I'm concurrently reading Beloved so this naturally suffered a little in comparison; a little too technical, too detached, and too much outside conscioI'm concurrently reading Beloved so this naturally suffered a little in comparison; a little too technical, too detached, and too much outside consciousness, such as the references to the (very real) coerced sterilization, which is nevertheless outside the scope of the story and feels too informational. It felt like the author never really let himself go into the emotions of the story, wherever they led him and whatever risks they would entail, and instead had a strong series of messages he wanted to convey. I'm also not sure that the central idea of a literal railroad really served a purpose; it changes both too much from reality and not enough.
All these issues are just demerits -- it's an excellent book, but these problems bring it down from being a truly memorable novel to a merely important one....more
Complex and beautifully written. Also feels like a companion in some ways to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I read over and over as a child, while obComplex and beautifully written. Also feels like a companion in some ways to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I read over and over as a child, while obviously being a lot deeper and touching on more mature subjects....more
Strong finish to the series, which improved by leaps and bounds between books. I was equally pleased with the romantic resolution and the plotting; thStrong finish to the series, which improved by leaps and bounds between books. I was equally pleased with the romantic resolution and the plotting; the twists both surprised and felt inevitable when revealed, exactly hitting the sweet spot for me. The character development was also excellent, especially since I am a grudging fan of the Laurent type, and the pacing here was the best of the series. I don't mean to damn with faint praise, but I'm probably too harsh a reader of both court intrigue and romance most of the time so the fact I enjoyed the book so thoroughly really says good things about it. Definitely looking forward to her next works....more
**spoiler alert** 3.5 stars. A big improvement over the previous book, and I tore through it in 24 hours, but still with some flaws that make me glad**spoiler alert** 3.5 stars. A big improvement over the previous book, and I tore through it in 24 hours, but still with some flaws that make me glad I waited for the library copy instead of buying it, since I don't think I'll be rereading.
- I am a hard, hard sell on "Character A is an unforgivable asshole when introduced but is eventually presented as a sympathetic love interest for the POV character," but it worked here for me. It always helps when the development takes place over multiple books, but Pacat also just did a very skillful and subtle job of unfolding Laurent's character and building the relationship with Damen, and I was heartily rooting for them by 2/3 of the way through, which I did not expect after the first book. - I am also a hard sell on court intrigue fantasy, usually because it's either too simplistic or too convoluted, but this was just complex enough that I could appreciate it and then set it aside without worrying through plot details. - Good balance of plot and romance, and I also appreciated seeing Damen's viewpoint on war and the differences between the countries change. You see both characters grow and develop.
Not so good stuff:
- Too long by about 75 pages. I can see where she wanted to end the book, but after the big consummation scene it was hard to keep sustaining interest for much longer. Cutting back the Vask diplomacy and clan village fight scenes would have helped, and some of the other intrigue portions. - I started the series under the impression it was basically original slash, which is incorrect in both directions -- the romance/character development is much better than typical slash fanfic, and the erotica was worse. I'm not sure if she was directed by her editor/publisher to make it less explicit for mainstream publication but I was definitely disappointed there, and also there were some clangingly bad phrases ("salt-flavored release"?) I wouldn't have expected out of someone in fandom, which typically has higher standards. The consummation scene was good, but not quite as good as I'm accustomed to in fandom, so I can see now why there's a growing fandom for the series (which puzzled me before, since canon seemed like it must be fairly satisfying).
In the end, though I really enjoyed the experience of reading the book and building up to the consummation and revelations, I just couldn't give this four stars because it felt like it needed tightening up and improvement in a lot of areas. I do have hope for the next book, and especially for Pacat's future books....more
This was my first reread since I was a young adult, and it produced two somewhat contrary impressions.
The first time I read the book must have been fThis was my first reread since I was a young adult, and it produced two somewhat contrary impressions.
The first time I read the book must have been fairly close in time to seeing the movie, and I recall having little patience for the lovers, even as I was sympathetic to Newland. Despite being boy-crazy as a teenager, fictional romance tended to irritate me, and with my cold-hearted "reasonable" approach to the world I had a hard time reading about people doing foolish things for the sake of love.
With almost two more decades of life under my belt, I've become a far more sentimental reader, and I was much more taken in by the story of doomed and frustrated love. Wharton doesn't describe exactly why they love each other and she doesn't have to; what she does describe well is that feeling of sudden connection that happens sometimes, and all the unspoken communication it entails. The reader can see why they're in love and, in damning detail, why they cannot be together, and easily understand why this story has become a classic.
At the same time, I couldn't help feeling that the shift in focus from social commentary to romance was something of a loss. To me, the first and most obvious comparison of the Adultery Classics is Anna Karenina, because Wharton had some of Tolstoy's deep and generous powers of observation. The opening chapters of the novel were a revelation to me, as Newland dissects every element of his staid and stale culture, especially his perception of the "innocent" women in his milieu.
I understand that the final message of the novel is those women were never as naive as he believed them to be, but it's muddied and softened somewhat by the sensitive but sentimental portrayal of his romance. One has the sense of moving from his clear-headed detachment at the time of his engagement, through a sudden ducking into warm and dangerous waters of romance, emotion, and "real life," and then emerging again for a gasp of air into the "crystalline air" of old New York, but the uneven attention paid to his revelations and state of mind in the latter portion of his life diminishes the social observations at the beginning of the novel.
In short, this feels like two books, and while I enjoyed them both, I'm sorry for the loss of sharper novel of social observation that fades as the story travels into romance. I don't care for the uglier adultery classics, such as Madame Bovary, where the romance is sordid and sad, but as this is the rare one written by a female author, it's sad to lose that glimpse of sharp perspective....more
Essential. (Though I would recommend reading the young adult biography "His Was the Voice" first, for background; I got it as a free Amazon eBook.) DuEssential. (Though I would recommend reading the young adult biography "His Was the Voice" first, for background; I got it as a free Amazon eBook.) DuBois details the roots of the "Race Question," both sociologically and economically, and could be speaking of today's America. From the final essay:
"Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes a hope—a faith in the ultimate justice of things. The minor cadences of despair change often to triumph and calm confidence. Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins. Is such a hope justified? Do the Sorrow Songs sing true?
The silently growing assumption of this age is that the probation of races is past, and that the backward races of to-day are of proven inefficiency and not worth the saving. Such an assumption is the arrogance of peoples irreverent toward Time and ignorant of the deeds of men. A thousand years ago such an assumption, easily possible, would have made it difficult for the Teuton to prove his right to life. Two thousand years ago such dogmatism, readily welcome, would have scouted the idea of blond races ever leading civilization.
So wofully unorganized is sociological knowledge that the meaning of progress, the meaning of "swift" and "slow" in human doing, and the limits of human perfectability, are veiled, unanswered sphinxes on the shores of science. Why should AEschylus have sung two thousand years before Shakespeare was born? Why has civilization flourished in Europe, and flickered, flamed, and died in Africa? So long as the world stands meekly dumb before such questions, shall this nation proclaim its ignorance and unhallowed prejudices by denying freedom of opportunity to those who brought the Sorrow Songs to the Seats of the Mighty?
Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here. Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song—soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit. Around us the history of the land has centred for thrice a hundred years; out of the nation's heart we have called all that was best to throttle and subdue all that was worst; fire and blood, prayer and sacrifice, have billowed over this people, and they have found peace only in the altars of the God of Right. Nor has our gift of the Spirit been merely passive. Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,—we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy, and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the giving? Is not this work and striving? Would America have been America without her Negro people?"...more