I'd probably be happier if I could qualify those four stars as 'really enjoyed it', or 'maybe it was the right time and I might be more critical anothI'd probably be happier if I could qualify those four stars as 'really enjoyed it', or 'maybe it was the right time and I might be more critical another (or had I not sort of been reading A Great and Terrible Beauty at the same time, as that makes a lot of things look better'... But anyway, I did enjoy it! I'd heard all the stuff about Claire/Clare, though I'd never read any of her fanfic, but was convinced to try the book myself when Sherwood Smith highly recommended the sequel, City of Ashes, which she said is even better. It's quite likely that my lack of fanfic reading helped me enjoy this, judging by some of the reviews from people who read a ton of it.
But really, for me, the combination of a complex urban fantasy setting, enough angst (Oh, poor --! Oh no - now poor --!) without a killing overload, and a good dollop of humour, kept me reading very happily. I liked the fascistic bad guy too. I mean, I didn't like him, but thought he was a convincing baddie. Clary might have been a bit dim sometimes, but things were nicely enough mixed up between her not seeing the big twist the reader saw coming a long way away, her not seeing for a reason that hadn't been obvious but made perfect sense, and the reader sometimes getting it wrong too, that it remained interesting. (And when I think of some of the teen heroines of urban fantasy ...! Did I hear someone say Bella??) There were a few minor plot-holes left in all the twists and turns, but nothing outrageous. And I will definitely be reading the sequel soon....more
Reading in process, as I had to put it aside when I'd had my fill for the time being... There will be an LJ post when I've managed to wade my way to tReading in process, as I had to put it aside when I'd had my fill for the time being... There will be an LJ post when I've managed to wade my way to the end....more
I can't believe I first read this *seventeen years ago*. I can still clearly remember stumbling to a stop in my reading to Becca when I saw a few lineI can't believe I first read this *seventeen years ago*. I can still clearly remember stumbling to a stop in my reading to Becca when I saw a few lines across the page what was about to happen. All these years later, it's remained a favourite, and I seem to be a minority in loving it more than King of Attolia, for reasons I'll probably never manage to explain.
No review, but some thoughts, as much on the series as the book itself, so I'll be hiding them behind spoilers soon.
1. The phrase 'offend the gods' recurs, from just after Gen is caught right through to the end. Attolia is warned not to do this, by a woman appearing in her room (view spoiler)[who is actually Moira (hide spoiler)], and by Ornon, the ambassador sent by Eddis. She asks Gen if she has when about to punish him, and finally, in one of the most important scenes in the book, we see the explanation of the first warning and Gen taking his questioning all the way. Except - the warning doesn't make sense. Or at least it's not clear, and it couldn't have been a very *useful* warning to Attolia, as the gods have never given any indication of what they would and wouldn't find 'offensive'. What's told to Gen, on the other hand, does, so the discrepancy is puzzling.
Not only does the phrase run through this book, it comes up several times in Conspiracy of Kings (possibly in KoA also, but I wasn't looking out for it the same way). And, I'm going to go in two different directions here: back to the first page of The Thief and also to near the end of Conspiracy. In the former, Gen swears 'to myself and every god I knew that if I got out alive, I would never never never take any risks that were so abysmally stupid again.' What a lie that was! But isn't it offensive to swear to the gods not to do something it's in your nature to do? He probably means it at the time, but it's not long before he breaks that oath completely. Unless the gods give him a free pass on that one just because ... he's Gen, and the gods are obviously playing as long a game as the author.
The line at the end of Conspiracy I find more difficult: 'We are not philosophers; we are sovereigns. The rules that govern our behaviour are not the rules for other men, and our honour, I think, is a different thing entirely, difficult for anyone but the historians and the gods to judge.' Which I do accept, in one way, but also seems a very dangerous thing for anyone to claim for themselves. (I'll come back to this when - if - I write up Conspiracy, but while it's being said (view spoiler)[ to Sophos/Sounis by Eddis, who very much means herself in that 'we' (hide spoiler)], it also must kind of include the intended reader into the role of those supposed historians. That's part, in this book, of what we do to find the romance acceptable, isn't it?
Which leads to my 2) Some people absolutely can't take the romance, given what happens so close to the beginning of this book, and I can see that. (Though as I said, it's one of my favourite books ever, which couldn't be true if I didn't believe the romance worked.) When I was reading Melissa's review I was struck by a way in which it was similar to Pride and Prejudice, in that it's very easy to see Mr Darcy's failings and how he needs to be saved (and humbled), as that's in our faces. But Elizabeth makes many errors while priding herself on being superior to others, and it's not as glaringly obvious. It's the idea that the story is about Gen (view spoiler)[ loving Irene despite her having done an unforgiveable thing (hide spoiler)] that I think is true but also not quite it.
On thinking about why I felt this so much, it occurred to me that Turner makes us read quite skilfully in ways - not only spotting the extreme narrative cleverness (only after the fact, most of the time!), but keeping a balance of context in place. If we read this as modern readers only, then we have to agree with Eddis at her angriest, that Attolia is 'barbaric', and a 'fiend from hell' (okay, the phrase originates with Gen, but she believes it), and was in no way within her rights to punish Gen. The romance doesn't work then, of course, but we would *also* have to accept that Gen's behaviour is pretty dodgy in modern terms too; spying on her, claiming to love her only from his hiding in her palace and watching her without her consent, and willingly acting as a political tool against her several times over.
Reading in context, we're given a more full picture of a woman who has survived and kept her country surviving, killing as ANY of the rulers of Sounis, Eddis or Attolia would do, when there's been treachery against her. Not only that but we see in her furious reply to Gen in the boat that she is not just concerned with her own power but with the welfare even of her peasants. This is something even Eddis, by far the most likeable - and for the most part, the most apparently admirable - of the three rulers, admits she hasn't always managed to do when she says she's 'taken food from the mouths of widows and children to feed my army'. But that context if taken as our only way of reading, leaves us with sovereigns who will make marriages - for themselves and their families - for political gain rather than affection, let alone romance. (view spoiler)[Gen's abduction of Attolia is a brilliant political manoeuvre, even if one that gets temporarily foiled by the gods, but what are the chances of his managing to solve the problems of Eddis AND Attolia AND marry for love? We need a bit of soft-focus to make the modern read with our present-day expectations of relationships work alongside the sort-of-historical one of absolute rulers in very, very dangerous times. (hide spoiler)]
Again, funnily, I go back to Pride and Prejudice, because the comparison that keeps popping up between Attolia and (a young) Elizabeth I works against that desire for a fabulously romantic read! (It's apt though, I think, in the incredible intelligence that allowed a female keep a throne against huge opposing odds. Male odds in a male world. And Elizabeth's mother killed by her father for Attolia's father killed by her father-in-law-to-be.) The thing I find comforting though is thinking of when Elizabeth (Bennet, not Queen!) goes to Pemberley and meets the housekeeper, whose very high opinion of Mr Darcy she *can't* discount. And no matter how we hate what they do to Gen in King of Attolia, among the 'snakes and weasels' filling her court, Attolia has her guards who are *fiercely* loyal to her, which doesn't happen just by paying someone. Or by being beautiful. And it doesn't happen if you really are a fiend of hell, which we can keep in mind until we finally are shown her heart.
3) The 'barbaric' Eddis throws around is full of dramatic irony, because everyone thinks it of other countries (except, I guess, Sounis, who just wants power). The Attolians are absolutely dismissive of the Eddisians, while being accused of barbarousness by Eddis, and the Medes find the Attolians themselves barbaric, as we see very clearly in Thick as Thieves. Following it as a thread through the books is interesting, because people seem to see clearly how alike they all are (in willingness to throw each other's countries at the Medes for self-preservation) and then lose that clarity in bitterness and hatred of each other. Which is a pretty universal difficulty with self-awareness writ on a larger scale, I guess. But I do wonder where the big story arc will go with this, because nobody is at all willing to admit they're no better than the Medes, but surely if we read this in quasi-historical context, empire isn't that different from small country feuding? And Sounis (the country) isn't thrown out of bed for the actions of Sounis (the king in this book), although his barons are another bunch of snakes and weasels, so maybe the Medes will eventually get a bit more charity than they're likely to get based on the ambassadors we see in this and Conspiracy? ...more