I first read this book in manuscript form, because Kate is a long-time (I could hear the objections over the water and out of the future when I consid...moreI first read this book in manuscript form, because Kate is a long-time (I could hear the objections over the water and out of the future when I considered writing "old") friend of mine. When it got published - last year! - Kate sent me a copy with the inscription "at last" - and at last I have got around to reading it. Of course, I remembered the awesome denouement, which meant I didn't get the same thrill as I did the first time through; nonetheless it was still a wild ride.
One of Kate's great talents is an ear for odd, rhythmical, and charming description. She links together sometimes outrageous words to compose a scene, drawing in visuals and sounds and even scents to bring together a very real, if whimsical scene: "colder rays and tentacles of witch light fountained, splashing in an ever-widening search pattern over spines and shelves, turning the cobwebs infra-blue..." (34). She also has a habit of incorporating music and lyrics into her stories, sometimes making connections that seem quite peculiar unless you're able to follow the devious turnings of her brain and keep up with the pop culture references.
As to plot - it's urban fantasy, I guess? The chief characters are Josh, who appears to have no memories older than a few months; his new employer, Scarlet, a Nichtthane - someone responsible for keeping the bogeymen away from humanity; and Kelly, Scarlet's seneschal, largely responsible for keeping Scarlet herself away from humanity, at least until she's appropriately caffeinated. There's a lot of banter and discussion of shoes in between dealing with vampires, were-creatures, and other, less immediately recognisable, supernatural critters. The common thread through it all, at least in theory, is Josh and his past; actually though I think Scarlet and Kelly's relationship is the more interesting, as Scarlet continues to deal with being nearly immortal and Kelly shows that although intensely loyal, he doesn't belong to Scarlet - there's a wider world requiring attention. These stories were initially written as short stories, and sometimes it feels like it. Overall, though, they do hang together nicely.
I was also amused, of course, to recognise two of my very own connections to Kate within these pages: a vampire with a tshirt reading "it's all liminal to me" - liminal being my very favourite word and one I've made Kate roll her eyes over too many times to count; and another character wearing a tshirt reading "Dear Pluto, no matter what they say you'll always be a planet to me" - a tshirt that I own, courtesy of the author. Does this mean that I have been Tuckerised??
This is my first review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2013!(less)
Did you know blue has been the favourite colour of Westerners over the last couple of centuries?
An intriguing idea, although not entirely well execut...moreDid you know blue has been the favourite colour of Westerners over the last couple of centuries?
An intriguing idea, although not entirely well executed. I enjoyed the broad sweep of time that Pastoureau attempted to cover - the Neolithic and ancient use of colour very briefly, the medieval world and on in a bit more detail - because the comparison across hundreds of years is fascinating. Unsurprisingly though, this was also one of its downfalls, since the occasional times it treated an idea or subject in detail it felt out of place; and the lack of detail in some areas annoyed me. In some ways this felt, perhaps deliberately, like this was a preparatory work; a number of times Pastoureau raised questions as areas requiring further research, or mentioned medieval manuscripts that have yet to be transliterated or studied in any fashion.
In appearance this is halfway between a history book and a coffee table number. It's beautifully presented, and the pictures themselves are delightful - most pages have one or two, sometimes three, pictures, illustrating some pertinent point about where and how blue was being used, or other uses of colour at relevant points. But the text is too dense to really work as an art book, while it's not long enough somehow for it to feel like a really serious treatment of the subject - especially not over such a vast span of time.
As a history book, I remain unconvinced by some of Pastoureau's suggestions about how blue worked in culture. The lack of blue in very early art, Neolithic right through to much ancient illustration, is curious but I didn't entirely buy his explanation for its lack of symbolism and therefore appearance and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it just didn't feel explained enough to accept such a radical idea. This problem permeated much of the text, in fact; the sober, moral overtones that blue acquired thanks to the Protestants, as well as the issues discussed around its symbolism in the later medieval period, were presented as a little bit too definitive, a little bit too unarguable, for me to be entirely comfortable. Clearly Pastoureau was not setting out to write the definitive work on the colour; he himself points out that a vast amount more work needs to be done in a whole range of areas before such a thing is possible. And perhaps it's also a fault of translation; maybe there was a bit more uncertainty in the original French?
Anyway, overall this is a fascinating book that has made me think about colour and its uses, but not entirely satisfactory. (less)
I came to this because I was intrigued to find out Kate Bishop's back story, having come across her in the Hawkeye stories where she is very awesome....moreI came to this because I was intrigued to find out Kate Bishop's back story, having come across her in the Hawkeye stories where she is very awesome. I've gotta say I'm not actually a fan of comic-book Captain America - he's just a bit too goody goody for me - but the we're-not-calling-ourselves-Young Avengers are interesting as a group and I will probably read at least the next set, to see if there's more about their backstory. (less)
Of the things I remembered, they were there and they were still good. I’m not afraid to admit that I adored the romance between Sorry and Laura as a k...moreOf the things I remembered, they were there and they were still good. I’m not afraid to admit that I adored the romance between Sorry and Laura as a kid; I was scared that this would turn out to be a stalker-y, Edward Cullen kind of romance, because after all Sorry is older and there is that one breaking-into-the-bedroom scene. But it’s not (to my mind) like that at all: for one thing, Laura is very well aware of exactly what is going on – she’s been sharing Looks with him for a year – and she knows full well that she has some sort of power over him, probably more than him over her. Plus, Sorry (and Mahy) make it very clear that Sorry must be invited in – that classic supernatural charm – and Laura is always very aware of what she’s doing. That bedroom scene? He may have broken in but he’s doing it to warn Laura not to be pushed into anything by his grandmother; plus, he leaves her with a delightful image from her past to fall asleep to. That’s pretty cute… and he’s a bit scared of her, too.
Carmody was as disgusting as I remembered, and the descriptions of Jacko’s health deteriorating as heart-wrenching. Interestingly I think I felt even more uncomfortable with Laura’s brush with evil, as she figures out what to do with him at the end, than I ever did as a teen. The use of a self-inking stamp is still one of the creepiest methods of all time for (literally) making your mark on someone.
Wonderfully, there were aspects to the novel that I appreciated more as a thirty-something than I did as a teen. I didn’t come from (as we said in the 80s) a “broken home,” so Laura’s agonies and resentment and confusion over how to feel about her dad – who left for a younger woman – and the new man in her mum’s life didn’t mean much to me then. Now, though, I see just how honestly Mahy is writing; Laura’s attitudes are written sympathetically, but we also get an insight into her mother’s feelings about it being difficult but not disastrous. Plus, and most brilliantly, her dad’s new wife is lovely, in a real-world not saccharine way. This honesty is delightful. And so is the way the family is written – it’s on the optimistic side, but still Kate isn’t always the most attentive mother, and Laura is not the perfect daughter, but they have real love for each other that does push through the difficulties.
I also appreciated the setting more on this re-read. Mahy is suggesting that magic can happen in the real world, and what’s more in the suburbs of New Zealand. And, better yet, in a somewhat downtrodden area; while the Carlisle witches may live in a massive old house with massive old trees, Laura herself lives in a completely ordinary, verging on genteel poor, street. The changeover itself utilises very old magical tropes of forests and lakes, but the magic itself that Laura works happens in the cold light of day near bricks and new developments.
Speaking of the Carlisle witches, the one aspect I’m not entirely sure about is the way Sorry’s abuse at the hands of his foster father is dealt with. I can appreciate the honesty here in how Sorry talks about it, and in having it present at all in a teen novel – but simply disappearing isn’t going to be an option for other abuse victims. So I can’t tell whether having someone like Sorry experience it and live through it is something that will give hope and courage, or whether the magical escape is a cop-out that would just depress.
Finally, I also really, really liked the ending. Laura is still only 14 so it made me deliriously happy to see her future not completely sewn up; while I hope she and Sorry do end up together – and I know people who are together in their 30s after meeting at that age – Sorry and Laura are both realistic that any talk of that sort will have to wait for a few years yet.(less)
I totally intended to read this slowly. Honestly I did. I meant to savour it, and contemplate each story.
Is it my fault that I ripped through each sto...moreI totally intended to read this slowly. Honestly I did. I meant to savour it, and contemplate each story.
Is it my fault that I ripped through each story, eager to know where it was going? It is my fault that each story is short enough that before I knew it I had finished one, turned the page, and started another?
I think not.
In the interests of, etc, I should point that I do know both Thoraiya Dyer, the author, and Alisa Krasnostein, the publisher. If I didn't like what I had read, I just wouldn't write anything... ;)
So. Asymmetry. In each story, a lack of balance, especially in power; sometimes, also, a lack of balance in an individual's life, making them particularly vulnerable to direct manipulation or simply life's vicissitudes.
The first story is "After Hours," and I'm so pleased to finally read something of Dyer's that makes use of her veterinary skills! I've been wondering when they would find an outlet in her fiction. Didn't necessarily expect to find it in a story about werewolves, but that's fine. I do wonder whether there's a little hint of Dyer's own experiences here, or those of friends, with how one of the senior, rather unpleasant, men treats one of the women - commenting that women aren't worth training because they just up and leave to have babies. Anyway, Jess is a new vet in a rural town, where the clinic's biggest client is the local RAAF base with its patrol dogs. Werewolves are involved, but I won't spoil how. The asymmetric power dynamic comes in its experience/newbie aspect, as well as in its gender aspect. Dyer hints at the difficulties of being new to a job as well as being new to a small town - actually I'm just presuming it's a small town, but that's definitely the vibe I got - very effectively. You probably don't want to read this if you're going to be squeamish about matter-of-fact descriptions of veterinary procedures.
In "Zadie, Scythe of the West," Dyer wrenches us out of a relatively familiar world into one where only women are soldiers, and they're only allowed to kill as many enemies as children they have borne. The tiny detail in this story that delighted me was the rather obvious point that, as a consequence of this prohibition, the women have developed great skills at harming rather than killing. The asymmetric power here is once again a gendered one, as women have power because of their martial position, and presumably also because of the worship of a goddess who orders society and doles out punishment as necessary. The focus is on someone with a skerrick of power - an artist - whose expertise gets abused by someone with more power, for her own ends. The world of this story totally fascinated me, because there is so little back story: why the fighting? is this a fantasy or a SF world? And the story, in skipping to vignettes within the artist's and Zadie's life, suggest interesting ways for men and women, state and individual, to relate.
Having interviewed Dyer on my blog before I read this, I already know that she's working on a longer treatment of the world she depicts in "Wish me Luck," which is intriguing all by itself. Here, somehow, luck is a form of currency: it can be transferred between individuals, and used to purchase goods. As with the previous story, it's unclear whether this is more of a fantasy or SF conceptualisation, although the ending suggests SF - as does, now I think about it, the fact that Kvivik is expressly discussed as another planet, and our narrator has come from Earth. Still, the luck aspect suggests a blurring of genres. Anyway! Our narrator begins sympathetically enough, but it must be said that much of my sympathy had transmuted to distaste by the end of the story. He's one of those unpleasant people who keeps making promises... for tomorrow. But the world - oh, the world. Kvivik is a water world, with a human colony that appears to exist solely to supply water to its waterless sister-planet. Why these planets are worth the effort is unclear, and will perhaps be revealed by Dyer in her longer work. The story is mostly set amongst the dregs of society on Kvivik, which of course is where most of the best stories are found, and there are some distinctly unpleasant people there - and robots, and possibly half-humans, and a thoroughly mysterious Lady Adelaide. The asymmetry is found in the haves vs the have-nots, and in intention vs action. I think this is probably my favourite story of the quartet.
Finally, "Seven Days in Paris" gives the cover its Eiffel Tower. We're back on Earth, some time - but not too far? - into the future. The story comes from the perspective of Marwa B, who first appears to the reader while looking at someone identified as Marwa. Marwa B is taken out into Paris, to have experiences which her captors/handlers/users hope will stimulate dreams that in turn will help them to understand the original Marwa. Exactly who or what Marwa B is, or how her operators use her, is left opaque - what matters is that they do, and they believe it's necessary to do so. The asymmetry is a riff, I think, on that philosophic conundrum of whether it is permissible to torture one to save many. There's also a huge knowledge imbalance, with Marwa B having no real understanding of what she is being used for until right at the end; and of course it's a state vs individual thing, too. I enjoyed the development of Marwa B over her seven days - she's not an entirely clean slate, but she still gets to experience things relatively innocently - and Paris is a sensation-filled place to do that. I also really appreciated the point at which Dyer left this story.
This is an entirely worthy eighth volume in the Twelve Planets series. It's different from the others (that I have read... still haven't brought myself to read the Warren or the Lanagan...), as it should be, but fits in with the overall scope of the project - quality writing from Australian women. (less)
It's 1849, and the convulsions that threw Europe into confusion in 1848 - attempted revolutions all over the place - have m...moreSWOON. Longer review coming.
It's 1849, and the convulsions that threw Europe into confusion in 1848 - attempted revolutions all over the place - have mostly simmered down. The Chartist movement in England (wanting outrageous things like manhood suffrage, paying politicians - so you don't have to be rich to stand for election - and a secret ballot) has also mostly been contained. James Cobham wakes up at a rural pub with, he writes to his cousin, no memory of the last two months, during which time he has been presumed dead by drowning.
The entire novel is constructed via letters and a few diary entries. This does mean an occasionally improbable concession towards memories being excellent, but also raises the intriguing possibility of unreliable narrators all the way through. Also, the friend pointed out that reading it on the days the letters are written is both a fascinating and excruciating experience - the latter because the urge to keep reading is just. so. strong. There are four main letter-writers. James; his cousin Richard; James' step-sister and Richard's paramour, Kitty; and Susan, also a cousin. The family is aristocratic in that way that doesn't entirely make sense for a modern Australian - they're not dukes, but they are wealthy and landed. James has been the family's black sheep for a long time and clearly has a dubious past; Richard is something of a dilettante and scandalous for living with Kitty; Kitty seems flighty and wilful, at least at first; and Susan is sensible, determined, and intimidatingly modern.
Susan is my favourite. Susan is on visiting terms with Friedrich Engels.
The plot wheels between political machinations, dastardly plots of a political and a personal nature, family in-fighting, pseudo-druidical secret societies, fairly in-depth philosophical arguments, and falling in love. The fact that it is written as letters between different people means there are four distinct voices, with their own personal ambitions, hang-ups, and secrets; people don't have all the same knowledge at the same time; and sometimes letters don't get to their intended recipient at the hoped-for time, leading to... well. You can imagine.
I love the romance aspect; I love the historical aspect; I love the thriller aspect. There are serious arguments about Hegel that leave me bewildered. This book is delightfully well-rounded, and I am so very thankful to Kate for giving it to me so I can read it again and again, and loan it to Very Special People. (less)