Tuesday: Tea and a Tale

JudyBearwithTea

Studio Assistant Judy Bear is a fan of chai, too.

It’s Tuesday and the hours have been dotted with spitting rainstorms, and I’ve spent the day organizing files and little pieces of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the course of living. Not my favorite task, but I’ve done it! As my reward and escape, I’m bundling up with a cat, a blanket, a book, and a lovely serving of chai tea. The tea was delivered with courtesy by my newly-driving-solo teen son, and it was both memorable and delicious.

The book was found courtesy of a suggestion on Goodread’s Vaginal Book Club forum (yes, it’s a thing). I’m reading Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Shoutout to that great Thomas Canty cover I remember from years ago still showing up on the digital version. I spotted a comment in an online discussion (I don’t remember the site, just my indignant harrumph in response) that claimed that this style is dated and should be replaced, but I find the Belle Epoch-influenced delicacy of Canty’s covers delightful. I remember that Alponse Mucha fell out of fashion, too, but tastes swing around, and I fully expect the future to justify my admiration for Canty’s distinct style. (Ask to see my Canty card collection; I’ve got the whole set!)

Bertie MacAvoy was commenting on the gender of a writer’s narrative voice on facebook earlier today, so I returned to the book with an ear out for the authorial voice. Perhaps I’m tired, or just too engrossed in the story to pay proper attention, but I’m hearing this narrative voice in the neutral “in my head” narrator, rather than a specific male or female timbre. I point to this as a sign of a most competent writer; when the narrator manages to disappear in the story, something’s going very right.

Summary in brief: it’s a good book, and worked well with the tea, and the cat, and the rain.

There’s plenty of fighting (did the “swordspoint” in the title tip you off?) with the fencing scenes written with interest, and brevity, both of which are important in a good battle. Engaging portrayal of a city, from the slums  to the halls of the wealthy, with sharp clear descriptions that catch and hold the mind without overwhelming. Some lovely descriptions, evocative, throughout, but not in a way that would bog down the story. The unnamed City is built up into a living, breathing place over the course of the book.

There’s political intrigue, romance, theater, and a bit of fashion. Primarily, though, this book is driven by its characters.

Deft characterization, built up through interactions and conversations between individuals as much as descriptions and direct actions, so very well balanced that way. Some homoerotic scenes, applied with discretion and most of the action implied rather than graphically described. Refreshingly casual approach to non-binary preferences.

Interesting use of power dynamics here, with sex acts, or sexual violence, threaded through as reward and threat, and the difference in the manifesting of power in this way by men versus women, against men and against women. (There’s probably a solid research paper in here, but it won’t be written by me. At least not without an additional vat of tea.)

I quite liked the two main characters, and would enjoy reading more of their adventures and interactions. A third major character in whom quite a bit of time is invested is removed from the action rather sooner than I might have expected, and I wonder if he’s going to appear in a follow-up novel. Even if this early departure wasn’t intentional as a teaser, though, he IS cited near the end; I can accept this as closing the circle, even if I’d have liked a bit more of him.

I’d love to tell you more except the tea has stopped working and I’m likely to fall asleep at the computer, which would be pleasant for none of us, but most especially the cat. So I’ll tell you goodnight, and happy reading!

GBR #15: R.A. MacAvoy

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Self-portrait as a Pony —R. A. MacAvoy. Used with kind permission.

I’ve never been quiet about my love for the writing of R. A. MacAvoy. Back in my bookstore days, I pressed these volumes into the hands of many customers. As Bertie and I have been collaborating on Albatross and its sequel, she worries it would seem self-serving if I write much about her. And now I love not just the writing, but the person herself. Impossible to be unbiased, says Bertie, and she’s right. So I’ve called in the calvary! You can read R. A. MacAvoy’s bio on her blog.

The following is a  gracious guest post from my long-time friend and reading buddy, Kirsten M. Blair. When I asked Kirsten (@Lorac625) if she’d take time away from making tiny things and shiny things (some Steampunk in her Etsy shop, ya’ll!) to give me a reader’s response to R. A. MacAvoy’s Tea with the Black Dragon, she quickly agreed. We both thought that she’d read it previously. When we discovered she hadn’t, I was going to let her off the hook. But she sent me this the next day:

Amazon has this categorized as romance (probably why I hadn’t found it before) which it is, but… it is so much more. I couldn’t put it down. It took until the following day to start this review because I had to come back from the state of mind generated by reading it, and recover from the awe its excellence left with me. I didn’t expect this at the very beginning, as I find it frustrating not be able to instantly grasp where a story is going, but enough was quickly revealed — and was intriguing enough — to keep me going until I finished it.

It has fantasy, mystery, crime, romance, history and a gritty kind of reality soundly grounded in our ‘real’ world — like Charles de Lint’s urban books or Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s Bedlam Bards series. There are good, evil and in between characters — the main ones are fully fleshed in 4D (pasts and possible futures included or hinted at — I like knowing where/what characters have been/will be), but mostly it has a spell which only the best books cast, i.e., drawing you into itself and its world and out of your own. Definitely one to return to, and an author I need to read more of.

Thanks for “Yet another fine world ye’ve embroiled me in!” — KMB

Thank you, Kirsten! I’m so glad to have introduced you to another great book! You’ve got a lot of fantastic reading ahead of you. ((cue maniacal laughter)) The Great Balticon Readathon extends its power to embrace yet another with amazing literature! Bwaahaahaa!

Cat Status (because Laura Sue will be looking for it): confirmed, historically, and horses too. Presently, dogs. And the intermittent visiting bear.