Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “heroine”

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #43: Heroing by Dafydd ab Hugh

I had such high hopes for this book. A female mercenary! Trying to get signed on to a quest and prove all the menfolk wrong! Contemplating the nature of heroes! Unfortunately, she’s kinda dumb, and kinda mean. And then the book veers off into strange philosophical territory, and then wraps up with a lesson about mental illness. I’m going to go ahead and spoil this in the plot summary, partly because I don’t know how else to explain how weird this book was, and a lot because I don’t think anybody else should read it.

Jiana is a hero for hire, looking for work and wanting to make a name for herself. She tries to join a prince’s quest, but he scoffs and dismisses her, telling her that it’s no job for a woman, then takes away her sword. I imagine his next step would have been to hand her a dishtowel and a bucket of soapy water, but Jiana immediately kicks the asses of all his guards, gets the sword back and runs for the hills. Her brilliant plan from there is to follow the prince and his hired heroes, wait until they get into trouble, then save the day and show them all that a woman can be a hero too.

The story takes its first step into weirdness at this early stage, and Jiana gets lost, loses her horse, and ends up starving and battered at a remote farmhouse. She is helped by a 15 year old boy who lives there, Dida, and he is instantly smitten. She spends a few days recovering and having a mental battle with herself about seducing the FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOY. She’s 28. TWENTY-EIGHT. Spoiler alert: she gives in and they have a wild roll in the literal hay. Whereupon he falls madly in love with her and follows her when she leaves to continue her quest.

When she catches up to the prince, she finds out that he’s not just sexist, he’s also pretty much the villain of the story. For reasons I never quite understood, he’s burning and pillaging his way through the countryside. (She “accidentally” kills a village survivor who keeps insisting the prince is a godlike hero, and my brain started hurting. She’s the most unheroic hero I’ve encountered in quite a while.)

Okay, this is getting way too long, especially for a book I didn’t really like. Jiana continues following in the prince’s wake, even after she finds out he’s a murdering dillhole, because saving him will still get her name in the storybooks. Besides a lovesick, horny teenager, she collects a priest-turned-philosopher who decides to come along for the ride because he’s fascinated by her multiple personality disorder.

I don’t even know how to describe all this. Jiana thinks that she was born an evil little girl with magic powers. After the evil girl killed her/their abusive father, Jiana buried the evil girl (she calls her Jianabel), stopped having any magic, and became the regular, well-adjusted person she is today (ha). Except that she’s started having a little bit of magic ability, and the priest explains to her that Jianabel wasn’t a demon, Jiana wasn’t cursed or possessed – Jianabel and Jiana are the same person. And he basically tells her about traumatic experiences and splintering off bits of your personality to survive, which Jiana has never heard of because she lives in the world of a fantasy novel, and the priest lives in a psychology textbook. So THEN, they have lots of long fireside conversations about the nature of personality, childhood, magic, whether the gods are real, etc. etc. etc., and apparently it’s now a philosophy textbook.

I think I have to stop now; there’s just too much weirdness to cover. Out of body experiences, deals made with gods, the prince’s captain of the guards is really a demon who Jiana has to unleash Jianabel on to defeat, capture, escape, breaking up with the 15-year-old, lots more philosophizing…this book has a lot to say. Unfortunately, none of it is very good, and none of the characters are very likeable, or have any reason at all to do the things they do. Dida leaves his home and family to follow a bitchy heroine who doesn’t want him. Jiana follows an evil prince and keeps trying to save him from stuff, even though he keeps killing innocent people. The priest follows Jiana and Dida off on a far-fetched quest with no real motivation at all. Nothing they do makes sense, but they talk about it a LOT.

There, I don’t think I actually spoiled anything, since I’m not sure any of the above makes a lick of sense. Now you know how I feel!

Valyruh’s CBR#4 Review #33: The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

I’m afraid this book marked the end of the road for me with regard to Liss’ books, which is truly unfortunate because I so enjoyed his first several works of historical fiction, with their brilliant depiction of the flavor of 17th century Europe. His last–and unexpected–venture away from the historical fiction genre, The Ethical Assassin, was unsuccessful, I thought (see my review #32), but his newest The Twelfth Enchantment was, to put it plainly, a dud.

This book takes place in early 1800s London, and Liss returns to the historical mystery genre—or so I thought–by centering his plot on the clash between the advance of industrial capitalism—with all of its exploitative and inhumane aspects—and the Luddite Movement determined to protect artisan labor and the living standards of the working poor by destroying the mills and their expanding investment in technology. This conflict should have offered a creative writer like Liss ample material for a thrilling historical mystery and yet he flubbed it so badly that I was sort of embarrassed for him.

To his credit, Liss attempted to write his novel for the first time from the perspective of his female protagonist, the young and pretty Lucy Derrick who has suddenly lost her father, her inheritance and her home and is forced to live in the restrictive and hostile environment of her uncle’s gloomy house in Devonshire, England.  Shades of Jane Austen. Her uncle and his housekeeper, the mysterious Mrs. Quince, are determined to marry Lucy off to the dour and unappealing mill owner Mr. Owens. With her sister and hateful brother-in-law now occupying the ancestral home and her uncle unwilling to support her further, it would appear Lucy has no choice but to succumb to a loveless marriage. Suddenly, George Gordon Byron—yes, the infamous Lord Byron—shows up at Lucy’s uncle’s doorstep with mysterious words for her and bearing a curse which Lucy miraculously discovers she can banish. Her proclivity for magic is a surprise to Lucy, and she begins to encounter a variety of mysterious and shadowy figures all of whom seem to consider her the central figure in a life-and-death battle over the future of England … and, one supposes, the world.

Byron is the first unexpected romantic entanglement that Liss throws in Lucy’s path, and it is a rather ridiculous plot driver that is only made more absurd by her awkward musings throughout the story over whether to protect her already slightly tarnished reputation by denying the gorgeous and willing Byron, or to plunge ahead into becoming one of his many sexual conquests. The fact that he is presented variously as a cad, a rapist, demonically possessed and a zombie hardly seems to factor into her considerations.

Another historical figure, the poet and printmaker William Blake, also conveniently shows up in Lucy’s life, and it is hard to tell whether Liss means him as a father figure, a mentor, a medium for Lucy’s dead father, or all three. The Rosicrucians make their appearance as well in the battle against the Luddites, as do faeries who take the form of the reborn dead and are the driving force behind Liss’ increasingly convoluted plot. Magical formulas and potions are scattered throughout the book, and one is never sure whether Lucy is talking to a fellow magician, a ghost, a faerie, or a zombie. The plot moves quickly and fantastically through many wild twists and turns, to a climax which is as neatly sewn up as it is unbelievable, involving ghost dogs, giant homicidal turtles (I kid you not!), ghoulish changelings, and of course the 12 enchanted pages which Lucy is tasked to collect before the bad guys get their mitts on them. I could go on, but why bother. Liss is great at creating ambience, as always, but his mastery at writing a good mystery novel appears to have vanished.

I like a good fantasy as well as the next one, but I also like to keep my historical fiction separate from my regency romances separate from my ghost stories. Liss managed to combine all three, and ruin them all. Oh well.

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