Saturday, July 22, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, End

Welcome to my long-delayed final post for the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Curse.  This week’s questions were provided by Lynn of Lynn’s Books, and they cover to the end of the novel.  The final read-along of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, of the novel Naamah’s Blessing, is beginning next week, if anyone is interested in getting involved!  The schedule is as follows:

Week 1: Chapters 1-15, July 24th, hosted by Dab of Darkness
Week 2: Chapters 16-29, July 31st, hosted by Dab of Darkness
Week 3: Chapters 30-42, Aug 7th, hosted by Books Without Any Pictures
Week 4: Chapters 43-57, August 14th, hosted by Lynn's Book Blog
Week 5: Chapters 58-71, August 21st, hosted by Tethyan Books
Week 6: Chapters 72-END, August 28th, hosted by Dab of Darkness

And now, to the final questions for Naamah’s Curse, beware of spoilers of the novel below!

1.) What did you make of the mission to retrieve the black diamond and what do you actually make of the black diamond and whether it could be used for good?

Everything seemed to go pretty smoothly.  When they finally got the diamond, it reminded me a bit of the scene with Galadriel refusing the One Ring.  The diamond is not inherently evil, but it seems to be so in practice.  I don’t think anything that is used to override other people’s free will can be used for good.  

2.)The Spider Queen and Amrita - what were your final thoughts on both of them - did you have sympathy for Jagrati?  Do you think Amrita can affect change in the caste system?

I do have some sympathy for Jagrati, since I think there really wasn’t any way she could have improved her life within the system.  I don’t disagree with her leaving society and making a new life for herself, but I do disagree with the particular life she chose.  Having experienced pain does not give anyone a free pass to give pain and death to others.  I don’t see them as on the same tier as the evil of Darsanga, though, where they were seriously just trying to be as horrible as possible.  

Amrita’s plan to remove the untouchable caste went shockingly smoothly.  There were a few mild protesters, but it seemed like pretty much everyone fell into line with the new order.  I wonder if it went that way because it is a small, isolated village, where the people’s loyalty is more to the personality of their leader than to their religion.  I don’t expect this change to be widespread or even permanent, though I admit I’m biased by real-world history.  It is good that she is trying to change the world for the better, though!    

3.)Moirin and Bao - they’ve made peace with each other.  Did you finally forgive Bao?  Do you think they’ve reached an understanding that will work for them?

I think Bao is really just not my sort of person, and he still hasn’t given a reasonable excuse for randomly marrying another woman.  It was good to see them get back together and work out their relationship, though.

One thing I found really odd was how conservative Moirin is about marriage.  She herself is not well-suited to monogamy, and she was raised alone in a cave.  She spent a fair amount of time in Terre d’Ange, where it is pretty common to have a primary partner in addition to other lovers.  Is Moirin’s fear about being a ‘bad wife’ all coming from her trauma with Cillian?  It doesn’t seem relevant to anything Bao has expressed in his expectation for their relationship.  I mean, he certainly hasn’t been physically loyal, either.  Moirin seems to be exactly the kind of wife Bao wants, so I was a little baffled by her worry.

3.)Finally - any predictions for where the journey will take us next? Can you see a purpose in Moirin’s diadh-anam??

It looks like the next book will resolve the issue with Raphael and the demon, as well as finally sending Moirin and Bao off to the New World!  I hope Moirin also gets a chance to introduce her new husband to her mother and father, in between the adventures.  I’m not sure what’s going on with Jehanne, but I hope she gets to move on to the afterlife when everything is finally settled.  I don’t see any over-arching theme with Moirin’s diadh-anam yet, but maybe that will come clear when we see her next tasks.

Other Thoughts:

--It was a bit sad that the lower-caste workers were against abolishing the untouchables caste, but I can see where they were coming from. I bet a lot of the attitudes toward untouchables will now shift to the new lowest caste.  At least Amrita is also trying to implement a kind of inter-caste social mobility to combat this.

--I wonder if Bao is going to have problems with drugs in the future.  I get the impression that it’s often a bit harder to beat a drug addiction than simply deciding one day that you don’t need it anymore.

--Was anybody else a little puzzled that the Falconer did basically nothing?  He had an impressive villain name and everything.

--We’ve got confirmation that the Falconer has zero interest in anyone who has ever given birth.  But why?  That seems like a weird hang-up to have never explain.

--I’ve been noticing that a lot of the changes Moirin is making in the world around her are going to be transient.  I mean, the caste system is still an issue today, and obviously gunpowder is eventually going to be discovered.  It’s a little sad to know that her actions will be undone.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
Published: Solaris, 2014
Series: Book 1 of the Fractured Europe Sequence
Awards Nominated: BSFA, Campbell, Clarke

The Book:

“After a variety of crises, Europe has collapsed into many small states.  The increasing number of new borders and citizenships has created a chaotic mess where crime flourishes. Rudi is a chef in Krakow, but one day he finds himself quietly recruited into a seemingly silly (but lucrative) kind of spy game.  In his new role as a Coureur, Rudi transports goods, information, and sometimes people across many borders.  

As Rudi gets in deeper, he realizes that the work of the Coureurs can sometimes be deadly serious.  He eventually becomes entangled in a conspiracy that someone is willing to kill to cover up.  Will he be able to discover the secret before it costs his life?”  ~Allie

This is the first book I’ve read by Dave Hutchinson, and I chose it because of the many award nominations.  Also, sorry for the long silence.  It has been a hard summer to find time to write.

My Thoughts:

Europe in Autumn is a kind of spy/organized crime novel, which eventually has some supernatural elements.  It starts out in Rudi’s mundane life before his recruitment as a coureur, and I enjoyed seeing his life as a chef.  I found his impatience and mild embarrassment with his first ‘spy’ work amusing, and I got a kick out of his unenthusiastic personality as he grew in competence as a coureur.  On the other hand, his adventures felt very episodic.  The book jumped around from situation to situation, and I didn’t ever feel like I had a strong sense of the story as a coherent whole.  This is the first novel in a series, so it’s possible that subplots which are dropped here are picked up in the coming novels.

Rudi’s fractured Europe was carefully imagined, but it was also incredibly bleak. I don’t know how likely this scenario seemed to be back in 2014, but now it’s just close enough to reality to make me feel stressed out.  As a coureur (and even as a chef), Rudi spends a lot of time with organized crime syndicates, so the world we see is really dirty, cynical and full of violence.  I’m definitely not opposed to darker books, but I think this one just hit me in the wrong place and at the wrong time.  There were some ideas that I thought were pretty interesting, though, such as the long rail-line that declared itself as an independent country.

As the book moved toward its conclusion, it seemed to focus progressively less on Rudi.  Instead, the story began to be told through the perspectives of a string of minor characters and fictional documents.  At this point, I was mostly interested in Rudi’s personal story, so the shift away from him left me feeling puzzled.  The supernatural elements that eventually come into play are a neat idea, but I had mostly run out of interest in the story by the time they were revealed.  Overall, I think this book was a mismatch for me, but I can see the appeal in the story for others.

My Rating: 2/5

This slightly supernatural spy novel features an amusingly reluctant chef-turned-smuggler who has adventures throughout a fractured Europe.  I enjoyed the personality of the main character, but was less engaged by the episodic nature of the story and the bleak near-future world.  I also began to feel more indifferent as the novel shifted away from the protagonist in the latter part of the book, focusing instead of fictional documents and minor characters. This was not a book for me, in the end, but I can see how it could have caught others’ imaginations.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, Part 4

I’m a little late for part four of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Curse, but I’m still here!  This week we covered chapters 48-64, and I provided the questions.  Beware of spoilers in the questions and answers below!

1) Moirin makes some new friends on the way to Rasa.  What do you think will come of her decision to entrust them with the jade medallion?  Do you see this as a betrayal of trust or do you think the Emperor would understand?

I feel like this might be one of those decisions that comes back to bite her later. She’s given away most of her valuables as gifts, though, so I’m not sure she has any choice.  I think I would trust the people she gave the medallion to, but I think these things have a way of changing hands unexpectedly.  Hopefully, the Emperor would understand and not hold it against, and hopefully no one tries to use it to cause trouble in Ch’in.

2) On her way to the Lady of Rats, Moirin ends up in a dangerous caravan.  What are your thoughts on what happened, both with the assault and the illness?  

I found it interesting that Moirin compared herself unfavorably with Phedre in these chapters, when her magic makes her far more powerful in some ways.  I was reminded in this section how often Phedre relied on her training in Naamah’s Arts to find a way to power in a difficult situation.  When she was with the Skaldi leader, she faced a similar situation with no twilight to hide her.  Both Moirin and Imriel lamented that they were not great heros/heroines like Phedre and Joscelin, but I think they both found plenty of adventure.

On the assault itself, wow is that guy gross.  I find it disappointing and unsurprising that he is still a respected trader, and will likely do the same thing to the next pretty woman that comes along.  Based on the reaction of his men, I get the feeling Moirin was not the first.  At least she was able to learn some Bhodistani, and the association with him doesn’t seem to have soured the language for her.

I don’t know much about altitude sickness, but is that what Sanjiv was referring to as “mountain sickness”?  It’s amazing that it cleared up after only three days of rest.  If it was due to altitude, then maybe being in the valley helped. That might be the first time Moirin has reached near the limits of her physical endurance due to circumstances beyond her control.

3) Is seems that caste/class is going to be a major point in this story.  Even if Amrita agrees that the caste system may not be just, do you think there's anything that she and Moirin can do about it? Do you see any path to happiness for Jagrati and/or do you think she deserves to be defeated?

I don’t think they’re going to abolish the caste system in a few weeks, but maybe Amrita will be the seed of a new way for the future.  To be honest, I was concerned when I realized our villain was going to be an evil marginalized woman who attacks people through sexual desire.  I think the story is trying to show that she has a valid complaint with society, though, and no one would ever have listened to her without drastic action.  I don’t think she should get away with assassinating people, but I also have a feeling that we don’t have her whole story yet.  

I also think that the novel is trying to address ideas of privilege and class, not only here but also earlier in the story.  One of the reasons Bao got married was to raise his station, because he saw himself as below Moirin.  Amrita even observed that Moirin does not really socialize outside her own caste, though I think that’s not really true.  In any case, I think it will make Moirin more aware of hierarchy in the societies around her.

4) There is a lot of passion in Kushiel's Legacy, but the sex scene in this section doesn't involve much.  Given all of the focus on "love as thou wilt", what do you think about Amrita's gift and it's acceptance by Naamah? What do you think about the idea of sex without desire, but for compassionate purposes?

It was a really unusual scene, and not really all that in line with what I would have expected Naamah to approve.  It certainly helped Moirin, but it seems like the whole situation would be really awkward.  It made me wonder if Amrita desired her husband, or if sex has always been to her a gift to give someone else.

5) Bao returns!  I think we were all a little irritated with him for his Tatar adventures. Do his actions here change your opinion of him? Do you think he has escaped Jagrati's diamond for good?

I am glad that we didn’t have many chapters of Bao not believing Moirin was real, so for that I thank him.  I tend to believe that Jagrati was telling the truth when she said she thought Moirin was dead.  When Bao realized Moirin had not been sent to the Falconer and Spider Queen, that was a much more logical conclusion than to think the Khan had simply sent her somewhere else.  He picked a very self-destructive way to mourn, though, and the addiction is probably something that will stay with him forever (as will the tattoos).  As for Jagrati’s diamond, I’m not sure it has much power over Bao.  It didn’t stop him from recognizing Moirin, and he doesn’t really seem enamored of Jagrati.  It may be Moirin that needs to escape the diamond!

Other Things:

--I wonder why Sanjiv stays with such a horrible group of traders.  It seems like his skills are valued, so he could find some nicer people to join.

--While Amrita’s kid is quite clever, perhaps it was not the best idea to let a child plan their strategy.

--Amrita was safe from the Falconer because she was pregnant, but it’s been a decade since then. Does the Falconer only pursue women who have never given birth?
--How did Amrita recognize Moirin’s caste right away?  It sounded like she didn’t exactly look like royalty at the time.