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I'm reading 50 Shades of Grey because a coworker told me I should (she read it for her book club, and then the rest of the series) and because it's so bafflingly popular. Dear Author's review reflects a lot of my feelings about it (I skimmed the review towards the end, because I'm not done). I'd have put it down if it weren't so popular; I find it irritating, and I've read much better fanfic and much better professional porn. I'm reading it as market research.

And for that, it's really fascinating. What is it about this book that people want? It's like the Mary Sue Id Vortex, but this Mary Sue isn't someone I recognize, and this Id Vortex is seriously creeping me out. (Note: I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with Mary Sue Id Vortices per se, or wrong with liking this book; I'm not trying to express contempt here, and I'm angry at all the people who do. Mommy porn my ass.) I particularly object to the way BDSM is presented as the result of a horrible childhood, and how the heroine was not just a virgin but doesn't even masturbate. Whut? It's not that someone couldn't experience multiorgasmic sex without ever having an orgasm before, or deep throat in their first attempt at fellatio without even knowing that some people have gag reflexes -- people can do all kinds of things -- but it's really really not the way to bet.

I really, really wish I knew where my copy of Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women is; it's a book of lit-crit writing about romance novels by romance authors, and while some of it's eyerolly, some of it's fantastic, and I'm convinced that Kinsale's essay about how romance readers identify with the hero is one of the keys to understanding the phenomenon. Anyone have an online source for that, or read it more recently than me and can summarize? Just the Kinsale.

Another thing I'm thinking of is Clotaire Rapaille's Culture Code. It's...pretty batshit, and unsubstantiated, and the author has a history of making shit up and lying about his credentials. That said, it's interesting. He basically does a lot of qualitative interviews with people about how they feel about certain things, like Jeeps or America or the concept of beauty, and relates them to an imprint, or code. Like Jeep = horse, or perfection = death. I take it as cracky fun, like Myers-Briggs or "What Hobbit Are You?" meme quizzes.

The imprint he assigns "female beauty" in America is "man's salvation." Which...does not seem inconsistent with how mainstream culture approaches female beauty. And here's the thing: the book constantly talks about Ana's beauty (of which she is unaware) and how she's redeeming Christian from his horrible childhood and ick ack ptui. This is a trope I hate, but I'm thinking this might be what's kicking it over.

Don't know. I wish I hadn't given myself An Assignment; the writing isn't great, the pacing is leaden, the sex scenes are too WTF to be hot, and so far the guy's a really incompetent dom. Also, it's a pretty good case study in why first person present is difficult to sustain for a whole novel. I can see why people are finding it cracky and un-put-down-able, but I could leave it if I didn't want to write in the market.
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Half Past Dead is a two-novella collection. One of the novellas is Zoe Archer's Undying Heart, which is the prequel for the Blades of the Rose series.

Skip, skip, skip.

Even if you can deal with a zombie as the romantic lead, the novella suffers from stuffing in waaaaay too much exposition and sex. I started skimming, then skipping, then jumped to the end. Honoria Graves (Catullus Graves' grandma) was awesome. The rest was predictable and the resolution problematic.

There were a few more lovely anti-racism bingos in the text (I died when Graves pointed out that no, all Caribbean islands are not interchangeable), but totally not worth the revulsion factor.

Oh, well.

I still highly recommend the Blades of the Rose series!
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Ok, I'm a little excited. :) Zoe Archer's Blades of the Rose series is a paranormal, steampunky fantasy romance quartet. There are four books, which I read totally out of order (3, 4, 2, 1), and even though they have flaws I love them to death.

The Blades of the Rose are a secret society that is fighting against colonialism and oppression! The villains are the KKK-like Heirs of Albion, evil magicians who want to appropriate all of the world's magic for themselves so that white supremacy, I mean, the British empire, will rule the whole world!

And that's just the setup. Long review is long. )

I recommend these, especially if you're tired of how colonialist the Romance genre has always been.
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A long time ago, I reviewed Tracy Grant's Daughter of the Game, now reprinted as Secrets of a Lady.

There are now four books in the series, and I have read them all, so I thought I'd do a recap:

Daughter of the Game/Secrets of a Lady: Publication order: 1st. Series order: 3rd. Yes, this is weird. This book had so many revelations and reversals that I honestly do not understand the existence of prequels. I thought it was fabulous, with some quibbles.

Beneath a Silent Moon: Publication order 2nd. Series order: 2nd. I thought this book magnified the quibbles, especially the soap opera family relations and overwrought politics. I don't remember much. It's...kind of irrelevant, considering what happened in Daughter of the Game. (ETA: Apparently, I reviewed Beneath a Silent Moon, too, and liked it much better at the time.

The Mask of Night: Publication order: 3rd. Series order: 4th. This was the sequel I had been waiting for! And um. Eh. Again with the complicated politics and family relations. Nobody's happy, everybody's secretly spying on everybody, our hero and heroine are glittering for society but their own relationship is as fractured as one might expect from the previous book. Unfortunately, it stays that way. I don't feel like they moved at all from the beginning to the end. It was pretty static. The plot was clever but ended up (to me) making Charles especially look really dumb. Also, it's Kindle-only, and the Kindle formatting and copyediting was problematic to say the least. At least it was cheap.

Vienna Waltz: Publication order: 4th. Series order: 1st. This was really weird, because she's with a new publisher and they wanted her to change the names of the hero and heroine. So Melanie Frasier is now Suzanne Rannoch, and Charles is now Malcolm (which you may remember was her pseudonym with the early Regencies she wrote with her mother, ha). I didn't know it was really a Frasier book going in, so it took me a while to be sure; but the continuing secondary characters all had the same names and so on.

If I had read this first, I might have liked it more. As it is...too much more soap opera family and politics, and some of it should have affected the later story/earlier books more than it did (did O'Rourke know/know of Princess Tatiana? If not, why not? Etc.) Some foreshadowing for later books, which were actually earlier books, which... Yeah. Like the other prequel, it's kind of irrelevant, because Melanie/Suzanne has a Big Secret she is not sharing. Instead, part of Melanie's dilemma is that she is being blackmailed by another character for a secret that is so minor compared to the revelations in the first book that it's just ridiculous.

Overall...I recommend the first book, but I don't recommend the series, at all. The prequels and sequels have progressively drained my happiness with the first book (ETA: and, apparently, the second). Overall, nobody is happy, everyone is spying/lying/sleeping with others. It's not that they're bad books individually; it's that they add up to be much, much less than the whole. Melanie and Charles are supposed to be so smart, and in the first book they really seemed to be! But as it went on and all their friends betrayed them and each other I had to revise my opinion of their intelligence and perspicacity, which is annoying. Grant's characters have always been a little too modern for their time (I'm progressive! I like progressive historical characters! But you can make it fit the historical context better, dammit!), and it's become more glaring. Going back in time has the effect of removing consequences, which makes the characters seem even more Mary Sue than they started.

The best books in the series are Daughter of the Game and Vienna Waltz, in my opinion, but I think they clash horribly, and Daughter of the Game is better.

YMMV. But between Mask of Night and Beau Carusoe, I'm beginning to think that if an author can't get a book published by her usual publishers, maybe she needs to completely rethink the book.
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The third novella in Megan Hart's Pleasure and Purpose has a dominant heroine. And it's good! I thought so, anyway.

So are the rest of the stories in that book, by the way, though the reviews of the subsequent books in the series are mixed. (However, trigger warning: Non-major spoiler, but awful, spoiler here )

All three stories are erotic romance, though I remember the first as having more sex than the other two. The setup is somewhat silly, but I think it serves basically the same function as "arranged marriage" without the overtones of force, so I didn't mind.
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I am in no way promising to improve the posting rate. But I figured that since I liked this username so much, I should acquire it! For now, content is mirrored.
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At least it was the heroine's trusty servant, not the heroine herself.

That is all.
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Gah. Gah. Gah. I had heard that some people were disappointed with Carla Kelly's latest, Beau Crusoe, but I avoided spoilers and got it anyway. (I had to get it from eBay, after waiting literally months for Amazon to admit that no, they didn't really have it and weren't going to be able to get it either). It was Carla Kelly, and the premise was charming; how bad could it be?

Pretty bad. I skip books that are heavy on what in RomanceReviewLand is referred to as "skanky villain sex"; I dislike the sex-negative implications, and often when the author puts her idea of Deviant Sexual Practices in the book with the bad people, the weird aura of titillation and disgust makes things I consider normal sex (by which I mean: well within the parameters of normal people, not necessarily my normal practices) into something pretty damn icky. Still, some authors, even sex-negative creepy authors, are able to write skanky villain sex that I could see people who like that sort of thing enjoying.

Carla Kelly is not that author. For one thing, I certainly do not read Carla Kelly for skanky villain sex. She writes sweet Regencies with kind characters and gentle humor. As time has gone on, she has seemed... a little less kind and accepting of her characters. However, the tone of her books (the first half of this one included) does not allow for the possibility of any explicit sex, much less the skanky kind.

Secondly, the skanky villain sex is bad, in the sense of being poorly written. The skanky villain is bad, in the sense of being a character that makes no psychological sense whatsoever; her behavior has no motivation and seems so unlikely to produce any desired result (for her) you'd think she was trying to ram cars into airports in Glasgow. She's too stupidly melodramatic to be a creditable character or villain.

Finally, the sympathetic characters aren't so great either. The hero's task of "fixing" the heroine's family involves telling them a lot of lies for humorous effect. Some of them were funny, but many were stupid, and I dislike lying, and the tasks were so easy for him to solve the heroine looks kinda dorky for not doing anything about any of them, especially her sister. The hero just wasn't that interesting, as a person or a (purported) scientist. When the most interesting aspect of a character are his hallucinations and their cause, you have a problem.

Finally, the resolution, in which a villain manages to off himself without staining the hero's hands, is stupid and coincidental.

Oh, and my music choice is a spoiler too.
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I really liked Warprize, despite the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too ending. The ending annoyed me, but it didn't happen until, well, the end.

This includes spoilers. )
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I adore Loretta Chase's books, and I've been enjoying the current Carsington brothers series quite a bit. Except for the last one, Lord Perfect. I thought maybe that it was just my reading slump this year, but other people have also posted that it fell flat for them. I was relieved that my taste was no longer severely in question, but not sure what to make of it.

Then I realized what the problem was: no real conflict. The reason Benedict and Bathsheba Cannot Ever Marry makes sense on the surface, but if you stop going with Regency Defaults and actually read, it's bogus. Yes, yes, I know marrying someone of Bad Family is a problem. Bathsheba is one of the bad branch of the DeLucy family tree, and therefore socially unacceptable, despite being herself virtuous, honest, beatiful, etc. etc.

But...why is it a problem for Benedict? He's rich, handsome, wealthy, noble, heir to a substantial title, of impeccable lineage and reputation: his credit could withstand any number of Dreadful DeLucys. If the problem is that he fears being pitied like her first husband, for being caught in the toils of a Fascinating Woman, then he isn't worthy, period, and who cares whether they marry? If his fear is that the damage to his reputation will damage his Good Works and Meaningful Life, well, he doesn't do anything in the book other than babysit his nephew and look perfect, so while it may be true it doesn't work for the story.

If he fears his father's disapproval -- well, the whole stern-patriarch-who-forces-son-into-dutiful-mold was pretty well shattered by the end of the book, so either Benedict is pathologically wrapped up in what he thinks his father ought to want but doesn't, or the characterization of the father is broken. Since Dad's pretty consistent in the previous books, it actually seems more like Perfect Benedict has some Issues that the author isn't noticing. He's stiff and all, and Bathsheba loosens him up, sure, but there's still a Big Misunderstanding. With his father. And, I'm sorry, he's old enough that that just strikes me as kind of pathetic.

Because of this, when Benedict makes his Big Decision to Give it All Up for Love, it's already clear that a) Dad will welcome her, so that's not a problem, and b) Society will follow Dad, so that's not a problem. Therefore: no real conflict, just a stupid Big Misunderstanding with a secondary character. This doesn't strike me as terribly romantic.

I've noticed that I'm not talking much about the heroine. I've considered this, and decide that she's, well, kind of perfect. Beautiful, sensible, practical, funny, charming, etc. etc. Since I, as a modern reader, do not care that she is from the rotten branch of the DeLucys, that wasn't really a strike against her. I found her interesting, but she didn't really have much to do. Except, well, maybe better.

The children were charming -- a bit too charming to be real, but a welcome distraction from the boring adults.

Hopefully, the next book will not depend on cliché. Or I'll be in a better mood. Or something.
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This is a Restoration-set romance with a noble, virtuous lady-in-waiting heroine and a highwayman hero. This is not Robinson's Lady Gallant. It kind of tries to be. It's not deep and it's very over-the-top, but Westin's touch is usually light enough not to be too annoying. However, coincidences just keep happening. At the end when it turns out that Lady Anne's evil noble husband is alive and spying for the Hollanders, I wondered, Why isn't this over yet?

Then I put it on my take-to-the-bookstore-downstairs pile. I'm sure they take care of her ex just fine.

It's not really a bad book. Just fluffy and long-winded, a combination I was not in the mood for.
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I was slowly working my way through Tanya Huff's Blood Price, and wondering if the reason I wasn't reading much this year was that I was trying to finish it, when I misplaced the book.

In the middle of the climax.

I can't really bring myself to care.

So yup, Blood Price is pretty darned boring. It's predictable, and I object to the stereotyped characterization of the nerdy murderer, and I dislike the overly-symbolic-but-not-otherwise-real night blindness of the heroine, and I hate deadly dull flashbacks which stop the story so we can learn more about the ancient vampire. Oh, and the vampire writes romance novels, but that seemed overly symbolic and not very real, too.

I have liked other Tanya Huff books, but I'd say stay away from this one unless you really have a thing for cardboard vampires.
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Nita Abrams is one of my favorite romance authors. She's local, too, which I didn't realize until now. I've liked every one of her books, even when they're flawed, and buy them as soon as they come out. This one, however, was a disappointment.

First, I winced at the cover, the first Abrams book with a clinch. Eww. Then I winced at the back blurb, which sounded...cliché.

Unfortunately, it was. The history was interesting, as it always is in Abrams' books; unfortunately, the characters just weren't. Nathan Meyer has been a secondary character in several of her previous books, and was interesting there, but here he's a combination of two stock characters: the world-weary Regency spy, and the intimidating head-of-family-of-previous-characters. I kind of have the impression that the author was in love with him herself, and forgot to show the reader what was lovable about him. He just seemed flat.

The heroine, Abigail Hart, was the Sensible Widow, and maybe something of a Mary Sue. I liked her a lot at first, but she just seemed too sensible, and not very real. It's a bad sign when I prefer the unconcluded romance of the younger, stupider characters: at least her daughter and his nephew showed some growth.

There are also some plot problems, the major one being the setup: how could Nathan's brother tried to set him up with a woman without knowing the scandal about her, while she several times muses about how the gossip had circumscribed her life? While in the past I've felt Abrams was fairly reasonable in her use of the Regency Spy trope, this one was just off. It'd be a spoiler to say why. And that's another issue: half the reason Nathan came off so poorly was that the reader doesn't know what the hell he's doing for much of the book, and when finally All is Revealed it's just too much.

I like the vivid detail, the smooth writing, the use of Jewish characters in a Regency setting, the history (Napoleon's escape from Elba), the secondary characters... I just don't like the plot. Or the romance.

That's a not lot to like. I'll probably still get her next book, but I would not recommend this one unless you're already fond of Abrams' series.
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As promised [personal profile] coffeeandink: a reason not to buy.

I read Banewreaker in late 2005. I promised [personal profile] coffeeandink a review, and then realized that I remembered very little about it. Oops. However, that sorta proves some of my points about the book.

Jacqueline Carey's first series, starting with Kushiel's Dart, was striking if flawed. I found Phèdre, the main character and narrator, a sort of Mary Sue Masochist who never actually grows up: interesting for a while, but boring once the novelty wore off. I lost all sympathy when I realized that she wasn't just a Mary Sue, but a racist twit. However, the setting of the book was richly detailed and lush and interesting; Carey seemed a writer with real promise. But I remember Kushiel's Dart, which I read in 2001 or so, better than I remember Banewreaker.

The mythology of the Banewreaker world is real (to the world) and makes no sense. It's very Tolkienesque, complete with nobles and elfies and macguffins. There is an argument among gods, a prophesy, a magic sword in an unreachable location in a dark fortress in a nearly-unreachable location, and a lot of whiney angsty characters. The main characters are the Dark God (who isn't really evil, but comes off more as a Goth poseur than misunderstood), one of his Immortal Henchman (who is still wrapped up in his wife's adultery centuries after he killed her for it), and the nearly immortal Beautiful Elf Wench (who has all the personality of a wet Kleenex). Note to author: characters who hoard pain are not therefore interesting.

According to The Prophecy, if the BEW marries a descendant of the guy who screwed the IH's wife, the DG will be deposed. This is where things are really stupid: any member of that house will do, and would have done in all these centuries. Yet the DG, in true Evil Overlord fashion, waited for her to – finally! – get engaged to The Descendant before kidnapping her. And of course, she enters this world-changing engagement because of Twoo Wuv, and refused to do her duty or whatever without it. Since The Descendant is a noble cipher, I couldn't figure out what a centuries-old BEW would see in him. Neither can the author, apparently, because he's swept off stage pretty quickly. (Mighta been killed. I don't remember….)

There is some sort of romantic tension between the IH and the BEW. I know this because the cover flap tells me.

Oh, and the DG is the god of lust and procreation, and the argument among gods was centered on which races got his gift, and whatever. The symbolism was so heavy-handed that I couldn't even be bothered with it.

The most interesting characters are the Evil Sorceress, who befriends a dragon and magically enslaves beautiful young men and women and has an extreme terror of death, and the Crazy Immortal Henchman, who was raised by wolves. However, they weren't interesting enough, or likely to be present enough, to make me want to slog through the next book in the series.

Carey appears to be enthralled by her own complexity and depth. The end result, to me at least, comes off as entirely shallow.
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I had a New Year's Resolution to write on Pocketgarden once a week. I broke it the first week of the new year. I still haven't done anything about it, either. I did promise [personal profile] coffeeandink a review of Banewreaker, which I read last year, and that is on my desk at work (I wrote it out in longhand during a staff meeting, and it reflects my mood in the staff meeting, i.e. bitchy).

The sad and horrible truth is that I haven't read any books this year. I am about to go postal. But...I don't have time, or brainspace. I did start a romance novel, but the library wanted it back and I didn't feel too torn about returning it. I don't think it was the novel's fault, quite -- it wasn't wonderful, but it wasn't that bad.

But when I read, I shall post. And I have that snarky review of Banewreaker. And in the meantime this entry from [personal profile] pegkerr elicits a lovely collection of Elizabethan fantasy from her commenters.


Jan. 9th, 2006 12:06 am
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I have a New Year's Resolution to post in [personal profile] pocketgarden weekly. I have, of course, already broken it. However, I have a good excuse: I haven't read a book yet in the New Year.

I've been too busy cleaning my apartment. This is really better anyway.... Excuses, excuses, I know.

New icon!

Oct. 11th, 2005 05:57 pm
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[profile] wint3rhart posted some lovely icons in [community profile] book_icons. Several of them have my name on 'em.

So I have a new icon! Yay!
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Fool's Gold is an Epic Fantasy Trilogy written by the pseudonymous Jude Fisher. I believe she's an sf editor of some repute, though I haven't bothered to track down who. Perhaps I should not review a book by an editor, but here we go.

The first book in Fool's Gold is Sorcery Rising. What fun! Interesting characters, a neat world, a neat plot. Nordic echoes, rather than Celtic. A tough and bitchy and capable heroine. I was hooked.

In Wild Magic, the sequel, we also have an interesting book. No mid-series drag, interesting new places, neato stuff happening.

Then we get to The Rose of the World, the finale. It sucked.

The characters -- all of them -- go over the top into Too Stupid to Live land, all in their own special ways. While before some of them made bad decisions -- really bad decisions -- like normal people, now they're all just being idiots. Characters I liked in the first two book became completely unsympathetic in the last, because they deserved every fucking thing they got. I finished the book with a profound sense of distaste. The deus-ex-machina ending (literally) might have fixed things, but didn't redeem any of the characters.

If Jude Fisher writes any more of her own books, I'll certainly look them up. But if it's the first book in a trilogy, I'll wait for the reviews of the last book to come out before I start.
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Say it ain't so, Joe.

I have read, as promised much too long ago, The Last Light of the Sun. By Guy Gavriel Kay, who a year ago I would have said without hesitation was my favorite fantasy author. Not "still living," or any other caveats; just favorite. I was disappointed, as I had been disappointed by The Sarantine Mosaic. I should read Tigana again, to see if I've changed; but from talking with others, I don't think so.

I have a deep fondness for fantasies using the Northern myths and history; I'm tolerably familiar with the myths and history; Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon verse formed a large part of my senior thesis in college. I adore King Alfred, and his daughter Aethelflaed, and the Benedictine Renaissance. I loved GGK's writing. I love stylized writing, intrusive narration, and complex rhetoric. I was the audience for this book. And yet, it left me cold. The reasons were, pretty much, the same reasons for my problems with The Sarantine Mosaic.

I decided, some time ago, that one of the ways you can tell a particular author is going downhill is when he starts tying all his books together into one universe. Heinlein and McCaffrey did it. I know someone else did it, that I was thinking of when I formulated this rule, but I can't remember their name. I bet there are a lot that do it. I'm sure there are some that do it without managing to betray or undercut any of the worlds involved; but some fail badly. I didn't think Kay would fall into this trap, because his first series, Fionavar, relates to all his books. He did it early and thus escaped, right? All the subsequent books, through Lions, mentioned Fionavar; it didn't annoy me. It was like the ringing of a familiar bell with a lovely sound, a touch of nostalgia but nothing overbearing.

Kay is no longer referencing Fionavar: instead, The Lions of al-Rassan, The Sarantine Mosaic, and The Last Light of the Sun are all set in the same pseudohistorical universe. The interconnections do not feel like a gentle touch of nostalgic reminder; they are loud notes of authorial See, remember this? Wasn't I great? It grates on me. A lot. And the new books are hewing too closely to real history for my tastes, which means that the plot drags the characters along as needed.

The intrusive narrative voice is still there. I figured out in Fionavar that one of Kay's obsessions is the way small actions change the course of history. For the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost, and all that. I agree; I even agree that it's a theme worth pursuing. But I think he's caught it and beat it to death and is now flinging around the bloody remains like a child in fingerpaints. The narrator does not need to tell me this over and over and over, really.

Tangent: I remember something Kay said about Fionavar. People were apparently asking him what happened to Sharra: we don't see what she does after the great battle, now that Diarmuid is dead. I seem to recall that he said that he had deliberately left that out as an artistic choice, to show that things still had to happen in Fionavar -- the story wasn't over -- but that on reflection, that might have been a mistake. I might be misremembering this horribly. But I feel that he has lost the awareness of that artistic flaw. It's something he does all the time now. It drives me up the wall. I want it to stop.

I have just realized something that might make sense, or might not. The real character in Kay's books -- the thing that has a problem, and resolves it, and changes as a result -- is History. The people are there as actors in a play. But it's the world that matters. And sorry, beautiful as the worldbuilding is, I don't much sympathize with history personified. This idea makes sense of a lot of my complaints about Kay.

There is something wrong when Jehane and Catriona and Diarmuid and all the other characters of Kay's first few books, which I haven't read in years, are more vivid in my mind than the characters of his recent books. Even poor Aethelflaed (here called Judith).

This is not a bad book. For bad Nordic fantasy, look no further than Marrilier's Sensitive New Age Viking Meets Sensitive Wiccan Islanders novels. If you liked The Sarantine Mosaic, you may well like this, because I see the flaws as being very similar, and it does have great virtues. Kay's sense of place is second to none, ditto his sense of history. It's his sense of character that has gone walkabout.

I hope he gets it back.