My first and best and most beloved Shakespeare play. Oh the memories of my own school days, watching that head going rollingOH MACBETH HOW I LOVE YOU.
My first and best and most beloved Shakespeare play. Oh the memories of my own school days, watching that head going rolling down the stairs in the film... oh the joys of Lady Macbeth!
I've never got to teach it before, not properly. I may be a little too excited for the kids.
On this re-read I highlighted all the bits of opposites, and the natural/unnatural observations. There's a lot. And I still adore Lady Macbeth.
And all of this is with full knowledge that Macbeth was a Stuart propagandist who has lied to 400 years of audiences about the reality of Scottish kingship in particular, and Macbeth in general! Bastard! ...more
Reread before school so I can tell the kids I did. Also so that it was fresher in my mind than having read it in December. And to refresh all my slideReread before school so I can tell the kids I did. Also so that it was fresher in my mind than having read it in December. And to refresh all my slides with additional points......more
Read for school. Did you know that Australia had several outbreaks of the Black Death in the early twentieth century? Me neither. This is set in BrisbRead for school. Did you know that Australia had several outbreaks of the Black Death in the early twentieth century? Me neither. This is set in Brisbane, during the first outbreak in 1900. It's got gender stuff and class stuff, because the main character is a young girl who has to go out to work because her family needs the money - so she maids for an undertaker's family. Her sister does the same at a doctor's. Their father works on the docks, sometimes, and ratcatches on the side... which is a good trade once it's realised there is plague, and the rats need to be dealt with.
Very readable, I think very approachable. There's a great little bit about how much effort it is to do washing, which is a good entry into Hans Rosling's Magic Washing Machine TED talk. ...more
Sparhawk starts this book a) immediately after the end of the first one, and b) wanting someone to jump him, so that he can get**spoiler alert** ALEX:
Sparhawk starts this book a) immediately after the end of the first one, and b) wanting someone to jump him, so that he can get all violent on some unsuspecting footpad. I don’t think I was really paying attention to that sort of thing when I was a teen. He’s actually not a very nice man a lot of the time, and that makes me sad.
It is a bit sad isn’t it :( Sparhawk’s most common reaction seems to be violence, and the narrative and tone celebrates that part of him.
Alex, you say “not a very nice man” but I never read it that way (and still don’t, I guess!) – he’s a product of his culture and his time. They seem to quite happily wreak havoc on people at the drop of a hat, and he IS a knight, trained to battle!
OK, maybe I don’t have to be quite so sad about him – that he’s a product of his time – but still his active desire for violence does act, for me now, against my lionising of him as a teenager. He is flawed, and I’m troubled because Jo is exactly right – the narrative celebrates him and his anger/violent tendencies.
You’re both completely right. I still choose to read it in the context of the book, AND STICK MY HEAD IN THE SAND. Damn. That’s the problem with rereading with a few more brains behind us, isn’t it?!
Something we didn’t note in our review of The Diamond Throne is that the book is prefaced by a short excerpt from a ‘history’. This is a really neat way of building up back story and developing the world without having to info-dump – although of course the Eddings pair don’t really have an issue with info-dumps; after all, why else assign a novice knight to teach a young thief history? Anyway, I still like it, and it does show that there has been a fair bit of thought put into the world, even if much of it simplistic.
Yeah I enjoy these histories too. Good way to set the scene, highlight anything that’s going to be important for the book (like Lake Randera) and do a quick recap. They definitely like an info-dump, but at least the Eddings do it with style and humour!
I reckon there’s reams of world-building behind these books, especially if the work that we see in The Rivan Codex (for the Belgariad/Mallorean world) is any context!
I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected. I remembered The Ruby Knight as a very ‘middle book’, just basically a long build up to finding Bhelliom and saving Ehlana. But on the reread it was a lot more engaging than that. Maybe it’s because Eddings has the space here to really get into the characters, and I love these characters so much that I enjoyed that to no end.
It really does boggle me that even though I’ve read this several times, I still don’t get bored of this long questy-ride-alonging. It really IS a middle book, and nothing terribly much happens, but it’s still a really enjoyable read! Bizarre. Is it nostalgia that makes it so, or some quality about the book that means I don’t chuck it across the room like I would most other “middle books” that really just march in place?
I found this one a bit more boring than I remembered – it really is just them wandering around. I totally still enjoyed the character development, and it is banter-ific, but on this re-read I got a bit impatient with the lack of actual plot movement.
They’re also very good at throwing everything in Sparhawk’s way. I mean, this is basically a quest book. We even have a ‘fellowship’ don’t we – Sephrenia mentions how important it is to have a certain number of people on the quest, it’s all about symmetry. But from the outset, everything that can go wrong does, and all of this does a great job of increasing the tension. Not only that, but characters we meet in the beginning and/or middle come back towards the end, which makes these side-quests feel a little less side-questy. By the time Sparhawk and Co. get roped into Wargun’s army I just wanted to scream because they were so close and it is so not fair! But I do love it when characters get put through the wringer like that. Nothing’s easy.
Masochist! But I’m right there with you – wouldn’t be any fun if things just went to plan, right?
omg when I got to that and remembered that they were being co-opted I think I might actually have groaned out loud. GET ON WITH IT.
I like that there’s a few points in this book that smack back at the classism – Wat and his fellows teach Sparhawk a thing or two: "Not meanin' no offence, yer worship, but you gentle-folk think that us commoners don' know nothin', but when y' stack us all together, there's not very much in this world we don't know."
Ulath backs this up some chapters later: "Sometimes I think this whole nobility business is a farce anyway. Men are men – titled or not. I don't think God cares, so why should we?"
"You're going to stir up a revolution talking like that, Ulath."
"Maybe it's time for one."
Tehani, you beat me to it – I LOVE that bit; I metaphorically punched the air.
Go Ulath! :)
Unfortunately, there is also some nasty gender stuff – it doesn't stem from our heroes, but isn't challenged by them, and is somewhat supported by them to an extent (Kurik emphasises the nasty noble's words by drawing his sword in this exchange):
"Mother will punish you."
The noble's laugh was chilling. "Your mother has begun to tire me, Jaken," he said. "She's self-indulgent, shrewish and more than a little stupid. She's turned you into something I'd rather not look at. Besides, she's not very attractive any more. I think I'll send her to a nunnery for the rest of her life. The prayer and fasting may bring her closer to heaven, and the amendment of her spirit is my duty as a loving husband, wouldn't you say?"
(more follows on p. 217 – of my copy…)
urgh. Hate that.
And it’s ok that he feels this way because it was an ‘arranged marriage’. Poor bloke, getting stuck in an arranged marriage like that. *flat stare* There are a lot of comments in these books about women being obsessed with marriage and men ‘escaping’.
And there’s other uncomfortable gender moments, too, like the serving girls in the tavern often being blonde, busty, and none too bright… *sigh* And then there’s Kring, who asks whether it’s ok to loot, commit arson, and/or rape when they partake in war with the Church Knights.
Oh, so many uncomfortable moments…
Yeah I’d totally forgotten that about Kring. I was so excited to see him, because I always liked him, but that took the wind out of my sails a bit.
But Kring kind of changes, I think (though later on) and that element is quite lost later. However, it does NOT do well to realise which culture the Peloi are intended to represent. Oh, the casual racism…
On the topic of racism – every time Sephrenia rolls her eyes and says “Elenes,” I can’t help but think of the bit in The Mummy where Jonathan says “Americans” in that insulting tone of voice (which I can’t find on YouTube, darn it).
I think Sephrenia is quite within her rights saying it in that EXACT tone of voice!
Also, Ghwerig being ‘misshapen’ isn’t quite suggested as the reason for his being evil, but it’s pretty close – and keeps cropping up throughout the series. I can’t imagine how that makes a non-able-bodied reader feel, given it makes even me gnash my teeth.
You know, I never actually read it that way – it mustn’t be quite as overt as some of the other uncomfortable things. But of course, now you’ve pointed it out, yes, I completely see it.
Oh hey I never really noticed that either! But now that you mention it, I can’t unsee it. Which says a lot. Why do I see all the gender stuff immediately, but this passed me by? Of course there’s a long literary tradition of physical deformities = spiritual ones. That’s no excuse. I must be more aware in my reading.
Kurik's acknowledgment of Talen (p. 392) made me cry as much as it did Talen!
You softy. I didn’t cry in THAT bit…
Oh no, the bit that always made me cry is still to come…
Apropos of nothing, did either of you find it a bit odd that Kurik checks on Sparhawk in the middle of the night?? I bet there’s fanfic out there…
There’s fanfic out there for EVERYTHING! I didn’t think it odd, though I did love the naked man-hug in the early pages of the first book! (go on, go check, I’ll wait…) :)
I am NOT going to go looking for fan fic. I am NOT…
Oh, I don’t need to check, Tehani, I remember :D
Also, do you remember whether you suspected Flute of being actually divine before the great revelation at the end of this story? I’m not sure! I hope I did…
Well, I read these completely backwards (Tamuli before Elenium), so I was spoiled for that already I’m afraid!
Tehani that breaks my brain.
I had suspicions about Flute from very early on. I remember being very impressed with myself at the time. I reread it now and think how could you not? They do kinda hit you over the head with it :p
I think by now we’ve read WAY too much in the field to be surprised by something like that – but a newish reader to the genre? Maybe they wouldn’t pick it!
Well, being the middle book of the trilogy, there isn’t really much by way of plot to chat about, I guess, so shall we move along? Perhaps faster than the plot of the book itself… :)
We should talk about plot shouldn’t we :)
Sooo… As usual the book opens up with Sparhawk travelling through Cimmura at night in the fog. Notice how often that happens in these books?
Yes, you’re right! It’s a trend in the books, for sure.
I quite like the repetition. He’s got both rings, and now he knows he needs Bhelliom to cure Ehlana and it’s time for the sapphire rose to be found again anyway. The fellowship head off on their quest for the magic jewel and have adventures along the way, including being stuck in the middle of a siege, dealing with Count Ghasek’s possessed sister, raising the dead and finally fighting the Seeker who has been chasing them all this time.
Eventually they make it to Ghwerig’s cave – after the introduction of Milord Stragen, another favourite character – fight and defeat the troll. Flute is revealed as the child-Goddess Aphrael, and gives Bhelliom over to Sparhawk.
Was that the kind of thing you had in mind? ;)
This is why YOU’RE the writer…! Nicely summed up indeed. The Count Ghasek storyline was a bit of a tough one. On one hand, Ghasek seemed like a nice enough chap. On the other, the motives behind his sister’s madness, well, not great to examine that too closely, I think.
Although I did appreciate the throwback to book one – Eddings could have introduced any old character here, but Bellina is the woman Sparhawk and Sephrenia witnessed going into that evil Zemoch house.
**spoiler alert** EDDINGS RE-READ: The Sapphire Rose, BOOK THREE OF THE ELENIUM
Because we just don’t have enough to do, Alex, Joanne and I have decide**spoiler alert** EDDINGS RE-READ: The Sapphire Rose, BOOK THREE OF THE ELENIUM
Because we just don’t have enough to do, Alex, Joanne and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Tehani’s post over here and Jo’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!
ALEX: Almost the very first page of this book has an Author’s Note, which says that the wife wants to write the dedication. And “since she’s responsible for much of the work,” he’s going to let her. Why don’t you just acknowledge the co-authorship, DUDE?
JO: I don’t see the ‘David Eddings’ on the covers any more. In my mind, it’s ‘David and Leigh’ :)
TEHANI: Of course, when I first read these I had no idea, but since finding out, it’s been an annoyance every time I picked up one of the books.
Also, I think this is the first of the books where we see a really intrusive breaking of the fourth wall by the author/s? For example: The appearance of the detachment at the gate was, in Preceptor – ah, shall we say instead Patriarch – Darellon’s words, disgraceful. (p. 155 of my version).
ALEX: The descriptions of Ehlana, who gets cured of the poison in this book, are beyond horrid. There’s “overpowering femininity,” and women being “notoriously adept” at recognising things like a ring being an engagement ring (did I miss that seminar? How DO you tell that a ring is an engagement ring? How do I know whether I’ve been stooged?). Ehlana is unbearable smug about “netting” Sparhawk. I will admit that the point about wavering between wanting to flaunt her “womanly attributes” and wanting to hide them is fair – and even perceptive – but it’s surrounded by so much URGH. And I’d like to say that I, for one, am glad that Sparhawk tried to get out of their marriage. I know that 17 years’ difference doesn’t HAVE to be a barrier, but there is SUCH a difference between the two of them.
TEHANI: By the end of this book, I was starting to get an uncomfortable feeling about the number of very young girls who become obsessed with older men. And Aphrael’s manipulation with kisses is most disturbing!
JO: Oh yes that’s definitely a thing in these books.
JO: And we meet Mirtai! Isn’t she an interesting character? Super-strong, super-warrior who is quite happy to be a slave. In fact, she insists on it.
TEHANI: Mirtai is such a contradiction! Not always deliberately on the author’s part, I think… This bit really got up my nose on this reread though: Mirtai’s skin had a peculiarly exotic bronze tinge to it, and her braided hair was glossy black. In a woman of normal size, her features would have been considered beautiful, and her dark eyes, slightly upturned at the corners, ravishing. Mirtai, however, was not of normal size. (p. 324 of my version) SO. MUCH. WRONG. To begin, what the heck is “normal size”? And the “exotic” bronze tinge of skin and “slightly upturned eyes”? ARGH!
JO: I should probably leave this discussion for Domes of Fire, because there’s not much Mirtai in The Sapphire Rose.
ALEX: Jo – indeed – but yes, that exoticising is repellant. And the whole ‘normal size’ thing makes me cross-eyed.
In the last book there was the issue of being ‘misshapen’. I couldn’t help but notice that in this one, when the Pandions are being domineering of the Elenian council, there’s the pederast Baron and Lenda and “the fat man”. Does the fat man ever get named? Fat isn’t entirely an evil thing like deformity is, in these books – Platime is fat but approaches genius-ness on the council, Patriarch Emban is very clever, and both of them are good – but it’s still always mentioned. There’s barely a reference to Emban without mention of his belly. And he uses that sometimes – to defuse tension, for instance – but I’m still not entirely comfortable with it.
TEHANI: That’s interesting though, because both Platime and Emban are important, good characters – not presented as useless or bad people, and so I guess I read that as subverting the trope? Although there is Otha…
JO: Even though Platime and Emban are good and important characters, their ‘fatness’ is mentioned a lot. Like it’s a personality trait.
TEHANI: Very true.
ALEX: Speaking of the council, I would like to declare my sympathy for Lycheas. He’s a dimwit and a pawn, but surely he deserves sympathy.
TEHANI: Oh, I disagree! He’s not very bright and he’s been led astray I accept, but I think he knew he was doing wrong, and there were times he could have chosen another path. He was as hungry for power as the rest of them!
ALEX: Hmm. Perhaps. How much choice did he have with a mother like that probably poisoning him from the start? (If we accept the premise of the story.) … oh wait, does that shoot my theory down, at least somewhat, given that is probably exactly the reason why he’s hungry for power? Dang.
JO: I think the Eddings set him up to be disliked, and he simply has no say in the matter. He’s always portrayed as snivelling and pathetic and stupid. He may or may not be hungry for power, it doesn’t matter. He’s there to be a lesser baddy that everyone can look down on and routinely threaten to kill.
ALEX: You’re saying he’s just a narrative device? SAY IT AINT SO.
A rather chilling part of this novel is the utter lack of regard for the civilians in Chyrellos, during the siege. It was really quite unpleasant reading.
JO: I find the siege so boring I have to say that never really bothered me. The scene that does stick in my mind is when Sparhawk and an unnamed soldier witness a woman dragged into an alley and quite obviously raped (though thankfully off camera). The soldier, crying because she ‘could have been his sister’ shoots the rapist. But then the woman staggers out of the alley, sees her not-quite-dead rapist, takes his dagger and violently finishes the job and steals his loot. The soldier ‘retches’ and Sparhawk says “Nobody’s very civilised in those circumstances”.
This scene was always a WTF moment for me. When you consider Sparhawk’s career, what about her actions make them ‘uncivilised’, exactly? He does much worse things to people and is rewarded for them! Is it because she’s a woman? Or because she’s not a Church Knight and it’s okay when they do it. Or because she took the loot? I mean, seriously…?
ALEX: Yes!! This!! I was so ANGRY at that reaction from the men – who are safe on so many levels from this sort of thing – getting all uppity about her taking revenge. I don’t like her doing it either, but I don’t like the initial rape even more.
I cried at Kurik’s funeral. Not at his death – that all happened too fast, I think – but when I got to the funeral…well, I was glad to be by myself. However, I am still suspicious of the idea of Aslade being quite so accommodating of Elys.
JO: Kurik *sniff* :(
TEHANI: And you know, none of that business really makes sense. Kurik is portrayed as steadfast, loyal, moral and really quite upright (even uptight?), so the fact he cheated on Aslade (and their four sons, essentially) is, well, just a bit weird. It was a useful way to have Talen important to the group, I guess, but the character path is very odd.
ALEX: YES. Also it makes adultery completely fine, which… I know there are other ways of doing relationships than ‘conventional’ monogamy, etc etc, but not within THIS world’s framework – everyone else who does that is regarded severely. Whereas Sparhawk etc are all, “dude, no worries! Everyone sleeps around sometime, the wimmens is so attractive we can’t help it!”
JO: YES from me too. Never felt right to me for exactly those reasons.
TEHANI: I do like the way the Kurik’s sons talk about their “mothers” in the later books though. That said, remembering I read the Tamuli trilogy first, I was quite certain Aslade and Elys had been both married to Kurik, the way they are referred to there!
JO: Heh yes. I can imagine. Although I was always proud of Aslade and Elys for being able to put aside their potential conflict and just get on with life. So often the relationships between women are portrayed as bitchy, jealous, spiteful things. And usually its over the attention of a man. So I appreciate that they went down the opposite path.
Actually, in the Tamuli there are a lot more examples of strong female friendship too.
TEHANI: Some more perpetuation of stereotypes here, too. In this case, the temper of the red-head: In Delada’s case all the cliches about red-haired people seemed to apply. (p. 282 of my version).
JO: Yeah I thought they got a little carried away with that!
TEHANI: And what the heck is this bit of elitism? Stragen says, Whores and thieves aren’t really very stimulating companions… (p. 410 of my version). Um, well Talen and Platime AND HIMSELF are thieves and all presented as quite stimulating! The whores get a poorer presentation, but still!
ALEX: That bit also made me very cranky. Again with the superior attitude.
TEHANI: And this awful bit of Ehlana characterisation: “Would you all mind too terribly much?” Ehlana asked them in a little-girl sort of voice. YUCK! The woman is a queen, and fully in command of herself and the power she wields, yet she resorts to that (for no reason, anyway!)?! No! We talked a bit about this in one of the earlier reviews, how the women themselves are supposed to be powerful, and there are quite a lot of them, which is nice, but the actual presentation of them really undermines this at times.
JO: Yes! This is what’s been irritating me the whole time, and it only gets worse as the series goes on. Doesn’t matter how strong a woman is, she still resorts to hissy fits and theatrics or childishness to either get what she wants, or basically keep control of the ‘relationship’. Even Sephrenia does it in the later books! It just feels to me like the books believe that deep down, women are irrational children. OR that they will resort to acting like them as a way of keeping their men in line.
JO: Am I the only one who finds Ehlana’s speech to the council a little…difficult to believe. All these supposedly hardened politicians/Patriarchs completely suckered in by her ‘divinely inspired’ speech? Just because she’s pretty, or something? And because she ‘fainted’?
TEHANI: I have such a different view of the Patriarchs to you! I always read ANY of those political gatherings as being a bunch of little boys just grabbing for power, none of the “hardened” politicians at all! In fact, Eddings seems to have very little respect for political systems at all. They’re all corrupt or useless!
ALEX: I don’t think they’re MEANT to look like that, but they sometimes do – and it’s another thing that annoys me about the Eddings portrayal of religion, because it’s JUST another instance of politics and again there’s so much uselessness and cunning and unpleasantness. Also, Ehlana manipulates them, and I think it manages to make her look silly – conniving and dangerous with the using feminine things in dangerous ways – AND it makes the Patriarchs look silly for falling for such obvious, feminine strategies. Way to go for insulting two groups there!
JO: Last time I said that I found The Ruby Knight a lot faster-paced and more enjoyable than I remembered. I have to say the opposite for The Sapphire Rose. Oh god I was so sick of the siege by the time it ended, and it seemed to take forever to get to Zemoch. It felt like so much padding. Just destroy Azash already!
TEHANI: Some excellent examples of Faran the human horse again: Faran made a special point of grinding his steel-shod hooves into a number of very sensitive places on the officer’s body. “Feel better now?” Sparhawk asked his horse. Faran nickered wickedly. (p. 155 my version)
JO: I could summarise the plot again but you probably don’t want me to do that this time!
They cure Ehlana. She’s all grown up now and in love with Sparhawk. They ‘accidently’ get engaged. Off to Chyrellos to stop Annias being elected Archprelate. There’s a siege which goes on forever. Then Wargun and Ehlana turn up and the siege is over. Ehlana and Sparhawk get married. They go to Zemoch with Bhelloim to kill Azash. It takes forever. They get to Zemoch. Kurik dies. Martel dies. Otha and Annias die. Azash dies. Lycheas dies. Arissa kills herself. They return to Cimmura. Everything’s peaceful, but kinda crappy, because the gods are shell-shocked by Azash’s death. Danae happens. Eventually, Aphrael and everyone go on holidays and spring returns.
ALEX: Nice work there, Jo. I would add: Sparhawk and Ehlana get married in the same way that a person might buy a horse; Martel dies but everyone’s real sad, because actually he was decent and just led astray, y’know? And “Danae happens” means that a goddess is incarnate in a different racial family and that’s really kinda cool.
JO: Heh, that’s awesome.
TEHANI: Well, we’ve picked a lot of nits in the Elenium books, but final verdict on the first three? For me, I have to admit I still thoroughly enjoyed reading them, with grins and tears throughout, and the comfy blanket feeling of an old favourite that still (mostly) holds up. Although there were definitely a lot more grimaces at the rough patches than when I was younger!
ALEX: I think I feel basically the same as you, Tehani. It really is a warm comfy blanket… with moth holes and a few scratchy bits… but a lot of love and memories holding it together.
JO: Couldn’t agree more! I might snipe at them, but I still love these books and rereading them has been thoroughly comforting. It also reminds me what I love about reading and writing in the first place. It’s just so much fun!...more
Sent by Kate; turns out I have read this one, but ages ago. I'm reminded that at some stage I do want to read the rest of these... Green gets repetitiSent by Kate; turns out I have read this one, but ages ago. I'm reminded that at some stage I do want to read the rest of these... Green gets repetitive, but the ideas are fun enough that I am willing to get through it. John Taylor is fun and I really, really want to know the secret of his parentage and what he's going to do to the Nightside.
I should read more crime. Especially speculative crime. ...more
**spoiler alert** aaand 24 hours later: done. Watch this space for a crazy conversational review with Tehani and Jo!
I was feeling a little boo**spoiler alert** aaand 24 hours later: done. Watch this space for a crazy conversational review with Tehani and Jo!
I was feeling a little book-weary yesterday so thought I might as well start my reading for this conversational review series, given it’s usually a soothing experience. Within a single PAGE, I was reaching for Twitter, because SO MUCH of the book cried out to be tweeted! Great one-liners, the introduction of favourite characters, and, sadly, some of the not so awesome bits as well. I was having a grand time pulling out 140 character lines (#EddingsReread if you’re interested), but the response from the ether was amazing! So many people hold these books firmly in their reading history, and it was just lovely to hear their instant nostalgia.
And I read those tweets and everything was SO FAMILIAR that I immediately started reading as well. And finished a day later.
Ok. A) You people read too quickly! B) Tehani those tweets were enough to start me feeling all nostalgic. I was in the middle of cooking dinner and had to put everything down, run upstairs and dig the books out of their box hidden in the back of the wardrobe.
I am not at all repentant! :) Also, did you both find this a super easy read? Is it the style, or just that I’ve read it several times before? It really was like sinking into a warm fluffy hug, hitting the pages of this book again. I actually can’t remember the last time I read it, but it’s got to be over a decade, yet I felt instantly at home again. Eddings was one of the authors who caused my addiction to the genre, and even in the very first chapters, it’s easy to see why. The light and breezy writing style is instantly accessible, and the way we’re thrown straight into the action, with our hero Sparhawk leading us through, makes the book start with a bang.
Reading that first page was a little bit like going back to my high school, many years after graduating. It just felt so familiar, and comfortable. And like high school, I know it’s not without problems – but it’s still somewhere that has a lot of ME wrapped up in it. I also don’t remember when I last read these, but it’s not for aaaaages… And yes, super easy to read. TOO easy! ;D
Oh yes, absolutely. As soon as I started reading it all came back to me. I remembered the moment I found The Diamond Throne in the library, and the first chapter and intro of Sparhawk hooked me instantly. While I think as a teenager I identified the most with Polgara from the Belgariad (I wanted to BE her) I have always loved Sparhawk.
Polgara is still one of my absolute favourite characters! Sparhawk is too, though - one of the great characters for me in my early teen years. I adored that he was older, and cynical, and world-weary. When I was 14 I thought I was all of those things…now that I am 34 I still absolutely empathise! This story also shows that his cynicism is cut with a very large streak of sappiness, which I think serves to make him just a bit more relatable. His love for Sephrenia, his respect for Vanion and Dolmant and Kurik – he’s actually a fairly well-rounded character, as these things go. His habit of calling people ‘friend’ and ‘neighbour’ is why I call everyone ‘mate’ to this day. True story. I also adore the relationship he has with Faran, that ugly roan brute; I love Faran unconditionally.
He is so pragmatic, completely prepared for violence at all times, and yet from the very early pages where he gives the street girl some coins and calls her “little sister”, we see he’s an absolute marshmallow inside. I’m with you Alex, I adore him.
I have an admission to make. I still love him, but Sparhawk’s making me a little uncomfortable in this reread. For all his neighbours and his giving money to the scrawny whore, I’m starting to feel like he’s a bit of a bully. He gets what he wants because he can and does threaten violence if he doesn’t get it…and it feels like Eddings thinks this is ok because he’s Sparhawk. He’s a Pandion (not only a Pandion but the best of them, as we are repeatedly reminded) and the people he threatens are ‘evil’ anyway so no harm done… I dunno, it’s just made me feel a bit squeamish this time round.
That’s a really good point. I’ve had a similar discussion with my Doctor Who reviewing buddies Tansy and David about David Tennant’s Doctor – he does and says some pretty awful things, but we accept it generally without question a) because he’s the Doctor, but more importantly b) because David Tennant plays him so charismatically. Sparhawk has the same sort of issues – we know (or are given by the narrative to believe) that he’s on the side of right, and that he is the Champion, therefore we accept his behaviour because it’s presented as being for the right reasons.
*sigh* you are of course both correct – Sparhawk’s use of “might is right” is totally accepted by the novel because he is so awesome. And if that’s not an abuse of power, right there, then nothing is.
On a more positive note, I think I like all of the other characters, too. Sephrenia is delightful although definitely not rounded out enough here…and I do have a problem with her “we Styrics are so simple and you Elenes are so complex” thing. I want to believe that she’s just serving back to the Elenes what they believe about themselves, so that she can manipulate them, but I’m not sure if that’s knowledge of the rest of the series or wishful thinking (more on that below). Talen is already totally amusing and reminds me a lot of Silk, from the Belgariad, which is unsurprising. The Merry Men really are dreamy; Ulath and his blonde plaits will always be my favourite, because who doesn’t love the quiet cryptic type?
And I adore Kalten, because he’s always needling Sparhawk yet they clearly love each other. Talen was a definite favourite from early on too, and Kurik is marvellous – a definite father figure, or maybe more an uncle…
The classism and the racism…ouch. The Rendors are meant to be Arab analogues, right? Because everyone knows that living in the heat makes your brain go soft. OUCH. Also, why have I always thought the Styrics were analogues for Jews? Is it just that the Elenes burning their villages is frighteningly similar to pogroms in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages? (But of course there’s no religious similarity at all, and the only ‘real’ similarity is the refusal of pork.)
JO: I always thought that about the Styrics too.
Oh yes, that was the first thing I picked up on in terms of the negative stereotypes – completely over my head when I read these in my late teens, front and centre now. I actually wrote a uni paper on representations of reality in Eddings and Feist, but I’ve sure learned a lot since then! I could easily IDENTIFY the real world correlations, but did I notice the negative aspects of this? No I did NOT. *sigh* Bad past me, bad!
This time around, the classism was just as interesting too – I think I was so indoctrinated into the usual process of high fantasy in my 20s that this would never have even occurred to me to see. This time though, Sephrenia’s derision about the intelligence “common” Elenes and Styrics is, ugh, just awful. And when it’s other races as WELL as commoners, well, that’s terrible.
The class aspect is ugly as all get out. When they’re in the council chamber confronting Vanion, Dolmant – the lovely, gentle Dolmant – says why believe an untitled merchant (his words!) and a runaway serf over and above the honorable Preceptor (code: titled)? Now we know that those are both lying, but that’s beside the point. I dunno, Dolmant, maybe because truth and honesty aren’t actually the privileges of the wealthy and titled?
Oh goodness yes. I have to admit this is something that passed me by the first time I read these. Maybe because in the world Eddings writes it does feel so natural. Which is disturbing.
It really is, isn’t it! And once you see, you can’t unsee…
This is one of the first real instances I remember of the Crystal Dragon Jesus trope – taking what can be broadly recognised as a version of the medieval Catholic Church and transporting it to a secondary fantasy world.
I’ve not heard of the “Crystal Dragon Jesus trope” – please elaborate?
Neither have I!
Instead of creating your own religious system for your magical fantasy world, you take the broad brush strokes of (usually) the medieval Catholic Church – because hey, everyone knows that medieval stuff is bad, plus Catholics are easy to laugh at, right? It generally involves a monotheistic religion with a convoluted hierarchy, seemingly-pious churchmen (and only men) who are meant to be celibate but often aren’t, because that also makes them easier to turn into evil characters. The only thing that the Eddings missed is the saviour/messiah/ someone who sacrificed themselves bit, of the religion. It irks me because it is so lazy.
I did not know there was a term for that :)
Tehani, you said there was a Lord of the Rings reference early on – did you mean Ghwerig the Troll-Dwarf being like both Sauron and Gollum, with the whole rings thing? (Also, how did Ghwerig ‘casually’ smash a diamond?) There’s also a Hamlet reference, at the end, when Sparhawk comes across Annias praying in the chapel and chooses not to kill him.
Yes, exactly! I missed the Hamlet reference, and I think there were a couple of others in there!
I could hand-wave the diamond smashing – I figured if he was working under the influence of the gods, he could pretty much do anything!
You know, there’s a lot of repetition in this book. It almost feels like any time anything happens, it has to be reported back to the group in the next scene, and discussed. Same goes for any time they meet a new character, we have a recap of events up until this point. All done with amusing dialogue, of course. But still!
You’re right, but it’s so breezily written I hardly notice it! I do quite like the way travelling actually takes a significant amount of time, even when that slows down the action.
Thanks to your tweets, Tehani, I noticed every single time the word ‘peculiar’ was used.
By the end there I was getting a little sick of “I’m (terribly) disappointed in you, ___.” Or something similar. I noticed it a couple of times then couldn’t unsee it!
Yes, Eddings has several “tics” of writing that once you notice them, you ALWAYS see them! “Flat stares” are my favourite :)
Particularly when they come from Faran. I love that horse and his flat stares.
That horse is practically human.
That horse and his prancing make me happy.
I’m having a strange and conflicted reaction to the female characters in these books. On the one hand, they are such wonderful strong people. Sephrenia is powerful, but that’s almost not what makes her strong – rather her pacifism compared to the bloodthirsty knights around her, and her determination to do her duty to her goddess. And her relationship with Vanion. Ehlana’s still encased in diamond at this point, but the effect she had on Sparhawk pretty much says it all! Even Arissa has her own desires and knows her own mind. But…but… I dunno, something feels off to me. Maybe because there are few of them? Maybe Lillias’ rather large hissy fit soured it all for me. I just don’t know. Would love your reactions.
I actually thought the Lillias thing was reasonably well handled – it was made pretty clear it was a cultural “norm” rather than her personal feelings, which made it okay for me, I guess. The female characters are interesting though; I wonder if it’s because they are constantly stamping their feet at the men and pretending to be less powerful than they are to get their own way that’s the problem? Possibly I’m getting ahead of myself though – this is only the first book!
I loved Lillias’ melodramatic turn – and that Sparhawk played to it for her sake. I am conflicted about Sephrenia: are the knights looking after her because they love her, or because they see her as weak? Or is that an “and” situation? I don’t like Arissa but I admire her strength. For me, I think it’s that this is such a boys world the women feel a bit out of place. The other female character of course is Flute, and she’s quite funny, but one thing I wanted to point out: she ‘somehow’ escapes the convent where they leave her, and meets the crew further on…and no one goes back to tell the convent she’s ok?! Seriously??
Don’t look too hard Alex, there’s all SORTS of little nitpicks like that! I think we’re almost ready to move on to the next book. I don’t suppose it really matters that we’ve not talked about the plot, right? It’s your basic high fantasy quest, with lashings of barriers thrown into our hero’s journey, a cast of thousands (seriously, it gets quite large in the end…) and lots fun dialogue that means you completely don’t notice that sometimes nothing really happens for several pages *cough chapters cough*.
Things happen! Characters develop! Banter is committed! :D
Yeah, what more could you possibly want? Lots of riding horses to get to places. Things go wrong for our heroes all the time. I do think Eddings is good at that in particular. Just when you think they might finally achieve something, *bam* something goes wrong. Usually involving Martel. And yes, lots of banter. Banter is awesome.
I have never, in my life, read a book two times in a row. Until I read Hav. This was possible because Hav is not a novel in the ordinary sense. It's aI have never, in my life, read a book two times in a row. Until I read Hav. This was possible because Hav is not a novel in the ordinary sense. It's a travel memoir to a fictional place that could easily exist; it's a meditation on East meeting West, on history and culture and modernity; it's about being a stranger in somewhere simultaneously familiar and alien. And it has some of the most wonderful prose I've come across.
This section from Hav illuminates many of the aspects that make the book so wonderful.
[The boats] often use their sails, and when one comes into the harbour on a southern wind, canvas bulging, flag streaming, keeling gloriously with a slap-slap of waves on its prow and its bare brown-torsoed Greeks exuberantly laughing and shouting to each other, it is as though young navigators have found their way to Hav out of the bright heroic past. (p66)
This. It's beautiful, for a start. It suggests that conjunction of somewhere existing both in the present and, somehow, in the past that makes Hav so intriguing. And it's quoted back at its author in the second part of the book, as an indication of her own understanding of Hav.
(We're all about the meta.)
Two thirds of the book was written and published in the 1980s. According to Ursula le Guin, who wrote the introduction, it led to people going to their travel agents looking to book a ticket to Hav because it was so convincing. Now, it really is convincing, but at the same time there are aspects that make it quite clear that Hav is a fiction. Like the fact that you've never seen it on a map, maybe? I was confused by that until I look Jan Morris up, and discovered that she has written many actual travel books (under that name and as James Morris). So I concede that perhaps if you knew her earlier work, you could be forgiven for some confusion if not quite that much. Anyway, the last third was written in the early 21st century, and sees Jan going back to Hav after the Intervention - which was just starting as she left last time. And this allows Morris to explore a whole other aspect of culture and development.
"Last Letters from Hav" are entries written between March and August, with Morris arriving in Hav at the start and being bustled out as trouble brews at the end. In between, she does what any travel writer does: she stays in interesting places, she visits the important and not-so-important places in the city, she talks to people, she reminisces about what other people have said about the place. I've been having a great deal of difficulty writing this review because the books is absolutely busting at the scenes with themes, with commentary, with historical (a)musings. There's multiculturalism and colonialism and identity - the losing and finding and historical nature of and doubt around. There's appropriation on a massive scale - see previous note - and getting on with the business of life. There's ordinary mystery and profound mystery, religion and politics and architecture and this book had me in RAPTURES. Can you tell?
Hav is a city-state in a world that really doesn't have them any more. It's got an uneasy relationship with Turkey, its only (?) land neighbour, but a seemingly thriving one with certain Arab nations and perhaps the Chinese. It's basically meant to be somewhere like the Dardanelles - although the geography isn't quite right - because it's a big deal that this was where Achilles and his Myrmidons came ashore. And the Spartans too, apparently. And, later, Arab merchants, and Venetian merchants, and it's one of very few venerable Chinese merchant settlements outside of Asia. See how Morris twists history and makes it just believable? There really were moments where I could believe this was real. Because her discussion of history is modern, too: the Brits wanted to colonise it; Hav was shared by France, Italy and Germany under a League of Nations mandate; Hitler might have visited, and Hemingway did. Morris talks to people who are flotsam from this era; and also to a man claiming to be the 125th Caliph. Also a casino manager, members of the 'troglodyte' race who live in the nearby mountains, the local philosophers, and some bureaucrats. She visits odd monuments, the Conveyor Bridge (I admit I had to ask someone whether that was actually possible, because I was teetering on the edge of What Do I Believe?), and the Electric Ferry. I don't believe that this book could have been written by anyone other than an established travel writer, because her eye and ear for (even imaginary) detail is breathtaking.
The second section is much shorter and deals with only a week or so, some two decades later when Morris is invited back to Hav after the Intervention. "Hav of the Myrmidons" does all of the same things as "Last Letters," with additional meditation on the nature of change and tourism and the impossibility of an outsider ever really understanding the internal workings of a foreign city. There's also the inevitable nature of change, and the sinister side of globalisation with imported labour and native populations made to relocate - which, intriguingly, is given a possibly positive spin. Morris' books is either revered or believed to be banned in Hav, depending on who she speaks to (it's one of the bureaucrats who reveres it that quotes the passage above at her, as part of the reason for why she was asked back). But things have changed. Most of the glorious many-centuries-in-one-place nature of former Hav is gone, replaced with new and forbidding and disorienting architecture. Like the massive Myrmidon tower, surmounted by an M - but no one really knows who or what the Myrmidons are, or meant to be, in this context. Some things of old Hav have been retained, but sanitised, bent to a new understanding of the world. Tourists are allowed, but only in a defined space - which leads to another bit I wanted to quote, because I think it's an indication of a travel writer's despair:
"The thing is... one feels so safe here. The security's really marvellous, it's all so clean and friendly, and, well, everything we're used to really. We've met several old friends here, and just feel comfortable in this environment. We shall certainly be coming again, won't we darling?" "Oh, a hundred percent. I think it's bloody marvellous what they've achieved, when you remember what happened here." (p196)
Thus spake an older English couple with no intention of leaving the resort.
Hav puts me in mind of China Mieville's The City and the City, and Christopher Priest's The Islanders, both of which do a similar thing with inventing places that ring so amazingly true. The Priest is clearly fictional but written as a travel book; the Mieville is a fiction but set in a city that purports to be real. I guess Hav conflates the two.
This review gets nowhere near what I really want to say about Hav. I am so glad that it exists, and that I have read it. And now I will force it into the hands of anybody I possibly can... although I admit to some trepidation that maybe other people won't like it as much as I do. (I haven't been able to look at any Goodreads reviews for that reason.) I may have used the word intriguing too many times, and I may have given in to hyperbole, but I don't care. I love this book and want to hold it to my heart FOREVER. ...more
Secondly: a real review. There are some spoilers, but nothing too major. I promise you will still have youFirstly: OMG I loved this book so very much.
Secondly: a real review. There are some spoilers, but nothing too major. I promise you will still have your breath stolen by many of the events in the book.
So, let me get "the gender thing" out of the way first. I debated leaving this 'til last, because it's what a lot of other people are apparently fixated on… but for that very reason, it seemed disingenuous of me not to engage. Thus: the narrator of the story, Breq, is from a culture that does not use gendered pronouns. When Breq is dealing with cultures that do use gendered pronouns, there are language problems - troubling enough that it causes Breq quite some stress. And when Breq is thinking/speaking to the audience, rather than rendering pronouns as 'it', Leckie has opted for 'she'. This, obviously, presents some rather intriguing aspects. Except for a few times when Breq is corrected, the reader actually has no idea whether the other characters presented are male or female. I don't actually think we know whether Breq's body is female or male, hence my hesitance to use a pronoun (Breq would use 'she' and roll her eyes at me). Why is this interesting? Well, we don't know whether the leaders have boobs or balls. We don't know whether the soldiers dying having tits or testes, and we don't know which the person who ordered those deaths has, either.* And I think this probably changes the way the reader reacts, at least in some instances. More intimately, we have no idea whether the physical and otherwise personal relationships presented are hetero or homo, which is relevant if it matters to you; at any rate the lack of knowledge is surprising, occasionally frustrating, always intriguing. And when any or all of the people might be women, you're left with the conclusion that women are actually capable of doing/being all of the positions presented - up to and including leading a galaxy-spanning society. Who knew? In the lack of gendered pronouns Leckie is making a call that gender doesn't matter - except that in choosing 'she', this is somewhat undercut.
Look, I'm not actually a gender studies scholar. Probably there are other things that Leckie is doing that I didn't really pick up on. But as a way of unbalancing the reader that works perfectly within the context of the novel, it's a brilliant choice; and it also does that thing that great SF should do: it forced me to reconsider my own world.
On to other things: and speaking of unbalancing the reader that works perfectly within the context of the novel, what is with the gloves?? This is a brilliantly clever, and devastating, move on Leckie's part. Breq comes from the Radchaai, and within the Radchaai everyone wears gloves. If you don't wear gloves, you are regarded with horror. Why? It's never explained. It's like a man getting around in a Jane Austen novel not wearing a shirt; it's clearly the wrong thing to do, but it's not going to get him arrested - and Austen wouldn't bother to explain why it's a problem because surely you understand? Sheer. Brilliance.
Ancillary Justice does not follow a neat linear narrative. There is a chronological thread - it follows Breq as she (all right, I give up; it's just easier, ok? and it's what she would use) searches for something she needs, in an effort to right a wrong. Along the way she encounters someone rather unexpected, who brings a whole pile of unlooked for problems. Alongside and around that thread, the reader lives through the memories of what has brought Breq to this path. The main thing to know, in order to understand what's going on (and this is on the back cover, so it's not a spoiler), is that Breq wasn't always Breq. Until twenty years ago, the body known as Breq was an ancillary of the AI controlling the Justice of Toren, a massive ship of the Radchaai involved in annexing and subduing planets - ostensibly for their own, but mostly for the Radchaai, good. Thus Breq's memories are mostly those of a few-thousand-year-old artificial intelligence. And being an ancillary means that her body is human, and was co-opted for… duty? inhabitation? use? by the AI.
This issue of ancillaries is one that the book is not obsessed by, but does deal with seriously via several of the characters who respond poorly to the very idea of them. I liked that the story didn't develop into something too preachy, but I also appreciated that having raised such a frankly horrifying idea, Leckie did not simply leave it as a necessary-but-evil, or evidence-the-Radchaai-are-dreadful, sign. Instead, it's as complicated an issue as the annexations themselves, because they really do bring benefits to the planets colonised - as other colonisations have - but whether that's worth all the pain and bloodshed… well. That's something we're still processing, to some extent.**
The blurb of my copy paints this as predominantly a revenge story, and I get where that's coming from. But it lacks nuance, too. Breq is indeed looking for revenge. But she's also looking for answers - to questions about events in her past, questions about the Radchaai itself, questions about how she can, should, exist as this solitary body rather than as a near-omnipotent (in a constrained space) being. Therefore even if the novel were purely focussed around her, it's more complicated than just "rargh I get you for what you done to me!" But, of course, as the above demonstrates this is a far more nuanced and complex novel than that. It touches on issues of colonisation, and of gender; it looks at what it means to inhabit a body, as well as to inhabit a planet. And it looks at how religion is co-opted for different purposes, too.
The inclusion of religion startled me, and - when I got over that - made me very happy. It's something I've complained about in the past, here and on Galactic Suburbia: the lack of religion, treated seriously, in science fiction. Seriously people: do you think that just because humanity lives beyond the Earth, they're going to somehow move beyond a desire for an explanation beyond what science can provide? I don't think so. Leckie's inclusion of religion, and the exploration of how religion and colonisation work together, was welcome and clever and shows how much thought she has put into this universe.
This next bit is for those who've read Iain M Banks' Culture novels. I can't help but assume that at least part of this novel is in dialogue with the Culture. There's the fact that AIs are in charge of ships and stations, and interact with their human inhabitants. I know that this happens in other stories, but there was something that made me feel a distinct connection to the Culture Minds. That said, these AIs are not really like the Culture Minds. For a start, they're not meant to have personalities at all. And there's a very clear point in the story where Breq reflects on the fact that the ships don't really talk to each other any more; they're too old, and they're bored by each other. This is in complete contrast to Banks' positively verbose Minds, who can usually hardly keep their traps shut. Then, of course, there's the use of ancillaries - actual bodies - instead of drones, which is… interesting. And reflective of the fact that the Radchaai is a far more problematic society than the Culture, and possibly reflective of the way such a human society is more likely to act (aggressively, rather than with the amused benevolence characteristic of the Culture). It's entirely possible that Leckie has never read Banks, I guess, but for me this works really nicely in conversation with a series of books that I also adore.
Finally, then: this is what I want my SF to be like from now on. Smart; fast-paced; intriguing characters; believable world. And intellectual depth for added joy.
*I do understand this is reductionist; I'm going for effect here. Additionally, there doesn't seem to be an indication of these societies going in for large-scale, Culture-esque body shaping, so it seems to me that these crude indicators would still be considered relevant by Breq's contemporaries.
**I mean on a global scale, not an individual scale. Please don't yell at me for defending colonisation, because I'm certainly not; I'm an historian, I know and agree with most of your points.
This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost. ...more
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 StephSpoilers 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. ...more
Ah Stephen. Forgotten the Spiral, really? At least it didn't happen immediately... still, it shouldn't be a suProbably 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.
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 theI 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. ...more