Monday, June 29, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart, Part 8

Welcome to part 8 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  Our host this week is Lynn from Lynn's Books, and her questions cover chapters 64-73.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 73 in the questions and answers below!  Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section!

1.We finally go sailing and everything seems to be going so well that we were lulled temporarily into a false sense of security!  Sailors are a superstitious bunch, throwing coins to the Lord of the Deep, for example.  What did you make of the Master of the Straits?  Any similarity to other myths or legends?

I wasn't really sure what he was exactly, up until now.  I think this is the first unequivocal fantasy  creature we've met in the series.  Luckily he likes singing!  He reminded me a bit of Poseidon.

2. Hyacinthe plays a much larger role in this installment and has come into his own, plus given a new title - ‘Waking Dreamer’.  His travels so far have been very bitter sweet and you really do feel for him.  Bearing that in mind what did you make of the strange dream that Breidaia had where she saw Hyachinthe on an island - this was skimmed over a little but did it give you pause for thought.  Do you have any ideas of what’s in store for our Waking Dreamer?

I thought it was really nice that Hyacinthe has a name for what he is, which doesn’t involved him being an abomination.  It really makes you think the gender-restriction on the dromonde has no real reason behind it than tradition, if men commonly see the future in the UK.  I don’t know about the island... maybe he stays on the British Isles when the others return?

3. You have to hand it to Ysandre for choosing Phedre as Ambassador.  It seems her strange talents come in very useful indeed.  What did you make of her tactics and powers of persuasion? 

I think it was mostly luck, because Ysandre could not have guessed what would have happened.  I mean,  I thought all Ysandre knew was that the Cruithne valued virginity in brides.  Sending a courtesan as a diplomat could have backfired pretty badly.  I think it was more just that she needed someone she could trust, and Phedre was the only one who spoke Cruithne.  I’m glad her unconventional tactics worked!

4. We finally meet Drustan he at first seems like an unlikely match for Ysandre and yet they both seem to have a shared vision.  Can they make it work do you think?  They have so many differences even if they do succeed in battle?

I think it is a teenage infatuation.  They barely know each other, after all.  In the end, though, I think the plan is that they’ll each rule their separate kingdoms and come to visit one another every once in a while.  I think that even if they don’t end up in love, they can probably make a strategic partnership/friendship like that work.

5. Can we discuss the Dalriada and the Cruithne - do they put you in mind of any particular races?  What do you make of them??  

I think that Carey didn’t change the words much here, I looked up Dalriada and Cruithne and found that they were actually ethnic groups. Their time is, I think, a little earlier than Kushiel’s Dart, but it seems like they’re the inspiration at least.

6. I’m puzzled about Joscelin - he’s always so severe on himself, particularly after the battle and Moiread’s death.  I wonder why he blames himself so much - and I also wonder how he’s coping with watching Phedre’s actions - in particular her closeness to Hyacinthe.

I think mostly it’s the usual young self-importance, where the hero feels deep down like his decisions and actions have weight, while other peoples’ don’t.  Thus, in his mind Moiread failed to be protected by him.  In other peoples’ minds, she fought in a war for her family and was killed.  It was good that Drustan called him out on that one, and hopefully it will help him in the future as well.  As for Hyacinthe—I think he knows he has no claim on Phedre, and that she is going to sleep around (she’s trained for it!).  All the same, it seems clear he loves her. It’s a difficult position for him, and I think like his feelings are going to come out into the open soon.

7. Finally, we’re working ourselves up for the grand finale - do you have any predictions as to how this will all pan out?

I think (or hope!) Ysandre and her team will win.  I hope everyone we care about makes it through, and that Hyacinthe is able to find a new family that doesn’t think he is an abomination.  I hope Melisande and d’Aiglemort are executed for treason, and the Skaldi are defeated.  We’ll see!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, Part 7

Welcome to part 7 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  Our host this week is once again Susan of Dab of Darkness, and her questions cover chapters 55-63.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 63 in the questions and answers below!  Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section! This week’s section was a general politics overload!  I think I understand the situation in Terre d’Ange a bit better now, but it was kind of overwhelming.

1) What do you think of the overall connection between the Casseline Brotherhood and the Yeshuites? Are you happy with where the shaggy pony ended up?

I honestly don’t remember the connection between the Yeshuites and the Casseline Brotherhood. I think they’re pretty different, in terms of religious belief, aren’t they? There is the connection of Elua to Christ, but I think that the Yeshuites aren't particularly into Elua and his companions?

From this section, I was mostly struck by the similarities between the Tsingano (Romani people) and Yeshuites (Jewish people) as non-assimilating cultural groups that the wider Terre d’Ange culture is prejudiced against.  That hasn’t really changed all that much for real-world Terre d’Ange to present day.  Actually, a common French word for the Romani people is ‘Tsiganes’, which I suspect is the origin of the word ‘Tsingano’.  I am not sure whether that term is derogatory, though, so I’d recommend not using it—I just wanted to bring it up for the link to the fantasy-version word.

I think the shaggy pony will have a happy life with the family that helped Joscelin and Phèdre.  He was a loyal animal and deserves some happiness!  They seem to be good folk.

2) Phèdre & Hyacinthe have a happy reunion. What do you make of Joscelin's reaction? Do you miss Hyacinthe's mother?

I think Joscelin’s reaction is plain old jealousy, for the most part.  Of course, he has no claim on Phèdre, and Hyacinthe is a friend, so he can’t really express it.  It’s been the two of them against the world for so long, though, it must sting to see her taking comfort and help from someone he doesn’t know or like all that well.  

It was really sad to see how changed Terre d’Ange was due to the fever, and that includes the loss of Hyacinthe’s mother.  Does anyone have an idea what the sickness was, based on the symptoms?  If it’s a real sickness, I haven’t figured it out yet.

3) Yet another happy reunion occurs with Thelesis de Mornay, the King's Poet, who gets them in to see the Dauphine, Ysandre.  Do you think there was another way to seek her audience? Such an intense meeting! What stood out the most for you?

There may have been another way, but I think that was the safest way.  Phèdre and Joscelin have already been intercepted by Melisande once while trying to get to Ysandre, so I don’t think they would want to take any chances.  I think Ysandre believed them from the beginning.  I think she was just trying very hard not to.  Hearing that her kingdom was facing foreign invasion and a massive treasonous conspiracy while her father lay dying must have been a lot to take.  

I guess the thing that stood out the most to me was that Ysandre did not seem all that much more prepared for the situation than Phèdre was, though she is clearly doing her best. I get the feeling she might need a confidante that is not one of her nobles in the future, and I wonder if that person might be Phèdre.

4) Phèdre makes a trip to the temple of Kushiel to make atonement. Do you agree that she had things to atone for? 

No, but I do agree that she felt very guilty.  I think it was mostly survivor’s guilt, and guilt over being able to endure and take physical pleasure from her experiences in the Skaldic lands.  I think that the punishment was ultimately harmless and very comforting to her in her present state of mind, so I think it was worthwhile for her to seek it out.

5) After King Ganelon's death, at the hunting lodge we learn some more politics. What stood out for you? We learned more about the Picti and the prophesy. Should the fate of Terre D'Ange be resting, even partially, on the validity of a prophesy of love and union? 

I’ve been coming down on the side of the read-along folk who are less interested in the Terre d’Ange politics than they are in the main characters (now considered as Phèdre, Joscelin, and to a lesser extent Hyacinthe). I admit my eyes kind of glazed over a little during the extremely long political discussion.  However, it is nice to have a clearer view of the situation in Terre d’Ange and elsewhere.

Neither Hyacinthe nor his mother made the prophecy, so I’m not sure I believe it.  I find it a little shocking that the fate of the nation seems to be also resting on Ysandre’s romantic notions. I’m also not sure we can guarantee that the Alban troops would be helpful against the Skaldi.  Even if the channel were opened, I’m not sure how effectively they could be moved into Terre d’Ange.  Not to mention, we know almost nothing about Alba, so how can Ysandre trust that this particular foreign army would be loyal to her?

6) The Casseline Prefect forbids Joscelin from serving Phèdre as protector as she travels to the Pictish lands. Joscelin had to make a hard choice: did he make the right one? 

I think it’s kind of ironic that Joscelin was excommunicated from the Casseline Brotherhood for making the same choice Cassiel did.  Based on his faith, I think he made the right choice.  He is loyal to the doctrine he believes, even above his loyalty to the human order that ostensibly supports it.  He is a perfect loyal companion, and I think he will be able to find comfort in that.  He would never have forgiven himself for abandoning Phèdre.

7) Hyacinthe comes up with the plan to get them to the coast and meet with Royal Admiral Quintilius Rousse. Do you like the fake IDs? Do you think they will make it unscathed? 

Well, I don’t think the IDs will really hold (we see already that the Manoj kumpania sees through it).  After what happened at the end of this section, I suspect they’ll have to make some modifications to their plan.  I think they’ll make it eventually, though.  I want to see fantasy-UK, so I’m hoping it will work out!

8) Hyacinthe meets his grandfather, Manoj, for the first time. Happy? Sad? How do you feel about how his mother was cast out? 

I’ll say happy and sad.  I can understand why his mother never told him the truth— that would be a heck of a thing to tell a kid.  I disagree with them for kicking out his mother and not the relative who arranged for her to be raped, though. It was a little heartwarming to see them all welcome Hyacinthe, but then his mother’s story really highlights that they could turn on him at any second.  My heart aches for his decision at the end of the chapter, but I think it would have come out at some point soon anyway.  

If I’m interpreting correctly, Hyacinthe basically made the same choice as Joscelin.  Do you think this is going to turn into a love triangle?  Does it matter that neither of the boys really have an ounce of Kushiel in them?  I don’t think Phèdre would be happy with either of them, long-term, though they’re both good guys.

Other Things:

—I was so happy to see Phèdre’s marque completed.  That was sticking in the back of my mind as an unfinished business.  It was bittersweet, though, because Master Tielhard will now die without imparting his skills and knowledge to any successor.

—It was interesting to see that in such a free society, Ysandre had never encountered a follower of Naamah. Does that mean she also hasn’t studied stuff like the Trois Mille Joies?  I wonder if Phèdre will teach her a bit before her marriage, assuming she makes it back safely with the groom in tow.

—Color me very shocked to see Melisande again at the Tsingano horse-trading get-together.  It’s interesting that even they know not to mess with the Shahrizai family.  I’m very relieved that she didn’t see Phèdre, though.  I think that showdown needs to happen when Phèdre is not on a secret mission for the throne.  Preferably when Melisande is being tried for treason.

—I think now we know pretty much everything about Delaunay’s past (I may be proven wrong in the future), so I think that Hyacinthe’s mother’s prophecy was more about the day than the information.  She’ll regret the day she began learning Delaunay’s secrets, just because it was the day he and Alcuin were murdered and she and Joscelin were sold into slavery.

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Published: William Morrow & Co., 2013
Awards Won: Locus Fantasy Award
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Mythopoeic and World Fantasy Awards

The Book:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.”

I am a fan of Neil Gaiman, so I happily anticipated reading this book when it came out, even more so when it was clearly well received by others.  The main reason I delayed so long in reading it was the price (it was $12.99 for an e-book of less than 200 pages--it is a bit less now), and my fear that it was going to be a story drenched in existential dread and emptiness.  On the second point, It really isn’t, and I’m happy that I didn’t let that fear deter me from finally reading it.

My Thoughts:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane exists in an interesting intersection between the innocence of a child’s perspective and the darkness of an adult’s fantasy story.  I think it could be enjoyed by a child, with parental supervision (there is some disturbing content), but that it is targeting an adult audience.  I feel like it would best be understood by an adult looking back at childhood, like the protagonist. I enjoyed that the story really was unequivocally a fantasy, not just using fantastical elements for the purpose of allegory or metaphor.The supernatural forces that were unleashed exposed the desires and flaws of the people around the protagonist, but their reactions and emotions felt grounded in reality. Thus, even though this is a book about immortals, interloping inhuman creatures, and an ocean that fits in a pond, there is still a relatable emotional core.   

The protagonist as a young boy has a very open, naive view of a complicated and often bewildering world. His young, fluid sense of reality allows him to accept the magic that enters his life as easily as the non-magical events. One thing that I hadn’t really considered about a child’s reality is their isolation and relative helplessness.  The protagonist has very little power over his circumstances, and his distress is often dismissed by those who do.  It must be terrifying to a child to realize that the people who have life-and-death power over him are not necessarily worthy of his trust.  However, though he is at the mercy of the adults in his life, he still does the best he can as he and the Hempstocks desperately try to right his world.

I felt like the novel had the beauty and simplicity of a fairy tale, but one that is in touch with modern sadness and cruelty. Some of the griefs of the protagonist’s childhood were very familiar to me, and so it was easy to see fragments of myself in him.  This endeared him to me as a character, though I wonder if it will work as well for people with more recent childhoods-- the world has changed a lot in the past twenty years. I also loved the Hempstocks, and I think that the sense of safety and comfort they exuded helped to keep things from feeling too bleak.  The short novel felt very balanced and self-contained from beginning to end, a lovely gem of a story to enjoy for a brief time. I don’t think there is a message that is easy to sum up, but there is plenty to think about.  Out of all of it, I think my favorite line was from one of the Hempstocks, who tells the protagonist, “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.” (p.142)

My Rating: 4/5

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a very short novel that tells of a young boy, through his memory as an adult.  It feels to me like a book about childhood targeted to an adult audience.  Though the protagonist is very young through most of the novel, he faces situations that are far darker and more frightening than one would expect a boy his age to handle.  The story is an unusual fantasy, and the supernatural elements are all connected to the three Hempstock women.  To me, it seemed like a modern fairy tale, though the tale’s grief and terror is balanced with some measure of safety and comfort. I enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to other fans of Gaiman’s work.