Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Arkwright by Allen Steele

Arkwright by Allen Steele
Published: Tor, 2016

The Book:

“Contemporary of science fiction masters Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, Nathan Arkwright is a seminal author of the twentieth century. At the end of his life he becomes reclusive and cantankerous, refusing to appear before or interact with his legion of fans. Little did anyone know, Nathan was putting into motion his true, timeless legacy.

Convinced that humanity cannot survive on Earth, his Arkwright Foundation dedicates itself to creating a colony on an Earth-like planet several light years distant. Fueled by Nathan's legacy, generations of Arkwrights are drawn together, and pulled apart, by the enormity of the task and weight of their name.”

This is technically the first novel I’ve read by Allen Steele, though I enjoyed his stories about the colonization of the planet Coyote as serialized in Asimov’s Science Fiction.  This novel was identified by the community at World’s Without End as one of the award-worthy books of 2016.  

My Thoughts:  

Arkwright is a very different kind of colonization story than you’ll find with Steele’s books about Coyote.  Instead of focusing on the details of the project and the people who eventually live on the alien planet, Arkwright primarily follows the Earth-side humans who are behind this monumental effort.  The story explores what would drive Nathan Arkwright to establish his foundation and how subsequent generations react to their unchosen connection to the generations-long undertaking.  It is a difficult thing to dedicate oneself to a project that spans longer than a human lifetime, and I can’t imagine that everyone would be able to handle such pressure. I’ve had similar thoughts about the architects behind the great cathedrals of Europe, wondering how they might feel knowing that they will not be able to see their life’s work come to completion.  This is a relatively short novel, and it spans several generations of Arkwrights who have very different ways of coping with their family heritage.  I enjoyed seeing their range of reactions to the Arkwright Foundation, but I felt like I didn’t have enough time with each cast to feel an emotional attachment to the characters.

In the build-up to the establishment of the colonization project, it becomes clear that Arkwright carries a lot of love for the social scene of 1950s science fiction.  There are a number of scenes featuring fictional and actual authors of the era, and involving their interaction in conventions and elsewhere.  I was a little impatient to get back to the future-focused story, but these nostalgic parts helped me to understand Nathan Arkwright’s motives.  I also enjoyed how it highlighted the role of science fiction in inspiring scientific development, something that certainly happens in reality.  Science fiction can help us imagine a path to the future, even as it also can point out potential pitfalls of developing technology.  In this case, Arkwright’s vision created a foundation that would define his family for many years, and would spur technological development along the way.    

After all of this, we do eventually get to see the final outcome of the colonization project.  Separated as it is in physical distance and time from the Arkwright family’s story, this part of the novel felt like an extended epilogue.  I would have been disappointed if there had been no closure on what happened to the colony ship, so I was happy that this part was included.  However, there’s only really enough time to see the situation in broad strokes, when I would have liked to see more detail. Despite the brevity, I appreciated the author’s choice to let his readers move into the future, to see the ‘cathedral’ that was completed long after the builders we met had passed beyond knowing.  

My Rating: 3 /5

Arkwright has an interesting premise, focusing on the human side of the development and execution of an extrasolar colonization project.  It has a clear fondness for the history of science fiction, and the way that science fiction can inspire developments in technology.  It’s also a relatively short book that covers a lot of content, from the inception of the colonization project, through multiple generations of the Arkwright family, all the way through to the project’s culmination.  As such, there is not a ton of depth to each segment or each set of characters.  I’m still happy I read this one, and I will probably read more work by Steele in the future.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey, Part 3

Welcome to week three of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Blessing, the final book of Kushiel’s Legacy.  This week’s questions cover up through chapter 42, and they are provided by Grace of Books Without Any Pictures.  This was a very eventful week, so beware of spoilers below!

1) Were you surprised by Durel's betrayal? Do you think the captain and Balthasar handled it well?

I guess I have been giving Rogier a lot of benefit of the doubt, so yes I was surprised.  I wish he could have just had different political goals without actually being evil. It now seems like he and his wife totally know their kid is a rapist, and are okay with it.  Also, they don’t really care at all about Terre d’Ange, but care so much about power that they’re willing to kill and coerce people to keep it.  Basically, they’re not any better than Melisande ethically, and in some ways worse.  However, they’re definitely not as talented as Melisande, so I think they’re going to be thwarted quite soon.

I think Balthasar and the others handled it really well.  The man had nothing against any of them, and Balthasar and the captain addressed the hold that Rogier’s family had over him.  Now, he can in good conscience help the team, knowing that they plan to make sure his family is okay when they make it back to Terre d’Ange.  All the same, it does make sense to keep an eye on him from here on out.

2) Now that we've had some time to get acquainted with Terra Nova, what do you think of it? What do you make of the Nahuatl, and of the overall political tensions in Terra Nova? Do you think there's any hope for reconciliation between the Aragonians, D'Angelines, other tribes, and Nahuatl?

I think history is not on the side of the Nahuatl, and I expect Terre d’Ange will not have that much to do in the region after Thierry is rescued.  Based on what we’ve seen so far in the trilogy, I am anticipating that Moirin with have some more transient against-established-history success here, and the Nahuatl will successfully reconcile with the other tribes long enough to briefly resist the Aragonians.

3) What are your impressions of Achculati and the bargain he offered? How do you think Moirin's choice will impact her going forward?

I don’t think he ever expected her to accept it.  I think he was ready for her shock and refusal, and then he would have refused to give them aid.  He was very kind to Moirin, but I think his treatment of his youngest wife is a little more telling of the kind of person he is.  You can always tell a person by how he treats those he considers his inferiors, and bargaining her off to provide sex to a complete stranger without her knowledge or consent was a pretty callous thing to do.  I am glad Bao did not actually take advantage of the poor woman. I don’t know whether this will impact Moirin going forward or not.

Other Things:

--I was surprised that Balthasar was able to evoke Kushiel so easily.  In the earlier books, it was really only Phedre and Melisande, as Kushiel’s chosen, who really felt divine influence.  These days, it seems like every member of every house of Terre d’Ange can channel their respective angels at will.

--I’m still finding Moirin’s shame and guilt about her poly nature confusing.  I can only assume that this is all coming from her trauma with Cillian’s family, since I don’t think anyone has shamed Moirin about it since then.  I mean, how many times does Bao have to tell her it’s okay before she can believe it?

--Does anyone else find Moirin’s sudden ability with Nahuatl a little unbelievable, after all her talk about her struggle with the language?  She went from ‘Hello/Thank You”-level to discussing theology in a single day, after months of failing to master the tongue on the voyage.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Short Fiction: April 2017

There were a lot of really entertaining stories published in April, and I had a hard time narrowing them down to my favorites.  All of the ones I eventually picked are by authors I have not featured here before!  They’re also all available to read online, at the indicated links.  Three of these include a kind of splitting or parallel worlds, while the other two feature conflict with humans living on alien worlds.

In the Shade of the Pixie Tree by Rodello Santos (Short Story, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): This was a clever magical time travel story that is told in both directions.  Bekka heads off to collect pixies, and a boy she likes comes with her--even though he’s not supposed to.  In a world with magic, their innocent flirting can lead to dangerous consequences.
When Stars are Scattered by Spencer Ellsworth (Novelette, This is a story about faith and an unusual alien species, “Kites”, on a colonized world. A Muslim community is converting the Kites, and a nearby Christian colony sees them as pests.  When a disease begins to spread through the Kite community, it inflames tensions between the two groups.  

Sunwake, in the Lands of Teeth by Juliette Wade (Novella, Clarkesworld): This is another story featuring humans interacting with aliens, specifically a small group of humans studying an alien civilization.  The non-human cultures and the political situation depicted here were really fascinating, and I loved the creative use of language and the alien perspective.

The Selkie Wives by Kendra Fortmeyer (Short Story, Apex): The general selkie story involves a beautiful selkie woman, who is trapped on land and married when a man steals her sealskin.  This story presents a clutter of variations on that theme, some sad and some hilarious, exploring different relationships between men and women.

Seven Permutations of my Daughter by Lina Rather (Short Story, Lightspeed): This one is a very emotionally affecting story about a woman whose daughter is struggling with drug addiction.  Feeling desperate and helpless, she builds a machine that allows her to jump into parallel worlds.  She thinks that if she can find a world where her daughter is happy, she’ll be able to see where things went wrong and how to make things right.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey, Part 2

It’s time for week two of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Blessing. This week covers chapters 16-26, and questions are provided again by Susan of Dab of Darkness.  Beware spoilers below!

1) What do you think of the assistance the Shahrizai have provided to Moirin and Bao so far? Do you think there's merit to their claim that the Shahrizai should govern the Shemhazai district?

It’s good that they have allies, and Moirin and Bao may feel cheered by the fact that the Shahrizai are generally quite good at playing politics.  The Shahrizai must think that the pair has a good chance of succeeding, or they would not have given them their support.  I don’t really know much about the Shemhazai folk, so I’m fine with the Shahrizai taking over the area!

2) Did you enjoy the Oath Swearing Ceremony where Moirin pledged to be Desiree's protector? What did you like best about it?

I liked the lottery for common folks to attend the party, and it was nice that Moirin ran it personally. She seems like a very genuine person, which seems to be helping her win over people who are not embroiled in d’Angeline politics.

3) Finally, there's news from Terra Nova. From chocolate to spices to riches to a vexing pox that Raphael may be able to cure to the loss of crown prince! Do you think Prince Thierry is really dead? If not, what kind of trouble might he be in? What else about Terra Nova intrigues you at this point?

Ghost-Jehanne is probably telling the truth, so he’s probably alive.  He also can’t be in any urgent trouble, because it will be months more before anyone can arrive in Terra Nova.  Maybe he is being held by some of the people there for some reason? Maybe he was exploring a new culture and lost track of the days?  Maybe Focalor-possessed-Raphael has taken over a kingdom and Thierry is trying to stop him?  I guess we’ll see!

4) Let's discuss King Daniel. He spent some time with his daughter but then planned to abdicate to Thierry when he returned. Upon the sad news, King Daniel is no longer with us. Is there anything more that could have been done, either by Daniel or for him?

I have a lot of sympathy for King Daniel’s grief, but that was also so selfish.  He couldn’t be strong enough to minister the realm, he couldn’t be strong enough to love his daughter, and he couldn’t even manage to tell someone else his concerns instead of taking them with him to the grave.  He must have realized that Moirin claiming that he’d completely changed his mind about Rogier would not be especially convincing.  

I still think he should have gone to Balm House, and just lived there for a while.  I also think that after he basically abdicated the throne to Rogier’s control, that should have been a sign that he should no longer have been permitted to refuse help.  This is going to be a grief that will shape his daughter’s life, both from the emotional trauma and the political problems it will cause her.  At least, through Moirin, she’ll know that one of her parents had loved her.  

5) Rogier is angling for more political power. What do you think of him using his grieve to obtain his goal? Will Moirin and Bao be able to head off to Terra Nova without provoking Rogier further?

I have to believe that he doesn’t know his son is likely a rapist. That is extremely negatively viewed in Terre d’Ange, to the extent that his son would be guilty of blasphemy.  I feel like Moirin needs to find a way to bring that to light, because it is a big deal.  

If Rogier does not know this, I suspect he thinks he is doing what’s best for Terre d’Ange. While he is being calculating about using his emotions to accrue power, I don’t think, at this point, that his intentions are impure in a patriotic sense.  I’m suspecting that Moirin and Bao will quietly slip into the Shahrizai mission to Terra Nova, and maybe in that way they can just disappear without him realizing until after they’ve gone.

Other Things:

--It was really weird to see Moirin and Bao in Melisande’s house, viewing all her stuff as historical artifacts.

--I like Balthasar.  He seems like a good guy.

--I am impressed with Moirin’s father’s strength in his convictions.  I did not expect him to turn against his childhood friend, but he did not hesitate to do so when he realized Rogier was in the wrong.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey, Part 1

Welcome to the first week of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Blessing!  This is the final book of the 9-book series, and also the book that brings Moirin’s story to a close.  It will be sad to say goodbye to this world, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading the series. This weeks questions are provided by Susan of Dab of Darkness, and they cover chapters 1-15. Beware of spoilers below!

1) Wow! We're back at Marsilikos and then into Terre D'Ange right away without any lengthy travel scenes. How was this change of pace for you after the lengthy travel journal we've had so far in this series?

I’m pretty fine with it.  I was impatient to get back to Terre d’Ange, so I was happy that we started there already!  Moirin is a very different person than she was the last time she was in this country, and it was interesting to see her and Bao’s take on the society after their long time away.

2) What do you think of King Daniel's management of the realm while he's in mourning? The relationship he has with his daughter Desiree?

I don’t think this is a problem that’s likely to go away anytime soon, and he’s not really fulfilling his role as a monarch or a father.  He endured after his first wife’s death, but it looks like losing Jehanne too was just too much.  I feel like he needs to spend some time at Balm House until he can cope with daily life again.

3) Moirin has taken up the role as Desiree's protector. What do you think of tet political quagmire she's gotten herself into? Will her tumblers and poet be able to sway the general public in her favor?

Well, someone needed to do something.  I’m actually kind of shocked that none of the local nobles stepped in to help, after Daniel kind of opted out of taking care of her.  It doesn’t reflect well on the nobility that they were just willing to let the situation fester until Moirin came back to help.

For the tumblers and the poet, I think it will help.  I think the biggest thing that would help is her doing a good job, and not running off to another country. Over time, she’s bound to win over a lot of the nobles. I know patience is not really her thing, though.

4) Moirin's father has a lover, Rogier, who is also in the king's favor. How big of a problem for Moirin and Bao do you think he will be?

I did not expect him to be an enemy, so that kind of caught me off guard.  He’s a really bad person to have as an enemy, since he is essentially the King at this point.  I expect he’s going to be a major problem, if she doesn’t find out what he has against her.

Other Thoughts:

--Moirin is a trust fund girl, and I am curious to see how she would cope in Terre d’Ange if her money runs out.

--The head nursemaid seemed weirdly prudish for Terre d’Ange.  I thought Bao’s subtle joke was harmless and inoffensive, and I was surprised that she even remarked on it.

--On that note, I would have expected patience and compassion to be some of the traits most commonly found in nursemaids.  Desiree didn’t really seem much worse than an average toddler, so it makes me wonder what other d’Angeline toddlers are like (fashion forward and careful of propriety?).

--It was neat to see Bao’s interest in d’Angeline acrobatics.  I bet both sides will learn a few things!


Monday, July 24, 2017

Short Fiction: March 2017

Time for another look at some of my favorites of this year’s short fiction!  Today, I’m focusing on stories that were published in March 2017.  One of my favorites is another story by Naomi Kritzer, a writer who won a Hugo Award for last year’s short story, “Cat Pictures, Please”.  The second is a story that ties into Yoon Ha Lee’s heavily award-nominated novel, Ninefox Gambit.  The third is a clever story by an author new to me, Stephen Graham Jones.

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe by Naomi Kritzer (Short Story, Clarkesworld): Naomi Kritzer is one of a handful of writers whose writing style really meshes with the way my mind works, so I’m always excited to see another story published by her.  This one is a slice out of the life of a young woman who has been disowned by her parents, as she considers how to spend her last day before an asteroid might strike the Earth.  Despite the grim subject, I found it to be a pretty positive story.

Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee (Novelette, At some point, I promise I will put up my review Ninefox Gambit.  Having read it, I was pleased to see this prequel story about Shuos Jedao. In the novel, he is a very important character, but his life and era have long since ended.  I enjoyed seeing this bit of occasionally humorous insight into Jedao’s life and the forces that shaped his personality, before he becomes the dangerous ghost of Ninefox Gambit.

Rising Star by Stephen Graham Jones (Short Story, Uncanny): As a scientist myself, I appreciate a clever fictional grant proposal or paper.  This one is a grant proposal for a time travel project, and I have to say they made their case very convincingly.

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.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, Part 3

Welcome to week three of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Curse, book eight of Kushiel’s Legacy.  This week’s questions were provided by Susan of Dab of Darkness, and they cover chapters 33-47.  Beware of spoilers through these chapters in the questions and answers below!

1) What stood out to you for Moirin's baptising ceremony? Have you ever been through such a religious ceremony and did it go as you expected?

I really hated that she was forced into pretending a faith she did not have, just to avoid execution.  I also feel like the Maghuin Dhon and Yeshua should have a loophole about oaths made under duress, regarding her later troubles. On the other hand, I appreciated that the novel made it clear that these ceremonies would not have truly made Moirin a believer.  The important bit was that quiet moment earlier, where she personally decided whether or not to accept Yeshua as her savior.

Regarding the second question, I was baptized when I accepted the Christian faith.  It went pretty much as expected.  My denomination practices immersive baptism, so it was done in a small pool with myself and the pastor.  The baptism itself is intended as a symbolic death and resurrection to a new life with Christ, and also as a public declaration of faith.  No one pressured or coerced me into my faith; it was a choice freely made!  
2) Now Moirin and Aleksei are free. Aleksei has much to learn not just about Moirin but also about the larger world. What moment do you think challenged his ingrained beliefs the most? What do you think he will do ultimately with his life?

I think one of the most defined shifts he had was when he realized that his feelings and his genetic heritage did not mark him as an evil person.  His uncle tried so hard to instill undeserved shame in him, and I think Moirin’s words helped him see that this was not God’s will. I liked that he did not suddenly reject everything he believed.  He only rejected that of his uncle’s teachings that did not ring true when compared with his understanding of Yeshua.  I expect, given his d’Angeline charisma, that he will be a great leader in his faith.  I am glad he has concluded that this future cannot be with Moirin, because they really aren’t suited for one another in the long-term.
3) There comes a moment when Moirin realizes that she did come to love Aleksei, in a way, and that's the same moment she knows she will not see him again. Naamah's curse indeed! Have you had such a moment yourself? Do you think this curse also applies now to Moirin's love of the departed Jehane?

Moirin, like Phedre, has a lot of love in her heart, and I am glad there is a little corner in there for her memories of Aleksei.  I’m delighted that Aleksei did not tragically die, and at least they may see one another again in the world someday.  I would say the curse is simply that humans are capable of a great depth of love, and that this means we will hurt all the more when we’re inevitably parted by death or circumstances.  I would say this applies not only to romance, but also to love for family and friends.  In that sense, I think we all eventually feel that pain.

4) Falcons and spiders and rats, oh my! What stood out the most for you in Moirin meeting up again with Erdene, Bao's wife? And what do you expect Moirin will find as she heads towards the Falconer with his Spider Queen?

This sounds like a fairy tale!  I hope Moirin is kind to everyone she meets, so that she has plenty of magical allies! I’m guessing that Bao’s half-diadh-anam is burning low because he is a mind-controlled assassin right now.  I expect he will face a conflict where he must rely on his love for Moirin to overcome the Spider Queen’s dominating power.

Other Things:

--Did Aleksei remind anyone of Joscelin in this section?  I am remembering Joscelin’s strict discipline, and his shock with Phedre’s behavior.  

--I think it’s a bit unfair that Aleksei says Moirin didn’t hesitate.  She really did! She warned him, and then waited to see if he would back down.  It’s not like she shot an arrow at him on sight.

--I’m glad Moirin got her stuff back.  Erdene seems to be a kind woman, especially after all Bao has put her through.