January 2010


Booking Through Thursday

So, today’s question is in two parts.

1. Do YOU like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings?

2. What book with a surprise ending is your favorite? Or your least favorite?

1, Yes, I like both as long as they’re appropriate for the story and the characters.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a truly surprise ending where the bad guys win or the murderer isn’t found. The bad guys might get away with it but not even revealing whodunnit? Of course, that would anger readers a lot.

2, I think answering this would defeat the purpose. :) I really enjoy a surprise ending when I don’t know in advance that there’s a twist.

Part of the following challenges: to-be-read-pile, 2nds, speculative fiction, and take the journey

This is the second in the science fiction series about document examiner Jani Killian.

After the disastrous events in the Rauta Shèràa Base, where a few humans lived in an idomeni base, Jani has been on the run for almost twenty years. She was badly hurt in the conflict at the base and in order to keep her alive, her whole body had to be reconstructed. A team of three doctors decided to rebuild Jani as a human-idomeni hybrid. Now, her hybrid body is breaking down. She also has a military augment which gives her body a boost of strength, speed, and stamina when needed. Unfortunately, the augment also needs maintenance which Jani isn’t getting.

Jani is also wanted for a more recent murder and feels like she can’t trust anyone. However, she has so severe symptoms, stomach cramps, difficulty sleeping and eating, that she’s forced to find medical help. She contacts the Neoclona company under a false ID. One of the three doctors works there and he’s willing to help her. However, during the examination she’s poisoned and promptly taken into custody.

After she recovers somewhat, she expects a murder trial. However, the charges against her are quite different. They are still serious enough that she has to have a lawyer and there will be a trial later. Meanwhile, she’s a professional archivist and the military is prepared to give her the old job back. She’s suspicious, of course, but her lawyer advices her to take it. It turns out, that the current relations between humans and idomeni are pretty shaky and Jani does know the idomeni and their customs well. However, she still suspects that something more sinister is going on.

Jani is a great heroine: tough, determined, intelligent, and haunted by her past. She’s learned the hard way not to trust anyone but herself and even her own body is now breaking down. Yet, she seems to not to be a loner by nature but rather because of the circumstances. She cares about the people around her.

The book has three point-of-view characters: Jani, her former lover and the former Interior Minister Evan van Reuter, and another archivist Sam Duong. Sam is convinced that he’s being framed for things he didn’t do but nobody believes him. His doctor says that he has a tumor in his brain which makes him forget things and then make up stories to fill in the blanks. The doctor wants to operate. Sam, however, is convinced that he has an augment in his brain and removing it would kill him.

After the events in the first book, Evan is under house arrest and suspected of murder. Only very few people can visit him. One of them is his lawyer, Joaquin Loiaza, who is basically Evan’s only link to the outside world. Yet, Evan is still in the middle of most elaborate plotting and scheming imaginable. Much like Jani, he’s also in a position where he can’t trust anyone but for him the situation is new. Or newish because his job as a politician didn’t involve trusting many people, either.

This book has very deep world building. There’s tension between the Earth-born humans and the colonials, and that colors the way that the characters interact. There’s tension between the military and civilians, as well, even though that’s not as clear.

The idomeni are still fascinatingly alien. They view eating as sacred and even seeing a food transport is sacrilegious. They prefer to show their emotions in the open instead of hiding them as many humans do. This can cause quite a lot of friction between the species especially when trained diplomats try to handle the idomeni.

The plotting is very fast-paced. There are no flashbacks but Jani does reminisces a lot about what happened twenty years ago. There are a lot of characters in the book and they aren’t reintroduced every time they appear. Overall, the book requires a lot of attention while reading but also rewards it.

There’s been a lot of upset in the blogland in the past days about covers showing a white character when the protagonist is not white. The same thing happened with this cover. Jani is described as “tawny damsel” but the hand in the cover (reaching for the knife) is white. The book was published in 2000.

The third in the romance/epic fantasy series the Twelve Houses. This time, the focus is on the King’s Rider Justin and one of the Silver Lady’s Daughters, Ellynor, who is not from Gillengaria. The other familiar characters have also significant roles.

Huge spoilers and sorry for the length!

Tayse sends Justin into the town of Neft. He is supposed to spy on the Lestra Coralinda Gisseltess who is the high priestess of the Silver Lady. She hates and persecuted mystics and is also suspected of plotting against the king. Justin isn’t happy because he’s sent there all alone but he goes grudgingly. Cammon escorts him and Justin declares to him that he isn’t that interested in girls, especially ones who need to be fussed over and protected all the time. Justin gets a job as a stable hand and starts to think about a way to the Lestra’s convent so that he can see what’s going on.

Ellynor is a girl from Lirrenlands who doesn’t know much about the Silver Lady at all. She was sent to the convent by her family’s men as an escort to her cousin Rosurie. Poor Rosurie had fallen in love with the wrong man and tried to elope with him. The man had been from a wrong clan whom Rosurie’s family did not approve at all. They would have gone to war before allowing Rosurie to marry him. Instead, the couple was separated and Ellynor and Rosurie had been sent to a convent in a different culture.

The girls aren’t allowed to leave the convent (except to proselytize but the only time Ellynor does this is near the end of the book and how can you proselytize a goddess you don’t know anything about?), but Ellynor is fortunate and she can go to Neft on her own. In a short time, she manages to get lost and a man attacks her. Justin saves her and they talk for a while. In the end, they both like each other very much and hope that they can see each other again. Intellectually, Ellynor knows that nothing can come out of it because Justin isn’t from Lirrenlands. The men of the Lirrenlands clans don’t allow their women to marry outside the clans. Instead the men will hunt the hapless suitor until he’s killed. Also, Ellynor loves her family; she doesn’t want to leave them or see any of them killed.

Even though the tough swordsman Justin doesn’t like helpless women, he falls for Ellynor after one conversation.

Ellynor has another problem: all her life, she has worshipped the gentle nigh goddess Dark Mother. She hasn’t converted to the worship of the Silver Lady and hasn’t told anyone about it. Dark Mother has also given her the gifts of healing, seeing perfectly in darkness, and moving almost invisibly in darkness. Ellynor doesn’t consider these gifts to be magic or herself to be a mystic. Unfortunately, according to Gillangaria’s culture she is a mystic. If her fellow priestesses find out, they will burn her on the stake.

There’s a secondary plotline about the Tayse and Senneth who are recruiting fighters and allies for the king. They even talk to some men from the Lirrenlands. Senneth has spent a few years there and was adopted into one of the clans so she’s hoping to persuade some of the clans to ally with the king. She also returns to her erstwhile home where her high-born family hears that she’s in a relationship with “a common soldier”. (I would hardly think of the Chief of the King’s Riders to be a common soldier…)

The book contains a lot of fighting, escapes, desperate lovers, fast plot twist, and friends closer than family. So by itself it’s an enjoyable read.

Unfortunately, some of the things in it just don’t make sense. One of them is right at the start. In the first chapter, Cammon and Justin save a mystic who is being tortured by the Lestra’s men. One of the men is allowed to live. Yet, instead of asking the man about, for example, the Lestra’s plans and the overlay of the convent, he allowed to go away. So, they already know for sure that the Lestra is ordering men to kill mystics. If the Lestra is clearly responsible for murdering other citizens, shouldn’t the king be more than justified in arresting her and her followers?

Which bring me to the second point: there also seems to be no legal system. The Lestra’s men are killing mystics and the King doesn’t like it. Yet, the King doesn’t do legally anything to stop it. When a man attacks Ellynore on the street she doesn’t even consider the possibility of reporting the man to authorities. Or to the Lestra, for that matter. So, it seems that the characters in the book aren’t citizens who could rely on any sort of legal protection. How a large country can work like this, I can’t really understand.

There’s a lot of talk about the goddesses and yet, the convent system seems to be the only form of organized religion.

Then there’s Ellynore and her cousin in the convent. Her cousin Rosurie fell in love with the wrong man and was sent to the convent “while the men decided what to do with her”. Ellynor was sent to keep her company. The problem here is that the girls and their families are from a country where apparently only the Dark Mother is worshipped and the Silver Lady is completely unknown. Why would any family send their girls to worship a completely unknown goddess? The girls don’t even know what a mystic is!

However, my main problem was, once again, that the whole thing wasn’t fantastic enough. The cultures of Gillangaria and Lirrenlands are only superficially different. Inside, they are very much the same. Both value warriors highly. Both value warriors as husbands and neither seems to have any reservations about, for example, the warrior husband dying early or becoming violent towards his wife. Superficially, both have strictly monogamous marriages and yet pre-marital sex doesn’t seem to be a problem. Everybody is 100% heterosexual. Both cultures are also patriarchal and have modern Western rape culture. The one where, when a man attacks a woman, *she* is the one who is blamed and gets in trouble.

Also, Justin and Ellynor don’t talk about the practical side of the marriage. In previous books, it was sort of understandable when the couples came from the same culture so it’s likely that they understood what, for example, their legal standings are. However, when the couple is supposed to come from different cultures, they don’t know any of these things. Does the man now own everything the woman owned? Is the woman now considered part of the male and is therefore not, for example, a whole person in the eyes of the law or not able to make contracts on her own? A lot was said about how Ellynor’s male relatives would thrash Justin before the wedding but what about after it? Would Justin be held accountable for how he treats Ellynore or could he do anything to her? What about divorce? Was there an expectation of children within a certain number of years?

It felt somewhat ridiculous that the two would talk so much about practically everything else but not about what would happen and be expected in the marriage. To me, it also felt that their lives would end after wedding because clearly no-one was interested in what would happen afterwards.

I was also a bit disappointed how easily things worked out in the end. It also seems to me, that once again, the woman in the relationship has to give up her family, friends, future plans, and everything else to be in the relationship while the man gave up… well, being single. Not balanced at all!

I have also some problems with the inconstancies in Cammon’s powers but hopefully the next book will deal with them at least a bit.

Ultimately, the book didn’t really work for me. I liked it when I listened it, but when I started think about it even a little, many of the things in it made no sense. However, I’m curious enough about the fate of Gillengaria to get the next book. I believe that the major story archs will be closed in it.

It seems that quite a few readers have liked Shinn’s SF more and I hope they will also come out in audio format.

One more challenge to go: 1st in a series challenge 2010.

2. There are four levels:

– Curious– Read 3 novels that are first in a series.

– Fascinated – Read 6 novels that are first in a series.

– Addicted – Read 12 novels that are first in a series.

– Obsessed – Read 20 novels that are first in a series.

3. Any genre counts.

I’m aiming again for 20 books. I have over 90 1st in a series books in my to-be-read-pile, so this shouldn’t be a problem. I think I’m going to read mostly mystery and urban fantasy genres in this challenge.

Booking Through Thursday

Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

Well, I mostly read science fiction and fantasy, so the majority of the reading public doesn’t read any of my favorites. Also, since I read mostly in English and live in Finland, the majority of other Finns probably doesn’t read the same books.

But even among those who read SF and fantasy, most doesn’t seem to read

Anne Logston, who wrote short, self-contained, light-hearted fantasy books and
Kristine Kathryn Rusch who writes great and complex science fiction.

Even a great story-teller like Lois McMaster Bujold seems to be mostly unknown and I can’t figure out why.

I’m going to sign up for two more challenges this year. The next one will be the 2nd Reading Challenge 2010.

The great thing about this challenge is that it’s not just for your second in a series books, but the second time you’ve read an author as well. This encourages you to give authors another try if you haven’t liked the book you’ve read or simply another excuse to read a book by an author you loved.

There are four levels:

– Curious – Read 3 novels that are 2nd in a series or second time you’ve read the author.

– Fascinated – Read 6 that are 2nd in a series or second time you’ve read the author.

– Addicted – Read 12 novels that are 2nd in a series or second time you’ve read the author.

– Obsessed – Read 20 novels 2nd in a series or second time you’ve read the author.

I’m aiming for Obsessed again. I have about 30 of these in my to-read-pile, so I shouldn’t have any problems completing this one. :)

I’ll try to read the ones I planned to read last year but didn’t:
1, Jim Butcher: Fool Moon
2, Michelle West: Hunter’s Death
3, Cherryh: Chanur’s Venture
4, Kristine Smith: Rules of Conflict
5, Megan Whelan Turner: The Queen of Attolia
6, Kate Elliott: Shadow Gate
7, Ilona Andrews: Magic Burns
8, Stacia Kane: Unholy Magic
9, Rowena Cory Daniells: The Uncrowned King
10, Elizabeth Bear: Hell and Earth
11, Alexandre Dumas, père: Vingt ans après
12, Lisa Shearin: Armed and Magical
13, Liz Williams: the Demon and the City
14, Elaine Cunningham: The Floodgate
15, Connie Willis: All Clear
16, Marie Brennan: In Ashes Lie
17, Rachel Caine: Heat Stroke
18, Walter Greatshell: Xombies: Apocalypticon
19, Laura Anne Gilman: Curse the Dark
20, Lloyd Alexander: The El Dorado Adventure

The eight book in the delightful historical mystery series about Amelia Peabody and her family. The year is 1900.

Amelia has her hands full with her son Ramses, who is now 12, and her adopted daughter Nefret, 15. She is trying to keep both of them out of trouble while trying to teach Nefret how to behave in Victorian society. That job isn’t easy because Amelia herself doesn’t much care for the society’s rules, either. Meanwhile, her best friend Evelyn and her husband Walter are having difficulties in their marriage. Amelia would like to help but doesn’t know how, for a change.

Soon, Emerson, Amelia, Ramses, and Nefret head for Egypt. Amelia hires also a teacher for the kids, Miss Gertrude Marmaduke. Miss Marmaduke seems like a mousy old maid but soon Amelia starts to suspect that she’s a more sinister person. At the very least, poor Miss Marmaduke is after Emerson!

Almost immediately after they return to Egypt, Amelia and Emerson are confronted by a mysterious person who claims to be the latest reincarnation of Queen Tetisheri’s High Priest. He claims to know the location of the Queen’s tomb and is willing to share it with the Emersons. However, Emerson is highly suspicious. Then the mystery man is poisoned and while Amelia goes for help, Emerson is hit in the head and the mystery man disappears. Emerson is still determined to excavate, as usual.

The Peabody-Emersons are in a fine form with their usual witty banter. Many of the characters from the previous books return from the journalist Kevin O’Connell to Howard Carter. Walter and Evelyn have a larger part than in the previous books which I enjoyed greatly.

Unfortunately, the mystery part of the book is more like a subplot and the characters and the setting are the main thing. The mystery moves very slowly except near the beginning and the end, and the clues are far apart from each other. It’s not a problem for me, because I like the Peabodies anyway, but those looking for more solid mystery might be disappointed.

In the book Amelia is translating an Ancient Egyptian story which she calls the Hippopotamus Pool. Except that she’s using the pre-modern type of “translation” which was used especially on non-Christian texts where the “translator” takes characters, setting, plot, or theme and makes up their own story. Here, Amelia is looking for a suitable ending to her “translation”. It was almost surreal when that sort of rewriting is called translating. (I’m a translator, but of the modern kind who isn’t allowed to make changes.)

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