So, I read a lot when I am given the time, and I definitely had a lot of that when I was home. Reading and eating. I think I’ve gained about 15lbs since coming back to LA. Oh dear. Anyway! Books! Books I have read and will now review for you! KUSHIEL’S MERCY by Jacqueline Carey and FLORA SEGUNDA by Ysabeau Wilce.
Review of Kushiel’s Mercy by Jacqueline Carey
I had hoped to buy this in mass market paperback because all of my other Kushiel books are in paperback, but I got impatient. And now I’m annoyed because I’m obsessive-compulsive about my books. REGARDLESS, I picked this up on Boxing Day and finished this behemoth very nearly in one go (interrupted only by my junior high reunion).
In my review of Kushiel’s Justice, I gave a brief summation of the events prior so I won’t bother here. To offer some brief background information, Imriel de la Courcel nó Montrève and his royal cousin the Dauphine Sidonie had embarked on an tumultuous, politically rife affair before Imriel left Terre d’Ange to pursue a marriage of state to Dorelai mab Bredaia of Alba. Unfortunately, this was in defiance of their god Blessed Elua’s precept of Love as thou wilt for while Imriel came to love and admire his wife, he was in love with Sidonie. The ensuing heresy (however well-intentioned) has horrific consequences, resulting in a chase across Vralia in search of vengeance and the “coming out” (so to speak) of Imriel and Sidonie as lovers.
So this brings us to the opening of Kushiel’s Mercy, in which Queen Ysandre is trying to deal with the fact that her daughter is in love with the son of the foremost traitor of the realm. She decrees that she will do nothing to stop them, but if Sidonie declares Imriel her consort, it will not be recognised and if she marries him, the Dauphine will be disowned. The only way to lift this decree is for Imriel to find his mother and bring her to justice. Good, good, I like this setup. With any luck we will much more of the Unseen Guild and Melisande, who is one of the hottest villains to ever grace the pages of a fantasy novel.
…except we don’t. Not really. An embassy from Carthage arrives in Terre d’Ange, bringing tribute gifts and an offer of marriage for Sidonie. Carthage is an ambitious fledgling empire and the general Astegal is bent on taking over the known western world. At the same time Imriel is engaging his wits and pulling on the strings of the Unseen Guild to search for his mother. She is in Cythera as the mistress of Ptolemy Solon, the governor of the island. As he makes ready to depart, the City of Elua falls under a dire spell wrought by the Carthaginians which causes a strange sort of madness in all but Imriel, who was spared by an agent of his mother. Now it is up to him to journey to Cythera to find a cure for his countrymen and to rescue his beloved from the hands of their conquering neighbour.
And this is where I sort of went Bguh? My problem with Imriel’s books is that magic is often used as sort of deus ex machina or some sort of catalyst to get the plot moving unlike Phèdre’s, which are pretty much just straight political intrigue with a tiny bit of magic thrown in. One always got the sense from Phè’s books that there was always some larger plan at work whereas it’s gone in Imriel’s story. Which is why I had hoped to see more of the Unseen Guild and Melisande, but I suppose I will have to accept that Imriel’s narrative is just a horse of a different colour.
I will say that Jacqueline Carey knows how to write a good page turner. Despite the fact that the story did not go anywhere near where I had hoped and/or expected, it never once lost my interest, even when we have an entirely different character narrate for a significant portion of the book. Carey’s skill in crafting voice has improved and Leander is distinctly different from Imriel. The more difficult part to execute was retaining a sense of Imriel’s consciousness within Leander’s and I think she managed that admirably.
All’s well and ends well in Imriel’s world (of course), but this was hardly the feel-good book I was wanting. I like Imriel fine, but Sidonie annoys me. Unlike the others, I can never get a sense of her. I think the problem is that Imriel saw Sidonie very differently in Kushiel’s Scion and their resultant undying love was always told to us. We see Imriel demonstrate it over and over, but I still can’t quite believe their love. It bothers me. Also, Melisande’s redemption/retribution was hardly the enormous affair I had been hoping for, especially considering the gravity of her crimes. Still, I was grateful for any bit of page time with her. I love her. She is awesome.
Minor quibble: MORE NIGHT COURT PLEASE. But then again, unless Carey wrote an entire book about it, I probably wouldn’t be satisfied. Regardless, I would recommend this book as part of the entire series, even though it isn’t my favourite.
Review of Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce
I read the paperback version, so it’s the paperback image I’m showing you. I actually like it better than the hardcover version. In the paperback version you get a much better sense of Crackpot Hall and the sort of strange gothic/western/18th century whimsy of the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed Flora Segunda for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is Flora herself. She is a plump, cranky redheaded heroine (but she’s not Redheaded in the way of so many Titian-haired female protagonists in young adult literature) and a Girl of Spirit (so the title says). She is, however, a convincing Girl of Spirit and not Feisty! and Clever! and Other! Exclamatory! Adjectives! That! Must! Be! Qualified! She is irritable but responsible, loyal to her dying family line, intelligent but sometimes lazy. The blurbs compared her to Philip Pullman’s Lyra and I would tend to agree, although Flora and Lyra are not at all alike. I also loved Flora’s foppish (but not effeminate) best friend Udo and her weird, tricksy, hilarious oppressed butler Valefor. More interesting was Flora’s loving relationship with her mother, the “Rock of Califa” and the Warlord’s best (wo)man. Theirs is complicated and prickly but not unloving, much like a real mother-daughter relationship. I really did love all parts of this book (the end was a little meh with regards to overall plot but really, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it).
Wilce does an unbelievably excellent job of creating an alternate universe with its own slang and language. I was tickled by her alternate version of California (I think Crackpot Hall is Flora’s version of San Francisco, in which enormous Victorian mansions wouldn’t be out of place), especially as it’s the state in which I grew up. I also liked the strange amalgamation of Latin and Spanish that seemed to be the “second” language of those living in Califa (e.g. hailing people with “Ave”), although the sections with straight Spanish tripped me up a little. The military language was particularly delightful: “webfoot” for infantryman, “bouncer” for cavalry, etc. Flora’s family’s military history also lends a great nicknaming system to its members: Flora’s mother the General is Buck and her father is Hotspur. Wilce’s world is rife with little details that add such whimsical colour it was an utter joy to read. The Dainty Pirate! Nini Mo! Fabulous!
And now I must read the next book. Why oh why must it be in hardcover?