The Undivided – Jennifer Fallon


There was a time, back in the early to mid 2000’s, when I recall adoring Jennifer Fallon’s Demon Child series and associated trilogies, which populated an entertaining universe with complex characters, godly personifications, and political intriguing. So I approached The Undivided, one of Fallon’s later offerings, with optimism. Unfortunately, I’ve given up partway through, because the novel seems to serve up the reader a massive dose of FWFP (First World Fantasy Problems)… and because the plot is unfolding with so many close elements to the Demon Child books that I’m seeing a double-image of R’shiel standing behind Ren.

There’s the mysterious origin story of an orphan adopted by a wealthy and influential single woman; the general angst of feeling misunderstood; incestuous crushes between the main character and a close relation which turn out not to be, genetically speaking, incestuous, but are still entirely queasy; the use of prison as a metaphor for the character literally having no other choices available to them; the mysterious powers inherent in the main character which must be unlocked before they can begin to be mastered; the physically perfect and alluring female secondary characters who manipulate using their bodies… 
I can accept that transitioning from urban fantasy to full-fantasy within a single novel is difficult. And perhaps the story does improve as The Undivided progresses. But at halfway through, I did not feel that the novel offered enough engagement to actually finish: it is simply another privileged, rich child with angst, called upon to Save The Universe. Fantasy can (and does) do so much better.
K.L. gives The Undivided 2 out of 5 bacon-snarfing leprechauns.

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Prudence: Book One of the Custard Protocol – Gail Carriger

Custard Protocol

Prudence is everything I love in a Gail Carriger novel, from the wingtips of its illustrious series title (Custard Protocol! It’s better than Parasol Protectorate!), to the soles of its hobnailed, steampunk boots. The prose is frothy and bubbling with wit and amusing one liners, as I’ve come to appreciate from the author of these fantastic comedies of manners.

The titular Prudence (Rue) is the daughter of three people: a soulless half-Italian woman Lady Alessandra Maccon, her husband the werewolf, Lord Connall Maccon, and their friend the supremely gay and fashionable vampire Lord Akeldama. Prudence is clever, curious and skilled in intelligence gathering (Akeldama runs one of the finest spy rings in the world).

Entering the world of the Parasol Protectorate some seventeen years after the last book about Alessandra, Prudence purloins a suspicious snuffbox, is gifted by her father Lord Akeldama with a state-of-the-art bright dirigible painted in ladybug red and black, and sets forth on a mission of intrigue… to India. As only Carriger could make it, this intrigue is about tea: in Steampunked Britain, there is little more important than the life-giving brew. Certainly not coffee.

And this is the point at which my guilt-free enjoyment of the series stuttered to a bit of a halt. Because it seemed rather… colonial, in how it addressed the actual population of India. Discounting the supernatural set they meet in India, there is barely a named person of native Indian descent in the entire book, which felt to me like an unnecessary marginalisation. And no matter how wonderfully petticoated and resourceful Prudence is, this use of a continent as narrative window dressing and exotification was discomforting.

Which is a pity, because it is an enjoyable book, and I have already reread it twice. As the first in a series, and the denouement of a new, not-entirely-innocent but possible-slightly-naive character, I have hopes for Rue’s development into a more rounded worldview, and the fuller participation of characters of all nationalities. Carriger definitely has written with an eye to equal representation of the genders: “the senior greaser and at least half the firemen and sooties were in fact female.”

You can pick up Prudence and read it without a problem. But you may enjoy reading the Parasol Protectorate series first (my review of Soulless here), and working up from there. There are a good many recurring characters which you will otherwise miss.

K.L gives Prudence 3.5 out of 5 young women floating past on puffy clouds of ulterior motives.

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“Goodness, that sounds like a disease of the unmentionables.”

“They de-puffed out of the aetherosphere to find India spread below them like a great red and brown apple fritter nestled in a pool of blue sauce. There were sprinkles of green jungle, which, if one continued the comparison, meant the fritter was mouldy.”

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy

Attending a fairly restrictive religious school in my youth meant there were few options for good, fantasy escapist literature, and Narnia and Lord of the Rings were the status quo for fantasy, with their clear delineation of good versus evil.

Imagine then, my glee at finding the oasis that was Pawn of Prophecy in this barren landscape, and my subsequent devouring of the series which followed. Of course, we all know that revisiting the loves of one’s childhood can be disastrous… but this is what I have done.

Pawn of Prophecy is a fairly stock standard heroic quest. Garion, feckless farm boy, departs on a journey fraught with perils accompanied by a grocery list of character tropes gathered from across a series of quasi-medieval kingdoms, in order to reclaim the One Ring (sorry, sorry, the Orb of Aldur), and battle the one-eyed, crippled god Sauron (apologies, it’s Torak), and reclaim his ancient, hereditary kingdom as King Aragorn (my mistake, King Garion).

Which is a fine, time-honoured storyline, if unfortunate that most of his subsequent novels follow the exact same format.

Where the novel deviates from default narrative (historical) sexism (and more here) to achieve actively pursued sexism is in its portrayal of female characters.

Garion’s Aunt Pol, who works in the kitchens of the farm where he grows up, is beautiful and regal, with permanently soft, white hands (apparently a side effect of daily hard kitchen labour. Who knew). Fulfilling the Trinity character trope, she is an incredibly powerful, autocratic commander, obeyed by all she meets – unless they are men and decide to ignore her, at which point she… does nothing. Usually, Aunt Pol simply glares and retreats from the field of battle, uttering a comment as she goes. Acidly. It’s a recurring descriptor. Her bossiness and vengeful punishments are a subject of much mirth amongst the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring (sorry. The quest group as it consists of all other men).

Meanwhile, other female characters are either seductive minxes, out to entrap the young hero with fecundity; baby-obsessed breeders who infantilize their husbands, allowable in this context by the man himself not being masculine enough to warrant anyone’s respect; coldly dutiful wives who hate their husbands but endure marital rape as their husband’s due; the occasional repulsive ancient witch, who gets her comeuppance; or enthusiastic-yet-barren wives, who desperately want to prove their love by popping out babies.

It is a horribly simplistic worldview – there is literally no occupation for women in this world other than wife, cook, or professionally chaste mystic, who is also (in one case) a cook, and later becomes a wife. Insulting, but it gets worse when one considers that these tropes are applied to literally one of the most powerful human beings on the planet. Aunt Pol (Polgara the Sorceress, daughter of Belgarath the Sorcerer and mumble-mumble-cough) can remake the fabric of reality on a whim, yet is dependant upon a grumbling, entitled boy to save the day because Prophecy.

The laws of physics? Conservation of matter? What laws? Polgara can create matter from nothing, transform herself, read minds and is effectively immortal, yet her narrative contribution consists of raising and nurturing the hero, and she is recognised mainly for her awe-inspiring beauty… and her fantastic cooking ability.

And literally, all these Bechdel-test-failing female characters do when they get together alone is to talk about Garion, men and babies – and their menfolk, in turn, assume they are simply discussing clothes and hair, in the midst of crises of end-of-the-universe proportions.

This is all even more disappointing when you discover that Lee Eddings, David Eddings’ wife, is coauthor or consultant on all his works. Clearly the Edding duo subscribe to the belief that Simone de Beauvoir expressed as “Man is the measure of humanity. Woman is other.”

Looking back critically, I can understand how this underwhelming series made it into the rigorously policed library of my adolescence. Its like the patriarchy and Lord of the Rings (no, there’s not a difference, aside of the deniability of Lord of the Rings being a product of its time) had a child made of narrative sexism and pseudo-plagiarism. And I say that with the full knowledge that I’ve written and self-published a mashup.

Some of their ideas are good, and some of the dialogue is witty when it’s not being dismissive and sexist, or describing national identities which border on racist. But the books themselves are overwhelmingly sexist, and so…

…K.L gives Pawn of Prophecy 1 out of 5 hamstrung sorceresses.

 

Using the power of Wiki….

The Fall of Peter Pan is now featured on Wikipedia! Huzzah for expanding awareness and free advertising!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_based_on_Peter_Pan#Books_and_publications

 

 

Like reading? K.L. has published their first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

New Book Cover!!

Good evening, my darlings of the Web. Ahead of the normal novel review, I’m just updating you with an update on The Fall of Peter Pan – nothing textual, merely the frosting on the cupcake of adventure. I’ve changed the cover:

The Fall of Peter Pan

The Fall of Peter Pan

What do you think?

For comparison, here is the previous cover. I’m sure I’ll rotate through them as one becomes odious, creating further exercises in stretching the same words across the same proportion of space.

 

Like reading? K.L. has published their first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

 

Clariel – Garth Nix

Clariel

Clariel

Beyond the safety of the Wall, in the Old Kingdom, the ravenous dead walk, Free Magic creatures roam, and necromancers seek to pervert the Charter. The Abhorsens, the royal family and the Clayr fight to keep the charter strong, protecting the inhabitants of the Old Kingdom.

Nix’s previous novels, Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen, take place in a time when the royal house has been all but extinguished, and necromancers roam the Old Kingdom freely. It is a dark, primitive post-apocalyptic world, roaming from the rivers of death to the crumbling ruins of Belisaere, the adventures of the title characters mesmerising and addictive.

Clariel takes us back six hundred years to just after the peak of the Old Kingdom’s power, where a mad king refuses to rule, and corrupted Guilds are steadily taking hold of greater amounts of power and wealth. The heir-apparent has been missing for over a decade, presumed dead, and there is a Free Magic creature roaming the streets of Belisaere. Young Clariel has been brought to the capital to be appraised, apprenticed and married by her parents, whilst she pines for the solitude and forests of her childhood.

Despite this promising start, Clariel failed to grip my attention in the same way as its predecessors. The setting of Belisaere was reminiscent of an overripe Roman Empire,  a somewhat cynical representation seeming to declare that crumpling from the weight of ones’ own excesses and corruption into obscurity is an inescapable aspect of any society. The character of Clariel was mildly interesting, but aside of a few peccadilloes, she fell rather neatly into the character of ‘disaffected, sullen teen outcast.’ She also seemed a little too readily corruptible in the realms of Charter Magic vs Free Magic – her transition resembled nothing so much as a rapidly burgeoning drug addiction, pursued at the cost of family, friends and logical thought.

Regretfully, I do not consider Clariel a particularly re-readable novel, as much as I loved it predecessors.

K.L gives Clariel 2.5 out of 5 broken Charter Stones.

 

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

My Novel is #1 in the Mashups section of Amazon.com!!!

Friends, Romans, Countryfolk!

My novel, The Fall of Peter Pan, has reached #1 in the Mashups section of the Amazon eBookstore!! I was excited enough when it was at #4 a few days ago, but now?? Levitation is definitely occurring. My head is bobbing against the ceiling, enabling me both to indulge in jubilation, and clean off some cobwebs.

NUMBER ONE!!!!

I know, these things are temporary, but temporising aside, it has made my temper excellent! Ok, I promise I’ll stop.

Check it out! Bask in my (momentary) glory!

The Fall of Peter Pan… rising steadily!!

The Fall of Peter Pan… rising steadily!!

And, y’know, keep it bobbing up there at the top of the charts. Buy a copy! Or provide some feedback on what you thought of it 🙂