This book starts with a great premise: Imriel will have to bring his traitorous mother to justice to have the Queen approve his love match with her da...moreThis book starts with a great premise: Imriel will have to bring his traitorous mother to justice to have the Queen approve his love match with her daughter. And then, Carey punts and the book goes off in an entirely different direction. This trilogy began with the disappearance of Imriel's mother, so this premise made perfect sense. And it was also in line with the sort of personal struggle that dominated Kushiel's Justice.
I liked what Carey delivered instead. Imriel goes on a lone quest to save his love and his country. And it's packed with great moments. The bad guys pale in comparison to some of the other books. And now, Imriel seems just too noble for words, much like Phedre and Joscelyn before him. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and probably would have liked it more, except that I kept having the idea that the book insisted on shying away from what I thought would be really interesting. Instead of wrapping up the intrigue with Imriel's mother, and with the Unseen Guild, it more or less leaves those things hanging.
I don't often criticize a book for what it isn't, but I think it's OK to make an exception for the third book of a trilogy. And that's especially true when the book first tells you what it's going to be about, and then undercuts itself.
And one last thing: I still don't understand what mercy (Kushiel's or anyone else's) has to do with this book. That may just be my stupidity. (less)
Our tortured sadist is back. In this book, Imriel keeps his word and marries one woman while in love with another, for political reasons. This violate...moreOur tortured sadist is back. In this book, Imriel keeps his word and marries one woman while in love with another, for political reasons. This violates Blessed Elua's Principle (or is it Elua's Blessed Principle), and bad things happen. Along the way we get witchcraft, shapeshifting, soothsaying, sword fights, a shipwreck, imprisonment, revenge, and snowblindness to rival Dr. Zhivago.
All in all, I liked this installment, even though it did feel more like an installment than anything else. I especially liked Berlik, even though he only makes a few appearances. And I actually like Imriel's abiding stupidity throughout this book. The only thing that troubled me is that none of his confidants seemed to think that he was being stupid. All he needed to do was own up to the truth, and it seems no-one can see it.
There was one other thing that really bothered me. Prediction of the future plays a huge part of this book. It's what motivates the biggest plot movement. But there doesn't seem to be much reflection on what the ability to predict the future means. There are two independant predictions of one scene in Imriel's life. No-one knows what it means, but it does come to pass. And despite the fact that this moment was "fated," Imriel still seems to harbor regrets about the events that led up to that moment. But, in a world where fate was that strongly proven, wouldn't that have a really big idea on people's ideas of regret and responsibility? It seems not; or at least not in Carey's imagination. Instead, she raises the conundrum only to ignore it.
Again, very well written, even if somewhat glacially paced. And also even if the "mayhaps" and "betimes" get old. And the lands of Alba (England) and Vralia (Russia) got an especially good treatment. Overall, I like it and will definitely continue on to Imriels last installment, at least sometime in the not too distant future.(less)
More and more, I'm thinking of Stirling as a guy who makes mediocre books out of really cool ideas. Here, an alien race terraformed Venus and Mars a c...moreMore and more, I'm thinking of Stirling as a guy who makes mediocre books out of really cool ideas. Here, an alien race terraformed Venus and Mars a couple of million years ago. It made a kind of zoo out of Venus, populating it with all sorts of Earth critters, and then setting up a sentinel for observation. This race, apparently, is so advanced that it can go to the trouble of terraforming an entire planet, and then just leave it alone without seeming to use it for anything.
That premise is the jumping off point for an alternate history. When the space programs did the first drive-by of Venus back in 1962, they found a planet very capable of supporting life, instead of an 800 degree hellhole with an almost entirely CO2 atmosphere. So a probe was launched, and not only was life discovered, but humanoid life. This diverted the course of Earth history. JFK gets a second term. The cold war comes to an early end as governments focus obsessively on the exploration and colonization of Mars and Venus.
This is an extremely cool premise. But Stirling does what he seems to do too easily. He sticks in his stock characters, and runs them through an adventure that seems like a coy reworking of The Lost World or One Million Years B.C. As always, his hero is a brash and hyper-competent guy with a quasi-military background. You could take Marc in this book and plug him into almost any other Stirling hero without noticing much of a difference. This time, the hero is Cajun, and that means he starts some of his interior monologues with the word "Mais", and he makes a roux once. Otherwise, he's the same guy I've seen at least five times before.
He and some other hyper-competent folks go on a rescue mission, trying to save the crew of a downed Russian shuttle. Along the way there is a Russian plot, the possibility of a love triangle, the mystery of a saboteur, Neanderthals with AK-47s, and some other engaging possibilities. For the most part, these threads simply fizzle. The action remains fast paced, well described, and fun. But there is so much possibility here, some just from the set-up, and other bits from plot tensions that Stirling deliberately created. And he just doesn't do much with the material he's created. To me, it felt like he just got lazy. To a certain extent, this book feels like an homage to Burroughs. It's almost as if Stirling couldn't bring himself to take his premise seriously, and yet he doesn't make a really good joke out of it either. Great premise, but disappointing execution.(less)
This book highlights both Stirling's strengths and weaknesses. His main strength is the power of his underlying ideas, and the depth with which he has...moreThis book highlights both Stirling's strengths and weaknesses. His main strength is the power of his underlying ideas, and the depth with which he has thought them out. The premise is that the entire northern hemisphere basically got wiped out by meteors in the 19th century, but Britain managed to relocate some of its population and retain its power base -- in India, Australia, and South Africa. Flash forward 250 years, but with technology lagging behind, and resources much different than they otherwise would be. So the land still has Empires, steam engines, etc...
His main weakness is in characterization. Even his best characters tend to be very thin, and this book doesn't have anything approaching his best characters. Everyone here seems to have come straight out of central casting. His other weakness is in doing fantasy. This becomes a problem in the latter half of the Emberverse. Here, it rears its head in the form of the Sisters of True Dreaming. These people have a genetic trait that allows them to see parallel, possible worlds. It's a neat advantage, because it can let them know precisely what will happen next, and thereafter. The problem with this, for me, is that these woman are kept brutally oppressed by their Russian masters, and have been for a couple of centuries. But the book itself shows what an enormous advantage they would have in any tactical or strategic encounter. So how did they not overcome their oppression? It makes little sense to me.
But that's not why the book fell flat for me. Instead, it fell flat because I thought the entire thing was a rather unimaginative story hitched onto a very cool idea. The surprises were more like winks, because everything happened just as one would expect in this sort of tale. In other words, there was no need for a Sister of True Dreaming, because everything proceeded as if it were on rails. While diverting, and easy to read, this was not nearly his best.(less)