Again I wish for the half-star; properly, this should be two and a half. I think. Maybe.
Bodies wash up on the shores of Lonesome Cove from time to tim...moreAgain I wish for the half-star; properly, this should be two and a half. I think. Maybe.
Bodies wash up on the shores of Lonesome Cove from time to time. In this instance the body is that of an unidentified woman, lashed to a bit of wooden grating, with an old iron manacle on one wrist. Even in the initial hue and cry, though, Professor Chester Kent notices that the woman does not appear to have met her death by drowning--and the sherriff seems to be hiding something. Kent naturally feels obliged to investigate.
There's a heavy dollop of both racism and sexism here, particularly expressed toward the persons of "Gansett Jim" (who is half black, half Native American; double the racism for your money) and a mysterious woman with whom Kent's artist friend Francis Sedgwick has fallen desperately in love. I tend to feel like there's a bit of classism too, but that may have been my own reaction to the reader of the Librivox audiobook recording I was listening to. Regardless, that's not what earns it the low rating. I mean, it was published in 1912. I've long since learned to install certain mental filters when reading public domain works. It's not that the time period necessarily makes the content any less repugnant, but if I'm going to get pissed off about such content I think it's more productive to direct my energy at works that continue to be expressive of and to shape our society as it stands today. This book does neither of those things, to my knowledge.
No, the thing that prompts my low rating is that I don't think it's all that well-written regardless of its treatment of various groups of people. Kent is one of those irritating detective-types who divine whole volumes of truth from the tiniest clues and a bit of intuition, but then smugly withhold the information from both the other characters and the reader. (And of course his conclusions are always correct, because he's just that good.) Partly because of this and partly due to poor clue management on the author's part, the narrative of solving the mystery gets very muddled and rather flat. There isn't so much a plot arc as a plot doodle which eventually comes to a conclusion when there's no more paper to doodle on. Antagonists tend to put up a good fight, literally or figuratively, but turn into allies after a single good conversation which is sufficient to convince them that they were in the wrong and Kent and co. are in the right. The actual solution to the mystery is a high point, as it did actually manage to both take me by surprise and make sense, but by that time everyone is just so cooperative and friendly that I have a hard time suspending my disbelief enough to enjoy the revelation. And while it makes sense in retrospect, if Kent has bothered to share some of his conclusions there might have been a greater sense of dramatic tension built up as the reader divined some of the truth before having it confirmed and fleshed out.
For all its faults, it was entertaining enough, I suppose. It's not something I'd put on your must-read list, though, and not something I'll feel the need to bother with again.(less)
Kaede, Takeo, and the Three Countries, round 3: the lovebirds have been successfully reunited and have even gone so far as to marry despite the advice...moreKaede, Takeo, and the Three Countries, round 3: the lovebirds have been successfully reunited and have even gone so far as to marry despite the advice from nearly every single person who knows them that this is kind of a stupid move, politically speaking, and will probably get them both slaughtered, and would it really hurt to try to arrange this diplomatically? (Apparently they both consider that it would be a tragedy to wait even long enough to try to talk Arai--their mutual overlord--into being amenable to letting them make the match that he was originally encouraging anyway, even though going ahead without his blessing will certainly bring his wrath down upon their heads.) With that, it's now time to march off to war in a bid to claim both their inheritances. Without the support of basically anyone of any rank or military strength because they've pissed all those people off by insisting on getting married NOWNOWNOW.
It's actually, in its own way, totally believable because they're so young and inexperienced, and they're clearly still in that stage of their lives where infatuation equals true love and of course true love conquers all. That doesn't comfort me a great deal. It just makes me want to smack them upside the head and tell them both that if they really want to rule their respective domains they need to grow the hell up.
I continue to have much the same reaction to our hero and heroine as I had in the first two books. They're both interesting characters, although Takeo perhaps might be starting to get more interesting than Kaede, but they're just not interesting together I remain unconvinced by their romance. It's not developed nearly enough to make me care, or feel like it rings true. I feel like the author is trying to sell me on some sort of predestined true love at first sight, and I'm just not buying. The writing does not support it.
Honestly? I thought from the beginning that we were going to find out that Kaede had Tribe blood too, and that something about that would explain the swift and overpowering connection, among other things. Blood calling to blood, or something like that. If this is the case, it's never revealed. Too bad; "we have a magical connection" is still a little thin, but it would have been better than what did happen.
Besides that, I begin to be somewhat underwhelmed Kaede herself. We are told, multiple times, that she's quite capable and can handle herself in a fight, and that she's as intelligent as any man, and etc. We've seen this in various ways in the previous two books, to some degree, but here all her power and agency is removed. When she is with Takeo and his army, she finds a nice quiet safe spot away from the battlefield rather than engage. She wears armor and carries a sword, but is still extremely passive. When she is kidnapped, of course steps are taken to contain her, and I accept that she can't magically make them go away, but neither does she seem to have any inclination to so much as think about what she can do to help herself. She accepts her situation with dignity and waits for Takeo to come rescue her. It's disappointing to have her built up as this intelligent, independent person and then see her just give up and become a princess in a tower. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but... If that's the case, I'd expect her to take it the same way she's taken all the cultural restrictions on women of her class. Chafing, rebelling, trying to find the way in which she can fulfill her own needs while maintaining a low profile. She does none of this during her captivity. She just sits and waits to be rescued.
There are other writing decisions I question, too. Shizuka, Kaede's former maid and spy for the Tribe, shows up as a point-of-view character when previously we've only seen through Takeo's and Kaede's eyes. She's used twice or three times, and I can't figure out why. Her chapters add nothing to the story whatsoever; everything we find out there, we could have learned from three lines of dialog or so in the other chapters.
And can we talk about antagonists for a second? Arai is the best of them: complex, intelligent, keeping the reader guessing as to his motivations and intentions (in a good way!) even though we don't see much of him in person. The Otori lords, though, continue to be cardboard cutouts of power-hungry warlords even when we meet them in person. Fujiwara had been somewhat intriguing in Grass for His Pillow, but here he reverts to a flat personification of greed. We have to deal with him, because he's one of the big reasons that Kaede and Takeo's marriage was so ill-advised, but it would have been nice to have a little more depth there.
The book winds on, through captivity and war and separation, until finally the author reaches a point where she needs to wrap things up. Problem: her characters are trapped in what seem irresolvable situations. They have not the resources nor the power to free themselves for the happily-ever-after. What's an author to do? Introduce a nice, convenient dose of deus ex machina (more or less).
I mean,it's not like everything winds up perfectly, at least. But the most insurmountable problems the characters face are just sort of swept aside instead of actually being dealt with.
It's been fun, at times, but I'm just done with this series.(less)
Look. This is not a "great" book. I have some serious problems with the ending, the characters are not terribly well-rounded, it's altogether predicta...moreLook. This is not a "great" book. I have some serious problems with the ending, the characters are not terribly well-rounded, it's altogether predictable, and I'm sure if I stopped to think about it I'd find some other issues hanging around too. But... It was fun. It was lots of fun to read. And sometimes that's all you want.
...But seriously. The villain does not need redeeming, and the casual dismissal of what he has done and tried to do to the heroine--by everyone, including the lover who was so desperate to rescue her from her plight--kinda strikes me as more horrifying than the original threat did. Particularly since this is apparently not his first offense and this is evidently well-known.
That said, though, I do sort of enjoy that when it comes to the past decisions the Brothers Carstares been angsting about, everyone's kind of like, "OK. First, this is the worst-kept secret in England, OK? WE KNOW. Second--who gives a crap anyway? Geez." And although some of the women are kind of helpless, there's some examination of the social pressures that make them that way--it's not just "well, clearly, women can't do anything for themselves."(less)
So Kaede and Takeo continue their adventures on separate paths. Kaede goes home to her family's domain, finds it all but ruined, and decides that she...moreSo Kaede and Takeo continue their adventures on separate paths. Kaede goes home to her family's domain, finds it all but ruined, and decides that she will restore it to its former glory. And then some. Takeo declines to take up his Otori inheritance (which includes, incidentally, the offer of Kaede as his wife) in favor of beginning his training with the Tribe. His sense of divided loyalties only deepens as a result.
It's a character book, which I enjoy thoroughly. It involves watching both characters grow older and wiser (mostly), seeing them struggle against their respective societal systems when their goals do not align with the lives they are expected to live, and so on and so forth. I enjoy that. I really do. I find myself kind of liking both main characters. (Mostly.)
But I still don't get them as a couple. The author has not even remotely convinced me, and yet the feeling I'm getting from the text is that this is a done deal, something that's just part of the premise. I'm not seeing it, and it's starting to really irritate me.
I've gotten this far; I might as well see if anything changes with the third book. Which it does have a fair chance of doing.(less)
This is, to slightly misquote the promo material for Barry Hughart's excellent Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox trilogy, the novel of a Japan...moreThis is, to slightly misquote the promo material for Barry Hughart's excellent Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox trilogy, the novel of a Japan that never was. We have two main protagonists in their mid-teens: Otori Takeo, formerly Tomasu, the sole survivor of a massacre who is rescued and eventually adopted by Lord Otori Shigeru; and Shirakawa Kaede, hostage of the Noguchi clan from the age of seven. Takeo is of the Tribe by birth and has a few notable talents which prove to be useful in the Tribe's primary occupation--assassination--whereas Kaede is to marry Shigeru against both their wills in pursuit of a political union between clans.
A teenaged boy and girl, she set to make a political marriage with his adopted father, are our point-of-view characters. What do you think's going to happen here? And it does, and that's kind of the book's downfall for me, honestly.
I thoroughly enjoyed it for the most part. I won't say it's great writing, but it was entertaining enough to keep me hooked. That's all I was hoping for, really, so I'm satisfied.
The inevitable love shared by Takeo and Kaede is instantaneous and overwhelming. Love at first sight. Not a strong attraction followed up by interactions which build on the initial interest until the emotion expressed by the characters slips from "like" (and "lust") into "love". Instant, pure, unbreakable love at first sight.
No. Just no. You need to give me more than that. This? Breaks my suspension of disbelief all to pieces. What the author is telling me is not supported by what she's showing me. At all.
Will I read the second book in the trilogy? Probably, yes. I'm a little hesitant because the blurbs I've read sound like this whole where's-the-love issue is only going to get worse, but I'll give it a try. I think my patience with the concept will be a bit less, though.
Again I wish I could do half-stars, because I don't feel like this is bad enough to take it down to two (fortunately, the romantic subplot is served out in relatively small doses and so doesn't taint everything), and yet... I feel like there should be an instant one-star penalty for serious use of the love-at-first-sight device, and this wasn't quite a four-star book otherwise. So I don't want to give it a full three. Two and a half I could maybe do, if that were an option.(less)