A Refreshing Series of Urban Fantasy

Around the time of midterms this past semester, I started reading a series of books (perfect timing, right?). I blazed through the six released books in a few weeks and found myself spellbound by the wit and (generally) likeable characters, not to mention behind on studying for midterms, then finals as well. I’m talking about the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. Spoilers follow, but not overall plot-related ones.

mooncalled300 bloodbound300 ironkissed300 bonecrossed_big silverBorne_big river+marked

I remember seeing the cover of the first one several years ago, and as drawn to it as I was, I wrote it off as just another lame paranormal romance with nothing special about it. Yes, I realize her tattoos change on each cover, but let’s not sweat the details too much there. I’d been turned off by the Anita Blake series, which started out awesome and then just turned into a meaningless orgy (I’d say up through Narcissus in Chains is all you should bother reading). Ironically, the Anita Blake series was the one that turned me off of werewolves as well… I mean, I’m up for a gratuitous romance every once in a while just like the next girl, but it wasn’t really something I was looking for at the time.

I took another look at the cover of Moon Called and decided it was time to pick it up. Or buy it on my Nook (way more convenient). The whole thought of a coyote shifter was actually pretty interesting to me, given how into Coyote lore I’ve been lately (thank you Gunnerkrigg Court). Mercy has just the right of snark and just the right amount of realism to keep me both entertained and sympathetic. My favorite thing about Mercy is not her quirky career as a mechanic or her ability to shape shift or anything like that. Rather, I admire, respect, and even value the fear Mercy has no problem admitting to. Paranormal shit is scary, guys. Werewolves are not cuddly, fae do eat people, and vampires want nothing more than to use humans as cattle. My appreciation for her fear was really solidified during a scene with one of the vampires (a kid vampire no less) that would have scared the pants off of me as well. I’d have run out of that house as fast I could have too.

I always really like it when authors inject some actual authenticity into their characters. It makes them not only likeable, but also easier to read. I’m not saying Mercy isn’t without her irritating character flaws, but rather that she is a character that has multiple layers of interest that are appealing to me.

Whether or not I like a book is dependent largely on the characters. The plot can be a tad shaky (which is most definitely the case in some of these books), but without decent, solid characters, an author is basically dead to me. I’d say the only character I’m on the verge of disliking is Stefan… which is odd because I generally like vampires more than I do werewolves (and I don’t think there are any werewolves I don’t like as characters). With Stefan, I can’t seem to get a handle on him. If he quirky and loveable? Is he secretive and plotting? Does he have emotions or not? He’s obviously a really conflicted character, but I think the confusion in his portrayal is somewhat over the top. I mean, if I met Stefan, I’d probably like him, he seems like a cool dude, but reading about him can be difficult.

The more I read about the fae, the more I want to learn about them. In Iron Kissed and Silver Borne especially there was quite a bit of fae lore (what with the fairy queen and all), which was really enjoyable. Every time Zee drops his glamour, I get excited and hope that maybe this time, maybe, I’ll get to learn more about his history. But alas. Hopefully that back story is coming.

As a warning, Iron Kissed (#3) is intense, and not exactly in a good way. It’s hard to read about rape in any situation, but in a fantasy novel, it’s surreal and very unsettling. Again, just be warned. Overall, it was a good book, but it was my least favorite so far.

River Marked was really amazing and I can’t wait for the next one! Long story short, I recommend you pick up Moon Called, and see if you like it too.

 

For The Next 30 Days I Don’t Exist

This year, 2012, the year in which the world is supposedly scheduled to end (or when the greatest Mayan emperor is supposed to be reincarnated and make the world a much awesomer place, but I suppose that’s just a matter of translation) and I’ve decided to take part in NaNoWriMo. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about – that stressful race to finish a novel of at least 50,000 words before December 1st so that you can pat yourself on the back and say, “Hey I just stressed myself the fuck out for 30 days for no good reason!”

Actually, I’m being a bit overdramatic (not about the stressed out part, because I know that’s a cold, hard fact), because I do think NaNoWriMo is a valuable exercise for anyone interested in writing for pleasure or profit. NaNo tells its participants, “I don’t care if you don’t want to publish anything, I don’t care if you think your writing is bad, I don’t care about your sleep schedule, your feelings, or your nutrition, JUST DO IT AND DO IT FAST.” There’s this habit that a lot of people who like to write have of writing so slowly, editing as they go, believing that they can write a publishable piece in a first draft. November allows us to try to break that habit. No editing, no in-depth contemplation of thesauruses, no agonizing over whether you should use “breathed” or “whispered.”

The novel I’m planning has a working title of Scalebrand and it’s about dragons. And magic. And lots of fantasy themes and whatnots. If you want to see/read more about it, here’s my profile.

So every day I need to write 1,667 words to get to 50,010 before 00:00 December 1st. That’s about 7 double spaced pages a day. That’s daunting! So far, I have 1,637 words. Now, you’d think that was great, except for the fact that I wrote those 1,637 words over the last year, not the last 12 hours. I shouldn’t even count them because I feel like it would be cheating… Nope, my moral standards don’t apply here, anything to get me to 50,000.

Oh and did I mention most of my grad school applications are due December 1st? Yeah…

Now where the hell did I put my coffee?

The Parasol Protectorate

This is a book review. Please disregard. 😉

Over the summer I bought and read the final book in Gail Carriger‘s Parasol Protectorate series. Overall, I was satisfied with the series as a whole, though it had its ups and downs over the course of the five books. I wanted to take some time to talk about this series that sort of defined my past summer.

Soulless (novel)

Soulless (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Behold Alexia Tarabotti (though she only goes by that name for the majority of the first book), a woman who would find a way to pragmatically fit into our century just as easily as her own. The interesting thing about the Parasol Protectorate is that it takes Victorian England and shifts it just slightly to the left of reality. She’s witty, intelligent, and downright sassy (if one can be truly considered sassy in the Victorian era). Soulless was a really great little book that piqued my interest and held my attention throughout. I hadn’t read something this funny since my last Christopher Moore book. The romance was cute (I’d certainly be interested in Conall Maccon, even with his blustery temper), the sex was decent, and the subsequent marriage relationship was a wonderful dynamic.

I found a sort of kindred spirit in Alexia. A woman who doesn’t fit into her family because of her differences both physically and mentally/socially. A woman who finds men and their ridiculous attempts at romance to be insufferable. Short tempered and yet lovable. She’s one of those heroines that you hope to be if you were traipsing around in this kind of constructed world.

Timeless was fun, though I did find Blameless to be the weakest of all five novels. Finally we learn something more about Alexia’s father, but at the expense of the quality of writing. Everything felt so incredibly rushed that nothing really made coherent sense… The end was, in a word, lamesauce. I hate when characters fight and then make up so quickly! Also, that final sex scene left quite a bit to be desired.

Blameless (novel)

Blameless (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favorite character? Biffy of course (with Professor Lyall a very close second)! Lord Akeldama was just too hard to trust. Biffy really showed his value throughout the books, which added to the overall comedic effect and made me really appreciate the young dandy’s role as a spy. I love when spies come from the least expected places.

I do highly recommend you pick the series up from your local library or bookstore. I don’t regret buying them, though I do recognize that some hardcore paranormal, fantasy, AND steampunk fans may find them lacking. I myself am in a position of ambivalence about all of those genres, except for fantasy and this series was really more on the paranormal and steampunk side of things.

So yeah, try it out. It will certainly make you laugh, if nothing else. Alexia is fun and I look forward to reading more of Carriger’s work — other than her YA novels, which I’m sure are as good, just not my cup of tea…no pun intended.

To End is to Begin Again: Naamah’s Blessing

 

A little over a month ago, I saw that my favorite author was looking for book bloggers to review the final book in her trilogy. I think it would be a gigantic understatement to say that when I emailed Jacqueline Carey to offer my blog as a place for a review of Naamah’s Blessing and received a response, I was almost bursting with excitement.

I think it goes without saying that herein lie spoilers for the entire book. Naturally. So here it is, my review of the final book in Naamah’s Trilogy. (God I hope she likes it…)

I wish I had a back like that…

As far as endings go, Naamah’s Blessing is one of the best conclusions to an epic adventure that I’ve ever read. As you can see from the title of this post, this ending harkens at something more beautiful and meaningful than usual, but I get ahead of myself.

Naamah’s Blessing picks up right where the previous book, Naamah’s Curse, left off, with Moirin and Bao (married, to my great delight!) on their way back to Terre d’Ange after a book and a half of being halfway across the world in Ch’in, Vralia, and Bhaktipur successively. The Naamah books have done something that the previous Kushiel’s Legacy books did not quite capture. As Carey’s environments evolve, it’s clear that her writing style does as well. She is able to capture a vibrancy of culture that is clear in every paragraph.

I have to give Carey major props for the amount of research she put into this book. Though I’ve only done academic study of the Maya (not the Aztec or Inca, which are the focuses of the book), I can tell that every choice she made regarding ritual, cosmology, and cultural experience was carefully chosen to be as accurate and enriching as possible to the reader. The book made me want to do more of my own research into the other ancient New World civilizations. Raphael de Merliot, as he lords over a Quechua (Inca) city, states that he wishes to bring “true civilization” to Terra Nova. His attitude reflects that of all colonial powers during the age of expansion, and even that of some nations today. The inherent arrogance in his belief that those who are different are primitive and barbaric is exactly what readers must be aware of to better their own perceptions of others.

Blood sacrifice is often a difficult topic to discuss, as so many people these days have a complete lack of cultural relativism. Carey handles the violent death with an understanding of the necessity with which these actions were viewed in the eyes of the participants. Bao’s reaction to killing of the temple-maiden, Cusi, is subtle, understated, and absolutely perfect for someone of his cultural background.

Now I will move on to the differences between “person” and “character” as I understand them. Let’s take Raphael de Merliot. What a terrible, terrible person, but an absolutely fantastic character. I understand that his character development and ultimate demise was the result of multi-faceted stressors (childhood tragedy, spurned love, death of all loved ones). Those stressors turned his character into a narcissist in the truest form of the mental disorder. He fashioned himself as a god, which is pretty much the most intense narcissism you can get. I hated him so much, but loved him regardless because of the way Carey unfolded his character and explored all of its darkest crevices.

The men in Naamah’s Blessing are beautifully written. I fell in love with Temilotzin, the loyal Jaguar Knight (props again the Carey for the use of a real Aztec practice), as well as the tortured Daniel de la Courcel and his son Thierry, who I didn’t have much love for before this book. When it looked like Balthasar Shahrizai might die of malaria, I feared I might cry. When he recovered, I started referring to him in my head as “My Little Baby Shahrizai.” The men are just as colorful, emotional and inspiring as the women in this book.

Unfortunately, this brings me to the ultimate development of Moirin. Overall, I was happy with her character, her personhood, and her conclusion. But there was something missing. I had to continue reminding myself that Moirin was not Phèdre, and did not have the ruthlessness that that made Phèdre’s character balance the knife-thin edge of love and hate. Ultimately, I don’t know exactly what I wanted to see from Moirin. She was a refreshing character, full of love, intensity, and wonder, that isn’t seen much in fantasy these days, so I definitely can’t say I’m disappointed. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that Moirin felt… fuzzy. Whereas Bao and Raphael were in sharp relief, Moirin overall seemed a bit less defined in Naamah’s Blessing, especially in comparison to her strength of will in Naamah’s Curse.

My favorite scene in the book is perhaps a random and unexpected one, but it really speaks to me as both a psychologist and an anthropologist. It even sharpens Moirin’s character quite a bit, which I appreciated. Raphael asks Moirin why she married Bao, and she’s finally is able to tell him in blunt words what his deadly character flaw is.

‘How many times did you see fit to remind me that I was naïve and unsophisticated? I grant you, it was true, but it did not make me less than you. Different, but not less. You never saw me as aught but a useful tool for your hands to wield, the very thing you called me today’ (481).

The tale ends with Moirin accepting her duty as the protector and gatekeeper of her native heritage, which I think is really poignant, given how many times she’s prevented Terre d’Ange from descending into darkness. She’s really the perfect fit for the job, and it really wasn’t much of a surprise. I was thrilled that she and Bao were finally going to have their round-as-dumplings children. I think many readers see having children as a natural rite to solidifying a relationship (e.g. yaoi m-preg fiction, which really ends up missing the point of love in the first place…) but for Bao and Moirin it’s more about continuing their respective cultural backgrounds into the next generation.

And now I think it’s time to go back a re-read Kushiel’s Legacy. I’ve had enough of Naamah and desire pleasure with a sharper edge!

I want to thank everyone for reading, even if you don’t agree with me. But most importantly, thank you Jacqueline Carey for giving me this opportunity. The inspiration you’ve given me will never be forgotten.

 

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