Monday, June 26, 2023

55. Intrigue by Desmond Cory

Sadly, S.W. Welch is closing up shop.  It's one of the last English language used book stores in Montreal who narrowly dodged a shitrat developer rent increase thanks to public protest.  Now, the owner (Mr. Welch himself) says that there will be another increase, not as drastic but still too high, when his lease ends so he is taking this as a good time to retire and I guess they couldn't find another owner.  The stock had remained pretty stale in the last few years but I loved browsing there and still found good books from time to time.   It's a sad loss, but at least feels to me more like one due to time rather than the greed and corruption that dominates this province.

Everything is half-off and because it pains me to see books not go to a good home I've been poking in here and picking up books I may not otherwise have bought.  Thus this nice Johnny Fedora hardcover, about which I have always been curious.  Based on this one, it will probably be my first and last Desmond Cory. It's not terrible, but sort of generic, seeming to rest on its Britishness more than any actual exciting storytelling or adventure.  The fight scenes were quite rigorous and fun but overall the whole thing felt slight and rote.  It does not have much "Intrigue" that's for sure.  The region also was kind of interesting, as it takes place in Trieste during the early years of the Cold War, which I guess was not part of Italy back then.  I'm not really sure.

The story involves the British holding some master spy who won't tell them anything but they know he has planned some big plot.  It's up to the protagonist to figure it out by going to Trieste and investigating.  He hires/pressures Johnny Fedora and the two of them get involved in sneaking into places, finding and befriending/interrogating a beautiful woman.  It feels like watered down, less rich and well-written Eric Ambler (though with more fight scenes).

It's not terrible by any means and if you were desperate for some decent 20th Century British espionage and sleuthing, this would assuage your thirst.  He clearly has his fans and the official Desmond Cory website is an excellent reference source.


Sunday, June 18, 2023

54. Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb (book 3 of the Tawny Man, trilogy 3 of the Elderlings Saga)

actually bought this new!
Phew!  Now this was a nerdy fantasy tome!  I'm quite proud of myself now over halfway through the 16 book Realm of the Elderling series and especially for getting through this 900+ page beast.  Overall, I will say that I really enjoyed reading this trilogy.  I didn't quite do it straight through, but read the 2nd and 3rd back to back which I realize now as a bit too intense.  I think for me there is a nice middle ground where I read series or trilogy books in order and without waiting too long that I forget the plot details but can also read a very different book or two in between.  The richness and depth of both the narrative and the world (and especially its history) make it well worth getting deep into the series.  It was not effortless, though, as getting through certain parts made me feel like Fitz when he was dragging Thick behind him in the snow.

 I will limit my critiques here as both the things I didn't like and the things I liked in the first two books were more or less the same here. I did, though, have one major issue which really slowed down my reading of this.  The entire first two-thirds of this book is predicated on a clearly stupid and erroneous quest to slay the dragon.  Obviously, the Narcheska and her uncle were under external pressure and pretty obviously this was the white witch.  Chade and Dutiful and Fitz all seemed uncharacteristically stupid in continuing stubbornly to try and kill the dragon when all they had to do was have a bit more communication with the Outislanders and just go after the White Witch.  This drove me crazy and made me only able to read a few pages at a time.  Not as big a deal, but likewise Fitz stupidly jumping through the portal stones after everybody warned him multiple times about how dangerous they were was totally uncharacteristic for the same person who is super conservative about any skill use or training. It just didn't ring true and only seemed like a justification to create a delay in his return.

I will say, though, that as usual Robin Hobb has the last word as she has an in-book magical reason that explains why FitzChivalry was such a whiny bitch for the bulk of the trilogy:  when he had dumped his traumatic memories of torture and abandonment into the stone dragon at the end of the first trilogy, he had also lost something of his spirit and the strength to push himself.  This leads me to discuss some of the themes that she explores in this series.

The main background theme here (main in the sense that it is driving the ultimate conflict going on between the White Witch and the Fool) is interestingly environmental.  Ultimately, the White Witch wants to push events so that dragons are destroyed and humanity dominates the land, though why she wants to do this is never clearly explained beyond her broad hatred of anything beautiful (as demonstrated in her vandalizing the Elderlings under-ice city).  So basically humans dominating = evil.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next seven books.

The other main theme is trauma and trauma recovery. Fitz is deeply damaged and is a child (and young man) of abuse.  Though I feel that it goes too far in pushing his terrible decision-making, it ultimately does make thematic sense and does make you feel deeply happy for him when things finally work out. Hobb was somewhat ahead of the times with addressing trauma so deeply in a fantasy epic a good decade before it became all the rage in every genre. Like all great fantasy and sci-fi authors, she uses cool fantasy stuff like Skilling magic as a metaphor for very real issues of our time.

Finally, though it is not addressed too deeply, I was struck by a great comment when Dutiful accuses Fitz of using his wolf side when he wants to get aggressive and go all loner and ass-kicked and Fitz corrects him and says that the real Wolf side of him would have shown his strength by defending the pack, teaching and caring for the young ones.  The loner violence is the human side.  This was a nice little stick in the eye to all these loser fake-ass alpha male douchenozzles who are making money scamming sad boys on the internet today.

There are several other themes (addiction) in this series.  I suspect that part of the reason I enjoy them so much is not just the great writing, characters and setting but also that I am probably roughly politically aligned with Hobb.  Also just shout-out to her for being a badass writer, cranking out books while raising 4 kids on a husband's commercial fisherman's salary.  I presume she has bank and comfort now and it was well earned.  I'll take a longish break before getting into the next quartet, but am quite looking forward to it as it is back to the River Wilds and the dragons and hopefully a lot less whining and self-doubt.