Friday, December 27, 2013

Review: He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It by Marge Piercy
Published: Random House Publishing Group (1993)
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book:

“In the 21st century, the Earth is very nearly ruined.  People live within domes or wraps, and most wear protective clothing to brave the toxic wasteland that the world has become.  Most power resides with massive corporations, “multis,” who expect the indentured employees within their domes to shape their bodies, minds, and cultures to the company ideal. A small fraction of the Earth’s population are able to live in independent “free towns”, through selling their skills and products to multis, instead of themselves. The unlucky rest of humanity lives in the violent, poisonous “Glop”.

Shira Shipman has never embodied the physical or cultural ideal of her multi, and when custody of her young son is given to her ex-husband, she decides her future lies elsewhere.  She returns to her childhood home of Tikva, a Jewish free town, where she has a new job aiding in the development of an illegal cyborg protector, Yod.  As Yod struggles to understand his role in the world, he finds insight in a story of Prague’s Jewish ghetto in 1600, about a famous kabbalist who once created a golem protector.” ~Allie

Marge Piercy’s He, She and It is my final novel for WWEnd’s Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge.  Marge Piercy is a poet and a novelist, and her works range from science fiction to other genres.  I have read that her novels tend to focus on women’s lives, and He, She and It (also published as Body of Glass) is no exception.

My Thoughts:

He, She, and It was a science fiction novel with a strong character focus and an intriguing future setting.  The future world was very bleak and impersonal, except for the more vibrant free town of Tikva.  The free town seemed like an oasis of life in the wasteland of the Earth, with plants, small animals, and humans living freely.  It seemed like Tikva was also more thoroughly described, causing it to stand out vividly against the multis and the Glop.  There was a lot of interesting technology—virons, stimmies, the Net, other computing resources, human development, cyborgs, and more—but the tech was usually described in general, rather than technical, terms.  While most of the tech is still beyond reality these days, I thought it was neat that the story featured a universally available Net, considering it was published in the year that the WWW was declared public domain.

Within this future world, much of the story revolved around the life philosophies of different characters and their relationships with one another. There was quite a lot of romance, but I appreciated that the idealization of romantic love was not supported by the story. The novel began with Shira leaving her husband, whom she married largely because their relationship made sense on paper.  She was not over her childhood sweetheart Gadi, and her love life was soon further complicated by her involvement with the cyborg Yod.  From this point, there were some love polygons that sprang up and collapsed, but a lot of the romance focused on Shira trying to reclaim her passion from the rose-tinted memory of her first love.  I’m not usually much of a fan of romance, but I liked the relatively grounded approach the novel took to the subject.

In terms of non-romantic relationships, those between a parent and a child, or creator and creation, were very central to the story.  There were many examples of these kinds of relationships throughout the story, from close to distant and loving to resentful.  While Shira was influenced by various romances, she was also shaped by her desperate desire to reclaim her young son and her relationships with her mother and grandmother.  Another major topic of the story involved the ethicality of creating life to serve a set purpose, and the problems this could cause. This was shown in biological relationships, where a parent’s unmet expectations poisoned their relationship with their child.  It is also more thoroughly explored through the stories of the 17th century golem and the cyborg. They were both created to be physical protectors, and soon found themselves constrained by their creators and their assigned purpose.  I felt this was a very interesting perspective to take on these kinds of familiar stories of creation. 

While the book is very focused on the characters and their relationships, the story is also pretty exciting.  The ‘present-day’ story mirrors the tale of Rabbi Loew and his golem, and in each story the artificial man is created to protect a Jewish community at a time of great need. In both cases, the threat looming over the community seems certain to end in violence. There are other sources of conflict as well, such as Shira’s determination to recover her son through any means, and the schemes of Shira’s absent, high-profile activist mother.  The more action-filled scenes are well supported by the character building that occurs in the quieter parts of the novel, and I enjoyed both the faster and slower-paced parts of the story.

My Rating: 4/5

He, She and It is a very character-focused science fiction novel set in a wasted Earth that is dominated by multinational corporations.  Most of the novel focuses on relationships between the characters, including those of the romantic variety and parent-child relationships.  Similarly, through the story of the cyborg Yod, and the re-telling of the story of Rabbi Loew and the golem, there is an exploration of the fraught relationship between creator and creation.  The story captured me through its characters, and my investment in the characters made the action-filled scenes feel even more compelling.  This was my last novel for 2013’s Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, and I am glad that I was able to wrap up the year with such an excellent novel!  

Monday, December 23, 2013

News: Read-Along of Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings

For the first bit of 2014, I'm excited to be joining 9 other bloggers in hosting a read-along of Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings! The conclusion of the read-along will nearly coincide with the release of the next book in the Stormlight Archive series, Words of Radiance, which comes out on March 4th.

There's even going to be a giveaway of some copies of both books (see Dab of Darkness for upcoming details), thanks to the generosity of the publisher, Tor.

If you're interested in joining the read-along, just let me or any of the other bloggers on the schedule below know, and you'll be included in the weekly emails of discussion questions.

I've never read anything by Sanderson before, despite hearing his name quite often.  I've been meaning to read his conclusion to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (the rest of which I read years ago), but haven't managed to get around to it yet. I'm looking forward to enjoying the first book of this new series, which I have heard many good things about!

Here is the schedule:

Prelude to Chapter 6 (96 pages), Jan. 1 Dab of Darkness
Chapter 7 – Chapter 13 (91 pages), Jan. 8 Over the Effing Rainbow
Chapter 14 – Chapter 19 (106 pages), Jan. 15 Lynn’s Book Blog
Chapter 20 – Chapter 27 (96 pages), Jan. 22 Lunar Rainbows
Chapter 28 – Chapter 32 (93 pages), Jan. 29 Tethyan Books
Chapter 33 – Chapter 42 (102 pages), Feb. 5 There Were Books Involved
Chapter 43 – Chapter 50  (90 pages), Feb. 12 Coffee, Cookies, & Chili Peppers
Chapter 51 – Chapter 57 (109 pages), Feb. 19
Chapter 58 – Chapter 65 (91 pages), Feb. 26 Musings on Fantasia
Chapter 66 – END (98 pages), March 5 On Starships & Dragonwings

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Published: Lippincott (1959), Easton Press (1994), Gollancz(2013)
Awards Won: Hugo Award

The Book:

“The Flame Deluge has wrecked the world, and the following anti-knowledge cultural backlash has eliminated most of what remained of the previous civilization.  However, out in the desert, in the Monastery of the Blessed Leibowitz, monks are patiently spending their lives to preserve the knowledge of the earlier age, regardless of how little they understand it.

In a story spanning many years, A Canticle for Leibowitz follows the events surrounding the Albertian Order of Leibowitz—through the dark ages that follow nuclear war, through the re-awakening of scientific thought, and through the rest of the destructive cycle of human civilization.” ~Allie

A Canticle for Leibowitz is the only novel Walter M. Miller, Jr. published in his lifetime, though a sequel (Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman) was completed and published posthumously. 

My Thoughts:

Like a few of the early Hugo winners I’ve been reading lately, A Canticle for Leibowitz, was originally published as three shorter works and then reconstructed into a novel. In this case, the three stories were the stories of three separate eras of post-nuclear-disaster Earth: a dark age, a scientific renaissance, and a new nuclear age.  Each section is a complete story, but the sections are connected by their themes and common history.  I haven’t read the stories in their original short forms, but I have read that they were extensively reworked to make a stronger whole.  I feel that the final product is a really impressive work of long fiction, and that the three stories fit together well in service of a larger, more complex story.

Each of the three stories that comprised the novel took place in a different era and concerned a different cast of characters.  I think that the novel was pretty successful in relating the society of each era, and the cast of characters that reflected the values of that society. The monastery is one constant throughout the centuries, as is an apparently immortal Jewish character, Benjamin, a reference to a myth that might be offensive to some readers.  However, I enjoyed following the stories of Benjamin and the various casts, which included abbots, monks, scientists and others.  Many of the characters were engaging as individuals, and they were often also interesting in terms of the points the author was using their existence, thoughts, and actions to make.

One thing that really surprised me was how the story could run the gamut from very serious to quite funny, without feeling uneven in tone. The content seems quite depressing—it starts with a bleak post-apocalyptic future, and shows a humanity that is doomed to repeat the same mistakes.  There’s also quite a lot of death and tragedy within the stories of individual characters.  However, the darkness of the story is counterbalanced by an occasional lightness and humor. For instance, the first protagonist, a monk-to-be named Francis, was both endearing and comical in his over-earnestness and simple piety.  He considered an ancient shopping list a holy relic, and believed a “fallout” was a kind of demon that had once attacked humanity. I appreciated how these little touches of humor throughout the novel helped to keep the story from feeling too heavy or bleak.       

In addition to being entertaining, A Canticle for Leibowitz was also a complex book, full of many interesting ideas and hidden meanings to uncover. The novel is heavily Catholic, so I have probably missed some allusions or symbols, along with missing some of the meaning of the Latin phrases. However, I really enjoyed the complexity of the representation of religion in the story.  For instance, there was some interesting discussion of the relationship between science and religion, and consideration of the effect of prosperity and its lack on human attitudes.  In terms of the religious symbolism, the last section ended up a little too weird for my tastes, and I’m not sure I ultimately agree with some of the arguments of the novel. Altogether, I think this is a novel that rewards an attentive reader, and would probably benefit from being read more than once.

 My Rating: 4.5/5

A Canticle for Leibowitz follows the development of human civilization after a nuclear war, through a new cycle of growth and destruction.  The three sections of the novel relate three separate stories that are connected through the Monastery and themes of the novel.  Each story has a distinct set of characters that represent their respective eras.  I enjoyed the religious and philosophical ideas, though I may have missed some points due to my outsider’s view of Catholicism.  The seriousness of the story was also pleasantly counterbalanced by light touches of humor.  Overall, A Canticle for Leibowitz delivers a story that is both thoughtful and entertaining, and I can see why this one is considered a classic!      

Friday, December 13, 2013

Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

I Shall Wear Midnight  by Terry Pratchett
Published: HarperCollins, 2010
Series: Discworld, Book 4 of the Tiffany Aching Series
Awards Nominated: Locus YA Award

The Book:

It starts with whispers. Then someone picks up a stone. Finally, the fires begin. When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . . .

Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.

But someone-or something-is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root-before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.”

This is currently the final installment of the Tiffany Aching series, set in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.  I’ve read the four Tiffany Aching books as parts of different read-alongs this year, and the spoiler-filled discussions from I Shall Wear Midnight can be found here, here, and here.

My Thoughts:

I Shall Wear Midnight takes place when Tiffany is almost 16 years old, and it seems to me that there is more of a noticeable gap to Wintersmith than there is between the previous three novels of the series.  It seems clear that Tiffany is not a child anymore, and the issues she has to deal with this time are more complicated and morally difficult.  For instance, one of the early cases she has to handle involves child abuse and a potential lynching. Given the content, I think this novel is aimed towards an older audience than the previous novels, though I would still consider it young adult reading.

The villain also seems a little more serious this time around, perhaps because his style of evil is more connected to the non-supernatural world.  He is not dangerous because he doesn’t understand humanity, but because he represents the kind of irrational hatred that humans are capable of carrying.  His particular prejudice is against witches, and he spreads hatred and distrust of them wherever he goes.  It was interesting to see how Tiffany had to adjust to being mistrusted, and how she became much more aware of the possible negative interpretations of her actions. I thought the he was probably the most frightening of the villains Tiffany has faced so far, because he is an incarnation of an especially nasty part of human nature.

In the way she deals with the villain this time around, I found the general message around Tiffany to be somewhat surprising.  Instead of stressing the importance of teamwork (a common theme, I think), it was more about how important it is for Tiffany to handle the situation on her own and show that she has confidence in her own abilities.  That’s not to say she doesn’t cooperate with anyone, but it is always clear that she’s the one in charge.  As a young witch just starting her posting, it is important for her to prove that she’s capable of handling the responsibility and the pressure. I think this is a pretty good message for young adults.  Assertiveness and self-confidence can both be very important in life, especially when one is just starting out on a lifelong career.

Of course, I Shall Wear Midnight also has all of the things one would expect in a Pratchett novel: lots of subplots, great humor, and appearances by many different Discworld characters.  Tiffany ends up in Ankh-Morpork at one point during the novel, so some of the Night Watch characters and city witches show up as well.  There’s also some romance involved for a few of the characters, and I enjoyed how well that part of the story came together. The conclusion rushes by a bit quickly, but I appreciated how well everything ties together in the end.  If this is the final novel featuring Tiffany Aching, I think it ends the series on a good note.

My Rating: 4.5/5

In I Shall Wear Midnight Tiffany has grown into a young woman, and the story has matured with her.  It has all the usual charm of a Pratchett novel in terms of subplots, characters, and humor, but the story has grown a bit darker and more adult.  The villain this time, a representation of human prejudice and hatred, is probably the most unsettling that Tiffany has yet faced.  I really enjoyed watching Tiffany Aching mature through these past four books, and I Shall Wear Midnight rounds off the series very nicely.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
Published: Doubleday 1967/ Gollancz 1999
Awards Won: Hugo Award
Awards Nominated: Nebula Award

The Book:

“A group of humans with impressive technology have colonized an alien planet.  With the ability to reincarnate into new bodies, the original colonists live long lives and populate the world with multitudes of their children. 

However, rather than raise these citizens of the new world to their standard of living, many of the powerful want to maintain their own dominance.  In the guise of shepherding an unready population, they impede the development of technology among their subjects, and tightly control the means of reincarnation.  They model themselves after the Hindu pantheon, and manipulate the population through their enforcement of a system of ‘karma’.

A threat to their control comes from one of the first colonists, a man named Sam.  To many, he is a great religious leader and a legend—the Buddha of this new world—though others see him for a fraud.  For all of those who wish to bring down the Lords of Karma, though, he may be the only hope.” ~Allie

It’s time for some more Zelazny!  I seem to have a bit of a theme with religious science fiction going on, and it will be continued with A Canticle for Leibowitz.

 My Thoughts:

Lord of Light continues many trends I’ve seen in other Zelazny works, though I think this one might be my favorite. As in This Immortal, Zelazny deliberately mixes the feel of science fiction and fantasy in the novel.  On the side of science fiction, there is some justification for the technology and abilities of Sam and the others, and the general setup is of a colonized alien planet.  On the fantasy side, almost none of the technology is explicitly described, and many details of the world and characters’ past adventures are left vague.  The technology is essentially like magic, and the world the humans inhabit has a rich, mostly unexplored history.  The prose and dialogue are also very stylistic, in a kind of archaic, mythological way. 

The style of writing seems to fit well with the focus on Buddhism and Hinduism.  I am not an expert in either religion, but I don’t think that was a barrier to understanding the story.  There is quite a lot of information included, though, so I expect that I missed some allusions or references. Each chapter begins with and excerpt from Hindu or Buddhist literature, along with an excerpt from the legend Sam had built as the Buddha of a new world. There are descriptions of many gods and goddesses, and the native creatures of the planet, energy beings called “Rakasha”, reflect the Hindu Rakshasas. I don’t know how the story would appear to a follower of either faith, but I felt Zelazny treated the religions with respect.  It is made very clear within the story that the Hindu pantheon and the new Buddha are not actually true gods or religious figures, but simply humans using the doctrines to achieve their ends.  In that sense, the story was less about the faiths than it was about how religion can be used as a tool to affect human society for good or evil.        

Many of the numerous characters were a little one-note, but I think that was deliberate.  The members of the pantheon were honing their personalities down to a major characteristic, in order to better personify their chosen deity.  Things could get a little confusing sometimes, as most characters had gathered a number of names over the years, and they occasionally even switched to different bodies.  I enjoyed the discussion about how access to reincarnation technology would affect identity and relationships, but it ran into a little too much gender essentialism for my taste at some points. The main character, Sam, is a pretty standard Zelazny hero.  He’s an intelligent, flawed, immortal super-human (he can control electromagnetic fields).  He also has a sense of humor, is a pretty decent person, and is instrumental to the fate of his world. In the case of Lord of Light, this involves his struggle to defeat the established pantheon and bring technology to the people.

The story begins near the end, but then cuts back to tell the story from the beginning of Sam’s long struggle against the self-appointed gods.  While there is a lot of interesting theological trappings, and entertaining debates on freedom of technology and the effects of reincarnation, I felt like the story was an adventure at heart. There are dramatic fights, battles, betrayals, some romance, and ill-fated gambling with Rakasha. As in several other of Zelazny’s novels, the individual adventures sometimes seemed episodic, but I found them entertaining in themselves as well as in the context of the larger story.

My Rating: 4/5

Lord of Light is pretty well representative of what I think of as Zelazny’s usual kind of story, with a combination of aspects of science fiction and fantasy, an immortal, super-human, but likeable hero, and plenty of exciting adventures. The hero, Sam, is the irreverent founder of Buddhism, a faith that he chose to oppose the self-styled Hindu pantheon that controlled the populace through their monopoly on reincarnation technology.  I enjoyed the focus on Hinduism and Buddhism within the story, though story was less about the religions themselves than about their use by humans.  Overall, Lord of Light is my favorite Zelazny novel so far, though I should warn that it was a little confusing to get into at first!       

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip
Published: Ace Books, 2002
Awards Won: World Fantasy Award, Mythopoeic Award

The Book:

“Ombria is a place of both shadows and light, life and death, past and present.  Some doorways may lead you to a familiar tavern, while others may leave you among ghosts or taking tea with a dangerous sorceress.

When the Prince of Ombria dies, the small world of his court becomes a very dangerous place.  His cruel great-aunt Domina Pearl quickly moves to control the heir, an innocent little boy named Kyel.  She also throws the late Prince’s mistress, naïve Lydea, out into the streets to die. 

However, not everything is under Domina Pearl’s control.  Lydea survives the night, and remains determined to help the little boy who has become the new Prince.  The royal bastard Ducon, usually lost in his drawings, must now find a way to preserve Kyel’s life as well as his own. Also, treading fearlessly through their danger is Mag, a ‘waxling’ servant of the powerful sorceress who lives underground. If Kyel—and Ombria—have any hope, it is in their hands.”  ~Allie  

 This is my 11th novel for WWEnd’s Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge.  Patricia A. McKillip is a name I’ve heard often, but somehow never got around to reading. This was a pretty short novel, and I finished reading this it in two days, while on a train.

My Thoughts:

The world of Ombria in Shadow is rather dreamlike.  Many small details of the world were described beautifully, while larger concerns were often left quite vague.  There is magic in this world, but its powers and limits are generally not clearly defined. The transitional places in Ombria—doors, for example—don’t always lead into the places you would expect.  People might go through an old door and find themselves in Ombria’s history, surrounded by ghosts.  They might run into the Faey, a face-changing sorceress who sells magic.  Children’s stories also tell of a shadow city, which is somehow both connected to and separate from the Ombria in which the story is set.  All of this was sometimes a bit confusing, but it was easy to just relax and accept each new quirk of the world as it was presented.

I thought it was interesting that while the story was basically political, the main characters were not especially politically motivated.  Lydea, the discarded mistress, was kind of a mix of big sister and mother to the little heir, Kyel.  More than anything, she was distraught to think of what Domina Pearl might do to keep the child (and the kingdom, by extension) under her thumb.  Ducon also seemed more concerned about the welfare of his little cousin Kyel than he was about the state of Ombria.  His main passion, though, was drawing bits and pieces of Ombria with charcoal, and he was only pulled out of that and into the political scene by necessity.  

Mag was possibly the most interesting of the three main characters, as she was raised to believe herself to be the wax construct of a sorceress.  Her upbringing gave her a sense of detachment from the world, and I think her youth and inexperience gave her the fearlessness of someone who doesn’t really understand personal consequences.  As a result, she meddled in dangerous affairs on a whim, seemingly just to help make sure that the ‘winners’ were the people she liked.  These three characters were one of the strengths of the novel, for me, and I really enjoyed the different perspective they showed on a generally familiar kind of story.

In terms of the plot, the novel seemed to be both convoluted in its details and simple in the central story.  The main focus would have to be considered the struggle against the evil Domina Pearl, to stop her from destroying both Kyel and Ombria.  Domina Pearl is not an especially nuanced villain. In fact, I kept thinking of her as a more evil version of Yzma from Emperor’s New Groove.  However, there’s a lot of personal growth for the main characters—for Lydea, as she learns to define herself in her post-mistress life, for Mag, as she comes to understand who and what she is, and for Ducon, who longs to know the identity of his father.  A lot of questions remain unanswered in this short novel, while other parts of the story are wrapped up almost too neatly.  In the end, though, it was a very pleasant two days that I spent immersing myself in the world of Ombria.

My Rating: 4/5
Ombria in Shadow was a short, entertaining novel set in the confusingly magical place of Ombria.  The main plot seemed fairly standard, featuring a succession struggle centering around the evil, ancient Domina Pearl, after the death of the Prince.  I enjoyed that the three main characters—the late Prince’s mistress Lydea, the illegimate royal Ducon, and the ‘waxling’ Mag—were surprisingly un-invested in the political struggle, and cared more for the welfare of specific individuals.  The setting was magical and dreamlike, though many details about the world are left to the imagination.  Overall, it was a very pleasant novel, and I think I will definitely check out more of McKillip’s work in the future. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Read-Along: Scott Lynch's Republic of Thieves, Part 5

It's time for the final read-along post for Scott Lynch's Republic of Thieves!  I provided the questions this week, and I'll be adding links at the end of this post to everyone's answers.  I'm sad to see this come to an end, but at least there are more books to come in this series!

Beware spoilers through the end of Republic of Thieves in this post!

In Espara…

1. The Republic of Thieves:  It’s the first and final performance!  What did you think of the play?  Were you entertained, or eager to get on with the rest of the story?  Also, how do you feel about how the play fits in the novel, in terms of the story and the characters who play the parts?

I enjoyed the play.  It was fun to see how Calo and Galdo played off of one another, as well as Locke and Sabetha.  I was a little eager to find out how they would get out of their mess with Boulidazi, but I still enjoyed it.  In terms of our novel charaacters, I noticed that Locke was once again put in a fictional position of being expected to kill Sabetha.  I’m starting to wonder if this is foreshadowing for the next book.

2. The Other Performance:  Of course, the GB and company had another important performance to get through—the one that ensures none of them end up hanged!  What was your favorite part of this scheme?  Do you agree with their plan for dealing with Moncraine’s treachery?

The bathhouse bit was very undignified, but went surprisingly well.  I think I especially liked their way of getting through the performance, having Donker play Boulidazi on stage.  He wanted to die onstage, but at least he got to play a dead man?  I think they did the only thing they could about Moncraine, but I wonder if Chains will be angry.  Wasn’t Moncraine his old friend?

I also thought their lecture from Ezrintaim was pretty hilarious. She was so stern about pointing out Sabetha’s responsibility to a family that didn’t exist, and making sure she didn’t get pregnant by her fake, dead lover.  It was certainly a strange lecture.  

In Karthain…

3. The Election:  It seems Lovaris was indeed the final trick, and the election is over.  Are you satisfied with how things turned out? Do you wish that the election had focused more on the political problems of Karthain, or are you satisfied with the mudslinging and pranks that went on between Locke and Sabetha?

I somehow expected something more to happen before the end.  It’s not especially clear to me how they ended up nearly tied, given how far ahead Sabetha seemed most of the time (I guess that was an illusion).  Neither Locke nor Sabetha seemed overly concerned with the turnout of the election, so Lovaris’ defection didn’t seem to matter too terribly much to our principal characters.  Also, while the pranks were a lot of fun, it could have been nice to get more of a sense of the meaning of the election to the ungifted Karthani.  Is it just a game to them, too, or do they expect their concerns to be addressed by their government? 

4. The War: Do you have any speculation on what specific issues might have escalated the two Bondsmagi factions rivalry into this kind of violence?  What do you think the surviving Bondsmagi will do next, with all their gathered money and knowledge?

We know that there’s the split between the more conservative and the more aggressive Bondsmagi factions, but it seems to me that there must be something serious to prompt them to slaughter an entire faction.  Maybe the Falconer’s friends wanted to torch Camorr, like Therim Pel, after what happened to him there?  As for what’s next, it seemed to me from Patience’s words that this was all part of a long-term plan.  Maybe they’re trying to learn about what killed the Eldren, in order to eventually defeat it?  If so, then perhaps they need to not be such an obvious target during the time when they challenge this power.   

5. Patience: Given the final revelation that Patience does hate Locke for what he did to the Falconer, what do you make of her behavior towards Locke throughout the book?  Do you think her plan of vengeance is well suited to Locke?  What do you make of the Black Amaranth story now, as well as the prophecy she threw on top?

Given all this new information, I'm no longer convinced by the story of Lamor Acanthus.  Since she is a demonstrated liar, I don't think Locke should trust in anything she says.  She was adamant that she would never use the Falconer's true name against him, when she had already used it to cripple his mind.  Also, she's been lying about her feelings towards Locke throughout the entire election. I think that there may be a connection between Locke and Lamor Acanthus, but it is not necessarily anything like Patience is claiming. 

Concerning her vengeance, I'm having a hard time accepting that living in uncertainty is a worse punishment for Locke than slowly bleeding to death from that awful poison.  Patience's vengeance seems to be surprisingly petty: telling him potentially fake stories about his past life, meddling in his love affairs, and cheating him of money. 

However, I think the prophecy might be true.  It’s obscure enough that Patience might see no reason to lie about.  And then that makes me wonder what it means—will Locke and Sabetha take a throne together in the Marrows, have a child, and lose both?  I can’t come up with any theories on the key.  As for the silver rain, that makes me think a bit of dreamsteel.  Is she prophesying that the Falconer will eventually kill Locke?

6. The Epilogue: Speaking of vengeance, do you think the Falconer’s vengeance against his mother was merited or excessively cruel, given the circumstances?  On that note, how do you feel about the Falconer’s transformation and possible status as a continuing villain?

After learning what his mother had done to him, some kind of vengeance seems merited.  I think his particular method of vengeance, though, was too cruel. I’m not sure what to think about the Falconer yet.  Having an evil, maimed, vengeance-obsessed villain seems like kind of a cliché, but he may have a lot of interesting story ahead of him.

7. Wrapping up:  Thus ends the third book in the Gentleman Bastard sequence.  How do you think it compares with the first two?  In the end, do you prefer the Espara storyline or the Karthain storyline, or did you like them both equally?

I enjoyed The Republic of Thieves, but I think that The Lies of Locke Lamora might still be my favorite, with Red Seas Under Red Skies as a close second. The Republic of Thieves seems to be gearing up for some very dramatic storytelling in the next few novels, but that also means that some large parts of the story are not really resolved. Within this novel, my favorite bit was the Esparan storyline.  I loved seeing the Gentleman Bastards team in action!  Locke and Sabetha worked so well together, I wish they could stick together in the present day.

Speaking of Locke and Sabetha, this brings me to something else I wanted to bring up.  What caused Sabetha to leave in the end?  I’m betting that Patience either spun her some offensive lies or used her true name to compel her.  Yes, I know Patience says she didn’t use Sabetha’s true name, but she is also a known liar.  Making Locke believe Sabetha chose to leave him would maximize his pain in an extremely spiteful way, which sounds exactly like Patience. 

I can’t imagine Sabetha just running off because a Bondsmage showed her a picture of a redheaded woman, claiming without any particular evidence that it features Locke and his wife in a past life. Even if Sabetha believed her, I thought Locke and Sabetha had already gotten past this issue.  While Locke does have a thing for red hair, I thought they both accepted that he is truly in love with Sabetha herself.  Surely Sabetha doesn’t think that for someone to love you, they must not be physically attracted to anything about you in particular. I don’t see how Lamor Acanthus sharing Locke’s fondness for a certain hair color should affect anything between them at all.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
Published: Doubleday, 2006
Series: Discworld, 3rd Tiffany Aching Novel
Awards Won: Locus YA Award

The Book:

When the Spirit of Winter takes a fancy to Tiffany Aching, he wants her to stay in his gleaming, frozen world. Forever. It will take the young witch's skill and cunning, as well as help from the legendary Granny Weatherwax and the irrepressible Wee Free Men, to survive until Spring. Because if Tiffany doesn't make it to Spring...
...Spring won't come.”

Wintersmith continues the story of the young witch Tiffany Aching, who is now around 13 years old.  I read this as a part of a read-along, and my spoiler-filled posts can be found here, here and here for those interested.  While this novel does cover a complete story on its own, I think it would be best read after the first two books of the Tiffany Aching series (The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky).

My Thoughts:

Wintersmith follows Tiffany into the period of her life where she’s just starting to get an inkling about romance.  Thus, the beginnings of understanding romance are a large part of the central story of Wintersmith.  Not only is Tiffany trying to puzzle out her feelings for her close male friend, Roland, she also gets herself into romantic troubles of the supernatural variety.  After trespassing into a seasonal dance, Tiffany catches the eye of the Wintersmith, the elemental force of winter.  I thought it was pretty neat to see the different approaches Tiffany and the Wintersmith took to romance.  Tiffany is slowly coming to a natural understanding of how these things work, while the Wintersmith is trying his best to force himself to understand, even though he is a force of nature and not a human at all. As one might expect, that can’t go well on the Wintersmith’s side.

In addition to the central story of Tiffany and the Wintersmith, many characters from previous Tiffany Aching novels make an appearance, and there are a multitude of humorous and entertaining subplots.  One of the most memorable was the story of Annagramma, Tiffany’s overbearing witch friend.  It kind of continues the discussion of reputation and substance that was started in A Hat Full of Sky, while also including consideration of social responsibility.  Another interesting subplot focused on Roland, who was struggling to solve his own family problems, without relying on Tiffany for help. With other appearances by popular characters such as the Wee Free Men, Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and Death, as well as the addition of additional side characters, there’s plenty to fill in around the basic story of Tiffany and the Wintersmith. 

As usual, Pratchett’s writing balances light humor with darker or more poignant topics.  For instance, messing with the seasons is quite a serious problem, and we see that Summer, as well as Winter, can be deadly when not balanced properly.  At the same time, Tiffany’s meddling causes a lot of silly problems as well, such as the appearance of a cornucopia that can pop out endless live chickens, among other things.  The Wintersmith’s quest to become human was often pleasantly ridiculous, but he was capable of inflicting incredible damage on the world through his lack of understanding. I enjoy Pratchett’s sense of humor, and I especially enjoy how it offsets the more serious moments. Wintersmith is yet another addition to this YA series that is a pleasure to read.

My Rating: 4/5 

Wintersmith is a solid addition to the Tiffany Aching series.  Tiffany is starting to grow up at this point, and she’s just starting to think about romance.  While Tiffany’s muddling through her feelings about the Wintersmith (and her friend Roland), plenty of old characters show up to take part in many entertaining subplots.  While there are serious bits, the story has plenty of Pratchett’s trademark style of humor as well.  All in all, I’m a bit sad that I didn’t discover this series when I was Tiffany’s age, but I’m glad I can enjoy it now!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Read-Along: The Republic of Thieves, Part 4

In this second-to-last read-along post for Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves, there are a lot of major surprises!  This is not just for this book, but for the series as a whole, so I’m adding an extra spoiler warning here.  This week’s questions cover Chapters 8 through 10, and they were kindly provided by Andrea of Little Red Reviewer. 

Major spoilers of this book through Chapter 10, and of the entire series, lie ahead!

1. We finally know why Sabetha dies her hair, and that's so disturbing even the Thiefmaker under Shade's Hill was disgusted by it. Too dark for this world? Or just right?

That is considerably more horrific than I had assumed from what Sabetha said before.  Considering the kinds of things that happened in Camorr in Lies, though, I have to say I don’t think it is too dark for this world.

In a way it is a bit lucky they had that tense moment with Boulidazi.  It forced Sabetha to calm down and think a bit, which ended up allowing Locke and Sabetha a chance to address the red hair argument almost immediately.  I’m glad that misunderstanding didn’t drag for days!

2. The "Asino" brothers are drunken idiots, but they're not blind. What did you think of the little rendezvous they helped arrange for Sabetha and Locke?

That was actually really nice!   They may not understand much of the situation beyond “Locke and Sabetha want to hook up, but can’t find a time or place”, but it was a very friendly gesture.  Locke and Sabetha were also pretty adorable.  Sabetha made a good point—she expects to do it more than once, and they can get it right through practice.  Or, as Jenora said, first there’s the enthusiasm, and artfulness comes later. 

Also, was anyone else reminded a bit of Moulin Rouge by the love triangle between Boulidazi, Sabetha, and Locke?  The conclusion of the triangle was definitely quite a bit different, though.

3. Locke managed to get everyone out of the Boulidazi mess we discussed last week . . . what do you think of this latest  Boulidazi complication?

I did not expect that at all!  I was pretty disgusted with Moncraine’s rant that she should have just “tried to enjoy it”, when Boulidazi assaulted her. I think Jenora did the right thing.  Now, it’s up to the rest of them to hide the corpse in plain sight and let the show go on! 

And back to Karthain...

4.Time is flying, and the election is getting closer. Desperation calls for cheap tricks. I think my favorite so far is Sabetha's special roof guards. What's your favorite election dirty trick so far?

I have to admit, the little old lady roof guards were fantastic. I also quite liked the back-and-forth with the snakes.  I couldn’t help but think that was a bit dangerous on Locke’s side, though.  Even non-venomous snakes can bite when agitated, and they were all poured on his head in a confined space. They might not have venom, but those little fangs must still be able to do some damage.    

5.There's a mole in the Deep Roots. Was that person's identity a surprise to you? And how did you like Locke's method of identifying the person?

I highly doubt this was a surprise to any of us readers, especially since we’ve seen Nikoros getting suborned.  This is exactly why I thought Locke and Jean ordering Nikoros to just break his addiction was a bad idea.  I’m guessing either they’ve never dealt with an addict before, or they just assumed the Bondsmagis’ adjustments would force Nikoros to follow orders.  They really should have just worked with him on rationing and acquiring a secure stash.  That’s not the most moral plan, but I think it would have been less likely to result in treachery.

As for the strategy, it’s basically the same one Tyrion Lannister used at one point in the Game of Thrones tv show.  It’s a good, solid strategy for finding a mole, but it does require that all of your most trusted allies don’t trust one another.

6.What's so important about this Lovaris fellow? The election is right around the corner, so why introduce someone new so late in the game? 

He made so little impression on me that the name doesn’t really ring a bell.  He was… the guy they wanted to bribe to switch sides?  I’m not really very interested in politicians.  I’m sure he’ll have some important part to play, but I just don’t really care about him at all. It does seem a bit late in the book to be introducing new characters.

7. It's so nice that Locke and Sabetha can finally have some nice, normal dinner dates. He even cooks her dinner! But that sneaky Patience, always interrupting everything! Finally, she promises some answers. that's nice. what, Locke is WHO? Locke is a WHAT? How much of it do you believe?

I don’t really know how much to believe, but in some ways, I’m not really sure it matters how much is true.  Also, the whole story about Lamor, his wife, and how he tried to get her back reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist. Lamor was a fair bit more selfish, though, and inside an orphan kid is a much less ethical place to stick a soul than a suit of armor.

In terms of identity, I can’t really see Locke and Lamor as the same person.  It seems, from Sabetha’s description, that Lamor’s soul might have been somehow fused with the orphan kid’s, resulting in a new composite type of soul.  Even if that is not the case, Locke is a different person, with different memories, different desires, and even different skills.  Maybe they both fancy redheads, but does that really matter? At the end of the day, I think we’ve established that Locke loves Sabetha for much more than her hair.  I suppose if we learned that Sabetha was actually the reanimated wife of that Lamor fellow, then that might be a big deal.

However, I can see how it matters quite a lot to Locke’s circumstances.  Most importantly, the Bondsmagi are never, ever going to leave him alone.  He’s going to have to spend the rest of his life tricking them, if he can’t get something sorted now!  Maybe he can fake his own death?  He has one benefit from this situation, though.  Locke Lamora’s red name can’t be taken from him, because he doesn’t even remember it.  Therefore, the Bondsmagi will never be able to control him.

And on a final note, why on Earth did Patience have this wacky idea that she was compelled to interrupt Locke and Sabetha’s date to reveal all this information?  How does this have anything to do with their romance?  She didn’t swoop into Espara to warn them before they first fell in love, so I don’t see how she has any moral compulsion to tell them at exactly that moment, so many years after their romance began. (Also, I know, Patience didn't know who Locke was back then, so she couldn't have done or said anything.  However, I still think that the need to tell them about this is not exactly urgent.)