Spoilers for the first two books, Chase the Morning and Gates of Noon - although really, there's three books, surely it's no spoiler to say that Steph...moreSpoilers for the first two books, Chase the Morning and Gates of Noon - although really, there's three books, surely it's no spoiler to say that Stephen survives and has further adventures?
Stephen Fisher, no longer quite such the hollow man as previously; oh look, the brief love and forgiveness of his ex-girlfriend has worked not quite a miracle, but certainly wrought some change. Whodathunkit. When this novel opens, Stephen is in an intriguing position: he remembers the Spiral all the time when he's in the Core, he's deliberately had many adventures there - but his life in the Core isn't harsh or empty enough to give it up. In fact, he's now the head of his company and he's got a brand new, very interesting project on the go. No on-going relationship, but still - he's not the hollow, use-and-leave type that once was. Which is good, right?
The ultimate reveal is brilliantly constructed. Up to that point... well, the story threatens to feel a bit samey. In fact, it is: there's challenge from the Spiral affecting Stephen's life in the Core, and he goes out and faces it and there are ups and downs, and something Big from out near the Rim challenges Life As We Know It. All of these things happened in the previous novels, and they happen here too. But the great thing about Rohan's writing is that it still manages to be interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. For instance, in the mythos he's mined: there's been voodoo; and Asian myth from Buddhism to Hindu to animism; and here, Rohan brings it back to Europe. In terms of action, the first two books were similar in involving ships; here, the focus shifts to the possibilities of air travel (AIRSHIPS!). And I swear Rohan must himself have taken up fencing between Gates of Noon and this book, because the fights seemed to get a whole lot more technical... which I kinda skimmed occasionally. And while some of the side characters are the same - really, who could ever get sick of Mall? Really? And there are new characters too: happily, to my mind, especially another woman, who gets a bit more fleshed out than Claire or Jacquie ever managed to be in the previous books.
Yes, there's some annoying repetition with Stephen bemoaning his life - but Gates of Noon was definitely the worst for that, and his growing/filling up has largely curbed that. And yes, the portrayal of women is not always great - Stephen occasionally has a 'private' leer which the reader is privy to - but Mall gets to be Amazing. This could be problematic, because clearly it's not realistic and it's annoying if the only woman has to be so much better than any of the men to warrant any air time: but it does entirely fit the idea of Mall being over 400 years old, and moving outwards on the Spiral, and therefore - like Jyp is, to a lesser extent - becoming... clarified. And she's not the only woman, which helps.
So I firmly believe these books deserve their space on my shelf. (less)
Ah Stephen. Forgotten the Spiral, really? At least it didn't happen immediately... still, it shouldn't be a su...moreProbably spoilers for Chase the Morning.
Ah Stephen. Forgotten the Spiral, really? At least it didn't happen immediately... still, it shouldn't be a surprise that your brain couldn't cope with the weirdness for very long. Too much career, too many one-night stands, to enjoy.
Until it reaches in to grab you again.
In Chase, a lot of Stephen's hollowness seems to stem from his long-ago break-up with the lovely Jacquie. Here, Stephen has got himself - and his company - involved in a project to ship the cargo of a charity irrigation system to Bali precisely because of her name. But the project is dogged by malign forces, it seems, such that they cannot organise to move it any closer to Bali than Bangkok. And with a little bit of pushing from external forces, Stephen Fisher - the Hollow Man, defeater of nasty forces last time he ventured into the Spiral - manages to find his way out of the Core again, and sets up a rather unusual method by which to deliver his cargo. It involves an ancient steamer, a seven-foot tattooed Maori, and an outlandishly mixed crew. Also another magician-type, although Ape is nothing like Le Stryge, which is about the best that Stephen can hope for. Cue adventures.
As with Chase, many of the awesome things I remembered are indeed still present. I love Rohan's descriptions of battles, and also his evocation of sailing - be it on seas or stranger tides. The very idea is still utterly captivating - sailing into the dawn or dusk, into the clouds! - as is the idea that places have shadows. Actually, perhaps they're closer to Platonic ideals, since they capture what is and was and will be; the essential nature of a place, even if never actually existed anywhere but in the imagination of very many people. And the idea of moving out into the Spiral as somehow refining people, as well as places, is also a wonderful one for story.
Also as with Chase, there are a couple of things that bugged me, and the main one was Stephen and his hang-ups. While the first book was mostly all "woe, I am a hollow man!", this book is replete with "woe, I done wrong by Jacquie!" - which he did, right enough, but I could have done with a little bit less breast-beating. He does, true enough, make some attempts at restitution - and he was pretty nasty, so maybe I should cut him some slack as his conscience actually teaches him a lesson. But I didn't have to be subjected to everything going through his head every time; it could have been indicated with a sentence or two, easily enough, especially the fourth or fifth or tenth time.
Also, bit of eye-rolling casual sexism. Irked me. It mostly does all right on the not-racist front - which, given it's set largely in South-East Asia, is a relief. There are some bits where people's mannerisms or characteristics are referred to as 'oriental,' at which I cringed a little, but on reflection those things are not usually coded negatively so... yeh, not sure what I think about that. But the inherent desire of the book is to balance tradition and 'progress', and I cannot fault that.
The other thing I cannot fault, and found also in Chase, is the very suggestion that there must be something MORE. More than career, more than sex-as-an-end, more than selfishness. Stephen finds that in action, but also in helping others; Mall and Jyp and others find it in becoming, and doing, what they are meant to be. It's a worthy aspiration.
Is it very different from Chase? Well, the intention of the adventure is different, and Stephen doesn't have to go through all the rooky, learning-to-be-on-the-Spiral stuff, so things happen a bit more immediately. There's more sexual tension; there's also more at stake, which I think made it work as a sequel. If it had been yet another "save that girl!!", I am unlikely to have bothered. Plus, quite different places and different villains, which is great.
Reviewing an anthology is always a bit more difficult than reviewing a novel. So is rating it. Does one poor story deserve to bring down the entire an...moreReviewing an anthology is always a bit more difficult than reviewing a novel. So is rating it. Does one poor story deserve to bring down the entire anthology? Should I mention every single story?
I gave this anthology a 5-star rating. I do not do this because every single story blew me away; they didn't, although I don't remember any story that I loathed, which is impressive in its own right. Partly I was predisposed to being impressed by the anthology because of the theme: the menial. That is, no heirs-misplaced-at-birth, no admirals or planetary governors or princesses starring here; instead, it's the miners, the sewerage workers, the grunts who feature. Not to say that the stories don't feature action or adventure - they do - but largely it's action that happens in the course of everyday work, and often because of accidents: the sorts of things that you'd really rather didn't happen. The anthology points out the dignity in the menial tasks, as well as acknowledging the sheer back-breaking work that's likely to still be necessary in the future; it points out the importance of the menial while remembering the danger. And even though the menial workers shine in the stories, it's clear that for most of them, this isn't going to lead to a huge change in fortunes. It's part of a day's work, or it's not but it's not enough to propel them out of drudgery - or indeed it's something that leads to them getting fired and the consequent uncertainty of unemployment.
This anthology shows that good SF can be escapist in letting the reader escape from their own immediate situation, but can simultaneously speak to the reader who is unlikely to be a spaceship pilot or lead an army, but may well have a dead-end job that they hate. It can provide ways to imagine a different world but also reassure and comfort that even people in crappy jobs can actually have interesting lives, and do interesting things - something much SF ignores.
This anthology imagines a range of possible futures. They're mostly fairly far future, and involve space travel of some sort; some have humanity spread far and wide, others are a bit more restricted. Because of its focus on the working class, there is less emphasis on the political or military than one often finds in SF, because really, when you're scraping to get food on the table who has time to worry about the expansion of the empire? Many of these stories are united in their focus on the nitty-gritty details, those details that make up the everyday. Some of them are very familiar, some are familiar but in foreign contexts, whilst others are utterly alien. And the best stories make this work in clever and occasionally utterly bemusing ways.
I was initially dubious about the possibility of making an entire anthology based on the concept of skilled labour; not because I thought the concept was boring but because I wasn't sure how there could be enough variety within that to keep having different stories. This is because I am not an author. There is, of course, infinite variety in the stories you can tell from the menial perspective - because there's an infinite variety of stories to tell about humanity.(less)
The following has spoilers for Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass, I guess. Seriously, why haven't you read them yet?
I read this quite a lo...moreThe following has spoilers for Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass, I guess. Seriously, why haven't you read them yet?
I read this quite a long time ago, and I have no real excuse for not having reviewed it earlier; it's certainly no reflection on the story. Is it a good story? Yes. Does it fit in well with the other two Glamour novels? Yes. I think that this is the sort of book you don't need to read the review of, if you've already read the others or like the idea of Jane Austen with magic (basically). Actually that's not quite right... this one, in particular, is more like Elizabeth Gaskell with magic - and I say that having only watched film/TV versions of Gaskell, but given she's described as Austen with ethics (that is, a more explicit examination of society and ethics than Austen), I feel I can make that claim. Because here Kowal does get into some discussion of class, in particular, and race as well.
The idea of a year 'without a summer' is actually based on fact; 1816 was a year that felt summer-less, because of the effects of volcanic ash from an eruption in the 'East Indies' as Kowal describes it. For the sake of the novel, Kowal introduces the idea of blaming this on coldmongers - people whose glamour is particularly attuned to making cold, so they get jobs doing things like keeping food or rooms cool. The story has both political aspects - which revolves especially around class - and personal aspects, which also revolves around class and race but also around family relationships.
The political: this is a time of Luddites, and issues of unemployment; tie in the cold, and fear of glamourists, and there's a very dangerous situation brewing. It would be hard to talk about that without giving away some of the details whose revelation is part of the delight of the story, so I won't. Suffice to say that the concerns Kowal raises fit perfectly into the period, and complement the personal issues going on for Jane and Vincent perfectly.
The personal: Jane and Vincent are faced with a number of issues to deal with, and to my delight not all of them are dealt with easily. The one that most struck me, by the end, was Jane's relationship with her sister Melody. Pride and Prejudice hints at the difficulty of older and younger sisters relating, as does Sense and Sensibility - but these tend to show the older as being in the right, and the younger as needing to be tamed in some way. Kowal does very clever things here with that trope; Jane and Melody's relationship is more realistic, and more painful, than in the Austens - and this makes the story the more uncomfortable and real as a result. Secondly, there's the introduction of Vincent's family. They've been less than shadows to this point; all that we've known is that Vincent has cut himself off in order to be a glamourist, and his family don't approve - and that they're from High Standing. They arrive with a vengeance here, and Kowal spares no mercy. Vincent definitely comes out of the whole thing as a more impressive man for overcoming the family issues that he was dealt. Some of the other issues facing the pair mingle with the political. In particular, they are confronted by race issues, both because many of the coldmongers - whose problems they can hardly help themselves from being involved with, touching as it does on glamour more generally - are black, and because one of the families they end up heavily involved with are Irish. This may seem strange to those without knowledge of how the United Kingdom worked in the nineteenth century; but as Kowal points out in her afterword, at this time "the notion of 'white' excluded not only people of Anglo-African or Anglo-Indian descent but also Irish" (356). Some of Jane's own prejudices are confronted, along with those of London at large - not comfortably, but I think, for the reader anyway (at least, this white reader; I won't try to imagine how to read it as someone confronted with racism on a regular basis) in a sympathetic manner. That is, not that the racism is easy to read, but the confronting of it is more like what 21st century tolerant sensibilities would prefer.
I'm sure I had more to say when I originally read this, but - the characters remain engaging and delightful, Kowal continues to find genuine circumstances for them to interact with, and her style remains a delight to read. I'm not sure if I want more stories here; there would surely be a danger of Jane and Vincent turning into the unexpected epicentre of everything interesting in 19th-century England, which would end up being silly. And would insist on bringing up the issue of pregnancy and children... which might not be a bad thing, I just can't think how it would be done. But then, I'm not an author. Maybe I should just Kowal to know what is best for her characters... (less)
Look, it's not that it's bad, as such. It's just not especially inspiring, in plot, character or world.
The world might be the bit that lets t...more... meh.
Look, it's not that it's bad, as such. It's just not especially inspiring, in plot, character or world.
The world might be the bit that lets the book down overall, I think. A fairly straight quest-narrative can be made more interesting and worth reading thanks to an intriguing world. And Britain just doesn't manage that. I didn't care that the many-centuries-old wall was crumbling - and I don't know Game of Thrones real well, but is that a bit similar? - not least because the opening chapter where this disintegration began was pretty overwrought. It's hard to care about that sort of thing before you know anything about the world it's affecting. And throughout the story, the world just wasn't differentiated from any other pseudo-medieval-with-a-touch-of-magic-maybe world.
The characters were all pretty stock. The lead, Karigan, is a plucky schoolgirl, unfairly maligned and therefore running away from school, who falls into an adventure that she turns out to be quite well suited to. What a surprise. A couple of things here: it was never made clear whether this was Fate, or the work of gods, OR whether it was an entirely fortuitous accident. It didn't feel like it was kept mysteriously ambivalent, either, just... undiscussed. Also: schoolgirl? Really? I don't think Karigan's age is ever made clear (if it was, I wasn't paying attention), and while yes it's all very exciting to have teenagers going on adventures, this one just felt incongruous. Perhaps I should decide that the 'school' is more like a university, and actually she's at least in her late teens. Plus, there's a certain bit later in the book where a certain (good) male character seems to be Looking at her, and if she's 16 - ICK.
Most of the other characters come and go. I didn't really understand why we got so much of Karigan's dad; he helps the plot along occasionally, but really it didn't warrant what felt like a lot of attention. The reader who really identifies with Karigan is unlikely to identify quite so much with Dad. I did like that the leader of the Green Riders, basically the king's fast message service, is female - there's no suggestion that women shouldn't be Riders, nor that they shouldn't be students. I don't remember any mention of female governors though. Anyway, Mapstone is cool, and I'd probably rather read a book with her as a central character. The most interesting other characters are two sisters, who turn up completely incongruously at a vital point in Karigan's adventure and provide all sorts of useful McGuffins. Despite the fact that they only exist for this purpose, they're utterly delightful and hilarious as sisters living together with no one else around in a very weird house.
The plot... well, it begins as a quest. I like quests. Surprisingly, the quest is over just halfway through, and then it turns into a palace intrigue. Which made sense, given the quest mission was delivery of a message, but it was still quite a change of pace - literally, since now almost everything happens within the palace or nearby, rather than Karigan barrelling along at breakneck speed throughout the realm. The quest didn't really work for me again because of the world-building; it was lacking. I didn't get a sense for what made the world tick, and the story felt like a number of random events thrown together that didn't, in the end, build up to a coherent world. The palace intrigue was, again, exactly that; there was nothing to set it apart from any other story of similar ilk.
I was given this book by a student teacher placed with me some time ago, a major Margo Lanagan and Isobelle Carmody fan who was scandalised that I had...moreI was given this book by a student teacher placed with me some time ago, a major Margo Lanagan and Isobelle Carmody fan who was scandalised that I hadn’t read any Tamora Pierce. And I finally got around to reading it, hurrah! (She also gave me a pencilcase that she made herself and decorated with important history dates – how cool is that?? – and a copy of A Woman in Berlin which I haven’t read yet but I WILL, I SWEAR.)
So, I should say upfront that I don’t think I loved this book as much as M wanted me to, and I think that is entirely the fault of my age and cynicism. Oh, I fully intend to get my hands on the rest of the series at some stage because I do want to find out what Pierce does with Alanna, especially once her secret is out… but it’s unlikely to be a Great Classic in my heart.
That said… some spoilers follow, because I want to dissect a couple of bits.
So, that said… I liked Alanna, although the 30-cough-something in me is intensely amused and eye-roll-y at a ten year old having the nous to set up such a trick on her father. It’s interesting that Pierce made the father neither evil nor dead (the dead bit is left to Mum) but so intensely disinterested and absent that this trick could work; I would have thought this would have a rather larger impact on the child than it appears to. Anyway; it’s set up as ‘special child with special talents’ right from the start, so that’s not something I can complain about. And I DO genuinely like Alanna. Much as I deplore the violence I admire the pluckiness of wanting to beat your own enemies; I like that she speaks in a forthright manner, and her determination to be as good as the boys – and that she fully intends to reveal her secret when she’s passed her tests and go on to have adventures. I really, really liked that Pierce addressed the issue of menstruation and Alanna’s annoyance at having biology forced on her (also, the bit where she realises her chest is jiggling? Priceless). I am sad that she has the “but I’m not good enough because I’m a giiirrrlll!” tantrum, but I do like that it’s the male companion who tells her not to be so ridiculous.
I forgot to mention the premise of the story. Alanna wants to be a knight. Her twin brother doesn’t; he wants to be a sorcerer. Conveniently, boys are taught magic at the convent to which Alanna is to be sent to learn How To Be A Lady; and Thom, the brother, can forge Dad’s handwriting. So, switch-a-roo and Alan(na) is off to the big city to learn how to cudgel opponents… I mean how to be a knight. Essentially this is a boarding school story but rather than being nerds or wizards or international students, this is Knight School. There’s all the sorts of things you would expect – fitting in, working hard, dealing with bullies, annoying/scary/awesome teachers – with added swords.
There are some nicely subversive elements here, against the traditional Learning to be a Knight story, especially in the form of Sir Myles. (view spoiler)[(It must be said I was a little afeared that Myles was going to end up having a sexual attraction to young Alan, when he suddenly asked Alanna to accompany him to his home castle. Lucky it was only inspired by a dream! Haha!) (hide spoiler)] The undercutting of chivalry, and the seeming contradiction of what is expected of a knight – honour vs beating opponents up, etc, isn’t fully fleshed out and may simply pass a young reader by – but I appreciated it. Especially in contrast to the “yeh, beat up the bully! That’s the solution!” rhetoric, which kinda revolted me.
(view spoiler)[Things that made me very eye-roll-y: Alanna is so fed up and tired after two days that she decides to leave (but of course changes her mind…) and THEN, a few months later, has enough time to go out and do EXTRA training with George so she can beat up the bully? Really? So she magically found time for travel AND for the lessons?
Also: George. I’m as much a fan of your King of the Thieves as the next person who read David Eddings as an impressionable teen, but… a king in their late teens? Named George? With such a highly developed sense of morality? I don’t buy it.
Also also: “the Gift.” The reality of this magical ability just wasn’t developed enough early on – either what it is or why Alanna hates it so much – for me to be particularly impressed when she pulls out the stunt of making Jonathan recover. I am intrigued by the fact it appears, at least in this use of it, to call directly on the gods – gods who don’t appear to have much impact on everyday life, as far as I can see, in terms of worship or morality.
Things that concern me: I worry that Alanna and Jonathan will end up having a Thing. That will annoy me. Or Alanna and George. So the prince and the king of thieves will end up fighting for her hand. That would be BAD. (hide spoiler)]
All of this aside, I really will look up at least the next book, to see where Pierce takes Alanna. My version of this first book has the opening chapter of the second, as a teaser, and… yeh, I am intrigued.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I picked this up because someone - maybe Tansy? - was appalled that I'd never read any Megan Whalen Turner. So here we go. (Slightly spoiler-y but not...moreI picked this up because someone - maybe Tansy? - was appalled that I'd never read any Megan Whalen Turner. So here we go. (Slightly spoiler-y but not very.)
This is definitely aimed at a YA audience (ish), and I think I would have adored it if I've read it a little younger. That said, I enjoyed it more than the first couple of pages suggested I might.
The book opens with a thief, Gen, in prison. He's pulled out of his cell and taken for an interview with the king's magus - head scholar, not magician, so an interesting choice of words there - because the magus wants to use his particular talents for a very specific mission. It's a rahter intriguing beginning because it's unclear how the reader should feel about Gen: clearly he's a thief, so that's bad; but he's an engaging narrator, which is ambivalence-making; the magus isn't that nice and the king is a bully, so that makes Gen look good. There's also a question over Gen's abilities, since lots of people are taunting him for the boasts he made before his capture, and clearly he's been in jail for ages, so does that make him a bad thief? On the other hand, the fact that he's going to be used by the magus is an indication of his skill, so... yeh, lots of ambivalence here. I like well-constructed ambivalence.
Turner keeps Gen an engaging character for the length of the novel. Various bits and pieces come out about his past, and his sense of self, and all of these go to construct an intriguing and likeable man. I had to stop after the first chapter or two and re-read some sections because I half-wondered whether Gen was going to turn out to be female... that would have been really awesome, but alas no. (There's only two female characters, I think, who get any real airtime, and that not much.) I was really, really impressed with the twist at the end... I had been fully expecting a fairly straightforward ending, and would have been fine with that - although quite what could have been done with Gen when they got back I don't know, maybe just allowed to slip away? Anyway, the way such a major revelation actually worked in perfectly with what had gone before? Genius. The magus is a bit fickle, especially in his attitude towards Gen but also towards his two students, and I could never quite figure out whether he was meant to be thawing out over the course of the journey or if he was indeed this mercurial, sometimes-ill-sometimes-even tempered teacher that everyone had to be careful of. Overall not entirely convinced. Of the others on the journey - I don't feel that they were quite rounded out enough for me to care that much. Interestingly, Gen is big enough to basically plug that lack. There are other characters here and there but none that are memorable.
The plot, obviously, is that of a quest - go find this ancient artefact which could have ramifications on... stuff. Along the way there's politics and mythology and personality clashes, and a lot of walking and some adventures. It's fun and well-paced - the walking doesn't drag (heh), the discussions the characters have enliven things nicely, and the conclusion packs a really brilliant punch. I ploughed through this very easily and with great enthusiasm.
So I liked the characters, and the plot was fun. The world is another aspect that made me ambivalent. The author's note vindicated my feeling from the opening chapters that this was definitely heavily influenced by Greece, and its ancient (and semi-mythologised) past. However I was weirded out by scrolls and books in the same library - which I know must have happened, but it's still weird - and Turner only notes that Gutenberg did movable type in 1445 in the author's note, just to give context I guess. So it's kinda real-world ancient, kinda medieval, kinda... not. That aspect bugged me a little but when they got into the countryside it wasn't such a problem. For the world itself - I was impressed to see the levels of the politics discussed, which makes me wonder actually at my tagging it YA although it did get to be a Newbery Honor Book. I liked the Canterbury Tales-esque aspect of telling stories to each other, although these were of mythology not everyday life, and that these myths were clearly inspired by Greek tales but made wholly Turner's own by twists and details; there was some discussion about how much the gods affect everyday life, although not much. In all it was quite a comfortable world, I guess.
This is the beginning of a series; I will definitely be looking out for the rest of them. You can buy a shiny new copy over at Fishpond. (less)
I have loved this book for a fairly long time now, but have not re-read it in a rather long time, leading to some sweating over the possibility of the...moreI have loved this book for a fairly long time now, but have not re-read it in a rather long time, leading to some sweating over the possibility of the Suck Fairy waving her wand. Fortunately, overall that was an unnecessary concern...
This is still a rollicking fun adventure story. Pirates! Evil! Rescues! Fights! Sailing ships!!
I still adore the concept of ships that can set off at dawn or dusk into the cloud archipelago, and that places exist in both the Core and the Rim. That is, places exist in what we understand as the 'real' world, but those places with long histories especially of trade and contact with the exotic, and thus I guess have a firm grip on the imagination, can exist... outside of the mundane. And this applies to imaginary places as well as real - so Prester John gets a mention, and there's one rather awesome place I remember from one of the later books too. Rohan goes so far as to discuss and explain why this Rim world uses old-fashioned weapons, too, which shows that he's put a deal of thought into it.
I like the characters, mostly. I still love Mall - apparently based somewhat on a real woman attested by occasional mentions in historical records - I love that she is fierce and independent and a superb fighter and a passionate friend. Jyp is still amusing, although seemed a bit... shallower this time around? That is, not as well-rounded as I seem to recall. Maybe he gets more interesting in the later books. And Le Stryge, a rather unpleasant magicky type, is magnificent. If chaotic neutral is allowed to swing towards evil and then towards good, that's him.
And then there's Stephen, our Point of View. I was intrigued to discover that I found him more interesting this time around, and not because I found him any deeper - exactly the opposite. There is less to him, especially initially, and that is indeed the point of the entire book. He's hollow. He's forced other people out of his life, he's marginalised meaningful human contact, to progress his career - and he's made to confront that as the story progresses. And while Stephen is an extreme example, I think it's fair to say that Scott is taking a shot at a whole section of society who have sacrificed love, family, imagination and dreams on the altar of Getting Ahead.
The Bad, or at least The Less Good
There are two aspects that left me somewhat uncomfortable. One to do with gender/sexuality, the other to do with race.
In the first few chapters, Stephen is presented as almost Mad Men-esque in his approach to women. His descriptions of them are physical, and while not entirely callous he does call his secretary 'girl' and his gaze lingers long on boobs. However, this is not entirely approved by the narrative. In fact, his approach to sex and love is very definitely seen as part of his nature as nearing hollow-man status, and this disappoints a number of characters whom the story sets up as moral compasses. So that's an interesting take. Additionally, there is a moment where a female character has a lesbian smooch and Stephen is aghast, and clearly suggests this is not a normal thing to do. Now, it does get written off as shock, this-isn't-really-real, but one of the other characters has no adverse reaction to the kiss, and in fact makes Stephen feel pretty small and pathetic for the way he reacted. So, not entirely positive, but also not entirely negative. Which is better than entirely negative, I suppose?
Also, one of the women is damsel'd pretty early on. On the other hand, there's Mall.
The racial aspect comes in with the voodoo aspect. There's always an issue when a white writer uses a non-white religious/magical/ etc system to their own ends, especially when those ends are not entirely good. Now, Rohan does suggest through the story that the original positive aspects of the African/Carib beliefs have been twisted beyond recognition, and by a colonial desiring power at that, but there is no denying that this book essentially sets up Haitian voodoo as the Big Evil to be combatted. I'm not sure how to grapple with that, except that it made me somewhat uncomfortable to read such appropriation - even when Rohan shows every sign, here and elsewhere, of appropriating other religious systems just as wholesale, to his own ends. So at least he's not limiting himself to non-whites? Also, voodoo is shown not to be entirely evil, which I guess is also something of a redeeming feature. Not entirely, but a little bit.
I still like it. I will read the sequels at some point in the near future. Hooray. (less)
Meh. Moriarty is still wanting to be a bit evil but it suborned into kinda working for king and country, ish. The art didn't overwhelm me and the stor...moreMeh. Moriarty is still wanting to be a bit evil but it suborned into kinda working for king and country, ish. The art didn't overwhelm me and the story was ok, but I don't think I'll go back for volume 2. (less)
What can I say, I'm one of those people who thinks that Solo is really the star of the Star Wars movies; I was very annoyed that eps1-3 didn't make a...moreWhat can I say, I'm one of those people who thinks that Solo is really the star of the Star Wars movies; I was very annoyed that eps1-3 didn't make a reference to him, even something as small as 'here's this kid I'm teaching to be a smuggler...'.
Anyway, a friend was cleaning out her house of books and I became the recipient of a Rather Large Bag of Star Wars novels... and I have finally dipped my toe in. I started here partly because SOLO, and partly because of this article about the author, AC Crispin, having recently died. And I had no idea that AC = Ann.
Look, this is not a novel that was ever going to win literary prizes. The prose is a bit clunky, some of the characters are a bit stock, and yes the overall plot is a bit hackneyed. BUT! But.
a) It's SOLO. Who doesn't want to know how the galaxy's most loveable rogue got to where he is? Who doesn't want to know why someone so rough on the outside actually has such a soft smooshy inside? (Much like a tauntaun...). Plus, how did he GET that tough exterior? How did he and Chewbacca find each other, and what about the Millennium Falcon? These are questions I really want an answer to. So, I'll read the novels.
b) It expands the Star Wars universe. I think one reason why I really like the idea of the enormous number of tie-in novels is that they're all set in the same universe, but they don't concentrate on just one bit. The Zahn novels didn't; this one novel takes the reader to a few different planets, and while most of them are (as far as I recall) referenced in the original movies, this book looks at them from a rather different perspective - and it still works. It's a lot grubbier, mostly. Yes Solo is a smuggler in the movies, yes Tatooine is the planet-futherest-from-the-bright-centre-of-the-galaxy - but really you don't see much of the seamier side of the planets, let alone of the empire as an Evil Empire. Contrariwise, Crispin sets a lot of her story in the criminal underground, or on a slave plantation. Some people are nice, some are downright rotters.
c) Gratuitous Star Wars references. Sure Solo's miff-ed-ness at being called scruffy got a bit tired after a while, but still - funny.
d) It takes Star Wars stuff but it makes it different. There's an elderly Wookee woman that Solo's friends with, and there are clear parallels to Chewbacca (also with his non-human companion Muuurgh) - but it's not identical. There's a romantic interest and again, parallels to Leia but by no means identical, and indeed provides some rather thought-provoking points on why Solo reacts the way he does to Leia (abandonment issues). Links to the Hutts, being a pilot, etc - all of these essential elements are there, but Crispin does interesting enough things with them that it's by no means 'young Solo just imitates old Solo.' And that's cool.
Thus this novel was definitely light entertainment. It's light because it doesn't require an enormous investment of time or thought-process from the reader - although it does raise genuine issues and does not simply ignore them. It's entertainment because there are pirates, and smugglers, and chases, and Han Solo. (less)