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)
The latest from the Books By Cool People I Met At Readercon files: I just finished reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, the first book in the Gentlemen Bastards series, the third book of which releases in October. I have plans to attend a book signing for it in Cambridge with my writing group, so I figured it was imperative I read this series in a timely manner.

The author, Scott Lynch, was a thoroughly entertaining and informative speaker; I saw him on a panel called “The Xanatos Gambit,” which was about schemes and conspiracies and such. He is dating the infamously hilarious Elizabeth Bear, whose books I will also be reading as soon as they arrive. *eyes mailbox impatiently* He also has very nice hair.

The Lies of Locke Lamora takes place in a semi-Renaissance-y city called Camorr, which seems to be largely based on Venice, but with more sharks. Which is extra awesome and scary since Venice, and thereby Camorr, mostly has canals instead of roads. So there are SHARKS EVERYWHERE. Shark-fighting is, in fact, one of Camorr’s premier entertainments; by Camorran custom, only women can fight sharks.

Camorr is ruled by a Duke named Duke Nicovante, who nobody really cares about, and Camorr’s gangs are all ruled by a guy named Capa Barsavi, who consolidated all the gangs and developed a “Secret Peace” with the legitimate establishment that basically means that the gangs can steal and murder and stuff as long as they don’t steal from (a) policemen or (b) nobles. If you think this is a really fucked up and classist Secret Peace, you are right! And you will probably like our heroes, who pretend to hold with the Secret Peace but really don’t.

Now, this is not particularly an Issues Book, and the Gentlemen Bastards only do half the Robin Hood thing. They steal from the rich… because the rich have the most money, so they are the ones that you can steal the most money from! They don’t really give to the poor, though; mostly they just chuck all the money in a vault and take from it if they need to buy equipment for a scam. It’s actually kind of adorable.

The Gentlemen Bastards consists of:
LOCKE LAMORA: Locke Lamora has been a genius thief since he was first found by the Thiefmaker of Camorr (a Fagin-esque character who picks up orphans and trains the in pickpocketing so he can sell them to gangs later). The Thiefmaker sold him to a con man in record time because it was near impossible to stop baby Locke from trying out schemes that were clever, but way beyond the Thiefmaker’s pay grade in terms of fallout that Locke, being five, had not thought about. As an adult, Locke is a shortish, unassuming-looking dude, skinny, neither attractive nor unattractive; a master of disguise, who pretends to be a regular cat burglar in Capa Barsavi’s employ, but is actually a master swindler who has bilked enough of Camorr’s nobles out of enough thousands of crowns that he’s known as the Thorn of Camorr.
JEAN TANNEN: Jean is a big, fat, ugly motherfucker who is the bruiser of the gang. He carries a pair of hatchets called the Wicked Sisters, although he can probably kill you with pretty much anything he gets his hands on, or just with his hands, in a pinch. From the highest-class background among the Bastards, he also likes reading poetry and classic romances. The main relationship in this book is Jean and Locke’s bromance, which is truly bromantic.
CALO AND GALDO SANZA: Identical twins, known for being handsome (if with somewhat large noses), spending a lot of time at brothels, finishing each other’s sentences, and being outrageously skilled card sharks. (Nobody in Camorr says “card sharks” though because there are too many sharks around already.)
BUG: The Bastards’ teenage apprentice.
SABETHA: The lone female Gentlemen Bastard, she is off somewhere on a mysterious Mission or something, so we do not meet her during this book. Locke is rather hopelessly in love with her. Apparently she is a redhead. Scott Lynch appears to have felt that going on too much about the Lone Female Bastard Who Is Also The Love Interest And Is Apparently A Feisty Redhead would be somewhat cliché, so for now the Gentlemen Bastards is functionally all gentlemen.

The main antagonist is a fellow called the Grey King, who is killing off a bunch of Capa Barsavi’s garristas, meaning the heads of his gangs. This worries Locke, since, while he is careful to not be very important, he is officially the head of one of Capa Barsavi’s gangs.

Once I figured out that this was a story where the hero was a dude, his core group o’ buddies were all dudes, and the villain was a dude, I was somewhat prepared to be disappointed at this story being a Wall o’ Dude and there being no ladies, except maybe one Token Awesome Lady Who Is Awesome Because She’s The Only Lady And Is Not Like the Other Ladies. This turns out to have been a radically incorrect assumption on my part. Other dude authors who wish to write about dude heroes and their dude friends, please take note: You can, in fact, write a story about a dude hero and his best dude friends without leaving out the women entirely or reducing them to one-dimensional caricatures! The Lies of Locke Lamora has a lot of female secondary and tertiary characters, many of whom are flat-out AWESOME and have quite a bit of agency, and the rest of whom at least help the book avoid the weird Tolkien thing where the General Populace just seems to be all men. So we have some lady shark-fighters, as previously mentioned; a slew of female priestesses, alchemists, prison guards (!), gang members, pickpockets, merchants, and general random people; a batty old noblewoman who is not nearly as batty as she seems because she is actually the Duke’s spymaster; a beautiful young doña who, while her involvement in the story begins because she and her husband are a mark for one of the Bastards’ schemes, is also a highly accomplished botanical alchemist (I kind of want to be best friends with Doña Sofia, actually; she grows oranges infused with liquor); and, possibly one of my favorite characters of all time, Nazca Barsavi.

People who know me will understand why Nazca Barsavi is everything I want in a character. She is the daughter of Capa Barsavi, and she’s actually heavily involved in running the family business, making her a high-ranking mafiosa in her own right and quite likely to become the next Capa of Camorr if they can find a way to make her meathead older brothers deal with it. She wears steel-toed boots, because steel-toed boots are awesome, and she also wears glasses (er, optics). I had not even realized what an extreme shortage of kickass ladies who WEAR GLASSES there is in pretty much all storytelling ever. More of this, please! She is also friends with Locke! Actual, straight-up, honest-to-goodness friends, where they talk about stuff and clearly care about each other and when Capa Barsavi decides that they should get married, they are both all like “No offense, but together we are clever enough to find a way out of this stupid plan, right?” and then they agree to PLOT and SCHEME and BE AWESOME until they figure out a way to NOT marry each other without pissing off the Capa. She is also super bossy in flashback to when she was seven, and it is adorable. Basically, she is THE GREATEST. I would read an entire series just about Nazca Barsavi.

So you can understand how amazingly upset I was when the Gray King FRIDGED HER.

I specifically say the Gray King fridged her because honestly, Scott Lynch/the story in general didn’t. Lynch seems to be a member of the George R. R. Martin School of Killing Off Characters Right When You Are Really Excited To See What They’re Going To Do Next, so she’s not particularly singled out here (unfortunately for the readers’ feels). She also isn’t tortured or mutilated graphically or sexually molested or anything gratuitous like that. Her death was not a cheap plot point to engender manpain in our hero because otherwise the plot was sagging. Rather, the Gray King killed her specifically to show her father, Capa Barsavi, (who is emphatically not our hero) that he could get to him, and to upset Barsavi out of hiding. The text shines a pretty bright and unsubtle spotlight on how totally fucked up that sort of thing is by having all the characters whose “side” we are more or less on explicitly state that THAT IS REALLY FUCKED UP, LIKE A LOT and also berate Capa Barsavi for getting all vengeful because DUDE THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTED YOU TO DO ARE YOU STUPID OR SOMETHING. So honestly I cannot really fault it from a storytelling point of view as being anywhere near as lazy as the usual Hero’s Girlfriend Is Killed Horribly, Vengeful Rampage Ensues. BUT I CAN BE MAD THAT THERE WAS NO MORE AWESOMENESS WITH NAZCA AFTER THAT POINT. And I am. Maybe if more books had characters like Nazca I would be less stuck on this.

Anyway. So Scott Lynch has proven that you actually CAN write a nonsexist book even with dude main characters, and also that we need more kickass ladies with glasses. Take note, people.

On a less sociologically-oriented note, the scams, cons, chases, and general conniving fuckery in this book is SO MUCH FUN. There is crossing and double-crossing and fake double-crossing, multiple layers of false identities, a disguised Locke getting punched in the face while the puncher explains “And that’s from Locke Lamora,” cursing, fire, pretty costumes, and, of course, more sharks. There is also some really amazing-sounding food. Overall the book ends up being a weird but highly addicting mishmash of “all the fun fluff!” and “very serious feels-punching.” Lynch particularly seems to enjoy putting Locke through a lot of physical abuse, causing long periods of suffering, which is a nice change from the Cartoon Biology that affects so many fantasy books (and its even more widespread Hollywood cousin, Cartoon Physics, which seems to have utterly taken over every live-action movie with a budget of more than about ten dollars).

Overall, I am very excited to read the second book, and also for the release of the third book, and also the author signing for the third book so I can tell Mr. Lynch to his face that just because I’m buying his books does NOT mean I forgive him for killing off Nazca.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I read Snuff, after realizing it exists (oops), and have been trying to figure out what to say about it, not because there isn't much to say about it, but because there's probably an infinite amount of stuff to say about it and I don't know where to start.

Snuff is Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld book, and it is a Sam Vimes novel, and it is... rather dark. The title is a pun; the major plotlines involve both a murder and tobacco products. It is also a "such-and-such fantasy species and its place in modern society" book; in this case, it's goblins.

The basic plotline is that Lady Sybil has finally talked Sam into taking a vacation out in the country, at her ancestral estate. Sam is not happy about this, as he is deeply uncomfortable with the country and all the weird ways in which it is unlike the city, being full of green things and farm animals and farmers and such. Lots of the local people--both the common folk and the country nobs/gentlefolk--are suspicious of Sam, and Sam is suspicious right back at them. Sam thinks something Is Up but cannot tell what.

Then, the local blacksmith disappears, and the body of a goblin girl is found brutally murdered. Sam teams up with the local copper, a young and totally unqualified but earnest boy who has the job because his father was a copper and he inherited the badge to solve it, helped along by his assassin-manservant Willikins; Miss Felicity Beadle, writer of many children's books, including several of Young Sam's favorites; an unusually attitudinal goblin named Stinky; and some other wacky characters.

There are also a lot of people who get in the way, mainly because they think goblins are vermin, and that murdering the goblin girl doesn't count as murder, and other bigoted shenaniganry. Meanwhile, back in Ankh-Morpork, Sergeant Fred Colon accidentally buys a cigar with the soul of an infant goblin in it, which causes many weird adverse effects. Eventually this all works up to Vime & co unravelling a crime ring that I'm not going to tell you anything about except that it involves exploiting goblins in terrible ways. And tobacco.

In a small subplot that I probably think is more amusing than other people do due to family history, Lord Vetinari engages in a battle of wits with his archrival, the lady who writes the crossword for the Ankh-Morpork Times.

While this is a police book and most of the police officers involved are men, this book still has some pretty awesome ladies, including the aforementioned writer of children's books who also has a rather amazing backstory involving goblins; Lady Sybil Ramkin being totally awesome and kicking as much ass with her letter-writing as Sam kicks by actually kicking people's asses; a young, musically inclined goblin girl named Tears of the Mushroom, and some brief cameos by Cheery Littlebottom. (I love Cheery Littlebottom.) Also the country police officer's old mum, who I imagine as being played by that lady who plays Cousin Violet in Downton Abbey and Simon Pegg's mom in Shawn of the Dead.

The main Big Themes in this book are slavery, dehumanization, how scary nature is, the ways in which cute small towns can cover up really terrible stuff, religion, bodily fluids, and the usual The Nature of Being a Copper stuff that features in all of the Night Watch books. Somehow this is all wound up in poop jokes (actual clever poop jokes, not ones where the word "poop" is used as a replacement for making a joke), stuff about complicated chickens, and general high-adrenaline wacky hijinks, and it all ties together.

While not as unendingly hilarious as most other Discworld books--Pratchett seems to be getting increasingly serious--it's still a very enjoyable read, provided you are not full up on fantasy that deals with genocide and the banality of evil and other depressing stuff.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I have been meaning to write about Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Princess for about a week now and I have been having the biggest brain block about it. I don't know what I think about it! And I don't feel like recapping it!

Clockwork Princess very much continues to be the sort of thing that people will like if they like that sort of thing, and I happen to like most of that sort of thing--Tessa is still a strong, flawed, clever female protagonist who reads awesome nineteenth century novels (and reads them PROPERLY, not all Mormon-school-like; I'm looking at you, Bella Swann) including the ones that only crazy people read, like The Castle of Otranto. There are still major characters who are not perfectly healthy able-bodied straight white people (of course, the protagonist and her #1 love interest are, but I guess you can only expect so much from any novel that's become quite this popular. Sigh, people). There's all kindsa magic and demons 'n' shit. The Council is still a bunch of denialists who insist that nothing is wrong and try to scold our cast of intrepid heroes out of actually fighting evil because of politics, because this is still a Shadowhunter book and the Shadowhunter books apparently began life as a (plagiarism-ridden) Harry Potter fanfic which means the Council is basically the Ministry of Magic. But hey, I like Harry Potter and I used to quite like Harry Potter fanfiction, so whatever.

The love triangle in this book is LOLARIOUSLY overwrought, although nobody in it is quite as dumb as is usual for love triangles since they all actually like each other. Now that Will is no longer being deliberately ass-tastic to everyone, having abandoned his futile quest to make sure nobody ever loves him, my main issue with the love triangle is that it just goes on for frickin' forever and I much prefer reading about Charlotte kicking ass and everybody trying to defeat Mortmain and about Will's little sister being awesome. The dialogue is still hilarious, although many of the jokes seem to be inspired by other jokes (there is a line about girls stamping their feet, that sort of thing), but I did not catch Ms Clare outright plagiarizing anyone but herself. Tessa's shape-shifter power ends up saving the day, as one would hope and expect, and it does it in a way that I didn't quite predict, which is always good.

There was also a good amount of Magnus Bane, which was excellent, but I think there should have been MORE Magnus Bane because that would have been even MORE excellent.

So one thing I kind of appreciated about this book (although not as much as I would have if I were emotionally invested in any of the romances, which did not happen) is that, while Tessa marries Will and lives a long and happy marriage with him full of babies and grandbabies... she then ALSO goes on to marry Jem and, presumably, have a long happy life with him! (Tessa is immortal due to backstory. Jem... well, I'm not going to spoil how it is that Jem winds up young and human a hundred years after Tessa marries Will.) I still think they should have ended up a happy polyamorous triad, but (a) it was the Victorian era and (b) Jem was dying of demon opium, so I guess that wasn't an option.

Overall I enjoyed it but it did not kill me with feels, although it seems to have killed a lot of other people with feels and it was definitely designed with a blatant intention of inducing massive feels in the reader. I just... enjoyed it a lot. Cassandra Clare is not quite Sarah Rees Brennan or Holly Black when it comes to killing me with feels, it seems, for all that apparently the lot of them are best buddies.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Hey y'all, it is time for me to talk about the Beka Cooper trilogy! These three books, collectively known as the Provost's Dog series, are entitled Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff. I have already reviewed Mastiff on this blog when I first read it, which just coincidentally happened to be when Occupy Wall Street was kicking off, which you can tell in the review.

Anyway. The Provost's Dog books take place about two hundred years BEFORE the beginning of the Song of the Lioness quartet, and Beka is George Cooper's something-great-grandmother (there are some interesting bits of character backstory that we learn to explain why George still has Beka's last name even though he's descended from her in the maternal line). Tamora Pierce definitely made Beka Cooper's Corus seem like a different time period than Alanna's Corus, including being less socially progressive in a lot of ways (there is still slavery, for instance) although there is less Women Are Super Delicate stuff going on--the Cult of the Gentle Mother is a social influence that is pretty new and gaining power during this series, which I think is awesome, because backlashes/regression, they really do happen. There is also lots of fun with medieval slang! This takes some getting used to, but overall I think it ends up being a lot of fun, particularly the swearing. The swearing is wonderful.

These books are big compared to the earlier ones, clocking it at around five or six hundred pages apiece. This is good, as it allows a lot of room for elements of Literary Fantasy, such as listing delicious-sounding foods, describing what everyone is wearing, and talking about going to the bathroom. Also the aforementioned swearing.

On a more serious note, there are also BIG CRIMINAL CONSPIRACIES that Beka and her partners have to unravel because they are AWESOME MEDIEVAL COPS. And many of them are ladies! I cannot even deal with how many awesome lady cops there are in this series, from bit characters like Desk Sargeant Kebibi Ahuda to Beka and one of her partners, a veteran Dog named Clary Goodwin, who is just awesomely cranky and completely zero-bullshit. Goodwin especially shines in the second book, where she and Beka go to Port Caynn to try and unravel a counterfeiting conspiracy. (Tunstall is sadly at home in Corus with broken legs in this one.) There is also another lady knight, Lady Sabine of Macayhill, because it would be cruel for Tamora Pierce to give us a whole series without any awesome lady knights. There are some pretty cool nonmilitary women as well, like Beka's friend Kora the hedgewitch, and Serenity, who runs a lodging house in Port Caynn and just keeps randomly being awesome.

Beka, in addition to being a policewoman, is also a sort-of mage; she doesn't have the Gift, but she has the ability to hear the spirits of the dead when they ride on the backs of pigeons (pigeons are the messengers of the Black God, apparently), and she can also listen to dust spinners, which apparently hold bits of conversation and want to dump them off on somebody else (it makes more sense in the book).

I don't want to go into the plots because it'd be hard to say much of anything without giving it all away, but the basic premises are: In the first book, there's a possible serial killer who kidnaps small children for ransom and kills them if the parents don't hand over their prized possessions, plus someone is hiring crews of diggers who then mysteriously disappear; in the second book, somebody is producing large quantities of counterfeit silver coins and they seem to be coming out of Port Caynn; in the third book, somebody has kidnapped the heir to the throne and hidden him as a slave, plus the realm's mages are in a big snit.

I really do have a lot to say about these books but I don't really want to end up writing another 8-page review. Maybe someday I will go back to school and do a paper on Pierce! That would be the best paper-writing experience I think I could ever have.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
We're on to the part of the journey were things get weird--Queen Tammy here stops writing in quartets. Fetch my smelling salts!

In this case I think it works because you can really only let spy stories get so big before they become either slow and unsurprising or too complicated to follow. So two books works well for the Trickster series, otherwise known as The One About Spies.

Our heroine in this series is Alianne of Pirate's Swoop, only daughter of legendary Alanna the Lioness, who is now crabby and middle-aged, and former Rogue King of Corus George Cooper, now Baron of Pirate's Swoop. Aly is clever and very into games and puzzles and winning and that sort of thing, and since her daddy is King Jonathan's chief undercover agent and her granddaddy Miles of Olau is his chief spymaster, this means that Aly has been learning to break codes and other fun spy stuff since she was in the cradle. Aly basically enjoys spy stuff and goofing off and that is it, leading to many family conversations like this;

ALY'S PARENTS: You're a grown-up now and you should pick a career.
ALY: I want to be a spy!
ALANNA THE KING'S CHAMPION, PROFESSIONAL HAVE-PEOPLE-TRY-TO-KILL-YOU-ER: No! That is dangerous.
ALY: Fine then, I my career is to goof off and have fun.
GEORGE AND ALANNA: No really please pick a profession, any goddamn profession at all EXCEPT SPY.

After one too many of these conversations, Aly goes sailing until she feels better, and is promptly captured by pirates and sold into slavery in the Copper Isles. The Copper Isles is a massive political clusterfuck of a country, with serious tensions between the raka (native Islanders) and the luarin (descendents of the white people who conquered the Isles three hundred years ago), and a lot of laws designed to disempower and punish the raka for pretty much everything, a highly unstable monarchy (there's insanity in the royal line but it's an absolute monarchy so when the monarch has a breakdown there's nobody who can make them get treatment... this is not even their main problem), a large slave economy (slaves can be of any race, which makes things even more complicated), a large mixed-heritage population (which does nothing to ease the tensions between the raka and the luarin), and a bunch of other stuff. To top it all off, there is a divine element in the conflict, with the original patron god of the Isles, the Trickster god Kyprioth, planning to take the Isles back from the luarin gods Mithros and the Great Mother. Aly is one of his chosen tools to accomplish this.

This is where things get a little awkward as it is kiiiiind of a Special White Person Rides In And Saves All The Brown People From The Bad White People story, although it does deviate from your basic white-guilt-assuaging Pocahontas or Avatar storyline in a couple of important ways. Aly is not the general/leader of the raka rebellion, nor is she their candidate for queen--she has a specific set of skills, in this case her extensive spy training, and she becomes part of the rebellion strictly as its spymaster. The rebellion has several raka leaders and their candidates for Queen are half-raka and half-luarin, descended from royal lines on both sides, in accordance with an old prophecy. Aly also doesn't really do the "switching sides because she's so enlightened that she realizes she's on the side of the Bad Guys"--she's not connected with the Island luarin ruling classes; Kyprioth pretty much just yoinked her out of a totally different country and gave her an assignment. She also doesn't marry the mysterious-brown-people's chief's beautiful daughter or whatever; she instead hooks up with A DUDE WHO USED TO BE  CROW. Which means he looks like a grown-up guy but HE IS ACTUALLY THREE. I think Tamora Pierce wrote up this romance to shut up everyone who was complaining about how Alanna and Daine each ended up with dudes several years older than themselves. That said, Nawat really is kind of adorable, because he is a Tamora Pierce Sassy Animal, and they are the best.

I think I would feel more comfortable with this series if there were more viewpoint switches and it didn't use Aly as Our Viewpoint/Bridge Character. Even though that actually kind of makes sense on this one, because readers, regardless of our real-life ethnicities, will probably be more familiar with Tortall and with Aly's fabled parentage than we will with the Copper Isles, since they are made-up places and Tortall is the one that there are other books about. But I still think that a more ensemble-cast approach might have benefited this story just to make it smell a bit less Great-White-Savior-y.

That complaint aside, YAY SPY REVOLUTION! I do love me a well-done spy story. And this one is well-done indeed! There are badass teenage girls and multiple conspiracies in varying degrees of seriousness and all sorts of politics and there is lots of Women Being Friends And Allies With Each Other and there is even An Awesome Stepmother, which I appreciate, because stepmothers are not always evil and this is rarely acknowledged in stories. Also there are Sassy Animals and lots of clever dialogue, as usual. I think I have been insufficiently appreciative of Pierce's clever dialogue in my past, and I will seek to incorporate more of her lines into my life.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)

For me, rereading the Protector of the Small quartet was a whole different kind of exciting from the first two quartets, because now we're into the books that came out when I was aging out of my reread-everything-I-like-a-billion-times phase (plus I had more things to read now that I was a big girl and could start reading books for adults), so I've only read these a few times before. I think Lady Knight I may have even only read once! So I'd forgotten a lot of things and frequently had only the vaguest idea of where the plot was going.

PotS is the story of Keladry of Mindelan, the first girl to openly train to become a knight in over a century, after Lady Alanna happening caused King Jonathan to change the laws. (It seems that there had certainly been an uptick in girls becoming fighters in the fifteen or twenty years since then, but most of them joined the Queen's Riders rather than becoming knights.) When I first heard this series was coming out, I was afraid it would be too similar to Song of the Lioness to really be fun, but luckily, I was wrong. As a character, Kel is way different from Alanna--she's tall, she doesn't have magic, her preferred weapon is polearms, her family were diplomats to the Yamani Isles (a fictional land totally not at all based on Japan) and she lived there for six years so she's a third-culture kid. Kel is very serious and stoic and has no temper at all, unlike Alanna, and (despite her skepticism about how useful it will be) she ends up being trained largely for command rather than for individual knight-erranting around.

One of the things I love about this series is that it really gets into the political tension within Tortall. King Jonathan and Queen Thayet have implemented all sorts of awesome progressive social changes, because they are so awesome, and... not everyone is happy with it! People are having all sorts of Political Opinions about stuff, and have started identifying as either progressives or conservatives. The monarchs are progressives, but monarchs do not, in practice, unilaterally control everything. Unfortunately for Kel, the training master for the would-be knights, Lord Wyldon of Cavall, is a conservative, and is very anti-lady-warriors. Even though the law says girls can become knights, Wyldon threatens to quit if he has to train her, unless certain conditions are met, and King Jonathan can't afford to have him quit because Politics, so he gives in to Wyldon's demands that Lady Alanna not have any contact with her at all (which was actually pretty sensible, if crappy) and that Kel have a year of probation before being allowed to be a proper page (not fair or sensible!). Most of the boys in her program avoid her at first but come around to being friends once they realize she's not an alien, but there are a handful of exceptions--the Crown Prince and a wacky guy named Nealan of Queenscove are nice to her right off the bat; and a small clique of hyper-conservative young men make it their life's mission to be maximally nasty to her and everyone else they see as "beneath" them, for years. (They eventually get a satisfying, if sadly inapplicable-to-real-life, comeuppance.)

The series continues as Kel becomes a proper page, conquers her fear of heights, becomes awesome at tilting, becomes Raoul of Goldenlake's squire (RAOUL IS SO GREAT I LOVE HOW MUCH RAOUL THERE IS IN THIS SERIES. YES THAT NEEDED TO BE IN ALL CAPS), temporarily adopts a baby griffin, fights big mechanical killing devices in Scanra (there's a war with Scanra), and gets a mission-quest-thing from the Chamber of the Ordeal to hunt down the elusive mage who is creating the big mechanical killing devices (and powering them with the souls of dead children omg). She also manages to earn the respect of the intractable Lord Wyldon, which I think are the emotional high points of the series in that they made me cry, which I'm pretty sure Lord Wyldon would have disapproved of.

While this series does not have the nostalgic place in my heart that the earlier ones do, I really think this is just one of the most perfectly crafted book series I have read, possibly ever. It is masterfully plotted, deeply political, never boring, and tackles a lot of series issues without being remotely preachy. The serious plot bits are absolutely terrifying. The new perspectives we get on Tortall are fascinating, particularly in the treatment of the characters that we've met when they were younger in the other series. The side characters are fabulous as always and the clever dialogue lightens the heavy subject matter without cheapening it.

I basically just really love the shit out of this series, is what I'm saying.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Over the course of Nemo (hi Nemo! You found us! *ducks tomatoes*), I reread the second of Tamora Pierce's Tortall quartets, The Immortals. The Immortals consists of Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker, Emperor Mage, and The Realms of the Gods.

The Immortals was the first Tamora Pierce series I read (or at least, the first three volumes are) and I have weirdly vivid memories of being ten years old, at dinner with my family at Empire Szechuan, and just being totally unable to put Wild Magic down for more than about five seconds.

The Immortals follows teenage Daine Sarrasri as she builds a new life for herself after her family is killed by bandits. "Building a new life for herself", in this case, involves leaving rural Galla to take a job with the horsemistress of the Queen's Riders of Tortall, moving to Tortall, discovering that her "knack" for animals is actually "wild magic," and embarking on a course of studies and series of adventures that allow her to become a ridiculously powerful wildmage who can talk to animals and heal them and shape-shift into them and all sorts of crazy stuff. Disney princess powers this ain't. Meanwhile, mages from Carthak have breached the barrier between the Mortal and Divine realms, allowing all sorts of immortal creatures into the human realms that haven't been seen in four hundred years. Daine has to help her shiny new Tortallan friends defeat (a) Carthak and (b) HORDES OF BIG SCARY MAGICAL CREATURES THAT AREN'T SUPPOSED TO BE THERE AAAAAHHHHHHHH.

The Immortals tends to be either people's most favorite or least favorite Tortall quartet, usually depending on how obsessed with animals (particularly horses) they are. I am not particularly obsessed with animals, and I'm pretty unfamiliar with horses, but I still think The Immortals is a joy to read. It's basically the... happiest Tortall series? It deals a little bit less with dealing with small-minded bigots than the other serieses and a little bit more with ridiculously high-powered magic and gods and fighting big scary monsters. The series takes place during the reign of Jonathan and Thayet, and it's clear that Tortall has gone through a lot of Enlightenment-style changes since the end of the Song of the Lioness series. Since Daine pretty immediately falls in with the Queen's Riders (Thayet's pet project, a mixed-gender guerilla-group-style branch of the military) and other awesome people like the monarchs and Alanna and the adorkable-but-super-powerful mage Numair Salmalín, we mostly see just the progressive cool people who are running the show--the inevitable backlash isn't really portrayed until the Protector of the Small series. This isn't to say that The Immortals doesn't deal with serious stuff--it has a lot of well-done, thought-provoking material about family and identity and the responsibilities that come with power and the relationship between humans and the environment and a whole host of other awesome things--but Daine really spends much less time fighting patriarchy and much more time fighting magical goddamn fucking scary things, like spidrens (big huge spiders with human heads who eat people) and Stormwings (half-human, half-metal-bird creatures that desecrate the dead and make nasty comments to everybody) and arrogant emperor-mages. Daine often fights with a bow, because she's an awesome archer (there are backstory reasons for this), but mostly she fights with the help of her sassy animal friends. And I'm not kidding about the sassy. Her pony Cloud is like, The World's Sassiest Pony, and the baby dragon she adopts can't even talk but is sassy anyway, and we meet all sorts of creatures like the male badger god, her divine guardian, who is super grumpy and hilarious; Quickmuch, the sass-tastic marmot who basically moons the world's most powerful mage (and cusses him out using language she "must have learned from squirrels"); Flicker, the squirrel who tells Daine she makes a crappy squirrel; Zek, the pygmy marmoset who figures out how to use keys; sassy bats; sassy cats... the world's most charmingly clever wolf-pack... Tamora Pierce basically writes the best animals and they are all in this series. (Faithful even makes a silent, but STILL SASSY, appearance in Book 4.) If you like books where the secondary characters are awesome (which I do), you will probably adore the everloving shit out of The Immortals, because there are just so many awesome side characters, human, animal, and immortal. The only issue with this series is that you might die, because if the scary things (which are very, very scary) don't scare you to death, the cuteness will.

Also: There are zombie dinosaurs. How could you not like a book series with zombie dinosaurs?
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, I have embarked on a, um, "project" to reread all of Tamora Pierce's Tortall books. Or at least all the ones I own. Which I think is all of the novels. Currently, this is seventeen books, split into five series of two to four books each.

The first and oldest series is the quartet known as The Song of the Lioness. This consists of Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant.

The Song of the Lioness
tells the story of Alanna of Trebond as she trains to become a knight while disguised as a boy, earns her shield, and makes a name for herself having adventures as the first lady knight-errant in over a century. Throughout all of this, she has to develop and use both her fighting skill and her magical Gift to save Tortall and her best friend, Prince Jonathan, from a power-hungry Duke (who just happens to be an incredibly powerful sorcerer) who is plotting to murder his way to becoming King, in time-honored fourth-in-line-to-the-throne style. Along the way, Alanna defeats a bully, acquires a magical cat, fulfills a prophecy that saves the southern desert from a bunch of evil demigods, gets adopted by some desert tribesmen and accidentally becomes their shaman, acquires not one but two magical swords, saves a princess, goes on a quest for a mythical jewel, and is generally badass.

This series (a) was written in the mid-eighties and (b) is one I read a million times as an older child/early adolescent and haven't actually read again since I was... eh, thirteen, fourteen, maybe? So I was afraid that since 2013 grown-up me is older and wiser and better read than late-nineties nine-to-fourteen-year-old me, I wouldn't like it very much and it would turn out to be full of all sorts of things are terribly problematic or have since become tedious cliches and I wouldn't like it as much and then I would be terribly sad, especially since I never stopped actually recommending this series to people on a regular basis.

I needn't have feared! While there are some Issues that I think could use further Discussion (because yes, there are some problematic elements, there usually are--and I believe at least some of them have been/are being discussed over at Mark Reads Stuff), overall, the story is still awesome. I was totally engrossed, even though I knew pretty much everything that was going to happen. Pierce's writing is still heartfelt, fresh, vivid, and clever. She does an awesome job of viscerally showing how hard it is to be heroic and a great fighter and all that fun stuff. There is birth control (magical birth control! ...I want!) and general non-shaming of female sexuality. The secondary characters are endearing and well-developed, There are lots of awesome female characters besides Alanna, which is something that I think is super important and is a particular spot where so many stories claiming to be about A Strong Female Character, Therefore Feminism fail miserably. So, really, not bad for the eighties! Not bad AT ALL.

I am now EITHER going to go keep reading the Daine books OR catch up on all of the Mark Reads Stuff for Song of the Lioness. Decisions, decisions!

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