Review for The Headmaster's Wife, by Jane Haddam

The Headmaster's Wife is the only Gregor Demarkian novel I've read by Ms. Haddam, and I think it'll probably be the last.

Mark, a young teen who thinks he's possibly becoming mentally ill, calls Gregor from his private boarding academy outside Boston to tell him he might have seen a body on campus. And oh, by the way, his roommate hung himself. Gregor, having issues with wanting to investigate any more murders, goes up to Boston thinking he'll just help out the unstable young teen, since the suicide seems pretty solid. But then he gets sucked into campus politics, and campus-town relations, and then someone else dies. Already in place among the town's police, Gregor finds himself solving yet another murder case.

The characters were all very well formed in this book. Dare I say, over-formed? The first chapter introduced a dozen people, bing bang boom, most from their own POV. The result was a bit muddling and overwhelming. Long backgrounds, personality details, philosophical perceptions, previous employers...the list of details went on and on. And not just at the start. Large swaths of this book slowed down to cover furniture, history, historical philosophers, and other details irrelevant to the plot. One spot had a character muse for two pages on an anecdote about a character who wasn't involved in the current story at all. It did make the characters feel more realistic, but in a way I've usually heard advised against: if it's not related to the plot, it doesn't need to be there. I nearly put the book down more than once, so turned off by the blubber.

I don't live on the East Coast, so a lot of the references were lost on me. I don't collect old furniture. I don't use politics as a way of life. I don't live defensively, automatically covering my tracks in case I might get attacked for doing something someone powerful doesn't like. I don't have negative opinions toward poorer people moving into rich people's circles due to hard work. I just couldn't relate to many of the characters in this book, and found myself not caring who the killer was.

I found the title of this book highly misleading, as the only thing spectacular about the headmaster's wife is that she's a sociopath who doesn't get identified as such (I hope the author intended for people to pick up on that: she presents a dozen excellent examples of sociopathy in her character, then has her think fondly of a psychopath and use similar tactics to him, if far less violent). Otherwise, the book isn't really about her, not in the way you think it will be.

On the psychopath: he's a character introduced at the beginning of the book. Yet not until halfway through does anyone seemingly notice or mention his crazy, violent obsessions. Then, suddenly, everyone does. It's like he's two different characters. It made no sense, and artificially postponed the revelation of his psychopathy until a teacher came across a paper by the student, which he hadn't graded yet, in order to reveal a plot detail. What, he hadn't ever assigned any writing to this student, all year? The story takes place in February! I call shenanigans and forced plot density.

The plot itself didn't strike me as very tight. The premise that got Gregor to campus was a little shaky, though presented well through the POV of the self-doubting Mark. However, once Mark's mind cleared enough to think more rationally, no more sense was ever made of the "body in the snow". The repetition of its mysterious circumstances showed up multiple times in the book, and yet never had more detail added to it, until it was fully solved all at once. That happened a lot, the repetition of details. Even the temperature of that first night, nine degrees below zero, must have been said ten times. Was it ever important as nine versus eight or ten? No.

The multiple POVs did help to hide who the killer was. Everyone had a secret, and some were hiding things you didn't expect them to be hiding. There were only a couple of clues as to the identity of the real killer, and they were completely swamped in the myriad other details, most of which were completely irrelevant.

I found myself irritated by the end, in which one murder seems to remain unsolved. The way it was handled left Gregor seemingly apathetic again, and the cops incapable of a five-minute Q&A with the kitchen staff in order to clear it up. There is certainly implication as to who committed that murder, but I didn't see any reason for it not to be looked into. The author just let them get away with it.

The writing in this book is either exceptionally long-winded, repetitive and boring, or it's operating in a meta-level where its very prose addresses and mirrors the rarified atmosphere in which many of its elitist characters seemed to live and breathe. I honestly can't tell, not having read any other books by this author. Either way, I'm disinclined to search further.

2 of 5 stars.

Review for Roots of Murder, by Janis Harrison

A cozy small-town murder mystery centered around flowers. Not really gardening, as the cover states.

Bretta Solomon has recently lost her husband. She runs one of the small town's flower shops with a friend named Lois. When her flower supplier, an Amish man named Isaac, whose brother bought Bretta's family farm in the next town, dies under mysterious circumstances, Bretta is both saddened and alarmed. Isaac's brother, Evan, begs her to find out what happened, and Bretta is pulled into a mystery where half the people involved are Amish, with customs she doesn't understand, and the other half have their own host of secrets.

I loved the characterization in this book. Everyone from Bretta, who can't open the door to her old bedroom she shared with her late husband and face the memories inside, to Leray, the redneck who wants in on the flower industry, to Margaret, the quiet woman who scavenges for pumpkins and subscribes to an Amish magazine to keep in touch with that part of her community, really stood out as unique and individual. I also enjoyed some of the minor characters: Sam, Cecil, Cleome and Lois. Everyone was vivid.

The plot felt a little simple, in regards to what Bretta did to learn who did what, etc. The actual killer and their motive was well done, but it was ridiculously easy to see coming due to some poor foreshadowing. Bubbles' intro into the story felt highly random, and yet since it was there, it couldn't be random, so overall the Bubbles story line felt forced. I highly enjoyed the side-plot that dealt with what Isaac had in his grow house, and the glimpse of Amish life was well-presented with both pros and cons that realistically affected the characters.

The writing was very good. I enjoyed the clear description that took time to involve me fully without making the plot drag. Small details were effortlessly included throughout, making every setting vivid. The details of running a flower shop and of the Amish characters' lives were made both informative and interesting.

4 of 5 stars!

Review for An Ice Cold Grave, by Charlaine Harris

Jam packed with spoilers!

Harper can sense the dead; it gives her an odd job, where she travels the eastern half of the US, helping people locate their dead and/or telling them how those dead passed away.

In this third book, Harper and Tolliver head to Doraville in January to find a missing boy. Instead, they find eight, who were gruesomely tortured and killed by a pair of sociopaths. And they sleep together.

Yeah, wait, what?

I feel like the author tried to push too many envelopes at once here, going for graphic child murders and near-incest all in one short book. Were we not supposed to notice the squickiness of Tolliver's and Harper's sex scenes (yes, plural) because we were distracted by the horrific assaults on eight young teen boys?

Again, the character of Harper is the only POV we get. I think that really hampered the plot of this book, because it made Harper have to do all the work herself. The last half of the book is, again, H&T trying to leave town, but being restrained by the authorities. Into that situation, add Harper's odd desire to wander among the book's settings, revisiting places she's already been or characters she's already seen. Some of these scenes actually had use. But were the others a smoke screen? I can think of two entire scenes where nothing was learned or accomplished aside from noticing that the plot was starting to drag.

I did appreciate the plot not being overly formulaic in regards to who the killers were. I was treated to an overload of uncertainty on Harper's part, combined with a lot of details that might or might not mean a thing. Together, that completely muddied the waters. But again, the last few dozen pages of the book felt rather aimless.

Harper's character again can't get past her past, to make a bad pun. She constantly bemoans her past home life with Tolliver and their other sibs, and how she needs to use the gift that the lightning gave her before it goes away again. She comes across as unable to focus on her present situation (despite what happens with Tolliver) and defensive about her job, whereas in book one, she seemed quite all right to let it be what it was.

The sexual encounters with Tolliver were abrupt and creepy. There was very little lead-up at all. After all the work that the author put into making their relationship half-business, half-sibling, this switch to romantic love feels as abrupt as having someone flick on a lightswitch when you're trying to light some mood candles. Utter failure. Previous sexual encounters in the series occurred off-screen, but here, we're treated to some very enthusiastic foreplay on a few different occasions. It feels like the author has been building to this scene for three books, yet failed entirely to remember the emotional side of her characters. They apparently think about each other safely in their heads, in a "but he's been my brother for decades!" sort of way. Then they have their first tryst. Then they decide, oh, now we'll just tell everyone we're a couple. Never mind that they'd built their reputation as a brother-and-sister team! I can't imagine they'll get many clients whose family trees branch after this. After all the poking fun at hillbillies Harper did in book one, it seems disingenuous to take these familial characters to this place in their relationship.

On that first tryst: I see that as a major plot failure. Not for what they did, but for what they weren't doing. Before that, they'd headed out to a location where they met a young boy who told Harper to come back and find him soon. He didn't have time to say any more. Harper and Tolliver are chased away, but instead of seeking a way to locate the boy to see what he wanted, they go back to their cabin and screw like rabbits. While they're doing this, the poor boy is committing suicide. It's never explicitly mentioned, but that's the timeline, and it's just one more creepy part about this book. Afterward, it's clear that the boy needed to die for the plot to progress, but "let's have a not-really-siblings love fest" is about the worst plot device I can think of to distract the reader while that happens.

The writing was filled with repetition, in concepts revisited and in overexplained ideas and actions. The voice of Harper is distinct, but while it is constant throughout the book, it's depressing and remote, and caught up in its own replaying reel. It's like listening to Rousseau's distress signal on the LOST island for sixteen years, and about as interesting.

I don't even want to know what happens in the next book; this one was just too creepy and disturbing. 2 of 5 stars.

Review for Grave Sight, by Charlaine Harris

I grabbed this at the library, having never read any Sookie Stackhouse or anything else by Charlaine Harris. The pretty pink cover art made me think it would be a cozy mystery, but...no, it's not really cozy. Despite the fact that I don't like first-person POV books, and I'm tired of female characters with "boyish" names, I did enjoy this book enough to keep reading.

The plot, following Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver as they become embroiled in the secrets of a fundamentalist town in the Ozarks, was presented with few hiccups. Harper's ability to sense the dead from a distance brought her to this town to search for a missing girl, whom she finds pretty quickly. And that's when the trouble starts. Various long-time residents to the town have their own secrets, which Harper can't guess at, leaving her bouncing from one angry face to another.

The secret of who murdered whom and why was, unfortunately, not well concealed for me. There was a nice dearth of hard fact, making it impossible to say for certain what had happened until all was revealed. But mysteries are by nature formulaic, and with only X number of characters and plot arcs to choose from, I had motive pegged halfway through. I couldn't stop reading, though, due to a need to learn all the details surrounding the incidents.

Sex was toned all the way down to happening offstage, though it was present in more than one story arc. There was minimal swearing, though the F-bomb presents itself here and there. Yet, always in character and for good reason.

The characters were generally presented very well. Most every one had a full, rounded feel to them, from the hussy waitress to the chilly socialite. The two that felt the most forced were Hollis and Mary Nell: plot direction showing through, methinks.

Some of the characters reacted with a black and white, good vs. evil response when they learned what Harper's ability was. Others were presented as unaware, and their normal personalities were allowed to show. The only character besides Tolliver who seemed to accept her ability was Hollis, who inexplicably fell for Harper despite her description of herself as quite ordinary, and of Tolliver as the irresistible one. Shades of Bella? Their storyline never seemed to fit well with the rest of the novel.

I did have some trouble with the writing style. As I said, I'm not a fan of first person POV. Though the book's tone seemed consistent given Harper's background, I personally couldn't relate to her much at all, and the book came across as dim and emotionless, spattered with panic attacks that didn't feel properly grounded (ahaha, lightning joke) in the character's past (fear of lighting, I get, but fear--nay, full blown panic--of being without Tolliver was never explained to my satisfaction). Contrasting with that, every other paragraph seemed to suffer from telling instead of showing. There was a lot of concept repetition and a few repeated dialogue scenes in regard to her being struck by lightning. Honestly, I got it the first time. The fifth didn't give me anything new.

I was pleased to find merely a single error of omission in 263 pages: an end quotation mark left off some dialogue near the end of the book.

This book was enough to hold my interest as a free library loan, but there is no way I'd have paid the $23.95 price listed inside the front flap. Not for these particular 65K words.

3 of 5 stars.


YA Compatible

YA compatible (adj): describes a story that, while written for an adult audience, does not contain the standard ingredients (sex, gore, profanity, etc) which would preclude it from being considered generally acceptable to Young Adult-aged readers.

I coined this term a short while ago, and find it seems pretty self-explanatory. (I'm claiming to have coined it because, having Googled it both alone and with several other writing terms, I got zero hits. Maybe I'll get one after posting this?) I'm using it to describe The Wicked Heroine, and it will also fit Oathen, its sequel. In fact, this generally describes my entire writing style, as I personally don't enjoy reading sex scenes, excessive bloody spatterings, and scatologically-enhanced f-bombs, and don't use them in anything I compose myself.

So if you enjoy a cleaner, freer reading experience, in contrast to the more gritty, darker fantasy stories out there, try my works.

I'm also pleased to present my Kindleboards-hosted novel profile page, where you can check out The Wicked Heroine, including reading a free sample, as well as view my other Amazon works. Many thanks to Harvey for his excellent generosity in creating these.


Rough Drafts: Cold-cocking Editors and Baking Novels

I recently read a lament on a writing site by a young person who bemoaned her inability to write anything good, despite her great ideas. She said she was always stopping, erasing and rewriting, and that it killed her motivation. Nothing good ever got written--indeed, nothing got written at all--because what she was crafting was always worse than the other books she'd read.

If you have either of these issues--a bossy inner editor or comparison issues--then listen very closely, for I've got two things to say to you.

1. Engage in NaNoWriMo. Sign up, get in there, and write the heck out of your inner editor. Make him beg and plead for revision, and leave him supremely ignored. Make him pound his fists on the ground, and crank up your writing music. Make him leave you, slamming the door on his way out, crying helplessly that you never listen to him anymore.

He'll be back. And when he is, you can put him to work--after your rough draft is complete. With an enormous project like that to occupy him, all will be forgiven, and he'll be the one bringing you apology presents.

The original purpose of NaNoWriMo was and is to overcome the existential horror the average person feels when confronted with the task of creating an entire book all by themselves, as if they were someone important, like [enter fave author's name here]. In a nutshell, NaNo is "shut up and write". That's how the rest of those famous authors got where they are: they wrote. A lot. And you can't write hundreds of thousands of words every year if you're constantly listening to the depressing whine of an inner editor who won't let you complete a sentence without a revision or two.

Give NaNo a try. Yes, your resulting rough draft will be crap. And that leads me to my second point.

2. Rough drafts are always crap. Yours, mine, Stephen King's. I get the feeling that this is a "secret" which only some of us have learned, while others are caught up on the performance issue. Editing and polishing are basic, integral skills in our industry. Knowing what to change, and by how much, is a skill learned over time. As is the realization that what you're crafting simply isn't ready for public consumption until it's run its own gauntlet. Until you grasp the concept of the process, you really can't engage in it.

Rough drafts are the mushy dough you make after whipping all your basic ingredients together: salt, flour, oil = plot, characters, settings. Herbs and spices are your tension and crisis moments. But the recipe is by no means done. You have to knead it (rewriting and editing). It's also important to let it rest and rise sometimes, giving you a fresh perspective when you return to knead it again.  At the end it must bake in the heat of an oven (here's your outside perspective, whether beta readers, an editor, a critique group. Probably not your mom. Definitely not your cat.) Only then, all pretty and smelling great, is it a finished product.

No one would take a bite of their doughy mess on the counter top and whine that it doesn't have the warm yeasty flavor of Emma-next-door's loaves. No one would sit in a pool of molten steel and complain that the car just doesn't have the acceleration to match Bob's. At least not for long.

So stoppit. These are not good writing habits. If you're going to produce a decent writing product, you need to focus--on writing it, and on improving it. The more time you spend worrying and comparing, the longer it'll take. And your audience can't read your works if you haven't finished them yet. Chop chop! We're waiting!


At Least I'm Not Bored

NaNoWriMo is coming. NaNoWriMo is coming! Gallop through the night and warn the community! Get them on their keyboards and pounding out fifty thousand words apiece!

Or trying to, at least.

If you've never heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), maybe this is your year to try it out. Turn off your inner editor and pound out 50K words on any topic of your own choice, between November 1-30. The site has a word count validator (that doesn't save your content, so no worries!), and if you reach 50K words before November ends, and you get bragging rights for the year, Win badges for your blog or other sites, and a generous offer from CreateSpace, good for several months, for a free copy of the book you wrote! How fun is that?

I just started NaNo last year. Being paranoid about losing momentum and failing to finish, I drove myself like a mad thing and finished my 50K words in 7 days. I'm planning to have a slightly slower pace this year, after having tendonitis flare up in my right arm last time. I never did completely finish that mss, though that was due to receiving a publishing offer for The Wicked Heroine the week of Thanksgiving. Talk about completely distracting. :P

This year, I'm trying to complete book one in a trilogy (just like last year), but I'm also in the middle of editing Oathen, sequel to The Wicked Heroine. I've got beta readers and an actual editing schedule, which is helping me keep on track with it. However, I know something's gotta give. And I know it'll be the editing. Nothing sings a siren song as seductively as a new writing project! Luckily, I also know my own tendencies, and I'm giving myself through about February to get Oathen published.

My NaNo project is a fantasy novel called "Elements of Allegiance". This here's my mockup cover, to keep me inspired while I write. :D

Its trilogy is Seals of the Duelists, and so I'm calling EA the First Seal. You know, because everyone's gotta be all cool with what they call their series books. Tapestries, Codexes, Songs, what-have-you. So I have Seals. I think it'll look very slimming. :P


Interview with the Author: Fourteen Questions From My Character, Meena

Meena sprawls on the overstuffed green chair in my living room and eyes me with irises that very nearly match her choice of seats.

“You ready?” she asks, in a voice that indicates she won’t wait if I’m not. This interview about my fantasy novel series, The Legend of the Shanallar, will proceed at her pace, not mine.

I smirk. She hasn’t changed a bit. “Bring it on.”

“First up, then: why did you pick the name Meena, for all the stars’ sake? Out of all the other, more interesting names I’ve had, I get stuck with 'Meena' everywhere but the flashbacks!”

“Are you sure you want this as one of your fourteen questions?”

“No backtalk; answer the question,” she growls, crossing her arms.

Ah, yes. I recall her difficulty with myopic authority figures from when she challenged the Temple Masters early in The Wicked Heroine. At least she acknowledges that I am an authority.

“I chose the name ‘Meena’ because it’s one of a set of names similar to mine that I like: Jasmine (my pen name, chosen after I wrote you, and for another reason, so set aside the Mary Sue-themed pitchfork), Yasmina, Azmeena, and Meena. Yours is just the shortest one, and the most prosaic, and I gave those to you on purpose to help you blend in. If I’d given you a fancier name, people would have remembered that about you when you passed through. So, as I wildly invent backstory here on the spot, it was actually you who gave yourself the name ‘Meena’.”

A slight tilt of her head is the only indication I have that she’s considering my words. Her long brown braid shifts on her shoulder and she sighs, perhaps in defeat, perhaps in frustration at my hopeless insanity.

“Two,” she continues. “For all your love of the fantasy genre, and the adventure sub-genre, you sure don’t give us many fantasy creatures in our novel. What’s up with that?”

I tsk. “Fantasy creatures are a dime a dozen, unless I go out of my way to invent new ones. I’ve done that before, and it’s fun, but they don’t figure largely in this plot. I’ve written about elves and dwarves and dragons, and everyone has expectations about them; they’ll be this way or that way. I like new concepts and creatures as much as I like the tried and true, and for an adventure story, I didn’t want to populate the world with trite little bad guys and helpful little good guys that show up for five pages and then disappear. This isn’t a Who’s Who of Fantasy Creatures.”

“Well that’s good. That sea monster was enough of a hassle.” Meena cracks a real grin at me. “Let’s see, question three: did you intend for the Vinten nation to be perceived as atheist? Because you know fantasy-loving atheists are gonna jump all over that one.”

I laughed. “I didn’t intend the Vintens to be atheistic, no. But I do see your point. A fantasy nation that worships no gods at all? Yeah. That’s not a large leap. But everyone who ever wrote a fantasy story seems to populate it with weak copies of the Greek or Roman or Egyptian or Scandinavian pantheon. Borrrring. I don’t particularly like learning a whole new pantheon of gods every time I want to read a single book. I’m sure there are stories out there I’ve read that have no mention of religion, or which feature only one god, or something. But for the purposes of this novel, I needed a heroine--not you, I mean Sanych--who was raised in a culture that emphasized knowledge and wisdom. I took away the distraction of gods just for a change of pace. As I said, I like the different.”

“Well, Sanych sure is different.” Meena grins fondly. “And on that topic, why did you think it would make a good story to write about an adventure that takes place largely at sea? Didn’t you think it would be interesting to explore by land? There could have been a dozen nations that you’d get to create exciting cultures for, but instead you sailed right past them.”

“Again, it’s the novelty of it. There’s a sea adventure in the middle of an enormous quest that spans three continents. It’s the scope of the thing. You all crossed two oceans and a sea to reach your destination. It was Far, Far Away. That was the point. But I did put in adventures on land in the middle of the sea: Salience? The Aldib island in Oathen? I see you recall them well. I knew too much sea would be boring, but some sea brings in that fresh breeze of excitement!”

“’Fresh breeze of excitement’? You are a writer, aren’t you?” Meena wrinkles her nose at me. “Do you have any idea how bad it smells aboard a ship after five weeks of storms, when your cabin-mate pukes after nearly every meal?”

“Is that the next question?”

“No, no, never mind. I really wish you’d given Sanych some other flaw than seasickness, though. Or a different cabin-mate.” She makes a moue of distaste. “Let’s see, where was I? Question five: How did you pick the physical appearances of Geret and Salvor?” Her eyes gleam at me knowingly.

“There was this one nerdy guy on Stargate: Atlantis. Just a minor character. He had black hair pulled back into a braid. It was so sleek and shiny! But he was kind of an arrogant jerk. I snagged his hair for Salvor, and I gave him hazel eyes because I just love to say ‘hazel gaze’. No, just kidding. I wanted his eyes to be a bit on the exotic side, yet not too much so. I made him a bit shorter than Geret: my brother’s height.

“For Geret, I went with the tried and true brown over brown, because that’s standard in Vint: dark colors. And for a relative of the Magister, it’s important that he maintain some sort of genetic continuity. To make up for his possibly boring appearance, I made him pretty tall. In fact, he’s the height of my husband, while Sanych is my height.”

“Rawr,” she growls at me, waggling her eyebrows.

“Stop that; I didn’t intend that as an indicator of future romance and you know it.”

“Mmhmm, sure.” She smirks again. “Then why did you make Sanych your height?”

“She’s only fifteen during the story. I wanted to emphasize that she wasn’t all grown up. Making her so much shorter than the others, even you, helped emphasize her childlike innocence, and contrasted well with her incredible mental capacity. I gave her the pale hair and big blue eyes not only to make her slightly more doll-like, but also as a contrast to Geret and Salvor. It was a very subtle hint as to her origins, or more accurately, where she wasn't from. Of course, in the denouement, she’s not any taller, but that’s beside the point. It’s the mental image I was trying to create in the minds of my readers.”

“All right, you might have a point,” Meena concedes. “Here’s another for you then: do you think it detracts from the storyline to have a grumpy heroine like myself in the story?”

“Ah, nice one,” I murmur. “It might, in spots, but I really tried to keep your bitterness to one or two words at a time. Small doses, you know. I did make up for it by giving you excellent fighting skills and a good memory for names and faces from your past. Overall, though, you’re the heart of this novel. It revolves around your past, and your present, and all the secrets you slowly reveal to your companions. This quest everyone’s on, it’s not really Geret’s. It’s yours. And you know there at the end, you gave a perfectly good explanation for your constant grumpiness. No one wants to go through what you did. You’re not only the ultimate heroine, you’re the ultimate scapegoat. The victim and the conqueror all in one. Your attitude is essential to the plot, and the novel wouldn’t be the same without that; not at all.”

Meena preens a bit. “I’m pretty used to being important; it’s true. All right, question eight: What in the deeps happened with Rhona? You totally lost it with her, didn’t you?”

I lower my head in embarrassment. “I so lost it with her in the rough draft. She took control of me and off we went! But it was good for the plot, I think. You know how tangled the interpersonal relationships got there at the end.”

“Not to mention limbs, sheets, fistfuls of hair--”

“Stop that. I don’t write erotica, and it’s not fair for you to start.”

Meena chortles; I clear my throat.

“Back to Rhona: initially she was just a brief character. When I decided she needed a larger role to play, I was excited about the continuity that would provide. And then, after the Aldib island chapter, I tossed off those last lines about the champagne case in her cabin, and then I felt I had to go on with that storyline. It mushroomed so fast it caught me by surprise.”

“Maybe a little unresolved issue, there?” Meena eyes me, her expression clever.

I glare at her. “No. A writer’s unresolved issues get edited out for being stupid and conflicting with the plot. Rhona’s plotline with Geret was my subconscious trying to tell me I needed more tension as the story drew toward the final act. And I think it worked out well in the end, after a whole lot of editing. That champagne case stays on deck, now. Although Rhona kinda got the short end of the stick.”

Meena taps her chin with a finger. “Question nine, then: you say you think Rhona’s end is less satisfying than the others', yet you gave it to her with the events that preceded the final conflict. Isn’t it you that’s less satisfied with the outcome?”

“Oh, that’s a sneaky question!” I say. “I think you’re right, though. I'm all about the happy ending when I read books. But when I realized I wanted to take her through to the end, I knew immediately that she couldn’t have everything she wanted; something had to give. And from that moment on, she became a bittersweet character to me. She’s so passionate; she fights, she loves, she’s loyal to her clan and crew--and yet she’s fatally flawed, as I wrote her. Her own imbalance does her in. No matter what perfect ending I wrote for her, she’d screw it up because of that flaw.”

“That’s harsh.”

“But it makes for good reading," I say, nodding wisely.

Meena nods. “You got me there. Let me switch topics for the tenth question. What’s with the detail in the fighting? Can’t you just say my arrow hit the guy, or that Geret and Salvor dueled excitingly for ten minutes?”

I laugh. “Not at all! Fights are fun! You know I took jujitsu for seven years. Our sensei required us to write up a notebook with exacting details on every art we learned: every throw, pin, punch, block and arm bar. Though I’m not an expert with a bow or a sword, I had to ‘dumb down’ my description level to make it less technical and more interesting. The fight sections are definitely geared to those who enjoy visualizing their fights when they read them. I know I’m one of those people. When you shoot your arrows, you have to feel what you’re doing. When the young bucks duel, where are their feet? What can they do next from where they’re at now? The fights have to flow naturally, while still sounding dramatic and interesting.”

“So you’re a realist when it comes to detail, even here in an adventurous fantasy novel?” Meena chuckles. “You’re nearly as full of contradictions as I am!”

“Well, it helped me build you convincingly,” I say, laughing.

“Convincingly, in what way? What do you try to make ‘realistic’, and what do you just pull out of your arse?”

“Is that the next question?”


“Ah. Then the answer is, it varies. The things I usually like to get right are technology, geological features, ships, poisons--you know, things that can be proven to be as they are here in our world. Google is SO my friend when it comes to researching something I know nothing about. What I like to make up is the big picture. The maps, the countries, the cultures. Sometimes it seems so sad that so much is the same in fantasy worlds. A yellow sun, beef for dinner, shingles on roofs...yet I do that too; if it’s too fantastic, no one will identify with it. There’s a boundary there, between exotic and the wrong side of an inside-out galaxy slushee.”

“Well that’s a pleasant image,” Meena says.

“You think so?” I ask eagerly.

“No. That was sarcasm. Next question. What is, this, number twelve? Yes. All right, what is your favorite point in the story, and your least favorite?”

“Ooh. Let me think.” I pause, letting my mind flash over the entire plot. “I think my least favorite is the voyage between Yaren Fel and Ha’Hril. I basically entertained myself by making crap up while enough time passed to get to the next plot point. I didn’t feel I should leave it blank, but you know, I don’t think I’d miss much if I removed that entire chapter or two.

“As for my favorite...I honestly can’t pick. I love all the flashbacks. They are the second layer of chocolates in the box that contains your plot contributions. But there are a few scenes I really enjoy envisioning as well. No, I can’t list many of them; it gives away the plot. I’ll have to say the alley fight. That one point in the story begins a sea change in the way things go, and from that point on, there’s no turning back. I love points of no return.”

“Okay, here’s a geeky question: how do you think your sentence structure aids or hampers the telling of your story? Because I know you’re all into the compound-complex stuff.”

I laugh. “I admit it, I do love the long sentences. But I also know the power of the very short ones. I’d say I tend to over-connect my sentences, with commas, semicolons, and subordinate clauses galore. I know how to use all that stuff, so I do. It’s not always easy to read, though. That’s the problem. I get so into my description and flowing from one thought to the next, that the ease of reading is lost. And once I’ve lost my audience, what’s the point? I do try to edit the most monstrous sentences into smaller sections when I see them. I mean, if I get lost reading it, I know it’s too long. But really, anything over, what, three independent clauses, and I’ve probably gotten a little too strung out on my own awesomeness, there. Ahaha.”

“Ahaha,” Meena echoes, rolling her eyes. “I’m not saying I’m not awesome, as a product of your mind, but you’ve certainly got a good handle on subtle bragging, if I ever saw it.”

“You think so?” I ask, blinking my eyes innocently.

“I ought to swat you. If you were anyone but my creator, I would.”

I grin. “I know. Come on, what’s the last question?”

“What was the best part about this whole create-your-own-tales experience?”

“There you go again, with the hard ones,” I say. “Honestly, I have to say the anticipation. I’d think up these amazing scenes that I hadn’t gotten to yet, and with two in particular--Sanych at the farmhouse, and your attack by the waterfall--I was nowhere near to writing those scenes. I imagined them for weeks ahead of time, honing the details, literally vibrating in excitement; they felt so awesome in my head! The letdown came when I actually wrote them out; my fingers had ten little contradicting minds of their own, and those sections didn’t come out nearly as awesome as they appeared in my mind’s eye. Of course, that’s the magic of editing: I can change reality with a flick of my fingers. Both those scenes have been edited many times now. And while possibly not quite awesome, they at least make more sense than a green-wattled frabjous lizard burping in Old Kroilen.”

“A what?” Meena raises an eyebrow at me.


Meena lets her face fall into her hands. “Stars and darkness. How did someone as fabulous as myself ever emerge from that bizarre mucousy cavern you call a cranium?”

Far from insulted, I lift my chin in pride. “That’s my girl.”


On Focus

My mind likes to veg out and get deep when I'm in the shower. Some of my best plot inspirations have happened in that oblong white stall with the built-in benches. But I also have other thoughts, about life, the universe, and everything.

Recently, I had a lens analogy pop into my head regarding my views on the world around me. "Focus" was a theme I used when training for my black belt, to help me work on certain aspects of my martial arts. It also encapsulated the whole martial arts experience in a way, so it's become a theme of my life.

While warm water sprayed around me, I realized that my focus has since split in two. One lens is telescopic (yes, I know you need more than one lens to actually achieve a telescopic effect - work with me), seeing far into the future, seeing the broad, wide scope of everything. My cosmic view. The other lens is microscopic, looking very closely at individual situations, and especially at myself and my expression through writing, examining and identifying flaws and faults so that I can make us both better.

Sounds mostly cool, right? The ability to look ahead at long-term consequences, as well as the ability to stop and focus entirely on one facet of myself. But I feel like there's a middle vision, a bifocal, normal vision of the world, that I've lost. I feel impractical, unreliable. I want to wear sleeveless tunics and gauzy pantaloons in January. I want to eat salad that's mostly kidney beans. And I don't mind if my daughter's socks are mismatched on purpose as a representation of her personal style. Don't expect me to pander to you with platitudes. I'm fully capable of a variety of more useful responses, and more inclined to use them.

So much of my earlier life has been unremarkable. I've forgotten years at a stretch. People's names escape me because I wasn't paying attention. Well, screw that! I'm going to take my lenses and turn them to the sun, and set my world on fire, then dance across the coals on bare feet.



Bloody. Awful. -- Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule

I have caught a few episodes of the "Legend of the Seeker" TV show, and I heard it was generally based off this book. I figured I should read it to get an idea what makes for popularized fantasy.

I can now say with full confidence that if this is what it takes to get a book turned into a TV show, I'm going to aim for the quirky recluse writer in the big house at the end of the lane, who wears foreign clothes that smell of odd spices and gives full-size candy bars out at Halloween.

Oh wait. I was going to do that anyway.

I have several issues with the way Goodkind constructs his book. I can only assume that the rest of this series will be in a similar vein, and I'm put off enough that I'm not going anywhere near them. Ever. I'm going to dig a hole beneath my star rating so I can go negative on this one. So many factors in the book made for a frustrating, irritating read. This is not so much a review as a rant, I'm afraid.

I didn't even read everything in this book. At one point, my husband (who had already warned me that this wasn't a "happy ending" sort of book - that's a personal definition, btw; the book does have a technically happy ending) asked me how it was going. I told him I was about ready to throw the book across the room because I'd read, in the last few pages, about the ritual killing of male Confessor infants by their father, at their mother's order, and the gang rape of young girls who had been lucky enough to survive their village being razed by their own lord's army in disguise, just to cement the pretend-enemy's evilness. I've no general complaint against violence in fantasy. Swords and spears FTW. But when you feel it's necessary to stoop to describing violence against children--not necessarily in detail, but in continual reference--I've got a problem with your writing. When you must describe the flying gobs of blood every time there is a battle, the crunching bones and collapsing faces, every time, then you've strayed into violence porn, and you're no better than a 70's mob movie at keeping me focused on the plot you're ostensibly constructing. Some writing style elements just shout too darn loud, and drown the plot out. Excessive gore for its own sake is definitely one of them for me.

Honestly, whatever happened to hinting? I DO have an imagination, you know. It's why I enjoy fantasy worlds in the first place!

After explaining my irritation at the author's choice of details, my husband took the book away and said, "Don't read past when they cross the bridge after the castle then." He marked the place for me, and I skipped a good hundred pages of what he summed up for me as the hero being tortured by sadistic women who are the embodiment of the black widow spider. I didn't feel the loss of reading about a man tortured into Stockholm syndrome in loving detail, just so the next part of the plot could happen. It's the "loving detail" part that irritates me. I've read some twisted works by a misogynist sociopath before--before I realized what he was--and this was little different. Probably due to a good editor. Such things one cannot simply scrub from one's brain afterward. Some things cannot be un-seen.

I have to say, though, that I'm sort of expecting this to be the worst book Goodkind ever wrote. It is his first book, and one usually gets better with time. In this book, I can see other issues with the plot's construction that irritated me on a less personal level than as a mom of living children.

Situational irony got Out Of Control in this book. Sure, you can have the magic box go one way while the heroes are still looking somewhere else for it. Fine. But don't write about it for eighty pages until they realize what happened! After about page 3 of "it's still at the castle, let's get to the castle", and knowing that it wasn't in fact at the castle, I was ready for them to figure it out. But nooooo. In this case, better timing of scene switching, and hurrying up one side or delaying the other so that it balanced better, would have made me much happier.

The other ironic situation was in regards to the traitor who handed the magic box to Lord Rahl. Richard, our hero, is so focused on it being either X or Y that he can't consider anyone else. Meanwhile, the actual traitor had been acting odd from the beginning of the book. It was a no brainer, and caused all sorts of unnecessary conflicts, encounters and confusion until they figured it all out. It added an extra 50 pages to the book to discuss all this uncertainty and its resulting clashes, making the plot limp along with a hop-a-skip to get to the end.

This world is not a happy one. The magic that exists here is based on pain. Sure, there are technically two magics here, and magic has two sides, as they say. That's a cool concept. But the way it's used in the book, I'm fully on the Westlanders' side: I'd move away behind a boundary to get away from those freaky-ass magic users and their bizarre "gifts". There's a fair bit of underworld crossover, and they're always evil/bad/deadly. No friendly ghosts here. No mention of anywhere else for the dead to go, so it seems everyone goes to hell here.

Magic spells, unless you're Zedd, seem to involve manipulating prepubescent boys into adoring you, then killing them with molten lead, or screaming naked in the forest with blood pouring from your wounds, for a couple examples. For Richard, his sword causes him agony every time he kills someone with it, and he can only seem to use it when his anger is merged with its anger, giving him a sort of subjective perspective of righteous rage. For Kahlan, she makes people fall completely in love with her, then commands them to do stuff she wants. Most of the time, this is dying immediately. The original concept of Confessing is so twisted from its stated intent (seeking the truth), that it seems obvious that the wizards who created the Confessors were either psychopaths, or horribly inept. It was nearly inconceivable that her Confessing didn't bring her a small army of fanatics, that she had to kill them all, except Brophy, who wasn't even allowed to remain human anymore. How is that any sort of functioning magic, that the confessed are apparently so obsessive that even the ones you don't order to die on the spot are so irritating that they need to be turned into wolves?

Seriously, Goodkind must eat spicy quesadillas before bed each night to come up with this stuff.

These characters he's created are not merely flawed. They're twisted, shattered, and broken. They're way beyond flaws that others can relate to; they've entered the realm of the grotesque. They don't stand out because their whole world is similar. It's not a happy ending sort of book because it doesn't seem to grasp the concept of happiness. Love (Kahlan's magic) is twisted to bring death. Righteous anger is twisted to become Richard's Seeker magic, and he can forgive people for their actions with it too, but only by killing or hurting them. Rahl is a complete basket case, with the constant licking of fingertips and smoothing of eyebrows, and he's clearly psychopathic...in loving detail. He employs lots of evil people (Demmin, the Mord-Sith) who also get to do evil stuff in loving detail.

It's not the evil I mind. You can't have conflict without evil. You can't have a gripping story without conflict. It's the loving detail that irritates me. I'm generally in favor of free speech and against the banning of books, but when the intent gets out of hand, I'm not cool with that. There are in fact some things that should not be reveled in. Concepts are important for grasping. You can't deal with evil unless you know what it is. But this book reads like a low-key bacchanal of evil fun, where the heroes cry quite a lot, after proclaiming they never cry, bleed more than most books put together, and everyone seems to get tortured or lost or terrified at regular intervals. It's just a bit much, all around, like the volume got cranked to 12.

I've read worse, so this gets a -3 of 5.


Review for The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

Yeah yeah, I had to read it. I had to see if it was up to the hype about how horribly it stank, and if it was on par with the crazy schemes and intricately knotted plotwork of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code.

I have to say, after reading, that it wasn't quite, and it wasn't quite.

Overall, the book just wasn't quite.

There were three plot twists/hidden details that kept this plot going through 133 chapters: who Mal'akh is, why Sato is so adamant in chasing Langdon around, and where the Lost Word is hidden. Because you know there will be a real place with a real thing in it; methinks the symbologist doth protest waaaaay too much about it being metaphorical. Come on, that's totally not a spoiler if you've read anything else by Brown.

I'd figured out the first and third far sooner than I'd have liked to, so most of this book was me waiting to be proven right...and reading a lot of details about Masonic art around Washington, D.C. Sigh. The second twist was so much less than earth-shattering, it was the opposite of irritating: that's right, it was boring.

I'm also not a fan of reading detailed descriptions of rituals that I don't understand. Rituals are meaningful only to the initiated, so it's a sequence of meaningless events to me. If you're not going to explain what the parts mean, why explain the details? Argle. But alas, I forget that Brown enjoys working details into any crack he can get them to fit.

I do, as a puzzle maker, enjoy Brown's interconnectivity within his plots. The way the magic square plays its parts in the beginning and in the end, and the concept of the symbolon becoming a reality in the pyramid's numerous puzzles, were fun to read. It makes me wonder how long he had to search before he found a series of facts that gave him enough layers that he could use it in his plot. An example in no particular order: Benjamin Franklin - Franklin Square, the address - a Franklin square - an order-eight Franklin square - The Order. Etc etc. Pyramids and symbols everywhere! The constant mention of ancient symbols throughout the architecture of Washington made the city take on a truly exotic feel, as if there were two cities there, rather than one. Sort of like the way London has Diagon Alley, but you just don't notice it unless you're the right sort.

The city Brown presents is the coolest part of the book. The philosophy which he gives to the Masons to protect and espouse, which is that there is a wealth of secret knowledge hidden in plain sight among numerous ancient writings that survive to this day, isn't surprising or astounding in any way. That these books have survived exactly because history's brightest minds have sought to decipher this knowledge over the centuries is kinda cool, despite the tang of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I guess the book is sort of a letdown on that end because it doesn't show me anything I didn't generally believe possible in the first place. I'm not into the concept that the earlier civilizations on this planet were dumber somehow, or not interested in the world they lived in. It makes me chuckle when everyone acts all astonished that archaeologists find a simple computer from the Roman Era, or a currently untranslatable document (Voynich, anyone?)full of details no one can fully grasp, or astronomically accurate stone buildings built thousands of years ago. I mean, come on. These people didn't have American Idol and iPods to distract them. They were busy thinking crap up! So yeah, I'm down with our ancestors having figured out a lot of deep thoughts. I enjoy trying the same from time to time. I don't see how this is a big deal. Are there more sheeple in the world than I thought? Maybe in this day and age.

Most egotistical sections: the parts where Brown works scenes into the plot that refer to the controversy and success of The Da Vinci Code. Yes, that's right: scenes. Plural. Hilarious from a "dude, you can't be serious" point of view. Puts me in mind of Clive Cussler's insertion of himself (or at least a character with his name) into each of his Dirk Pitt books. Although I must say the Clives were written in with more fluidity and less plot disruption...possibly because no one ever accused Cussler of revisionist history. Even though that's what he inadvertently, anachronistically did with Raise the Titanic!  I still can't get the screwdriver-in-the-eyeball scene from that novel out of my head. Thanks, Mr. Cussler.

Biggest jolt out of the story: the weighing-the-soul experiment. Duncan MacDougall's experiment in 1907 (weigh a man right before death, and right after death; do math) seemed to reveal that the human soul had a miniscule but measurable weight, but his experiments could never be confirmed by other tests and was considered anything from deliberate attention-mongering to hopelessly inaccurate science to downright ridiculous. Brown decided to use this experiment, ramped up by a hyper accurate scale, for a plot device at the point in the story where someone is shown to die. That's the only reason it's there. And then when things are revealed in the plot to not be what they seem (which was cool, actually, btw, as it was tied back to the plot in more than one way, in typical Brown fashion), that whole flashback to Katherine's experiment is proven unneeded. So...*raises a single eyebrow*...why, exactly, did that need to be there? To mislead the reader, of course. But it felt horribly heavy-handed. No other experiments were flashbacked to.

In the end, the physical side of Lost Word is revealed to be nothing mysterious at all. It's something everyone's seen, possibly handled and owned. More secrets in plain sight, which leave me with the feeling that the whole thing was a wild goose chase for something that wasn't ever physically lost. The downerside of this is that what the philosophical side of the Lost Word is, doesn't feel complete according to the Masonic traditions presented in the books. If you're gonna hide the Lost Word, at least hide all of the Lost Word. But no, they got all prejudicial. Was there really only a tiny amount of space to hide it, considering? I doubt it.

At least the bad guy died. There, now that's a spoiler...or is it? Mwa ha ha.

Overall, I have to give this book a meh. It had good detail, great characterization, and nice puzzlework, as I expected. But the reveals and plot twists were expected, anticipated even, and the end result was a book that was overblown on delivery. The final scene was incomplete, in fact, without the movie version's climactic music.  Two and a half of five stars from me today. That includes a bonus half star for zero noticed typos. :D Mr. Brown has a great editor.

Review for Wheel of the Infinite, by Martha Wells

Alas, I'm skipping books in Ms. Wells' chronological publishing order. Not my fault; blame the library system.

I started off Wheel with another enjoyable splash into another hugely entertaining setting. Monsoon season strikes Southeast Asia, it seems, with roads turned to muddy rivers, and jungles so dark you can't see a thing. I could practically smell it, having never forgotten my sojourn in Thailand a few years back.

Add to that a spirit of slightly antagonistic magic, a nature that fills with dark spirits when its rhythms are upset, and a cast of out-of-Empire guests who make the cosmopolitan flavor of Duvalpore complete. Oh, and a possessed puppet. *nods*

And we're off! Our heroine, Maskelle, has been cursed and banished, but now is being summoned back to her temples and companions: something's trying to destroy the world, and only she can stop it. This turns out to be more true than I expected, due to the deft plot detailing at work. There was a vague sense of details arbitrarily selected, of a spirit randomly out of its mind, until all at once, everything coalesced into excellent cohesion. I very much enjoyed the main thrust of the book's plot. It led me a merry chase through this or that side road, and in the end it delivered beautifully.

Alas, there were a few distractions along the way. The random attachment of Maskelle and Rian, seeming to hook up only so there can be emotional reasons for trying to save the other from danger, could have been explained better at the start to avoid the feel of an obvious plot detail. Again as in City of Bones, the otherworldly plane that arrives is described without attaching meaning, and comes across as arbitrary. If the details aren't important, why are they mentioned? It gives me the sense that there are meanings behind the appearance of the otherworld, but they're not to be shared with the characters. The characters of the current world are supposed to be left in the dark. But that wasn't mentioned either, so the one who was really in the dark was me.

Rian, for all his apparent hotness, didn't do as much as I expected him to. Rather, what he did was get into fights. I got the impression that Maskelle was keeping him around for his flesh rather than his brains, of which he exhibited less than usual. Unfortunately, there seemed to be little mystery in who the bad guys were; it was more a matter of proving it that delayed the plot. There was a sense of detective-novel around this story, combined with history-book from the continual detailed mention of the locations/directions of the canals and the locations of various rooms in the Marai temple. It felt like the author was looking over at a schematic, and was compelled to mention location because she could see it. Yet for all the mentioning, I was still lost half the time; there seemed little reason for me to need to memorize the order of the Marai chambers, courts and galleries. The second half of the book really felt weighted down by facts compared to the light and action of the first half. As if when the characters arrived in the city, they began to be surrounded by stone and darkness, and had to feel their way, confused, through the plot. And lastly, I kept picturing the heroine Maskelle as a Thai woman, despite her name not feeling right on my tongue compared with the other Empire names, because the author never described her skin tone, just her many braids (and why can't Thai have many braids? Huh?). What she does do is describe all the pale people as pale, but those pale people are all from outside the Empire. Yet on the cover art, Maskelle is portrayed as very dark-skinned. So are all of the Kushorit dark skinned like Maskelle, or are they Thai-toned (Angkor-toned?), to match the culture used in the book? It's a nice thought to imagine a world where no one notices anyone else's skin tone, but that's not the world I, the reader, live in. I enjoy the exotic flavors of mixed cultures. Just tell me what I'm looking at, so I can see the characters as the author sees them. All I'm asking.

The use of the sand art as a literal forming of the world was a fabulous detail. Pulled, I'm guessing from the sand mandalas of Tibet. Those just awe me completely, and imagining one turned to the task of drawing the world really held my interest. I enjoyed how it tied into the Adversary's fate; again, very well done plotwise.

Again, Ms. Wells blew me away with her cultural description and her setting. Top notch, 100%. Can not get enough of her settings. How does she do that? I have to read more of her books to figure that out. The character details were a bit flat, and the otherworld plane (is there one in every book?) was a letdown, but I'm still giving this three stars of five, because the beginning of the book was so incredibly strong that I couldn't put it down, even when things got dry.

Review for City of Bones, by Martha Wells

Yea verily, I have stumbled upon awesomeness, and I am heartily pleased. Martha Wells writes the sort of settings that I aspire to: those rich with detail and culture, so well-captured that you feel the dusty heat of the road rising up from the pages.

City of Bones is set in the towering city of Charisat, in the desert, at the fringe of what remains of humanity. Water is so scarce, it is used conceptually to represent wealth. The immensely wealthy have so much water, they have a pool just to drown people in. They have plants and trees all over their grounds. The poor have trickling fountains where rent is paid by buying water for the day or week. Aside from any rent one might have to pay otherwise. The poor have dusty roads and ramshackle ruins to live and do business in. I was surprised there wasn't more corruption among the water talliers. Maybe they're all required to be nice old men who know when not to hang around and eavesdrop.

The main male character of the book is Khat, a non-human krisman from the Waste. He's got a few useful features that make him stand out to observant humans, as well as keep him alive in the monster-infested lava tubes of the Waste.  An all-around useful fellow, Khat takes his lumps and uses his brains, and solves a few ancient mysteries as the book progresses. As a relic-dealer, he's got a more learned perspective on history and culture, and as an outsider, he brings unique views to his job and to the plot.

The main female character is a Warder named Elen. Supposedly weak in actual magic, she's labeled a whiz at political maneuvers and ninja moves. Sadly, neither of these made much of an appearance, and the rest of the time, she was awfully wilting-violet for a kick-ass heroine. Some of this was explained as a purposeful sabotage against her, and that was pretty cool, but I prefer my heroines to be full of awesome personality in some respect or another, and it took Elen the whole book to really discover who she was. This was great character development. But as a reader, I kept urging her to step out a little more than she did; couldn't shake the odd impression that she was pale with enormous, frightened eyes all throughout the book. Which is odd considering that the richest folk in the city (of which she was one) are supposed to be the darkest-skinned, due to their descendance from the Survivors, who had a lot more sun exposure (and a high interest in veils) in their past than the poor people who have to live in the shaded alleys and cul-de-sacs on the lower tiers of the city. More a mental projection on my part, I guess.

So, City of Bones. Where do the bones come in? Ohh, that was entertaining, and occasionally creepy. Burning bone fragments was supposed to reveal the future...but only if you burned the right sort of bone fragments. And creepiest of all, there is more than one interpretation of "right". I loved this part, although it felt a little too tenuous to get the book named after it.

On the flip side of the creepiness coin is the madness that using the Ancient magic can bring to the Warders. Everyone talked about this, and how people used to be executed after going mad, but that whole build-up throughout the story sort of petered out into a disappointment. No one even came close to going mad, and those who were already "mad" seemed to merely possess an alternate politico-magical point of view, as well as a few arcane details unbeknownst to our heroes. A letdown indeed after reading how Lois McMaster Bujold handled madness in her delightful The Curse of Chalion.

It was mentally entertaining to see this post-apocalyptic society, part of a network of trading cities based on water locations, and so fully enmeshed in ancient magic, reach out and embrace "ancient engines" and use steam power and air power for its wagons. It was like watching cyberpunk mesh with a scorched-earth Arabia. Clockwork fans FTW! (For the longest time, I kept trying to picture a circulating fan there, but eventually I realized it must be pendular in motion. Then I felt cool.)

Charisat and its culture were very solidly rooted in their history, and felt real and tangible in good ways. When the book approached the climax, however, the vagueness of the ancient engines exploded into the enemies' territory, and everything got a little psychedelic. They didn't all live in a jar of Tang, but it had that sort of unattached-to-any-reality flavor, and I prefer raspberry. I noted this same flavor in a later book, so I fear it is either a favorite of this author or a flaw in explanation, to present the otherworldly bad-guy plane as vaguely bizarre and leave it at that. If you're going to take me to another plane of existence, let's at least get the nickel tour, is all I'm asking. There was a lot of substance, with little explanation, and unverified information tends to leak right back out of my ears pretty quickly, when it's all made-up to start with.

I guess what I'm saying is that I just want to live in Charisat, where everything's made up and the points don't matter. Oh wait, that's Whose Line is it Anyway. Charisat is the awesome place with tiers, veils, Warders, water prices, and illicit coinage called "days". Sign me up!

Ms. Wells has the most awesome settings I've read in awhile, and they touch deep cultural levels, many-layered with meaning. For this awesomeness which I love to immerse my brain in and marinade overnight, I give this book four and a half of five stars.

Review for The Magic Thief: Found by Sarah Prineas

Boy howdy. I loved this book. Very much the sort of fantasy I enjoy reading. By mistake, I picked up book three, while believing it was book one (not having a memory of book one's cover, I overlooked the significance of the word FOUND on the cover in my book-selecting frenzy - silly me). Once home, I realized by looking at the first pages that I had skipped searching for The Magic Thief and The Magic Thief: Lost, and jumped to the end of the trilogy.

However, happily, Ms. Prineas was kind enough to let Conn have the occasional flashback, and I soon fit right in to his world, gleaning relevant facts from books one and two. I had the oddest impression that the first bit of the story, where Conn lurks in the dark, waiting to pick Nevery's pocket, was perhaps a throwback to the beginning of book one. Whether or not this is the case, I did pick up a lovely sense of cycle and repetition that in no way overwhelmed the narrative, and instead gave it excellent touches of continuity and closure (see beginning and end of book for a good example).

The concepts in this book were amazingly entertaining. What is magic? Where does it come from? How do cities begin? What is Arhionvar, and what is its motive? Why has Wellmet always been so divided? (this wasn't ever stated outright, and might have been touched on in earlier books, but there were plenty of delicate hints in this book to make me believe that there was more than just a cultural divide where the river flowed)

While Conn is the youngest character in the book, he's crucial to the plot, not least of which is in his interconnectivity between various disparate groups of adults. Without him, they'd never speak to each other or learn different perspectives. He is the medium through which the book's plot unfolds, and he personifies communication, despite the fact that he's notorious for not speaking at all.

Conn's character was in full flower in this third book, and I found him amazingly consistent and true to himself. This is a strong point of the author, I see, as her other major characters are easily recognized by their behaviour and attitude as much as by their appearance or location. Strong characters always make me love a book, along with brain-fizzingly awesome magical concepts and strong settings. Kerrn, Nevery and Benet were favorites. The little dragon, Pip, was the least developed, most likely because it couldn't communicate, and thus felt pretty random as an addition to the plot. It struck me as little more than a device to make Conn's magic sporadic throughout the remainder of the book.

The pages that were notes from one character to another were an entertaining addition, and I enjoyed seeing the characters' personalities come through in their own writing. Way to get around the single-perspective limitation that first person POV brings. Personally, I heartily dislike first-person for precisely this reason: it's so limiting, like a baldly artificial attempt to draw out the story simply by withholding information from the only character whose perspective the reader is exposed to. However, the connection with younger readers is fostered by this more direct link to a character's inner thoughts, so there is a positive trade-off. But it's my firm opinion that first-person POV isn't something an author outside of YA/MG/romance genres needs to use. (You see what I did there.)

Happily giving The Magic Thief: Found five of five stars, for including a great set of literary tools, and not overdoing any of them. Excellent balance, superb storytelling.

Review for Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones

I admit it, the cover art pulled me in on this one. While there's something familiar in the slightly-mischievous Harry Potteresque look the protagonist, Aidan Cain, is wearing, it was actually the visible colors pouring through the stained-glass window in the angled ceiling and wrapping around Aidan and the dog that made me grab this book. I can only assume it goes back to my love of all things half-scientific, half-magical: it reminds me of the Northern Lights, which I still have yet to see with my bare eyes.

With the appeal of the cover fresh in my mind, I cracked this book open to see what lay inside. I realized immediately that the inside flap text was slightly misleading: it portrays the central character as Aidan, but the first chapter of the book, and many others, are from the older Andrew's perspective. They are both main characters, and the plot requires both their large contributions to balance out the story.

I liked Andrew from the start. His history and its application to his current position as inheritor of Melstone House were enjoyable to contemplate. Clearly, he was the wizard of the story, in more than one sense, despite Aidan's magical abilities; Andrew, as the adult, was aware from the start of the importance of certain plot details, and grasped the significance of others as the plot progressed. Aidan, an entertaining and powerful character, is generally a boyish boy who plays soccer, meets the giant that eats the unwanted vegetables laid out on the shed roof every night, and rescues the were-dog Rolf from the clutches of Mr. Brown and his mysterious forces.

The book is populated with other highly entertaining characters, as well. Tarquin, the one-legged retired jockey, and his daughter Stashe (short for Eustacia, not Mustache, btw) were my favorites, but Mr. Stock and Mrs. Stock (no relation), the two staff members in Andrew's aging mansion, made a hilarious pair of curmudgeonly caretakers, and their oft-clashing Master Plans for Andrew and the mansion helped drive the plot in excellent ways.

The buildup to the reveal of what "counterparts" were, and why they were a problem, was nicely done. I was quite eager to see what they'd be and how they fit into the world of Andrew and Aidan, and I was not disappointed. The explanation and its subsequent manifestations (as well as explaining prior characters) left me grinning, and the interaction between counterparts became crucial to the plot.

The main thrust of the plot wasn't quite what I expected at the end, and I'm left with the curious feeling that this book will have a sequel. Either that, or the denouement didn't do its job. Most of the book follows the premise that Aidan is half-faerie, a son of Oberon himself. Oberon wants to kill him so he can't take over the faerie throne. Aidan's in possession of a wallet that magically makes money in the exact amount he needs, but Oberon and his minions can trace its magic. This leads to a final confrontation at the Fête, which is resolved, it seems, happily. And then, at the end, Oberon does a one-eighty and proclaims that he's not Aidan's father after all, and claims the boy's an...uncle...of Andrew's instead!

Let's throw some mud on old Jocelyn Brandon and label Aidan's mum a trollop all in one go, shall we, and then we'll leave Andrew on the doorstep with this knowledge at the very end of the book, unsure how to proceed. The end!
Heh. That feels far too much like reality just intruded into this lovely, exciting fantasy world. I can't figure why this was the preferred ending. It might manage to explain Aidan's gifts in that they come now from Jocelyn's bloodline rather than Oberon's. But it honestly feels like someone came in and jotted across the last page of Ms. Jones' manuscript, then submitted it to her publisher without her knowledge. It makes a mockery of the whole book, a case of supremely mistaken identity, and an unnecessary tale in the whole. Such an abrupt ending cannot possibly leave me satisfied. Perhaps that's my fault for not being a child of the British Empire, and not being in the proper target audience. I might be overthinking this, and there could be a cultural issue I'm missing. But personally, I recommend stopping reading on page 290 with the following:

"Oh yes," Aidan said happily. "Everything's all right now."

...and call it a good story.

I'll happily give this 4 of 5 stars, but a logical ending of some sort would have pushed another star on there. Alas.


Review for Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi

Yes, Avi, one word. Like Cher, but with books. And possibly fewer drag impersonators.

Not quite sure where my age-target-group compass is pointing (suffering from Jack Sparrow's undecided compass, perhaps?), I checked out a few YA books from the library a couple days ago. The first one that I read was Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The third book was on the new fiction shelf, but the library did not deign to carry the 2nd book of the series on its shelves (though it had about twenty of Avi's other books) at that time, so I just got book one. I can't abide reading the first and third books of a trilogy and not know what happens in the second. Drives me batty. I'm still wondering what happened in this one trilogy I read back in college, whose name I've completely forgotten now...

Ahem. The Cross of Lead follows the adventures of a young orphan named Asta's Boy, who soon learns that his real name is Crispin. He lives in a tiny English village in the 1300's, and has never been beyond its borders. Until his mother passes away, and suddenly the authority in the village, the lord's steward John Aycliffe, accuses him of a crime he didn't commit and puts a penalty on his head so severe that any may kill him on sight. What's a boy to do? He must flee everything he's ever known in order to try and save himself, carrying with him only a cross of lead that his mother used to wear.

Out in the wide world, Crispin stumbles across a plague-dead village from years past, and in it he finds a boisterous red-bearded man in a jester's cap. The man is loud and rough and pushy, and it's clear from Crispin's first hours of reaction to the man that he fears him to be mad, violent, or both. This part sort of took me aback, as from Crispin's POV, the man was horribly rude and possibly dangerous. He binds Crispin into his service, then berates him for being bound by his word.

But this was a clever trick by Avi, who had to let the world open up to Crispin by small degrees. Crispin, who had never seen the dress of the rich or official personages. Crispin, who had never seen a mummer's show. Crispin, who had never traveled, could not sew, could not make snares, could not read or write. Soon enough, I realized that Crispin only knew 150 people in all the world, and none of them dared to reach for such large and dangerous ideas as his new master, Bear the juggler did. Once we see that Bear is a visionary on the cusp of greatness, our fear for Crispin becoming either bait or breakfast are set aside.

Bear teaches him skills both practical (sewing, juggling, playing the recorder for coins) and social (where to look when you speak to people). As they travel cross-country, hoping to avoid Crispin's pursuers, they come to a city in time for a midsummer fair, only to find that their pursuers have come here as well. Much is learned and revealed through secret conversations and through chance encounters inside the city walls, and at the end, Crispin must step into his own and claim his place to save both his own life and Bear's.

You can't have a story like this without a bad guy, but they were pretty shadowy throughout the whole book. Much more was spent on Crispin and his unfolding new personality and skills under Bear's tutelage. It was made clear at the end that the bad guy was the bad guy because he broke his vow (for no good reason other than he was angry enough to), and the good guy was the good guy who (accidentally) dispatched him. Apparently, fighting is the answer in medieval England. I saw a couple more socially acceptable solutions to this one, including dealing directly with a couple of the other "bad" characters in a nonviolent way, but the author chose the fight and flight. It's possible that book two will deal with repercussions of not resolving the inheritance issue completely (at least in the bad guys' eyes). But the heroes did escape from a very claustrophobic scenario and made their getaway, so all's well that ends well.

No fantasy in this one, just straight historical fiction. A good, serious read with fun historical facts and details that really fleshed out the reading experience. I'll be happy to give this one a 4 of 5 stars.

Review for A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Third Kay book here. Seeing trends in his work over time. A Song for Arbonne was written in 1992, after Tigana and before The Last Light of the Sun. It's my favorite of the three I've read. It lacks the sing-songy run-on comma-spliced sentences of both other books (though they were much heavier and purposeful in tLLotS). It also manages decent characterization, and for the first time, I was well and truly attached to characters in one of Kay's books. Is this because I like French troubadours and the Court of Love from history? No, I don't think so. I think it's because, in this book, Kay comes much closer to the style of fantasy novel I enjoy reading: one without an overt agenda (Tigana) and with normalized characters and writing style.

I really enjoyed reading about Blaise (blaze, blasé...clearly the first) and his confusion regarding the Arbonnais way of life. I liked the fact that, though he was from Gorhaut, which was quite repressive to its women, he rejected his father's way of life (and this included, it seems). On top of that, he'd spent several years traveling as a mercenary before the novel begins, so he'd had many different cultural experiences to ameliorate his motherless, father-infested Gorhaut upbringing.

Yet he'd not been to Arbonne before, and so was much confused at the goddess-inspired woman's position in its culture. A woman ran the Court of Love, completely separate from the ruling Duke's position (although at one  point, a Duke was married to the woman in charge of the Court). Not being raised with the goddess Rian in his life, Blaise managed to be mild in his opinion of her, rather than raging to the point of desiring religio-genocide, as his father is. An extreme motive for the plots of the novel, it nevertheless does its job, and manages to create a strong, unapologetic villain.

As tLLotS did afterward, this novel engages the older generation of characters as well as the younger, in a complex weave of mystery and secrets. A couple of the plot points seem baldly to be such--and both involve Lord Urté of Miraval, who came across as a not-quite-fully-developed character, despite his importance to more than one plot thread. But once more, Kay's mastery of culture, blending the historical with the fantastical, shines down on Arbonne with a blend of blue and white moonlight. The poetry, the songs, the attitudes, all contributed to a fully believable Arbonne (sans one thing, below).

And the magic was more understandable than in other books: the priestesses of Rian could do more on their sacred islands than off them, and some things were completely forbidden. I get that magic is, by definition, something mysterious. Otherwise, we'd call it science. But I really prefer knowing at least some of the avenues magic use requires, and Kay seems perennially inclined to the opposite. Alas.

Aside from my Lord de Miraval, the only other bit of the book that distracted me was the feelings of the joglar Lisseut for Blaise. She loves him, she loves him not. She loves him, she loves him not. And never tells him, nor acts on it in any meaningful way, ever. I was expecting a more formal approach to her emotional state, making her the female version of a troubadour in love with his courtly lady, writing songs to her beauty with the approval of his lord. But that never happened, it seems, according to her vidan at the end of the book. I was disappointed, and worse, I was reminded of Dianora from Tigana. The book started off with such a case of courtly love, ultimately involving Blaise in his mercenary capacity. It seemed only fitting that the book end with a similar case. But no, I was denied. Unless it was just too well-hidden: the vidan states that Lisseut was friends with Blaise and his first and second wives, and also bore a child whose father is obvious (this sentence kills off a poor character who comes into her own only at the end of the book; how irritating).

In Arbonne, love and marriage are two separate things entirely. Ariane, queen of the Court of Love, has a homosexual husband, so she sleeps with whomever she likes, and he does the same. Part of the plot's generational secrets stem from a character who did something similar, being married for politics. So it's possible that with Lisseut being from Arbonne, she'd be allowed Arbonnais ways in the court at Gorhaut after the book ends. But...how likely is that? Honestly? I couldn't decide, and Kay didn't make it clear she even got to live at that court as Blaise's troubadour. Which she should have.

 I'm beginning to see that the way Kay treats sex is more as a weapon than as a gift between his characters. Couldn't guess as to why, but it's not my thing. As with Tigana, some of the sex in this book is used to dominate or repress or humiliate, and it's not a subtle thing, either in act or in the writing of it. It's meant to shock, to offend. All this sex belongs to Gorhautian men, those evil dogs who aren't interested in anything equal about women whatsoever. The sex in Arbonne is all consensual, though. Because they get women in each and every nuanced way. Or do they?

Okay, I lied. One further thing disappointed me about this book. In a land where the goddess is worshipped above the god, unlike anywhere else in the six countries, why do they still follow the same patriarchal political maneuverings in marriage?? (This popped right out at me because I got called on a similar issue by an equality zealot on a short story I wrote once) Why are the women of Arbonne married away from their families for political reasons regardless of love, if womanhood is such a valued, nay worshipped, trait? The more I thought about that, the less sense it seemed to make. The culture that Arbonne had was different in many respects due to its goddess worship - love and music being primary - but in the political sphere, it was identical. Why should a goddess keep out of politics? Should she stay in the cosmic kitchen instead? Or, apparently, the conservatory? The Duchess' daughter was the High Priestess, for sheep's sake. Yet Kay seemed either unaware of this gap, or incapable of altering this situation to fit his goddess-culture.

His...goddess-culture? Maybe that's the rub right there.

Most of the characters in this book were a joy to read, and the plot, while mostly straightforward, also contained plenty of intrigue and drama to hold my interest. But I must confess that this book only shone as brightly as it did after reading the previous two Kay books. There's not going to be enough interest for a second read.

I'mma go with 4 stars of 5 for this one.

I'm also highly entertained by the consistent flaws or stylistic variations I've seen in Kay's writing, which I've heard denounced as evil and a publishing-deal-killer countless times from countless mouths. Yet here Kay is, published, with numerous books to his name. What's the lesson here? Write what you love. Don't change what you write just because you don't think it will be published as it is. Kay's been published numerous times, and his distinct voice is read by thousands upon thousands of readers. I may not particularly be a fan, but reading and writing are notoriously subjective in taste. For which I am, as Kay no doubt is, eternally grateful.

Review for Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay

It's me again. I'm testing my hand at reviews, if you didn't notice. It helps me keep a written log of my thoughts on certain elements of published novels, so that I can track what I see, what I like, what I want to avoid in my own writing. I've been reading fantasy books for twenty years or more, and like everyone, there are things I like to read and things I don't. However, now that I'm also writing my own novels, I see the need for certain elements, for what they do to a plot. So come along with me, if you like, and see what I find interesting in these books I'm reading.

Okay. Tigana. Let me start with the end. No, not that end. The Afterword, after the end. In it, Kay states that he had several threads in his mind combine to create the seed for this story (I read the 10th anniversary edition of this book, btw--never did figure out the cover art). The thing was, a couple of those threads weren't completely woven through the tapestry of the novel--they lay on top, exposed, obvious, and it kept distracting me, pulling me out of the story, every time he drew attention to them. Arrrgh! I hate that: pet peeve. It's hard for fiction authors to work up a properly-screening agenda-hider sometimes, and it seems to me that Kay has fallen victim to that pitfall here. He has, again, a glorious culture. I nearly want to move there myself...okay, vacation. But there were so many speed bumps in the narrative that I kept losing my place in the fantasy world.

A glorious culture, indeed. Based on Italian Renaissance history, it depicts the pitfalls of a culture that is so divided within itself that one section will not rise to the aid of another against an outside foe, simply because they do not like them. And thus they are conquered. The book follows twenty years later, as a few rebel elements try to throw off the yokes of two warring (er, yelling-across-the-room-at-each-other) sorcerers and reclaim their homeland.

In one instance, however, reclaiming their homeland is more historical than literal. Tigana has been erased from the memories of everyone who did not live there, and they cannot hear nor understand the term. The name has been changed, and those who still live there are mistreated terribly by their ruler, Brandin. After all, the Prince of Tigana killed his son. No matter that it was during an invasion war. Brandin's rage and punishment will not be halted. The problem is that the magic he cast in order to wipe the memory of Tigana from the land means that he has to live in the area for 60 more years.

Okay, you had me 'til that point. I was with you. And then he has to hang around for 60 more years? Sure, he lives waaaaay longer than regular people. But Kay portrayed Brandin as sympathetic from the POV of Dianora, one of his concubines. I realize people are complex, and Brandin's POV was made clear on the issue of his son. I just couldn't buy it. I chalk it up to a lack of background on his relationship with his son. The kid dies before the Prologue, for sheep's sake. There's no mention of what he, a younger son, meant to Brandin, other than the usual king-to-younger-prince relationship. I believe the entire Palm was meant for the younger son to rule, so that his sons could control two empires for him. So yeah, a bit of bitterness there. But he never went home to his queen to make more kids. There was mention of her not liking him for leaving to conquer elsewhere, and at one point she and her lesbian poet lover plot to kill him (we'll get to the sex in this book in a minute), so that probably wasn't going to happen. But then, neither did he take a new wife, kill the old one, or in any other way move toward having more kids in his new land. Until near the end. Twenty years later.

I saw what this was early on, and it irritated me. It's a case of Bad Bad Guy. The other sorcerer, Alberico, had it too. They're the most powerful magic users in the land. They've split the peninsula, half to each of them, and reached a stalemate. Then, they did nothing for twenty years? No spy networks, no assassinations on each other, no police states? Nothing. Their stagnation, especially Alberico's, allows the rebels to make far-reaching networks and coordinate right under their noses. Manipulate them into doing what the rebels want them to. The sorcerers are like oxen, it seems. Huge and dangerous if you're underfoot, but also slow and easily prodded. This slowness, smugness, arrogance, was the device Kay used to make the book long enough so the rebels had time to scamper about and get ready. The sorcerers mostly sat there and stewed about their own problems, either in the Palm or back home in their own empires. It was quite boring.

Dianora started out as an interesting character: she came to kill Brandin in revenge for Tigana, but found herself helplessly in love with him. She had a plan of some sort to get to where he was, and miraculously got taken there before she could decide what she was doing. How conveeeenient. She never acts on her original rage and hatred, though she spends a lot of time waffling--not about killing him, but about killing herself. I must say, however, that the first time suicide is an option, it has huge political repercussions, and would, in my opinion, have been the best way for that character to go out. It wouldn't have been good for the plot, however, so she had to live. Unfortunately, it seems she's taken with a maudlin attitude from that point on, and sees herself as fated to die, useless. It's this sort of character that irritates me to no end: one who can't make up their mind whether to act, and by waffling, advances the plot to its end by characters who know when to act. Arrrrgh! She started off so excellent, and then degenerated into fluff, much like Brandin and Alberico. It's the loss of what might have been that makes it to hard to accept her fate.

Okay, the sex. In the Afterword, Kay states that the novelist Milan Kundera helped him fuel his own ideas for a relationship between "conquered peoples and an unstable sexuality". It's an interesting theme, and one that perhaps psychiatrists have theories on. But the way Kay handled it felt clumsy, new, awkward. No, not the sex; he's written enough of that so that it went smoothly here. But the meaning behind it. He had to attach meaning to every sex scene, every mention of sex, throughout the book, it seemed, in order to further his theme. That part was awkward.

The book starts off with a teenage boy, Devin, who looks younger than he is. He seems to be constantly propositioned or panted after by homosexual men who live under Alberico's rule. He turns them all down. Then a girl who doesn't like him throws himself at him, giving up her virginity in order to protect secrets he finds out anyway--she lives in embarrassment and their relationship is very strained once the truth comes out. Once their team is assembled and they begin phase two of saving their land, all the homosexuals vanish (the brave Tomasso is murdered). It seems that when Devin and friends go to war, the policy becomes Don't Ask, Don't Tell. If you're going to paint a culture as a place where homosexuality is acceptable in public, don't hide it when war shows up. The war's not about sex.

In one of Dianora's flashbacks, it's revealed that she and her brother lived in Tigana's occupied capital, and that he was harassed daily, beaten even, by the occupying soldiers of Brandin. Yes, the Brandin she sleeps with later (Kay never describes their sex, though with her mentality, it should have fit his quality of "broken"). This desperate, hopeless situation leads Dianora and her brother to check into the Incest Motel for a few months before he flees the country.

The worst bit was when the team visited Alienar's castle. Alien? No, quite human. She's a dominatrix, or possibly a switch, and she nabs Devin for a night of twisted fun. Okay, fine, she's all alone in the mountains. But no. Devin has to go open his mouth as he's leaving, and bring up the philosophical implications of her behavior. Is now really the time, Devin? He hurt her feelings and left me wondering what the heck sort of book I'd gotten into. Though by then, I should have known.

On magic: there are wizards in the Palm, and they have power, though it seems to be different than that of the sorcerers. It's never explained, though. I like my magic quantifiable, unless specifically described as unquantifiable. This book had everything so vague that I had no idea what was possible and what wasn't. Some may enjoy that position, but I don't. Magic rarely showed up, too, so I had little time to try and piece its rules together. Lopping off fingers and proximity were key, though. At least for the wizards.

On romance: separated from sex because in all instances of sex in this book, none of it was prompted by love. I begin to believe that Kay doesn't do romance, but his characters do, and that doesn't work for me. The "proper" sort of relationships emerge only at the end of the book, once there is freedom to be had. There's no foreshadowing for them, however. Rather the opposite. One character has a dream, in the middle of the book, of her and a man in a field of flowers beneath the moon. That scene happens, but not with her; she pairs up with someone who suddenly loves her to death and never wants to leave her--except for another night at Alienar's castle. (Um...)  Another pairing pops up out of the blue, implying that a working relationship and a willingness to kill yourself after committing murder are all it takes to spark that loving feeling.

Okay, I think I'm done harping. Don't get me wrong; overall, I did enjoy this book, but again, it was because of the immensely detailed setting and culture, and not so much because of the plot or characters. It made it difficult to get through, but since I'm reading with an eye to style and form, it made the story more interesting.

Fave characters: Alessan's mom (scary!), Catriana, Scelto, Rovigo, Alais. Hmm, this includes only one main character. Ish.

Notes to self: don't leave obvious plot threads hanging out, and communicate with characters re: love. Also, make awesome setting.

Three of five stars.

There. That should cover it.