A Week of Reading 5-6

Still reading, still working, and this week has been interesting.

The Pericles Commission had been taunting me for a while from its position on the mystery table, so I decided to give it a try. It’s an interesting little piece of work—a mystery, set in Ancient Greece, whose main character and female lead rather reminded me of what might happen if you took the main couple archetypes from a Lloyd Alexander novel, aged them up and sat them through a sex ed class. The main character is idealistic and determined and has enough heart to make up for his occasional bouts of ill judgment and insufficient information, the female lead is the classic Alexander-style witty/pretty/practical one struggling with her parentage and pretty handy with a bow. I’m not sure what amused me more, the cases of the writer doing his homework (including actually mentioning a scene being inspired by a trial in which a lady’s clothing being ripped off in court served as evidence—oh, those wacky Greeks) or the fact that this entire thing seemed to be set up so it would cameo Socrates (yes, THE Socrates) as the main character’s bratty little brother.

Then there was Igraine the Brave. This one’s vaguely pseudo-Arthurian in its themes, with codes of chivalry, wandering knights trying to recover their lost honor, and quirky magic—Igraine’s willful tendencies and interest in knighthood over magic have been done before, though I liked its handling of her mage-brother and his unfortunate slips of the spell when it comes to food—but I think what I found most interesting about it was the magic. Not necessarily the magic books (sentient, very picky about their users, and with an unfortunate fondness for sticky-sweet things), but the magic itself—it runs in rhymes, very simple rhyme schemes, but what really struck me was the last two lines of each spell, which were invariably personalized to the spellcaster and involved threats, editorials, and other “I bet anything they’re required to be improvised every time” sorts of flourishes. Given how rigid most chanted magic is, this implied requirement of fluidity amused me.

I also finished the audio of A Needle in the Right Hand of God, a book about the Bayeux Tapestry, including the cloth itself, its history, and its effect both intended and sought on surrounding politics. It just amazed me how ambiguous its history is—nobody can be entirely sure who commissioned the Tapestry, nor which culture to attribute it to, and it carefully walks the line between several interpretations of what set the events leading to the Battle of Hastings off. The chapter on culture wars and the hunt for a National Epic was nifty enough to make me consider sneaking that theme into my Almagest project, when I get back to it. In short—fascinating stuff.

What really got my attention, though, was Hello Kitty Must Die. The short version of the story: Chinese-American lady lawyer with overly traditional family deals with her parents’ incessant matchmaking attempts while slowly being drawn into the world of her friend, who—began as a juvenile delinquent, disappeared for a while, and returned as a hymen reconstruction surgeon by day and serial killer by… whenever the opportunity presented itself. I picked this up on a whim for the deconstruction of stereotypes, and in that respect I wasn’t disappointed. But what I wasn’t expecting was its interwoven commentary on how women, particularly women in Fiona’s culture, are viewed, and the issue of consent; what Fiona sees as going along with her parents so she won’t be ostracized, the parents see as “She says no when she means yes.” Though I don’t want to spoil too much, this is not a story where good triumphs in the traditional sense, but it’s a welcome relief from all the villain protagonist stories that seem to end in redemption or at the very least functionality in society. More possibly to come later; the book is food for thought.

It did, however, somewhat spoil The Informationist for me. On the surface, it’s fun stuff; Vanessa Michael Munroe is a card-carrying badass and natural polyglot, intrigue is everywhere, and the protagonists fight at least as dirty as anyone else. But partway through, particularly fresh out of HKMD and sensitive to cultural themes as I was, I hit the bit where it explains Vanessa’s backstory. I like that she actually had to learn how to fight and kill, rather than it being an inborn talent like her gift for languages is, but honestly, can we please have one badass lady whose backstory isn’t practically defined by being raped? Please?

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