Friday, November 15, 2013

Fantasy with a side of court politics and BDSM

Number 32 is Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey.

Sometimes there is a certain convention in fantasy where the writing comes across as pretty darn overblown. In their world building, the author settles upon a style of writing that is incredibly stylized, flowery, precise, or what have you. Sometimes this is needed. Sometimes not. Sometimes this comes across sounding archaic or old fashioned. Sometimes it's just annoying. I'm pretty sure that the more blunt, realistic styles of a GRRM, Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch is a direct reaction against this sort of prose in fantasy literature.

So yes, this means that I found the prose in Kushiel's Dart to be hugely overblown. Blowsy even. I'm not saying it's bad writing, because it certainly fits with the setting and tone Carey is trying to create, but it can be a bit much to chew on.

But the society Carey is trying to create is overblown, a little decadent, and definitely stylized. Her analogue for a medieval-esque France is Terre D'Ange, a country founded by the illegitmate son of Christ (not called that though) and Earth herself. This child, Elua, was pretty much the ultimate hippy wanderer, and he had some companions, one of whom, Naamah, is like the ultimate free-love hippy. So there are Houses, devoted to her service, that basically churn out high-class escorts, all of whom have been tutored in various things, many of them sex related. And y'know, this is good. It means, for the most part, we're dealing with a very sex positive atmosphere.

Except for where the main character, Phedre, is sold to one of these houses by her parents, then the House sells her to a patron, who in turn basically acts like her pimp. Yes, I know, I know, the Houses would've acted like pimps too, as this is what happens when you're in the service of Naamah, but... I admit, I didn't like all that as much because it made, for a good chunk of the book, for a very passive main character, and I find that pretty boring.

The whole thing about her being an anguissette, a person who is marked by Kushiel (one of Elua's companions) as someone who truly enjoys the twining of sex and pain, actually felt kinda like... yeah, ok, that's cool. Lot's of people enjoy that. But no, it wasn't really lots of people, because here, she's so special that she's been marked by a godling or something for it. I dunno... I admit, I had a hard time thinking of her as special.

About half way through the book, Phedre's circumstances change and I found her to be way less passive and actually started enjoying the book more. She made more decisions on her own and actually participated. That was needed.

Despite all this, I enjoyed the book enough to continue on till at least the next book. Carey's world building is rather interesting, she's given a lot of thought on the religions and cultures (although I found it annoying that both the Germanic and British analogues were basically nowhere near as advanced as Terre D'Ange. I don't know if she was going more for a Roman Empire feel, but the inequality here did bug me for some reason). And she did court intrigue quite well, which is something I always appreciate.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Alright so we have books:

28 - The Heights of the Depths by Peter David
29 - The Strangled Queen by Maurice Druon
30 - Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
31 - Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Heights of the Depths is the second book in PAD's Hidden Earth chronicles. It is a lot of madcap adventure and a web of schemes and intrigue, which I always like. There are a lot of characters and there's a lot going on, but I think PAD juggled it all nicely. A lot of the characters are split up and recombined with other characters (Jepp being with the selkie and the faun and the troll are now hanging separate from the rest of the Bottom Feeders). I also liked the fleshing out of the Serabim, who are basically Abominable Snowmen (I will love him and hug him and I will name him George). There's a good pace to these books, a nice sense of urgency and adventure. Unfortunately though, the story is not done and who knows if it ever will be.

The Strangled Queen is the second book of Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings opus. We learn more about the newly crowned King Louix X (he really has no business ruling), who basically begins to dismantle everything that his father had worked so hard to put into place, as he's being led around by his Uncle of Valois and his cousin, Robert of Artois, who is desperately trying to get his lands back and sees Louis as being much easier to manipulate than his father was. There is a lot of political manuevering in removing some of the previous King's trusted advisors, there is an overture to a new queen, and of course, there is the strangled queen of the title. It's all very sordid and fun and I can so easily see why GRRM says that this series is one of his inspirations for ASoIF. I think the next one is now translated and available in ebook. I'll have to get it. It's a total medieval soap-opera with the added bonus that it has historical basis.

Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses is exactly what it says; an examination of the two families who plunged Britain into the 30 year civil war. Weir does a nice job of setting it all up and explaining why poor Henry VI wasn't a very good king. Of course, it's easy to criticize someone who's in power, and once Richard of York got in there, he realized it wasn't easy to rule either. Of course, though, he never called himself King, it was his son who eventually ruled as Edward IV. But anyway, I also really liked this book because Weir really details just how formidable Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI's wife) was in her tenacity to restore her husband to his throne. The Yorks had to truly take everything away from her before she gave up. (I have also realized that my decision to read all these big, dense historical books this year is probably the main contributor to my not reading as many books this year... but I'm learning stuff!)

Republic of Thieves is the long awaited next installment of the Gentlemen Bastards series. As I only discovered this series last year, I didn't have a very long wait. Well, now I do, I guess, but whatever. Anyway. This one picks up where we left off with Locke and Jean being in rather dire straits. Locke has been poisoned and is definitely dying when they are approached by a most unlikely saviour; a Bondsmage. This particular Bondsmage, of course, has a deal for Locke; she'll save him from the poison if he and Jean will immerse themselves in the political elections in the Bondsmage's home city. See, the mages cannot themselves affect the outcome of the vote; but they can hire people to do their dirty work for them. Of course Locke accepts. But that's not the ONLY thing going on in this book... oh no, it's also half flashback from when the Bastards are kids and have traveled to another city to learn how to be actors. Which of course blows up in their faces spectacularly. Oh and in this book, we finally meet the elusive, mysterious Sabetha, the love of Locke's life. She's... ok. But by now, the build up of her character has been such that she'd have to be spectacular to live up to the hype. The amount of just plotting that goes on in this book is pretty huge. And rather noticable. It doesn't have the seamlessness of the first book. But weirdly, I did find it fit together a little better than the second book did. I can understand Lynch wanting to tell us of the backstory of how Sabetha and Locke's relationship came to be, but I don't know if we needed half the book devoted to it. Because the political manueverings of the Five Year Game seemed... not too interesting and just parlour tricks. I was hoping for something grand and intricate, but no, Locke really was more focused on Sabetha being around. Now, there was one thing that I really, really didn't like though, and that was the revelation of what Locke might be (and probably is). Usually I complain when something that we've understood is mystical is taken and given a scientific explanation (midichlorians anyone?). But here, I'm going to complain that someone (Locke) who we've been given as being an exceptional person, mainly through natural brains and charisma and a SHIT load of training, might actually have mystical origins. Weirdly enough I found this really stripped Locke of a lot of his power. It's like someone suddenly telling me that no, Batman isn't the peak of what a human can achieve, he's actually a Jedi. Ho hum. Anyway, despite all this, overall I actually DID enjoy this book for the most part. Lynch's dialogue is pretty hilarious, and capers and heists are difficult to pull off all the time, so I appreciate his continually trying to do so. Oh and the ending was actually pretty scary, so I do look forward to the next book.