Oct 202013
 

Ever After
Ever After by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis:

Re-united with the Demon collective, the witch turned day-walking demon, Rachel Morgan is in something of a pickle: The rip in reality she accidentally caused, in the book Black Magic Sanction (Book #8), is now eating way more of the ever-after than ever before. And she is finally revealed as the demon that caused the rip, making her responsible for the damage. As the ever-after slowly leaks out, shrinking, the rip threatens the very existence of the denizens of the ever-after. And demons have never been known for their patience or understanding.

Together with former enemy turned love interest, Trent Kalamack, Rachel Morgan must marshal her friends and skills against Ku’Sox, a ‘genetically and magically engineered’ demon with delusions of godhood. Ku’Sox’s actions against Rachel turn the pressure up and it’s a race against time for Rachel to save her adopted species, her friends and even magic itself.

Review:

The premise is a lot more attractive than the actual result. I would be very interested in knowing the readership demographic of this series– that is, are women drawn to this style of writing over that of say Jim Butcher’s Dresden File series? I’m shocked by the amount of time that Rachel spends having emotional fits, and not necessarily about what I would think of as ‘the right things.’

Take, for instance, when Ceri and Lucy, Al’s former familiar and Trent’s daughter, are taken hostage, Kim Harrison rarely writes about the emotional distress, focused more on the bigger picture. Maybe this is meant to convey to the reader that Rachel has great confidence in Ceri’s ability to survive as a hostage. Instead, combined with previous omissions… like the fact that Pierce was taken two books back and potentially killed (later we learn, in the last book, that he was in fact given to Newt instead– a fate maybe worse than death)– Rachel barely thinks about rescue, or anguishes over his plight: It’s much like the story arc about saving Ivy’s soul (and therefore all Vampire souls) from being lost upon death. It gets mentioned once or twice and only in one book did we really see that any work was being done. …The omissions make Rachel seem extremely self centered and cold. Good thing there’s theoretically only 2 books (at most) left in the series, if Rachel had started out this dislikable, I dunno that I would have finished the series.

This flaw of character is magnified when Ceri and Pierce are tricked into attempting to kill Ku’Sox, and are instead killed by Ku’Sox, at which point Rachel nearly falls apart. Again, I get the possible implications underlying the omission, but absence of a fact does not prove a fact. That Rachel comments maybe three times in 15 chapters that she feels guilty over the hostage situation, and there is even a comment about how she feels the hostages will make it through, but never is there a comment about how she’s holding it together only because she believes the hostages will make it through. The two facts seem disconnected by the lack of commentary.

Also, there are a number of niggling plot points that bother me: The Demons have a law against ‘uncommon stupidity’, yet are clearly extremely stupid in their handling of the Ku’Sox’s situation. Were I writing this story, there would be a whole flurry of charges brought against a lot of people.

There are problems with the loose ends, lots of “oh well, good enough” decisions. It’s believable, because most humans I know are really that lazy, but when it’s a life or death situation I expect a little more “attention to detail.” Especially from the survivors of this series.

Ever After is packed with action though, despite the emotional lows. (read: Rachel whining.)

Starting with Quen’s attempt to get Rachel to work with Trent again, the abduction of the Rosewood babies takes center stage moving the plot forward. Quen and Rachel meet Trent and Nina/Omeh/Felix at the clinic to learn more, Nick is seen fleeing the scene. Rachel confronts Nick by cell, discovers Ku’Sox’s involvement. Ceri and Lucy are abducted, Quen badly injured. Rachel is summoned to the ever-after to stand trial. Rachel gets a reprieve and with Algalierept’s help learns enough about the ley line tear to conclusively prove that Ku’Sox is behind it.

Rachel works her way into the ever after, visits Pierce at Newt’s place and rekindles a pair of “chastity rings”, similar to Al’s “wedding rings” and Trent’s “Promise rings” (which Rachel is wearing). She declines Pierce’s proposal that they go together to murder Ku’Sox. Using the ‘chastity rings’, she and Trent go out to try to move the concentrated imbalance from one ley to another as a test run for how to fix the problem. Ku’Sox naturally shows up during the attempt, nearly lays them both out flat and then abducts Bis to prevent Rachel from finishing the fix. This is where we learn that Ku’Sox must be afraid of Rachel if he is unwilling to finish her off.

Plot point: I quibble over this point of fear– it was not a clear cut situation to me that Rachel was standing her own– nor has it ever been said before that Ku’Sox was a war-trained demon. This feels revisionist. Certain Ku’Sox was bread to have the power to defeat Elven Warlords– but if that’s the case, and his power is only as great as that of the female demon, then how is it that the female demons were all, nearly, wiped out? Bit plot holes missing explanation. Something big had to have happened and it’s not explained. Is it possible? Yes. I suppose. But that comes grudgingly.

Plot point: When the imbalance is concentrated in “Rachel’s ley line” everyone is affected, but when distributed, the house of the person who has been ‘fixed’ is not affected and likewise if all of the imbalance is moved to that person’s line, then only they are affected… wait, what? This is purely deus ex machina and does not logically follow.

Trent then distracts Rachel with a plan but instead gives himself up to Ku’Sox in exchange for the safety of his child– we later learn that this is the direct result of Nick tricking Pierce and Ceri into joining forces against Ku’Sox so that he can have an excuse to kill them. Once Rachel learns that Trent has given himself up, she attempts to summon him using the promise rings. Instead of bringing Trent to her, she goes to him. She learns a lot of things, confronts Ku’Sox and ultimately strikes a deal to get Lucy out of his hands (but not Bis or Trent), in exchange for removing the curse that binds Ku’Sox to the ever after.

Plot point: Rachel is not allowed to kill Ku’Sox after being attacked by him? But Ku’Sox can kill Pierce and Ceri after being attacked by them? I’m missing something.

Point of presentation: Someone recently read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lots of rings of power and Tolkien references in this book. If you’re going to do it, do it subtle and early, that way it seems less sudden and dramatic. You know, like mention rings of power in the first or second book, then mention them once per book thereafter. Like the breadcrumbs on the story arc with Ivy’s soul. And don’t save all your Tolkien references for one book– unless you’re like Harry Dresden and milked on pop-culture, you just can’t get away with it.

Once back in the real world, Rachel plans to steal another set of ‘chastity rings’ from an elven exhibit, manages to steal ‘slave rings’ instead and nearly gets caught. Then, during her next attempt to reveal Ku’Sox’s plan to the demon collective to clear her name, things go horribly wrong again. (This part I actually like a lot.) There is a fight and Quan, wearing the master-ring, demonstrates he is really not suited to power (surprise surprise, he says sarcastically).

They end up back with Trent who, it is revealed, master-minded the complication that forced Rachel to use ‘slave rings’ instead of ‘chastity rings.’ He, however, regrets the decision and apologizes and strangely Rachel forgives this drug trafficking, murderous, deceitful man. (What?!) Trent, as part of his apology, removes the slave ring from Rachel (ok, now I’m more convinced of his sincerity. Couldn’t this have been written so that the apology acceptance came after the demonstration of sincerity?)

Then Trent takes the slave ring and gives Rachel the master ring and Ku’Sox arrives to resume the fight. They bounce around a bit, fixing a couple of lines, fighting off Ku’Sox, and then, in the ever after, they are joined by Algalierept. He’s in chains for his part in this uncommonly stupid farce, but Rachel frees him and then wears his wedding ring and together, Al, Trent and Rachel defeat Ku’Sox.

Ku’Sox dies. Nick, who was Ku’Sox’s familiar, is taken by Newt as a replacement for Pierce, the familiar that Nick helped Ku’Sox kill.

Plot point: Earlier on (I skipped over it because it was largely window dressing to the plot) Rachel met with Dali (a demon) and made a deal that if she could prove that Ku’Sox was responsible that all debt she incurred for this problem would be transferred to him– then this little tidbit is forgotten in the denouement.

Then, Trent takes Rachel to his shack in the woods and tries to make sweet sweet love to her. The scene is postponed, but the advance is not rejected.

Oh how the mighty have fallen: from refusing to accept Trent’s murdering ways and vowing to never work for or with him, Rachel Morgan must now work with Trent to protect and help raise the myriad number of Rosewood babies from the various forces that might harm them. All because one day those babies will grow up to be demons. And, to add whip crème to this tasty crap sandwich, Rachel is now falling for Trent.

This definitely seems like the stupid shit some women do, falling for the bad boy, no matter how bad he is for you. If it wasn’t for the fact that Kim Harrison has written Rachel Morgan that way since book one I would find it unbelievable– as it is, I find it distasteful. (Falling for Nick, bad. Falling for Kisten, better but not good and he died. Half-way falling for Ivy, unsafe but she swore off. Falling for Marshall, good but he left her because of the stuff she gets herself into. Falling for Pierce, very bad and now he’s dead.)

Conclusion: I liked it, but it has a lot more plot holes and unresolved issues than previous books. I wouldn’t have been able to continue the series if this had been the quality of the first couple of books, and I’m only continuing because I’m in the home stretch– only 2 books left, in theory.

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Dec 142012
 

Lilith's Brood
Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s strange that this book manages to make the primary character of the first book sympathetic, even as she betrays her own species. It gets progressively more bizarre from there. The second book redeems (somewhat) the species that has consumed mankind by demanding that mankind be given a second chance. The book ends with a protagonist who is strangely compelling while also being revolting.

Like one of those events that you can’t help yourself but to keep looking, this omnibus of stories weaves a revolting and horrific (not gorey) tale. I never ever felt entirely sympathetic to the aliens, even when they were the primary POV, but the story was always compelling.

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Oct 022012
 

Midst Toil and Tribulation (Safehold, #6)Midst Toil and Tribulation by David Weber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Finally the Mainland-Siddarmark war begins. It’s not an invasion like we might have hoped, but instead a desperate rear-guard action to protect the innocent people of Siddarmark from the Army of God.

The constant meeting notes were less in evident, but there were several chapters that could have been culled from the book by simply summerizing the meetings. There’s not much conflict there, and they’re (to me) boring ways to provide exposition.

Not sure how I feel about Nahrman being converted into an AI. Definitely don’t believe that everyone who finds out is going to be totally OK with it. There are always going to be people who will re-think their allegiance after they started (even if they made the right decision in the first place).

I am also baffled why, after (how many books now?) 6 books, Merlin (or anyone else) hasn’t ever once considered putting SNARCS between the semaphore stations to intercept every communication that left Zion. I just accept it and move on only because the Temple Lands has stopped sending complete orders into the field (out of distrust that some among their army are heretics and traitors). So even if they did put SNARCS in a place to capture every Semaphore message, those messages don’t contain everything that happens within the Temple itself.

But, moving 40,000 troops East instead of West at the “drop of a hat” is mind-bogglingly difficult to digest. While yes, if the Imperial army had simply not put troops anywhere near that front because they didn’t expect an attack, yes that would be a problem when the forces did start moving East… the army moving East would have had to recall all of its advanced scouts… And if they didn’t, if instead they were ordered simply to ready themselves for moving West, but not to actually begin the movement… then simply by intercepting those orders it would be a lot clearer to Merlin and the rest of the Good Guys that the Temple Lands were about to pull a switcheroo.

So to think that the Empire was caught flat footed because they didn’t recognize the signs, and that the Army of God’s forces (or Desnair, or whoever) were able to turn around go in the exact opposite direction without some confusion and disarray… well… I just don’t buy it.

I think this is a case of the author becoming too clever for his own good.

I still really love the idea behind the series, but I feel like Weber is starting to let me down. That makes me a sad panda.

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Feb 082012
 
Where we are introduced to the Domers, the facility administrator Yaan, and two previous characters are brought to the Domes: Shayah, our now named female Tekk-human from the Talguth, and Frederick-Raayat-Tyr. In four scenes we’re succinctly told a lot about Dome life, and the kind of people who live in the Dome. We’re introduced to a earthborn human that is transferred to the Domes to join the scientists—who is expected to be trouble. The pacing and excitement in the story are really ramping up. What kind of firestorm can we expect from this melting pot? Let’s go find out…

C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season Chapter 16.

Yuang: Dome Five

I love the opening to this chapter:

He couldn’t fix it. Immediately we know the conflict. Try though he might, the machine defied him. He hoped that if he fought with it long enough, followed every circuit from beginning to end with careful enough eyes, he might come up with a different cause for the trouble they were having with it. Not only can he not fix it, but the problem that he’s having is bad and he wishes it were otherwise. A more acceptable cause. But he had been through every circuit at least twice, had tested every component he could remove or reach, and the diagnosis remained the same. A biochip had died. Simple. It had to be replaced. Simple. I love the rhythm of the last four “sentences.” Short, staccato and as pleasant as machine-gun fire.

“Shit.”

We can tell instantly we’re following a new character. Is it a Tekk? Is it one of the fabled human intellectuals who were spirited away by the Tyr? (We’re told in Chapter 13 something about the Domes. That’s where our Tekk would be transferred to the Domes on her way to another ship.)

Yaan, the man trying to fix the chip. Tereza, a fellow researcher. Sung, a fellow researcher. Tereza’s had word from the Tyr, they’re not only sending a Tekk to fix the chip but also delivering another earthborn. Yaan can’t bear the thought of either. Hints that the humans had bombed and electronically erased much of their own knowledge during the Conquest. But why?

The earthborn might read about such things, might know hte history, the when and the how and supposedly the why of them … but would never consider all the implications. Never.

Which tells me instantly why. I’m pretty sure I suspected even in my first read through. As Yaan considers the difficulty of breaking in a new earthborn addition to their team, he reveals the fate of the last transfer:

“He killed himself,” he said quietly.

* * *

Yaan, we learn, is in charge of the facility. Twelve unit managers and their assistants are crammed in to  a lounge that Yaan had fought tooth and nail to create. The Tyr delegation was thankfully small, from the Talguth. A Raayat, a Tekk woman of African heritage and the earthborn transfer.

With a deep, heartfelt sigh of dread, he knew that this one was going to be trouble. Big trouble. He assessed the youth with a practiced eye, and felt himself growing more and more worried. The man—say rather, boy—was sixteen. If that old. Bad, very bad. Not yet a child, not quite an adult, filled with the insecurities of both and an admixture of hormones that practically guaranteed overreaction to stress. Bearing himself in a manner that implied he had come to work, he had come to do things, he was very excited about being here and could they please, please, get through the preliminaries very fast, becauseh he couldn’t wait to get started.

We’re going to lose him, Yaan thought grimly. One way or another.

I love the treat implied in that last sentence. Here is a man who has done everything to create a little comfort for the people in his facility. Here is a threat to that comfort.

* * *

Yaan and our female Tekk (nameber Yol Shayay To Hegyam Haal) go to the equipment with the defective chip. Yaan leaves the equipment open to clearly tell the Tekk that he’d tried to fix it without her and that she was not welcome. Had she been there to fix it, he thinks, she could have replaced the unit in five minutes. Instead, Shayay launches into a passionate monologue about her reason for accepting transfer: The Tekk have been submitting to the Will so that they could establish a network of communication, and with it now in place they need information that will reveal the Tyr’s weakness and allow humanity to reclaim their freedom. Yaan is reluctant (or unable) to help.

She stared at him for a long while in silence; the markings on her face made it impossible for him to read her. At last she told him, “In seventy-four days I’m scheduled to be transferred to another longship. To join a tribe of strangers, whose language base is different than mine. To give my body to a stranger for use, and commit myself to making babies for him … all so that I could be here today. To talk to you.” Another long silence; he didn’t dare meet her eyes. “I’ll be back when the biochip is tested, to install it. We’ll talk then.”

* * *

We conclude with a scene showing a conflict between Yaan and Frederick-Raayat. Frederick wants to observe science-humans, but the humans have claimed to the Tyr that observation diminishes creativity. For the moment, Frederick accepts this, and departs but clearly the matter is not settled.

Outside the Dome, a firestorm was just igniting.

Concluding this chapter, we end with the following hooks:

  • Shayay is offering some kind of alliance between the Tekk and the scientists in the Domes.
  • Nogyat is young, dumb and full of …
  • Frederick and Shayay are both on Yuang.
  • What kind of science are they doing? Rats brains in blenders?

Stakes: Nogyat, the earthborn transfer is a danger to the domes. Shayay, the female Tekk wants cooperation from the scientists which is a danger to the domes. Frederick, the Raayat, wants to observe science-humans, which is a danger to the domes. Doom, doom, and more doom.

Jan 282012
 
This chapter is one of my favorite in the novel. Daetrin awakens from near death and is introduced to Kiri, the Marra, our Marra. Kiri begins revealing the relationship between Daetrin and the Marra race, and Daetrin accepts challenge of defeating the Priest-Marra of Cantona.

C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season Chapter 15.

Daetrin awakens in the Honaqa Gorge. A brief exchange between a young woman we don’t immediately recognize and Daetrin takes place, in Greek, and then Daetrin is pushed back in to unconsciousness (to facilitate healing.) The young woman (later to be named Kiri) awakens Daetrin long enough to feed him her blood, then he passes out again. He awakens again, and this time he’s stronger but still severely wounded.

… She had drawn me against her, and her offer was unmistakable. It was there in the scent of her flesh, in the pounding of her blood beneath her skin, so close against my face. I felt the last vestiges of my self-control slipping away into darkness, and I lacked the strength—and the desire—to fight for its return

Who are you?

What are you?

Why?

How many year had it been, since I had last tasted human blood? Even in the Time Before that was a rare occurrence; I would no more have forced that attention upon a woman than I would any other violent hunger. Animal blood had sufficed for me, as it did for most of my kind. And I had forgotten. The intoxication of feeding on one’s own kind. The heady flavor of human life. The feel of a woman’s body in my arms, and the heat of her blood as I drank it in—the scent of her, so very female, which awakened other hungers—the need to hold her, to drink her in, until my body shivered in pleasure, my desperate hunger reduced to mere desire. I had forgotten there was anything like this … and maybe, in fact, I had never known. What human woman could ever have given herself in this way, with so little fear of consequence?

Again Kiri and Daetrin talk. She explains the nature of the Marra and then asks him the nature of his kind. He is embodied (not Marra), she is not. There’s more, but you should read it yourself. A lot of dialogue that gives you subtle hints; Kiri seems vulnerable despite being Daetrin’s healer and protector.

Then, when Daetrin awakes, he is alone.

Terrible emptiness inside me: I convinced myself that it was only hunger, a physical yearning, and had nothing to do with my isolation. It was good to be free of fear for once, with no one to answer to but myself. No aliens to analyze, no humans to deceive, no home to worry about defending. Nothing to save, or abandon. An animal freedom, dream-pure. It was a welcome relief.

Wasn’t it?

And when Daetrin takes the form of a cat (he’s always near his original mass when he shape-shifts) and encounters Kiri, in the shape of a mountain cat.

Which is when I heard the other cat coming. I drew myself back and hissed, an instinctive reaction; hunting cats defend their solitude with vigor. But I wasn’t prepared for what bounded out at me, with such playful enthusiasm that I was knocked back onto my haunches in surprise, all my hostility suddenly deflated.

It was a mountain cat, female, smaller than myself, in that stage of life just past kittenhood. And I would like to say that I knew what it really was because my senses were so keen, or my reasoning so sound. Or because my cat-body could pick up the scent of alienness that surrounded her, or some similarly impressive accomplishment. But the truth was simply that she still had human eyes—the same human eyes—and the chestnut fur with russet tipping, that perfectly matched the shade of her human hair.

The cat psyche is a straightforward thing, infinitely simpler than its human counterpart. In it there is no conflict of id or superego, no wrestling of divergent emotions, no clouding of issues with intellectual complexity. As a man, I would have greeted her return with misgivings, any hint of happiness stifled by my concern over her nature and purpose. And alarm at her shapechanging. But as a cat I was simply glad to see her, my joy unfettered by human concerns. And I think it showed.

She padded near to where I stood, and extended her nose for perusal. I sniffed her gingerly, knowing that feline instinct was wary of any new scent. But her sent was arm, encouraging … even mildly arousing. It circumvented the biochemical channels that warned of danger and left, in its wake, an offer of companionship.

Later, after hunting, they talk again.

“You are feeling better?” she asked.

It occurred to me suddenly that she really didn’t know the full extent of what she’d done. And how could she, when even I barely understood it?

“You saved my life,” I said quietly. With as much gratitude in my voice as that one phrase could contain. And hunted with me, which no woman has done in centuries. Memories arose within me, painful and compelling. Brigid. Bianca. Yolanda. For a moment I was lost, hunting in those other times. Feeling the pain all over again, as fate took each companion from me. And the loneliness—always the loneliness.

The chapter concludes with Daetrin agreeing to follow Kiri to Suyaag, the human capital of Meyaga, once he has freed Cantona from the Priest-Marra.

Concluding this chapter, we end with the following hooks:

  • Daetrin feels an emotional/sexual bond to Kiri as a result of her feeding him “human” blood, and because of her hunting with him. What’s going to happen between then?
  • Daetrin commits to traveling to Suyaag with Kiri, a merging of purpose. What will this mean for Daetrin’s future?
  • Daetrin commits to expelling the Priest-Marra from Cantona. Will he succeed?

Stakes: Free the Cantonan people from the Priest-Marra, learn his abilities, test himself before he proceeds with his fight against the Tyr.

Jan 272012
 
I’ve been a little lax with posting my reviews. I’m going to try to catch up this weekend, get a few scheduled in advance.

In this very short chapter, we evaluate a flashback moment. Based on context, it must be Daetrin’s POV. He’s in a church, during an era when there is a Plague.

C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season Chapter 14.

From a purely informational basis, this page-and-a-half chapter adds nothing to the story. (Really, it doesn’t.) The narrative is historical, it presents a time in the POVC’s life when they are living in a community that has been struck by the Plague. They are trying to establish themselves within the community, and they are faced with a priest who conducts a ritual (communion and consumption of the Body and the Blood of Christ).

Informationally we are presented with:

  • His mother was a priestess and oracle (possibly predating Alexandria.)
  • His father was a scholar of Alexandria, trading his knowledge for acceptance (and other necessities and luxuries.)

The timing of the piece is indistinct. There’s a lot of periods when the Plague ran rampant through the world. The was an epidemic in Asia in the late 1800s that even made its way to California via Hawaii. Based on what we know, it would have had to have been late 1800s to early 1900s. The one thing I found when looking up information on the Plague is that it did not reach the same level of severity in Europe that it did in Asia— and because of the lack of specifics we can’t know where we are, or when we are.

What the timefugue does do though is set the mood. We know that Daetrin fell off a cliff and nearly died (it was possible he died, but unlikely… he is the protagonist after all.)

There are thematic similarities between the last chapter and this one. The hostile community. Daetrin’s attempts to fit in (but the conclusion of this chapter says he never fits in). The priest. The chapter moves the mood and pacing from Daetrin’s attempt to flee (and near death experience) to something more claustrophobic. In this scene/chapter, we’re not shown anything outside of the church and we’re told little more. There’s a sense of brooding danger, hidden just out of site.

I’m left with the conclusion that the point of this scene is to draw back from the fast pacing of Daetrin fleeing and transition to a lower paced scene.

Concluding this chapter, we end with the following hooks: None, this short chapter suggests that Daetrin is not dead.

Stakes: None.

Jan 222012
 
In this Chapter, we see the world through the Tyr’s eyes. What might otherwise be considered “a day in the life of” provides meaningful hints about future events. The scene also hints and suggests at themes tied to the title of the novel.

C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season Chapter 13.

This chapter comes in at approximately 900 words. A single scene that depicts the interaction between the Tyr-whole and the Talguth-Tekk (who is also starsha), we’re told that two children have died and that the Talguth must trade Tekk for genetic diversity. The brief scene provides us a look in to the mind of the Tyr-whole,

… One of its Raayat on board the Kamugwa was in the presence of an acceptable human contact, and therefore It used that body as a mouthpiece, even though it was far gone in to season. (Soon, soon. How long must It wait? It needed/ they needed/ a Burning …)

I could make all sorts of inappropriate (out of context) comments here, but I’m not that snarky.

The scene also provides us hints as to the actions and motivations of the Tekk. The Tyr decide that the Talguth-Tekk will transfer to the Domes where eventually the Kamugwa will retrieve her (the Tekk). We’re given a feel for how information passes between the Tyr bodies:

… It consulted Its charts through a distant Kuol, …

and

… It paused, to question its distant contact. …

and

… It accepted the lists from here, and transfered [sic] them into its other brains. …

Lastly, a hint is thrown out about the titular season (it happens midway through the scene, but I’m putting it at the end of my write up for emphasis):

There was no time in the foreseeable future when the Talguth and the Kamugwa could rendezvous. And with summer coming, things would become even more difficult…. [sic, yes, there really are four periods, at least in the kindle version.]

 

Concluding this chapter, we end with the following hooks:

Stakes:

Jan 182012
 
In this chapter, Daetrin attempts to connect with the Meyagan human settlement of Cantona, with dire consequences.

C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season Chapter 12.

A summary

Outside Cantona, reconnaissance.

Foreshadowing: The longer Daetrin remains a wolf, the more wolf-like his thinking becomes. The building, or temple, in the center of town.

Unanswered questions: We’re not certain how long it’s been since the last chapter with Daetrin, but we get some hints. Five days spent traveling as a wolf (since when? since where?) Two days after landing on Meyaga, Daetrin got some information about the humans living on this planet and stole some blankets and shoes (but where is the blanket?) Daetrin has flees (but it’s a passing comment that doesn’t seem to have any relevance.) He managed to do some hunting and skinning pelts from animals (suggesting a lot of time has passed, but it’s not stated explicitely.)

At the gate to Cantona, meeting the future neighbors.

Foreshadowing: Shaving the hair off ones head seem to be the dominant style

Unanswered questions: What is this custom you speak of, “passed’n”?

***

Escorted inside Cantona, ’til ye can be passed’n.

Foreshadowing: Tyr’s eyes.

The detention cell, what’s this “passed’n” all about?

***

The detention cell, shaved pate.

***

Farms outside Cantona, the Meyagan locust-rat.

This is the first really action oriented scene for Daetrin. The Meyagan locust-rat (which Frederick previously mentioned as “an overabundance of herbivores” had created an ecological imbalance that prompted the Tyr to bring predators) swarms the Cantonan fields and eats all of their crops. Daetrin fights a losing battle, killing hundreds (or thousands?) of the creatures with the Cantonan residents. A few people die who had fallen in the path of the rats. The quantity is dramatically told:

The mangy horde was three or four feet deep, and the Cantona warriors waded through them as through a whirlpool. With long, deadly polearms they scythed through the mass of hungry flesh again and again and again, each stroke claiming half a dozen lives from among those who were struggling to breach the defensive wall. But for each one wounded, there were hundreds more; for each one killed, there were thousands.

and

And finally, when the survivors had eaten their fill and swarmed back the way they had come, through the several gaping holes in the perimeter fence, there was nothing left but a field of pillaged stalkes, and the bodies of those thousands who had lost their lives in the plundering.

That is one mean and lengthy sentence.

Foreshadowing: A dead villager’s face is etched in Daetrin’s memory.

***

The detention cell, bring out your dead.

Continuity error:

The fallen invaders would serve the colony with their flesh, but for how long? A few hundred animals, against the loss of a whole season’s crops.

This could be explained if of the thousands who died, only a few hundred were in any shape to be eaten. (There was a fire line built and a lot of the rats had swarmed over the fire, being roasted…) However, it’s not made clear why there is a delta between thousands dead but only a few hundred that are edible. (It’s also not relevant to the story.)

***

The Temple, meet and flee the Priest.

All about us were people. Perhaps a hundred. Men. Experience had taught me that humans were cruelest when segregated by sex, and the cold feeling in the pit of my stomach became lead. What had I let myself in for?

The last line is repetition for dramatic effect (he’s asked himself that more than once this chapter.)

Foreshadowing within the scene to hint at a Meyagan plant that becomes phosphorescent when it begins to die. Friedman reveals this information a little bit at a time, from Daetrin’s POV, as he struggles to remember the relevant information he overheard. During the “passin’n” ceremony, Daetrin comes to a startling realization:

I knew him for what he was—or rather, more accurately, for what he was not—and for what he had done to the humans here. Because he wasn’t human. Not in any sense of the word. Though he wore a human body, though he played their religious games like a master, the intelligence that shown in those eyes—and the power, the triumph—were from some other source. And that source was fully capable of killing me through our contact, as swiftly or as slowly as it chose. Just as it had with the cloak. Just as it had with God alone knew how many human beings.

Continuity: The Priest doesn’t find him inside the Temple before he escapes.

The priest would know this place, I realized.

The priest would know how to find me.

Only the priest doesn’t.

Complication: Daetrin can’t shape change when he is under the sun-fever that renders him more like humans.

Outskirts of Cantona, on the run

The cliff-side, the fall and the raven

Concluding this chapter, we end with the following hooks:

  • Daetrin met something nasty in Cantona. What is the Priest? (Is it a Marra, or something new?)
  • What’s with the rumor of Tyrran eyes?
  • Did he die?

Stakes: Death.

Jan 152012
 
I thought, as long as I’m doing an analysis of the book, and as long as I’ve reached the end of Part One (Act I, for all intents and purposes), I’d take a moment to do a little analysis of the Act.
  • Characters introduced
    • Human race. The smart ones have been moved away from Earth, but we don’t know much more than that. There are at least two human colonies (for what reason?) We’re introduced to a myriad number of people who are long dead (via Daetrin’s flashbacks to the past).
    • Daetrin is considered a sub-type of the human race by the Tyr and himself. He displays a few characteristics which are non-human, which causes us to question his true nature (not to mention the jacket text for the story calls his true nature in to question). As the story progresses, he begins demonstrating abilities that make you wonder if he is indeed human. He hints strongly that he might fit all the criteria of the human vampire myth, but he also provides enough similarities that you wonder if he might be a long lost Marra.
    • Human race. Tekk are considered a subtype of the human race. They appear to be stereotypically human, except that the hraas do not kill them, and they have very brutal social programs for culling those who are considered weak. (Specifically, the hraas kill their young, but those not killed are forever spared from future attack by the hraas.) We’re only introduced to two Tekk. First a woman of African descent, and second is Ntaya, a starsha among the Tekk. Tekk appears to be derived from Tech, since the African woman was seeing performing technical support on a computer when first introduced. The Tekk appear subserviant to the Tyr Will, but they do not. While it never says “the Tekk do not serve the will of the Tyr,” there is a statement that the subserviance is a facade; this amounts to the same thing.
    • Tyr race. Broken in to three subtypes of which we’re aware: the Honn, or warrior caste; the Raayat, or scientist caste; the Kuol, or leadership caste. The Tyr have subjugated all of the known universe. There may be parts of the universe they have not subjugated, but if they exist, they have not been shown. The Tyr replaced the Saudar. Among the Raayat, there is one who Daetrin names Frederick.
    • Saudar race. Now deceased. Scientists, Diplomats; the Saudar loved knowledge for its own sake.
    • Marra race. Disembodied, FIFO memories, able to shapechange their physical form (which is nothing more than a time-space anchor to permit them to interact with the physical world.) The Marra consume life energy to sustain themselves and to control their physical shape; they value identity and interaction over life. We’ve been introduced to three Marra: the unnamed Marra, the Tsing-Marra and the Kost-Human-Marra.
    • Tsing race. Hexapedal. The only one we are introduced to directly ends up a meal for our Marra POVC (point of view character). They are also subjugated by the Tyr.
    • hraas race. First, why is hraas not capitalized? Panther-like predator. Able to sense life. Hates the Tyr. Culls the “weak” Tekk children. Intelligent, but seemingly more instinctual than sentient.
  • Random statistic, the word “was” appears 500 times in the first 15% of the kindle version of the manuscript. (I estimate that this means that 2-3% of the manuscript’s word count is the word ‘was’. Since I was looking to see how my own writing, or other author’s writing compared against a published author, I did this rough analysis. 2-3% seems to be fairly standard. My take away: Active voice is great, but some passive voice is appropriate in all works.)
  • Of eleven chapters,
    • five are very short (some as short as two pages).
    • three are nothing but background (shown history, with some tell)
    • one is from the hraas perspective, one is from Frederick-Raayat’s perspective, one is from the Tekk perspective, three from the Marra perspective (with part of one of those being from the Tsing-food character’s perspective), and five chapters from Daetrin’s perspective (two of the Daetrin perspective chapters are flashbacks/world building).
  • Act I analysis summary
    • Setting: Earth, Shian, Longship Talguth, Unnamed Tsing-colony, and Meyaga (a human colony).
    • The call to action for Daetrin comes in the form of the Tyr taking him from Earth to be studied.
    • Daetrin refuses the call to action, intending to do nothing more than survive under Tyrran rule. (Play labrat, but never really comply with the Tyr’s effort to understand Daetrin’s nature.)
    • When Daetrin learns that Kygattra has no day/night cycle, he is faced with a choice between death and fleeing. This is the second call to action. He chooses to flee, which forces him to cross the threshold. Escaping from the Tyr is a victory, but now Daetrin must fight the war.
    • Chapter 9 is where the Act I climax occurs; chapters 10-11 are falling action for the first Act, wrapping up the loose ends before Act II begins.
  • Likes:
    • I (still) like the SciFi treatment of a Fantasy trope. (Vampires, in space?!)
    • I enjoy the narrative style. (3rd person limited POV for all but one chapter, and I like Daetrin as a character.)
    • I enjoy the (mostly accurate) science, soft though it is.
    • I enjoy the aliens (Tyr, Tsing, Marra, and hraas, and the now dead Saudar)
    • There are no lengthy descriptions of anything, which some authors do to pad word count.
    • The story is mostly show. Tells are tucked in between dramatic events. Even the backstory chapters are mostly show.
    • Minimal repetition.
    • I like the structure of Act I which, so far, follows the form discussed in Joeseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Friedman may or may not have intended this.
  • Dislikes:
    • I wouldn’t have any, except that I’m reading a lot more carefully with an eye on learning something from the reading. Understanding what I like (in another author’s writing style) helps me understand my goals as a writer (not that I want to try to duplicate Friedman’s narrative style.)
    • DAW Books, now owned by Penguin, did a crappy job converting this treasure to ebook format. A lot of words are mispelled in the kindle version that are correctly spelled in the original paperback version that I own; there are also a number of punctuation mistakes (including missing spaces) which are also kindle-specific mistakes.
    • These do not detract from my enjoyment of the novel, but I must admit these to be completely honest (the point is to identify things that I don’t like, so that I know what not to do in my own writing):
      • I dislike continuity errors, thankfully these are minor or infrequent. It’s tough to catch all errors. Sometimes you write something in a short hand where the narrative in your head makes sense and is consistent, but the word choice implies something other than your intended meaning. Everyone makes the leap with you, so it gets published without correcting the wording.
      • There are some logical errors, which it’s tough to be critical: not everyone arrives at the same conclusion as myself. While I deduce that this means there must be a flaw in someone else’s logic, it’s possible the flaw is my own. I am pretty sure I understand the consequence, which is why I consider them logical flaws in the narrative. Thankfully, these are all second level flaws, which is to say that each perceived flaw is a consequence of a conflict between a logical consequent of one statement and another statement.
      • I dislike repetition (within the same scene or paragraph), but thankfully its rare.
      • I dislike violations of known physics, in SciFi. Being uneducated about physics when I first read this, it wasn’t a big issue because I didn’t know any better. Now I do.

Jan 152012
 
Another short chapter, this time from the perspective of the hraas, those deadly killers the Tyr use as pets or guards. Punctuated by three short statements: the hraas dreams, the hraas remembers, the hraas hates. We now evaluate the current state of the galaxy from the hraas’ perspective.

C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season Chapter 11.

Strophe one:

The hraas dreams: of an indeterminate time (timing of this piece is defined in strophe two) when it lived on a world, hunted and fed.

Strophe two:

The hraas remembers: When the Tyr came, they broke the mesh which tied the hraas to all other living things. Without the mesh, the hraas could not attack the Tyr.

Strophe three:

The hraas hates: The hraas live among the Tyr, in their ships (and elsewhere?), driven nearly insane by the absence of the mesh. Occasionally they rend something that disrupts the mesh further out of hatred, but until the Tyr are “made right” … “there would be no pleasure.”

The hraas waits.

Continuity: How does the hraas know the name of the Tyr? The hraas don’t appear to use auditory communication, and this chapter further reinforces the idea that the hraas are more bestial, instinctual than truly sentient. Answer: The chapter isn’t in a limited POV. Friedman steps out of the limited 3rd person POV to the omniscient to communicate something that would have taken a lot more words to communicate purely from the hraas’ perspective.

I often throw around terms like “cheating at narration” when critiquing someone’s work, but it’s important to recognize when doing a critique when the author has changed their style of writing (intentionally) versus a mistake in style. In this chapter, we’re looking not at a specific hraas but rather at the species as a whole, for this reason it’s not really cheating at narration.

Concluding this chapter, we end with the following hooks:

  • The hraas are, in fact, intelligent. (Though the question remains, how intelligent? They’re not tool users, they can’t communicate with other species, etc..)
  • We’re introduced to the idea of the mesh and how it ties all living things together, but the mesh is disrupted by the Tyr. Why?
  • The hraas are unable to attack something, like the Tyr, without the mesh. Why? How does this work?
  • This indirectly fleshes out the relationship between the hraas and the Tekk, by tells us more about the hraas themselves.
  • The hraas hate the Tyr for having taken them from their world.

Stakes: The hraas are in captivity, waiting for a day when they can break free of the Tyr.

In the previous Tekk chapter, the Tekk POVC speculated as to the reasons why the hraas act the way they do. In this chapter, we’re given that answer. In essence, what we’re seeing here is Friedman array a number of potential allies who might all work towards a common goal: defeating the Tyr.