(Book Review of) The Poppy War: Context is Everything

Oooh nice cover. I’m assuming this is Qara? I don’t remember Rin picking up a bow.

Oooof. This was not a light read. But I think perhaps it is an important one. I picked it up because it is the first installment in The Poppy War series by R.F. Kuang which has been nominated for the Hugo Award category ‘Best Series’ (also take a look at the other Hugo Finalists I’ve reviewed).

I didn’t really do much other research into it than that. I vaguely remember when it was nominated for the 2018 Nebula Award and the 2019 World Fantasy Award, but for whatever reason I hadn’t really been following the coverage, and so I didn’t know what to expect.

As such, my blind (and perhaps rather ignorant) first impression of the book was that it was set in a truly intricate (if grim) world which was expertly realized and beautifully written, but the meandering plot was at times confusing and frustrating, mostly when large periods of time would pass mid chapter or without some kind of climatic event that would clue the reader that we were coming to a new phase of the book.

The Fantasy Hive writes that The Poppy War is . . .

“A coming of age epic that leads on to a magic school section of mayhem and mysticism, before spiraling into a grimdark no-holds-barred military fantasy that’d make Sun Tzu roll over in his grave to rewrite The Art of War, with Joe Abercrombie writing the foreword. The Poppy War delivers what most trilogies aspire to – in ONE BOOK.”

https://fantasy-hive.co.uk/2018/11/the-poppy-war-by-r-f-kuang-book-review/

To me, it was too much. As soon as I felt like I was beginning to understand Rin’s struggles at Sinegard (the “magic” school) we were off joining the Cike in a kind of ensemble-style cast which seemed like it was about to set up for a heist, only to be thrown into an all out war which is when the book got exceedingly dark and gruesome.

But through all of this, I think what I was failing to understand, was the context needed to really see what this book was trying to do, namely, use a fantasy setting to explore the violence and brutality of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Opium Wars which followed, and reflect on some of the darkest parts of Chinese history.

(I want to say a quick thank you and shoutout to Read By Tiffany who did a deep dive and explained all of this context in her post: Everything You Need to Know Before You Read The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. Truly an amazing post. If you haven’t read it, please do!)

Looking at the book in this light, and with this context, it seems quite remarkable in its achievement. If the book’s motivation was to capture the elements of history I mentioned above, then it really did so in a way that was compelling and interesting.

And so that’s why I feel this book was an important read if not a light one. It got me questioning. At first, those questions were simply: “What is everyone else taking away from this book that I’m not?” But now that I’ve found that answer, it’s become “Well what really happened during that period in history?” or “What is Investiture of the Gods as opposed to Journey to the West?”

With these questions rattling around in my brain, I’m now looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Dragon Republic.

Although, I must admit, I will probably do some more research before continuing on. I’m assuming it can only help.

Anyway, that’s it for the review. If you read this one, please let me know what you thought in the comments. If you haven’t? Well still let me know your thoughts, I’m always up for chatting book things. See you next time!

The links to Hugo Award Finalists I’ve reviewed

Hi all! I was finding it hard to keep track of the different reviews I’ve done for Hugo Award finalists, so I decided to make a post that’s only that. Also I can stick it to the top of my blog which will be easier on everyone.

I will NOT be updating the Hugo Finalists Reaction post anymore. I may still update the Hugo’s Are Coming! post but it has a bunch of extra stuff that isn’t relevant to the finalists, so I didn’t want to stick it to the top of the blog.

I’ll just update this as I go. If you don’t see a title (or more likely whole category) listed here, but it is listed on the 2021 Hugo Awards website it’s because I haven’t read/watched/played and reviewed it yet. This page will have more links as time goes on. Enjoy!

Best novel:

Best Short Story:

Best Series:

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book:

Astounding Award for Best New Writer:


Ok. That’s all I’ve managed so far. Thanks for stopping by!

On the Scholomance as a twisted, evil Eudaimonia Machine.

Last week I reviewed Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education. There’s a lot going on in the book which I won’t rehash here, but one of the main things that stuck out to me as inspiring and wonderful, was the school itself, that is to say, The Scholomance.

Yes. The heartless, soulless, emotionless, a-bunch-of-other-things-that-end-in-less, mystical meat-grinder of a university that tried so hard to end our beloved heroine at every turn was perhaps the most amazing (and definitely my favorite) part of the novel . . .

I guess I’m an academic after all.

But seriously, I was pretty much in awe of Novik for the realization of this place, because as I read further into the book, and learned more about The Scholomance, I realized that what she had created was actually an Aristotelian ideal of existence. The Eudaimonia Machine . . .

Only, ya know, twisted and evil.

So what the hell am I talking about? I’ll tell you, but first a little history lesson:

The Little History Lesson:

So this lesson will be taught in two parts. First a little background on the term Scholomance itself, and then on to the Eudaimonia machine. Here we go!

Wtf is a Scholomance

So The Scholomance is the school in A Deadly Education which all the wizards and witches attend to learn magic which will (hopefully) help them survive in the real world which is apparently filled with Maleficaria (monsters, demons, what-have-you) which are just dying to eat everyone, all the time. It’s horrible and cruel, and seemingly more people die during their tenure than graduate but hey, that’s the world we live in . . . err the world they live in.

When I first picked up the novel and the school was termed Scholomance, the name seemed vaguely familiar, but no references came to mind readily. After I was finished reading, I googled a bit and found that apparently, the term Scholomance comes from the Romanian word Şolomanţă, and was rumored to be a school in Transylvania which was fabled to teach black magic. Students were purported to learn:

“all the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all imaginable magic spells and charms.”

Transylvanian Superstitions by Emily Gerard. pg. 136. Found at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/52165/52165-h/52165-h.htm

It was also said that the school was run by the Devil who taught there and that only ten students were admitted at a time, and when the class graduated, one was held behind as the Devil’s aide de camp. This lucky (or perhaps luckless) soul would ride around on a dragon that controls the weather.

I suppose if there are Dragons involved, Novik would know about it.

Ah yes here’s the ad haha

Perhaps The Scholomance’s most famous portrayal outside of Romanian myth and legend, was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is thought that Stoker read Emily Gerard’s Transylvanian Superstitions and much of the folklore cited there is what inspired the novel. The Scholomance is only mentioned twice however by name (so says wikipedia).

As much as my literary mind would love to believe that I somehow remembered one, or both, of these two measly references in Dracula, the reality of the situation is I’ve only read the book once, and it was for class so I probably retained only exactly what I needed for my paper. The more likely scenario is that I remembered it from World of Warcraft. In that game, The Scholomance, was a castle like school in which the undead baddie Kel’Thuzad trained his necromancers. It was apparently a pretty high level dungeon so I likely never actually ran it, but I definitely would have seen all the ads for it . . .

Moving on!

And a Eudaimonia Machine?

Now this, is where things get even more interesting. The Eudaimonia Machine.

In the work of Aristotle, Eudaimonia is referenced as ‘happiness’, ‘welfare’, or ‘human flourishing and prosperity’ (certainly different then the Scholomance). Architect and entrepreneur David Dewane has thought a lot about these things and wondered what it might mean for people to reach such a state and how. He says:

“eudaimonia for a knife is being sharp and cutting. If it’s dull or just lying on the counter, it’s not achieving its highest state. So what is that for a human?”

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/story-new-york-eudaimonia-machine-david-dewane-optimal-work-space

For him, it would seem eudaimonia involves “deep work”, or the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Some might say . . . Flow. Dewane feels it’s your environment that allows you to achieve eudaimonia. No surprise then, that an architect would set out to design a building which helps achieve this state.

James Matheson, someone I found on Medium, has a good post describing the concept, but the idea is basically that as you complete your work day, you are able to handle less and less distraction, and so you should change your environment accommodate that fatigue. The building ends up having the following five rooms (or maybe levels . . .):

  • Gallery – Where you enter the machine. It’s probably the most crowded level as it’s where everyone comes for inspiration and to talk. This level has examples of work created at the higher levels, placed to give you a bit of positive peer pressure.
  • Salon – A bar or maybe a coffee shop. It has good seating and is an area where you can hang and literally chew things out with your peers
  • Library – A library. All of the work produced in ‘the machine’ will be recorded, and accessible to you here. It’s where you will begin to gain the knowledge you use for your work.
  • Office – Areas for meetings and ‘shallow work’. This is where you work out the finer points of your strategy and everything in order.
  • Chambers – Where the rubber hits the road so to speak. This is where the work happens. Total focus. Crush it.

There is a point to all this I swear (possibly spoilers ahead)

So lets take a look at the five levels of The Sholomance as realized in A Deadly Education. The are: The Library, The Cafeteria, Language Halls, Classrooms, Shop & Special Classrooms.

Now let’s see how well those map onto our machine:

So intricate . . .
  • The Library – A library. This is the first level of the Scholomance. It’s the ‘safest’ level. Students come here to study, talk, hang out. Instead of positive peer pressure, of the Eudaimonia Machine’s Gallery, there is the more negative peer pressure of the fact that if a student doesn’t get a spot, they’ll be forced to study on one of the more dangerous floors.
  • The Cafeteria – Where the food is. Students sit, eat, kill whatever tiny Mals hide in the pudding. It’s a good chance to shore up alliances and hash out trades with your peers
  • Language Halls – Where the languages are learned. Since language is essentially the basis of spell casting in this universe, it’s important to study up. In the language hall is where students really learn the foundations of what they’ll cast later on.
  • Classrooms – Students probably shouldn’t be heading to any of the previous levels alone, but now it’s really getting dangerous. Especially if the room is empty. But once other students arrive, it is mostly safe. A lot of the subjects learned here are seemingly busy work (shallow work?), but sometimes there are a few rare gems which come through. Students often collaborate with their alliances to get the work done, or get the details worked out for projects they’ll pursue on the final level. (also no teachers! could probably write a whole other post on that, but I won’t. I’m getting tired.)
  • Shop & Special Classrooms – These are some of the most dangerous parts of The Scholomance, but also where the real work gets done. In the shop, students create magical artifacts such as magic mirrors, or mana sharers. Whatever they need to survive the end of the year.

We Made it!

So obviously, the Scholomance doesn’t map one-for-one onto Dewane’s Eudaimonia Machine, but I couldn’t help but think that it seemed to fit pretty well as a kind of riff or reversal of the concept. Instead of creating an environment which progressively gets rid of distraction to allow someone to achieve the pinnacle of their capability, The Scholomance is designed specifically to progressively introduce distractions (in the form of bigger and badder mals) so that the students won’t live long enough to do so.

The irony here is, I get the distinct impression that despite all of the danger and distraction present within The Scholomance, I do believe our heroine, El (short for the back half of Galadriel), truly flourished through the course of her adventure, and possibly even found some semblance of those Aristotelian virtues, prosperity and happiness.

We’ll see what her next year holds . . .

I’m impressed you made it this far. Thanks for sticking with it. If you have thoughts or other connections, please leave em in the comments section.


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed On The Scholomance as a twisted, evil Eudaimonia Machine. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into my own stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Should ‘Cemetery Boys’ win the Lodestar Award?

I think so far this is my front runner for the award (though I still have four more nominees to read).

I’ll admit up front that (I think) Yadriel is the first openly trans character I’ve read in fiction, SFF or otherwise. Certainly, one of the most interesting and prescient elements of the novel is the way in which Yadriel has to navigate life with this identity, despite a world which — whether intentionally or unintentionally — just doesn’t understand him.

The author mentions in an interview for NPR, that “[Very often] … teaching falls onto the shoulders of queer/trans kids, which can be exhausting.”

I FELT THIS constantly while reading Cemetery Boys (so great execution there). At times it seemed there was enough tension and suspense in just this one aspect of the plot that it was almost cruel to have a magical murder mystery to solve on top of it.

But heroes do hard things and Yadriel is no exception. I enjoyed rooting for him and watching him grow. That he often had so few reasons to grin like a fool, only made me grin that much wider when he finally cracked a smile.

Another strength of the novel is Yadriel’s crew. Julian was perhaps my favorite. Even though he’s technically dead (a ghost), the kid is bursting with life. Energetic, confident, and enthusiastic about seemingly everything, Julian at first appears not to have a care in the world. We see later, that life has not been easy for him either, and that he has his own struggles and issues to contend with . . . which only makes his no-holds-barred approach to life (unlife?) even more impressive and inspiring. He doesn’t always know the right thing to say, and he basically never knows the right thing to do, but he’s honest and caring, and true to himself, in a way that gets him forgiven for his missteps. He’s a perfect companion for Yadriel on this adventure, a true yin to Yad’s yang (try saying that ten times fast).

Maritza also should get an honorable mention as well. She’s a badass and super supportive to everyone in a kind of I-am-rolling-my-eyes-at-you way (as in she’s rolling her eyes, not the reader). Plus she has two adorable pitbulls which provide a shot of much needed laughter and cheerfulness when things are in danger of getting too intense.

Essentially, this story is about its characters, and the author, Aiden Thomas, just nails them seemingly effortlessly.

The last element in the ‘awesome’ category is the book’s milieu (I probably should just say worldbuilding). We’re in Los Angeles, but mostly we’re in this Latinx community of Brujx. There’s so much to delve into here, but I won’t because I’d rather you just read it and experience it for yourself. What I really admired most though, was how tethered (in the case of freeing a soul literally) the magic was to the identity of the community and the protagonist specifically. Everything revolved around it, and there was no shortage of detail to really immerse (welcome us) into the community. Whether it was painting sugar skulls while discussing ancient gods, or simply eating delicious food at relative’s house, it all felt real, and wonderful.

And in the case of an aunt or grandmother constantly trying to push food on you as a teen, somewhat nostalgic?

I had only one gripe with the book and it was pacing. There were a few points which I felt we were getting information we had already seen or heard, or a few times — after learning some new clue or info — we’d have to go home or sit through school. Perhaps I was just identifying too much with Julian who can’t sit still for longer than a few moments. However, none of these moments took me out of the story for long.

Conclusion?

I’m going to say optimistically (as of 6/22/2021) that this will be my vote for the Lodestar Award. A Deadly Education was really great, but marred by too many insensitivities. This book just seemed to shine, so unless the one of the other four nominees shines brighter somehow, I think this will be the one.

Thanks for reading all this. Please let me know your thoughts on the book, and what your favorite parts were in the comments section. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Newsletter Exclusive Fiction Preview Sent in to Writing Group for Critique!

Hey all, no book tags, book reviews, articles on random topics, or complete fiction to post on the blog today, but I did manage to finish the first draft of this quarter’s newsletter exclusive fiction. As the title suggests, I’ve sent it off to my writing group and will be getting feedback on Monday. Fingers crossed they enjoy it. You can look at a little preview in the image below:

Anywho, please let me know what you’re thinking so far in the comments. Also, this piece ties in with a larger narrative I’m working on for Kindle Vella. If your interested in that, you can check out my WIP tease: Beqsu takes a Leap.

Until next time . . .


Hey again! If somehow this tiny tease of my WIP, and general update as to my writing life happened capture your interest, please consider subscribing to my newsletter. I’ll do a post every quarter (expect the first one July 1st!) that fills you in completely on what I’ve been up to and send you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Or, check out my other fiction I’ve posted here on A&A. 

Thanks for stopping by, and see you next time!

Should A Deadly Education win the Lodestar Award?

Image of Naomi Novik's A Deadly Education cover
An awesome cover . . . not an awesome pic of my closet

This answer ended up being way harder than I expected it would be . . .

I really thought there was no chance this wouldn’t be my front runner for the Lodestar Award. On May 17th, it was even my ‘Can’t wait to read!’ pick for #WyrdAndWonder, and I was more or less bursting at the seams to tear it open and see what it had in store for me. As I discussed in my Hugo Finalist Reaction post, I had enjoyed Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but was excited that Novik was treading different territory here.

And while my initial reactions were extremely positive, I’m glad I looked around on the internet a bit, because there was a lot I had not yet considered.

Initial Reactions:

Pretty positive in the extreme. The main character, El (short for Galadriel), has an engaging voice, and is fun in her extreme antisocial outlook and behavior. There is plenty of snark, but somehow it never made me bristle like most snarky characters I’ve read.

Second, there’s a lot of pop culture references (like the MC’s name for instance) and winks at the reader. One of my favorite winks was a reference to spell writing as ‘creative writing’ and something about how anything she tried to write stream-of-consciousness turned into a super volcano. Any time I’ve tried to ‘pants’ something in my own writing (or even just write ANYTHING) has certainly felt this way.

I’ve seen the book marketed as “a darker Harry Potter”, and it would be willful ignorance to say that Rowling’s work did not influence A Deadly Education, and I think it’s no stretch to say that the Scholomance is an extreme and interesting (certainly terrifying) take on Hogwarts.

(Indeed, the Scholomance was perhaps this book’s most fascinating element for me, and I’d like to do a second post for Friday about how it reminded me of a kind of evil riff on the educational ideal of the Eudaimonia Machine. Hopefully I’ll have enough to warrant its own post.)

In the realm of theme, I felt the novel had clear and prescient messaging in terms of the dichotomy between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, and I really enjoyed the way this novel actually seemed to have a hopeful outlook on those divisions becoming at the very least, less significant if not disappearing entirely.

In essence, there was much to love in this book and many will find it a complete delight to read. After all, any book that uses the term ‘glom’ to describe how a stepfather attaches to one’s mother is hitting a lot of buttons in the ‘fun’ category.

So What Gives? (Some Other Considerations):

Much like when I was trying to review Gideon the Ninth, I found that this seemingly lovely book also had some controversy swirling around it since it’s publication.

Namely, claims of racist representation (which the author has since apologized for), and also themes of sexual assault which were handled improperly. For both topics, I’m going to provide links as other people have written about them much more eloquently then I every could:

Now, I can’t really say I have much more to offer, except I felt it important to boost these articles as their authors have done some hard work and critical thinking on our behalf. I definitely advise anyone reading this to give them a read and consider their arguments.

It’s been a good reminder for me to slow down and really consider what I’m reading. I hope I can be more aware of stuff like this on my own in the future.

So . . . Should it get the Award?

At this point, I’m going to say that even though there is a lot of things to love about A Deadly Education, the strikes made against it have still managed to lower my opinion of the work in general. I give Novik kudos for attempting to be more diverse with her characters, but I do not think enough work was put in to make that attempt a success.

If the other Lodestar candidates evoke similar positive feelings, but avoid the controversies pointed out by so many online, I will almost certainly raise them above A Deadly Education.

I’m still looking forward to the release of the sequel next month. If Novik can remediate any of the issues this first book had, and keep that same dazzle and fun that it also achieved, perhaps her own education will not have been so deadly after all.

Thanks for reading all this! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Jurassic Park Book Tag (#JurassicJune)

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

It’s hard to believe that Jurassic Park first released in theaters today, June 11th, twenty-eight years ago. In honor of its birthday, and to help celebrate #JurassicJune, I’ve decided to do another book tag because . . . well because they’re fun.

I believe it was Port Jericho who originally created the Jurassic Park / Jurassic World book tag. I took out the Jurassic World questions to keep it pure JP although I suppose it doesn’t much matter.

I discovered the tag on The Literary Phoenix‘s website. Here is their take on the tag.

Rules are simple:

  • Link the original post, and whoever tagged you – I did above and nobody tagged me 😦
  • Pick a book that fits each quote theme.
  • Have fun!
  • Tag 3 or more people.

I think that’s all the logistical stuff so, let’s get started. In the immortal words of Samuel L Jackson:

“Spared no Expense”

A series that seems to go on forever. / The most expensive book you’ve purchased.

For me. The Wheel of Time was this series. Clocking in at some 20 books, and 4,410,036 words, much like a male caster of Saidin, I burnt out hard somewhere around Crown of Swords (book 7). I thought the prequel, A New Spring, would get me back into the series, but I was wrong.

I think the most expensive book I’ve purchased (that wasn’t a textbook), was Jurassic London’s last book, The Extinction Event. It’s a gorgeous (in my mind) dino-skin leather bound which only ran me like $45. I got number 85 of 150.

“Life (uh) finds a way”

A book with amazingly intricate worldbuilding. / What crazy extremes have you gone to in order to get a book you wanted?

Since I just finished The Empire of Gold I’m gonna go with the Daevabad Trilogy for amazingly intricate worldbuilding. Emphasis on the ‘amazing’ part. I’m sure I’ve read books that were more complexly developed or intricate, but this series is perhaps the most spectacular world. Lots of time and energy went into developing this world and very little of it is mundane by any definition. Simply put, it’s great.

As for extreme lengths? I waited in a suuupperrr long line for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. It was a whole thing. People dressed up. We all waited around outside of Borders until midnight. Some of my friends and I continued to wait in the line after the midnight release for several more hours to get our copy. Somebody drove by and shouted the ending as we waited.

My friend left us and ran across the street to Safeway where there was no line and was already through several chapters by the time we go our books. I don’t regret a second of it.

“Hold on to your butts”

An extremely fast-paced book. / What’s the fastest you’ve read a book, and what book was it?

In terms of pacing, I’d have to go with Dean Koontz’s Velocity. It’s kind of right there in the title. It’s been years since I read it so I don’t really remember much of it other than I pretty much crushed through it. I haven’t read a Koontz book since so perhaps it literally wasn’t my speed.

I read The Great Gatsby in a day one summer because . . . well it was assigned summer reading and I only had one day left before my first class. Naturally we didn’t discuss it until the end of the semester. I held onto everything pretty well I feel like but I’m a bit bitter I rushed through it.

“Mr. Hammond, after careful consideration I’ve decided not to endorse your park.”

A book you refuse to read (or finish).

I was pretty much resolved to NEVER read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. 1966 winner of the Best All-Time Series Hugo Award. I understand Asimov is important to SFF (some might even argue [ahem] ‘foundational’), but this seemed like too much. I just can’t imagine any story being soooo gooood that there will never be anything better. Especially not something written in the 50’s.

But, we’ll see. I hear Apple is making a TV show of the series so . . . perhaps I’ll have to give it a shot eventually.

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

A book that left you going ‘Why?’

Without a doubt, Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. I read Starship Troopers in school, and remembered it being pretty good (and I loved the movie though they’re really not that similar I don’t think) so my expectations were high. It was pretty much embarrassing.

Essentially, some slugs (from space!) get loose in Iowa, and start mind controlling people by jumping on their backs and ordering them around to set up a new society. The government reacts but is completely ineffectual. For some reason I’m sure I can’t remember, the MC is tasked with stopping the whole deal with a secret agent lady who’s totally badass until she starts working with our MC.

I don’t really remember much else except he keeps asking her to marry him, and she keeps saying no for reasons that make no sense to the MC but are pretty much: “Ew get away”. By the end of the book I’m not even sure whether she says yes or not but I think it would be giving Heinlein too much credit to think it wouldn’t end in a yes. Oh, and to make sure you don’t have a slug on your back controlling you, everyone needs to go around shirtless . . . no exceptions.

I finished that book hoping it would turn, or get better, and when I got the end I was just like “Why? Why does this exist? And why did I do this to myself?”

Oh well.

Dada daa da da, Dada daa da da . . .

Welp, that’s it. The post is over. I realize after writing this whole thing, that it actually has very little to do with Jurassic park which it was meant to honor, but I think that’s ok.

I might try to do some more posts about it, as #jurassicjune continues (there’s a marathon of the first three movies on Saturday!) so keep a look out.

What are your answers to these questions? Any thoughts on the books I mentioned? Or on Jurassic Park? Just leave em in the comments. See you next time!

Oh! And I’m supposed to tag three people. I only managed two. I’m tagging:

Tar Vol on and The First Line Reader

Silver Medal for Empire of Gold

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a little while because it’s been hard to bring myself to say that The Empire of Gold is probably the weakest part of this trilogy. I thought The City of Brass was totes badass, and The Kingdom of Copper was brilliant!

But The Empire of Gold just didn’t surpass the bar set by its two amazing predecessors.

Perhaps the main draw (for me) of this series is the intricate and thoroughly magical world which Chakraborty has imagined. It feels new and astonishing, and is equal parts mysterious and delightful. That sense of wonder is only slightly dimmed by the fact that this is our third rodeo in Daevabad. After all, magical djinn, shedu, karkadann, and peri, are never going to fully lose their luster when compared to our real lives of (in the pandemic) Zoom calls and homemade lunches . . .

(I’m also getting slightly distracted by the World of Daevabad website which includes a definition of a creature called Ishtas, which I don’t remember from the book but is apparently “A small, scaled creature obsessed with organization and footwear.” Lolz! Ok back to the review . . .)

This complex and immersive experience has been delivered to us on two previous occasions and it is what we expect from a Daevabad book. I can’t say that the novel fails to deliver on this promise, because it doesn’t. The Empire of Gold is stuffed full of new and exciting bits of this world which are completely unexpected, or have been so thoroughly teased that we’re essentially frothing to find out what they actually are (for me this was the Marid and how this world related to that of Ancient Egypt).

Another key strength of the book, is that all of the cast we’ve come to know and love return, and they too are just as fun and delightful as they have been in previous books in the series. We finally get to see the resolutions of their arcs, and for me, everything came to a satisfying conclusion (which I won’t spoil for you here).

But only a silver medal?

Yep! Despite all of the praise I’ve showered on the book so far, I still felt it suffered from two fatal flaws (which are possibly the same flaw so maybe only one). Namely, this book was TOO LONG, and (in my opinion) failed to fully deliver on its promises (and maybe even over-delivered on a few that were less than relevant). There were many points during this book in which I felt we were making little to no progress towards the main goal of the novel.

I credit the length issue (784 pages and almost 29hrs in audio) to powers that were perhaps beyond the author’s control (although I’ve done no actual research to test my hypothesis). It is pretty standard practice in the Fantasy genre to write in trilogies (although there are plenty of series that go for way longer). I definitely had the sense reading this, that the author knew this was her last chance reveal all the many things she’d hinted at over the previous two books, and so I felt that our characters wandered the map tying up loose ends which in many cases I had forgotten about and did not seem to bring us any further down our main plot thread.

The second issue, that of failed promises, I’m not entirely sure how to quantify or explain. Simply, I was just disappointed in the way certain resolutions took place.

Slight spoilers ahead . . .

I had been waiting for connections to Ancient Egypt (Nahri is from Cairo and grew up in the shadow of pyramids, discovering clues on papyrus scrolls with Ali in the library, mentions of Sobek, an Ancient Egyptian crocodile god . . .) to be made clear and was curious how their vast and intricate culture would be pulled into the mythos of Daevabad, but when it was, I almost wished it had stayed separate. Like the pieces didn’t really fit together somehow.

And while I was so curious about the Marid after reading The Kingdom of Copper, I was disappointed with what we ended up getting. In the previous books, the Marid seemed to have a single nefarious and unknowable purpose, but after meeting no less than three marid ‘gods’, it was quite clear that they were not the grand conspiracy they appeared, and we still had issues in Daevabad which we needed to solve. Basically I grew impatient with our side quest in Ta Ntry (the name of which is suspiciously close to Ta Netjer, which in ancient Egyptian would have translated to “God’s Land”, also called Punt. It’s kinda neat that they are sorta in the same spot on the map, but ultimately, I’m unsure exactly what connection is to be made.)

TLDR and Hugo award considerations:

The Empire of Gold is still a great book, filled with magic and wonder; however, I felt it suffered slightly from its overwhelming scope and (in my opinion) a failure to deliver on it’s most interesting promises. It is somewhat sad that the final book was marred with these flaws, but in general, I’m happy with the ending, and feel this is a great series. I was surprised that this individual volume was not a Hugo Best Novel finalist at first, but after reading it, I can see now how it might not have earned enough votes.

The series is still my top contender for best series though, even with a bit of a flubbed landing. I think I’ll do a Best series post later on if I’m able to finish each of the series on that shortlist.

Thanks all for reading this! Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments!

Work In Progress Tease: Beqsu takes a Leap

I don’t have any new fiction ready for today. The next Max story is going to unfold over three parts (though hopefully each individual part will read as a complete story like I tried to do with Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers and Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer) and so I don’t want to post anything until all three are done.

But there’s been little adventuring happening in Max’s world recently as I’ve sort of put him aside for a bit to try and flesh out some more stories in the world of my main WIP. I have a short story already finished but I’m waiting for artwork, and a first draft of a novel which I’ve finally sent to my writing group for feedback. In the meantime, I’m trying to prepare something in an episode format, maybe for Kindle Vella.

Here’s a screenshot from my Scrivener document which hopefully is tease-y but doesn’t give away too much. Please let me know in the comments if you like this kind of thing and if I should do more teasers like this in the future. Here it is:


Hey again! If somehow this tiny tease of my WIP, and general update as to my writing life happened capture your interest, please consider subscribing to my newsletter. I’ll do a post every quarter (expect the first one July 1st!) that fills you in completely on what I’ve been up to and send you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Or, check out my other fiction I’ve posted here on A&A. 

Thanks for stopping by, and see you next time!

Celebrating #DinosaurDay with a Review of Why Dinosaurs Matter

Oooh

So apparently June 1st is #DinosaurDay. I’m not really sure how one celebrates this holiday . . . but I’m going to celebrate it by posting a book review because that’s pretty much what I do here on this blog.

Anyway, moving right into then, this book was interesting to me for several reasons, the first being it was a TED Talk. I haven’t actually watched Hunting For Dinosaurs Showed Me Our Place in the Universe yet, as I didn’t want to get the book and the video confused if there were subtle differences. I’ll probably watch it after this.

The second being its author, Kenneth Lacovara. His name sounded super familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure it out. Turns out he was part of the team that discovered Paralititan Stromeri which I’d done some research on for my WIP. The story of this awesome dino is written about in a book called The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt, which I started, but ultimately never finished and had to return. There’s apparently a documentary by the same title which is only two hours so . . . maybe I’ll watch that instead.

So was this book any good? Do Dinosaurs actually matter? The short answer to both is yes; the book was good, and dinosaurs matter, although I’m dubious that the book actually proves this.

What I enjoyed most about the book, was that it explained (in simple terms) some basic concepts that I’ve felt were necessary to understand when doing research about dinosaurs, such as what is considered a dino, and why (apparently it has something to do with their hip bones). He talks briefly about how the classification of dinosaurs works and which recognizable dinos go in each classification. Sauropods have long necks, while Therapods are the big Carnivores. Ornithischia has the duckbills, horned dinos, and armored dinos etc.

I also enjoyed the parts in which Lacovara actually discusses some of the adaptations dinosaurs had, and why they helped them survive in the environment they lived in. If you were ever curious as to why a T-Rex has such short and stubby arms, then go ahead and read this book.

Another fun part of the book was learning about how some of the first dinosaurs were thought to have looked. We’ve come a long way in our understanding of some of these creatures. Apparently, the way to go further is 3D printed Dinosaur robots! (I picked the wrong career . . .)

My only dislike, was how much time was spent talking about the history of paleontology and the importance of the “deep time” perspective. He discusses how ancient and medieval civilizations, essentially didn’t have the tool set to make the discoveries that where made later on, once Darwin had published On the Origin of Species (though it is interesting that the author seems to celebrate Charles Lyell, and James Hutton as being the true pioneers that set up the ‘headspace’ for Darwin’s theories). In general, I felt it painted ancient peoples in a bad light while trying desperately to do the opposite.

I wondered if a few things in the book were in need of updating (this is copyrighted 2017). He briefly mentions Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus, but our understanding of that weird looking fellow seems to be changing constantly. Another thing that stood out to me, was that he whole heartedly references Mary Anning being the inspiration for the ‘she sells sea shells’ tongue twister (he even cites a New Scientist article). While I’m glad he talks about perhaps the first woman paleontologist in his book, I think it’s pretty unlikely the tongue twister is a reference to her. There’s actually quite a bit of evidence it’s not. I’ve requested the article he cites from the library, so perhaps I’ll do a follow up.

Conclusion?

In general, I greatly enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, and though the author can get long winded about a few things, his writing style is generally engaging, and it’s clear he’s VERY experienced with his subject matter. Perhaps my favorite parts were the ones in which the author actually talks about dinosaurs. He’s correct to think they’re fascinating, and I think this book is strongest when he focuses on the wonder they invoke and the reason for that wonder. The title asks if dinosaurs matter, to which I would say ‘who cares?’ We don’t need a reason to enjoy them as much as we do . . .

That’s all I have for this, thanks for reading and please leave some comments below if you thought the review was useful or even if you just wanna talk about dinos . . . I’m always up for that. Happy #DinosaurDay!