Monday, December 9, 2013

Upon Finishing The Republic of Thieves

A Novel Five Years in the Making

I was surprised to see Scott Lynch's author's note at the back of my stunning hard-bound copy of The Republic of Thieves dating back to 2008, though I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised. Patrick Rothfuss has kept us waiting for the third book of the Kingkiller Chronicle for three years. Cut him some slack; he's a parent. My own novel is only half finished and I've been at it for more than a year. Some fantastic things are well worth waiting for, and The Republic of Thieves is no exception. Five years, though...I long to ask Mr. Lynch for the juicy details, but between being a volunteer fire-fighter and the admitted "dark time" through which I'm sure we must all wade at some point, I can imagine this latest, longest work of Lynch's was more than sufficiently difficult to produce.

Cover art by Benjamin Carre
The Republic of Thieves has everything. And I do mean everything! Romance, intrigue, murder--plenty of it--and suspense. Mr. Lynch seems to thrive on keeping each and every moment of his novel drawn taught as a bow and balanced on a razor's edge. I kept my boyfriend awake several times simply because if I didn't keep reading, I would fall to my death. Like The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies before it, humor is as an all-time high. Mr. Lynch's characters are witty, smart-mouthed, intelligent, belligerent, and soul-crushingly beautiful bastards. Literally! The saga of the Gentleman Bastards, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, continues with revealing flashbacks to their lives among the Right People of Camorr under the tutelage of Father Chains, and this time were are even treated to another glimpse at life for the orphans of Camorr under Shades Hill. Characters we thought we'd never see again were happily returned to us, and if you've read The Lies of Locke Lamora, you know who I'm talking about. Lynch also introduces a cast of villains, thespians both innocent and guilty, and even magi to entertain and enthrall.

Thus ends my generic, vanilla, spoiler-free book review journalist-babble. If you haven't read the novel yet, do so before continuing.

Calo and Galdo: The Gentleman Bastards Revisited

Having seen the Sanza twins in action in TRoT, it was hard to remember them the grown men who had been so close to Locke and Jean in LoLL. However, I found it so hard to believe that the Sanza twins, Calo and Galdo, were mere bit characters. Lynch took the trouble to raise them from children to adults, give them back stories, and heck, give them names. When so many of the orphans that came out of Shades Hill had no idea where they came from, Calo and Galdo had  middle and last names, like Sabetha and Jean. They were a riot, a true riot, and comprised the bulk of the comic relief of LoLL. So when Lynch killed them off at the hands of the Falconer, I was in shock. I didn't want to keep reading, but Lock and Jean's determination to seek their vengeance for their fallen brothers kept me interested. Yes, I have put down a series in the middle of it after a favorite character dies. Ryld from The War of the Spider Queen seems to be the one that comes most readily to mind. Calo and Galdo were briefly resurrected in Red Seas Under Red Skies, but nothing to the effect of their actions in The Republic of Thieves.

Calo and Galdo don't have a lot in common personality wise--with the exception of their sharp tongues--but they are apparently so alike in appearance that in their youth, one of them shaves their head while the other one grows their hair out. I applaud Lynch's attention to detail with Calo and Galdo. I am a twin. It's important to portray twins as a whole entity, but it's also important to make sure that the individual is preserved as well. With the common misconception that twins agree on everything and rejoice in dressing alike and acting alike, it is refreshing to see Lynch take each twin's individuation as teenagers into account. Like twins, they finish each other's sentences and work together when they need to, but they also fight, bicker, make fun of each other, and compete. The twins are well-wrought and original. I loved reading the scenes in which the two characters performed their lines for Jasmer Moncraine's production of "The Republic of Thieves", for which the book is named. Cast as the chorus, Moncraine insists that one of them be named the lead chorus and the other the understudy, but when seen together, they are cast as a dual chorus, which brings out the best in the Sanza twins. Being cooped up in Father Chains' house in Camorr only brought out the worst in them. They are the production's comic relief, doubling also as the thespian company's resident fools, in the literary definition of the word. They heckled the crowd, and they did all of the vocal advertising.

Lynch was careful no to let the twins become too comical. When Jenora kills Boulidazi in self-defense, the twins rally themselves to act as the company's bruisers, along with Jean. Their street skills as thieves in Camorr come in to play when the Moncraine-Boulidazi company seems to be on the verge of collapsing. Boulidazi had been a peer of Espara, a baron, and his death, no matter the circumstances, would have had the entire company, including the Gentleman Bastards, hanging from the Weeping Tower. The Sanza twins were elemental in making sure no one ran in hysterics until the rest of the company could get their wits together.

With so much potential in two characters, it was delightful to see Lynch bring them back for us in the flashbacks between the chapters of the current plot. Hopefully we will see more of the Sanzas as Lynch continues the saga, which he commented on in his Twitter feed.

The Bondsmagi: My Beef With the Main Plot

At long last, after Jean and Locke's encounter with the Falconer in Camorr, and with their brief reminder of their Presence in Tal Verrar, we finally get up close and personal with the Magi, or Bondsmagi, of Karthain, and what does Lynch do with it? Well, in my opinion, without dragging it out for another two novels, he did the best he could. So why does the Magi plot bother me?

It feels...forced. I feel like I'm forcing a lot of my own plots sometimes, so I'm not one to judge. This is mostly the feeling I got reading about the Magi most of the time. Locke and Jean's work on behalf of the Konseil members of the Deep Roots party is all well and good, but the parts that specifically include Archedama Patience usually always tried my own. It was not clear, even from early on, what the purpose of the Five-Year-Game was. If it was there, I was too busy reading too fast to notice it. Apparently, the Five-Year-Game involves rigging the election of Karthain's governing body, the Konseil, one way or the other in favor of parties favored by the majority leaders, the Archmages, of the Magi of the Isas Scholastica. The Presence is always felt in Karthain. There is no standing army because the city is protected by the Magi. No one goes by their given names so that the Magi can have no power over a single individual. However, the Magi are a fractured society themselves, a fact that I understood if I didn't pay much attention to. It was buried, I felt, in Archedama Patience's justification for bringing Locke and Jean on as political consultants for the Deep Roots Party: they were the best of the best, and they had defeated a Bondsmagi, the Falconer. However, it was also Lynch's intention to get one-up for Patience, as the Falconer of Karthain had been her son. Patience got to air her grievances, and punish those two who had been the ruin of her son as a person who had tasted magic, even if her son had brought about his own destruction as a Mage. For the Bondsmagi of Karthain, being cut off from their magic was the same as being as Gentling a person: it cut them off from whole parts of their consciousness.

The Bondsmagi's ultimate goal, not even remotely hinted at nor foreshadowed, was supposed to come as a shock, and it did. It did. I was like, "Okay. Where did that come from?" Lynch's progression is usually much smoother. I took issue with how little Lynch did to prepare the reader for the conspiracy of Patience's fellow Magi to ambush their counterparts, thus destroying the Bondsmagi and scattering the rest to the wind, yet this comprised the entire last section of the novel, what didn't involve the Falconer, who came back out of Neverland with only a word from Patience after having been stuck in his own mind for three years. Seems kinda convenient.

No author is going to please every single reader, and at over four hundred pages, Lynch was doing the best that he could and still keep his readers' attention. Not everyone is Dan Simmons--with his thousand-page long novels that stretch into forever...but man is his progression is solid. Solid. I feel like Lynch was preparing us for the next novel, but also had to tie up loose ends.

Oh, and speaking of loose ends...

I am Being Strangled By Loose Ends

Most authors of fantasy leave their readers in suspense, life-threatening suspense, at the end of a novel in a series. That's not uncommon. J.K. Rowling is queen; she, Raymond E. Feist and R.A. Salvatore hold court on a regular basis. I had hoped Lynch would become one of those authors who may join them. I feel like Lynch missed the mark with TRoT for one reason, but that one reason made me not want to finish the novel: I wanted to see the Gentleman Bastard's homecoming with Father Chains, not the Falconer's reawakening, as the end of the novel. I felt that the Falconer was a tertiary character even in LoLL. I felt his connection to the Bondsmagi of Karthain to Locke and Jean was a little dodgy at best. Patience wrote him off repeatedly throughout the novel, then punished Locke for her son's ruin by running Sabetha off under the "pretense" that Locke only loves Sabetha because she reminds him of the wife he had in a past life. I say "pretense" because there are two schools of thought here: one that believes Patience's story, and the other that doesn't. I'm with Locke. I don't believe Patience, or at least, for the sake of fictional argument, I'm going to continue with this line of thinking until Lynch proves me wrong in Thorn Of Emberlain, the next novel in the Gentleman Bastards Series. 

Then there is the problem with the Falconer.

As I said, Patience wrote him off and gave us Locke's "back story" as her real tie to the Gentleman Bastard Locke Lamora, but at the end of the novel, when the Bondsmagi go up in flames, the Falconer rises again, just like that, with only a word and an apology from his mother. Okay, not "just like that". He took a significant amount of his plight into his own hands, literally, and then killed two people without having to really even leave the room, including his own mother. The Falconer is going to be a force to be reckoned with, and with Patience gone, I can't imagine who, or what, can stop him, but that isn't the point. The point is, I felt Lynch could have given us at least one more chapter with Chains before the Falconer.

 I can't tell if Patience released the Falconer in hopes that he can escape Karthain, or because she feels sorry for him, but she seemed content to leave him in his prison for three years, ostensibly so that he can't cause trouble, since Patience and the Falconer were in opposing parties in the Five Year Game. Sure, fine, whatever, but why write him off to Locke all throughout the book, then make him the focal point of the ending instead of the Gentleman Bastards' homecoming? They pulled off the job Chains sent them to do. Moncraine betrayed them. I would like to have seen the backlash from Chains and his vengeance through the Right People. Who knows? Perhaps I have but to wait for Thorn of Emberlain.

There is also the problem of Bug's appearance to Locke during his cleansing of the Archon's poison. I feel the questions that were raised for Locke were never resolved. I thought maybe during Locke's "back story" I would get some kind of closure for that, seeing as how Bug came to speak to Locke from beyond the grave, a thing Locke seemed to be able to do as well when he snatched the body of the boy in Catch Fire after the death of Lamor Acanthus. However, I still feel I have been left wanting. 

Perhaps I only feel strangled by loose ends because my impatience pushed me past the point of enjoying the end of the novel for what it is. The end of the second Lord of the Rings movie did the same thing to me, and it is probably one of the reasons I tend to wait several years before reading an entire series, so that I don't have to wait for the next novel to be released, which sometimes feels like waiting for the Balm of Gilead. 

I'm with a lot of other readers on this: the end was not my favorite part.

Actors of the Old Pear--The Moncraine-Boulidazi Company: Stage and Spectacle in TRoT

I think my absolute favorite scenes in the entire book take place during the rehearsal and performance of "The Republic of Thieves", particularly Calo and Galdo's roles. Locke, I felt, didn't get much of a treatment, considering the acting and false-facing he does both throughout LoLL and RSURS, and the little false-facing he and Sabetha must do to Boulidazi. Of course, false-facing is learned, and where better to learn it than the stage. Jean gets stuck behind stage shagging Jenora, which is necessary for the plot, but cruel to the character. Locke only gets the lead role because he talks Boulidazi into getting him the role that requires the most kissing of Sabetha. I found it very hard to believe he couldn't false-face his way through auditions enough to convince Moncraine to let him have the lead role on his own merit, at first. However, Moncraine has a better eye for these things than Locke does, and I believe he saw through Locke's flaws and cast him accordingly. I suppose Locke could not be seen as a predictable character, either. The plot would not have had as much tension if everything had been handed to Locke on a silver platter, a fact the thief would have to get used to when dealing with people like Requin in RSURS. Seen in this light, the writing is continuous, and Locke will just have to crawl before he can walk

So, onto the best bits, then. I felt I had a very unique experience reading these scenes. I have always loved theater and spectacle. I feel that, had I been born with other interests, music and theater would have been my preference. Seeing as I wasn't, I have always enjoyed the few times I have gotten to be on-stage or in the audience for theatrical plays. With "The Republic of Thieves" I felt I was right back in the audience at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, witnessing a play by Shakespeare in the Park. The Old Pearl reminded me so vividly of that venue. Calo and Galdo's roles could have been taken directly from the stages of the Texas Renaissance Fair plays and performances. The twins were given the prestigious task of presenting a classic tale from the days of the Therin Throne as though they were the Actors of the London Stage themselves, giving us the dramatis personae of "A Winter's Tale" or "Midsummer Night's Dream". Calo and Galdo, like their Renaissance Fair performers before them, heckled the crowd and opened the scenes on stage perfectly. I could hear them both performing their lines in unison, wowing the crowd with the dual chorus. I had a smile on my face for the entire scene. What made me even happier was the fact that the Moncraine-Boulidazi company used bit players instead of having everyone assume multiple roles, unlike the Actors of the London Stage--and other companies--who rotate several characters but only have five players. Simple, and uncomplicated.

Lynch admits that he did enough research to give readers a general feel of the stage, but that he had no intention of going any deeper, which I feel is fine. Anyone with the prior benefit of having seen a play at Ren. Fair or at an outdoor public venue will comprehend perfectly. I know I did, and I feel Lynch pulled it off, I mean really pulled it off, down to the opening monologue the by the chorus, or both Calo and Galdo in this case, being in iambic tetrameter. Am I saying he imitates Shakespeare? No, because Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter, which was common among play-writes who wrote in verse. Iambic tetrameter is used in ballad stanzas. Thanks to Wiki, I get to cite the "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" from Christopher Marlowe, "Come with me and be my love, and we will some new pleasures prove." Hah! Wiki didn't have the second part on their example. I pulled that from memory. I knew my bachelor's degree in English Literature was good for something. Metered verse was quite common in the Renaissance, and so it makes sense for the old Therin play-writes to have used it as well for the "forty corpses". In my opinion, these scenes made the novel.


As always, Lynch's wit will have you giggling like a maniac, so if you enjoy reading in public places, be prepared to look insane. Steven Brust will not have been the only person to shake their head and lament, "Goddammit, Scott," in public for seemingly no particular reason. Lynch is a fine writer, and this novel was well-worth the wait. Despite my harsh criticism, Lynch persists as one of my favorite contemporary fantasy authors. I enjoyed watching Locke Lamora grow as a character over these last three books, and I feel Lynch is a master of world-building. The Republic of Thieves is a must-read. Lynch lends the reading a very swift pace. If I had been more diligent, I could have finished the book in several days, not two months. Sorry, Scott. I border on the life of a part-time novelist and part-time almost-step-parent with an almost step-child that loves to play Minecraft. 

I look forward to the next novel of intrigue and suspense. Thank you, Scott Lynch, for another gem, and another excellent adventure.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In Defense of the Batman: Again

Sometimes I'm a hair's breadth from unfollowing Cat Valente on Twitter. That would make very little difference to Cat Valente in the long or short-run, but I feel sad about it all the same, in my own way. I am an artist, and I love partaking and consuming art. All art, however, must be taken with a grain of salt--a big, suspension-of-disbelief grain of salt. The kind you have to take insulin for. My art will have to be divorced from my personality. I can, and do, often divorce art from the creator's flaws. Case in point: Batman.

Make no mistake, I am in fact a huge Cat Valente fan. I read her blog. I applaud her efforts to become a happier person and respect her as one of my all-time favorite female roll models. When I set out to write my own novel, I hoped that I could do so with as much grace as Cat Valente. I loved Deathless and I can't wait to read Six Gun Snow White (it's on my to-do list, but Scott Lynch published another book too. I have my priorities when it comes to which witty author I'm going to give my money to). I respect her as a feminist artist (go ahead, tell me all the ways that term offends gender equality advocates), but anyone who profits from the sale of literature as a form of employment should temper her opinions with the same grace with which she writes such astounding poetry. I agree with her opinion yesterday: no one should take Batman seriously as a social allegory. That would be like handing Brad Pitt a Batterang and saying, "Go out there and defend our the people against us, but don't let anyone know you are really a rich playboy because we'd lose all credibility!" It's as hypocritical as I make it sound, but in defense of the Batman, I feel that if you take away the equally classicist assessment of Bruce Wayne as multi-billion dollar playboy and divorce the comic, the show and the movies from their myriad creators' many, many, many flaws, you will see that Bruce Wayne feels obligated to protect those less fortunate because he is wealthy. I believe the purpose of Bruce Wayne's millions is to further the plot and deal with the escalation mentioned by Lieutenant Gordon at the end Batman Begins. I also believe Batman stands as an example to all of those with wealth, proclaiming that their money could be better spent making the world a better place for all people. The character, not the social position, is always in question where Batman is concerned. Notice no one criticizes the Batman for having his technology nor do they question it's use, except by those who feel threatened by Batman's presence; those who control the wealth of Gotham shift the focus from their corruptibility to the Batman's own moral code. "Is the Batman any better than the average citizen? Is the Batman no better than the scum he puts away?" Perhaps not, but that isn't the point. The criticism the Batman faces within the comics, the show, and the movies is deflected to Bruce Wayne, and Bruce Wayne did that on purpose to keep the public's eye off the Batman.

But an opinion expressed in the same thread on Twitter yesterday downright made me mad, and that's why this blog post is a day late. I had to stop being angry. The description of Nolan's Batman as a "fascist militarized prosthesis of the elite" is really quite beside the point. The ideology of entertainment specifically states that one can be as amused by Batman pwning the shit out of Bane as one can be with a gendered reading of Persuasion. I feel, in a most educated opinion, that those who view Batman as an extension of the interests of the elite miss the point of the character entirely. Given Batman's inception in 1941, at the most crucial point of WWII, behind the Incorruptible Himself, Captain America--who's own ideology bears more scrutiny than Batman's--one can hardly wonder at the flaws in his design. Batman came to Gotham at a time when the very foundation of American politics was being tested. Roosevelt had just been elected for a third term, making him the only President to ever reign for more than eight years, and a nervous Congress crushed his hopes of expanding the Supreme Court, which would have limited States' powers of legislation. The Soviet Proletariat had beaten it's Bourgeois back to seemingly it's rightful place in 1919, turning the idea of free market Capitalism into the proverbial joke. War was never far from anyone's mind. Who was protecting the people at home? Who was the voice of free-market Capitalism? While Captain America took his fight to the Nazis, Batman kept his eyes on Gotham's home-front, using his millions to crush those who would harm Gotham's ordinary citizen. He protected children and the elderly. He stopped unsafe and immoral science experiments in their tracks. All of this he did to protect the good people of Gotham who could not protect themselves from the Elite. The character of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, a character representing destruction not of the status-quo, but of life as we know it, was as indiscriminate as he was fascist. His final fight with Batman can be taken to represent the success of free-market Capitalism at the expense of the 99 percent (after all, Bane only subjugated the Elite, duping the 99 percent into wholesale slaughter). However, this can only happen if you take that fight out of context. Batman was not trying to reap the benefits of the status-quo. Batman protected everyone. No one deserved the be hurt or beaten down. He crushed his own clean energy project, which would have assisted millions if not saved the world, to keep that equally destructive power out of the hands of evil. He stood to profit substantially with his invention. Instead, he destroyed his own company and bankrupted himself. Tell me again how that's an allegory for the "militarized prosthesis of the elite"?

Bane was not even the ultimate villain. He was not meant to destroy the status-quo, which you all so seem to so validly claim. He was a puppet for Talia Al'Ghul, who had absolutely no intention of saving or destroying anyone for any moral or social gain. She, like the Joker before her, "just wanted to watch the world burn." Her hatred ran deep, and if anyone should be deconstructing anything, it should be the character of Talia Al'Ghul. No one seems to find Talia to be a problem except me! Why Talia Al'Ghul? Because Ras Al'Ghul was dead? No one seems to find Talia's quest for vengeance to be petty (not to mention shoddily written)? No. She tries to destroy Gotham; she becomes a member of the Elite to subjugate society for her own use; she funds a clean-energy project to produce a weapon of mass destruction, but Batman is the "militarized prosthesis of the Elite"! Sounds like you confuse Batman with Lex Luthor, my friends.

I became an English major so I wouldn't have to be bombarded with somebody else deconstructing my comic book heroes. I can do that just as well on my own, and every time I do, the Batman comes out on top. I have no love for Superman. Iron Man is just as bad a social allegory as Batman, but Ms. Valente doesn't seem to make that distinction, at least not in the 144 characters Twitter allows us for deep line-level analysis of super heroes. I think I'll take Bruce Wayne over Tony Stark. *Shakes head* I just don't like Robert Downy Jr.

I would like to remind authors that those who consume art--your readers, your customers--that alienating audiences doesn't work. In fact, that's the first rule of  marketing: don't alienate a potential target audience. Ms. Valente pushes that already. I don't exactly recommend Deathless as light reading to my male friends. However, here we hit a snag. How do we, as writers of fiction, not alienate? Someone, somewhere is going to hate our art. For instance, I hate Twilight. Someone is going to hate my novel, when I'm finished and have all the permissions in place to publish it, and I have a feeling it's going to be Cat Valente. I had this feeling the moment I sat down to two male main characters, two female child victims and a slew of other not-PC characters. I am so deeply rooted in my own culture that I have a hard time referring to people of color anything more derogatory than "colored people". My novel is set in 1969 and earlier. I'm gonna have to bust out the N-word. See, I can't even say it! My novel is set during the Vietnam War. I'm gonna have to bust out  the racial slurs that go hand-in-hand with that backdrop. My main characters are pimps and murderers. Somewhere along the way, a strong female character is going to die. Many people in my novel are going to die, and Ms. Valente has already voiced her disdain for Madmen and Breaking Bad, where the villain rides away on a white horse. I have a feeling I'm going to earn that disdain as well. In some ways I'm saddened by that. In other ways, I don't care.

For those about to write difficult subject matter that might make someone mad, I salute you. For those of you who don't want that in their faces, don't participate. This is my defense of the Batman, my own novel, and artists who have the tough job of not writing literary fantasy fiction. Have a problem with it? Don't like it? Don't watch it; don't read it. After that, the problem kind of solves itself.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kinda Makes You Want to Spawn: On Gail Z. Martin's The Dread

I'm going to get this out there now: SPOILER ALERT!! If you have not finished The Dread proceed at your own peril!

Stock photo
My friend made a comment to me once while we were watching a baby playing at the Riverside Mall in New Orleans. He was adorable, toddling around between his mommy and daddy. My friend turned to me and said, "It kinda makes you want to spawn. Immediately." That is the sentiment I left The Dread with, along with the profound knowledge that we will not be seeing our friends Tris, Kiara, Jonmarc, Ban Soterius, Carroway, Carina and Aidaine for quite some time. For now, the Winter Kingdoms are behind us, and for those who went through the War of Unmaking, hopefully the worst is behind them as well. Tris and Kiara are back in Shekerishet, Jonmarc and Carina have their newborns, Aidaine and Kolin are together at last, and all is at peace. I would be more than happy to host a re-read of the Chronicles of the Necromancer (among the other massive projects I undertake in the coming years) for the enjoyment of all who found this series several years ago and for those who are just picking it up for the first time.

At the end of The Sworn, author and frequent Conn panel member Gail Z. Martin created a tension that held up until the day The Dread was released--a whole-year-and a-half later. Every time I laid eyes on that section of my shelves, my anticipation for the next novel rose, and Martin did not disappoint.

We've all read the book right? Is a synopsis really necessary? Thought not. In that case, lets jump right into it. For your reading pleasure, my responses to the following subjects in The Dread. Warning: I am nothing if not honest, so if this review isn't gushing with praise, its because I tend to find faults in even my favorite author's works. No author is perfect. We'll save the fan girl drooling for when I meet Gail Z. Martin, which I will! I swear it!

Blood Magic: 

An issue that kept resurfacing was the seemingly unlimited supply of blood magic from which Temnotta's Dark Summoner could draw upon. Scaith made sure to have all of his bases covered, even if they didn't know it: the Black Robes, or Shanthadura's priests, used blood magic to keep their pact with their dark goddess. Bukka, the soul-hallowing butcher that preyed upon the prostitutes in Principality, and the son of the Summoner King in Margolan. Cwyne is able, even as a baby, to sense the flow and tap into it. With Cwyne's power under his belt, Scaith (I imagine its supposed to read like "scythe", but which I read in almost Japanese style: Sai-th) would have no problem bringing the Winter Kingdoms to their knees, using the puppet king in Isencroft (Alvior) as a front. What he did not count on was that their lack of reconn meant that he was unsure of what he was up against. He knew there was a Summoner in Margolan. He knew the political climate of Isencroft. He did not know that two different types of "Regent magic" were at work: Kiara was able to harness her Regent magic and channel it through the mage lens. Tris was able to defeat Scaith on the Plains of Spirit by sacrificing himself in the ancient ways of the kings of Margolan. As usual, Martin employs the useful tactic of pre-arming her people with an extensive array of catch-alls. What is different about this story is the real, real sense that without these special gifts, all would be lost or extremely difficult. There is a key difference this time in that Aidaine is run to ground almost immediately only after helping Berry once in the castle against a hollowed spirit. After that, the Hojun priests of Eastmark are useful for assisting Jonmarc in on Principality's shores, but were it not for the Hojuns, Principality would be left predominately to the defense of humans, vayash-moru, vyrkin and mages with little in the way of specialized help. And for Martin, that just ain't right.

Also, in a completely undrandomized plot, each kingdom fights a battle suited to the specialties of the region: the Dark Summoner battles Tris at Margolan instead of increasing the suspense by sending Scaith after the helpless folk of Isencroft, where the new seat of his empire was to be, where the spirit of the mage-heir of Margolan fled with his mother, and where the pregnant queen of a joint throne is now clearly on the battlefield. No, no, Scaith's ego leads him to Margolan; the shifter mage battles the lord of Dark Haven and his changeling brethren at Principality; the Temnottan navy that lands in Isencroft expected to find a half-starved shamble army waiting for them, but was instead rewarded with only a slightly more resolute form of resistence. What kept the majority of the battle from turning bad was Kiara's regent magic. Had she been unable to return, Isencroft might have fallen very easily. Cam's refusal to allow his brother a safe haven in Brunfenn was also a huge shifting point, as without that base, Alvior could not possibly hope to reach inland.

Blood magic is crucial to the magic system of this particular fantasy series, as like most systems, the Flow has two sides: light and dark (can't qualify one without the other). The magic system relies on the flow of magic that runs almost like a renewable resource beneath the earth, like a series of fault lines along the tectonic plates. This analogy is fitting because the Flow seems to be stronger at places that sit directly above its influence, those barrows, shrines to the Lady and old places that make accessing the flow (and working magic) easier. However, the seasons, like the tide of the oceans, also influence the effectiveness of certain types of magic. There is a huge issue surrounding the keeping of hearth magic, such as the feast of Sohan, the Feast of Change. It is during the Sohan feast that Tris makes his journey into the Underrealm. Three different types of magic align themselves to keep Tris safe: the oath of the Sworn, the adoption of Tris into the Sworn (which never comes back up again), and the Sohan night. The rise and ebb of the Flow influences blood magic as well, and though it requires a lot of work, blood magic is quite a bit more effective at crushing out opposition than light magic. Light magic has far more rules for protecting the soul of the caster, where blood mages don't worry too terribly much about it. My one criticism of the types of magic employed in the Winter Kingdoms is that unlike several other forms of magic, blood magic requires the casters to be assuredly depraved, seeking power for its own sake knowing that they are twisting themselves to pieces. Without a certain level of cognitive dissonance, it takes a deeply disturbed person to use blood magic, and to keep using it requires the subjugation of sanity entirely. There seems to be no middle ground for questionable actions. Tris' questionable act almost cost him his life, and I don't want to be the one that gets tossed under a bus, but had Tris died on the battlefield, using the last vestiges of his power to save Margolan, the "sacrifice" he made that upset everyone might have carried more weight. However, I greatly admire the way Martin set us up to believe that Nexus was a fickle anthame. We believe for a long time that the sword would steal a breath of Tris' soul, not realizing that breath of his soul in Nexus might be the only thing that could bring him back to the realm of the living. By violating my expectations (and I suppose I am a bit of a dark reader), I am happier to reconcile my criticsm and come away from it thoroughly pleased.

Spawning in "Interesting Times"

If I had to have a criticism of Martin's style, it is that Tris and Kiara are royal parents, but don't really act like  it. This may just be that I am more accustomed to royal parents being rather distant and aloof. Kiara is tolerably unhappy about leaving her baby in the hands of care-takers while she ventures into Isencroft to take her father's throne. However, had I not known before that Gail Martin was a mother, I certainly would have been able to put money on it after reading the scenes involving Kiara's hesitation for leaving Cwyne. She knows her feelings on the subject are selfish at best, but I also feel them to be highly romanticized, especially Tris' feelings towards Cwyne, whom he barely knew before he left for battle again. If a queen is expected to be less...involved in her baby's upbringing, a king is even less so, yet Tris risks his life for his son. Not the heir to his throne, because we are unsure of whether or not Cwyne is mentally capable of ruling, but for his child, a trait that very few kings and queens have as human beings. For upper-class people, Kiara and Tris have very middle class feelings for their children. This is not a bad thing. Put down hat flaming bag of poo! I don't think giving middle class feelings to upper class characters is a bad thing. However, I was taken aback by this shift. I think the most disturbing thing I've ever seen in history is the treatment of royal children, especially if anyone has ever seen The King's Speech. High expectations coupled with little parental guidance can hardly create healthy adults, and we know that the setting of the Winter Kingdoms can be "interesting" enough without adding mental and physical abuse to the list of issues. While I instinctively took the description of Kiara and Cwyne's relationship as "romanticized", I eventually came to feel that is "natural" in ways that real-life royalty could stand to learn from.

 That having been said, you know one of Martin's characters can't have a baby without the others quickly following suit. Jonmarc and Carina have two beautiful baby girls. My issue with this: Carina was a twin. She should not have had twins. Even if the chance of multiples had been high on both sides, that should have skipped a generation. How do I know this: I am a twin. The chances of a twin having twins is small (not impossible, especially of having fraternal versus identical twins), but the chances of Carina's children having twins would have been much, much higher. Why was it that Carina had to have twins? Because it is believed that she ended up with her rare healing abilities because she was a twin, but if Martin had been paying attention to her own characterization, she would have remembered that Carina and Cam's exile came from 1) the fact that twins were considered a rare, freakish occurance in backwater Isencroft, and 2) that fact that she could heal. While Carina is not ashamed of her abilities, the fear of having twins--thus continuing a legacy of freakishness--probably should have bothered her a bit more considering she might have had some mental trauma associated with her exile. Granted, Carina has a stronger character than, oh say, Aidaine. It certainly would have been more believable than Aidaine's crap excuse for running away from Kolin. The mental trauma of having been a freak in her own family should have created a great deal of drama around having multiples, and her power to heal she may even have regarded as a curse. However, these are small details.

Another small detail is Jonmarc's comment that he's teaching them to fight, despite the fact that Jonmarc has sworn to put his warrior past behind him, building a more peaceful future for daughters. Teaching them how to fight is not something a battle-weary father declares in their infancy. For a lower-class man (and he was a farm boy in Margolan before he was ever a fighter in Eastmark or Nargi), that is very upper-class mentality: living through your children. "My child will play football because I did," or "My child will obviously be vocally inclined because I am," is a horrible thing to expect of any child, not to mention training them to be soldiers from early on. I don't expect Jonmarc to be unreasonable; his children should know how to defend themselves. After all, they are the future heirs of Dark Haven, responsible for maintaining the Truce between the living and the undead. I just think that Jonmarc should not have declared himself retired if he did not truly feel the danger so very near that he now has to train his daughters. I would have thought better of Jonmarc, and that he could go through life thinking he was giving his children a better life than he had.

This criticism does nothing to quell the totally natural maternal feelings I had toward reading Jonmarc's homecoming, which was as heart warming and sweet as any that could have been asked for. More dedicated parents could not be found in all of Dark Haven, and I was deeply moved by the entire scene.

Herp-A-Derp I'm Just a Whore: Aidaine, Kolin and the Problem with Vampires

I am a huge reader of vampire fiction. That having been said, I'm also very picky.

I have never really understood the purpose of Aidaine's character. From the outset, I have considered her barely there. Because of the absolutely solid connection of all the characters in the plot, I had a hard time understanding why Aidaine came from out of nowhere. She was a serroquete in Nargi in The Sworn. "But wait, Angry Reviewer," you say, "Jonmarc Vahanian was unconnected to the original four main characters: Tris, Soterius, Carroway and Hartuck." And to that I would say, "No," because he was Hartuck's old smuggler friend who was originally hired to help Tris and his friends get to Dhasson. All of the characters who were seemingly unconnected to begin with were never that far removed at all. One day I'll draw a map that illustrates how directly connected all the characters are except Aidaine. Even Jair is ridiculously connected to the main characters even though he never popped up until The Sworn. "Hang on a second, you crazy ho'," you say, "The Sworn was meant to be a stand alone novel." To that I say, "Gail couldn't have it both ways." You cannot have a stand-alone novel continue a story. What you gain in the attention of new readers you lose in distracting veteran readers. I have never been connected to the new characters the way I have been connected to the old ones.

Moving on. Aidaine's character seems to me to be one of those catch-alls. Yes, she delivers a message to principality, yes she saves the gang from Dark Haven in their fight against the Durim, yes she helped Kolin move on from the death of Elsbet, but dang it yall, she doesn't do a whole lot else except irritate me. Martin went out of her way to create two stunningly powerful female characters, Kiara and Carina, along with a slew of other powerful lesser characters. Where does "I'm-Just-A-Whore" girl fit in? The vampire plot of course. Where else does a weak female character fit in?

Kolin's union with Aidaine starts them down the path towards a romantic and ever-lasting love affair. Why? Because Kolin is a vampire. This is where I start having more problems as a picky reader of vampire fiction. My idea of vampire fiction is like the transition from the living to the dead, "...messy." I would point you in the direction of Lumley's vampires for further reference. Vampires are very scary creatures and to my mind are meant to be very scary creatures. This does not mean that the idea of what I like to call "the domesticated vampire" has not worked before. It has, and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes is by far the best example. Anne Rice is another, but her vampires are different for different reasons. I do no liken Martin to Meyers (I'm not cruel). However, the domesticated vampires of Martin's story definitely embody the romanticized vampire trope, and its one I have a very hard time with. The fact that Kolin had to turn Aidaine into a vampire because her stupid butt went off for no better reason than self-consciousness to the warrens, got trapped by Buka, got sealed up by fearful taxpayers and then contracted the plague is simplistic, unoriginal and unnecessary. The union between vampire and fledgling is often as a last resort, but it is also often used as a form of rape in many of the better pieces of vampire fiction. Since it couldn't be rape, it had to be as a last resort: the plague. Kolin loved Aidaine enough to give her the dark gift. Alucard did something similar for Ceres Victoria in Hellsing and she fought her reality for months before accepting. Aidaine's biggest concern after her transition is that she's "Just a whore." If you're a vampire, I very much doubt that should be the biggest thing on your mind. A healthy person would have probably wondered what made her better than any of the other dying victims of the plague. A healthy character might have found the idea of being dead and still upright to be slightly disturbing. Still, all Aidaine could think of was, "I'm wearing a lady's dress. I'm just a whore." To that I say again, herp-a-freakin'-derp! Weak female characters are always the brides of powerful, sexy, humane vampires or the rape victims of ugly, nasty evil vampires that always cry, "You cursed me! I'm ruined! Yes, I'll live forever, yes you love me, but I hate you!" and then repeatedly stab Anders Hove. Its been done. It'll be done again, and I probably won't read that either. The transition of Aidaine was moving, and Kolin is a  good man, but the whole thing would have made the book shorter and allowed for the return of Carroway to the plot, who had even less of a role to play than he did in The Sworn. He didn't even have a speaking part this time. In fact, he wasn't even there! He was stuck at Dark Haven and was gone by the time Jonmarc got back! Aidaine got to open her stupid mouth, but Carroway and Macaria get swept under the rug. He was loyal to Tris from the very beginning, and Martin mangled his hand so that he might never play again, creating real, honest to goodness feelings of despair for a character whose profession requires he play or be good-looking enough to get away without being talented, even if he was the personal best friend of the King. Why, after all of that, does she leave him out? I'll be taking that question to Gail Z. Martin if I ever get to meet her.

Overall Response

Now that you all are brandishing pointed sticks, I'll get to the positive stuff. Gail Z. Martin spins a wonderful tail of suspense and drama. I have said before that my vested interest in the characters in key to my enjoyment of the story, and Martin has made me extremely interested in the future of her characters, so much so that I continue to ignore some of her more obvious flaws. To me, she is still a new writer, and she is drawing on all of her influences, as all writers do. I believe her desire to please everyone is getting in the way of her ultimate success as a writer. I believe that Gail Z. Martin is one of the best writers of fantasy dialogue that I have had the pleasure of reading. She captures the scenes in her novels with active description and vivid details without becoming too bogged down. I had to stop myself from reading The Dread so that I wouldn't read it all in one sitting. Knowing that we won't get another one of these for a while made me more cautious. I was moved to tears when Jonmarc came home to his babies for the first time, and I was guilty right along side him that he could not be there for their birth. I hope against all the portents that Cwyne will be able to take the throne, and I know that Tris and Kiara will love him even if he cannot rule. It would take so much pressure off of Tris and Kiara to split the crown again, but as we know from experience, these things are never that simple. Kenver will make his mother proud (by the way, I didn't even want to get started on Talwyn's death because I'm still not over it. Poor Jair...). Temnotta, hopefully, will never be tempted to take the Winter Kingdoms en masse again. Its all over now, though, but the waiting, and hoping that the future generations of the Winter Kingdoms will have it easier than their parents. I very much doubt it though. We have some time to stew over it, though.

As for the author, Gail Z. Martin, I owe my sincere thanks and gratitude. Her novels are gems, and a real treat to add to the collection of the casual (or fanatical) fantasy library. I strongly encourage everyone who hasn't to go back and read The Chronicles of the Necromancer. I know I have steep criticism, but an author like Martin knows her real success lies in that I read her work, and that I am taking the time to tell you about it. Hopefully, because of what I've said, not in spite of it, you'll go read her other works too. I look forward to reading more of Martin's work in the future.

Join us on Facebook! The Winter Kingdoms is Gail Z. Martin's Facebook page, but you can join a bunch of interesting casual readers over at The Chronicles of the Necromancer (By Gail Z. Martin) is Awesome. We talk about the books, other books and a lot of other stuff. 

For everyone that's interested, all of Martin's books are available on Audible in audio book form.

Stock photo from

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Little Congress That Couldn't

I was going to put this on Facebook, but then I remembered I have a blog, where all my opinions go. Facebook is where opinions go to die.

Dear Congress:

If I left my job, such as it is--and I actually find myself desperately scrambling for a chance to work--I would be fired. That's right, fired. In the real world, the world you so blithely left behind in favor of your conclave on the Mount, if you leave a job, quit and walk away, you get fired.

You don't get paid for the time you don't work, and you don't get to come back in on Monday.

That's right. I just signed the petition hoping you don't get paid for the time that the rest of the United States government employees are on furlough.

But I feel like this could stand to be taken a step further. After all, why should Congressional representatives, who left us all hanging so they could stand stubbornly together to make a point, get to resume business as usual? They quit, walked their shift. When that happens at any place of business, even government jobs, the managers start looking for replacements. What Congress seems to have forgotten is that we, The People, are the managers. For so long Congress foolishly believed itself in charge of The People. I believe it is time for Congress to be as brutally disillusioned of that fact as it seems to think we have all been brutally disillusioned by their craptastic attempts to return the United States to the Dark Ages.

What I want to make abundantly clear is that I'm not an Anarchist. I'm not talking coups, or upheavals, or riots in the street. I'm talking good old fashioned write-ups and termination. As half-decent managers of our own well-being as American citizens--well the vast majority of us anyway--I feel like we've put up with a lot from The Republican Party. They talk nonsense when they should be working; they seem to lack even the basics of real world experience that would lend them even a shred of empathy for the people they supposedly serve; they are constantly taking breaks and showing up late, won't wear their hats straight, and they seem to think they speak for the general populous when they  have been so far removed from the troubles of daily life for their constituents that they speak words, but all we hear is mindless drivel. They have infringed on the rights of women, discriminated against the poor by refusing to regulate health insurance companies, and they've sided with the enemies by allowing drug rackets and human traffickers to hide behind lobbyists. They treat minorities as criminalized others instead of human beings, forsaking everything this country was founded on and the dream that so many immigrants hope to find in a country that wavers on the brink of being as cursed as the other imaginary countries in the world with socialized medicince whose economies are failing.

But I digress.

I don't consider myself political, you know, unless someone's burning books or eating people. Generally I don't care. Employed in the private sector with no stake in anything at the moment, one might wonder what I've even got to complain about. I mean, all I do is work so I can eat every day and help my boyfriend through some hard times. I pay taxes into the system that supports state-runned and federal programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security just like everyone else--

Oh that's right.

The money I make is taxed to pay for all of these things in a government that just walked off the clock and didn't find anyone to cover their shift. I can't afford health insurance because I make too much money for government aid, but can't afford to pay the robber-barons' premiums, yet The Republican Party has made this bothersome decision for me by grinding the Affordable Care Act into the dust, where it's useless to everyone except themselves and the health insurance companies who rally behind their army of lobbyists. I have been ill for days with no way to see a doctor, and I'm not the only one who's suffering. However, Congress expects us to not only continue to contribute to their paychecks, but to turn a blind eye when they feel like they're done with their little charade and let them walk right back to the Mount like nothing has happened.

I suppose I should come to my point. If you have gotten through this blog post and are not yourself very angry, then there is something wrong with you. Or you just don't care. I've heard of such. I myself am quite angry. Nothing makes me more angry than knowing money is being wasted on the useless rabble. You know, Congress. And as for the Democratic party. What's that, why are you being blamed as well? Be wary of the company you keep.

Long story short for those who didn't read all of it: when it comes to the American people, Congress really has no idea who they're dealing with. A few good men with muskets and cannons spanked one government and left it mewling on the other side of the Atlantic while the Continental Congress shuffled it's feet and dissembled.What in the world makes Congress think we should let it come back when it walked away of it's own volition?

Great One, you hear the cry of Congress, but like the Egyptians before them, they would cry louder if they had to make the bricks. Empires aren't built by emperors, but on the backs of slaves. What happened in Rome when those slaves decided they'd had enough?

I may not have the most witty Angry-Blog-Post, but I hope I'm not alone out there in thinking Congress is far overdue for an attitude adjustment. Maybe not being able to pay their electricity bill on time will change their tune.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

An Open Letter to Top Gear UK

Dear Top Gear UK:

If you could stop being so awesome, so hilarious, and so interesting, that would be great.

In all seriousness, I have been a fan of Top Gear UK for something like three years. A bit of a late start, but still, a huge fan nonetheless. In fact I once wrote a short story where you guys--Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May--all showed up to the dealership to help me pick out a car to replace my Pontiac Sunfire. I know you'd never stoop to such a pedestrian task, excluding May, but it was such a fun idea I couldn't resist it. I contemplated going back to school in England for a master's in journalism just so that I could write for Top Gear Magazine. The worst bit is that I'm afraid of fast cars. I'm the epitome of the female Captain Slow. I drive a Mazda3 and giggle when my 1.9 liter engine gets better gas mileage than my ex-husband's Mazda2 with a smaller engine and lighter chassis. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I love Top Gear UK. If that makes me weird, then I'm par for the course.

But really, the awesomeness has to stop. I'm constantly distracted, especially these last couple of days when such happy events as planning my best friends' wedding has lead to a sharp decline in Fraser, Star Trek: Voyager and Bones watching at the house, also leaving me alone with the television for anime, and of course, rediscovering some of the best episodes of Top Gear. The fact that now I'm going to need something to fill the silent void while my boyfriend goes to Iowa is also disturbing. Do I plan on getting any work done? Yes. Will I be able to if all I'm doing is using his computer to watch Top Gear on Netflix? No. For example, I have been here all day and have managed to squeak out a meager 1,300 words on my story between episodes of Top Gear. I also spent half an hour not writing my novel to price a 2003 or 2009 (and in the end I went with the '09) Porsche Boxster S. Turns out that if my Mazda were paid off, I could rather easily afford one. Sure I'd look like I hadn't exactly gotten to where I wanted to be in life, but there's plenty of time for a sexy chick to look hot in a Boxster at the age of 28 and get a 911 later in life, when I have less of a future to look forward to surviving to. In the end I decided to sit down and write my novel, so I could have something to look forward to when I sell it, and believe me, I don't create for money. Like driving a Boxster, I feel like if I wrote for money, I'd be doing it for all the wrong reasons. The right reason to drive a Boxster would be to say, "I drive a Porsche and I'm still alive." The right reason to write a novel is to create something amazing, which is what I'm off to do now.

So to my dear boys at Top Gear, I thoroughly blame you for all the amazing things I plan to accomplish in my half-baked attempt to be able to afford a Porsche Boxster S, but adding to that I'd like to thank you for presenting me with so many wonderful car films to entertain myself with, and for doing what you do, living the dream that so many people wish they could live: driving fast cars in a safe environment for delight of others, being honest in your reviews and hopefully leading to better products and technology. We might not be going Green here, but I'd rather you guys run out all our gas in a few years so we can get on with protecting the environment and watching you guys test rocket ships after all the cars go electric. Thanks, guys.

Yours Squealing,
The Nerd

Monday, July 1, 2013

Bustin' Out the Camp Gear: All You Need is Your Laptop and Possibly Tea

Squealing Nerds, Unite!

We are back! The Squealing Nerd returns to blogspot in light of recent personal developments. My life as an independent blogger took a turn for the weird as my now ex-husband and I moved my blog to an independent server, which we both promptly lost access to--yet are still paying for. In hopes of feeding the nerd cake holes, I have retired my independently hosted blog and have returned to the old ways. Feel free to dance a jig. Go ahead. We'll wait.

Camp NaNoWriMo

So why am I sweating my bum off in 100 degree weather in a tent? Good question. Thank the black gods it's rhetorical. Camp NaNoWriMo is upon us. That means the wonderful people over at The Office of Letters and Light have decided to extend their wonderful hospitality to us for the month of July. Our goal: whatever we can churn out. The plan: to write as well as we're able for as long as we're able. I prepared an outline to expedite things for my novel, for which I am now taking title suggestions. The idea is to have a leisurely, indulgent month to enjoy our craft. Unlike the frantic race to the finish line in November, July is going to be a time for us to catch up on old projects, start new ones, or experiment with a literary medium we are not familiar with. I had high hopes of writing a film with my punk-rock boyfriend, but decided to finish my novel while my handsome boy toy goes to work his magic on a couple songs with his old band in Iowa. I expect nothing less than awesomeness (and vice versa), and when he returns, my novel will be completed, his songs will be recorded, and we will start our film. My friends, expect nothing less than awesomeness.

Camp NaNoWriMo requires nothing more than a well-air-condition place to work, a functioning word processor, whatever you can grab for snack food and a cool river to tube when we're finished. I favor tea and occasionally ice cream. Certain favorite members of my acquaintance favor an assortment of Popsicles that have been melted in the microwave. Whatever your CapNaNoWriMo fare, whatever your plans for the month, we all owe it to ourselves--especially those of us going through tough times (who isn't really?)--to have fun and enjoy this time. I'm off to crank out the first hundred words or so of the rest of my novel. Or sleep before writing all night. I haven't figured that out yet, and ya know what, there is no pressure. Just some hot cocoa and my story. In the grand scheme of things, that's all I really need.