Saturday, February 27, 2016

2016 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

Hugo Award Nominations are open until March 31st, and I’m in the process of organizing my thoughts about which works to nominate.  I’m going to write a series of posts talking about each of the fiction categories, and what makes my best-list of the year.  If I’ve missed your favorite, please let me know in the comments.  There’s still time before the end of the month to enjoy more science fiction and fantasy!

Today, I’m going to start with the category of Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form).  This is usually “Best Film”, but it can also be given to a season of a television show.  This past year has been incredibly rich in science fiction television, so a few of them ended up on my long form list.  As of the moment, my Hugo Nomination Ballot is going to include:

1) Predestination:  This is the most interesting science fiction films I’ve seen in a long time, and it has had its eligibility extended to this year.  It stretches the limits of what kind of story you can tell with a time travel premise, and it also features some excellent performances by Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook.

2) The Martian:  It’s a shame that previous self-publication kept The Martian novel out of eligibility last year.  Luckily, we get another chance to recognize the story through last year’s movie.  I have this on my list both to recognize an excellent novel by Andy Weir and all those who worked on the faithful and entertaining movie adaptation.

3) Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Okay, so maybe the plot echoed the original trilogy a little too hard, but there’s no way I could leave Star Wars off this list.  It was a truly fun movie, and I am on board for following Rey and Finn into more adventures.  I hope they don’t make this trilogy about redeeming Kylo Ren, though.

4) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: The first fantasy to make my list, and a Regency era fantasy at that. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this is the story of two magicians in an alternate history 19th-century UK.  I loved the novel, and was excited to share the story with my husband through this television adaptation.  I feel like the show stumbled a bit at the end, but it did so much more right along the way.  Even my husband, not at all a fan of the Regency era style, agrees that the miniseries deserves its place on this list.

5) The Man in the High Castle:  A science fiction drama from Amazon Prime, I was curious to see what the series would make of the novel.  It has diverged quite far from the source material so far, but I think it’s tonally consistent.  This was an engrossing and disturbing show about living in an occupied country and the level of atrocities that can become accepted as the new normal.

Honorable Mentions: There are many other shows and movies that I would also agree deserve a Hugo nod.  In movies, I’m sure Ex Machina will be on many lists.  I thought it was an interesting film, but a little slow for my tastes.  Mad Max was unique, but it has been a polarizing film in my household (I think it’s neat, my husband is less tolerant of extended car chases). In television, Jessica Jones season one nearly made the list, and it was the conflict between Jessica and the mind-controlling Kilgrave that sold the show for me.  ‘Kilgrave’ has even become a verb that I use in describing other shows. I have been surprised to realize how common Kilgraving people is in speculative fiction.

What do you think?  Did I miss anything amazing? If so, do tell!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

TV Musings: The Expanse Season 1

The Expanse is the Syfy adaptation of the popular book series of the same name by James S.A. Corey (a pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham).  I’ve reviewed the first three books of the series here, here, and here.  I’m loving the series so far, and just haven’t managed to get around to reading the last few. Hopefully, I can catch up before the series outpaces me!  The television adaptation has already been renewed for a second season, and the first season focused on events in the first book of the series Leviathan Wakes. I’m going to discuss the first season and it’s similarities to the source material below, so beware of spoilers of both Leviathan Wakes and season one of Syfy's The Expanse.

Syfy is Making Sci-Fi Again! (Farewell, wrestling)

First off, it’s really nice to see Syfy returning to space opera, both with The Expanse and other recent shows (Dark Matter, Killjoys).  It’s a subgenre I really enjoy, and I have been delighted to have so many options of these kinds of shows to watch.  I think The Expanse was also cast particularly well.  Holden looks sufficiently young, attractive and naive, and Naomi, Amos and Alex bring a lot of personality to their roles.  Thomas Jane doesn’t have the most glamorous role as Miller, but he is really spot-on for how I imagined the character.  I was a little surprised that the actress playing Chrisjen Avasarala is not Indian, but I think she’s excellent in the role. I was also impressed that they (sometimes) kept the physical Belter differences (height, longer limbs) and the patois (though I couldn’t really understand it spoken).  The sets were excellent, and I liked the little details they included, such as how a songbird might fly in low gravity.

Naomi & Jim

I was really surprised that in a TV era where ‘sex sells’ seems to be a common motto, the romance between Naomi and Jim Holden was nowhere to be found in season one of The Expanse. I have a little speculation on why this choice might have been made, and it reflects pretty well on the writers.  I think it took longer in the show to fully portray Naomi’s importance to the group: that she is extremely competent, resourceful and intelligent, and everyone relies on and trusts her.  My suspicion is that the writers wanted to make she was sufficiently established as a character before having her involved in any kind of romance, so that viewers wouldn’t just write her off as the love interest.  Naomi was one of my favorite characters, so this is an idea I can get behind.  I do hope they haven’t scrapped this plotline forever, though!


Avasarala is not in Leviathan Wakes, but I think it was a good idea to add her in to the show from the beginning. Since the first novel followed only Miller and Holden’s perspectives, it didn’t give much insight into Earth and Mars.  By following Avasarala, we can already start to get a clearer idea of the broader political situation of the solar system, as well as seeing a little more about how planet-bound people live.  However, I did not like that they introduced Avasarala as a torturer.  I think they wanted to show her ruthlessness as quickly as possible, in order to dispel ideas about the gentleness of elderly women, but I just wish they hadn’t done it using torture.  Beyond that first scene, I’m enjoying what the show is doing with the character.  I even like that they removed her constant swearing, since that probably would have been distracting in actual spoken dialogue.

Show vs. Novel?

Even taking these alterations into account, the show holds fairly close to the plot and characters of the novel.  As in any adaptation, there are some deviations, but so far there’s been nothing that fundamentally alters the course of the story.  One notable small addition was the inclusion of a spy character, following Holden for Avasarala.  I suspect this was intended to provide a link between Avasarala’s plotline and Holden’s, but in the end he was mostly just a redshirt. I was also surprised that the first season does not cover the entirety of the first novel, but I think that the slaughter of Eros was chosen well as a finale. It also means that the next season can really start with a bang!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Read-Along: Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey, Part 8 [END]

Welcome to the final week of our read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion! This week’s discussion will cover from chapter 61 to the end of the book, and the questions are provided by Emily of Emma Wolf.  Beware of spoilers for the entire book below! It’s been a lot of fun reading and discussing this book with Emily, Lisa, Lynn and Susan, and I’m looking forward to tackling the next book with them as well.  If you’d like to join the next read-along, check out our goodreads group.  We’re starting off with Kushiel’s Justice on March 20th, so there’s plenty of time to join!

1. Canis—did anyone come close to guessing his true identity or allegiance (to the extent to which we know of it)?
I certainly didn’t alone, but Lynn’s answers and the discussion in the past two weeks convinced me that he could be working with Melisande.  I was hazy about whether or not she (and Canis) were in the Guild, but it seems like that’s the case.  I wonder if Anafiel and Melisande were recruited at the same time, and she ultimately joined the Guild while he rejected membership.  I was surprised by the idea of Melisande being in the Guild, since loyalty has never been one of her strong suits.  I can’t help but suspect that she is really using the Guild for her own ends.

2. There are lots of returns and leave takings in this portion. What do you think? Does anything stand out or strike you?

I think that Carey seems to have a great fondness for long denouments.  Imriel’s journey from Tiberium to Terre d’Ange was pretty peaceful (well, except for the storm). When he was staying in Marsilikos, it was a pretty amusing reminder of the differences in sexual mores between Terre d’Ange and Tiberium.  
3. Lots of upcoming weddings (Lucius and Helena, Imriel and Dorelei, Alais and Talorcan) and the (potential) reunion of Brigitta and Eamonn. Any thoughts on these?
I don’t doubt for a second that Eamonn will find Brigitta and they’ll be together again.  I really expected for there to be some reason for Imriel to not marry Dorelei, just because a settled married life is not very conducive to having two more books full of adventure.  Given Imriel’s greeting to Sidonie, though, I suspect he may not be planning to be a faithful husband. It may be a rocky marriage.  I’m wondering if Lucius and Helena will agree to quietly be unfaithful.  They’re friends, and the marriage is politically important, but I don’t think they have any desire for each other.  I really don’t know anything about Talorcan, so I can’t speculate on whether or not Alais will be happy.

4. How has Imriel changed and grown through the book?

He has spent a long time trying to come to terms with his heritage, as a biological son of traitors and an adopted son of heroes. I think he has finally come to a better place concerning his relationship with his mothers, both adopted and biological. I think Phedre will always be his mother in his heart, but it’s also healthier for him to try to appreciate the humanity of Melisande as well, instead of seeing her as an unknowable monster.  It was also a nice touch that he sent a letter to Mavros, since it shows that he now accepts the Shahrizai as a part of his family.

The other trauma he’s been dealing with throughout the novel is Darsanga, and I think he’s made a lot of progress in that direction as well.  He has been able to talk about his experiences (though maybe not in detail) with a few people now, and he seems to have a much happier view of sexuality.  I am glad that he didn’t just brush off all the abuse he suffered in a moment of epiphany (it really annoys me when that happens in novels), but I’m also glad that he is healing.  It was also hilarious when he offered up the “stunted tree” metaphor to Joscelin, who told him that he had Phedre’s gift for being melodramatic!  It will be interesting to see where Imriel’s story goes from here.   

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Short Fiction: January 2016

One of my plans for 2016 is to read a bit more short fiction, in order to be a more conscientious Hugo nominator and to help bring attention to especially entertaining works.  I was an avid reader of Asimov’s Science Fiction in high school, but my short fiction habit has fallen to the wayside in intervening years.  Last year, I started cultivating my interest again, focusing primarily on free fiction as a lower-stakes entry point.  It turns out that there’s quite a lot of high quality free fiction available online!  I mostly looked at Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Apex, and the occasional free stories from primarily pay magazines.  I also found Rocket Stack Rank, which provided a handy review-aggregation to lead me to stories I’m more likely to enjoy.  

For 2016, I’m still reading free stories and using Rocket Stank Rank, but I’m more willing to branch out and buy magazines, anthologies and novellas.  I can’t guarantee what volume of short fiction I’ll read--or how much of it I’ll think is worth mentioning--in any given month, but I will always try to post something.  Now, I’d like to talk about the highlights of my January reading, before January is too far behind us! If there is a theme for this month, I think it would be that elderly mothers/grandmothers are pretty amazing.

The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon (Apex 80, Novelette):  I believe this was written in an existing imaginary world with which I am not familiar, but it really didn’t matter for my enjoyment of the story.  It features an elderly woman with a strong personality, who is well-known for her skill in growing tomatoes--and who lives in a desert full of train gods and shapeshifters.  When someone begins stealing her nearly-ripe tomatoes, she finds herself involved in an adventure.  The story was extremely fun, and I especially enjoyed how it combined folklore from very different parts of the world.

Rockets Red by Mary Robinette Kowal (Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb, Short Story): A short and simple story, but also very sweet.  It takes place in her alternate history where Earth colonized Mars in the 1950s (as in The Lady Astronaut of Mars). In the 1970s, a man plans a fireworks display on Mars. His mother’s interference ends up making the experience more meaningful.
The White Piano by David Gerrold (Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb, Novelette): This one is a ghost story, but not really a horror story.  To help her grandchildren cope with sudden grief, a grandmother tells them a story about an experience she had with a ghost and a piano in her youth. It was a very well-written and emotional story about how the people we love stay with us even after they’re gone.

Have you read any great pieces of 2016-published short fiction lately? Please let me know what you would recommend!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
First Published: Headline Publishing Group/Doubleday Foundation (1989)
Series: Book 1 in the Hyperion Cantos
Awards Won: Hugo and Locus SF Awards
Awards Nominated: BSFA and Arthur C. Clarke Awards

The Book:

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope--and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.”

This is a series I’ve been meaning to read for ages, and I am finally getting started with it in audiobook form!  The audiobook had five narrators, which made it feel more like a dramatic presentation than simply a story read out loud.  I thought the production was really well done. 

I haven’t read anything by Dan Simmons before, so my only knowledge going into Hyperion was that it was a kind of far-future Canterbury Tales, and that just about every sci-fi fan I know was horrified I hadn’t read the series yet.  I’ve also heard a rumor that Syfy is going to adapt Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion into a miniseries.  I haven’t seen any trailers yet, but I am cautiously excited.

My Thoughts:

Hyperion clearly carries a number of literary influences, the most obvious being Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Keats unfinished epic poem Hyperion. As in Canterbury Tales, the basic story structure is of a group of pilgrims sharing their stories while traveling.  In this case, though, they are traveling to the mysterious Time Tombs on a planet known as Hyperion, which is a holy site for those who worship the murderous Shrike (a religion to which none of the pilgrims actually belong).  I found the setting and the characters’ motivations in the framing story to be really confusing at first, but each of their tales fleshed out both the universe and their places in it. Each tale also provided an opportunity to explore a different subgenre, as well as a different angle on the sprawling far-future human civilization.  With all so many different styles, I think there’s bound to be something here to appeal to any science fiction fan.  

I was hooked right away by the Priest’s Tale, a religious sci-fi horror that explores the wilds of Hyperion.  The Soldier’s Tale was less to my interests, as a military SF tale featuring battles and sex with a fantasy girl, but it gave background information about the war between the Ousters and the rest of humanity.  The Poet’s Tale was a dramatic memoir about the state of art and the publishing industry in this sprawling galactic civilization.  The Scholar’s Tale was a moving tragedy that explored being Jewish in a post-Earth society as well as a heartbreaking time-field-related illness.  The Detective’s Tale was more noir, and had some interesting ideas about identity (as well as an awesome magic ‘Hawking’ carpet). Finally, the Consul’s Tale was a romance revolving around the effects of the time differential caused by interstellar travel.  I initially thought it killed the novel’s momentum, but in the end I understood while his tale needed to be the last to be told.            

While I enjoyed some stories more than others, I think it was impressive the way they built on one another to slowly explain the current situation of both human and AI civilization, to reveal the inner thoughts of each character, and to develop the meaning and purpose of the pilgrimage.  The universe of Hyperion seems vast and complicated--I was constantly surprised to see that there was yet another aspect to explore, and that all the details held together as a coherent whole.  For one small fascinating detail out of many, I was surprised that the story both took into account the effects of time dilation in interstellar travel, and introduced ‘farcasters’ that physically cut through space. The world of Hyperion was delightfully complex and strange, and the story effectively built up the ominous atmosphere surrounding it.  My only frustration is that I want to know what happens after the pilgrimage is complete, and for that I must carry on to The Fall of Hyperion, preferably soon.

My Rating: 5/5

I’m glad I finally got around to reading the first book of Simmons’s classic series, Hyperion, which somehow makes the idea of a far-future science fiction Canterbury Tales work extremely well.  There’s far too much in this book to discuss in just a short review, but I loved how each of the pilgrim’s tales gave us a different perspective on the creative universe Simmons has imagined.  Each tale also fell into a different subgenre, providing a wide variety of styles that likely appeal to many different kinds of readers.  I’m excited to see what the rest of the series has to offer!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

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

Welcome to week seven of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion! This week I’ve provided the discussion questions, and they cover chapters 53-60.  Only one week left of the novel, and I’m excited to see how everything will play out.  For now, beware of spoilers through chapter 60 below.

1) We begin this section with a slightly happier topic, Eamonn and Brigitta’s wedding.  Do you think this was a good idea, for Eamonn and Brigitta as well as for the people of Lucca?  Assuming they both survive, how do you think it will go for them when they break the news to their families?

I was surprised that Eamonn and Brigitta agreed to this, though I think it was good for the morale of the city to have something to celebrate.  Still, getting married is a lifelong commitment, and I didn’t think that Eamonn and Brigitta had been dating for very long.  It all seemed very fast, especially when you consider how much thought and planning seems to go into political marriages for nobles.  I can’t help but wonder how much the “tomorrow we may die” atmosphere of the siege contributed to their decision-making.  I really hope that Eamonn survives the siege.

Assuming they both make it through, I’m not sure how their families will take the news.  I don’t think there will be problems of personality (who could dislike Eamonn!), but there are some issues that will need to be talked through.  For instance, Brigitta was in Tiberium only for six months, after which she was supposed to return home.  Now she’s apparently planning to move permanently to Alba.  I expect her parents will not be thrilled.  On Eamonn’s side, I imagine his parents probably planned him to make a political marriage, and not for him to marry a woman he had dated for only a few months in college.  I hope they’ll come around and accept Brigitta eventually.

2)  Firestorm! Do you think this action was worth the sacrifices?  In the words of Deccus Fulvius, do you think it is worth destroying something to save it?

First off, I’m skeptical of how useful an olive grove would be as sustenance for an army.  I guess they have calories, but it would take a lot of time to gather them and they are pretty small.  I guess I don’t completely buy that it was necessary to burn down the ancient olive grove.  I think burning the crops is merited, but it’s also less of a sacrifice. They can be regrown in a year, and I think trade is developed enough that Lucca will be able to import food, once the siege is lifted.

I’m also conflicted on the sacrifice of people for this goal.  Gallus Tadius sent those men out with the expectation that it would be a suicide mission, but I didn’t get the impression that the men really understood this.  I think that if they were going to close the wall against them as they did, they should have made sure the men knew what they were signing up for.  If they had, maybe the one brief survivor would have fled elsewhere and lived.  

3) The d’Angeline delegation makes a deal for Imriel’s friends.  Do you agree with the characters’ decisions on who would go and who would stay?

I agree wholeheartedly with Imriel’s decision.  As for the others, I was surprised Brigitta didn’t choose to stay with Eamonn.  They had only just married, and I can’t imagine how hard it would be to leave your new husband in a siege.  She’s a fighter as well, so her presence could make a difference.  I agree with Deccus and Claudia leaving, especially since Claudia can now try to use her ties to the Guild to ask for help.

4) Do you think that Gallus Tadius knew that his plan to funnel the water to the underworld would require him to also depart?  Was that an act of self-sacrifice, or was it unintentional?

I’m not sure about this one.  He seemed very confident that he would be able to filter the water to the underworld, so part of me thinks he knew what he was doing.  Also, for all of Gallus Tadius’s faults, I think he does value Lucca and his family more than his own life.  I wonder if Lucius will be able to recover, and if his sense of the lemures will be gone now.

5) Any new thoughts on Canis?  Do you think he was involved in informing the d’Angeline delegation, and do you think he’s a part of (or in opposition to) the Unseen Guild?

I still don’t really know what to think about Canis, but the discussion from last week has put the idea in my head that he might be working for Melisande.  The main clue we have so far is that Claudia is lying about not knowing anything about him.  I have been wondering if he might have been involved with the Guild in the past, but has since left them.  Thinking back to his statement about being truly free as a nameless beggar, I wonder if he found he didn’t like being beholden to a powerful group.  Could Melisande have somehow allowed him to get free of the Guild, and that’s why he is looking after her son? Whatever his loyalties, I think that he was involved in informing the d’Angeline delegation, and he has been protecting Imriel.

Other Thoughts:
--After Imriel’s concern about his tendency to cruelty in the past few weeks, it was nice to see so many examples of his kindness this week.  For instance:
  • It was kind of Imriel to speak with Helena, and to share some of his pain to help her deal with her own.
  • It was kind of Imriel to use his Cassiline skills to coerce Gallus Tadius into getting a good night’s sleep.
  • It was kind of Imriel to help Helena’s parents cope by getting them involved in organizing their home for the flood and the invasion.

--Now comes the battle.  I really hope Eamonn lives.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Babel-17 by Samuel Delany

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Published: Ace Books (1966, first), Open Roads Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (2014, my edition)
Awards Won: Nebula Award
Awards Nominated: Hugo Award

The Book:

“In the far future, the universe is divided by a war between two factions, the Alliance and the Invaders.  The Alliance government has been recently plagued by sabotage, and their only clue about the perpetrator involves some indecipherable communications that they have labeled “Babel-17”.

After the codebreakers fail, the government calls on the universally famous polyglot poet Rydra Wong for help.  Rydra realizes that the communication is not in code, but in an alien language that she is eager to learn. She gathers a crew and heads out to find and stop the saboteurs before it’s too late.” ~Allie

This is the second book I’ve read by Samuel R. Delany, and I enjoyed this one more than the last.  I don’t think Delany is really my style, but after Babel-17 I think I can appreciate his work.  Also, I seriously meant to review this for Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage Sci-Fi Month, but then January got unexpectedly hard to handle.

My Thoughts:

Babel-17 features a space opera world that is unapologetically strange, and I found that I rather liked it.  This is a world where there is a specific set of people you need for a starship crew, and that includes dead people, a triad, a group of children and a good wrestler for a pilot.  A lot of the strangeness of the world also involved the methods of transfer of information.  For instance, disincorporated crew members interpret information relevant to space travel through unusual synesthetic impressions, and a living captain has to have a strategy to take into account that their mind is going to immediately forget messages from them (sort of like The Silence in Doctor Who).  The weirdness of the world and its methods of communication led to some very entertaining scenes and conversations.

The communication and information transfer aspects of the book also tie into its focus on how language affects thought. While I do think it is interesting to consider how language influences the way people see the world, I don’t really buy that it controls your thoughts to the extent that is shown here (which I think is considered the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis).  I think that even if you can’t express something in spoken language, you can still experience it, and just because a word has a certain accepted emotional subtext does not force you to feel a certain way about it.  To some extent, then, I found the language-based climax of the story a little too unbelievable to take.  All the same, it was pretty fun to read a space opera story that revolves around the impact of language on the thought process, even if I didn’t agree with its conclusions.  

Though it was packed with a lot of neat ideas, Babel-17 was also a very short book with many characters.  The focus on the unusual setting and various linguistic quirks meant that there wasn’t much time to flesh out Rydra’s crew and their relationships.  I enjoyed Rydra, a hyper-competent poet with a large skill set, and appreciated her frustration that her near-telepathic ability to read others did not necessarily enable her to communicate with them effectively.  Her romance subplot seemed a little too abrupt to be believable to me, though. Regardless, Rydra was an exceptionally fun starship captain, and I would have liked to read about her further adventures.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Babel-17 is a fairly short classic space opera set in an imaginatively strange universe.  I liked the focus on communication and language, and how it led to some unusual scenes and conversations. Some of the linguistic ideas were a little too unbelievable to me, though I still enjoyed the story overall. The poet heroine Rydra Wong is a little excessively skilled, but I appreciated that she was not without flaws.  I’m glad I finally managed to read Babel-17, and I expect it will stand as my favorite of Delany’s novels for quite some time.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

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

Welcome to week 6 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion.  This week’s questions are provided by Susan of Dab of Darkness, and cover chapters 45-52.  As usual, if you’re interested in joining future read-alongs, please check out our goodreads group.  Now, on to the questions, and beware of the many spoilers lurking below!

1) Imriel spends a night on the island of Asclepius. Do you agree with Imriel that his nature is to be cruel? Do you think of Imriel as a stunted tree reaching for the light?

No, I think he’s being a little too hard on himself.  I think the tree metaphor works better in reference to what he has suffered than as a statement on his nature.  His suffering will always be a part of him, but it doesn’t need to be something that prevents his growth or becomes the center of his being.

It seems to me that he is a little hypersensitive to his own actions that might be considered thoughtless, cruel and perhaps self-centered, because he has spent so much time meditating on the meaning of goodness.  I don’t think he is any crueler than the average person likely is from time to time, and I think it’s a good sign that he recognizes his failings and wants to improve on them.

2) Imriel makes a good go of breaking things off with Claudia. However, throughout this section we have seen how the spark between them is not yet doused. What do you think of Imriel's lingering desires? Is Claudia telling the truth about her own desires? 

I would give his break-up technique and A+.  He managed to avoid saying hurtful things, and was actually pretty respectful of her. He kept the focus on what their relationship was, and why he did not want to continue it.  Claudia lashed out a bit, and good on Imriel for not letting that get to him.

I think it’s undeniable that they still desire one another, but also undeniable that they don’t love one another.  Even if they end up in bed together a few more times, I think their relationship is essentially over.

3) Imriel reveals his full identity to Lucius and he learns of the legend of the Bella Donna, based on his own mother. Clever, intentional legend building by Melisande, or a fanciful story that built up over time or was borrowed from another legend? 

I blame Melisande!  She’s so easy to blame.  Seriously, though, it does sound tailor-made to absolve her of guilt and cast her in the role of a victim.  Imriel’s horrified response to the story was pretty funny.

4) All is not well at the city of Lucca. Helena has been kidnapped. The ghosts of the dead walk among the living. Lucius is possessed by his warlord ancestor Gallus Tadius. What do you think of this harsh man/ghost? 

Useful for the moment, but it will be good when they don’t need him anymore—assuming Lucius can find some way to banish him.  I am very glad they were able to prevent him from marrying Helena.  She’s going to marry Lucius at some point, I assume, but it was not a good time.  Lucius is possessed and she’s traumatized.

5) When Imri and crew return to the Tadius Villa with the injured Gilot, Imriel ponders the wonder of women. 'The courage of women is different than the courage of men.' Do you agree? 

Not really, courage is courage.  I would maybe agree that in a given society women and men are called (or forced) to express their courage in different ways.   

6) With the city under siege, an older mystery pops up with the arrival of Canis. Why do you think Imriel held his tongue and only told Eamonn? 

The simple answer would be because Canis asked him to (non-verbally).   The more complicated answer would involve why Imriel trusts Canis enough to hide his secret, and why Canis has come here in the first place.  I’m afraid I have no ideas there, though it’s clear that there is more to Canis than I had thought.

Other Things:

--This is a random thought I’ve had for a while, but it was brought up again this week by their riding.  I think the Bastard and I would really not get along. I am a horseback rider, and Imriel’s descriptions of his ‘spirited’ behavior sound exhausting and annoying to me.  I would much prefer a smallish, friendly, responsive, peaceful stallion (they do exist, I swear).  I guess Imriel’s preferences are naturally quite different than mine!

--I was so sad when Gilot died.  It just felt unfair, to him and to Anna and Belinda.  All he had to do was to make it through the wedding, and he could have gone back to Terre d’Ange and lived peacefully with his new family.

--I was quite struck by Imriel’s observation about Lucca: A place where a father loves his daughter enough that he’s willing to risk an entire city full of people to save her, but not enough to let her marry a poor man.

--I wonder if Imriel would have had the courage and conviction to rescue Helena the way he did without having endured the suffering of Darsanga. It was good that he reacted so quickly, even though it did ruin his chances of claiming diplomatic immunity.

--Alais is going to be pretty happy to hear his plans, if he makes it back to Terre d’Ange in one piece! I’m wondering if something else is going to derail that plan though, like Dorelei having fallen in love with someone else in the meantime.