One of the things that is really pleasing about the Temeraire books is how, while I see some smaller plot developments coming, Novik sets up huge unex...moreOne of the things that is really pleasing about the Temeraire books is how, while I see some smaller plot developments coming, Novik sets up huge unexpected reversals of stakes, and does it so far in advance you have to admire the craftsmanship as well as the effect. This book goes in quite an unexpected direction from the last one, and takes us out of the Napoleon tunnel vision we might have been settling into.
I admit I was trepidacious when I realized the characters were going to Africa. Some otherwise charming historical fantasies I've read have fallen down when they've taken their Western European characters to the Middle East or Africa. It's very difficult to write believably period characters who stay likeable, while being honest about colonialism. To be honest I've seen authors fall into Orientalism and patronizing cliché more often than the reverse. Novik, though, did an admirable job, I thought. She depicted the ignorance and misunderstandings of the Europeans, gave enough imagination and empathy to our heroes to allow them to understand other perspectives, didn't manufacture or force common feelings, forgiveness, etc...and of course, it is incredibly cool to see an African superpower in a fantasy novel!
Novik really thinks through the implications of her worldbuilding, ethically, economically, historically -- and this book is not the first time she's taken a potential hole or question in her setup straight on and made it plot. It's satisfying and well-done.(less)
I've only read a novel by Murakami before, and I found his declarative prose style worked better in short stories. Some of the stories did feel rather...moreI've only read a novel by Murakami before, and I found his declarative prose style worked better in short stories. Some of the stories did feel rather slight. That moment of turning, of transformation, on which such subtle character-driven fictions rely, was often quite understated; while occasionally gross lyrical flights can seem an overblown attempt to sell an underfed story, here sometimes the understatement worked against the stories, leaving you feeling little movement or effect from having finished a tale. Sometimes, though, despite not feeling entirely arrived, I did feel I'd enjoyed the journey.
My favorites, I think, were "Honey Pie" and "Landscape with Flatiron". In their quiet ways, they seemed true, right through to the end, and the images woven through made them lovely, too.(less)
Obviously, this book is an exemplar of a certain time and cultural hegemony. If you can't swallow a little casual racism, chivalric chauvinism, and a...moreObviously, this book is an exemplar of a certain time and cultural hegemony. If you can't swallow a little casual racism, chivalric chauvinism, and a lot of implicit colonialist/supremacist attitudes (White Savior ho), it's not for you, and I can really respect that.
However, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. The first-person narrative was droll and self-deprecating enough to blunt the impact of the almost videogamey levels of protagonist exceptionalism, and there was enough interesting, actually vaguely scientific worldbuilding involved in, for instance, the culture of the Green Martians that they didn't come across as the one-for-one standins for stereotyped Earth cultures I'd feared to find. I found the Sola/Tars Tarkis subplot really interesting and compelling. The adventure, although occasionally a little jerkily episodic and inconsistent (uh, isn't that a lie? and why can't you read that guy's brain?) was pleasingly swashbuckling, and I liked the details of Martian life, the classic airships and faithful Martian hound...not to mention some real sensawunda moments.
As for the titular Princess, well, she does spend a lot of time as a damsel in distress. (And some of that distress is Burroughs hilariously contriving to break his own Green Martian worldbuilding in order to follow formula, sigh.) She does at least talk a good game occasionally, and nominally is involved in Science, but she is a little disappointing. (And that's not getting into the Men are from Earth, Women are from Mars comedic miscommunications.) She's not as weak a character as I might have feared, but when I reflect that Mina Harker; intelligent, stalwart and competent even swathed in chivalrous effusions from the menfolk; was written twenty years before, I could have done with a little more active agency from Dejah Thoris. The secret is to strangle the big creepy green guy with the chain, Princess.
Bottom line: fun adventure, cool ideas, antiquated notions, not as cheesy as I'd expected. I may actually be tempted to listen to another Burroughs novel in future!(less)
The mystery plot was a little tighter in this second book in the Medicus series, In general the plotting was quite well done: little bits of foreshado...moreThe mystery plot was a little tighter in this second book in the Medicus series, In general the plotting was quite well done: little bits of foreshadowing, necessary information and so forth were woven quite invisibly into the fun, interesting setting and the characters I care about. I especially appreciated some of the tension Downie created between Ruso and others even when I was chafing desperately against it -- so it must have been good!(less)