cahn: (Default)
[personal profile] cahn
4/5. I really, really liked this book. It's about a biracial (elvin/goblin) boy, Maia, who becomes emperor of a somewhat complicated court and then has to deal with it.

I would never have read it if not for [personal profile] rymenhild's review (general, unspecific spoilers), because I hated Felix so much in Monette's other books.

D saw me snarfing it up and asked if he should read it. I told him I didn't know. He decided to read it and stayed up until 2am the next two nights... I can't remember the last time he did that reading a book.

So yeah. And it's the kind of thing I just want to talk about, because I have lots of thoughts about it!

I think one of the things I loved most about it is that it's such a hopeful book. Not a happy book -- lots of unhappy things happen -- but it's awfully hopeful, and I am a sucker for hopeful. I read an essay Monette wrote where she points out her Labyrinth books are much more noir, and... yeah. This one, while not light fluffiness for sure, is not noir.

Various other things I loved about the book:

-Gosh, I really just loved how present Maia's mother is in the story. I feel like a lot of times the dead parent is played for Hero Motivation only, with no other real impact in the story or character. (I feel like FMA is an exception to this, very subtly -- partially because Al looks so much like his mother, and partially because we're told so many times that Ed is just like this father. So you get a real sense that their mother must have been very much like a grown version of Al.) But in everything Maia is, in the reactions he has, the way he tries to think about things, you get a real sense of how his mother tried to teach him and how that differs from the culture of his father.

I'm rereading the Judith Tarr Avaryan books right now, and in Fall of Princes Hirel is in the same sort of situation (mostly-absent father, explicitly stated in text that he was raised by mother the way mother wants)... except... right after reading GE, it was starkly noticeable how much I had no idea what Hirel's mother was like, or how her upbringing affected her son.

-I adore Csevet and may have a total crush on him, in that way that I do with super-competent understatedly-awesome characters. I think Csevet and Simon Illyan would like each other a lot. I can't help thinking that he and Esavan will end up together even though there's basically no indication of this in the text, just because Esavan reminds me of a grumpy Alys in her awesome competence. LOVE HER.

-I also rather adored how Celehar was a priest and all, but really basically he was a noir detective. My mental picture of him totally has him slouching around in a trenchcoat. Don't disabuse me!

-I adored the arc with Setheris. I loved that Maia never really forgives him (because, um, yeah) and admits it, but at the same time moves past it.

Other things (I don't mean these to be negative, precisely; this is the kind of book where it's good enough that I want to talk about and dissect all the parts I didn't love, if that makes any sense?):

-For a political intrigue book, it had... curiously... little political intrigue. I didn't really notice until after finishing the book (since her writing is good enough that it covers it), but... the plotline turned out to be pretty simple, after all, even if getting at the plotline was circuitous and involved. I mean, basically, there's a bad guy. Who does progressively worse and worse things until his badness is clear. (D also pointed out that the last bad thing he does is incredibly stupid... which... I can handwave around, but he's right. It is.)

-I felt like the deck was totally stacked in Maia's favor by Csevet turning out to be basically the best and most competent person he could possibly have hired for the job of his secretary -- and Maia does this completely randomly; he knows the names of two people and one of them he hates, so Csevet gets the job by default. It just seems... unreasonably lucky to me. (Berenar being interested in teaching him stuff, by contrast, I find lucky but not unreasonably lucky; it seems not unreasonable that one person out of the entire court might notice Maia was out of his depth and offer to help out.) I mean, I don't mind that Csevet is so competent, obviously! I would mostly have just felt a little better if Maia's super luckiness had ever been addressed. It is vaguely addressed why a courier in general might have been good for the job... but... I should think that Csevet is probably atypical in his talents even for the couriers. And I don't think it's ever addressed as to why he left Chavar's service so willingly!

-Completely silly objection: Both D and I felt cheated out of a description of the clock that Maia got for his birthday! CHEATED, I TELL YOU. It was just as marvelous and unique as the descriptions had made it sound! SO UNIQUE THAT WE CANNOT GET A DESCRIPTION OF IT.

Date: 2014-08-07 06:08 pm (UTC)
rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
From: [personal profile] rymenhild
Csevet and Esaran are friends, yes, but I don't see chemistry there. First, she's much older than him, and second, I don't think Csevet is heterosexual. Note the following details about the courier corps:
1. Csevet says couriers are glad to enter the corps because it's an alternative to working on their backs.
2. Describing an attack on him, Csevet says something like, "It was not the first time we were propositioned" and "Couriers are known to be amenable". Somewhere else in the story Csevet mentions that people generally think couriers are depraved.
3. The only other courier with a speaking part, we are explicitly told, is a count's boyfriend.

So I think -- and Word of God sort of confirms -- that the courier corps is a gay (marnis?) underground, and Csevet belongs to it. (You should read that link -- there's more about Csevet in there.)

So Csevet/Cala, maybe, or Csevet/another courier, or even Csevet with an unrequited passion for the extremely heterosexual Maia. (Csevet has no chemistry with Celehar at all.)

I agree with your critiques. Yes, the villains are not particularly intelligent (although the very last revelation explains why there was any competence at all in the evil actions taken earlier in the book). There isn't much plot, where plot is defined as dramatic, well-defined and violent conflict. However, I think the violent bits are secondary to the real rising and falling shape of the book. The problem of the story is about how Maia learns to live in his new world, and the high-stress events aren't central to that narrative. Dinner parties and breakfast conversations are more important to Maia's trajectory than the mystery of the sabotage of the Wisdom of Choharo.

I too want a description of that clock!

Date: 2014-08-09 03:20 pm (UTC)
rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
From: [personal profile] rymenhild
I'm thinking more about Csevet. Maia is very, very lucky that Chavar's messenger turns out to be Csevet, yes. But I do think it makes sense that Csevet would leave Chavar's service so easily.

Under Chavar, who has plenty of servants and followers, Csevet is a young courier of no particular importance. Chavar wouldn't send anyone crucial to his support staff to Edonomee to meet the new Emperor; to Chavar, Maia is only a future puppet and doesn't need to be respected.

Csevet is not upper-class and not traditionally educated. Couriers come from the lower classes and teach each other what they need to know. Other couriers and the couriers' commander might have recognized Csevet's intelligence before, but no one at the top echelons of the government of the Ethuveraz has seen it. Csevet has no importance at all until Maia picks him, more or less at random, to run his household. Chavar's probably even glad to see the back of him! Chavar is only going to send somebody he doesn't care about to Maia's service. It's a severe misjudgment on Chavar's part, because Csevet strengthens Maia significantly.

Then Maia, who is of course not traditionally educated or familiar with the upper classes of the Ethuveraz himself, asks Csevet for help. Csevet takes the place that anyone else in the Untheileisene Court would have expected to go to Setheris. But while Setheris would at least have been cunning as the manager of Maia's household, Csevet is brilliant -- and no one has ever noticed Csevet's brilliance until that point. Csevet is also, again, lower-class, and once he realizes that Maia has real sympathy for and is really supporting the underprivileged of the Empire, Maia has his permanent and unswerving loyalty.

Date: 2014-08-08 02:05 am (UTC)
skygiants: Hohenheim from Fullmetal Alchemist with tears streaming down his cheeks; text 'I'm a monsteeeer' (man of constant sorrow)
From: [personal profile] skygiants
Huh, you know, I never particularly thought about Al looking like Tricia, but now that you mention it...

(I have always wanted more about Tricia's personality, and my secret headcanon has always been that she was actually extremely weird, because ... only someone extremely weird would go for Hohenheim. Right? HOHENHEIM'S SUCH A WEIRDO. I just like the idea of Tricia being equally as bizarre.)

Date: 2014-08-09 05:49 pm (UTC)
ase: Book icon (Books 2)
From: [personal profile] ase
I would never have read it if not for [personal profile] rymenhild's review (general, unspecific spoilers), because I hated Felix so much in Monette's other books.

This matches my experience. But hearing that you and D both enjoyed it might overcome my Felix-related antipathy.

Date: 2015-01-23 05:40 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Just fell into this book and I'm frantically chasing related links all around the Net. :-)

The thing that really hit me was down at the end, when the guy who built the bomb is explaining his reasoning -- change must happen, the Emperor and his full-Elvish sons will never introduce change because they're so enmeshed in the existing power structure, so he must kill them off to make way for the half-Goblin child and then change will happen. And as it turns out, the kind of change he wanted was exactly the kind of change Maia will pursue. This leaves Maia in a very uncomfortable and ambiguous position, where doing what he knows is right is rewarding an action of which he cannot possibly approve. He will continue, of course, but there will always be that little frisson of ambiguity about it.

But really, that guy was taking a horrible chance. Nobody knew anything about Maia; he could have turned out to be venal and cruel, or perfectly willing to slot right into the existing power structure. So the sabotage was a HUGE gamble that, very fortunately, won.

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