Bitter is a prequel to Pet, and it’s slightly unfortunate that some of the important details from Pet have now slipped my mind, because I think that would’ve helped significantly in finding my feet again in the world. Bitter is Jam’s mother, and this covers the period leading to the upheaval that made Lucille such a utopia for Jam. It makes more sense of Bitter’s reactions to Pet, and the world which Jam and Redemption live in.
I didn’t love it as much as I hoped; it felt very topical, particularly when a character loses an eye during a protest, and for the first half of the book seemed mostly to be a chronicling of current events in lightly fictionalised form. Then Bitter finds her magic, and things open up, giving us access to more of the background of Pet: the angels and the takeover of the city.
It’s a really quick read, and I enjoyed the background it gave to Pet, but it didn’t quite speak to me in the same way, even though I fully understood Bitter’s insecurities and fears. Maybe that’s part of why I didn’t get involved as much!
I found this an interesting read more because of what I had resistance to than because of what it said, almost. Much of it is well known to anyone who’s had a course of CBT (yes of course I should turn notifications off on my phone, and of course I don’t because I have unrealistic expectations of how much I should work)… but it’s quite provocative to come out and say it’s due to the “Laziness Lie”, and see every case of “laziness” as something non-lazy.
It’s an easy enough read, and brings together some good points, but it could seriously use fewer anecdotes and more research-based conclusions. It’s sometimes self-contradictory, saying that people are more productive when they take time to rest and then saying at the end that if you take time to rest, you’ll be less productive… which I think is mostly the author not quite connecting dots where they meant to point out that if you’re taking time to rest, you might just find some other priorities arise that you care about more than the work that made you exhausted in the first place.
There are some things it made me think about doing; of course, its conclusions are about the opposite of what I do every day working for an app that helps people commit to their goals, often involving productivity… But mostly I didn’t think it was wrong, just that there’s room for me to find a lot of satisfaction in my job and find some more time to rest. I think it bangs the drum a bit too hard about the joys of not working, and forgets that security is really key too.
I didn’t get into Built at first, since this is not one of my major interests, but once Agrawal began to describe the challenges of levelling the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, I was sucked in. The problems there of subsidence — and uneven subsidence at that — and the history being built on were fascinating to me, and from that point I was all on board.
Agrawal explains things well, and has included helpful images as well — especially useful for me, as someone who can’t imagine anything. I don’t care enormously about skyscrapers, or bridges, but once I entered into the spirit of thinking of them as problems to be solved, I got interested despite myself. Which is of course part of why I picked this up in the first place!
One quibble would be with the way the book is organised. The chapter titles aren’t very informative, and it all seems to skip around quite a bit — I didn’t see any underlying logic to the organisation of the book.
If you’re familiar with Icelandic sagas, this is probably especially delightful — certainly that familiarity enhanced this book for me, and I’m not sure what I’d have made of it without that background. Tolmie captures something of the rhythm and the language of the sagas (albeit of course in English, but you might be familiar with it even from translations), and the way of thinking.
It all felt so familiar, like surely it must really be part of that tradition, right down to the interpolations by a later Christian author. It’s pretty perfect mimicry, and an enchanting sort of fairytale.
I enjoyed it a lot, and enjoyed the thought she put into how to present the world and choose her words (as evident from the author’s note at the end).
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is the only book of this series which didn’t make me cry, and it felt the least consequential (which is not saying much, perhaps, when the previous books tend not to have galactic significance either). Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, but I do think it’s important to be open-eyed about that going in: in many ways, it’s just about people learning things about themselves. Those people are aliens in a much wider than we’re part of, true, but many elements of the story could be managed the same without being science fiction.
What I do enjoy is that Chambers puts thought into making each alien culture different, though with some rhymes in experiences and histories that give them common ground among the differences. This one features no humans at all, unlike the previous instalments, which was an unexpected delight.
The plot is basically “three stranded travellers and their hosts must get along for a brief period of time despite having reasons to be elsewhere”, and plays the characters and their histories against each other to delve into stuff that’s troubling in previous books (Aeluons and their war-mongering, for instance). At the end, everyone goes on their way safely — but not without having to have a think about themselves and what they’re doing, and where they might be going next.
Guardian Spirits wraps up the plot arc from the first two books beautifully, answering questions from both books and bringing our protagonists to a good place in the process. Of course, given the context, it involves dragging them through a bad place first — though this is primarily due to the outside circumstances, rather than the relationship between them. After finally communicating with each other in the second book, Henry and Vincent are ready to be supportive of each other, and to face pressure without crumbling.
We get a couple of new characters, including a love interest for Lizzie, which is cool. I find myself longing for more of Jo, though!
While I figured things out before the characters did, their blindnesses made sense and didn’t feel frustrating… and like Jordan L. Hawk often has characters communicating badly, with crises leaning on misunderstandings, that was much less the case here. (It’s a pet dislike of mine.) So that was nice too.
Overall, enjoyable end to a trilogy, or a stepping-off point for a longer series. I don’t know if Hawk is planning to write more or not, but if not, I’m okay with that.
The Bone Orchard is a hell of a ride, and it doesn’t give you much to begin with. You get dropped into the world with a bunch of characters who know (or think they know) what they’re doing, what they need to do, and what they want to happen, leaving you picking up the history and details of the situation as you go along. It’s done pretty well, in that the information is there and if you pay attention you’ll get it… but it left me feeling pretty at sea for a while, and a little bit unsure about whether I was having fun.
Mind you, this book is pretty dark and some pretty dreadful things happen, so having fun is probably not the way to put it anyway. There’s a lot of trauma, and a lot of awful things happening — commentaries on trauma, and fault, and colonialism, and abuses of all kinds. The main characters are prostitutes, and one of them has been deliberately made (that’s a thing that can be done here) for the sole purpose of being abused and raped by one of the princes of the land they’re in.
So, yeah, it’s a difficult read at times, and the characters aren’t particularly likeable if that’s the kind of thing that you latch onto — though I did find myself rooting for them, particularly Pain, who has a good heart. Mostly they’re willing to lie and spy and do whatever they must to get their revenge.
I did enjoy the character of the Duchess, about whom I wouldn’t want to say too much and spoil the surprise. The character is very well handled, though, in my opinion.
In the end, it delivered on the promise, for me at least — the slow feed of the information about the world helps you really get hold of things and form your own opinions, not necessarily guided by those of the main characters, and things resolve in a satisfyingly dramatic way. Mueller stuck the landing on something that would’ve made me metaphorically chuck the book against the wall in disgust, too — not that I had much doubt about it, based on the way the characters were all positioned, but it was one potential answer to help unpick the knot, and I wasn’t gonna like it if it happened. (Without too many spoilers, I was afraid someone from Charm’s past would become her present, and I did not think they deserved it at all.)
All in all, I couldn’t have put it down without knowing the end, and then the end proved worth it.
If I complained that things were a bit like being back to the status quo after Cibola Burn, this book is the answer to that. I wouldn’t spoil things by saying too much about the details: what I will say is that we get some points of view that have been held back until now, from characters whose voices we’re all keen to hear, and perspectives that we needed more about.
The book effectively splits our dream team up: Holden stays with the Rocinante while she gets repairs, Naomi heads off on personal business, Alex tries to go off to reconcile with his ex-wife, and Amos has a visit to Earth to make. It’s surprising to realise how little time they’ve all spent apart, but it becomes apparent how embedded in each other they’ve each become when they try to leave (if temporarily) and find themselves often out of touch with the others.
If you were itching to learn more about the past of the characters before the Canterbury, this book delivers — but it also changes so many things. Even as someone who generally prefers spoilers, I’d recommend going in blind and letting the punches land square on. Ouch.
Unfortunately for me, Dangerous Spirits features one of my least favourite tropes: the spur of the moment lie that brings all communication into a logjam and eventually splits people apart. I joke about being the relationship advice Dalek (COMM-UN-I-CATE! COMM-UN-I-CATE!) but really, it’s important, and while it’s often interesting to watch how characters and relationships break under the pressure of a lack of communication… it’s difficult for me to read.
That said, I still enjoyed many other things about this book: Henry does take some lessons to heart and grows up a little (in the end), Jo’s still amazing, Lizzie’s still amazing, and we learn more about Lizzie and Vincent’s lives, and see the arc of the trilogy bending along…
It sets things up for a better relationship in the next book, and for the third book to wrap up some of the mysteries and fears that surround the group.
Dangerous to Know really disappointed me: I picked it up and was finding it really enjoyable, having given the Lady Emily series a bit of a break. However, part of why I love the series is Emily’s independence and free thinking, and Colin’s efforts to stifle her feel out of character in their suddenness (he’s been protective before, several times, but not in the sense of flat-out saying “I’m your husband now and you’ll do as I say”).
It was nice to meet Colin’s mother (who wouldn’t approve at all of what he’s doing, I’ll add), and to have Cécile around for much of the story, and I was happy for the return of Sebastian Capet, of course. The cast and mystery remained pretty much what I would expect… it’s just Colin who was disappointing.
I’m giving him one more book to behave himself, since I own the next book, but if he really hasn’t learned his lesson, then I’m moving on from this series. I’m not looking for realism here, at least not to that extent.