bloodygranuaile: (carmilla)
After last weekend's adventure in shutting down fascism I was reminded that I have a big old stack of World War II-related books on the TBR Shelf o' Doom, and after a bit of waffling about which one to pick up first, I decided on Norman Ohler's Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, which was translated into English earlier this year.
 
I knew sort of vaguely that modern militaries (and not-so-modern militaries) have a long and not-frequently-talked about history of experimenting with performance-enhancing substances for maximum soldiering, and that much of the 19th and earlier 20th centuries were awash in un- or under-regulated drugs that we now consider to be OMG VERY HARD DRUGS. The most recent episode of Sawbones, which discusses the opioid epidemic, talks about the development of various opiates and opioids, a shocking number of which were developed for the purpose of being less addictive ways to wean people off of the earlier drugs. It's fairly well known at this point that Freud was on ALL THE COCAINE and if you kick around in Weird History enough you've probably heard that Bayer got its start making aspirin, which you can still buy over-the-counter in any pharmacy, and heroin, which, not so much anymore.
 
Weimar Germany was known to be full of drugs of the recreational variety, because of the economy imploding and fun stuff like that, and Berlin in particular was known as a center of culture and decadently out-of-control nightlife. In response to all this decadence and what they saw as cultural decay and all that stuff, the Nazi regime set itself up as being very anti-drug. Hitler moralized at people about how he was a vegetarian and didn't smoke or drink coffee or alcohol. Basically, they were big on the idea of bodily purity, which should probably make people stop and think twice about any modern "health" fads that appear to be going on a bit too hard about bodily purity, even though the "Hitler was a vegetarian" thing is pretty much the go-to example for Godwin's Law.
 
But the Nazis weren't big on bodily purity so that everyone could sleep soundly eight hours a day and enjoy a leisurely and wholesome work-life balance. They wanted people to be able to PERFORM and to SHOW THE WORLD the UNPARALLELED VIGOR AND VITALITY OF THE ARYAN RACE and some other stuff that I can't help but imagine being only in all-caps from both its zealousness and from being in German. Also they were trying to take over half the world which is not a restful endeavor. To that end, while drugs were bad, medicine was clearly very important, as were vitamins and supplements and other things that basically mean "drugs, but healthy." Stop me if this sounds familiar at all.
 
Anyway, Five-Hour Energy hadn't been invented yet, but what had been invented was SEVENTEEN-HOUR ENERGY, otherwise known as Pervitin, otherwise known as methamphetamine. Pervitin was first synthesized in 1938 by the Temmler pharmaceutical company, which still exists (side note: It's really appalling how many brands you run across reading about Nazi Germany that still exist. Especially all the drug companies). After a few really half-assed medical experiments that showed that Pervitin use made medical students REALLY AWAKE for a long period of time but not any focused or smarter (and actually less focused), the doctor working on it had the bright idea that it'd be really good for soldiers, who have to keep going for a long time but don't need to be geniuses, I guess. Thus was Pervitin dispensed in massive quantities to the Wehrmacht, where it was apparently instrumental in keeping them up long enough to drive tanks through the supposedly impassable mountains in the Ardennes and invade France, and was supposedly also instrumental in helping them Blitz through France all the way to Dunkirk, whereupon they inexplicably stopped. As the war dragged on, the drugs got harder and the side effects got worse — Pervitin is apparently a bad thing to be on when you're trying to invade Russia in the snow (even considering that you're clearly not using your good-judgment faculties in the first place if you're even trying to do such a thing); by the very end of the war, the Nazis were doing things like drugging up 15-year-old Hitlerjugend fanatics on cocaine chewing gum, stuffing them in tiny submarines, and pointing them vaguely in the direction of the Thames. This did not work out well, and Ohler's descriptions of the fates awaiting these untrained submarine recruits constitutes the only time I've ever reacted to a report of violence against Nazis with anything other than uncomplicated glee. Stuffing drugged-up children into shoddily made submarines that they've got no idea how to navigate is some fucked-up Nazi bullshit even if the children in question are also Nazis.
 
Guess what else is fucked up? When the Navy was moving on from Pervitin and trying to develop even harder drugs — terrifying combinations of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and oxycodone — to find out what were the most effective combinations, they tested them out on concentration camp inmates on the shoe-walking track at Sachsenhausen.
 
A good third of Blitzed is given over to discussion of Hitler's personal drug regimen, developed and overseen by his sycophantic, greedy, and not especially medically ethical personal physician, Herr Doktor Theodor Morell. Morell was basically an opportunist quack who sold whatever was fashionable to fashionable people in Berlin, and wound up treating Hitler for some sort of stomach problem, and got him hooked on a whole experimental regimen of quack nonsense that ranged from benign stuff like chamomile, through a whole range of dodgy animal extracts and hormones and stuff, all the way through to methamphetamine injections. Toward the end, Morell got Hitler hooked on Eukodal, a type of oxycodone. Unsurprisingly, becoming a giant junkie did not do anything to make Hitler and less of a craptastic tactician, and the descriptions of him shooting up in a bunker while all his grand military plans go to shit around him and fighting with anyone who knows what they're talking about are kind of satisfying.
 
Overall, while the subject matter is fascinating, the book is organized a little weird — it feels more like several long articles smooshed together than one cohesive work — and it's certainly not a masterpiece of prose styling. I don't know how much of that has to do with the translation and what's because the author isn't a historian and sometimes creative writers trying to write history works really well (see: China Mieville's October) but sometimes it just means they try to get fancy when it doesn't need to be fancy. There are a lot of really bad drug puns that I want to like better than I do; perhaps they work better in German.
 
Like a lot of nonfiction books that take a specific angle or look at events through the lens of a highly specific topic, Blitzed runs the risk of overstating its case by virtue of it being the only case it's dedicated to stating. Ohler takes pains to point out that being a raging junkie does nothing to absolve Hitler of culpability for his actions, his horrific prejudices, and his inability to see other people as important or real. But it definitely gets a bit "THE THIRD REICH RAN ENTIRELY ON DRUGS" a bit at times and it was probably not as all-encompassing as it sounds. But it's definitely an interesting subject, and I'm sure it'll be an interesting load of information to have floating around in my brain when I read other stuff on Nazi Germany from now on. (I'm also really tempted to rewatch Downfall...)
 
In conclusion, drugs are bad and always punch Nazis, 'K?
bloodygranuaile: (plague)
 For my politics books club we decided on some light summer reading for June: Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism, which explores the creation and expansion of different fascist movements for the purpose of arriving at a working sense of what fascism is based on how it has historically worked, rather than what its adherents said about it. 
 
As someone who got probably a pretty decent overview of both World Wars in high school by contemporary standards but has supplemented it with additional self-teaching in an extremely haphazard and piecemeal fashion (I like to read about very specific historical events like a single intelligence mission at a time), I felt like I had enough base-level knowledge to follow this without having to Google too many things, but it was also enormously helpful to have the subject set out in such an orderly manner. Paxton looks at different “stages” of fascism, of which only Mussolini’s and Hitler’s reigns both qualify as unambiguously fascist (rather than regular ol’ authoritarian) and went through all the stages he lists. 
 
I was expecting it to be a bit denser because some of the reviews I’d checked out said it was a bit dry, but while it doesn’t read in the novelesque way that some history books of more limited scope of subject manage to pull off these days, I really didn’t find it too dense or academic at all. It commits the occasional bit of academese, like “fascisms,” but it’s always quite clear what he’s getting at and overall I found it to be quite clear and straightforward. If you’re interested in the subject—which you should be, because otherwise why are you reading this book?—it should pull you along quite well; the prose style and the overall organization of the book just set everything out in a very plain and straightforward way. The content is terrifying without being either coy or gratuitously graphic. 
 
The book was written in 2004, and… well, I’d be quite interested in hearing Paxton’s take on current events. (ETA: I am a dumbass; he wrote an article about in in the May issue of Harper’s Magazine that I have just not gotten around to reading yet because I am a twit.) A lot of what he talks about regarding the early stages of fascism—it’s ideological incoherence, its poaching of grievances from the left, its roots in socialism and syndicalism even as it immediately became viciously anti-socialist, its alliances with conservative elites who thought they could use its energy for their own ends—sounds uneasily familiar to anyone following modern politics. But there are a lot of movements and regimes that are often called fascist and that may be sort of fascist in some ways but not in others. Paxton gives us a good rundown of unsuccessful fascist movements and of not-properly-fascist authoritarian regimes (I was perhaps inappropriately delighted at the section dedicated to the Perón regime in Argentina and the conclusion that it was not fascist, despite Perón’s ties to Mussolini. Musical theater is a helluva drug, apparently). 
 
This book doesn’t talk a huge amount about propaganda per se, which is something I would usually be disappointed with since propaganda is my favorite, but it does talk a lot about the appropriation of symbols, emotional manipulation, the slippery relationship between fascism and making any sort of coherent sense, and its anti-intellectualism, all of which is much fun, although it’s a bit terrifying to look at the legacy this kind of intellectual nihilism has left on mass politics in more recent years. It’s also terrifying when Paxton talks not about the internal properties of fascism itself but also about the political space that allows it to develop.
 
Though the book is short and is about 25% footnotes, I think we could end up having a very long book group discussion on this, especially if I come up with enough really good questions. It’s not for three weeks though so I’ll have to review it again when we get closer—and I’m really looking forward to doing so. 
 
Oh, and the book also contains a “bibliographic essay,” which basically is just a lifetime’s worth of book recommendations. Damn you, Paxton. Now I’ve got a TBR list I couldn’t hope to get through even if I turned into one of those doofy Stephanie Meyers vampires that never needs to sleep.
 
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Today in "books I was supposed to read for a book club but I didn't make it to book club," I just finished The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Sparks.
The first thing I noticed about this book is that it is pretty short, coming in at 175 pages. A lot of 20th-century lit is pretty short, I think, though I'm not sure why. There is probably research on it somewhere.
The last book I read was also short mid-20th-century women's literature, though a very different genre, but it was still interesting to see what struck me as stylistic similarities, although I guess it is just general mid-century writing that I'm responding to. There are few other similarities. Jackson was American and Sparks was British. Jackson wrote creepy gothic/horror and Spark's book is sort of everyday realism/slice of life, with a slightly comic touch.
The story takes place in 1945, in a boardinghouse in London called the May of Teck Club, for the titular impoverished-but-not-destitute women under thirty. The book has a very strong sense of time and place, with the war and rationing and all that sort of thing shaping everyone's everyday lives to a large degree; at the same time, much of it was very familiar to me as a broke young lady under thirty myself, and one who has lived in shared housing for the past ten years. Some of it is embarrassingly similar to things I see today in detail, such as the party with a bunch of hip young intellectuals drinking beer out of jam jars even though there's no shortage of real cups, and other bits are more painfully familiar in essence even if the details are different, like how freaking irritatingly faux-deep all the oversexed poetic young intellectual dudes are, and the poor young lady who works in publishing staying up late in her room doing freelance work to make ends meet while trying to emotionally subsist off of the vague air of glamour she gets from her peers for working in the "world of books." Shit never changes, does it.
The vignettes about the May of Teck's inhabitants are threaded together with a framing device that is a series of phone calls between the various girls, several years later, passing around the news that the central insufferable young intellectual dude of 1945 has just died in an uprising in Haiti, where he had gone as a missionary. The girl who worked in publishing has grown up to be a gossip columnist, so she is the one mostly trying to spread the news and collect information for an article.
The girls who are featured most often in the vignettes are Jane, the one who works for a shady publisher; Selina, a very beautiful girl with multiple lovers, including the intellectual dude, who she meets by climbing out the bathroom window to sleep with on the roof; and Joanna, who teaches elocution, apparently during every waking minute. There are another half-dozen or so girls who we know by name and with varying degrees of characterization, but Jane, Selina, and Joanna are the most important. At first it seems as if the book doesn't have too much in the way of plot, being mostly a series of darkly witty observations about the follies of young minds that take themselves very seriously, but it does all lead up to a rather explosive ending.
I should probably check out some of Muriel Sparks' other writing; it seems like the sort of thing I really ought to have read in college but didn't. It also makes me want beer in a jam jar, but if I went and poured myself one I'd probably just feel pretentious.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In preparation for my imminent trip to Ireland for the centenary of the Easter Rising, I finally picked up a freakin' book about the Easter Rising. Tim Pat Coogan's simply titled 1916: The Easter Rising promised an accessible and decently comprehensive overview of this critical event in Irish history. What I didn't immediately realize was that it was so accessible and overview-y because it is actually a coffee table book, but whatever. I've learned quite a lot of Irish history from coffee table books in my day. And this one was certainly more recent than the last Irish coffee table book I read, Jill and Leon Uris' Ireland:  A Terrible Beauty, which was published in 1978. Coogan's book was published in 2001, which is still 15 years ago, although it doesn't seem dated until we get to the epilogue, which talks about the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

I think the book has a good balance for the sort of history book that covers one major event: the first quarter or so is runup to the conflict, providing the "backstory" to the main action and situating it within Irish history generally and the context of its time period more specifically. The middle 50% or so of the book goes into the events of Easter Weekend in enough detail to be compelling, with a lot of pictures and primary documents from the period, eyewitness accounts, excerpts from letters and legal testimonies, etc. The last quarter or so of the book deals with the aftermath, including the infamous executions, and the way in which public opinion turned against the British government and led to the war for independence.

One thing this book does not do is pretend to be neutral in viewpoint. While the editorializing is limited and confined largely to the beginning and end of the book, and while I have no particular reason to doubt Coogan's scholarship, Coogan is clearly 100% on the side of the various factions of Irish nationalists, and has some pretty harsh words for the Orangemen. The parallels between the political rhetoric and behaviors of the Orangemen in the 1910s and the current American Tea Party movement are pretty striking, especially considering the large Scottish and northern English constituencies in both demographics. Apparently, clannishness and the "banding" notion of loyalty are all well and good, but when they combine with settler paranoia in British or formerly British colonies, it morphs into a mind-bendingly Orwellian strain of anti-native, self-absorbed viciousness in which treason is loyalty, authoritarianism is freedom, violent revolution is required to maintain the status quo, and governments listening to their subjects is an abdication of leadership. (Basically, listening to any of those OTHER people who live here besides US is perceived as an act of betrayal. Fuck you, Tea Partiers and Orangemen. You want to be the only people in a country, move to the fucking moon.) (Also, sadly, in the US, the Irish contributed largely to the same sorts of cultural douchebaggery, even though they were the victims of it at home.) Anyway.

I only had one real complaint about the book: the copy editing. More specifically, the commas, although there were a handful of straight-up typos that had apparently been missed during the editing process. But the ways this book uses commas were obsolete by 1916, let alone by 2001. Parenthetical clauses would be set off by commas on only one side. Commas were inserted between subject and verb. The book might as well have been copy edited by the ghost of Charles Dickens. This was enormously distracting to me as a copy editor.

Considering my previous knowledge of the 1916 rising had come in bits and pieces through family, cultural osmosis, mini-lessons from various Irish cultural groups, etc., I'm glad I read this book--it gave me a good deal of new information and helped me organize the information I already did have much better. I do think I would like to track down a lengthier, more scholarly, less coffee-table-ish book on the subject someday soon, though. I'm sure I'll find a bunch of books to buy when I get to Ireland next week...
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
As the most recent dictator of the newly installed rotating dictatorship for my writing group's book club, I decreed that the next book we'd be reading after Sorcerer to the Crown would be Seth Dickinson's The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which was just published this fall and which I had heard enthusiastic, if vague, good things about. It promised a lot of political intrigue--which it delivered, in spades.

The premise of the story is that young Baru Cormorant lives in a nice little tropical island society that is taken over by a foreign power called the Imperial Republic, colloquially known as the Masquerade, because its agents wear masks when acting in official capacities. The Masquerade seems to be based largely on the early modern European empires that conquered most of the globe from the 1500s through 1900s, but keyed up to be even more sinister, with four centuries of stuff happening within a generation or two and every element of chaos that marked real-world colonialism reworked as a deliberate and calculated act of empire. The Masquerade is powerful not so much for its military might--although it has that, relying most heavily on its Navy--but also because of its more insidious weapons: bureaucracy, cultural annihilation, plague, trade, paper money, racism, sexism, repressive mores of sexual purity, and eugenics. Also citrus juice and salt.

In case you are not getting the picture yet, this book is about colonialism. And not just regular levels of about colonialism, either; this book is SUPER ABOUT COLONIALISM. It is about, like, all the colonialism that has ever happened and how and why.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that it is also largely about money.

It used to be something of a given that fantasy books were terrible about money. Everything cost One Gold Piece when you remembered that people are supposed to pay for stuff occasionally; where that piece came from was rarely explained much; characters were generally either Poor or they were Noble (and therefore rich) and this difference was illustrated largely through lifestyle. Lately, this has been changing. Huge chunks of the A Song of Ice and Fire books feature discussion of debts and budgets; Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper books deal much more with everyday realities of living paycheck to paycheck than her earlier books did; The Hunger Games deals explicitly, if not in super mathy detail, with Panem's mercantilist economic system and how it keeps the Districts poor and the Capitol rich. I want to say that ever since the global economic crash, finance has featured more heavily in all sorts of genre fiction as being a thing that is Big and Dramatic and Dangerous and Will Fuck You Up. It is also just possible that I am reading better, more thoughtfully written books now that I am older than I was in 2008 and have less tolerance for stories where Stew just pops up out of thin air.

Either way, The Traitor Baru Cormorant is pretty much the fantasy book the most about money that I've ever read. Baru, after years of diligent studying in the new Masquerade schools that are definitely not based on the U.S. and Canada's boarding schools for Native American children at all, is made the Imperial Accountant to another of the Masquerade's colonies, a clump of squabbling duchies known collectively as Aurdwynn. Being Imperial Accountant is a very important post because money is very important. Being Imperial Accountant of Aurdwynn is tough because Aurdwynn has a tendency toward rebellion, and Baru needs to put down the latest brewing rebellion--using the power of the purse--to prove that she is worthy of going to Falcrest (the home country of the Masquerade) so that she can learn everything about power and accumulate it for herself, a thing she wants to do because she wants to be able to liberate her homeland from the Masquerade. Baru is deeply committed to the idea that the best way to destroy the master's house is from the inside with the master's tools; unsurprisingly, the Aurdwynn rebels disagree, and whether or not it's possible to do so is one of the driving questions in the book.

The other driving questions in the book at any given time are 1 "Is the power of money more or less powerful than (insert whatever else the other person is using)" and 2 "What the hell side is everybody on," something that just gets more and more complex as the book goes on, all the way to the last page. By the end of the book it's not entirely clear what all the sides are, and I don't want to go into it any more than that, but there are so many layers of intrigue that I think I'd have to read the book again knowing what I know now to double-check if it all makes sense or if there are plot holes, since at the moment I've just been turned around too many times. It's a very intricate, literary sort of book; in this instance, I'm using "literary" to mean that basically all the characters are terrible, the main character included, and everyone is very serious all the time, and the role of the individual within nearly any social issue you care to name is explored (spoiler: the individual is always miserable). The only character who makes any jokes is Baru's secretary, Muire Lo, who is very understatedly following in the wonderful tradition of the dryly sarcastic butler type.

I think this'll make fun book group discussion fodder because of all the THINGS HAPPENING that I can't really go into here because spoilers. For the moment, though I have two last random thoughts:
1. I like that the Masquerade's sexist bullshit is a seamless mix of real-world sexist stereotypes and the opposite of real-world ones. The Masquerade is all like "Women are given to abstract thought, so they're less emotionally stable and also better at navigating and mathematics." Sounds at least as vaguely plausible as the shit we believe!
2. Scurvy features heavily in this book, which would be great and all grounded 'n' stuff except that I listened to the Sawbones episode about scurvy like a week ago and it's a terrifying creepy disease and every time the book mentions it my teeth and toes hurt. Aieeee. Drink your orange juice, kids.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I'd heard of Hild a few times before Nicole Griffith came to this year's Readercon as Guest of Honor, and it definitely sounded like the sort of thing that was right up my alley: A coming-of-age story about a badass lady warrior in the early Middle Ages; in this case, Saint Hilda of Whitby, about whom I knew basically nothing. So I bought a (signed; my life is awesome) copy at Readercon, admired the gorgeous blue cover with its stern portrait of a calm, chain-mail-wearing young woman, smelled its new book smell, and finally actually started reading the damn thing this October, when the weather started to turn and drove me inside away from the gorgeous Boston fall foliage to curl up on the couch with tea or beer and get lost in seventh-century Northumbria.
Hild delivered everything it promised and more. The language is vivid and rich and poetic, bringing out the feel of the story's time and place without falling into the sort of stilted faux-archaicness that a lot of fantasy and historical fiction is prone to. Hild herself is our viewpoint character, starting from when she's about three years old and running up through her late teens, I think Griffith nails the development of her thoughts and voice through the years, always compelling and somehow relatable despite the fact that (a) Hild's entire society and worldview is very, very different from a modern person's and (b) Hild has many skills and powers of understanding that I do not possess at all and, in fact, barely understand what she's talking about and (c) Hild is demonstrably a very strange person, although largely she knows that and is less strange when seen from her own perspective.
The book isn't really fantasy, I don't think, although the role of prophesy and "seeing" and wyrd in it makes it a little hard to tell sometimes. Ideas about magic and gods are baked into the various cultures' worldview--Anglisc and Briton and Irish alike--and even conversion to Christianity can't change that. It's not entirely clear if Hild's seeing powers are completely or only mostly the result of learning, observation, political canniness, and her carefully cultivated loyal network of informers.
There is a lot of very dense political history stuff going on here, and while I was happy to jump into what I consider a new area for me--I know nothing about the seventh-century unification of Northumbria--I do think my amateur background in general British Isles nerdery helped me out a bit, since I know a lot of other readers have been driven nuts by the names of all the characters and tribes and such. Probably the most important thing anyone who's not the sort of dork who has voluntarily taken a class in Anglo-Saxon translation needs to know is: our modern habit of using "British" and "English" more or less interchangeably is VERY MODERN. "Anglisc" is the root of "English" and supposedly the English are more or less descended from the Angles and Saxons, at least in part, but "British" at its root refers to the Welsh. (Arthur, King of the Britons? He was Welsh too.)
If you can pick out which is the Welsh name among "Breguswith," "Gwladus" and "Wuscfrea," you are 110% good to go and probably the exact sort of dork this book was written for. I am the exact sort of dork this book was written for. (It's Gwladus, and it's the "w" as a vowel that gives it away you're welcome I'll stop showing off now.)
This is a book about social change, and specifically the sorts of things that constituted change in this particular time and place--war is one of them, but war is basically well-established; it obscures the things that really matter, which are trade and the perception of religious favor. The big thing shakin' up this corner of the world at this time is the introduction of Christianity, which contains a lot of concepts quite foreign to northwestern European pagans, and which brings with it other interesting things, like writing and choral music and brown people.
(I like that this is a large book because it makes it an excellent thing to whack people with when they claim that there's really any point at all when there were totes no black people in Britain and/or that if there were they must have been slaves. In the seventh century, the Romans--who controlled an empire that extended well into Africa and the Middle East and who were excellent at moving people around--had been gone barely two or three centuries; they were well within memory and their buildings were everywhere. This book makes it clear that it's not like the Romans left and poof, they immediately became Ancient History and everyone forgot about them. The POC that are in this book are generally traders and priests; slavery exists but slaves are generally taken from other tribes/kingdoms in the Isles that people are fighting with--the two most important slave characters in this book are from Munster (in Ireland) and Dyfeint (in Wales). We also get a decent look at some of the ways in which "old world" slavery at this time and place works differently than the plantation chattel slavery that (some) Americans learn (a miserably tiny bit) about in schools.)
But as much as I liked all the historical stuff and all the political intrigue and social change and other stuff that I usually like in books, I think one of the most truly impressive feats of Literature in this this book was the fact that Griffith somehow got me sort of on board with the main romantic plotline. Sort of. With many reservations and at least one almost-throwing-the-book-across-the-room. But I still sort of found myself wanting it to work out? There are many things in this romantic plotline that I am generally not OK with. First of all, I rarely get invested in romantic plotlines anyway; I tend to very impressed when the dude does not annoy the shit out of me and I don't find myself thinking that the main character is clearly way too good for this twerp. That is not what happened here--I think Cian is a big meathead idiot who mostly thinks with either his dick or his sword arm but doesn't do anything with his head except grow hair, apparently. Also, I'm still not comfortable with the twincest microtrend that seems to be popping up in like everything these days. In this one they are only half-siblings BUT STILL. WHY IS THIS A THING. To top it off, Hild knows they're siblings, but Cian doesn't because he is an oblivious twit, and nobody can tell him because he is too dumb to keep a secret so if he knows then EVERYONE WILL KNOW, so... they basically hit upon the ingenious idea of keeping it secret by having them get married because they totally can't possibly be siblings if they got married, that'd be weird! So Cian ends up in a marriage where he has married his own sister and she knows that perfectly well but is keeping it from him. I think this might be the single most twisted love story I have ever seen in an ostensibly YA book. But while I was reading it it was like the part of my brain immersed in the story was going "D'aw what a heartwarming love story and what a lot of sexual tension between these two" and then my rational mind was like... banging on the door to the cockpit where reading-brain is piloting yelling "NO WAIT THAT'S REALLY FUCKED UP, TURN BACK CAPTAIN" and seriously you guys marrying your siblings and lying to them about it is bad. So, well played, Griffith. The Sexy Twincest Plotline Game has been officially won, so can we all knock it off now?
On a different note, I genuinely and gleefully liked that Hild and a lot of the other new Christian converts seem to... not really grok Christianity very well. I grew up Catholic so all the stories and memes used in Catholicism make intuitive sense to me, but I adore seeing all the pagans take it all a bit too literally and misunderstand basically everything, rather than being real orthodox true believers. I also like that Christianity is portrayed in a very factious, non-unified manner--many of the priests are perfectly nice, and then there's Paulinus. Paulinus is basically the personification of Churchy Assholery in the story. He's also sort of a shadow Hild character at times, which is very interesting, especially since Hild knows it and Paulinus doesn't seem to.
Recommended for: history dorks, people who aren't scared by big names (seriously, my fellow reviewers, are you all trying to record the fucking audiobook for this or something?), people who want to get dug deep into a world and are willing to do a bit of work to get there. Excellent winter reading. Not beach reading at all, not even by my standards.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I seem to be getting back into the swing of this whole "book clubs" thing! For my writing group's book club, I just finished reading Kameron Hurley's debut novel, God's War, the first book in her "Bel Dame Apocrypha" series, which appears to be at . . . three books? Four books? A trilogy with a companion novel? Idunno.
Our heroine—or possibly anti-heroine; it's difficult to tell since this is one of those "everybody sucks, but in different ways" sorts of stories—is Nyx, a bel dame, which is a sort of government assassin who mostly is supposed to cut off the heads of "contaminated" soldiers and draft dodgers. This is serious business, because Nyx's world is embroiled in a centuries-long ongoing holy war between her country of Nasheen and its neighboring Chenja, and in Nasheen, the entire Nasheenian male populace is drafted. As a result, women do basically everything else, although a lot of them go to the front, too. (In Chenja, it works a little differently, but most of the men are still drafted.) The world they live on has been laboriously terraformed by magicians to be habitable, but is still an inhospitable desert planet in which bugs are the main power source for most things—from cars to medicine to magic—and biological weapons are common in the war. Overall, the worldbuilding is highly original, very earthy, and extremely gross.
Nyx, through a series of bad life choices, winds up stripped of her bel dame license and running a bounty-hunting operation with a ragtag team of international misfits, which consists of Rhys, a pious Chenjan political refugee and magician of mediocre talent; Khos, a big blond Vikingesque shapeshifter dude who left his strictly sex-segregated homeland of Mhoria because he was too heterosexual to cope (somehow this isn't stupid); Taite, an asylum-seeker from the shapeshifter-hating country of Ras Tieg who isn't properly inoculated and whose pregnant older sister isn't, either; and Anneke, who is I think actually Nasheenian and who is sort of the mechanically handy one and is super into weapons.
Nyx gets issued a note (i.e., a bounty-hunting assignment) by no less illustrious a person than the Queen herself, which is unusual, because the Queen ordinarily does not give notes to disreputable bounty hunters and indeed seems to be attempting to actively circumvent the bel dames, who are supposed to be the government's assassins. The note will pay enough for Nyx and her entire team to peacefully retire, if it doesn't get them all killed. Obviously, that's going to be a BIG "if."
The assignment is to bring in an alien who has gone missing—possibly kidnapped, more likely she ditched the other aliens she came to the planet with and went into hiding—and who, supposedly, could end the war. How, it is not known, but obviously this is kind of a big deal, because if she could end the war in favor of Nasheen then she could also end it in favor of Chenja.
Since the bug tech/magic in this world is quite advanced and biopunky, Nyx and co. are able to sustain a pretty hefty amount of getting shot, tortured, beaten, sunburned, starved, cut up, and generally damaged before they will die, and in certain cases, even death isn't the end—we learn that Nyx has already been resuscitated once before the book's main story even starts. This mission (and Nyx's life in general) is brutal. The actual body count is high—assassins gotta assassinate somehow, after all—but Nyx also goes through organs and limbs like they're going out of style, and all the immigrants on her crew seem to get beaten up, cavity searched, and tossed into boxing rings on the regs. It's the grittiest thing I've read since I listened to that podcast about medieval bread (it had actual grit in it so it wore people's teeth down and gave them abscesses).
I'm also impressed that there's number of tropes in here that could have been crappy if they'd been written by a less skilled or more bitter writer. Nasheen is run entirely by women, with the entire male gender being sidelined to the role of cannon fodder, and it's neither a feminist utopia nor the sort of whiny simplistic oppression-reversal story that has plagued so many decades of sci-fi, but a real-feeling, high-stakes look into the unsustainable human cost of constant warfare. I think one way the book gets avoids having any of these tropes come off badly is that there's such a variety of them—the overarching "shared" culture on the planet is largely technological, plus sectarian violence around what is technically supposed to be the same religion. Outside of that, each country structures its society and its oppressions radically differently, and none of them come off looking particularly good. It's Khos, the giant Viking dog-man who left his homeland because he liked sleeping with women too much, who has the most astute observation in the entire book: All these societies, in their different ways, lack balance, and this lack of balance—these systems of control, separation, and lack of respect—that cut people apart from each other are all really like cutting out a part of yourself, which is why everything on Bugpunk Desert Planet is so endlessly messed up.
This is a high-octane, high-context, action-packed work of grim, cynical, desert-flavored grimdark. It would make an absolutely killer HBO show, and I'm very much looking forward to the book club discussion.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
When I heard N.J. Jemisin speak at Arisia, she mentioned that she had written her Dreamblood duology before the Inheritance trilogy, but hadn't been able to sell it. She gave two reasons for this: one, that it was "too weird," and two, that there weren't any white people in it.

To the second point, I say: There were so white people in it! There were two; they both died tragically for plot-furthering reasons in the first 10% of the book. That counts, right?

Anyway. Now that that's out of my system, on to the first objection: the weirdness.

Yes, The Killing Moon is weird. It's very weird. And I loved it for its weirdness. It's thoroughly imaginative and highly original, drawing from a lot of real-world mythological and religious stuff and recombining and extrapolating it into nothing remotely resembling anyone's D&D campaign. The main civilization in it, Gujaareh, is very loosely based on ancient Egypt, mainly in that it floods once a year and death is a huge part of the religion and it's in the desert. And there's some stylistic "McEgypt" flavoring, as Jemisin put it.

In this world, there are four humors in the human body: dreamblood, dreamseed, dreambile, and dreamichor. They all have magical properties if you know how to use them, and they are all secreted during dreaming.

In Gujaareh, dreaming is very serious magical and religious business. The various orders of the religion harvest these dream-humors and can do magic with them. Mostly healing. But a few priests, the most revered and important, are called Gatherers, and what they gather is dreamblood. To heretics and outsiders, they kill people. The view from inside Gujaareh is more complex: Gatherers usher people into Ina-Karekh, the land of dreams, and help them construct what I in my utter lack of Jemisinian poeticism can only describe as their "happy place," where their soul will be at peace; then they cut the cord between their soul and their body so they die peacefully. The cost for this service is merely the tithe of dreamblood.

Gujaareh faithful believe this is an awesome system; predictably, it creeps basically everyone else the fuck out. Especially when you consider that there are two ways someone can be marked to be Gathered--one is if they request it, due to injury or disease or some other pain they wish to not endure any longer; the other is if the holy orders deem them corrupt. Corruption is not tolerated in Gujaareh. Or so it is believed.

The plot of this book is about four Gatherers--well, three Gatherers and a Gatherer-Apprentice--and a badass lady diplomat from neighboring Kisua exposing a tangled web of lies, secrets, and coverups that may indicate that corruption in Gujaareh goes right to the top, and war may be right around the corner.

If that sounds all too insubstantial and shadowy and political for you, here's the fun part: They're tipped off that something is rotten in the state of not-at-all-McDenmark because there's a Reaper running around, Reaping souls. A Reaper is basically what happens when a Gatherer goes corrupt and scraps all the peace and providing a service bit of Gathering and just rips people's souls out of their bodies and eats them. It is bad times all around.

So that's all I'm going to say about the plot.

Since the magic in this system is predominantly done mentally (there are a few physical props they use, but not many) and takes place literally in dreamland, and is so heavily intertwined with religious faith, the fantasy aspect of this book and the psychological novel/character-driven aspect of the book must be closely intertwined, and Jemisin pulls it off beautifully. The characters feel real and even relatable, and very human, even as their psychologies are clearly shaped so much by these forces and powers and beliefs that we don't have in our world. This is hard to do and very impressive, I think. And it means, for me at least, that the world was able to really suck me into it, becoming rich and real-feeling without a lot of pages of scene-setting info-dumping descriptions. The language helped too--the whole book is written in a distinctly nonmodern register, although not so flowery or stylized that it slows down the way reading actual ancient texts does. Although I did end up reading a lot slower than I often do with big epic fantasy books, because I did want to stop and savor the language and think about what was going on, since it's definitely far enough off the usual beaten path of familiar fantasy tropes that I think if I'd just ripped through it the way I rip through, say, Discworld books (which are all about the familiar fantasy tropes), I'd miss a lot and get confused.

I want to talk more about the specific characters but I'm not sure how to do that in a way that's not enormously spoilery. Sunandi, the Kisua diplomat, is a great, great character--flawed, mostly by being enormously judgy of the Gujaareh religion, but smart and powerful and full of agency, and also one of the more "normal" viewpoint characters for a modern reader, probably, in that she's not an adherent of a wacky death cult. Nijiri, the Gatherer-Apprentice, is a fierce protagonist--I feel like I want to peg him as the protagonist because the storyline turns out to be a sort of terrifying coming-of-age narrative for him, and I read so many YA/coming-of-age stories that it's easy for me to latch on to seeing that as the central narrative character arc, but I think you could probably make a good case that he and Sunandi are co-protagonists. Nijiri was born servant-caste before he was taken into the priesthood and he's extremely strong-willed, which could have been a bad combination in the outside world but generally serves him well throughout this story: he refuses to give up no matter what monsters are roaming around the city or how screwed up his mentor Ehiru gets.

I feel like I'm doing an awful job talking about this book. It deserves a much more careful review than I can give now. Maybe when I finish the duology I can offer more complete and coherent thoughts on the series as a unit.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Occasionally, I pick up books in odd places.

It's not necessarily odd that I got a book from my Dad--he's not a huge reader (we think he's dyslexic) but he does read--but it's a bit odd that I got this book from my dad, since he rarely reads fiction. In fact, the last time my Dad really bothered to read fiction, he tells me, is when he was working in London shortly before I was born, and for a while had to work the graveyard shift so he could be on the same time frame as his colleagues on the U.S. eastern seaboard. This is how, when Dad was cleaning his house out last year, I ended up with his rather yellowed mass market paperbacks of Walter Macken's historical fiction trilogy about "the dark periods in Irish history," which isn't very specific if you know much about Irish history. The three dark periods covered in the trilogy are the Cromwellian conquest, the Famine, and the War of Independence/Civil War (in Irish history, those two wars happened right on top of each other). One famous dark period not represented in this trilogy is the Troubles, because these books are older than I am, and the Troubles were still going on around the time my Dad was working in the U.K., at least according to the stories he tells of being Randomly Selected for extra scrutiny every time he got on a plane out of there, being a young 6'4'' ginger man with a name like "Fitzgerald." (I think being Randomly Selected back then was not as invasive as getting Randomly Selected is now though.)

Anyway, I digress. So far I've only read the first book in the trilogy, the Cromwellian one, titled Seek the Fair Land, a reference to the main characters' quest to flee the ever-encroaching Puritan English and eke out a more-or-less independent existence in the mountains of Connacht.

Our protagonist is Dominick McMahon, a merchant in the city of Drogheda, a bit north of Dublin. (If I recall correctly, he was originally from Ulster and displaced sometime during the Plantation or the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Dominick really can't catch a break.) When Drogheda is razed and his wife dies in the attack, Dominick takes his daughter Mary Anne, his son Peter--now mute as the result of a head injury sustained in the invasion--and the kindly priest Sebastian and flees west, on the advice of a big Gaelic warrior named Murdoc who he'd saved and befriended in another invasion of Drogheda a few years earlier, when the Gaelic Irish took the city from an earlier wave of English.

The book takes place over several years, during which a specific antagonist appears: Coote, who is made Governor of Galway City. Coote is fanatically supportive of Cromwell's goals of either converting or exterminating the Irish, using a combination of political promises, economic pressure, and sheer brutality to subdue all resistance from a people he sees as being heathens and therefore basically not human. His job is to be Cromwell's arm in Galway, and his characterization is basically that he is, indeed, Cromwell's arm in Connacht, which is more characterization than you'd expect. The Cromwellian invasion was pretty fucked up. Coote was a real person who eventually died of smallpox in Dublin, but this version of him is better because Murdoc stabs him in Galway City, which is quite satisfying for the reader, after spending 200 pages reading about people being starved and tortured and hanged and imprisoned and sold to the sugar plantations in Barbados (something like 40% of the Irish population was killed or displaced during the Eleven Years' War, so there was quite an ugly variety of things that could happen to them).

Murdoc and Sebastian essentially represent two different and often conflicting ideals of native Irish manhood, with Murdoc being the paganistic, man-of-the-land brehon warrior sort and Sebastian embodying the importance of Catholic identity as a basis for Irish identity. Dominick spends much of his emotional and mental energy navigating between the two and their equally strong, if often opposing, convictions, wrestling with despair, self-doubt, self-interest, compassion, hatred, and all the other emotions that those of us whose sense of self is somehow damaged or underdeveloped have to deal with. (Most of his physical energy, obviously, goes into fighting, hiding, tracking, hunting, digging graves, and rescuing people).

This book was written in the mid-twentieth century and bears some of the stylistic flaws of genre fiction in the time before word processors, namely, clunky sentences that really could have used a few more rounds of line editing; relatively flat female characters with limited roles who could have used a few more rounds of beta-reading by a female beta reader; and an annoying affinity for using the word "rape" when discussing ravages of towns, cities, the land, and other things that are places rather than people.

As far as my limited research will allow, the historical aspects of this book seem pretty accurate, at least in terms of places and dates and people and things that happened in the war. Culturally, I dunno! One thing that I noticed that I am now really intrigued about is that this book still portrays a fairly sharp distinction between Gaelic Irish (Os and Macs) and the Anglo-Normal families as late as 1650, whereas I had thought they had pretty well assimilated by then ("more Irish than the Irish themselves and all that.) But it turns out that may have been exaggerated later for nationalism reasons (although as a Fitz I want to be like NO DEFINITELY THEY'RE IRISH!) (Note: Wikipedia calls the Fitzgeralds a "notable Hiberno-Norman family" and lists Hiberno-Normans as distinct from both Normans and Gaelic Irish) and it was really the Protestant suppression the beginning of which this book chronicles that led to the "Old English" becoming considered actually regular Irish people.

Um, anyway. If you like lots of history nerdery and you want some Game of Thrones-level violent fuckery but only 200 pages of it instead of 2 million, you could do worse than following Dominick on his starving-in-the-mountains adventures.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In a most timely boon from the library gods, Dark Triumph, the second book in Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin trilogy, became available just in time for a weekend bookended by four-hour bus rides between Boston and New York, where me and some of my lovely friendesses were going to check out some awesome Gothy New York things, like the “Death Becomes Her” Victorian mourning fashion exhibit at the Met, and a trendy foofy cocktail bar called Death & Co.

Dark Triumph is considerably darker than Grave Mercy, and Grave Mercy was already about assassins, betrayal, and threat of sexual violence. To this, Dark Triumph adds heaping helpings of child abuse, incest, infanticide, spousal murder… you know, basically everything.

The protagonist of this book is Sybella, a secondary character in the first book, who arrives at the convent in the middle of a full-fledged psychotic breakdown from the goings-on of her previous life. In this book, she’s been sent to infiltrate the family of the sadistic Count d’Albret, a man who already has six dead wives to his name and has repeatedly threatened—and in one case, attempted—to rape thirteen-year-old Duchess Anne if she doesn’t keep the marriage contract that was made on her behalf when she was very young (one of many such contracts). Sybella’s ability to infiltrate this family and spy for the convent is made easier, from the convent’s perspective, but harder, from Sybella’s, by the fact that Sybella is the daughter of Count d’Albret’s fourth wife. And Sybella’s family makes the Lannisters look like the Brady Bunch. Sybella spends a good deal of the book, particularly at the beginning, being near-suicidal, kept going only by the hope of getting permission to kill her supposed father (as an assassin of this particular convent, Sybella’s actual father is Death).

Things start to look up, for a pretty messed-up definition of looking up, when Sybella springs the injured Beast of Waroch from d’Albret’s jail. Beast is a big ugly berserker dude who is nevertheless super friendly and awesome when he is not in the grip of battle rage, and who is a staunch ally of the Duchess. Additionally, the Beast’s sister was d’Albret’s sixth wife, leading to many feelings and much tragic backstory for everybody. Their romance, though of necessity pretty angsty, especially on Sybella’s part, is pretty sweet, in a dark sort of way, with both of them coming to terms with their own darkness and tragic pasts and all that stuff and supporting each other, and generally being heartwarmingly messed up.

Despite all the deeply disturbing stuff, which is really quite disturbing indeed, Dark Triumph still manages to be fun in a way that a story about medieval teenage assassin nuns cannot help but be fun. It’s action-packed, vivid, twisty, fast-paced, sometimes witty, and full of rich characterization and richer intrigues. I highly recommend the bejesus out of it.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
One of the many, many book clubs I am (at this point, rather half-assedly) in is Gail Carriger’s online book club. I haven’t participated since reading Blood and Chocolate, a YA werewolf novel that, despite being about werewolves, brought me back to my adolescence in the worst way. But I’d already bought a copy of Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy, the first installment of the His Fair Assassin trilogy, in one of those Kindle Daily Deal things a while ago, so I figured I might as well read it. It did, after all, have a lot of things about it that seemed right up my alley, like teenage girl assassins and medieval Brittany.

Grave Mercy is the story of Ismae Rienne, a novice at the convent of St. Mortain, patron saint/old god of Death. Like everyone at the convent, Ismae is supposedly one of Mortain’s actual children, and therefore has a number of odd death-related gifts, including the ability to see the “marques” of Death on her targets.  She also has a couple of gifts that are less common among the convent’s occupants, such as immunity to poison.

Despite many misgivings by many parties on a number of subjects, Ismae is sent off to the court of the young Duchess Anne of Brittany, in the guise of the cousin-but-probably-mistress to Anne’s half-brother, Gavriel Duval. Her actual role is to spy, and to assassinate anyone who needs assassinating. But there are layers and layers of plots afoot, and Ismae develops suspicions that maybe the people she’s assigned to spy on might not be the people she really needs to be spying on. As the threats to Brittany’s independence build and the young but awesome Duchess is betrayed by various power-grubbing nobles, Ismae’s doubts grow and she has to set herself to some serious learning—about the plots surrounding her, about the nature of Mortain and her service to him, and about her pesky feelings for Duval.

Duval is pretty much not an asshole, even though they do the classic romantic comedy bit of getting off on the wrong foot and getting mad at each other a lot, so that’s pretty good for a romance. The romance subplot is at least actually tied in pretty closely with all the fun stuff, since the main plots are dependent on questions of people’s loyalties and principles, that sort of thing, so it doesn’t feel tacked on, even if it is pretty obvious right from the beginning.

There’s a lot of historical detail here, and fairly little magic—all the magic that we see is deeply religious in nature, having to do with Ismae’s service of her god and her relationship with him as his daughter. But much of it is historical-fiction sort of stuff, and pretty heavily researched, which is completely OK by me. I like all the snooping around and trying to untangle plots and remember everybody’s family history, and am also 100 percent OK with there only being a couple of major action scenes. This book also doesn’t dick around with how limited women’s roles were in the late middle ages/early Renaissance, especially when there’s nobody to put any sort of check on the most power-hungry men.

My biggest issue with the book is that there is one small plot hole that I made into a much bigger OH NO than I think most people would. At one point, Ismae makes plans to meet with her convent sister Sybella, who may have News about Betrayal and Shenanigans and all the general badness that’s going on. On her way to meet Sybella, Ismae is interrupted by having to have a scene with the Duchess and one of the villains. And then… there is no follow-up to her missing her meeting! Sybella does show back up, but there is no acknowledgement that they had a meeting and missed it, and Ismae doesn’t go to any effort to make contact with Sybella again or wonder what information Sybella was going to give her that she now doesn’t have or freaking anything, like she completely forgot she had ever been supposed to meet with Sybella at all. I kept waiting for this to come back up because I thought missing the meeting was going to be important, and it just… didn’t.

The second book in the series is from Sybella’s point of view, and I think I’d like to read it, since Sybella was one of the best characters despite having little screen time.

This is the sort of book that would make a really fun movie if it was done properly and had any sort of budget, but if it were adapted, would probably be done improperly and with many stupid budgeting decisions and would at best end up as bad trashy fun like the Queen of the Damned movie or something.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. This made a lot of people very angry and has widely been regarded as a bad move.”

No, wait. I’m mixing my quotes.

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.
It did not end well.
” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
” –Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The angel and the devil falling in love, however, did make a lot of people very angry, and there were times when they themselves did regard it as a bad move, particularly when a lot of people died.

This is the basic premise of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, the third installment of which, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, released in April. (There was a book tour where the author came to Boston, but I had elected to be in Paris at that time. I’m very bummed I missed the chance to meet her, but I regret nothing, because Paris. I’m sure she’d understand.)

So, on the one hand, this trilogy is a YA romance between a blue-haired teenage art student and a warrior angel from another world, or at least, that’s how one would describe it if one were trying to be as simplistic as possible in order to dismiss it in some clickbaity article about how Kids These Days are only reading fluff instead of srs bsns literature. In actuality, while the series is indeed a romance between Karou (the art student) and Akiva (the warrior angel), it’s also a sprawling epic about love and war, about hatred and hope, about genocide and terrorism and political mythmaking, about the duties of soldiers, about the dangers of partial knowledge and of hubris, about the power of friendship, about truth and betrayal and the ends of worlds. It’s about a lot of things, basically. It’s a romance not because it’s cute and fluffy but because it’s a story about the power of love to overcome everything, and I mean everything. It’s got a body count that makes Game of Thrones look like Goodnight Moon, not least because some of the characters can die multiple times, and it’s also got a lot of jokes about cake.

In this third installment, the story, already spanning two worlds, expands exponentially to encompass a multiverse of parallel universes—many of which are dead—including the home world of the seraphim tribes before they came to Eretz and began colonizing the chimaera. We learn more about the mysterious and powerful (and scary) Stelian seraphim and what it is that they do instead of fighting chimaera. We learn about the Beasts—the actual Beasts, not the chimaera, but the devouring monsters vast as worlds that swim in the darkness beyond the sky. We meet some awesome new characters, most notably Eliza Jones, a biology doctoral student who escaped from a family cult that claimed to be the descendants of the fallen angel Elazeal. Eliza is a thoroughly awesome character. Despite having a very tortured background (literally, because cults) and being a being of such immeasurable power and knowledge that the human mind cannot comprehend it (including her own, briefly, before it gets started out), she’s also very human—concerned with doing well and being taken seriously at work, spending a lot of time being annoyed at the douchey racist sexist white boy in her lab for being a douchey smug bigot, and she has a grumpy snarky sense of humor that endears her to Zuzana but is still a fundamentally nice person (unless you’re the douchey lab boy). She also seems to be starting something with Scarab, the young Stelian warrior queen, at the end of the book, so YAY for the multiverse being saved by lesbian WOC angels of unimaginable power! You don’t see that in a book every day, unfortunately. (I would read all the books about lesbian WOC angels saving the multiverse.)

Zuzana and Mik, in addition to remaining cute and funny, get to do some pretty awesome stuff that I cannot talk about because spoilers, although they are also traumatized by getting caught in their first battle. Zuzana, being Zuzana, is concerned that everyone knows about it when they do epic stuff.

Tying with Zuzana for my favorite cranky POV character is Liraz, ice queen killing machine, the most deadly of the bastard seraphim warrior regiment, the Misbegotten. Liraz’ personal motto is “Feelings are stupid,” which makes her the stiffest, most awkward dork in two worlds when she starts having them anyway.

Akiva gets progressively less boring (sorry, I am bored by male love interests on principle, he’s really a pretty decent one) as the series goes on, and in this book he really becomes interesting, spending most of his time fucking around with magic he doesn’t understand and trying to pull off brilliant but monumentally-unlikely-to-work feats of military strategy, such as creating an alliance between the remaining chimaera and the rebel Misbegotten, or trying to recruit the Second Legion, or trying to talk the bloodthirsty Emperor Jael out of his quest to acquire nuclear weapons. I like Magical Rebel Leader Akiva a lot, actually.

Karou also starts doing all the things, after spending much of Days of Blood and Starlight passively resurrecting people but sort of… being forced to snap out of it in the most traumatizing way possible. But in this book, she is again a fount of resourcefulness, awesome magic, and crafty outside-the-box thinking. Sneaky, sneaky Karou comes up with the plan that saves the Earth from falling for Jael’s plan and sends Jael back to Eretz sans weapons.

While Karou and the other awesome characters come up with many brilliant plans that work and save the day, they also have lots of plans that turn out to be terrible ideas, or that fall apart horribly and with great loss of life (or the threat of great loss of life, if they can’t stop it fast enough), because the worlds Laini Taylor has built here are bitterly violent, run by unmitigatedly terrible people, poisoned by centuries of warfare and bad blood even among the people who aren’t fundamentally bad, and governed by Murphy’s Law.

One very interesting choice that Laini Taylor makes in this book is that it ends before they save the multiverse. It actually mostly works, though—for starters, the book is already six hundred pages long, so it was probably time to end it. Second, the conflicts we’ve been following throughout the series—the ones with characters on both sides, when the good guys were fighting bad guys with names and motivations and personalities that we got to know—are wrapped up, and those are the kinds of story that is more exciting and visceral to read, like, actual action and dialogue scenes about then the sort of indescribably cosmic threat of Devouring Beasts with no names or personalities, so I wonder if trying to have a proper story climax about them would just be weird. Thirdly, due to the particular roles of prophecy, myth, and seraph genetic manipulation, while that last battle hasn’t happened yet, we know basically how it’s going to happen, so I guess there’s not a lot of tension there. I’d love to see a short story or novella about that fighting-the-monsters campaign someday, though—I want more crazy angel fights! And I already miss these characters! And we know that Laini Taylor can write a great novella because Night of Cake and Puppets was completely kick-ass.

In case you’ve missed the point here, I really love Laini Taylor and everyone should go read all of her books immediately.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
The thing for me about military sci-fi that is a large part of why I don’t read/watch a lot of it is that I feel like a lazy asshole sitting around consuming it when all the characters are busting their asses all the time. This was a big problem for me when I was watching Battlestar Galactica; I used to try and see how long I could hold certain karate stances during episodes or I’d just feel bad about myself. I ran into a similar problem when I began reading Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill on the bus, which is why I read most of it in two sessions on an exercise bike at the gym. Results: book is pretty good, also my legs hurt.

All You Need is Kill takes place in a future where alien robots filled with nanobots, called Mimics, are trying to xenoform the earth to a weird toxic wasteland, and are thus in a perpetual war with humans, who liked the earth the way it was. The best weapon the humans have are these big Iron-Man-suit kind of systems called Jackets. The book is told from the point of view of Keiji Kiriya, a fresh recruit to the Japanese wing of what has become essentially an international army. After dying horribly in his first battle, Keiji gets stuck in a time loop, reliving the 30 hours before his death over and over again. He has no idea why, and the only person who might know or be able to help him get out of it is an American Special Ops soldier named Rita Vrataski, colloquially known as the Full Metal Bitch.

This book has its “of course it is” moments but overall it’s a fun, fast-paced read. The English translation gives it a gruff, straightforward, military style. It’s short, and split into four long chapters that are further split into numbered scenes that keep track of the time loops. It’s got gritty grimdark war-is-hell kind of stuff all over the place, not in a way that I found particularly moving but enough that it didn’t seem to be taking war lightly. It’s got a very cinematic quality that’s definitely begging to be made into a graphic novel or a movie; I’m not sure if Edge of Tomorrow is actually that movie, since apparently they whitewashed the characters and moved it to Europe, which I’m guessing means they also wiped the role of Japanese technology in modern civilization.  Bad job, Hollywood.

I hope I will be able to formulate more and better thoughts on this before (and, most likely, during) the book club meeting for this on Thursday, but I didn’t want to put off writing a review until then even though it would probably have more to say.

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