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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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 clich√© 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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

Free Moment Over Laundry

You’re never going to believe this, but I actually have a free moment!

Well, I’m doing laundry, writing this post, and then going to finish up the formatting and final edits for the Caladria story I’m editing.

But, that pretty much counts in my world.

Trevor and I started a new diet. His coworkers are doing a high fat, low carb diet. He’s been doing it for nearly 2 weeks now, and has lost probably 10lbs. Since around Christmas, he’s lost 21lbs! I’m so proud of him!

I’ve been adhering to the diet since last Thursday, and I’ve lost 6lbs. Though 6lbs isn’t much, it’s still huge for me! I’ve maintained my weight for most of my adult life, despite various efforts at “getting fit” and “eating better”.

So, this is going well. Granted, I can’t eat bread, pasta, or potatoes, but I’m trying not to think about that. I can eat cheese, meat, and most green veggies. Certain fruits, like apples, bananas, and citrus, are off the table. But, pineapple and most berries are fair game.

I think I can live with that. Except tortillas. I miss tortillas something fierce…

Moving on!

Still in the middle of The Lies of Locke Lamora, and still loving it. If you haven’t followed me on Goodreads, you’re missing all my little asides and anecdotes as I read a long.

I haven’t worked on any new projects. I still have a couple Caladria stories, though one’s been put on pause. If the editing/formatting goes well today, I might get to write another few hundred words for Fight of the Best.

But, I also plan on going to Five Guys for a lettuce wrapped burger, and reading on the patio sounds divine. We’ll see how it goes.

The sun’s out today, and it’s actually warm against my back as I walk to the laundry room. That will never cease to make me smile.

Also, tomorrow is the book club’s meeting to FINALLY talk about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. We’re meeting at a local pub, which is going to be rough. Tater Tots, burgers, all kinds of sandwiches. It’s going to be a real test in self-control. Maybe I’ll eat a block of cheese before I go. The point is, we’re meeting, I’ll finally have everyone’s book lists, and we’ll start reading Stardust!

Well, after I finish Locke Lamora.

Anyway, I’m here. I’m working. And I’m kicking ass at school. Busy times, but I’m not feeling overwhelmed. At least, not anymore.

I’ll see you soon blogland!

BZ

Book Review- Redshirts by John Scalzi

I finished Redshirts night before last. I’ve already moved on to my next read, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and picked up a novella called Purple and Black by K.J. Parker. But, now isn’t the time for them. Now is the time to talk about Redshirts.

You’ve been warned. There might be spoilers ahead.
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I think I have to start by telling you that this book is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. The things that characters are put through, and the science (read “lack thereof”) they have to implement to save themselves is preposterous. And it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s downright hilarious.

Now, if you know even a little about Star Trek: The Original Series, affectionately known as TOS, you know about Redshirts. Those poor souls who follow the main characters to away missions, only to die in painful and shocking ways. And they’re always in the red uniforms of the science department. Poor sods.
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Scalzi’s novel, Redshirts, tells the story of Ensign Andy Dahl, a xenobiologist recently assigned to the star ship Intrepid. Andy discovers, within moments of being on board, that something odd is happening on the ship.

Higher ranking personnel keep a low profile, and hide when they see any of the ship’s officers. They even seem to have a warning system, that allows them to conveniently disappear right before one of the Intrepid’s officers enters the room.

And the away missions? Well, someone, some poor, low man on the totem pole, dies every time. And it’s never a peaceful or unassuming death. It’s Ice Sharks, Borgovian Land Worms, and defense robots wielding giant spears.

And even though someone dies, one particular officer, Lieutenant Kerensky, always finds himself horribly injured or ill, on the brink of death. Naturally, the science teams are tasked with finding cures to diseases that make no sense, and are urged to come up with antedotes and cures that make even less sense. So much so that there is a box kept in xenobiology, that looks oddly reminiscent of a microwave, that will literally cook the problem, until it dings, providing impossible data with moments to spare, conveniently saving Kerensky every time.

And this is just the basic intro to Scalzi’s novel. This is the foundation.

Andy and his friends refuse to accept the way things are on the Intrepid. So, they hunt down the only person who might know what’s happening. A recluse, who lives in the cargo tunnels, named Jenkins. He has his own sad back story involving a dead wife, but I’ll talk about that later.

Together, Dahl and Jenkins realize that the only other spacecraft in the history of the universe to experience so many crew casualties is the Starship Enterprise, from Star Trek: The Original Series. Therefore, they theorize that they, too, must be on a science fiction television show.

It gets pretty meta from here.

In order to save themselves from gruesome and pointless deaths, Dahl and Company devise a plan to go back in time to the year 2012, find the writers and producers of the show, and beg them to stop killing off random ensigns.

Yes, it’s ridiculous. That’s the point.

Anyway, using the preposterous “science” outlined in a previous “episode” that featured time travel, Dahl and his friends make it safely to 2012. Once there, they hunt down multiple actors, all who look exactly like themselves, and devise a plan to fix the show. And save their lives.
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I don’t want to get into too many details, because the last 75 pages or so of the main story are just wonderful. And even though I warned you about spoilers, I don’t have the heart to butcher them here. If you really want to know what happens, read the book.

It’s a wonderfully quick read. The dialogue is snappy, and often foul-mouthed. The narration and dialogue are both witty and dry, and I laughed out loud, a lot.

But, what really surprised me about this book was the last hundred pages. After the main story is done, and you know what becomes of Dahl and his friends, there is a series of three Codas: First Person, Second Person, and Third Person.

Each Coda follows one of the “side characters” from the past. The Writer of the show, the Producer’s son, and the woman who played Jenkin’s wife. And each of them, though still witty, still dry, left me feeling awed.

Each Coda uses this crazy, hyper-meta scenario of a book to point out how fictional characters can have very real impacts on our lives. It shows, in a subtle and emotional way, how stories and their characters can force us to see the world differently, and even see ourselves, and our place within that world, differently.

They’re calmly powerful moments, shared in different points of view, that help ground the ridiculous main story, and give the previous 230 pages some real meaning.

I didn’t see it coming, but I loved each one.

This is a wonderful book. It’s hilarious, and the characters are immediately identifiable. You care about them all very quickly. The story reads fast, mainly because there’s no world building. Scalzi doesn’t waste time telling you what the Intrepid looks like. We already know. Whether you’re a fan or not, you’ve been exposed to enough Science Fiction for your mind to conjure up a basic space ship.

And that lack of world building really cuts down on the need for exposition, speeding up the reading process.

If you’re even slightly interested in science fiction, I’d recommend this book. It’s a feel good story, quick to read, and it will make you laugh. Guaranteed.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! I’ll see you soon, Blogland!

BZ

Just Saying “Hi” and the Caladria Writing Contest!

Well, hello there.

I wanted to drop in and say “Hi”, since it’s been a little while. In news, I’m almost done with my read through of John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which means it’s almost time for another book review. Give me about a week on this.

I’ve finished editing my first story for Caladria! I’m not sure what else is expected of me as far as editing goes, but I’m waiting to here from Leah and see what the next step is. Also, there’s a lot of great upgrades coming to the Caladria site, and I’m pretty psyched about them.

Also, if you enjoy writing Fantasy of any kind, Caladria is hosting a writing competition. It began April 1st, click here to learn more!

I haven’t made any progress on my story Fight of the Best, but I know where it’s going and already have a couple initial tweaks ready to implement. I’m just waiting for the time.

What else?

School’s going well. Busy as all get out, and tomorrow I have a French test that I have to squeeze in between shifts.

But, I finally bought a new battery and charger for my laptop! I am mobile once again! I am so thrilled about this, you have no idea. I may have walked around my apartment giggling because I could carry my laptop around with me, and still have it function.

That hasn’t happened since sometime in the winter of 2012.

Sounds like some grave story opening. It was the winter of 2012. The winter the battery died.

And that’s my cue that I need to get to bed.

On a non-writing note, I got to be a part of a good friend’s baby shower. It was her first ever surprise party, and though it was a small gathering, and she’s hitting the end of her pregnancy so she’s pretty miserable, I think she had a good time. I know I did.

All right. Hopefully I’ll talk at you Friday or Saturday. See you then, Blogland.

BZ