Will Cassie Palmer, the Pythia and chief seer of the supernatural world, be able to travel through time to save the soul of John Pritkin, the half-incWill Cassie Palmer, the Pythia and chief seer of the supernatural world, be able to travel through time to save the soul of John Pritkin, the half-incubus war mage?
Readers of Karen Chance’s urban fantasy series were left with something of a cliffhanger in the last two books of the series, Hunt the Moon and Tempt the Stars, wondering what would happen to John Pritkin, one of the series’ main characters.
You could be forgiven, by the way, for not thinking him a main character at the start of the series, because in the first book, Touch the Dark, Pritkin appears to be simply a prop who exists only to allow Cassandra Palmer, the series’ heroine, to explain a lot of backstory to the reader and do some quick worldbuilding. Chance could be forgiven for needing a foil; her world is richly complex, full of historical characters (she has a PhD in history, and most of her vampires are famous characters from history, from Cleopatra to Dracula) and supernatural creatures (vampires, war mages, ghosts, and dozens if not hundreds of varieties of demons and Fae) and shifting political alliances (my brain hurts) and mind-bending changes to the historical timeline as a result of Cassie’s time travel (my brain hurts more) and complex rules about magic and vampirism.
But Chance doesn’t write paper characters, and in subsequent books it became clear that Pritkin was no one-dimensional prop. He had a surprisingly deep back story that Chance peeled away by layers until it became clear that he was not only central to the series but a serious contender for Cassie’s affections. Over the books and years, thousands of posts on Goodreads message boards have been devoted to debates between members of Team Pritkin and Team Mircea (Cassie’s master vampire lover) over who is the better man:
The tortured half-incubus war mage whose sexiness (because incubus!) is only enhanced by his permanent scowl and his kill-first-don’t-bother-to-ask-questions-later attitude?
Or the devastatingly handsome, charming, but secretive master vampire whose love for family overrides everything Cassie thought she knew about vampire self-interest?
So when the last book ended with the demons cursing Pritkin’s soul to travel backward in time until his life was undone, but then having a change of heart and giving Cassie the counter-curse and a grumpy incubus ally to find and save him, I wasn’t too worried.
Fortunately for Team Pritkin members, Karen Chance is not (yet, at least) a member of the George R. R. Martin School of Killing Off Major Characters.
But that doesn’t mean Chance doesn’t leave her readers guessing. In every book of this series, I have always been left shaking my head over the unexpected plot twists and saying, “Wow. I did not see that coming.”
That’s why I figured it would be too simplistic to expect Reap the Wind to be mainly about Cassie saving Pritkin. The only thing I could definitely predict about Reap the Wind was that it would take some totally new direction that I’d never expected.
So, before I started reading Reap the Wind, I came up with a long list of questions that I was hoping would be answered in this book:
(1) If Cassie does save Pritkin back in time, will he be the same Pritkin she knows and won’t admit to loving? Or will he be some past version of Pritkin? And is past-Pritkin more or less angry than present-day-Pritkin?
(2) Master vampire Mircea Basarab has been interested in Cassie since she was just a little kid. In Tempt the Stars, we discovered that he’s been working since long before Cassie’s lifetime to befriend a Pythia, the supernatural world’s chief seer and mediator. Why?
The fan message boards have been rife with speculation. My favourite theory has always been that, just as Mircea used Cassie to save his brother Radu from a century of torture that broke his mind, he’s been trying to get a Pythia in his pocket so that he could go back in time and save his wife from the long and excruciating death she suffered at the hands of his older brother, Vlad. Mircea surely feels guilty about that, not only because he loved his wife but because he indirectly triggered her torture-death by leaving her when he was made a vampire.
It might not be possible for a Pythia to fix, since the further back in time an event happened, the less likely it is that a Pythia can change it. But if it is possible, and if Cassie is a tool for saving Mircea’s wife, what happens to Cassie, whom Mircea has one-sidedly claimed as his own wife? What will Mircea’s wife think about being saved by her husband’s future wife? (Brain. Hurts.)
(3) In the last book, Cassie accidentally got into Mircea’s mind. He locked shut the mental connection and avoided her for the ENTIRE BOOK. (Team Mircea was NOT PLEASED.) So is Mircea just generally afraid of his girlfriend’s new powers? Or is there something in particular that he’s afraid she’ll find out if she spends any time in his head? The plot thickens.
(4) Readers of Chance’s other intertwined series know that (spoiler if you haven’t read that series) Mircea has a 500-year-old half-vampire daughter, Dorina Basarab, who was recently appointed to the Senate. But Cassie doesn’t know a thing about Dory, because while Mircea never lies (one of the reasons Cassie has always trusted him), he’s the master of withholding information. A couple of books ago, Cassie found a photo album devoted to Dorina and assumed it was a secret lover of his. She doesn’t know who is the sidepiece: her, or the other woman. There’s a delicious scene in the last Dory book where Cassie finds Dory at the injured Mircea’s bedside and, pissed off and jealous, Cassie uses her magic to poof Dory out of there (leaving Dory completely bewildered).
In Reap the Wind, will Cassie and Dory cross paths again? Will Cassie discover the relationship between Dory and Mircea? And if she does, will she be relieved that his supposed lover is actually his daughter, or will she be pissed off that he’s kept his hidden from her all this time? Will Dory be pissed that her dad hasn’t mentioned he’s married (sort of) to the Pythia?
Will Cassie and Dory band together to denounce the duplicity of vampires and run off to kick butt together?
(5) To say that Mircea is a master of withholding information would be an understatement. Nobody really knows what he’s got planned, or what the extent of his mental abilities are, but we have plenty of hints suggesting that his mental powers are far in excess of what the other vampires realise. And he’s been building alliances -- with the Fae, with the Pythia, with the European Senate, even with the Silver Circle and the war mages. The Consul of the North American vampire senate suspects that he’s manoeuvring to seize power. Is he? Even if he’s not, will the Consul’s paranoia lead her to do something to Mircea and his allies that will provoke him to seize power to protect those he loves?
(6) If and when Cassie saves Pritkin, will he finally man up and declare his love, which he was on the verge of doing in the last book? And does this mean the curse the demons placed on him that prevented him from ever having sex again is null and void? INCUBUS SEX!
(7) Where is Tony hiding? Will Cassie ever get revenge on him for killing her parents? If she has a chance to kill him, would she be able to?
(8) What’s the story with her father? Now that we know he wasn’t really the powerful black mage everyone says he was, why was he using the Black Circle to siphon off power? What did he need that power for?
(9) Both Cassie’s dad’s ghost and the power of her mother were trapped together in a paperweight when they died, so why has Tony been lugging that paperweight around Faerie? Why does the fate of the world hinge on that paperweight? Can her dad’s ghost be released from the paperweight?
(10) And if Cassie finds her dad, will he be Team Mircea or Team Pritkin?
(11) Will we see Caedmon again? Because he was hot.
(12) Will Marlowe confess his love for Mircea and the two of them get it on? (Shout-out to Lannister, Lady Marlowe!) We know, after all, that Mircea is open minded when it comes to matters of sex. His only rule: “If the lady can’t say it, we won’t do it.”
(13) Of course, there’s also all the stuff about Ares coming, the renegade adepts of the Pythian Court, war between Fae households, and what’s Tomas up to?
What can I tell you without giving away too many spoilers?
This is another great installation in the Cassandra Palmer series, and with every book of this and the parallel Dorina Basarab series, we see the two series’ universes getting closer and closer to colliding. The world-building is incredible. The relationships are complex and deep. The philosophical questions being raised are profound. The storytelling is gripping. The pace is as relentless as ever.
I devoured the book greedily, and Chance fans will love it. I dog-eared every page that, I thought, offered new key insight into characters or the major and minor plot arcs that we’ve been following throughout the series. By the time I was done, the whole top half of my copy of the book was half a centimetre thicker than the bottom half because it is now so dog-eared. This installation answers some questions, and it raises a lot more. Every plot thickens. But there’s enough back-story provided along the way that someone who hadn’t read any of the earlier books in the series could pick this one up and follow along.
Let’s go through the points above and see how much of them I can answer without ruining the story for you:
(1) Past-Pritkin is ... wow. Team Pritkin will be HAPPY. Let’s just say we find out a lot more new stuff about Pritkin’s magical and incubus powers, and also about his past.
(2) I don’t think I can even say whether or not these questions get answered without spoiling things, much less answer them, so I’m zipping my lips here.
(6) this is getting repetitive.
No, really, these are all questions to debate once everyone has read the book. Some get answered, but a lot don’t. For the sake of a (mostly) spoiler-free review, I’m going to have to set most of them aside. So here’s where the real review starts:
In Reap the Wind, Cassie is running all over the place -- Earth, the Shadowlands, Faerie -- everywhere and everywhen. But one adventure just leads to another, revealing new layers of politics and factions and complicated histories that she didn’t even know about but which all have huge impact on the alliances that are forming. The god Ares is preparing to invade Earth, though no one is totally sure if he is coming alone or if he’s going to bring the other gods with him. The gods are really just ancient, powerful creatures from another world who were banished by Cassie’s mom, the goddess Artemis, but now that Artemis is dead, they want to return to Earth to prey. There’s a big battle coming and this book sets the stage, clarifying and complicating alliances and enemies, battlefield and weapons.
Cassie has new allies, but also, several surprising new opponents, including someone she thought was an ally. Maybe he’ll be an ally again in the future, but right now, he’s just being an ass, and a major obstacle. Even her so-called supporters doubt her abilities, and she’s getting sick of people thinking that she’s just a bumbling weakling who got lucky, on the one hand, or that she can singlehandedly save the world, on the other. Above all, she’s tired of people who think she’s just a gun for them to point and shoot. Her allies are keeping secrets from her, and think they can coerce her into going along with them.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is her loyalty to her friends and family. The vampires are her family. She has a whole new Pythian court to take care of, and no resources to do it with. Even Casanova, the whiny incubus-possessed eye candy vampire who never does Cassie any favours unless he’s strong-armed into it, is family of sorts, and Cassie is always willing to put her life on the line for family and friends. Heck, for strangers, even.
In fact, it’s Cassie’s loyalty that makes her weak, because people use her love and protectiveness toward others to manipulate her. But it’s also what makes her strong, because even as alliances are fragmenting and their leaders are manoeuvring to maximise their power, every single one of them is drawn to her selflessness, as they come to recognise that she’s not in it for her own personal gain. Cassie’s goals are to protect first, and survive second.
And in the process, she’s grappling with some of the same questions that have been themes in the past couple books, but in new contexts: What is the relationship between power and strength? Can Cassie take care of others and also take care of herself? Can she be a Pythia and love at the same time, without that lover -- whichever one she ends up choosing -- using her to his advantage? Even if she doesn’t allow herself to be used, won’t just the knowledge of her personal relationships taint how people interact with her, what kind of access they think they have to her and which faction has the most power in the supernatural world? In short, is it possible for Cassie to be an independent, neutral Pythia and still have her own life?
In terms of personal relationships, for many hours/pages I was feeling very pessimistic about our chances of seeing Mircea, since he’s only a fleeting, tantalising figure for the first half of the book. But then when he comes on scene, WHEW! Is it ever hot. And fascinating. And it all leads up to the best line in the book, which is Marlowe’s. I think it’s safe to say that there’s something for both Team Pritkin and Team Mircea.
So, to sum it up:
Team Pritkin or Team Mircea? Both.
Best minor character: I’m going with Marco, but this is hard to decide. There’s lots of good ones.
Gets his comeuppance, but could do with some more: Jonas.
Sneakier than I thought: Fred.
Least page time: Billy.
No page time: Tomas.
Most new information about: Rhea.
Most redeemed bad-guy: Rosier.
We see a whole new side of: the Consul.
My new vampire crush: Rico.
Most mysterious new character: Sky Lord. Is this who I think it is? (Please oh please say yes!)
Hitchcock movie reference: The Birds.
Time travel: Further than I ever thought Cassie could go.
Tarot card: the devil.
Chapters that end with a kiss: 3
Chapters that start or end with Cassie passing out: 5
Sex: closest we’ve gotten to a threesome! *fanning self*
Best line: “God does exist, and he loves me.”
Second best line: “You’re too soft for a peasant girl! ...I meant that in a good way!”
Running gag: “Ohshit!”
Biggest holy-hell moment: When Dory and Cassie meet -- the same scene from Fury’s Kiss, but this time, from Cassie’s perspective -- and we see what it felt like for Cassie.
Timeline: Covers a lot of the same timeframe leading up to the major battle that we saw in the last Dory book.
This has to be the most hilarious visual pun that I've ever seen in cover art. A naked man, his hands clutching at something just below his waist… andThis has to be the most hilarious visual pun that I've ever seen in cover art. A naked man, his hands clutching at something just below his waist… and the book title is "Holding onto You"?!...more
When I was reading this book, I stayed up a little bit too late at night because I didn't want to put it down, and I opened it up again as soon as I wWhen I was reading this book, I stayed up a little bit too late at night because I didn't want to put it down, and I opened it up again as soon as I woke in the morning. The author does a great job of writing non-stop tension that shifts seamlessly between the mystery and the relationship drama. I like romances that have a mystery to them; with only few exceptions, I get bored when it's all about the relationship. The trick (I imagine) is to weave together the mystery and the relationship, and Smith did that beautifully. It was riveting!
All romances are predictable, because you know what's going to happen in the end, but you don't know how they're going to get there. Duke of Deception leaned toward the less predictable end of the romance spectrum, because I really had no idea how things were going to play out. A lot of the plot twists surprised me, and I kept changing my mind about what I thought of several of the characters. I didn't figure out who the 'bad guy' was until about three-quarters of the way through, and even the villain wasn't two-dimensional.
I look forward to the next instalment of the Wentworth trilogy. It's exciting to discover an up-and-coming historical romance author, and I have a feeling that Smith is a rising star in the genre....more
This novel hit me hard. It hooked me early on and then I read the last half of it in one compulsive, I-can't-put-this-down-don't-bother-me-children!-cThis novel hit me hard. It hooked me early on and then I read the last half of it in one compulsive, I-can't-put-this-down-don't-bother-me-children!-can't-you-see-I'm-reading? spree last night. When I finished at 10pm, I felt like I'd been knocked flat. I couldn't stop thinking about it and I was feeling edgy and anxious and I sat down next to my husband -- who was trying to watch TV -- and forced him to listen to an extended description of the plot and why it affected me so much.
And the funny thing is that I don't see myself in these characters. I don't have fertility problems. I have the most easy, uncomplicated marriage ever. I'm not particularly neurotic or OCD. I finished my PhD a while ago, but even when I was working on it, I wasn't anxious and competitive about it like the characters in this book.
So why did this book hit me so hard? I guess because it rings so true, like an alternate universe that's shifted just a couple of degrees away from mine, a universe where every neurotic tendency or competitive feeling or worry about procreation or anxiety about career success that I've ever had is just slightly magnified and twisted, just a little bit distorted, just enough so that it reminds you of all those tendencies and feelings that you suppress, and makes you look around yourself anxiously and wonder, geez, is that what it's like for other people? Is that what it's like for *me*?
By that measure it's an astonishing literary accomplishment, to make me feel those things that I usually don't feel, to suck me in so deeply that I couldn't think of anything else after I finished reading.
The book description here on Goodreads is quite accurate, though when I read it, I was totally confused and didn't find it so compelling. But once I started reading, I got to know and identify with the 3 main characters quite quickly (warning: minor spoilers below):
There's Elise, the 35-year old neurotic NYC editor and wife of a Princeton PhD student who impulsively quits her job to pursue IVF to have a baby. She's not producing good eggs, and she blames this, irrationally, on a long-ago incident in college when she was drugged and had sex with a stranger -- an event that she refuses to call rape, even though it clearly has had a long-term traumatic effect on her, and it led to her volunteer work at a rape crisis centre (where, ironically, she didn't come to terms with her own experience because she was confronted with stories of much more violent rapes). Her feminist mother always encouraged her to never live off of a man, but she's a little too used to luxuries to be able to resist the temptation of drawing on her husband's trust fun so that she can shop at Dean and Deluccas and pay for the "high-quality" genes of a Princeton undergraduate egg donor. She approaches shopping for her egg donor the way she shops for gourmet food, and though ostensibly she's looking for "good genes," she also scrutinises potential donors for things that have nothing to do with genetics, like writing skills and a history of Evangelical church attendance (as if afraid she might accidentally bear a child with a genetic predisposition to charismatic Christianity). In one particularly funny scene, she makes her potential egg donor do a word association test, and celebrates their similarities, when in fact she's interpreted the donor's answers wrong. (For "Hemingway" the egg donor writes "dad," and Elise thinks it's a literary reference to "Papa Hemingway," when for Celia, the donor, it's actually a reference to her dad making her take a sleazy waitressing job one summer in the Florida Keys in a diner/bait shop that had supposedly been patronised by Hemingway.)
Elise's husband, Peter, is in Princeton's Near Eastern Studies Department (and the description of the professors, grad students, and undergraduates in the department ring strikingly true -- the author did her PhD in anthropology at Princeton but clearly she knew this department well, and at least some of the characters are thinly disguised real-life Princeton characters, including the guy who famously denied the Armenian genocide and was later revealed to have received millions in funding from the Turkish government). He's OCD in his obsessive adherence to a dissertation-writing schedule, but the writing isn't really going very well -- meanwhile his family keeps wondering when he's going to finish the damn thing, and he keeps fantasising about being a monk and brewing monastic beer. He also fantasises about getting an academic job in some picturesque New England university, even as he is hopelessly aware of how hard it is to get an academic job and watches the desperate, dehumanising, cattle call-like "Job Market" (he thinks of it always in capital letters) interviews at academic conferences. Peter is attracted to (and writing about) the history of Sufism, an apolitical, esoteric, mystical approach to Islam, but he is constantly being dragged into contemporary political debates by an undergraduate student who writes essays for the Arabic class Peter is teaching about how Israel is the only civilised country in the region, then puts Peter's name on the Campus Watch list (a real-life McCarthyist black list of academics who aren't sufficiently Zionist) and files a formal complaint with the department when Peter gives him a bad grade on the essay. He's trying to write a dissertation with a feminist approach, even as he wishes his wife would cook him dinner every night.
Both Elise and Peter are driven to want what they can't have: for Elise, it's the baby. She isn't particularly maternal, but once she realises she can't have kids, she quits her successful job to try to get pregnant. She also believes that having a baby will salvage her unravelling marriage. For Peter, what he couldn't have was originally Elise. When she seemed distant and ethereal and out of reach, he put enormous energy into wooing her. Now that he's got her, he spends most of his time in his tiny little carrell in the basement of Firestone library and hardly ever goes home. He's unnerved by the way she's transformed from this high-powered successful New York editor to this strange creature obsessed with procreation.
The third main character is Celia, the egg donor. She's at Princeton on scholarship and doesn't really fit in, which is as much about temperament as it is about privilege. She watches everyone around her at a distance, vaguely wishing to one day be a writer. She aspires to having interesting life experiences that she can write about, but doesn't recognise any of her own background (the depressed Southern mill town that she's from, her alcoholic father, the gay ex-boyfriend whose parents are trying to convert him to heterosexuality via the Baptist church) as anything to write about, except when other people prod her to think of it as material. "She longed to be conflicted about something," and she experiments with seeing herself as the victim in this egg donation scheme, and cruelly plays on Elise's anxieties to squeeze her for more money, while she makes a pass one night at Peter when they accidentally meet up at a party. She can never really decide if she's living her life or watching herself live her life, if she's doing things because she wants to do them or because she thinks she should want to do them, to give her experiences to write about.
I don't want to post spoilers so I'll just say that the end surprised me. There's nothing at all predictable about the plot, and yet everything rings true.
Every page has some little quirky observation that made me laugh out loud (e.g. Elise's eyes widening when Celia describes her ethnic identity as "pure Carolina cracker"). The Princeton arcana will entertain anyone who has ever spent time in that weird little town (McCaffrey's and Triumph and Small World and the Annex and the Dbar and the ceiling mural at the post office). Each character is simultaneously sympathetic and pathetic. There's no hero, no villain, and no cliched stereotype -- even as you can find in every character a bit of some stereotype, enough to recognise why it persists and yet see that it's awfully incomplete. The author does a particularly good and subtle job of dealing with class (and anxieties around class) at Princeton. For example, Celia recognises the way certain words have power, like the little comments that her friend Nicole drops that reveal her class privilege: Wellesley, Italy, artist.
Should be mandatory reading for anyone thinking about doing a PhD, or considering gamete donation and the peculiar ways that that "gift" is commodified and gendered. Will be of particular interest to people with an interest in Princeton, the politics of Middle East studies, or the publishing world. But I hate to pigeonhole the book in that way. The themes are much broader: desire, the complicated nature of marriage, the subtle ways that we sabotage ourselves.
Full disclosure: I did my PhD at Princeton in the Anthropology Department, and I've met the author a couple of times (though she started several years after me and was in Princeton when I was doing fieldwork in Egypt, so we never got to know each other at Princeton). But I swear I would say all the same things about this book even if I had never met her....more
Ugh. I love the Jack Reacher novels but this one was hard to stomach. Too much time spent in the mind of a really sick man who likes to torture peopleUgh. I love the Jack Reacher novels but this one was hard to stomach. Too much time spent in the mind of a really sick man who likes to torture people. Too many people getting tortured and killed. I read this series because I like to be in Jack Reacher's mind, not in the mind of some revolting psychopath. Def. not my favorite of the series. I could barely stand to finish the book....more
In this book, Laleh Khalili, a political scientist at SOAS, "critically engage[s] with the assertions of today's counterinsurgent theorists and practiIn this book, Laleh Khalili, a political scientist at SOAS, "critically engage[s] with the assertions of today's counterinsurgent theorists and practitioners," including Petraeus, Kilcullen, and Nagl, "that counterinsurgency is about 'securing' and 'protecting' the population" (p.5). She demonstrates the irony of modern liberal democracies which deny the violence they commit, pushing it into the shadows and/or calling it more "humane," thus making it more likely to occur.
Counterinsurgencies and confinement in places like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the CIA proxy-run prisons were created as a response to liberal objections to mass colonial slaughter in previous wars. Thus the rule of law and humanitarian ideals are paradoxically responsible for generating the hidden violence of expanding states, embodied in new mechanisms of containment which are envisioned as opportunities for "socially engineering the people and places they conquered" (p.3). This book examines extensively the "micropractices of coercion" (p.7) and shows that these are not accidents or exceptions committed by violent fringe elements in a nation's military but rather central components of a liberal order when states expand beyond their borders.
Brilliant and comprehensive in scope. Highly recommended....more