Book Review- Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

So, remember that time I said I was going to write this book review last Wednesday? Well, what had happened was….

I cleaned out my car, entirely, bathed it, and then the battery died. Which turns out, I did not own jumper cables.

Suffice it to say there were shenanigans of the not-so-fun variety. But, silver-lining? My car is basically brand new.

Then there was video-gaming to fully enjoy my week off from school. A solid 13ish hours of Kingdom Hearts time. I have no regrets.

Today has been wildly productive. Started school by reading lectures and posting in discussions. I have to read The Great Gatsby again, which is a bummer, but I’ll live. And then I finished writing the rough draft of my newest Caladria story. I like it.

I always get so attached to my characters, and I just want to continue their stories. Which I have some ideas about, but maybe more on that later.

For now, I’m here to talk about my last adventure with The Gentlemen Bastards!

Of course, there are spoilers ahead.
Red Seas Under Red Skies

So, we last left Locke and Jean getting on a boat, with Locke nearly dead thanks to their epic battle with the Falconer and the Grey King. The second book picks up two years later, with the duo part way through another “game”. This time they’re plotting against one of the most powerful people in Tal Verrar, the owner of the Sinspire, the largest, most popular Casino in Tal Verrar. This book feels much more like Ocean’s Eleven set in Renaissance-era Italy with pirates and magic.
Sinspire

If that doesn’t make you want to read it, you’re broken.

Anyway, their “game” is going well, until some Bondsmagi show up and try to kill them for what they did to the Falconer. Of course, they don’t die, and are actually rescued by yet another mysterious group.

The Eyes of Maxilan Stragos, the Archon of Tal Verrar. AKA, he rules that particular nation. AKA, this can’t be good.

Stragos has figured out who they are, and has poisoned them with some alchemically latent poison. Meaning that they have a two month window before they need a dose of antidote.

Why?

So they can become pirates, of course!

No, really. You see, the Archon is in a bad way, and tensions are high in Tal Verrar. The Archon’s solution? Start a war, so that people rely on the military again. Not a terrible idea really, except that he wants Locke and Jean to pretend to be pirates and start said war.

Now, Locke and Jean are damned good false-facers, but they don’t know the first thing about sailing. Which becomes evident as the story continues.

They have no choice but to accept the Archon’s terms, but that doesn’t mean Locke is nice about it. He’s at least got the cursing bit of his pirate act down, and he slings insults and curses at the Archon every chance he gets. I love that about the guy.
Map_Tal Verrar

You’d think that, since they have to disappear to become false pirates, they’d give up the Sinspire vault game, except the Gentlemen Bastards don’t quit part way. In fact, Locke spins so many lies to keep both the Sinspire game and the Archon’s plans running smoothly, that both he and the reader get a little confused.

This story hinges on a tiny thread of doubt that runs between Locke and Jean. They’re brothers, in every sense but blood, but what they’ve been through has taken its toll. Locke spent a huge amount of time after they left Camorr in a drunken, depressed, invalid state. He wasn’t taking care of himself, and barely let Jean take care of him. They fought a lot.

And it’s this tension that remains between them, even after they’ve supposedly moved on from those dark months. Locke, for all his bravado, fears that Jean will finally realize that he’s not worth the effort. And Locke’s constant doubt gnaws away at Jean, leaving him frustrated, and fueling Locke’s doubt. It’s stupid, and all too realistic. Relationships depend on trust and faith, and Locke’s in himself is shattered. We see him far less optimistic, and often fatalistic, in this story. Which is good. If he’d come away from the events in Camorr without being affected, I probably would have given up on the series.

Anyway, they do piratey things poorly, and nearly die again, this time to be rescued by real pirates. Jean promptly falls in love with one of them, and she’s a delight. I love Ezri, and she’s so damned perfect for Jean it’s nauseating.

That adds to the tension between Locke and Jean. Mainly because Locke still pines after the ever not-present Sabetha.

So, more piratey stuff. Ships and larboard, and “ahoy the boat”. Yadda yadda. They convince the pirates to help them do the Archon’s bidding, which is a hell of a bad paraphrase job on my part. There’s a lot more to it, but basically, the Captain, Zamira Drakasha, agrees to head back to Tal Verrar and start pillaging.

Well, the other pirates aren’t too keen on that, and they ambush Drakasha’s ship. There’s a bloody battle, that Locke miraculously lives through, since we all know he’s no fighter. But, Ezri sacrifices herself to save the ship.
piracy

It is an incredibly painful death, and Jean’s grief is profound. I cried. I still get teary whenever I see fan art or quotes from them. It’s awful. Which means it was really great writing.

So, the ship survives, and they head toward Tal Verrar with a will. Because Jean and Locke are going to make Maxilan Stragos pay. Which they do, right after they finish the Sinspire game, which wasn’t about the Casino’s vault at all, but about the artwork lining the owner’s office. They get away with the art, and then pay a fatal visit to the Archon.

But, what about the poison?

Well, there was an antidote, but only enough for one. Locke tricks Jean into drinking it, saving his best, and only friend from a very painful, drawn out death.

Which you get to see first hand in the next book, The Republic of Theives, as Locke succumbs to the poison.

I will say that this book wasn’t as good as the first one. But, the first one was fantastic. It’s just hard to follow that up. What I liked about this book was the realistic dynamics between Locke and Jean. This story is told so that we can see them on their own, without the other Gentlemen Bastards. They struggle with the new dynamic, and with their grief.

But, this book suffers from a lot of strenuous world building, mainly because of the piracy. Locke and Jean don’t know shit about sailing, and neither do I, which made the 200+ pages of sailing terminology a bit… boring.

If it hadn’t been for Jean and Locke’s humor through the whole thing, I might have put the book aside.

But, now that I’m 200 pages into the third book, I’m glad I didn’t.
Karthain

My summer reading list, as I’ve discussed, is pretty intense. I will do my damnedest to keep reading for pleasure, but it’s going to be at a much slower clip. Much.

Tomorrow is book club, so hopefully you’ll see a book review for Stardust up soon!

I’ll be around Blogland, I promise.

BZ

Quietly Reading My Life Away

My brain is feeling particularly gooey. Like… organic peanutbutter. Have you seen that stuff? It’s way runnier than your typical “Mom Approved” brand. That’s my grey matter right now.

School’s over, for the time being. I’m taking summer classes after all, just a lighter load. Doing half time instead, and only taking classes that actually interest me. “Major American Novels” and “Topic: Noir Fiction and Film”. The book lists are pretty exciting, at least to me. This summer I will read:

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Now, I’ve read The Old Man and the Sea and The Great Gatsby before, but the rest are new to me. I think the Noir titles will be the most interesting, since I read Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and loved it.

And somewhere in there I’ll still be reading for my own pleasure and for Book Club.

Speaking of which, I finally finished reading Red Seas Under Red Skies. I’m about 10 days behind schedule, but Stardust and The Republic of Thieves are both shorter than my usual reading. I expect them to go quickly.

I’m suffering from a book hangover. I loved the second Gentleman Bastard book, though not as much as the first installment, and I’m loathe to read something else. Even something as wonderful as Stardust. Other Book Clubbers are reading it and they love it so far.

I also have a tentative Book List written up, but I’m waiting to finalize until I get the newest member’s list. Currently I’m working on creating a Facebook group and Goodreads group, so we can chat easily and help each other out. So far, it’s looking good.

Anyway, it’s time I got ready for work. Keep an eye out for the Book Review of Red Seas Under Red Skies. It’ll probably come out on Wednesday.

BZ

Avoiding the Research Paper

Hi.

Sorry about the delay in posts. This is the last week of school, and of course I’m working almost 50 hours this week. Add in a little personal drama (don’t you fret), and I’m am up to my earlobes in all kinds of time consuming things.

I’m still making steady progress with Red Sails Under Red Skies, but will probably have to read Stardust between the two Gentleman Bastard books. I just couldn’t devote quite enough time to them. Follow my progress on Goodreads!

But, for school I’m researching a pretty awesome topic. I have to write a paper about a literary topic of my choosing. My topic of choice? Mephistopheles as a Modern Archetype.

I haven’t been this excited about a research paper in pretty much my entire life. I’ve checked out about a dozen books about the Devil, the Trickster Archetype, Norse Mythology, and a couple comic books. All to arm myself with the argument that Goethe’s Mephistopheles is ready for a revamp. I think telling the Faust legend from his perspective would be wildly successful.

Anyway, I’ve basically been holed up in my favorite breweries/taphouses studying for days. I’m anxious to finally sit down and commit the words to paper.

Outside of school, it’s one of my best friend’s birthdays today. I’m balancing social interactions and academic responsibilities like a boss. Unfortunately that means my own writing endeavors have fallen a bit behind.

The good news is that the new issue of Fab Fables, in which I make my first appearance as Editor, is out now! You can buy it here for the low price of just £1.25!
FabFables4

So, what else is up?

Basically, I’m just busting ass until school is done. I just have to get through this weekend, and then I’m off for the summer. Work will be easy enough to balance from there. My plan is to really commit to my writing, and reading, over the summer break.

And, sometime next week I am going to finish the rough draft of Fight of the Best. I’m still quite infatuated with the story and feel that it’s a much stronger first draft than A Stranger in the Mists was. The current story falls comfortably between Hunting Storm and A Stranger in the Mists, which leaves me feeling confident about what Leah and I can do to it. Between the two of us, we’ll polish it up nice.

What else?

I’m generally exhausted, as of this writing. But, I’ve been up since 6:45, and it’s a quarter after midnight. I have to be back up at 6am tomorrow. You know, the usual.

Anyway, I’m here. I’m thinking about you guys, and reading your posts. If my paper goes well, I’ll post it here after I’ve received a grade for it.

Also, if you haven’t visited my reading page, or my about page, keep an eye out for some updates!

I’ll talk at you all soon!

BZ

Book Review- Purple and Black by K.J. Parker

Back, as promised, to discuss Purple and Black, a novella by K.J. Parker. A quick Goodreads search showed me that Parker actually has quite a few titles to his name. I hadn’t heard of him until I saw this book float by me at the check-in terminal at work. I won’t lie, the cover art really caught my attention, so I read the quick synopsis on the jacket flap, and then shelved it.

Except my brain wasn’t ready to shelve it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, wondering how an Epistolary fantasy novella would read. And so I wrote the title down, and vowed to add it to my list.

Flash forward a week, and here we are at the Review.

Be ready, this one’s gonna be spoiler-y.

PurpleandBlack

So, as I learned in my Intro to Literature class (though I’m sure some level of my brain already knew this), an Epistolary story is one told by correspondence. Letters, emails, etc,. Parker’s novella is 113 pages long, told by a series of correspondences between Nico (short for Nicephorus) and his best friend, Phormio. Nico is the Emperor, and Phormio is his newly appointed Govenor of Upper Tremissis.

The story takes place in an Alternate-Byzantine, according to the jacket, and though I don’t know the first thing about actual-Byzantine, the language shared by Nico and Phormio seems unlikely to me.
byzantine_empire_1355

Both of them speak in common slang and euphemism. There’s plenty of cursing, which I’m not generally opposed to, but it felt unnatural given the setting of the tale. Aside from the frequent mention of locations that sound like they’re from a Fantasy world, the letters themselves could be from anyone.

Maybe that’s supposed to help the reader identify with the main characters, but I was a little disappointed. Because the mentions of locations, and a couple battle descriptions from Phormio are the only world-building present in the novella.

So, the main premise is that Nico has been newly crowned Emperor after all his remaining family killed each other off in an effort to gain the throne. He doesn’t trust anyone currently on the cabinet, and so appoints all his college buddies to positions of power. They’re the only people he can trust.

Phormio has been sent to Govern a small city in the northern extreme of the Empire, where there’s been reports of rebellion. And he hates it. He hates the village, the weather, and his position. He never wanted power. Yadda, yadda.

He and Nico bicker back and forth, showing their familiarity and comfort with one another. Phormio complains about freezing to death in Tremissis, Nico sends him a scarf and socks.

It’s funny, but… it seems just so incongruous with a setting that is still waging war with swords and shields. Not the humor, of course, but the delivery of it.

Anyway, as the story goes on, the friends mention their other friends, and the good old days at college. And how they dearly miss their one particularly dead friend. And it’s in moments when he’s mentioned, or when Phormio suffers a defeat, that you really come to like Nico. He’s caring, devoted, and doing his damnedest to do right by the Empire.

And then Phormio betrays him.

You see, and you will see it coming, because it was rather obvious, the dead friend the Nico grieved so much? Not dead. In fact, he’s leading the rebellion, and has Phormio in on it with him.

Phormio begs Nico to see their perspective. He quotes their college selves, and their thoughts on power and politics. He and Gorgias (the not-dead friend) are mad at Nico for not dissolving the Empire and implementing the changes he said he would when they were all drunk in their favorite bar near the school. You see, Nico had a lot of revolutionary ideas when he was young, and so did his friends. And so did we all.

Young Nico and his friends had come to the conclusion that Power corrupted to the point of Evil. That man was meant to be free. That government hobbled man until he could no longer see how enslaved he was, that he would be grateful and beg for his decision to be made for him.

But, with age supposedly comes wisdom. Nico’s only had his throne for a few months, and though he does want to make changes, he has to get some stability first. Which is why he can’t do what Gorgias and Phormio want. He tries to explain, but he knows it won’t matter.

And even after all the hurt, and betrayal, he still writes at the end of his letter that he’s glad to know Gorgias is still alive. Even after his two best friends have declared war on him!

What a great guy! What an outstanding human being! At this point, you’re straight-up rooting for him, and I was seething at Phormio.
byzantine building

And then you read the last correspondence from Phormio to the Emperor, but this time it’s to His Majesty Gorgias. They ousted Nico, and though it’s customary to kill any threat to the throne, they allowed him to live. They just gouged his eyes out. You know, can’t run an Empire blind.

After all they’d said and promised, Gorgias was unable to do anything any differently than Nico. He doesn’t dissolve the Empire, he doesn’t even attempt to cast the power from himself. Though he claims he never wanted to be Emperor, much like Nico.

And the finally letter is from Nico to Phormio. He’s living in a monastery, where Monks feed him and read to him. He can’t do much for himself, being blind, but he’s not unhappy. In fact, he says he’s happier there than he’d been in a long time. He writes to Phormio, telling him of Gorgias’s visit, and asks that Phormio himself come see him soon.
roussanou-monastery-meteora-in-greece

For a little book that started out so funny, it ended on a very sad note, and raised some serious questions.

Parker plays with themes of Power and Good and Evil. What makes men Evil? Is it Power? Knowledge? Ambition? Gorgias saw himself as a revolutionary, doing the right thing, and then became the exact thing he worked so hard to be rid of. At the cost of a dear friend’s well being.

But, Nico… Nico never came off as power-hungry or evil, even when he sat on the throne. And after his “retirement”, he seemed even more at peace, having witnessed his friends’ failure. He’s free from the responsibility of the throne, and free from rebuke. He behaved and acted as best he could when his best friends laid siege to his empire. And then they tortured him and left him an invalid in a monastery where they wouldn’t have to look upon what they did.

So, is Parker claiming that freedom lies in morality? Knowing that you did the right thing?

I’m still not entirely sure. This story was, obviously, quite political. Much more so than my normal reads. I liked it, but calling it a fantasy novella seems like a stretch to me. Or at least, it doesn’t fit with what I typically think of for fantasy. There’s little world-building, the setting is an alternate-Byzantine, which makes it fantasy by nature, but there’s no magic. There’s no imaginative or mythical creatures.

There’s two men writing letters to each other to the tune of betrayal.

Add to it that the plot was rather transparent, and this story wasn’t that great. But, I’m not so sure it was meant to be. I think this novella was written with a very real message to convey. Parker wanted to explore specific themes, and force he readers to confront them as well.

I think the characters and plot were just the best method for him to do that.

It’s a short book, so if it still sounds interesting to you, you should give it a try. Or if you’ve already read it, let’s compare notes!

See you soon,

BZ

Book Review- The Lies of Locke Lamora by Stephen Lynch

As promised, I’m here to tell you all about this amazing book!
the-lies-of-locke-lamora-US

Let me start by warning you of the usual spoiler-ific nature of my book reviews, and that this book contains the most eloquent use of vulgarity I’ve read in recent memory. If f-bombs offend you, you might want to move on.

I wrote about 1,025 words of this post before I realized I simply can’t give you a play-by-play of this book. There’s too much. Too many details that seemed insignificant, that were actually crucial. Too much laughter when a character dropped an incredibly well-timed “fuck”. Too many moments that had me cringing and writhing with the tension and nerves. Too much heartbreak, when beloved characters found themselves beyond saving.

I simply don’t have the space or time to tell you the “what” that made me love this book. But, I can try to tell you the “why”.

Stephen Lynch did something amazing in this book. He took a pretty straightforward Conman’s tale, and added layer upon layer, until he built a living, pulsing world. Detail by detail, he piled on the bricks until Camorr breathed. From it’s shrouded history, to it’s religion and politics. And not just the the politics of the Duchy and the nobility, but the intricate dynamics of a thriving, thieving underbelly.
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And, while he developed the city, he also brought his characters to life.

I’ll admit that I was a bit lost at first. The learning curve is pretty steep for the first novel in a series. But, I stuck it out those first 40-ish pages and things began to make sense. Lynch tells Locke’s story via alternating timelines. For every chapter in the present, there’s an Interlude that shows us an important scene/event from Locke’s childhood. These Interludes perform the double duty of developing characters and giving the reader subtle doses of information that, though seemingly unimportant, turn out to be crucial to the main events of the story.

And so we meet and come to love Locke Lamora and his Gentlemen Bastards, Jean Tannen, the twins Calo and Galdo Sanza, and the apprentice Bug. They’re an incredibly tight knit band of thieves, far more like family than a gang. They tease each other endlessly, they help each other, and they care for one another as brothers.
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Which makes the happenings of this story all the more powerful.

Fair warning, this book gets pretty dark, really fast. What starts as a fun ride with Camorr’s most infamous thief, The Thorn of Camorr, becomes a whirlwind of torture, death, and revenge. Like blood circling the drain.

But, plot alone doesn’t make this book the marvel it is. Lynch is a powerful storyteller. The prose is often elegant. I would even say it’s on par with Patrick Rothfuss’s, and some lines seemed more powerful to me. Where Rothfuss delivers whimsy and magic, Lynch deals out grit and eloquent grime.

Add in The Gentlemen Bastards’ penchant for inventive curses and you have a book that is impossible to put down.

I’m still not entirely sure how he did it, but Lynch had me more emotionally invested in these characters than I have been in a while. Even with Rawn’s Dragon Prince series, though I love those characters, I love them from a spectator’s point of view. I watch the happenings of their lives. In Rothfuss’s series, though I love Kvothe and his friends, and am definitely emotionally invested, I can see Kvothe’s folly. I watch him make decisions I don’t agree with, and it puts a distance between us.

But, Locke?

I guess we just see things the same way. Which means Lynch is a brilliant writer, because there’s no freaking way I have the same perspective on life as a late 20s, male con artist in a renaissance-era metropolis.
camorr2

Also, without truly spoiling anything, I want to say that this story builds up to one of the most intense endings I’ve read in a while. It’s at once completely satisfying and heartbreaking. And it’s led into by some intense action, from death defying leaps that had me nauseous, to torture scenes that made me feel the same.

I do want to say here that, though graphic and highly uncomfortable to read, I didn’t come away feeling as if any of the deaths or torturing were written solely to be gratuitous. Everything is shown or included to further the story. I very much think Lynch knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote the darker scenes. He knew what emotions he wanted to evoke in the reader, and he did a damn fine job of it.

High-octane is a cliché I’d use for the last 150 pages of this book. Which is why I keep glancing at the sequel sitting beside me with such longing. I have to read it. I can think of little else, even as I read Purple and Black.

So, if you like con/heist stories, if you like political and religious intrigue, if you’re a fan of a well-placed “motherfucker”, you’re wasting your time reading anything other than The Lies of Locke Lamora.

I’ll see you tomorrow, with a Book Review of Purple and Black, Blogland!

BZ

p.s. There’s a ton of fantastic Locke Lamora fanart out there, by the way. I was truly amazed by some of the great doodles and large-scale renderings I found while searching for images. If you’ve read the book, you really should Google it.

Two More Weeks to Freedom!

So.

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I finished The Lies of Locke Lamora last night. And though I’m dying to write the book review, I simply don’t have time today. But, it should be out tomorrow. Be prepared for a long one. I really enjoyed the book and have lots of things I want to talk about, both from a purely “reader” perspective, and from a “writer” perspective. I learned a lot from this book.

And now I’m chomping at the bit to buy the second one. That’s part of why I have no time. I have to shower, then go to the bookstore, and then sit and read at Starbucks for a solid hour.

Priorities, all right?

If you pop over to the 2015- What I’m Reading page, you’ll see it’s been updated. My next read is K.J. Parker’s Purple and Black. It’s a novella, only 113 pages long, and it’s Epistolary.
PurpleandBlack

For those of us who aren’t walking, talking Literary Dictionaries, that means it’s told in a series of letters, or correspondences of some kind. I’ve read a few books like this, mostly when I was a kid. Snail Mail No More by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger comes to mind. And, of course, Frankenstein, since I’ve reading/discussing it for FOUR MONTHS now.
SnailMailNoMore

Anyway, I’ve never seen or read a Fantasy Epistolary story. I’m curious to see how the world-building works when the story is told in letters. Plus, it’s going to be a really quick read. My goal is to finish it either today or tomorrow, so I can jump right back into Red Seas Under Red Skies.
Red Seas Under Red SkiesStardust

And, of course, after that I start in on Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

So, I finished all my homework today, so I could commit some serious time to blogging and writing my Caladria story. School’s hit panic mode with only two weeks left before summer. I just have to keep up the good work until May 1st, and then I can have all kinds of free time!

Plus, the Library scheduling has finally hit a nice mix with my Starbucks hours, so I feel less like a zombie, and more like the really driven woman that I am.

So, May should be a really productive start to my summer! Can’t wait to relax by reading and writing more!

Anyway, see you tomorrow blogland!

BZ

Breakfast and Books

I’m taking this moment to appreciate the simple joy of watching/helping my husband cook us breakfast. Eating eggs and sausage/bacon every morning sure doesn’t feel like a diet. But, it’s calm moments before our day to enjoy each others company. I love it.

I’ve finished my responsibilities as Editor for this issue of Fab Fables. It’s surreal. I’m an Editor. And an Author. They’re small steps towards my end goal, but they’re undeniable.

In other news, I’ve received almost everyone’s book lists. Just waiting on one more participant, and then I can start building the next Book Club List.  I’m going to pick 6 titles, and do my best to get one from everyone. There’s a couple that overlap, appearing on multiple lists. They’re automatically on the final List.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

Not bad. Safe choices for the book club. I’m curious to see what other titles make the cut.

In my reading life, I’m still plowing through The Lies of Locke Lamora. I love it. I can’t get enough of it. And every chapter ups the stakes even more. This book doesn’t stop, and there are layers of intrigue and drama, things the reader knows that Locke doesn’t, that are killing me.

Anyway, I don’t want to gush too much before the book review, but I’m comfortable saying that this is the best book I’ve read since The Name of the Wind.

After this I’m going to read a short novella, Purple and Black by K.J. Parker. Then I’ll dig into the second Gentlemen Bastards book, Red Seas Under Red Skies.

I look forward to it.

I’m off to get ready for my shift at the library. I’ll see you soon, Blogland!