This Week, I Read… (2018 #47)

164 - Priestess of the White

#164 – Priestess of the White, by Trudi Canavan

I would have DNF’d this, if only I hadn’t bought it specifically because I picked up #2 in the trilogy at a used book sale, on the strength of a lot of people recommending Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy.

Turns out, this isn’t nearly as good that the praise for her other works led me to believe it would be.

I have a lot of complaints and basically nothing good to say.

1. Too disjointed. I’m not opposed to brief asides that introduce a new focus character, for the purpose of showing something specific that a main character isn’t present for. In fact, I can think of quite a few fantasy works I’ve read before that use this technique beautifully. Here, though, the narrative hops between characters constantly, and it got to the point where I didn’t know on beginning a new scene (or tiny chunk of scene) if the character being introduced was important or not, simply because the jumps happened so often.

2. Not a fan of theocracies. Auraya, our MC, is one of the White, the chosen of the Gods, and she’s bestowed both magical and political power because of it. The White keep saying that all other religions are “cults” because their gods “aren’t real,” the implication being that their own are, and we do see the Gods manifest in what certainly seems to be a real way. But their reasoning never sat well with me–seeing Auraya agonize over saving the souls of the Dreamweavers, in particular, turned my stomach–because of the constant insistence that the White’s religion, their way of life, was the “right” one, that they knew best and should convert/rule over others. Um, no thanks? By the time this bothered me, I hoped for a subversion at the end of the book, that the White find out somehow that they’re not fully “right.” It sort of happened, because Auraya witnessed what looked like another God manifesting to its followers. However…

3. The war is stupid. Evil heretics are coming to invade us because they hate our Gods! Okay, good reason to have a war. But then, after the entire book is spent gathering allies (with two out of the three missions to do so turning out successfully,) there’s one battle staged around one big magical throwdown that the White have with the enemy sorcerers, and that’s it. Auraya kills one of them, and then the White’s leader orders that the others be spared, and everybody goes home? Yeah, because none of the other sorcerers kept fighting? They weren’t furious at the death of their comrade and they didn’t want revenge or victory? Everything was just over? I was just flabbergasted at how anti-climactic the last hundred pages were. Especially since HEY MAYBE YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY GODS IN TOWN. Hopefully that’s addressed in the next book, which I am still going to read, dammit. (Or at least try to.)

4. Worst romance ever. Okay, that’s not entirely fair, I’ve read some awful romances, but Auraya/Leiard is a dumb pairing because a) he was her teacher when she was a child/teenager (it wasn’t clear how old she was until FAR too late in the story); b) he’s significantly older than her even as an adult, and while I could get over that age gap under other circumstances, he knew her as a child and so it just squicks me out; c) they have no chemistry; d) she’s a chosen priestess and he’s a heathen (according to the White) practicing forbidden teachings and ohmygod this is a bad idea for so many reasons, but “love” is supposed to trump that, only it doesn’t ever seem like love, just like they both get off on the secretive, forbidden aspect of their affair. It’s two people being stupid at each other for the sake of sex, and we don’t even get to see the sex (yes, I know, this isn’t erotic fantasy, but still, maybe if we actually got to see them together in any sort of romantic/sexual sense, their “love” would hold up to scrutiny better.)

5. Unclear world-building. So, mind-reading, yay or nay? Because the White, and apparently a goodly number of the lower ranks of their priesthood, can read minds. Much of what Auraya “learns” comes from skimming the brains of those around her (without their permission, might I add.) The second half of Emerahl’s subplot depends on this, because as a sorceress her mind can’t be read by the priests, so she needs to avoid or trick them to keep herself safe. Yet, about halfway through the book, Auraya expresses grave distaste for other people potentially reading minds; I forget in what exact context, but she viewed it as a violation of privacy and something no one should be doing. You know, except her, her four fellow Chosen, and however many of their priests and priestesses can do it. Because it’s okay for them, they’re the “right” religion, after all.

6. Two demi-human races, very little description. We spend a lot of time with the Siyee, child-sized flying humans, yet for a good chunk of that, I had no idea what they looked like or how they flew. And then when their “wings” were finally described, they sounded like sugar gliders, with wing-like membranes attached to their sides, and I’m sorry, but those don’t sound like functional wings for full flight at all. I had a really hard time believing that they could lift off from the ground, do complicated dance-like aerial maneuvers, or basically do anything other than glide from something tall to the ground or something shorter. And the Elai, the sea people? Webbed hands and feet. If they have any other distinctive features, I don’t remember them, because their part of the story was so short and insignificant it didn’t even need to be included–they were the race that turned down an alliance with the White, pre-war. Nothing would have been lost if Auraya hadn’t had time to go see them and get turned down.

165 - The Snow Leopard

#165 – The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen

Though the blurb did warn me that spirituality was going to be a part of this book, I had no idea I was going to spend nearly 300 pages listening to an entitled white man whine about his search for fulfillment while leaving behind all of his responsibilities to walk through the Himalayas for a while. I actually wanted to read the bits that were about natural history and science, but they were fewer and farther between than I expected, and definitely less a part of the book than I wanted.

I know it’s poor form to criticize an author directly in a review, but as this is basically a travelogue memoir, I don’t see how I can avoid it. Matthiessen goes off on a trip to find himself, on little more than a whim, about a year after the death of his wife. At one point in the narrative, when he’s flirting with death on the mountain and describing the clarity of that immediacy, he even says he was “careful” because he had young children with no mother to look after them.

So what the hell are you doing on a mountaintop thousands of miles away from those children?

Demeaning pan-mysticism and complaining constantly about the crappy job the expeditions’ porters are doing are the only things Matthiessen really offers here, and I’m struck once again by how the journey toward “spiritual enlightenment” is almost always the province of men, because if a woman (especially in the 1970s!) had left her children behind following the death of her husband to look for herself, or the Void, or whatever, in the cold snows of Central Asia, no one would be reading a book about it, because it likely never would have been written, and even if it had been, it probably never would have gotten published or won awards. That hypothetical female author would have been too busy being lambasted for abandoning her family to be a hippie.

As for the actual content of the book, I’m not a student of any Eastern philosophies or religions, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of Matthiessen’s portrayal of them, but I can say for sure that his constant need to relate their teachings with the ways of many Amerindian tribes feels like a stretch, a diminishing of the beauty and variety of cultures across the world. Just because these peoples aren’t white and Judeo-Christian doesn’t mean they’re all the same! Stop lumping everyone together because you see superficial similarities in contrast to a typical white American!

166 - 168 - Frost Family Anthology

#166 – #168: A Frost Family Christmas Anthology, by C.J Carmichael, Roxy Boroughs, and Brenda M. Collins

I’d intended to review each romance individually, but it turns out I don’t really have to. Despite being written by three different authors, the only way I could tell the books apart was by small consistency errors that should have been caught by an editor; for example, sometimes the town’s school is “White Pine High School” and sometimes “White Pine Ridge High School,” things of that nature.

All three stories are equally bland, shallow, and rushed. The first is insta-love, while the second and third are second-chance romances, but all the couples go from not-together to married or seriously committed in one hundred pages or less, as well as in roughly a week of story time. ALL THREE BOOKS TOGETHER only take the month of December, as near as I can tell.

Honestly, it’s just ridiculous.

As for the “cozy mystery” that spans the three individual stories, it’s so full of obvious red herrings that it’s impossible to figure out until seconds before it’s solved for real. Both the second and third books present solutions so clear that I knew they couldn’t be correct, especially in the second book, because if it’s solved then, what happens to the mystery plotline in the third?

I did not even read the bonus short story beyond its first few pages, when it became clear it had nothing to do with the characters and town I’d just spent three books following; I simply didn’t care at that point.

169 - One Hundred Years of Solitude

#169 – One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

Nope, nope, nope. DNF @ page 90. I was intrigued to begin with, but I don’t read anything anymore where pedophilia goes unchallenged on the page. When adult Aureliano first falls for little 9-year-old Remedios, I was like, gross, but maybe this is a temporary plot point and nothing comes of it, he gets shamed or something–I wasn’t going to leap to conclusions. Then I remembered to check the family tree at the beginning, and sure enough, they have a bunch of children together. I kept reading anyway in case it was a matter of letting her grow up some first, which is still gross but slightly less objectionable; but no, he wants to marry her now. His family objects because she’s the daughter of their enemy, not because of her age. Her family objects mildly, because look, we have all these other daughters too! But not enough to actually stop him, apparently. One woman even jokes “you can marry her, but you’ll have to raise her first.”

I don’t care how “classic” and “brilliant” this is, it’s also vile and disgusting.

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