The Olive Conspiracy – Shira Glassman

Book four in the Mangoverse series (I reviewed book two, Climbing the Date Palm, here) represents a marked improvement in Glassman’s writing skills. I didn’t see the ending twist coming and had my feelings skillfully manipulated. This review will not contain spoilers.

Queen Shulamit’s ex-crush Carolina has recently inherited the throne of her own country, and almost immediately, plagues fall upon Shulamit’s country’s agriculture. Is Carolina behind what is clearly intentional sabotage? 
To get the bad stuff out of the way: the economic structure of Carolina’s country, a huge factor in the plot, was not terribly clear beyond “stratified society where workers can be physically abused”. I feel like this structure could have been more detailed or more subtly shown.

Also, I noticed that Glassman’s descriptions can be vague, eg telling you that customers in a restaurant chatted noisily instead of showing you eg an absorbing card game and a lovers’ quarrel among patrons. Specificity of detail is what I missed.

The good, however, far outweighed the bad. 

Where the villain in Date Palm was a greedy and repressive ruler, the antagonist in this book had much more complicated motivations. In fact, they were my favorite character, even though their positive actions are balanced out by the evil they do, so Shulamit is clearly in the right. 

Glassman also resists the temptation to exalt Shulamit’s current happy partnership by denigrating her previous crush–there are good reasons she ended up with her wife instead of Carolina, but her feelings as a teen are also granted respect. 

The common thread of these is the increased complexity of characterization and the recognition of competing goods, always a great narrative technique.

Two emotionally powerful scenes stuck out: the burning of an olive grove to slow the blight, watched by the unhappy farmers, and Shulamit’s and Carolina’s big scene together at the end.

I look forward to what Glassman does next.

Code Name Verity prequel- description of The Pearl Thief

So you may have heard that Elizabeth Wein is writing a prequel to Code Name Verity. Below is the description I found on her publisher’s website:

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital with a head injury and no memory of the events that landed her there, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family from the opposite side of the banks, she finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body turns up, her new friends are caught in crosshairs of long-held prejudices. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In the prequel to Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this thrilling coming-of-age story returns to a beloved character just before she learned to fly.

The Swan Riders – Erin Bow

You may have noticed that I loved The Scorpion Rules. I loved this one too. It doesn’t come out till September, so you will have to wait to get your hands on it, or you could enter the Twitter contest run by the author to get an ARC.

My number one, somewhat idiosyncratic concern with the sequel was that Elián not be made a bad guy, though he often does things that run counter to how Greta does things and the flap copy hinted at violence on his part. Anyway, he remains a wonderful character and very brave, so I was happy. He and Talis even come to a sort of understanding, which is great.

This is very much Talis’s book, maybe even more so than the narrator Greta’s. Talis is the one who learns and grows, on whose choices the climax turns. Greta’s still great, dignified and selfless and clever, but she’s mainly dealing with the consequences of her choice to become AI in the previous book, rather than making new choices. Her big moments are more epiphanies than actions. Talis, on the other hand, is thrust into a brand-new, identity-altering situation, and learns a great deal as a result about what it means to be human, to be AI, and to love, until finally he has to make a choice.26409580

One thing that I think had improved from the previous book was the handling of race– where in the previous book many nonwhite secondary characters didn’t feel right, in this book, they’re more individual.

Some things I loved:
– Greta’s attempts to hang onto her memories and feelings as an AI, even though they risk destroying her. Talis can help her by taking away the memories’ emotional content, against her will if necessary, but as this goes on, Greta becomes less and less the person she was. “I have lost none of the data,” she repeatedly says, revealing how much she has truly lost.
– Sucking chest wound. Nope, not saying anything more about that.
– The scene where they pretend to torture Elián (and for real dislocate his shoulder). It was the right combination of funny, tense, and revealing of both character and plot.
– The complex motivations of the titular Swan Riders

I was a bit ambivalent about the very end, which I will do my best to discuss with minimal spoilers. Greta divests herself of unjust power, which is very, very important, but I’m not sure she has a plan for what comes next. And while it is morally incumbent on her to get rid of that power regardless, I would be happier if she made a plan for how to do so with the least bad consequences.

A side note: Greta is queer, but her girlfriend is off-stage (though a major motivating force) during this book. So don’t go in expecting more Greta/Xie. I think readers of the previous book will enjoy this one (I couldn’t put it down), but it’s important that they have the right expectations.

 

 

“Walking on Knives” preview

Yes, it’s been a while since I last posted here- but that should change. I just finished Erin Bow’s The Swan Riders, sequel to The Scorpion Rules, and will be reviewing it soon. In the meantime, have a teaser for my f/f mermaid story, “Walking on Knives.” It will be out as an ebook from Torquere in February 2017. Here’s a preview- the little mermaid’s first encounter with birds and the concept of flight. The other half of the f/f pair isn’t in this bit, unfortunately, though you do get to meet the prince (who quotes the ancient Greek poet Alcman on kingfishers):

“My lady, listen.” The prince held a finger to his lips. She didn’t know what she was meant to be hearing–everything here was hushed, the still air, the carpet of old twigs and leaves. Slowly patterns emerged: squeaks like the gabbling of dolphins and every now and then a long high rattle. She revolved, seeing only the trees on one side and the path to the beach, with a cottage beside it, on the other.

She could feel the prince’s gaze on her. Her eyes had widened, and her hands came up in excited gesticulation. He understood her without words.

“Look up,” he whispered, pointing at the branches that interwove above them. Something blue and impossible streaked through the air.

“A kingfisher,” he said, and sang a line or two of verse. “‘His heart fearless, the holy sea-blue bird.’ You’re not from around here, are you?”

She scarcely registered the question. Head tilted back, she scanned the obstructed sky for more of the creatures. Air suddenly took on the complexity, the bounty of the sea.

A little brown meteor flew past; it came to rest on a low branch, and she examined its squid-like beak and mysterious texture–a thousand soft, elongated scales covered its breast and its– fins? arms? A miracle, in this gravity-bound, depthless world.

 

Report from the Gallows- Julius Fučík

This book has an interesting history, a history perhaps more interesting than the book itself. When Communist journalist and Czech resistance member Julius Fučík was arrested by the Gestapo, a friendly jailer (who had in fact joined up for the purpose of subverting the organization from the inside, iirc) gave him some paper and smuggled out his writings. They were later published in a cut form, censored by the postwar Communist government to excise one of the most interesting parts of the story– that Fučík was pretending to cooperate and feeding false information to the Nazis. This is revealed in the final pages of the uncut edition of the book. The author did not survive the war; he was executed by the Nazis.

The book is somewhat episodic, as can be imagined from the circumstances under which it was written. It tells the story of his arrest and torture (not too graphically), and contains little character sketches of his cell-mates and guards, a will, and an “intermezzo” or two–one describing May Day in prison.

I noticed that in addition to censoring out the big twist, the postwar authorities, who heavily promoted the book, censored out passages that expressed sympathy for the Sudeten Germans or for Germans generally, showing that Fučík was able to distinguish between the Nazis and the German people generally and even thought the German minority in Czechoslovakia had some valid grievances even though many of them turned to Nazism.

It’s a very moralistic book (he’s explicit about wanting to hold up the heroes of the resistance as an example), and also very propagandistic for the author’s political viewpoint. Although thinking back on it, since it is set in a section of the prison that specifically held Communists, it’s not surprising that almost all the good guys are Communists, and antifascists of other viewpoints are not even mentioned for the most part. However, the political stuff gets old quickly.

Fučík is very clear that he considers giving way under torture to be a choice and a moral flaw–this seems harsh, but considering he had gone through the same experience himself, it was probably a necessary viewpoint to hold in order to not give in.

This quote was very powerful:
“One of these days the present will be the past, and people will speak of “the great epoch” and of the nameless heroes who shaped history. I should like it to be known that there were no nameless heroes, that these were men, men who had names, faces, desires, and hopes…”