Throne of Glass #5: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 2 February, 2019

This book could be summed up as “You get a fey prince! And you get a fey prince! Everybody gets a fey prince!”

Nearly every important character gets matched up, and most of them get to bone. A lot. And the boning is.. eeeeeeh. It’s all about territorial marking and angry sex and wrecking beaches because the characters lose control of their powers while orgasming, and it really isn’t my thing at all.

Given that the sex scenes did nothing for me, getting through so many of them was a bit of a slog. Especially in a series that seems to have saved it up only to dump all of the sex out in one go.

I don’t know how much of the series Maas planned out when writing Throne of Glass, but this book has a whole bunch of Big Revelations. A lot of them work, and those are quite satisfying when they answer some mystery that’s been sitting in the background since the very beginning. Some, though, do feel like clunky retcon. There’s also more use of the “Aelin was secretly solving all the problems without telling anyone and while acting as though the problems were not being solved at all” plot device which is dangerous, to say the least. Sometimes, it results in a triumphant showing of her hands, as in the ending to Queen of Shadows. Sometimes, though, it reads like Maas wrote herself into a corner, and gave Aelin the deus ex machina trump card to get out of it.

Elide continues to be my favourite character. She’s so outgunned by everyone on Team Aelin, and yet she continues to hold her own. I even quite like her relationship with Lorcan. I’m not a huge fan of how Maas writes romance, but theirs works for me the best. And while she and Manon don’t get a lot of time together, their relationship continues to be one of my favourite aspects of the story.

Manon is still fantastic, and I even really like her with Dorian – as long as they aren’t having sex. As soon as they have sex, it’s all gross and angry and talking about what they could do with chains, and it just doesn’t seem to fit a relationship that is otherwise founded on mutual mercy.

A whole bunch of characters show up for the first time with obvious histories, which I assume were covered in the prequels. Having not read the prequels, I still never felt lost. The sudden influx of allies didn’t feel cheap, either, since there have been enough hints of Aelin’s past for these pre-existing relationships to be plausible.

There are still some repetition issues – everyone keeps either purring their statements, or saying them “too quietly” – but it’s still never as bad as it got in Heir of Fire.

More books in the Throne of Glass series:

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Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

Read: 5 January, 2019

Rather than Urban Fantasy, it might make more sense to call this Urban Mythology. The world of Dreams Underfoot is one where the city is a living ecosystem of magical creatures.

I had read that ‘Nathan Burgoine was inspired by Charles de Lint, and I can absolutely see the connection. Both tell stories of urban magic and found family, and of people that have historically been outsiders coming together to form a new community within a city environment. Both also make magic of art.

There is rape and child abuse in Dreams Underfoot, which is something I really don’t enjoy. However, I did like that de Lint usually used these stories in the victims own character arc, with her being the protagonist of her own story, rather than using it to motivate someone else. Not only that, but victimhood is one part of these characters, not a backstory used in place of a personality. One story, that doesn’t end particularly well, has five (and then six) victims coming together to support each other, to create art, and to help others in similar situations. It’s an exploration of victimhood that does a lot more justice to its characters than I normally see, and I appreciate that.

Throne of Glass #4: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 15 December, 2018

I’ve passed the series halfway mark and the books just keep getting longer! But while Heir of Fire felt unearned – the characters staying in a holding pattern through much of the book’s length – Queen of Shadows justifies its pages. 

Things I liked:
-Manon’s discovery of her inner humanity was interesting and heartfelt. While her interactions with Abraxos were the saving grace of HoF, it was her relationship with Elide that really made her narrative in QoS.

-Speaking of Elide, she’s just great. She’s a complex character, and her journey is an interesting one.

-Aelin gets some really badass moments in this book. Like, reallybadass.

-Aelin’s scheming. We get to hear a lot about how she’s such a great assassin in the previous books, but her rescue of Aedion was the first time I actually bought into the hype. Especially later on, when we find out the additional layers of that plan. 

-I’ve been a huge fan of Chaol’s devotion to Dorian. Intimate male friendships do not get enough love. In fact, I’d throw in friendships in general, because Aelin and Lysandra is a great relationship, too.

-Lysandra. Just, Lysandra. Even without powers, she’s badass and amazing. With powers, she’s magnificent. 

-The twist ending.

Things I didn’t like:
-Nesryn seems like she has potential as a character, but also feels like she was only added as a consolation prize for Chaol. I hope more gets done with her as the series continues, but this book certainly lets her down. 

-The way Chaol acts toward Aelin is annoying. I get what Maas was going for, and his reaction does make sense – especially when he questions the wisdom of a mageocracy. However, because we spend so little time with him, and spend so much time with Aelin, he just comes off as unreasonable and whiny. I’m not surprised that so many people were really angry with how this book treated him.

-The number of endings. QoS totally pulls a Lord of the Rings by giving us a fantastic ending, a nice fade-to-black, and then kicking right up again with another chapter. And another. And another. Each of these endings was great, but there were just too many of them, and my body just can’t process that many climatic tension releases in a row. It’s overwhelming, and it ends up lessening the impact of what should have been excellent triumphant moments. 

I’d put Rowan in a medium category. I’m really not a fan of that feral, aggressive, possessive masculinity. I do like the way Aelin keeps it in check, but not that she has to. 

Overall, I’d say this is my favourite entry in the series so far. It had the most plot, as well as the most interesting plot, and I’m getting pretty invested in how this will all turn out.

More books in the Throne of Glass series:

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Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalists

EDIT: This list was originally published on 23 May, 2013. At that time, I had ready 30/237 of these entries. Now, a mere five years later, that number has grown to 48/237. That’s pretty neat!

NPR did a Science Fiction and Fantasy vote way back in the bygone days of 2011. Of course, late to the party as ever, I’m only just hearing about it!

But it makes for a good challenge if anyone is interested in reading highly esteemed Science Fiction and Fantasy books!

(I’ve been trying to catch up on SF&F classics for a few months now, so I’ve taken the liberty of bolding those works that I’ve read so far.)

  • 1632, by Eric Flint
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
  • The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover
  • The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks
  • Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  • Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
  • Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
  • Armor, by John Steakley
  • The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
  • Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard
  • Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
  • The Belgariad, by David Eddings
  • The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook
  • The Black Jewels Series, by Anne Bishop
  • The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
  • The Callahan’s Series, by Spider Robinson
  • A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
  • The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, by Robert Heinlein
  • Cat’s Cradle , by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Change Series, by S.M. Stirling
  • Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Children Of God, by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
  • The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  • The City And The City, by China Mieville
  • City And The Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  • The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
  • The Coldfire Trilogy, by C.S. Friedman
  • The Commonwealth Saga, by Peter F. Hamilton
  • The Company Wars, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
  • Contact, by Carl Sagan
  • Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
  • The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
  • The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
  • The Day of Triffids, by John Wyndham
  • Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison
  • The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
  • The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr
  • Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
  • The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
  • The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
  • Don’t Bite The Sun, by Tanith Lee
  • Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
  • Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre
  • The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
  • Earth, by David Brin
  • Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart
  • The Eisenhorn Omnibus, by Dan Abnett
  • The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
  • Eon, by Greg Bear
  • The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
  • The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
  • The Faded Sun Trilogy, by C.J. Cherryh
  • Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser Series, by Fritz Leiber
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  • The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
  • The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
  • The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie
  • Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
  • The Foreigner Series, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
  • The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • The Gaea Trilogy, by John Varley
  • The Gap Series, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  • The Gate To Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper
  • Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway
  • The Gormenghast Triology, by Mervyn Peake
  • Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper
  • Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World, by Haruki Murakami
  • The Heechee Saga, by Frederik Pohl
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  • The Hollows Series, by Kim Harrison
  • House Of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
  • The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
  • I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
  • I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
  • The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
  • The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  • A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
  • Kindred, by Octavia Butler
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Kraken, by China Mieville
  • The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
  • Last Call, by Tim Powers
  • The Last Coin, by James P. Blaylock
  • The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, by Mercedes Lackey
  • The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
  • The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
  • The Lensman Series, by E.E. Smith
  • The Liaden Universe Series, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
  • The Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
  • Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler
  • Little, Big, by John Crowley
  • The Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  • Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny
  • The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg
  • Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees
  • The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
  • The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
  • The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Manifold Trilogy, by Stephen Baxter
  • The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
  • Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
  • Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
  • Mindkiller, by Spider Robinson
  • The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
  • Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson
  • More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson
  • Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Newsflesh Triology, by Mira Grant
  • The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F. Hamilton
  • Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith
  • Novels Of The Company, by Kage Baker
  • The Number Of The Beast, by Robert Heinlein
  • Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
  • On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
  • The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
  • Oryx And Crake, by Margaret Atwood
  • The Otherland Tetralogy, by Tad Williams
  • The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
  • Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia Butler
  • The Passage, by Justin Cronin
  • Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
  • Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
  • The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
  • The Pride Of Chanur, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy, by R. Scott Bakker
  • The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  • Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
  • Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Replay, by Ken Grimwood
  • Revelation Space, by Alistair Reynolds
  • Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
  • The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
  • Ringworld, by Larry Niven
  • The Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer
  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Saga Of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May
  • The Saga Of Recluce, by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
  • The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Scar, by China Mieville
  • The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
  • The Shattered Chain Trilogy, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
  • Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge
  • Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
  • Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
  • A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
  • The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis
  • The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Stainless Steel Rat Books, by Harry Harrison
  • Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner
  • The Stand, by Stephen King
  • Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
  • Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
  • Stations Of The Tide, by Michael Swanwick
  • Steel Beach, by John Varley
  • Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
  • Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
  • The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
  • The Swordspoint Trilogy, by Ellen Kushner
  • The Tales of Alvin Maker, by Orson Scott Card
  • The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik
  • The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
  • Tigana , by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein
  • The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  • To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
  • The Troy Trilogy, by David Gemmell
  • Ubik, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Uplift Saga, by David Brin
  • The Valdemar Series, by Mercedes Lackey
  • VALIS, by Philip K. Dick
  • Venus On The Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout/Philip Jose Farmer
  • The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust
  • The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Vurt Trilogy, by Jeff Noon
  • The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
  • Watchmen, by Alan Moore
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams
  • The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak
  • We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
  • When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger
  • Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
  • Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
  • The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • World War Z, by Max Brooks
  • The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison
  • The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon

The Fionavar Tapestry #2: The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay

Read: 2 July, 2016

The adventure continues for our little band of Canadians in Fionavar. When we last left our heroes, they had escaped from Fionavar in order to save Jennifer, then a captive of the generic Dark Lord. Now, they must find a way back in time to save the world where their lives have, finally, become interesting.

Every time I mention to a fantasy fan that I’m reading the Fionavar Tapestry, I get some variation of, “Isn’t Kay just wonderful?” And… I’m just not seeing it. It’s fine, but it’s certainly not great. There are a lot of ideas, but they don’t connect with each other well (the tapestry imagery, for example, is lovely, but it has little impact on the story).

The tone of the writing takes itself far too seriously. It’s going for Tolkienistic heroic myths, but it never comes down from there. Tolkien was able to make it work by more authentically following the mythic form (which includes down time and a bit of humour). The language is at least more consistent now (I had complained that the first book keeps bounding back and forth between modern speech and Ye Olde Heroic Speeche), but it’s done that by making it all bland Ye Olde Heroic Speeche.

There characters seem rather interchangeable. They each have a function, but that seems to be as deep as their individuality goes. Every single one of them is heroic, self-sacrificing, stoic, etc.

Which brings me to the problem with every character being self-sacrificing. They all stumble over each other in their rush to be the one to die for the cause, but Kay is clearly worrying about running out of characters. So as each takes their turn to die heroically, they are swiftly spared by some godly intervention or brand new rule that allows them to be resurrected. By the time we got to an actual death that appears to have stuck, I wasn’t able to care. As it was happening, I assumed that he’ll be resurrected anyway so why does it matter? When the book ends and the character remains dead, the moment has passed and it’s too late for me to feel the weight of the sacrifice.

Though it was established in The Summer Tree that all worlds connect and that Fionavar is an archetype, it didn’t really mean much. Here, Kay introduces King Arthur, who is resurrected in our world and brought to Fionavar where he is known by all. Finally, the idea that all the worlds are connected has some meaning!

Except that it lacked verisimilitude. Where does the history diverge between worlds? Why is Arthur’s true name Arthur, and known as such in Fionavar, when there’s no precedent for Germanic names there? It’s also clear that Jennifer is Guinevere reborn, which dooms here to repeat the Arthurian tragedy, but Arthur is his old self resurrected. The pattern is already broken, so there’s no reason to think that they would be compelled to repeat the pattern. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have an Arthur reborn in Canada, who then conflicts with the Arthur resurrected? Kay has a lot of interesting proto-ideas that he throws into the series, but they rarely feel thought through.

My final complaint is rather unfair: Nearly everything I like in this series was later done a little better with Wheel of Time.

Speaking of which, I’m noticing more and more similarities: The horn that wakes sleeping warriors? The mistrusted society of magic-using women (who are resentful of men in general, and particularly men who use magic)? The tapestry imagery? The people who are reborn versions of ancient people? The trapped Dark Lord who breaks free and wants to destroy all reality (not just this world, but all worlds)? But here, the ideas are hodge-podge. They don’t build on each other to form a cohesive reality. Instead, they all just… coexist. For all his flaws, Jordan did do a much better job in tying them together.

I have one book left, and I’ll read it because I’m a completionist. But I have to say that, so far, I am not impressed. For all the rave reviews this series has gotten (though I did get a few Kay fans to admit that Fionavar is “not his best work), I’m disappointed. There are a lot of interesting ideas, and I could see how they could spark the imagination for someone who hasn’t encountered them elsewhere already, but the series does not hold up.

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The Fionavar Tapestry #1: The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay

Read: 12 June, 2016

Back before I had to be careful to avoid horder status, I would peruse the book section of my local thrift stores and pick up anything with an interesting cover. That’s how I ended up with three copies of The Summer Tree.

Despite circling the book in this way for a few years, it kept getting deprioritized for reading because, as the back cover puts it, it’s “an epic adventure written in the rich tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.” Has a less appealing sentence ever been written?

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy having read that sort of high fantasy. The problem is that I don’t often enjoy the actual reading of it, in the present tense. I love the ideas, I love learning the lore, but it takes itself too seriously. It’s too pretentious.

And The Summer Tree does fall into that trap, but at least it’s only for 323 pages. I can endure anything for 323 pages.

Despite the claim that the book is like Lord of the Rings, I found it reminded me much more of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. Or, perhaps, it would be more proper to say that The Wheel of Time reminded me, retroactively, of The Summer Tree, now that I look up the publication dates. I wouldn’t call plagiarism, but some similarities are rather striking at times.

The tone is a bit of a weird mix. This is a portal fantasy, so you have the high fantasy thees and thous and highfalutin language, and then you get the informal modern speech of the protagonists. It might possibly be funny if the trope hadn’t already been done to death and the rest of the book didn’t take itself so seriously. But as it was, it just felt awkward and jarring. It’s hard to see what Kay might have done differently, though, once he’d locked himself into the portal plot. I think the lesson here is to just avoid the portal plot.

I did have a rough time getting into the book. Part of that might be that I was in a car (and therefore had to keep taking breaks to avoid tossing my cookies all about), part might be that I was just coming down off the very different writing of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Either way, the first fifty or so pages felt like real drudgery. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that these take place in the “real world” (which, in this case, is Toronto). After that, however, I found that the characters grew on me. I was invested in them (well, some of them – enough of them).

It helped that the pacing is consistent, with the exposition mingled with action. Given just how much exposition had to be covered (and covered again, as the protagonists are rarely together and must learn the backstory separately), that’s pretty impressive.

My big complaint about the book is its treatment of women. Of the four named women who are dead before the start of the story, three died for men (one to stop her lover from doing more evil, one out of grief because her loved died, and the third out of grief/shame because her lover was exiled). The fourth’s only function in the story is to be dead so that a male character can have an angsty backstory.

Of the living women, we have a princess and future queen whose only role in the plot is to be tricked into sex in a scene played for comedy. We also have one of the five “real world” characters whose only role seems to be to get kidnapped and tortured by having her body (and, specifically, her nipples) pinched (SPOILERS: and then be raped).

There are a handful of other female characters, but their roles are nearly as passive. They do a few things, make a few decisions, but it is the men who go out and have adventures and fight the baddies and carouse. I lost track of all the women the main male characters have sex with, but the only female characters getting any action are coerced into it.

And it just seems so… unnecessary. What is the point of pushing women to the sidelines like this? Of denying them agency and personality? Of raping and killing them, over and over again, to serve the plot? Maybe these books are a product of their time, or maybe the fantasy genre’s conventions make these nasty attitudes difficult to see and avoid. I don’t know, but it’s frustrating and unappealing to see authors view people like me as not really human, and certainly not capable of being interesting. We are sprinkled in because even Tolkien couldn’t write a world that is completely free of women, but we are the mothers, the lovers, the unruly daughters – our pain matters only insofar as it causes men pain, our struggles matter only insofar as they further men’s interests, our agency matters only insofar as it threatens men. It’s frustrating, and it’s disappointing.

I will read the second book in the trilogy, and I’ll give Kay a chance to fix his thoughtless parroting of tropes when it comes to his female characters. But every book I read like this makes me less inclined to bother with male fantasy authors in future. We can do better.

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Huntress by Malinda Lo

Read: 9 May, 2015

Summer has failed to come, the land is starving, and strange monsters have begun to appear. When an invitation is received from the Fairy Queen, no one thinks it’s a coincidence.

There was so much about this book that I liked, and so much that made me like the idea of the book, but I found that it just fell flat.

For one thing, there’s the non-stock fantasy backdrop (in this case, Lo has created a classical Chinese-inspired culture). It was very refreshing to see, and would have been interesting if it had lasted for more than a few pages. As soon as the initial quest is established, the questing party heads off into the woods, leaving culture behind, and the remainder was indistinguishable from any other fantasy setting (particularly the fairy town, which had absolutely nothing of note to it at all).

The lesbian romance was a draw as well, but its development felt somewhat clunky. By the end, when Taisin had to finally make the choice between her career or her feelings for Kaede, I had trouble caring much. Perhaps because the characters never felt particularly developed.

I had some problems with the ending. (SPOILERS: The whole ending, for example. The “twist” that the Fairy Queen was actually Elowen’s real mother was not only predictable and overdone, it was also utterly uninteresting. I hadn’t been given any reason to care about either character, since they had occupied such a tiny fraction of what had been, essentially, a long walk through the woods punctuated by occasional attacks, that it felt completely unnecessary. To then send Kaede on yet another quest, apparently for no reason other than to add to the page length, felt rather silly.)

Much of the book felt rushed and unpolished. The easiest example would be the baby the travellers met in Ento. As they approach and then enter the home, the baby is first crying, then begins to cry, then is asleep and coos as it wakes. It’s hard to imagine that this sort of thing survived the first edit.

And, of course, there was the POV jumping. It was all over the place. I understand that Lo wasn’t going for a straight Third Person Limited, but the POV would sometimes jump several times a paragraph, and at least a few times I caught it jumping in a single sentence. It was too much, too abrupt, and it added little to the telling.

My final major grip was Lo’s use of the word “for.” Over and over again, we saw the following construction: “So and so did this, for they wanted to.” Two sentences in a row might have the exact same construction. And it was doubly strange because it’s something that I associated with purple prose formality, while much of the narrative tone was more informal. Which, I suppose, is a bonus complaint: the tone-hopping.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it, but I was disappointed by the overall sloppiness of the writing. I’d still recommend it, if only as short, fun read, but with too many shortcomings to really be taken for anything more.

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Quest by Aaron Becker

In our nightly family readings, we’ve been moving on to books with more words and fewer pictures, encouraging our child to use his imagination to “see” what was happening. Quest is the opposite – it’s book with lots of pictures and no words.

We saw (and loved) the same thing in Owly & Wormy, but Quest is a bit different. While Owly & Wormy was something of a graphic novel, with a very defined storyline, Quest is a bit more flexible. The images, of two children brought into a magical land where they must find magical crayons to make a rainbow, are very stimulating to the imagination, and they leave a great deal room for the “reader” to add their own details. Who was the king who gave them their quest? What was wrong in the land before they made the rainbow? Why was the rainbow necessary? None of these things are explained by the book, and my son and I had great fun as I prompted him to come up with answers.

This was also the perfect book at the perfect time, as a bad cold left me without my voice for the last few days. Thankfully, with Quest out from the library, my son was able to take over the “reading” in the evenings.

The images are gorgeous, and full of detail. And, as I said, drawing them with such open ended interpretations was a great choice.

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Wheel of Time #7: A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

Read: 17 February, 2015

I was talking to a friend recently about the pacing of these stories. Like many, he felt that the pace has been progressively slowing down, becoming intolerable (or near enough) around Lord of Chaos. For my own part, I hadn’t really noticed. There’s no question that I can recall a lot more of the specific events from the first book, but I’ve actually enjoyed the pace. I’ve enjoyed plodding through, seeing what micro-adventures the various characters go on, and generally getting to explore this huge world along with them.

Because that’s the really great thing about a massive series like this – we get to see so many places and meet so many people that the world really does feel very large. And I’ve found the world building to be very compelling.

After some discussion, my friend and I concluded that listening to this series on audiobook makes all the difference. When I’m “reading,” I’m also doing the dishes, or the laundry, or playing Minecraft. I’m free to focus when it’s very interesting, and to drift off when nothing much is happening. Were I reading the books in the traditional sense, I think that my tolerance for the pace (and for the quality of the writing) would be much lower.

In this book, we’re seeing the various characters fall into their places – Rand continues his quest to be King Of Everything, Egwene settles in as the Amyrlin of the Little Tower, we see Mat leading his military band, and Elayne and Nynaeve have another side quest.

Unfortunately, only Egwene’s plot line really interested me in this book. Her struggle to take the Amyrlin seat in more than just name showed us a lot of her character, and I found it very well handled.

Rand’s plot line suffered from his emo-ness. He does some stuff, but mostly he just sits around acting like a jerk to everyone and praying that he hasn’t gone mad yet. I can understand that this is where his character is, and I know that we need to see his inner conflicts, but he’s just rather annoying.

Elayne and Nynaeve make some discoveries during their side quest, but their Stuff Happening To Page Number ratio is very poor. And while I normally enjoy their chapters (the petty fighting aside), they are much mired by Mat in his book.

Mat is where it really falls apart for me. He is unbelievable annoying. I see people talking about how “funny” he is, but how is it funny for him to just talk over women, bully women, demean women, humiliate women, harass women, infantilize women, and then, in the few breaks he takes from all that, spend his time complaining about how he just can’t understand why the women around him think that he’s a jerk? His narrative provides no new insight into the inner lives of people who think this way, it merely repeats the horribleness that women have to deal with so frequently, and it’s annoying as hell.

Worse yet, Mat gets raped by a woman in this book. The scenes leading up to the rape are terrifying, yet despite feeling humiliated and taken advantage of, the most Mat is able to consciously express about the experience is how awful it is that he wasn’t the one doing the “chasing.” There’s some indication that Jordan, at least, was aware of how Mat’s own behaviour toward women is reflected by his rape – as when Nynaeve makes a comment to the effect of how he’s getting a “taste of his own medicine” – but it’s all treated in such a light-hearted way, as though the reader is supposed to find his rape and subsequent harassment amusing. I found that whole plot line incredibly disturbing – not just for what happened and Mat’s reaction, but for the way the other characters react to it when they find out.

As with the last book, one of my greatest complaints so far about this series is that Jordan cannot write romance. He seems to view romantic relationships as some sort of battle for dominance in which the female party must learn proper submission and humility.

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Wheel of Time #5: The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan

Read: 28 November, 2014

In The Fires of Heaven, the narrative is largely split between Rand as he returns from the Aiel Waste and Nynaeve’s struggles against Moghedien.

I see that a lot of people didn’t like the focus on Nynaeve. She’s always been rather critical and negative, but she’s been something of a side character, so that she is only experienced through an intermediary. Here, though, we get a whole bunch of pure, unfiltered Nynaeve. That means near constant criticisms of men’s wool-headedness, abject hatred of Juilin’s hat, and her cattiness with Elayne.

Personally, though, I actually appreciated it. Because while Nynaeve is certainly very negative, her character is also growing a great deal through this book. After her victory against Moghedien in the last book, she now has to deal with the fact that a member of the Forsaken has taken notice of her and has a rather big grudge. She tries to deal with her fear and guilt by transforming herself into a meek woman, only to be brought back up by her friends and to realize that she cannot be meek if she is going to do her part to save the world.

Mat Cauthon continues his own transformation. I really didn’t like him when we first met him, but he is turning into one of my favourite characters. His constant cycle of trying to escape from his destiny only to be pulled back against his will is rather hilarious.

The pacing is slow, and I agree with the complaint that it tends to be very slow through most of the book only to suddenly speed up for the climax, making the book feel rather uneven. That said, though, I appreciate how much depth the characters have, and how much they are changed and impacted by their experiences.

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