The Exiled Queen The Seven Realms, Book Two

This review does not contain spoilers for The Exiled Queen, but it does contain spoilers for the first book in the series, The Demon King.

None of our heroes are welcome at home anymore. Princess Raisa is running from an arranged, unwanted, and illegal marriage, and Amon is trying to keep her safe. Fire Dancer and Han, newly aware of their wizard heritage, are no longer welcome in the camps of the tribes, their childhood home/refuge. Both pairs set off for Oden’s Ford, a university city unaffiliated with any of the Seven Realms, and therefore free of the civil wars and ethnic strife plaguing the area. As our villains, Micah and Fiona Bayar, are also young wizards, it’s hardly surprising that they appear in class with Fire Dancer and Han. All the important people from the Fells—all the important people of the rising generation—are assembled.

In Oden’s Ford—or rather, in the Dreamworld that Han learns to access—Han meets Crow, a mysterious stranger who refuses to divulge his identity but offers to teach Han advanced magic he won’t learn at the school—fairly nasty magic, truth be told. It’s pretty clearly a bad idea, but Han is eager to prove himself as a magician, eager to gain power, and extra-eager to protect himself from Micah and Fiona Bayar. Plus, Crow is going to be important in later books. We don’t know how, yet, but he will be. Meanwhile, Raisa—known as Rebecca Morley, her classmate unaware of her royal status—is learning military strategy and other useful royal skills, plus some of the unfortunate practicalities of life as a Grey Wolf Queen and Amon and Dancer are each trying to figure out how they can live their lives and be happy, after something important to them has been taken away.

It’s almost 600 pages of character development, and it’s damn good. The writing is excellent, it moves along at a good clip, everyone is interesting and human and, well, developing. The politics and interpersonal relations started in the first book continue to expand in interesting and promising ways. So far, I’m really enjoying this series.

September 2010

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The Exiled Queen ~ Cinda Williams Chima
My review of Book One, The Demon King

Red Pyramid Kane Chronicles Rick RiordanThe Kane Chronicles, Book 1

The author of the Percy Jackson books is back, and this time he’s moved from Greek mythology to the Egyptian variety.

Carter Kane is fourteen and lives out of a suitcase, traveling the world with his Egyptologist father. Traveling a bit more than seems strictly necessary, if its just for professional reasons: most Egyptologists don’t need to switch hotels in the middle of the night, for instance. Of course, most don’t get shot at, either. Sadie Kane is twelve and lives in London with their grandparents, jealous of Carter for getting to spend his life with the father she only sees twice a year. It’s on one of those biannual visits that they all go to the British Museum, at which their dad blows up the Rosetta Stone and gets kidnapped by a fiery supernatural being. An Egyptian god? Yup. This is, naturally, followed by adventures and the need to save North America, if not the entire world.

The narrative is presented as a transcript of an audio tape1 recorded alternately by Carter and Sadie, complete with interjections as the on-mic sib responds to the teasing of the one off-mic, and distracting chapter openers as the narrator switches. It’s an annoying gimmick and the framework detracts from the book; not only does it slow the chapter transitions, the explanatory “author’s note” delays the start of the story, and at the end, the book comes to a satisfying conclusion… and then adds a completely unnecessary extra-extra gimmicky chapter, just to explain the main gimmick. I will grant that the extra chapter does set the stage for the second book, but in a frustrating rather than a tantalizing way; the first book really has been tied up, and instead of letting you close the book with a satisfied sigh, it stops dead and then introduces the conceit behind the sequel without introducing the plot of the sequel.

Gimmickiness aside, the other issue with the narration is a lack of distinction between Carter’s voice and Sadie’s voice. They have distinct personalities and interests—and are both appealing, sympathetic kid characters—but I got more of a sense of each of them as individuals from watching their actions than from hearing their voices. The name of the current narrator is always on the top of the page, and I found myself needing to check more than once.

Nonetheless, it’s a very fun book. The Egyptian gods running around have plenty of limitation on their powers while still being fairly badass, and the plot moves quickly, cleverly, and at times hilariously through various confrontations with deities and magicians. The magicians are members of the House of Life, a millennia-old secret society. They are not particularly happy with the actions of the Kane family; their ancient policy is that the gods should stay locked up, all of them, and the Kanes keep messing with that. Fittingly, the organization has difficulty displaying adaptability in reaction to the Kanes; this is the nature of humanity and bureaucracy. We find ruts, make them oh-so-comfortable, and never get out of them.

Sadie and Carter are multiracial; unsurprisingly, they have plenty of Egyptian heritage if you trace it a couple millennia back, but it’s been mixed with much other heritage, so their dad presents as black and their long-dead mother was white. Carter takes after their dad, while Sadie looks more like their mom, though, obviously, she’s darker. It’s really nice to see such a mainstream book dealing with race, and it does so well, particularly in Carter and his dad’s awareness of public perception of them as African American men.

I don’t know as much Egyptian mythology as I know Greek, so this was breaking more new ground for me than the Percy Jackson books had; this was a fun exploration of a pantheon with which I am not very familiar. I particularly appreciated that he gave credit to the existence of multiple versions of myths, accepting them all rather than choosing one, but with an explanation that made sense. I also appreciated that he casually left room for this and the Percy Jackson books to take place in the same world, but didn’t stress it or threaten to blend the two series.

The Red Pyramid is a creative, fast-paced adventure that suffers from its narratorial gimmick, but it’s only a flesh wound.

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1Yes, audio tape. Not a recording saved on a thumb drive or SD card, an audio tape. What is this, the 90s?

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The Red Pyramid ~ Rick Riordan
My reviews of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3), Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)

battle of the labyrinth percy jackson and the olympians book 4 rick riordanWriting reviews of middle books in a series is hard! There are so many early-book spoilers one wants to avoid, and one has already said many of the important things, and one doesn’t yet have perspective on the overall plotting and pacing. Humph.

Anyway, this is book four out of five of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (after The Lightening Thief, The Sea of Monsters, and The Titan’s Curse). It’s summer again, so Percy’s ready to head back to Camp Half-Blood where he plans to spend the summer working on his combat skills with other kids of mixed (half mortal, half Greek God) descent. And perhaps go on a quest and deal with the latest stage of the big, dangerous conflict started in the earlier books. He’s a bit thrown off by some changes—an alliance between formerly at-odds campers, a new combat teacher—and by some constants of teenage life—he’s not quite sure what to make of either young woman in his life, though they’re quite sure what to make of each other—but off he goes, into the Labyrinth. The one built by Daedalus that originally had a minotaur in the center, of course.

It continues to be good, solid modern mythology. Guilt and grieving are more prevalent in this volume than in the previous ones, and Percy and his friends are distinctly growing up and taking on more responsibility. Interestingly, while he successfully takes on extra responsibility and handles violence, danger, and the omnipresence of death, Percy still seems emotionally young in comparison to his female contemporaries and his two close non-human friends. He’s a fifteen-year-old boy, so this makes sense, but it still adds an interesting element to the book and makes Percy’s moments of emotionally maturity more meaningful.

And now I’ve just one more left to read.

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Battle of the Labyrinth ~ Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Lightening Thief (Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)

devil's kiss sarwat chaddaBilli doesn’t want to be a Knight Templar. Originally an official Church-sanctioned crusading order, they were officially disbanded and declared heretical in the thirteenth century. Now they exist in secret, a small band of deadly fighters based in London, charged with protecting humans from a standard slew of nasties: vampires, werewolves, and demons possessing dead bodies. Billi’s father, the current Grand Master, insisted that she become one of them, though several of the older Knights objected: Billi’s a girl and, historically, girls were not allowed in the Knights Templar (being a monastic order and all that). At fifteen, Billi is officially a member of the order, but would much rather go on dates and get her homework done on time than spend her nights fighting vampires. She might be slightly happier about it if her father ever showed the slightest pride or care for her well-being, but no such luck.

Angsty teenager + supernatural evils = melodrama.

Also, there is a general problem with many reluctant hero(in)es: we pick up books about, say, modern-day female Knights Templar because we want some badassitude. It’s an added bonus if the badass hero(ine) has a realistic, complex personality and therefore thinks about the reasons (s)he’s kicking ass, has some moral compunctions, and is generally three-dimensional. The bonus turns into a penalty if the thoughtfulness turns into whininess. Alas, the whininess:badassness ratio in Devil’s Kiss is rather high.

In a separate issue, I was left with an unanswered question: why are all the Knights except Billi (full name: Bilqis) named after Arthurian figures (Arthur, Percival, Gwaine, Bors, Balin, Pelleas, Kay, Elaine)? Granted, Devil’s Kiss is set in England, where Arthurian names are much more common, (I have a British cousin named Merlin), but to have all of them named thus begs an explanation. There are, apparently, some modern conspiracy theories connecting the Templars to Arthur¹ (and, of course, the entire book is based on the conspiracy theory that the Templars are still around), but neither these theories nor King Arthur are mentioned in the book, so that doesn’t go far in the way of explanation. Unlike Billi, the others weren’t born into the Templars; they came to it as adults. Did they change their names? Billi didn’t have to change her name when she officially joined. Was there some monumental coincidence? Where there are prophecies, as there are here, I have trouble accepting coincidences. So why the Arthurian names? Why does Billi pull a sword out of a stone? There could be some cool Arthurian connections, but the lack of explanation or exploration left my vastly unsatisfied. Perhaps Chadda will explain in one of the planned sequels, but I doubt my curiosity will be enough to get me to pick them up.

September 2009

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¹ Wikipedia says, “Revisionist historians and conspiracy theorists claim that the Knights Templar stored secret knowledge, linking them to myriad other subjects: the Rosicrucians, the Cathars, the Priory of Sion, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Hermetics, the Ebionites, the Rex Deus, lost relics or gospels of James the Just, Mary Magdalene or Jesus (such as a ‘Judas Testament’), King Solomon, Moses, and, ultimately, Hiram Abif and the mystery religion/mysteries of ancient Egypt.”

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The Devil’s Kiss ~ Sarwat Chadda

The Titan’s Curse follows The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Once again, our hero—a half-blood, child of a Greek god and a mortal—must save a friend, do some traveling, meet some myths and monsters, and try to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

I’m getting more impressed with these as the series goes on. They’re still, at heart, fun modern fantasy, but the more I read the more I want to read. He introduces a steady progression of mythological characters in interesting, personality-rich ways. Percy and his friends are growing up, gradually but believably. (And, unlike some books I could mention, when a character loses several years, they deal with it. I was most pleased.) All in all, I’m enjoying these.

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The Titan’s Curse (Wikipedia) ~ The Titan’s Curse (Google Books) ~ Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)

The Sea of Monsters In this, the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (begun in The Lightning Thief), Percy has been doing better with some of the normal aspects of life—managing his ADHD and dyslexia, school, home life—but when summer comes, he realizes how much hell is breaking loose in the world of Greek gods and mythical creatures, the world to which he belongs as much—or more— as our normal one. Once again, Percy finds himself out and about, trying to save western civilization with his friends.

It’s another good adventure; it moves at a good clip, the myths are well-realized—accurate but updated in some clever ways—and has a few well-executed twists. All in all, an entertaining read.

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The Sea of Monsters ~ Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3), Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)

Frankie wants in. Now a sophomore at the elite New England boarding school whence her sister and father graduated, now dating one of the most popular guys in the senior class, she’s sick of her dad’s dropped hints about the secret society at the school and she doesn’t like her boyfriend dropping her every thirty seconds when his best friend, another alpha-male senior, calls. She’s started noticing all the little thing people say or do that lessen women, put us in our place, degrade us, etc. She’s starting to get interested in civil disobedience.

She wants in, and all it implies: she wants her boyfriend to recognize her worth, her intelligence. To not be just adorable. To be on equal standing with his best friend. To be delible¹ to her boyfriend as his friends, not someone who ceases to exist when he isn’t around.

Frankie’s an excellent, full-fledged character, intelligent, gutsy, and ambitious. The book – which won a Printz honor when I was 30 pages in – is quite well written. It does make the reader extra-conscious of the little things people say and do which keep girls and young women on a more juvenile social level than their contemporaries – you can’t walk on you’re own but a boy can, everyone’s glad you have a nice boy to take care of you, your legitimate concerns are dismissed as your being sensitive, your arguments are dismissed as your being adorable. It’s infuriating, and it’s everywhere – not just in the book.

Of course, when a book’s gotten me primed to notice the subtle manifestations of sexism, I’m not particularly inclined to ignore them – even when they show up in that very book.

Yep, Lockhart slips up, damn her.

Passage A, straight from Frankie’s mouth:

Once you say women are one way, and men are another, and say that’s how it is in other species so that’s how it is in people, then even if it’s somewhat true—even if it’s quite a good amount true—you’re setting yourself up to make all kinds of assumptions that actually really suck. Like, women tend to cooperate with each other and therefore don’t have enough competitive drive to run major companies or lead army squadrons.²

She’s on a good track, though I’m on the “in all things moderation (including moderation)” side here – it’s not that we can’t draw conclusions about tendencies, it’s that we need to respect and recognize variations and let people find ways to use their traits to find success in their own ways.

But that’s actually not the point I’m trying to make. I want to show you Passage B:

If she were not a strategist, Frankie would have reacted like most girls do in the same situation: with tears, with anger, with pouting and sulking and petulant responses like “What is it that’s so much more important than hanging out with me, huh?”³

What? What? For one thing, she ranted a hundred pages earlier about people doing exactly what she’s doing now. For another thing… no. Just no. We do not all react to a boyfriend (or girlfriend) canceling a date at the last minute with tears, with anger, etc. Some women do; some men do. We react as individuals, not as monolith gendered blocks.

That’s not all:

It just seems so funny to dress up your boobs. Like when no one is going to see them. Or even if someone is. It seems so undignified to deck out your private bits in flashy bits of lace you’d never where outside of your clothes in a million years.

And then she thought: Boobs.

Boobs are just inherently undignified.4

Let’s go through this one offensive passage at a time, shall we?

Yes, it might seem funny to dress up one’s boobs, but that doesn’t make it bad. Wearing sexy bras, or pretty bras, or brightly-colored silly bras, can have an effect on a woman’s day: it can make her feel sexy, or pretty, or fun, or confident, or all of the above. Even if no one is going to see them. Especially if no one is going to see them.

Underclothes and outerclothes have different purposes; it’s okay to have a bra you wouldn’t wear on the outside, or a scratchy sweater you wouldn’t wear right against your skin. And some of us find excuses to wear corsetry in public, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Moving on…

Very few things are inherently undignified; dignity is in how something is used or treated. Boobs in ill-fitting, ugly, or unflattering clothing can be undignified, certainly, though some women can pull it off; it’s in the confidence. Boobs in flattering lingerie or clothing can be dignified, certainly, though some women can’t pull it off; it’s in the confidence. Naked boobs? It’s all in the confidence. Boobs are inherently boobs. That’s about it.

I greatly enjoyed reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and it has many good things to say. The more I think about it, however, the more pissed I become at the undermining of its overall feminist message. If you’re going to stereotype women, assume that we’re all desperate for men (“On what planet would a girl in her position refuse to go to a golf course party with Matthew Livingston?”5 Mine.), and insult our bodies, don’t try to pass it off as a feminist treatise.

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¹ The opposite of indelible. Also known as the neglected positive, or so The Disreputable History tells me.
² Page 162
³ Page 277
4 Pages 227-228
5 Page 70

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The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
E. Lockhart’s Blog