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.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish

A Case of Conscience by James Blish
Published: Ballantine Books (1958), Gollancz(2000)
Awards Won: Hugo Award

The Book:

Father Ruiz-Sanchez is a dedicated man--a priest who is also a scientist, and a scientist who is also a human being. He has found no insoluble conflicts in his beliefs or his ethics... until he is sent to Lithia. There he comes upon a race of aliens who are admirable in every way, except for their total reliance on cold reason; they are incapable of faith or belief.

Confronted with a profound scientific riddle and ethical quandary, Father Ruiz-Sanchez soon finds himself torn between the teachings of his faith, the teachings of his science, and the inner promptings of his humanity. There is only one solution: He must accept an ancient and unforgivable heresy--and risk the futures of both worlds...”

I mostly grabbed A Case of Conscience due to its Hugo win—I’m almost finished reading all the Hugo winners (just less than 10 to go)!  However, I was also interested in reading another science fiction first contact story involving religion.

My Thoughts:

A Case of Conscience is a novel that is cleanly split into two halves, one of which takes place on Lithia and the other mostly back on Earth.  It seems quite clear that the two halves were written separately, in terms of the tone and general focus of the story. In fact, the first half was published as a novella in 1953, and the second half was added when the story was extended to novel length.  The first half focuses on the human investigative team’s views on the planet of Lithia and its sentient inhabitants, while the second features the effects of the expedition to Lithia on an Earth.

While many of the ideas brought up in the course of the story were interesting, the characters seemed very flat and pretty unconvincing. In general, I think most of the characters existed in order to hold particular views, and to see how those views fared against circumstances and one another.  For instance, in the first half of the novel, the major conflicts are due to the different expedition members’ views on Lithia, and the Catholic Father Ruiz-Sanchez’s attempts to reconcile the reality of the Lithians with his religious ideology.  The story begins near the end of the expedition, and most of the information about the planet and its inhabitants is simply told to the reader, with very little plot to break up the information.  The story is dominated by the conversation between the scientists about what they had concluded about Lithia, and of how the planet should be treated by human civilization.  While I wasn’t really engaged by the characters, I enjoyed reading about their opposing views.

The second half of the novel did not really grab me.  The story jumped from the peaceful Lithia to a decadent Earth with social structures and problems shaped by the fear of nuclear war.  Reading about the details of this future Earth was sometimes entertaining (even though some details seemed unlikely), but the pacing was rather strange.  For instance, there is an excruciatingly long description of a party, which does not seem nearly as important as the time lavished on it might imply.  There is significantly more action than in the first half, involving the effects of a parting gift from the Lithians, potential societal breakdown, and Ruiz-Sanchez’s confrontation of his heresy.  However, given the little investment I had in the characters, this was less engaging than the conversation of the first half.  I appreciated the ambiguity of the conclusion, but I felt that it, as well as much of the plot, was a little too overdramatic. 

My Rating: 2.5/5

A Case of Conscience is not one of my favorite Hugo Award winners. Some of the ideas presented were interesting, such as the consideration of how a non-religious, seemingly perfect alien species might be understood in the context of a certain view of Christianity.  However, the characters were bland, and the pace of the story was pretty uneven.  The first half was almost entirely based on information and conversation, and, due to my lack of interest in the characters, the relatively action-packed second half often bored me.  This is a novel that has endured for many decades, but I think I would have found the story more effective in its original novella form.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Read-Along: Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, Part 3

It’s time for part three of the read-along of Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves!  Lynn of Lynn’s Books provided this week’s questions.  I fully expect the Sabetha issue to be a polarizing subject again this week, and I can’t wait to see the different opinions! 

As usual, there are spoilers ahead!

The election competition.  Sabetha isn’t wasting any time throwing pranks at Locke and Jean.  Mostly it seemed fairly harmless, or at least not overly serious, until they were kidnapped and put onto a ship and taken out to sea.  What did you make of Sabetha’s latest plan? And what did you think about the way she executed it?

I think that was the kindest, gentlest kidnapping I’ve ever heard described.  They were sentenced to a peaceful, pleasant voyage, with good food and good wine.  I can see how frustrating that would be, from Jean and Locke’s point of view, but still, it’s obvious she didn’t want to hurt them.  From a narrative point of view, it also gives Locke a chance to get himself back to fighting fit. 

As for how she executed it, Locke really does get a bit stupid around Sabetha (and Jean was not much better this time).  Looking at her actions, she wasn’t even trying to not be suspicious.  She invited them to the stronghold of the Black Iris. Ordinarily, Locke would have insisted on neutral ground.  She told Jean there were twenty armed men in the next room.  If Locke hadn’t been so thrown by seeing her again, he would have noticed that it was a bit odd for her to go straight from conversation to requesting he kiss her in a particular place. 

It seemed almost like she was giving them as many chances as she could to break her plan, because she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to go through with it.  But they fell for everything, questioned nothing, and she put them out to sea.

During the escape overboard and Jean’s rather subtle nose dive into the water - I was curious about the lights Locke saw deep in the water when he was performing his rescue - Locke thought they looked different once he was under the waves which I suppose they would but he also had the feeling that he was being watched?  Do you think this relates back to the Eldren or some other presence? 

This kind of puts me in the mind of a prettier version of the Dead Marshes (Tolkien), actually.  I wonder if it actually is related, and this is the location of some catastrophic Eldren sea battle.  I think this ties to the Eldren, their disappearance, and the afterlife, but perhaps not in a way that will never be explained.  I think it is safe to say, though, that going towards the lights would be a bad idea.

Given that Locke hadn’t seen Sabetha for five years how did you think their first meeting together went (well, it wasn’t strictly speaking their first meeting of course - were you surprised that Jean and Locke hadn’t figured out that the woman pickpocket was Sabetha?) and also what did you make of Jean and Sabetha’s reaction to each other?

I was actually surprised that they didn’t pick up that she was the pickpocket.  I mean, ‘G.B.’, guys, come on.  She was basically announcing herself.

When they officially met, Jean and Sabetha’s hug (as opposed to Locke and Sabetha’s hand greeting) made a lot of sense to me.  She and Jean were friends, so they didn’t have to worry about the implications a hug might impart. 

The conversation with Locke, though, was a little painful to read.  I don’t know yet if Sabetha has changed much in the intervening years, but Locke most certainly has, from his misadventures in the first two books.  He’s a much less carefree rogue these days, though he is still a rogue.  It seemed to me that Sabetha was trying to interact with Locke as if he were still the same person she left, so there was a mismatch in the conversational tone.  She has no idea what matters to him now, or what is really, emphatically not a suitable topic for light banter with him (such as Bug’s death). 

So, the gang have arrived in Espara and already the plans have gone wrong through no fault of their own!  Jail for a year plus lose a hand for slapping a noble?? What do you think of the justice system in Espara and how does this bode for the gang? 

I think this bodes pretty well awful for them.  The justice system seems to be essentially, “Whatever the rich, titled people say, goes.” I suppose that’s much the same everywhere, but it seems a little blatant here. Given that they’re conning one of those rich, titled people, they are going to have to watch their step.

The acting company are finally coming together and we’re watching the gang as they try to read, act and grab the best parts - are you all ‘happy face’ with the whole theatre scenes or, sad face!  Also, I can’t help feeling like this whole storyline is a step out of character for the gang.  Any ideas of how it will play out?

I don’t think it’s a step out of character in terms of the novels, since a lot of the books have been about Locke and company taking on new roles and identities.  The pirate thing was a much further step out of character for Locke and Jean (which is why it went so spectacularly badly!).  I can see that Jean is not really a natural actor, but I think that Locke and Sabetha, at least, should have some serious talent in that area. 

I am kind of betting Locke will decide to trick or convince Alondo to give him the role of Aurin (assuming the theatre doesn’t grind to a halt after the end of the last section).  If the play does go on, I think they may well restore Moncraine’s fortunes, and Chains’s confidence in them.

We are also being introduced to a number of new characters, particularly Moncraine and Boulidazi.  What are your first impressions of these two and the other new characters in the Company and any particular likes or dislikes so far?

No particular likes or dislikes so far.  Boulidazi really doesn’t seem so bad a guy, in some ways.  Moncraine seems like a guy who has let his pride and stubbornness ruin him, so hopefully the embarrassment of having these kids waltz in and set his affairs to order will help him get back on his feet.  We know from Boulidazi that he used to be really good, so maybe he’ll be able to climb his way back to the person he once was.

The rooftop scene and the apology.  How did it all go so wrong?  And how will Locke get out of this latest fix with Boulidazi?

Such a short, yet complicated question.  I will start with my ideas on the conversation between Locke and Sabetha.  It was going so well, and then it went so wrong!  I think this is the biggest indication we’ve seen so far that Lynch’s world is not as egalitarian as it might seem, the Spider and Nazca notwithstanding.  Based on Sabetha’s comments, this is a world where it is very commonplace for women to be trafficked for sexual purposes. And now to Locke’s misstep…

First off, one of the major obstacles to this romance in Sabetha’s mind was that she believed Locke saw her as an object of desire, not as a potential active partner in romance, with her own thoughts and feelings.  The whole series of Espara conversations slowly worked them around to a place where Locke realized he was objectifying her, and made an effort to really understand her perspective. She then began to seriously consider the idea of being with him romantically. 

And then he comes out with, “Oh, also, you know the thing that loads of people fetishize about you?  That is totally my fetish, and that’s why I like you!” (That is translated into Sabetha-perception, since I realize that he just meant to compliment her hair.) I think he’ll be able to explain himself eventually, but oh, Locke, what a way to accidentally tread into sensitive territory and exacerbate existing trust issues :(.  It doesn’t help that he’s a con artist, so her automatic reaction was to believe that everything else he’d said was just part of a con to get in her pants!

On the topic of Boulidazi, that was an incredibly cruel place to have a section break!  I can’t decide how much I think he heard, from those last few lines.  Did he just hear enough to realize that Lucaza had a thing for Verena?  Or did he hear enough to find out that Locke and Sabetha were not Camorri nobles at all?  I can’t wait to see how Locke will talk his way out of this one!