Sunday, October 25, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, Part 3

Welcome to the third week of the read-along of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey.  This week covers chapters 26 through 37, and the questions are provided by Emily at Emma Wolf.  If you’d like to join us, have a look at our goodreads group. As always, beware of spoilers through chapter 37 below, and let’s get to the questions!

1. If I recall correctly, this is the first book (and this is the first portion of the book) that takes us outside of (what is now) Europe and into (what is now) the Arab world. What are your thoughts?

I noticed that Phedre is not comparing every place she goes to Terre d’Ange anymore, which I think it a nice development. Menekhet was an interesting place, and it is interesting to see the differences between native Menekhetan culture and the imported Hellene. It looks like Khebbel-im-Akkad is going to have very different views on Naamah's service than Terre d'Ange.  We haven’t seen too much of it yet, but I’m wondering if the different customs with regard to gender are going to hamper her ability to search for Imriel.

2. We see the Pharaoh laughing at Phedre, saying that if she had only trusted him, it would have saved them a lot of time. We saw this sort of thing play out before with Kazan and Bariquel. Do you think Phedre should be more trusting or do you think she is right to be so cautious?

I’m sure a lot of time and trouble could be saved, if one were able to tell at a glance who was trustworthy and who was not.  Unfortunately, Phedre can’t read peoples’ minds, and I think she’s reasonable to be cautious.  Not trusting people can lead to troubles, but so can trusting them when they are not trustworthy.  I think Melisande taught her the cost of trusting someone, and I think she is rightfully cautious.  She usually sorts out the trustworthy from the not, eventually.

3. More of the story of Imriel and the two other kidnapped children unfold. What do you think now? Was Imriel chosen randomly? Is this the gods punishing Melisande or D'Angelines generally?

I still think it is a conspiracy.  I’m not sure how, but it’s just all too extraordinary to be a coincidence.  Fadil Chouma would have been executed for dealing with the skotophagotis, so it must have been quite an offer—and specifically for a boy of Imriel’s description.  I’m still not sure I understand Kushiel’s involvement, but maybe the situation has more to do with bringing the right d’Angelines to the right place to carry out Kushiel’s justice.  In that case, the divine part might not have anything to do with Imriel except as a means to an end.  Perhaps it is a judgment on Khebbel-im-Akkad for their murder of the Drujani?  That would make a kind of sense with the title of the book. 

4. More on Imriel: we haven't met him yet, but we've heard a lot about him and how he acted in different situations. So far, what do you think of him?

So far, he seems like a nice, brave child.  It’s hard to say without ever seeing him, but he doesn’t seem to have inherited Melisande’s particular Kusheline personality.  I expect I’ll like him when we finally meet him.  I hope nothing terrible happens to him in the meantime, poor kid.

5. What are your thoughts on the skotophagotis? Superstition and coincidence or real power?

Given that all of the cultures we’ve seen so far had their own kind of supernatural seasoning, I expect the skotophagotis have real power.  I really don’t know quite what to make of them yet, though.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, Part 2

Welcome to the second week of the read-along of the third book of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy trilogy, Kushiel's Avatar.  I'm the host this week, and our questions will cover chapters 14-25.If you're interested in joining us, or in future read-alongs, feel free to check out our goodreads group page!

Now, it's time for the discussion questions. Beware, there may be spoilers of Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, and the first 25 chapters of Kushiel's Avatar ahead!

1. Phedre has been incredibly efficient in finding out what has happened to Imriel. Do you think it really is as simple as a random act of cruelty? Is it a punishment from Kushiel, and if so, why were the other two children involved? 

I was pretty surprised that Phedre managed to more or less solve the mystery of missing Imriel so quickly, especially since it had been three months since he was taken.  It makes me think less of the skill of Melisande's minions.  I'm not sure I'm convinced that the act was truly random, though.  I think it was random cruelty on the part of the kidnappers, but I wonder if Fadil Chouma knew about Imriel.  It's a bit suspicious the he bought only Imriel from the slavers, after suggesting he would by d'Angeline children.  I may be seeing conspiracies where there are none, but I still think this might be a subtle game rather than random chance.

Phedre seems to think Kushiel is involved, but it bothers me to think that Kushiel is the sort of judge who would punish one person by hurting someone else.  I really don't like the idea of punishing children for the sins of their parents, and I'm also confused as to what the crofter family could have possibly done to 'deserve' such a horrible thing to happen.  If Kushiel is involved, I hope it is only in cruelly shaping Imriel's future, not in ruining a child's life in retribution for the acts of his mother.

2. A lot of justice is meted out (or not) to different people. Do you think the priests deserve forgiveness for hiding Imriel? Do you agree with the harsh methods in Amilcar toward the slavers?

I'm kind of on the fence about forgiveness for the priests.  Whatever Ysandre said, I'm sure they might have had other ideas about what would happen to that innocent baby of Melisande's in the d'Angeline court.  They also seemed to be doing their best to raise him as a decent boy, which could have ruined Melisande's plans.  They're guilty of lying to their queen, but I don't think they have done anything evil.

For the slavers, there's no doubt about their guilt, and I think they deserve to die for their crimes.  Child slavery is horrible, and anyone who would choose to take part in it shouldn't have a place in society.  On the other hand, I also don't think there should be any place for torture in society.  In this case, it seems to have gotten them the answers they wanted, but I don't believe the ends justify the means.  There must have been a better way to get the information to find Imriel.

3. Do you think it's worth it for Phedre to go to Serenissima to get information from Melisande, or would it be better for her to travel with the royal entourage and find her own guide?

Honestly, no.  I think she should just send a letter and go with the group Ysandre's sending.  Melisande would give her a guide's name, but then Phedre is going to be dependent on a guide Melisande picked out.  I think she has enough information now to find a guide on her own.

4. It occurs to me that Joscelin improved the public attitude towards the Cassilines, though he was cast out, and the Prince of Travellers may be having a similar effect for his own people. In what ways do you think the Tsingani and the prejudice against them might change as a result of recent events? Do you think Hyacinthe will ever be allowed to go back to them, and if so, should he?

It seems like the story of the Prince of Travellers becoming the Master of the Straits is becoming popular, and it might lend a romantic cast to people's perception of the Tsingani.  I'm not sure whether this will be a positive or a negative thing for them.  Of course, it might also help reduce prejudice against them that the extremely popular and fashionable Phedre keeps speaking out in their defense.

Also, the Tsingani culture seem to be changing a little internally as a result of the death of Manoj.  They're more welcoming to Didikani, so it seems like they might be moving towards being a little less isolated from the dominant culture of Terre d'Ange.  If Hyacinthe ever gets free of the island, he might find himself welcomed back again, despite the Dromonde.  I don't know if he would trust the welcome, though, seeing how quickly it was revoked last time.

Other things:

--There's still a lot of recap throughout this section.  It makes me realize just how packed the last two books were with people and events!

--The token Phedre gave Nicola was an interesting touch.  I'm glad Joscelin is dealing with it well.

--I hope that after these events, the people near Verreuil would go to Joscelin's family for help in this kind of a situation.  I'd like to think that even if Phedre hadn't been involved, they would have searched for the kidnapped children.

--I know Phedre is all set for switching to the save-Hyacinthe quest, but I really doubt that's the last she's going to be involved in the Imriel situation.  What a coincidence, both the Imriel-searchers and Phedre are heading to Iskandria :D.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Read-along: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, Part 1

This post begins a community read-along of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, the third book in her Kushiel’s Legacy series!  We’re just getting started, so if you’d like to join you can check out our Goodreads group. The schedule is as follows:

Week 1: Chapters 1-13 11th October – Lisa (Over the effing rainbow)
Week 2: Chapters 14-25 – 18th October – Allie (Tethyan books)
Week 3: Chapters 26-37 – 25th October – Emily (Emma Wolf)
Week 4: Chapters 38-49 – 1st November – Susan (Dab of Darkness)
Week 5: Chapters 50-61 – 8th November – Lynn (Lynn’s books)
Week 6: Chapters 62-73 – 15th November – Emily (Emma Wolf)
Week 7: Chapters 74-82 – 22nd November – Susan (Dab of Darkness)
Week 8: Chapters 83-END – 29th November – Allie (Tethyan books)

From above, this week’s host is Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow, and her questions cover chapters 1-13. Beware of spoilers ahead through chapter 13, as well as potentially for Kushiel’s Dart and Kushiel’s Chosen! 

I’d like to pretend this post is right on time, but I’m afraid it’s quite clear that the start date was a few days ago.  As always, I finished the reading, but then my attendance at a wedding derailed my intentions to post this on Sunday.  I seem to have a habit lately of overestimating what I can do in a single day.  Anyway, I think I’ll be back on schedule from here on out.  Now, to the questions!

1. The book begins with the ending of Phedre's "ten years of peace", and with a journey to visit Hyacinthe on his island. It's a less than optimistic beginning, but the seer Sibeal seems to believe better... What did you make of these opening scenes?

There’s a lot of imagery going on with seers, and I’m not sure I really followed most of it.  I think the gist is that there is hope for Hyacinthe, which is very encouraging!  

In the previous book, I wondered why they couldn’t go visit him from time to time, and I guess that’s been answered.  Anyone who sets foot on the island is, maybe, obligated to take on his role?  If that’s the case, though, then why can’t they just get a group of volunteers and swap out every few years?  That way, no one would have to spend 800 years trapped on an island.  Maybe they’ll explain more later.

Also, I understand Phedre’s musing on what might have been, but I think that quite a lot more than Hyacinthe’s fate would have had to change for them to be an item.  Her and Joscelin’s bond was forged through helping each other survive through slavery and torment. I was as shocked as Phedre by Joscelin’s comment that it would have been better if he were trapped on the island.

2. Before long Phedre and Joscelin are revisiting Melisande Shahrizai as well, and she's got yet another surprise for our heroes... Do you have any suspicions yet about who could have taken Imriel, and why? How about any thoughts regarding what Melisande could be up to now...?

I was wondering why Phedre would ever go to ‘aid’ Melisande, but I think she really only went to see her out of curiosity.  Phedre handled the confrontation pretty well, and I am very glad that she no longer seems to have any positive emotional ties to Melisande.  I think their connection at this point really is just that Melisande is a very pretty sociopath, and Phedre is attracted to people who can inflict pain with no empathy.

I’m not taking Melisande’s supposed desperation at face value right now.  When Phedre brought  up Barquiel L’Envers, I didn’t think that sounded right.  He’s not exactly subtle, and I think that if he’d found the boy and killed him, there would at least be rumors about it. Right now, I think it is all a ploy by Melisande, to get Phedre to play some role in her Plan Z (Plans A-Y having been foiled).  If it’s someone else, I don’t think they’ve been introduced yet.  

3. Taking a step back from the higher drama, what are your thoughts regarding the romantic developments that seem to have taken place for Phedre and Joscelin over the years? They seem to be in a better place... Do you think it will still last?

I think they're in a pretty good place now.  They trust each other, which is very important, and they seem to work well as partners.  He’s much more understanding of her desire for pain, even though he doesn't want to hurt her.  She’s curtailed most of her assignations, too, so the compromises are not only on his part.  Right now, I’m just afraid that there's going to be some kind of love polygon introduced with Hyacinthe and Sibeal.

Other Things:

—There was a lot of recap in the first couple of chapters.  It makes sense, given how many characters there are and how much has happened in the series, but it made me feel impatient!

—I was surprised the traveling started so quickly, with a jaunt to Serenissima and a trip to see Hyacinthe!

—Now that Ysandre has daughters, maybe Imriel is not such a threat.  I still think Ysandre would take him in and treat him well.

—In the scene with Ysandre, it also sounded like Terre d'Ange has some reliable form of birth control (magical, perhaps?).  I don't remember if this was mentioned in the series before or not, but I remember wondering why there weren't many more children like Phedre in the Night Court.

—I liked the scene in Kushiel’s Temple, where Phedre confessed that she didn't want to be an anguissette anymore.  With all that she’s been through, I don’t blame her. I hope she can find peace with herself, though.

—It was great to hear how Phedre is working to reform the Night Court!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley
Published: Angry Robot Books, 2015
Series: Book 2 of the Worldbreaker Saga

Beware of spoilers for book 1 of the Worldbreaker Saga, The Mirror Empire!

The Book:

Loyalties are tested when worlds collide… Every two thousand years, the dark star Oma appears in the sky, bringing with it a tide of death and destruction. And those who survive must contend with friends and enemies newly imbued with violent powers. The kingdom of Saiduan already lies in ruin, decimated by invaders from another world who share the faces of those they seek to destroy.

Now the nation of Dhai is under siege by the same force. Their only hope for survival lies in the hands of an illegitimate ruler and a scullery maid with a powerful - but unpredictable - magic. As the foreign Empire spreads across the world like a disease, one of their former allies takes up her Empress's sword again to unseat them, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with a long-lost secret that they hope is the key to the Empire's undoing. But when the enemy shares your own face, who can be trusted?”

Since Empire Ascendant came out October 6th, I’m bumping this review to the top of my queue!  I received this novel as an advanced review copy, as a promotional gift for purchasing a physical copy of the first novel, The Mirror Empire. Also, as a note, this is the kind of series where you really do need to read the books in order, so new readers should grab The Mirror Empire first.

My Thoughts:

The Worldbreaker Saga is set in a very complicated and unusual world, and Empire Ascendant expands on the understanding I had gathered from the first book in the series.  This is not a series that handholds through world-building explanations, and most of the viewpoint characters are struggling to make sense of what’s happening to their world alongside the reader.  After the second book, I feel like I have a clearer idea of the magic system and how the satellites move through the parallel worlds, as well as a better grasp of the various cultures and their broad goals.  The different cultural ideas of gender are still present, and they even seem to take slightly more prominence in the story.  At this point, I find the five-gendered Dhai system the most interesting, with its self-assigned gender roles that are decoupled from biological determinism. I feel like there’s still plenty about the worlds and their inhabitants that I don’t know, but I suppose that should be true of any complex imagined multiverse.

As expected for the second act of a three act story, the situation becomes even grimmer for each of the characters, as they are faced with challenges that may well be insurmountable.  I felt like nearly everyone was injured or permanently maimed in some way through the course of the story, and it is clear that no character is immune from being violently killed.  I appreciated that the injuries the characters take are actually debilitating and ugly, rather than the usual superficial hero’s scars.  The characters have to find the strength to endure, despite the physical and psychological damage they experience. Even if they succeed in their goals, there’s no guarantee of a happy ending waiting for them.  The tension is rising, and I dread seeing which characters will fall in the last third of the series.

While there was certainly plenty of action and plot progression in Empire Ascendant, the many viewpoint characters’ individual stories were mostly divergent.  Since this is planned as a trilogy, I have every confidence that their stories will converge in exciting ways in the final volume.  I am enjoying how difficult it is to guess how the story will end, since there is no clear struggle between good and evil.  Instead, all of the factions are simply doing what they can to protect what they love, regardless of the cost to themselves and others.  For instance, the invading Tai Mora have committed great atrocities, but it is in the effort to escape their own dying world and protect their loved ones. I don’t want them to win, but it’s easy to see how their leaders felt forced into the actions they’ve taken.

With this muddy moral landscape, I’ve been most interested by the viewpoint characters who avoid acting with deliberate cruelty. I enjoyed Roh’s innocence in The Mirror Empire, and here he grows through suffering.  The abusive Zezili’s meek husband Anavha doesn’t play a large role, but his chapters were some of my favorite.  Luna, a ‘ataisa’ Dhai slave in Saiduan (though I think ze’s male-passive in Dhai), gives a different sort of perspective on the world.  In more ruthless protagonists, Lilia and Ahkio also have very intense stories, as they both try, in their own ways, to protect Dhai from invasion.  I can’t wait to see how all of the conflicts conclude in the final volume, and what is left of the primary world when they do.

My Rating: 4/5

Empire Ascendant is what I was hoping for in a sequel to The Mirror Empire, a novel that expands on the unusual setting and drives up the tension in the conflict between parallel worlds.  The handful of viewpoint characters live in a very dangerous multiverse, and any of them could be maimed or killed at any time. There are no heroes or villains, only people who are trying desperately to protect their own, and who have different limits on what they’re willing to do to achieve their goals.  By the end of this book, there are still a number of separate character stories ongoing, so it will be interesting to see how these are going to be tied together.  It’s going to be a long wait for the conclusion, The Broken Heavens, which is due to come out in fall 2017!   

Monday, October 5, 2015

Read-Along: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone, END

This week wraps up the read-along of Max Gladstone’s Last First Snow, and I have provided the questions for the final section, chapters 54 through the end.  Beware below of spoilers through the end of the novel! 

1. Everything came to a head in this chapter, and Elayne chose her tricky path for protecting the Skittersill. Do you think there is more she could have done, or do you think she chose the right path?

I think it is natural for her to feel she could have done more, but I really think she did all she could. She knew her own limits, and knew that she could not openly defy the Red King in his own city and hope to win. She twisted a lot of promises, including her words to the Red King and the insurance contract, in order to protect as much and as many people as possible. After seeing the dead in the square, I think she felt like she had fallen into the same mistake as the developers in the negotiations— she had protected the real estate of the Skittersill, but allowed its community to burn.  She must have protected quite a few people outside the square, though, who would have otherwise been killed or rendered homeless.

Elayne Kevarian has always been one of my favorite characters in the Craft Sequence, and this story has only made me respect her more.  Rather than allying herself blindly with Craft or Faith, she is determined to help make the world a better place for human beings to live. When the Red King decided to commit mass murder, her decision to follow her convictions and oppose him seemed true to her character and her history.  I wish there were more consequences for the Red King’s actions, but he has at least lost Elayne’s friendship.   

2. Now we see more of the Quechal gods, and the way they think of their believers. What do you think of Temoc's chosen path? Also, what do you think of the Quechal faith after this betrayal?

I should have guessed this would happen, but I didn’t really think about it until Temoc was mysteriously unable to protect his believers.  It makes a brutal sort of sense.  Temoc wanted his gods to protect the believers, but the gods wanted to use the believers' deaths to protect themselves.  I can’t imagine how sick Temoc must have felt after that betrayal, and I wonder if he regretted his choices.  He is a dedicated Eagle Knight, though, and he had already figuratively sacrificed his family for his beliefs.  Maybe he feels that he has gone too far down the path to ever be able to back out.

I feel like the Craft Sequence usually shows the pros and cons of the ways of Faith and Craft, and does not usually come down heavily on one side or the other.  However, I feel like the Quechal faith serves as a pretty clear example of why the Wars happened in this universe.  I can’t imagine why people followed the Quechal gods in Dresediel Lex in the first place, and it boggles my mind that people would continue to do so after Chakal Square.  Still, I think this book is still balanced in its portrayal of the two sides, as the Red King has committed his share of atrocities.   

3. When all seemed lost, Elayne heard a mysterious voice. Do you have any theories on what that voice is, and how it fits into the Craft mythology?

I have theories, though they are probably wrong!  This voice was associated with the starlight, which is the source of Craftspeople’s power.  Could it be that the dichotomy of Craft/Faith is false, and that the two are interconnected?  I mean, perhaps the origin of the power used in Craft is God, a greater being than the various Earth-bound deities we’ve seen in the different cultures.  How would the Craftspeople react to find out that they are actually still a part of the system that they have turned away from?  This could fundamentally change Elayne’s understanding of the world.

4. What did you think of Last First Snow overall, in comparison with Gladstone's other books? What was your favorite part(s), and what would you most like to see more of in future books?

I think this was an excellent book, and it’s now my favorite of Gladstone’s novels (Three Parts Dead is my second favorite).  This last section was both exciting and emotionally draining, and I have such conflicted feelings about Temoc.  I don't know if I could point to one favorite moment, but I loved the part where Elayne was taking the fire of the Skittersill into herself, while also splitting her power to protect as many people as possible. I would like to see more of Elayne in future books, and prequels that involve the world during the Wars.  It looks like the next book is going to involve Tara (another of my favorite characters of the series) and Alt Coulomb.  I hope Tara calls in Ms. Kevarian for help!

Other Stuff:

—Chel didn’t make it.  I was hoping she would, after she wasn’t sacrificed during the last section. I do think Elayne saved the wrong person, but I don’t think she had much of a choice.  She didn’t have enough time to react in order to save Chel.  

—I assumed Mina was going to die, because I didn’t remember her from Two Serpents Rise… she must have been in there, and I’m just forgetting her.  Hurray for Mina’s survival!

—It bothers me that none of the people in power have to deal with any major consequences for their actions.  The Red King actually napalmed his own citizens, and he is still in power.  I guess there is no one powerful enough to hold him accountable, as much as Temoc wishes otherwise.