The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton, Book Review

Following last week’s post for The Just City, I wanted to finish posting my reviews of the series.  I love these books and think they have some important messages to share.

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Rating:  ★★★★1/2

The Just City  was just so beautiful and provided so much food for thought. The Philosopher Kings gives you plenty of things to think about but it does so in a much less obvious way. You have to look a little harder for it, and the focus has shifted. I also missed the dialogues between Simmea and Apollo and Sokrates, and really everyone. There seemed to be much less of that this time.

But it was still an excellent read and very much worth continuing if you enjoyed the first book. There is a lot of focus on religion this go around and I think Walton handled it very smoothly by presenting two ends of the spectrum and one in the middle. The likenesses drawn between Jesus and Apollo especially were very thoughtful. I think some of the other themes here are death, grief and mourning. While there are very few character deaths in The Just City, there are a few big ones in The Philosopher Kings.

Later in the book, Art and its importance in the wide world become a big focus. This is a line of thought I found particularly interesting, and made me recall a debate I had in one of my college classes regarding art. How should art, especially art with historical significance be divided up among the world? Who owns it when the creators are long gone? The debate in college was mostly in regards to the Parthenon’s Marbles, now housed in Britain. On the one hand, it’s fantastic that British/UK citizens and UK tourists, can go there and see a bit of Greece, see a bit of history, learn something, and appreciate the greatness and excellence of people that came thousands of years before us. On the other hand, it really is rather appalling that the Parthenon stands incomplete. Those marbles could bring tourism to Greece and elevate their poor economy. However, what of those people who might never be able to afford to go to Greece and see them? Shouldn’t they have an opportunity to see them somewhere else? Somewhere that might be closer to home? I still don’t have an answer for this that feels sufficient, and I was really delighted to see Walton touch on it here. I live not too far from the Boston Museum of Art which houses Roman mosaics, Egyptian sculptures, and at the time I visited, a touring display of Da Vinci. I am sincerely appreciative of my opportunity to lay my eyes on history like that and likely would never have had the opportunity to see them in my lifetime if they weren’t available in one place so close to home, but aside from the paintings, it also seems destructive. What of the people of Egypt and Rome who can’t look upon those places they came from and see them whole? Is it fair? Is it right?

Sorry- tangent over. I adored Apollo in the first book and I still adored him here. Ficino wasn’t somebody I appreciated enough in the first book but his character in the absence of Sokrates was really able to shine.  Arete was truly a wonderful addition to the book. She was similar to Simmea in some ways and completely different in others and I loved her chapters and seeing her thought process.

This book is much more action oriented then the second. There was rarely a dull moment. I didn’t think the climax could possibly come close to the one in The Just City, but even I was impressed. I absolutely can’t wait for the third book and I’m only sorry I didn’t finish this sooner in the day so I could run to the library and pick it up.

Content Warnings: Talk of rape but no actual rape, and a scene of torture. It isn’t graphic in the way of Stephen King, but it was still pretty tough.

Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan, Illustrated by Fiona Staples

Saga Vol 2 by Brian Vaughan

Rating:  ★★★1/2

I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the first one.

Vol. 2 does a good job of explaining some of Marko’s personal backstory but also explaining how his relationship with Alana started. I think they are so cute together- but I don’t think they have quite as much chemistry as Yorick and 355 did in Y: The Last Man.

We still don’t know why the war started- except that it’s senseless and stupid. I did like the insight we were given into the book Alana loves and it’s writer and what it was all an allegory for.

Things I didn’t like:

Granted, readers of science fiction and fantasy are much more willing to suspend disbelief than perhaps readers of non-fantastical fiction. But there were two things in this book that I was really not willing to believe. (Minor spoilers ahead.) The planet that was an egg that hatched a giant death baby (time suck I think they called it?) in outer space. Secondly, that Lying Cat was ripped into the vacuum of space with no suit and no oxygen, The Will used his lance to save her, with no suit and no oxygen, and did in fact rescue her. I will freely admit I am no scientific expert, but in literally every book I’ve read, every movie I’ve seen- people floating out in space unprotected are pretty much DOA. There’s no heat. There’s no air. I get that this is also a fantasy and there’s magic and some of these species are aliens, but The Will seems human and there is a limit to how far I’m willing to go with this.

Lastly- there are some panels written completely in another language. It seems like a romance or romance based language- but I didn’t understand it and I wasn’t sure why they were included because I got literally nothing from them.  If I had been reading on a kindle or other electronic device and it wasn’t a graphic novel, it probably would have been fine, because translation is easy on an electronic device.  However, I’m not even sure it was an actual language?  I didn’t recognize it as one and I wasn’t going to spend time agonizing over it.  The imagery really didn’t give me any clues because it was clearly a flash back and aside from recognizing Marko I didn’t recognize the other character.

Aside from some odd narrative choices- it was quick and I still enjoyed it for the most part. I will definitely continue with the series.

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Locations I’d Like to Visit

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is places mentioned in books that I’d like to visit.  This is a great prompt for science fiction and fantasy!  I’ll try to keep it brief (no promises).

The Moon as presented in Ian McDonald’s Luna series (starting with New Moon).  The Moon wants to kill you.  But I want to visit it anyway.  In McDonald’s Luna series, the moon is hollowed out to allow room for a huge city in its interior. It has high rises, a city center, dazzling, glittering estates.  I love everything about this setting, except for that part where you can die of poverty, because even oxygen has a price.

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Dolingo in Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.  You’ve probably heard the concept before.  A city built in the trees.  James owned this concept and made it totally his own.  I loved imagining the height of these trees, crossing from tree top to tree top in a “car” on a pulley system.  Can we figure out a way to do it without the slaves in the walls though?

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Isla Nublar in Jurrasic Park by Michael Crichton.  If you’ve been reading this blog even once a month you had to know this was going to end up on here right?  In my dream vacation- I get out before the TRex escapes.

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New Amazonia in Carnival by Elizabeth Bear.  The world Bear has built in Carnival is honestly one of the most creative, most interesting worlds I’ve ever “visited.”  While reading, I fell in love with this world.  It’s a matriarchy (girl power!) where the female leaders carry around swords and wield them like the bad ass women they are. There’s this thing called a House.  You just say what you want and House spits it out of a wall or something. Carpet Plant: The carpet is a plant and I like to be barefoot.  Nuff said.  Your wardrobe is actually full of secret weapons. And no- I don’t mean like the wardrobe you put your clothes into, I mean the wardrobe you wear.  That guy that’s looking at you funny? Brush your sleeve up against him and ZAP! He gets an electric shock.  Can’t say it enough- I love New Amazonia.

The Galactic Court in The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid.  In this book, everyone who’s anyone lives on an intergalactic spaceship.  Planet dwellers are referred to as Excess.  In my review I mentioned that the setting reminded me of the generation ship in the movie Passengers.  I love the idea of glass in space and being surrounded by stars at all times.

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The secret village of the Leopard People as presented by Nnedi Okorafor in Akata Witch. The writing transported me to another place where magic is real and I could see the world through the lens of a child again. Everything felt new and fresh.  A kind of magical currency called Chittim falls out of the sky as you gain wisdom.  There were magical bookstores and familiars and everything you can imagine.

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The colony in Planetfall by Emma Newman.  This world is set on an alien planet complete with bio-architecture and more carpet plant (seriously- I really, really need carpet plant in my life).  All the tools you need are created with 3D printing.  People have a chip in their eye that can do things like call for help, administer pain medication, and transmit messages.

The future as presented by Ada Palmer in Too Like the Lightning.  I realize this is a dead horse that I refuse to stop beating- but the truth is, even if the future isn’t perfect, I think the world Palmer has imagined is a lot better than the one we have.  No place in the globe is more than a couple hours away because transportation is so fast.  Proselytizing is illegal (which I know sounds awful to some people, but sounds great to me).  There’s no such thing as country borders.  You pick the laws you want to live by (black law, grey law, white law).  Wars are a thing of the past.  My kind of future.

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Elizabethan England in Fools in Mortals by Bernard Cornwell.  Honestly- I just want to see Shakespeare performed under his own direction with Will Kemp as his clown.

Middle Earth.  (This needs no further explanation right?)

 

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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Rating:  ★★★

Release Date: March 26, 2019

Preorder Link: A Memory Called Empire

I’m super disappointed to be giving this only three stars (no three stars isn’t bad- I’d just much rather give it four or five). I’m beginning to question whether it’s me or the books. (Disclaimer: This has been an off year for me. It might actually be me.)

I guess I’ll start at the beginning. One of the first pages said something along the lines of: “This is for all those who have ever fallen in love with a culture that was not their own.”

That one line pretty much sums up the whole book. Mahit (our MC) has spent her whole life training to be an ambassador from her home mining outpost (Lsel) to the Teixcalaani Empire. She loves everything about Teixcalaan, their language, their artwork, their holovision programs, their politics and their way of speaking. So when her opportunity to become ambassador finally comes, she’s over the moon with excitement. The only problem is- the previous ambassador is dead, and no one from Teixcalaan will talk about it.

The plot is sort of a murder mystery. I say sort of because the truth of the matter is that Yskander’s death doesn’t feel like it really has anything to do with the overall outcome. I feel like the other pieces of the plot were going to happen regardless if he had died or not.. so yeah. The more I’m thinking about it, the more the plot sort of falls apart as a whole (I mean- I guess he needed to die so Mahit could become ambassador but that’s about it.)

There are plot threads that are incomplete. I don’t want to call them cliffhangers because I didn’t feel like enough tension was built into those parts for me to feel like I’m eagerly waiting the next installment to find out what happened. To be honest- it just feels like a stand alone with threads that went nowhere or Mahit concluded were not necessary to discover.

The characters were fun. I loved the banter between Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. There was a tiny, tiny bit of romance in the book. I almost wished it had more of a focus because I could have totally shipped that pair. Minor romance related spoiler: The ending sort of killed that for me though… It seemed like Three Seagrass and Mahit were just going to go their separate ways which I thought was super sad. Yskander was probably my favorite character in the book although there wasn’t enough of him, and I loved Nineteen Adze. She was presented as a very powerful female character, and I think her story line, and her character, is probably the most interesting and complex in the book.

The tech and the world building were pretty cool. I liked the idea of the Sunlit (like police) being a part of the city and running on algorithms. It was very reminiscent of Leckie’s Imperial Raadch series in that way. I loved the beautiful scenery and imagery that was presented- gardens full of fountains and flowers, statues, and birds fluttering around.

There is another interesting piece concerning the language of Teixcalaan. Some words had double meanings which meant some sentences could be interpreted multiple ways. There’s also a big focus on poetry and drama and sagas told throughout the ages. Poets are very celebrated in this culture.

In the end- there is a lot to like about A Memory Called Empire, I just wish the plot structure had been tighter. I wish it had engaged me more, allowing me to solve the mystery and political intrigue along with Mahit. When I read this I was asking myself- what was the point? Why was this book written? And the answer circles back around to that first line. This is a novel about how one can love their own culture almost as much or more than they love their own and how love of that culture can sometimes make you appreciate your own that much more.

This is labeled as book one, so I’m expecting there to be a sequel (perhaps to wrap up those loose ends). I think I would give it a try. I’m hoping with the debut out of the way, and with me understanding the politics a little better, I would enjoy book two more. It would definitely help if the plot was tightened up a bit.

Thank you to the kind people at Macmillan/Tor and GoodReads who sent me this as part of a giveaway.

Throwback Thursday: The Just City by Jo Walton

In honor of Jo Walton making my hidden gems list not once but twice, with two books from one of my favorite series, I thought it was time for me to post my review of The Just City.  The Thessaly series is a total genre bender- it has elements of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction.  It’s heavy on the philosophy and will leave the reader with lots of things to think about when it’s all over.

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Rating:  ★★★★★

The end of this book moved me to tears because it was so profound and so beautiful and at the end it sort of just smacks you in the face when you realize how very important and relevant it all is.

I picked up The Just City because GoodReads said: hey- you liked Too Like the Lightning, read this! Well- it both is and isn’t like Too Like the Lightning. There is a lot of philosophy involved but I don’t think the plot was even remotely as complex and the philosophy is sort of fed to you rather then engaging you. I don’t mean this as a fault in any way- I’m just saying, it’s different. (This might also have been a difference of reading solo vs reading as a group.)

It starts out sort of slow. By the halfway point I was thinking it was a solid 3 Star book. Then a 4 Star, and it took me all the way to the end to be able to say it’s a 5 Star read. It’s dense. Be patient with it. It’s worth sticking it out.

The premise is this (chapter one spoilers ahead): Apollo is chasing the nymph Daphne and then rather than be raped she prays to Artemis and asks to be turned into a tree. Apollo just can’t believe that anyone would rather be a tree than mate with him so he decides to become a human to find out why. His sister Athene says, well I’m working on a thought experiment, recreating Plato’s Republic. You could go be a human there and figure out why Daphne turned into a tree. So he agrees and the stage is set.

This is largely a character driven novel. All the characters brought something different to the table. Apollo had the knowledge of a god but didn’t understand human struggle. Simmea is a black child from Northern Africa (I know her grandmother is from Libya but the way she phrased it made it seem like she was not) coming to The Just City while she is too young to question the inequalities of the world. Maia is a woman from 19th century England, a world which does not value women who think. And then we have dear Sokrates, who never gets a POV chapter but was always delightful to read.

(I’m going to try and avoid spoilers here but for those of you that don’t want them, I don’t know if I can say what I want to say without revealing some aspects of the book/plot/etc. so read with caution.)

I adored all these characters and their unique perspectives. I enjoyed reading their dialogues with Sokrates and felt Walton did an excellent job of giving them dialogue that would have come from people with their backgrounds. The workers (robots Athene brought from the future) were an excellent literary device to propose the questions Walton wanted us to be asking and truly proved for some thought-provoking reading. What is personhood? Who qualifies? How do you make everyone equal in practice?

Though I suppose the Just City (the city in the book not the book) succeeds in many aspects, it fails in many others. The practice of labeling people: iron, bronze, silver or gold for example is extremely indicative of inequality. Golds pursue art and philosophy and mathematics all day while Irons do all the work. So we have a system that is just based on ability I suppose but by making the city just we have also made it a city of inequalities. Do justice and equality contradict each other? Is it fair to divide people, not on the basis of skin color or sex or sexuality, but on systems of ability? Does the man who is poor at math deserve to be relegated to field work all day? Do the women who don’t succeed at art deserve the job of raising children all day? Is this what they want to do? And how do you reconcile a desire for personal happiness with justice and equality? (This speaks more to the aspects of the novel which touch on eugenics and divisions of labor.)

The more I think about it the deeper it all goes. I would like to add that as an added bonus, Jo Walton thanks Ada Palmer in the Acknowledgements section in regards to help she gave with Plato and philosophy so of course I was giddy with excitement to read that section.

I loved this book. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a read with more substance than action. I’m now off to go see if my library has Thessaly #2 available for download.

Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan; Illustrated by Fiona Staples

Just dropping a quick review in here today.  It’s a graphic novel so I tend to have less to say about those.  I’ve read Brian Vaughan before and I like him quite a bit.  (I read the entire Y: The Last Man series last year and loved it.)

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Rating:  ★★★★

This was pretty good and not at all what I expected. Judging by the cover I had expected something more along the lines of fantasy and instead I got a blend of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The plot is pretty straightforward. Alana and Marko once fought on opposite sides of the war, but they fell in love and defected and are now starting a family. Now both sides want them dead and the baby alive. We follow both them, Prince Robot IV (whose name cracks me up) as he chases them, and another bounty hunter (called freelancer in the book), The Will, as he chases them also.

I loved the different races that were introduced. The Stalker was super cool. I’m also really intrigued by The Will and his story line. He’s a guy with shades of gray even though he’s pretty obviously an antagonist in this book. Alana and Marko’s banter was great and I love that Hazel narrates some scenes.

I do wish we’d been given more information about the war. It just didn’t really make sense to me why the two sides were fighting. One lived on the planet and the other lived on the moon, but it doesn’t sound like they were fighting over resources or anything. It’s just: there was a war and then it started destroying people so they moved it off planet.

Umm….

Okay.

Anyway- the art work was pretty cool and I’ll definitely continue with the series.

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

I’m pretty excited for this week’s list.  Mostly so I can check out lists other than my own (leave me a link below).  To define what we are considering a hidden gem here: it is books with less than 2,000 ratings on GoodReads.  These books are in no particular order.

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The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark – This one is newer.  I think it released in November of last year so having less than 2,000 ratings is not too surprising.  It’s quick, so it’s not a big time commitment and throughly excellent.  You can find my review here.

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Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn – This is has been around for over a year, so I’m a little baffled as to why it doesn’t have more than 2,000 ratings.  I suspect it has something to do with the blurb, which makes it sound highly derivative of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I promise it’s not.  Reading this felt cozy and quaint, and best of all it made me think. My review is here.

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The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer – I am less surprised that this has less than 2,000 ratings.  A lot of my book buddies DNF’d the first book.  Those that continued on were satisfied with the conclusion given in Seven Surrenders, and hesitant to start The Will to Battle before Perhaps the Stars was released.  I can say that The Will to Battle does not end in a massive cliffhanger like Too Like The Lightning, but hope more readers will pick it up when book four is released.  Review can be found here.

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The Moon and the Other by John Kessel – It actually hurts me that this only has 500 ratings on GoodReads because it’s absolutely phenomenal and I think a fairly wide audience could appreciate it.  It was one of my favorite reads last year and you can find my review here.

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Null States by Malka Ann Older – This has only about 700 ratings on GoodReads.  It’s a sequel, so a little less surprising than maybe Bannerless, but still so good!  The first book, Infomocracy was also fantastic so I was surprised more readers didn’t continue on to book two.  The review can be found here.

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Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra – It’s YA, it’s own voices, and it’s about a sisterhood of female assassins.  Everything about this should have been a home run so I’m honestly shocked it only has 1,100 ratings.  I’m blaming the publishers not giving it enough publicity because it’s a great book.  My review for this one is on GoodReads here.

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Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald – I recommend this series to literally anyone who will listen.  It’s inclusive.  It’s fast paced.  The scenery is dazzling.  The world building feels fresh and new and it’s set on the moon.  This review is still hanging out on GoodReads here.  (Also- book three releases in March and I’ve already got a buddy read scheduled for it.  I can’t wait!)

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The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt – This one I feel like is also a victim of just not being publicized enough.  It’s set in space.  Has a really cool alien race called Liars (guess what they do?).  A rag tag band of salvagers (read: space pirates), a sweet LGBTQ romance, and a few scenes that give off the ‘creepy dread’ feeling as I like to call it.  I thought the sequel was releasing this spring, but in my fact checking it appears to already be released.  I will definitely check it out.  Review can be found on GoodReads here.

The Philosopher Kings and Necessity by Jo Walton – I adore this series.  I love the Greek mythological elements. I love the blend of science fiction and fantasy. I love the musings of a city full of philosophers and the characters.  TPK only has 1,700 ratings and Necessity has only 1,000 on GoodReads and it should have many more!  Reviews can be found here and here.

 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

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Rating:  ★★★

It has been said, that Tracker has a nose. Other people want Tracker to use that nose to track down missing things, husbands mostly. But then someone asks him to find a boy, but no one will give him a straight answer about why the boy is so important. What he’s wanted for and who wants him. So he gets involved because he’s curious about the truth of things.

I was so excited for this book when I heard about it, that I immediately put it on hold at my library (like 4 months prior to release).  I was first in line.  I picked it up on release day and dove right in, putting aside two other books to commit to this one.  I don’t want to say I’m disappointed- all of the elements I was excited for were there.  African mythology and folklore came in spades.  Varied settings and scenery.  Something new and something fresh.  Black Leopard, Red Wolf has all of those things.

But I don’t know if the story and conclusion I was given, was good enough to outweigh the time and effort I put into reading this to make it feel worth it.  Surely there aren’t enough books like this in the market right now, but I can’t help but think I could have waded through another two or three books with similar elements in the time it took me to read this one.

This is told a lot like a confession. Tracker frequently address the reader as Inquisitor, and it does a really great job of setting up the tone and gives the reader the sense that the book is being told to them out loud. However, I also felt like it made it put far too much emotional distance between the reader and the story itself, and in my opinion it became a detriment to the kind of story being told.

This seems like a good place to mark content warnings, so you might understand what I mean: brutal violence, violence against children, violence against women, slavery, rape, genital mutilation, and general mutilation. This is one of the most violent novels I have read in a long time. When I read Jemisin’s The Fifth Season she had exactly two scenes that I found really disturbing, both involving violence against children.  This book has significantly more and it hardly fazed me. I’m blaming the way the story is told, but I also think it has a lot to do with the way it desensitizes you (maybe that’s the point?).

When you spend 600 pages with a character- you should feel more about them than I did in the end. That’s not to say Tracker isn’t a great character. He is a great character. There were lots of great characters: the Leopard, Sadogo, and most of all Mossi. Someone could write a fascinating thesis on the psychology of Tracker, honestly. And I am really, truly frustrated that I don’t feel more about them than I think I should have. Generally if an author has great characters with great banter (as these often did) that feel human, I’m pretty sold. I don’t really care what they do, and the same was true of this book. I didn’t really care about the boy or what happened to him. In my mind he was sort of an afterthought. (Maybe that’s the problem?) And yet I got to the end and just didn’t feel the impact. I wanted to be ugly crying.  I wanted to feel Tracker’s grief.  Instead I felt a tinge of sadness and moved on.

Aside from that the book was excessively long. Like really fucking long. Like 620 pages long that felt like 1200 pages. On top of length alone it’s really dense. 40 pages chapters are not uncommon. <— This makes me insane. I’d rather you handed me a book with a hundred chapters and 1200 pages than feel like I have to sit and read 40 pages in one go. I often read on my break at work. 15 minutes is not enough time to read one chapter, so I inevitably had to put it down in the middle of something. Not even two breaks was enough to finish one chapter. Sometimes I’d turn a page and the whole page would be one long wall of text that would immediately make my heart sink. So structure was a huge issue for me.  Authors- please stop doing this to your readers.  It’s adding needless frustration.

And aside from length and density, there’s the novel itself which is pretty complex. There’s lots of characters coming and going. It isn’t always made clear who they are and what their purpose is. There are lots of little details to remember. And as if that wasn’t enough there’s tons of circular or riddle-like dialogue that makes the reader feel as if they’ve missed the context.

Other stuff I enjoyed: the scenery and the mythology. I found myself wishing I knew more about African mythology so I could connect to the text in some other way. I think readers with some knowledge of it will go crazy over this book. Every page probably holds some easter egg of information for them. The scenery was set very well (although I think could have been pared back a bit). We see grasslands and jungles, swamps, small villages, big cities. There’s a place called the Darklands which I loved and wished I’d seen more of.

Another thing I loved was the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters. (In fact I think it was one of my favorite things.) Tracker’s examination of his own sexuality/masculinity was an ongoing theme in the book that I found super interesting. [Minor Spoiler]: And then there’s his relationship with Mossi, which has truly become one of my favorite relationships portrayed in literature.  Mossi is the peanut butter to Tracker’s jelly.  When he is introduced he is so badly needed to break up the darkness of this book.  Tracker in general is just in desperate need of a person who cares about him, and Mossi is that guy.

Just figured I’d mention this too: the hardcover edition of this book is super pretty. The paper is a little glossy. The cover is gorgeous. There are multiple maps to look at and appreciate.

In the end, I’m glad I read it, but I’d be hesitant to recommend it to anyone, and I’m hesitant to even commit to the next book. I suspect that this is a story rehashed multiple times by all the characters involved so we can see how their perceptions change things.  I don’t think the plot of this book is strong enough to support being rehashed multiple times and I don’t think the next character’s POV (it looks like it will be Sogolon) is interesting enough to make me want to read it.  It’s a neat concept- but would work better as one book that was maybe 600 pages long.  Certainly not an 1800+ page trilogy.  That said I do want to know what happens, so I’ll probably look up a summary or a spoilery review or two to piece it together.

Throwback Thursday: The Moon and the Other by John Kessel

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Rating:  ★★★★★

Following my Top Ten Tuesday I was reminded of Mira & Carey from The Moon and the Other.  This was up there as one of my favorite reads last year.  It reminds me a lot of Too Like the Lightning.  It asks a lot of philosophical questions, which makes it a great book for discussion.  I hope you’ll check it out!

4.5 stars rounded up to 5. I’ve been dying to get my hands on this since I first heard about it. The size of it kept putting me off because I already felt so far behind on my reading. Though the chapters were long they were broken up by interesting little tidbits- media clips, news reports, interviews, poems, etc. So it’s six hundred pages, but they go by quick.

This is a political science fiction novel set on the moon.  It took until about chapter 5 for me to really become invested in the novel. I was enjoying one story line more than the other but after they fused together I found myself enjoying both equally.

This is ultimately about a single matriarchal colony in a sea of many patriarchal colonies struggling to persist. The patriarchies are calling for reform. Their own citizens are calling for reform. The Board of Matrons fear the reform will bring a return to the violence they once suffered on Earth as a result of male dominance (the book’s justifications- not mine).

There is an ongoing exploration of the differences between men and women, how they lead, how they feel, how they perceive, how they react to others, but also a recognition of differences between individuals regardless of sex. There is an examination of masculinity, what it means, how to define it, it’s effects on men, etc.. Kessel also explores oppression within society and it’s many different forms (and proposes some forms that perhaps you’ve not even thought of). I’m sure there are other themes that I’m missing entirely (some of the other reviews I saw definitely pulled more from it than I did) but these were the ones that struck a chord with me.

Beyond that, we also have a really beautiful and tragic story, perhaps almost Shakespearean or operatic in nature. The characters were flawed and very human feeling. None of them are really heroes and none of them are really villains- they’re just people. The relationships between them were full of ups and downs and highs and lows.

So even if you aren’t interested in the more philosophical questions posed by the book- it’s definitely worth reading for the story alone.

 

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

TGB_JF

Rating:  ★★★1/2

This book was the 2016 winner of Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.  Supposedly- it has the highest score of any self published fantasy to enter the contest (and the book eventually scored a major publishing deal). The easiest way to sum it up is to imagine if Sons of Anarchy was a fantasy told by half-orcs who rode literal hogs.  The language is filthy.  (Lawrence said: “[This is] the filthiest fantasy book [he’s] read.”  That’s pretty high praise coming from him I’d imagine but he’s not wrong.)  There is cussing, dick jokes, fart jokes, sex talk galore.  So if this is not your thing, turn away now.

It is a lot of fun. I can’t fault any of the book for not being fun. The characters, the banter, the action, the language, all of it was fun. I absolutely adored the Jackal and Oats bromance that was going on. Loved old War-boar and Kal’huun. Truly I found something to like about all of them, and that’s pretty rare.

However, I had a lot of issues with this book. First- it is outrageously wordy. I can’t believe that when this was picked up by Penguin/Random House they let it go to print with this many words. It’s over written to the point of being confusing. I had to re-read stuff. In a book like this- which I took lightly and to be pure, mindless entertainment, confusion and re-reading should just not be a thing. I skimmed 90% of a fight scene because it went on for, I kid you not, eight pages. A single fight scene. Between just two half-orcs. You want to write a battle scene that goes on for eight pages?  Knock yourself out.  A single fight scene?  Yeah, no.  I skipped right to the end.  To show what I mean about the wordiness (and I am just opening to a random page here, this is the second sentence):

“Beneath the sunrise, the crumbling buildings composed a carcass, a decrepit pilgrim dead of thirst within reach of water.” (I’m still not sure what this means or why it was necessary.)

ONE SENTENCE LATER:
“The bridge was an ancient construction, yet stood sound while the surrounding buildings of Hisparthan architects slowly fell to rubble, shaming the genius of their Imperial forebears.”  (This is not confusing, there are just too many words.  I could have done without everything that came after rubble.)

Have you ever seen that episode of Friends, where Ross teaches Joey how to use a thesaurus? And the sentence: “They are warm, nice people with big hearts” becomes: “They are humid, prepossessing homo sapiens with oversized aortic pumps.” This entire book reminds me of that scene. With EXTRA FUCKING WORDS.

I just can’t.

So the writing was a huge issue for me. Aside from that- the info dumps. Lord have mercy the fucking info dumps. Chapters and chapters of them.

Listen- I love when an author thinks that much about their world. Really I do. Because it is important. I just don’t want them to tell me about it. I want them to write it all down somewhere, store it in their heads, and then write the book. That way it all comes out naturally, in small unfolding details.

Can I tell you about the orc incursion? Well can I tell you about it again? Oh wait, I told you the wrong version. Let me tell you a third time.   (There was lots of eye-rolling happening on my end whenever the orc incursion came up.)

My third issue came from the plot. I honestly had no idea what it was until the book was mostly done. First I thought it was one thing- then that particular climax came halfway through. It took about 75% for me to have some idea of where the book was headed and to finally be able to cheer the characters on. Everything up until that point felt like a bunch of unrelated events all strung together that our main character was investigating for no reason at all.

Now I know I’ve been pretty harsh. So I’m going to end by saying again that in the end I did have fun.  I’m not sure I liked the ending- but I might check out book two. I’m hoping the presence of a professional editor from the beginning will fix a lot of the issues I had with The Grey Bastards.