What I Read in August

Aided by my new fangled smart-phone I did a whole lot of reading last month. Up significantly from my average of 4 books a month, I read 7 in August. While that is not a particularly large number, when you factor in the quality of some of those books, I believe it is safe to say I kicked reading’s ass in August.

The Price of Spring.
Daniel Abraham

This is the final book in the Long Price Quartet. Otah and Maati have been friends and allies and rivals and now, going on 20 years since they both played a part in dooming both their nation and their enemy’s, the Galts, they are enemies. Otah is now emperor and well respected while Maati, who is trying to rebuild the poets, is hunted and hated. Even Balasar Gice, the man most responsible for the tragedy that has befallen the 2 nations, is forgiven, though he is not in the least bit repentant. While both men, Maati and Otah, have the same end goal, to fix things, the have different methods. Otah’s is practical; Maati’s is fantastic. With the men of Galt impotent and the women of the Khaiem barren, Otah is trying to arrange a merger or trade that will save both nations. Maati is trying to train new poets to again harness the andat (magical spirits).

It is little wonder that Maati has become somewhat bitter. He was asked to do the impossible to save his world and failed. His son is dead, his wife — or near enough — is gone. He has lost everything, but still he struggles to save the world. Yes, he grumbles and grouses, but he never gives up. He is one of the few good people in this series.

The problem with The Price of Spring is that Abraham wants the reader to see the andat as harmful or at the very least not helpful, but he hasn’t established that. There is no reason to see Maati’s solution as any less viable than Otah’s. There is reason to believe that Maati is less able to achieve his goals, though. Because Maati is and always has been, a terrible leader. Maati is a good man, but not a great one and the situation requires a great one. So Maati fails. Even when the conclusion proves Maati right he is exiled from the epilogue, there is no place for him in this world’s future. A happy ending for everyone else, but Maati is not allowed to enjoy it. The reader is supposed to see Maati proved wrong and saved by fortuitous circumstance, but I see Maati redeemed and vindicated, but never allowed to acknowledge his success.

The Curse of Chalion
Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a fantasy novel I have no problems recommending to any one. Curse of Chalion was the first I had read from Bujold, but I had heard good things. The good things I had read were not exaggerations. This may have been the first, but you can be damn sure it won’t be the last.

Curse of Chalion tells the story of Lupe dy Cazaril, called Caz, who returns from slavery to his homeland and tries to rebuild his life. His attempt to find small work as the castle he was previously a page at ends with him being appointed to tutor the Royina (Princess) Iselle. When she and her brother the heir are called to the capitol, Caz must try to protect them from both the political and physical dangers of the kingdom as well as the spiritual curse on their nation.

Caz is a truly great character. He is wry and a bit detached (being sold into slavery might have something to do with that), as well as genuinely good and heroic and loyal. Iselle is also great. She is spoiled and headstrong but smart. Curse of Chalion has more than its share of memorable secondary and tertiary characters that could, and some that do, sustain their own books.

Other than the main plot of Caz’s attempts to free them of the curse, the heart of Curse of Chalion is a question of free will. The Gods want or need Caz to act a certain way and do certain things. But he isn’t quite sure what those are. So is he actually making his own choices and helping, or is he merely a tool that the Gods are using? That is all background and it never overwhelms the story, making for a book with some intellectual meat on its bones as well as a solid adventure.

Paladin of Souls
Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a direct sequel to Curse of Chalion and even considering how much I liked that novel, this may be better. Paladin of Souls takes place a few years after the previous book and follows the dowager Royina Ista as well as a few other returning tertiary characters. Like Caz, Ista finds herself the focus of one the Gods and must unravel some supernatural mysteries as well as prevent certain tragedy for Chalion.

The most obviously remarkable aspect of Paladin of Souls is the protagonist. Unlike the majority of main characters in fantasy novels, Ista is neither male nor young. She is a nearly middle-aged woman. This already makes her vastly different from the norm. The story in not about her martial prowess or the goals and aspirations of youth, but about the regrets and fears of irrelevance of the somewhat older. It is about mortality. Ista feels that her life has been wasted, and she is largely right, though it is really not her fault (Gods curse madness is about as good an excuse as possible). Over the course of the novel, she learns that what is important is not what was but what currently is. She is not dead and still has life to live.

Paladin of Souls is about more than that, of course. Lot’s more than I care to detail here. I’ll just recommend this just as highly as Curse of Chalion. They are two of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time. I am definitely not done with Bujold.

Warlord of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs

This is the third book to feature John Carters’ adventures on Mars and I found it just a touch disappointing. After the wild imagination of the first two, this one didn’t have the same punch. John Carter chases the evil Thurid and Matai Shang north across Mars, trying to rescue Dejah Thoris. They meet the Yellow Martians of the north, who evade detection by the rest of Mar with the use of an actual magnetic North Pole.

It just feels sort of rote. There is nothing really new about the yellow Martians, and if you’ve read the previous books, you’ve seen Carter rescue Dejah Thoris against much greater odds. There is no escalation this time, and no different focus to make up for it. It does put a nice end on the John Carter saga.

Thuvia, Maid of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs

The focus in this one shifts from John Carter to his son, Carthoris and his quest to win the slightly oedipal love of the titular Thuvia. I say slightly oedipal because, though she is not his mother, Thuvia was in love with John Carter. Carthoris is trying to win the heart of a girl who loves his father. Naturally, that aspect of it is ignored. She realized that he only had eyes for Dejah Thoris, so she gave up that hope and agreed to marry one of her father’s allies. But at the same time, Carthoris proclaimed his love for her. Though she had recently come to love him back, she feels honor bound to spurn him for her betrothed.

Then, in true Burroughsian fashion, she is kidnapped and Carthoris must go on a series of desperate adventures to rescue her. Thuvia rises above the previous book because the weird cultures that they meet are much more interesting. Carthoris and Thuvia encounter the , who have the power to create things with their minds. However, they have been doing it so long they are unsure as to whether they exist or not. It is oddly anti-intellectual. They do great things with their minds, but they don’t seem to do much that is useful. Still, it is a highly entertaining piece of pulp.

Chessmen of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs

Here the focus shifts yet again, now to John Carter’s daughter Tara and her prospective suitor Gahan. They are not all that different that any of the previous protagonists, though. Tara meets Gahan at a party and finds him to be both presumptive and attractive. He immediately falls in love with her. When her small flying machine is blown off course in a storm, Gahan joins John Carter in a rescue attempt that tales them to previously unseen portions of Barsoom.

Tara encounters the Kaldanes and the Rykors. The Kaldanes are a race that has evolved into what are basically brain crabs. They have no bodies, just heads and small insect-ine legs. They ride the Rykors, whom they have developed a symbiotic relationship with. The Rykors have no heads and very little brain function. My description may not be conveying how freaky weird these things are. Gahan, posing at not himself, rescues her and they escape to the city of Manator, where Gahan is forced to play Martian chess … to the death. Think the first Harry Potter, but to the death. In the end, the princess is saved and despite claiming all through the novel that she doesn’t like Gahan, goes off and marries him. It is an oddly sexist portrayal of Tara. Not odd that it is somewhat sexist in a book series all about kidnapped princesses, but odd in that Tara manages to kind of badass while still teaching the lesson that when girls say no what they mean is “yes, absolutely yes.” Or that if you don’t quit she will straight up stab you. Good times.

Red Nails
Robert Howard.

This is a Conan story where Conan kills a dragon (or a dinosaur, I’m not sure) then he and the girl he wants go to a forgotten city where the few remain inhabitants are locked in a deadly struggle. There is a witch and a crazy, possibly undead wizard and everyone but Conan and Valeria end up dead. Not a lot to say about it, it is effective, straightforward action. Well worth the read, if you want to read some low fantasy.

One thought on “What I Read in August

  1. Pingback: What I Read in July « We are Finally Cowboys

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