Marzie's Reads is my personal blog, and other than the occasional guest blogger or "buddy read", the only reviews that you will find here are mine and they will be honest, whether I bought the book or received it as an ARC from the publisher.
Sandra Cisneros' wonderful narration of her short novel The House on Mango Street illuminates her character Esperanza and the community of friends and families she lives in on the fictional Mango Street. This is a seemingly simple novel that today seems more important that ever for young people to read, as it captures the Chicano experience through the eyes of children. Cisneros, born in Chicago, developed her unique voice after feeling dissatisfied with trying to emulate creative writing styles that were more accepted. She describes her fiction as conversational in style and this certainly captures Esperanza's story. Growing up poor and seeing the limiting choices faces many girls, along with the indifference of adults to abuses of girls, Esperanza, just like the meaning of her name, which disappoints her, hopes for more.
In her introduction to the novel, Cisneros says that she is often asked if she herself is Esperanza. She says her reply is that everyone is Esperanza. We all hope for more.
This is a short novel, which won the American Book Award in 1985, is often recommended for middle graders. It should be on everyone's reading list.
This was my 2019 Classic Read for the month of April. And yeah, I know it's the middle of May. Sigh. View all my reviews
The Luminous Dead is a deeply creepy genre-bending novel of science fiction and psychological horror. It's protagonist, Gyre, is a caver who lied her way into a high-paying job that rapidly turns out to be a nightmare. Expecting a team of topside support, what she gets instead is Em, a young woman who proceeds to leave out vital information about the purpose of her mission, to medicate her into compliance, and most of all to use computer constructs to alter Gyre's visible environs, leaving out a few things like all the dead explorers that were down in this same miserable cave on Cassandra-V before her. And all of that is before she starts seeing odd fungal spores everywhere. (Wait 'til you see what they do....) Or hears the massive tunnelers, subterranean creatures carving through rock.
Starling manages to generate a steadily growing sense of terror/horror in the reader, as Em begins to look more and more like a sociopath, forcing Gyre to make herself palpably human in Em's mind. In the process of doing so, the women bond over their losses of their mothers, Isolde and Peregrine (Em's to a mysterious mission, Gyre's to what she had thought was illegal activity). The writing is excellent but I kept expecting to the plot to deliver some massive twist that it didn't. There are twists mind you, but they felt like they were somehow less explosive than I expected given the way the tension ratchets up continuously. I also felt that the relationship between Gyre and Em was almost Stockholm Syndrome-like on Gyre's end, since the entire experience breaks her psychologically and in a very real way, physically. The relationship felt abusive, even though Gyre had lied her way into the job.
I will definitely pick up the next book Starling writes. But I might need a good glass of wine to steady my nerves if it's like this one.
The audiobook is excellent, by the way.
Content Warnings: claustrophobia, amputation. Sure to give some people nightmares!
I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review. View all my reviews
Well-known feminist author Rebecca Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me) has given us a fairy tale retelling of Cinderella for modern times. Less judge-y about Cinderella's stepsisters, giving mice and rats and lizards a choice in the matter of transformation, and realizing the poor idea of marrying a prince you barely know (look what happens in Into the Woods for instance?), this is unquestionably an all new take on Cinderella. Some little girls may be disappointed that Ella doesn't want to be a princess, but other little girls are going to be thrilled that she becomes a small business owner (a bakery) and can ride her beautiful horses any time she wants. And her sailor mother comes home, to boot!
While I enjoyed this retelling, I'm not sure I felt the Rackham illustrations (though I love them) feel harmonious with this modern heroine. Solnit's writing is beautiful, though, and who wouldn't want a dress that looks like a starry night? View all my reviews
Right in the middle of my move across the country, I was contacted by a friend of Mallory Smith, asking me to read Mallory's memoir for review. I downloaded the Kindle and audiobook version and promptly, in keeping with this entire move, lost the friend's email for a time. I very much wanted to read Mallory's story because I, too, had a friend who had cystic fibrosis, like Mallory.
Cystic Fibrosis, which is a progressive genetic disease, is cruel in that it worsens as a person enters what should be the prime of their lives. It is a disease that is a great challenge to live with and that is in part what made Mallory, who loved sports and the beaches, so unusual. For so many years, until the cusp of adulthood and her admission to Stanford, Mallory was undaunted by her CF. She wanted to simply live a happy life. Her observations of living with her illness can in some ways be generalized to the day to day struggles of anyone living with a serious, life-threatening disease. From understanding what it's like to be a young person who is continually having to readjust their expectations from life, to advice about what not to say to someone who is seriously ill, Salt in My Soul offers readers a chance to walk in Mallory's shoes.
This is a poignant story about battling Cystic Fibrosis and closes with some promising developments in treatment for one of the serious types of bacterial infections (Burkholderia cepacia) that can cause rapid clinical deterioration due to antibiotic resistance. My understanding from Mallory's friend is that all proceeds from this book will be donated to CF research. View all my reviews
The Candle and the Flame tells the story of Fatima Ghazala, a human/ifrit young woman. The book opens with child Fatima being rescued by a dying ifrit woman, Ghazala, who transfers her fire (effectively her soul or consciousness) to Fatima to save her. Fatima is taken in by an adoptive family but her adoptive parents die in a later battle with chaotic djinn, and her adoptive older sister Sunaina becomes responsible for her. Fatima's relationship with Sunaina is not without its rough spots, although the sisters truly love one another. Through her work as a messenger, Fatima meets Firdaus, an elderly ifrit bookseller who is titled the Name Giver. Firdaus is/was Ghazala's father and recognizes his deceased daughter's fire in Fatima and takes her under his wing, providing lessons in history, literature, and language. But nothing is as simple as it seems and when Firdaus is murdered with a book that Fatima delivers to him, his death portends hard times ahead, including explanations to the ifrit Emir of Noor, who was friendly with Firdaus.
One of the riches of this book is the number of positive female friendships between Fatima and the three Alif sisters (hat tip to Alif the Unseen, Nafiza? ) Adila, Azizah, and Amirah, who are Fatima's friends and neighbors. Similarly, Fatima's relationship with her adoptive sister Sunaina, and adoptive grandmother Laali are well drawn and sometimes quite poignant.
While the scaffolding of this novel is Fatima Ghazala's story, the city in which she resides, Noor, is also at the heart of this story. Noor is a diverse city where humans, ifrit, and other djinn create a place of safety. We see Muslims, Hindus, and Han Chinese (several possible faiths) living cooperatively, in a sometimes delicate dance of co-existence. Though Muslim, Fatima and her friends joyously celebrate Deepavali (Diwali) with the Hindu community. The differing boundaries of faith seem to be respected rather than merely tolerated. The community is not idyllic, however, and frictions exist between the races. As a biracial character, we see the occasional discomfort Fatima Ghazala engenders in others, and how she must struggle to find her place, her purpose, and answers about her complex nature.
According to my paper ARC edition of this book, Scholastic intended this to be a Middle-Grade novel. I feel pretty firmly that it is not, however. The cultural vocabulary even with the glossary at the end of the book might be too much of a challenge for the average 7th to 8th grader. Additionally, the book doesn't have action throughout, one of the somewhat lamentable hallmarks of current Middle-Grade fantasy. I do feel that it is well suited to 9th-grade students and above since its exploration of cultural diversity and co-existence are vital messages to offer young people in the present day.
I've followed Nafiza Azad's Twitter and reviews on Goodreads for a while and it's been a delight to enjoy her debut novel.
For quite some time now, I have been so angry at Dan Weiss and David Benioff's "interpretation" of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire that I have often refused to watch episodes or in one case a significant fraction of a season. I would read recaps in the NY Times and shake my head. You see, I've read the first five books in A Song of Ice and Fire. I found them so well-written, with such amazing character development and world-building that I had to read non-fiction for six months after I finished A Dance with Dragons because just about everything fictional seemed pale, wan, poorly flushed out, in comparison. After the fiasco that aired last night, there are several things I'd like to share, regarding my problems with the show. They center primarily on the destructive writing of the show's female characters and destroying the most incredible redemption arc I've read in fiction. I hope the discussion will pique the interest of those of you who haven't read the books to pick them up, even with the oft-discussed risk that GRRM may never finish the final two books in the series. I still want you to read those first five books and then contemplate Dan and Dave and the whole Hollywood machine that seems, for the most part, to find the idea of strong women unpalatable.
Let's begin with the whole Daenerys and Khal Drogo business. I was already shocked that the TV show changed the wedding night dynamic between these two. Khal Drogo is a grown man. Dany is a fourteen-year-old bride. It's a bad scenario, but Dan and Dave had to make it even worse because the audience isn't smart enough to get that she's a child bride. Drogo speaks neither Valyrian or much of the Common Tongue, but he knows the difference between "yes" and "no." He may not be suave, but when he takes Dany away from the khalazar for their wedding night, he doesn't want a crying bride. She is afraid of him, and he tells her "no." He then proceeds to affectionately stroke her, asking her "no?" as a question as he becomes more sexual. He wants her to be willing and in the books, be it because Daenerys realizes she has to make this guy happy, or Viserys is going to be horrible to her, or whether she starts to find him genuinely attractive, Dany says "yes." SHE SAYS YES. Instead, Dan and Dave want to give us a sobbing TV bride who is pretty much raped on her wedding night. Bad start? Oh, they were just getting going.
But other elements grow more disturbing. For instance, after Joffrey's death, a mourning Cersei and Jaime engage in life-affirming naughty place consensual sex in a church (the Great Sept) near their dead son's body. There's no need to have Jaime rape Cersei. They were already "being bad," and there is no need to strip Cersei of her agency in consenting to "be bad." But Dan and Dave felt it was just better to have her say "No, no, no, no" as Jaime raped her. The show wronged Cersei's character there. (And they wronged Jaime Lannister's character as well, which I'll discuss later.) Why? She's already grieving the loss of her child (who was legitimately a monster, but hey, Cersei really loves her children, you have to give her that...) So why add rape on top of it?
And then there is the whole rape-y subplot with Sansa. Show watchers who have never read the book are often amazed to find out that Sansa was never "married" to Ramsay Bolton. Sure she knows who the whacko is but Sansa is safe in the Eyrie (the Arryn stronghold where Petyr Baelish took her to her cray cray maternal aunt, Lysa Arryn, for safe-keeping and subsequent possible entrapment into a marriage to him though she's hiding under the name Alayne Stone, as his "natural" daughter. Yeah, that's right, Sansa is safe in an impregnable stronghold, surrounded by bannerman loyal to the Starks. Who's married to Ramsey the Flayer, then? Sansa and Arya had a childhood companion by the name of Jeyne Poole, who was Sansa's best friend. After the Starks fell from favor and the various events of A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, the Lannisters force poor Jeyne Poole to marry Ramsay Bolton but they pass her off as Arya Stark (since they think the only remaining Starks are Sansa, married to Tyrion but up in the Eyrie, and that pesky Jon Snow, a no good bastard who gave up his rights to everything up on the Wall) in order to give the Boltons the right to Winterfell. While there was an uncredited extra who played Jeyne Poole in the first season of the TV show AGOT, evidently Dan and Dave thought it would be too hard for the watchers of the show to hew to this idea of Real Arya and Fake Arya.* So they had brutal Ramsay marry Sansa instead, even though she was married (legally married) to Tyrion Lannister. (BTW, make no mistake, this character of Ramsay is vile and brutal in the books, too.). This changes two things in the overall story. First, Theon rescues Jeyne, in spite of his great fear of Ramsay after horrible disfigurement and torture at Ramsay's hands, and even though he has nothing to gain from this rescue. He's known Jeyne since childhood, and if he's escaping Ramsay, he's taking her with him. He is not rescuing a Lady of Winterfell. He's rescuing a dead minor lord's brutalized daughter, at considerable personal risk, and risk he knows full well. He doesn't care because it's the right thing to do and Theon is finally in a place where he wants to do right. (I can still be angry over using poor Jeyne Poole's horrible abuse as a plot device to show how much Theon has changed, though.) All of this becomes even more of a problem when we have TV Sansa later explaining to Theon How rape and domestic violence made her who she is today! Stronger! Wiser! Cautious! Scheming! It was the rape and brutality that made me everything I am now- Lady of Winterfell! This is an immensely offensive piece of writing. Meanwhile, what's book Sansa up to? Well, actually, it's looking a lot like she might make her little brat of a cousin the Sweet Robin fly right through that infamous Moon Door and take the Eyrie for herself. Sansa may still be a teenager, but she's grown a pragmatic brain and a very healthy survival instinct. Book readers have been anticipating that the Sweet Robin (vile and annoying child, though he is) is likely a goner in Book 6, The Winds of Winter, either by Sansa's hands or Petyr's.
So I mentioned character redemption arcs and have shown how the showrunners diminished the evolution of Theon Greyjoy's character. But that is nothing in comparison to what they did to Jaime Lannister's character's redemption. When we first meet Jaime he is defined by two things- he's a Kingslayer (having killed Aegon Targaryen, who he was sworn to protect) and he pushes little Bran Stark out a window, to his likely death, to prevent anyone from knowing that he and Cersei have an incestuous relationship. It's really hard to conceive of Jaime not being a flat, one-dimensional villain at first because of these two things. And yet, over the course of five books, GRRM shows us a Jaime Lannister we could never have predicted. A man who saw that his king was going to blow up an entire city rather than lose a battle and who saved tens of thousands by killing that king before he could give the orders to blow up King's Landing with wildfire. Then we learn that the only woman that Jaime has ever been with sexually is Cersei (who both due to her marriage and her predilections for young relatives and courtiers cannot quite claim the same degree of fidelity) and that Tywin Lannister is a cold, demanding father who has always belittled Jaime in a million different ways. We learn that the closest bond Jaime has, other than the illicit one with Cersei, is with his brother, Tyrion, who he appears to love genuinely. (This, since he can't show open affection for his children with Cersei...) And we see his great admiration for Brienne of Tarth and his rescuing her several times from potential rape and from being mauled to death by a bear. Jaime Lannister is a powerful man who was raised to do anything to keep his family safe. His morality is deeply flawed when it comes to family. But his eyes are opened wider and wider over five long books. Dan and Dave's decision to have him compound his incestuous relationship with Cersei with raping her ultimately destroys the redemption arc that GRRM built over those five books. Readers of his "Not a Blog" may remember GRRM's comment about that choice and that he was not happy with it. Well if that made him unhappy, I wonder what he thinks about what Dan and Dave have done to Daenerys Targaryen?
Over the course of five books, GRRM gave us a Daenerys who grew in wisdom and boldness, who appeared to be the famous gender-neutral-in-Valyrian "prince who was promised," along with, possibly, that "knows nothing yet" nephew of hers, Jon Snow.† The whole "white savior" thing that has been so in our face in the TV show has been downplayed in the books. (You don't want to get me started about sacrificing the sole female character of color, Missandei, as little more than a plot device to drive Daenerys mad like her father.) No, Book Dany is wiser than TV Dany. In fact, there's been a lot of comparison to the artful, good-hearted Rhaegar, her elder brother, rather than her despotic father Aegon or her crass and cruel brother Viserys. But for seven seasons, they made sure there was always a man around to keep TV Dany from being too crazy cruel like her papí. Lately though, in season 8 of the TV show, it seems like Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and Varys the Whisperer just haven't been able to rein in the crazy. Yep, Dany just snapped and in the worst kind of way. If she can't take the Iron Throne the way she wanted she will burn it all down. It's a good thing there are still plenty of Menz around to fix this Dany problem, no doubt by just killing her. Prophecies be damned. Let's just all agree that women leaders, unless they've been raped into proper shape, aren't a good thing. They go all postal and unless you need one of these crazy women to kill a Night King or something, you should really only support male leadership, just like Varys told Tyrion before he was crisped by Crazy Power Mad Daenerys. It would be impossible for Daenerys to say, broker a deal with Jon/Aegon to divide or just co-rule in Westeros if they can take down Cersei together. It would be impossible to suggest using that awesome cool assassin sister of his to walk in, trick Cersei and off her, thereby saving thousands of civilian lives. Nope. No deal. They've all gotta burn! Because that all makes so much sense. (As does a Whisperer committing treason out in the open. Or Tyrion, Hand to the Queen, suddenly making stupid decisions ALL THE TIME.)
So here's the thing. GRRM has often said that while Tyrion is his favorite character, the real driving forces in A Song of Ice and Fire are the female characters. Whether it's Cersei eagerly serving as Regent for child king Tommen when her husband Robert Baratheon, her son Joffrey, and her controlling father Tywin, are killed off in short succession, or Daenerys taking control of khalazars and the Unsullied, or Sansa making the most of her secure situation in the Eyrie, or Asha Greyjoy trying to take control of the Greyjoy fleet, or Arya training as a Faceless Man, or her aunt, Lyanna Stark, turning the eye of a married Prince Rhaegar after a jousting competition in which she likely competed as the Knight of the Laughing Tree, and later running away with him and having his son, or Brienne of Tarth, a great knight in everything except the name, all these women characters rise above the perceived expectations of their sex and fight for their rights to self-determination. This is apparently something that Dan and Dave missed or couldn't wrap their heads around. It was something to be tarnished, diminished, or otherwise thwarted in great ways and small. The showrunners evidently didn't know how to handle Dany and Cersei because George hadn't written it yet. And so, they just ruined them. With lazy and bad writing, with character-assassinating tropes. And this is why you should read these books. To see what GRRM really intended, what he built toward. I may not be thrilled that GRRM has taken more than 8 years to give us The Winds of Winter. But I can still feel badly for the world and characters he built, which are being burned to the ground by Dan and Dave as surely as if they'd told Drogon "dracarys."
*This was evidently even harder than keeping Osha (a wildling woman who protected Rickon and Bran Stark) and Asha Greyjoy, the most functional member of the Iron Islands sea-faring Greyjoy family, apart in the audience's minds, necessitating changing Asha's name to Yara.
I really loved The Widows of Malabar Hill, the first book in Sujata Massey's Perveen Mistry series. I loved the character of Perveen, the fact that she was Parsi, her personal backstory of how she ended up going to Oxford and reading the law, and her return to Bombay (Mumbai) to work for her father's law firm, even though she can't be a barrister. The novel also had a wonderful plot, involving a mystery that only Perveen, being a woman, could solve/resolve.
Unfortunately, it seems as if Massey had something of a writer's block about where to go from there, since in this novel once again we have Perveen dealing with widowed female clients in purdah (seclusion) and a twisted villain who lives among them. We also have an awkward nascent and impossible romance, a Perveen who is less self-assured, yet who is traveling alone, in spite of the fact that she is socially acting as if unmarried, and staying with a bachelor British (Raj) governing agent in fictional Satapur. We even have occasional language that seems anachronistic. Overall, the books seems to be written less tightly and with less care. While I was gratified with the success of Maharani Mirabai, that outcome didn't overcome my qualms about the other things.
Given my fondness for the first book, I'd definitely be willing to give Perveen #3 a shot. However, having all her clients be widows in purdah will make this promising series stagnate. I hope that Massey moves on to new areas, in spite of the probable challenges facing a 1920's woman solicitor in India (or even in the British Empire, since Ivy Williams became the first woman called to the Bar in 1922.)
I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Soho Press along with a paper review copy, in exchange for an honest review. View all my reviews
Lost Roses is the story of three women, Eliza Ferriday (a real-life person), Sofia Streshnayva, a Russian aristocrat and cousin to Czar Nicholas II, and Varinka, a Russian peasant who has made a bargain with the/a devil, in order to keep a roof over her, and her mother's, heads and food on their table. Eliza and Sofia become friends, and after Eliza travels to St. Petersburg, they correspond for years about their lives and families. When the letters stop at the height of WWI and the inception of the Bolshevik uprising in Russia, Eliza fears the worst for her dear friend and goes to great lengths to try to find out if she has escaped. Meanwhile, Varinka, who works for Sofia's family, cares for Sofia's son Max and manages to safeguard him when the unthinkable begins to unfold on the family's estate.
One of the richest themes of this book is the mother-child dynamic. We see Eliza struggle as a widow to maintain her relationship with her angry, mourning daughter Caroline (heroine of the author's first book, Lilac Girls), and we have Sofia's strained relationship with her stepmother and loving relationship with her son, Max, and sister Luba. Varinka's parentified relationship with her mother, who is ill and in the dark about the sacrifices Varinka has made to safeguard her, is poignant. But Varinka also plays mother to Max in a complex way that has the reader questioning whether what she feels is genuinely love or whether he is merely an objectified, idealized child. Her complicated relationship with Taras comes with a potent twist at the end that explains a mystery that made the relationship seemed impossibly contrived, due to its apparent boundaries, earlier in the book.
I also found that the plight of the White Russian emigrées in New York and Connecticut was fascinating and well portrayed. These women were aristocrats, and yet their presence as displaced persons was about as welcome as that which we presently see with Hispanic or Middle Eastern refugees. In modern America, we tend to forget how unwelcome the Irish, Italian and Russian immigrants were in the early 20th Century. Regardless of their social standing and pedigree, our melting pot country has always frequently been unwelcoming to those seeking sanctuary. As Kelly shows us, the threat to White Russians living in Europe was quite real, as the Bolsheviks were willing to go to great lengths to preserve their status quo against any potential Romanov heirs. America, an ocean apart from Russia and Europe, provided a greater measure of safety and a chance to rebuild a life with dignity to those who escaped the Russian Revolution. Sound familiar?
This book that was so much more affecting than I thought it would be. For anyone who has enjoyed historical fiction about the Romanovs, or looking for a quality book club selection, this is an excellent choice. I ruminated on empathizing with but disliking vulnerable peasants, and on the obliviousness of the Russian aristocrats even after they clearly know the history of the French Revolution. ("That could never happen here...") The aristocracy's blind trust of the impenetrability of their position is perfectly captured in the Streshnayva family, even as the cruelty of their fate, a real fate met by many, is unjustifiable.
I read Lost Roses during the slowly moving trainwreck that was my move across the country in April, and because I fell so far behind in reviews, I got a chance to listen to the fabulous audiobook. In fact, the audiobook is so good that I restarted the novel from the beginning, to hear the vibrant performances of the full book.
I will be reviewing Lilac Girls, next month, along with some background material for Caroline/Carolyn Ferriday's real-life story. Martha Hall Kelly reportedly has an even earlier prequel in the works, as we step back to learn more about Eliza's mother.
I received a paper review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. View all my reviews
One of the most enjoyable middle grade fantasy books I read in 2018 was Aru Shah and the End of Time, first in a new series about the Pandavas. You can find my review of the first book here.
The further adventures of Arundhati Shah and her soul sister, and fellow Pandava reincarnate, Yasmini find the girls chasing after a mythical bow and arrows that have been stolen from Kamadeva. And they're doing it with the help of Brynne, their maddening new Pandava soul sister daughter of Lord Vayu, who apparently is better trained and better skilled. (Why does she seem to be driven to be so perfect all the time, wonders Aru!?) If the girls don't recover the bow and arrows within ten days, they will be stripped of their powers and banished from the Otherworld. On top of that, their guardian Boo is being held hostage against their delivering the stolen goods. And on top of that, Boo sends Aiden Acharya with them. That's right, a BOY. Not only that but a boy who Aru has embarrassed herself in front of at school, and who appears to be BFF with the formidably annoying Brynne. Could things get any worse? Aru is sure today, and possibly this whole entire week, should be canceled. But of course, you know it's going to get worse than all this because this is Aru we're talking about and that girl can find trouble like she's a magnet. What's a girl with a lightning bolt vajra to do?!
Roshani Chokshi continues to be at the top of middle grade fantasy game in this series, which is full of humor, adventure, friendship,and wisdom (I just love Aru's mom so hard!). There's never a dull moment and the quality of the writing is excellent. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
I received a paper review copy from Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review. View all my reviews
It's been a while but Alex, Janelle and I have been looking forward to discussing Middlegame for weeks! In that time I've read it twice and enjoyed this book a great deal. Middlegame released on May 7th and is available at an Indie bookstore near you, in audiobook (don't forget to check Libro.fm to support your nearest indie bookstore), or from an online seller. If it's not at your local library yet, please ask your librarian to order it! You might end up getting it on loan first just for asking!
Let's dive into Middlegame.... But remember, FULL SPOILERS ALERT.
Alex, Janelle and Marzie Read Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Marzie: So honestly, I’m not even sure where to start talking about this book.
Alex: Well, like the book, let’s start with the end. Holy carp I loved this book and the ending was sooooooooo satisfying.
Janelle: I was surprised at how positive the ending was. I had no idea how it would all come together, and I don’t expect “happy” endings from her.
Marzie: It was definitely a positive ending, especially considering how the ending started and iteratively seemed to always end up with bloodshed. It was surprising and after seeing so many endings from Seanan that are dark, and remain dark. Actually, it was quite stunning to me. This was a happy ending!
Alex: This was a very bloody book! It felt like Seanan’s two sides (Seanan and Mira) struck a perfect balance. There were some very Mira themes and twists, but some other parts of the book struck me as very, VERY Seanan and had a very Wayward flavor.
Janelle: I was just about to say that I felt like this book took the whimsy and poetry from Seanan, and the dark science fiction from Mira! It almost seemed like Mira and Seanan are alchemical twins, and this book wedded them together.
Marzie: That is such a perfect description of it, Janelle. This novel is a perfect amalgam of Seanan and Mira.
Alex: There was definitely some of the poetry/story within a story structure that Seanan likes to employ in her horror novels at play here. And I loved it.
Marzie: I was very struck by the actual language in this book. I felt like it was the most sophisticated thing I’ve read of hers in that respect. I feel this is literary fantasy/sci-fi.
Janelle: Agreed about the language. But I felt like we couldn’t have expected less from that, considering the subject and characters.
Alex: I think Seanan would also agree with you. She herself has described it as though she has leveled up in her craft. She couldn’t write this book before now because she wasn’t a good enough writer to pull it off technically. And I agree with that. If she had tried to write this when she was way back in Rosemary and Rue times, I don’t think she’d have done it.
Marzie: I think her reference to craft also deals with the sophistication of the time slip usage, which was very novel. This isn’t the usual form time slip takes. Although, I did feel that the alchemical issues were not fleshed out as much as I might have expected. But maybe it would have been too… dense if she had really developed it more. It’s a long book as it is. Though it is just as long as it needs to be to tell this story right.
Janelle: The time slip stuff was where the book fell a little short for me, actually. I guess I expected more concrete answers than what we got. I had to set aside some questions that I had and just enjoy the book for all the rest of its outstanding attributes.
Alex: Yeah, I have a hard time with books with time-travel or time slips in them, in general. There’s usually too much “handwavium” for me to be satisfied.
Marzie: Even the alchemy is hand waving here. We never get much information about how things are accomplished. How did they make these people, how does the unified twin power work.
Janelle: Which… I don’t mind a little hand-waving. It didn’t break the book for me, or anything. And there was so much that I loved.
Alex: Yes, true. But I kind of think that’s the magic at play here. I don’t need to know how it all works for the story to work for me.
Marzie: For me, the jewels of the book are Roger and Dodger, their relationship, and Erin.
Alex: Roger and Dodger’s relationship was so well written. I love them so much!
Janelle: Roger and Dodger were wonderful. Erin was the dark side of it, but I never lost empathy for her.
Marzie: I really loved Erin so much. She was so dark but so compelling. Even when she did horrible things, I never forgot what she lost, what had been taken from her.
Alex: She was just so *done* with all of it by the end. I felt for her so often, missing Darren. It broke my heart.
Marzie: The callousness of James Reed and of Leigh was just stunning to me. And I felt like the whole bunch of alchemists was like a representation of the very worst that organized religion has to offer.
Janelle: James Reed was chilling. You know, I hadn’t even thought of the organized religion representation, but now it is so apparent.
Alex: Yeah, Marzie that is a good point that didn’t dawn on me until you pointed that out in your review. James didn’t bother me so much as Leigh did. Nothing mattered to James other than his goals. Leigh reveled in the pain. She really struck me in my core.
Marzie: I felt like the alchemical college is the equivalent of Pullman’s Magisterium, where no price is too high, everyone is expendable in order to gain power over people, the world, etc.
Janelle: See, Leigh reveled in pain and was pretty much a sadist. But I’ve always found the calculating, for-the-greater-good type evil far more horrifying. I think because of the real-world angle in that… I think charismatic people who just want to carry through with their goals can do a lot wider-spread damage than sadists. I don’t know if that makes sense. But you see him gathering people to his cause, and there are real world parallels. I mean, I loathe both of them, but James a little more than Leigh.
Alex: They’re definitely both awful and horrible and the worst, but I’m the opposite. I am more disturbed by those who prefer to be cruel than by those who simply don’t care. Sadists scare me more than sociopaths.
Marzie: I’m not sure I like either one over the other. They were each horrible in their own way. I don’t want either type to influence our world.
Janelle: Hands of glory! I keep seeing references to them now and just shuddering! Like, I knew what they are because of folklore, but seeing it in a plot from such an evocative writer as Seanan was gross and terrifying and wonderful.
Marzie: The hands of glory was SUCH a Mira Grant device to use. OMG they are creepy! When we first see one, I looked at the cover and just about dropped my ARC going CRAP, how could I have forgotten about those! (I think I remember them being used in a Stacia Kane novel and tried to bury the memory of them!? And isn’t there one in Harry Potter, in Borgin and Bourke’s? Yuck!)
Alex: I knew instantly when I saw the cover that it was a hand of glory, and that was a signal to me that the book would have alchemy in it, but UGH! The one made of rendered baby fat??? *shudders*
Janelle: Honestly, I had no clue it was a hand of glory from the cover. LOL
Marzie: The child one was really the limit, yeah. Janelle, you were lucky, weren’t you? I’m sure you’d have forged ahead and all but going into it blind was probably better than dread. LOL
Janelle: Lucky? I just got to be surprised is all. LOL
Alex: Seanan/Mira certainly does toe the line between horror I can read, and horror that haunts me and I can’t finish. She’s an expert at that line.
Marzie: You know the thing that really stuck me in this book was that a lot of times I feel Seanan’s Mira Grant books have horror that is quite clinical (which I, too, tolerate better, by the way) but there was something so visceral about what James and Leigh want to do, how they do it, and how they force their creations to do such horrors. I felt much more emotional in reading this book than I have in any Mira book since Feed.
Alex: I think that’s the thing about this book, it’s about two sides of a coin, marrying two opposites all the way through. Roger and Dodger, Mira and Seanan, Alchemy and Science, Horror and Science Fiction, clinical horror and visceral imagery.
Janelle: I agree about the thematic weddings. What an eloquent way to put it, Alex!
Marzie: That’s so true, Alex.
Janelle: It was the clinical horror wed to visceral imagery that is still lingering with me.
Marzie: Oh, totally. I started rereading it all over again because I just couldn’t let go of the characters and their circumstances.
Alex: Oh yes. It’s been weeks since I read it and it’s still knocking around in my brain and I keep hoping I’ll find time to reread it in the near future. I feel like there’s a lot more to pick up on a second time.
Janelle: So where are we in hoping there is a sequel? I thought I heard she wanted to do a companion novel?
Marzie: I want to listen to the audiobook, too. And I think there must be a sequel and a prequel. It’s Middlegame, after all
Alex: YES! She wants to write at least two more. And I want to read them very badly.
Janelle: I just want to see what else is going on. I want more.
Marzie: I hope she writes Asphodel’s story and then tell us what Roger and Dodger have made of their world even if we don’t see them as central figures in a sequel.
Alex: I have a hard time seeing where she’d go after this one, she did such a good job of tying it up in a bow, but if she writes it, I will read it. This is a fun universe.
Janelle: It has a lot of potential. If we don’t see Roger and Dodger, I’d be okay with that.
Marzie: I can see working forward, but also backward from here. I’m so curious about Asphodel.
The discussion continues over on Alex's blog, here. Go read the rest, or I'll come after you with Erin.