A book which brought a mix of good and bad reactions. Set in an alternate America called Columbia during the "Go West!" era, except this is a world ofA book which brought a mix of good and bad reactions. Set in an alternate America called Columbia during the "Go West!" era, except this is a world of magic, and Columbia is a continent seething with magical wildlife, from woolly rhinoceroses to steam dragons. Add to this Eff, the thirteenth child of a Seventh Son, sister to a double-seventh who is expected to be as powerful and lucky as the thirteenth is said (by some) to be unlucky and prone to wickedness.
The story followed the unlucky thirteenth from when she is five to eighteen. This gives the book a structure which is somewhat on the level of "life highlights", from the first horrible and unfair bullying, to the family's move far west, meeting new people, a couple of family dramas, and the gradual development of Eff's powers and attitude toward herself.
Eff is at times a frustrating person to follow. She is so terribly traumatised by her early encounters with "anti-thirteen" prejudice that she almost erases herself as a person as well as a mage. Looking back over the story, I think of nothing more than a mouse who watches and tries to do no harm, but is slowly encouraged out of hiding by a wise teacher and a good friend, until finally she has a chance to shine, and to see herself more clearly. But, though at times I wished Eff would DO instead of experience, on the whole I really liked this process and so I thoroughly enjoyed that story, and the progress to the problem which Eff is instrumental in solving.
There are two things, however, which bugged me constantly reading this book: race and gender roles.
The settlers are primarily Europeans, with an admixture of people of African heritage - descendents of slaves (though slavery at this point has been abolished). I didn't notice any sign of prejudice toward those who are African-descended, so I'm not sure if that is absent, or simply not shown. But I kept noticing a different, huge absence - the lack of "Columbians". While this alternate world is very similar to our Earth in many ways, it appears that Columbia existed in a "terra nullius" state before European settlement. This erasure of a continent's native inhabitants (possibly to prevent the problematic question of "invasion" from muddying the brave settlers narrative) constantly bothered me.
Gender roles were the other point which kept distracting me from the narrative. This is a world of magic, and it appears both men and women can possess and practice powerful magic. Both boys and girls attend school, learn spells, and can go to college. Yet all the women were concentrated on the business of husbands, children, and chores. The only woman shown in any kind of position of power or authority was a school teacher. All the professor level teachers shown were male. There was some brief mention of employed women, but I could not for the life of me determine whether there was a glass ceiling to this society, or if it was mere coincidence that all the females we met concentrated on "women's things" and (with the exception of the wonderful teacher) were, essentially, rather dull - caught up in boys, sewing or chores. They might study magic, but they used it to help wash the clothes.
Eff is the only exception to female dullness, and that only in the last quarter of the book. Her sisters, with the exception of selfish, boy-hungry Rennie, are ciphers without personality and I kept contrasting her family to E Nesbit's Bastables - even the 'girly' elder sister would have adventures _occasionally_ among the Bastables, and show some sign of life, imagination and something other than doing the chores.
So I enjoyed a lot about this story, but only by not looking at certain aspects of it....more
By rights I shouldn't like this book at all. Any story which has plot points involving "husband's rights" and mentions "taming" where one's wife is inBy rights I shouldn't like this book at all. Any story which has plot points involving "husband's rights" and mentions "taming" where one's wife is involved usually gets short shrift from me. I also find the (view spoiler)[virginal older woman scared by sex (hide spoiler)] trope to be annoying as all get out.
Yet I like this book.
Taharka is a sweetheart, there's a ton of interesting cultural negotiation going on, and I could have read a whole book based on the horse-related stuff alone. And I love strong, stoic women learning how to trust.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
"Taming the Forest King" has so many things I like. An intelligent, active woman facing and effectively dealing with a series of problems with a mix o"Taming the Forest King" has so many things I like. An intelligent, active woman facing and effectively dealing with a series of problems with a mix of logic, honour and gritty determination. Tevra is a career soldier who has been sent to take command of a distance province which has been falling apart through mismanagement and greed. The province certainly needs someone to step in, but naturally there are people who stand to lose from - or at least resent - such an intervention. Tevra has a particular challenge because culturally the forest kingdom is all "women belong to men and can't be in command".
Tevra is a great character, facing up to the nastier aspects of her work, trying to work her way toward just solutions. The people under her command respect and trust her implicitly because she's proven herself to them over and over. She's a little overly strict with herself (and a little hot-headed in actual combat) but a good person you really want to succeed. We only really meet one of the people under her command - her second Hetwith - but I very very much wanted Hetwith to succeed as well. :)
At the same time, not a five star book for me, for much the same reason Bright and Shining Tiger is not: to get to the very satisfying conclusion I had to suffer through tropes which I don't enjoy at all.
(view spoiler)[- Tevra is a battle-hardened woman in her late thirties. She's had sex before – once or twice. For all that she's proved herself in many ways, Tevra is situated in a position of extreme naivety about men and seduction. Part of this is character inconsistency – she's wise and capable regarding the approaches of some men, but completely incapable of dealing with the pursuit of one potential love interest, while being absolutely blinkered about another.
- I hate, hate, hate the "Your body tells me you want me so I'm going to put my hands all over you" thing. Almost as much as I loathe any apparently adult woman being reduced to near-incoherence by a hot, sexy guy's hot sexiness. Being interested is one thing, being visibly stunned and unable to set limits to how much he touches you is quite another. Particularly if you think it would be a betrayal of your oaths to be with him - and _especially_ when she never once shows any sign of thinking him more than just sexy.
- The scene with the ball dress annoyed me possibly more than any other. The woman is a soldier. She has a dress uniform. So why is she wearing a chest-baring dress that she is incredibly uncomfortable putting on? Yes, she has a diplomatic role as well as a military one. But a diplomat who dresses up in something which makes her feel exposed and vulnerable (and unexpectedly sexy) is not being an effective diplomat – particularly in a region when she's already being looked down on for being female! If her dress uniform had been a dress, I could understand it, but this becomes a manufactured situation to further romantic development rather than one of logical consistency.
- All three main characters face scary creatures. But Tevra is the one who consistently needs to be held upright in the aftermath. Gods there was a lot of "his arm around my waist supporting me" going on. (hide spoiler)]
None of these issues were enough to stop me enjoying the story – they just happen to be romantic tropes which rub me completely the wrong way.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
"Hunting" was written in response to my extreme frustration with Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck. Much as I love Heyer's books, on occasion she takes a"Hunting" was written in response to my extreme frustration with Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck. Much as I love Heyer's books, on occasion she takes a promising young lady, and just...foils her at every turn. My need for a heroine capable of getting herself out of her own scrapes produced Ash Lenthard, who does not so much kick ass, as tap-dance across the heads of her enemies......more
Sonea is a slum dweller. Each year slum dwellers are driven out of the city (an event which has links back to a time of famine, but now is habitual laSonea is a slum dweller. Each year slum dwellers are driven out of the city (an event which has links back to a time of famine, but now is habitual law-and-order puffery from the king). The Magicians assist the guard in driving the 'dwells' out to minimise fighting and casualties (which these days are usually only from people being crushed in the crowd). This is pretty much the only interaction dwells have with Magicians, since they cannot afford their healing, and so Magicians are hated and feared.
When Sonea shows an unexpected gift for magic, and the Magicians' attempt to capture her results in the accidental death of the person standing next to her, she not unnaturally runs and hides, convinced they're out to kill her. But Sonea does not understand that her powers, once awoken, will run out of control, and so the Magicians must find her and win her trust before that happens.
The Magicians' Guild is a cleanly written, reasonably paced book which, while it might not hold particular surprises for an experienced reader of fantasy, effectively delivers a young-mage-coming-of-age story.
Sadly, for the most part my emotion while reading this book was impatience. It was so patently clear that Sonea was going to end up joining the Guild (particularly since this is a trilogy about the magicians) that reading half a book of Sonea avoiding the Guild felt like time-marking. It all seemed inevitable. Cery was probably the most enjoyable part of this story, but since there was a strong indication that joining the Guild would make Cery "part of the past", even that felt like a lot of characterisation which is going to go to waste in the future.
Once Sonea is captured by the Guild, there is a little more tension built by (view spoiler)[the question of whether she will throw her lot in with Patently Evil Guy (after all the distrust she throws away on Rothen, it's a pity she doesn't spare any for PEG until he goes into My Evil Plan Will Not Be Thwarted mode). (hide spoiler)]
The characters were distinctly drawn - wary Sonea, daring Cery, kindly Rothen, etc, but none of them really stood up and made me love them. My heart wasn't captured.
I was relatively intrigued by the question of whether the (view spoiler)[High Magician is really evil or (as I partway expect) really good, but using questionable methods (hide spoiler)] but this isn't enough for me to want to read on with this trilogy.
Oh, on the female character count: 1 main female character, no other important female characters, bit-part female characters treated well.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more