Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Doesn’t it have a lovely cover?

Unfortunately, it’s entirely inappropriate for the tone and style of the novel. I should have paid more attention to another edition’s comparison to Ocean’s Eleven, which is not my genre, and the comparison to Robin Hood at all is pushing it.

They should have stuck with this one:

burning city cover

Problem was, I hated Locke. Didn’t find him the least bit charming, and yet I don’t think I was supposed to see him as a sociopath, though I’m fairly sure he was. Surely Locke’s genius should have provided some consolation? Only it felt like an informed attribute: everyone’s always just so impressed by Locke, and we spend so much time going on about his various gambits (’cause he’s a genius), I just got bored.

You might ask: if you see so much of his planning, how can his intelligence be an informed attribute? Because I don’t remember any scenes of Locke working to figure it out. Have you ever watched Sherlock? Even the consulting detective himself has to stop and put all the clues together, but as I recall, most of Locke’s brilliance was recounted after the fact.

That could be unfair. Still, what with Locke-as-protagonist, and this terrible, terrible world, the novel felt too self-satisfied. It reveled in all the ugliness and gore.

But I didn’t care about anyone! All the side characters were one-dimensional, especially the significant ones—which is just as well, considering they amounted to nothing more than motivation fodder for Locke. Yes, there was a lot of graphic violence, but it didn’t serve the story. Now, I’m not opposed to violence or gore in books, but it was so over the top, I occasionally snorted in amusement before I could stop myself (which makes me feel like a terrible person).

I suppose I liked Doña Vorchenza and Sophia(?). Unfortunately, I can’t remember much about them.

There’s my real trouble right there. Because I didn’t like Locke, I kept putting the book down; every time I put the book down, I forgot what was going on, who was who, and why I should care. Also, related to that, the pacing felt choppy. I read this on my nook, and the segments were all really short, and—this can’t be faulted to the author—after every section break, the first paragraph was formatted in a larger font. It very much seemed to drag anything out.

I can see why others like this book: if you don’t despise Locke, you won’t be as distracted from the plot like I was, and there is a lot of it. I honestly can’t think of how to put the positives, but if this is your thing, please go and read it.

But if, like me, you saw the cover, but not Ocean’s Eleven, just know what you’re getting into, and be prepared for a long, digressing set-up and conventional plot.

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Review: Ship of Magic

Ship of MagicIt’s been awhile since I read this, but since I should be starting the second one soon (crossing my fingers), I’d better get this up!

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Final verdict: a great antidote to A Game of Thrones, with brilliant, complicated characters.

My friend introduced to me to Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders, #1) because I’d been complaining about annoying stupid characters. She recommended Robin Hobb in general, but Ship of Magic especially, primarily for Althea Vestrit, our primary protagonist.

One thing I want to point out is that I would have never picked this up on my own. Not for the title, not the cover (yes, I’m disproportionately attracted to pretty covers—there’s a blog post in there somehow), and not even the cover copy. Although Althea is my middle name. But normally not even that.

Thank goodness for my friend, because this book seems to have marked a change in the books I’m reading—after a streak of at best mediocre reading, I’m enjoying it again! (That can’t be attributed entirely to this book, but did contribute to the exhilaration of my reading experience.)

Althea Vestrit is the younger daughter of a liveship trader family. In essence, the elite of colonial Bingtown. Liveships are just that: living ships. But you don’t just build a ship that’s alive, or buy one, it has to be built first of wizard wood, and ‘grow’: that is to say, quicken. A liveship, though, will only quicken after three of its family members die on-deck, through which they gain knowledge and awareness. And a liveship will only respond to a member of the family, especially once it is alive.

And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.

Robin Hobb has built an incredible, complex world, much of which is gradually revealed throughout the story, naturally and through the characters’ perspectives. The world-building is crucial to the story’s success, because in many ways, its core theme is the clash of worlds, old and new. There isn’t one simple conflict between good and evil or even two families. Bingtown is a colony, only now, they’re being settled again by people who don’t understand the land and customs–and worse, Bingtown has started following the customs of the mainland, even those that just a generation ago would have been too horrifying to contemplate. Now, the newcomers may not understand the reasons for Bingtown’s customs, but the locals won’t explain them either (more on that later).

The conflict of cultures is so important. Worldly Jamaillia is decadent, rich, slave-owning. And the slaves can be anyone: the educated call for particularly high prices. Bingtown once had equal relations to men and women: they’ve borrowed the madonna/whore complex from Jamaillia and now are looking to slavery. But Bingtown has a strange relationship with magic and the people up the river who make it.

Back to Althea. Because she’s the natural daughter of the Vestrit’s, who own a liveship just one death away from quickening, Althea fully expects to be the next captain. After all, she’s been sailing with her father for years, and her older sister is married: settled with children. But as the summary states so baldly, Althea doesn’t get Vivacia, her brother-in-law does.

Ways in which Ship of Magic exceeds A Game of Thrones:

  • The characters matter. The majority of characters in A Game of Thrones are AT BEST observers, and often not even good at that; all the characters (especially viewpoint characters) in Ship of Magic have agency: they are making things happen, everything they do affects the plot, the story. In A Game of Thrones, the plot is happening around the characters—when they could make a difference, they don’t, because characters get in the way of the plot. That could work, but only if the reader has a sense that characters caused the plot in the first place. Ship of Magic only takes place because of decisions made generations ago, and how the current people are trying to live around and with those decisions. There is a deep, complicated back story that at no time takes over what’s happening now, but only makes it possible. Can I say how much I’ve missed this?
  • A Game of thrones suffered from odd, arbitrary chapter breaks that always followed only one character (ideally, and when Martin didn’t abruptly drop into omniscient when he forget what he was doing) and didn’t follow the same characters in a row BECAUSE. The chapter breaks and POV changes in Ship of Magic are based on the timeline and pacing. And they don’t just skip the big scenes to sum up later.
  • The characters in Ship of Magic are so much better. In fact they’re so awesome, I’ll have to get back to this.
  • The women are just as complex as the men! and just as active! and compelling! and have equal textual representation in a sexist world! and there’s no creepy, overdone euphemisms for genitalia! and no glorified, underage, fetishized rape scenes! uhhhh….I feel like I shouldn’t have to expect such things, but I am comparing it strictly to GoT here.
  • This is also a vaguely historically based world with only rare magic. Only here it’s embedded from the beginning, and while not understood and distrusted by the inhabitants of the world, it doesn’t follow the pattern of: 100 pages of ambiguity 1 sentence maybe? (x3) 100 pages ambiguity full-on firewalking and suckling dragons!

Like A Game of Thrones, Ship of Magic has several major plot threads (approximately eight, some embedded in the ‘world’ arcs), all given roughly equal treatment, and a great many POV characters (at least eight). I wonder if there’s something to those numbers. and Martin is praised because he’s willing to kill off ‘anyone’, which just makes me suspect a paucity of decent literature in the fantasy section. Ship of Magic made me care about the characters, even without ever having a POV of their own, and then they died.

Getting into more spoiler-y territory, I loved the conflict between Ronica (Althea’s mother) and Kyle (her brother-in-law).Kyle really seems like just your standard sub-boss evil. In most novels The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1), he’d be petty and cruel, and basically the antagonist until the confrontation with the real bad guy happens. In some ways, Kyle is all of those things. But his main threat is in how he threatens, and represents the threat, to the liveship trader way of life. And Ronica loathes him for it. But he’s been her son-in-law for 15 years, IIRC, and no one in the family has tried to make him understand these traditions and why things are the way they are in Bingtown. There’s a lot of hidden history that’s gradually being revealed, but the locals don’t discuss it amongst themselves, much less outsiders like Kyle. At least once, the truth has been actively hidden from him. These are cultures clashing because their people (on any side) cannot understand comprehend a way of life different from their own.

Wintrow, Althea’s oldest nephew, lived with the priests since infancy, because in Bingtown, it’s an honor. Wintrow can’t wait to be a priest. But since Kyle captains the Vivacia, he needs a family member by blood on board, especially now that Vivacia is conscious. Wintrow’s struggles: to stay safe, to stay sane—my heart BLED for him.

Btw: Hobb has built an incredible, convincing fictional religion.

Kennit is about as villainous as a villain can be. As I said in a forum: “[he] knows he’s not a good guy, goes around plotting like mad, but is just going after what he wants in any way he can. He knows he’s not a good guy, but doesn’t care: he just wants power. He also goes around going good deeds, but evilly…He’s a pirate freeing slaves because then they’ll voluntarily be his army to help him take over the world. And he’s surrounded by people who are unbearably loyal to him: even his sentient charm fashioned in his image hates him and doesn’t think he deserves what he has.”

One thing that Hobb does beautifully that Martin fails entirely, is have a focus to her narrative. Althea’s story is central to the unifying thread. All of these characters have very important stories of their own, but Althea’s is going to be right in the middle of it all.

One note about the characters: sometimes they aren’t all good. Or bad. (Unless it’s Kennit) They can be whiny, infuriating, annoying, ignorant, just-plain-stupid, and often wrong. For instance, Althea’s quest to retake the Vivacia? Well, first she has to learn that she wasn’t qualified to captain a vessel on her own, that when she traveled with her father, she was playing at sailoring. So she goes off on her own to learn—and learn she does. Slowly. Which is possibly the best part.

Now that I’ve been working on this for two hours, I want to touch on a subject I know is important to many of my GR friends—and the reviewers I follow who have no idea who I am: slut shaming.

THERE ISN’T ANY!

First you have Malta, Althea’s niece, all of thirteen years old, *IIRC. O Good Lord, Malta. She takes the place of Martin’s Sansa: obsessed with boys, rather stupid. Only Malta specifically wants sex. Preferably before babies and marriage, because she doesn’t want to end up with an icky husband. Is she too young for this? Hell yes, she’s spoiled rotten, doesn’t understand how her own society works, and despite her interest, completely ignorant of what said sex would actually mean. Sansa, I just hated, but while I wanted to smack Malta upside the head, I also ached for her. She is so completely unaware of how vulnerable she is—and she does have to work at ignoring it too. Unlike Althea, she retreats from what scares her, what’s hard (although Althea has her moments), and Keffria (her mother) and Ronica are only just learning how much they’ve neglected to teach her.

As for Althea—

Spoilers! Please click carefully, because this section is so important to her character development! It wouldn’t ruin the book, but it would color the reading experience.

After Althea goes off to learn sailing while disguised as a boy (explained in text) she sleeps with Brashen (well, okay, it’s clear he’s a love interest from the cover copy) while both are impaired. She’s concussed and they’re both drunk and high, I think. He might be concussed too. It turns out, despite being ‘upper class’ in this society, and their expectations for women, she’s had sex before. The first time when she was fourteen under skeevy circumstances. When she goes home to tell her sister, Keffria makes her get a charm to prevent pregnancy and STDs, assuming her sister is easy. It’s the betray of trust that Althea has a problem with, she doesn’t think of herself that way. In fact, she’s NOT damaged by the experience, and she knows it’s supposed to be pleasurable, so she seeks it out herself, occasionally. But it’s not a flaw of her character that she’s sexually active, and while other characters may not like it, it’s never a view condoned by the text. Thought you guys might like that.

I didn’t get to this point in my GR review (which is is), but Hobb can also write convincing ‘alien’ consciousness. This is most evident with the living ships—which aren’t human, but have to balance how much they owe to the humanity that created them and reconcile their own free will. There’s also the sea serpents, which I don’t understand yet, and are sentient, but not human whatsoever.

I just want to get everyone to read it themselves! It’s just that awesome!

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Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2011 Edition

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2011 EditionFinally reviewing again! (at least once). Already outdated, but this is what the library had.

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2011 Edition by Paula Guran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dark fantasy, so this isn’t really my genre. Since I picked it up to get an overview of what this rather nebulous genre is about, I can’t say whether this is representative or not, or good for that matter.

It covered quite a bit of ground, but few stories stood out to me, and I don’t think that says much for the genre as a whole. Again, I don’t know whether that’s just because I don’t know much about the genre and what it’s compared to: but if I couldn’t find much, is that really a good thing?

Maybe a year is too short in time to get a decent overview.
The first three stories were all first person and all disappointing. I almost thought there was a conclusion to be drawn there until “Tragic Life Stories” which was third person and fantastic. I think the only first person story that stood out to me was Gaiman’s, and though I didn’t think anything of it in particular (sacrilege!) but at least he used the first person properly—I knew who the character, the “I”, was pretty quickly. I just think 3rd person is better at orientating the reader. Second person, of course, is most difficult of all for an author and reader alike, and there are three in the collection: decent, as best I recall.

As for the standout stories:

“Tragic Life Stories” How much I enjoyed this because I connected to a narrator who was an author as well may have made this story more appealing to me than a reader who doesn’t write, but I hope not, because that would say nothing good about Duffy as author or my reading. Nevertheless I immediately connected to how Dan created his fictional worlds, and then that’s where it all went wrong. Well-constructed, good pacing, and a fascinating premise (the inability to discriminate between hallucinations and reality) took me by surprise. And I cared about the character and wanted the best for him. But did he want the best for himself in this story?

“The Naturalist” A zombie story, and once I enjoyed The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor that I won on First Reads, but I’m starting to think, with the handful in this collection, that zombie stories, by definition, all sound the same. I was curious about the narrator’s observations, and thought that the most interesting part of the work, but given how quickly the end came after, I’m not sure even the author knew what it meant. A disappointment, since I saw that as really the most original part of the story.

“The Broadsword” I wanted to like this one, and it is dark, I’ll give it that. But it felt unsatisfying. There seemed both too much of information that contributed nothing, but then too little about the coming darkness. Some vividly disturbing description though.

“A Thousand Flowers” Not only did I not know what I was supposed to get out of it: what was the point? why was it written? (that seemed to be the weakness of much of the collection: someone had an image they wanted to share, but seemed to have trouble making it into a full story. The sheer amount of detail everywhere that made no sense, went nowhere and never connected to anything else boggled my mind. Peeing on flowers is bad. Why? I have no idea. Is it related to this world’s culture? I don’t know. I’m not even sure what this culture is supposed to be.

Frankly, I hated this story—terrible characters, pointless plot accomplishes nothing, plenty of creepy and unfortunate implications in a quasi-medieval setting (with Narwhals, Africa, and rhinoceros WHAT). Decent ear for dialogue at least.

“Hurt Me” I did like this one. The fantasy, the supernatural darkness of the story paralleled the character growth and back story and became a metaphor for the underlying plot. That’s what I mean by a plot with a point. Not only did something happen, but it changed the characters and it made a difference. Worth it.

“Sea Warg” Only notable because it has a misanthropic philosophy that I don’t disagree with, but in the story found unconvincing. I rather liked the clinical Johnson, but the uneven pacing made the end sudden and unconvincing.

“The Thing About Cassandra” Gaiman’s story. I rather liked it, but the end was too telegraphed and obvious. Felt cliché, even though I couldn’t say that it actually is.

“The Things” Lee developed an interesting and distinct alien consciousness.I haven’t seen the movie it’s based on (The Thing), so I’m not sure how it fits in? But I think I know enough of the genre tropes to get what the human characters were up to anyway.
“The Return” Again, a story without a real premise. An idea: a girl disappears, returns without her soul, but went where?

“How Bria Died” A good story I guess, like any horror story. But there’s a bit about a promise at the very, very end and it made no sense and made me think I missed something. I may have. I tried rereading and it didn’t help. Otherwise a fairly standard ghost-story type, and I rather liked it.

“Parallel Lines” another one where the supernatural element highlights the character growth. Engaging and good character growth: well, for someone.

“The Mystery Knight” This isn’t going to be fair. But.

I didn’t like A Game of Thrones. It felt bloated. I can only imagine this equally bloated so-called story means he’s incapable of conciseness. Much of it is unnecessary of the story I actually did manage to discern. Also the main character is introduced with his squire as Dunk and Egg. I think Martin may have found it amusing. But I found it increasingly difficult to remember who anyone was, especially since everyone has at least three names and there are approximately one hundred named characters.

This seems to take place in the same universe as his series, though I’m not sure where or when it takes place, this is one time I would have preferred some appendices. It’s some kind of really, really dull political intrigue, without any actually intrigue, just a badly put together conspiracy that’s already been ‘solved’ before our characters were even introduced. They’re just witnesses. So pointless! Yes, that may be how “real life” happens (which seems to be how Martin’s work is often defended, but that doesn’t mean it makes good fiction. And hey, Nick wasn’t involved in Gatsby’s story, but at least he had a point, and he observed a story and drew conclusions. The interlude described in this novella-length work happens but doesn’t seem to matter, and the observers don’t actually accomplish anything other than to be there for literally no good reason. Just terrible storytelling all over.

Unfortunately it affected my entire view toward the book as a whole, which did have some good stories.

Still, I do want to say it’s probably worth picking up for anyone who does like the genre.

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Artificially Black and White

Reading yet another spork, I realized that almost every spork I’ve read recently has similar complaints about fairly standard elements of fiction, especially in the fantasy genre.

Let’s be honest: For readers to connect to a story, they have to identify it as a story—something has to be recognizable to the audience. A completely “original” story, if it isn’t built with the constraints of fiction and the human brain in mind, may well be incomprehensible. Which you might say is what happened in the modern era of Literature and is why no one reads anymore. But that’s a different issue.

Ultimately, it’s the execution that counts, that makes the difference that turns a cliché into an imaginative world. Because they may often have two similar plots, ideas, or even scenes.

Compare, for example, the Harry Potter series and the Inheritance Cycle.

A skilled author will convince her readers that they don’t need to question this world; while it doesn’t conform to ours, it has it’s own set of internal laws and limits of ability. I admit I couldn’t finish the later books of Harry Potter and have little interest in doing so, but couldn’t start Eragon with any integrity because so many readers lashed back against the only given law of “it works because I said so”.  And I accept their opinions because they coherently argue this conclusion with textual evidence, I’ve seen their other articles on works I do have familiarity with, and I can understand how their opinions skew—whereas many defenders of cheap, popcorn novels nearly always respond with “U cant say anything bcuz u dont publish” and I am being generous.

Now occasionally perfectly literate fans will confess that they enjoy those works, almost always with the caveat

I know that it isn’t very good objectively, but sometimes I just want to read pulp.

Since that spork, I think of the preview chapters of Bran Hambric: the Farscape Curse, I’ve been thinking about the “tropes” of fantasy fiction, and trying to come up with an argument to prove they aren’t necessarily bad—go back to the difference between idea and execution. Then I watched the newest fantasy-movie-based-on-a-book-so-it-will-be-a-blockbuster-and-make-lots-of-money, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole—the owl movie.

Whether it’s an issue with the film or it started in the books, I certainly can’t use this movie as an example of what works. First, because Godwin’s Law should not be invoked so easily, which I want to avoid so as not to completely invalidate the rest of my argument, but there’s no denying that the antagonists call themselves the “Pure Ones”.

Then again, even the king and queen of the guardians are snowy owls and the whitest in the movie, much like the queen of the evil empire—who *spoiler* flies off in the end so as to return for the sequels.

But, especially to emphasis this fight is against GOOD and EVIL, the movie relies entirely on tropes (in this case, we can validly call them cliché) to move the plot forward, shoehorning the characters into their roles with effectively no development whatsoever—the mystical blue-tipped Hedgehog even names them: Soren “the leader”, Twilight “the warrior”, the small female who first is spunky-damsel-in-distress but ends up contributing nothing including getting kidnapped “the token girl who isn’t a mother figure”. The nursemaid snake gets to be “the heart”. Also a snake as a nursemaid to owl kids? And they are to be the Nine Walkers—wait, “Five Flyers” to save the world.

And then poor Clyde (at least that’s what it sounded like and I missed the credits). He is the designated EVIL because he is OMG!JELUZ!1!!111! of his super-talented GOOD brother, Soren. Not that Soren ever seemed particularly concerned about what his brother was actually feeling or thinking—he’s completely oblivious. Clyde evilly tells him *spoilers* at the end “Then you don’t know me at all” (paraphrased). That’s never been said before, right? But he’s right…from this movie, Soren has never had the faintest interest in getting to know his brother.

Just as Clyde’s “you don’t know me” speech might ring just slightly familiar, so does much of the dialogue. There were a few gems; inauspiciously, none of which I can remember—and even more revealing is that I can write this review in the theater while actually watching the movie, I can follow so easily the characters and story because they are so familiar. Like a fill in the blank.

I will grant most of these issues are probably the medium. Not having read the books, I don’t know how much ground is being covered (too much). It’s more a summary than a story on its own terms—critical failure for a standalone movie.

Since the movie is never as good as the book, the creators should think of it as such.

It is a beautiful movie. If you don’t have a brain that automatically analyses everything to death, more power to you. Most everything is well-rendered (if the snake looked a bit odd) and the owls are gorgeously and generously detailed. They paid full price for every feather, and it works. Even I have to admit the fight scenes were actually cool, and fun to watch—and unlike the rest of the movie, how owls might fight (even with armor), because like Alpha & Omega, it was mostly a story about humans who happen to superficially look like animals. The fighting however was in “3D” and not just in terms of having to wear special glasses because I watched it in 2D and it still worked (movie-wise instead of story-wise). But the owls used right and left and up and down when fighting and not limiting themselves to one plane. That was fun to watch.

Also, I the soundtrack was generally strong, if at times it got a little generic. They also had the odd idea of using Owl City music for a scene and for credits. Beyond the word, one of these things is not like the other. This is a dark movie, with very dark themes and the sudden intrusion of Owl City’s cheerful optimism jarred. Keep your theme in mind next time.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice


Teasing a Sleeping Girl

Originally uploaded by Maulleigh

Having written some 4000 words on Killing Time—a book that I can’t stand, less because I hate it, but because it has so many of my pet peeves—I’m suddenly questioning my reasons for posting it online.

Not that it isn’t practically tradition online to do so. There are several websites dedicated to nothing more than poking fun at badly written, plotted, and conceptualized stories. Sometimes published works like the Twilight ‘saga’, the two series of Laura K. Hamilton, and even the later Harry Potter books. Sometimes, and more often, the focus is on awful fan fiction or other online stories.

Killing Time wasn’t meant to be published, but it was published, so I think I’m covered. It’s started to seem kind of mean though. Which I don’t like to be, I think it’s a bad habit.

While I’ve thought before while reading some sporks that they go too far, I allow myself to be seduced by the amusingness. In some cases. For example, I generally don’t read the websites making fun of fan fictions. They aren’t as funny, to me, so I can’t claim a virtue here, but they are also generally working with avereragely bad fics. As opposed to those, say, Rose Potter. Which are well-known in sporking circles for their exceedingly awful badness and creepiness. So fandom itself will sort out the worst of the worst, and those are funny sporks.

Anyway, I think I might continue with my various reports on Killing Time, but only likely if I can continue to post more short essays about the tropes that I dislike rather than an actual spork. Although maybe later I’ll find time to do so, if on a more appropriate medium.

But this whole thought process came about because Laurell K. Hamilton recently made a blog post. Another author wrote a response. A link was posted on amazon.com and discussion continued for several pages. Naturally, this ended up on FandomWank. Well, I don’t really remember the wank report, but I was, intrigued, let’s say, buy the other author’s response.

Now I’ve never heard of Jennifer Armintrout, the other author, but I thought her blog post rather well-reasoned. As did the person who posted it on amazon, unless they intended to cause a kerfluffle (which is entirely possible). However, the thread really got going when someone, called R. Harinandansingh (R.H. and given the masculine pronoun, because the shes are confusing already), objected to Armintrout’s calling out L.K.H. Because it’s ‘unprofessional’. When I first got to his comments, I immediately dismissed them. First they were inflammatory, and secondly ridiculous. In what way does being a published author take away your right to critique? How does being any kind of career-artist (as he seemed to imply) mean you can’t have an opinion on others in your field?

Then I started feeling uncomfortable about having dismissed R. H. so readily. It’s not like the original post was an attack on Armintrout. As another poster brought up, yes, there is a long history of author’s taking pot shots at each other—see Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”, and Twain is vicious, though witty—but it’s never been nice.

Of course, Armintrout never claimed to be nice. And though L.K.H. may not have directly addressed any specific author’s in the post, she was talking about the craft of writing. And as another author, and especially a published one, she has a right to respond to a post that essentially demeans authors who don’t write the same way L.K.H. does. Also, when it’s online, it’s public. As far as I’m concerned, when it’s published (and a blog is a form of publication), it is, by definition, published. Now, if L.K.H. had written this in a protected, private journal, online or otherwise, I might take more issue with the propriety of responding like that. But she made her opinions public.

I just don’t see why the response by Armintrout, however emotional, is less than professional. R.H. makes a point of saying that only artists can’t critique each other (or he seems to) and that lawyers and doctors should because their professions actually make a difference. (Or so I recall, it’s been a few days since I read the thread.) However, I very much enjoyed the beginning of Armintrout’s first (only?) response on the amazon thread, defending her original post:

1. I did not write the blog because I have a problem with LKH’s writing. I have adored all the books I’ve read from her…My blog was not a criticism of her as a writer.

3. I didn’t write the blog out of professional jealousy or “cattiness”. I would love to have the word “catty” removed from any discussion of female authors from now on. When Nicholas Sparks routinely slams the romance genre, no one calls him “catty”. They call him “outspoken” and “opinionated”. “Catty” is a word we use to describe women who aren’t acting like sugar, spice, and everything nice, and it’s bs.

I wrote the blog because I don’t like it when people who are feeling insecure for whatever reason decide that the only way to bring themselves up is to attack others. LKH has a lot to be proud about, and other authors do not threaten the success she’s made for herself. You may find my blog unprofessional. That’s fine. I’m really, really unprofessional. I approach my career as one approaches their first year of college: too much partying and running of the mouth and not enough work. But I get really p.o.ed at the idea that LKH gets a free pass to sling passive-aggressive attacks at every other author who puts a pair of fangs in their books in order to make herself feel smarter, more successful, more like an innovator, or whatever she was trying to accomplish.

Can I say, firstly, that I love number 3 wholeheartedly? Spot on, and also, Nicholas Sparks strikes me as an obnoxious idiot. And, actually, fits the definition of “catty” to a T. So perhaps it just needs to be a cross-gender insult. But it isn’t and so should be given up.

And the only way any profession keeps itself going is by discussion. Authors don’t write in a vacuum either. Perhaps all the cutesy niceness has done nothing for the quality of writing produced. Perhaps a good challenge once in a while might do some people some good.

A Fantasy World without Footnotes

Character is the first thing I look for when reading, but a definite, clear setting is a close second. Fortunately, I’ve been on a reading kick lately, and actually have an example that covers both.

The Accidental Sorcerer by K.E. Mills (pseudonym for Karen Miller) has strong characters that are fully part of their entirely fictional fantasy world. Which is especially interesting because I don’t think the world is given a name.

I think that indicates how strong a fantasy setting it is. In this book, the first of the Rogue Agent series, three different countries are in play: or rather, primary protagonist Gerald Dunwoody moves from Ottosland to New Ottosland, the colony, which is entirely surrounded by the desert country of Kallarapi.

Never, in any of these settings, is the audience given a rundown of the political system, the laws, the culture or the population statistics. Instead, the characters move through their surroundings, and like people reflect only on what immediately impacts them. So Gerald doesn’t really think about how his government operates, but as a third-grade wizard and cog of bureaucracy, we learn about out it operates on a day-to-day level, and more importantly the attitude the government has to its function. Gerald’s whole story begins when, at the factory he was sent to inspect , there is an explosion as a result of lax safety standards. Instead of the illustrious company being investigated, Gerald is fired.

Because he is only a third-grade wizard, several self-important first-class wizards go out of their way to make him further miserable–a very clear class structure that is only emphasized by his absent-minded, genius-inclined best friend Monk who is so far up the social ladder that, while he cannot directly get Gerald out of trouble, he can make the others back off. However, when his own stunts go awry, he isn’t immune from the consequences.

The focus of the book is Gerald’s time in New Ottosland. Unlike the mother country, New Ottosland follows Tradition with the capital “T”. They speak the same language, every building is an exact copy, and every king is named Lionel and every queen Melisande–as are the first male and female heir. Gerald’s problem is the new King Lionel disbelieves in any need for advisors or anything other than strict obedience.

And war is brewing with Kallarapi, the desert that surrounds New Ottosland. Given descriptions of turbans, camels, and very prominent Holy Men and gods, at first glance, Kallarapi might read as the stereotypical middle-eastern backwards country. But holy man Shugat is, well, if not good, especially to our protagonists, at least right. Kallarapi is a fully independent county–it represents mostly how backwards New Ottosland has become.

The beginning the The Accidental Sorcerer is in many ways whimsical. There’s a great deal of witty banter, and wry observations on the fabric of society. But the strongest part of the book, the most moving, is that there really is evil in this world, and no one can be perfectly good.

Evil is human, and there is death–and it actually affects the characters. Someone is tortured, and changed forever. Everyone is actually impacted by the end, and there is no magical healing.

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