Two Serpents Rise read-along: part two

Two Serpents RiseIt’s week two of the Two Serpents Rise read-along and we’ve already had a boss fight! Lisa from Over the Effing Rainbow is our host this week, and has us working through all the drama, so lets get into it.

SPOILERS, of course :)

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1)  So we’re halfway in, and we seem to have uncovered the culprit already… What did you make of the confrontation at Seven Leaf?

I highly doubt that Allesandre is the culprit; the boss fight never happens in the middle. My mind has leapt to conspiracy theories. Was this set up so that Allesandre would attack and then be defeated? In “Interlude: Flame”, Alaxic describes Allesandre as his “sacrifice”, so I’m guessing that her death is part of the plan.

And who would stand to gain from that? Mal, perhaps, because by killing Allesandre she proves her loyalty to Kopil and RKC. Is she Alaxic’s agent for a scheme involving the serpents? Now that we know something about her religious beliefs and we’ve heard some criticisms of the environmental impact of RKC’s systems, it seems to be the most likely option.

By the way, did anyone else feel like this fight escalated unexpectedly? At first it just seemed like an investigation with a few guard for safety’s sake, and then suddenly Mal is talking about going to war and the whole thing gets dire fast. I thought the pacing was a bit off there.

2)  Temoc is still turning up at random, and still protesting his innocence. Doth he protest too much…?

Now that you’ve mentioned it, I guess it’s a possibility, but I’m still inclined to believe that he’s telling the truth.

Also, while I’m unlikely to side with a religious terrorist, fantatic, Temoc has made some thought-provoking comments to Caleb about RKC:

you are part of a system that will one day destroy our city and our planet

 

Your system kills, too. You’ve not eliminated sacrifices, you’ve democratized them—everyone dies a little every day, and the poor and desperate are the worst injured.

 

In Three Parts Dead, we saw a compromise between religious and secular perspectives. Part of the debate manifested in the relationship between Tara and Abelard. Will we see something similar in this plot and in Caleb’s relationship with his father? The plight of the zombies does seem rather dire, if people choose to be undead workers to pay off their debts. Choosing to be a willing sacrifice to a god doesn’t seem much better; is there a middle ground?

3)  The Red King. Discuss.

First and foremost: HOW DOES A SKELETON DRINK COFFEE? Caleb specifically states that Kopil doesn’t have an oesophagus. I’m not even sure if he has dried-out flesh draped over his bones, like a mummy, to contain anything he eats or drinks. I’m reminded of that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean, when Captain Barbosa first reveals his undead skeleton form, and drinks some wine that just splashes out between his ribs.

Why would Kopil even need coffee? Surely, at this stage in his “life” he has better pick-me-ups?

I kind of like Kopil though. He’s a bit scary and possibly evil, but he feels real somehow. I sympathise with the heavy burden he’s clearly bearing – replacing the gods he defeated. He seems lonely too. He lost his lover, and in the process of avenging him he became a creature that’s basically doomed to be alone.

And, he’s funny, in a dry sort of way:

This room isn’t large, but the whole building belongs to me, so I don’t feel cramped.

 

“This room doesn’t have any doors.”

“Who needs them?”
“Most people.”
Kopil shrugged, and sipped tequila.

 

By the way, do people drink tequila neat, on the rocks? I thought you drank it in shots with lemon and salt to get hammered. It doesn’t seem like a drink so refined as to be sipped. Or is this just Deathless King sort of habit?

4)  And let’s not forget Mal! I confess, I did not see any of those surprises coming. What do you think of Caleb’s ‘sweetheart’ now?

I’m suspicious. Very suspicious. She’s very secretive and I don’t think she’s on the same side Caleb is fighting for even if she just helped restore the supply of clean drinking water to the city.

Which is not to say that I think badly of her. Given the issues that have been raised about zombies and environmental damage, it’s quite possible that Caleb is fighting for the “wrong side” and we will come to sympathise with Mal’s point of view. She could be the villain who becomes our hero.

On a related note, I’m not feeling the chemistry between these two at all. I understand the mutual attraction, but that’s about it. I didn’t feel excited seeing them finally get a bit closer. Perhaps this is intentional though, with the point being that Caleb is a fool who fell for a pretty face.

 

Randoms

– Loved Sam’s snake art as a metaphor for the city.

– How fucking big are those magisterium trees if several of the Couatl – the larger, battle-bred Couatl – can sit on one stump? Would love to see one of those.

– That Heartstone contract! If I was a lawyer I would cry. And negotiate a suitably monstrous raise.

The thing is seventy thousand pages long. They folded space to fit it in one conference room for the signing. It’s not even all on paper: some paragraphs are carved on stone plinths, some on the pyramid itself. Nothing that complex is safe.

 

 

Two Serpents Rise read-along: Part one

Two Serpents RiseHey everyone and welcome to Part One of the Two Serpents Rise read-along! After having such a good time with Three Parts Dead, the first in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, we decided to jump into a read-along of book two. Our host is Susan from Dab of Darkness, so be sure to hop over to her blog for links to everyone else’s posts. I might also post a list of links once they’re available. And er, if I remember…

But nevermind that, on with the questions. This discussion covers Part One of the novel, and I think it’s suitably spoiler-free for you to read even if you haven’t read this content or book one.

Poison in the Bright Mirror reservoir! What are your thoughts on the infestation? Then an explosion later on! Any ideas of who is the culprit yet? Are the two events related?

I assume they must be related, and I’m pretty sure that Temoc is telling the truth when he says he’s not responsible. I’m suspicious of Alaxic and The Red King, although that’s partly because there just aren’t that many suspects to choose from, and I don’t understand the situation well enough yet to figure out who stands to gain and sketch out a suspect we haven’t met yet.

What I can glean is that the culprit plans to sabotage the city’s basic infrastructure, given that they’re targeted the water and electricity supply. This will hit the general public hard, so I would guess that whever they want to achieve involves the masses being scared and desperate. With both events, they used something from the old, mythological world (a demon, a god). So perhaps someone is trying to demonstrate the anger and power of the gods and reinstate the old order? Or use that as a ruse to take power by purging the old gods and their creatures once and for all?

Let’s talk about Mal and the sport of cliff running. Care to compare this sport to one here in our real world? What do you think Mal gets out of the sport?

Cliffrunning reminds me of parkour. I would guess that Mal loves the adrenaline, and the freedom of not being restricted to moving on the ground. I often look at my cat and wonder how different the world might look if I were so agile that every surface presented itself as a place to jump from or to, if I could move around at any level between the ground and the rooftops, and simply leap over obstacles. It must feel quite rebellious and liberating. It’s even more so in this case, since cliffrunning is illegal. The cliffrunners personify defiance. As such, they’re an interesting contrast to the very strict way the city is structured and maintained – the contracts binding everything, the frightening Wardens keeping the peace.

Are you enjoying the deities and culture this book is infused with? Has any of the architecture wowed or frightened you? 

Definitely! I mean, when we’re talking gods and mythology I’m already there like a bear, and it’s nice to mix it up with some Aztec mythology for a change. It’s so bloody and dramatic with all the sacrifices and fascinating creatures. I might sign up as a Warden if it means I get to ride a Couatl!

I love the way everything is bound by contracts of Craft and that Caleb could use that to chase Mal. I also thought Kopil’s obsidian pyramid was very cool, although I’m inclined to be wowed rather than frightened since I get to enjoy it all at a distance. I’m fairly certain I’ll never have to attend a meeting where the table is a massive stone altar drenched in the blood of countless victims, so I’m free to appreciate how incredibly badass that is. My desk just used to be a dining table.

The Red King is a pretty serious guy. Will he make the deal with Alaxic concerning the powerhouses known as Achel & Aquel? 

I’m not sure what the environmental consequences of this would be (but it probably starts with killing a lot of ocean life), but aside from that it sounds like an excellent idea. Unlimited energy and a new supply of fresh water? Life in the city might improve drastically, so it seems that The Red King would be inclined to make this deal. Of course the downside is that you need to keep the serpents asleep so they don’t rise up and kill everyone… And based on the title, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, unless there’s a twist somewhere.

Is this perhaps an analogy for nuclear power? Some argue that it’s clean and sustainable, others argue that it’s too dangerous and destructive.

Finally, Caleb has a wealth of scars, linguistic skills, and a complex relationship with his father. Discuss!

Caleb reminds me of Tara in several ways – he’s rebelling against his origins, he’s very good at what he does, he has a tendency to be reckless, and he notes that his employers have given him “a wonderful opportunity to fail”. His scars also remind me of Tara’s sigils, although it seems that Caleb’s are frowned upon. Tara was also at the beginning of her career, whereas Caleb’s been in the game for a while and people are worrying that he’s lost his edge as a result. Now it seems that he’s about to undergo a period of re-self-discovery, thanks to Mal and his determination to help her.

In book one we saw religious and non-religious characters working together and challenging each other’s points of view. It’s an interesting clash of minds, and I think it might be the same here, with Caleb and his father. Although it seems that their relationship has made Caleb very hostile to religion: human sacrifices and scars aren’t quite as appealing as Christmas and Easter eggs for convincing children to be faithful, I’m sure. That said, Caleb’s background does have some benefits: I love the way he can speak fluent High Quechal to the religious fanatics who stumble through the language.

 

Randoms:

– I don’t think I mentioned this in the previous read-along, but I find it quite strange that you can pay animals like rats and horses for providing a service. Do the animals then exchange that for food and shelter? Are they smarter than the animals of our world

– Another oddity in both books is the fashion. It’s very modern – jeans, business suits – while the setting is sort of steampunk Victorian. It’s a strange combination that I can’t quite imagine, although I would guess that neither looks exactly like we know it to be; the designs would be a mixture of old and new, so that the jeans don’t look quite like our jeans, and the carriages aren’t quite like traditional carriages. Frankly, I’m not sure if this combination really works, but I’d love to see an artist’s rendition of it.

– I love that valuable items can be cursed so that terrible things happen to the thief until the item is returned! Way better than insurance.

– When the Wardens pitch up at his apartment, Caleb hopes that there’s “[n]othing incriminating about a woman spending the night at a single man’s house.” Interesting bit of worldbuilding here – suggests that society has only recently become more liberal. Caleb doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with Mal being there, but it still occurs to him that there could be.

– Kopil’s reveal about his lover was surprisingly touching, considering that he’s a frightening, six-foot-tall skeleton. I wonder how that will play into the story.

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone: Read-along Schedule

Two Serpents RiseHey everyone :) I recently joined a couple of bloggers for a read-along of Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, the first in his Craft Sequence series. We all loved it, so we’re diving into book two, Two Serpents Rise

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire… and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

The book is divided into four parts, so we’ve scheduled the read-along accordingly:
13 April Book 1: Chapter 1 – Interlude: Fire, hosted by Dab of Darkness
 – 20 April Book 2: Chapter 16 – Interlude: Dreams, hosted by Over the Effing Rainbow
 – 27 April Book 3: Chapter 29 – Interlude: Tea, hosted by Violin in a Void
 – May Book 4: Chapter 36 – Epilogue, hosted by Little Lion Lynnet’s

And these are the participants:
Lynn – Lynn’s Book Blog
Lisa – Over the Effing Rainbow
Lauren (me) – Violin in a Void
Anya – On Starships & Dragonwings
Heather – The Bastard Title
Lynn E. – Little Lion Lynnet’s
Susan – Dab of Darkness
Ria – Bibliotropic Reviews

If you’d like to join in, just let me or any of the other bloggers know via email or in the comments, and we’ll add you to the email list. We’ll send out the discussion questions every weekend so you can post on Monday, but you’re welcome to just comment if you don’t feel like blogging. You can also join our SF/F Read-Alongs group on Goodreads, where there’ll be updates for this and other read-alongs, as well as discussions and suggestions for new ones.

Happy reading!

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

Harrison SquaredTitle: Harrison Squared
Author: Daryl Gregory
Published: 24 March 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Genre: YA, horror, adventure
Rating: 8/10

Thirteen years ago, Harrison Harrison was out on a boat with his parents, and a tentacled monster attacked them, killing his father and ripping off Harrison’s leg. He nearly died from an infection, and in the years that followed he covered up his memories with a more rational explanation than a Lovecraftian monster.

Now Harrison is sixteen and accompanying his mom on a scientific expedition to the little coastal town of Dunnsmouth. Rosa Harrison is a marine biologist who specialises in massive creatures like whale sharks and sperm whales, and her latest obsession is the colossal squid.

Harrison (H2 – Harrison Squared – to his mom; scientist humour) thought tagging along would be better than the alternatives, but Dunnsmouth is set to prove him wrong. The town takes the concept of “parochial” to new levels of creepy. There is no internet connection or cellphone reception (Harrison complains about being “involuntarily Amished”), so there’s no way of calling for help from the outside world. The school Harrison has to attend looks like a giant tomb, he sometimes hears chanting as he wanders through the labyrinthine hallways, and the swimming pool is in a subterranean cave. Some of the staff members look kind of… aquatic. The principal also happens to be the priest of the town’s arcane religion, and while Harrison is “used to being one of the few public atheists in school” he’s a lot less certain about being “an army of one against the One True Faith of Dunnsmouth”. Also, all the kids look weirdly similar, they’re unnervingly quiet, and they’re all white, which is worrying for a mixed-race kid like Harrison in a small town.

And what Harrison’s mom hasn’t told him is that this is the same town where he lost his leg and his father thirteen years ago, and that she’s returned to find the monster that attacked them. This is something that Harrison is forced to discover on his own when Rosa goes missing at sea on their second day. The townspeople don’t seem to think there’s much hope of finding her (or don’t want to), but Harrison is convinced that she’s still alive so he mounts his own investigation. No matter how distorted his memories of the attack thirteen years ago, he knows that his parents saved him, so he refuses to abandon his mother. Along the way, Harrison finds some unexpected allies, including a boy from a race of aquatic humanoids; encounters a terrifying murderer known as The Scrimshander; and finds out exactly how creepy Dunnsmouth’s weird religion is.

 

I jumped at the chance to read this after reading the novella We Are All Completely Fine, which features an adult Harrison in group therapy with several other people who’ve had to deal with monsters in their lives, including a woman who’d had images carved on her bones by the Scrimshander. That book had its flaws – most notably an unimpressive ending that didn’t do the rest of the book justice – but I was seriously impressed by the characters Gregory wrote, and that was more than enough to make me want to read this book.

It didn’t disappoint; Harrison Squared has a fantastic cast of characters and even the minor ones are well-written. Sixteen-year-old Harrison is an even more enjoyable character than the adult version, perhaps because he’s funnier and more optimistic. He’s got a great sense of sarcasm and is generally a nice, well-rounded kid. He’s so capable with his carbon-fibre prosthetic leg that his disability never seems like much of a disability, although it’s still very much a part of who he is and how he functions. He does, however, have two serious problems – he’s afraid of going in the water, and he has a “volcanic” temper in contrast to his otherwise “calm and analytical” nature. His water phobia has never been an issue in daily life, but of course he’s going to have to deal with it if he has any hope of saving his mom in a place like Dunnsmouth. His temper has been more problematic, and although he’s learned to handle it over the years, the current situation threatens to break his control.

I also loved Harrison’s Aunt Sel, who comes to stay with him after his mother disappears. Selena was initially dismissed as a potential caregiver for being a snooty urbanite with no interest in kids. When she turned up I was expecting her to be an uncaring bitch, but she was superb. She’s definitely not the mothering type, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about Harrison; it’s just that she doesn’t show it in any kind of conventional motherly way. She strides in, dramatic and impeccably dressed, effortlessly gets her way with almost everyone, and refuses to take shit from anyone. Harrison eats well if only because she’s used to having the best (lobster dinner?) and he’s warmly dressed on some of his later night-time excursions partly because she finds his one-hoodie style tiresome and is dying to buy him some new clothes.

Sel also doesn’t care if Harrison doesn’t go to Dunnsmouth’s weird school or that he sneaks around at night, which is perfect in these circumstances because it means Harrison is free to do whatever he needs to do to find his mother.

As far as the plot is concerned, Gregory does a better job than in We Are All Completely Fine. Harrison Squared reads like the best kind of YA adventure horror, which is to say that it’s wonderfully fun and creepy, thanks in part to the immense pleasure of being able to root for a character like Harrison. The climax felt a bit abrupt, but no matter; I had a great time with this and I want more books like it. The ending provides the setup for a possible sequel, so I can only hope that there will be one.

Three Parts Dead read-along part 3 (final)

Three Parts DeadAnd so we come to the final part of the Three Parts Dead read-along. It’s been a relatively short one, compared with the longer books and more intensive discussions I’ve had with previous readalongs, but I’m so glad that I finally got started with this series. Clearly, I’ve been missing out.

Our host for this part is Lisa from Over the Effing Rainbow, so be sure to head over to her blog for links to everyone else’s.

SPOILERS for the whole book, of course.

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So we finally got all the facts behind whodunit – and how, and why… What did you think of the epic(sized) reveal scene? 

Pretty awesome for the most part! Things got really exciting from the moment Cat called in the Blacksuits to take down Tara and the Stonemen; I could just imagine the doom-laden thumps of them landing on the building before they broke in. Of course the fight that followed was rather one-sided, but eventually Tara steps up and starts saving the day with her incredible lawyering :)

I was wondering what the hell was up with that flying Cardinal. Admittedly, I thought that was a bit ridiculous until he burst in and starting battling Denovo. No surprise to find out that Denovo was behind the whole thing, although I feel a bit daft for not guessing at the possibility of stealing a god’s power to become a god. We’ve been told from the beginning that soulstuff gets passed around on a daily basis and that gods just have a lot more of it, with more skill at manipulating it. The God Wars involved humans wresting power from the gods, and of course Denovo has his own godlike scheme of attaining power by stealing it from his underlings. How did I not see this coming?

I also made a couple of bad guesses as to how things would turn out. For a little while, it looked to me like Tara was going to be transformed into Seril and Abelard would become Kos. There was never any time for a romance to develop between them, but it had seemed ike a possibility, so it seemed fitting that they would turn into this divine power couple. In retrospect though, that would have been a terrible ending – the book addresses issues of consent and using other people for your own gain (more on that later), and if Tara and Abelard became gods it meant they would lose at least a part of themselves.

Anyway, good ending. I absolutely loved the way everybody turns to attack Denovo.

My only criticism is that it’s a tad clunky in the way mystery novels often are – the villain and the investigator step up to explain the entire plot to us. It’s an explanation I badly wanted and needed, but it means there’s rather a lot of exposition in this scene

Oh, and David was a boring plot device.

 

Surprise! We found Kos. You’ll never believe where he was… Or did you?

Nope, didn’t see that coming at all! Which I guess is one of the reasons it was such a good hiding spot, but I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. What if Abelard had dropped his cigarette and was forced to light a new one (instead of passing Kos’s flame on by chain smoking)? He’s possibly the most addicted smoker I’ve ever come across, but there were several occasions in the book where I was sceptical about the fact that he still had his cigarette. I guess he hung onto it because of Kos’s influence?

 

Elayne Kevarian proved to be even more devious than we suspected. What do you think of this Craftswoman now that the dust is settling? Sympathy for Denovo, or victorious fist-pump?

Fist-pump, definitely a fist-pump. And a high-five. With a “Whoop!” for good measure. That guy was an ASSHOLE. I was disappointed by the possibility that Denovo would just rot in jail, and thoroughly pleased when Ms Kevarian killed him instead. Initially I was hoping Tara would be the one to take him down, but what Denovo did to Kevarian was much worse.

And I still like Elayne. I never thought that she was squeaky-clean. Same goes for Tara. I mean, they are lawyers.

 

I did a little checking and the second book in this series seems to feature a whole new cast, though it’s still set in the same world. Do you think this one wrapped things up for Tara, Abelard and company well enough, or are you wishing for more? For that matter, will you read on? 

I’d love to read about these characters again, but I’m satisfied with the way things were resolved. However, I would have liked to know a bit more about Abelard and Cat’s history.

And yes, I’d keep reading. I liked Gladstone’s characters, especially his female characters. He’s also got a really fascinating magical system here, and some wonderful worldbuilding. It’s clear that this world isn’t monolithic either – it’s much more realistic in that different places have developed in their own ways, with their own belief systems and politics. I’d love to see what else he’s come up with.

There were a few things that bugged me – minor issues with the writing that I would have liked to tweak, and details or conflicts that I wanted Gladstone to develop a little further. However, none of this was bad enough to really bother me, and it’s a fantastic debut.

 

Consent and Power

I liked the way the book raised issues of consent and power. There are multiple examples – Cat’s connection to Justice; Tara’s connection to Ms Kevarian; Ms Kevarian’s manipulation of Abelard; Tara’s manipulation of Shale and Cat; Denovo’s connection to his students; Denovo’s use of the Cardinal and Shale; and Denovo’s first experiment with Ms Kevarian, using their sexual relationship to gain power from her devotion. The whole plot is based on the giving and taking of power from others, often without their consent or beyond their control.

One of my favourite scenes was when Raz woke up to find Cat feeding him and criticised her for not getting his consent. What does she know about his feeding preferences? Maybe it’s been years since he drank a human’s blood and now she’s essentially forced it on him. Granted, Cat’s not in total control of herself in this scene, but I don’t think the issue of consent would occur to her even if she had been. She’s operating on the assumption that he’s a vampire, therefore he must want her blood. I think it’s also important to consider that this is not simply about food. In Cat’s first scene, her vampire addiction is strongly associated with sex and drugs, suggesting that giving her blood to Raz is akin to sexual assault or forcing him to take drugs. And lets not forget that she’s doing all of this purely for her own pleasure.

The issue becomes even more tangled when we take into account the fact that Cat only went to Raz because Tara manipulated her. How culpable is Tara? And what if it had been a more serious issue, such as actual sexual assault? I’m also reminded of the scene when Ms Kevarian pulled Tara into a dream without her consent; when Tara questioned it, Ms Kevarian replies bluntly, “You are my employee and my apprentice, Ms. Abernathy. You’ll find there is little I cannot do to you, your notions of the possible notwithstanding.” Tara lets the issue drop, but I was actually hoping she’d wrestle with it a bit more, because WHAT THE HELL?

I think it’s apt, then, that at the end Tara decides that her own actions during the case were too unethical for her to continue working for Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao. Although I really wanted her to be a kick-ass lawyer for a powerful firm, I admired the way she’d reflected on her actions and chose different path despite the fact that she enjoyed the work. I wouldn’t say that she’s as bad as Denovo, but in her field of work, manipulation does pose quite an ethical conundrum, and I think Tara is wise to think about it carefully before working for the firm full time.

 

Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Bones and AllTitle: Bones & All
Author: Camille DeAngelis
Published: 10 March 2015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Genre: young adult
Rating: 7/10

Maren is a cannibal. There’s a hunger inside of her that she cannot control and no matter how many times she tells herself she’s not going to do it again, she inevitably does. She avoids making friends, but then some boy – it’s almost always a boy – tries to get close to her and she devours him.

Her mother has become an expert at packing up their things and getting out of town as quickly as possible, but the strain eventually becomes too much for her. The day after Maren’s sixteenth birthday, her mother abandons her. Not knowing what else to do, Maren decides to track down her father, who she suspects is also a cannibal. Along her impromptu road trip, she meets other cannibals like her, and tries to come to terms with being a monster.

Well, this was certainly something different. Not weird per se, but it certainly puts a different spin on the usual tale of a teenager discovering herself. Unlike most YA protagonists I’ve read, Maren is undoubtedly a monster. She’s a serial killer and what’s more she her victims are mostly lonely children who were just reaching out to another loner in the hope of making a friend. When she gets older, her interactions with her victims start to become overtly sexual, but none of them ever do anything without her consent. You’re not allowed to feel better because she kills a potential rapist – she’s a bad person who kills innocent people.

Which is not to say that you won’t like Maren – DeAngelis has written her as a surprisingly sympathetic character, and I liked her a lot. I think it’s because you really have an opportunity to engage with the struggles she’s going through. She knows that what she does is horrific, but it’s something she cannot control. When her mother abandons her, it’s perfectly understandable, but you can also understand Maren’s pain and fear. It occurs to her that her mother must have been afraid of her and she concludes that her mother never loved, just felt responsible for her. Now, at only sixteen, and she has to continue her life alone.

As she wanders, scraping by on crime and charity, you have to wonder what her life is going to be like. She has never formed a long-lasting relationship with anyone except her mother, and it’s quite possible that she can’t. It’s only when she gets physically and emotionally close to someone that she feels compelled to eat them, so she usually stays away from people – especially men – for their own safety.

On the road, however, she meets two other cannibals. The first is Sully, a strange old man who apparently only eats people who have already died, and keeps the hair of his victims in a neverending braid. Sully is pretty creepy, but Maren is inclined to trust him because he is the first cannibal she meets, he’s kind to her, and teaches her a little about what she is.

Then there’s Lee, a 19-year-old cannibal who’s been on the road since his tendencies forced him to leave home. Lee is a lifesaver for Maren. Besides literally saving her life a few times, he becomes her first real friend. In another YA novel, you would expect this to develop into a romance, especially since Lee and Maren are travelling together and often share the same bed, but they’re both very careful around each other. They’re serial killers who don’t want to jeopardise their relationship. That said, their connection is a little beacon of light in this otherwise grim tale.

And yeah, I absolutely loved it. I don’t usually care about coming-of-age stories, but this one is very unconventional. I also enjoyed the somewhat paradoxical experience of reading about this truly monstrous person who I never had trouble empathising with.

The book does have some flaws though, and despite the fact that I was willing to overlook them, I think they’re worth discussion. Firstly, there’s the cannibalism itself. It’s not gory – in fact it’s barely described – but it doesn’t work the way you’d expect. When cannibals like Maren devour people, they don’t eat in any normal sense of the word. It’s not a case of them taking one bite after another and getting full. They can consume an entire human body – Bones & All – in only a few minutes, and still be hungry afterwards. They don’t seem to gain any mass from the process, and yet whatever remains of the victim can be stuffed into a small plastic shopping bag. Although the book doesn’t have any overtly speculative elements, there’s definitely something other involved here, so maybe Maren really is a monster from the myth and folklore she studies.

It helps to know this before you start reading, because otherwise certain things can be quite confusing. For example, Maren’s first victim is her babysitter, who she eats when she’s just a baby. I couldn’t imagine how a tiny child could possibly overpower an adult and reduce her to a pile of bloody bones, but that’s what happens. Later, she starts eating children from school, again without any apparent difficulties. I wondered how a young child could hide a body until I realised that there were never any bodies left to hide.

This brings me to a second problem with the book, which is that Maren never gets caught. She kills a string of young boys, and each time her mother gets them the hell out of town and they start up in a new place. It slightly more believable once you understand that there are no bodies so these might be treated as missing persons cases rather than murders, but that’s not enough. Unless Maren drinks all the blood up quite quickly, she’d probably leave enough of a mess to make it clear that she killed her victim. But even if she executes a clean kill every time, her subsequent departure would be highly suspicious. A child disappears, and immediately afterwards, Maren is taken out of school, her mother leaves her job, and they get out of town? You wouldn’t have to be a cop to see a link, and Maren’s mother never changes their names, so they’d be easy to track.

Admittedly, the cops probably couldn’t prove or even guess the truth, but it still feels like the entire issue gets conveniently swept under the rug. And while I like the book enough that it doesn’t bother me, I can’t ignore it completely.

Nevertheless, I had a great time reading this. Maren is a wonderful character, and I was fully invested in her journey.

Three Parts Dead read-along part 2

Three Parts Dead

Hey everyone! It’s week 2 of the Three Parts Dead read-along, and this part covers everything from Chapter 8 to the end of chapter 14.

Our host is Susan from Dab of Darknessso you can head over to her place for links to the blog hop (although I will also add them to the bottom of my post, once I have them all).

Exciting things are happening in Alt Coulumb, so let me get into these questions:

SPOILERS BELOW!

1) Throughout this section, we learn little tidbits about our main characters: Tara and her time at the Secret Universities, Kevarian and her past works, Abelard and his childhood. What fascinated you the most? 

Tough one… I certainly want to know more about Raz’s relationship with Ms Kevarian, and her role in turning Seril into Justice. It’s ironic how the Blacksuits and the Guardians/gargoyles worship the same entity, and are mortal enemies for the same reason.

I liked the depiction of Abelard’s childhood; I find the mixture of engineering, faith and religion very interesting.

However, I’m glad we finally have Tara’s backstory. I had it a bit wrong, assuming she was the one doing something ingenious but unethical, when in fact she was a victim of Denovo’s brain-drain scheme. Which of course explains her aversion to mind-control techniques and the way Justice can bend people like Cat to its will and insert info in her mind whenever it feels the need. I can’t believe Denovo’s tactics are allowed in Court though; surely that’s against the rules somehow?

 

2) So many conspiracies! Someone tried to burn out some of Raz’s memories, there were super secret contracts between the dead Cabot and Kos and some unknown third party, and Abelard found a hidden altar in the heart of Kos’s church! Do you think they are connected? 

I assume so! Unless Gladstone is throwing out red herrings. I’ve read a few stories where major plotlines turned out to be unconnected, playing on the characters’ and readers’ expectations that they would be connected. Which is interesting in a way, but I do love to see everything come together.

 

3) This question is just for fun & came about from discussion over at Violin in a Void last week. Abelard is a chain smoker and his worship of Kos keeps him safe from any ill effects of said smoking. If there were multiple deities who could protect you from ill effects of different vices (alcohol, illicit drugs, gluttony, etc.), which vice, if any, would you pick? 

My first instinct was GLUTTONY! I will eat ALL THE CHEESE! But being able to indulge myself all the time might actually spoil the pleasure of eating, which, as far as I’m concerned, is one of life greatest pleasures.

Alcohol… no. Where’s the fun in not being able to get tipsy or drunk sometimes? Not interested in drugs or smoking. I enjoy being active, so not sloth.

Ah well, I guess it’ll just have to be lust then. Assuming that “drama” is one of the ill effects I’d be protected from :D

 

4) Stonemen! Will Tara be able to win over Shale and gain his assistance? Will Justice’s Black Suits face off against them, potentially destroying the city? Discuss!

Stupid Shale! Can’t he see that Tara could help him? I think Tara can handle him, but she’s been fairly successful in her endeavours so far, despite ending up in hospital, so I worry that this time she’s not going to get through the fight without getting hurt.

A Blacksuit-Guardian throwdown certainly seems likely, but at this stage I have no idea how this will all play out. I’m more curious about the THING that Abelard released at the hidden altar, whether Kos will be resurrected, and what Kos will be like if he’s resurrected. Seril became the Stone Men’s mortal enemy when she was resurrected/remade, and that doesn’t bode well for Abelard and his religion.

 

5) The Courthouse of Crafts is a strange place. Feel free to comment on it. Ms. Kevarian tells Tara, last minute, that she will be the one to face Denovo. Calculated way to boost Tara’s confidence? Or a cruel way to test her?

A test, I think, but not necessarily a cruel one. Ms Kevarian is demanding, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call her cruel (yet) and I think she’s too much of a professional to torment Tara for the sake of it. Rather, I think she understands how much of an issue Tara’s history with Denovo is, and she wanted her to face him head on, not giving her a chance to overthink it and maybe cower later. If Ms Kevarian had gone up against Denovo, it may have also have set a precedent of her taking on the bigger battles, and Tara needs to prove that she can handle this sort of thing on her own, not rely on her boss to protect her. And it’s possible that Ms Kevarian simply had more faith in Tara’s skills than her own; Tara nearly took down Denovo before, and she understands how he works.

The Courthouse of Craft – well, as someone who is terrible with direction, I quite like the idea of a building that takes you straight where you need to go!

 

Randoms
 – I love the way Tara keeps psyching herself up for the job at hand, controlling her fear and insecurities. She knows what she needs to do, and she knows how she could fail, so she’s preparing herself for battle. Which, apparently, means reading a lot :) Who said lawyers can’t be cool?

– I’ve wondered a bit about the gender dynamics of this society. It seems pretty egalitarian, but I find it a wee bit odd that they use the terms “Craftsmen” and “Craftswomen” instead of a gender-neutral term like “Craftspeople” or “Crafters”. And there’s a moment when Denovo says “Put not your trust in things, but in men,” then adds “And women” (p.167). So perhaps an egalitarian world that’s only recently evolved from a more sexist society? Enough that we don’t see any discrimination, but the language hasn’t quite caught up yet. Which I find a bit incongruent, but it’s nice to be able to read a fantasy world where it isn’t assumed that women must somehow be considered inferior.