The Wheel of Time Reread Redux: The Dragon Reborn, Part 18

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/03/the-wheel-of-time-reread-redux-the-dragon-reborn-part-18/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212790

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Team Wheel of Time Reread Redux is on the move!

Today’s Redux post will cover Chapters 37 and 38 of The Dragon Reborn, originally reread in this post.

All original posts are listed in The Wheel of Time Reread Index here, and all Redux posts will also be archived there as well. (The Wheel of Time Master Index, as always, is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general on Tor.com.)

The Wheel of Time Reread is also available as an e-book series! Yay!

All Reread Redux posts will contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series, so if you haven’t read, read at your own risk.

And now, the post!

 

Chapter 37: Fires in Cairhien

WOT-rising-sunRedux Commentary

Ah, naughty Past Leigh, wimping out on listing all of Egwene’s Dreams in this chapter and linking to the WOTFAQ instead.

…Of course, I’m going to wimp out on most of them too, because there’s not much point in rehashing the ones which had already been fulfilled when I was doing the original Reread. But there are a couple here which either hadn’t been fulfilled yet or that the FAQ was unsure about, mostly concerning Perrin. For instance:

Perrin running from someone deadly

The FAQ notes that this is “very vague”, which it certainly is, and also speculates that it might be referring to Slayer. Which is also probably correct, but not for the events the FAQ was referring to at that point. In retrospect it seems a lot more likely that it meant Slayer and Perrin’s crazy Dreamworld chase sequence during the Last Battle. Which is pretty cool, if so.

Perrin stepping willingly over the edge of a towering cliff while saying, “It must be done. I must learn to fly before I reach the bottom.”

The FAQ is like “wtf, this could be anything”, which I find very amusing (if this is sounding a little schizo, it should be noted that I didn’t write any of these bits of the FAQ), but it’s even more amusing that none of the guesses listed (mastering his wolf-brotherhood, being a leader, or taking part in the Last Battle) were right.

Or at least not in my opinion; I think now that the reference to flying pretty firmly ties it to Hopper, and therefore most likely to Hopper’s lessons to Perrin in how to use Tel’aran’rhiod in TOM. Well, we were close!

Then there’s:

A woman playing with puppets, and another dream where the strings on puppets led to the hands of larger puppets, and their strings led to still greater puppets, on and on until the last strings vanished into unimaginable heights.

The FAQ metaphorically shrugs and says this is “probably just symbolic of the various degrees of manipulation and plotting going on”. I think it’s right about the latter part of it, but “a woman” is kind of specific for something that general. She’s probably Lanfear, but again, any of the female Forsaken could apply. Graendal in the most literal sense, in fact. (Eek.)

And then there are a couple of dreams about Rand that for some reason (and I only just now noticed this) the FAQ doesn’t list at all. I mean, one of them is so obviously about Callandor I guess no one felt the need to address it, but then there’s this:

In one dream [Rand] had been on a huge stones board, the black and white stones as big as boulders, and him dodging the monstrous hands that moved them and seemed to try to crush him under them. It could have meant something. It very probably did, but beyond the fact that Rand was in danger from someone, or two someones—she thought that much was clear—beyond that, she simply did not know.

It’s the “two someones” that’s the interesting bit here. One of them is obviously Ishamael, but I’m not sure of the second. Lanfear is probably the best bet, as she is definitely trying to outmaneuver Ishy re: Rand, but she is also not trying to “crush” Rand, at least not at this point, so it’s not for sure. Be’lal is another possibility, given that this dream came right after another one referring to Callandor. I suppose just about any of the Forsaken could be Ishy’s opponent, really, but I think Lanfear and Be’lal are the strongest candidates. What do you think?

As to what actually happens in this chapter, it’s too bad none of the Supergirls thought to do some, well, superheroing and try lifting the ship off the wreck themselves. I know they don’t know how to form a circle yet, but surely even working separately they could have provided enough strength to do it.

But then again, maybe not. All three of the girls are extraordinarily strong in the Power, especially Nynaeve, of course, but I don’t know that we were ever shown anywhere how that strength translated into sheer, raw lifting power. I am not an expert on how much riverboats weigh, but Wikipedia says The Delta Queen, a famous Mississippi River steamboat, has a tonnage of 1,650. That’s… pretty damn heavy. Sooo, I dunno, now that I think about it.

And, randomly:

Another sailor trotted by, bowing as he went. [Egwene] vowed to learn at least some of what it was they were doing; she did not like feeling ignorant.

*snort* Well, there’s the understatement of the Age.

[Elayne:] “I know all of that, Egwene, but it does not stop me feeling for the Cairhienin.”

“I have heard lectures about the wars Andor fought with Cairhien,” Egwene said dryly. “Bennae Sedai says you and Cairhien have fought more often than any two nations except Tear and Illian.”

How very England and France of them.

And, lastly:

A figure in brown and gray rose from behind a bush standing by itself almost in front of them.

Ooh! Aiel! Remember when getting to see Aiel was like the coolest thing ever? Yeah, those were good times.

 

Chapter 38: Maidens of the Spear

WOT-serpent-wheelRedux Commentary

What, no spear and shield icon? I guess it hadn’t been invented yet. Shame.

I think what was really fun about the Aiel in the early books (or at least it was fun for me) is how well they invoked the fascination of the reader in getting those first hints of a complex, vastly different fictional culture, one that we don’t know much about yet, but which it is clearly obvious that the author knows very well, and has worked out to a tee.

It’s the same reason the first Harry Potter book was so immediately engrossing, or really any well-constructed fantasy novel that introduces the reader to an imaginary culture, or an altered version of an existing one. So here, where Bain is explaining to Elayne and Egwene about first-sisters, there’s a lot that she just casually references without explanation (as she rightly would, in talking about something that is perfectly commonplace to her), and we don’t get all of it now, but we have been tacitly assured that we will get it at some point, and that that explanation will be just as interesting as this one, and that, my friends, is how you procure reader loyalty.

(It turns out, of course, that the first-sister thing in particular is even more interesting than we were led to believe at this point. Certainly a lot messier.)

“It is said that once, before the Breaking of the World, we served the Aes Sedai, though no story says how. We failed in that service. Perhaps that is the sin that sent us to the Three-fold Land; I do not know. No one knows what the sin was, except maybe the Wise Ones, or the clan chiefs, and they do not say. It is said if we fail the Aes Sedai again, they will destroy us.”

I tried to make that last sentence connect in some way to the averted future Aviendha sees in the glass columns in TOM, but since it’s really the Seanchan who destroy the Aiel in that timeline, I don’t think it works. Oh well. What the Aiel know about their own history is deliberately very garbled, so.

Seeing Nynaeve Uber-Healing in action: still cool.


Aaand I was going to do the next chapter, too, but it is stupid long and also filled with awesome, so we shall wait until next week to tackle it. Happy Cinco de Mayo week (what, it can be a whole week if I want!), and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

In the Game of Shots, You Throw Yours Away or You Die

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/03/hamilton-game-of-thrones-house-sigils-tony-award-nominations/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212796

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I remember death so much it feels more like a memory. It’s one of Alexander Hamilton’s most stirring lines in Hamilton, but it could just as well apply to the cast of Game of Thrones, plagued as they are by double-crossings and grisly murders. Which is why we were so tickled to find these House sigils for the show’s massive cast. Good timing, too—Hamilton just broke Tony Award records with 16 nominations, with Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical pitting three of the stars against one another. Guess we should prepare for House Washington, House Jefferson, and House Hanover to form some interesting alliances.

Hamilton Game of Thrones House sigils House Schuyler looking for a mind at work

Hamilton Game of Thrones House sigils House Lafayette guns and ships

Hamilton Game of Thrones House sigils House Burr wait for it

Check out all of the excellent Hamilton heraldry by Tumblr user snufkinandhisamazinghat!

Rereading Kage Baker’s Company Series: In the Garden of Iden, Chapters 11-12

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/03/rereading-kage-bakers-company-series-in-the-garden-of-iden-chapters-11-12/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212566

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Welcome to this week’s installment of the Kage Baker Company series reread! In today’s post, we will cover chapters 11 and 12 of In the Garden of Iden.

You can find the reread’s introduction (including the reading order we’ll be following) here, and the index of previous posts here. Please be aware that this reread will contain spoilers for the entire series.

For this week’s post, I decided to try something different and do a separate summary and commentary for each chapter, rather than dealing with both chapters at the same time.

 

Chapter Eleven

Summary: During the team’s first breakfast at Sir Walter Iden’s estate, Mendoza asks if she can eat one of the oranges she spotted in the garden. Iden suggests that Nicholas accompany her to pick some; Joseph makes sure “duenna” Nefer leaves them alone. The tension between Mendoza and Nicholas boils over when she offers him some of the fruit, but after a display of Mendoza’s erudition and critical thinking, they discover they have more in common than they thought. By the time they re-enter the house, they’re friends.

Commentary: The garden scene in chapter 11 is one of my favorite parts of this novel. When it starts out, Mendoza is apologetic for inconveniencing Nicholas, and Nicholas is cold and standoffish. From that point on, the scene becomes a dance where the steps are intellectual and theological arguments. When the dance is over, Nicholas and Mendoza see each other in an entirely different light.

What I absolutely love about this scene is that the precise moment Nicholas drops his coldness towards Mendoza is not when she’s being flirty or coquettish like in the next chapter. It’s when she drops out of her role as a dutiful and demure Spanish Catholic girl and shows her true personality that Nicholas’ eyes are opened. And, vice versa, it’s when Nicholas expresses some of his private beliefs that her feelings for him deepen.

It’s interesting to look at how that first conversation/debate between Mendoza and Nicholas develops. Mendoza first gains his full attention when she angrily demonstrates how many languages she speaks and quotes Scripture. Then Nicholas gets an example of her critical thinking and powers of observation when she immediately sees the unicorn for what it really is. The final step is Mendoza’s willingness to apply that same critical thinking to religious doctrine, such as the need to eat fish on fast days (referring to Ichtyophagia, one of the Colloquies by Erasmus.)

Once Nicholas realizes that Mendoza is an educated freethinker like he is and not a heretic-burning Spaniard, he feels comfortable enough to express his contempt for the Church of England, whose leaders have by now either recanted under pressure or fled to Germany, and to express his own beliefs about the fallibility of the Church and the need to strive for a better world, not just through prayer and contemplation but through action. He gradually drops his shields and reveals more of his true beliefs, even while Mendoza does the same. He even hints that he’s gotten in trouble before for getting carried away, although we don’t learn why and how badly until later.

Another reason I enjoy this scene so much is the way Kage Baker deals with the symbolism of the fruit and the garden. When Mendoza offers Nicholas some of the orange, the parallel with the Garden of Eden and the apple is so obvious that Nicholas recoils, Mendoza sarcastically notes “such subtle symbolism”… and that’s it. Some authors would overdo this kind of imagery; Kage Baker uses it as the catalyst for Mendoza’s angry outburst, and then lets it rest. Of course returning readers know that there’s actually something to this Adam and Eve comparison—a rabbit hole we will explore in a much, much later post!—but Kage Baker, in all her wisdom, didn’t overdo it at this point. (Related: in a comment on last week’s post, Kage’s sister Kathleen mentioned that the working title for this novel was The Botanist Mendoza and that it was the novel’s original publisher who picked In the Garden of Iden.)

Something else that’s pretty much impossible for first time readers to get at this point is the reason for how persuasive Nicholas can be. Mendoza says “I think you could move mountains with your speech…”, and right after he promises he will persuade her to his faith, she thinks: “I ought to have heard warning sirens then, my heart ought to have run for a shelter.” Note that, when Mendoza is writing this scene in her diary in Back Way Back, she still doesn’t actually know who or what Nicholas is. She still has to be hit by the Big Revelation about Adonai at this point, but she already notes how dangerously persuasive he can be and senses trouble on the horizon.

When Nicholas and Mendoza return to the house, Joseph makes it clear that he was listening in on at least part of their conversation, saying he (Nicholas) “seems to share some of your interests.” So we know that Joseph cares enough about Mendoza’s progress with Nicholas to use his enhanced senses to check in on them during at least part of this scene.

Speaking of enhanced senses: at the end of chapter 11, Mendoza asks Nefer if she’s scanned Nicholas. Nefer replies: “Not closely.” (No wonder, since she’s not nearly as interested in him as Mendoza is.) Mendoza’s next lines suggest that she has scanned Nicholas, presumably just like she scanned other mortals in previous chapters, though for entirely different reasons. She just says he’s so healthy and “perfect” (ha!) and adds that he’s “a lot like one of us” (ha again!), but no one seems to have noticed anything else unusual about this very unusual mortal.

I don’t think something like those 46 extra chromosomes would show up in a cursory scan, but you’d think a few more obvious characteristics would stand out, like maybe the unusual articulation of his shoulders and neck that’s mentioned several times throughout the series. Over in the 24th Century, people comment frequently on young Alec’s unusual appearance, but the first time his true nature is in danger of being revealed is when he has blood tests done, forcing the Captain to fudge the results. I guess the Adonai were just designed so well they can pass a cursory scan by immortals? (The real explanation is probably much more prosaic: the plot for most of the series would fall apart if anyone noticed at this point that Nicholas is not a normal human being, and so no one can notice.)

In the final scene of the chapter, Nefer tells Mendoza she shouldn’t feel pressured into doing anything with Nicholas, which is 1) a nice counterpoint to the discussion with Joseph in the previous chapter and 2) a bit unnecessary now Mendoza is coming around to appreciating at least this particular mortal. Nefer also reveals that she knows about Mendoza’s AAE, which once again shows that Dr. Zeus isn’t big on generally approved Human Resources standards. However, to be fair, in an undercover operation like this one all members need to know if one of them has an issue that could jeopardize the mission, so I can understand this Company policy.

 

Chapter Twelve

Summary: The next day in the garden, Mendoza is flirting with Nicholas and trying to learn more about his life. He warns her to be more discreet when talking about religion. Xenophon reappears delivering some of Joseph’s medical tools and chemicals and, to Nefer’s delight, a field radio. Nicholas guesses Dr. Ruy is an alchemist or a hermetic philosopher. When Nicholas speculates whether Dr. Ruy is a Jew, Mendoza has a trauma-induced panic attack. Mortified, she avoids contact with the mortals for four days. When she resurfaces, Francis Ffrawney warns her about certain dark details from Nicholas’s past.

Commentary: This chapter starts out on a lighthearted note, but quickly takes a turn for darker territory. In the first garden scene, Mendoza is being positively flirty with Nicholas in the garden. What a change from just a few chapters back! She’s also abandoned all pretense of being a proper Spanish Catholic when she’s alone with Nicholas, shocking him when she speculates whether Jesus was a virgin at 33. Nicholas warns her to be more careful about expressing such revolutionary ideas, especially (after Mendoza asks) around Francis Ffrawney. (How ironic is that, knowing how Nicholas will come to his end?) Nicholas lays the blame for Mendoza’s outspokenness squarely with Joseph/Dr. Ruy and the way he raised her, musing that he would like to have her father beaten.

When Mendoza asks why Nicholas didn’t enter the Church after his Oxford education, he answers “I lack personal discipline” —one of those unassuming little lines of dialogue that mask a world of grief in his past, as we learn later in the chapter.

Xenophon is so much fun, isn’t he? I wish we saw more of him later in the series. Just imagine the craziness he and Joseph could come up with! In any case, comic relief or not, Xenophon’s delivery sets up at least three important bits we’ll need for the rest of the story. First, Joseph gets his medical supplies. Secondly, Nefer (and the reader) can now get updates on the political and religious situation in England. (And how wonderful is the entire concept of the KZUS radio station?) Finally, the design of the radio, which is disguised to look like a model of the Ark of the Covenant (even if Mendoza thinks the cherubim are “a couple of golden birds, or something”) and which supposedly contains a holy relic, provides the perfect lead-in to the next scene.

Based on Mendoza’s explanation of the chest’s contents, Nicholas guesses (incorrectly) that Dr. Ruy is a hermetic philosopher and an alchemist. When he asks whether Dr. Ruy has studied Vitruvius, Mendoza ”did a fast access and discovered that he was talking about early, early science and technology, which only secret societies and clandestine brotherhoods were concerned with right now.” Double irony alert: as we know from later novels, many of the early iterations of Dr. Zeus, Inc. were actual secret societies throughout history, often led by hermetic philosophers such as Nicholas’ contemporary John Dee. (I don’t remember offhand if Vitruvius is mentioned elsewhere in the series, but he’d probably be a prime candidate for this too.)

When Nicholas guesses (incorrectly) that Joseph is Jewish, Mendoza experiences a severe anxiety attack brought on by the Company’s deep psychological conditioning: rather than erasing or blocking Mendoza’s memories of her time in the dungeons of the Inquisition, the Company has used them as a means to motivate and control her. It’s no wonder those immortal operatives think that the work is all that matters: they’ve been conditioned to revert to their worst traumatic memories if they stray off-track.

During the ensuing conversation in Nicholas’ room, Nicholas argues that God is love, while Mendoza says He is “cruel and irrational.” The depth of Mendoza’s despair shocks Nicholas:

Nicholas’s voice was quiet. “This is truly the Devil’s work: not women rolling on the floor and spitting toads, but this, the despair that you wake and sleep with.”

During their debriefing after this episode, Joseph gives Mendoza a little lecture about learning to put emotional distance between herself and the character she plays. Mendoza is fuming, which is understandable: no teenager likes getting lectured by an adult after a breakdown, let alone by a 20,000 year old adult. Still, it’s good advice from a more experienced operative, and clearly something Mendoza needs to work on. Sadly, she won’t master this skill any time soon.

That conversation contains another prime example of Joseph’s manipulative ways. When he suggests (in his “jolly avuncular way”) that Mendoza and Nicholas would make a great couple, Mendoza blows up. Then Joseph just happens to ask, oh so innocently, if she really couldn’t remember her name back in the dungeon, purposely re-triggering Mendoza’s trauma to help steer her towards what’s best for the mission. (I guess this also puts to rest the issue of Mendoza’s forgotten name we talked about a few posts back!)

After Mendoza has been hiding in her rooms for four days, she returns to find a bowl of ten oranges for breakfast. Sir Walter mentions they’ve never had more than three ripe at a time before. This is pure speculation, of course, but could this “abundance of orangery” be an early example of Mendoza’s occasional effects on plant growth, which we’ll see frequently in later books in the series? Maybe the emotional outburst in the previous scene caused her to generate Crome’s radiation during the storm? Again, all of this is 100% speculation and probably reading too much into things, but it’s also just the kind of subtlety I’d expect from Kage Baker.

The end of the chapter brings a few hints of what’s to come in the second half of the novel. Mendoza notices that Sir Walter is visibly taller, showing the early effects of Joseph’s tinkering. “Master Darrell of Colehill”, who will offer to purchase the Iden estate later in the novel, makes his first appearance. And Francis Ffrawney reveals the dark secret in Nicholas’s past: he was a member of an Anabaptist sect that conducted religious orgies. Ffrawney mentions that Nicholas had “friends at the University” who found him a position at the Iden estate after his disgrace; later we’ll learn much more about how (and why) Company operatives have influenced his life.

To finish up on a lighter note, I have just one random unconnected tidbit. Don’t take this one too seriously, okay? So, I must have read this novel a dozen times over the years, but I just now noticed something in this quote from chapter 12:

Sometimes, lying awake at night, I heard strange little electronic noises coming from Sir Walter’s room—Joseph in there with his pocketful of cryptotools, performing some secret rearrangement of Sir Walter’s insides.

“Pocketful of cryptotools”? Surely this can’t be a reference to a certain 90s music album that had been released just a few years before this novel? I mean, it’s not like Joseph isn’t portraying a doctor here, right? You could maybe even go as far as calling our favorite tricksy Facilitator a… spin doctor? Right? Right? Okay, I’ll just go sit in the corner for a bit.

And on that (rather ridiculous) note, we’ll end for today!

Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. You can find him on Twitter, and his website is Far Beyond Reality.

A Political Thriller with a Personal Core: Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/03/book-review-bloodline-claudia-gray/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212719

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Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Bloodline is unmissable. Her previous Star Wars book, the young adult novel Lost Stars, was thoroughly enjoyable, but Bloodline’s tense politics, vivid new characters, and perfectly characterized Leia make it feel as central to the Star Wars universe as one of the films. It’s a vital piece of connective tissue, a story that takes place at a key moment in the life of Leia Organa while reflecting on all she’s done—and giving us the rich backstory to the events we know are coming.

Almost 25 years after the defeat of the Empire, the New Republic is at a stalemate, the Senate divided between Centrists and Populists. The fractious government can’t agree on anything except that the other side is wrong. (Sound familiar?) At the dedication of a statue of Bail Organa, Leia watches the crowd, sharply observing the invisible divide between her political peers. She is the person we know—the temperamental, intuitive, impatient, sympathetic, brilliant woman we met in A New Hope, grown into adulthood with a huge weight on her shoulders. She’s done this for so long that when one of her smart young staffers asks what she wants to do, she answers honestly: She wants to quit.

But even Han is skeptical that she’ll throw in the political towel. When a Twi’lek emissary asks the Senate to investigate a cartel that’s endangering trade around his planet, Leia volunteers, thinking it will be her last useful task before she leaves politics for good. That plan changes when a royalty-obsessed Centrist senator, Lady Carise Sindian, suggests that with the Senate in a perpetual stalemate, what they need is a First Senator, a single leader with true authority.

The Populists think Leia is the only choice—but just imagine how this whole concept looks to a former leader of the Rebellion. It’s just what allowed the Empire to form: too much authority in the hands of one person. Both political factions have started to mythologize their history; one of the Centrists’ shining stars, Ransolm Casterfo, thinks the only real problem with the Empire was that it had the wrong Emperor.

Handsome, popular, and very fond of velvet cloaks, Ransolm joins Leia’s investigation to represent the Centrists, much to her chagrin. No one eyerolls in his general direction as often as Greer Sonnel, Leia’s extremely efficient right-hand woman. A former pilot, she clearly misses flying but won’t admit it—which makes her all the more interesting to Joph Seastriker, a young X-Wing pilot assigned to Leia’s team. You know the type: Impulsive, cheerfully confident, often having way more fun than he should be under the circumstances. His cautious opposite is Korr Sella, Leia’s 16-year-old intern, who is just starting to dip her toe in the cynicism of politics.

It’s hard to resist getting too attached to these new characters, even though practicality tells me not to. (Remember the Hosnian system.) They’re bright, endearing additions to the Star Wars universe, and an unabashed reminder that Star Wars is for everyone: you don’t have to age out, and you’re never too young to matter. (The galaxy continues to grow more inclusive as well; Joph mentions his moms, and many of the new human characters are described as having coppery, tan, or dark skin.) Leia, who never forgets just how young she was when she got into politics, trusts them as much as she does C-3PO (who’s as nervous as ever).

Bloodline is a political thriller with a strong emotional core and a handful of vivid action sequences, but what really makes Gray’s novel so strong, and makes it feel so important, is simple: Leia. This is the Leia I fell in love with as a kid, the one I wanted to be: unafraid to speak her mind, intensely capable of getting things done, liable to get herself in over her head and then back out again. Bloodline is the Leia book I didn’t know I really, really wanted. Its heroine is solidly in middle age, but no less badass for it. She’s prickly and passionate, angry and disappointed, more complicated than ever. It’s an absolute delight to have her perspective; she gets in her own way, sometimes, but she also gets a chance at something she never had before: understanding and compromise with someone from the other side.

In both this book and Lost Stars, Gray excels at illustrating the way the person you are is the result of the choices you make, not something determined by where you come from. Each of her characters faces a defining moment: to share a secret, or to keep it? To take a shot, or take your chances with a criminal? To trust a friend, or to give in to anger?

These choices have echoes in the rest of the Star Wars mythology, and Gray deftly weaves the threads that connect Bloodline to the bigger Star Wars universe. Politics are central to this story, but the bittersweet personal tone keeps it from ever getting wonky. Despite Leia’s intense sense of duty, her family is always on her mind: her relationship with Han, though mostly long distance, is loving and communicative, nothing like the broken pair we saw in The Force Awakens. She worries about Luke and Ben, wherever they are in the galaxy. And while people see her as her father’s daughter, she’s her mother’s as well. When Leia reflects on the ways she and her mother are alike, it’s a welcome reminder of who Padme was before Revenge of the Sith sidelined her into pearly nightgowns and a concerned frown.

Most of all, though, Leia is her own person. And through this story, we come to understand why our usually vibrant princess-turned-senator-turned-general is so tired, so drawn, by the time of The Force Awakens. It’s not just losing Ben. It’s not just that Luke’s missing, or that Han left. It’s that she was just about ready to quit fighting when a whole new enemy presented itself.

What does all this mean for the cinematic story so far? Well, quite a bit. Everything below is spoilers and speculation. If you don’t want to know anything, avert your eyes!

 

 

*SPOILERS*

Bloodline‘s big reveal answers one important question, and the answer isn’t at all what I’d expected: Why is the Resistance, in The Force Awakens, so heartbreakingly small? Now we know: its leader is no longer Princess Leia, Bail Organa’s daughter, hero of the Rebellion; she is Leia, daughter of Darth Vader, politically disgraced and betrayed when her true father is revealed. We see nearly everyone reject her, and those who might’ve stood by her taken out of the equation. Very few will fight on her side. Gray does an excellent job of reminding us how awful Vader was; even Leia feels a degree of skepticism about his redemptive final moments. I’m not always convinced by I-hate-you-because-of-your-parents plotlines, but as far as those go, this is about as believable as can be. Vader’s shadow fell on so many people that almost no one can accept that his children are on their own path.

But there’s always hope, and here it comes in quiet scenes: Joph sizing up his fellow pilots. Leia in the hangar bar, taking a cup of hooch and watching the races just like everyone else. That little gesture earns her a certain amount of trust and goodwill. Leia’s staff are only going to be more important in the coming years, and I really hope some of them make it to the movies.

The book’s glimpse at the First Order is also surprising. It’s already forming behind the scenes, a tangle of criminals, Empire sympathizers, and Centrist funding. When one Centrist raises a fist while speaking in the Senate, it’s an innocuous enough gesture—but we know where that leads. A brief reference to an older member of the Hux family is a fodder for a dozen theories, and the hints about the Amaxine warriors are tantalizing: are they future stormtroopers? If the First Order has, at the time of The Force Awakens, been taking very young children for at least 15-20 years (based on Finn’s age), how much of its formation is still hidden? Where is Snoke in all of this?

And what about Luke, and young Ben Solo? They’re off exploring the galaxy somewhere, which surprised me: I’d thought that by this point in Ben’s life—he’s probably in his early twenties—Luke was already training a new generation of Jedi. Now it seems likely that Luke’s eventual gaggle of young Jedi is a direct response to the First Order being uncovered, in which case they would have only been training for a few years. It’s also likely that Ben’s turn to the dark side is spurred by the revelation that his parents kept such a huge family secret from him. Did he ever see his parents again once he learned about his grandfather? How long did he harbor that rage before the massacre we know happens?

I’m curious what the fallout is for Han, too. In Bloodline he’s mentoring young pilots; overseeing the Five Sabers, a piloting championship; and running a semi-legitimate business. Does he get blacklisted? Does he ditch all semblance of responsibility—and stop interacting with the younger generation—when Ben turns dark? We know that what happens with Ben makes him run from Leia, so maybe he just ran from everything. Gray is not shy about tugging your heartstrings when it comes to Han, but really, there’s affecting emotional depth to every one of Leia’s relationships: the way she misses Han; the sympathy she has for everything Luke has endured; the anger she has toward Vader; the way the loss of Alderaan is never far from her mind. It’s entirely clear why she might want to ditch it all, to quit politics and leave behind her responsibilities. And I kind of wished she could. But Anakin Skywalker’s kids still have work to do.

Bloodline is available now from Del Rey.

Molly Templeton is trying to resist the temptation to read every other Star Wars book about Leia now, canon or no. She welcomes your recommendations on Twitter.

A Universe of Possibilities: The Best of James H. Schmitz

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/03/a-universe-of-possibilities-the-best-of-james-h-schmitz/

http://www.tor.com/?p=211966

SchmitzBest

In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Science fiction opens a universe of possibilities for the author and the reader. New worlds, new creatures, and new civilizations can all be created to serve the story. And this broad canvas, in the right hands, can be used to paint stories of grand adventure: spaceships can roar through the cosmos, crewed by space pirates armed with ray guns, encountering strange beings. The term “space opera” was coined to describe this type of adventure story. Some authors writing in this sub-genre became lazy, and let their stories become as fanciful as the settings, but others were able to capture that sense of adventure and wonder, and still write stories that felt real, rooted in well-drawn characters and thoughtful backdrops.

One such author was James H. Schmitz. If you were reading Analog and Galaxy magazines in the 1960s and 70s, as I was, you were bound to encounter his work, and bound to remember it fondly.

Like many who earned their living from writing science fiction in the mid-20th Century, James Schmitz was prolific, creating many stories and many characters worthy of note—this creates a dilemma for the reviewer, as there are so many good works to choose from. So in this column, I have drawn from the example of multiple choice tests, and chosen the option “all of the above.” Instead of reviewing one work, I will be reviewing an anthology that collects some of Schmitz’s best stories; The Best of James H. Schmitz, published by NESFA Press, an organization that does great work issuing well-bound volumes by many classic SF authors. The book also has a beautiful cover by Kelly Freas, which also appeared on an issue of Analog, portraying the protagonist of the story “The Custodians.”

James Schmitz was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1911, but spent most of his life in the U.S., and served in the U.S. military in WWII as a photographer in the Army Air Corps. After the war, he moved to California and began writing fiction; he wrote steadily into the 1970s, and died in 1981. Like many writers of the time, he found a lucrative market in the genre magazines, and as a result, most of his body of work is in shorter lengths. Schmitz’s writing was well suited for short fiction: his prose crisp and direct, and his descriptions just long enough to let the reader fill out the details. He found a home in many of the science fiction magazines of the time, and was one of Analog editor John Campbell’s favorites. His work received numerous nominations for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, but never won. He was notable in that era for portraying female characters and people of color in roles that did not fit the stereotypes of the time—for example, his female characters were more likely to be the rescuer than to be rescued—and what caught my attention, as a young reader, was his frequent use of teenaged protagonists. While his stories take place in colorful settings with all sorts of spies, criminals, pirates, and police, the fantasy was always strongly rooted in characters that felt real and genuine.

SmitzKarresSchmitz’s most famous work is probably the humorous novelette “The Witches of Karres.” As was common with popular short works in the era, it was later expanded into a novel (which was nominated for, but did not win, the Hugo Award). The story involves a space captain who rescues three young witches from space pirates, only to find that it may have been the pirates that were the ones actually rescued. While some of Schmitz’s early stories took place in a Confederacy of Vega, the bulk of his work appeared in the Federation of the Hub, a star cluster that has largely forgotten Earth and the origins of mankind. The Hub was very loosely described, as Schmitz was not one to let background get in the way of telling the tale at hand.

Perhaps the most popular stories of the Hub series featured the teenaged Telzey Amberdon, a young woman with telepathic, or psi, powers, who contends with not only a variety of villains and monsters, but also governmental agencies that have been set up to find and control telepaths. Telzey appeared frequently in Analog, as Campbell was at the time fixated on the idea that mankind might have untapped mental powers; other notable characters in the Hub series included special agents like Trigger Argee and Heslet Quillan. Rather than tell stories that dealt with revolution or change, Schmitz’s protagonists were often tasked with maintaining the status quo, a focus that was very in tune with the mood of post-WWII America. Schmitz generally set his work on Earth-like planets, although he could be quite inventive with the creatures that inhabited those worlds.

The Best of James H. Schmitz contains nine short stories and novelettes, offering a good cross section of Schmitz’s work:

“Grandpa” is a story told from the viewpoint of Cord, a 15-year-old boy who is part of a colonization team on a new planet. Like many children his age, he has become intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of his neighborhood, including Grandpa, a large mobile creature that resembles a giant lily pad. Adults who want to use Grandpa as transportation ignore Cord’s warnings that the creature is behaving oddly, and it is up to the boy to figure out what is wrong and rescue his elders. The only thing that dates this story is the lack of portable communications devices, something ubiquitous in our world, which would have allowed Cord to call for help (but would have also made the story much duller).

“Lion Loose…” is a fast-paced tale set in the Hub, where a gang of murderous space pirates use an alien creature with mysterious powers to take over a space-based hotel. It is up to the mysterious Heslet Quillan, a crook who is more than he appears, to foil their plot and rescue the inhabitants. This story is an example of Schmitz at his best, and was another Hugo nominee. This is also one of those few Schmitz stories that is dominated by men, and Quillan has a habit of calling his female compatriot “doll,” but other than that the story feels as fresh today as it did when it was written. The tale moves at a breakneck pace, as Quillan throws himself headlong into danger, bluffing his way into the midst of the pirate band.

“Just Curious” is set on Earth at an unspecified date, and could easily take place in the present. It involves a man who can temporarily inhabit the minds of others, and focuses on the advantages, and the dangers, that power creates.

“The Second Night of Summer” is one of my favorite Schmitz stories. It is set in the Vega series, and opens from the viewpoint of another young protagonist, Grimp. His village, in a quiet corner of the planet Norhut, has been visited by strange lights during the past few summers, and he eagerly awaits the arrival of Grandma Wannattel, a folk healer who travels in a wagon pulled by an alien pony who more closely resembles a rhinoceros. Unknown to the villagers, these lights are the first signs of an alien invasion from another dimension so dangerous that the space navy would destroy the entire planet rather than allow it to spread. And also unknown to the villagers, both the harmless-seeming Grandma and her intelligent pony are government agents entrusted with a mission that could save the planet. This situation is pure Schmitz, subverting many of the space opera tropes of his day—there are no brawny soldiers or naval vessels battling their way through their foes in this story. Instead, it is up to a post-menopausal woman of color, and her wits and skill, to save the day.

SchmitzTelzey“Novice” is the story of Telzey Amberdon’s awakening to her telepathic powers. Her aunt Halet has taken her on vacation from law school to the planet Jontarou, along with Telzey’s pet, Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock is a cat-like alien creature of unknown origin with extremely effective chameleon abilities. Telzey is uneasy on the planet, and having strange nightmares and visions. Her aunt has always been jealous of Telzey and her mother, and it turns out that this vacation is a trap: Tick-Tock is a member of a species called crest cats that appear to have gone extinct, and the aunt has contacted authorities that will confiscate the animal. In an explosion of newfound xenotelepathic powers, Telzey finds that she can communicate with the crest cats, who are anything but animals—racing to adapt to her new abilities, and using her legal education, Telzey must find a way to bridge the gap between the humans on the planet, and its native intelligent species. This story does a better job with most stories of its age in portraying personal communication devices, featuring wrist-borne communicators and law libraries with view screens that can fit into a pocket. In a theme common to many Schmitz stories, in “Novice” the protagonist has to rely on her intellect and training to find a solution to her problems.

“Balanced Ecology” is a Nebula-nominated story telling of a family that runs an extremely valuable diamondwood tree farm. The story is told from the viewpoint of the young boy Ilf, who lives on the farm with his sister Auris. The narrative follows their daily activities as they interact with a variety of strange creatures that live in the diamondwood forest, including the giant turtle-like creature who lives at its heart. A distant relative, who has joined forces with investors who want to clear-cut the forest, comes to visit with malicious intent. Eventually, the children find that the world they live in so peacefully is stranger than they ever imagined, and the story upends your original impressions in quite an exciting and unexpected conclusion.

“The Custodians” is another rip-snorting adventure story, in the same vein as “Lion Loose…” Harold Gage, a navigator on a tramp freighter, is returning to the Sol system, and his captain suggests stopping at an inhabited asteroid, allowing Harold to visit his sister Elisabeth. At this point in history, Earth has descended into a kind of feudal chaos, and the freighter is transporting a pair of aliens who are host to birdlike parasites with razor-sharp talons—aliens who will be selling their abilities to the highest bidder. The freighter has been on the edge of piracy for quite some time, with only Harold’s conscience standing between the crew and lawlessness—what Harold doesn’t know is that the captain wants to kill the people on the asteroid, including his sister and himself, and use it as a base of operations. Harold is forced to use his gun and his wits just to stay alive, and in a twist that reveals the meaning of the story’s title, the pirates find the asteroid is not the easy target they thought it was. This is one of those stories that I encountered in Analog at a young age and has stayed in my memory as a favorite to this day.

“Sour Note on Palayata” is another Hub story, and follows the young woman named Pilch, an agent of the Hub Psychological Service. She has been sent to the planet Palayata to assist Assistant Secretary Bayne Duffold, of the Hub System Outpost Department. The natives of the planet are behaving in a strange manner, and most humans find it extremely unpleasant to be in their presence; there are increasing fears that they may have telepathic powers that pose a threat to the stability of the Hub Federation. Pilch and Duffold must unravel the mystery in a way that protects both the Hub and the Palayatans. This is another story that unfolds like a puzzle, and shows how Schmitz is able to make even the workings of a massive bureaucracy interesting.

SchmitzGoblin “Goblin Night” is a memorable tale of Telzey Amberdon that originally appeared in Analog—it is another that has stuck in my mind for years, not just because of the story, but also because of John Schoenherr’s evocative cover painting of the eponymous goblin. In this story, Telzey is camping in a nature preserve with friends when she makes telepathic contact with a man living in the preserve. He uses telepathic machines to capture her, and she finds that she is in the hands of a physically disabled serial killer who uses a murderous beast to do his dirty work. The story is a twist on the classic story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell (originally published in Collier’s Magazine). Telzey’s situation is quite dire, and it takes all her abilities and her wits to manage to stay alive. Schmitz’s abilities to create realistic characters are in full force in this tale, and—especially since I encountered the story at a tender young age—I found the portrayal of the mass murderer quite chilling. The story quite deservedly received a Nebula Award nomination for Best Novelette, losing to Zelazny’s “The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth.”

James Schmitz had a long and varied career in science fiction, and is one of the giants of the field. He is not as well remembered as other authors today, but that is an oversight that should be corrected. His work is notable for its strong, believable characters, wit, action, and adventure. He was a pioneer in his portrayal of woman in roles equal to men. When I reacquainted myself with his work for this review, I found that it has aged very well—if you are looking for stories that are well-written, exciting, and above all, fun, you should definitely seek out his work. Fortunately, in this day and age, entering his name in a search engine should lead you to his work online, in e-book format, and in print, so don’t hesitate to do so. If you haven’t read Schmitz’s work in a while, you will enjoy the homecoming—and if you haven’t encountered it yet, you are in for some really enjoyable reading.

Alan Brown has been a science fiction fan for five decades, especially science fiction that deals with military matters, exploration, and adventure. He is also a retired reserve officer with a background in military history and strategy.

Add These 100 SFF Novels Written by Women to Your TBR Stack!

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/03/one-hundred-science-fiction-and-fantasy-novels-by-women/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212691

100Books-Bookriot

Book Riot has done us all a great service by sharing a fantastic list of one hundred science fiction and fantasy novels written by women across nearly every subgenre and category imaginable! YA classics from Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time are represented, with stops along the way for everything from the swashbuckling Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, to Mary Doria Russell’s haunting spiritual journey in The Sparrow, to the twisted fairy tale of Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox, to Cherie Priest’s steampunk extravaganza Boneshaker!

Head over to Book Riot for the full list, and be sure to check out further suggestions in the comments! One word of caution, though: you may feel the need to drop everything and read your way through this entire list.

Ann VanderMeer Acquires The Warren by Brian Evenson

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/03/ann-vandermeer-acquires-the-warren-by-brian-evenson/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212666

Evensonphoto

Tor.com Publishing is proud to announce that consulting editor Ann VanderMeer has acquired her first novella from us. Scheduled for publication this fall, Brian Evenson’s novella The Warren is a tense, thoughtful exploration of a battle for survival between two beings with competing claims to humanity. Ann VanderMeer is a Hugo Award winning editor who has acquired wonderful short fiction for Tor.com over the past few years, and we’re honored to have her on board with another amazing project.

Brian Evenson is the author of a dozen books of fiction, most recently the story collection A Collapse of Horses. His collection Windeye and the novel Immobility were both finalists for a Shirley Jackson Award. His novel Last Days won the American Library Association’s award for Best Horror Novel of 2009). His novel The Open Curtain was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an International Horror Guild Award. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship.

From Ann VanderMeer:

I’ve known Brian Evenson for at almost two decades and been a fan of his work for even longer. I first encountered his fiction in the genre-bending anthology Air Fish—with his story “Altmann’s Tongue.” This was also the title story of his first short story collection and its publication created a controversy at Brigham Young University (where he was a professor) and eventually led to his leaving the Mormon Church. The first time I published his work was in 1997 in my magazine The Silver Web.

And the first time I finally met him was when he visited Tallahassee as a guest of the Fiction Collective Two (FC2) publishing venture that resided at FSU in the early 2000s. I’ll never forget watching him read what turned out to be a very funny piece, and yet all of the graduate students in attendance were so serious that none of them laughed. Yes, Brian’s work is dark but it can also be darkly humorous as well. You can see an example of his humor in such projects as The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases and the sequel, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

In addition to writing sharp, biting and cold-hearted dark fiction, he has also translated other works of fiction; including a never before translated story from the French writer Jacques Barbéri for our forthcoming The Big Book of Science Fiction.

Brian was recently featured in The New Yorker.

I am thrilled to be presenting his newest novella The Warren.

Max and Furiosa Reunite in London!

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/03/tom-hardy-finds-furiosa-in-london-traffc/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212736

Tom Hardy finds Furiosa

Tom Hardy posted this shot with the jubilant message: “Found Furiosa negotiating London traffic”, and we have to agree, this London lorry driver is awesomely Furiosa-esque. We wonder who initiated the photo, though? Did the Furiosa doppelgänger glance to the right and say something along the lines of, “Holy crumpets, that’s Tom bleedin’ Hardy!” and then get his attention? Or did Tom Hardy spot her first, mumble a series of incoherent syllables, and then dig through the pile of pit bull puppies we’re assuming surround him at all times to find his phone for the pic? And what could the passengers possibly have been thinking during this exchange?

Click through for another, slightly-more-dangerous-looking shot!

See what we mean? The passengers must have been a bit startled to see their driver hanging out the window to commune with a movie star, but this image is definitely worth it.

Max and Furiosa

[via Nergerhl!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aurora Australis: A Quiet Spring

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/02/aurora-australis-a-quiet-spring/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212168

crowshine-crop

It was a quiet April for speculative fiction in Australia and New Zealand. I can only think that the exhaustion of the Aurealis Awards and Ditmars and all of the exciting news from March has sent a bunch of authors and publishers scurrying into their (invasive, feral) rabbitholes to recuperate. Nonetheless, a few brave souls were still making some waves…

The Australian Shadows Awards were announced via Facebook on the Australian Horror Writers’ Association page. Winners included Rob Hood for Best Collected Work, Kaaron Warren for Best Short Story, and Alan Baxter received the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction.

David McDonald finally got to sharecastaways-cover some exciting news: that his new book is a Guardians of the Galaxy one! In Castaways, McDonald writes that the Guardians have become just that and consequently go their separate ways, but then need to reunite to save the planet. McDonald also says that there is more news in the offing, which is exciting but also rather frustrating while we wait to hear (and possibly frustrating to hold inside, for him, but at least he KNOWS what the news is).

Fantastica SciFi reports that their next book will be Fire Boy, by Sami Shah. You can read or listen to an extract over here: the opening says that “These stories always happen to someone’s cousin’s brother’s nephew. Muzammil Bangash was, unfortunately for him, just that.”

isbn9780733635168-detailLian Hearn’s new series, the Tale of Shikanoko (set 300 years before Tales of the Otori), has books 3 and 4 out now. Lord of the Darkwood continues a series complete with “wild forest, elegant court and savage battlefield.” (Books 1 and 2 were Emperor of the Eight Islands.)

From Random House comes Watershed, by Jane Abbott. The description sounds all-too-uncomfortably familiar for a lot of Australians: “Devoid of rain, the earth has shrunk to dust and salt, hemmed by a swollen sea….” This is Abbott’s debut and it’s a dark dystopia: telling friend from foe is difficult, figuring out how to survive in the new world is harder.

DD_cover_ebook-640x1024Cover reveal: Twelfth Planet Press’ Defying Doomsday has a cover, and it’s pretty awesome. The ebook has been sent to those who helped fund their Kickstarter campaign, and will be officially released on May 30.

More crowdfunding: Clan Destine Press is using IndieGogo to organise pre-orders for their new bumper anthology, And Then…. It’s going to be published in June, but going through their campaign gets you 25% off the RRP as well as the chance at other perks. The table of contents includes people like Lucy Sussex, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Jason Nahrung, Jack Dann and Peter M Ball.

crowshine-webAnd finally, Ticonderoga Press has announced that they will be publishing Alan Baxter’s first collection, Crow Shine. It’s due out in September and will consist of 19 stories – three of which have never been published before, including the titular “Crow Shine” (which inspired the totally creepy cover, one presumes).

Got Australian or NZ news to share? Pass it on!

Alexandra Pierce reads, teaches, blogs, podcasts, cooks, knits, runs, eats, sleeps, and observes the stars. Not necessarily in that order of priority. She is a Christian, a feminist, and an Australian. She can be found at her website, and on the Galactic Suburbia podcast.

The Cheysuli Reread, Book 2: The Song of Homana

http://www.tor.com/2016/05/02/the-cheysuli-reread-book-2-the-song-of-homana/

http://www.tor.com/?p=212288

song-homana

Tansy Rayner Roberts is rereading The Cheysuli Chronicles, an epic fantasy series and family saga by Jennifer Roberson which combines war, magic and prophecy with domestic politics, romance and issues to do with cultural appropriation and colonialism.

Another concise, fast-paced read which manages to pack several volumes worth of Epic Fantasy Plot into a single volume—but this one, quite startlingly, is told in 1st person instead of 3rd, as well as having a different protagonist to Book 1. (Oh, fantasy series made up of single narratively satisfying volumes, where did you go?) This time it’s Carillon, Alix’s cousin and the dispossessed Mujhar of Homana, who takes centre stage.

This book wasn’t one of my favourites of the series, so I had reread it far less than Shapechangers and thus only had a vague memory of what went down. I can see why I didn’t love this one, as it is full of tragedy and woe. WOE. It is, however, packed with interesting character and story, so I am retrospectively chiding myself for not paying it more attention.

The Story

Five years have passed since the end of Shapechangers, and Carillon has spent that time on the run, hiding out in countries which are mostly neutral to the politics of Homana, Solinde and the Cheysuli. Carillon has not been alone in his exile—at his side, always, is Finn, his snarky Cheysuli liege man who sometimes turns into a wolf. Now, it’s time for them to go home.

Note: in the five years Carillon has been gone, he has made very little progress in raising an army or doing anything else productive, so I’m not sure why the Time Is Right for his return other than an unhealthy combination of guilt and homesickness.

Since Bellam of Solinde invaded Homana, the persecution of the shapechanger race has continued—with bounty hunters even crossing the border into Ellas, in order to destroy the Cheysuli Keep, and run down any errant Cheysuli they find along the way.

Having acquired a new road trip buddy in Lachlan, a harp-wielding bard who knows far more than he is saying about… well, everything, and is therefore a convenient wiki for updates about what they’ve missed, Finn and Carillon return home to Homana.

Somehow, despite the odds, they then manage to pull together an army made up of Homanan loyalists, and Cheysuli warriors who had remained in hiding before now. Carillon and Finn are reunited with Alix, the woman that they both still fancy themselves in love with, her clan-leader husband Duncan, and their son Donal.

Carillon is also reunited with Rowan, a Homanan boy he and Alix rescued back in Book 1, now an adult soldier. Rowan is revealed to be a Cheysuli raised among Homanans, who was so terrified and ignorant of his heritage that he rejected the lir-bond when it came, and is now considered an abomination by both cultures. He represents the damage caused to their country by the hatred of Shaine the Mujhar, and how hard it will be for Carillon to unite the two cultures back under a single leader.

The war rages on—Finn captures Elektra, daughter of Bellam (and “light-woman” to his sorcerer Tynstar), and brings her to Carillon. Both men are completely enamoured of Elektra despite her being obviously evil, and Carillon plans to marry her for “political reasons” despite never having thought such a thing before he realised she was a hot blonde. Meanwhile, he trades her for his sister Tourmaline.

Turns out the Big Bad isn’t Bellam at all (who is unceremoniously killed off by his own sorcerer halfway through the story) but the sinister sorcerer Tynstar, and of course Elektra, who is COMPLETELY EVIL.

After finally taking on the job of being Mujhar of Homana (and the ruler of Solinde too, by popular acclaim), Carillon marries Elektra and promises her their second son can rule her country. It all goes to hell during the birth of their first child (a daughter), when Finn physically attacks Elektra, claiming that Tynstar is present. After this happens a second time, Carillon is forced to banish Finn on the grounds that you can’t make a habit of assaulting the Queen in front of people.

Tourmaline insists on banishing herself along with Finn, because they have been having a covert love affair and she is pregnant—Carillon is devastated, all the more so when he discovers that Lachlan, the bard who has been pining from afar for Tourmaline, is totally a prince and would have made a GREAT brother-in-law. There is literally an entire scene devoted to Lachlan and Carillon moping together about what a great diplomatic coup they missed out on

After Elektra shows her true colours and lures Carillon into a magical trap where he is nearly destroyed by Tynstar (aging 20 years in the process), Carillon has her arrested and sends her into exile, not caring that she correctly predicts this will make her miscarry her baby by Tynstar.

Also, Carillon is officially a silver fox from this point onwards. But not a literal fox. I can see how that might be confusing.

Tynstar kidnaps Alix in revenge for the loss of his light woman and child. Carillon and Duncan successfully rescue her but Cai, Duncan’s lir, is killed along the way. This means Duncan has to do that stoic Cheysuli thing where they walk into the forest and kill themselves. Carillon decides the appropriate response to this tragedy is to let Alix know he’s totally up for marrying her any time she likes (in the future, once he sorts out his Elektra problem). Alix refuses on the grounds that she is now pregnant with Tynstar’s baby.

Finn takes on the mantle of clan-leader in the wake of his brother’s death. He’s a much more responsible and respectable candidate than he used to be, thanks to his life-changing marriage to Tourmaline. Who is now also dead, thanks to childbirth. Carillon makes him take the knife back to symbolise that Finn is his liege man again, but nothing will ever be the same, really.

EVERYONE IS SO SAD, THIS BOOK IS MADE OF TRAGEDY AND TEARS.

Of Bards and Harps

Where did all the bards go? Eighties fantasy fiction was wall-to-wall bards, all those slender, doe-eyed boys with curly hair who knew how to work a harp and sing for their supper.

Lachlan hits a lot of the standard tropes, including being a mouthpiece for the news headlines of the day (like that pesky bounty on Carillon’s head), but particularly with the Song of Homana, a ballad that hits our heroes where it hurts because it recounts the history of the previous book in startling detail. And of course, it turns up at various significant moments.

Significant Bardic Ballads are up there with prophecies as key narrative signposts in traditional fantasy fiction. I’d really love to read more stories about how bards get things wrong and accidentally stuff up the course of history because, you know, rhyming and scansion are more important than triple-checking your source material.

I do like that Lachlan doesn’t always employ the best tact when the Song of Homana is pulled out, and that by the end of the story, the song is woven into the fabric of their world—Lachlan is no longer the only one playing the song.

Amazingly, at one point suggests to Finn’s face that he write a ballad about how he lost Alix to his brother, and is not instantly torn to pieces. Tactless bards are the best.

Being a bard, Lachlan naturally falls for a princess and pines for most of the novel. Aww. It’s good for his art.

Also, hooray, surprise prince.

Which leads to the bizarrely hilarious scene in which Carillon and Lachlan realise that thanks to the incredibly slow messaging/postal system, Lachlan’s “long game” of loving Tourmaline from afar while waiting for his brother King Rhodri to sort out the formal marriage stuff via diplomatic means was… well. Not the most effective plan for marital bliss.

Dudes, if you want to marry someone and you totally think your family will approve because you’re both of royal bloodlines, don’t wait YEARS to point this out to the relevant relative. This has been a public service announcement.

Romancing the Family Tree

While a couple of key marriages are made in this book, the central relationship is that of Carillon with Finn—the two of them have been close in their exile, but their bickering bromance loses its shine once they are back in Homana. Their priorities should be the same—Finn is deeply committed to getting Carillon on the throne and releasing the Cheysuli of the purge, and Carillon is likewise committed to these things. But they still butt heads a lot over the best methods, particularly when Finn catches Carillon out keeping secrets from him. It’s not surprising that Elektra separates these two in order to weaken them, and absolutely no coincidence that their lives completely fall apart once they no longer have each other’s backs.

How I wish I had known about slash fandom in the early 90’s.

Speaking of romance, there is a deeply uncomfortable scene where Carillon sees Alix for the first time in five years and decides that kissing her is a reasonable response—even more disturbing, while she forgives him along the lines of ‘this is your ONE free pass, buddy, don’t do that again,’ she also notes that Finn’s greeting to her was pretty much the same.

Oh, Finn. Five years should have been long enough to get over not being allowed to have sex with your sister.

Finn is at least making an effort to accept his brother’s marriage, and becomes very close to Duncan and Alix’s son Donal (cough, protagonist number 3, your time is next month). When Carillon challenges Finn to name what he wants in life beyond their military success and the freedom of his people, Finn admits that all he wants now is a son of his own.

(He ends up with a daughter, who is pretty great, but it’s worth noting that it’s Carillon, not Finn, who is framed as Donal’s replacement father figure at the end of the book)

The whole Elektra thing is… I am just shaking my head at both Carillon and Finn, because they are ridiculous. But my favourite romantic twist comes in when Carillon, having told his headstrong sister she is totally going to marry a foreign prince for politics and not love, decides it’s a good idea to separate her from the bard with bedroom eyes. So he sends her off with Finn “for protection.”

I mean, seriously. How else was that gonna end, Carillon?

Tourmaline and Finn have the only genuine romance in the book, but it happens mostly off page thanks to Carillon’s point of view. We only hear in retrospect how their romance happened—from Tourmaline, mostly, as Finn is quite restrained about the whole thing.

It’s clear that they have fallen in love, but also that Tourmaline allowed it to develop into something deeper largely because of Carillon’s high-handed attitude towards her marrying a foreign prince—she tells him outright that if he had actually had a respectful conversation with her about her future marriage, instead of off-handedly letting her know she would have no say in it at all, she might have been willing to go along with her birth-appointed role as “back up producer of heirs.”

Weirdly, Carillon completely rules Tourmaline and her future children out of the succession once he realises he’s stuck with a wife he can’t divorce and no sons—he accepts Donal as his future heir, given their connection via his cousin Alix, but doesn’t consider any possible nieces and nephews he might acquire via Tourmaline and Finn. Almost as if he knew Tourmaline was going to be sideswiped by the dangers of childbirth! He does try to suggest to Finn that Meghan get to be a princess at the end, but Finn is very unimpressed.

Both Carillon and Finn continue to be weirdly creepy about their unrequited love for Alix. Duncan still wins out as the creepiest by physically compelling her to sleep when she protests his imminent death, taking all agency from her and forcing her to miss out on saying a proper goodbye.

Even in death, Duncan is the worst. Though Carillon’s clumsy marriage proposal to Alix almost as soon as she wakes up is almost as bad. It’s come to something when Finn is the most respectful man in her life. Finn.

Words are Weapons

Some new Cheysuli language (or rather: The Old Tongue) enters this book—especially the word su’fali, meaning uncle, now that Finn is one. Ku’reshtin comes up as well—the closest we have to a swearword, used by Finn against Rowan, and then often by Carillon despite the fact that I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what it means.

For the first time, we also get a full sentence of Old Tongue, thanks to a saying repeated throughout this particular narrative: Tahlmorra lujhalla mei wiccan, cheysu—translated as: The fate of a man rests always within the hands of the gods.

The word shansu comes up quite often, meaning peace but more of a ‘there, there, don’t cry’ kind of peace than the ‘we’re currently not at war’ kind of peace.

Hawks and Wolves

The biggest addition to the lore about relationship between dudes and their lir in this book, is the sad story of Rowan, who rejected his heritage and thus caused his lir to die.

Alix’s son Donal takes his rite of manhood at the age of seven (I’M SORRY, WHAT?) and is honoured with two lir—a falcon and a wolf, which also happen to be the two shapes that Alix changed into during her pregnancy. The wolf is a teeny cub, so awwww.

Finn is almost killed in battle when his wolf Storr takes a near-fatal wound. Duncan calls upon some very deep magic to pull Finn back from the brink, upsetting Alix deeply as she’s not keen on sacrificing her husband to get her brother back—she wants both of them alive and well, thank you very much!

All this of course is foreshadowing for Duncan’s death at the end, which is genuinely sad and a blow to them all—even Carillon, our protagonist, who has never been all that fond of Duncan, but comes to rely on him more and more throughout this book, and is almost as lost without him as Finn.

Cheysuli Culture Report

While the Finn-Carillon relationship is the central driving force of most of the book, Duncan takes over from Finn as the main Cheysuli advisor to Carillon once he takes power. Carillon spends most of this book learning more about how much the Mujhars of Homana owe to the Cheysuli, not only for their essential military support, but also their cultural heritage, and several of their traditions. He and Duncan are both preparing for a future in which the Cheysuli have a more overt role in the royal family, but they don’t realise until it’s too late quite how close that future is. When Carillon finally takes power, Duncan puts him through an intense Cheysuli boot camp/religious experience in order to drive home the essential role of the Cheysuli in the tradition of Mujhars before Shaine wrecked it all.

For four days, Carillon is swallowed up by a kind of spirit journey in which he lives as a Cheysuli, man and lir—and the experience rattles him to the point that he is actually hurt to find out he doesn’t count as a real Cheysuli (enough to have been invited to Donal’s lir ceremony). #Whitemanproblems

Later, he calls upon that magic to save himself against Tynstar, and it’s clear that he feels a deeper kinship to the Cheysuli than even he realised. Most importantly of all, he and Duncan are aware that they are preparing the way for a future when a Cheysuli will be Mujhar, and that future turns out to be closer than they thought when Carillon chooses Donal as his heir. So… they’ve basically got a couple of decades to get this entire country over the whole violent cultural rift and make the Homanans accept a Cheysuli as their next leader. No pressure, then.

The significance of Cheysuli jewellery comes up in a fantastic scene that reveals to the reader that there’s something going on with Finn and Tourmaline long before our narrator figures it out (oh, Carillon, so dense). Carillon has found some silver jewellery from the Lindir stash and is going to present them to Elektra upon their marriage, but Finn is furious because his father Hale made those jewels (speaking of dense how did NO ONE spot the Hale/Lindir relationship before they eloped, surely it’s not that normal for a liege man to go around making pretty jewellery for his Mujhar’s daughter, and given the significance of jewellery to Cheysuli courtship and marriages, come on).

Finn physically snatches the jewels from Carillon and tries to give them to Tourmaline (calling her “Torry,” what a giveaway) but Carillon stands fast and insists they go to the queen instead. Big mistake. Huge.

Girls Just Want to Have Lir

Women are not the focus of this story at all, though I liked Carillon’s a mother a lot in her single scene, when he attempted to rescue her from the Solindish, only for her to refuse on the grounds that her daughter (imprisoned elsewhere) would be punished for it, and there was no tactical benefit to her being released.

Acknowledging that older royal women have a keen eye for strategy and politics is always a good thing!

Tourmaline is another interesting character who doesn’t get nearly enough to do.

It is worth noting that Elektra is not just Tynstar’s girlfriend, and Carillon’s chosen Queen (Oh, Carillon, really what were you THINKING) but a highly powerful sorceress in her own right, and her sinister abilities are grossly overlooked by the men in the story because they are so busy lusting after her and slut-shaming her, often in the same paragraph.

It’s strange seeing Alix so sidelined after her integral role in the first book, and she has definitely been swallowed up by the cheysula and mother identity with little sign of the angry, fierce warrior she was before she had her baby. She only has a couple of scenes before suddenly being damsell’d in the final act, and even raped offstage.

After Shapechangers, it was nice to have a book which didn’t promise rape every other chapter, but I did rather want to beat my head against a wall about what happened to Alix. It was particularly disturbing that she felt the need to emphasise to Carillon that she was not physically beaten or “forced” by Tynstar—he used his magic to remove her will instead. Like that’s somehow less traumatic? (Thank you, Jessica Jones, for establishing that yes, that counts as rape too)

There’s a lot to like about these books, but there are times when they are very 1980’s.

Having said that, the rape was handled fairly discreetly and without overt melodrama—in particular, it was not used to heighten the Duncan-related angst until well after his death. If it had to be there (ugh) I’m glad it wasn’t in the book where Alix was the protagonist.

Kudos to Alix for using the ‘oops impregnated by your greatest enemy card’ to avoid Carillon’s hamfisted and frankly offensive marriage proposal at the end of the book. Note, she tried the ‘that wouldn’t be respecting my RECENTLY DEAD husband’ card first and Carillon dismissed that concern, on the grounds that Duncan kinda probably expected him to swoop in and console the grieving widow.

Carillon and Duncan, go sit in the corner, right now. Finn, you can stop stroking Alix’s hair, you’ve managed to mostly be not creepy in this book, don’t let me down now.

Tourmaline’s death adds insult to injury, in that she and Alix have both been made to suffer specifically so we can see the men in their life have feelings about it—indeed, Carillon and Finn finally bond again over mourning Torry. Tourmaline’s death has a political edge to it as well as being ‘generic offscreen died in childbirth’ because her status as the pregnant lover of a Cheysuli meant that they were assaulted and refused medical treatment in Homanan villages.

Finn is at his most likable when Carillon starts making noises about baby Meghan being raised as a princess of Homana and Finn is all—HELL NO. I don’t blame him at all. Princessing is a dangerous game in this neck of the woods.

 

NEXT TIME: Donal and his two lir face prejudice, evil magic and royal politics. Plus, this family finally pulls off an arranged marriage… except for that part where the bride-to-be’s evil mother is still freaking evil.

MY WISH LIST: Royal women getting more scenes to be politically savvy and wonderful, a love match I can get excited about, hot men making jewellery for their ladies, adorable lir conversations, sarcasm, banter, the occasional happy ending, really, is that too much to ask?

Less woe please!

 


SHAPECHANGERS VOCAB

  • Cheysul/a—husband, wife but also: man, woman
  • Ihlini—evil sorcerers, mostly found around Solinde
  • Jehan/a—father, mother
  • Lir—bonded animal, and their human
  • Meijha—concubine (note there used to be a space between the mei and the jha—who says linguistic shifts can’t happen quickly?)
  • Qu’malin—war/purge against the Cheysuli
  • Rujho/lla/lli—brother, sister, sibling
  • Shansu—peace
  • Shar tahl—priest-historian, mystic
  • Tahlmorra—destiny, fate and prophecy—often used as a conversational tic along the lines of ‘shit happens, whatcha gonna do about it’?

Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian SF & fantasy author, and a Hugo Award winning blogger and podcaster. She writes crime fiction under the pen-name of Livia Day. Come and find TansyRR on Twitter & Tumblr, sign up for her Author Newsletter, and listen to her on Galactic Suburbia, Sheep Might Fly or the Verity! podcast.