Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Read-Along: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey, Weeks 3 and 4

Welcome to this long read-along post which will cover weeks three and four (delayed due to Christmas festivities).  Week three’s questions covered chapters 27-36, and questions were provided by Grace of Books Without Any Pictures.  Week four covered chapters 37-48, and questions were provided by me.  Since I’ve read both sections, the answers for both weeks will potentially have spoilers up through chapter 48.  Let’s head to the questions now!

Week 3:


1. What are your impressions of Queen Jehanne?

My perspective on her changed a lot through these sections.  Initially she seemed petty, self-centered and jealous, remarkably so for a Servant of Naamah.  I was not too thrilled with her hijacking Moirin’s appointment with Cereus House. It turned something that should have been fun and educational into something that was also emotionally confusing and stressful.

As we got to know her better through Moirin, though, I feel like at least part of my initial impression was a misunderstanding.  For instance, I had assumed she was jealous of Moirin, but actually she was concerned that Raphael was slowly killing her. Also, people had unkindly said that she would not become a mother due to concern for her perfect figure, but she was actually terrified of dying in childbirth.  She certainly has her flaws, but I like her much better now.

2. Moirin has found herself in the middle of a sticky love triangle. How do you think it will play out?

Well, I’ve read the next section now, but back then I had assumed Jehanne would keep Raphael, and a heartbroken Moirin would go with Master Lo Feng to Ch’in.  I would not have predicted how things actually ended up playing out.

3. Now that we finally get to meet Moirin's father, what do you think of him?
He seems just as great as everyone in the novel seemed to imply that he would be.  He is so full of love and kindness, and he was the calm center and confidante that Moirin needed after she got herself so tangled up with the court. I loved how he was able to brighten the day of everyone he met.  

4. The scene with the summoning of Valac seems to be a shift in tone from the rest of the series. Is the Circle in over its head? What do you think is happening here?

They’re referring to them as spirits, but I’m not really sure how they fit into the general theology of this fantasy world.  Given what Moirin sees and their habits of playing cruel tricks, I am thinking they are some kind of demon.  They don’t really seem to fit in with Terre d’Ange’s angels. I think the Circle is in over its head already, but they won’t realize it until it is too late.

5. What do you think of the descriptions so far of the Ch'in?

I like Master Lo Feng and Bao, and I hope we get to hear more of their lives.  I am hoping that when Moirin eventually goes to Ch’in, it will be an interesting country full of many different kinds of people.

Week 4:

1) The Circle of Shalomon still moves forward, despite the spirits' tricks and the drain on Moirin.  Do you think there is any deeper intent behind the gift Moirin receives, and the kindness of the spirits to her?  Do you have any thoughts on how the gift might be involved with her destiny?

I was wondering if they were being kinder to Moirin because they could tell she was summoning them through no ambition of her own.  It seemed like they were more interested in fooling people who wanted things desperately.  I’m wondering if their gift to her comes from a similar motivation, that it just tickled them to give her unasked something that the others were begging for.  I feel like it’s bound to play a role in the future, but I don’t have any guess on exactly how.

2) Moirin's gift puts her in a difficult position, where wanting to help people could eventually kill her. Do you think you would be able to refuse the healing and/or the summoning if you were in Moirin's place?

I think that I would not have gone so far along with the Circle’s summoning as Moirin did, but the healing is a more difficult question.  If it were for my father, or another close relative, I think I would give whatever it took.  For strangers, I don’t know what I would do.  I would feel very guilty about not using an ability that could save lives, but I wouldn’t want to pay my own for it, either.

3) Phanuel returns!  Do you have any new thoughts about him on his second visit?  Later, when he is ill, do you think he would have agreed for Moirin to take such a risk (including her bargain to Raphael) to heal him?

I’m answering this at the same time as last week’s question, so I don’t really have anything new.  I don’t think he would have agreed to Moirin’s risk and bargain.  He seems like the sort that would urge her to accept that it was his time to go.  I don’t think he’ll be angry with her about it, but he may be angry with Raphael.  I’m actually curious to see what Phanuel is like when he’s angry.

4) Were you surprised when Jehanne is finally the one to rescue Moirin from being bled dry?  Do you trust her motivations?  On the other side, what do you think about how Raphael and Thierry handled her being rescued from them?

I was really surprised.  I assumed her interest in Moirin was mostly jealousy, not concern for her well-being. For now, I trust her stated motivations.  I was really annoyed with how Raphael and Thierry reacted to the situation. Raphael was kind to her, but he took so much.  He probably would have eventually accidentally killed her in some summoning or healing, if things kept on the way they were.  It’s his fault she needed rescuing in the first place, so I feel he owes her and not the other way around. Thierry, at least, was just reacting initially out of hurt pride, and I appreciated that he reconciled with her relatively quickly.  He seems like he will be a good friend, especially now that all their intentions are out in the open.

5) Do you think Moirin is a good Queen's Companion?  What do you think of her influence on Jehanne, and has your perspective of Jehanne and the complicated love polygon changed?

I think she’s not quite the companion Amarante was, but she hasn’t been prepared for the role in the same way. She’s doing the best she can in the circumstances, and she seems to be helping Jehanne to become a better queen.  I hope the improvement is permanent!

I feel like I understand a little bit better now about the relationships between Daniel, Jehanne, Raphael, and Moirin.  They all (except Daniel) seem to have more issues with jealousy and possessiveness than d’Angelines in previous novels.  I find myself wondering how Jehanne and Daniel’s deal might change now that she is pregnant.  Once the legitimate pregnancy is  announced, it seems like there’s no reason for her to not see Raphael.

6) We see another Longest Night!  Did anything notable stick out to you this time?  What did you think of the court festivities with respect to the Night Court?  

Both celebrations seemed a little similar to me, though the Night Court one was clearly less inhibited.  In Phedre’s day, she said that the Night Court was in decline, so I wonder how this celebration would compare to the ones she described.  As for this Longest Night, it was very kind of King Daniel to consent to Jehanne joining the other adepts at the Night Court.  I think that scene in the twilight with Jehanne and Moirin was the most notable point.  I don’t blame Thierry for not wanting to be around for something like that!

Other Thoughts:

--I am curious about how one travels from Terre d’Ange to Ch’in in this era.  I expect we’ll see that soon, when Moirin does need to leave.

--I don’t like how much Moirin’s destiny feels like authorial guidance.  It feels a little artificial when she turns away from things she wants because her destiny told her to do something else.

--I feel like this next summoning is going to be a very bad idea.  I hope it doesn’t damage Moirin permanently.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Short Fiction: October 2016

I’m still running on about a two-month delay, but it’s time to present my favorite short fiction published in the month of October!  There were quite a few that I enjoyed from this month, and my favorites are all freely available to read online (links given below).  Jeremiah Tolbert shows up again this month, and N.K. Jemisin, whose novel The Fifth Season I recently reviewed.

The Three Lives of Sonata James by Lettie Prell (Novelette, Tor.com): This was an interesting story about different  forms of human consciousness. The main character, Sonata, lives in a future where people’s consciousnesses can be transferred to robotic bodies after death.  Since you can always get another robotic body, there is no reason to die.  However, Sonata has decided that her life will consist of only three iterations.  I enjoyed reading about the changes in her perception and experience of the world, and also reading this idea of how society might react to a growing immortal population.  

The Cavern of the Screaming Eyes by Jeremiah Tolbert (Novelette, Lightspeed): In this story, the world has become kind of an MMORPG, with portals to instances popping up all over the place.  People try to excel at these instances for treasure and fame, but many die or simply disappear.  The main character’s older brother vanished in one, and he finds himself drawn to the “D-space”.  I enjoyed this one as someone who has played MMOs in the past, but I also enjoyed how it managed to ground such a silly premise in realistic characters and human emotion.  I get the sense that this might be the first in an arc of stories, where the main character learns more about why D-space has appeared and what happened to his brother.

The Book of How to Live by Rose Lemberg (Novelette, Beneath Ceaseless Skies):  It’s pretty common to see a fantasy story with a small class of elites that possess some kind of magical power.  It is not so often I see one where the main character is not a part of this class.  Efronia is a “simple” who works to design machines that can perform tasks the upper classes use magic to accomplish. Unfortunately, it is the upper classes that could choose to give her access to knowledge and resources, and the lower that would benefit from her research.  This is a thoughtful story about both magical and racial prejudice, and the beginnings of change.  I would like to read about what happens next in this world.


The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin (Short Story, Tor.com):  Great cities eventually reach the point where they must be born and awaken to consciousness, or die in the process.  The city chooses a person, a midwife, to help them through this process.  What follows is kind of a love poem to NYC, as it is ushered into awareness by its chosen midwife.  As you might imagine, there’s a fair bit of bad language involved, but also really vivid imagery and emotion.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Read-Along: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey Part 2

Welcome to the second week of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Kiss.  This is first book of Moirin’s Trilogy, and the seventh (out of nine) of the overall Kushiel’s Legacy series.  Beware spoilers of Phedre’s and Imriel’s trilogies below, as well as through chapter 25 of Naamah’s Kiss.  This week’s discussion questions are provided by Susan of Dab of Darkness, and cover chapters 13-26.  We get back to Terre d’Ange this week, and see Moirin’s introduction to the familiar city!

1) How does one go about finding their destiny? Do you think Moirin is doing a good job of finding her's? How did you find your own destiny, or have you?

I was finishing Ken Liu’s The Wall of Storms today, and one of the characters made a comment about this--that maybe destiny was really just a series of random occurrences that we build a story about after the fact. I think there is a lot of truth in this. When I was a teenager, I used to joke that I believed in free will rather than predestination, because if I was wrong then I didn’t have a choice about what to believe.  Even now, I can’t say I believe any differently.  I am not seeking my destiny, but simply trying to live my life as best I can.  If I really have a destiny, then surely I will meet with it whether I search for it or not!  

That being said, I think there is a bit more of actual supernatural destiny in this series. On that point, I feel that Moirin is doing pretty well.  Looking for her father was a natural starting point, and we’ll see where she goes from there.  It seems like she’s about to meet someone from China, and I’m wondering if she’ll end up in the New World at some point in this trilogy.

2) Moirin is pretty uncomfortable within stone walls and cities in general. Have you ever found yourself in a similar position, whether in the forest or at sea or in a large city?

Actually, yes, so I can’t criticize her on this.  I really hate being surrounded by people, and being in a big city frays my nerves until I get horribly grumpy.  When I’m in a tight crowd, it just feels like they’re all breathing up the air and I have to get away so that I can breathe.  As for cities, I think I just don’t like being isolated from living things.  I prefer my cities to have lots of greenery, or to just actually be rural villages instead.  I think generally people tend to either strongly prefer small villages or big cities, and I’m a village person.

3) We continue to meet or hear about descendants of characters we met in the first 6 books. Who has caught your attention the most?

I was eager to hear what came of Sidonie and Imriel’s magic academy, so I was glad to see more details about that.  It was interesting that they chose to make their academy focus on studying magic rather than practicing it, but I can’t say I blame them for their decision on that point.  Also, I was delighted to hear of Ti-Phillipe’s legacy.  Given his personality, I bet a lot of the sailor boys who claim it really are his descendants.  

4) The Maghuin Dhonn. The Tsingani. Do you see parallels between the two or how they are treated?

Now that you mention it, I suppose so.  They both are minority cultures with magical powers that are treated poorly by the dominant culture. It will be interesting to see if the Tsingani play a role in Moirin’s story.

5) First impressions of the denizens of the City of Elua? Of Raphael de Mereliot?
Moirin is in way over her head right away, and she isn’t even fully aware of it.  Right now everyone seems to be bending over backwards to give her anything she wants and make her life happier.  I suspect (and hope) this will not continue indefinitely.

Raphael seems nice enough, and seems to be honest about his intentions with Moirin.  However, Moirin would be out of her depth socially at Imriel’s old goat-herding sanctuary, let alone court, and I get the impression she’s going to be hurt very badly.  

6) Morin continues her hunt for her D'Angeline heritage. What do you expect from Phanuel, her father?

I suspect she’ll find him a much more kindred spirit than anyone at court in the City of Elua.  He sounds pretty laid-back and well-meaning so far.  I don’t expect he’ll be able to offer her much in the way of help, though, unless she wants to enter Naamah’s service.  Given Moirin’s personality, that seems like it would be a good idea.

Other Things:

--I don’t blame Raphael for getting angry with Moirin.  That was really brutal of her to pry into his darkest and most painful memories so soon after meeting, even if she didn’t mean to.

--I hope we get to see more of the queen soon.  All we know so far is that she “has a temper” and is a servant of Naamah.

--On that note, it is hilarious that they think Phedre never stepped “above her station”.  She was an unwanted child of a prostitute who ended up with a title, estate, and the ear of the queen.  She also raised a member of the royal family (who eventually became a king) as her son. She is really not a good example of a servant of Naamah “knowing her place”.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Published: Orbit (2015)
Series: Book 1 of the Broken Earth
Awards Won: Hugo Award
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Locus Fantasy, World Fantasy and Red Tentacle Awards

The Book:

“This is the story of the Stillness, a land that is threatened constantly by seismic activity.  Orogenes have the power to control the quaking of the earth, and their lives and abilities are strictly controlled by the organization known as the Fulcrum.  Even with their abilities in use, everyone knows it is only a matter of time until the next cataclysm, or ‘fifth season’, rips through the fabric of their civilization.

Within the Stillness, this is the story of three women and of one.  Damaya is a frightened orogene child, whose parents have turned her over to the Fulcrum for training. Syenite is a young woman of the Fulcrum, full of rage at being treated as less than human but determined that nothing will break her.  Finally, Essun is a hidden orogene and mother, who comes home one day to find her husband has murdered their child.  Essun’s life is shattered, but soon hers is not the only one.  The day she discovers the body of her son, a massive seismic event kicks off the next fifth season--which may be the last.” ~Allie

Over the past few years, I have become a big fan of Jemisin’s work.  At this point, the only novel of hers that I have not read is The Obelisk Gate, which I plan to start tonight.  It seems like just about every book I read of hers becomes my new favorite out of her work.

Spoiler warning: I am going to talk about the structure of the book and the identity of the main characters below.

My Thoughts:

The Fifth Season alternates between three storylines that each follow a single heroine. Damaya is a young girl just discovering her orogenic powers and the place society has made for her kind. Syenite is a powerful young woman enslaved by the Fulcrum, unaware of how much is being hidden from her. Essun is a woman who lost everything on the day her husband realized that she and their children were orogenes. I didn’t immediately pick up on how these three storylines and heroines fit together, or even when each story was taking place. I first thought the intention was to show different slices of what life is like as an orogene in this world.  While the three stories do serve this purpose, it eventually becomes clear that each of these stories describes a separate period in the life of the same woman. Taking these three starting points emphasizes how different a person can be from one phase of their life to another, as well as how much our experiences affect who we become.  In the beginning, the three women seemed to have very distinct personalities from one another, but as events unfolded, I began to see the seeds of their future selves.  This three-pronged approach was an engaging way to explore the character of a fascinating heroine.

The stories of Damaya, Syenite and Essun all involve the legal and social treatment of orogenes in the current empire.  Orogenes (derogatively called “roggas”) are widely considered subhuman and dangerous, but also an important resource that must be controlled.  For this reason, they are collected while young into an organization called the Fulcrum, which trains them and indoctrinates them to servitude in all areas of their life.  An order of Guardians oversees the orogenes, keeping them in line by any means necessary. The system reminds me of the treatment of mages in the game Dragon Age, though I feel that The Fifth Season is more willing to follow the premise through to its darker implications. It’s undoubtedly true that orogenic abilities can be dangerous, but I think the story demonstrates that the oppression of orogenes can’t possibly be the best answer to the situation.  Through the heroine’s life, we see the explicit hatred and prejudice she faces, the more subtle jabs, and the quiet rage of living in a society that rejects her personhood.

In addition to a very interesting heroine and story of oppression, The Fifth Season takes place in a highly creative world that is terrifying and full of uncertainty about the future. This is a world that is so used to cataclysms that they have an entire class of lore dedicated to surviving them.  The hints that this lore has been altered over the years for political reasons only makes the world feel more natural.  I feel like there is a rich history to uncover here, and there are plenty of mysteries that I hope we will learn more about in the next two books of the trilogy.  I believe that the three storylines have linked up by the end of this novel, so it will be interesting to see what structure Jemisin will use in The Obelisk Gate. I’ve just acquired the second book, and I’m excited to see what might happen next.

My Rating: 5/5

The Fifth Season is my new favorite of N.K. Jemisin’s novels.  I loved reading about the world, and am looking forward to seeing some of the mysteries of its past revealed.  The heroine was compelling, and I enjoyed seeing the history that lay behind the decisions she made in difficult situations.  I liked the immediacy of reading about three segments of her life in parallel.  The depiction of the oppression of the orogenes was central to the story, and I hope that there is more hope for Essun and those like her in the future of this world.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Read-Along: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

Welcome to yet another Jacqueline Carey read-along, organized by Susan of Dab of Darkness and Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog! We’re starting up the final trilogy of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, and will be reading Naamah’s Kiss for the next few months.  If you’re interested in joining, you can post on our goodreads group!  For further information, here’s the blurb for Naamah’s Kiss:

“Once there were great magicians born to the Maghuin Dhonn, the folk of the Brown Bear, the oldest tribe in Alba. But generations ago, the greatest of them all broke a sacred oath sworn in the name of all his people. Now only small gifts remain to them. Through her lineage, Moirin possesses such gifts—the ability to summon the twilight and conceal herself, and the skill to coax plants to grow.

Moirin has a secret, too. From childhood onward, she senses the presence of unfamiliar gods in her life—the bright lady and the man with a seedling cupped in his palm. Raised in the wilderness by her reclusive mother, Moirin learns only when she comes of age how illustrious, if mixed, her heritage is. The great-granddaughter of Alais the Wise, child of the Maghuin Donn and a cousin of the Cruarch of Alba, Moirin learns her father was a D’Angeline priest dedicated to serving Naamah, goddess of desire.

After Moirin undergoes the rites of adulthood, she finds divine acceptance… on the condition that she fulfill an unknown destiny that lies somewhere beyond the ocean. Or perhaps oceans. Beyond Terre d’Ange, where she finds her father, in the far reaches of distant Ch’in, Moirin’s skills will be a true gift when facing the vengeful plans of an ambitious mage, a noble warrior-princess desperate to save her father’s throne, and the spirit of a celestial dragon.”

The schedule will be as follows:

Dec. 5th Week 1 – Chapters 1-12, Hosted Lynn’s Book Blog
Dec. 12th Week 2 – Chapters 13-26, Hosted by Dab of Darkness
Dec. 19th Week 3 – Chapters 27-36, Hosted by Books Without Any Pictures
Dec. 26th Week 4 – Chapters 37-48, Hosted by Tethyan Books
Jan. 2nd Week 5 – Chapters 49-60, Hosted by Dab of Darkness
Jan. 9th Week 6 – Chapters 61-74, Hosted by Over the Effing Rainbow
Jan 16th Week 7 – Chapters 75-End, Hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog

As indicated, this week we are discussing chapters 1-12, and questions are provided by Lynn’s Book Blog! Naamah’s Kiss starts several generations after the previous six books, and I am still trying to cope with the fact that there will be no Phedre and Joscelin.  They were really excellent characters, and I’m going to miss reading about them. Anyhow, on to the discussion:

Firstly, Carey has picked up the story a few generations down the line.  How do you think this will affect the story, if at all?

Well, there’s no Phedre and Joscelin.  I’m trying to approach this as a completely unrelated story in the same universe (which it is), but this still makes me sad.  Maybe one of them can appear to Moirin as vision from Cassiel or Kushiel?  I’m reaching here, but I really want them to be in this book.

In other areas, it looks like we have progressed to early 1500s, so there should be some changes to their society.  The New World has been discovered, and the blurb seems to say that intercontinental travel is now possible.  However, the world also seems more magical than before, since our main character is a magician. The series seemed to be moving further into overt, repeatable magic as we continued, so perhaps this should not be a surprise.

We have a new female lead.  What are your first impressions of Moirin?

She seems like a nice young woman, a person who has a good heart. In some ways, I don’t think her mother was entirely fair in her upbringing.  She taught her magic and woodlore, but completely neglected a lot of other areas.  As a result, she often seems to not really understand what’s happening around her. Given that her mother never talked to her about sex or social mores surrounding romantic relationships, never made any effort to teach her social skills, and resists giving her advice, it is not surprising that her first relationship was such a disaster.

I enjoyed the return to Alba, and once again meeting the Maghuin Dhonn - what did you make of the coming of age ritual?

This is more the style of magic I like in these books!  Did she go to a different world, or was it the effect of the mushroom tea?  However, since Moirin has magical powers, I’m guessing it was indeed another world.  I liked that I honestly wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  She could very well have been forced to leave Alba because the Maghuin Dhonn rejected her.  I’m glad that wasn’t the case, though, because she would have been devastated.   

The story already has the inclusion of magic and also visions of Gods - any predictions on what these visions and magic might bring to the story?

This seems to be shaping up to have even more magic than the end of Imriel’s trilogy, so I expect we will see other gods and other types of sorcery.  From the blurb, I expect Chinese dragons will be involved, or at least their spirits.  I really have no idea where this story is going to go right now, so I hesitate to make any more guesses!

Other Stuff:

--It was sad to see Clunderry again.  I’m glad Alais gave the estate a more hopeful legacy.  I almost expected Moirin to find Imriel’s little Elua corner.  Or did she, and I didn’t notice it?

--It seems like main characters really can’t just break up in these books.  Their partner has to die tragically.  I expect Moirin will be hesitant to fall in love again, after everything that happened with Cillian.

--I wonder if Moirin will lose her Alban magic when she leaves Alba.  She already has d’Angeline magic despite not being in Terre d’Ange, so I’m not sure how place-dependent her magic is.