7.26.14 ALEX READS: The Castle of Llyr

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

Photo on 2014-07-26 at 11.16 #2

first read : 170/170

Oh, Eilonwy, Eilonwy! Is it your fate to be a girl character who is massively underserved even by a great writer whom I generally respect a lot? In the third book of Prydain, our same set of characters–Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, Prince Gwydion, Fllewddur Flamm the half-bard-half-king, Gurgi the personage that’s like a not-evil Gollum, and Princess Eilonwy–all return Eilonwy to her island home, where everyone suggests she is going to be made Properly Princesslike.

These kinds of proclamations, and the protestations that follow, always turn themselves into an instant tight knot at the middle of my gut. Why? Because almost always when they’re meant to subvert the highly gender-specific “taming” of opinionated young women characters, they don’t end up being that subversive at all. And you know who I really love, in my whole heart, more than anyone else in any given story? The temperamental, imperfect, but ACTUALLY PERFECT rough-at-the-edges and sometimes just opinionated girls these things are said too.

Now, this has as much adventure in it as the last two, and, as in the last two, Taran (who I guess is the main character after all) learns some lessons about his pride. But this book is about Eilonwy’s return to her kingdom. It’s about the witch who imprisoned her as a child, who is now once again a rising threat. It’s Eilonwy’s story, it’s handed to you as a reader and a writer to be about Eilonwy. On the island, Eilonwy disappears. And what happens?

Well, for Taran and co. it’s a frightening rollicking adventure with giant cats, mysterious caves, magical books, new friends, and Taran’s important internal struggle with his new romantic feelings for Eilonwy, who (I mean, not according to what she knows, but what does that matter?) is apparently going to married to some doofy prince who doesn’t know how to do anything. Taran develops into MORE OF A MAN, although in my opinion his growing process is basically the same growth he did in the last two books.

Also I don’t care about Taran. This is Eilonwy’s book. I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT EILONWY. She gets to have an adventure, right? She gets to tell everyone off at the end for trying to reduce her to a prize or try to win her back just to flatten her out into something they consider appropriate? You get an absolute promise that she is going to be left as the perfect character she is, or at least be REALLY MAD if she’s not. Right? And she won’t be in cuddly love with Taran at just the right moment just because it’s tidy?

RIGHT????????????????????????

Eilonwy’s part of the book is this: offscreen, Eilonwy does something characteristically brave and gets kidnapped. She accidentally–not cleverly, but ACCIDENTALLY–leaves a trail for her friends by dropping her golden ball. The kidnapper brings her to Achren the evil enchantress, who immediately brainwashes her, and then they hang out together until THE MEN turn up and Achren makes Zombie Eilonwy try to kill them. Eilonwy wakes up just enough to help defeat Achren and then tries to get swept out to sea. She is rescued by Taran. She suggests that she would not like to give up her personality to be “princesslike” but oh well she will if she has to. She poutily suggests that she is prepared to be the love interest. The end.

That’s right, she gets TOTALLY damseled.

I love Lloyd Alexander, I do, but if I could just throw this book against the wall and start from scratch with Eilonwy in charge of the story, I would! I would throw it A LOT of times, actually. It’s a very nice cover, but I don’t care. I would throw it over and over!

Taran I do not care about. I JUST WANT EILONWY TO BE KING. I do NOT think that is a lot to ask.

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7.26.14 ALEX READS: JEDI APPRENTICE #2: THE DARK RIVAL

Jedi Apprentice #2: THE DARK RIVAL by Jude Watson

Library : Reread : Finished

I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE OF THIS ONE TOO. And then I returned it to the library. And then SEVERAL weeks passed. I did not do good on this one. But I mean, the short version is, if you’re ever looking for Batman fanfic about how Bruce has not fully accepted Tim in the aftermath of Jason’s death and then Jason shows up and everyone’s emotions are kind of sketchy and uncomfortable but truly, in the end, it seems like Jason is all not that redeemable despite being sad and competent and fairly smouldering in the looks department, and even Bruce comes to admit perhaps only out of his own weakness Tim is a safe bet for adorable sidekick duty–WELP. LET ME TELL YOU. THAT FANFIC IS LITERALLY THIS BOOK but with Jedi, obviously, and in space, and XANATOS has a circular scar on his cheek instead of a dashing hank of white hair. But remember the time Jason bullied the organized criminal element and in becoming MORE BATMAN THAN BATMAN, BECAUSE BATMAN WAS TOO LENIENT AND WEAK AND HAD NO IMAGINATION he just like…murdered people a lot and was kind of a scuzz?

Basically just swap the names, is what I’m saying. At least Jason didn’t have a satin cape.

STAR WARS AND BATMAN, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER.

7.26.14 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Library : First Read : Finished.

 

Warnings: alcohol, death, racism / xenophobia, homophobic language, violence, gun violence, loss of family

I forgot to take a picture or write down how many pages there were in this book before I finished. I should have, if I’d timed it right, I would have ended up finishing on the commute home, and landed with my computer and my crappy computer camera and there would be some fine details. But what I did was get to work, see I could get away with working a little later, and finish it at my desk.

In advance–this is a book about one experience of being an American Indian. I’m white. This isn’t my life. This book is one voice amongst an uncountable number of American Indians whose experiences I have no personal access to. This post is about what one book said to me. Let’s be clear: this book is good but IT’S NOT ENOUGH. It’s not ~*~*~the full indian experience~*~*~. You can’t read it and like, Get It, Man. It’s one story, so you listen to it, and then you listen to another, and you never stop listening. Listen, listen, listen, to every story. Listen forever. There have been billions of people in the world. This is just one book.

That said–I am sorry I waited so long to read this book. (Maybe I would not have needed it as much if I read it in 2007.) This book I would sit down and read a second time right now if I had it in my hand.

Junior (or Arnold Spirit Jr.) is a Rez kid with a brain disorder who likes basketball and learning stuff. He decides to escape the violence (against his own person) on the Rez and transfer out to the school in the next town, 22 miles away, where all the white kids go. The story follows his attempts to determine how and where his life should be lived, and who to be, between environments that all carry their own toxic burdens as well as their own joys and triumphs. In the midst of school stuff and basketball stuff and friend stuff, death, poverty, alcoholism and tragedy play a constant backdrop to his life.

Absolutely True Diary reads a lot like Alexie’s essays and his twitter: clear-sighted, compassionate, funny, and angry. He’s writing from experience about peoples who have been driven into the ground for centuries. One of most crucial points of this book is that the longer someone drives you down, the harder it is to imagine you should even want to get up. It’s about the self-replicating process of oppression: hit someone hard enough, long enough, they’ll stay down, and they’ll also start hitting each other. Arnold Spirit is trying to find hope for himself without betraying the people he loves. As it turns out, trying to be brave for yourself can have costs, even when those costs are not truly your fault.

The thing about this book is that it’s honest in a particular way lots of books about true, real things are not. I mean it doesn’t rely on the reader’s intuition. It doesn’t just show you that injustice is deep-rooted, devastating and endlessly destructive (though it does); the narrator, this kid who’s watched people suffer and die his whole life because that’s the system white people set up for Indians, turns to you. He says, people on the Rez forget we were originally put here to die. That’s why it’s so hard to improve our lives. That’s why it’s so hard to stay alive. It’s because we’ve been put somewhere that was designed to kill us.

Sometimes “show don’t tell” produces amazing work, and Alexie shows plenty. But it’s incredibly refreshing–it’s hopeful for a character to understand how unjust and poisoned their own situation is. It’s amazing for this character to be allowed to say right out of his own mouth: What the fuck did you do to us so that we do this to ourselves?

Arnold Spirit wants to be a cartoonist. I think that kind of sums him up nicely. He can’t really be summed up because he’s complicated and multi-interested and (perfect, I want to say perfect)–but that desire, and the fact that he does it, he draws constantly, he draws everything, that is a perfect trait for this particular kid. He draws thoughtful figure sketches when people aren’t looking and then when something is funny or awful–when its really, really awful, he draws cartoons instead. Because cartoons are unreal and funny and exaggerated and personal, because you show them to the wide world, because they’re frequently hiding terrible things behind their playfulness, because sometimes they’re the simplest way to say this is just how bad it is. But they also show that you’ve met the monster, you’ve met the bad thing, and you’ve got it in a chokehold, and you’ll make it into a joke if it kills you. You’ll surpass it. You really get the idea about Arnold Spirit, Jr. that he’s going to do all right, even when the world isn’t fair enough to just let that happen.

7.13.14 Hexwood

Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones

Photo on 2014-07-13 at 07.09

reread : 446/446

I wish I could tell you that I now thoroughly understand this book, after reading it like, five times, and that this post was going to be a perfect chronological explanation of everything that happens so that future readers and past readers alike could come here and go OHHHHHHHHHHH I SEE. UNFORTUNATELY, Diana Wynne Jones worked in mutated layers, not scattered pieces of a single picture.  Her books are also puzzles, but rather than being puzzles where every piece snaps neatly together (see: Megan Whalen Turner) they’re more made out of bits of cloud. You can smoosh them into one big cloud at the end but GOOD LUCK seeing a perfectly clear picture in all that.

Warnings: forced pregnancy, death, gore, torture, child harm/death, brainwashing, forced cyborg life, murder, violence towards women, a woman who really hates other women in a way I find unnecessary.

First of all, wow, that’s a gritty sort of DWJ novel, that doesn’t happen very often! I actually forgot how disturbing some of the disturbing parts are, mainly because I can’t keep all of this book in my head over time. It slips away, carrying bits of OH GOD WHAT IS THIS? with it.

WHAT THE PLOT SEEMS TO BE:

The plot seems to be this: an English girl called Ann, on her first jaunt into the world after a nasty illness, goes into the local patch of woods in Hexwood Farm housing estate, and finds that it’s a lot bigger and more magical than she remembers. She meets a scary-looking guy with a killer smile, called Mordion, and they make a kid called Hume out of their blood, AS ONE DOES. As Ann returns to the wood over and over, though, it becomes clear that time and reality are not working the way they normally do. It seems a machine has been turned on that is called a Bannus, able to play out scenarios in full reality until a decision about a course of action to take in real life.

Of interest to a terrifying group of space aliens called the Reigners are the scary-looking guy and the Bannus, and these incredibly bad people who have been ruling the galaxy for thousands of years one by one descend to Earth to try to deal with it.

Everyone has pretty strong feelings about their place in the universe, but it’s not clear when exactly anyone really arrives in relation to anyone else, or why maybe some of them are kind of King Arthur, or where they got a super intelligent robot called Yam. IT IS A GREAT BOOK.

WHAT THE PLOT MORE OR LESS IS, IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

Here is kind of what happens, I am pretty sure.

(These are definitely spoilers and if you have not read the book it is much, much better DWJ’s way around.)

A long time ago in a galaxy which may or may not be a version or this galaxy or may be far away from us (or a version of us), there were a group of Houses that were…capitalists, basically, that ruled stuff. To keep balance between these powerhouses, they invented THE HOUSE OF BALANCE, which took one person from each of the other five houses to rule together for ten years. This, Reigners one through five, was called a hand of Reigners.

At some point along the line, the Reigners took some robot parts and some previous Reigners’ brains and torturously forced them into being the Bannus. (Later known on Earth as Yam the robot.) The Bannus was used to fairly select new hands of Reigners. Eventually there is a Reigner One called Martellian, who starts breeding children to make and train a “Servant”–someone who will do his dirty work for him, basically, a sort of knight in Martellian’s case. He is particularly successful a few times, as apparently our own records show. (See: Fitela in Beowulf, and King Arthur and his half-sisters.)

This relatively okay guy Martellian is ousted, however, by 100% scum Orm Pender, who puts himself in power, locks Martellian, Arthur and Fitela up on Earth, and also banishes the Bannus there, where it will keep them in stasis. Then he promotes his girlfriend to the position of Reigner Three. With nothing to compel them to retire and a lot of technology on hand, they procede with some other jerks to rule for thousands of years.

Orm Pender, new Reigner One, decides also to breed servants, but he does so by coercion and rape, kills the children’s mothers, and isolates, tortures, trains, brainwashes and occasionally sweettalks the kids until there is one left and that one is unswervingly loyal and completely messed up. He does this over and over, but scary-looking guy Mordion is the relevant one here.

When Mordion is young he has a sort of mental contact with three other people–real or fake, he’s scared to know–called Girl Child, Boy, and King. They get wiped out in the brainwashing, except for Girl Child. Keeping her part of his mind for himself while doing everything the Reigners make him do (largely, kill people).

The Bannus is rightly not happy about this, so when it is turned on, it begins to exert itself to bring all the Reigners to Earth, end their reign, and elect a new hand.

The Reigners have some vested interest in distant Earth because Earth unwittingly exports something incredibly valuable: flint. A peculiar disturbance on earth, at Hexwood Farm in England, is brought to their attention. Reigners go one by one to sort it out, turn off the Bannus, and get rid of any problem people who may now know too much. Reigner Two brings the Servant (Mordion) with him. But they all keep disappearing into the Bannus’s field of influence (which is also the Wood’s own field of influence, but no one can tell the difference).

At last Orm Pender and his woman-hating ex-girlfriend Reigner Three go to Earth themselves. Reigner Three brings Vierran, the girl from the House of Guaranty who manages the offworld wardrobes for traveling officials, along as a maid. This irritates Reigner One, who knows she and her family are rebels, and that he’s just had most of her family exiled to Earth, but he accepts the intrusion because he wants to breed her with Mordion and it’s easier to do that on Earth than bring Mordion back in stass and do it before killing him.

However, even Orm Pender can’t control the Bannus. Not surprising–he cheated it to become a Reigner to begin with. In the Bannus’s and the Wood’s field, time starts to repeat, and a motif of the Arthurian court is laid over everything because the Bannus was started up by a local Raynor-Hexwood clerk who told it he wanted a D&D adventure, basically.

On arrival, Reigner Three integrates into castle life, which already includes the maintenance team, Reigners Two and Four (as the fisher king with a bruise and Sir Fors, respectively), and some of the other levels of management who have been sucked in before the Reigners started arriving. Vierran’s arrested cousin Siri is also there. They worship the “bannus”, whatever they think it is, and worry about bandits in the woods (that would be Vierran’s family members etc. who Orm Pender banished). Sir Artegal is King Arthur, out of stass.

Orm Pender turns into a dragon and immediately flies off into the woods and starts eating people.

It seems very straightforward: the Bannus is expanding the wood, and the wood is the range of its field. Actually that is the wood’s field. The Bannus’s field expands all the way into the village. So when a girl called Ann who gets three voices in her head (Slave, King, Boy) gets up from an illness and ventures into a magical wood, she’s venturing from another illusion. She’s not Ann, but Vierran. At some point, the bannus tricked her. Her greengrocer parents are anything but. Her little brother is Fitela, also out of stass. Half the people in their cozy little town aren’t from Earth.

Ann doesn’t know who she is for quite awhile. The first time she goes into the wood, she meets Mordion (for what she thinks is the first time, but Vierran has talked to him for ages and researched him like crazy as a somewhat incompetent rebel), and they make the boy Hume together out of their blood. After that time swaps around over and over: Hume grows and shrinks, Mordion finds a robot and repairs it, but it seems to know too much in every piece of time the Bannus puts them in.

Things do come to a head, because the Bannus (Yam all along) nears its decision point, and all excellent plot conclusions aside, everyone finally sorts out who they are–including the four people, who are the King (King Arthur – Sir Artegal), the Girl Child (Vierran – Ann), the Slave (Mordion) and the Boy (Fitela – Martin). And those four, plus old Martellian, who was apparently decent enough the first time around and hates to go back so much that the Bannus is making him anyway.

And that is about how that book goes, which is the first time I’ve really understood what is happening at all. Remind me to check back here when I FORGET again. (Isn’t that just like the Bannus?)

6.12.14 STAR WARS JEDI APPRENTICE #1: THE RISING FORCE

Star Wars Jedi Apprentice #1: The Rising Force by Dave Wolverton

Photo on 2014-07-10 at 06.25

reread : 171/171

I am a Star Wars PURIST. In my universe there are three (3) movies, and they have not been digitally improved with grotesque swathes of George Lucas’s sense of personal genius. THREE UNSPOILED MOVIES. Buuuut I do like these child-books about child-Obi Wan and his developing relationship with Sadmaster Qui-Gon Jinn, who is so bummed out about how his last Padawanning went that he NEVER WANTS ONE AGAIN. Obi-Wan is almost thirteen and he’s gonna get kicked out of the temple and he gets in fights and it’s hopeless and then QUI-GON VISITS THE TEMPLE AND HE IS SO HOPEFUL AND THEN QUI-GON IS LIKE “NO, OBI-WAN, YOU WILL NOT BE MY PADAWAN,” AND OBI-WAN IS DISAPPOINTED BUT THEY’RE GOING TO THE SAME SYSTEM SO HE KEEPS KIND OF BEING HOPEFUL?? Anyway then they overthrow the local branch of an evil mining empire together and save some though not all lives. They are a great team! Breathe a sigh of relief, Obi-Wan! OR NOT BECAUSE QUI-GON STILL DOES NOT WANT YOU.

The important thing about these books is that they are not very good but they hit all these right spots. Here we have of TRAGIC FEELINGS, YEARNING TO ACHIEVE and or ESCAPE THEIR PASTS, excitement, despotism, dragon-type things…

And also a cliffhanger, for who has left Qui-Gon a note but his old pal the ruined Padawan,

XANATOS

DUN DUN DUN prepare for Jedi Apprentice #2: THE DARK RIVAL!!!!!

7.10.14 False Colours

False Colours by Georgette Heyer

Photo on 2014-07-10 at 06.25 #2

First Read : 317/317

Oh, good, it is the last Georgette Heyer book that I own and have not read. TIME TO GET MORE. In false colors, a rich mom whom everyone finds totally charming for some reason I do not understand is wildly in debt because she doesn’t know how not to buy literally everything she thinks of. She has twin sons, as depicted on the cover. The older, flakier son, Evelyn, is going to help her out of debt by marrying a sensible girl called Cressy, which sensible action will hopefully cause the guardian of Evelyn’s trust fund to release his money to him early. ALL WILL BE SAVED! 

Unfortunately Evelyn falls off a high-perch phaeton, unknown to all, and vanishes for weeks. To save the situation this stupid mother that everyone happily accepts can never learn not to spend hundreds of pounds at once that she doesn’t have suggests that EVELYN’S BROTHER, RETURNING BY SURPRISE FROM MILITARY SERVICE IN A SUITABLY EXOTIC PLACE, pretend to be Evelyn and meet Cressy’s family.

He’s not the flighty scum most of his family seem to be, so he feels deeply uncomfortable the whole time he is doing this, and it goes on for DAYS AND DAYS, and obviously Cressy and he fall in the true version of love instead of the convenient marriage kind of tolerance, and she works it out before he confesses and it works out fine. But Evelyn shows up at last, like, I ALMOST DIED I LOVE A POORER GIRL HER FATHER DOES NOT WANT ME TO EVEN DISCUSS MARRIAGE OUR UNCLE WILL NEVER ALLOW IT I LOVE HER I BROKE MY SHOULDER ON THAT PHAETON AND SUFFERED A CONCUSSION THIS GIRL IS AN ANGEL I CANNOT MARRY CRESSY. Well that’s good because you’re brother doesn’t want you to.

No one is ruined, fortunately! Useless mother fixes everything by marrying her long-time admirer, a very rich very fat (I mean this gets mentioned quite often, in conjunction with his deep appreciation for food) man who does love to admire her but is actually fairly distressed about marrying. What a good solution? There’s no word at the end on whether Evelyn gets to marry his poorer girl, but at least Cressy and Kit turn out okay. NICE FOR THEM.