As usual for Kay's fantasy, this book takes place in a setting that is very clearly based on a real historical place and time: in this case, Spain durAs usual for Kay's fantasy, this book takes place in a setting that is very clearly based on a real historical place and time: in this case, Spain during the time just before the "Reconquest".
It didn't take me long to realize that the Jaddites, Asharites, and Kindath were equivalent to the Christians, Muslims, and Jews that lived together in Spain under Islamic law. (When I was in Spain, I visited Toledo for this very reason, because it was a city in which these three groups had lived and interacted.)
And that's what earned this novel a place on my "with theological themes" shelf: we get a main viewpoint character from each of the three religions, and the author plays no favorites. We get to see the world through each character's, and thus each religion's, eyes. We get to see them navigate the tension between the exclusiveness expounded by their religious or civic leaders, and the commonality, respect, friendship, and love they find with people of other faiths.
Kay's usual strengths are in evidence here: he places his characters in poignant, personally difficult situations, and then makes it more intense for them; and his writing is evocative and beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the playfulness that characterized the friendships among the main characters, especially Jehane's with the two men. Although the novel doesn't pass the Bechdel test, it was nevertheless refreshing to see a woman portrayed as having interesting, multidimensional relationships with men that don't revolve entirely around sexual or romantic tension. ...more
I love this series. Sister Frevisse, the protagonist, is a nun in a small convent in medieval England. She loves the religious life and it is centralI love this series. Sister Frevisse, the protagonist, is a nun in a small convent in medieval England. She loves the religious life and it is central to her identity. She is also unusually educated, and related to some powerful people, which is how she gets involved in intrigue and mystery.
The rhythm of the Divine Office (the Liturgy of the Hours) governs her days when she is at home in the convent, and to a lesser extent when she is out visiting. Because she is educated, she understands the Latin in which the psalms are sung, and we get both the Latin and the English as she reflects on her prayers....more
Rereading this since taking early church history last semester, I keep getting distracted by trying to map Kay's variant races, religions, races, persRereading this since taking early church history last semester, I keep getting distracted by trying to map Kay's variant races, religions, races, persons, and events onto real history - it was less of a problem the first time I read it!
This time, I'm again appreciating the beautiful articulation of art and beauty through the eyes of an artist, and additionally appreciating the witty turns of phrase. ...more
I was disappointed in this - I was quite looking forward to it because of the historical setting charged with religious complexity. But, although theI was disappointed in this - I was quite looking forward to it because of the historical setting charged with religious complexity. But, although the background bits were great, I never cared that much for any of the characters. And I didn't like the ending.
I might try the next one from the library, in hopes that the characters will develop in more interesting ways. But I don't have high hopes....more
A pleasant journey through the second century Roman empire, as seen through the eyes of its Christian inhabitants, by a reliable guide whose life's woA pleasant journey through the second century Roman empire, as seen through the eyes of its Christian inhabitants, by a reliable guide whose life's work is the serious study of the subject. Students of the era will enjoy recognizing persons, surviving texts, and the various Christian movements of the time; those who are unfamiliar but curious to learn more will find helpful pointers in the author's endnotes, which also provides a dramatis personae clearly indicating which characters were historical and which fictional. I only wish that my Kindle edition had included a link to the appropriate note at the end of each chapter, as I would have enjoyed reading this material as I went along.
The plot was a bit thin, but it mainly serves to drive the exploration of the setting, which is the real point. The main characters were a bit flat, and their dialogue tended to be overly earnest: though whether this is due to a lack of skill in the author, or a lack of cultural competence in this 21st century reader, I couldn't say. But Justin's quandary of what to do when faced with scrolls containing variant readings of the gospels, additional gospels outside the four that he knows, and his struggles to discern how to most faithfully carry out his vocation as a scribe in the face of these challenges have a genuine ring.
Eighteen centuries later, our approach to these varying surviving texts, both in and out of the canon, tends to be systematic and somewhat abstract. It had never occurred to me to wonder what a scribe of a church who had preserved one textual tradition would do when faced with another. The Scribes gives this abstract issue a human face, and is the hidden prize of this little book....more
Three and a half stars. I liked the world, I liked the religion, I liked the dragons, I liked the music, I liked Seraphina... but she kept doing thingThree and a half stars. I liked the world, I liked the religion, I liked the dragons, I liked the music, I liked Seraphina... but she kept doing things that were oh-my-gosh-dumb, which was distracting and annoying.
I was enthusiastic enough when I finished it to look for the sequel right away, and was annoyed it wasn't out yet. So I think the flaws were mostly outweighed while I was immersed in the book. ...more
What a delightful read this was: just the thing to lift the spirits.
Like the Mrs. Pollifax novels, this has a good deal of light fluffy playfulness,What a delightful read this was: just the thing to lift the spirits.
Like the Mrs. Pollifax novels, this has a good deal of light fluffy playfulness, even silliness in it. But this is playfulness that's grounded in something not at all silly underneath. Sister John is an inspiration, and so is Sister Hyacinthe in her own way. I'd love to read more about the Sisters of St. Tabitha.
I especially liked (mild spoiler)(view spoiler)[Sister John's delighted encounter with one of the "new nuns," as well as the intensity with which she took up the cause of the migrant workers (hide spoiler)] - particularly in light of recent controversies about nuns in habits or on buses.
What a gem. This goes on the "good stuff" shelf of my bookcase.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Like The Fire's Stone, with which I have this bound in a double edition, this book has a terrible title that doesn't convey what the story is about, aLike The Fire's Stone, with which I have this bound in a double edition, this book has a terrible title that doesn't convey what the story is about, and I always forget about it after I've put it back on the shelf.
The main characters are a young woman who is mentally disabled, and also sees and interacts with the fey creatures in the world; and a young man who is a musician, presently a busker, and otherwise drifting a bit aimlessly through life, at least by modern standards. These two who don't fit very well into the modern world, the Innocent and the Bard, are drawn into a story of light and darkness, a battle to save the world from evil, with help from a representative of the Light (an angel, but not the kind with wings) and other beings both ordinary and otherwise. The fantastic elements are extremely well integrated into the modern setting, which lends a nicely surreal tinge to the story for the readers as well as the characters (for whom it's more than just a tinge surreal!).
This was a very hard book to rate. I really disliked the beginning, but really liked it by the end. I hated all the graphic violence, which I did notThis was a very hard book to rate. I really disliked the beginning, but really liked it by the end. I hated all the graphic violence, which I did not read but leafed through. Ugh. If it had not been for my book group, I would not have finished this book.
But. By the last, hm, third? of the book, I was thoroughly engaged. I cared about the characters. I was drawn in by the profound moral quandaries in which the various characters found themselves, and their various responses.
I really, really liked the portrayal of Anna, one of the viewpoint characters who is a Methodist minister on the ship. (Well, I liked the portrayal in the latter part of the book; at the beginning, I not only didn't care that much about her, but mixed her up with another strong woman character in the earlier book.)
How often do we get a nuanced, positive portrayal of a clergyperson who is deeply serious, not only about how she lives out her faith, but about how she tends her flock? Anna's flock isn't neatly presented to her in a church congregation; she hasn't been called by a church, she's been tapped by the UN to go on a symbolic "let's go to this scary dangerous completely alien thing and Speak Meaningfully About It", along with a bunch of other religious types and a bunch of artists. It's the kind of thing our society does, turning to religion and art only to comment on Meaning and only when convenient. But Anna's flock sure enough calls her, by ones, or twos, or small groups: and she is profoundly faithful to them and to the core values of her faith.
I liked the funky alien physics control, too. And there were a bunch of good witty lines in various contexts. And some interesting plot twists and tangles. But it's the morality drama and the character of Anna that makes the book for me....more
I really enjoyed this! Interesting magic system, interesting moral themes both implicit and explicitly discussed -- it's not often you get to hear a dI really enjoyed this! Interesting magic system, interesting moral themes both implicit and explicitly discussed -- it's not often you get to hear a discussion between an atheist and a theist in a fantasy novel! Sympathetic characters, especially Shallan and Kaladin, whose stories really stood out.
Nice graphic touch: Shallan is an artist, and the chapters told from her perspective have a facing page that looks like a page from her sketchbook, with drawings and handwritten notes. (I just wish her handwriting were a bit clearer and larger!) I don't usually care for art in my books, but this was very well done & enhanced the book.
Three+ stars, almost four. (Terrible title, though: ignore the title, read the synopsis & reviews.)
This was a pretty absorbing/engaging read, andThree+ stars, almost four. (Terrible title, though: ignore the title, read the synopsis & reviews.)
This was a pretty absorbing/engaging read, and the setting was very rich. There's the overall culture on earth, the splintering of the nations + the amalgamation of the corporations + the major & minor religions*; the technology, orbital mechanics, and social culture of the space stations; the culture of the acting troupes (mainly Stanislaus Troupe but others as well); the culture of the faith-healing compound.
((*Pro tip: if you're describing the state of global Christian religions, don't forget the Orthodox East!))
Then there's the personal relationship dynamics: within and around Stanislaus Troupe; within the faith-healing family; among the corp-religion handlers. And all the political and personal intrigue.
Then there are the deeply explored themes of embodiment, life, death, living, dying, and killing; with interlocking themes of love, loyalty, and betrayal. This is really what the book is about. Is living as a brain in a box really living? If you want to die, should you be forced to go on living? How do parents, children, spouses, siblings love each other? When does love turn to something else? How many forms of betrayal are there?
Really, this was a very good book. Only two things kept me from giving it four stars: 1) one of the main characters, Glynn, spends too much time being too whiny for me -- not that this was unrealistic for a 15yo boy in his situation, just that it got on my nerves. 2) one of the characters has an extremely idiosyncratic speech pattern that is as much or more about playing with sounds and repetition as it is about conveying meaning. (Greeno does something very similar with the speech of the ghatti in her other books (starting with Finders-Seekers). It's a very recognizable quirk, and if the character had remained marginal with relatively infrequent dialogue, I would have appreciated it. But she became a sufficiently significant character that talks a lot, and again, it just got on my nerves.
I was especially intrigued by the Little Sisters of Mortality, a Nuevo Catholic religious order of assassins.
Some of the exposition in the beginning was a bit clunky, but it wasn't too bad, and sometimes was slightly clever.
I liked Greeno's ghatti books, but they have a fairly standard fantasy feel. This book was stronger. I think she writes better SF than fantasy, and I'd like to see her write more of it.