Thursday, July 28, 2016

Kushiel's Chosen a.k.a The One Where True Love is an Ass

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So, did you guys run out and read or listen to Kushiel's Dart after my review? I mean, the story was only amazing, so I guess I understand if you didn't prioritize that this week...

Sarcasm? This early in the post?
It's never too early for sarcasm. Besides, I only ask because I somehow managed to not have a ton of spoilers for that book in its review. However, your spoiler-free reviews end now. I'll try to avoid major spoilers for Kushiel's Chosen— the second book in the series— but prepare for some new info from the previous book to crop up. It has to, because there is no way I could review this otherwise! I will do my best to keep it condensed. Oh, and one more thing: since I've been listening to these as audiobooks, I'm not really sure how to spell the characters' names. It'll probably be more weird for me than you, but I just wanted you to know what's going on.

Consider us warned. Carry on!
Very well, then! In Kushiel's Dart, we were introduced to the world of Terre d'Ange. Imagine that angels landed in France and bred with the populace. Due to their celestial ancestry, the d'Angelines (as they call themselves) are considered to be the most beautiful people ever, awash in talents, in a country overfull with richness. This is great for them, of course, but it does make them somewhat conceited. It also makes their country a target for threats, when others want all their beauty, science, and fancy ways. Their religion and culture are centered on the precepts of their main god, Elua, who bid them simply to love as they will. And they do. The d'Angelines have raised love-making to an art form, worthy of being taught, practiced, and used as a means of worship as well as pleasure. Much of what they do, they do for love.

What the hell does "loving as they will" mean?
It means, "you do you." Would you like a plethora of lovers who all know about each other? That's cool. You do you. Want to add some group sex to that? Go for it. Your preference is for monogamy? Or celibacy? To each their own. How about group bondage sex? No problem! Just remember the safe word. Above all: keep it consensual, and love as thou wilt. It makes for some interesting pairings.

I mentioned in the review for Kushiel's Dart that there was political intrigue, fights, monsters, and True Love. When Phaedré nó Delauney is sold into slavery in the previous book, she goes with her bodyguard: a young, celibate, warrior priest named Joslin Verai. Potentially due to the adrenaline-fueled nature of their time together, they fell in love as they escaped captivity. It's all very romantic, but let's stop for a moment and consider the spiritual and mental ramifications for Joslin: after 12 years of rigid, prudish education and training, he breaks every vow he made in order to protect and serve his ward (who just so happens to be the courtesan spy he now loves). There are metric butt-tons of guilt for him to work through, but he manages. He's surly about it sometimes, but he manages. Having given you the barest amount of background I can get away with, we can now move on!

Kushiel's Chosen picks up with the bait left at the end of the previous book. Phaedré is convinced there is a new plot against the queen of Terre d'Ange when she receives a package from Melisande Shahrizai— the woman who sold Phaedré and Joslin into slavery and escaped her death sentence for treason. In an effort to find the truth and locate this dangerous enemy of the state, Phaedré returns to the service of Naamah.

She what now?
Try to keep up. Naamah is the d'Angeline goddess of love. By returning to Naamah's service, Phaedré is practicing her trade as a courtesan. Her ulterior motive, of course, is to glean information from her patrons that could help her locate Melisande and stop her nefarious plots. This is where True Love starts to be an ass. Despite Phaedré's sound reasoning, Joslin disapproves of her plan vehemently. Her return to Naamah's service strains their relationship almost to the breaking point, as neither seems willing to come to a compromise. Actually, that isn't true... Phaedré is willing to compromise with Joslin on many things, and Joslin will compromise on nothing. Though he does not outright leave her, he is often absent and thereby negligent in his duty/vow to protect her.

But you can't expect someone who only believes in monogamy to be okay with having a prostitute for a girlfriend and stick around!
Yes you can. If Monogamy Bob falls in love with Polyamory Sally knowing full well that she's into multiple people, I expect him to suck it up and deal with it. Does he have to like it? No, of course not. He just has to find a way to deal with it. If it doesn't work out, leave. Hence, I totally side with Phaedré in this book. She was always honest with Joslin about who and what she is. She is also well aware of his vows, and how it would hurt him if she tried to solve this mystery Melisande baited her with. She laid everything out in front of him and told him why she had to do it. If he doesn't agree, so be it. But for fuck's sake, dude, pick a bloody side. Work something out, make an agreement of how long this can go on, and then revisit the agreement if you must. Or leave. Instead, Joslin is contantly sulking, and I spent a great deal of time wishing a fictional character were physically in front of me so I could punch him for being such a stubborn mule.

Sounds like you're kinda mad at this dude.
Yes! Because Joslin's vow to protect Phaedré is the reason he won't leave her, but then he is often missing when she needs protection! To make matters worse, he then blames her for going off without an escort. I want so badly to beat the crap out of him! For about two-thirds of the book, anyway. That's when shit hits the fan, Phaedré gets tossed in a foreign prison, and Joslin makes the most daring rescue attempt I've ever read. It might've worked, too, if she hadn't fallen off that cliff!

No way?!
Way! It does take approximately two-thirds of the book to set up, but when that domino effect gets going— it is an insanely satisfying experience. Phaedré hunts for traitors at court, and their trail eventually leads her and her companions to leave Terre d'Ange for the city state of La Serenissima (which is essentially Venice). There she finds her traitors in the last place she ever would have thought to look. That's when she gets tossed in jail and Joslin, finally realizing that he cannot live without her, goes to her rescue— only to have her fall off the side of a cliff. Again, I'm kinda mad at Joslin, but he so makes up for all the crap he pulled from that moment forward. From there on, you just get so excited for them to be reunited! Because she doesn't die, of course.

She doesn't die. I'm just telling you that because you looked scared.

I wasn't scared. I was just concerned.
Sure you were. Well, she doesn't die. She almost dies, having fallen off the side of a cliff and into the sea. Luckily, though, she gets picked up by pirates!

You lie!
No, I'm not making this shit up, I swear! Look, aren't you convinced yet that you just need to go read this book?! I'm afraid that if I were to go into every little detail that makes this such a great book, worthy of being read repeatedly, I would end up writing a series of essays. I haven't even told you guys about her best friend and how she's trying to break the curse he's under, or her men at arms, or the queen she loves enough to get herself into such a mess!

Yes, Kushiel's Chosen does take a little longer than the previous one to get going, but once it does the experience of it is phenomenal. And yes, I know I spent most of this review describing the story in terms of how the main guy is being such a jerk, but only because that's one of the main ways I remember it. I remember it because I love the characters, and I want them to work together and be happy, but then of course we wouldn't have a story. So instead, I'm listening to all of the shenanigans, the intrigue, the web of lies and sex thinking, "I love you guys. I can't wait for you to be happy again."

I'm just going to warn you right now to clear a day or two on your calendar, because it'll be tough to put this down once you get started. It made me laugh, and legitimately wrenched a tear or two from the depths of my little black heart. If you haven't read the previous one, that's actually okay. One of the things that slows the story down some is how it repeatedly touches on some of the things that happened in the previous book. So if you're okay with jumping around in the series and you want to start in the middle, that's okay! You won't be completely lost. And if you've already read the first book, then you're totally set to start on this one. So go on! Get reading! You can thank me later for recommending it.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Edward's Menagerie: Birds!

My youngest brother loves birds, and I love making things. So when I came across Edward's Menagerie: Birds by Kerry Lord on Amazon and saw that they were having a book sale, I made a deal with my dear bro. If he got me the book for Christmas, I would make him a bird for his birthday. Well, he kept up his side of the bargain, and I became the proud owner of this avian themed collection of patterns. Then, of course, my schedule blew up and I've yet to start the toucan I promised him. His birthday was four months ago.

Worst. Sister. Ever.
Yeah, I know. But he'll get his toucan! I just hope he names it something more interesting than Kerry Lord named hers. All of the birds in this book have their own names and little bios stuffed full of personality. It's disgustingly adorable, for the most part. But then you get to the toucan, and the description was so prissy it actually turned me off to the entire pattern. Since all of the patterns have little bios, though, I think this could also work as a little children's book. Not the kind that you hand to itty-bitties to tug on, but you could read it to them and show off the pictures. Or, even better, make the toy and then tell them the pre-made story behind it!

Beyond that, there are some things you should know before you go out and buy this book...

  1. All the patterns are written with European abbreviations. I know this is a deal-breaker for some people, but the European abbreviations don't make it incomprehensible. Additionally, Lord even points out in a couple of sections what the U.S. equivalents are for what she's talking about.
  2. The birds are sorted into three levels of difficulty, so if you're a complete beginner you can start at level 1 and if you feel the need for a challenge you can jump to level 3. I think you could make all the patterns with only a little experience and some tenacity.
  3. The patterns are split in different parts throughout the book: standard forms, levels 1-3 birds, and technicals. So if you wanted to make Ina the Stork (level 1), it bids you to start the body, neck, head, and wings from the standard forms. The pattern for the legs and beak are on the same page as Ina's bio. To put it all together, you would refer to the "technicals" section; that covers all the additional little details.
  4. Of the 40 patterns listed in the book, there are 3 distinct: owls, penguins, and chickens. Think about that. You don't just get an owl, or a penguin, or a chicken. You get a barn owl (and 2 other subspecies buddies), an emperor penguin (and buddies), and a silkie chicken (plus a regular hen and a rooster). That's just cool.
If you appreciate birds, attention to detail, and some realism in your toys, I would highly recommend Edward's Menagerie: Birds. Even if you're a complete beginner, you can find something here that would be satisfying and fun to make. The patterns look solid, and the directions for all of the toys are "baby friendly" (none of them use extra little bits like buttons that babies and younger children might choke on). As always with crafting books, I recommend getting the print version of this book— especially given how the patterns are separated in the different sections. So have fun with it, guys!

I hope I'll have an opportunity to show off my brother's toucan soon, along with a blue-footed booby for good measure. Because how could I resist making a booby or two?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Commute Saver: Kushiel's Dart

Available on Audible and Amazon
If you have kept up with my blog, you may remember that I have a long commute that I absolutely hate. I listen to audio-books to make it bearable, but for a month or more I kept forgetting to swap out what I had available. Luckily for all the drivers I share the road with, I finally swapped out Stephen King's The Shining for something less likely to fuel a deadly, maddening rage: Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey.

First things first: this book is amazing. The whole series is phenomenal, actually. This isn't the first time I've listened to it, and it's a wonderful experience every time. I mean that to the point where I might sit in my car for a few minutes longer after I get home just for a bit more story. I've been taking long walks the past few days— despite the high temperatures— just to have an excuse to immerse myself in the world of Terre d'Ange longer. This is due in part to the writing, of course. But before I get to the story, I want to point out that the voice actress for this series— Anne Flosnik— has a beautiful and captivating voice. I can, and do, listen to her for hours. It's a little like listening to a long-time friend tell me about her adventures as a super sexy spy.

Begging your pardon?
Well, that's the gist of the story. Phaedre nó Delauney is a courtesan, trained as much to observe and analyze behavior as in the arts of pleasure. When Phaedre's bond-master is slain and she— along with her bodyguard companion— are sold into slavery in a hostile country, they must pool their resources (wits and talents) to escape captivity, return home, stop a war, and save their monarch from certain death. On the off-chance that you are not yet convinced you must read this book, I add this: there are sex scenes and they are beautifully balanced. There are not too many of them, but not too few, with enough flowery writing not to make it seem vulgar, yet let you know exactly what is happening. They are hot and— like Goldilocks' bed— just right.

Actually, I daresay it's unfair to refer to the sex scenes as "just right," when the entire story hits a phenomenal sweet spot. My favorite part about this package is probably the complexity of the characters. Phaedre's beautiful face and often submissive demeanor hide a cunning mind capable of matching wits with Moriarty-esque antagonists. She is often underestimated, and she uses that to her advantage. But she is also rebellious and proud, which lands her in deep waters with deadly undertows of trouble. Even the side characters have feelings, traits, and multiple drives. I often see the intellect and talents of side characters compromised to make the protagonist appear smarter and more capable. Personally, I consider that to be lazy writing, and am happy to report that you will not find that in this book. But you will find fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, True Love, and miracles...

To sum up, Kushiel's Dart is an amazing beginning to an epic series. It makes me squeal with unabashed delight, and I recommend it to anyone who will listen. Now you know you need to read it. Will you read it or listen to it on audio? You won't be sorry, either way.