Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Karen Lord’s debut novel is an intricately woven tale of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit. Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi— who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord’s world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals is inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale—but Paama’s adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.

spoilers, sorta, about the structure of the ending

This book is smarter than me. Or it might be more accurate to say that the author is smarter than me. Probably both statements are true. I say this because this story is incredibly self-aware and consistently makes a point of showing off its structure, the types of characters and tropes it contains, the style in which it’s being told , and the overall “point” of the story being told in the first place. For example, nearing the end of the story I was thinking, “Ho hum, nice tale, but not a whole lot of compelling characters.” A couple of pages later, the omniscient narrator pops into say, “Duh, have you been paying attention to the type of story I’m telling here? It’s not the characters’ job to please you, nor is it mine!” It similarly castigates those readers (and I’m one of them) that typically groan at stories having obvious morals or lessons one’s supposed to learn at the end. And of course, the narrator says, “I told you in the beginning what the entire story was going to be about! Stop complaining!”

And what is the story about? Choices mostly, and chaos and human agency and how even with the presence of supernatural beings like the djombi, it isn’t entirely correct to blame them for all the bad things that happen, nor are they entirely responsible for saving human lives and pushing events in a direction they’re supposed to go because human choice will more often than not override attempts to have things go differently.

It’s funny, normally I would be really annoyed at a story told like this in which the narration explicitly explains what roles the characters in the story fulfill, what their motives are, and what the entire story is even about. However, the author tells the story in such a way that all of these asides and explanations are part and parcel of the story itself; it’s like a story typically told orally translated into a written version. Additionally, there are parts of the story in which readers is given the answer, but in a vague, roundabout manner, so they still have to do some fancy footwork to figure out what exactly has happened and what implications it will have the for the rest of the story. And I should say right now that the writing is so excellent – every single word feels carefully chosen and the story is told concisely without losing any detail, texture or depth. I am very envious of Karen Lord’s skill right now.

And yeah, in writing all of this, I haven’t said any thing about Paama and the journey she goes on, the chaos stick, and the various djombi sticking their noses into human affairs. This isn’t to say they aren’t integral to the story, but rather than being one of the most important parts, they share equal footing with all the rest of the components that make up this story. It’s one of those rare cases where every story is perfectly balanced. If you love meta in your stories and some seriously competent, assured writing, this book is perfect.

Disclosure – library

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.

Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araené, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araené has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araené quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .

Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read.

I really liked the parallel between Trei and Araené’s individual struggles regarding the roles they were intended to fill and the ones they’ve chosen instead. In my eyes, Trei’s struggle is the more difficult one to overcome. Being half Toulounnese and half Islander, raised in Toulounn and having been relocated to the Floating Islands after the destruction of his family, Trei doesn’t know which nation he’s supposed to identify with and whether he should even be allowed to do so with whichever one he chooses. He’s accepted by the wind dragons to train to become a kajurai, but part of him can’t help but sympathize and identify with Toulounn’s attack on the Islands because he had never before questioned the inevitability or rightness of Toulounn as a conquering nation. I appreciated how this never become a cut-and-dry problem and even when Trei takes action against Toulounn on behalf of the Floating Islands, it’s not because he now thinks Toulunn is completely evil, but because the Floating Islands are where he has chosen to call home.

Araené, on the other hand, is caught between being the upper-class daughter she’s expected to be, the chef she wants to become, and the mage she seems to be developing into. The latter two require her to be male, and so she takes on that role to learn how to become that mage. While Trei is more confused and conflicted than anything else, Araené is fully bitter that this is what she was born into and her lot in life won’t change unless she drastically changes it herself.

The author’s writing was so. pretty. During the week that I was reading this, I hadn’t been in the mood to read any text for fun that required me to read slowly and pay attention (which meant I put the book aside more often than I meant to), but really, once I stopped trying to speed through and started lying back and appreciating the words she used and the descriptions she came up with, I fell in love. The language isn’t obviously obtuse or flowery, but the author has a way of stringing words together to describe flying, magic, dragons, and even the tastes Araené experiences in a uniquely evocative way. Just… gah. I almost want to apologize to the author for not reading this at a more optimal time when I would have taken all the time I needed to fully absorb how beautifully crafted her writing is.

I will say that the world in this book felt strange in some aspects, largely in that it was clear the author had come up with a very detailed plan for how this world works, what the different countries are like, cultures, outlooks on life, etc, but decided to only reveal a little bit of that information in the book. For example, Toulounn prides itself on its military strength, sees war as a game, and views conquering other countries as the natural order of things. “Toulounn soldiers are the best in the world,” goes the saying. But the way these facts were applied felt reductive, like any ambiguity or complexity was erased. Maybe I just can’t buy the existence of a conquering nation that has no sign of court or military intrigue whatsoever and that all of the military personnel and even the Little Emperor himself, would be fully honest and forthright to the point of fully disclosing future plans on conquering the Floating Islands a second time after being defeated.

Similarly, barely anything is mentioned about the difference in male and female roles in the Floating Islands, beyond the fact that women of good family learn to keep house, get married, aren’t schooled in any way, and supposedly aren’t mages. But when Araené learns she has the ability to become a mage, she doesn’t ask why she has the power in the first place. Obviously, the fact that she’s female is a huge impediment and something she’s very keen to hide, but it felt odd that she never stopped and questioned why on earth she was a mage when presumably she would have learned that all mages are male and no female mages exist or have existed. And then when all of her (male) compatriots and teachers find out she’s female, none of them go, “WTF, women aren’t mages!” and one of them even says, “Oh yeah, female mages actually existed a long time ago.” So… why was the gender divide even important in the first place?

This also extended to events such as the volcano that wiped out Trei’s family, the sickness that killed off Araené’s, the politics of the Floating Islands, and even the religion that seems to be shared by both them and Toulounn. I can understand not going into huge detail behind the first two things – they happened immediately and inexplicably and major, catastrophic events like that happen. But with everything else, it kept feeling like the author was doling out only as much detail as she needed to and not a drop more. By the end of the book, this was aggravating; the story ended up being simultaneously complex and simplistic.

All that being said, I do think Rachel Neumeier is a lovely writer and I do want to read more of her books. Trei and Araené were well-drawn characters and when she actually described and fleshed out the world she created, it was solid, detailed, and magical. I will probably read her other books during times when I am not drowning in work (which means I shouldn’t read them when the school year starts up again because Thesis!)

Disclosure – library

GoT Season 2, Episode 7: A Man Without Honor

DISCLAIMERS

I am so late on putting this up that it is not even funny. But I did it! This will be long because I still haven’t yet fully absorbed the concept of brevity.

Theon, you horrible bastard of a person. This storyline is unfolding beautifully, in the sense that it is horrifying to watch Theon unravel and lose control to the point that the only way he can get anything done is through violence. That ending scene was brilliantly done and so visceral. Maester Luwin’s reactions to the bodies? Heartbreaking. I will say that I am *so glad* I know how it all works out, otherwise I would have been throwing things at my laptop.

Sansa actually gets significant scene time! And plot development, kind of. Sansa and Shae’s relationship has actually started to grow on me, which is definitely a 180 from my opinion on it in the last episode. Just overall, I’ve really grown to like the Shae in the show as opposed to the Shae in the book. She actually feels like a character with thoughts and motivations outside those of Tyrion and other people, and it’s touching to see how much she’s come to care for Sansa that she’d willingly fight or kill to protect her. On the other hand, Shae and Tyrion’s storylines seem largely divorced from each other, and I wonder what implications that’ll have later on, given certain developments in A Storm of Swords.

However, it did feel like Sansa’s big scene with Cersei felt more about the former than the latter because in Cersei giving her the advice about how loving people makes you weak so you should only love your children, it felt like it was more revealing about Cersei’s character and Sansa was just the convenient person to tell this information to. That being said, I am really liking Cersei’s character development and think that so far, this season has done a good job showing the many sides that make up Cersei Lannister. She’s conniving, power-hungry, and ruthless, but she also loves her children with all her heart and wants so much to be the son she feels she was meant to be rather than the daughter she is. I *loved* the scene with her and Tyrion where Cersei’s growing fragility is on full display, as well as her growing acceptance of the fact that she’s failed spectacularly by letting Joffrey grow to be the monster that he is. Add her growing doubt over sleeping with Jaime in the first place and her fears of potential madness and divine retribution for doing so, and you get an absolutely brilliant scene where it’s almost as though Tyrion is seeing Cersei for the first time.

I’ve hardly commented on Tyrion throughout this current season and as of now, I think I know why. I was reading this post about the King’s Landing mob scene in A Clash of Kings and was reminded of the fact that Bronn tells Tyrion that the anger of the mob was largely directed not at Joffrey, but at Tyrion because they think that he’s the one pulling the King’s strings and is therefore the source of all the suffering the common people are experiencing. And this made me remember that Tyrion’s main goal in this book, and what it should be in this series, is for him to prove himself capable of assisting his family, leading a kingdom, and showing how powerful and necessary he is despite his stature and lack of physical abilities in a land that prizes strength and military might above all else in men. In the show, that’s not coming through at all. Yeah sure, there’s that one scene where a couple of guys appear to be getting religion and the speaker blames Tyrion for the land’s ills, but compared to everything else that’s happened in King’s Landing since then, it’s hardly noteworthy. This also means that Tyrion is a lot less interesting in the show than he could be because he’s not struggling with those internal demons and doing his job largely out of selfish reasons. Instead, he’s the “good” guy, trying to restore order to King’s Landing, beat Stannis’ fleet, and control Joffrey. All seemingly good things, or at least not egregious, but it definitely makes him more one-note.

I’m starting to understand the Arya/Tywin scenes a bit better now that they’ve had a chance to relax around each other. I love how both of them have now made clear to each other the game they’re playing, and have made clear to each other why they’ll let it continue. More than that, I love how Tywin’s enjoying it as an amusement and Arya’s getting practice for later down the line. I will say I was cringing a bit when Arya responds to Tywin’s inquiry about whether she shouldn’t be more interested in pretty things like most girls with a “Most girls are idiots.” It’s more of a meta problem because its Arya who’s saying this and Arya’s probably the most popular female character *because* she isn’t feminine, so that statement appears more OK coming out of her mouth than another character’s.

Ygritte and Jon, oh my god, those two are incorrigible. I enjoyed Ygritte’s snarky taunting about Jon’s sex life, though I thought it went on longer than was probably necessary. My favorite part was the argument about the difference between the Wildlings and those South of the Wall, just because it establishes her as a member of her own people who should be worth Jon’s consideration and respect instead of his disregard for them as enemies and a threat.

Jaime. Jaime, Jaime, Jaime. His escape attempt was definitely valiant, if completely unsuccessful. I hadn’t realized how much I missed him until he started cutting away at Alton Lannister and then at Catelyn. I will say I am extremely surprised that the show is having her release him now rather than closer to the end. I realize that one likely reason is so they can get a head start on events in A Storm of Swords. However, the placement of it in relation to Cat’s timeline feels off. In the books, she releases him out of one last hope of getting her daughters back. In the show, there’s no forethought to this decision, it just looks like an emotional outburst. And I don’t think she’s even heard about what “happened” to Bran and Rickon yet. I don’t know, I don’t care for the way they’ve ordered this sequence.

And then there’s Dany’s storyline. Which has been completely upturned and revised in a way I can’t comprehend. I mean, I’m ok with Xaro Xoan Dhaxos wanting to stick it to the other Qarthians and take over, especially if he as the resources and ambition to do so. But… it all feels forced. I mean, slaying almost the entire ruling body of Qarth and completely altering the political landscape is a huge deal! I give up even trying to understand the way this storyline is playing out, I just… gah. Do. Not. Get.

Things! They are happening! And so we inch ever closer to the end of this season.

GoT Season 2, Episode 6: The Old Gods and the New

DISCLAIMERS

My post about this episode will largely consist of me flailing about going “WHY WHY WHY?” at certain scenes. Yeah, there was some good stuff, but I largely spent the hour staring at my laptop thinking “WTF, why is this happening!?”

I was not entirely comfortable with Osha’s role in this episode being relegated to that of engaging in sexytimes with Theon so that Bran and Rickon can escape. It just feels really lazy. Sexy servant girl whom Theon had made creepy overtures to previously being a femme fatale? Not my thing. Also, were Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and Osha heading for the Godswood? I hope they double back and hide in the crypt because that was such a powerful image, them emerging from underground at the end of ACoK once Theon had been defeated and Winterfell was in ruins. I will say Rodrick’s beheading was really well done and was definitely a heartbreaking moment, especially with Bran sobbing and pleading in the background. And Theon being unable to do it with one stroke and reduced to hacking his head off… gah. I was questioning the logic behind putting Theon’s takeover of Winterfell at the beginning of this episode (I thought it would have made a good ending for the previous one), but it makes more sense now that they framed it around Rodrick’s beheading. But it does mean he won’t be returning to save Winterfell with an army later on, and this makes me sad. I will say I was disappointed that Rodrick didn’t call him Theon Turncloak – it’s a great name.

Something I was really unhappy with – Sansa’s near-rape. Yes, she got lost in the crowd and was in danger of her life. THAT DID NOT MEAN THAT SHE HAD TO BE ALMOST RAPED. What makes it even more infuriating is that once again, no sign of a storyline whatsoever. Where the fuck is Ser Dontos? Are the show runners going to allow her to do anything this season besides get verbally and physically beaten up? Also, I was a little iffy on Sansa trusting Shae. Sansa should know better than to trust anyone in King’s Landing, especially the Red Keep. She should know servants gossip and that many also serve as spies in addition to being servants. In the books, I am pretty sure Sansa is realizes this, especially after having lived in the palace for so long. Or this could just all be me grumbling because I can.

OK, what where some good things? Ygritte’s here! So far I like what we’ve seen so far of her character and I really like that Rose Leslie is playing her, I loved watching her in Downton Abbey). John Snow continues to be the emo-est of emos and make emo faces, especially when he was trying to screw up the willpower to kill Ygritte. Also he’s making a right fool of himself dragging her along as a prisoner when he doesn’t even know where he is or where he’s going, though I’m assuming he captured her rather than let her go so she wouldn’t give word to Mance. But he’s going to have let her go eventually, so… bonding time, perhaps? Set for the inevitable romance? Their interactions are great though, what with her going, “What the hell is this idiot boy doing? Fine, I’ll be a prisoner, Gods is he uptight!” Yeah.

Speaking of romance, more sparks are beginning to fly between Robb and Jeyne/Talisia? I still cannot tell if she is lying through her teeth about her name and being from Volantis or if she really is who she claims to be. Still, I’m liking their interactions. Robb fares a bit better at talking to his love interest than Jon does, though he’s still pretty unsure and fumbling around a bit.

I found Arya and Tywin’s scene to be a bit strange. He seems to be taking an uncommon interest in a seemingly lowly commoner cupbearer. Him interrogating her about her background made sense – that’s his right as Tywin Lannister. What felt off was Arya returning the favor and asking him about his father and him deigning to give a response. Also, when Amory Lorch is threatening to expose Arya’s subterfuge to Tywin, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask Jaqen H’Ghar to kill Tywin rather than Lorch? You know, take out the head of the entire Lannister army and a huge power behind the throne? Granted, she was thinking in the moment, and the most obvious threat at the time was Lorch. I did like the scene with Tywin, Arya, and Littlefinger and how the presence of that one person is what shook her unflappable calm because he’s the one person in Harrenhal who could expose her identity.

I have to say, I was not impressed with Dany in this episode. Previously when she acted all grand and powerful in front of the Spice King, I admired her for sheer guts and bravado. Here, she came off as petulant and naïve – the latter of which she definitely is, but the fact that she thinks all she needs is ships and an army to conquer Westeros and that she already has guaranteed support from within is almost laughable. Expecting the Spice King to give her ships and money for an army solely on good faith is even more so. It’s called diplomacy, Dany. One day you will find it very useful. To be fair, I was exasperated at her for having these assumptions in the books as well. BUT WHAT THE FUCK WAS UP WITH THAT ENDING? Practically the entirety of Dany’s khal is dead? And the dragons are being secreted away by some nefarious evildoer? Just… why? To give Dany’s storyline oomph? Yes, in ACoK her storyline is pretty lean. But what good does it do to kill Dany’s khal? The show effectively killed Dany’s connection to the Dothraki people for the rest of the TV story, rendering their very existence null and void, not to mention wiping out an entire group of PoC in the show. I think the death I’m most upset over is Irri’s because she was really starting to grow on me and I wanted more Dany/Irri time.

Interesting fact – both the fourth episode and this current one were penned by the same person, Vanessa Taylor and both scenes featured gratuitous, sexually violent scenes. And a lot of other violence and killing as well. Right now the thing I’m really mad about is Sansa. And the killing of the Dothraki. I’m tired that the show runners can only seem to conceive of Sansa as a victim. And as of now, I don’t like the direction Dany’s storyline is taking. I really liked the Theon/Bran scenes and Jon/Ygritte scenes, but otherwise, I am a grumpy pile of grump.

GoT Season 2, Episode 5: The Ghost of Harrenhal

DISCLAIMERS

So I guess the producers decided that since the last episode was filled with action and violence and gore that this episode should be more sedate and contain mostly conversations and character interaction. This is something I actually appreciated a good deal because there were some excellent character moments.

I am sad that Arya’s first victim was the Tickler, although it made sense from the show’s perspective. However, it does mean that he won’t be around for Arya herself to kill later in what would probably be the fourth season (if that ever happens). Ah well. But I loved the scene with her and Tywin and she barely misses a beat when he catches her lying once and dives right into another set of lies. This season, I’ve been really into the groundwork the show’s been laying for Arya’s storyline. She’s learned a bit about the power of names from Yoren, she’s now learned a bit more from Jaqen H’Ghar, and she’s probably realizing she needs to get better at lying and obscuring the truth from others. Also, I just love how at times she’s reserved, calm, and aware like when she’s with Lord Tywin and then turns around and snarks at Gendry for his bad fighting form. I should take the opportunity right now to state that I DO NOT ship Arya and Gendry. I just don’t. Arya’s arc is so far removed from romance as possible that it doesn’t even make any sense. Friendship? Yeah, it’s there. But Arya keeps herself to herself and she isn’t going to care about people any more than they deserve to be cared about. Also, Jaqen H’Ghar is amazing and I love him. So creepy and mysterious, so wonderful. His voice. God.

Another awesome moment was between Catelyn and Brienne. I think I really love this scene because it’s these two women who’ve quickly formed an unbreakable bond born out of the suddenness and tragedy that was Renly’s death. And just the fact that this episode makes clear that Catelyn is someone who deserves respect – she has courage, she’s intelligent, she’s loyal to Robb as both her son and king, she loves her children, and has both compassion and integrity. And Brienne sees all that, and so offers up her vow of fealty and protection to Catelyn. Not only that, but Catelyn returns Brienne’s respect for her own in acknowledging her unwavering devotion to Renly, her desire for vengeance against Stannis, and vowing that Catelyn will never force Brienne to behave dishonorably. Just… gah. The only downside is how they once again pulled the “mother” card for Catelyn and her desire to go back to Winterfell. I’m really feeling the loss of Riverrun and her father in the show.

Another lady being particularly savvy was Dany. First off, I was intrigued by the addition of what looks like a burgeoning conflict between Dany’s loyalty and obligations as a khaleesi to the Dothraki and her own personal ambition to conquer and reclaim Westeros. I really like the fact that in both last season and this one, Irri actually as more of a character! (Now if only the same could be said about Jhiqui…) But yeah, I hope this is explored a bit more. As of now, I greatly prefer this show’s Xaro Xhoan Daxos to that of the book. Here, he actually gets nuance, and I loved how he carefully paints his offer to Dany of gold and ships in return for marriage. He’s a self-made man who came from nothing and the woman he wed for love is dead. This marriage would purely be based on politics, self-interest and ambition, but according to him both would benefit. He’s careful to not portray himself as a threat, but merely someone who has ambitions that are on the same scale as hers. And yeah, he probably wants her dragons too, but right now he’s being careful and controlled in order to win Dany’s trust. Even though Jorah’s advice and warnings about Xaro are rational, it’s understandable why Dany fobs it off.

One theme I noticed running through a number of scenes was the question of power in relation to who’s pulling the strings. Davos advises Stannis not to take Melisandre with him to King’s Landing, saying that people whisper the Red Lady whispers in Stannis’ ear and he does whatever she says. The common people in King’s Landing distrust Tyrion as the “demon monkey” who’s pulling Joffrey’s strings. Dany has two men on either side of her telling her what she should do – Xaro Xhoan Daxos offers her money and resources to conquer Westeros in exchange for marriage while Jorah would have her set out on her own for Westeros and conquer the country from within. Arya is Tywin’s cupbearer and someone with seemingly no power whatsoever, but Jaqen H’Ghar’s repayment of his debt gives her an unexpected avenue of power, albeit through a secondary source of power. She holds three – now two – people’s lives entirely in her hands. In other cases though, such as with Theon and Bran, they give orders without taking into consideration the thoughts of others. Because he wants to be a Captain of his own ship and have his men actually follow him, he has to prove himself as one who can give orders that can be followed, which means being bold and decisive. Bran, on the other hand, is acting Lord of Winterfell and a Stark. This means when Torrhen’s Square is attacked, Bran doesn’t entertain any other option other than sending as much help as they can afford to defend them. To do otherwise is to fail in his duty as the protector of his people. Likewise, Margaery has ambitions of her own, beautifully demonstrated in the last line of her scene – “I want to be the queen.” Can I just say how much I LOVE Margaery in the show? Go on with your politically savvy badassery, you.

Things I did not like – Renly’s death happened way too quickly for my taste. The shadow was only there for a couple of seconds before it started knifing Renly. There was also no Sansa in this episode, which is problematic when you think about how there are only five episodes left and her story arc as laid out in A Clash of Kings has barely taken off the ground. No sign of Ser Dontos, nothing about any hopes and prospective plans about getting out of King’s Landing and going back to Winterfell. These things are *important*. In the book, she’s not just sitting around in the Red Keep trying to keep it together in front of Joffrey and Cersei – she wants to go home and in her own small way, she does what little she can do. She has fucking agency, goddammit. I’d sort of realized this already and tried to ignore it, but this episode made pretty clear that ten is definitely not enough to tell the entire story they want to tell this season. So many characters, so many storylines, most of them occurring in very different locations. It was always going to be tricky doing this, and while I loved a lot about this episode, it also made very clear how much the show is rushing through scenes to fit in as much as they can.

And yeah. I know I’m not doing a good job putting these up on time. This’ll probably continue for the next couple of weeks as long as I have final papers to write.

City of Dragons by Robin Hobb (Rain Wild Chronicles #3)

Once, dragons ruled the Rain Wilds, tended by privileged human servants known as Elderlings. But a series of cataclysmic eruptions nearly drove these magnificent creatures to extinction. Born weak and deformed, the last of their kind had one hope for survival: to return to their ancient city of Kelsingra. Accompanied by a disparate crew of untested young keepers, the dragons embarked on a harsh journey into the unknown along the toxic Rain Wild River. Battling starvation, a hostile climate, and treacherous enemies, dragons and humans began to forge magical connections, bonds that have wrought astonishing transformations for them all. And though Kelsingra is finally near, their odyssey has only begun.

Because of the swollen waters of the Rain Wild River, the lost city can be reached only by flight—a test of endurance and skill beyond the stunted dragons’ strength. Venturing across the swift-running river in tiny boats, the dragon scholar Alise and a handful of keepers discover a world far different from anything they have ever known or imagined. Immense, ornate structures of black stone veined with silver and lifelike stone statues line the silent, eerily empty streets. Yet what are the whispers they hear, the shadows of voices and bursts of light that flutter and are gone? And why do they feel as if eyes are watching them?

The dragons must plumb the depths of their ancestral memories to help them take flight and unlock the secrets buried in Kelsingra. But enemies driven by greed and dark desires are approaching. Time is running out, not only for the dragons but for their human keepers as well.

Character spoilers for this book

So this is gong to be long and rambly because I have a lot of feelings when it comes to books written by Robin Hobb. She’s one of my favorite authors and I am emotionally vested in her world and its outcome, as well as those of a number ocharacters. Which means that even though I have a number of problems with this book, on a personal level there are things I get out if it. And it is frustrating that while this book is still good, it isn’t great, and Robin Hobb has written some a-maze-ing books. I really like the story she’s been telling with this new series (I think it’s a series? It didn’t start out being one, but that’s what it’s grown into) but I’m not as crazy about the way she’s telling it.

For approximately the first third of the book, the majority of the text was exposition in which Robin Hobb described the setting or situation or had the character narrate their internal thoughts and feelings. Only later on did there start being more of a balance between exposition and actual dialogue, the latter of which I greatly preferred and enjoyed. Robin Hobb’s a good writer and the settings she writes is rich, sumptuous, and full of details that make the world come alive. Still, given how little action there is in this book, as was also the case with the previous book Dragon Haven, the exposition-laden chapters stood out more and slowed down the pace, which made for ponderous reading. Again, only once more dialogue started appearing did I start getting invested in the story at hand, and by the end I remembered what it was about this story and these characters that made me want to read about them. It shouldn’t have taken me so long to get to that point.

Given what I just said about the characters, it now feels strange to admit that not many of them are actually endearing, at least to me. However, this was also the case with the Liveship Trader trilogy, which also used a third person, multi-cast format, and those books were my gateway to Robin Hobb, so I’m not going to complain too much. My favorite POV is still Thymara’s, this time mostly because she’s the one who gets to experience the true wonder that is Kelsingra and starts getting an idea of what shape her Elderling heritage will take. That and she’s still the same old loner, self-sufficient person she was in the first two books and I appreciate that. However, I am not OK with the way the love affair is beginning to develop between her and Rapskel. Despite her insistence that she have the ability to make her own decisions about who she sleeps with, or if she sleeps with anyone at all, he’s so cocksure about the fact that they were meant to end up together, which for him means that, of course, they should have sex. Except there’s the part where Thymara isn’t having sex with anyone because, you know, she’s worried about getting pregnant, especially given that heavily marked Rain Wilders are practically guaranteed to miscarry or give birth to beings that are barely human and have no chance in hell of surviving. Rapskel doesn’t seem to consider this a problem whatsoever, even after what happened with Jerd. When Thymara and him do sleep together and she later voices her concerns that she might get pregnant now, his response is to say well, they can still have sex one more time because it won’t matter either way, either she’s pregnant now or she isn’t ripe now, so she won’t. SERIOUSLY? WRONG ANSWER, DUDE.

Other than that, Sintara is her usual, imperious dragon self, which mean she was still fun to read. I had a hard time feeling sympathy for Alise because although I recognize she’s had a rough time emotionally, what with being stuck with a good-for-nothing husband and wanting to grow as an intellectual and expert on dragons and Elderlings, it’s frustrating to see her go about her intellectual pursuits because she believes she knows what’s best for Kelsingra and how to approach it when it’s very clear she doesn’t; the dragons are the ones who’d know what to do. Sedric is also the same person as before, which means he’s still out of his comfort zone and complaining about it every step of the way. What Carson sees in him, I do not know. There are multiple other viewpoints, including those of Malta and Rheyn all grown up now form the Liveship series, Alice’s husband Hest, and the dying Duke of Chalced who’s still grasping as hard as he can for any dragon flesh that can be obtained.

This has been the case of the previous two books in this series as well, but again, some action occurs, new developments are made, but in the end the book feels like it was one episode in an entire TV series, with maybe one resolution made and a number of threads still left hanging. Just as I was really getting invested and wanted to see what would happen next, the book ends. Just like that. The overall story being told doesn’t seem worth the three books currently published and the fourth that’ll come out next year. It feels as though two or three books could have done as good a job as four.

So I’ve complained a lot in this post, which means I might as well talk about what I really liked. I loved the continuity of the world building between this series, the Liveship Trader series, and even some of the FitzChivalry books as well. The magic of dragons and Elderlings still feels mysterious and exciting, but gradually more of the pieces are being fit together and characters learn new things about it and incorporating it into the knowledge they already possess. One thought I had is that how Robin Hobb writes about magic in this world is similar to how George R.R. Martin writes about it in A Song of Ice and Fire. In both worlds, magic is something that hasn’t existed in its true form, if at all, for many, many centuries, or even millennia. Dragons have long been gone from the world, but with their return, some magic has been reawakened and now people are re-learning its existence or discovering more about it than had previously been known. And it differs over place and time. In the Rain Wild River, Traders have been excavating Trehaug and selling magical remains for generations. Now that the dragons are back and more and more Elderlings develop from contact with the dragons, it’s clear that through the dragons’ existence, people will eventually start to understand magic as it really works. Compare this to the Six Duchies where magic still existed in the form of the Skill and the Wit but almost all knowledge of its origins and how to use it had been lost or destroyed until various events in the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies led to a recovery of that knowledge. I don’t know who came up with that way of writing about magic first, but I have to say that I really like it and I love how the simultaneous presence of some knowledge of magic and lack of all the rest of it influences the various characters and players, both individually and how they all understand the world in which they live in.

So yeah. I appreciate this book’s existence because it’s the continuation of a story and a world’s history I am invested in, and I want to see how it all plays out and what direction the world is headed now that the newly hatched dragons are growing up and Elderlings are starting to exist again. As someone who’s an ardent fan of Robin Hobb’s first three trilogies, I have a personal attachment to this story. That being said, I do wish there was less exposition and that the story was more streamlined. Fixing the problematic romance would be nice too, especially if it’s going to continue and develop into a thing. Like I wrote in the beginning, this story has many elements that makes Robin Hobb’s books so wonderful, but the way in which it’s being told is hindering it from being as good as it could be.

Disclosure – library

GoT Season 2, Episode 4: Garden of Bones

DISCLAIMERS

Why?

For the love of god, WHY DID THEY PUT IN THAT SCENE WITH JOFFREY AND THE WOMEN? FOR THE LOVE OF FUCKING GOD WHY?

We get that Joffrey’s a sadistic monster. We just saw him ordering his Kingsguard to beat Sansa and strip her gown to humiliate her in front of the entire court and punish her for Robb’s recent victory. Hell, that scene was actually handled better than I was fearing – there was no gratuitous nudity at all. (The only reason is probably because Sophie Turner is not eighteen.) And I wasn’t all that bothered that Bronn’s suggestion is to give Joffrey someone (or someones) to fuck because hey, reasonable suggestion coming from him. BUT DID THEY HAVE TO FUCKING SHOW AN ENTIRE 5 MINUTE SCENE OF THIS, COMPLETE WITH FAUX LESBIAN EROTICISM TURNED SADISM? Joffrey says he’s going to send the woman who’s getting beaten to Tyrion to show him what Joffrey’s done to her. They could have so easily shown just that! This was fucking uncomfortable and honest to god terrifying to watch – watching the Tickler torture that guy was nowhere near the same level in terms of pure horror. Yes, it’s clear Joffrey’s the worst person ever and deserves to die. WE ALREADY KNEW THAT. HE CHOPPED OFF NED STARK’S HEAD. Did we really need to see how he’s the worst person ever because he’s now sexually abusing women? No, we did not.

This entire episode was one brutal scene after another, starting with the aftermath of Robb’s battle and ending in Melisandre giving birth to the shadow. (I dislike this happening in the book as well as the TV show, so I won’t gripe about it here.) I will say the opening of the episode felt extremely awkward and out of place compared to what follows. It felt too lighthearted and jovial. They made some interesting changes with regards to Jeyne, not just in regards to her early appearance in the story’s timeline, but in how she seems to be deliberately keeping her background and who she is a mystery. I’m not entirely clear if this Jeyne is the Jeyne Westerling of the book or a different character entirely. From the previews, we get shots of she and Robb beginning to get it on, so the romantic/sexual nature of their relationship seems to be intact.

Sansa, oh my god Sansa, she was absolutely brilliant tonight. And even after getting beaten like that in front of everyone, she’ll still say the words she’s supposed to say and pledge her loyalty (and love *shudder*) to Joffrey. “Lady Stark. You may survive us yet,” Tyrion says as she leaves. That is probably the truest thing he has said all season. Ironically enough, the fact that Joffrey’s torture-porn scene follows immediately after makes me wish this scene had been more fleshed out, just so it didn’t have to happen.

Arya wasn’t put in the spotlight as much as last episode, but she still had some memorable parts. (Granted, I am an devoted Arya lover, so…) But those two scenes where she’s sleeping in the rain, softly whispering to herself, “The Mountain, Ser Ilyn, the Hound, Joffrey, Cersei” and adding names as she goes. I am in love with her storyline and I have an unholy fascination with characters that become stripped to the core like that, which means I am so excited to see it beginning in her. There were some more intriguing changes going on there in terms of conflation. They moved the Tickler’s torturing operation to Harrenhal and instead of slaving away under Weese, Arya’s going to be Tywin’s cupbearer, a role she holds when Roose Bolton’s in charge of Harrenhal. Not sure what this will mean for the rest of the story. (Maybe she’ll get to listen in on Tywin’s plans?)

Catelyn… so I wrote in the last episode that I was planning on paying more attention to Catelyn and how she’s being presented in her role as a mother in the show, which confirmed a lot of things I’d been reading about. More than anything, she’s being presented as “mother’ rather than a powerful noble woman who is able to think strategically and hold political and military opinions. While trading Jaime for Sansa and Arya is a political move, Littlefinger cast in terms of her being a mother and appealing to her desire to have her daughters back. Similarly when Stannis and Melisandre confront Renly, Catelyn’s main purpose is to fill the mother role and remind them that they’re brothers and shouldn’t be fighting against each other. And you know, it’s not bad that she’s a mother and I wouldn’t want that erased. It’s just that she does come off as more one-dimensional now, which is frustrating. Oh, and Petyr Baelish fits the definition of “nice guy” to the letter. Seriously. Margaery continues to be politically savvy and awesome, which I appreciate.

And Dany comes to Qarth. Cool, she and her khalasar won’t starve and die! I found her attempts to cast herself as a ruler worthy of respect and place herself in a powerful bargaining position awkwardly endearing. The only things she’s going off right now are pure pride and stubbornness. She literally has nothing of value besides her dragons and no means of posing any threat whatsoever, but she’ll stand in front of the Thirteen and demand that she and her people are let into the city and swears to destroy them all if they don’t. Right now she’s getting a crash course in what it means to be in charge of a group of people and then negotiate for their well being with others who really couldn’t give a fuck. It did seem odd though that she wouldn’t even consider showing her dragons to the Thirteen.

Same comment I made about Tyrion last episode applies here as well.

Melisandre giving birth to the shadow baby was suitably eerie and creepy, but I have no vested interest in this scene or her ability to do so. I’m honestly curious as to which scene will have induced the majority of people’s WTF reactions – shadow baby scene or Joffrey scene – and if it’ll differ based on whether they’ve read the books or not.

As a general rule, I appreciated the aura of brutality that surrounded everything, simply because the violence around everyone is beginning to or continuing to escalate. Still. That scene. I hate that scene’s existence.

The only thing I want next episode is more Bran. And Arya. But mostly Bran because he wasn’t around this time.