Monday, June 29, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart, Part 8

Welcome to part 8 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  Our host this week is Lynn from Lynn's Books, and her questions cover chapters 64-73.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 73 in the questions and answers below!  Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section!

1.We finally go sailing and everything seems to be going so well that we were lulled temporarily into a false sense of security!  Sailors are a superstitious bunch, throwing coins to the Lord of the Deep, for example.  What did you make of the Master of the Straits?  Any similarity to other myths or legends?

I wasn't really sure what he was exactly, up until now.  I think this is the first unequivocal fantasy  creature we've met in the series.  Luckily he likes singing!  He reminded me a bit of Poseidon.

2. Hyacinthe plays a much larger role in this installment and has come into his own, plus given a new title - ‘Waking Dreamer’.  His travels so far have been very bitter sweet and you really do feel for him.  Bearing that in mind what did you make of the strange dream that Breidaia had where she saw Hyachinthe on an island - this was skimmed over a little but did it give you pause for thought.  Do you have any ideas of what’s in store for our Waking Dreamer?

I thought it was really nice that Hyacinthe has a name for what he is, which doesn’t involved him being an abomination.  It really makes you think the gender-restriction on the dromonde has no real reason behind it than tradition, if men commonly see the future in the UK.  I don’t know about the island... maybe he stays on the British Isles when the others return?

3. You have to hand it to Ysandre for choosing Phedre as Ambassador.  It seems her strange talents come in very useful indeed.  What did you make of her tactics and powers of persuasion? 

I think it was mostly luck, because Ysandre could not have guessed what would have happened.  I mean,  I thought all Ysandre knew was that the Cruithne valued virginity in brides.  Sending a courtesan as a diplomat could have backfired pretty badly.  I think it was more just that she needed someone she could trust, and Phedre was the only one who spoke Cruithne.  I’m glad her unconventional tactics worked!

4. We finally meet Drustan he at first seems like an unlikely match for Ysandre and yet they both seem to have a shared vision.  Can they make it work do you think?  They have so many differences even if they do succeed in battle?

I think it is a teenage infatuation.  They barely know each other, after all.  In the end, though, I think the plan is that they’ll each rule their separate kingdoms and come to visit one another every once in a while.  I think that even if they don’t end up in love, they can probably make a strategic partnership/friendship like that work.

5. Can we discuss the Dalriada and the Cruithne - do they put you in mind of any particular races?  What do you make of them?

I think that Carey didn’t change the words much here, I looked up Dalriada and Cruithne and found that they were actually ethnic groups. Their time is, I think, a little earlier than Kushiel’s Dart, but it seems like they’re the inspiration at least.

6. I’m puzzled about Joscelin - he’s always so severe on himself, particularly after the battle and Moiread’s death.  I wonder why he blames himself so much - and I also wonder how he’s coping with watching Phedre’s actions - in particular her closeness to Hyacinthe.

I think mostly it’s the usual young self-importance, where the hero feels deep down like his decisions and actions have weight, while other peoples’ don’t.  Thus, in his mind Moiread failed to be protected by him.  In other peoples’ minds, she fought in a war for her family and was killed.  It was good that Drustan called him out on that one, and hopefully it will help him in the future as well.  As for Hyacinthe—I think he knows he has no claim on Phedre, and that she is going to sleep around (she’s trained for it!).  All the same, it seems clear he loves her. It’s a difficult position for him, and I think like his feelings are going to come out into the open soon.

7. Finally, we’re working ourselves up for the grand finale - do you have any predictions as to how this will all pan out?

I think (or hope!) Ysandre and her team will win.  I hope everyone we care about makes it through, and that Hyacinthe is able to find a new family that doesn’t think he is an abomination.  I hope Melisande and d’Aiglemort are executed for treason, and the Skaldi are defeated.  We’ll see!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, Part 7

Welcome to part 7 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  Our host this week is once again Susan of Dab of Darkness, and her questions cover chapters 55-63.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 63 in the questions and answers below!  Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section! This week’s section was a general politics overload!  I think I understand the situation in Terre d’Ange a bit better now, but it was kind of overwhelming.

1) What do you think of the overall connection between the Casseline Brotherhood and the Yeshuites? Are you happy with where the shaggy pony ended up?

I honestly don’t remember the connection between the Yeshuites and the Casseline Brotherhood. I think they’re pretty different, in terms of religious belief, aren’t they? There is the connection of Elua to Christ, but I think that the Yeshuites aren't particularly into Elua and his companions?

From this section, I was mostly struck by the similarities between the Tsingano (Romani people) and Yeshuites (Jewish people) as non-assimilating cultural groups that the wider Terre d’Ange culture is prejudiced against.  That hasn’t really changed all that much for real-world Terre d’Ange to present day.  Actually, a common French word for the Romani people is ‘Tsiganes’, which I suspect is the origin of the word ‘Tsingano’.  I am not sure whether that term is derogatory, though, so I’d recommend not using it—I just wanted to bring it up for the link to the fantasy-version word.

I think the shaggy pony will have a happy life with the family that helped Joscelin and Phèdre.  He was a loyal animal and deserves some happiness!  They seem to be good folk.

2) Phèdre & Hyacinthe have a happy reunion. What do you make of Joscelin's reaction? Do you miss Hyacinthe's mother?

I think Joscelin’s reaction is plain old jealousy, for the most part.  Of course, he has no claim on Phèdre, and Hyacinthe is a friend, so he can’t really express it.  It’s been the two of them against the world for so long, though, it must sting to see her taking comfort and help from someone he doesn’t know or like all that well.  

It was really sad to see how changed Terre d’Ange was due to the fever, and that includes the loss of Hyacinthe’s mother.  Does anyone have an idea what the sickness was, based on the symptoms?  If it’s a real sickness, I haven’t figured it out yet.

3) Yet another happy reunion occurs with Thelesis de Mornay, the King's Poet, who gets them in to see the Dauphine, Ysandre.  Do you think there was another way to seek her audience? Such an intense meeting! What stood out the most for you?

There may have been another way, but I think that was the safest way.  Phèdre and Joscelin have already been intercepted by Melisande once while trying to get to Ysandre, so I don’t think they would want to take any chances.  I think Ysandre believed them from the beginning.  I think she was just trying very hard not to.  Hearing that her kingdom was facing foreign invasion and a massive treasonous conspiracy while her father lay dying must have been a lot to take.  

I guess the thing that stood out the most to me was that Ysandre did not seem all that much more prepared for the situation than Phèdre was, though she is clearly doing her best. I get the feeling she might need a confidante that is not one of her nobles in the future, and I wonder if that person might be Phèdre.

4) Phèdre makes a trip to the temple of Kushiel to make atonement. Do you agree that she had things to atone for? 

No, but I do agree that she felt very guilty.  I think it was mostly survivor’s guilt, and guilt over being able to endure and take physical pleasure from her experiences in the Skaldic lands.  I think that the punishment was ultimately harmless and very comforting to her in her present state of mind, so I think it was worthwhile for her to seek it out.

5) After King Ganelon's death, at the hunting lodge we learn some more politics. What stood out for you? We learned more about the Picti and the prophesy. Should the fate of Terre D'Ange be resting, even partially, on the validity of a prophesy of love and union? 

I’ve been coming down on the side of the read-along folk who are less interested in the Terre d’Ange politics than they are in the main characters (now considered as Phèdre, Joscelin, and to a lesser extent Hyacinthe). I admit my eyes kind of glazed over a little during the extremely long political discussion.  However, it is nice to have a clearer view of the situation in Terre d’Ange and elsewhere.

Neither Hyacinthe nor his mother made the prophecy, so I’m not sure I believe it.  I find it a little shocking that the fate of the nation seems to be also resting on Ysandre’s romantic notions. I’m also not sure we can guarantee that the Alban troops would be helpful against the Skaldi.  Even if the channel were opened, I’m not sure how effectively they could be moved into Terre d’Ange.  Not to mention, we know almost nothing about Alba, so how can Ysandre trust that this particular foreign army would be loyal to her?

6) The Casseline Prefect forbids Joscelin from serving Phèdre as protector as she travels to the Pictish lands. Joscelin had to make a hard choice: did he make the right one? 

I think it’s kind of ironic that Joscelin was excommunicated from the Casseline Brotherhood for making the same choice Cassiel did.  Based on his faith, I think he made the right choice.  He is loyal to the doctrine he believes, even above his loyalty to the human order that ostensibly supports it.  He is a perfect loyal companion, and I think he will be able to find comfort in that.  He would never have forgiven himself for abandoning Phèdre.

7) Hyacinthe comes up with the plan to get them to the coast and meet with Royal Admiral Quintilius Rousse. Do you like the fake IDs? Do you think they will make it unscathed? 

Well, I don’t think the IDs will really hold (we see already that the Manoj kumpania sees through it).  After what happened at the end of this section, I suspect they’ll have to make some modifications to their plan.  I think they’ll make it eventually, though.  I want to see fantasy-UK, so I’m hoping it will work out!

8) Hyacinthe meets his grandfather, Manoj, for the first time. Happy? Sad? How do you feel about how his mother was cast out? 

I’ll say happy and sad.  I can understand why his mother never told him the truth— that would be a heck of a thing to tell a kid.  I disagree with them for kicking out his mother and not the relative who arranged for her to be raped, though. It was a little heartwarming to see them all welcome Hyacinthe, but then his mother’s story really highlights that they could turn on him at any second.  My heart aches for his decision at the end of the chapter, but I think it would have come out at some point soon anyway.  

If I’m interpreting correctly, Hyacinthe basically made the same choice as Joscelin.  Do you think this is going to turn into a love triangle?  Does it matter that neither of the boys really have an ounce of Kushiel in them?  I don’t think Phèdre would be happy with either of them, long-term, though they’re both good guys.

Other Things:

—I was so happy to see Phèdre’s marque completed.  That was sticking in the back of my mind as an unfinished business.  It was bittersweet, though, because Master Tielhard will now die without imparting his skills and knowledge to any successor.

—It was interesting to see that in such a free society, Ysandre had never encountered a follower of Naamah. Does that mean she also hasn’t studied stuff like the Trois Mille Joies?  I wonder if Phèdre will teach her a bit before her marriage, assuming she makes it back safely with the groom in tow.

—Color me very shocked to see Melisande again at the Tsingano horse-trading get-together.  It’s interesting that even they know not to mess with the Shahrizai family.  I’m very relieved that she didn’t see Phèdre, though.  I think that showdown needs to happen when Phèdre is not on a secret mission for the throne.  Preferably when Melisande is being tried for treason.

—I think now we know pretty much everything about Delaunay’s past (I may be proven wrong in the future), so I think that Hyacinthe’s mother’s prophecy was more about the day than the information.  She’ll regret the day she began learning Delaunay’s secrets, just because it was the day he and Alcuin were murdered and she and Joscelin were sold into slavery.

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Published: William Morrow & Co., 2013
Awards Won: Locus Fantasy Award
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Mythopoeic and World Fantasy Awards

The Book:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.”

I am a fan of Neil Gaiman, so I happily anticipated reading this book when it came out, even more so when it was clearly well received by others.  The main reason I delayed so long in reading it was the price (it was $12.99 for an e-book of less than 200 pages--it is a bit less now), and my fear that it was going to be a story drenched in existential dread and emptiness.  On the second point, It really isn’t, and I’m happy that I didn’t let that fear deter me from finally reading it.

My Thoughts:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane exists in an interesting intersection between the innocence of a child’s perspective and the darkness of an adult’s fantasy story.  I think it could be enjoyed by a child, with parental supervision (there is some disturbing content), but that it is targeting an adult audience.  I feel like it would best be understood by an adult looking back at childhood, like the protagonist. I enjoyed that the story really was unequivocally a fantasy, not just using fantastical elements for the purpose of allegory or metaphor.The supernatural forces that were unleashed exposed the desires and flaws of the people around the protagonist, but their reactions and emotions felt grounded in reality. Thus, even though this is a book about immortals, interloping inhuman creatures, and an ocean that fits in a pond, there is still a relatable emotional core.   

The protagonist as a young boy has a very open, naive view of a complicated and often bewildering world. His young, fluid sense of reality allows him to accept the magic that enters his life as easily as the non-magical events. One thing that I hadn’t really considered about a child’s reality is their isolation and relative helplessness.  The protagonist has very little power over his circumstances, and his distress is often dismissed by those who do.  It must be terrifying to a child to realize that the people who have life-and-death power over him are not necessarily worthy of his trust.  However, though he is at the mercy of the adults in his life, he still does the best he can as he and the Hempstocks desperately try to right his world.

I felt like the novel had the beauty and simplicity of a fairy tale, but one that is in touch with modern sadness and cruelty. Some of the griefs of the protagonist’s childhood were very familiar to me, and so it was easy to see fragments of myself in him.  This endeared him to me as a character, though I wonder if it will work as well for people with more recent childhoods-- the world has changed a lot in the past twenty years. I also loved the Hempstocks, and I think that the sense of safety and comfort they exuded helped to keep things from feeling too bleak.  The short novel felt very balanced and self-contained from beginning to end, a lovely gem of a story to enjoy for a brief time. I don’t think there is a message that is easy to sum up, but there is plenty to think about.  Out of all of it, I think my favorite line was from one of the Hempstocks, who tells the protagonist, “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.” (p.142)

My Rating: 4/5

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a very short novel that tells of a young boy, through his memory as an adult.  It feels to me like a book about childhood targeted to an adult audience.  Though the protagonist is very young through most of the novel, he faces situations that are far darker and more frightening than one would expect a boy his age to handle.  The story is an unusual fantasy, and the supernatural elements are all connected to the three Hempstock women.  To me, it seemed like a modern fairy tale, though the tale’s grief and terror is balanced with some measure of safety and comfort. I enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to other fans of Gaiman’s work.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, Part 6

Welcome to part 6 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  Our host this week is Grace of Books Without Pictures, and her questions cover chapters 46-54.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 54 in the questions and answers below!  Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section! I am extremely late this time (due to life busyness), but hopefully I’ll be back schedule for this weekend.

One of the questions from last week dealt with initial impressions of Waldemar Selig's steading.  Now that we've finally met him, what are your thoughts about him?  Do you think he suspects that Phedre knows anything, and will he continue to play a role in the story?

I really don’t like him at all.  He seems to have all the potential negative traits of the Skaldi people in addition to the potential negative traits of a person from the ruling class. I expect he will continue to play a role, since Phèdre was unable to kill him, but I doubt he suspects she knows anything. He seemed to regard both her and Joscelin as simply objects that he owned, going so far as to put Joscelin away in a closet when he lost interest in him.  I doubt he really thinks much about what is in their minds.

What did you think of the visit to Lodur?  Do you think it will impact how Phedre thinks of herself?

I thought that was a nice change for Phèdre.  She’s been thinking of herself as the enduring victim, but he called her a weapon.  She has endured enough, and I was so pleased to see her escape.  I wonder if his comment helped to give her the courage to go through with her plan.

Phedre and Joscelin have both gone through some harrowing experiences in the past few chapters.  How do you think it will change them going forward?

I don’t think they could go through these situations without becoming very close.  He’s the only other survivor of their household, and they’ve spent so much time being each others’ strength in exile.  Even if they do not end up in romantic love, I think they are as close as family.  They have both also learned that they were capable of surviving some truly horrible experiences, and I think that will give them the strength to do what needs to be done in the future.

If you were in Phedre or Joscelin's place, would you have acted the same way in crafting your mastermind escape plan?  What are your thoughts on how it worked out?

It worked out pretty well, I think.  I mean, they escaped and now they’re in Terre d’Ange once again! I am not really an escape artist, so I don’t think I would have been able to come up with anything better.

We're finally getting to observe a budding romance between Phedre and Joscelin.  How do you see this playing out?  What do you think of it?

I’m not sure how much their romance can really progress.  I think that night together was really important for Phèdre, because it was the first time she slept with someone solely because she wanted to.  I think she needed that, after her treatment at Gunter and Waldemar’s hands.  Joscelin, though, sees being with Phèdre as a betrayal of his vows, so I don’t know how he’ll come to terms with that.  Also, in the long term, their tastes are probably not compatible.  I think this is a romance of the particular circumstances, and it will settle down into a deep non-romantic bond.  I could be totally wrong, though :).

Other Things:

—It was interesting to see Joscelin calling out Phèdre for her pride, about Melisande’s diamond.

—How sad was it that they had to lie to their own countrymen and sneak past?

—I’m hoping Ysandre is actually trustworthy, because Melisande was also one of Delaunay’s ‘friends’.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Review: The Many-Colored Land by Julian May

The Many-Colored Land by Julian May
Published: Houghton Mifflen, 1981
Series: Book 1 of the Saga of the Pliocene Exile
Awards Won: Locus SF
Awards Nominated: Nebula Award, Hugo Award, Mythopoeic Award, Prometheus Award

The Book:

“In the year 2034, Theo Guderian, a French physicist, made an amusing but impractical discovery: the means to use a one-way, fixed-focus time warp that opened into a place in the Rhone River valley during the idyllic Pliocene Epoch, six million years ago. But, as time went on, a certain usefulness developed. The misfits and mavericks of the future—many of them brilliant people—began to seek this exit door to a mysterious past. In 2110, a particularly strange and interesting group was preparing to make the journey—a starship captain, a girl athlete, a paleontologist, a woman priest, and others who had reason to flee the technological perfection of twenty-second-century life.
The group that passes through the time-portal finds an unforeseen strangeness on the other side. Far from being uninhabited, Pliocene Europe is the home of two warring races from another planet...”

My Thoughts:

From the beginning, I thought this was a really fun idea.  The story of colonization is a familiar one, where misfits take off on a risky one-way journey to found a society that is hopefully more to their liking.  The twist in this case is that they are colonizing the Earth’s past.  I enjoyed the ideas of how a future civilization would prepare its pioneers, and seeing what sorts of people would want to leave a spacefaring future for a distant past.  I especially liked the training camp, and the way people were organized to learn various useful trades.  Of course, once they got to the Pliocene, things changed dramatically from a tale of survival and building a society to fighting against their new alien masters.  I think it would have been a pretty fun premise without the aliens, but switching the course to a power struggle against powerful aliens also made for a lot of excitement and drama.   

The novel is split between the viewpoints of a large number of main characters that travel together through the time portal.  The group is divided in two, and the handling of the two groups makes it very clear that this novel is a small part of a larger series.  One of the groups has a pretty dramatic arc, while the other seems relegated a to background, as if it will come into more prominence in later books.  Since there are so many characters, and since the story is plot-driven and full of Pliocene scenery descriptions, there isn’t very much time to develop each character individually.  They each have characteristics that make them distinct, but they are not yet particularly complex.  They seem to fit various archetypes, or perhaps mythological types, since the story also echoes a number of myths.  A few characters do achieve some personal growth, but they are primarily just the players through which the reader experiences the adventures of the Pliocene.  

Out of the large case, I enjoyed reading about some of them, though I found others a little exasperating.  Some of my favorites would have to be the priest, Amerie, and her friend, an elderly widowed archeologist named Claude.  They both seemed to have the healthiest attitude about their goals in their destination, and I think they have the strength of character to make something worthwhile out of their circumstances.  On the other end of the spectrum are people like Bryan, an anthropologist who took a one-way ticket to the Pliocene based on an unrequited crush.  Finally, the novel has a character that everyone seems to instinctively dislike and distrust for no discernable reason, an aggressive and powerful young woman named Felice.  I’ve seen how these things usually go, so I’m pretty sure the rest of the saga will not go well for Felice.  I had a lot of fun reading this first novel of the series, but I’m not sure I’m interested to see what happens next.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

If the idea of a bunch of future misfits taking a one-way ticket into the Earth’s distant past to fight aliens sounds like fun to you, then The Many-Colored Land is probably a book to check out. The story features a large cast of differing viewpoint characters, each with their own background, personality, and clash with future-modern life. The descriptions of the Earth’s Pliocene Epoch are vivid and interesting, and the struggle against the alien interlopers makes for an exciting story.  I’m not sure if I was engaged enough to read the rest of the series, but The Many-Colored land was a pretty fun adventure.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart Part 5

Welcome to part 5 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  Our host this week is Brittany of Igret's Corner, and her questions cover chapters 37-45.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 45 in the questions and answers below!  Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section! This section was pretty much a game changer for the story, and I’m really interested to see where Phèdre will go from here.

1) In this section we see Melisande betraying Delaunay and Phèdre. Did you see this coming? Why or why not? Also, what do you think Melisande's highest loyalty is to?

I speculated during discussion last week (I think in comments on someone else’s blog) that maybe Delaunay was a target in Melisande’s next scheme.  Especially through her assignation for the Longest Night, it seemed like Melisande was messing with Phèdre, and through her, Delaunay. So in a sense, I guess I saw that something was coming. 

I definitely didn’t guess that Delaunay had been one of Melisande’s targets all along, though, and I was not expecting such a murderous betrayal.  I think Melisande’s highest loyalty is to herself (consider how she betrayed Baudoin when it became clear that he was going to discard her).  I think Isidore D’Aiglemont would be wise to watch out— though after all we learn this section, I would prefer to see him fall.

2) We see Phèdre sold into slavery by Melisande and D'Aiglemort. How is slavery different than being a bond servant, how is it the same?

I guess one thing is that being a bond servant is more like indentured service mixed with child-rearing. It sort of seems like a system set up to care for children; whoever owns your bond takes care of raising you, and then you gain freedom sometime shortly after you gain majority.  The person who owns your bond also makes sure you receive the appropriate training for your future career.  Slavery, of course, is generally for life.  As a slave, there is no expectation that they will ever be free, and their owners have no obligation to care for their future. 

3) Hedwig's treatment of Phèdre is not what Phèdre expected. What does her behavior tell us about Skaldi women? 

I don’t know if it is just Hedwig or Skaldi women in general, but it was nice to see a community of women that protects one another and does not backstab out of jealousy.  In fact, the men in the stedding seemed to have a much harder time dealing with jealousy over handsome Joscelin’s appeal to the ladies.  

4) Joscelin initially hates Phèdre for not attempting to run, yet ultimately chooses to stay with her. What does this say about Joscelin and his views of Cassiel? 

I think he’s basically as we saw in the past— very devout. He is completely devoted to his oaths and his faith, and apparently Cassiel is not one to abandon a loyal companion.  I don’t think he is as capable of complicated long-term strategy as Phèdre, which is why he saw her initial response to slavery as a betrayal.  Now that he understands her goals, I don’t think he will leave her.

5) Phèdre says that Gunter’s village raid reminded her that she was with the enemy. Do you think that prior to the raid she had developed Stockholm Syndrome? What about life in the stedding made her complacent?

I remember seeing something very similar happen in the TV show Vikings.  I don’t think that Phèdre or Joscelin have developed Stockholm Syndrome, but I think that the ordinariness of life on the stedding made it easier for them to think of their captors as reasonable people.  I think it’s hard to reconcile the cognitive dissonance between Gunter the responsible stedding chief who gambles with his friends and enjoys a good song, and Gunter the murdering raider who rapes and slaughters d’Angeline people.  When all she sees each day is former-Gunter, then it’s easy to kind of forget that he is also latter-Gunter.  I don’t think she will ever not despise him, though.

6) Joscelin breaks his vows during the holmgang.  Do you think he should have or not? What do you think the repercussions will be?

Does he? I admit he has a lot of vows and I’ve probably forgotten a few, but I didn’t think he broke any.  The one that mostly came up was to not use a sword unless he intends to kill.  He did kill the guy, so there’s no problem there.  I suppose that he offered mercy, which might have been a violation, but his opponent opted for death.  I guess the whole idea of the holmgang didn’t really fit into his ‘protect and serve’ vow, but I don’t remember him saying any anything particular about not dueling…

7) We see Waldemar Selig's stedding for the first time, what are your impressions of it?

I think it’s unlikely to impress Phèdre.  She’s from Terre d’Ange, and I don’t think the Skaldi will have anything to compare in grandeur and beauty. 

Other things:

—I thought Melisande’s behavior as a patron threw up some red flags, and those were borne out in this section with her physical and sexual assault of Phèdre.  I get the feeling that one of the reasons Phèdre didn’t safeword during their last encounter was a deliberate denial of reality, since there’s no way Melisande would have stopped. Seeing her safeword ignored would have made it too undeniable to Phèdre that she was completely helpless.  I think that the illusion of some kind of control helped her find the strength to not to give up her secrets.

—Also, I commented last week that I didn’t think Phèdre really had it in her to hate people.  I believe I can now retract that statement, as now she has learned hatred quite thoroughly.  Melisande was a good teacher :(.

—It struck me as kind of funny that Gunter was so proud of giving Phèdre pleasure.  He had no idea that this really meant his performance would give very few women anything but pain.

—I had imagined the Skaldi as German, but they seem more like Norse folk/Vikings from what we’ve seen so far.  They even have Odhinn in their mythology.