Black Ships by Jo Graham

In a time of war and doubt, Gull is an oracle. Daughter of a slave taken from fallen Troy, chosen at the age of seven to be the voice of the Lady of the Dead, she is destined to counsel kings.

When nine black ships appear, captained by an exiled Trojan prince, Gull must decide between the life she was born for and a most perilous adventure – to join the remnant of her mother’s people in their desperate flight. From the doomed bastions of the City of Pirates to the temples of Byblos, from the intrigues of the Egyptian court to the haunted caves beneath Mount Vesuvius, only Gull can guide Prince Aeneas on his quest, and only she can dare the gate of the Underworld to lead him to his destiny.

In the last shadowed days of the Age of Bronze, one woman dreams of the world beginning anew. This is her story.

Just as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon breathed new life into Arthurian legend, BLACK SHIPS evokes the world of ancient Greece with beautiful, haunting prose, extraordinary imagination, and a profoundly moving story.

Going into this book, I wasn’t aware that this was a retelling of the Aneid, told from the viewpoint of the Sybil who accompanied Aeneus on his journey. Once I realized this, I was intrigued, having only just read the Aneid two years ago. For a number of reasons though, the book never managed to truly click with me. On the plus side, this is an ambitious, detailed retelling of the Aeneid and the amount of research the author put into making this book shows. Each location has its own identity and character, be it in the religion, social customs, or government. In terms of creating a sense of place and history, Jo Graham definitely succeeds.

My main problem was with Gull herself. After losing almost all mobility in one of her feet due to an accident, her mother gives her over to the current Pythia to serve as an acolyte and eventually take over as priestess. Quite early on, Gull swears that she will forsake anything to do with life (since Pythia’s realm is that of death) and won’t take any lover (even though she’s allowed to, it’s only marriage that’s forbidden). Unfortunately, from a narrative perspective it meant that she felt so removed and withdrawn to the point that she almost didn’t feel human. I never really understood why she felt she needed to do this, which made me less than sympathetic towards her when she was angsting over whether to sleep with Xandros. It was entirely her choice to take her vows to the extreme and I didn’t get why she even did that in the first place. I know that Gull’s struggle in the book is to balance her affinity and devotion to the Lady of Death with her own humanity and desire to live amongst people and love them, but I never cared. It was almost as though she was so ensconsed in her role as Pythia that whenever she acted more human, it rang false.

Overall, there was a definite lack of urgency from Gull’s POV. In writing this, I’m trying to decide whether Gull’s story was even necessary when the true story is about Aenaeus and it’s through her eyes that we see Aeneus’ journey, his duty to his people, his fear of the fate of his people, and growing to be the ruler his people need him to be now rather than the ones of the past. Gull does have her own story, sort of, what with falling in love with Xandros and searching for the answer of how to save the cities from the dark age that’s falling over them due to the curse from Agamemnon’s blasphemy. However, those concerns always feel ancillary to Aeneus’ story and those struggles never gave me a real sense of who she was as a person. Again, she was far too removed for me to care about her.

The last problem I have is of a different nature and is related more to the Aeneid than the others. In Virgil’s version, Aeneus and his people reside in Carthage for a number of months where he falls in love with Queen Dido, who asks him to be her consort. He refuses and leaves, and Dido commits suicide. When I read the Aeneid in my freshman humanities class, we talked about how Dido was a stand-in for Cleopatra VII, the last ruler of Egypt before the Romans conquered the country and added it to the empire, and as such, Dido resembled the typical Roman depiction of Cleopatra as a sexual, unnaturally powerful woman who would bring men to their ruin. In Black Ships, Aeneus and his people travel to Egypt (since Carthage didn’t actually exist at the time of the fall of Troy) and Aeneus gets into a relationship with Bastemon, one of Pharaoh’s sisters who acts as his voice when he’s unavailable. I was disappointed that Bastemon’s portrayal remained similar to Dido’s – her sexuality and emotions are demonstrated as dangerous and out of control and her character was coded as an enemy to be subjugated for daring to ensnare and steal Aeneus from his people.

I had high hopes for Black Ships largely due to reading a number of good things about Jo Graham’s writing and because ancient Greek history and mythology is fun to read about. The book definitely didn’t live up to my expectations and I’m now thinking twice as to whether I’ll eventually read her other books.

Disclosure – bought

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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

A moving and haunting novel for readers of The Book Thief

Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life—until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father’s prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive?

This powerful tale of heartbreak and hope is sure to haunt readers long after they finish the last page.

While reading this book, I frequently felt conflicted over the author’s writing and the format she used to tell the story. Athough it felt dissatisfying, I also understood why she made the choices she did. An example – for the majority of the book, I couldn’t understand why the author included multiple flashbacks to Lina’s life before deportation rather than simply start the book in that time and then show the political situation getting progressively worse until her father is arrested and she and her mother and brother are deported. Then right near the book’s ending, the inclusion of the flashbacks started to make more sense and the revelation does ultimately connect back to the very beginning of the story. So I essentially spent a majority of my time disliking the flashbacks when they actually did serve a purpose… Another thing I didn’t like was the shortness of the chapters; there are 85 chapters and an epilogue in a 338-page book. At the same time, I absolutely sped right through this book in a way I haven’t for a long time this year, so I guess they weren’t as bothersome as I kept thinking they were. I don’t know. The short length gave the events contained in each chapter an episodic feeling, which might have been a very intentional choice to highlight what happens to Lina in that manner. In which case I respect the choice, but would have personally preferred longer chapters and a greater confluence of events. Also, I’m not sure how I feel about the epilogue – does this mean that the entire story was supposed to have been written by Lina after her imprisonment? Because there’s no way I would have read it like that without the epilogue implying that’s what it is, which means I’m not happy with how that was handled.

In terms the story itself, it was fascinating from a historical perspective. The author focuses on something I have not seen written about in either in fiction or nonfiction –  the deportation, imprisonment, and murder of millions of Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Finns, and other Eastern European peoples. (Maybe in some cases it was combined with the mass deportation of Russians to become a general phenomenon?) Even so, the focus wasn’t so much on the historical, political situation that resulted in this atrocity, but on the human stories and experiences of living through, surviving, and dying in this new world. Almost all of the characters were painted in a sympathetic light, even the cranky bald man who won’t stop talking about how they’re all about to die. Even though the main character is Lina, I’d say that the most impressive character of them all is her mother for keeping the family together as long as possible and doing whatever it takes to make sure Lina and Jonas survive. It’s an emotionally charged story, and in that respect it is beautifully told.

However, given that Lina and all these other people are deported and imprisoned for political reasons, the context in which her story takes place is strangely apolitical. She knows that it’s mostly the wealthy, educated, and those who have international connections that are being targeted, the flashbacks show Lina’s parents discussing and worrying about Stalin’s invasion, and sometimes people talk about Germany and World War Two if they hear any news about it. And yet, none if it is really grounded. Like, if I hadn’t known anything about Stalinist Russian and his perpetration of communism, him invading Lithuania and the other Baltic countries wouldn’t have made sense, nor would the deportations. The way the author wrote this story, it’s as though there’s this lack of awareness of why any of this is happening. Or at least that’s how I read it. Maybe this is because I like seeing how big, national actions are interconnected to the individuals who are the ones who suffer as a result of those actions.

Meh. I feel like I’m being overly picky here because I did enjoy reading this book and it was almost impossible for me to put down because I kept going through chapter after chapter, just to make sure that everyone was still surviving. Lina and everone else’s lack of knowledge was used beautifully – it heightened the tension because no one knew what to expect, where they’re being taken to now, or what new horrors were about to happen. And in terms of the subject matter, it’s an important book about  little-known or publicized brutal historical times. There were parts I was definitely drawn to, but the overall work didn’t click with me.

Disclosure – library

Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker (The Company #3)

At Cahuenga Pass, in a stagecoach inn on the road to Los Angeles, Mendoza meets her new cyborg colleagues in this third novel of the Company. In the vein of Grand Hotel, we get to know the lives and stories, both sad and funny, of these operatives from the twenty-fourth century. As bullets fly overhead, we learn that Mendoza is being haunted, in her dreams, by the man she loved and lost three centuries ago and whose ghost is unexpectedly reincarnated by the arrival of a very large, very suave, and very handsome British spy, Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax. We watch the immortals’ reactions as they screen, for relaxation, D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance; we root for Oscar, an anthropologist in the guise of a traveling salesman, as he tries repeatedly to sell the Criterion Patented Brassbound Pie Safe.

SPOILERS FOR SERIES AND THIS BOOK

It’s been a while since I read Sky Coyote and I meant to read the third book in this series a hell of a lot sooner than I did. Ah well.

I wasn’t as enamored of this book as I was with the first two. First off, there really isn’t any plot – Mendoza is sent to gather plants in Los Angeles in the midst of the American Civil War when the place is still a lawless wasteland and a conglomeration of Yankees, Mexicans, and Native Americans all living together and also trying to kill each other. Mendoza does her job admirably. And she hangs out with the other agents on assignment, Porfirio, Einar, Oscar, Imarte, and Juan Baptista. And for the majority of the book, that is essentially it. They talk, do their jobs, share their stories, and get into a couple of minor scrapes. Up until Edward Alton Fairfax-Bell arrives, I was super frustrated because it seemed like the only point to the book was historical-world building and set-up. There is literally an entire chapter dedicated to a play-by-play of (that movies by person) and for the life of me, I do not know why it is there or what purpose it serves.

Even once Edward arrives and Mendoza involves herself in his schemes, the only thing that arises out of it is her discovery of what appears to be the Company’s origins. Useful and intriguing stuff, but honestly most of this book was not needed for this discovery at all. It’s not that the history and characters weren’t fascinating or fun to read about. But there was practically no story whatsoever.

Also, what the hell is up with Edward having the same exact body (and potentially soul?) as Nicholas Harpole, Mendoza’s long-dead lover? That’s… strange. And it was super strange that she was so willing and ready to fall in love with this incarnation, even though his personality is entirely different. Sure, he has the intellect and secularist approach to morals that Nicholas did, but Edward is a suave, calculating bastard while Nicholas was an upstanding citizen who believed in doing the right thing and telling the truth no matter what.

Disappointment abounds. Kage Baker’s writing is as good and imaginative as ever and the mystery surrounding the Company is going along nicely, but I did not like this book. It felt like a series of vignettes rather than a whole story and that was not what I wanted.

Disclosure – library

Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter

“The Luxe” meets the ancient world in the extraordinary story of Cleopatra’s daughter.

Selene has grown up in a palace on the Nile with her parents, Cleopatra & Mark Antony–the most brilliant, powerful rulers on earth. But the jealous Roman Emperor Octavianus wants Egypt for himself, & when war finally comes, Selene faces the loss of all she’s ever loved. Forced to build a new life in Octavianus’s household in Rome, she finds herself torn between two young men and two possible destinies–until she reaches out to claim her own.

This stunning novel brings to life the personalities & passions of one of the greatest dramas in history, & offers a wonderful new heroine in Selene.

SPOILERS FOR BEGINNING AND ENDING

This was a well-realized historical fiction on a figure I’ve never seen given this much attention – Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius, the last Ptolemy rulers of Egypt before Octavianus (Augustus Caesar) conquered it in the name of the Roman Empire. The author vividly depicts both Alexandria and Rome, injecting details and facts without interrupting the flow of the story. In terms of constructing history and changes in narrative, there’s a lot of good stuff about how after Rome conquered Egypt, they simultaneously lambasted Egypt as a barbaric land while stealing and claiming for their own any parts of their culture and knowledge that they wanted. I really liked how the author dealt with the Roman portrayal of Cleopatra VII as a seductress and a whore, an image that endures to the present day. Rather than being honored as an intelligent, skilled leader who could speak multiple languages, she’s primarily remembered for her beauty and how she “seduced” and married two of the most powerful men in Rome – Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius.

I enjoyed Cleopatra Selene’s story. Although trouble starts brewing when she’s young and doesn’t understand what’s going on, she quickly learns the importance of asserting herself, and holds fast to the belief that she’s meant to be a great ruler, just like her mother. What I loved about this story is how Cleopatra Selene’s personal growth is not just about her identity as an Egyptian princess held hostage in Rome or as a woman whose destiny is controlled by the men around her, but primarily as a daughter attempting to follow in the footsteps of her mother. Since childhood, she’s looked up to her mother as the powerful and intelligent ruler that she is and strives to emulate her in every way, especially after her mother’s death. Cleopatra Selene continually works towards the goal that she might regain Egypt one day and rule as her mother did, even going so far as to mimic Cleopatra VII’s relationship with Julius Caesar with Marcellus, Octavianus’ heir, in the hope that she might build her own power base (I already knew this from my freshman humanities class, but Cleopatra’s Moon reminded me once again that Roman family trees were complicated). In the midst of her plans and all the other political maneuverings taking place, the real struggle is Cleopatra’s Selene’s as she strives to live up to her mother’s legacy while becoming her own person. This storyline was done exceedingly well, and I loved it.

This struggle is particularly embodied in the almost-love triangle the author sets up between Cleopatra Selene, Marcellus, and Juba, a captured prince from Numidia. However, the relationship between these three characters is more like an anti love triangle than anything else. Her interactions with them are primarily based on what political advantages they offer her and whether she’ll have any autonomy at all. There’s a great scene in which she flat-out refuses to “choose” either of them and instead proclaims she chooses power and freedom instead. Given that the YA fiction is currently saturated with love triangles in which the female protagonist inevitably ends up “choosing” one of the boys in the end, it’s really nice to see a book in which there’s a triangle, but the protagonist refuses to play by those rules. It’s historical fact that Cleopatra Selene marries Juba, but the author constructs her relationships with both Juba and Marcellus such that the element of choice is always present in whatever she does. And that was a pretty important theme throughout the book as well – the distinction between fate and free will and whether free will can exist simultaneously with fate.

The main quibble I have is that Cleopatra Selene’s twin, Alexandros, isn’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. This wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if the book hadn’t opened with Alexandros’ death. There needed to be more attention paid to the ways in which the two of them were supposed to be super close. As such, their lack of contact with each other, particularly when in Rome, left me cold to their relationship. Alexandros was supposed to be the antithesis of Cleopatra Selene – he believes there’s no hope of them ever leaving Rome or ruling Egypt – but it fell flat for me.

Cleopatra’s Moon is a great example of YA historical fiction. Cleopatra Selene is a compelling character and her story is told tightly and briskly. It maintains historical accuracy while exploring and filling in the gaps in her life with an engaging plausibility. It’s really tricky to balance all of these elements when writing historical fiction, but it works out excellently here. I recommend it.

Disclosure – library

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Seventeen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove longs to break free from her respectable life as a Victorian doctor’s daughter. But her dreams become a nightmare when Louisa is sent to Wildthorn Hall: labeled a lunatic, deprived of her liberty and even her real name. As she unravels the betrayals that led to her incarceration, she realizes there are many kinds of prison. She must be honest with herself – and others – in order to be set free. And love may be the key…

From the blurb, I was expecting a different sort of story. I thought there might be a chance that Louisa would indeed be mad, which would make her an unreliable narrator. Then, the reader would need to parse everything Louisa said to determine which parts of her story were true and which ones were false. However, the story is a lot more straightforward than that. Louisa has been unknowingly sent to Wildthorn, an asylum for the mentally ill and insane, by the people she trusted to look out for and care for her. For the first two thirds of the book, the story alternates between Louisa’s present incarceration at Wildthorn and her past, starting with her childhood and going up to the time she’s committed.

From the first couple of chapters, it becomes pretty clear the direction the story is headed in. As a child, Louia is a proper Victorian English mother’s worst nightmare. She’d rather play with her brother’s toys, conduct scientific experiments, and study medicine under her father than do the activities expected of a proper lady. She’s constantly told that who she is and what she does is wrong and a danger to proper female sensibilities. As such, it becomes clear that her un-feminine interests and behavior are the reasons she’s sent to Wildthorn in the first place. It’s a black-and-white portrayal of gender and insanity in this time.

The story itself was not badly conceived and the writing was engaging and fast-paced. However, especially considering how I originally thought the story would be told, I couldn’t help but think it was somewhat simplistic. I know it’s not fair to judge a book on what you thought it would be versus what it actually is, but I still wished this story had been told differently. The “point” was that in this time and place, people could and did use mental illness and insanity to explain away why their mothers/sisters/daughters weren’t acting as they were supposed to and to discredit their words and actions. Still, I thought this story could have been more eerie and nuanced if there were the possibility that Louisa did have a mental illness of some sort. It would have helped in exploring that line in how people and societies determine who’s “normal” and “sane” and what the criteria is and how ideas of gender contributed to those sorts of assignations. (My academic side is showing.) After looking online, it turns out this book is inspired by the true-life story of a sane woman who was incarcerated for madness. I understand what the author was trying to do, but the execution did not work for me.

That being said, Louisa’s own story was engaging enough. I especially enjoyed the flashbacks and seeing how Louisa’s interest in medicine develops and culminates in her desire to go to medical school in order to become a doctor. The parts that take place in the asylum were suitably creepy and horrific with how the attendants debased and actively mistreated the inhabitants. A common theme throughout is how Louisa’s words and wishes are never listened to, either because she’s a girl or because people think she’s insane, and therefore no one needs to listen to her or believe anything she says. A “mad” girl who says she’s sane is about as believable as a girl who says she understands science. I liked how this parallel was portrayed. I was also really happy with the unexpected, but no less appreciated, realization of Louisa’s that she loves women and the developing romance between Louisa and Eliza, an attendant at Wildthorn. I thought the author did a good job keeping Louisa’s feelings separate from her other contrary, unfeminine attitudes and actions. In other words, it was clear that her liking women didn’t stem from not being a proper lady; the two were mutually exclusive.

This isn’t a bad book and it does what it intends to do well. My problems with the book stem from the fact that it wasn’t the story I wanted to read. It was more straightforward and clear-cut than I’d have liked, and I maintain my belief that actual madness would have benefited the story overall. For anyone who isn’t familar with gender and mental illness in Victorian England, this is a good book to start out with. Otherwise, this book feels all too familiar and repetitious.

Disclosure – library

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin — barely of age herself — finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

Five years in the writing by one of science fiction’s most honored authors, Doomsday Book is a storytelling triumph. Connie Willis draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.

Spoilers for the end (kinda, sorta, not really)

I was really hoping I’d like this book since it has time travel, the black plague, a cast of characters caring about each other, hope being present even in darkness, that sort of thing. And Connie Willis has won numerous awards for her books – The Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and the Nebula. However, I was disappointed in what this book had to offer.

First off, this book is way too long. Over and over, characters repeat or make multiple internal monologues about the same exact things – the nature of disease in the Middle Ages, God’s role in tragedy, Kivrin’s time jump – to the point that this book could probably have been a good hundred pages shorter if all those extraneous repetitions had been cut. Another hundred or so could have been chucked if they’d removed all the telephone calls Dunworthy, Kivrin’s mentor, makes and all the useless interactions he has with unimportant people, like Mrs. Gaddson.

The portions taking place in 2054 were my least favorite parts overall. This book was written right before the advent of the internet, and it shows. (Also apparently in this universe, the device known as the answering machine was never invented.) The characters spend so much time either trying to find each other, get in contact with missing people, or trying to obtain necessary access codes. The slowness at which characters accomplished things or learned information in 2054, when presumably communication technology would be significantly more advanced in the future, was so frustrating! Not to mention that it was glaringly obvious that Kivrin had ended up in 1348. Dunworthy spends all his time in a tizzy over whether Kivrin ends up in the right time or not and being completely unable to decipher Badri’s mumblings when it’s staring him right in the face! I’m not going to blame this book for being written before the internet, but even so, the book could have done with a ton of editing and ruthless chopping of page count.

After a while, every single person in 2054 was getting on my nerves. Dunworthy was so idiotic and Colin just became annoying. And the guy they were constantly looking for, Father Basingame, was never found! Given that his absence is the impetus for all that goes wrong in the book and everyone spends a good deal of time trying to find him and failing it seems reasonable that by the end of the book someone would have found him or talked to him. Apparently not.

The 1348 parts were less aggravating, mostly because it was cool watching Kivrin adapt to the time period and adjust to her unexpected circumstances, mainly being horribly ill in a time with practically no effective medical practice. It was nice reading about her becoming part of the household that took care of her, and Agnes and Rosemund were suitably precocious children. However, again, there were too many repetitions of thoughts, details, and information already repeated multiple times. (And that’s another thing! Dunworthy and Kivrin repeat the same exact internal monologues. Why!?) Once the black plague strikes the village and starts killing off everyone, the book finally starts living up to expectations. There, Connie Willis succeeds at painting the situation as the horrible, helpless tragedy that it is, complete with all the gruesome details about what the black plague does to people. Also, this is where the emotion really shines, as Kivrin has really come to care for the people she’s lived with, particularly Agnes, Rosemund and Father Roche, and no matter how much effort she puts into keeping everyone alive in the face of the plague, people continue to die. As such, the events going on in 2054 can’t even hope to compare.

Also, while I didn’t mind that the mechanisms for how time travel works weren’t explained or discussed in much detail, I did not think time travel overall was utilized as well as it should have been. In this universe, people use time travel solely as a means of studying the past. Why is that? Also, the story revolves more around the malfunctioning of time travel as opposed to the results and consequences of using it. There is some musing on Kivrin’s part about how our understanding of the past differs from the reality and how human decency remains constant across time. Still, no one even considers any of the usual problems or paradoxes that might occur if you mess with time. I personally prefer time travel stories to address those aspects at least somewhat. I’m not a big fan of time travel for time travel’s sake.

The infuriating thing is that there’s a good story hidden amidst all the useless repetitions and excess information. If the writing had been tighter, more attention had been paid to causal explanations, and the characters, particularly the modern ones, been more three-dimensional, this could have been a truly excellent book. The final part was indeed excellent. But I could not get over the way in which the book was written, nor the fact that the material was not handled in a satisfying manner. Obviously a lot of people believed this book, and Connie Willis’ work in general, to be worth the commendations it’s received. To be perfectly frank, I don’t get why.

Disclosure – bought

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (The Company #2)

Facilitator Joseph has outlasted entire civilizations during his twenty-thousand years of service to Dr. Zeus, the twenty-fourth century Company that created immortal operatives like him to preserve history and culture. The year is 1699 and Joseph is now in Alta California, to imitate an ancient Native-American Coyote god, and save the native Chumash from the white Europeans.He has the help of the Botanist Mendoza, who hasn’t gotten over the death of her lover Nicholas, in Elizabethan England.

Lately though, Joseph has started to have a few doubts about The Company. There are whispers about the year 2355, about operatives that suddenly go missing. Time is running out for Joseph, which is ironic considering he’s immortal, but no one ever said that it was easy being a god.

This was another great novel in everyone’s favorite series featuring time travel and cyborgs. Not going to lie, I’m starting to think that the Company series is going to eventually become one my favorites, the kind that I always want to have at least some sort of presence in my life. I’ll probably also being a ton of evangelizing, seeing as no one I’ve talked to about this series has even heard of it.

The time jump is a reasonably steep one. It’s now 1700 in an area of California where the Spanish haven’t come over yet and the Chumash Indians are living life as normal, although there are a couple of hints that they’ll will be arriving soon. Joseph, Mendoza’s mentor from the previous book, is the protagonist this time around. The Company’s orders are to save an entire village of the Chumash and everything about them – the people, langague, customs, tools, religious beliefs – by transporting them into the future. Jospeh’s job is to dress up as one of their gods, Sky Coyote, in order to prepare them for what’s about to happen and successfully convince them to leave everything behind to go along with him and the Company agents.

As a protagonist, Joseph has quite a different temperament than Mendoza. For one thing, he’s thousand and thousands of years older than she is. He’s been working for the Company longer than most, and the way he’s surivived is through viewing everything through a shield of sardonicism and wit. Even more so than the previous book, anything is up for grabs when it comes to poking fun at convention and attitudes of thinking. His attitude and way of speaking is so laid-back and colloquial that it was disconverting for a couple of chapters, as I was more used to Mendoza’s more polished manner of speaking. I do prefer Mendoza to Joseph when it came to who I thought was a better protagonist, simply because she’s a whole lot younger and experiences more life-changing things, but Joseph was perfectly acceptable. Pretending to be Sky Coyote suits him; he definitely has the irreverent, trickster attitude down pat.

Still, all that dry humor is a coping mechanism to keep him doing his job and not thinking too hard about the holes and inconsistencies popping up when it comes to the Company’s ultimate agenda. More clues are revealed that information is being withheld from the agents. They aren’t allowed access to any information or media after 2355 – they know nothing about what shape the world is in beyond that point in time. With the way this particular operation is being run, more agents are beginning to question how powerful or benevolent the Company truly is and what ulterior motives they might have. If he wanted to, Joseph could fit the pieces together, but he’s not sure if he’ll ever allow himself to do so.

Once again, the historical world-building is fantastic. The Chumash’s village and way of life was depicted with a great amount of scope and detail. I liked how the Chumash weren’t made out to be these mystical, spiritually evolved beings and that they’d speak and view the world in a mystical, spiritually evolved manner. They’re written as real people who argue over money, enjoy hilarious stories about Sky Coyote’s mishaps with his penis, and live regular, boring lives. I’m starting to get sad because soon the chronology of the books will catch up with the present and start takng place in the future, and I’ve really been enjoying the stories taking place against a historical backdrop. Kage Baker does history so well! Hopefully she does the future with the same amount of skill.

As  I said, it’s only taken two books for me to begin considering adding these books to my bookshelves permenantly. They’re like nothing I’ve read in quite a while. They’re inventive, clever, engaging, and so much fun to read. Mendoza, and to a lesser extent Joseph, are appealing protagonists who carry the story forward really well. Thankfully, the local library already has the third book on the shelves, so I can go pick it up immediately next time I’m there.

Disclosure – library