Limyaael

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08:40 pm: Book reviews: Bear and Monette, Morgan
Another attempt to clear some of the enormous backlog. Maybe shorter and more frequent posts will work for me, instead of trying to do them all at once.



Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, A Companion to Wolves

Set in a world heavily based off Norse mythology, this follows a young jarl’s son named Njall (at first; he changes his name to Isolfr after his bonding), who bonds to a she-wolf and becomes part of a group of warriors who fight against trolls and wyverns to protect human settlements. The trellwolves share their minds, their lives, and their sexual drives with their human partners. Because the konigenwolves, who lead the packs, are she-wolves, and all the warriors bonded to wolves are male, that means that a konigenwolf’s partner ends up having sex with a lot of different partners when she’s in heat—consensual or not. This is Isolfr’s fate.

I’m glad to say that I liked this a lot better than Carnival, the last Bear novel I read. The politics are interesting without being so horrendously complex that the reader gets lost (the core of my problem with Carnival). The svartalfar whom Isolfr meets and the trolls are both more complex than they appear at first glance. Gender roles are questioned, sometimes directly, sometimes glancingly, especially when Isolfr becomes the father of a daughter and realizes exactly what being bonded to a konigenwolf means. And the lupine characters aren’t twee the way that Lackey’s Companions and so many bond animals end up being.

My problems are mostly restricted to a bit of confusion with characters. There are so many characters in the book that it’s easy to confuse them, and the changing names of all the wolfcarls don’t help. Also, some of the characters simply vanish from the plotline when they’ve made whatever impact they were supposed to make, which is odd considering how close-knit the wolfcarl society is. And finally, there’s really no reason given as to why women can’t bond with wolves; it simply never comes up. But I still enjoyed it as a diversion.





Richard K. Mogan, Black Man/Thirteen

(This book is titled Black Man in the UK, but Thirteen in the US. Gee, I wonder why?)

This is near-future SF, set in the early part of next century, after humanity has become proficient enough in genetic engineering to scare itself shitless. Several kinds of “variants” have been created by gene tinkering, but the story centers around the thirteens, men engineered to be sociopaths and utterly dominant alpha males, of a kind that mostly vanished with the hunter-gatherer societies. Since the passage of laws that sharply restricted, at least in the Western world, what could be done with genetic engineering, most thirteens have been banished to reservations or to Mars. Carl Marsalis, the Black British man who’s the major protagonist of the novel, was exiled to Mars, but came back, and he spends his time hunting down rogue thirteens.

This book has all sorts of little details that pushed my buttons. Intellectual conversations between characters, where many of the most important characterization moments are located! Gender roles played with, including masculinity and thoughtful use of the term “male-identified woman”! Racial and religious issues openly addressed for both major characters (Marsalis, who’s an atheist, and Sevgi Ertekin, a Turkish-American woman)! A future where Christian fundamentalism and not Islamic fundamentalism turned out to be the major political danger, causing the US to split apart politically! Technology with evocative names, so you could guess what it was, integrated as part of the characters’ lives and the plot! Complication of seemingly simple issues! Sarcasm! A deeply intelligent main character, even if he is also paranoid! Bad guys who make arguments that actually make sense and get you to nod along in agreement! (I really salute Morgan for that last one, which I’ve so rarely seen done right).

Not many minuses for me with this book. There are a few too many times when Marsalis’s paranoia/intuition saves everybody’s necks (he’s wrong about a few things, luckily, but probably not enough). There’s a bait-and-switch that very nearly came too late in the story to work for me. And this is not a book you should read if you think George R. R. Martin has too much violence and sex in his world. Morgan has never met a graphic description he didn’t like. They served the plot and the characterization, so I never felt them gratuitous, but my tolerance for both is much higher than some readers’ might be.



Comments

From:[info]sparrow-wings.livejournal.com
Date:November 16th, 2007 03:33 am (UTC)
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Hmm, maybe I'll take the Morgan out from work. I've been dilly-dallying about trying something of his for a while, and I trust your taste in books... plus we could really use that two inches of shelf space...
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:November 16th, 2007 11:46 am (UTC)
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I've never read anything else of his, but after Thirteen, I really want to.

I will say, though, that if you get squicked by the violence in the prologue, don't continue. It really doesn't get better from there.
From:[info]kaiz
Date:November 17th, 2007 04:29 am (UTC)
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Thirteen definitely seems like something I should put on my wishlist! :-)

I really enjoyed A Companion to Wolves, also. I agree, the names got a bit confusing--thank god there was a cast list up front! :-) I thought that the whole book was a pretty gritty (and subtle) rebuttal to all rainbow and kittens-ification of the animal companion genre.

Re. the no female wolfcarls...I know that it wasn't explicitly mentioned, but I got the feeling that the problem was really related to occupation (the fact that the wolfcarls were warriors) and the possibility of pregnancy. If the wolf enclaves were mixed sex, they'd run the risk of having pregnant female fighters. And having an all female fighting force wouldn't be practical. So, what you're kind of left with is an all male enclave/fighting force which is presumably how things were before they figured out how to bond with the wolves. Just a guess.
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:November 17th, 2007 02:07 pm (UTC)
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Hope you enjoy it! It's one of those books where I can imagine the sex and the violence putting a lot of people off, but I saw them as valid storytelling choices. If you can deal with the prologue, I think the rest of the story will work for you.

Re. the no female wolfcarls...I know that it wasn't explicitly mentioned,

Your explanation may well be right. I was just surprised because most of the other gender roles in the book are explicitly mentioned and explore. And most societies that are male-dominated have always had some sort of explanation as to why women can't participate in [insert activity here]. I was watching for that explanation and how it applied to trellwolves, and I didn't see it. I do think it's a plothole.
From:[info]kaiz
Date:November 18th, 2007 05:06 am (UTC)
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It's one of those books where I can imagine the sex and the violence putting a lot of people off,

I confess, I *love* carnage, so no worries there! ;-)

I was watching for that explanation and how it applied to trellwolves, and I didn't see it. I do think it's a plothole.

I totally agree. It did seem surprising that there weren't any female fighters at all (at least, if there were any, I missed them amidst the metric shit load of minor characters! :-). There didn't seem to be any explicit social prohibition against it...it would be nice if the authors addressed it in a sequel (which they're apparently thinking about, after their other current projects are completed).

I did really like the way that the troll genocide *wasn't* swept under the rug; and I thought that Isolfr's plans for his daughter were interesting both from a gender standpoint (as his reaction to his observations about the female smith) and also from a political standpoint as well. Good stuff. My main complaint with the book was that it was too short!
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