Weekend Links: May 23, 2015

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This weekend’s links brought to you by Adventure Time-style Disney Princesses.

On That Scene in the most recent episode of Game of Thrones:

Manic Pixie Dream Worlds on Sexual Violence in Epic Fantasy

The Rainbow Hub on sacrificing Sansa in service of Theon’s story

Feminist Fiction’s take on the episode

Amanda Marcotte disagrees with most of the crowd (and I disagree with her, but this piece is worth reading as a counterpoint)

Your Defense of That Rape Scene Makes You Sound Kinda Gross (a counterpoint to the counterpoint)

On rape, nudity and historical accuracy in general/specific

BoingBoing on Game of Thrones’ hypocrisy

How Real Is the ‘Game of Thrones’ Medieval World? (an oldie but goodie that is still relevant over a year later)

John Scalzi on writing rape at io9 (general rule: don’t)

K. Tempest Bradford on the Historical Accuracy Fallacy

Stuff people have written about Mad Max: Fury Road that make me very sad that my broken foot is keeping me stuck at home and away from the theater:

We Are Not Things: Mad Max vs. Game of Thrones

Kameron Hurley: Wives, Warlords and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max

BITCH Magazine Blog: The Ecofeminism of Mad Max

Miscellaneous non-GoT/Mad Max things:

Simon Pegg clarifies his comments on sci-fi infantilizing us and makes some excellent points about the current state of pop culture

Everything you want to know about fancy editions of classic books

On the word “girl” in Supergirl

5 Things That Have to Be in the New X-Files – I’m totally here for Fox checking out Tinder

@QuirkyMPDG is my new favorite Twitter this week

 

 

Rereading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Chapters 23-25

Strange_BlackBetween the end of Volume One and the first chapter of Volume Two, a period of some fifteen months has elapsed, which allows us to jump straight into the next phase of the story. In these chapters, Jonathan Strange is discovered, introduced to Mr. Norrell, and embarks further on his career as a practical magician.

The Magician’s Garden

Chapter 23 revisits our old friends Honeyfoot and Segundus, who are visiting a very old, very magical property in Wiltshire called the Shadow House. This ruined place was once the home of one Gregory Absalom, court magician to Henry VIII and both Mary and Elizabeth. While Absalom was not fabulously adept at actually performing magic, he was incredibly skilled at getting people to pay for his services, and the he built the Shadow House in the sixteenth century. Honeyfoot and Segundus are visiting it, as it’s meant to be one of the most magical places in England.

13 Shadow House-1Mr. Honeyfoot seems hardly sensible of the strangeness of the place, but Mr. Segundus is more sensitive, it seems, to the odd auras of the ruined garden they explore. Segundus feels so weird about the place that he has to stop and rest, only to have find himself dreaming of a mysterious woman. Just as another man appears in the dream, seeming shocked to see Segundus there, Mr. Honeyfoot shakes his friend awake and the move on to explore the interior of the Shadow House.

Strange Magic

Almost immediately upon entering the ruined building, the two gentleman come upon two other gentleman. Segundus recognizes one of the men straight away–it is Jonathan Strange, who has made a sort of pilgrimage to the Shadow House with his brother-in-law in order to try and summon spirit of Maria, the daughter of Gregory Absalom. At first Strange is simply irate at the spoiling of his spell, but his annoyance quickly turns to excitement at the prospect of meeting a fellow magician.

Finding that they are staying at the same inn, the men have dinner together, where Honeyfoot and Segundus are amazed to find that Jonathan Strange is a practical magician and a little in awe of what Strange has accomplished in less than two years of study. For his part, Strange feels he hasn’t accomplished much at all, and he particularly has struggled to find books from which to learn as Norrell generally buys them all up as quickly as they are available. Most of Jonathan’s magic, then, has been invented by himself, which is even more incredible to Segundus and Honeyfoot, who are used to thinking of magic as a mostly scholarly pursuit. In the throes of their excitement, Honeyfoot and Segundus encourage Strange to seek out Norrell, although Segundus at least has the sense to have some misgivings about this advice later on.

The Education of a Magician

The first meeting between Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange is basically everything one could hope for. Of course the two can’t stand each other, being vastly different in age, experience, opinions, and every other aspect, and their initial interview is awkward in every possible way. Drawlight and Lascelles are no help; anxious as they are to maintain their place in Norrell’s regard, they are eager to disparage Strange, who they see as a rival. For her part, Arabella Strange is encouraging toward her husband, but Jonathan doesn’t see much chance that he and Norrell will get on together at all, and he expresses a desire to be done with the whole idea.

However, Strange and Norrell both turn out to be almost obsessively interested in each other, and it’s not too long before they meet again. Mr. Norrell makes Mr. Strange a present of a book, and Mr. Strange makes a demonstration of magic. He puts the book inside a mirror and replaces the real book with its mirror image. In one of Norrell’s few truly likeable moments, the older magician is not upset at this proof–he’s excited by it, and this is the most animated that we have ever seen Norrell so far. Although Norrell disapproves of Strange’s having married, he insists upon Strange becoming his student, to which Strange agrees, reasoning that there is no other way for him to get access to Norrell’s vast hoard of books.

The student-teacher relationship doesn’t go entirely smoothly in the beginning, as Norrell is picky about what knowledge he’s willing to share and Strange chafes at Norrell’s restrictions, but both men still seem to profit from their acquaintance.  If nothing else, their disagreements over, well, most things magical are a delight to read, and through Mr. Norrell’s lists and book recommendations to his pupil, we get a much better understanding of the history and theory of English magic.

Bad Dreams

While Mr. Strange is not entirely pleased with the progress of his studies with Norrell, he does have success in one area in which Norrell has so far failed. Previously, Norrell had been enjoined to send bad dreams to Napoleon, but Norrell’s lack of imagination made this a fruitless endeavor. Strange’s first act of magic in the service of England is to trouble the dreams of Napoleon’s ally, the Emperor of Russia. By the end of Chapter 25, Emperor Alexander is so unsettled by the portentous dreams Strange plagues him with that he becomes too distracted with trying to interpret them to bother with the business of ruling at all.

Book Review: A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

Marshall_A Crown for Cold SilverI was totally unprepared for this book. I’m not sure that I’d say I loved it, but it it was nearly impossible to put down, which is something I seldom say about books that have over 600 pages.

A Crown for Cold Silver is, I suppose, grimdark, but it’s not a novel that takes itself too seriously, which is refreshing. While there is a lot of violence, a lot of moral ambiguity, and things end on a decidedly pessimistic note, these are balanced by a real sense of humor, anachronistically modern-sounding dialogue, and a tendency to outright mock some of the genre’s standard tropes. It’s not quite a true pastiche and not quite a satire as it does tend to follow most of the ordinary grimdark story patterns, but ACfCS plays with the genre in a lot of really fun ways that make it a much more entertaining read than some of the more gloom and doom stuff on the market.

Possibly the most notable facet of ACfCS is its inclusive take on gender, sexuality, and race. Definitely it’s a progressive work in regard to the first two. There is a pretty even split of men and women among the large cast of characters, and women and men seem to be pretty equally present in all roles without gender stereotyping. Diverse sexuality is also on display, with bisexuality in particular seeming to be largely the norm in the world of the Star. Sex is talked about frankly and sexual violence seeming to be pretty much non-existent, which is also a refreshing change from the norm in a genre where rape is commonly used as a cheap way to add “grit” to fantasy worlds.

Race in the world of the Star is a little more complicated to comment upon. Most of the characters are not given much physical description, and what they do get is generally more to indicate age, wealth, athleticism, and gender expression. Instead, race is indicated by cultural descriptions and names–there is one culture that uses Korean-sounding names and another than seems Indian-inspired. There is also the “barbarian” culture of the Horned Wolves, which I at first took to be a normal sort of fantasy “Northern barbarian/viking” culture, but which in the later part of the book turns out to be not that at all. There are also the “weirdborn” or “wildborn” who can be of any race, but are people who are believed to have demon blood.

It’s a strange mix of wholly original races and cultures and some use of real-world cultural markers as shorthand to differentiate between people groups, and I’m not sure that it entirely works as well as the author might hope. That said, I didn’t feel like any of the various races were fetishized or unduly othered. There are multiple characters of every ethnicity in the book, so no one character bears the burden of being representative of their race, and while you definitely get a sense of the characters’ shared cultures, they are also shown to be very different individuals with complex relationships to each other and to their peoples. In short, even if Alex Marshall relies a little too much on recognizable markers for defining races on the Star, it’s still a damn sight better than most similar fantasy worlds that are overwhelmingly white and heavily European-influenced.

The plot of ACfCS is fairly straightforward-seeming. Zosia is a retired warrior queen who has been living in obscurity for over twenty years when her husband is killed and everyone in the village she’s been living in is massacred. She wants revenge and to that end starts looking up all her old warlord friends, who are also mostly retired or otherwise settled down to live peaceful lives. And hijinks ensue as literally nothing goes as anyone has planned, because this is a grimdark novel and there’s literally no one who doesn’t have a secret agenda of their own. There are some slow-ish spots in the narrative, which I think is to be expected in a book of this length, but overall I found the pacing to be good, and the book ends with a series of gut punching revelations that have me waiting with bated breath for the next book in the series (I believe it’s a planned trilogy).

In my opinion, what few flaws there are to be found in A Crown for Cold Silver are made up for by a hilarious conversation about the merits of a chain mail bikini, which is more than worth the price of admission.

Rereading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Chapter 22

Strange_RedIn Chapter 22, we finally meet Jonathan Strange for real. It’s a great ending to Volume One of the book, and by the end of the chapter we’ve met all of the most important characters and all the pieces are moved into place for the rest of the story. 260 pages is a very long first part, and I have a feeling that some readers may dislike the lack of action so far, but this is definitely where it starts to get really, really good.

12 Jonathan Strange -1
Jonathan Strange

Jonathan Strange

After his father’s death, Jonathan Strange proves himself to be quite a different sort of man than Laurence Strange. However, while free of his father’s vices, Jonathan isn’t particularly virtuous, either. Rather, he’s only a decent sort of man, well-liked by fashionable people, but without any strikingly good traits. Red-haired and long-nosed, Jonathan isn’t even particularly handsome, although he is tall and fit. The author describes him as having a face with “an ironic expression,” which I love, as it’s a description that is very indicative of Jonathan Strange’s personality.

Arabella Woodhope

Arabella is the woman that Jonathan wants to marry, having only been prevented from doing so thus far by his father’s disapproval of Arabella’s relative poverty. With his father out of the way, Jonathan hopes to soon wed. The problem now, of course, is that Arabella disapproves of Jonathan’s idle lifestyle, and although he has spent the last year fully intending to pick up one profession or another, he hasn’t quite gotten to the point just yet. Even so, with his father’s death, Jonathan intends to propose immediately (reasoning that Arabella “would never be more full of anxious tenderness than she was at this moment and he would never be richer”) so he rides to meet Arabella at the home of some of her friends in Gloucestershire.

The Man Under the Hedge

On his way to propose, Jonathan comes to an empty town. When he finds the townspeople, they are all in a furor over a passing vagabond who has been bothering the village for several days and whom they plan to send on his way. When the man extracts himself from the thorn bushes he’s been sleeping under, he introduces himself as Vinculus.

Vinculus immediately recognizes Jonathan Strange as the second magician of his prophecy, which he recites again now. Jonathan is unimpressed by such dreary pronouncements, and is ready to ride off when Vinculus stops him. Vinculus pulls out the spells that Norrell had written down for Childermass to use against the street magician, and offers to sell them to Jonathan, who pays for them, if only to stop Vinculus from talking to him any longer.

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Jonathan Strange, Arabella Woodhope, and Mrs. Redmond

The Spirit of a Banker

When Jonathan Strange finally arrives at the home of Arabella’s friends, the Redmonds, he isn’t prepared to answer Mrs. Redmond’s questions about what he intends to do now that his father is gone. Finally, he declares his intention to study magic and produces the spells that he bought from Vinculus. Only one of the spells seems practical to do, “A Spell to Discover What My Enemy is Doing Presently,” but Jonathan manages easily to perform it. They are all disappointed, however, to see only a man fitting Mr. Norrell’s description and just sitting in his library working at a desk.

“If I am a magician, I am a very indifferent one. Other adepts summon up fairy-spirits and long-dead kings. I appear to have conjured the spirit of a banker!” says Jonathan Strange, laughing, at the close of the chapter.

Book cover and synopsis for The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

TheGirlWhoRacedFairlandIt’s no secret that I adore Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, and I am beyond thrilled (and also a little devastated) about the release of this final volume in March 2016. I love the color of this one, and I can’t wait to have the whole series lined up on a shelf looking gorgeous.

Here’s the synopsis via Amazon:

Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland – but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo’s egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn’t want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation – and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September’s parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter…

Sci-fi and Fantasy books, tv, films, and feminism