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A Shadow In Summer: Spoiler Party March 10, 2012

Filed under: Books — Micah Griffin @ 22:23
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So two of the girlfriend’s siblings are all about the Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham. I had been meaning to get to it for a while, but never did. Now I did. It’s an interesting read. While I didn’t like the first thing I read from Abraham I do like certain points of his writing style. Some of that expresses itself better in “A Shadow In Summer” than it did in “Dragon’s Path.”

For me, the strength of Abraham’s writing is that he’s pretty good at using individual character plots to set up a larger scope for things to come. I felt like, while this first book is clearly a bunch of world building and set up none of it feels like wasted pages. A lot of epic fantasy stories have a problem where the first book in the series is a total trodger. I hate it. Good writers find a way to avoid this. Daniel Abraham is a good writer.

A lot of the criticisms I have for this book are nuanced ones. I’m almost hesitant to write about a lot of them. Not because I think I’m wrong, but because I’m not sure I can word these in a way that makes sense to people who aren’t me. I don’t have any major problems with this book. I think it’s really good. It’s slow, but not from a lack of good pacing, but because it’s imparting a lot of information while trying to hide the fact that it’s imparting a lot of information.

So here we go. The thing that pulled me through the book was a character named Seedless. He’s (for lack of better wording) a god. Pretty much the entire story focuses around him. I really enjoyed how Seedless was the dominant force without being plastered on every page of the book. It isn’t some shadowy Palpatine stuff either. We get to see Seedless work at the other characters, we get to see how close he is to everything. We get to see how each relationship seedless has with people effects other people’s relationships with each other.

The main character he effects in this story is the poet (like a word wizard) that captured him. Due to the process it took to grab hold of seedless there’s a lot of the poet in him. They’re essentially the same person. Not just two sides of the same coin, but it’s kind of symbiotic emotionally. The exact details of their relationship is laid out early, but you don’t understand the full extent of it until well later on when it becomes important to know. It doesn’t explain why the poet is such a sad sack. I figure that dealing with Seedless isn’t great, but his life must have been a big pile of poo even before hand. Interesting stuff.

The poet’s pupil is a guy we met in the first chapter of the book, and when we rejoin them there’s a kind of hopefulness with the character that you just kind of expect to wear off. Happy go lucky epic fantasy characters either become wildly disillusioned, get ground into depression, or die. When the book is over this character had clearly been ground down a bit, but there are sparks of hope that remain. I like hope. Omniscient dark and dreary actually bore me, as well as make me not take the work very seriously. At all. So this was good. The character is naive at times, and makes some clear mistakes but they aren’t thrown at us over and over.

Unlike another character. Liat is a young mostly competent but naive and stupid girl. We know this because everyone (except our Friend Itani/Otah and the poet’s apprentice) remark at some point in time about how naive and stupid the girl is. Not that she lacks intelligence, that she is just naive and doesn’t know how the world works at all. That’s her main function in this book, is to be naive and feel hurt that she was used because she was naive. Then she beats herself up because she felt like she should’ve known better, and then everyone says “noo don’t feel bad. How were you supposed to know? You were used because they knew you wouldn’t know better.” The one thing about this I liked, is that she wasn’t amused by that answer at all, ever. Which is cool, because that’s a bogus thing to say to someone who is having a crisis of self confidence.

I guess that brings us to Itani/Otah. I think he’s the focal point of the story? That’s really a non important distinction to be made. He’s a majorly important dude for the story. See, there’s this mystical poet school that high born cast off males get sent to and no one ever leaves. But then he leaves and becomes a laborer. Shocking, I know. Afterwards he becomes all tangled up with our poet’s apprentice, Seedless, his lover (Liat, the stupid ninny), Amat (a woman who is STRONG and also cries a lot. Like, every time we see her she’s either about ready to cry or is in the middle of crying. She cries for every reason imaginable. From being tired, to being sad, to being hurt, to being stressed, to being angry. She is rarely afraid to let the tears flow. So many tears. She should get together with “Owl at Home” and they can have ALL the best tea. Not that there’s a problem with crying, who doesn’t like a good cry? it’s just that it’s complicated that no one else really cries in the story and this ‘strong’ woman does nothing but cry. Kind of weird is all), and the heads of state as well our the head of our mystery poet school.

Itani gets mixed up just the same way that everyone else does. They’re all part of some game that no one really knows the full scope of. I don’t know the full scope of it. Seedless seems to know a lot more than anyone else does, but that comes from him being such a nasty figure. No one trusts him, everyone hates him to some degree (except mostly the poet’s apprentice). Even though no one trusts him they all listen to what he has to say. They all kill themselves trying to figure out how much of what he says is important. I really am intrigued with the fallout from Seedless’ last act in the book.  Not the act itself, but all the fallout from it. The book distances itself from it a little bit and mentions that things could get weird, but it leaves all of that off to spend more times with the characters, which I approve with. This makes the ending feel way more like the ending to a book and a lot less like “Ha sucker, you spent dollar dollar bills this unfinished product!” That’s always good in my book.

I’ll definitely finish off this series.

I’m just taking a break in between books. I like distancing parts of a series my first time through them.

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Plodding through Dragon’s Path (Where sometimes expectations just aren’t matched)[spoiler party] January 30, 2012

So I had heard on occasion from some different reputable people that this Daniel Abraham fellow is a good writer. He wrote a book under a pen name along with some other fellow (who I believe is an assistant to George R. R. Martin) that was quite spectacular. While it is quite difficult to know without the authors stating specifically who did what work, you’d think that just being involved in something so good would rub off on you, at least in certain ways. One of the big appeals of Leviathan Wakes, to me, was how good it is on social issues. It’s so rare to read a book that is short on (if not entirely devoid of) sexsism or racism or ableisism or transphobia and so forth and so on. This seems to be especially hard to find in speculative fiction. It seems like no matter how much we change our worlds we carry our current day prejudices with us. Sometimes it’s blatant and in your face, other times it’s the casual garbage that we just take for granted or hardly even notice. Leviathan Wakes was refreshingly short on all of that extra trash that pulls me so quickly out of books.

So here I was, thinking it was safe for me to venture into a book that half of those writers was involved in. I hoped it would be as good as Leviathan wakes, but really I was just betting on something that wasn’t atrocious. What I got fell well short of what I was expecting. Dragon’s Path is yet another example of a book where the writer chooses to change soo much of the world and still stick to outdated notions of gender and sexuality. Not only this, but it also another example of the callous disregard for loss of live on an extreme scale.

Let’s set a thing up here. We live in a land with 13 different races of human. Think video game fantasy stuff. Lizard people, Wolf People, Elephant People, Boar People, stuff like that. The taxonomy of the world is that different. Somehow though we still wind up with all the same generic Middle Ages Europe power structures and societal norms. With this we also carry over the exact same sex and gender dynamics as we have now. So much of this is true that the author goes out of his way to have one character lecture another about how there is no weapon natural for a woman. Women just aren’t fit for combat (ignoring that the book makes sure to include a bunch of female soldiers). I thought originally that the point was to say that there is no natural weapon for anyone. Instead it was just going on the assumption that all women are small and weak and as such no weapon would give them an advantage in a fight against a man. If this was just the one character’s idea we could let this go without any real fight or discussion. Had another character butted in and refuted the ideas behind the statements we would be fine. The statement doesn’t take into account men who are short or skinny or not strong or women who are trained in the same way as men would be in that society to be fighters. There’s no acknowledgement of societal factors that dictate what fighting is and who does it. The entire point of this lecture (well for literature’s sake it’s to make another sexist comment later in the book) was to tell a female character she shouldn’t even bother training to protect herself. Then, far later in the book a female character recalls that conversation and says to herself that he was wrong, because women do have a natural weapon, that of sex.  This whole notion is so fucked and backwards and sexist to it’s core I’m not even going to go over it.

Now, that there isn’t the only example of sexist thoughts and ideas. There are sections talking about how men go to war and women heal it all up with their companionable chit chatting. There’s more stuff as well, but that was just the best example of the kind of thing that totally derails a book for me. It’s superfluous and unnecessary.

Now, while that’s outrageously annoying I might still reccommend the book if a bunch of other things go right. The world is so devoid of great books (Not everyone can be N.K. Jemisin)  that sometimes you have to just take the good stuff where you can get it.

Then something awesome happened. (Remember, this is a soiler party). The book does one of the greatest things ever. It takes your stereotypical fat book reading nerd character and . . .makes them a stereotypical fat bookish nerd.Well, what do we expect? Everyone loves Samwell Tarly. It’s an easy character to sympathize with. He reads books and likes to think and do speculative essays. He’s not really cut out for war, there should be something else for a character like this to do in life rather than fight battles for the honor of other people. This is all well and good, tropes happen and we move on. This fat kid moves on indeed. He is put in control of a city. The plan was for him to fail at it, and fail he did. He failed spectacularly. Then he learned that he was set up for failure. This was a chance to do something rather cool. Instead our fat bookish nerd turns into Nero and lights a city on fire. His rationale for this you ask? They rioted. Because they were starving. Yup. He bungled the job and all the citizens decide to protest because he was making it hard for them to eat. So he burns them all. Yup, all of them. Locked the city down and had his soldiers shoot down anyone who tried to escape. Yup.

Then Abraham spends the rest of the book trying to make us feel bad for him when things get out of his control.I am thinking that the entire series is supposed to be us following the bad guys, but it’s hard to tell. He sets up people who are fond of slavery and treating non nobles as animals. Let’s say this is what he’s doing. I believe there is a way of writing this that doesn’t attempt to make it sound like he agrees with the awful bigots. The book is worded in a way that makes these ideas the moral center and compass for all other actions. It’s like Daniel is saying right to me, that laws on treating slaves better is bad and the idea of farmer’s having a say in the governing of farms is bad because the noble’s know better of farms than farmers.Not exactly refreshing, know?