Back Again

Well, you might be wondering where I’ve been.  After all, it’s only been an entire week since I last posted.  Worry not, I’ve not finished any books between now and then, save the one that brings me here tonight.  I’ll blame work.  And a cold.  This has not been my winter, healthwise, and unfortunately, motivation is one of the first things to go when I feel miserable.

Plus, the book I finished today is (surprise surprise) an anthology.  Which means that I don’t feel as bad for stretching it out so because I never left a story or poem unfinished for too long.  I’m still not thrilled with taking a week to read it, but there’s not much else that could have been done, the way things have gone.

The book is Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman.  Since getting over my initial fear of Trigger Warning, I was looking for a chance to read more of Gaiman’s short fiction.  Well, read and reread.  It seems two of the stories here were already in my library and one of those I have never forgotten.

This is the collection which chooses to end on the incredibly disturbing note of “Snow, Glass, Apples.”  It is the most fascinatingly terrifying retelling of Snow White I’ve ever come across and has left an impression from the time I first found it in the library’s copy of Peter S. Beagle’s The Secret History of Fantasy.  Obviously the reader isn’t meant to feel comfortable upon finishing Smoke and Mirrors.  Well, this edition does have some additional content at the back, but the interview is the closest thing to interesting and isn’t quite as engaging as the introduction.

It’s nice that, in his introduction, Gaiman goes through each of the stories and poems contained within and briefly discusses how each came to be.  Unfortunately, I personally prefer those excerpts to either precede each story (so that I haven’t forgotten them by the time I reach said piece) or at the back of the entire book, where I can read them and go “oh, I see how that story came from this!”  It’s just a personal thing though, and I do prefer anthologies with those additional bits to those without.

There were several pairs or sets of stories here that were variations on themes in some way.  Two stories dealing with Lovecraftian mythos, two stories featuring werewolves (and another with a vampire), multiple stories of stage magic, and, of course, far too many stories to count about sex, sexual feelings, and masturbation.

I don’t automatically condemn stories for being sexual or featuring sex.  I just have no interest in and of myself.  It just means that those stories tend to be less interesting to me as a person, not to mention awkward.  Because it’s Neil Gaiman, though, that doesn’t make those stories any less memorable.

My first major exposure to Gaiman, outside of a couple miscellaneous short stories, was when a friend of mine gave me a flashdrive and said “read this.”  It contained all of Sandman, the award-winning comic series Gaiman wrote.  I’ll go into more detail about it at some point, when I decided to reread it, but there’s one thing that’s relevant here.  The titular character is better known as Dream of the Endless, though he has a plethora of names used by various people and beings.  One of his titles is “Prince of Stories.”

I have to wonder if (or how much) Gaiman identifies with Dream.  Certainly his short fiction, and often his novels as well, spend a great deal of their time on the borders of dreams and reality, of truths and nightmares, of lies and perceptions.  Even the simplest stories have that one element of the fantastic that makes a reader wonder if this could have happened or not.

It’s an interesting idea, to view Gaiman as Dream.  For me, as a reader, it’s much easier to visualize the character than the author.  Sure, I have a good feel for what makes a Gaiman story…but as a person he’s not very real to me.  Characters, on the other hand, whom I’ve grown to love can be very real.  There’s reasons why, after finishing a good book, I won’t immediately start another.  I just have to sit and turn over what I’ve read in my mind, to relive my favorite moments and cement them in my memory.

I think it’s that way with many famous people.  The actual individuals are so distant from us (if you avoid tabloids the way I do) that it’s no wonder the characters they bring to life seem so much closer and attainable.  I mean, there’s still people who write fanfiction about real people, but I get the feeling they’re a bit outnumbered by those writing fanfiction about actual works of fiction.

In other book news, I found Arcanum Unbounded in paperback over the weekend, so that’s now sitting proudly on a shelf with the bricks and my Mistborn box set (original trilogy).  As expected, the White Sand chapter does not render well at all in a mass market paperback, but I see no reason not to switch over to the graphic novel at that point in the book.  After all, it’s in color!  Also, having Sanderson’s Cosmere collection means that I no longer have any reason to keep Dangerous Women, as his “Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell” was far and away the best story in the collection.  The rest disgusted me with their views of “dangerous women” being creatures who needed to be stopped, destroyed, or generally overcome with maleness.

I’ve also placed another amazon order.  No pre-orders yet – those are far enough away that I didn’t want to wait for them, not with the real reason for the purchase.  You see, my work headphones stopped working in one ear.  Luckily I had a spare set stowed away in a closet for just such an eventuality…but this also leaves me without headphones at home, in case I deem them necessary.  So, another set is now on its way, to gather dust until it too, must go to work.  This means that the books added for free shipping are those that were available, on my list, and not a hassle to get.

I would’ve added a used book or two but dear gods what happened?  Suddenly every used book on amazon is now $5, with or without paying for shipping?  I’ll have to be fairly desperate, or using a gift card, to get some of the out-of-print books I want to read online.  I’ll continue to hope I find them in various places in person, where I don’t need shipping, but we all know that this is something of a crapshoot when you’re looking for specific volumes.  Once in a while I get lucky, but that’s it.

Anyway, I haven’t yet decided what tomorrow’s book will be, though I do have a number of options.  For now, I’ll shelve Smoke and Mirrors and think about what reread I’ll be doing soon.


Contrasts and Questions

If Slaughter and Tempests is essentially the same as Alanna: The First Adventure, then Keladry’s story is a “what-if” variant on Alanna’s.  Alanna is Gifted (a mage and healer), chosen by the Mother Goddess, and generally all that you’d expect in a young adult heroine embarking on their Destined Quest.  Except, of course, that the Lioness Quartet predates all of this young adult glut that continues rehashing the same basic ideas but never putting enough work or quality into the writing to make it truly different.  Well, okay, there are some good authors out there, but that doesn’t change the fact that the subgenre of “young adult” is full of mediocre and worse books.

Anyway.  Alanna is likely one of the characters whose stories inspired today’s overabundance.  Her main difficulties as a person are the fact that she’s a woman trying to be better than most men and that she’s got a nasty temper.  Storywise, she’s got quite a number of difficulties ranging from schooldays to political, to legendary and mythical.

This makes Keladry an excellent contrast.  Kel has no magic, is not from a particularly ancient noble family, and doesn’t have any of the secrecy that surrounded Alanna’s true gender.  Kel’s faults are more along the lines of trying to be perfect, trying to do too much by herself, and refusing to back down from a fight.  And her adventures are far more typical than Alanna’s.  I wouldn’t say that running into a bandit camp on a hunting trip is usual, just that bandits have got to be more plentiful than fallen gods luring young adults into an abandoned city for, well, sustenance.

That’s not to say that Keladry doesn’t have a force guiding her destiny, just that it’s not the Goddess and she’s not really a god’s chosen.  Having passed her Ordeal, Kel becomes the first true lady knight in over a century, down to using a distaff (doubled) border on her shield design.  But the testing wasn’t the only occurance in the Chamber of the Ordeal.  Which is, as I reflect, similar to Alanna’s.  But you’d have to read In the Hand of the Goddess to find that one out.

After her testing, the Chamber shows Kel a vision and tells her that she must end what she sees.  From this and subsequent visions she is only able to find out what the task is, who the two men are she must kill, and that they’re somewhere in Scanra, Tortall’s northern neighbor.  This last part is the least surprising, given that her last year as squire saw her and the King’s Own deployed against increasingly dangerous Scanran raiding parties.  It’s fairly vague, as Quests go and if it failed I’m not sure that Tortall as a country would end as it might have in Lioness Rampant.

After her Ordeal, during which she is not permitted to speak, Kel does try to get more information out of the Chamber.  It tells her some information that is obvious, such as the fact that the boundaries between human realms are meaningless to it, but also things like the fact that it is beyond time.  It can’t tell her when she’ll meet Blayce the Gallen or his right hand Stenmun the Kinslayer, because her perception of time is meaningless to it.  Kind of like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, actually, except that he is somewhat aware of time, having once been an ordinary human like the rest of us.  Actually, it most reminds me of the short story “The Weed of Time” by Norman Spinrad, from Alchemy & Academe, which is a fascinating window onto the subject.

Back to the Chamber of the Ordeal.  It’s a plain stone room with an iron door in the chapel of Mithros within the Tortallan palace.  There’s no information as to how old the palace is, and especially not about the Chamber’s age in particular.  It makes you wonder how the Chamber got there?  Was the palace built in this location because of the Chamber?  Was the Chamber actually built by mortal hands and human mages, or did other forces have a hand in it?  If it has such awareness and power, why is it content to use it only to judge those people who are candidates for knighthood?  What does it receive in exchange for these judgements, or is that where quests like Keladry’s come into play?

It’s interesting in that a world as expansive and fleshed out as Tortall, we know more about the gods and how they interact with each other and their worshippers than we do about this essential part of a squire’s transition into knighthood.  I am reasonably certain that Tamora Pierce has a decent understanding of what the Chamber is, but she may never impart that information to her fans.  After all, if we had all the answers it would be a lot less fun to discuss and theorize.  I’m just sitting her wondering why I haven’t asked these kinds of questions before, despite how long I’ve been reading these books.

Well, to be fair, there are some good reasons I haven’t asked about the Chamber of the Ordeal.  In the eighteen books currently set in this world (plus another of short stories), there are only two times we get to experience the Chamber of the Ordeal.  In Alanna’s case, we don’t have any reason to go back.  Her secondary vision may have been facilitated by the Chamber itself…but there’s no proof it wasn’t the Goddess, her own magic, or even another force entirely that hasn’t been named.

In Kel’s case, the Chamber has something of a personality, starting in Squire.  There are clearly no other forces at work beyond the Chamber itself.  However, because Kel doesn’t dwell on what the Chamber is or how it functions, the reader is led away from that path of inquiry.  Not to say that it won’t arise, but it’s not a question the author is necessarily asking.  For Kel, the Chamber is just a part of her world and her experiences within it.

At this point, I’m somewhat tempted to continue the theme with Beka Cooper: A Tortall Legend.  However, I’ve also been meaning to get back to my Pile.  At least I’ve got until breakfast tomorrow to figure out what I’m reading next.

Wet Book

Squire will forever be “that book I dropped in a puddle”.  That’s just how it is.  There’s only one such book in my library and since it’s still readable, it’s still here.  I dropped it when I was at day camp and whenever I remember that, I have to stop a minute and think, because it always seems too new to have been with me that long.  But then I check the publication date and yes, it’s quite possible.  And how could I misremember that anyway?  There are reasons why I am so careful with my books.

But enough about damage to the physical book, you probably want to look at the content.  Having successfully passed the big examinations (instituted after Alanna’s deception), Keladry is now a squire.  More than that, she’s squire to none other than Raoul of Goldenlake, one of the Lioness’ school friends, now commander of the King’s Own.  There are three main groups of armed forces (not individual fighters) in Tortall: the army, the King’s Own, and the Queen’s Riders.  The King’s Own are more specialized than the army and are generally heavy on nobles.  The Queen’s Riders are guerilla troops, made up of all sorts of loose ends of people so long as they make it past the grueling training months.  And the army is, well, nowhere near as interesting as the other two and so it doesn’t get a lot of time in Pierce’s books.

It’s nice to get to know Raoul again in a somewhat different context from how we saw him before.  He’s grown and matured like every character, and is (mostly) comfortable with life at the moment (as long as you leave out the matchmaking mothers).  We also get some glimpses as to how Raoul’s relationship with his friends has changed over the years, such as Jon.  Not as much with Alanna, although she also takes a squire, contrary to her custom.

Kel spends the four years of this book riding all over Tortall, meeting all sorts of people, fighting, helping, and just generally trying to learn it all before she faces the Chamber of the Ordeal.  You could say this is an interim book, a placeholder between the very real difficulties she had to overcome as a page (and to become a page), but that doesn’t really do Squire justice.  This may be my favorite book of the quartet, although I’m not sure just how to articulate that at the moment.

I guess part of it is that, while war is looming on the horizon, this is still officially peacetime, and there’s less of a threat.  Next book things will definitely go up a level. And yes, I am finishing up Protector of the Small before I take another look at my Pile.

Post-Con Coherency

I’ll say it now; this may not be the most coherent post I’ve ever assembled.  I am falling asleep in my chair as I type and intend to go to bed fairly soon after a long, long convention.  It was fun, there were many games, but I wasn’t able to buy many books.  Two on Thursday, one at the con on Friday and three more at the library, and that it.  I suppose that’s for the best, because I’ve been known to drop seventy dollars on books alone at a con, if not more.

Today I finished Page, the second entry in Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small set. Keladry, having completed her probationary year, is now a page like any other.  The book covers the other three years (pages for four years, squires for four more, then knighthood) of her page training and the many events therein.

There are some great lines of dialogue here and there that I always appreciate when I come across them.  At one point during the convention, a friend was setting up a game he’d never played before with many pieces to arrange – I read while that was going on, but had to share when I found some choice bits.

“You’re like butter with the staff, butter with no cow hairs in it, all smooth and clean,” one character says of Kel.  This always makes me laugh.  I also like how one of her friends tells Kel that she doesn’t have to be perfect, to which she responds that it would be nice.

Page is in many ways a comfort read for me.  I know I’ll enjoy it and have a good time when I pick it up off the shelf.  There’s conflict to resolve and overcome, sure, but it’s an encouraging story of a young woman unafraid to stand up for what she believes in and protects those weaker than her.

Unfortunately, I’m having trouble stringing together any thoughts that aren’t related to the convetion.  So I think I’ll wrap this up and go to bed.  But I’ll be back again soon, rested and recovered.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I had switched over to Michelle Sagara West and other new books from Tamora Pierce, but that doesn’t mean I was done with Tortall.  It just means that I wanted to plan my reading around a convention because, as I always say, it’s best to be rereading a book that I may only get to look at a page or two at a time.  And because a number of the Tortall books overlap, I opted for the set that begins two years after the Immortals War.

This is First Test, book one in Protector of the Small.  Keladry is a ten year old girl.  The first ten year old girl to take advantage of the (somewhat recent) proclamation allowing girls to openly become pages and, hopefully, knights of the realm.  However, not everyone is in support of this “revolutionary” concept.  Sure, female warriors have become more common with the creation of the Queen’s Riders, but the world of knights has been exclusively male, save for the Lioness, for a hundred years or more.  (There’s a whole historical side plot about the rise of the cult of the Gentle Mother which emphasized a more patriarchal society in which women are sidelined for the men, but that’s not actually relevant in this set.)

To start with, Kel (as she prefers to be known) must serve a probationary year before she can truly be considered a page.  This is not what she’d hoped for, but Kel is a girl willing to do what it takes to achieve her goals and do what she perceives to be right.  Which, among other things, includes looking out for those who are less capable than herself, hence the title of her books.

In many ways Protector of the Small is an updated version of the Lioness Quartet.  Alanna is an established figure who is rarely seen in these books and represents one of Keladry’s idols as well as her ideals.  Like Alanna’s books, we have that of the page (books one and two), the squire (book three), and finally Kel as an adult knight in book four.  But time hasn’t stood still and we get to see the echoes of what existed in Alanna’s schooldays as well as how the world has changed and grown.

Speaking of grown, Kel may be ten, but she has spent the past six years of her life in the Yamani Islands, as part of the Tortallan embassy.  This location, as you can guess from the name, is based on real-world Japan in culture, custom, and so much more.  By introducing this new location, Pierce gives herself the opportunity to mix in another culture that she likely finds personally interesting while still continuing her beloved Tortall series.  Obviously, if Alanna was written today, there would probably be a little more mentioned about the Yamani Islands, but the focus of those books was entirely different.  I see this sort of inclusion as a way for the author to add more depth to her existing work while still satisfying her urge of what to write about next.

I think I’m really starting to ramble somewhat incoherently.  Or at least, more poorly phrased than usual and likely repeating myself.  It’s almost 1:30 in the morning, which is fairly typical for a con.  I didn’t leave until after midnight and I’m planning on being back in roughly eight and a half hours, depending on how long I sleep.  The first panel I truly want to attend doesn’t start until 11:30, although I am intrigued by the Q&A with Eric Flint at ten.

It’s Thursday, day one of the four day Capricon (or it was, shush) and so it wasn’t exceedingly busy or crowded.  Not all of the dealers have arrived yet, so the room was nowhere near as full as it will be by Saturday morning.  I only bought two books today, but I think I got some good stuff.  One was a Fantastic anthology – signed by the editors! – for $5.  A little pricy for a used mass market paperback, but considering how difficult these things have been to find in the wild, not bad.  Plus, signed.  The other was a fairly new-looking anthology (in hardcover) edited by Neil Gaiman and themed aroudn bookstores.  I lucked out on that one seeing as it was a special deal: $10.  Here’s hoping that I have more luck and these aren’t the only books I end up with from the con.

On the other hand, I think I’ll have to leave the con for a bit tomorrow.  You see, the local library’s next book sale starts tomorrow night and, as a friend of the library, I have tickets for free entry.  I think it may just be worth it, even if I miss a friend’s concert.  Again.  I only seem to make about half of those anyway…

But this is more than enough rambling.  I need to get my sleep because gods all know there won’t be much for the rest of the weekend.

And Now For Something Completely the Same

A friend of mine gave me books for Hannukah (yes, I know you are shocked) and I’ve been waiting for just the right time to read them.  This happened to be today.  After, given that a convention starts tomorrow, I wanted to plan my reading around it, and thus not having things hanging over my head that I really want to read in one sitting.  Which made today the best day to read Explorer: The Lost Islands and Explorer: The Hidden Doors.

Edited by Kazu Kibuishi, these are graphic novel anthologies.  Aimed at kids, or so I guessed from the number of happy endings and the general focus on kids and teens as main characters, but that’s no bad thing.  The art on every single one of these stories is gorgeous and mesmerizing and if some stories are simpler, they certainly aren’t bad.  Some are highly conceptual…though the concepts may not be the most unique thing, who cares?  The art is great.

There’s at least one story that seemed to be part of a series, and a couple authors (including the editor) who contributed to both books.  These are normal trends in any pair of anthologies, but since I don’t read nearly as many graphic novels as I do standard books, it’s very interesting for me.

I don’t think that Explorer is going to jumpstart my interest in graphic novel anthologies or even get me to pick them up more often than I already do.  This was a nice change of pace from normal books, and something short enough to finish in a single day despite working overtime.  Every single one of these stories has merit and is worth reading.

The story my mind keeps ranging back to is likely Radio Adrift, for being the one whose components are least recognizable as a trope.  It’s found in The Lost Islands and was the largest group effort in both books, having been created by Katie and Steven Shanahan, with Eric Kim and Selena Dizazzo assisting with the colors.  Desert Island Playlist from the same volume also gets a shoutout.  That’s by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier with colorist Braden Lamb.

That’s not to say there’s nothing worth mentioning in Hidden Doors.  On the contrary, I’d say Two Person Door from Faith Erin Hicks and colorist Noreen Rana caught my attention the most in that volume.  Again, there are no bad stories.  There is no bad art – which to my mind is more important.  Graphic novels are a very visual medium and if I don’t like to actually look at the art, then already it’s not going to be the best thing for me to read.

Overall, these were great gifts and I’m happy to have been introduced to them.  If I do see other Explorer anthologes, I might just pick them up.

The Best Dinner Parties

I have to wonder if there’s going to be a subplot in the Elantra books going forward from Cast in Flight about Kaylin’s dinner parties.  She hosted one with a number of notables in the twelfth book, and had another scheduled when the thirteenth book, Cast in Deception, happened.  This was regrettably interrupted by an unexpected trip, among other things.

I had theorized about the series finally getting around to enmeshing us within the human Caste Court, but it seems Sagara is not yet ready for that.  Probably because it would involve Kaylin becoming a prominent individual for her own species finally, and she’s nowhere near mature enough for that yet.  She’s learned a great deal over the course of the series, but not enough that she’s ready to be presented to the Imperial Court.

Instead, Cast in Deception picks up on some of the other dangling storylines we’ve seen in the background, such as the arguments between Annarion and Nightshade.  And, of course, any time one of the cohort is involved, the rest have to put in their two cents.  Which I guess is what happens when you live mostly in each other’s heads for gods only know how many centuries.

As you can guess, there’s a lot of plot that I’m dancing around here because, as usual, I’d rather not spoil things for you.  A lot of this book is about actions having consequences, whether they’re the things you did, the things you didn’t do, or just words spoken.  And I mean words in our conventional sense, not True Words.  That was not as large a focus in this volume as it has been in others.

It does continue to amuse me how many of Kaylin’s friends – her family of friends – continue to take rooms under her roof.  Helen is happy to house them as long as Kaylin wishes it, though she might be more leery of some of these people if not for our protagonist.

Speaking of, there is a very interesting epilogue in this book.  I think it may be the first time in the entire series that we see any scene at all from someone else’s point of view.  Kaylin is not at all present and is likely to never know about this scene.  I doubt, given the structure of the thirteen books thus far, that Sagara will bring in multiple viewpoint characters – a lot of the comedy comes from Kaylin trying very hard not to put her foot in her mouth.  Or any deeper into her mouth.  But it is an interesting inclusion.

I continue to enjoy the series and am thoroughly engaged in trying to unravel the mysteries as we step ever closer to dealing with Ravellon, the heart of Shadows that the fiefs stand sentinel against.  It looks like we’re going to be dealing with yet another of the fiefs soon, but “soon” is a relative term as Sagara has shown this book.

I’m definitely going to be reading something shorter tomorrow, possibly two things given what I have in mind.  This weekend I have another convention, and it’s a four-day one, starting Thursday.  So you know my usual plans – have something smallish or lightish or anthology-ish for during the con.  I haven’t yet decided what that will be, but I am thinking of going back to Tortall and rereading more of it.  Certain parts that will easily fit into my con bag, as opposed to large hardcovers or oversized paperbacks.  I am trying to not kill my shoulders.  Theoretically.

Time to stop rambling and watch more sports.

A Long Series

When I got my box from amazon earlier this week, it contained the newest books in two different series.  I chose not to reread anything prior to Tempests and Slaughter, but this second series is not at all like Tortall.  Tortall is one of the many series that is broken down into discrete sets that can be read separeately or together, with no obligation either way.

Elantra, in contrast, is a long string of events that now contains thirteen books.  This is also the series I’ve been thinking of as I discuss how many previous installments I wish to reread.  In the end, I decided only to reread the twelfth book, Cast in Flight.  This is in part because the eleventh book, Cast in Honor, tends to make my head hurt and not in a great way.  More akin to the reasons why I refuse to start any other Anne McCaffrey series that involves time travel.

I’ve read the first several books in this series more times than I can easily count and while I do enjoy them, Elantra has become long enough that it’s no trivial thing to reread it all.  Assuming I have a lot of free time and can read a book a day, we’re still talking about two weeks at this point.  It’s not the same as an entire month, true, but it’s more time than I care to dedicate at this moment.  After all, I have more than twenty books currently in my Pile, and there’s a convention this week.  I fully intend to buy more books…but you already knew that.

So, Cast in Flight.  It’s the Aerian book of the series, and also a story of not making assumptions.  Because what we assume can bite us in the ass.  Hard.  This book is as much the story of Moran dar Carafel becoming who she was born to be to the Aerian Flights as it is of Kaylin furthering her understanding of the world around her.

Previously, Moran was injured when everyone was called out to deal with some dire threats.  The injuries included her wings, preventing the Sergeant from flying.  Kaylin, being Kaylin, offered her a place to stay.  This took some courage on Kaylin’s part because Moran is the Imperial Hawk in charge of the infirmary and she takes no nonsense from anyone, nor does she take kindly to pity.  And, like so many others, refuses to let Kaylin heal her.

Of course, Kaylin gets much more involved when someone ruins her morning by trying to kill Moran on their way to work.

It’s actually quite interesting.  Moran’s medical training is what she puts most of her faith in at the beginning of the book, and it’s that knowledge that informs her.  Because of this, she makes assumptions that would strip her of whatever power she might hold.

In contrast, Kaylin is struggling to deal with an assumption that seems safest, but may make her everyday life far more dangerous.  It’s a question that makes the Arkon stop and consider, which is never a good sign.

On the flip side, at least the dinner party seemed to go fairly well.

I do greatly enjoy Michelle Sagara’s work, and the Elantra books have a good mix of elements.  You have your fantasy of course, but you also have politics, mysteries, and a skillful balance of drama and comedy.  Kaylin Neya as a character is utterly hilarious when she tries to do anything formal (so she tries to avoid formality in all settings) but she’s also incredibly earnest and able to touch not only the hearts of those around her, but of the reader.

Like Moran, Kaylin is going to have to come to terms with the fact that she is not nobody.  That she gets away with so very much because she is not nobody.  And it is interesting to note that she deals with almost all of the Caste Courts at the highest level.  She has met the Emperor (in a nonofficial and somewhat informal setting) face to face, she is favored by the Barrani Lord of the High Halls and the Consort, she is a friend to the Tha’alani castelord, has dealt with the Leontine Caste Court, Moran may well be the new Aerian castelord…really, the only Caste Court Kaylin has avoided is her own human one.

Which makes me wonder what will happen next, in Cast in Deception.


It feels a little weird to finish Emperor Mage with no intention of finishing the quartet, but as Ozorne is no longer a factor in Carthak by the end, it ceases to bear any strong ties to Numair’s school days.  In many ways, this book is a fitting end to what we saw back in Tempests and Slaughter, although it remains to be seen what happens with the arena and gladiators in the Numair Chronicles.  They certainly weren’t mentioned to Daine, so I have to wonder if they still existed at the later date.

This book also reminds me thoroughly of incidents we have yet to actually read of in Numair’s life.  He was imprisoned by Ozorne, after being arrested for treason, and somehow escaped to Tortall.  The Emperor Mage also wanted him taken back alive for the next ten years, if only so that Ozorne could have the satisfaction of dealing with Numair himself.  I’m certain that there’s more to it than this dry summary, but I can only guess until the next book comes out.

Back in Wolf-Speaker, Numair says of the Emperor Mage that Ozorne feels if a mage has studied at Carthak’s university, they belong to the Empire.  It’s a possessiveness and self-centeredness that we see repeatedly with Ozorne as a character throughout all the books in which he appears.  Even Varice, the third point of their school triangle, is present in Emperor Mage.  She, however, is a much older and sadder creature, and it seems a great letdown from the vibrant girl she once was.

I do love how a chapter in this book is titled “Daine Loses Her Temper.”  It doesn’t even work as a summary of the contents within.  Another character tells her “that is the greatest understatement I have heard in my life” and it’s no lie at all.

I feel a little bad that I’ve been rereading these books to get a look at Numair, and pretty much ignoring Daine, the main character.  But this is one of the joys of a series like Tortall – that each of the different sets ties into each other, but through a distinctly unique lens.  Characters appear repeatedly, allowing us to see how their lives continued after “the end,” and new ones are developed on the foundations of their predecessors.  Every set of books brings us someplace new in multiple ways, and expands on what we knew previously.  Sure, you can tell by writing style alone which books are older and which are newer, but that’s not a bad thing.

The Lioness Quartet is over thirty years old, and has been in near-continuous print since it was first published.  There are not that many books or series out there than can make this claim, and it’s a tribute to Tamora Pierce as an author.  The quote on Tempests and Slaughter calls her “a pillar of fantasy” and it is true.  Whether you like her or not, whether you read her or not, she’s always there, always on shelves, available for you to bring home and enjoy.

I guess this is also true of Mercedes Lackey, but I’ve been more upset with Lackey’s Valdemar of late than I have with Tortall.  I think most recently this is because Valdemar is being led by what Lackey wants to write about, whereas Tortall is led by the stories Pierce feels should be told next.  Comparing the two series, I begin to think that Lackey should straight up take a break from Valdemar, reevaluate what stories can be told next in that world, and then write those.  It’d be nice to get a glimpse into Iftel, or Ceejay, or even the Eastern Empire at a different point from the world’s present.  What’s the point of having a timeline that you can write anywhere on if you’re going to let yourself get bogged down at a single spot?

Anyway, it’s time to switch gears to a very different series and style of series.  But I’m not rereading all of it this year.

New Light on Old Books

After getting an in-depth look at Numair Salmalín’s early life as Arram Draper, I had to go back to where it started, as far as most readers are concerned.  Originally published in 1992, Wild Magic, book one of the Immortals quartet, is where we find Numair’s first appearance as teacher to Veralidaine Sarrasri.  It’s her wild magic in the title and the two of them are in for a lot of craziness involving immortals…including gods.

Since it’s been more than fifteen years since Pierce first established Numair as a character (and because it’s been a while since I reread any of Daine’s story), I wanted to check what I read recently against what I remembered from what was before.  And I found a number of pleasant surprises and at least one instance of contradiction.  Which is not unexpected, given the gap in time.  Because Tamora Pierce is such a good author, and one I’ve loved for two thirds of my life, I can easily forgive things like that.

The best part is that rereading Wild Magic gives me a much better idea of how these two books relate on the timeline of the world, such as when Ozorne became Emperor of Carthak, when Numair left (was forced to leave?), etc.  It also raised several questions about what may be seen in the rest of the Numair Chronicles.  After all, Tempests and Slaughter ends ten years before Wild Magic begins and in that time Numair has moved to Tortall, become well-known to the King and the Lioness, and met Onua Chamtong of the K’mir Raadeh.  There’s also references in later books to some of his adventures on the way to the life he has when he and Daine meet, such as juggling on the streets for coin and learning sleight-of-hand.

I know that the Numair Chronicles won’t cover the whole ten years between the two books, but they don’t need to.  Pierce, like so many authors, will bring his story to a logical plateau, the one he stands upon when meeting Daine.  It’s the “happily ever after” moment, even though we all know that there’s always more to come in the future, but it’s the ending of that story.

As I recall, the Lioness Quartet covers about ten years from beginning to end.  Maybe a little more.  The Immortals is probably only about four years total, but Daine starts off at age thirteen, and is deeply involved in the Immortals War as it’s later known.  Protector of the Small is, I think, around nine years because Keladry also starts at age ten.  The Trickster books only cover two years, or a little less, but there’s also only two of those and spies require a lot of little details.  Beka Cooper covers five years, talking only about the main story without and prologues or epilogues.

In fact, the Immortals is one of the two sets of Tortall books that doesn’t begin in a primarily school setting.  Daine does learn, yes, but she also works and is paid to for it.  In fact, once she gets her feet underneath her and masters her powers, she has adventures even crazier than those the Lioness became known for, that thus far haven’t been topped.

It’s possible that Numair’s early life may be competition on this front, but I doubt it.  After all, he was with Daine when she ended up in the Divine Realms, and I’m pretty sure that was the craziest adventure he’d ever been on in his life.

Anyway, I also went through and reread Wolf-Speaker, the second book in the Immortals quartet.  It also has some people from Numair’s past, but that connection is minimal at best and doesn’t really come into play very much.  I couldn’t remember if the tree was this book or In the Realms of the Gods, but apparently it’s this one.  Fun fact: Pierce followed up with the balance of that result with a couple of short stories taking place on the other side of the planet.  It’s always nice to experience other portions of the world that have their own cultures and traditions, even if they don’t really interact with our main characters and countries.

Wolf-Speaker is not one of the more interesting entries in some ways.  Sure, this is where Daine learns to actually shapeshift and we get to meet the wolf pack mentioned in Wild Magic.  And it furthers the story that will become the early portions of the Immortals War.  But for my interest in seeing Daine’s story through the lens of Numair’s past…there’s just not much here.  So I’ll continue on to Emperor Mage which, by definition, has to be far more connected as we return to Carthak, where one Arram Draper originally learned at their University.