Feb 22

The Australian Shadows demon needs a home!

Guess who I picked up at the airport this week? (yes really, that’s what happened)

IMG_1055The Australian Shadows demon! Otherwise known as the award The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories won last year! I think I shall name him Bob. Isn’t he amazing? Also, he’s really heavy. But he needs a home.

Should he sit on my desk, where he can scowl at me as I work? “Write more words or I’ll eat your soul”. He can chat to the robot lamp if he gets lonely.

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Or on the shelf with a couple other awards, and a herd of tiny elephants?

IMG_1058 In the lounge room, where he is lord of all he surveys?

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Or just freaking out the dog some more?

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It’s hard to decide, because he is just that awesome! Any thoughts? :)

 

Feb 01

On January, goals and the list

Ok so it’s February. At this point I was hoping to write a blog post about how I’d crossed off ALL the things on my January to-do list. Sadly, that’s not the case, although I’m pretty close!

30k on my current WIP – The Fiery Skies – should have been possible. As it is, I only got 25k.

I’m not beating myself up about it. There are reasons I couldn’t quite make that last 5k. A lot of them are the same reasons I reconsidered my original goal of 45k. Some are outside of my control (like my poor, very sick husband currently asleep on the couch) and there are some I need to address. I’m already working on those.

I love lists. I need them. I have my to-do list on a whiteboard in my study, and I cross it off as I go rather than wipe it clean, so I can see my progress. It keeps me honest, and focused, and I love the feeling of crossing something off like that. Looking up at all those tasks I’ve completed actually gives me a little rush. It says, yeah, you might not have got to 30k but look at everything else you did! So you should keep going! You can do this!

Sometimes life can be shitty and get in the way. The only way to deal with it AND write that book (or whatever your goal may be) is to keep on working.

Dec 11

Eddings Reread! The Tamuli

EDDINGS RE-READ: THE TAMULI (Domes of Fire, The Shining Ones, The Hidden City)

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Alex, Tehani and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Alex’s post over here and Tehani’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!

The Diamond Throne reread is here

The Ruby Knight reread is here

The Sapphire Rose reread is here

Well this is the coolest cover for Domes of Fire I’ve ever seen!

ALEX:
Dear readers,
Here’s an interesting thing. We’ve been writing these reviews in a Google document. This one, entitled Domes of Fire, has existed for a few months without anything being written in it. This is despite the fact that I think we would all have said that we enjoyed the second trilogy a lot, if not as much as the first, and that we all devoured the second trilogy on this re-read just like we did the first.

TEHANI:
Aw Alex. You don’t think all of us being crazy busy had anything to do with it? :)

ALEX:
It’s just that…well, there’s not really that much to say. We said most of it with the first trilogy, and the reality is that this second set, the Tamuli, is basically a reworking of the first.

TEHANI:
Heh, I like that Eddings pretty much acknowledges that about halfway through The Shining City:

“It has a sort of familiar ring to it, doesn’t it Sparhawk?” Kalten said with a tight grin. “Didn’t Martel – and Annias – have the same sort of notion?”
“Oh my goodness, yes,” Ehlana agreed. “I feel as if I’ve lived through all of this before.”

JO:
One will not point out similarities to the Belgariad either. Or the Mallorean. One will not.

ALEX:
Almost identical set of people, very similar set up – except just like any sequel, things are More Impressive and More Worse. Not just a puny god, but a serious one! Bhelliom’s not just an object but an imprisoned eternal spirit! Sparhawk is Amazing!!

…ok that one’s not that new.

What follows therefore is a general discussion of the entirety of the Tamuli – what we liked, what disappointed us, etc.

TEHANI:
I think part of the problem was that once we started reading, we just couldn’t stop – having glommed all six books in such short order made it super hard to separate this batch into separate reviews! So this one giant piece is a much more sensible idea.

JO:
Oh that’s absolutely it! I read all six in this big BINGE… and then you wanted me to sit down and be sensible about each one? Can’t I just say ‘yay’ Sparhawk? Also where are my notes…?

ALEX:
I quite like the opening to Domes of Fire proper, with Sparhawk riding through the streets but this time being recognised. It sets up the idea of familiarity and parallels with the first trilogy very neatly, and suggests that it’s all done deliberately. While I do recognise that this is somewhat lazy writing, I definitely understand the appeal of it for readers – because it appeals to me, when its done well: it’s the same reason why people like staying in the same hotel chain everywhere. Familiarity is comforting. I like reading for comfort sometimes.

JO:
I don’t see it as lazy at all. I see it as fanservice :)

TEHANI:
You know what else can be lazy writing? The “As you know, Bob” thing, which Eddings employs over and over to let us know/remind us what’s going on. AND I DON’T CARE THAT HE DOES! It’s still completely and utterly readable. I’m not sure what it says about me. Or maybe it’s just that even something “lazy” can actually be done well?

ALEX:
I think it’s done with humour, too, often, and that certainly helps his cause.

JO:
Yeah usually it’s just so much fun to read the ‘as you know’ doesn’t bother me as much as it should.

ALEX:
We are such fan girls.

So, straight into the issues: Danae manipulates a lot of people with kisses in these stories. It made me uncomfortable.

TEHANI:
Yeah. Despite the efforts to show women in positions of power, and able to WIELD that power, with Sephrenia, Xanetia, Ehlana, and even Aphrael/Danae herself and so on, there is still a lot of dodgy gender stuff going on.

ALEX:
Women and power… Ehlana comes into her own, but she does still get damsel’d – again. She shows herself quite resilient etc, but still… I’m really not sure what I think of Melidere. Great that she’s smart. Kinda fun the way she plays Stragen and all – you never see it but I have no doubt Stragen sees himself as a stud. Very uncomfortable about her manipulation of him into marriage. Urgh.

JO:
Yeah the gender stuff in these books really pissed me off by the end. SO MANY of the female characters are ‘strong’ because of their ability to manipulate the men around them. And do so ‘prettily’ so awww it’s actually ok. We got more ‘haha women are obsessed with marriage, poor men’ too.

ALEX:
Yes. Icky.

However and meanwhile, SEPHRENIA AND VANION 4EVA.

TEHANI:
They are so adorable! And I love that even though things get tough, they work things out. I also love they are a mature and completely lovely couple who appreciate and work with each others’ strengths!

ALEX:
And a Styric city! While there are some uncomfortable instances of racism that don’t get dealt with, I think this trilogy makes a sturdy – if, I don’t know, simplistic? – attempt at confronting it. Sparhawk confronting his own prejudices – being willing to protect meek and submissive Styrics but being affronted when they’re all assertive and happy – is a really nice moment.

JO:
Simplistic, definitely. But yes, at least it’s there.

TEHANI:
Yes! An excellently written scene. Very impressive to see this sort of examination of prejudice (however briefly) and the understanding that it can be unconscious and inherent to human nature, and challenging to deal with even when one is self-aware. Sparhawk’s conversation with Stragen where he says, “I just found something in myself that I don’t like.” is so short but encapsulates things very well.

ALEX:
Aw Sparhawk. Poor darling. Also? Older man learning about himself and still growing as a person? That is awesome.

JO:
Yes, very good point! That’s not something you usually see, is it. Older men are so often described as set in their ways etc. That’s a part of Sparhawk’s character I’d not noticed before. And it’s nice that he can be strong in ways like this, not just chopping off heads, but emotionally too.

TEHANI:
I particularly like how this comes around again later, when Vanion confronts Sephrenia about her behaviour towards the Delphae, and he says, “Nobody’s different! We have to believe that, because if we don’t, we deny our own humanity as well.”

ALEX:
And Sephrenia’s whole arc for the last novel or so is dealing with her prejudice against Xanetia and the Delphae.

That said, a “universal sisterhood of all women”?? Uh. No. Not until a lot of other issues are dealt with.

JO:
I have a BIG issue with Xanetia that I’d not noticed before, but this re-reading really hammered it home. She and her ability to read people’s minds are just one big plot device. After all the machinations and the foreshadowing, how do we bring the conspiracy out into the open? Xanetia reads people’s minds. BAM. How convenient.

I like her relationship with Sephrenia and the growth that Sephrenia goes through, but Xanetia herself… she’s just there to tell everyone who the bad guy really is so the story can progress. And it’s a revelation that isn’t earned, at all.

ALEX:
I quite like Xanetia – she’s kind of taken Sephrenia’s role as serene and helpful lady, in this series, because Sephrenia gets a bit more development. But yes, the mind-reading is a leedle too convenient.

JO:
Oh don’t get me wrong, I *like* Xanetia, because she’s an Eddings character so how can you not? I just find her mind reading abilities and their place in the plot a little bit of a cop-out. Same can be said for Bhelliom’s ability to jump around the world in the blink of an eye, but that doesn’t stop it being hilarious and cool.

ALEX:
Also meanwhile, I heart Bhlokw. And the Troll-Gods as a collective.

TEHANI:
They definitely grow on you! I really enjoyed how much more intelligent they are by the end than they are first presented. In fact, Eddings was actually rather clever there – when we first meet trolls, they are scarcely more than animals, but by the end of the series we have come to realise they are a complex culture with a firm religious beliefs and a strong sense of right and wrong. Fascinating really, if you’re looking at it from a tolerance and acceptance point of view…

JO:
Or he hadn’t thought that far ahead and just kinda shoe-horns the trolls into that role… but hey, maybe I’m a cynic.

TEHANI:
The whole religion thing in this trilogy is much more in-depth than in the Elenium I thought. There was more exploration of the idea that Danae is actually a goddess, but one among many, and that the gods and goddesses of Styricum are quite different from the other religions as well. I found some of the discussion, particularly pertaining to the Elene god, rather interesting.

ALEX:
There’s definitely more about religion here. The bits about the exquisite politeness between them – how hard it was to get the Atan god in the right frame of mind – is mostly endearing.

TEHANI:
The discussion of slavery in this series (focussed around the Atans and Mirtai in particular) is interesting. On one hand, that Atans are effectively a slave race, yet they are self-governing and pretty much are the means by which the Tamul empire works. However, Mirtai’s experience in slavery outside of this context was pretty horrific. I’m not sure how to unpack that juxtaposition.

ALEX:
It made me quite uncomfortable a lot of the time. The idea that the Atans had put themselves into slavery to look after themselves seemed way too disingenuous… and the fact that they basically rule themselves and that the ‘slavery’ is largely titular does nothing to make it feel better. Because SLAVERY. And as you say, it does lead to Mirtai having a seriously awful set of experiences.

JO:
Yeah, I agree with you there. It always made me feel uncomfortable. They whole “oh but they WANT to be slaves! They’re better off that way. No really, see if they weren’t slaves they’d all kill each other” made my skin crawl.

TEHANI:
It was good to see Eddings didn’t skip the class issues in this trilogy either. Khalad takes Kurik’s role in examining the nobility, but there are lots of instances where peasants are underestimated and aristocrats proven silly. Does it go too far, do you think?

ALEX:
I think it does, mostly because Our Heroes are almost all nobly born but they’re not idiots – which just adds to their exceptionalism. Which is now so overloaded it’s groaning.

JO:
Aristocrats who aren’t knights are usually the silly ones. Funny that.

ALEX:
Do you know, I don’t think I’d picked up that differentiation! and you are so right!!

TEHANI:
I originally read these trilogies in the wrong order, with the Tamuli first, and I still think that Eddings did a really great job with them. I didn’t ever feel when reading that I didn’t know the characters and it was never a problem figuring out what had gone before, or the dynamics of the relationships. Not because Eddings over-explained, but because the characters are so well-drawn. Take Kurik and Khalad for example. They essentially play the same role in the two trilogies, but they are still distinct people (and it’s lovely that Sparhawk never stops missing Kurik throughout the books). That’s not easy to achieve with a large cast.

JO:
It still breaks my brain that you read them out of order!

ALEX:
Me too!! That’s just… inconceivable  ;)

Anyway – it would have been so easy to treat Kurik as “hey, remember that guy?” I’m so glad the Eddingses didn’t. I really like Khalad.

JO:
And the brief moment where we get to see Kurik again… *sniff*

TEHANI:
The way Bhelliom slowly grew a personality was sweet – I particularly liked the scene where Sparhawk has it create a wall to stop the trolls, and when Sparhawk compliments the wall, it gets all self-deprecating. I also enjoyed the point where Aphrael realises that it seems Bhelliom had actually manipulated her into the events of the world, rather than her machinations being at her own instigation.

ALEX:
Oh I do love Bhelliom. Referring to the Earth as its child is so cute! And that brief SF moment of showing other worlds, and the alien soldiers they’re fighting, is quite weird. The discussions of origins is fun.

JO:
Oh me too! Love how it starts off all formal and uber-god-like, but Sparhawk and the gang rub off on it. Soon enough its cracking jokes. Pure Eddings.

TEHANI:
Some favourite quotes:

“I wish she wouldn’t do that,” Stragen complained.
“What’s the problem?” Kalten asked him.
“She makes it seem as if the light in her eyes is the sun streaming in through the hole in the back of her head. I know she’s far more clever than that. I hate dishonest people.”
“You?”
“Let it lie, Kalten.” (Domes of Fire)

 

“Is she speaking for all of us?” Talen whispered to Berit. “I didn’t really have a girlhood, you know.” (Domes of Fire)

 

“You’re all just itching for the chance to do Elenish things to those border guards.”
“Did you want to do Elenish things to people, Ulath?” Kalten asked mildly.
“I was suggesting constructive Elenishism before we even got here.” (The Shining Ones)

 

“Thine Elenes are droll and frolicsome, Sephrenia of Ylara,” Xanetia said.
“I know, Anarae,” Sephrenia sighed. “It’s one of the burdens I bear.” (The Shining Ones)

 

“Knights, your Grace,” Komier mildly corrected his countryman. “We’re called Knights now. We used to be brigands, but now we’re behaving ourselves.” (The Hidden City)

 

ALEX:
omg I loved that we got more of the Preceptors in these books. Also eeee Bergsten!

JO:
Personally, I never understood the ending. Would you really give up godlike powers to live a normal life? I mean REALLY? Maybe that’s just me, but that’s never rung true to me. Hmm superamazingmagic or your ‘humanity’. I’ll take the powers thank you very much. (My husband informs me that yes, this is probably just me…)

TEHANI:
He knows you well…

ALEX:
It would have been a very different book if that had happened; Sparhawk would not have been the hero we know if he had kept the powers. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read that book, but I think it would have been super jarring. For all he’s awesome etc, there is an effort to make him at least a little humble, and certainly content with his station in life. Staying a godlike being would have been a serious curve ball.

JO:
Maybe I should change that to – I never understood Sparhawk’s choice at the end. I mean yeah, totally works from a character and story telling point of view but… god-like powers man! I’d keep ‘em :D

TEHANI:
So the verdict? Clearly we still loved the experience of reading these novels again — not just a nostalgia trip but a genuine pleasure. And yet, with the weight of experience and a few years, we also can clearly see there are problematic elements with the books that we may not have noticed when we first fell in love with them, or they may not have seemed quite so concerning then. Is it okay to like books even though they are flawed?

JO:
This is pretty much what we decided for the first three, wasn’t it? Yep, flawed but still so much fun. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to like any media AND be aware of its flaws at the same time. I know that a big part of it for me is that I read these at just the right time and fell so completely in love with them. That feeling stays with me, flaws and all.

ALEX:
As you say, I think that loving any problematic thing is ok – we’re women, we kinda have to be ok with it on some level, right? Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out the flaws and work for things to be better, but nothing is going to be perfect and accepting that can sometimes be ok… I think? I hope so. Because while I may never read these again (although I wouldn’t rule it out!), this has been a fun ride.

 

Nov 07

Guest Post – Keith Stevenson and Horizon

I’m honoured to have Keith Stevenson, author, publisher, editor-extraordinaire, visiting to talk about his book Horizon (out now from HarperVoyager Impulse!) In particular I asked Keith to talk about FTL travel in his novel, because where would SF be without it?

Take it away Keith!

HorizoneCOV_Horizon_C2D2 — Engage: Tinkering With a Quantum Drive

I’d like to thank Joanne for giving over some space on her blog for the Horizon Blog Tour.

Horizon is my debut science fiction novel published by HarperVoyager Impulse. It’s an SF thriller centred on a deep space exploration mission that goes very wrong, with repercussions for the future of all life on Earth.

While the main focus of the story is the tense drama that plays out between the crew in the cramped confines of the ship, a lot of the grunt work in good science fiction goes into imagining exactly how the ‘props’ that support the main action could actually function.

When I imagined the mission of the explorer ship Magellan to the Iota Persei star system thirty-four light years from our own planet, I knew I had to work out how the ship could get there. I wanted the trip to be short enough so the crew would still be relatively young when they reached their destination. That meant they had to travel at an appreciable percentage of the speed of light. It also meant the ship needed access to considerable amounts of energy in order to accelerate to that kind of speed and maintain it for the length of the journey.

The availability of fuel is a major limiting factor for any journey beyond the ‘small’ volume of space around our own solar system. There are no service stations in the interstellar void, and the problem with having a huge fuel tank is that a lot of the fuel is used up just moving the fuel. NASA estimates if you wanted to send a space shuttle to the nearest star to our sun using current rocket technology, you’d need more mass in fuel than currently exists in the universe. And even if you did find enough fuel it would take 900 years to get there.

So I had to cast around for a powerful source of readily available energy the ship could tap into. Luckily it seems the vacuum of space is full of energy, if you know how to find and extract it.

Zero-point energy is one of the effects predicted by quantum theory, an idea so mind-bending it can argue strongly that a cat inside a box is both alive and dead at the same time. This theory also predicts that each cubic centimetre of ‘empty’ space actually contains enormous amounts of randomly fluctuating energy.

The effects of zero-point energy can be observed in the laboratory, most notably in the Casimir effect which creates an attractive force between two plates that are close together. Scientists believe the attraction is due to the closeness of the plates excluding certain wavelengths of zero-point energy (because they’re too big to fit between the gap). As a result the energy density between the plates is lower than the energy density around the plates and this energy gradient pushes the plates together. See what I mean about the mind-bendy bit?

Another effect of zero-point energy is the Lamb shift which shows that zero-point energy fluctuations ‘shift’ electrons orbiting a nucleus into different — higher or lower energy — orbits.

Now a lot of this is ‘left-field’ science but Horizon is a work of fiction, so I’m happy to run a ‘what-if’ scenario for the good of the story.

The drive in Magellan takes advantage of these two observable effects of zero-point energy. Feeding molecules into a tiny tube, a buckytube, cuts those molecules off from some of the zero-point wavelengths (the Casimir effect) which means the electrons fall into a lower energy orbit (the Lamb shift) and that ‘energy loss’ from the atom is harvested by the Magellan’s drive.

Here’s an extract from the novel describing the effect:

The drive chamber took up the rear quarter of the ship and fully two-fifths of its volume. Most of that was filled by the six huge plasma thrusters that channelled the engine’s output. Cocooned in space suits, Cait and Harris stood on the gantry running along the midline of the rear wall. The vast superstructure surrounded them, and out past the thrusters lay the infinite. The starfield crowded into an ellipse, as if viewed through a thick lens. Cait knew that at this speed the view was blue-shifted as well, but she couldn’t tell the difference. The combined effect made her feel like an ant clinging to a very small ledge.

Her eyes drifted back to the featureless black heart of the drive. Their survival depended on balance — macro and quantum, thrust and inertia. The black box was the fulcrum, fed by the vacuum surrounding it. On one hand, it sucked hydrogen atoms into its nanotubes, cut them off from the quantum wavelengths that kept them spinning, and fed the energy released to the huge plasma thrusters. And on the other, it generated a quantum field that enhanced the push and decreased the inertia just enough so the harnesses could absorb the residual V-shift from the drive pulses. Exactly 189 x 1030 bucky-tubes sat inside the box, cycling ten times that number of hydrogen atoms through every second. The processing power to keep it balanced was tremendous, and it all relied on the proper functioning of the neural network that made up the Phillips persona.

‘If this crashes in a heap, we won’t know what hit us,’ she said into the suit mic.

‘If this crashes in a heap, I’ll quit my job.’

So where do the molecules come from? Hydrogen is present everywhere in space, but perhaps not in the quantities required to drive the ship, although recently there’s been reports of rivers of hydrogen flowing through the galaxy. However Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle implies that particles are continually popping into and out of existence even in the vacuum of space, and that may mean there are enough particles at any given instant to be harvested by Magellan. It’s also possible that the ship recycles the harvested particles, releasing them from the buckytubes to be ‘re-energised’ by the zero-point energy wavelengths before being fed back into the tubes.

More recently NASA has been looking at a different kind of zero-point energy drive, manipulating the connection between mass and spacetime to lower inertia through an interaction with the zero-point energy fields and somehow drive the ship forward. And then there are theories around harnessing cosmic background radiation, dark energy and dark matter that go way beyond the counter-intuitive drive of the Magellan. If your mind was bent before, this new stuff will leave it well and truly twisted.

Follow the Horizon Blog Tour

3 November — Extract of Horizon Voyager blog

4 November — Character Building: Meet the Crew — Trent Jamieson’s blog

5 November — Welcome to Magellan: Inside the Ship — Darkmatter

6 November — Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow — Lee Battersby’s blog

7 November — Engage: Tinkering With a Quantum Drive — Joanne Anderton’s blog

10 November — Stormy Weather: Facing Down Climate Change — Ben Peek’s blog

11 November — Time Travel: Relatively Speaking — Rjurik Davidson’s blog 

12 November — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman — Alan Baxter’s blog

13 November — From the Ground Up: Building a Planet — Sean Wright’s blog

14 November — Life Persists: Finding the Extremophile — Greig Beck’s Facebook page

17 November — Interview — Marianne De Pierres’ blog

Keith Stevenson is a science fiction author, editor, publisher and reviewer. His debut novel Horizon is available as an ebook via http://www.harpercollins.com.au/books/Horizon-Keith-Stevenson/?isbn=9781460704653

His blog is at http://keithstevensonwriter.blogspot.com.

 

Aug 04

Eddings Reread! The Sapphire Rose

EDDINGS RE-READ: The Sapphire Rose, BOOK THREE OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Alex, Tehani and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Alex’s post over here and Tehani’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!

The Diamond Throne reread is here

The Ruby Knight reread is here

ALEX:
Almost the very first page of this book has an Author’s Note, which says that the wife wants to write the dedication. And “since she’s responsible for much of the work,” he’s going to let her. Why don’t you just acknowledge the co-authorship, DUDE?

JO:
I don’t see the ‘David Eddings’ on the covers any more. In my mind, it’s ‘David and Leigh’ :)

TEHANI:
Of course, when I first read these I had no idea, but since finding out, it’s been an annoyance every time I picked up one of the books.

Also, I think this is the first of the books where we see a really intrusive breaking of the fourth wall by the author/s? For example:

The appearance of the detachment at the gate was, in Preceptor – ah, shall we say instead Patriarch – Darellon’s words, disgraceful. (p. 155 of my version).

ALEX:
The descriptions of Ehlana, who gets cured of the poison in this book, are beyond horrid. There’s “overpowering femininity,” and women being “notoriously adept” at recognising things like a ring being an engagement ring (did I miss that seminar? How DO you tell that a ring is an engagement ring? How do I know whether I’ve been stooged?). Ehlana is unbearable smug about “netting” Sparhawk. I will admit that the point about wavering between wanting to flaunt her “womanly attributes” and wanting to hide them is fair – and even perceptive – but it’s surrounded by so much URGH. And I’d like to say that I, for one, am glad that Sparhawk tried to get out of their marriage. I know that 17 years’ difference doesn’t HAVE to be a barrier, but there is SUCH a difference between the two of them.

TEHANI:
By the end of this book, I was starting to get an uncomfortable feeling about the number of very young girls who become obsessed with older men. And Aphrael’s manipulation with kisses is most disturbing!

JO:
Oh yes that’s definitely a thing in these books.

ALEX:
urgh.

JO:
And we meet Mirtai! Isn’t she an interesting character? Super-strong, super-warrior who is quite happy to be a slave. In fact, she insists on it.

TEHANI:
Mirtai is such a contradiction! Not always deliberately on the author’s part, I think… This bit really got up my nose on this reread though:

Mirtai’s skin had a peculiarly exotic bronze tinge to it, and her braided hair was glossy black. In a woman of normal size, her features would have been considered beautiful, and her dark eyes, slightly upturned at the corners, ravishing. Mirtai, however, was not of normal size. (p. 324 of my version)

SO. MUCH. WRONG. To begin, what the heck is “normal size”? And the “exotic” bronze tinge of skin and “slightly upturned eyes”? ARGH!

JO:
I should probably leave this discussion for Domes of Fire, because there’s not much Mirtai in The Sapphire Rose.

ALEX:
Jo – indeed – but yes, that exoticising is repellant. And the whole ‘normal size’ thing makes me cross-eyed.

In the last book there was the issue of being ‘misshapen’. I couldn’t help but notice that in this one, when the Pandions are being domineering of the Elenian council, there’s the pederast Baron and Lenda and “the fat man”. Does the fat man ever get named? Fat isn’t entirely an evil thing like deformity is, in these books – Platime is fat but approaches genius-ness on the council, Patriarch Emban is very clever, and both of them are good – but it’s still always mentioned. There’s barely a reference to Emban without mention of his belly. And he uses that sometimes – to defuse tension, for instance – but I’m still not entirely comfortable with it.

TEHANI:
That’s interesting though, because both Platime and Emban are important, good characters – not presented as useless or bad people, and so I guess I read that as subverting the trope? Although there is Otha…

JO:
Even though Platime and Emban are good and important characters, their ‘fatness’ is mentioned a lot. Like it’s a personality trait.

TEHANI:
Very true.

ALEX:
Speaking of the council, I would like to declare my sympathy for Lycheas. He’s a dimwit and a pawn, but surely he deserves sympathy.

TEHANI:
Oh, I disagree! He’s not very bright and he’s been led astray I accept, but I think he knew he was doing wrong, and there were times he could have chosen another path. He was as hungry for power as the rest of them!

ALEX:
Hmm. Perhaps. How much choice did he have with a mother like that probably poisoning him from the start? (If we accept the premise of the story.) … oh wait, does that shoot my theory down, at least somewhat, given that is probably exactly the reason why he’s hungry for power? Dang.

JO:
I think the Eddings set him up to be disliked, and he simply has no say in the matter. He’s always portrayed as snivelling and pathetic and stupid. He may or may not be hungry for power, it doesn’t matter. He’s there to be a lesser baddy that everyone can look down on and routinely threaten to kill.

ALEX:
You’re saying he’s just a narrative device? SAY IT AINT SO.

A rather chilling part of this novel is the utter lack of regard for the civilians in Chyrellos, during the siege. It was really quite unpleasant reading.

JO:
I find the siege so boring I have to say that never really bothered me. The scene that does stick in my mind is when Sparhawk and an unnamed soldier witness a woman dragged into an alley and quite obviously raped (though thankfully off camera). The soldier, crying because she ‘could have been his sister’ shoots the rapist. But then the woman staggers out of the alley, sees her not-quite-dead rapist, takes his dagger and violently finishes the job and steals his loot. The soldier ‘retches’ and Sparhawk says “Nobody’s very civilised in those circumstances”.

This scene was always a WTF moment for me. When you consider Sparhawk’s career, what about her actions make them ‘uncivilised’, exactly? He does much worse things to people and is rewarded for them! Is it because she’s a woman? Or because she’s not a Church Knight and it’s okay when they do it. Or because she took the loot? I mean, seriously…?

ALEX:
Yes!! This!! I was so ANGRY at that reaction from the men – who are safe on so many levels from this sort of thing – getting all uppity about her taking revenge. I don’t like her doing it either, but I don’t like the initial rape even more.

I cried at Kurik’s funeral. Not at his death – that all happened too fast, I think – but when I got to the funeral…well, I was glad to be by myself. However, I am still suspicious of the idea of Aslade being quite so accommodating of Elys.

JO:
Kurik *sniff* :(

TEHANI:
And you know, none of that business really makes sense. Kurik is portrayed as steadfast, loyal, moral and really quite upright (even uptight?), so the fact he cheated on Aslade (and their four sons, essentially) is, well, just a bit weird. It was a useful way to have Talen important to the group, I guess, but the character path is very odd.

ALEX:
YES. Also it makes adultery completely fine, which… I know there are other ways of doing relationships than ‘conventional’ monogamy, etc etc, but not within THIS world’s framework – everyone else who does that is regarded severely. Whereas Sparhawk etc are all, “dude, no worries! Everyone sleeps around sometime, the wimmens is so attractive we can’t help it!”

JO:
YES from me too. Never felt right to me for exactly those reasons.

TEHANI:
I do like the way the Kurik’s sons talk about their “mothers” in the later books though. That said, remembering I read the Tamuli trilogy first, I was quite certain Aslade and Elys had been both married to Kurik, the way they are referred to there!

JO:
Heh yes. I can imagine. Although I was always proud of Aslade and Elys for being able to put aside their potential conflict and just get on with life. So often the relationships between women are portrayed as bitchy, jealous, spiteful things. And usually its over the attention of a man. So I appreciate that they went down the opposite path.

Actually, in the Tamuli there are a lot more examples of strong female friendship too.

TEHANI:
Some more perpetuation of stereotypes here, too. In this case, the temper of the red-head:

In Delada’s case all the cliches about red-haired people seemed to apply. (p. 282 of my version).

JO:
Yeah I thought they got a little carried away with that!

TEHANI:
And what the heck is this bit of elitism? Stragen says, Whores and thieves aren’t really very stimulating companions… (p. 410 of my version). Um, well Talen and Platime AND HIMSELF are thieves and all presented as quite stimulating! The whores get a poorer presentation, but still!

ALEX:
That bit also made me very cranky. Again with the superior attitude.

TEHANI:
And this awful bit of Ehlana characterisation:

“Would you all mind too terribly much?” Ehlana asked them in a little-girl sort of voice.

YUCK! The woman is a queen, and fully in command of herself and the power she wields, yet she resorts to that (for no reason, anyway!)?! No! We talked a bit about this in one of the earlier reviews, how the women themselves are supposed to be powerful, and there are quite a lot of them, which is nice, but the actual presentation of them really undermines this at times.

JO:
Yes! This is what’s been irritating me the whole time, and it only gets worse as the series goes on. Doesn’t matter how strong a woman is, she still resorts to hissy fits and theatrics or childishness to either get what she wants, or basically keep control of the ‘relationship’. Even Sephrenia does it in the later books! It just feels to me like the books believe that deep down, women are irrational children. OR that they will resort to acting like them as a way of keeping their men in line.

JO:
Am I the only one who finds Ehlana’s speech to the council a little…difficult to believe. All these supposedly hardened politicians/Patriarchs completely suckered in by her ‘divinely inspired’ speech? Just because she’s pretty, or something? And because she ‘fainted’?

TEHANI:
I have such a different view of the Patriarchs to you! I always read ANY of those political gatherings as being a bunch of little boys just grabbing for power, none of the “hardened” politicians at all! In fact, Eddings seems to have very little respect for political systems at all. They’re all corrupt or useless!

ALEX:
I don’t think they’re MEANT to look like that, but they sometimes do – and it’s another thing that annoys me about the Eddings portrayal of religion, because it’s JUST another instance of politics and again there’s so much uselessness and cunning and unpleasantness. Also, Ehlana manipulates them, and I think it manages to make her look silly – conniving and dangerous with the using feminine things in dangerous ways – AND it makes the Patriarchs look silly for falling for such obvious, feminine strategies. Way to go for insulting two groups there!

JO:
Last time I said that I found The Ruby Knight a lot faster-paced and more enjoyable than I remembered. I have to say the opposite for The Sapphire Rose. Oh god I was so sick of the siege by the time it ended, and it seemed to take forever to get to Zemoch. It felt like so much padding. Just destroy Azash already!

TEHANI:
Some excellent examples of Faran the human horse again:

Faran made a special point of grinding his steel-shod hooves into a number of very sensitive places on the officer’s body.

“Feel better now?” Sparhawk asked his horse.

Faran nickered wickedly. (p. 155 my version)

JO:
I could summarise the plot again but you probably don’t want me to do that this time!

They cure Ehlana. She’s all grown up now and in love with Sparhawk. They ‘accidently’ get engaged. Off to Chyrellos to stop Annias being elected Archprelate. There’s a siege which goes on forever. Then Wargun and Ehlana turn up and the siege is over. Ehlana and Sparhawk get married. They go to Zemoch with Bhelloim to kill Azash. It takes forever. They get to Zemoch. Kurik dies. Martel dies. Otha and Annias die. Azash dies. Lycheas dies. Arissa kills herself. They return to Cimmura. Everything’s peaceful, but kinda crappy, because the gods are shell-shocked by Azash’s death. Danae happens. Eventually, Aphrael and everyone go on holidays and spring returns.

ALEX:
Nice work there, Jo. I would add: Sparhawk and Ehlana get married in the same way that a person might buy a horse; Martel dies but everyone’s real sad, because actually he was decent and just led astray, y’know? And “Danae happens” means that a goddess is incarnate in a different racial family and that’s really kinda cool.

JO:
Heh, that’s awesome.

TEHANI:
Well, we’ve picked a lot of nits in the Elenium books, but final verdict on the first three? For me, I have to admit I still thoroughly enjoyed reading them, with grins and tears throughout, and the comfy blanket feeling of an old favourite that still (mostly) holds up. Although there were definitely a lot more grimaces at the rough patches than when I was younger!

ALEX:
I think I feel basically the same as you, Tehani. It really is a warm comfy blanket… with moth holes and a few scratchy bits… but a lot of love and memories holding it together.

JO:
Couldn’t agree more! I might snipe at them, but I still love these books and rereading them has been thoroughly comforting. It also reminds me what I love about reading and writing in the first place. It’s just so much fun!

 

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