Review: “The Disciple” by Stephen Lloyd Jones

I enjoyed this book, but felt it only really got going in the second half.

There is a really good story here, with a core concept that’s incredibly interesting once you reach it. However, I don’t feel that the set up and initial feel of the book gels that well with the second, much better, half.

I feel the first half of the book could have been half as long and a lot more focused. I love Jones’ style, but it took me ages to get into the story to a point where I wanted to carry on.

But once you get through that, the second half is really worth working through for. The concept for the climax is really interesting. I would have loved to have the opening more focused around this rather than taking so long with character development that could have done with a lit of streamlining.

One thing I want to say is there is a massive improvement to the other of Jones’ books I’ve read. When I read his first novel, The String Diaries, I was disappointed by the tacked on happy ending. Sometimes a dark story needs to be brave enough to have a dark ending. And, without wanting to give too much away, The Disciple has an ending that perfectly matches the tone.

So not a great opening, but definitely worth pushing through until it focuses and pulls you in.

The Wheel of Time Reread: The Fires of Heaven

*SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS AND OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES*

Prelude: New Spring
Book 1: The Eye of the World
Book 2: The Great Hunt
Book 3: The Dragon Reborn
Book 4: The Shadow Rising

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We’re done with book five, and we’re really getting into the initial upward curve of the series. However, while The Fires of Heaven keeps up the pace and doesn’t have any significant issues, unlike The Shadow Rising I don’t think there are any significant stand out series highlight moments here. Until the end, that is.

 

We’re really starting to see how Jordan world-builds here. We have our first instance of his opening the book with scenes dotted around the world. I love this technique, and how it sets the scenes beyond the immediate world of the protagonists. How have past event impacted the rest of the world, and what is happening that will affect us in later books? 

This is carried this on with the scenes in Tel’aran’rhiod, where Nynaeve and Elayne are able to find glimpses of information in the dream world. These often mean nothing to the characters, but the reader has knowledge that us to fill in the gaps. We’re given enough to build on without it being forced on us. I’ve always thought this was really well done. 

 

Another good thing is we start to see some of the characters grow past their initial, more annoying stages. In earlier posts for this re-read I wrote about Nynaeve and how the fact that she starts off so irritating is mitigated by the fact I knew the growth coming in her character arc. Here is where that begins to show. Through pride she makes a huge mistake, and that kicks off her path of development into a more rounded character. And the fact this isn’t instant, but builds until later books, makes it even better. 

Matt also starts to get better in The Fires Of Heaven. Although it’s not so satisfying than Nynaeve. Rather than a significant lesson or moment of realisation, he simply stops sulking about everything and just gets on with things.

Unfortunately, there will be no growth for Elayne. She is simply an irritating character. Spoilt, whiney, entitled. It was bearable in previous read-throughs, but knowing she has no growth and will be this annoying for the remainder of the series just makes her grate all the more. I think this was on purpose on Jordan’s part, but I don’t think it works. 

 

Rand also gets another level of growth; the introduction of Lews Therin. This is interesting, as we are at a point where he could have become dull. Having completed his initial character arc, he has accepted his fate and gone on the offensive. He could slipped into the trope of “trouble hero”, but the intrusions of Lews Therin give us a new element to explore. Is this a past life coming through, or just an element of Rand’s own madness? 

This raises interesting questions about one of the series’ concepts. Reincarnation is established as a real thing in this world. That souls are born and reborn is a key plot device. But where we’ve seen it before with Matt it’s been simple, each soul is reborn. But where Matt gains memories from his past lives, here we have two distinct and separate personalities. It can be put down to the fact Rand is the Dragon Reborn, not just any reincarnated soul, but I’ll be paying more attention to this aspect going forward with this re-read.

 

And so we come to the one real significant event in this entry; Moiraine dies. And, for a significant remainder of the series, the first time reader will believe this is permanent. At least I did. I’ll be interested in seeing if I spot any hints to the contrary on this read through.

This is a signification point, as she is the first main character to die. And while it’s a big climactic  set piece rather than an indication that anyone can die at any time, it’s still a big moment. Especially after a couple more books when you can assume she isn’t coming back in some form. She’s gone. 

But the other reason I like this is how its highlighting something in both Rand, and fantasy tropes. Rand, like a lot of “early” fantasy, has a problem with women. He refuses to see that as equal, but in a way he believes in honourable. Even surrounded as he is at this point by a literal all-female warrior society, he cannot bring himself to think of woman in the same way as men. He would argue the point, but essentially he believe’s women are weaker than men and must be protected, to the point he won’t harm someone as undeniably evil as Lanfear. He’s had at this point multiple experiences where if he’d been prepared to kill a woman he could have have a huge advantage but couldn’t take it.

And now, that’s lead to one of his main supporters dying. In a way he doesn’t learn from. This is an important point, and part of Rand’s learning the difference between “Hard” and “Strong”. Rather than him realising if he’d let go this cultural construct in his head he could have saved her, he instead starts to obsess on all the women he failed to saved. In continuing to think of woman as inferior to men in this way, as much as he doesn’t see it that way, all he does is weaken himself.

 

I’ll having a little break before beginning Lord of Chaos. Just to let myself get through a couple of the other books on my reading list. But I’ll be back on the re-read soon.

Review: Great Maps: The World’s Masterpieces Explored and Explained

I couldn’t tell you why, but I love old maps. I think it has to be something about the art of them, and how something with such political meaning and intention at the time they were created has bow become artistic and historical curiosity.

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I’ll always be drawn to collections like this. Seeing the ways cartographers tried to shape the world around them, whether it was claiming what they already knew or that which was being discovered and defined.

This is a pretty good collection, as they go. Most of the maps included reflect some aspect of cartography through the centuries, and the author makes sure to use examples outside of the western traditions, showing maps from other cultures and styles, some of which most people in western culture wouldn’t recognise as a map at all.

Review: Little White Lies by Philippa East

I finding myself enjoying stories like this one; smaller focused family stories, where people are forced to face the cracks caused by the tiny things done in their past.

A5D70964-D5B1-4301-81B0-6727CCE2C030_1_105_cIt’s similar to Emma Donoghue’s Room, in that it’s about a young girl who’s spent 7 years abducted and locked in an attic. Except here the story start with her being rescued, and told through the eyes of her mother and cousin.

The plot isn’t a rollercoaster. There are no real emotional peaks and valleys. The story is quite a low key presence. Rather than the events, “Little White Lies” focuses in the emotions of these characters as they try to process their own feelings and issues.

But there was something that stopped me getting completely lost in the book. I felt I needed more of Abigail. She’s been kidnapped and held away from her family for seven years, but until the climax didn’t seem that affected by it. She fit into her old life too smoothly. I think this was a conscious intent, as we are seeing her through the eyes of people desperate for her to slip back into her old life, but I felt it lacked a certain punch.

I think this is the book’s only issue. There’s fear, secrets, tension, but lacks any real conflict. I wanted Abigail’s return to upturn things. To disrupt her family’s lives more.

I think the author’s background in psychology is reflected here. I found the characters completely believable, but just a little detached.

I sped through this book. One of those stories that grabs you and keeps you reading. I can’t wait to see what East brings us next.

Recommendation: “Lexicon” by Max Barry

Emily, a talented street grifter, is pulled off the street and placed in a school that teaches its students the true power of human language. Struggling against the strict discipline of this new life, she discovers her talents for persuasion are more powerful than she ever realised.

Will has no memory of the things the men who abducted him insist he was part of. The only survivor of an impossible to survive event, he finds himself on the run from an organisation that wants to pull a word out of his head anyway it can.

I got this book as my Secret Santa gift at work last year. It was a successful purchase.

I got pulled into the story straight away, with both Will and Emily’s stories are equally engaging. At no point was I annoyed when it swapped between one and the other, which can happen when there are two viewpoints at once.

It’s hard to go into some of the details without spoilers, but I’ll just say I loved how the two POVs came to interact. There were surprises, and while I managed to work some out in advance these were enough to make me fee smart rather than making the story feel predictable.

This book was fascinating. As I got into it I actually started to worry, as the concept got very close to one of my WIPs. Luckily Barry took it in the other direction to where I’m looking to go. I might still take some inspiration from here though.

I’m definitely putting Max Barry on my watch list. It looks like he’s got a few books out, so those are on my To-Read list once I get my current reading pile down a bit.

The Wheel of Time Reread: The Dragon Reborn

 

Book Three done.

From this point on in this series of posts I’m going to have to say *mild spoilers*. We’re getting to the point where discussing the plot of each book with reveal points from previous ones. It’s unavoidable. So if you’ve not yet read The Wheel of Time, or plan to watch the Amazon Prime show when it comes out without knowing anything in advance, then I recommend doing so before reading any more of these posts.

Prelude: New Spring
Book 1: The Eye of the World
Book 2: The Great Hunt

*MILD SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EARLIER BOOKS IN THE SERIES*

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I think The Dragon Reborn is where The Wheel of Time really starts to get good. The premise is set, we know the main characters, and have a grasp of the world as a whole. The foundation is in place and we’re ready to open things up and run.

In my last post I discussed how The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt mirrored each other; in the first the characters are running from something and in the next running to something. The Dragon Reborn concludes the introduction ‘trilogy’, if you will, by having them run for something. The characters are now becoming proactive.

Where we might start to get bored with the formula a little, the introduction of the world of dreams – both with Tel’aran’rhiod and the Wolf Dream – gives us a nice helping of foreshadowing. The first time you read these they open up possibilities and could easily mean very little. But on following read-throughs you know what they are hinting at. You get to see exactly how far ahead Jordan had planned the story. Elements we’re not going to see for several books are already hinted or at play. It’s masterful.

The only series to come close to The Wheel of Time when it comes to foreshadowing is the television show Babylon 5. If you know of any others, let me know as I’d love to have more examples.

And, critically, we have new antagonists: The Forsaken.

Two of the Forsaken turned up in The Eye of the World, but in that case simply appeared during the climax to act as a Boss Battle. By the end of The Dragon Reborn we know they are all free. Until now there were a distant threat, trapped but as risk of escaping. Now they are in play. And also they are all doing something far more terrifying than simply attacking the protagonists outright; establishing themselves and making plans. They are setting themselves as rulers, insinuating themselves into positions of power.

By the end of The Dragon Reborn we know where three of them are and that two of them are dead, but the others are all out there somewhere. And so now the series has a credible, real world threat. Until now we’ve had the Trollocs. Terrifying, but essentially mindless monsters. The Forsaken, on the other hand, are active, intelligent forces working against the protagonists. Each one different, yet equally dangerous.

Also this is the book that introduces Faile, and Faile and Perrin are my favourite two characters in the series. I’ll talk more about them in my post for the next book in the series.

The last thing is want to mention here is how annoying some of the characters are. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Take Nynaeve. I hate Nynaeve as a person, but love her character. She’s arrogant, stuck up, bullies people into getting her way, refuses to admit anyone else can ever be right, and her entire arch through the first few books of the series is based about seeking spiteful revenge against Morraine.

One of the things I love about this series are the flaws these characters have, and the reasons behind them. There are reasons Nynaeve is the way she is, and there will be ways she grows and tempers her personality without changing who she is.

And that’s fine. Better than fine. She’s not the only one, just the main example. I also feel Matt needs a good sulk to stop him sulking all the time. It’s easy to forget how young the main characters are sometimes. If they sound like they are being sulky and childish, they’re mostly teenagers still. And acting like any teenage with authority they’re not certain how to handle.

It’s important to be able to dislike a character. To be able to look at a protagonist and see how their thoughts and opinions are valid, but if you were in a room with them you’d just want to slap them for being so irritating.

But that’s what makes them interesting. It’s why no particular section feels boring. As the series progresses there are going to be so many new characters to keep in our heads, and it’s these character traits that stops them becoming interchangeable.

If I have a criticism for The Dragon Reborn, it’s that there’s a little too much exposition in the first third of the book. It suffers from the fact it was an early book in an epic fantasy series and needed to refresh the reader on the world and the story. When you re-read them in quick succession it’s jarring when the characters keep explaining everything to us. I don’t remember this problem from previous read-throughs, so hopefully it will stop being a problem in the next books.

 

And so on to The Shadow Rising. Rand has declared himself the Dragon Reborn, fulfilling the prophesies that make it impossible for the world to deny him. It’s time for our main party to split, and the Forsaken to start tearing the world up under their feet. And, happily, the this will be the last book in my collection is the terrible original cover art.

Polyamory Week 2020 – Review: ‘More Than Two’ by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

Day 1: Polyamory Week 2020
Day 2: What is Polyamory
Day 3: What Polyamory Means to Me
Day 4: My Polyamory

When coming into a new area of life, research is important. I may have all the necessary skills and tools for this life, but it’s possible that I don’t know how to use them. And it’s a simple fact that as much as I consider myself a modern, open minded person, I’ve had thirty-six years of conditioning that the romantic ideal is to find “The One”.

There are books out there designed to help people into the non-monogamy world. But we need to remember that just because someone has been living the lifestyle longer, and may even be seen as a leading figure in the scene, it doesn’t mean their advice is perfect.

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More Then Two, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert has been referred to in a number of circles as the “Polyamory Bible”; recommended as the go-to resource for discovering and working out the basics of polyamory.

More Than Two is comprehensive. There are sections aimed at those coming in to polyamory from different points of view – single to poly, couples opening up, families with children – and more general topics like communication. A lot of it seems simple, and I’m certain that everyone who reads it will find parts are just common sense. But I’m also certain each person will find a chapter that will really benefit them. There were parts I skimmed through, but there were parts that really made me think about what I was doing and how I was doing it.

There are also lots of real life examples, most often taken from Veaux or Rickert’s personal experiences. These are useful, as not every topic will be relevant to each reader and these examples show the real world application of what is being discussed.

However, Franklin Veaux has been revealed as a problematic source. And in the last few years he’s been called out by a number of women he’s had relationships, including co-author Eve Rickert, for being manipulative and emotionally abusive.

I’m not going to comment strongly on this area here. I don’t know a huge amount about about the situation. I would recommend visiting https://polyamory-metoo.com, created by Louisa Leontiades, and https://brighterthansunflowers.com/2019/09/02/thoughts-on-the-fifth-anniversary-of-more-than-two/ for the views of the co-author Eve Rickert.

I was lucky enough to have met Louisa Leontiades at a party. When I started reading More Than Two I recognised Veaux’s name from posts she’d made regarding the issues with him that had been raised. So I reached out to her and asked if it was still valid to read the book. Her advice was it still was a valid resource, as long as those reading it kept in mind that the book presented polyamory through a single viewpoint; and knowing how Veaux had misused it to manipulate his partners was vital as a background understanding.

Reviewing More Than Two is difficult. It’s a useful resource of foundational knowledge. But it also filters polyamory through the point of view of a straight, cis, white man who believed it was something that benefited him over his partners. It is a book that cannot be viewed on its own merits alone, but requires outside context.

So, should you read it? I think it’s best put into words by co-author Eve Rickert (from the post I linked above):

I’m glad that people are thinking critically about More Than Two. I’m glad people are pointing out its flaws. This consensual nonmonogamy thing we’re all working on is not static, and no one has all the answers figured out for everyone. More Than Two represents, at best, a snapshot of what was important and how certain communities were thinking at a certain point in time, just like The Ethical Slut was two decades prior. Ideas and practices will continue to evolve, and that’s a good thing. Some or all of what’s in More Than Two may eventually be thrown out—and I think that’s okay, too. 

So I guess all I can say is: It’s flawed. Maybe it’ll help you. I hope it will. But be careful. Read other things. Take what works for you from each. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right to you, listen to that feeling. 

So would I recommend More Than Two?

Yes, I think I would. It’s not perfect, but no book on relationships will ever be perfect. If you’re looking to learn more about coming into polyamory it’s a good starting point, as long as it isn’t taken on its own. Do some further reading on Veaux, read the testimonies of the woman he talks about in this book, and indulge in some critical thinking.

Above all, take from this that there is no clear and easy resource to tell you how to “do” ethical non-monogamy. And just because someone’s been involved in the scene longer doesn’t mean they know more than you, or are necessarily doing it “better”. In polyamory, as in monogamy, people have their own issues that they bring to the table. Be aware, and be educated.

Recommendation: “Magpie” by Sophie Draper

Claire and Duncan’s marriage has been over for years. Now their son is eighteen, Claire is finally ready to leave. To take her life back. But she finds that secrets from their past tie her to a man who has become a stranger to her. Ties that wind back to a shared past neither of them are prepared to face. 

When I read Sophie Draper’s first novel, Cuckoo, I was not sure if my problems with it were the writing or my own expectations? I felt there was a slight disconnect, thinking it was going to be more supernatural. When that wasn’t the case I felt thrown.

873B418C-EAAF-4D4E-B575-05C28F1E2FD8So I don’t know if it’s the story or a resetting of my expectations that made me absolutely love Magpie.

This story grabbed me from the start. We follow the characters Claire and Duncan, a couple whose marriage has been dead for years, in two separate time periods: Before and After. You find yourself immediately trying to work out the event between them, but Draper masterfully keeps you guessing.

Each shift and change in the plot is satisfying. Nothing feels cheap or gimicky. And, without wanting to give anything away, the grand reveal at the climax was one of those moments that actually had me rereading previous chapters as everything had been flipped on it’s head yet still made perfect sense.

As good as the plot is, at its heart this book is about it’s characters. Both Claire and Duncan are complex, rounded characters. The failure of their marriage isn’t flat and simple. They both contributed to it with how how they’re responded – and failed to communicate with each other about –  circumstances out of their control.

I very much recommend Magpie. With it Draper has shown that she’s a master storyteller.

The Wheel of Time Reread: The Great Hunt

And we’re three books down in my Wheel of Time re-read.

img_4041I was pleasantly surprised by The Great Hunt. For some reason I recalled this one being one of the weaker in the series. Looking at it now, I think I thought this was because in many ways the plot is a reflection of the first book; in The Eye of the World Rand and the others run across the world from something, and in The Great Hunt they run back across the world running to something.

It shows us Rand growing into his role, in a way that needed the time it’s given. An all too common fantasy trope is the innocent becoming the prophesied hero with no warning or reason; a deus ex machina rather than character development. Instead, Jordan shows us Rand refusing his destiny, but taking the actions that lead him towards it they are the right things to do.

And that’s the main thrust of this character arc. Being a hero is about doing something – no matter much it scares you or you don’t want to – because it’s the right thing to do.

And what we get in the background of all this is more wonderful world building. As the characters travel around more of the world, we get more and more of a sense different countries and cultures. And the way Jordan shows this is what makes him a master. It’s all in little pieces thrown here and there, enough for us to feel how these worlds grew.

A great example here is the arrival of the Seanchan. (Who I’d forgotten turn up this soon.) We’re never told the full story, but we have enough parts to put together the full story of the armies setting sail a thousand years ago, and then what’s happening now. Jordan gives us just enough to work it all out ourselves, and feel smart about doing it.

Maybe I’m seeing more with this being my third or third read-through, and I know what I’m looking for. Maybe the first time around I was looking for more action, not knowing how much foundation was being laid.

And can I just take a moment to appreciate the terrible cover art? I tried so hard to find a hardback copy without these horrible fantasy portraits. I’ve always hated these covers. They utterly fail to convey the characters or feel of the books. The way Egwene (I assume) is looking at Rand (I assume)? Urgh! It’s sickening.

Now, on to The Dragon Reborn.