The Second Blind Son

the second blind sonThe Second Blind Son by Amy Harmon (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: Saylock

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Rob Shapiro

Source: my own collection 

Length: 15:58:00

Published by: Brilliance Audio (2021)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Second Blind Son is a sequel of sorts to Amy Harmon’s earlier novel, The First Girl Child. I say of sorts because this story ran concurrently to the events of TFGC, rather than portraying a continuation of that story. In this, the focus is on Hod, a blind man who is raised to be a Keeper of the Temple by Arwin, a cave keeper. Arwen has taught Hod how to listen, smell, feel in ways that are uncanny to help him compensate for his blindness. As a result, Hod is adept at hunting and fighting through the use of his heightened senses. He can identify the heartbeats of individual people, their specific scent, and so forth. And then one day, he rescues a girl who washes up near his cave from a shipwreck. Ghisla is the sole survivor from her people, the Songers, whose voices are ethereally beautiful, and she wants to die. Slowly, she and Hod become the best of friends and, when she uses a rune carved upon her hand, Hod is able to see. Their paths are often separated but they retain their connection through the years, through political upheaval, and across vast distances.

I loved this book so much. I really liked the way it wove into the earlier story of TFGC and made you remember events from that story alongside this new one. I hadn’t realised it was that sort of timeline, so I kind of wish I had reread TFGC before jumping into this one, but it in no way hindered the ease of following the story. It is just a thing I would have done to refresh my own memory. And yes, it can probably be read as a standalone, but I truly think readers are short-changing themselves not to read TFGC first. Not only will you become familiar with the world of Saylock, but the characters from that book who make appearances in this one are familiar and welcome. You’d miss out on that if you only read TSBS as a standalone.

The narration was excellent as well. The narrator did some different voices for various characters, but only enough to differentiate them within the scene. He didn’t go crazy with melodrama, he just read the story in an engaging way. There were times when he sounded just like Tuvok, though, so that was a bit of cognitive dissonance. I kept expecting Star Trek. 

The character development throughout was decent, though I would have liked to get more scenes with the other Daughters of the Temple. They were an important part of the story but I feel like I didn’t get to know them very well. Maybe future Saylock books will focus on them more in some way. Ghisla becomes one of the Daughters when she is forced to leave Hod’s cave and is given in lieu of a clan chieftain’s daughter to the Keepers. There, she is known as Liis of Leok and no one learns her true identity. Hod is the only one who knows her real story. Also, YAY for the book sample on Amazon having the spelling of characters’ names! I would not have gotten some right from just listening to it.

I thought it was interesting how King Banruud was a hateful, horrible person but Ghisla could help keep him from raging too much with her music. I don’t remember his madness at all from TFGC, but here it struck me as horrific, persistent tinnitus. I know that can make people crazy – mine sometimes wakes me up – but if one is already crazy and cruel to begin with, what new horrors could the condition bring about? Doesn’t make his actions at all ok, but I thought it was an interesting reading of madness. 

Keeping Hod and Ghisla apart in distance but giving them the means with which to communicate with each other was a great touch. It allowed them to grow and mature, and their relationship did likewise. The rune magic that helped them speak to one another really keeps things humming along for readers so we can sense their desire to be together but we don’t get bored by the separation. 

Probably there is a message in there about how true love doesn’t need to see to recognize one’s beloved. Or something. Ick. I don’t really do romance, though I find this sort of non-melodramatic, non-bodice-ripping romance within many fantasy novels to be entirely acceptable. 

Overall, a thoroughly lovely story, nicely paced, and I can’t wait to read more of Harmon’s fantasy novels!

Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4)

cibola burnCibola Burn (The Expanse #4) by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter, Expanse Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaaace! And Ilus/New Terra

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 581 pp

Published by: Orbit (2014)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this 4th entry in The Expanse series, humans are moving beyond their solar system and beginning to colonize far-flung planets on the other side of the Ring. Of course, they’re doing so before having fully studied them and analysed the data. What could go wrong?

Everything, of course! A group of Belter settlers lands on a planet they call Ilus and set up camp, ready to mine the planet’s rich deposits of lithium; the UN gets a contract to mine the same lithium on the same planet, which they’ve dubbed New Terra, and proclaim the Belters as squatters. Terrorism, murder, and mayhem ensue. This is all before the weird debilitating disease strikes. And the planet itself attacks the humans. And also, the orbits of the ships are all degrading and it’s only a matter of time before they all come plummeting out of the sky, including the Roci

Naturally, Holden and crew are the only ones who can fix things. 

I think sometimes Holden comes off as sort of Gary Stu in this one, even though he isn’t written as a perfect man free of weaknesses. He has plenty of those. But is it really a weakness to be the only one who can save humanity from itself? Again? I mean, it isn’t his fault everyone else is too wrapped up in their petty quibbles and research and murder to see what’s actually important. I’m still not entirely sure Holden is really a Mary Sue despite the above, and his human frailties do keep it from going too far over the edge. But it might be nice to see someone else come charging to the rescue sometime. 

Speaking of that. I do love how every book in the series so far has different POV characters. Yes, one is always Holden, but that’s fine and only makes sense given that he really is the main character. I like how we are meeting characters in this book as POV figures who were minor characters in previous books. I dig that kind of plot continuity. I would REALLY, though, love it if Naomi, Alex, and Amos were all POV characters in at least one of the books. I like them all but I have a soft spot for Amos. He reminds me a bit of the man they call Jayne.

It was interesting to see Basia Merton as a POV character. He was the man who was friends with Prax and whose son died on Ganymede back in book 2. Basia’s been through some things and his pain makes him do some stupid, cruel things that he normally wouldn’t. His character development was certainly thorough. He was a nicely complex person and I enjoyed seeing his progression. 

Overall, another great instalment in The Expanse series! It’s been a long time since I enjoyed reading a full, long series quite as much as this one!

Getting Stoned with Savages

getting stoned with savagesGetting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost 

Genre: memoir/ travel writing

Setting: Vanuatu and Fiji

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Simon Vance

Source: public library 

Length: 07:25:00

Published by: Blackstone 

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This memoir/ travel writing narrative is the follow-up to Troost’s debut, The Sex Lives of Cannibals. I didn’t read that one, though I know several people who did and enjoyed it. I love travel writing in general. This one focused on Troost’s experiences in Vanuatu and Fiji, where he and his wife lived when she got a job of some kind there. I don’t think I paid attention to it as well as I should have. 

There were some undeniably funny parts. Troost has a dry wit that I generally appreciate. I found that I didn’t really care much about him or his adventures here, though, and I’m not really sure why. It wasn’t the best travel narrative I’ve ever read, but it didn’t suck or anything. It just didn’t light my fire like I had hoped. 

I saw several reviews saying that it is very racist. I didn’t think it was; it was discussing the racism in other groups that he noticed while traveling, but he himself didn’t strike me as a racist at all. I think a lot of people objected to the title of the book. But helloooo, it’s supposed to be a play on words and pique readers’ interest. You can’t judge another time period (irrelevant in this book) or another culture (super relevant in this book) by our own. 

Something that I did find to be a major turn-off was Troost’s description of his first night in Fiji. He was wandering around looking for just a basic bar or pub to sit in and have a drink and relax after a long day of travel. I get that. Instead, he encountered some male prostitutes who kept trying to take him into the jungle. At least, according to his recollection. He remembered thinking that he was nervous and that getting sodomized wasn’t something high on his list of things to do. OH, IS THAT SO? And getting raped and/or sodomized is something that IS high on the list of every woman who’s had to endure it? Or even the worry that you could get raped? I don’t think I know ANY woman who hasn’t been worried or scared about being assaulted in some form or another. Soooo… now you know how it feels, my dude? I’m sorry he had that scary experience but there was a tone deafness to that whole section that put me off. It seemed never to occur to him that such experiences are commonplace among women. Fucking derp. 

After listening to this, the main takeaway I have is that neither Vanuatu or Fiji are places I want to go. Like, ever. Nor do I understand why anyone would want to visit, let alone LIVE there. Which is too bad because they are probably both cool places to visit. But between the earthquakes, mudslides, volcanoes, and foot-long centipedes, I’m inclined to call the entire region a hard pass. Maybe I’ll stumble across a different narrative that will change my mind, but for now, I think I’ll keep my vacations outside the Ring of Fire, unless I’m going to Australia or New Zealand. I don’t think this was the best book to read for boosting tourism to the South Pacific.

Elatsoe

elatsoeElatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: MG fantasy

Setting: slightly different America/ Texas

I read it as a(n): audiobook, then switched to a physical book

Narrator: Kinsale Hueston

Source: public library 

Length: 09:01:00 / 360 pp

Published by: Dreamscape Media (22 Sept 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Elatsoe “Ellie” is a Lipan Apache who is able to raise the ghosts of dead animals. She comes from a long line of family members with this talent, back to her great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, who her family calls Six Great, also Ellie’s namesake. Ellie’s constant companion is the ghost of her dog, Kirby. When Kirby freaks out, Ellie soon learns that her cousin Trevor was killed in a car accident, but it was a cover-up to his murder. When Trevor’s ghost visits Ellie and asks her to help take care of his wife and baby son, Ellie and her best friend Jay try to figure out what really happened to Trevor, and how a white man called Abe Allerton from Willowbee, TX is involved. Dark, ancient secrets then threaten to consume Ellie and all her family as she digs deeper to uncover the truth about Trevor’s death.

There was a lot to like about this book. For one thing, I think it’s good that Ellie identifies as asexual and not one person in her circle gives a toss or makes a big deal out of it. It is just pure acceptance and it is part of who she is, no questions asked and no one trying to tell her she’ll change her mind once she’s older. 

There was also a lot of tradition and stories from Ellie’s Apache heritage. I know absolutely nothing about this, so I’m just going to assume that it is at least partially true, considering that Darcie Little Badger is Apache herself. The elders, the way they are so highly respected, and the various stories are all awesome.

Related to Ellie’s knowledge of her Native culture is her experience with racism. That is not a pro – for those sitting in the back, racism is bad! – but the discussions that came with her experiences are important and necessary. I liked that Jay was shown as a generally real, clueless white dude who has never had to experience racism of any kind. He means well and doesn’t have a mean or racist bone in his body, but he is utterly unaware of why he would have to convince a store clerk to sell him anything because “we haven’t done anything wrong.” Ellie’s response to him is somewhat amused eye rolling, which in real life doesn’t help much of anything, but in the story, it gets the discussion onto the page for readers to ponder over. 

Also, how can a story involving the ghosts of fossilized animals not be cool on at least some levels? Ellie brings back the ghost of a trilobite, for fuck sake! And there’s a wooly mammoth ghost! That is rad!

There was a lot, though, that I definitely did not like, and I mostly feel that it outweighed the good things that I did like. For one thing, this book was marketed as a YA. However, it read as way, way younger than that. Middle grade would have been far more accurate. I often had to remind myself that Ellie and Jay were both 17 and nearly through with high school. For example, when the ball at Allerton’s mansion was in swing and vampires were killing, Jay’s older sister wanted to keep Ellie from seeing. She responded that she and Jay were at least at a PG-13. Um, yes. Considering that you are actually 17, it would make sense that a PG-13 scene would be something ok for them to see. I mean, what? 

Also, Ellie and Jay are described as being best friends from birth, having met when their mothers were in the same birthing class. And yet they don’t know some very basic things about each other. Out of the blue, Jay tells Ellie he is a descendant of Oberon and that was a huge surprise to her. You wouldn’t know your best friend is descended from the most famous fairy king ever? Really? And Jay didn’t know “Ellie” is short for Elatsoe. Things like that are little facts about a person you learn when you are first becoming friends, not when you have grown up with someone. At one point, Ellie asked Jay if he had other sisters. The way it was written made it unclear if she was joking in that moment or if she was being serious. Given the lack of knowledge they have about each other, I think the confusion is understandable. Which leads me to the next reason I didn’t like this.

LAME DIALOGUE! OMG so lame. Ellie and Jay would literally be in media res and trying to fend off bad guys – and they engage in witty banter? Which isn’t actually witty? No. Just no. It might have worked if this was something like The Princess Bride or Indiana Jones but here? It just came across as immature. Also, one character made actual use of the phrase “meddling kids.” Like from Scooby-Doo. The dumb witty banter would have been fine in that children’s cartoon as well. But here, it kind of just smacked of the author needing to work on aging up her dialogue a lot more. 

And finally, the audio book. I had started this as an audio book. The narrator was so awful that, if I hadn’t been reading this for book club, I would not have bothered to continue. Since it WAS for my book club, I got a hard copy from the library and read that instead. It was better and far more interesting to eyeball read it. I would not listen to another book read by the same narrator. She made what was already a mediocre book for me almost unbearably boring. 

So ultimately, this was a solid meh for me. I didn’t hate it, I think it had some good things in it, but I definitely did not love it. 

All that said, I did find Little Badger’s short storyNkásht íí online. I thought it was pretty good.

Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2)

caliban's war

Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2) by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 595 pp

Published by: Orbit (26 June 2012)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, is the agricultural breadbasket for the Belt and the Outer Planets. Which is weird since it’s a ball of frozen ice for the most part, with almost no atmosphere. But thanks to giant mirror arrays, people have been able to make shit grow on it so that the people who do not live on Earth, Luna, or Mars can have something to eat. That all becomes a problem when Roberta “Bobbie” Draper, a Martian Marine stationed on Ganymede, watches helplessly as her entire platoon is annihilated by a monster that rose out of nowhere. In the process of all this, the mirror arrays get damaged as well. So now there’s no food being grown on Ganymede and it’s entirely possible the Outer Planets and Belt are basically fucked. 

Bobbie gets sent to Earth to give her view on the incident and earns the attention of Chrisjen Avasarala, the Earth government assistant undersecretary to something or other. She’s in charge of all the things. She’s also a rude and crude old granny, so right away she’s one of my favorite characters. She convinces Bobbie to come work for her, which is good because it turns out crude granny needs some armed protection, especially when they fall in with Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. Holden et al have torpedoed their job with Fred Johnson of the OPA and are now working for Prax Meng, the head botanist on Ganymede. Prax’s 4 year old daughter, Mei, was kidnapped just before the shit hit the fan on Ganymede and he hires Holden to help him find her.

And naturally everyone’s paths cross, uncross, and become a Gordian knot of military and political intrigue, all while trying to fight against the protomolecule monster that evolved out of the alien virus from the previous book. Good times. 

I have really been enjoying these books. I know this is only the second one in the series, but it’s an action-packed, complex story. I love the crew of the Roci from priggish, self-righteous Holden to mechanic with a shady past Amos. Avasarala is an awesome character in this story as well. She looks like a sweet old granny until she starts talking. Then she becomes wonderfully imaginative in her use of invective and she isn’t shy about dressing down anyone who isn’t doing what she wants them to do. She runs political rings around every single person ever, whether they’re from Earth or the furthest reaches of the Outer Planets. 

I like, too, that we got a hint of Amos’s history, and a small teaser of Alex’s. I am hoping those both get fleshed out more in the future books. I didn’t expect to like a character like Amos. He is huge and violent and probably a murderer. But in this book, he reminds me a lot more of Jayne Cobb than anyone who is actually a bad guy. Now he is one of my favorites from the Roci. I think it is excellent writing when I can genuinely like a character who is so morally ambiguous, because really he isn’t. He just seems like a bad guy or former bad guy but is really someone who will protect you to his last breath. 

The action in this series is visceral and exciting. It is pretty gory but it isn’t gratuitously so. I think the action sequences truly serve a purpose here rather than being tossed in for the hell of it. I really appreciate that and feel it makes the story much more effective. I am not at all opposed to violent scenes in books, but they need to serve a purpose other than just yay violence! So in that regard, too, nicely done, authors!

I have been on a mission lately to minimize, save money, cull things, and so forth. Buying more books is not a thing I am doing right now. In fact, I am culling quite a few of my books, which is not a thing I tend to do. So naturally I went out and bought my own copies of the first three in this series. I am pretty sure I’ll be buying myself the whole series; I have the first three and the next two are on order. This series has undermined my determination to have an orderly home library and to stay inside my budget. Neat!

Interdependency

The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, The Last Emperox (The Interdependency) by John Scalzi (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaace! And various habitats, space stations, and occasional planets

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection 

Length: 9:24:00, 8:19:00, and 8:07:00, respectively

Published by: Audible Studios

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars, both for each book and for the series as a whole

In Scalzi’s Interdependency trilogy, humans have managed to colonize a lot of the galaxy. They do not do this, however, through the use of any sort of FTL or warp drive. The laws of physics prevent that. They do, however, have something called the Flow, which sounds a little like wormholes through which a ship can travel and arrive at a location in a matter of days, weeks, or months, depending on distance. Ships can only enter or exit at Flow shoals, and the Flow streams only go one direction. So if a Flow stream goes from Hub, the Capital of the Interdependency, to End, the one planet that supports human life and which is at the farthest reach of the Flow streams, then they need to use a different stream from End to get back to Hub. 

Oh, and the streams are beginning to collapse.

This is a problem because, as the title implies, every human habitat is interdependent upon each other for survival. The places where humans settled are all, with the exception of End, not compatible with human life. They’re either on tidally locked moons and planets, too hot or too cold to survive, or on space habitats in orbit somewhere. The Interdependency is organized around Guild Houses, each of which have a monopoly on a certain aspect of manufacturing things needed to sustain life. Once the Flow streams collapse, everyone will be well and truly fucked. 

Enter an inexperienced Emperox, Cardenia Wu Patrick (Imperial name Greyland II), a young woman who was never supposed to be Emperox and only became so when her half brother the Imperial heir died in an “accident.” The various noble Houses think this will be a good thing because they expect to be able to manipulate her. The main houses of Wu (the hereditary Imperial house as well), Lagos, and Nohamapetan, are the political powerhouses and are out for blood and profit. Also, I listened to these, so I may be WAY off on how the names are spelled. Just saying.

The Houses of Lagos and Nohamapetan are particular enemies. On one run between Hub and End, Kiva, the Lagos representative to the Guilds, learns that her House’s entire crop on End had been sabotaged and she naturally suspects the Nohamapetans. Having just spent 9 months in the Flow traveling to End, Kiva is righteously pissed because now she will have spent the best part of 2 years on a trip that is profitless. Kiva soon learns, however, that there is something wrong with the Flow and she ferries a young noble and Flow physicist, Marce Claremont, back to End to meet with the Emperox and come up with a plan to save the billions of people dependent on the Flow for survival. She also comes up with a way to make money on an otherwise failed venture, as one does. 

There’s a lot of politics in this story, but Scalzi makes it fun! Kiva is definitely my favorite character. She’s so thoroughly outspoken and rude and it’s just delightful. She’s also crazy skilled at strategy and politics and is the best person the Emperox could possibly have in her corner. Cardenia is sweet – on the outside. Then she manages to deflate the machinations of everyone conspiring against her, which is especially fun when she hamstrings the Nohamapetans. Really, the characters in this series are the best thing about it. Yes, the overarching story is bomb, and is very Scalzi-ish. But, as Renay Williams wrote, the central characters are all women, and they’re all truly awesome in their own ways. 

Also, the trilogy covers a lot of ground that lovers of sci-fi space operas will appreciate seeing, happily updated with a lot of modern thought, because actual colonialism is gross. There’s far-flung human colonization, empire, the ways in which all these things are connected and, like, interdependent on each other. It is really a good commentary on a lot of our actual current events and politics. I have screamed for years that sci-fi is the ideal medium in which to discuss and analyse current events; Scalzi’s trilogy is further proof. 

As I mentioned above, I listened to The Interdependency trilogy on audiobook. Wil Wheaton did a phenomenal job narrating. I honestly think it is one of his best performances. His timing and tone were spot on and turned elements of the book that were already amusing into laugh out loud hilarity. I loved listening to these books so much that when the third one ended, I wanted to start the series all over again. I didn’t, only because I have so very many audiobooks to listen to that I haven’t even touched yet. But I did go and buy the trilogy in paperback, even though I swore I wouldn’t buy any more books until I get through more of my TBR and cull ones I know I’m not going to read ever again. 

I can’t wait to read these again, and I can’t wait to see what Scalzi publishes in the future. If you haven’t read, or even better, listened to, this series yet, you are really missing out!