Monday, May 16, 2011

CBR III Review 8 - The Blue Sword

Hi all! So this review is kinda of cheating. The Blue Sword was one of my favorite books in middle school and my love for it continues to this day. I usually bust it out and read it when I'm in the mood for a really good entrancing read (sometimes just to remind myself that I still love reading) Normally I wouldn't count this for CBR but 1. I'm really behind and 2. I had read a romance novel, and then promptly sold it at the used bookstore to get more money for books. Normally that would be fine except I can't remember the name of it or what it was about. And I'd rather review this one anyway.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley is about a teenage girl named Harry Crewe whose father dies. Her older brother lives in the Royal Province of Daria where he is in the military. We pick up the action as she is adjusting to life on the outskirts of the Empire. Her home country is called The Homeland and they're basically a British knockoff, Britain circa 1820. Anyway, Harry is restless and she can't really place her finger on why. She really likes living in Daria and she is meeting interesting people but she still feels constrained. For the past 20 years the Homelanders have been trying to stretch their boundaries to the mountains and beyond. The want to conquer the old kingdom that is still in control of much of the wilderness. The old kingdom is Damar and their King is Corlath and he sort of just shows up all of a sudden at the embassy. Which also happens to be where Harry is staying. Damar is north of the lands that the Homeland has conquered, and to the north are these evil northern guys who are described as demon-ish. Like they're part demon.
Anyway, Corlath shows up at the embassy to get aid in fending off the northern hordes, it doesn't really work and he storms off. He almost runs over Harry who has just come back from riding her pony. Corlath leaves all angry but his kelar keeps bringing up the image of Harry. Kelar is the magic in the book and usually people in the royal family have it. It's very unstable. Typically the user can't control it very well. Most of the time it comes on like a battle fever when the user is fighting or even just angry. Corlath has to avoid looking at people in the eyes when he's angry because it gives the other person headaches and just kinda messes with you.
Corlath's kelar keeps telling him to go back and get Harry. Which he does, sort of against his will and the advice of his advisors. He goes back and gets Harry. She wakes up three nights later on the back of the King's horse, and is very confused. She is taken to the King's camp and treated as a guest of honor. From there things take a stranger turn because Harry is given Meeldtar, the water of life. Which gives visions, she see's a vision of herself as a warrior standing on a horse. She even sees visions of Aerin who is a queen of the past and considered Damar's greatest ruler. Basically it's hero's journey, and this is the part where whe learns she is special and there is a great task in front of her.
The rest of the book is great, Harry trains to become a warrior and she is shockingly good at it. She even suprises herself, she quickly adapts to the life of the hillpeople and really becomes one. Of course she plays a major part in defeating the bad guys. I don't want to spoil it, but if you've ever read any fantasy it's not the ending that is glorious, it's how the characters get there.
As I was writing this review I tried to nail down what I really love about this novel. I think part of it is how much I enjoyed it when I was 12. I had discovered fantasy a few years earlier and it had swept me off my feet. Not only that but I had an unhappy childhood, these book made me happy when the rest of my life really wasn't. I love how independant Harry is, she gets angry askes questions, most of the book is due to her doing what she feels is right, no matter how difficult. I love the Damar culture, it's very middle eastern. Nomadic people living in the desert, there is a great stone city at one point that reminds me alot of Petra. Plus there is a happy ending and everything ties up nicely, that always makes me feel better. Despite how much I love this book there are problems, there are some problems with with the world McKinley has crafted. Some details are left unsaid, there are some descriptions that really lack depth. I think on the whole, looking at the book with adult eyes that "lacks depth" is my key criticism. But considering that this is a young adult novel, and one that was written in 1982 (really before there was YA, this would have been considered a longer-form children's books and also before the YA revolution we're currently in) I think I can gloss over those things. I love this book because it's like a really comforting sweater, it feels perfect and reminds me of all the good times even if it is out of fashion and a bit ragged.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review #7 Solied Doves

Hello all! I know that I haven't written in forever. I have been reading I just got kind of swept up in life. I have been reading, and I'm going to spend this weekend trying to catch up with the reviews. I finished Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West by Anne Seagraves early March. I picked it up while in Seattle for the Emerald City Comic Con. I bought it while I was on the Seattle underground tour which was really cool and very dirty. A must for anyone with kids who like dirt grime, and general weirdness. Anyway, this book is a history, but it is in no way academic. There are sources and I believe that the author researched the book and only put forward what she found to be the truth. Having said that I still found this to be a fast, fun and quick read because she presents the book as a series of stories. The stories are captivating, many of these women had hard, terrible, joyous and happy lives. Each woman had her own reasons for going into prostitution or being a madam.
It was wild to read that often madams were pillars of the community. A town wasn't really a town until they managed to get some women to it. And the first women were usually prostitutes. A madam was first and foremost a businesswoman. Often these women were wealthy and would do things for the community. They'd build theaters, churches, orphanages. Usually a madam was the woman who donated the most to local charities, usually to offset the detriment to society that her establishment caused. These were raucous women who make their own money, choices and power. It's great to see historical context for women in power.
The prostitutes themselves had varied reasons for employing their trade, some were poor and had no choice, some had bad husbands, some were even looking for adventure. Some of these women went on to become successful madams, some married and many others died tragically. There were a few times in this book where the author seemed to slut-shame but after a while I think she was just reflecting the society around them. These women were seen as sort of pariahs. They could only really socialize with the men that paid them or other prostitutes. Many women were impoverished, working their trade in shanties or back alleys. These women had hard lives, they were chewed up and spat out dying young, like in their 30s!
Overall this book was SO informative it can be hard to separate fact from fiction especially in an era like the old west where truth and fiction have blended for decades. This book presented easy to read history and presented the facts for me.

Review #6 India Black

India Black has a fabulous cover, a woman in a red Victorian dress holds her fan seductively. The author's last name starts with a 'c' which means that when I walk by the mystery section on my way to the information desk that I can't help but see it. (Just a reminder, I work in a doomed bookstore) Luckily said bookstore lets me check out books. India Black is the title character she is a Madam in Victorian England. She runs a brothel call “Lotus House.” One of her clients dies while being entertained. He even dies in quite a compromising position, dressed up as Queen Victoria and chastising a wayward Prince Albert. Either way she is trying to dispose of the body when the mysterious agent known as French appears and helps her cover up the death. Apparently the Client was a member of the War Office and has important documents that the Prime Minister (PM) can't have leaked. The rest of the book follows the twists and turns as India and French try to get the documents back.
It's quite entertaining. Its not a mystery in the strictest sense, more like 007 in Victorian England. It's also really wacky and funny. India is super badass, terribly clever and very funny. She is a take no nonsense woman who is also a whore. At one point she tries to distract the Russian ambassador with a hot lesbian tryst with a Jamaican hooker.
This book reads like a first book. It's a bit spotty in places and I think the concept of the book outpaces the writing. It's the execution that falls flat. For instance, India uses a lot of Victorian slang, which is cool. Except in practice, because I don't know what the slang means, and it's kinda weird. On the whole it was a fun romp, even though it didn't end like I wanted it to. However, I'm very happy that I didn't have to pay for it.