Limyaael

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10:05 pm: Book review post for April (part 1)
Haven’t done one of these in a long time, so I’ve got a lot of novels to cover; I’ll do another post sometime soon.

COMMENTS HAVE SPOILERS FOR DUST



George Meredith, One of Our Conquerors

Where do you start with this one?

Okay. The basic story: Victor Radnor is a successful businessman whose main activity, when he’s not brokering deals, arranging musical gatherings, and being proud of his daughter, is waiting for his wife to die. He married Mrs. Burman, about twenty years his senior, to get hold of her money. Then he fell in love with her young companion, Nataly, and they eloped together. Of course, the little problem of Victor’s first marriage means that they’re living together without benefit of holy matrimony. Their daughter, Nesta, has no idea she’s illegitimate—but every time Victor tries to set up their household in a socially acceptable neighborhood, the rumors find them, and Nataly is tormented by them. Now he’s built a new house, Lakelands, and Nataly is horribly worried the same thing will happen all over again, just as Nesta is being courted. Victor remains confident that Mrs. Burman will die any moment now and set them all free.

The style of this novel is tortured, possibly on purpose; Meredith wrote it when he was in his sixties and had just achieved popular success after thirty years’ hard labor as a writer and editor, and he badly wanted to say, “Take that!” to the critics who had always complained about the way he wrote. So the first sentence of the novel, describing Victor slipping on an orange peel, goes: “A gentleman, noteworthy for a lively countenance and a waistcoat to match it, crossing London Bridge at noon on a gusty April day, was almost magically detached from his conflict with the gale by some sly strip of slipperiness, abounding in that conduit of the markets, which had more or less adroitly performed the trick upon preceding passengers, and now laid this one flat amid the shuffle of feet, peaceful for the moment as the uncomplaining who have gone to Sabrina beneath the tides.” Nesta, whose nickname is Fredi, appears this way: “Upon the opening of the door, there was a cascade of muslin downstairs. His darling Fredi stood out of it, a dramatic Undine.” And so on.

Meredith is also both allusive and elusive. Most of the really important scenes take place off-stage. Blink and you’ll miss a reference to a character’s emotions or hidden problems, or possibly mistake the real thing for a metaphor. Because a large part of the novel shares Victor’s perspective on the other characters, it took me a while to realize exactly what sort of pain Nataly’s silence concealed. Meredith’s major theme is how marriages (and courtships) fall apart, because he believed men and women were both so deformed by the inequality of the sexes that they could not recognize or understand each other. And that’s what’s happening here. Do not read One of Our Conquerors for happy fun times.

I would say it’s a good novel and worth the work. But I have read fourteen Meredith novels. I am biased.





Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness

Reason Cansino, at fifteen years old, has spent most of her life on the run around Australia with her mother, fleeing from her evil witch of a grandmother, Esmeralda. But now her mother has gone mad, and Reason is committed to Esmeralda’s care. She quickly starts discovering that the magic her mother described as “light and mirrors” is slightly more than that.

One thing that impressed me about this book was the sense of darkness in it. Reason’s perspective is, in a way, innocent, since she’s grown up out of cities and away from most popular culture, and she’s a bit scornful of people who can’t look at a wall and immediately count how many stones it contains, or recite the Fibonacci sequence in their heads. But there are unsettling clues that keep showing up just at the moment where you think Reason’s following a false trail. The truth about the other characters is not identical with what Reason thinks, but neither is it identical with the thoughts of the two more “experienced” teenage narrators in the book, Esmeralda’s next-door-neighbor Tom and the New York runaway J.T. Magic isn’t an escape into a land full of unicorns. There are multiple prices to be paid for it. And the ending is a cliffhanger that probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but which immediately made me want to read on.

There were other things I enjoyed, too: Reason being into mathematics, and the fact that she isn’t completely white (her father was an Aborigine).

However, I also felt like there was a lot missing from the story. There’s an antagonist who’s obviously terrible, but the truth about him remains shadowy enough to dilute the fear, even when we’re in the head of J.T., who knows the most. Reason is a transparent narrator, perhaps because she’s written in first person; Tom and J.T. seem to hold back on things they really have no reason not to think about for the sake of maintaining the book’s mystery. This eventually drove me nuts. And it’s a trick that I usually like and respect when other narratives use it.

I also found it hard, at some points, to care about what happened to Reason. She’s competent and wise and street-smart, but then she gets manipulated endlessly by the people around her. And there are several long stretches of the story where the reader has knowledge Reason doesn’t, thanks to the other narrators, so it’s a process of waiting for her to catch up. That, in turn, lessens the force of her epiphanies on the reader when they do come. I really think this is a book that would have benefited from being written in just one viewpoint.





Elizabeth Bear, Dust

Set on a crippled colony ship, the Jacob’s Ladder, rotating around two stars about to explode, Dust has an awful lot of the medieval romance about it. There are literal knights (post-humans, some with wings), angels (the remnants of a superintelligent AI that broke up at some point in the distant past), courts, and peasants (people without the genetic and nanotechnological benefits the post-humans possess). The story begins with the capture of a knight named Perceval by Ariane, who virtually controls the court of Rule; Ariane cut off Perceval’s wings after she surrendered. Rien, a servant girl in Rule, is assigned to take care of Perceval until the moment Ariane is ready to consume her memories and her nanotechnology. Perceval reveals that she and Rien are half-sisters. Rien frees her, and they set off on a quest across the world.

I will say that the world is extremely cool. I don’t think it’s truly a successful attempt to blend SF and fantasy, but if you really like medieval romance, stories about generational ships, or both, Dust is worth your time. There are also a few engaging minor characters—Gavin, the blowtorch that has formed itself into the shape of a basilisk, is one—and some of the meetings between estranged characters trying to figure out how to fit into one another’s lives have a realistic awkwardness.

But from my viewpoint, Dust took three of the things I found irritating in Bear’s other novels and mixed them with two new irritating things that left me unsure why I kept reading. The first three irritations are the lack of emotional connection with the characters and everybody turning out to be related to everybody from Blood and Iron, and the convoluted, hard-to-follow politics from Carnival. The fourth is what I find to be an extremely problematic handling of sexual orientation. I literally cannot say more about that without getting into spoilers that will destroy the end of the book for you.

The fifth is a sense of randomness about some of the revelations included. At one point Rien encounters what’s apparently a revered artifact of the ship’s earlier culture. She draws her breath in awe, the scene ends, and when we return to Rien’s viewpoint, she has abandoned all thought of that artifact. The only other references to it are in a few chapter epigraphs. Its significance is never explained. Maybe it’ll be explained in the next few books of the trilogy. At the moment, it’s just a random shard of glass in the book’s stainless steel world.

If the book sounds interesting, you might want to read it. I’m completely the wrong audience for it.





Tanith Lee, A Heroine of the World

What a weird book.

No, seriously, what a weird book. This book is about Aradia, the daughter of a kingdom defeated in war. When the conquering enemy overruns her city, she’s taken as a concubine by the general who moves into her aunt’s house, and from there carried off to his northern country. Along the way, there is rape, death, pregnancy, forced marriage, constant danger, truly creepy sexual harassment, true love, and beautiful description.

I think it’s the last combined with everything else in the novel that led to the overwhelming feeling of oddness as I was reading it. A Heroine of the World is about what probably would happen to a young woman—when the story starts, Aradia is 13—caught up in war and conquest in a fantasy world where women have neither social status or something else like magic to even the scales with men. Aradia is not a trained warrior; she’s extremely naïve in the political realities of the world; she’s religious in the absolute worst way; she has recognizable trauma and depression, to the point that reading some of her sections made me want to curl up and die. So she’s a pawn for most of the narrative. She takes some actions, one at least that changes the whole course of the story, but they’re always small and don’t do much good in the short term, or sometimes in the long term either. Most of the men she meets try to victimize her. Lee is more brutal toward her heroine than Martin is toward his. If A Song of Ice and Fire makes you want to start looking for a razor blade and a nice warm bath, avoid A Heroine of the World at all costs.

But along the way, Lee is describing everything beautifully, especially the estate Aradia’s first husband owns. She actually managed to make me interested in the clothes and the makeup the female characters wear; I literally cannot remember the last time a book did that. So the horror is tucked inside glittering sentences, which don’t really muffle it but make it possible to go on reading.

This book is weird.



Comments

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From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 29th, 2008 07:28 am (UTC)
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Hallo Limyaael,

I've been reading your rants for a while with great interest - first let me say that I love them. I love seeing that I'm not the only one who's nitpicky and hates bad worldbuilding. ^___^

My friend's writing a fantasy series (really she is, I'm not using "a friend" to mean me, I don't have the focus to plot like that; I send her your rants when I don't have time to write personalized concrit :D) that takes a lot of fantasy cliches and uses them in varying ways, and I was wondering what your opinion would be on some of them.

For example, the main character is the son of the evil queen, like they all are, but he finds this out really early on and has to deal with it for the rest of the series, as well as with the fact that he himself was an evil little bastard growing up. (Yes, he wakes up with amnesia.) Likewise, the stereotypical gorgeous-female-companion-with-whom-the-hero-is-in-love turns out to be evil, but she then becomes the main villain and he has to fight her at length. (For the record, she's a well-thought-out character.)

(On the other hand, there's an old hag who is really, really unrepentantly cliche, and I must confess I love her just because of how she makes the hero squirm.)

Unfortunately she has one of those bickering couples and I have not been able to convince her to put some actual romantic tension in there. :(

reconditarmonia@lj
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 29th, 2008 12:16 pm (UTC)
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I'd be interested in hearing what you found problematic about the handling of sexual orientation in Dust.

Overall I felt that the book was a bit rushed; if it had been half as long again, there might have been time to delve even more into the characters and world. I still loved it, though.

~Alankria on LJ
From:[info]half_pace
Date:April 29th, 2008 10:43 pm (UTC)

This entry

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Hey, I have you subscribed. On the one hand, good to know you're still alive. On the other hand, I'm kinda disappointed it isn't a rant.

Just out of interest, when is the next rant due and do you know what it's going to be about yet?
From:[info]swiftgold.livejournal.com
Date:April 30th, 2008 10:20 pm (UTC)
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I'm curious, have you ever read/reviewed "The Ill-Made Mute" by Cecelia Dart-Thornton? My sister checked it out from the library, I read it just because and, well... let's just say I've never read another book that made me read through to the end while skipping so much of it at the same time. I was curious to see what you thought of it, since your other reviews are so interesting...
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From:[info]kellicat
Date:May 2nd, 2008 02:36 am (UTC)
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I find your review of Magic or Madness interesting because I read the entire trilogy about a year ago. I agree with your review of the first book and I would like to point out some problems with the next two books.

1. I found that the author grew very condescending towards J.T. and Tom. It was good that they weren't Mary Sues, but I found the condescension very irritating by the end of the trilogy.

2. If you found Reason's passivity annoying in the first book, you'll find the second book really annoying. It takes until the third book for Reason to act.

3. There is one major plot point in the second book that any experienced reader of fantasy will be able to spot a mile away, but it takes the characters almost the entire book for them to figure out. When the epiphany finally came, it seemed like a case of genre blindness and plot-induced stupidity

On the other hand, the trilogy had an excellent climax and an excellent final chapter. The climax was satisfying without being sappy and the ending made it clear that that the characters would have lives after the ending.

In short, the Magic or Madness trilogy is well worth reading all the way through, but it's just okay, not great.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2008 01:28 pm (UTC)

thanks much

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i am gonna show this to my friend, dude
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 8th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
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Everything Tanith Lee writes is weird! It is part of the reason I love her.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 10th, 2008 09:22 pm (UTC)

from Mark - lion_volant at LiveJournal

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Two things:

1) I agree with you on Dust. At least the ideas were cool enough to make me want to read more of Bear's work.

2) Would you mind friending me at the LiveJournal for the Ravenflower series? My username there (just in case you forgot) is lion_volant. I have a lot of downtime at work these days and I have a hankering to re-read the Ravenflower series. I thought I had access to it through my current LiveJournal but I don't, so I must have read them before on the journal I kept previously.
From:[info]worldsbeyond
Date:May 13th, 2008 03:11 am (UTC)
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Hmm. I haven't got anything particularly useful to say, but here's my opinion anyway.

I haven't read any of these books, and I certainly won't read Tanith Lee's, but that's just me massively angsting there. On the other hand, "One of Our Conquerors" sounds like the most interesting to me. I think I could like it even though it's not in my fav category.

"Dust" seems to have an intersting setting, but the things you found irritating there do sound somewhat annoying, though I think it depends on how obvious they are (I don't know any details there, since I've skipped the spoiler parts in the comments). I haven't had all that great experiences with F/SF hybrids, so I'm a bit sceptical.

About "Magic or Madness"... well, I don't know. Not the sort of book I would read, really.
From:[info]nerem
Date:June 3rd, 2008 09:14 am (UTC)

Lesbians who don't die in scifi?

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Does Japanese scifi count? I can name a few from there, probably the easiest off the top of my head is Mimi from Daughters of Mnemosyne, which is an EXTREMELY dark scifi/fantasy (more and more scifi as time goes on, as it starts in 1990 and is so far in 2025+) but its pretty good so far...

Or, alternately, Metis from Persona 3: The Answer, which is technically scifi/fantasy as well - she's a fully functional android, though realistically she doesn't have any actual genitals or anything - but her body is femininely shaped. She's desperately in love with her 'sister', Aigis, and will do anything to protect her. She doesn't die but its... rather touching.
From:[info]thekefka
Date:June 11th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC)
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Hey there, Limyaael. I used to read your rants on LJ (username: thekefka)waayy back in the day. Maybe last August wasn't back in the day, but close enough. I've come to miss reading your rants and insights. Could we be friends again for old time's sake?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 16th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
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I've been reading these rants for ages now, and they really are excellent. Whenever I read them, I always really want to write some fantasy - even though historical is more my area. The good thing about a lot of these rants, though, is that they can apply to other areas of fiction.

I would love to read a review of Eragon by you. Now there's someone who really needs to be directed to these rants. If you think Goodkind is bad...
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 13th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)

It's been a while

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It's been nearly three months since she last made a comment, review, or rant. Anyone have idea why she just up and disappeared?
Re: It's been a while - (Anonymous)
Re: It's been a while - (Anonymous)
From:[info]tsubaki-ny.livejournal.com
Date:July 21st, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
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I believe Fiona Patton lets her lesbians live. ^__^
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 25th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
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Ouch, drawing perilously close to four months incommunicado.

But what worries me more than that is "Book review post for April (part 1)".
She disappeared before posting part two?
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 1st, 2008 09:41 am (UTC)
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Long-time reader, first-time commenter... Nobody's heard from her? NOT good... You'd think she'd at least leave a quick note... =(
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 13th, 2008 06:15 am (UTC)

Her profile

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Her old profile at LiveJournal says that she's an english language student studying for a PhD. It's possible she's just so wrapped up in work that she hasn't had time to get to the blog, but it's been nearly 6 months without comment at all, not even a comment as to why she's been so busy. On a prior delay of over a month back in 2007, she apologized.

Yet there's been no comment from her. I'm seriously wondering if something happened to her. Presumably the InsaneJournal account doesn't cost her anything, so if she were to get killed or otherwise incapacitated, we'd have no way of knowing.
Re: Her profile - (Anonymous)
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Rants are awesome - (Anonymous)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 25th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)

Good point about the private posts later-on

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Good point about the private posts later-on into July.

It's possible she's just run out of things to write about for the time being; the rants are pretty extensive. She was also really getting into the one story she was writing, about the Impulsive Lesbian Gypsy.

That said, if she wanted to take a break from the rants, or quit, I would think she would just post a comment saying so. Something like "Well, I'm done" or what not.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 24th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)

She's taking down messages

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Interesting. She took down the November message telling people not to worry. Hopefully this means she's going to make another public post pretty soon.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 10th, 2009 06:04 am (UTC)

from Mike

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Yes, Tanith Lee. Among other things, the story about REAL coming of age. And compare the forced marriage thing in her and Martin (who goes all politically correct there - after which I gave up on him)!
Also, Lee is able to write both extremely adult fantasy (such as Nightmaster) and clearly adolescent-aimed one (such as Piratica) - I think this alone makes her quite remarkable author.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 10th, 2009 06:45 am (UTC)

Did she die for real, this time?

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Somehow I doubt it, since she bothered to take down the November Post, but otherwise she's just dropped off the face of the Earth for nearly 9 months.

Hey, Limyael, I know you're busy, but could you take the two seconds to make a post saying "Yes, I'm alive and very busy. Sorry!"?
From:[info]mergaloki
Date:July 11th, 2009 06:26 am (UTC)

OMG, Limyaael!

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PLEASE, Just tell us you are alive, one little sentence 'I am alive' you can even cut and paste that one, just please...
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 29th, 2009 12:04 pm (UTC)
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Does anyone else still check regularly for updates?
From:[info]folkvangr
Date:November 4th, 2009 09:56 am (UTC)

Friending

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Hi, I recently found your fictionpress stories and your rants and would love to see more. Is there any possibility you could friend me?
Also, what happened to the first Orlath trilogy? I never got a chance to read it :[
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 5th, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)
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What does it say about me - or maybe Limyaael's writing - that I'm still checking this journal every now and then despite no updates for over a year?

My writing abilities would not be where they are today had I not encountered her rants several years ago. They never explained "show, don't tell" in high school English. They never told us that using "said" is better than more elaborate speaking verbs 90% of the time. They never warned us against purple prose and infodumps (oh God, infodumps make me physically cringe now, and not just with books). Today these are all things I notice instinctively as signs of amateurish writing, but had they not been pointed out to me, I wonder if I ever would have figured it out. If by some miracle I become a published author one day, Limyaael is getting a shout-out in my acknowledgments. Her common sense, practical, snarky approach to writing never fails to educate me.

Eh, just had to get that off my chest. Even if she never comes back, I'll keep checking every few months. Teachers this good are hard to come by, and hard to let go of. :(

/stalker-ish fangirling
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