skygiants: Drosselmeyer's old pages from Princess Tutu, with text 'rocks fall, everyone dies, the end' (endings are heartless)
After The Hidden City, which I loved, City of Night feels like kind of like a marking-time book - mostly because it's conveyed pretty early on that the entire movement of the story is Rath getting to the point three-quarters of the way through the book where he can write this letter:

Dear Sister,

I know we haven't spoken at all in the decades since I flounced out when you decided to leave home and be awesome, but as I have received ten million supernatural portents of doom telling me that I'm going to die by the end of the book, I thought I should let you know that I am bequeathing you my pet psychic street urchin and her wacky gang of misfits. Please feed them and take them for walks regularly.

(If you want, you can also have my collection of maps to the demon-haunted undercity and my wig collection.)

Love and kisses,

Up to this point, the book is mostly composed of Jewel and her gang of street urchins worrying about money, people telling Rath that if he ~continues on his dangerous course~ he's going to die by the end of the book, and Rath explaining what his plans are for dying at the end of the book.

After this point things get significantly more exciting and often heartbreaking! Which is pretty impressive of Michelle West, given that Rath has already explained most of what is going to happen and the rest has appeared in flashbacks in the Sun Sword books. And despite its marking-time feeling, the book is still enjoyable, but I am definitely more looking forward to the next one, which looks to focus a lot more on one of those story-tropes that I have a secret guilty fondness for: Street Urchins Transplanted Into Luxury Have Culture Clash, Must Learn Table Manners.
skygiants: Azula from Avatar: the Last Airbender with her hands on Mai and Ty Lee's shoulders (team hardcore)
So actually I think The Hidden City is my favorite Michelle West book so far! Maybe it's just that I've gotten used to her style, or maybe it was just kind of a relief to have just one plotline and set of characters to keep track of . . . or maybe it was just that I am primed to find stories about cold brooding amoral gentlemen who abruptly find themselves in charge of the education of a gaggle of small children hilarious. ([ profile] varadia, I am looking at you!)

So the plotline of the book basically goes like this:

RATH: I used to be noble, but I have BACKSTORY ANGST that mean I have repudiated my family and have spent twenty years in the slums as a RUTHLESS AMORAL CRIMINAL!
BECCA: So what do you do that's so ruthless and amoral, Rath?
RATH: I SELL . . . . illegitimate antiques.
BECCA: Oh, bless.
RATH: SOMETIMES I HAVE TO KILL PEOPLE WHEN I'M SELLING THOSE ANTIQUES OKAY. Anyway, this small child just stole my wallet! I WILL HUNT HER DOWN . . . and take her home and feed her.
JEWEL: Uh, I don't trust you, strange man, but, um, thanks for the food! I'll go back to living under the bridge now.
RATH: Oh my god you have a fever of a hundred and street urchin, YOUNG LADY YOU ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE . . . I mean, am kicking you out just as soon as you're not sick anymore. Whatever.
JEWEL: . . . okay?
BECCA: Oh, bless.

JEWEL: So, uh, Rath, I picked up these other street urchins and they need food and I kind of saved this one's life and, uh, can I keep them? :D I've got extra space in my room?
RATH: . . .
JEWEL: I mean, I'll get it if you're mad, I can just leave . . .
RATH: OH MY GOD, fine. As long as they stay in your room and don't bother me.
JEWEL: Okay, and now I'm going to go rescue some more kids from a demon-controlled brothel!
RATH: Jewel. You are ten. You cannot single-handedly rescue kids from a demon-controlled brothel.
JEWEL: Yes but I have to try!
RATH: OH MY GOD, okay, FINE, I will help you rescue the kids from a brothel. Because otherwise YOU WILL DIE.
JEWEL: Thanks Rath! :D
RATH: . . . and now they're all coming to live with us, aren't they.
JEWEL: Um, now there are ten of us and my room is getting kind of crowded, so can I also use the room next door?

DUSTER: I am seriously damaged! Demons want to recruit me to be their pet killer! Also, I am a twelve-year-old-girl.
JEWEL: Hi Duster, let's be friends! :D
DUSTER: Thanks for rescuing me, but also, I hate you for having an easier life than me, and kind of want revenge on the whole world.
JEWEL: You can be a killer, Duster. That's okay! But you're going to be my killer. I WILL BE THE SHEATH TO YOUR KNIFE. subtext what subtext
BECCA: So the most important relationship of the second half of the book is between an idealistic charismatic girl and a cold scary amoral girl?
RATH: Did I mention my backstory angst is basically just about how my sister was so hardcore and awesome and I will never forgive her . . . because she was so awesome and then she left the family and none of us will ever be as awesome as her! ;_; SISTER.
BECCA: Michelle West, I love you and your awesome ladies for all time.

(I should probably mention in reccing this book that a.) it is A BRICK and b.) that there is stuff at the end that is likely to be seriously triggery, and that would have bothered me a lot more if the focus was not so very much on the relationship between Jewel and Duster, and on the girls' agency.)
skygiants: Azula from Avatar: the Last Airbender with her hands on Mai and Ty Lee's shoulders (team hardcore)
Last week I finished Michelle West's The Sun Sword, which is the sixth and final book of the Sun Sword series, which I started in . . . March of last year, wow. Anyway, that means I can now write up the series as a whole!

The Sun Sword has approximately a million plot threads, only about 40% of which are actually resolved in the series. In some ways I liked this a lot, because it contributed to the sense of a very real world with a lot of history and a lot of complex characters; in other ways, for obvious reasons, it was kind of frustrating. (I am kind of impressed by the ballsiness of Michelle West taking most of an entire book on the epic quest to RECOVER A FORGOTTEN BURIED CITY AND ITS POWERFUL MAGIC, and then being like "aaaaand that city is not actually important to this particular storyline and half of those characters are going to spend the rest of the series offscreen there. Tune in later and maybe I'll have a plotline for it! :D")

BUT ANYWAY. The main plotlines that are the focus of the series are as follows:

This is cut for length, not spoilers really! )

If you read through all of that, you might have noticed something. If what you noticed is that they all involve powerful and interesting women, and none of these women are powerful and interesting because of who they are romantically involved with: go you, you get a prize!

Basically, there are two things that I really love about this series. One is the really interesting and complex and thoughtful way that it portrays the difference between cultures and the inevitable complications that result without giving undue weight to one side or the other, which is extra-impressive given that two of the cultures clearly align much more with contemporary Western values than the other does. The other is the enormous diversity of women wielding different kinds of power, most of whom are - even more impressively - driven by their ties to other women! I genuinely can't think of another series that is anywhere near as awesome in this regard. Which is why, even though the writing style is sometimes a bit tortured, the constant angst can verge on over-the-top, and even a week after finishing I am still kind of completely confused by the whirl of plotlines, I am absolutely going to keep reading Michelle West.
skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
I am pretty sure most of my thoughts on Michelle West's The Riven Shield (fifth book in the Sun Sword series) are highly spoilery, so basically [ profile] elspeth_vimes is the only one who will have interest in much of this entry. Suffice to say: the series is I think still getting stronger as it goes, and even though I occasionally get lost in all the politics of who is what is where is aligning with whom, I can finally see things building to some kind of conclusion. Also, this is the most amazingly culture-clash-y book yet, which I love! And spoilers. )

IN OTHER NEWS: [ profile] areyoumymemmy linked to this beauty last night, and I - I don't even have words. Andrew Lloyd Webber. Andrew. Lloyd. Webber. Everything points to a production beyond my WILDEST DREAMS OF RIDICULOUS. *_*

Spoilers for Phantom 2: Love Never Dies! )

skygiants: Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms, sword drawn (sword in hand)
I just finished Michelle West's Sea of Sorrows; four books in, the series continues to focus amazingly on the ways in which women hold power, which is a thing I continue to really appreciate!

The first half of the book was a bit scattered - the Ospreys are doing some stuff here! and the Voyani are doing some other stuff there! and Jewel's gang are over here! and the demons are doing some stuff too! and here's Valedan! and here's Kiriel the angstiest eighty-page fight scene known to man! and and - and it all felt a bit like getting pieces in place for the next book, but I kind of loved the second half, aka Diora and Teresa and Jewel and Avandar and Margret and Elena and Kallandras and a magic elf and a magic stag and bunch of Voyani GO ON A FIELD TRIP. Uh, more specifically, I really liked the focus on the relationship between Diora and Margret as they learn to appreciate each other and the different-but-not-bad rules for being powerful women in their cultures - and by the way, dude, you can't tell me I am not supposed to be shipping them. Margret spends about 50% of her time thinking about how beautiful Diora is, and Diora keeps going on about how much Margret reminds her of one of her tragically dead wives, and the amount of time they spend musing on the texture of each other's skin whenever they have to take hands for whatever reason is - well, it's a lot of time! And spoilers! )

My glee, however, was a little bit harshed when I went to Amazon to link to the book and stumbled over this review:

Anybody picking up a book by a female fantasy writer knows not to expect much. As a rule anything on the physical world will tend to be sketchy. Anything to do with war and combat will be flat, with pretty colors. On the upside, female fantasy authors will generally have interesting characters, set in interesting cultures. Too, they will devote some attention to their writing style.

Thank you for your incisive generalizations, mystery Amazon reviewer! Yes, I am sure every single book written by a female fantasy author does conform to your rules. EVERY ONE.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (costume drama)
First things first: while I kind of suck at remembering birthdays in general (seriously, I will disappoint - in fact I just remembered a good friend whose birthday was four days ago that I forgot! BECAUSE I SUCK) there is one person's birthday that I always remember! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, [ profile] cupenny! You and me know why this day is worthy of fireworks, and it's not because of some dude who failed to blow up Parliament. :D

Secondly: booklogging! I just finished The Shining Court, the third book in Michelle West's Sun Sword series, and I think it is my favorite so far. If The Uncrowned King centered on AU Fantasy Olympics, The Shining Court takes as its centerpiece AU Fantasy Mardi Gras. Demons are planning to do SOMETHING EVIL on the festival night involving cursed masks and the Winter Queen and worlds meeting and a crazy mage and honestly I was kind of confused as to what exactly their diabolical plan was and how Our Heroes thwarted it, but that's okay, because at least I could get that the characters were busy being awesome! More specific thoughts and vague spoilers! ) The books still have their flaws, but their strengths are still very much their strengths, and moreso in this volume, where even more than before pretty much everything revolves around women and their relationships with other women, and the obvious and subtle ways that they hold power.

And, speaking of, I have a question for you guys! Okay, so we know that many characters in fiction are motivated by revenge. For female characters, I feel like that revenge tends to be for either personal trauma (assault, often sexual) or for dead dudes - husbands, fathers, sons. And dudes are always going around swearing revenge for their dead girlfriends or wives, but they're just as often avenging fathers and brothers and BFF-buddies, too. I could be wrong, but I feel like it's rare for women to be motivated by revenge for other women. Diora from these books is one very strong example; if I remember correctly Gelis in the House of Niccolo series is another, though I haven't gotten up to her books yet so I might be wrong. But those are about the only two I can think of - can you guys think of any other examples of women who are acting to avenge other women? Are there a million and I'm just crazy?
skygiants: Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms, sword drawn (sword in hand)
It's been several months since I read the first book in Michelle West's Sun Sword series and I was sort of worried I was going to have forgotten everything that happened by the time I finally got to the second one, but fortunately that does not seem to be the case!

It helps that Book 2, The Uncrowned King, focuses entirely on the North (though that means it is going to be even harder when we get back to the South and I CAN'T REMEMBER WHO ANYONE IS. Except Teresa and Diora. Because Teresa and Diora are awesome.) It also manages to be astoundingly action-packed for a book whose main plot is basically "our Hero has decided to Prove Himself . . . by entering the FANTASYLAND OLYMPICS! \o/" The fact that there's an attempt on somebody's life every other page, usually by means of a demon attack, does liven things up a bit.

I still can't quite decide whether I feel like West is telling me too much, or too little. The writing can be a bit frustrating in that pretty much character has an immensely complex backstory that she rarely explains in full, but the bits that she does explain, she references every time that character shows. I have to admit I got kind of sick of hearing about Famous Swordmaster's Tragic Dead Wife, YES, IT IS VERY SAD AND HE IS VERY SCARRED BY IT, I GET IT. On the other hand, the fallout between Devon and Jewel was given so much narrative importance that I kept feeling like there must have been some description of their backstory that I missed, but I an pretty sure that is not actually the case. There were also several unfortunate cases of "this character is awesome! SO every other character will talk about it at GREAT LENGTH," most fatally in the case of Jewel. I really like Jewel! And thus, I completely get that Jewel is a great person without everyone else taking lots of pages to stand around talking about it. (Valedan also suffers from a lot from this.) I also have absolutely no idea at this point what the hell is Evayne's deal and I'm not sure if I'm supposed to or not!

On the other hand, the fact that everyone has their own personal backstory and web of complicated relationships makes the world feel very complex and real and interesting, relationships between ladies keep on being extremely important to the narrative (although not as much, sadly, as in the first book - I'm excited to get back to that in the next!) and the finale was a kind of gloriously hilariously transcendent Guy Love-fest, and I am not ashamed to say that the final 100-page stretch was pretty un-put-downable.

Next book, I hope to see Valedan, Alina, Jewel, Kiriel and the Ospreys on a WACKY KINGDOM-CONQUERING ROAD TRIP. And more Serra Teresa!
skygiants: Azula from Avatar: the Last Airbender with her hands on Mai and Ty Lee's shoulders (team hardcore)
Michelle West's The Broken Crown is the first book in The Sun Sword, A Big Fat Fantasy Series. Cons: it has severalt of the flaws common to the Big Fat Fantasy Series. Pros: it has some merits that are not at all common to the Big Fat Fantasy Series. Also, said series is actually completed!

The flaws: First of all, there are a lot of characters. They have a lot of names. Many of these names are very similar. A lot of them involve the classic Fantasy Novel Apostraphes. I had a lot of trouble remembering who was Amara and who was Amaya and who belonged to the one region but had a noble last name that had nothing to do with that region but was unfortunately similar to the noble last name from the other region. Also, the author has the bad habit of often taking time to remind the reader of events that happened right in the previous chapter. Those are not the things I was confused about! And much of the book is pretty clearly setup for Dramatic Things That Will Happen Later In the Series, and the first hundred pages are setup for the setup with characters that we will never see again, which is why it took me a hundred and fifty or two hundred pages to get into the book at all.

The merits: The thing that makes this really stand out from other Big Fat Fantasy Series that I have read is how much of the plot is spurred by, and centered around, relationships among women. And I don't just mean the kind of badass sword-slinging women that you get in most fantasy sagas these days. Most of the plot in this book takes place in a very strict and regulated society where the standard family unit is 1 nobleman::1 head wife::small harem of secondary wives/concubines - and instead of being fetish-y and creepy, as these setups often can be, the book really focuses on the bonds that grow up between the women of the household, how they form intense relationships and a community that is as or more important than their relationship with their husband, and how despite not being recognized as having any authority they can wield power in a number of subtle ways. Also, though there is sort of a destiny thing going on, it is all about choices! Many times choices that women make that quite often do not have anything to do with who they will sleep with! Which is, overall, kind of awesome. I am sure that some would accuse Diora, the main character, of being a Mary Sue - seeing as she is the most beautiful woman in the country and also possessed of secret magic powers! - but I really like her relationships with other women and her difficult decisions and the ways in which she manages to manipulate her status. And the author does a very good job of showing a society that is completely different from ours, and involves a lot of things that we would consider terrible injustices, without vilifying it. By which I mean that there aren't any people running around with suspiciously modern sensibilities all out of tune with their cultures going 'this is all wrong! FREEEEDOM!' as happens in so many fantasy and historical novels.

Which is not to say that there are not ass-kicking women also - there are many different kinds of strong ladies involved in the plot. The more overtly ass-kicking ones live in a different culture that is not as much focused on in this book, although I suspect it will be in later books in the series, and many of them are also very cool and strong and interesting authority figures also. (And one of the protagonists reminds me a lot of [ profile] varadia's X-23.)

So basically, though I have not yet fallen passionately in love with the series, I am definitely interested enough, and admiring enough of a lot of what the author is trying to do, that I will be reading more. Once I overcome the minor dilemma that neither local library system has the second book. NYPL, for once you have failed me!


skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)

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