Monday, July 24, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey, Part 1

Welcome to the first week of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Blessing!  This is the final book of the 9-book series, and also the book that brings Moirin’s story to a close.  It will be sad to say goodbye to this world, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading the series. This weeks questions are provided by Susan of Dab of Darkness, and they cover chapters 1-15. Beware of spoilers below!

1) Wow! We're back at Marsilikos and then into Terre D'Ange right away without any lengthy travel scenes. How was this change of pace for you after the lengthy travel journal we've had so far in this series?

I’m pretty fine with it.  I was impatient to get back to Terre d’Ange, so I was happy that we started there already!  Moirin is a very different person than she was the last time she was in this country, and it was interesting to see her and Bao’s take on the society after their long time away.

2) What do you think of King Daniel's management of the realm while he's in mourning? The relationship he has with his daughter Desiree?

I don’t think this is a problem that’s likely to go away anytime soon, and he’s not really fulfilling his role as a monarch or a father.  He endured after his first wife’s death, but it looks like losing Jehanne too was just too much.  I feel like he needs to spend some time at Balm House until he can cope with daily life again.

3) Moirin has taken up the role as Desiree's protector. What do you think of tet political quagmire she's gotten herself into? Will her tumblers and poet be able to sway the general public in her favor?

Well, someone needed to do something.  I’m actually kind of shocked that none of the local nobles stepped in to help, after Daniel kind of opted out of taking care of her.  It doesn’t reflect well on the nobility that they were just willing to let the situation fester until Moirin came back to help.

For the tumblers and the poet, I think it will help.  I think the biggest thing that would help is her doing a good job, and not running off to another country. Over time, she’s bound to win over a lot of the nobles. I know patience is not really her thing, though.

4) Moirin's father has a lover, Rogier, who is also in the king's favor. How big of a problem for Moirin and Bao do you think he will be?

I did not expect him to be an enemy, so that kind of caught me off guard.  He’s a really bad person to have as an enemy, since he is essentially the King at this point.  I expect he’s going to be a major problem, if she doesn’t find out what he has against her.

Other Thoughts:

--Moirin is a trust fund girl, and I am curious to see how she would cope in Terre d’Ange if her money runs out.

--The head nursemaid seemed weirdly prudish for Terre d’Ange.  I thought Bao’s subtle joke was harmless and inoffensive, and I was surprised that she even remarked on it.

--On that note, I would have expected patience and compassion to be some of the traits most commonly found in nursemaids.  Desiree didn’t really seem much worse than an average toddler, so it makes me wonder what other d’Angeline toddlers are like (fashion forward and careful of propriety?).

--It was neat to see Bao’s interest in d’Angeline acrobatics.  I bet both sides will learn a few things!


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Short Fiction: March 2017

Time for another look at some of my favorites of this year’s short fiction!  Today, I’m focusing on stories that were published in March 2017.  One of my favorites is another story by Naomi Kritzer, a writer who won a Hugo Award for last year’s short story, “Cat Pictures, Please”.  The second is a story that ties into Yoon Ha Lee’s heavily award-nominated novel, Ninefox Gambit.  The third is a clever story by an author new to me, Stephen Graham Jones.

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe by Naomi Kritzer (Short Story, Clarkesworld): Naomi Kritzer is one of a handful of writers whose writing style really meshes with the way my mind works, so I’m always excited to see another story published by her.  This one is a slice out of the life of a young woman who has been disowned by her parents, as she considers how to spend her last day before an asteroid might strike the Earth.  Despite the grim subject, I found it to be a pretty positive story.

Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee (Novelette, At some point, I promise I will put up my review Ninefox Gambit.  Having read it, I was pleased to see this prequel story about Shuos Jedao. In the novel, he is a very important character, but his life and era have long since ended.  I enjoyed seeing this bit of occasionally humorous insight into Jedao’s life and the forces that shaped his personality, before he becomes the dangerous ghost of Ninefox Gambit.

Rising Star by Stephen Graham Jones (Short Story, Uncanny): As a scientist myself, I appreciate a clever fictional grant proposal or paper.  This one is a grant proposal for a time travel project, and I have to say they made their case very convincingly.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, End

Welcome to my long-delayed final post for the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Curse.  This week’s questions were provided by Lynn of Lynn’s Books, and they cover to the end of the novel.  The final read-along of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, of the novel Naamah’s Blessing, is beginning next week, if anyone is interested in getting involved!  The schedule is as follows:

Week 1: Chapters 1-15, July 24th, hosted by Dab of Darkness
Week 2: Chapters 16-29, July 31st, hosted by Dab of Darkness
Week 3: Chapters 30-42, Aug 7th, hosted by Books Without Any Pictures
Week 4: Chapters 43-57, August 14th, hosted by Lynn's Book Blog
Week 5: Chapters 58-71, August 21st, hosted by Tethyan Books
Week 6: Chapters 72-END, August 28th, hosted by Dab of Darkness

And now, to the final questions for Naamah’s Curse, beware of spoilers of the novel below!

1.) What did you make of the mission to retrieve the black diamond and what do you actually make of the black diamond and whether it could be used for good?

Everything seemed to go pretty smoothly.  When they finally got the diamond, it reminded me a bit of the scene with Galadriel refusing the One Ring.  The diamond is not inherently evil, but it seems to be so in practice.  I don’t think anything that is used to override other people’s free will can be used for good.  

2.)The Spider Queen and Amrita - what were your final thoughts on both of them - did you have sympathy for Jagrati?  Do you think Amrita can affect change in the caste system?

I do have some sympathy for Jagrati, since I think there really wasn’t any way she could have improved her life within the system.  I don’t disagree with her leaving society and making a new life for herself, but I do disagree with the particular life she chose.  Having experienced pain does not give anyone a free pass to give pain and death to others.  I don’t see them as on the same tier as the evil of Darsanga, though, where they were seriously just trying to be as horrible as possible.  

Amrita’s plan to remove the untouchable caste went shockingly smoothly.  There were a few mild protesters, but it seemed like pretty much everyone fell into line with the new order.  I wonder if it went that way because it is a small, isolated village, where the people’s loyalty is more to the personality of their leader than to their religion.  I don’t expect this change to be widespread or even permanent, though I admit I’m biased by real-world history.  It is good that she is trying to change the world for the better, though!    

3.)Moirin and Bao - they’ve made peace with each other.  Did you finally forgive Bao?  Do you think they’ve reached an understanding that will work for them?

I think Bao is really just not my sort of person, and he still hasn’t given a reasonable excuse for randomly marrying another woman.  It was good to see them get back together and work out their relationship, though.

One thing I found really odd was how conservative Moirin is about marriage.  She herself is not well-suited to monogamy, and she was raised alone in a cave.  She spent a fair amount of time in Terre d’Ange, where it is pretty common to have a primary partner in addition to other lovers.  Is Moirin’s fear about being a ‘bad wife’ all coming from her trauma with Cillian?  It doesn’t seem relevant to anything Bao has expressed in his expectation for their relationship.  I mean, he certainly hasn’t been physically loyal, either.  Moirin seems to be exactly the kind of wife Bao wants, so I was a little baffled by her worry.

3.)Finally - any predictions for where the journey will take us next? Can you see a purpose in Moirin’s diadh-anam??

It looks like the next book will resolve the issue with Raphael and the demon, as well as finally sending Moirin and Bao off to the New World!  I hope Moirin also gets a chance to introduce her new husband to her mother and father, in between the adventures.  I’m not sure what’s going on with Jehanne, but I hope she gets to move on to the afterlife when everything is finally settled.  I don’t see any over-arching theme with Moirin’s diadh-anam yet, but maybe that will come clear when we see her next tasks.

Other Thoughts:

--It was a bit sad that the lower-caste workers were against abolishing the untouchables caste, but I can see where they were coming from. I bet a lot of the attitudes toward untouchables will now shift to the new lowest caste.  At least Amrita is also trying to implement a kind of inter-caste social mobility to combat this.

--I wonder if Bao is going to have problems with drugs in the future.  I get the impression that it’s often a bit harder to beat a drug addiction than simply deciding one day that you don’t need it anymore.

--Was anybody else a little puzzled that the Falconer did basically nothing?  He had an impressive villain name and everything.

--We’ve got confirmation that the Falconer has zero interest in anyone who has ever given birth.  But why?  That seems like a weird hang-up to have never explain.

--I’ve been noticing that a lot of the changes Moirin is making in the world around her are going to be transient.  I mean, the caste system is still an issue today, and obviously gunpowder is eventually going to be discovered.  It’s a little sad to know that her actions will be undone.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
Published: Solaris, 2014
Series: Book 1 of the Fractured Europe Sequence
Awards Nominated: BSFA, Campbell, Clarke

The Book:

“After a variety of crises, Europe has collapsed into many small states.  The increasing number of new borders and citizenships has created a chaotic mess where crime flourishes. Rudi is a chef in Krakow, but one day he finds himself quietly recruited into a seemingly silly (but lucrative) kind of spy game.  In his new role as a Coureur, Rudi transports goods, information, and sometimes people across many borders.  

As Rudi gets in deeper, he realizes that the work of the Coureurs can sometimes be deadly serious.  He eventually becomes entangled in a conspiracy that someone is willing to kill to cover up.  Will he be able to discover the secret before it costs his life?”  ~Allie

This is the first book I’ve read by Dave Hutchinson, and I chose it because of the many award nominations.  Also, sorry for the long silence.  It has been a hard summer to find time to write.

My Thoughts:

Europe in Autumn is a kind of spy/organized crime novel, which eventually has some supernatural elements.  It starts out in Rudi’s mundane life before his recruitment as a coureur, and I enjoyed seeing his life as a chef.  I found his impatience and mild embarrassment with his first ‘spy’ work amusing, and I got a kick out of his unenthusiastic personality as he grew in competence as a coureur.  On the other hand, his adventures felt very episodic.  The book jumped around from situation to situation, and I didn’t ever feel like I had a strong sense of the story as a coherent whole.  This is the first novel in a series, so it’s possible that subplots which are dropped here are picked up in the coming novels.

Rudi’s fractured Europe was carefully imagined, but it was also incredibly bleak. I don’t know how likely this scenario seemed to be back in 2014, but now it’s just close enough to reality to make me feel stressed out.  As a coureur (and even as a chef), Rudi spends a lot of time with organized crime syndicates, so the world we see is really dirty, cynical and full of violence.  I’m definitely not opposed to darker books, but I think this one just hit me in the wrong place and at the wrong time.  There were some ideas that I thought were pretty interesting, though, such as the long rail-line that declared itself as an independent country.

As the book moved toward its conclusion, it seemed to focus progressively less on Rudi.  Instead, the story began to be told through the perspectives of a string of minor characters and fictional documents.  At this point, I was mostly interested in Rudi’s personal story, so the shift away from him left me feeling puzzled.  The supernatural elements that eventually come into play are a neat idea, but I had mostly run out of interest in the story by the time they were revealed.  Overall, I think this book was a mismatch for me, but I can see the appeal in the story for others.

My Rating: 2/5

This slightly supernatural spy novel features an amusingly reluctant chef-turned-smuggler who has adventures throughout a fractured Europe.  I enjoyed the personality of the main character, but was less engaged by the episodic nature of the story and the bleak near-future world.  I also began to feel more indifferent as the novel shifted away from the protagonist in the latter part of the book, focusing instead of fictional documents and minor characters. This was not a book for me, in the end, but I can see how it could have caught others’ imaginations.