First Frost of Autumn (firstfrost) wrote,
First Frost of Autumn

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Eight books, in subdivisions

Kushiel's Dart (by Jacqueline Carey)
I really enjoyed this. I admit that I had been expecting something with less plot and more erotica, but I'd seen them recommended enough to give the series a try. I definitely underestimated it. Yes, the main character is essentially a specialized courtesan (and I like "anguisette" as a word - it's much more lyrical than "masochist"), but the culture (a very alternate Earth) is well-designed to have that be a significant occupation. I like the angels in the historical backstory - the author's first book was nonfiction about angels in art and stories, so I'm not surprised that the angels seem plausible. The story has a good dollop of the Guy Gavriel Kay style self-conscious angst (and the flavor of the alternate-Earth is very similar to some of Kay's novels), but the fictional religious backstory grounds all the angst and pain and blood in a way that works remarkably well, especially as I reflect on it more. The Crucifixion, all those martyred saints - pain and sacrifice and goodness, all tied together. As might be expected, the author is willing to sacrifice her characters, but she does grant them meaningful endings, which is important to me. My biggest complaint is that there are enough minor characters with similar French names that I had some trouble remembering whether someone new was actually new, or had been encountered before. There is a sorted character list at the beginning, so if I had been paying better attention I probably would have been okay. Four stars.

Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar
Kushiel's Chosen was a little slower. The first book had a lot of Travelling In Peril and Being In Peril, which really does make for better excitement. In Chosen, she does a lot of Travelling in Luxury and Being in Puzzledness, which just isn't as exciting. And I never really found Joscelin's dilemma compelling, this book. The first book was "Do I break my vow? Can I love?". The second book, he angsts about "Do I join a totally random plot, leaving my beloved?" and for all that maybe he might go with the Random Yehsuites, I can't take it seriously as a threat. Only three stars for this one. The third, Kushiel's Avatar, ramps up the peril again - once they get to Drujan, it's quite threatening, even horrific. And the Joscelin/Phédre dynamic has improved again; they sound like real people, affectionate teasing and all. I really liked that their relationship had grown past the O The Angst stage into what seemed spot on for people who had been married for a decade. And then when it breaks (because, you know, o the angst), it breaks realistically. Like book 2, book 3 does spend a little too much time reminding the reader what happened in book 1; it makes the subsequent stories seem like lesser shadows of the Great Story of Book 1.

A Company of Stars and We Open On Venus by Christopher Stasheff
I started with a lot of affection for a series calling itself Starship Troupers. Sadly, it managed to wear out its initial welcome without finding anything to replace it with. It's packed with stock characters, though it's an amusing mix between stock SF characters (the young man trained in martial arts and engineering, ready for anything; the crusty old captain, forced into retirement but still hankering for adventure) and stock theater characters (the seductive ingenue, the old and alcoholic character actor, the poisonous prima donna). My biggest complaint: the villain in the first book makes no sense. He's a politician attempting to shut down live theater because it appeals to prurient interests and he's a prude, except that he isn't really, that's just a pretext, he's distracting everyone with prudish arguments while he pursues his main goals of Making Lots of Money, and also cutting off all the colonies because of his goal of Making Money, and also stopping live theater exports to the colonies because nobody actually cares about that small a special interest group so you can make a really big deal about it, plus the colonies are innocent and can't be exposed to such pornography as Man Of La Mancha, except it really isn't politics or a distraction, it's that he has a personal vendetta against someone in the company who turned him down once or maybe he doesn't. Anyway, it's a bit confusing. His speeches are a masterwork of scenery-chewing: "Only when the producers of these obscene theatricals -- pornographic in their very liveness, in the lewdness of actresses' actual fleshly presence, fairly begging to be stroked and caressed -- yes, and of the immediate and intruding presence of male actors, too, churning up emotions of turbulent lust in the breasts of our wives and children..." so you know he isn't meant to be taken seriously, and I would have been happy to pigeonhole him if I could just figure out exactly which pigeonhole to put him in. My second complaint is that the first book is a pilot episode. The characters are introduced. Various plot hooks are neatly laid out. Relationships are defined. But that's it! Nothing resolves! Half the original characters get dropped for half the book while we go and pick up some new ones!

My initial affection managed to carry me through the first book and halfway through the second, when I decided that there still hadn't been any plot, the company did nothing but squabble incessantly, and even rehearsing the Scottish Play seems unlikely to cause accidents at the rate of once every half hour. Sigh. Two stars.

Harrowing the Dragon (by Patricia McKillip)
I borrowed this from twe ages ago, and then lost track of it. But now it finally gets to go home! McKillip's stories are gorgeous and haunting, yet sometimes a little too insubstantial to be totally satisfying. I am left with beautiful images of dragons woven out of fire and darkness, cloud and mist; of jewels and tapestries and golden filigree. But what happened in them? Like the plot of dreams upon awakening, I find many of the stories evanescent as mist. (Except the one with the police investigators after Romeo and Juliet's death. That was quite solid.)

Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret (by Rosemary Kirstein)
On the good side: lovely books. On the bad side: these are books one and two. Book three is, as it turns out, also out now, after an 11-year hiatus, but reviews indicate that the story still isn't done. The character class of the Steerswoman is a nice variant on the Sage: must answer all questions truthfully, but gets to ask you questions, and if you won't answer or lie, then all Steerswomen ban you. (As we noted in Deadlands, "answers truthfully" can be a problem when you have enemies, though Robert oddly preferred to answer the enemies' questions more than ours.) The Outskirter tribes are a very nicely detailed culture, and in book two, the quest is really just a flimsy excuse to wander around in the Outskirts (when the quest does wrap up, it's in two uneventful pages.) Interestingly, the entire Hidden Concept of the book (secret tech in a medieval world) is totally spoiled by the cover, which has the Secret Tech ostentatiously hidden around the wizard's study. That's probably for the best, as it means the characters never have to have the "Wait, this isn't magic, it's tech!" revelation to inform the reader, which they aren't really qualified to have. And there's a really adorable moment of romance in book two. Anyway, four stars for Outskirter's Secret, three and a half for Steerswoman, but not recommended for people who hate unfinished series.
Tags: book reviews
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