ursula: (sheep)
What did you recently finish reading?

Sherman Alexie's memoir, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. It's roughly half poetry, which I hadn't realized. He loops around, retelling family stories with different details and arguing about the interpretation, in a way that actual families do. I actually first encountered Sherman Alexie's writing through his columns for The Stranger about why Stranger readers ought to appreciate basketball. I haven't spent very much time in eastern Washington, where Alexie grew up, but reading his memoir made me miss the Northwest anyway.

I also read two short stories by friends of mine: Metal and Flesh by Marie Vibbert, and Hyddwen by Heather Rose Jones. Marie's short stories tend to be simultaneously cheerful and dire. This one delivers. Hyddwen captures the feel of Welsh legend. Our heroine approaches a typical fairy-tale task with a woman's traditional skills (baking, spinning) and without a host of forest creatures obliged to help. I really admired the way that skill at spinning flax is valorized, as skill with a sword might be in another story.

And I skimmed '"The Language of the Coast Tribes is Half Basque": A Basque-American Indian Pidgin in Use between Europeans and Native Americans in North America, ca. 1540-ca. 1640' by Peter Bakker, which makes a pretty good case for the language development described in its title, and definitely falls into the category of things I wish somebody had told me about years ago.

What are you currently reading?

I'm reading A.M. Dellamonica's Child of a Hidden Sea, which reminds me a little bit of Alis Rasmussen/ Kate Elliott's Labyrinth Gate, on my tablet in the evenings, and Elliott's new novel Buried Heart in snatches on my phone during lunch breaks.

What do you think you'll read next?

I'm hoping to get Choctaw Genesis, 1500-1700 from the university library. (I've encountered a couple of SCA people recently who were interested in Society personas reflecting their Choctaw heritage, so I'm poking around to see what academic resources exist.)


Jun. 29th, 2016 09:04 am
ursula: (Default)

  • What did you recently finish reading?

    Listing back a little ways, since these books are thematically akin:

    Full Fathom Five and Last First Snow by Max Gladstone, Night Flower by Kate Elliott, The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar, and Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks.

    I read the first of Gladstone's Craft books, and found it interesting, but a little too aggressively weird for me to relate to any of the characters. Full Fathom Five, on the other hand, drew me in quite quickly. This could mean that I connect with hopelessly noble finance nerds, or that a postcolonial Polynesian setting is easier for me to deal with than a bunch of skeletons. The book starts out looking as if it's a thinly veiled meditation on the machinations that led to the Great Recession, and ends up being about faith. Recommended.

    Last First Snow is about, variously, war, gentrification, and choosing to be a parent. Heroic efforts mean that a doomed plan results in only about 95% of the expected carnage. Meditations on the nature of manhood & fatherhood aren't a theme that I connect with, particularly; if those themes matter to you, I suspect this book will be fascinating/ gripping/ horrifying. I read it in small increments while moving, and had to rush to finish the last ten percent before my library ebook expired.

    Night Flower continued the colonialism theme, and features another Kate Elliott heroine who is really good at selling fruit. Does not emphasize the horrors of war & its aftermath, which was a nice break.

    I read The Winged Histories in one sitting, on a flight to England. I associate Stranger in Olondria with sobbing in a hostel in Toronto; I didn't quite have tears running down my face on my intercontinental flight, but it was a near thing. My thumbnail description for Stranger in Olondria was 'if Ondaatje wrote fantasy novels'. At WisCon, I went to Samatar's talk on influence; she did indeed namecheck Ondaatje, and read excerpts from War and Peace. If you cross that book with The English Patient and then imagine the protagonist as a teenage girl with a sword, you will have some idea of what reading The Winged Histories feels like.

    I'm not entirely convinced The Winged Histories stuck the ending: it's an astonishingly beautiful doomed moment, but the book is complicated enough that I want to know about the messy things after the last page. I should note, also, that while meditations on fatherhood never quite draw me in, meditations on siblinghood always do. Still thinking about that strand, among many strands.

    Fire Logic felt rather a lot like the Steerswoman books in style; if you thought that that series would've been improved by more women kissing, this is definitely the book for you. Oddly, Karis reminded me of my maternal grandmother.

  • What are you currently reading?

    I started The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman, which like all Ryman books is fascinating, brilliant, and very, very weird. It's also an excruciatingly realistic portrayal of how awful it is to be a teenager. I am not quite ready for another amazing literary novel just now, and may put this aside until I'm ready to stop thinking about The Winged Histories.

  • What do you think you'll read next?

    The new Laundry Files book. I'd hoped to find this while at a conference in England, but was thwarted by the paucity of airport bookstores.

ursula: (sheep)
Recently read: Nine Princes in Amber.
Currently reading: Guns of Avalon.
Up next: Next one in the series, probably.

I actually stumbled on A/N/N/A/R/C/H/I/V/E, read about half of the Amber Diceless RPG rules linked therein, and decided to go back & see what the Amber books looked like, from an adult perspective.

I read Nine Princes in Amber the first time on a rainy day in the library of the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the Oregon coast, when I was about thirteen. I remember wondering why nobody had told me these books existed. I was interested in the world-building, I think, and the propulsive effect of the plot. I don't remember caring about the characters, particularly.

Adult me is struck by how terrible (intentionally) the characters are, and the amount of unintentional privilege conveyed. The sexism is blatant, and the echoes of Earth's colonialist history are likely planned; the casual assumption that the realest people in all of many universes can be distinguished by their pale skin and blue or green eyes is in some ways weirder.

Thirteen-year-old me was irritated by large chunks of the prose. I retain the joke "Blue sky . . . Green sky . . . Dot dot dot . . ." Adult me is interested in the structure, though. There are tales within tales, which reminds me very much of eighteenth-century novels, and a little of medieval romance.
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  • [livejournal.com profile] aelfgyfu is running a Kickstarter for a new glass furnace:


    Rewards include hand-blown medieval drinking glasses and Dalek ornaments.

  • [livejournal.com profile] reasie has a story, Jupiter Wrestlerama, up in Lightspeed. She writes, "The core of the story had always been small-town life, and I made it a story about that." If you like stories about economics, hard choices, and the outer reaches of the solar system, you will like this story.

  • [livejournal.com profile] hrj wrote a book called Daughter of Mystery which I have been pressing on all of my friends who might appreciate a swashbuckling lesbian romance. The magic system is also very interesting. At some point I wrote a list of 'characters who have stuck with me', which divided neatly into independent, imaginative women and absent-minded male scientists. In Daughter of Mystery, women get to be independent, imaginative, and scientifically minded, which, alas, is all too rare. Specifically, the magic in this story is susceptible to careful intellectual (especially linguistic) analysis-- it doesn't just depend on the intensity of characters' emotions, or the power of their specialness-- which I found refreshing.
ursula: (icosahedron)
Justice Calling, an urban fantasy novella by Annie Bellet. This is new-style urban fantasy, with shapeshifters and hot guys (albeit, in this case, not much of an urb: it's set in a fictional small town in Idaho). The sensibility is television-istic: fast pace, witty banter, tragic backstories, and a general tendency to prioritize things that look cool over things that make sense.

An innovative conceit sets this story apart from others in its genre: the heroine uses modern fantasy and science fiction, particularly Dungeons and Dragons, as a frame for understanding her innate magical powers. This is an excuse for lots of nerdy references-- Annie's an old friend, and at times I felt like we were kicking back and reminiscing about campaigns gone by-- but it also makes a lot of sense. Why would someone resort to paging through old tomes, when there are so many ideas about magic readily available?

The conceit makes for some interesting problem-solving on the heroine's part (a Dune reference plays a crucial role in the big showdown, for example). It also offers endless opportunities for readerly metagaming (why hasn't Jade heard of Locate Person?) I want this book to have a fandom so I can argue about it.
ursula: (Default)

  • What did you recently finish reading?

    A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar. If you are interested in fantasy novels about cultures and gods that are not alternate-medieval-European cultures and gods, surely you are also reading this book? In many ways it feels like a late-eighteenth or early-nineteenth century novel, with its layers of stories within the story, but it is self-consciously structured and the prose is self-consciously lush in a way that feels more like the modernist writers. Also, it made me cry.

    More slowly, I read The Seljuks of Anatolia, which is a collection of essays about the Turks who were in Turkey before the Ottomans. There's some very interesting historiography here, about Turkish construction of identity and the information you can glean when faced with a dearth of "traditional" sources. I was particularly interested in an essay on the fluid religious identities of the Anatolian Seljuks (some seem to have been professed both Islam and Christianity depending on context). I was also interested in the titles the Seljuks used, and the way they showed a standard pattern of titles used for less and less important people over time: for instance, 'malik', which I'm used to translating as 'king', clearly means something more like 'prince' in the Seljuk context.

  • What are you currently reading?

    Servant of the Underworld, by Aliette de Bodard. This is a fantasy mystery novel about the Aztecs; it's part of my haul from Bakka Phoenix, an excellent science fiction & fantasy bookstore in Toronto. Before I went there, I started Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope, which is unusual among nineteenth-century novels (and perhaps contemporary ones!) in that its heroine is in her mid-thirties.

  • What do you think you'll read next?

    I also bought a couple of spy novels with fantasy overtones; hypothetically one of these is earmarked for [personal profile] glasseye, so that means The Rook ought to be first.

ursula: (Default)
The tagline for The Twelfth Enchantment is "Jane Austen with magic". Most writers who combine Jane Austen and magic do so because they like Regency romance and fantasy; David Liss usually writes noir-ish detective novels with historical settings, so his take on the premise is non-standard. (I note that many of the Amazon reviews of Twelfth Enchantment boil down to "I'm a big fan of David Liss, but this book has magic and girl cooties, so I don't like it.")

I personally like historical fantasy, but am a bit suspicious of direct Jane Austen tributes. Austen had both an incredible knack for characterization and an intense moral sense, and it's hard for a modern imitator to match either one of those traits, let alone both. Liss's heroine, Lucy, at least notices when she is engaged in ripping giant holes in her reputation about half the time, for which I give her & her creator credit.

Several of the major characters in The Twelfth Enchantment are lifted directly from Jane Austen-- the villain is Lady Catherine de Bourgh by another name, for instance-- and several others are well-known historical figures. Liss's own approach to characterization is more in the mystery tradition, where everyone has a secret motive and might suddenly turn out to have been evil (or good) all along. Lucy spends a lot of time changing her mind about whom to trust and rushing from place to place.

To my mind, The Twelfth Enchantment's closest literary cousins are not Austen at all, but rather Charlotte Brontë's Shirley, with its themes of industrial unrest and Romanticism, together with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The magic in The Twelfth Enchantment, like the magic in Jonathan Strange is a mix of British fairy legends and alchemical lore. Twelfth Enchantment has a genuinely spooky sequence involving a changeling baby, a hilarious bit with a possessed tortoise, and some interesting musings on the ethics of charms. Although the problem is not as carefully worked through as in Jonathan Strange, I think Twelfth Enchantment is making a similar argument about intelligent men who screw things up because their prejudices prevent them from communicating with other people.
ursula: (icosahedron)

  • What are you currently reading?

    Danse de la Folie by Sherwood Smith; [personal profile] sartorias mentioned yesterday that her book was on sale for $.99. It might be still, depending on when you read this! Thus far, it's entertainingly fluffy.

    I'm also reading bits and pieces of an abridged version of Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks, and Fanny Burney's Camilla. Best anecdote from Gregory of Tours thus far: the time when one of the Franks plotted to kill his brother by hiding a bunch of armed men behind a curtain, but the curtain was too short, so the men's feet were visible, and the brother was on guard. Eventually the schemer gave his brother a valuable silver dish to persuade him to go away. Thus far much of the plot of Camilla is driven by her Comically Illiterate Uncle; I tend to find him somewhere on the continuum from embarrassing to horrifying, rather than comic, which makes it slow going.

  • What did you recently finish reading?

    The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West, and The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi.

    The Edwardians was interesting but ultimately a little slight. I am generally astonished that the BBC has not made a miniseries of it. (Also, it's interesting to see attitudes that I'd associated with Heyer-being-historical showing up as upper-class Edwardian attitudes: complaints about the Dower House, for instance. Layers on layers!)

    I had avoided The Quantum Thief based on fears that it might be a bit too surreal for my tastes, but ultimately found it quite satisfying. The cover blurb is from Charles Stross, which makes sense, because Quantum Thief feels a bit like a less aggressively weird cousin of Singularity Sky. (Both involve a fusion of a late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century Revolutionary aesthetic with quantum-AI-super-science.)

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

    I have Thieftaker and Redshirts out from the library, so likely one of those.

ursula: (sheep)
Meme from Book View Cafe.

  • What are you currently reading?

    I am bouncing back and forth between The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay and 1610: A Sundial in the Grave by Mary Gentle. Both are historical fantasies which make many nods to old-fashioned swashbuckling Romance (I mean Romance as in roman, not Romance as in people falling in love, though that happens too). The Lions of al-Rassan is about a thinly disguised version of Moorish Spain, while 1610 is an alternate history which begins with our antihero inadvertently aiding in the assassination of Henri IV. I am finding both books rather slow going, which explains the bouncing.

    I have mixed feelings about Guy Gavriel Kay generally: I hated the Fionavar Tapestry in the way that one can only hate books lent by someone else, but liked his Sarantium books and Under Heaven, although I got tired of the hot-tempered hero with a heart of gold with whom everyone falls in love. I might be impatient with The Lions of al-Rassan because I know the period too well (I don't actually know that much about Moorish Spain specifically, but a semester of medieval Islamic history still unfits me for many fantasy novels). Really, though, I think I'm just tired of heavy-handed foreshadowing. I'm also mildly uneasy about religious and gender stereotypes. In particular, I wish Kay would refrain from inventing female characters who seem cool on paper, and then not letting them contribute to the plot. (Seriously, if your character is a skilled doctor who begins the book by vowing vengeance on a king, why do you let her boyfriend kill the king and her dad perform the impossible surgery?) I also find the small-r romance dull; Flowery and Epic is not really my thing.

    The small-r romance in 1610 is boring me, too, which is really too bad, since a cross-dressing woman with amazing rapier skill ought to suck me right in. Gentle goes in for obnoxious grit, though, and reading about sex from the point of view of someone who's mildly disgusted by it is not much fun. The actual plot is cool, though: scheming mathematician-astrologers try to change history!

  • What did you recently finish reading?

    Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope (fluffy, slight, and also overtly sexist, classist, and anti-Semitic, if you're keeping score), and The Wrong Reflection by Gillian Bradshaw (as soon as you know it's science fiction, the plot is somewhat obvious; but I was surprised and pleased by our heroine's eventual romantic partner.)

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

    I just acquired Nate Silver's book from the library waitlist, so should probably read it quickly and return it.
ursula: (sheep)
Helen is a novel written in the late 1920s; the eponymous character is a girl who is in her late teens when the First World War starts. I found this novel in the library, and wondered why I'd never heard of it. The reason, I think, is that it's casually anti-feminist in a way that has fallen out of fashion. It's cheerfully classist, too, but here it's so dated that to my feckless American eye the assumptions are merely quaint. Helen's clinching argument on gender roles, for instance, is "Can you imagine a man ordering dinner from Cook?" One of her artist friends has a servant to hang drapery for him; other friends, a starving-artist couple, are too poor to reliably buy jam for afternoon toast, but still pay someone to clean their flat twice a week.

Helen's friends are rather fast, but Helen herself is heroically virginal. I forgot to read this with my historical-prudery goggles on, and therefore found the sexual liaison that makes an important plot point rather underwhelming. On the other hand, some of the descriptions of parent/child affection would forebode dire things in a more recent novel, where here they're meant to be sweet: every culture has its own prurient obsessions.

Historically interesting features include young women's war jobs as drivers and nurses (for some reason one only ever hears of the WWII equivalents), the influenza epidemic of 1918 as a plot point, and the way young people are described as "the Moderns". The most satisfying part (to me at least) was the many discussions of how obnoxious it is when people expect public displays of emotion; some of Noel Streatfeild's novels have a similar theme. As early twentieth-century romances involving heroic naïveté and Bohemian artists go, though, I personally prefer E. Nesbit's Incomplete Amorist. For one thing, intensely sentimentalized though they are, it's a little bit easier to believe that Nesbit's starving artists might be starving.
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Do you want any of the following books? I'll mail them to you, in exchange for a postcard. Comment and we'll work out the details. All were purchased new.

Stephen Fry, The Liar

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Effendi

Georgette Heyer, Devil's Cub

Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted Glass

Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey (this one was autographed for a bookstore)
ursula: (sheep)
Dear Internet,

Is Fanny Price really harder to identify with than Emma Woodhouse? Seriously?

Yours, & cetera,
ursula: (Default)
By request of [livejournal.com profile] kid_prufrock.

Meme rules:

Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen fictional characters (television, films, plays, books, games) who've influenced you and who will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

I fail at the "not taking too long" part, but here are fifteen characters, in chronological order by approximate period of influence, starting around age four.

Laura (The Little House books)
Alice (Alice in Wonderland)
Sara Crewe (A Little Princess)
Oswald (The Bastables)
Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride. I thought he was the coolest person ever when I was eight.)

Nan (Witch Week)
Alanna (from the Tamora Pierce books. Yay sex ed?)
Cyrano de Bergerac (yes, me too)
Nazhuret (Lens of the World)
Elinor (Sense and Sensibility)

The author (The Thread: A Mathematical Yarn)
Hideo (A Fisherman of the Inland Sea)
Lawrence Waterhouse (Cryptonomicon)
Stephanie (Still Life, A.S. Byatt)
Charlotte Drummond (Wild Life, Molly Gloss)
ursula: (Default)
Air, by Geoff Ryman
Empress of Mars, by Kage Baker

These are both science fiction novels about women with grown children from oppressed minority groups who start small businesses. I think this is my new favorite mini-genre?

Mae, the heroine of Air, lives in the mountains of Kargistan, a fictional country an awful lot like Kyrgyzstan. She makes money as her village's "fashion expert" by knowing just a little bit more about the fashions of the capital than the rest of the women in her village. At the beginning of the book, a U.N. test of a new system that will link people's minds directly to the Internet goes haywire, and Mae finds herself stuck with the memories of an old woman who remembers when the previous village was destroyed by a flood. Mary, the heroine of Empress of Mars, lives in the mountains of Mars. She was once a xenobotanist, but the British Arean Company fired her when its investment bubble burst, so now she runs a bar.

Air has more literary ambition than Empress of Mars, which makes it more successful when it's working, and more frustrating when it isn't. I liked the political plot strands, with village vs. government vs. rest of the world and ethnic Chinese vs. Turks vs. tribal minorities, and the love stories, with their mix of romance and relentless practicality. I was annoyed by the plot strand involving a medically improbable pregnancy, which seemed to come from the realm of magical realism, rather than from the realm of plausibly-tomorrow.

One of the reviews on the back of my (library) copy of Empress of Mars describes it as space opera, which seems a bit off to me; I'd actually class it as hard science fiction with a sense of humor. I suppose it doesn't indulge in the lengthy "How things work" topoi of classic hard science fiction, but "how to make technological substitutes for bees" and "human biological response to life at high altitude" are significant plot points, and that seems like hard science fiction to me.
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Blackout, Connie Willis.

"Historians" travel in time to World War II. They get stuck.

I put historians in quotation marks because my sense is that the student time-travelers profiled aren't very good historians, in the traditional sense. They're feckless undergraduates (or is it graduate students?) Their projects all boil down to "I want to observe how people feel about being in a war zone." Michael, whose project is "I want to talk to everyday heroes", is perhaps the worst case. He seems to have no sense at all that the concept of "hero" might be socially constructed or change over time, and no particular thesis that on-the-spot observation might support or falsify. If all you want to do is talk to somebody YOU consider heroic, you can spend a couple of weeks shadowing members of your local fire department. If that isn't exotic enough for you, get a grant of a couple of thousand pounds to visit people fighting wildfires in Northern California, or to talk to survivors of a hurricane or an earthquake, or to visit a U.N. refugee camp. It must cost more than a few thousand pounds to send someone back in time, just based on the energy demands of RIPPING A HOLE IN SPACE-TIME, to say nothing of the expense of maintaining a full wardrobe and props department. I want to see the story where a new Dean tries to shut down Oxford's time machine because of its contribution to global warming!
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The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt more or less ate my weekend. It was satisfying; I'm not sure one can say that a book where most of the characters come of age just in time for World War I is enjoyable, exactly. It was also familiar, in several senses.

The easy sense, of course, is that I have read a lot of Byatt. Topics accumulate: the allure of utopian artistic projects, the creepiness of utopian artistic projects, characters looking for satisfying work, unexpected pregnancies, Victorian fairy stories.

I grew up reading E. Nesbit (follower of William Morris, member of the Fabian Society, successful writer for children, obvious counterpart to the fictional Olive Wellwood), and of course my mother was writing her own stories for children. Byatt's Wellwoods are very close to the way I imagined myself as a child, closer than imaginary 1980s children were or are. We grow up different, though-- my sense of direct identity waned as the book went on and the children pursued their own, separate lives. This is one of the things I like most about Byatt, actually, the way her characters can be stuck in a particular emotional whirlpool, and then find themselves somewhere quite different with the passage of time. I am perhaps alone among reviewers of The Children's Book in wishing that the story had been longer, that more of these twists had had time to play out.
ursula: (Default)
The plot of The War Birds by R. M. Meluch (Roc, 1989) makes a lot more sense once you realize that our hero does not, in fact, come from the German planet. He comes from the white South African planet.
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Read recently in quick sequence, since they seemed to fit together: Effendi (Jon Courtenay Grimwood), Stay (Nicola Griffith), and China Mountain Zhang (Maureen F. McHugh, for the third time). The Grimwood and the Griffith have marked parallels: both are second books in a series, both draw on the noir tradition, both have angsty & improbably cool protagonists, and both protagonists bond with smart, standoffish, stubborn little girls. Grimwood ekes out another pass on the Bechdel test, though with less élan than in Pashazade, where he won my affection (despite a rather improbable portrait of Seattle) by having Our Heroine go from the bed of Our Hero to a conversation with the aforesaid brilliant little girl about something else entirely, namely, solving the damn mystery.

Stay was a present, and a good one. It's also a pretty solid alignment test: Aud gets away with murder, and I wish her journalist friend had turned her in.

China Mountain Zhang was . . . surprisingly sweet and romantic the third time round, since I knew when the sad, horrible, ordinary things were coming.
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The Night Watch, Sergei Lukyanenko, on [personal profile] franzeska's recommendation.

My personal ranking of "books called Night Watch" goes Sarah Waters > Sean Stewart > Lukyanenko (I seem to have missed the Pratchett). This could have been predicted beforehand, since the presence of vampires is an automatic minus as far as I've concerned. Here the vampires are somewhat incidental and not sexy, and thus only a small minus. The Lukyanenko is actually closer in concept to Stross's Atrocity Archives. Both books feature young systems administrators who are working for secret bureaucracies concerned with the supernatural, who embark on their first actions in the field, and who fall in love with scholarly young women whom they're recruiting; both books have a linked short-story plot structure. The main differences are in tone: Lukyanenko's hero is less geeky, and is fatalistic in an aggressively Russian way rather than a sarcastically British way.

Oath of Fealty, Elizabeth Moon.

Sequel to the Paksenarrion books, largely focussed on the commanders from her old mercenary company. Lots of stuff about the trials of being a grownup; I give points to Phelan for not wanting to marry someone half his age (I'm betting his wedding ends the third book of this new trilogy). I think I detected a layer of the Society for Creative Anachronism, over the basic D&D bones of this universe; did anyone else have a similar reaction to the actual oath of fealty?
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I was up long past my bedtime last night reading Spirit: The Princess of Bois Dormant (courtesy of amazon.ca, since it's not out in the US yet). The editorial reviews and back cover are misleading, in the sense that blatant Count of Monte Cristo references don't start showing up until halfway through, and at several hundred pages in I have yet to meet the Princess of Bois Dormant. The reviews don't mention that Spirit is a direct sequel to the White Queen books (and also to Life, unless that's convergent evolution); the book also has a handful of Fiorinda references. This makes for some dense, dense worldbuilding to sort out-- I'm not convinced that "Our heroine has two X chromosomes" would make any sense as a plot point on its own, for instance. Spirit also falls into the White Queen tradition of making "You have no idea what the aliens are thinking" a central plot element, this time with shades of horror. (Think Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series crossed with the Long Sun books.) And as we might have expected from Gwyneth Jones, there is angst about motherhood. Really intense angst about motherhood.

I suspect that whether the story is ultimately satisfying will depend on how much of a clue the Princess has about what is actually going on. Intermediate joys involve that dense worldbuilding: our heroine is Welsh/Pakistani (Bibi short for Gwibiwr) and grows up in the central Asian city of Baykonur, her fiancé is named Mahmood McBride and paints his mustache on, and while in other science-fiction novels that kind of ethnic mix works out to a generic paint-water gray, here it is layers and layers and layers of knowledge, and Traditional never means quite what you would expect . . .

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