This took me a long time to finish, and I’m not entirely sure why. There’s a lot I love about it — the diversity, the bonds between the characters, the fact that it’s so driven by female characters (in both positive and negative ways), the way things aren’t just simple right and wrong. I mean, Kadeja and Leoden are undeniably pretty evil, which does undermine me saying that somewhat, but Yasha raises doubts at times as well. She’s on the side of the “good” characters, but I’m not convinced she’s always acting for the good of everyone — for interesting character reasons. I love what the book says about grief and healing and love.
On the surface, the intrigue and adventure and the friendships and alliances between the characters should’ve been enough to keep me hooked, and the writing doesn’t throw up some huge barrier or anything. I can’t put my finger on what kept me equivocating about the book, or what kept me from loving it enough that I just consumed it in a rush as I’m completely capable of doing. Something just didn’t work for me.
Which leaves me somewhat surprised that the ending leaves me curious and interested enough that I might just have to pick up the next book right away. Partly that’s because I want a bad thing not to have happened (and it’s a world with magic, so surely there’s a chance), and partly it’s because that ending is pretty interesting in terms of what it sets up (though I find myself largely unsurprised by it).
It’s been a long time since I read this — longer than I thought, in fact, and I’ve come to the conclusion I must have read it originally as a very young teen. I’m not sure how well I really took it on board, then: I wasn’t as much into the kind of cerebral, considering, anthropological fiction that Ursula Le Guin did so beautifully. Granted, I was excited about Sutty being a lesbian, and I found aspects of the world interesting, but I really wasn’t ready to enter into the spirit of the teaching. I was more worried about the man who walked up into thin air than about the tradition he was part of — which fortunately, the POV character never does lose sight of.
Now, well, the love of books and the desire to save a lost language and lost ways of being hits a lot closer to home. (Partially through knowing, for example, about the Welsh Not and the Treachery of the Blue Books — knowing that Welsh history, language and culture have been lost through the feeling that they were not civilised, not focused toward advancement.) I’d completely forgotten the ending and what Yara does to reconcile his conflicting loyalties, but now I’m not sure I can get the image out of my head.
It’s beautifully written — of course, it’s Le Guin — and though Sutty as a character is a bit passive at times, when you know what you’re in for there’s a lot of beauty in Le Guin’s work, in the quiet spaces around her words (“to hear, one must be silent”, after all) that let the imagination breathe.
This one sounds pretty exciting: queer retelling of The Little Mermaid, with Ursula as the heroine, including a Norse warrior girl and visits from the god Loki. There was a lot to like about this: I enjoyed the strength of Ersel’s relationship with her mother, and the complicatedness of her relationship with her friend. Loki’s character is also rather enjoyable: they’re genderfluid, and a true trickster: you’re never quite sure what they want and why.
Ultimately, it did feel a little thin to me at times, though, and the general background of misogyny and nastiness toward the female merpeople was a little unbearable to read. Not that I’d expected pure sunshine and puppies, but I wasn’t quite ready for the torture and enforced pregnancies, etc, etc. I could’ve done with more development of the relationship between Ersel and Ragna, too: it started well, but I found myself wondering how well they really knew each other at all, how likely it would be for their bond to actually be stable and lasting, given all the differences between them and the slenderness of their acquaintance.
So, an interesting retelling, but not in the end my thing.
In the end, this seemed to be rather more about Emmett chasing the tragedy of Ben and Tom than about Ben and Tom themselves. A queer time travelling couple as the mover for another dude’s life angst, yay? Also, Bury Your Gays. If I think about it in terms of rep, it isn’t great: Ben and Tom’s love might be strong and they might work at it to find each other across all the different times, but a lot goes unexplained (like how they get separated, and why they always end up in war zones), but it isn’t really about them. It’s about Emmett, and the twist at the end did not surprise me (or indeed feel like a twist) — but nor did it quite feel like it followed on logically.
It’s well-enough written (though the chapters in Tom’s point of view could do with being slightly more different in order to distinguish the narrative voices), and there are some very poignant moments between Tom and Ben, but… they’re mostly the backdrop to another dude’s story, including featuring his pointless and unfulfilling relationship with a woman, who he meets because he’s looking for evidence about Tom and Ben.
I was kind of excited about this one, but it sucks that Tom and Ben were the sideshow in a love story ostensibly about them.
I might not like Mokoya as much as I came to like Akeha, but I did really enjoy getting to spend more time in this world and especially the character of Rider, who didn’t appear in the previous book. This is set after The Black Tides of Heaven, and deals with some of the fallout from what happens there. Mokoya’s grief and anger and failure to deal with everything is well done, though sometimes her husband seemed a little too good to be true. Who’s that understanding? Well, somebody I’d like to know — it just about worked.
There’s also a lot more of the magic, which is pretty fascinating, and I’d love to know more about where Rider came from and what that place is like. There’s so much hinted at and left to explore — I hope the next novella takes us somewhere new again!
I know that these are supposed to be stand-alone novellas, but honestly I would start with this one anyway. I didn’t like Akeha at first — they were so possessive of their twin, so reluctant to admit that maybe they’re not absolutely identical in the end, and I didn’t agree with his decision to stay away from Mokoya for so long. But nonetheless, as Akeha started to claim his own identity — first identifying as male, then going travelling, etc — I started to root for him, and in the end I was a little disappointed that this mostly felt like set-up for the second novella.
It’s a good introduction to the world, anyway, with its various social complexities (like people being genderless before whatever age they decide to declare what they choose, and people not choosing or at least not choosing entirely) and the magic. I would like to know more about both — about how the whole situation with choosing your gender and having your body altered magically to match arose, and more about the magic and Mokoya’s part in it.
But also I wish I had more time with Akeha, because I felt like I’d just really got into his story when it ended.
There’s a lot that I found annoying about this book: the allergy to using the word “said” (in one page: smirked, ranted, argued, retorted, started — and not one ‘said’), some of the made-up words and overenthusiastic descriptions of Kerri’s hair being alive, the breaking of the fourth wall… On the other hand, it’s all part of the exuberant pastiche, I think. And mostly it does work, for me anyway: I had a lot of fun. It’s goofy, but it’s pretty much Scooby Doo: of course it is.
For that reason, it’s reasonably predictable if you’ve seen a couple of episodes of classic Scooby Doo (plus maybe the movies like Zombie Island where it turns out that some supernatural stuff is real). Well, except for the Latina heroine, the lesbians, and the fact that one of the four is already dead.
It’s not the best thing I’ve read all year, but it was such solid fun I can’t give it less than four stars. I can understand those who find it too annoying, but for me it just about toed the line.
Throughout reading this, there were basically two major thoughts in my mind: one, why didn’t I read this sooner? And two: fans of Ann Leckie and Becky Chambers are probably the ideal audience (and maybe fans of Yoon Ha Lee, as well). And hurrah! It’s been republished recently, so it’s out there and ready to be picked up by just those people. I can’t quite put my finger on all of the things that reminded me of those authors, but nonetheless, remind me it did (without them being in any way derivative — that’s not what I’m saying).
Worldbuilding? Got it in spades. A unique way of interfacing between ship and crew, two warring empires, a mystery plot that turns out to reflect on the politics quite significantly, overt and perfectly matter of fact queerness… I loved the characters, even though they have their flaws (and I think I’d have liked to see more of Vidar, who kept fading in and out). I loved the way things came together, one question raising other questions while answering things you wouldn’t expect it to answer. And I read it really fast, too: I’d look up and I’d be 50 pages down the line with no real sense of time having passed.
And the ending. So much potential, without the need for more but just… telling you that more is there: the world goes on after you’ve left, as it began before you arrived. I’d love more time with Rafe and Joshim and Rallya; I’ll probably eventually reread this to get that. But the ending in itself is satisfactory and doesn’t, to my mind, leave anything hanging in a bad way.
I’m trying to think if I have criticisms, and really, I don’t. What the hey: I’m going for five stars here.
This is probably my least favourite of the trilogy, though it’s partly down to personal taste: I didn’t enjoy the characters or their dynamic as much. Nathaniel is pretty awesome in his unthinking protectiveness and willingness to help others, but Justin mostly just ticked me off. He does have some redeeming features (particularly his relationship with the kids he looks after), but I still didn’t quite get that relationship.
It’s useful for piecing together the full story begun in An Unseen Attraction (or An Unsuitable Heir if you started with that, like I did!) but it’s not necessary, and personally, I wouldn’t have minded giving it a miss. It’s not a bad story, and there certainly is intensity between the main couple, but they just weren’t the type of characters I really root for.
Really, I don’t know why I took so long to get around to reading this trilogy. As with every other book by Lam I’ve read, the pace is great and tempts me to just sit down and read it in one go… which is more or less what I did with Shadowplay, once I picked it up. I greatly enjoyed the development of Micah and Drystan’s characters in this book, and now I’m fully on board the ship, ready to go down with all hands if necessary. The new characters introduced are fun too, and so is the fact that now they go into stage magic.
The best bit, of course, is that the fantasy setting is expanded by the addition of a character with powers, and some explanations of the Phantom Damselfly’s appearances. Doctor Pozzi makes an appearance, apparently sincere and eager to help Micah, and at the same time we get a this-book-only plot of a duel between magicians (with suitably high stakes of said magicians’ careers, of course).
I’m looking forward to how all this wraps up — the background is starting to become clear, and now I just need to know what happens to Micah in the end…