Her face took on a more somber look. "Know too, that there are those who would stop you in your journey," she said. "They fear you, fear what you will become, and with good cause because your life will touch the lives of many. There is a darkness out there, greater than any darkness you've known. Should you live, understanding and more will be yours."
"And should I die, lady?"
She looked at him, gave him a small smile and said simply, "Don't."
Synopsis: The fish people get pissed and get magic and go whup on some land-dwellers, finding them crunchy and good with ketchup. Also there's a subplot about the world's wieniest secret pirate.
The sahuagin are kind of sea goblins, and one of their princesses gets it into her head to track down a mysterious and forgotten manuscript. Because that always goes so well. And indeed she follows the manuscripts directions to the undersea tomb of a dessicated naked dude, which a) is reason number one never to go on forgotten manuscript adventures and b) results in two fellow princesses getting immediately eaten, because the dessicated naked dude is secretly a great white shark. And boy is he annoyed.
Of course he wasn't a good great white shark, he was an evil one, and that's how he got imprisoned in an underwater tomb without any trousers. I guess whoever stuck him there thought a lack of pants would totally stop this dude. Who's a shark. Anyway, Iakhovas the Sharkshifter decides to wreak his revenge on basically everyone he can get his hand-fins on, including the sea goblins. He launches an amphibious attack on Waterdeep and uses the full kitchen sink: water dragons, giant turtles, sea serpents, bloodworms, were-rats, aboleths (which I had to go look up in the sourcebooks), sahuagins, marine scrags (which I'm still kind of unclear on), more sahuagins, jellyfish, just everything he could lay his hands on. And yet, all of them pale in significance before the scariest monster in the book, and indeed in any Forgotten Realms book I've read, the raggamoffyn.
The raggamoffyn are a race of sentient scraps of cloth. Cloth. Apparently there are good raggamoffyns and evil ones, but the one in this book was supposed to be good and it full-on mummified a nine-year-old boy:
Before anyone could react, the raggamoffyn exploded into hundreds of wet fabric pieces that flew through the air. They hovered around the boy like a bee swarm, twisting and turning like gulls gliding through storm weather. The fabric pieces covered every inch of the boy's body, including his eyes, nose and mouth, slamming into place with wet splashes ... The raggamoffyn held fast, following every movement with its shape. The boy clawed at the fabric pieces, trying to rip them free.
...BAD DEADLY BLANKET! Bad bad blanket!
Its name is Skeins, btw.
Also, pro-tip: if you watch Venture Brothers, then go back and read 90s swords and sorcery books, you WILL wind up picturing Brock Sampson as the dude who rolls up on horseback all, "Let's do this." And saves the city. With help from the city mage. As played by Dr Orpheus. And when that city mage is described as being in a hissy bitchfight with the other city mage you'll wind up picturing Dr Orpheus' monk friend.
"I am Piergeiron!" he roared in a loud voice that echoed from the buildings and over the water. "Called Paladinson and Known Lord of Waterdeep." He drew his great sword Halcyon and held it aloft so it gleamed. "As long as I can fight, this city will remain standing and be free!" He lifted the sword, and as if in answer, a salvo of flaming rock seared across the sky from Castle Waterdeep's catapults. They splashed down in the harbor around the bloodworms and dragon turtles.
Take your pick from the smorgasbord of awesomeness. Do you want the sharkshifter, the rat shifters, the city mage slapfight, the 70-foot-long sea serpents or the DEADLY BLANKET?
There's also a subplot about the world's wieniest secret pirate (Who's not a pirate! Honest! He's just terrified of his father! Who IS a pirate! And his pirate tattoo won't come off! And he gets kicked out of the house! And people see his tattoo and realize he's a pirate even though he worked so hard not to be a pirate! Life is so UNFAIR.) who is basically milquetoast in a leather apron (Yes, that's all he wears. It gets so hot working on ships! And running away from girls! And being a secret pirate!).
Anyway, his subplot has like, zero bloodworms or firedrakes. It has pirates, but they're mainly just him hiding in a crow's nest reading romance novels (not making this up) and being sad about being a secret pirate.
But back to Waterdeep and the live-action Iron Maiden album unfolding there:
Maskar Wands [city mage numero uno] stood in a flying chariot drawn by a pair of red firedrakes whose claws struck sparks from the sky as they ran. The wizard's hairline had receded over the years to reveal his broad forehead, but silver hair still flowed in the wind. He wore the robes of a wizard. ...Maskar gestured at the chariot and firedrakes and they disappeared. The wizard gazed blackly at the snake hanging from the huge hand he'd conjured. "Now," he said sternly, "now we show these invaders that Waterdeep will never bend, much less break."
Oh yeah. The city mage saves Waterdeep from the 70-foot-long sea serpent by wizarding up a giant hand that chokes the snake. And there is exactly zero irony present in any of the snake-choking scene. None.
The prose is, in case you have not guessed, a little stilted, like how someone feels a rabid mouse "coiling in his guts" when he gets scared (three guesses who) and that thing with the severed foot in the title never really gets explained, but takes four full pages to not be explained in. And you either love this kind of epic nonsense or you already know it's not really your kind of thing.
But really, how can you say no to a book where the SHARKSHIFTER is one of the least notable things about it? (less)
Once I got past the fact that the figure on the cover, shirt open to her navel, in no way resembles Taya Icarus (who dresses modestly unless kidnapped...moreOnce I got past the fact that the figure on the cover, shirt open to her navel, in no way resembles Taya Icarus (who dresses modestly unless kidnapped by Jayce the rogue straight n’ sassy dressmaker, and who has short, curly hair which makes sense for stuffing under a flight cap), I was able to enjoy the dickens out of this book.
But I’ll admit I’m picky that way.
There’s really so much to like about this book, and it made me wish that English had a word for re-reading a book you tend to think of as pretty good and remembering that it’s awesome. There’s so much stuff to like about it. I love Ondinium’s cobbled streets and that it clings to the side of a mountain so steep it requires airway tram service and icarii to get around. I love the concept of the icarii, the skill set, the outfit and the culture. I love that they live in aeyries together with terrible meddling house-mothers named Gwen.
I find the whole Alistair vs Cristof romantic set-up early in the book to be really technically well executed, mainly in that at no point does Pagliasotti whang us over the head with Taya's infatuation with Cristof. I use that term in more of a "she is fascinated/irritated by him" rather than "she's all swoony", but look lady, if you're out on a date with a guy and all you can think about is his brother, you might want to look into who you'd really like to be with. Seriously. Every time Taya’s with Alistair, she keeps on thinking about Cristof. It made me giggle.
Also it’s interesting that as a couple, Taya and Cristof’s first physical interactions involve fighting: fighting off her Alzanan attackers and then later just whaling away on each other like kindergartners. Awesome.
I love the holistic quality of the metal-related language in the text and how it keeps gently re-tying you back to the theme of the forge: scrap as a swearword, Fireforged as a swearword for exalteds, a slagging pain in the tailset. I don’t know, I just found the whole system elegant.
(The one linguistic thing I didn’t get was Ondinium; is it the name of the city and the country? And why aren’t the citizens called Ondinians?)
Also, holy bananas but Alistair was a giant toolbag. On fire.
Anyway, there's this moment as Taya's sneaking out to fly Cristof up to the Council's palace on the cliffs -- for which they could and possibly will both be arrested and charged with murder -- where Taya writes:
That morning, she'd done what she could to set up her own advantages. She'd left a note in Cassi's purse containing Kyle's letter and describing where she was going and why. She didn't know what Cassi would do when she found it, but no icarus flew without filing a flight plan.
Now, while I was reading Clockwork Heart, I took a break to look up something in Daphne Gottlieb's first collection of poems, Why Things Burn. I forget what it is I went there to look up, but I do know I read the poems "incubus/succubus", "sanctuary" and "convertible" before getting overwhelmed and having to stop.
Don't get me wrong, I love Gottlieb's work. It's unsettling and uncomfortable and frightening and painful -- everything good poetry should be**. I recognize her anger and her weariness both from the anger and the things that cause it, which in her work at least is so often violence against women, both sexualized and other. And those three particular poems, which I read at random just before I read about Taya filing a flight plan in her best friend's purse before running off to help this mysterious jackass by doing something illegal that carries with it the risk that she'll be killed.
And I realized that I was looking at an all-too-infrequent-in-books form of Survival Skills for Ladies**.
Of COURSE she'd let her best friend know where she was going. Even MORE SO because the errand was so risky. And it made me wonder: why don't we see this type of safety planning more often in books? Is it because we don't want to think about danger when we're indulging in escapist reading? Because it's depressing to think about heroines taking risks and NEEDING that type of safety net? But heroines in steampunk and other types of books are often imperiled; kidnapped, stabbed, menaced, dropped from airships, or, as here, investigating a crime in a way that could lead to arrest, blinding and death.
I don't have an answer. I'm hoping y'all will answer in the comments.
And at this point I don't even remember what I was going to look up in Why Things Burn. It'll come back to me eventually.
But this is complicated by the next lines, which read:
”Don’t worry.” Cristoff tapped his bulging coat pocket. “You can always say I forced you at gunpoint.”
Y’all I just. I just. *deep breath* There’s the whole gun/phallus thing, there’s the whole echo of false rape accusations, and the dismissal of the heroine’s agency thing, and, I quite honestly don’t know what to make of that moment. Even if it’s just off-the-cuff, why was it necessary?
Yeah I know I know: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
One minor complaint and then I guess I should shut up about this book but I did think the Kyle/Lars setup was hella contrived. There’s no other indication about homosexuality in Ondinium, but with such a rigid caste system, I’m not surprised to see it not being explicitly prevalent. But there’s no discussion of what the possible repercussions of that match-up might be. It’s just treated as this juvenile prank by the computer program that conveniently matches up with reality. Very confusing.
*Daphne Gottlieb will always be my first choice for poet laureate. Discuss.