The premise, as the reviews describe it, is flawed.
Depression is not a matter of teenage angst gone horribly wrong. I should know. I was there. Removi...moreThe premise, as the reviews describe it, is flawed.
Depression is not a matter of teenage angst gone horribly wrong. I should know. I was there. Removing my memories wouldn't have changed anything about the course of my illness because it was the product of a chemical imbalance, one I have inherited from my father.
(Do you know how I can tell? He's on the same drugs.)
Would it have made my illness easier to bear? It might have done. After all, mine was aggravated by an intense homesickness and the results of years of bullying; if I didn't know I'd ever been anything but a happy, popular all-American teenager, maybe the social aspect of depression would not have caused me so much pain.
The flip side of that coin is the potential loss of who we become having lived our lives, no matter how hard, no matter how painful. Without my memories and experiences, who am I? Who would I have become? Not this woman, who is presently satisfied with the outcome of all that gruesome living, looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and mucking in where other people are having problems. I wouldn't have grown up, emotionally, as fast as I did if not for my hardships. I wouldn't, in a Girls world, be a woman ready to commit to a career of giving of myself that others might thrive.
I wouldn't have compassion to miss. But I wouldn't have compassion.
Would I still have panic attacks? Hard to say. Sometimes that kind of anxiety can only be relieved by examining and dealing with the triggers. I have many moments of wanting someone to take out my triggers. The trouble with letting people fiddle around in my brain is the worry that they won't stop there.
Setting my own case aside, what about teenagers whose depressions are a result of horrifying situations? The Program would wipe the teenager clean and send her in to be retraumatised, when the problem was never with the teenager at all. This is the worst punishment I can imagine for a person who is already in a bad situation: blaming the victim and pushing her back into the place that made her sick. Would we bother to examine the cause of depression if we were so focused on one result (suicide) and one method of prevention (the Program)?
And what about the spate of LGBTQ-related suicides? How would the Program cure them? By turning them straight so the bullying would stop?
This whole thing sounds like a dangerous oversimplification of a very real problem, and yes, it's an insult to see it handled so poorly. I suspect I'd be screaming bloody murder within about ten pages of cracking the cover.
-- there, I've made it through without any ad-hominems, which rest assured is a feat of self-restraint on the level of Odysseus resisting the Sirens. You can imagine for yourself what I am thinking.(less)
This review won't be anywhere near as complex as the book, I promise.
The thing about Barrett's style is that he takes what makes a short story brillia...moreThis review won't be anywhere near as complex as the book, I promise.
The thing about Barrett's style is that he takes what makes a short story brilliant and keeps on writing like that for 145 pages (in my review copy, anyway). Pieces build on pieces -- the narrative builds -- the questions pile up. What if you had to build the world from scratch? How would that look?
Blondee's world is a world of criminals. Divided into least, minors, moderates, and severes, nobody comes to this particular dystopia knowing anything. Like many amnesiacs, they are generally aware of facts about the world, but when it comes to who they are? Nothing. Not even names. Blondee is so called because of her hair; a character called Tie was found with a tie around his wrist. Everyone lives by the rules of a book written by the criminals themselves, little bits and pieces of how society could be. Ought to be. And Blondee, ostensibly a thief, violates one of the most fundamental principles.
A POV shift mid-novel did throw me. Not that the quality of the writing changed, but it's unexpected, and really, Blondee's voice is so perfect for this story that I miss it when it's not front and center. The switch is a blazing neon sign: This Is Different. This Is Important. And what happens next... I don't want to spoil you for it. Dive into this world, luxuriate in the writing, and let the plot take you where it will. Where you will.
At bottom this is a conflict between memory and oblivion, tradition and novelty. What really holds us together as a society? What are we doing when we enact our little rituals? Why do some stand the test of time and others fade? Who decides what's worth keeping? We all have books of our own, rules to follow. Or rules to break. Would you have the courage to throw the book away? Tradition and novelty. Power, hierarchy: Barrett gives us a stark look at how we derive them. You build a world from scratch, the bones will show.
I think the one shortcoming here is the superplot, the reason why everything is the way it is. The reason ceases to matter once we've dug so far into the philosophy. The reason has to be a lot simpler than it turned out to be, so the message doesn't get bogged down in, well, story. There's a time for story and there's a time for message. I hardly ever say this, but Forget Yourself works so well as philosophy that I don't want an extensive fiction to back it up. The message is too important for the kind of clouding that comes with the reason behind the plot twists. Personally, I'd have kept it simpler.
But give it a go for yourself. You might disagree, and I'd hate for you to miss the message. Well worth any amount of confusion in the end. (less)
NUTSHELL: This poor book is so confused, just like its protagonists. 3.
Hey! Don't pick on the book! I suppose a book can't help what it is -- but its...moreNUTSHELL: This poor book is so confused, just like its protagonists. 3.
Hey! Don't pick on the book! I suppose a book can't help what it is -- but its writer can, and its writer missed a few of the more obvious novel-writing lessons. Point-of-view changed so often I had whiplash by the third chapter. There's no real sense of time, or place, for that matter. I wouldn't have guessed it was still the nineteen-eighties for the characters if Cherian hadn't mentioned that outright, and her San Francisco is a generic large city with place names pasted on. The narrative cuts off too abruptly at the end; if there's going to be a sequel, for God's sake leave us somewhere sensible.
Why'd you even bother with a 3? I liked Leila, the female protagonist. Neel's a slimy so-and-so and Caroline (Caroleen, like the French) is a caricature of white trash. I finished the book for Leila and no-one else. Bypass this book like a blocked artery.(less)
I must be picky or something, because while I thought the ideas behind this were worth exploring, the execution left me wondering whether an editor ha...moreI must be picky or something, because while I thought the ideas behind this were worth exploring, the execution left me wondering whether an editor had got within a mile of the manuscript. There is something distinctly fannish in nature about the words on the page, something that says "I learned how to write solely through my friends on the Internet," and while that's not wrong (I learned a fair bit that way myself), that needs tempering with a healthy dose of "This is how we do it for pay."
The first star is because I didn't throw it across the room. The second star is because I like it enough to see what the second book holds, if my library has it (no way I'm paying a hold fee). Also because at least there's space for the story to grow, since I know there are sequels. I was surprised at the lack of romance; I've grown so used to woman-authored SF/F having to have that element that when it's not there, I'm... pleasantly astounded, I think. But waiting for it to show up later. Almost dreading it. In a way, I wish this had been a single, self-contained mystery. I see a lot of possible plotlines, none of which I've enjoyed in the past, so I'll go forward hoping for the best but not expecting too much. Again, it's less the writer than the genre and my cynicism. Had this been marketed more as mystery than urbanesque fantasy, I might be singing a different tune.
But only about the plot. The editing is still dire, and that's why this can't go any higher than two stars. I caught mistakes that my teachers wouldn't have let slide, and that I don't, either, whether I'm editing or beta-reading. This is not a first novel by an unknown quantity at a tiny press. Sagara should've been given better treatment, someone to work with her, who would catch the mistakes and polish the draft into a printable novel. Whoever is responsible, it's a sad way to create a distraction from an otherwise decent book.
[eta: I did go ahead and spoil myself, because I have a long TBR list. Yeah, probably not going to get invested in this series. Sorry, but since I can't bring myself to give a crap about (view spoiler)[either Severn or Nightshade, and find Nightshade downright creepy (hide spoiler)], continuing would be pointless.]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Coming to this after Thendara House was a bit of a letdown for me. I wanted to like the characters a lot more...more(Not a review of any particular edition.)
Coming to this after Thendara House was a bit of a letdown for me. I wanted to like the characters a lot more than I did, and I wanted to embrace their philosophies more than I could. I was able to sympathize with exactly two: Judy Lovat and Camilla Del Rey. Well, three, but the third is a spoiler.
Falling in the early days of Bradley's SCA involvement, it seems natural to me that she should create a fantasy world in which her Earth colonists are forced back to the Middle Ages. If her imagination had only extended to a world in which the colonists weren't trapped pre-women's lib, I might even have believed they came from a spacefaring society.
A world that had passed a Terran Bill of Rights supporting gender equality could not have come about with so many reactionaries scattered in the population. Because what else am I going to call people who patronize women endlessly, in that world? Their attitudes don't square with their legislation at all. Shall I presume that the colonist-types are also the ones who want to roll back women's lib? Bradley can paint a broader picture of an egalitarian society, but she can't, when it comes down to it, make her men believably part of that society at this point in her career.
Where in other novels I am able to accept that some people must die in order to keep the populace strong, in this one the idea leaves me sick to my stomach. Once the Darkovans have forgotten their Terran heritage, I can also see them forgetting why eugenics got such a bad rap. For the colonists, this exaggerated "natural" selection (the pointed non-use of the little technology the group had) should have been a reminder of certain human rights violations. You know, like the gassing of "defectives" under Hitler. Or the forced sterilization of women of color.
Even if in later novels she revises her thinking, in this one it cannot be denied that the ideal colonists are willing, at the end of the book, to let a woman bleed to death -- it's implied that she is doing so in an obstetrical context, because the woman, Laura, is otherwise ambulatory and able to communicate. No injury is mentioned. So either that's a placenta previa they couldn't manage, or it's a plain old miscarriage. But we don't find out! Ewen and Heather don't even examine her. We're meant to trust, what, that the medical staff's rudimentary laran now dictates what's best?
It's the coldest, creepiest passage I've read in a long time.
The justification for the forced birthing is similarly nauseating. Women on Earth have been brainwashed out of having kids -- what?! You mean there was a childfree coup? That'll be the day. Even now a woman has to fight for the right to take herself out of the gene pool. Even now that the planet is supporting six billion-plus lives, we still recognize that a one-child policy restricts human rights, and so it remains unique to the Chinese.
Camilla isn't given any kind of choice. No one puts it to her that she might strike out on her own, forfeiting the protections of the new colony, rather than participate in this breeding program. None of the colonists get that choice. A particular social contract is forced upon them, out of which they cannot opt. They are not allowed to choose their way forward. By the epilogue, I'd say she's been brainwashed in reverse: she's had seven kids survive infancy, implying there were others who did not, and in order to broaden the gene pool, she's had them by multiple fathers.
As for Judy Lovat, she's crazy until men decide she's not. Fabulous. She knows who fathered her child, and she has to persuade her friends that she's sure. Apparently you can only be sure of who you had sex with if the other participants were human or something? MacAran and Camilla can vouch for each other just fine, and Heather, MacLeod, and Ewen ditto, but Judy, who went off on her own after a man whose heart would've given out well before [cough] completion -- who can prove she actually had sex, given she's knocked up -- nah, she's nuts. I'd have run away to live with the chieri at that point.
I don't like these colonists much. They make what was otherwise a great story painful. Their viewpoints are conservative even for 1972. I can see how a conservative society would've grown out of them, but as protagonists, they kinda suck. I wonder what Bradley thought of them as she filled in the timeline? Did she think of them as I think of the Puritans? -- There's a tangent I meant to explore. This story, whether or not that was the intent, is pretty much the founding of Plimoth rehashed. Two groups with conflicting purposes and ideas, a ship getting so lost the other colonies aren't reachable, a harsher winter than anyone's known before, the problem of the natives: shit, son, you might as well call that crashed starship Mayflower and be done.
In that context, the colonists are almost palatable. Until you remember what happened next in history. Let's just say I don't give much for the chieri's chances. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Right. Midwives. Which I had been looking forward to since it came out and I spotted it on a grocery store bookshelf (yes, really).
Bohjalian wro...moreRight. Midwives. Which I had been looking forward to since it came out and I spotted it on a grocery store bookshelf (yes, really).
Bohjalian wrote four books before this one, but you wouldn't know it from the awkward prose. His dialogue isn't bad. His characters are... more or less realistic (I buy everyone except the narrator). So much of the writing meanders into tangential places that have little, if any, bearing on the story as it stands.
Either we needed less of this book or different pieces of it.
If we needed less of this book, maybe (view spoiler)[the daughter should have gone along on the night of the fateful birth (hide spoiler)]. The narrator does and doesn't have the full picture somehow, and I'm confused as to how a first-person omniscient narration style even works. Maybe her mother filled in the blanks for her. I don't know. But it doesn't make sense.
If we needed different pieces, we could have come in tighter on the Main Event and all that followed. Yes, tighter. No hints at what happened after. Keep what came before. We can't have it from (view spoiler)[Sibyl Danforth's (hide spoiler)] perspective because then the mystery's gone, but we could've had it from someone else who was there. (view spoiler)[The daughter could've been older and apprenticing with her mother prior to deciding she wanted to be an OB-GYN instead. (hide spoiler)]
The novel's as messy as the ethics involved.
Full disclosure: in the years since I put this book on my TBR list, I have learned much more about home birth and the various kinds of midwives practicing in the United States. I am not a lay midwife kind of person any longer. If helping women to have babies is your passion, go be a nurse-midwife. Go be one of the book's five percent who practice out of homes, malpractice insurance be damned; if you have a good doctor at your back, and you're conservative in your transfer approach (i.e. transfer at the first sign of maternal or fetal distress), you're not betraying the idea that the body knows what it's doing. Generally the body does; how else would babies have been born for thousands of years? It's when something goes wrong that you need a doctor, who (view spoiler)[can tell the difference between vagaling out and a freaking stroke and can perform a safe Cesarean -- and as a nurse-midwife, you too would be better trained to understand (hide spoiler)].
I would absolutely have (view spoiler)[found Sibyl guilty of involuntary manslaughter because that is exactly what she did: accidentally killed that woman. She'd been up and working too long, tired enough that terrible judgment would creep in even were she a professional. She saw the flinch as she cut into Charlotte. Even if Charlotte were in the process of dying, at that moment she was still alive. If you have to be a lay midwife, at least work in pairs so that one of you is rested enough to make good calls in a crunch. The call Sibyl made, exhausted as she was, led to Charlotte's death, full stop (hide spoiler)].
Overall a disappointment. Not as total as some books, but pretty thoroughly so.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Do you know how to fall in love with someone you've never met?
You read his book. This book.
I came to Maskalyk's writing from his blog, which is itself...moreDo you know how to fall in love with someone you've never met?
You read his book. This book.
I came to Maskalyk's writing from his blog, which is itself a thing of beauty and you can find it if you Google "suddenly sudan". Don't let it redirect you! You want the man from MSF, not the sitcom. So I read his blog, and I read his other blog (Dial 'D' for Dadaab, if I remember correctly). (I must be the only person left online who writes out "if I remember correctly".)
And just like that, I regretted my ill health because it meant MSF would never let me do these things in these places, be even one-hundredth the person he was. All the same it is making me want to go forward in all the things I can do -- write, photograph, give counsel, seek wisdom, love.
If there are ever cures for the things that are wrong with me, I will take them and take my chances. Reading this, I want to scoop up places like Abyei and hold them close. Say "We are watching and we love you." Because we are watching, and I hope I am not the only one whose heart is overflowing.
-- Which is not to say that this is a portrait of perfection, but perfection is tiresome. Trust me. You don't want a sanitized version of "a young doctor in a war-torn village". You want more than the cover copy. You want the man who drops an F-bomb on page 5 and makes girlfriend jokes with his best friend in the compound. You want the man who is just as petrified as I am of planes (for different reasons). You want the man who rolls up his sleeves and mucks in. The one in this book, anyway, seems to live by my motto: "do what comes next." Isn't that all any of us can do?
So my personal canon grows by one and will sit between the Ibbotsons and the Grants, in front of the McKays, perhaps cheek-by-jowl with that first Streatfeild. Maybe I'll review "Intern" next, for kicks. It's been awhile.
If I could give a book more than five stars, this one would get them all.(less)
NUTSHELL: Oh, no, she di-in't. 1, and not just for the racefail.
I hope you didn't buy this one. Nope. Borrowed it. Didn't even hold it for fifty cents...moreNUTSHELL: Oh, no, she di-in't. 1, and not just for the racefail.
I hope you didn't buy this one. Nope. Borrowed it. Didn't even hold it for fifty cents, just... took it out and returned it on time.
Did you finish it? Yes, though that was an uphill battle. Wrede typically reads better than this. Her Kim, from the Magician's Ward books, had much more chutzpah; I also enjoyed (view spoiler)[Kim and Mairelon's romantic tension (hide spoiler)]. Eff, unfortunately, goes from five to eighteen without much development. She goes adventuring because she's one of the boys. She lets fate guide her instead of really taking control. She feels stunted, somehow, as if the girl at the end of the book is still a child.
So even if Wrede hadn't (view spoiler)[erased the Native Americans (hide spoiler)], you'd be irritated. Oh, yes, but (view spoiler)[the erasing ticked me right off. You just don't replace an entire race -- one we've all but wiped out -- with freaking woolly mammoths. (hide spoiler)] She's also rearranged the world somehow without bothering to explain. What's "Avrupa"? I know Cathay was once the Far East, but "Hijero-Cathayan" confuses me. And why is Africa spelt "Aphrika"?
Wasn't this a fantasy novel? Kind of. Also unlike the Magician's Ward series, we don't really get much of a sense of the magic. We experience it through Eff, but Eff doesn't experience it very fully at all. It's always foggy. It's always a mess.
That seems to summarize the book, actually. Foggy and messy? Oh, yes. It drags until the last few chapters, when it gallops. Not good. Really, even if the racefail doesn't bother you, don't bother with this. You'll wonder where the time went and wish for it all back.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
NUTSHELL: Two plots - one plot = enough plot. This one's more of a 5.
Who's the Welsh Girl? That would be Esther Evans, living in Wales in the 1940s. Her sweetheart's off to war and she and her father have an evacuee child. Esther also works as a barmaid in town.
What's her plot?(view spoiler)[She falls in love with a prisoner of war named Karsten.
But that's not so awful. Um. World War II? And the POW is German?
...right. I can see where that'd be a conflict. Good. But that's not the worst part. Esther's raped right in the beginning of the story by an English soldier, leaving her pregnant. Her friend Mary does try to get her an abortion. (hide spoiler)]
What a depressing book. It gets worse. (view spoiler)[The doctor can't perform the abortion, so she's stuck passing the kid off as her sweetheart's boy. At least he doesn't come home from the war.
At least?! She didn't love him. She'd have had to marry him. What are you, some kind of sadist? Oy.
What about Karsten? Busts out, has the romance with Esther, gets recaptured. The ending implies he stuck around after the war, but only for a little while. (hide spoiler)]
Rats. Yeah. And then there's (view spoiler)[the Rudolf Hess subplot, which made no sense to me, so I pretty much skipped those bits. That was the plot too many for me. It had nothing to do with the main story; why was it even in there?
I suppose I could read it for the prose. You could, at that. The quality of the writing saved this book. If you're just looking for a story, though... don't bother.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
NUTSHELL: I can't rate this! It's so bad it's awesome!
Elsie, Elsie, Elsie.
I've given up on taking anything Martha Finley wrote seriously. Instead, I will deliver up the choicest bits, which you can discover for yourself (and many more!) at Project Gutenberg.
(view spoiler)["Travilla; after years of patient waiting he has won her at last—our darling—and—and I've given her to him."
Travilla is Elsie's father's friend. They're roughly the same age. This would explain why "Elsie's Widowhood" comes before "Grandmother Elsie" in the series, wouldn't it?
Also, Elsie's maybe twenty-one here. Man, I hope those years of patient waiting weren't very long...
Of course, everyone in the book has to weigh in on Elsie and Travilla's age difference. At last, she says this, with which I wholeheartedly agree:
"Some people seem like wine—to improve with age [. . . ]."
As well as this:
"I would not have him a day younger, except that he would like to be nearer my age, or different in any way from what he is[.]"
Some of my favorite lines belong to Aunt Wealthy Stanhope (misidentified in one review as "Elsie's wealthy Aunt Stanhope" -- well, no, not exactly.) "The doctor's as busy as ever, killing people all round the country; he's very successful at it" made me wonder if the doctor in question was a nineteenth-century Kevorkian. "Ah, funerals are almost as sad as weddings. I don't know how people can ever feel like dancing at them" also gave me a chuckle. I think I'd like dancing at my funeral, thanks very much!
I only wish this were half as interesting as it sounded:
They were alone in Elsie's boudoir, but when an hour had slipped rapidly away there came a message from Mr. Dinsmore to the effect that their company would be very acceptable in the library.
Poor Travilla. I mean, obviously he'd have liked more than one hour.
The true romance of this series to date has been, as readers will know, between Elsie and her father. To wit:
"Well, dearest," he said, after a moment, in which he held her very close and caressed her with exceeding tenderness, "we shall not be far apart or miss passing some time together many days of the year. And you are not in haste to leave me?"
And upon arrival at Elsie's property in New Orleans, Viamede:
"Yes, sir. Papa dear, welcome, welcome to my house; the dearest guest that could come to it." And wiping away her tears, she lifted her loving eyes to his, a tender smile playing about the sweet lips.
"Save one," he answered half-playfully, passing his hand caressingly over her hair, and bending down to press his lips on brow, and cheeks, and mouth. "Is not that so?"
Oh, but I'm saving the best for her wedding day.
"My darling!" murmured the father, in low, half tremulous accents, putting his arm about the slender waist, "my beautiful darling! how can I give you to another?" and again and again his lips were pressed to hers in long, passionate kisses.
Uh. Yeah. Now you know why I can ship Elsie/Travilla without getting groomer vibes off the latter: he's positively sane compared to Daddy Dearest. (Aside: Daddy/Daughter kink for the steam age? You decide! Elsie's totally submissive to everything in pants, so it ain't that farfetched...)
Elsie's still wearing an awful lot of white throughout and even after her honeymoon. Most of me thinks, yeah, she looked good in white, but part of me wonders if Elsie would've taken intimacy as slowly as falling in love! Imagine what a shock sex might've been, if the longest kisses she's shared so far have been with her father. (For sanity's sake, please imagine it that way, in fact.)
At this point, I imagine Elsie was quite disappointed:
"Hush, hush!" he said flushing, "I meant to have that left out; and did I not tell you you were to have your own way that night and ever after? You've already done enough of obeying to last you a lifetime. But please come round where I can see you better." Then, as she stepped to his side, he threw an arm about her and drew her to his knee.
"But it wasn't left out," she said, shyly returning his fond caress; "I promised and must keep my word."
"Ah, but if you can't, you can't; how will you obey when you get no orders?"
"So you don't mean to give me any?"
"No, indeed; I'm your husband, your friend, your protector, your lover, but not your master."
Shoot, I would be. But Edward Travilla is quite vanilla, as Aunt Wealthy says at one point. He positively insists on equality between them:
"Does it satisfy you, my little wife?" he asked, in tones that spoke intense enjoyment of her pleasure.
Good lord, he's saying that in front of his mom.
Somehow, about eleven months after the wedding, Elsie's got an infant in her room. Graphic accounts of gunshot wounds? Totally cool by Mrs. Finley. Pregnancy? Eeek! Going on the baby's age, she must have been conceived in short order. So all that wearing of white was a style choice. Neat.
Finley has been foreshadowing the Civil War throughout, quite subtly, I find; this passage exemplifies her skill at it:
"I have a very good offer for your New Orleans property, daughter," said Mr. Dinsmore; "shall I accept it?"
"Do you think it advisable, papa? and you, Edward? I have great confidence in your judgments."
"We do; we think the money could be better and more safely invested in foreign stock; but it is for you to decide, as the property is yours."
"More safely invested? I thought I had heard you both say real estate was the safest of all investments."
"Usually," replied her father, "but we fear property there is likely to depreciate in value."
If by "depreciate in value" you mean "get razed by Yankees", sure. I bet there are a fair few homeowners today who wish they had Dinsmore and Travilla's crystal ball.
So Mrs. T, Travilla's mother, gets sick and dies. My money's on metastatic, inoperable cancer; Mrs. T has a slow, painful decline, which diabetes really couldn't offer back in the day. Somewhere in all that, Elsie's pregnant again; she gives birth a week after her mother-in-law dies. Oy. Every time she has a kid, they treat her like she's breakable. Dinsmore lost Elsie senior (yes, Elsie is the second in a line of three) right after she gave birth at, oh gods, sixteen and two weeks. Compared to that, Travilla married an old maid. Childbirth and Elsie apparently don't get on well; she takes her sweet time recovering, and I'm getting a hint of post-partum depression from
"You want change, daughter," Mr. Dinsmore said, coming in one morning and finding her lying pale and languid on a sofa; "and we are all longing to have you at home. Do you feel equal to a drive over to the Oaks?"
In the real world, of course, a bit of inter-plantation travel doesn't cure a damn thing, but it works great on Elsie. So, too, does a subsequent trip to Europe.
Somehow I don't think they'll ever see their plantations again. Just as well, though, because the Dinsmores and Travillas are all pro-Union. They have family on both sides, which is heartbreaking, but they also have money out the ol' posterior, so Elsie can afford to lend a bit to the war effort and still be comfortable waiting out the war in Europe. The worst scare they have there is baby Elsie's seizure. Ignorance was bliss back then; Dinsmore's wife, Elsie's stepmother, blithely mentions that her sisters had seizures all the time as kids. Because the kid's a Dinsmore by blood, of course this seizure kicks off an illness, and of course the illness almost kills the baby. Almost. Don't worry; the youngest Elsie has her own adventures waiting in future books. Elsie number two promptly makes another baby, just in case.
Meanwhile, back on the farm, Dinsmore's most decent sibling, Walter, goes to war and dies. Ouch. But Elsie makes sure he's Saved! Nobody's spared in that respect, really; almost everyone we've met so far loses someone. Oh, and Dinsmore's actually upset over the Emancipation Proclamation because he's going to be poorer without his slaves. Again, oy. Travilla has the bright idea to actually pay their people to work, though he's not entirely sure they'll take the money (!), which cheers the old man up a little bit. Two years later, the war ends, everyone comes home, and we find out just how Walter bit it: escaping from Andersonville, where one of Elsie's many admirers, Harold Allison (stepmother Rose's brother. Yeah, I know) catches his death. Again, magical new baby! Prison camp? A mere bagatelle. Pregnancy? OH NOES THINK OF TEH CHILDRUN.
Miraculously, Viamede survives the war intact. What? I guess not selling before they went to Europe paid off. Just as well, because everyone else's homes have been ravaged like Catherine Coulter's early heroines.
Harold dies. Nobody notices.
We catch up with Dinsmore's kin. His father's a widower, his sister a widow twice over -- married two Confederates -- and oh yes: she's just as rude as ever. Eh. I like that she sticks up for herself as a surviving child when Dinsmore Senior (!!) laments the loss of his precious sons, but otherwise she's a repellent character.
By the end of the book, it's 1867, Elsie's thirty-one as far as I know, and Travilla's as madly in love with her as ever. Of course he's not going to get fifty more years to tell her so, but he wishes for them anyway. He's a real sweetheart. I should also, at some point, mention that he does have a first name (Edward) but I kept flashing back to Twilight every time I tried to use it, so he's stuck being Travilla to me. Sorry, mate.
No review of this book is complete without at least mentioning the fact that it is a product of its time. Doubtless Mrs. Finley remembered the era of which she wrote -- this is the antebellum fantasy to end all antebellum fantasies. Attitudes we know are racist today were accepted then, though Elsie tries to treat her slaves as people within the confines of her worldview. She works to reunite families where she can, and opines that such reunions are worth many thousands of dollars; in pre-Civil War terms, that must have sounded positively abolitionist. (Undone, of course, pages later: "But some amount of patience with the natural slowness of the negro is a necessary trait in the character of an overseer who wishes to remain in my employ.") I hate, hate, hate the practice of setting the people of color apart by their speech, but it was customary then, so I'm gritting my teeth and forging on ahead. I like to think perhaps the characters are putting on a show and laughing behind their hands at all of those silly white people -- which may or may not fly in the face of history.
Thank God the other ones are set well after 1863.
Elsie Dinsmore, eternal figure of fun. O. Henry made fun of her, and now, so can I -- but I rib with love. Like I said, I ship Elsie and her husband. They're darling together. I like this book best of the ones I've read; sure, it has a few too many B-plots, but if you ignore those (which you can without losing much), this is a great little yarn. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** I'm on something like my third or fourth reading of this for a reason.
It made me stop, think, and write things down. I started to k...more**spoiler alert** I'm on something like my third or fourth reading of this for a reason.
It made me stop, think, and write things down. I started to keep a commonplace book shortly before this last reread; I didn't expect to fill six-odd pages with bits from Thendara House. I knew, when I first read it, that the Oath had blown my mind -- in it went. But as Magda and Jaelle began to question how the Oath applied to them and their situations, so too did I find myself reframing my worldview. In writing down their questions, I questioned myself.
I've always understood the value of names, for instance; I know the difference between $BIRTHNAME and this chosen alias, this name that honors my mother and, of all things, my favorite fictional detective. I know that $BIRTHNAME, while my mother found it pretty, gained all kinds of unpleasant associations for me, so I ditched it, and over time, taught my family to call me differently. So when Jaelle gets indignant over the constant references to "Mrs. Peter Haldane", a form of address that is archaic now but was more common during the writing of this novel, I sympathize with her. She is not Mrs. Anyone Anything. She is Jaelle n'ha Melora, the daughter of her mother. Nobody refers to Cholayna Ares as only an attachment to a man, do they? Even Magda gets to be Magdalen Lorne again after her divorce.
A name can be a chain, too.
On the Terran side, and in our society today, there's less of a distinction between marriage di catenas and freemating. I posit that marriage as we know it is the former with aspirations toward the latter, except in certain religious groups. To so many, marriage ought to be as permanent as sticking bracelets on your wrists and never removing them -- wait, we have rings for that! The removal of a wedding ring, habitually worn, is tantamount to a declaration of separation. "If you liked it, then you should've put a ring on it" -- if you want me, mark me. A ring is a catena is a submissive's collar: all signs of ownership. That two of these three bonds can be dissolved with relative ease does not change the attitudes of the participants.
Peter Haldane is never Jaelle's freemate. He is her husband under Terran law and Terran attitudes, with undertones of a traditional Darkovan upbringing in which marriage di catenas is the norm. His treatment of Jaelle and his mindset surrounding her speaks to that. He wants to champion her. Once she falls pregnant, she becomes mostly the incubator of his unborn son (never mind that Jaelle has good reason to know she carries a daughter). He goes so far as to change her citizenship for her. Who does that? I'm pretty sure my mother would skin my father if he tried to apply for American citizenship on her behalf.
So it's little wonder that the stated aim of the Comhi-Letzii runs like this: "For now, we accept the world as men have made it because there is no other world available, but our goal is not to make women as aggressive as men, but to survive -- merely to survive -- until a saner day comes. [...] Yes, you will learn to wear women's clothes by choice and not from necessity, and to speak as you wish, not to keep your words and your minds in bonds for fear of being thought unmannerly or unwomanly. But none of these is the most important thing. [...] Nothing you will learn is of the slightest importance, save for this: you will learn to change the way you think about yourselves, and about other women."
Which brings us to the aforementioned Magdalen Lorne, or Margali n'ha Ysabet. She is increasingly at home being Margali as her confinement to the Guild-house drags on. (I should note that one cannot equate "half a year" with "six months" in this case. I've seen the Darkovan year given as something like fifteen months, so half of that year is in fact closer to seven and a half months. Think a full year's study at Cambridge instead, but going straight through all three terms, no breaks included.) I concur with the reviewer who found that Margali had it easier than Jaelle. Margali can throw off her Magda-self with a simple "Hey, Cholayna, I quit!" and trot back to the Guild-house where she is not, any longer, any piece of any partner. Whoever she takes up with, she chooses freely and for whatever duration suits her. In the Guild-house, nobody's ambition is steamrolling her or trying to force her to be someone she's not; Jaelle actually calls Peter out on that. "We cannot let you be passed over in your ambitions."
Margali learns, among other things, that she doesn't have to prioritize one kind of relationship over another. Her friendships, her chosen sisterhood, this can stand in the face of romantic love and mean as much as it did before. Camilla, for example, never demands Margali's loyalty above her loyalty to Jaelle, or to the Guild. Reading further on in the trilogy, Margali's obligations to the people she meets at the end of the novel, the leronyn of the Forbidden Tower don't even seem to excite any kind of possessive streak in Camilla.
Regarding Camilla: I'm not a huge fan of the relationship between Camilla and Margali. I don't get it. That aspect of the narrative felt like the author shoving something down my throat. "You WILL like this character!" Was there some aspect of Camilla that MZB herself wanted to embrace? Or had? Because very little feels organic about the way that relationship comes about. We're told more than shown Margali's attraction. I get more of that ooh-this-person's-exciting feeling between Jaelle and Margali than Margali and Camilla. Argh, probably just my gut, but I'd love to hear from other people who've read this.
I'm not fond of the "all women want babies" trope, either, but I can appreciate the way it happened here. The novel at least acknowledges that women don't just flip their attitudes when they see the Darkovan equivalent of the blue plus sign. Jaelle aborts through sheer will (!) and she and Margali both wait until they've found the right circumstances. In their case, the right circumstances conveniently include a woman, Ellemir (isn't that a gorgeous name?!) who mothers any child she stumbles across and an established polyamorous household. Well, that's my ideal, too, minus the whole messy bearing live young part. I think if I had to bother, I'd bother if an Ellemir existed to let me go about my business once I gave birth.
This is without doubt my favorite in the trilogy. Tightly-constructed, very few "just go with it" moments, the implication that there's more plot to come without a cliffhanger -- it's a story in itself as well as the middle in a series. The thing is that if you liked the first two, I'd strongly advise against reading the third, in which it all kind of goes to hell. Take it more as a pair of great novels with a sequel tacked on. Now I've got to get my hands on the Forbidden Tower books. I think my TBR pile would stretch to the moon if you laid the books end-to-end . . .(less)
I don't like love triangles, so I flipped to the end to settle that question because I knew the question was going t...moreI won't say this was interesting.
I don't like love triangles, so I flipped to the end to settle that question because I knew the question was going to come up. Once I'd settled it, I could get down to the business of watching Marshall build her characters and setting. The plot had promise: Depression-era preacher ups sticks for some reason to run a newspaper in Pennsylvania. There is corporate corruption! There is pluck! There is a disaster looming!
Unfortunately, as with Christy, Marshall built and built her plot toward a catastrophe and then -- there's really no proper denouement. In this case, Marshall outright told the Big Event, as if she were, well, a newspaper reporter, and then with a chapter or two of "this is how everyone responded", she called it quits. In fairness, perhaps this is a case of Author Existence Failure. Marshall died in 1983, and there's an afterword/epilogue of sorts written by second husband Leonard LeSourd. However, I've also heard that Julie was a long time coming, and after all, Christy ended even more abruptly.
I would have liked to see a lot more of the aftermath of the Big Event, and a little less of the parts that felt like a Protestant version of The DaVinci Code. I appreciate that Marshall was writing for a Christian audience. I even appreciate the Christians in the book, because unlike so much of pointedly Christian fiction, these people are very real. They have flaws, they struggle, they have a sexuality that's appropriate to the era -- they're human, and I love that. Unfortunately, the parts of this book that are specific to a particular type of Christianity jerked me out of the story. Those parts were like stepping on Legos. (view spoiler)[Look, it's okay to have a group of men who are supporting each other spiritually. I don't mind that. What I do mind is the mysticism. It's not a bit germane to this plot. By the time we get to the mystical bits, we're already neck-deep in a story about a corporation and a dam that's going to burst; the mysticism belongs, I think, to a book about the men, not a book about Julie and her coming-of-age. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, worth a read, but there are parts you can skim that'll make the experience better. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
If you're still with me, there's even more plot ahead.
Sherri recuperates in Brad's hospital and is on her way to believing life is worth her while after all when a car accident results in Brad admitting Margaret as well. (The reason for Margaret's despair? A cut on her face.) Life suddenly gets a lot more dangerous for everyone at Faith Memorial.
In the same way that I was too young for VC Andrews in sixth grade, I was way the hell too young for The...moreI probably shouldn't have read this aged ten.
In the same way that I was too young for VC Andrews in sixth grade, I was way the hell too young for The Thorn Birds in fifth. Three words: Meggie. And. Luke. (I kind of glossed over a lot of the other parts. They were boring. Meggie and Luke? Classic Trainwreck Syndrome: I couldn't look away.)
I much prefer the other Irish-Down Under (in their case Australia) Meg and Luke, the ones in Brent's Golden Urchin. Go read that instead. Much nicer.(less)
It's not as bad as I was warned it would be, or maybe I just liked what the other person didn't. I think it was Kelly. Anyway, people have different t...moreIt's not as bad as I was warned it would be, or maybe I just liked what the other person didn't. I think it was Kelly. Anyway, people have different tastes, and I'm sure I've disagreed with one or two of you before, or you've disagreed with me.
I don't have too terribly much to say about this novel, but what I do have to say (aside from "Mompellion is the silliest bloody name") is all spoileriffic!
(view spoiler)[The truest romance in this story was that between Anna and Elinor. Oh, Elinor. What cruelty Michael inflicted on you! Perhaps a valid reaction for the period, but God, how awful, to punish you when you had punished yourself so thoroughly. Amazing that she could still love at all, and to love Anna so well -- not sexually, but -- what's the female equivalent of a bromance?
Michael was a no-holds-barred bastard. He was good to people who a) didn't get close to him and b) did what he wanted. How is that decent? I believe Anna consented, at least, to what happened between them, but I wouldn't have believed her sticking around after she found out how awful he'd been to Elinor. Her buggering off to deliver the rich woman's baby, rescuing that baby, and taking herself away to know more of the world (Avicenna! How cool!) -- not precisely a 1660s thing to do, but an Anna thing to do, oh yes. The plague year changed her into a woman of science.
Because isn't that what Anna and Elinor did, in their own way?
Science, at its heart, is the method: question, possible solution, testing, result, analysis, repeat if safe/necessary. That's what they did. They wondered what in those herbs made the poor doomed Gowdies so successful? Surely it wasn't really witchcraft. It was only that the Gowdies understood, from knowledge passed down through generations of women (anathema) what to do in what case. So Anna and Elinor took up the cause, took it into their hearts, and though they could not save anyone, their idea of making people stronger as prevention isn't far off the mark. Hygiene and a few extra cats and dogs wouldn't have gone amiss; they didn't know it was rats and fleas, though George the Redshirt guessed. Anna and Elinor did what logic dictated.
Elinor engendered in Anna a scientist's heart, which was unwelcome in her time and place, so Anna went where it would be appreciated. That it was too far away for anyone to care what happened to Aisha and baby Elinor was a bonus. Ditto the newness of her environment. Why should she be Elinor over again? Who would want to be Elinor over again?
So to me this book made sense and was a fine story besides. Tragic in places, sure. Downright heroic in others. I think of everything Anna and Elinor did together to help that village survive and I want to hug them and kiss them and shove Michael in the path of the fatal knife instead. Let the bastard die. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)