I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to get through my reread of this book, because I still find it incredibly rich and rewarding. It’s true that it can be problematic in some ways — it exoticises various cultures pretty much as a part of the plot, and it’s practically text that white French people are the best in the world (the most beautiful, the most talented, the most educated) because they’re descended from the equivalent of Jesus. And if you’re not into sex, well, there’s several extensive scenes that include plot-necessary information, and even if you don’t mind the occasional sex scene, S&M might be rather less your thing.
Nonetheless, there’s a deep feeling in the novel and it packs in a lot of action. Sometimes reading it I feel like it could be a trilogy all on its own in the hands of another writer. There’s so much going on with the politics and relationships between people, and the sense of history between nations as well. It’s not just about the kinky sex: there’s a whole complex plot here revealed partly through those scenes.
I still love it, though maybe I’m side-eyeing the exotic Celt and Roma analogues rather more this time.
Received to review via Netgalley; release date 14th February 2017
I’ll probably give anything by Jacqueline Carey a chance. I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan, and I wasn’t really sure if I’d like something retelling The Tempest. But it’s Jacqueline Carey’s work, so I requested it anyway. And… I loved it quite a bit. I wasn’t sure about the narration: honestly, Miranda sounded rather like Phèdre in many ways, and far too mature considering the narration is present tense, even when she’s a small child. I wasn’t sure about Caliban’s narration either, because I’m not a fan of broken English portrayed in fiction — it quite often comes out sounding like mockery.
But all the same, the writing has grace to it, and it’s certainly easy to read and absorb, despite the tendency to thee and thou. (I wish Ariel didn’t say “Oh, la!” like he was from Pride and Prejudice or something, though. It always sounds far too comical for me.)
The relationship between Miranda and Caliban, their tenderness for each other as each helps the other, is well done. The portrayal of Prospero as a somewhat abusive father who sometimes nonetheless shows tenderness for his daughter makes perfect sense, and so does the way his behaviour pushes the two together. Ariel’s capriciousness and ambivalence works, too.
The only problem, really, is that you know how it’s going to end. I found myself hoping all the same that it would end differently — it’s a retelling, after all. But at the same time, there’s always that sense of inevitability: you know what’s going to happen. I don’t think there’s anything revolutionary about this telling, but it humanises Caliban and makes of him much less of a monster, and more of a lover. The ending gave me a lump in my throat: his hope, despite Ariel’s warnings, despite Miranda’s doubts. It’s so tender and naive.
Saints Astray is a fun follow-up to Santa Olivia, following Pilar and Loup as they find a way for themselves in the wider world outside their cordoned off district. Refreshingly, after the ups and downs of their relationship in Santa Olivia, the two are devoted to each other and while they do experience moments of doubt, these are quickly put to rest. Maybe the one thing that did bother me was how many people around Loup turned out to be ‘one in a hundred’s — people attracted to her despite the results of her genetic manipulation, which make her feel unattractive or strange to people. All of a sudden, in this book they’re coming out the woodwork!
Still, for the most part it’s just really fun: Loup and Pilar learn to be bodyguards, and Pilar shows that she’s far from just a pretty face — proving herself well worthy of Loup, if her love and loyalty hadn’t already proven that. They make friends and gain supporters in the outside world… and never forget their friends, whether that be Miguel (who has also escaped) or the kids from the orphanage who grew up alongside them.
The least fun part of this book is Loup’s incarceration, but at least this time she’s treated fairly, and her case triumphs in court, winning new freedoms for her and people like her, and shining a light on what was going on in her border town home. There was hope in Santa Olivia, but Saints Astray is more hopeful yet, full of a kind of optimism that love can win. Not a bad read for the present climate, I think.
Santa Olivia was a reread, but it’s been a while — six (what?!) years, apparently. I never read the sequel, Saints Astray, so between getting that and having bought my sister the books for Christmas, it seemed high time to reread this and get stuck into Saints Astray. It was even more readable than I remembered — I’d have read it in a day if pesky life didn’t keep getting in the way. It takes a whole bunch of ideas — a faintly post-apocalyptic No-Man’s-Land in the Outpost, genetically modified soldiers, werewolves (sort of), boxing, coming of age, vigilantism, vengeance… — and makes a fresh, fun pageturner out of it.
And in case, like my sister, this is a draw for you, the central relationship is between two girls, and they eventually have a shot at a happy ever after.
The background is fairly nondescript, because the action is all confined to the Outpost and the inhabitants know little of what happens beyond the barricades. The important aspect is the characters and the interplay between them: the “orphans”, growing up together and trying out their strength, keeping each other’s secrets and having each others’ backs, and at the same time growing apart because they’re all so different. There’s people being good and people being assholes and people being caught somewhere in between and learning, a little, slowly, how to be better. There’s people being brave and people with no fear at all, and interesting discussions of how that affects each of them. All kinds of human emotions and motivations and tangles: that’s the draw of this story, even if the boxing and vengeance leaves you cold.
My one criticism is that it takes a surprisingly long time for Loup to really become the hero of the story, and she does so for entirely predictable reasons. You can feel those beats in the story coming way in advance. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m growing to wish it wasn’t always tragedy that motivates heroes.
Hmm, this week’s theme is about recommending stuff you like if you like something popular, and I’m never sure about what’s actually popular and what I just know about because I’m in my own little circle. So I’m just going to suggest some readalikes.
If you like N.K. Jemisin, especially The Fifth Season, try Kameron Hurley. Reading the start of The Fifth Season, I was so struck that it ‘felt like’ The Mirror Empire.
If you like J.R.R. Tolkien, particularly in The Lord of the Rings mode, try Poul Anderson. He was also one of the founding writers of SF/F, and dug into a lot of the same material that influenced Tolkien.
If you like Raymond Chandler, try Chris F. Holm. Mostly if you like SF/F as well, because the Collector series is a lot of fun, and riffs on Chandler and Hammett’s style and plots. But The Killing Kind is also great.
If you like Jacqueline Carey, particularly the Kushiel books, try Freda Warrington, starting with A Taste of Blood Wine. There’s a similar lushness there in the language and style.
If you like Ilona Andrews, try Jacqueline Carey! She has written some urban fantasy type stuff with the Agent of Hel trilogy, which is now complete.
If you like Catherynne M. Valente, try Patricia McKillip — or the other way round, both being differently famous depending on your circles. The lyrical writing and some of the themes seem akin.
If you like any books at all, try Jo Walton. She’s written in a whole range of genres, but mostly I’m thinking of the fantasy/coming of age story, Among Others. If you’re in love with books, you’ll have something in common with Mori.
If you like Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, try Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. Also has LGBT themes, in a more fantastical world. Never seems to get the love I’d like to see for it!
If you like epic fantasy, of whatever stripe, try Tad Williams. I really enjoyed the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books, and though they stick quite close to a traditional fantasy mould, they had a lot there that I appreciated, especially by way of characters.
If you like Gail Carriger, try Genevieve Cogman. The tone is less silly, but some of the same enthusiasm and tone is there.
I’ll be interested to see what other people are recommending here! I found this one difficult, because I’m never sure how to judge other people’s taste.
This week’s theme is auto-buy authors! I think I did this topic the last time it came round, but these things are prone to change. It’ll be interesting after I’ve made the list to look for the old one!
Scott Lynch. Even seeing a short story of his is in a collection is enough to prompt me to at least consider picking it up.
J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure he’d even approve of the state of the stuff Christopher Tolkien is putting out for him is in, but I will always be fascinated with every word the guy wrote.
Jo Walton. If I can’t get the ARCs, at least… Jo is my friend as well as a favourite author.
N.K. Jemisin. I think I knew she’d be an auto-buy author from the first page of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Jacqueline Carey. I’ve seen her deal with stuff I wouldn’t be that interested in ably, in a way that comes out fun. Yeah, I’ll buy anything.
Guy Gavriel Kay. Person most likely to make me cry at his work, except possibly Jo.
Garth Nix. I haven’t even read all his backlist yet.
Patricia A. McKillip. It took me a while to get into some of her books, but I think I’m securely hooked now. I’m glad there’s still a whole bunch of backlist titles I haven’t got to yet.
Neil Gaiman. Okay, I’m not 100% a fan of everything the man says, and the title of his latest collection of short stories didn’t work for me, but if he writes a book, I’ll probably get it. Maybe not immediately. But in the end.
Rainbow Rowell. It surprised me, but I just preordered Carry On and realised that yeah, I probably will automatically buy anything by her. Something about her style just… works for me.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “ten authors I really want to meet”. Now, I’ve actually been lucky and met a fair few authors I love — Jo Walton, Robin Hobb, Alastair Reynolds… But I’m sure I can come up with ten more.
Ursula Le Guin. And nobody is at all surprised. Not even a little.
Patricia McKillip. I know very little about her as a person, but her writing is awesome.
J.R.R. Tolkien. I mean, not as a zombie or anything, but if I could go back in time. Attend one of his lectures maybe?
Hazel Edwards. She wrote There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. Obvious.
Cherie Priest. She seems cool, I want to pet her dog, and I like her on Twitter.
N.K. Jemisin. Granted, I’d probably just babble quietly, but that’s the same with anyone I admire.
Robin Hobb. Again. I was fourteen at the time, after all.
Jacqueline Carey. Sign all my books. All of them.
Guy Gavriel Kay. Ditto.
Susan Cooper. The first thing I move into a new house is my copy of The Dark is Rising sequence, and I’m not even kidding about that. It goes in the first box or bag to enter the new place, and gets put on the shelf symbolically before anything else.
So, uh, yeah. I could probably think of more, but I’d better stop daydreaming now…
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “ten books for readers who like _____”. I’m gonna go with epic fantasy, since I do love a good epic fantasy and it can be difficult to find ones that are to your taste. I’m going to assume that Tolkien’s work is a given, in this category…
Poul Anderson. He did a lot of sci-fi stuff, but also some fantasies. I love The Broken Sword (I posted my old review as one of my Flashback Friday posts here) and Three Hearts and Three Lions. This is fantasy that isn’t directly affected by Tolkien, so it doesn’t have all the same aesthetics — but The Broken Sword in particular draws on some of the same sources, and has some of the same interests. The poetry, for example, in The Broken Sword — there’s definitely comparisons there with the way Tolkien used verse.
David Eddings. No, okay, I know all his series are basically the same stories and characters recycled, so I’d only recommend reading one. But for brain candy, I do like a bit of Eddings. Personally, I would go with The Diamond Throne et al. I think Sparhawk was my introduction to Eddings, and I still have affection for those books.
Jacqueline Carey. Specifically Banewreaker and Godslayer for a flipped around version of The Lord of the Rings, something that goes into a lot of shades of grey and finds that few people are irredeemable, and that there’s more than one side to any story. If you like court politics more, then Kushiel’s Dart is more likely to be your speed. (And she’s even written some urban fantasy more recently, too.)
N.K. Jemisin. I liked her more recent duology, but it was the Inheritance Trilogy that really hooked me. Court politics, gods and men. And women. Interesting mythology, various different perspectives, and it’s not a multi-volume epic. Each book doesn’t stand completely alone, but one level of the plot is certainly accessible without reading the other books. Lots of interesting narrative voices, too.
Raymond E. Feist. This is a case of a multi-volume epic. I’ve never read them all, but I do love his Riftwar Saga. It’s something I want to come back to. I fell for so many of the characters and ideas, and this is a case where there is a ferocious amount of world-building. You’re never gonna go off the edge of Feist’s maps and find the writer’s forgotten to account for the world outside his tightly controlled setting.
Robin Hobb. So many characters to love and to hate. I’m not at all sure what I think of the Soldier Son trilogy — there were some persistent themes in them that I just didn’t like — but the Farseer books are great. Assassins, quests, dragons, magic, animals, politics… It has a little bit of so many things that I love, with a convincing narrative voice too.
Steven Erikson. Willful Childwas really disappointing to me, but I loved Gardens of the Moon, and I can’t wait to dig into the rest of the books. And this is another of those wide worlds with lots to dig your teeth into.
Tad Williams. The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books are awesome. I started reading them and thought it all fairly typical — you know, kitchen boy is probably going to turn out to be a hero, etc, etc. I was probably reminded of David Eddings, actually. But there’s a lot of world building, a lot of other characters to love, and I found it all so compelling that I read all four massive volumes in less than a week.
Scott Lynch. I hardly need to say this, do I? The Lies of Locke Lamora is great; the world the books take place in is rich and full of wonder (things the characters wonder at, and things that the readers wonder at while the characters take them for granted). “High” fantasy? Maybe not; we’re not dealing in princes and kings, nor even kitchen boys who turn out to be knights, just a bunch of orphans from the streets who turn out to be real good at scamming people. But there’s epic background.
Guy Gavriel Kay. Particularly the Fionavar Tapestry books, which seem like a synthesis of so much else from the genre. There’s hints of Stephen Donaldson, Tolkien, Anderson, so on. These were his first books, but he was already very powerful with the details of character and relationship. Tigana is also highly recommended, and stands completely alone, with all the politics and magic you could wish for.
I thought I’d find this week’s hard, but actually, I quite enjoyed doing this. Let me know what you think — and let me know what you’ve posted about!
This week’s topic from The Broke and the Bookish is a great one: top ten heroines. Let’s see…
Yeine, from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Seriously, seriously kickass lady who navigates politics, would prefer a fair fight, and becomes a goddess. Why not?
Tenar, from The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin. That was always my favourite book of the bunch. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Tenar is strong in a way that has nothing to do with physical strength.
Mori, from Among Others by Jo Walton. Because she’s quite a lot like me, only she really can see fairies and she has a streak of pragmatism I could really use.
Harriet Vane, from the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers. Bit of a change of pace from the first three, being a different genre. But she’s a woman in a man’s world, pursuing both writing and academia, a strong woman who knows her own mind and sticks to her principles. But at the same time, she’s not perfect: she snarls at Peter, she’s unfair, etc, etc.
Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, from Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. If there’s anything that can hold her back, I don’t know what it is. She’s gorgeous, she’s a spy, she manipulates politics and gets involved in all kinds of stuff on behalf of her country.
Katherine Talbert, from The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. Even if she doesn’t want to learn to fight at first.
Ki, from Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm. Practical, determined, fierce, and good to her animals, to her friends.
Caitrin, from Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. She doesn’t seem like she’s going to be a strong person at first, yet she learns to face her fears — without it ever seeming too easy.
Mirasol, from Chalice by Robin McKinley. She’s thrown in at the deep end, with very little gratefulness or support from those around her, and she pushes through it to do whatever she has to do.
Csethiro Celedin, from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. She basically says that if anyone hurts Maia she’ll duel them and gut them. Like!
I’m gonna have to look at loads of posts on this one, because stories with good heroines are definitely of interest to me!