Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: The Just City by Jo Walton

The Just City by Jo Walton
Published: Tor, 2015
Series: Book 1 of the Philosopher Kings
Awards Nominated: Prometheus Award

The Book:

Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future--all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome--and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo--stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does--has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.” ~WWEnd.com

I’ve been meaning to read The Just City, for quite a while, so I jumped on the chance to pick it up from Tor.com’s ebook club a few months back (http://ebookclub.tor.com/).  I have liked everything that I have read by Jo Walton, and the topic of this one piqued my interest. I enjoy reading about the process of building a society within a fictional universe.  This novel was very satisfying in that respect, and it left me eager to read The Philosopher Kings and Necessity.

My Thoughts:

All of us (who are honest) can agree that there are no perfect societies on Earth. I think every person acts, to some extent, to shift society toward their concept of the ideal arrangement.  This is a slow process, and muddled by the fact that people have very different ideas of how things should change.  That’s why, to me, the lure of building a new society from scratch is undeniable.  Athena’s group of mentors take Plato’s Republic as their model, and attempt to build it on an isolated island that will not endure in the future. While I don’t agree with many of the details of Plato’s Republic, I like the emphasis on creating a just society that allows each person to become their best self.  The Just City takes this idea and considers how it might work when implemented by and for actual people.  The City can’t be truly separate from the world, since the mentors are shaped by their own times and experiences, and the ten-year-olds are certainly not “blank slates”.  Even if it were somehow kept pure from the influence of other societies, people are messy, emotional, and confusing creatures.  It was fascinating to see how this planned society fared when taking human nature into account.

The novel covers many aspects of human experience through an engaging mix of viewpoint and minor characters.  Maia provides eyes into the group of mentors, people who are united in purpose but not in their prejudices.  Many of the men from older civilizations struggle with accepting women as equals, which has some frustratingly predictable consequences. Among the children, Simmea represents the kind of person best suited to the education the City offers.  She’s brilliant, driven, and eager to become her best self.  I also appreciated that she was unattractive, and that this did not harm her self-esteem or others’ estimation of her worth.  In her cohort is Apollo, who has a really personable, amusing narrative voice.  I enjoyed his outsider’s perspective on the society, and his exploration of the experience of being mortal.  The concept of the novel really depends on having characters that feel authentic, and I feel that it succeeds on this count.  

Central to Apollo’s arc is developing an understanding of volition and equal significance, and this is echoed in many places in the development of the City itself.  The mentors intend to create a just society, but they begin it with a denial of choice.  They buy children from slave markets, with the justification that they will have a better life.  This may be true, but it also leaves some children angry with being ripped from their world and taken to a society that is planned to have no future.  Not everyone wants their life to be part of an experiment.  The society attempts to regulate many things that most of us would consider personal, such as sexual and non-sexual relationships.  While their intentions may be honorable, the mentors are treating the children as subjects to be managed, not as people with equal significance.  I enjoyed seeing how this conflict between ideals and execution would influence the development of the City.  I think The Just City came to a natural conclusion, but there is still clearly story left to tell in this universe.

My Rating: 5 / 5

I am a fan of Jo Walton’s work, and The Just City is my favorite of her novels so far. The idea of building a society based on Plato’s Republic intrigued me, and the novel gave a fascinating look into how the experiment might play out when enacted by real people.  Apollo, Simmea and Maia each brought a valuable perspective on the planned society, and I especially enjoyed Apollo’s conversational narration.  One of the central ideas is the importance of choice and of considering others equally important to oneself.  It was interesting to see how this both drove and contradicted the efforts to build a more just society. The ending makes it clear that this phase of the story is complete, but that there is more to tell.  I am curious as to see where the citizens of the Just City will go from here!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Short Fiction: January 2017

It’s time to kick off my 2017 recommendations for short fiction!  My favorites for January span a variety of subgenres, from harder SF to barely fantasy.  There’s not much of a theme I can claim for this month, except that they were each entertaining in their own way. They're all also available to read online, at the links provided below.

A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, Novelette): This story takes an interesting look at 3D-printing biological material, with an eye to how it might intersect with politics and crime.  The main character runs a small business 3D-printing steaks for consumption, and one ‘customer’ decides to blackmail her into filling a high order in an impossibly short amount of time.  It’s a surprisingly funny story, and also one that touches on a variety of up-and-coming issues that society may face.

The Thing About Growing Up in Jokertown by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, Novelette): This is set in the Wild Cards universe, but I was able to enjoy it without having read the novels set in the universe.  It’s a sweet, simple story about a group of marginalized teenagers who live in NYC’s “Jokertown”.  One day, they decide there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to enjoy Central Park, just like all the “normal” New Yorkers. What follows is a pleasant story about a small-scale adventure.

Fable by Charles Yu (The New Yorker, Short Story): I would hesitate to actually call this one speculative fiction, since the fantasy elements are only used as an analogy to real life.  However, it is beautifully written and deeply emotional.  It concerns a man, who has a child that is developmentally disabled, talking for the first time to a therapist. He describes the story of his life, and how he has come to feel that it has lost meaning.  It’s kind of a tearjerker, but ends on a hopeful note.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Published: Orbit, 2016
Series: Book 2 of The Broken Earth

Beware some spoilers of book 1, The Fifth Season, below!

The Book:

“A world-wrecking Season is underway, and Essun’s search for her daughter has reached a dead end. She remains in the underground city of Castrima, a community that claims to accept orogenes as equals.  Castrima may also be the final home of her former mentor and lover, Alabaster, who is now dying. Even if there is no forgiveness between them, he needs her to perform a dangerous task that he no longer has the power to undertake.  

In the meantime, Essun’s orogene daughter Nassun travels with a father that struggles to reconcile his love for his daughter with his conviction that all orogenes should be killed on sight.  He is intent on finding a way to ‘cure’ his daughter, but their bond is already poisoned by the hatred he carries. She will find a new kind of guardian at her destination, as well as a new focus for her life and considerable talents.” ~Allie

I loved The Fifth Season, and I am excited to continue Essun’s story.  I would definitely recommend reading this series in order.  Also, to note, I don’t normally give all the books I review 4.5-5 stars.  I’m just in the middle of a stretch of reading really good books.

My Thoughts:

While much of the story of The Fifth Season takes place during a relatively stable period in the history of the Stillness, The Obelisk Gate starts and continues firmly in apocalyptic territory. The environment is changing, and there’s no guarantee that humanity will be able to endure until the world becomes stable again.  In this world, the Seasons are uncommon but not unexpected, so people fall back on harsh lore that they hope will help them survive.  The conditions stress the characters to their breaking points, and force them to center day-to-day survival as their goal.  The story mostly follows two viewpoint characters, Essun and her daughter Nassun, as they find shelter in two very different communes.  There are a number of parallels in their stories, and it is interesting to see the differences in how they each come to see the world.

The Obelisk Gate sometimes lacks the momentum of the first book in the series, but this allows for an interesting exploration of the richly complex characters.  This is the kind of story where no one is completely admirable, but their reasoning and actions feel emotionally authentic.  This can sometimes be uncomfortable, as their relationships generally lack the definite moments of closure or reconciliation that I guess I have come to expect in fiction. Of the main characters, I feel closest to Essun. While she makes some horrific decisions, I can understand and sympathize with the impulses behind them.  Underneath everything, right now I feel like she is a good person who is constantly forced to make impossible choices.  The situation with Nassun and her father Jija is simply heartbreaking.  No child should ever have to manipulate their own parent into caring for them, or to live in fear of violence from the one that should protect them.  That being said, I am worried about the path that Nassun is currently following, and the harm it is likely to cause to so many people.  There are many memorable moments between the characters, and I hope that the final book in the trilogy leaves them in a better state than they are right now.

The Obelisk Gate also expands considerably on the nature of the world and orogene.  Some questions from the first novel are beginning to be answered, and I feel like I have a better sense of what the endgame is going to involve.  I enjoyed learning more about the origins of the stone eaters and guardians, and to see both Essun and Nassun developing and refining their skills in orogeny.  I was surprised that orogeny is explicitly labeled as magic, probably because so much in the world feels very physical and explainable.  As one would hope after the second book in a trilogy (the darkest of the three acts), I can’t see right now how the story can ultimately have any kind of happy ending.  I’m anxious to see how things will turn out for Essun and the others, and thus impatient for the final novel, The Stone Sky, to come out this August!  

My Rating: 4.5 /5

The Obelisk Gate is a sequel that lives up to the impressive, award-winning first novel of the series, The Fifth Season. Now fully an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic story, the novel follows the roughly parallel stories of Essun and her missing daughter, Nassun. There was less action in this middle part of the trilogy, since the main characters stick with the communes that have accepted them as conditions worsened.  However, there was considerable development in terms of the characters and their understanding of the world they inhabit.  The main characters are a major draw of the story, as they are both deeply flawed and deeply human.  I am loving this series so far, and will certainly pick up The Stone Sky when it is available this August.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
Published: Saga Press, 2016
Series: Book 2 of the Dandelion Dynasty

The Book:

“Kuni Garu has conquered Dara, but now he must rule.  As Emperor Ragin, he finds that it is not easy to realize his vision of what a society should be. Politics is a tricky game that can make enemies out of allies, and his young Empire will soon enough be facing the “wall of storms”, the transfer of power to his selected heir.

There is a literal wall of storms around Dara as well, and an unexpected threat--an invasion force from another Empire--passes through it at a very delicate time.  Kuni, his family, his friends, and his growing children will face this threat with the abilities that they have to offer. Prince Timu offers his morality, Prince Phyro his strength, and Princess Thera her agile mind.” ~Allie  

I’d been looking forward to reading this novel since I finished the first of the series, and was excited to come across it at my local library!

My Thoughts:

When I was reading the first novel of the series, it took me a while to warm up to all the mortal characters and to get a sense of the pantheon of Dara.  This time, my prior knowledge of the world made it much easier to jump right into the story, and familiar characters served as an emotional bridge to the next generation. Some recurring characters changed in unexpected ways. For instance, the casual Kuni Garu accepted the need for formality and ceremony in establishing an enduring Empire, and his wife Jia really took her role as a politician to heart.  Of the new characters, my favorites by far were Zomi and Thera.  Zomi is a young disabled woman from a rural, poverty-stricken home, and her rise as a brilliant scholar begins with an apprenticeship to Luan Zya.  Princess Thera’s life is one of privilege and luxury, but also of dissatisfaction with the path she assumes is intended for her. Her intelligence and determination ensure her life will be anything but boring.  

There is so much going on in The Wall of Storms, and so many ideas (social, political, scientific, cultural) that could be discussed at length. Today, I’m going to restrict my comments to a few topics that fascinated me the most, nation-building and the advancement of science.  By the end of The Grace of Kings, I was pretty sure that Kuni Garu was the best and most just of available options for leading a new Empire.  Now, it’s clear that building a good Empire, for all its people, is a lot more complicated than just having a decent person at the top.  Kuni is stuck between the past and the future, with some of his key positions held by commoners and others held by traditional aristocrats.  His fragile power is held together by a combination of personal loyalties and the sense of a new status quo that he is attempting to establish.  In a similar way, his effort to develop a merit-based “national exam” suffers from the unconscious biases of traditional scholars, and it seems like everything he does to balance the playing field brings new problems.  It was interesting to read about the intersection of Kuni’s ideals and the realities of governing.

As for science, I absolutely adore stories featuring intelligent people working out fundamental physical principles in fictional societies.  I think that might be my favorite thing in fiction books, period, and it doesn’t seem to come up in all that many of them.  Kuni’s government is one that values research and innovation, and progress becomes crucial when they face a powerful invading force.  I loved watching the scientists of Dara slowly uncover electromagnetism, which they called “silkmotic” power.  There’s also some particularly entertaining biological investigation of unusual fantastical creatures, which one might call dragons.  In addition to the process of discovery, I enjoyed seeing how they would harness their knowledge for practical use.  Given the circumstances, most efforts were for scientific advances that could be used in the military defense of Dara.  Creative military strategy looks like it is going to be a constant in this trilogy, but I feel like The Wall of Storms really raised the bar in that area. I am both excited and desperately impatient to see what Liu has in store for the conclusion!
 
My Rating: 5/5
While I enjoyed The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms is the book that has won me over as a fan of the Dandelion Dynasty series.  The first book in the series was about winning the Empire, and this one is about governing and protecting it. Tradition and history can get in the way of trying to push a society towards progress, and uncomfortable compromises might sometimes be the cost of stability.  With political threats from within and invasion from without, there was plenty of tension and action. I also loved the parts of the book about scientific advancement, and seeing how new technology is implemented strategically in the battlefield.  There’s so much more I could say about how the novel portrays different approaches to politics, managing dissent and rebellion, and the way cultures grow and change.  In short, it was an amazing book, and I am eager to see how things will turn out in the final volume!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hugo 2017: Dramatic Presentations

This final post about the Hugo fiction categories is intended to review short and long dramatic presentations from 2016 that I think were particularly impressive.  There has been a ton of science fiction and fantasy television in recent years, and a decent number of films as well.  I can’t possibly watch everything, but here’s my favorites out of the films and shows that I have seen.

Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

For science fiction movies, I think my clear winner would be Arrival. It’s both an interesting original story about first contact with an alien species, and a deeply touching story about love and time.  There are also a few franchise films that, while they had some flaws, I thought were pretty good entertainment: Star Trek Beyond and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This category can also include seasons of television shows, and the one I think would particularly fit this bill for 2016 is the 80s-style sci-fi thriller Stranger Things. In true Netflix style, the season fit together nicely into a compulsively watchable story about a missing kid, a mysterious young girl, and a creepy government experiment.

I usually default to science fiction first in these categories, but there were some notable fantasy films as well.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written by J.K. Rowling, introduced us to the adorable Newt Scamander and the wizarding world of the United States.  Also, Moana was a touching adventure/coming-of-age story with truly amazing music.  On the television side, season one of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was a highly original show that works well when considered as a full season arc.

Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

In some ways, this is a more difficult category.  Each television show has so many episodes, and it is hard to narrow seasons down to the episodes that are the most dramatic and effective. These are a few of my favorites:

12 Monkeys, “Lullaby”: This was a relatively self-contained episode, which involved using time travel in a desperate attempt to destroy the origin of time travel.  It ends up as a kind of Groundhog-Day-like story about the day the inventor of time travel’s daughter died.

Orphan Black, “The Scandal of Altriusm”:  There were a number of episodes that were really good in this season, but this one stood out above the rest.  As part of a desperate plan to save themselves, Sarah and Cosima attempt to make a deal with the enemy.  This goes even more terribly than I expected.

The Expanse, “Leviathan Wakes”: This is another show that has a number of award-worthy episodes.  I chose the finale, which brings the story of season one to a climax.

The Magicians, “Thirty-Nine Graves”:  The Magicians is another new Syfy show which had a killer first season.  This episode stood out, because it marks a major shift in various storylines, including the reveal of what exactly Jane Chatwin was up to, Julia and Quentin’s reunion, and the journey to Fillory.

3%, “Button”: This episode is the finale of a Brazilian Netflix dystopian series.  It showed that the series has more story to tell outside the testing of the process, and brings all of the surviving young adults a better understanding of themselves, their society, and the philosophy of the offshore community.

Killjoys, “Johnny Be Good”: This was the standout episode of season two, for a show that is getting more and more interesting as it goes.  This episode involved a city penned in by government walls, and the horrifying resolution of a particular character’s arc.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hugo 2017: Short Fiction

I’ve dedicated a lot of time to reading short fiction in this past year, and have posted my favorites out of the stories I’ve read each month (though usually on a bit of a delay).  You can find my per-month lists just by selecting posts with the “short fiction” tag.  


Today, while considering my final Hugo nominations,  I have put together a list of my top favorites of each category. My weak point this year was novellas, of which I read very few.  I’m hoping to find a way to fit more of these in my reading for the future, but we’ll see how that works out. Whether you’re planning to nominate short fiction for the Hugo awards or not, I would highly recommend checking these stories out. I’ve provided a link for where each story can be purchased or read for free online.

Short Stories



Novelettes



Novellas

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Short Fiction: December 2016

This is my last post for my favorite short fiction from 2016. I’ll be starting up the 2017 posts very soon.  Both of my favorites from this month are available for free online, so I’ve linked them below for others who are interested!

Every Day is the Full Moon by Carlie St. George (Short Story, Lightspeed): This story takes place in a world where people commonly become some sort of supernatural creature as they grow up. That sounds like a lighthearted premise, but it's a surprisingly heavy story. I would say it is about learning what the power of love can do, and what it can’t do.

Straight Lines by Naru Sundar (Short Story, Mothership Zeta): This story focuses on the rehabilitation of a ship AI that has developed OCD.  I thought it was really neat that it focused on an AI “going berserk”, but not in a necessarily sinister way.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Hugo 2017: Best Novel Thoughts

This year, I’ve made a solid effort to read as much eligible work as possible for the Hugo nominations period. I read short fiction on a monthly basis, and you can see all the stories I most enjoyed by clicking “short fiction” in my word cloud.  Novels, I started reading feverishly at the beginning of 2017, guiding my reading by my own interests and by which novels seem to be recommended most commonly on best-of-2016 lists.  

I’m going to put up a few posts this month, to point out some work that I think deserves consideration in the fiction and dramatic presentation categories.  Today, I will talk about novels.  Out of the 2016 novels I have read, there are a number that I would consider award-worthy.  There are also certainly many award-worthy novels that I haven’t had time to read. The following is not a slate, but just a reminder of some excellent novels from 2016.

Favorite 2016 novels that I have read (but not yet reviewed here)

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin: Jemisin won the Hugo Award for Best Novel last year with the first book of this series, and the second is really just as amazing.  I think this is a strong contender for the award, and may be hurt only by the fact that it is the second in a series.

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu: This is also the second book in a series, following The Grace of Kings.  I liked the first novel, but the series seems to be getting even better as it goes along.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders: This one is a debut novel, and an excellent one.  The story follows the friendship between a witch and a scientist, as the world falls apart around them.

Good books I’m still reading now  

I’m currently reading Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit and Mishell Baker’s Borderline.  Both are entertaining so far, and Lee’s novel in particular is impressively weird.  So far, I would recommend these, but I haven’t quite finished them yet.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata

The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata
Published: Mythic Island Press (2013), Saga Press (2015)
Series: Book 1 of The Red
Awards Nominated: Nebula and Campbell Awards

The Book:

“There always needs to be a war going on somewhere--or at least that is the opinion of extremely wealthy defense contractors who manufacture them for profit.  The situation looks quite different on the ground, where Lieutenant James Shelley desperately attempts to keep himself and his team alive.

Shelley never intended to be a soldier, but one unlucky choice in anti-war activism led to him being forced into the role.  He chooses not to cope with his depression and guilt through heavy use of a piece of standardized gear that regulates his emotions.  However, it looks like that may not be all it does.  Shelley’s team has nicknamed him “King David”, because it sometimes seems like God is whispering into his mind to keep him from danger.  But if his hunches are not from God, then who are they really from?  They may be protecting him for now, but what is their true goal?” ~Allie

I’m not usually into military science fiction, but I decided to try The Red: First Light after I enjoyed reading a short story by Linda Nagata.  I really liked her writing style.

My Thoughts:

Though I’m not very well read in the military science fiction subgenre, The Red: First Light delivered what I would have expected.  The protagonist and most other characters are soldiers, and they use high tech weaponry and armor that is carefully described. A fair amount of the plot takes place in military training and various combat operations, which sometimes felt a bit like being in a co-op video game. However, I appreciated that the combat was generally not about heroics, and the characters didn’t seem to lose sight of the fact that the people on both sides of the engagement were human beings.  Nagata’s skill at portraying authentic-seeming characters made me feel more connected to Shelley and his comrades, and it also made the violence feel more immediate and stressful.  This is not the kind of novel where all of your favorite characters will make it to the final curtain call.

In addition to having a lot of action, the story covers some very interesting social and technological ideas.  The social and political side is very relevant for current affairs.  I think most people would agree that war for profit and governmental corruption are wrong, though no one seems to be able to do anything about either.  On the social side, we have a world moving toward perpetual connectivity and questions that arise about rights to privacy.  In this world, civilians have privacy rights, but as a soldier and a man convicted of a crime, Shelley does not.  He no longer even owns his experience of his own life, since 24/7 footage taken by his embedded computer system is provided to his superiors.  He might not feel the burden while at war, but it takes a toll when he has to consider who is watching him interact with his sort-of-ex-girlfriend or his civilian activist friend.  And, of course, he has no power over what others will choose to do with the recording of his life.  As we move into a future with more and more surveillance, we will have to consider how much of a right to privacy people can or should expect.  

On the technological side, the main points of interest for me are prosthetics and AIs.  Even today, prosthetics have advanced to the point where soldiers who have lost limbs can sometimes return to active duty. The advanced prosthetics in The Red: First Light are a prototype designed to enhance Shelley’s effectiveness in combat beyond what he could have done with his natural limbs.  All the same, the prosthetic limbs are certainly not a magic fix (or anything one would want to sacrifice limbs to acquire), and I was interested to see the details and difficulties of incorporating this kind of technology into one’s life. Ideas about the development of AI are kind of in the background, though they do drive much of the plot.  I don’t want to give this part of the story away, but it was a very original take on the origin of an artificial intelligence and its relationship with humanity.

My Rating:4/5

Altogether, The Red: First Light is an action-packed military SF story that raises a lot of questions about society and where we’re going next.  What can we do about a world perpetually at war and governments that are blatantly corrupt?  Under what conditions should a person lose their right to privacy? In addition, the novel’s ideas about enhanced military prosthetics and the possible development of artificial intelligence extrapolates from current technologies in an interesting direction. I am really curious to see how this will develop in the rest of the trilogy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Mercy by Jacqueline Carey
Published: Tor, 2008
Series: Book 6 of Kushiel’s Legacy

The Book:

“Imriel and Sidonie attempted to deny their love, but now they are determined to follow Elua’s edict to love as thou wilt. After the tragic death of Imriel’s wife, Dorelei, they have publicly acknowledged their romantic relationship.  Unfortunately, Imriel’s mother is the realm’s most famous traitor, and Sidonie is the heir to the throne.  Queen Ysandre is not willing to set aside old hatred and will only allow the lovers to marry if Imriel brings his estranged mother to justice.

Before this situation can be resolved, a delegation from Carthage throws the City of Elua into disarray.  Imriel and Sidonie’s love will be tested as never before, and they will both need all their wits and courage to protect the land they call home.” ~Allie

This is the sixth book of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, and the third book of Imriel’s trilogy.  I read this as a  part of a community read-along, and you can see the spoiler-filled discussion here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7. Other bloggers who participated in the read-along include Lynn's Book Blog, Dab of Darkness, Emma Wolf, and Over the Effing Rainbow. I am going to mention one spoiler in the second paragraph below, because it is very important to my reaction to the book.

My Thoughts:

Now that I have finished the first two trilogies of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, I see two major differences between the style of Phedre’s story and that of Imriel’s.  As I have commented before, Phedre’s trilogy was more of an epic fantasy, while Imriel’s is more of a romance.  There are certainly romantic relationships and sexual content involved in all of the novels,  but these elements take a more central role in Imriel’s trilogy.  Through all the new lands and adventures, the story of Imriel and Sidonie is fundamentally about two lovers overcoming a wide variety of external political and magical obstacles to their love.  The second difference involves the treatment of magic. The supernatural elements of Phedre’s story were largely of a mysterious and religious nature, whereas Imriel more frequently encounters straightforward sorcery and spellcasting.  These are value-neutral differences, since reader preferences vary, but the information might be useful for potential readers.  For my part, I was more partial to the style of Phedre’s trilogy, though I still enjoyed Imriel’s story.

(spoiler) In addition, I was somewhat frustrated by the central conflict.  While the political complications of Sidonie and Imriel’s relationship are considered, the story centers on an external magical obstacle--a mind control spell that affects everyone in the City of Elua. Their relationship is erased from everyone’s minds, and an alternative reality--where Sidonie loves someone else--is created.  This was an interesting way to examine what parts of these characters are fundamental to their nature, and what can be manipulated through modification of memory.  It also served to test the strength of the bond between Sidonie and Imriel against powerful magic.  On the other hand, it meant that readers essentially spend a large amount of the book with ‘alternate universe’ versions of all the characters.  Since returning to a particular set of characters is one of the things I love about this series, I found this unsatisfying.  The story certainly had tension, and I wanted Sidonie and Imriel to prevail, but I was also extremely impatient for everyone to get their minds back. (end spoiler)

On the other hand, there is still a lot to enjoy in Kushiel’s Mercy, and I enjoyed seeing Imriel’s story wind to a satisfying conclusion.  It is always fun to return to the familiar characters in Phedre and Imriel’s generations, and the novel did not disappoint in terms of introducing new fantasy versions of real lands and cultures.  Carthage is an obvious destination, but we also get to see more of Aragonia and some Mediterranean islands.  I was also delighted to see that Melisande was playing a role in the story again.  She was an impressive charismatic villain in Phedre’s trilogy, and I had missed her scheming in Imriel’s story.  I have enjoyed following all of the characters through so many adventures, alongside some really excellent bloggers who shared their perspectives and insights.  I’m sad that this is the final novel that will feature this place and time, but we will see more of this world in the final trilogy of Kushiel’s Legacy!

My Rating: 3/5

Kushiel’s Mercy draws the second trilogy of Kushiel’s Legacy to a close and concludes the story of Imriel de la Courcel.  It was not my favorite of the series, partially due to the increased focus on romance and the straightforward style of sorcery. All the same, I enjoyed revisiting Imriel, Sidonie, and other familiar characters, and seeing on what paths their lives are leading them.  It’s hard to say goodbye to such a wonderful cast, but I’m looking forward to reading more of Carey’s work in the future!