Monday, January 16, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey, End

Welcome to the final week of the read-along of Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey!  I anticipate community-reading the second two books of the trilogy later this year, and I’ll post more details on that when they are available.  For now, we say farewell to Naamah’s Kiss with discussion questions provided by Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog.  As always, watch out for spoilers below!      

1. Moirin has come a long way since we first met her.  How do you think her adventures have changed her if at all - does anything stand out in particular?

I think she’s more mature now than she was at the beginning of her journey, and I feel like she understands a lot more about people (her upbringing didn’t involve much help on that subject). Her night with Snow Tiger highlighted that, as she actually sees herself now as the comforter and mentor, rather than the other way around. She spent a lot of time sort of floundering in the City of Elua, and I feel like she has gotten her feet under her in Ch’in.

2. I was hit by how far Moirin’s magical abilities have come along, I don’t think I particularly expected it to be honest - why do you think that might be?

I think her interactions with various characters has prompted the blossoming of her abilities.  Master Lo Feng and his Way taught her mindfulness and more of an awareness of herself and her surroundings, and I’m sure the dragon had his part in awakening latent power in her.

I’m pretty happy she discovered the memory-eating power, because it would have been horrible if all those people had been killed for knowing about the use of gunpowder as a weapon.  On that note, though, I don’t think this is a long term solution.  It sounded like many people were aware of gunpowder and its non-martial uses, so it seems inevitable that others will once again turn it to war.  Even if they don’t, people in other parts of the world will, and then Ch’in will be at a disadvantage when they eventually encounter them.  The box is already open, and I don’t think they can close it.  

3. Looking back through the story it feels like most aspects had a bearing on the final outcome, do you think Moirin’s path is really set in stone or does she have the ability to change things?

This is one thing that has irritated me a bit about the story, which is that Moirin does not seem to have any power to change things.  She could always turn away from her destiny, allowing her diadh-anam to gutter and die.  If she follows her diadh-anam, though, she is following a pre-ordained path.  Even her love life is largely dictated by her diadh-anam, when it is not controlled by Naamah.  I guess her big question is going to be whether she would have chosen this path in life, if she had a choice.

4. Do you feel that Moirin’s actions will have an impact on the Maghuin Dhonn in any way?

I don’t see how they could.  Ch’in is pretty far away to even be a trade partner for Alba.  On the other hand, assuming she does eventually return home, she will bring with her teachings from wise people of a different culture.  That may have an impact on the Maghuin Dhonn society.

5. Were you surprised by the final chapters with Lo and Bao and the overall reaction of Bao?

I was surprised Lo Feng gave his life to resurrect Bao, but it makes sense in retrospect.  I admit that I wished Moirin could’ve fixed Bao’s staff before he had to block all those poison darts, but I guess hindsight is 20/20.  

I was also surprised by Bao’s resistance to being with Moirin.  I thought their decision had more or less already been made.  It was clear they liked each other, and they were both straightforward in their intention of pursuing a relationship after the dragon business was settled.  I guess I can see his point, that he would never know what course their relationship would have taken without supernatural meddling.

6. We know that Moirin is about to set off an another journey as this book ends.  Any predictions, hopes or fears for what is to come next?

Oh, please, let her not go to Darsanga. I hope she ends up going to Terra Nova.  I feel like that’s been hinted at, off and on, during this book. Whether or not she’ll be with Bao, I don’t know.  It would be really interesting if they ended up as close friends and partners, but Moirin’s great love was with someone else.

Other Things:

--I'm glad Snow Tiger was able to build some happier memories about physical intimacy.

--Why didn't they disarm Black Sleeve before taking him in the presence of the Imperial Family, as well as the most celebrated wise man and all of his apprentices?  They KNEW he threw poison darts out of his sleeves!

--If Snow Tiger and Ten Tigers Dai do fall in love... that doesn't seem like it would have a great societal impact.  Literally the only male guard who is allowed to avoid castration, and he gets in her bed.

--I get the feeling that Bao's encounter with his father (if he finds him) will not be as happy as Moirin's. Hopefully, Moirin will be there in time to comfort him.

--The finding charm came in handy! I wonder if that will be a recurring tool she uses in her future adventures.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey, Part 6

Welcome to week six of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey's Naamah's Kiss, the first book of Moirin's Trilogy and the seventh book of the Kushiel's Legacy series.  This week's questions cover chapters 61-74, and have been provided by me!  This read-along is nearing its end, but if you're interested in future read-alongs, you can keep an eye on our goodreads group.  Now, on to the questions and beware of spoilers below:

1) We've finally met Snow Tiger!  What do you make of her and her relationship with Moirin?  Does anything stand out in particular?

While I think it's good that Snow Tiger has someone to confide in, it's pretty rough how the dragon has forced them together.  It's a good thing they get along, at least when the dragon isn't causing problems. That must have been really horrible for Snow Tiger, when the dragon first woke up.  I don't think he really appreciates that there's no way to give back what he took from her. 

One thing that stuck out to me about Snow Tiger is that she is written as very small and dainty, and yet on par with soldiers for strength (even without the dragon, I believe).  Why couldn't she have just been strong and looked like it? I understand why d'Angelines are all beautiful, but why does everyone else have to be?

2) The dragon is a surprising new addition to the cast.  What do you think he'll do when he is free?  Will he really help in the civil war? 

There seemed to be this general assumption that the dragon would help the emperor quell the civil war, but I don't remember if he ever actually agreed to this.  He was imprisoned because Master Lo Feng stole his essence in the first place, so I'm not convinced he has any interest in taking a side in this conflict. He does have a weird fondness for Moirin, so maybe he would help just to protect her. 

3) What do you think of the Path of Dharma, as described by Master Lo Feng?  What path would you prefer to follow?

Out of the options given so far in the book, I think I'd go for Master Lo Feng's Way.  It seems like the least extreme, and is based mostly on mindfulness exercises.  I'm not particularly good at those, but I think I'd be worse at the other paths.

4) Moirin does not seem to mind Bao's jealousy.  What do you think of their possible future as a couple?

When Moirin was not wanting to marry Cillian, I thought maybe she was not into that sort of relationship.  Now that we've seen her with Bao, though, it seems like maybe Cillian was just not the right guy.  Right now, she seems to maybe want to have a traditional, exclusive relationship with Bao. On the other hand, she doesn't have a lot of willpower when it comes to desire, so I'm not sure she could handle being in a long-term exclusive relationship.  In that sense, I think they're both bound to hurt one another eventually.

5) Do you think they acted wisely against Lord Jiang's men at the temple?  Can you see any other decision they should have taken?

I feel like there must have been a better option besides "let the dragon kill everyone".  Maybe they could have kept a closer eye on the monks, so that no one would betray them.  Once the soldiers were already attacking, though, I guess there weren't really any other options left.

Other Things:

--Though I'm not convinced the dragon will join them, Master Lo could make gunpowder weapons.  He as much as said that he knew how, he just didn't think the technology should be used as a weapon.

--The walkway to the temple sounded terrifying.  I have done a cliffside hike just once in my life.  It was terrifying, but at least now I know what an endorphin rush feels like.  Just reading about Moirin stumbling on the path was a little stressful!

--It's a good thing Snow Tiger's dad backed her up instead of disowning her.  It's also a good thing she has a team helping her, because she's not much of a strategist (though it was nice of her to help those villagers).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Publish: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
Awards Nominated: Derleth & Campbell Memorial Awards
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book:

“Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.”

I’d never read anything by Emily St. John Mandel before, and picked this one up due to the attention it received in SFF awards (as well as a strong recommendation from George R.R. Martin).

My Thoughts:

I put off reading this novel for quite some time, because I was afraid it would be terribly depressing.  After all, it is about mass death, the collapse of civilization, and the survivors who live in the wreckage.  Though the material was extremely sad, I liked that the tone felt more contemplative and hopeful than I had expected. Rather than a story about an inevitable end, it was a story of death and rebirth.  The end of our civilization was something to be grieved and remembered, but it was not the end of everything.  It was important for the survivors to remember the past, but not to let it constrain how their world would develop in the future. Just after the flu pandemic, people could only struggle to meet their basic needs.  As time passed, those remaining began to gather into communities.  Twenty years later, the success of the Traveling Symphony shows that mere survival is no longer sufficient, and that people are beginning to once again long for art and music.  Though the new world is dangerous, and though the pre-flu world will never return, the existence of Kirsten’s group gives me the sense that there is still hope for the future.

The novel’s atmosphere is enhanced by the fictional unpublished “Dr. Eleven” comics created by Arthur Leander’s ex-wife. “Dr. Eleven” ties characters together in unexpected ways, and is a kind of nexus for connecting several different storylines.  The characters in the comic are forced to build a new life in a space station, though many of them still long for the now-forbidden Earth.  The descriptions of the comic, as well as the work that was put into its creation, were hauntingly beautiful.  I found myself wondering if someone might actually create the fictional work someday, because I would love to actually see the artwork.  In any case, I enjoyed reading about the comic, and I liked the way it reflected the emotion of the story.

The story itself jumps back and forth in time, with scenes before, during, and twenty years after the pandemic.  The most continuous storyline is the one involving Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony, with difficulties they encounter in the new world.  Other scenes involve the fate of a handful of characters, all loosely connected by the actor Arthur Leander and the “Dr. Eleven” comics.  There was not a whole lot of time to become invested in each character, and some of their stories seemed to just trail off.  I was less interested in the pre-pandemic sections, which mostly followed Leander’s celebrity love life.  In the post-pandemic sections, I thought Kirsten’s amnesia and impressive knife-throwing skills felt a little clich├ęd, but I did enjoy her as a heroine through which to observe the slow growth of a new civilization.  For me, rather than in plot and characters, the strength of the novel was in the poetic and atmospheric depiction of the death and rebirth of human civilization.

My Rating: 3.5 /5

Station Eleven is the story of a worldwide civilizational collapse, but it thankfully avoids being relentlessly depressing or nihilistic.  Instead, it is a quiet, thoughtful book showing the death of one world and the birth of another.  The handful of characters are all connected through the actor Arthur Leander and through his ex-wife’s haunting comic, “Dr. Eleven”.  Kirsten’s storyline twenty years after the pandemic has the most conventional plot, but it is interspersed with scenes from other characters that take place before and during the collapse.  I had a hard time getting emotionally invested in the characters, but I really enjoyed the writing and the emotional tone of the story.  Also, “Dr. Eleven” is fictional, but it looks like St. John Mandel may write a script for the comics.  It would be interesting to see if the pictures match what I imagined while reading Station Eleven!