The High King’s Tomb – Kristen Britain

Cover of "The High King's Tomb (Green Rid...

Cover via Amazon

In July, I read The High King’s Tomb, the third installment in Kristen Britain’s Green Rider series. Way back when the second book came out (First Rider’s Call), I somehow got the impression that Green Rider was going to be a trilogy. It may have been the obviousness of the Tolkien homage, it may have been wishful thinking, given the time between books appearing. Whatever it was, it caused severe frustration when I was 2/3 of the way through High King’s Tomb and it became clear that absolutely nothing in the series arc was going to be resolved. Only the specific-to-this-installment plot threads were resolved (sort of).

Of the things left un-resolved in First Rider’s Call, there was the D’Yer wall, Kerigan’s feelings for the King, Second Empire’s plans, and when Mornhaven would return. I’m going to be evil, and issue a set of spoilers here: By the last page of High King’s Tomb the D’Yer wall is still breached, with only hope of knowing how to fix it, Kerigan still loves the King and he’s still marrying someone else while plotting how he can get Kerigan too, Second Empire’s plans are to break the wall… which is what their plan was in book 2, and we still don’t know when Mornhaven is coming back.

What does get resolved are Lady Estoria’s feelings about her impending marriage, the increase in Green Rider ranks, the next step in Kerigan’s unique destiny (treated as a thready side-plot), and the character development of a poor-man’s Zorro wanna-be, whom I hope we never hear from again.

There is something of narrative discipline missing from this third installment. While using a similarly-sized cast of POV characters to First Rider’s Call, there is no real narrative momentum holding them together. Multiple scenes all do the same narrative work, rather than each scene advancing that narrative (either plot-wise, world-wise, or character-wise). The plot seems to hang from the character of Grandmother, rather than Kerigan, which I believe to be a great loss of story-telling potential. Especially given the climax of this book.

This review is a republishing (new blog domain).  It was originally published in July 2010.

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First Rider’s Call – Kristen Britain

First Rider's Call

Image via Wikipedia

First Rider’s Call
Kristen Britain
Sequel to Green Rider

It was worth the (years long) wait between the first and this. And so good that Beloved got me the two in hardback so that I’ll have a fall-back position when I destroy the paperbacks with re-reading.

There are more characters who get sections in their POV than in the first one. King Zachary being one of the few recurring that hadn’t gotten his moment in the first book. The delicate balance of realism and magic is maintained, allowing the instances of “standard fairytale magic” to feel as wrong and the sign of a world out of whack as the plot demands they do.

Kerigan still acts her age, which is rare for strong female characters when it isn’t being played for laughs. And everyone reacts as people would, rather than living up to their character-type cliche. It was refreshing, and a relief to know that the trend continued from one book to the next.

The only complaint is that this is obviously a middle book, so things are resolved in a necessarily temporary way. It makes waiting for the next installment difficult.

This review is a republishing (new blog domain). It was originally published in April 2005

Green Rider – Kristen Britain

Cover of "Green Rider (Green Rider Trilog...

Cover via Amazon

Green Rider
by Kristen Britain

Karigan G’ladheon finds herself caught up in Kingdom-wide events when she crosses paths with a dying man on the run. He is a Green Rider – of the King’s Messenger Service, and his mission is to get a message warning of danger to the King. Karigan takes up his mission as he instructs her with his last breath, and thus launches herself along a path only legends are made to travel.

Aided by folk who don’t get involved with just any errand, and pursued by enemies who don’t act on whims, Karigan becomes a wild card in a game between highly skilled players. The game board was set before her arrival, the pieces moved as their controllers wished, until she enters and forces everyone’s hands, becoming the deciding factor simply by being where she is, and acting as herself, at any given time.

Author Britain engages in authentic world building here. Each detail is part of a wider picture, and there is the feeling of many details left un-explored, due to the necessities of the plot. This wider world makes the story a joy to follow, even as we learn more with each event.

That said, the world itself will be familiar to Tolkien readers. It’s a riff on the standard mystical version of British/ European feudal Middle Age society found in a lot of Fantasy books, yet a bit more grounded and “earthy” than, say, The Wheel of Time‘s setting. The various populations are not caricatures of societies in our own history, yet familiar as if they had evolved on a tangent branch of the cultural tree of our own historical European cultures. The Green Riders have the flavor of Irish/Celtic culture, as well as Rohan from LOTR, while still being different enough to be something like the younger cousin of those cultures. And the same goes for the other groups represented (though with less delving into their past, due to not occupying center stage).

Britain’s characters are also utterly real. Emotions ring true, and as irrational as emotions should be, as characters perform actions that are true to themselves as well as service the plot. She used the roving third-person limited POV to great advantage, as each character gets a distinct voice, and the reader gets more information essential to the story at the same time as learning the people. Also good with the dramatic tension, as neither reader nor characters have all the information.

The elements of the story are tight, in that there are no stray ruminations or information, no tangents simply to show off some aspect of the world Britain has built. All things presented arise organically from the story rather than the setting. Characters act in character as they’re presented with plot events, which resolve in one way vs another due to the actions of the characters.

Reading the acknowledgments page of a book is usually something I skip. I’m glad I at least gave it a sentence or two this time around. Knowing that Tolkien inspired the author allowed me to see the things this book has in common with Lord of the Rings as a homage instead of derivative. If I had been reading any more shallowly than I was, I may have passed that judgment, but Britain instead weaves familiar elements into something new, and it would have been a shame to miss it.

This story is well crafted, and a balm to clunky storytelling everywhere.

This is a republishing (new blog domain). This review was originally published in February 2005.

He, She, and It – Marge Piercy

Cross-posted from my other blog:

Set in our world many decades after the world was devastated by plague and famine, He, She and It directly concerns the status of a person, as an individual, and as part of a community, and whether people can be the tools and pawns of corporations, of each other, and the moral implications of each status. It touched on the damage the people can do to people, the conflict person against person rather than against government, against god, against nature, or against oneself. The two narrating characters are women, of the same Jewish family, and both are brilliant program designers who work directly with the Net, which functions something like our own, with the added capacity for projection into the virtual world.

I’ve had trouble writing this review. The characters, particularly of Shira and Malkah, are what is important to this narrative; they are the point, the substance, and reason for this story. Yet, anything I say about them seems wrong, because they are full-fleshed characters and any impression that I give could detract from the experience of meeting them for the first time. That would be a dis-service to anyone who decides to pick up the book, for it was a joy to meet every character unawares.

This book is categorized as science fiction, which the trappings of a virtual reality Net and post-apocalyptic setting support, and brings out the spiritual and philosophical deep questions that dealing with a whole new world, and a new way of interaction, should bring out in science fiction. Those questions are the meat of the book, treated textually and as of immediate importance, rather than the more common treatment as subtext or theme. Action and violence are used only in service of the plot. The setting is shown off much more often, and caused me to realize that one of the things that makes sci-fi movies and graphic novels so prominent in their mediums is the ability to take three pages of text description of a place and make two pictures or setting-shots out of it and immediately transport the audience into the strange new world. The book is set apart from “standard” science fiction conventions by the Jewish culture, history, legend, and mysticism that Piercy draws on as the lens through which the narrator, and thus the reader, sees the events of the story. There are parallel stories of a cyborg created illegally in mid-twenty-first century New England, and a bed-time story about a golum created in secret in 1600’s Prague, and the parallel of these two stories showing both the expanding definition of a person, and the ways in which nothing has changed.

I enjoyed the philosophical questions as much as the technology and setting, probably more-so because the answers were very immediately necessary, to how the characters would react, and to the characters themselves. It was a satisfying read, a good literary meal rather than brain-candy.

Philanthropy

Philanthropy. From WordNet at Princton: “S: (n) philanthropy, philanthropic gift (voluntary promotion of human welfare)”

I just spent two days ruminating about stuff. And by “stuff” I mean the things I tend to buy to make myself feel better. Books and jewelry often fall into this category, as I pick the things that I think will match or signal that I am the person I wish to be. It doesn’t really work that way, but there isn’t a reading buff in the world that hasn’t been seduced by the possibilities of symbolism.

So, this last two days, I took a portion of the discretionary part of my latest paycheck that usually goes to new books or impulse purchases, and I reacted impulsively to calls for donations online. In so doing, I realized that I’ve been pretty quiet, as far as online support for good causes goes. This is me not being particularly quiet anymore.

DonorsChoose.org - Give to a classroom! - Go

I was introduced to DonorsChoose.org in that great way that online communication works. Someone who I read online frequently posted a link to someone else, who I read less frequently, linking to a classroom project that resonated particularly with the online subculture I hang around in (albeit quietly). A classroom in LA wanted individual copies  of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which I had read not-too-long-ago, and had the book rock my world. So I donated to the classroom project, flush with the enthusiasm of a reader who wanted to share her new favorite book with the ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD (seriously, you should read Parable of the Sower).

And then, not too long later, someone else that I read online donated her birthday to DonorsChoose – making a giving page, with projects in her area, and thus introducing me to the concept.

I learned how to use my account, created a Giving Page with projects in my State, set up a monthly donation, and haven’t regretted it since. I  had to renew my monthly giving today, which lead to me re-doing the giving page, adding it to my sidebar here on this blog, and in general being more actively aware of what I was involved in than I had been previously.

DonorsChoose is a transparent organization, posting their Financial Reports where anyone on the internet can find them. They recently celebrated their 10th Anniversary as an organization:

They are a Charity Navigator 4 star charity, with 92% of their income going to their programs.

And they are a prime example of large-scale crowdfunding, something the Salvation Army has been doing for a while, but which became easier with the advent of a large, engaged online population.
DonorsChoose.org - Give to public schools!

Achievements and my psychology.

The husband and I play a lot of video games. A feature introduced to us with our XBox are achievements for meeting certain criteria within the games. My current obsession is Dragon Age: Origins, which comes on my gaming system with a set of achievements. Achievements are earned by fulfilling a set of conditions during game-play. They are pretty obviously designed to get someone to spend more hours playing the game than they already would have, by appealing to the collector-soul present in the populace. They also get completists to pay up for  extra content that they might not have gone for, if it weren’t for the empty slots that will show up on their list of achievements.

What’s all this leading up to? My status as a habitual blood-donar, actually.

Approximately every eight weeks, since the space of time between when I graduated high school and when I started college, my Dad and I meet for breakfast at Dot’s Diner and then go give up a pint each to Bonfils Blood Center. Bonfils gives out neat gold-colored pins for every gallon that you donate. Totally separate from the feeling of civic pride, of being useful to society, of knowing that the line between recovery and not may be my pint of O+, is the nice little adrenaline rush, the sense of collecting, when I get one of those pins.

According to calculations, I should be getting another one – 8 gallons – next time I give.

And knowing that, I realized that what I’m feeling is exactly the same as when I know that I’m about to complete the game-play conditions for another achievement – one of the ones I’ve had to work for. It’s a strange thing to realize that my brain is rewarding me for both experiences in the same way. That rush of having done something.

The psychology is self-feeding, at least for me.  Proving that I’m not the do-gooding, altruistic person that does things like give blood just for the betterment of her neighbors. No, I get that nice little adrenaline rush too, encouraging me to come back, to level up, just eight more pints and I get another pin.

And you know what? I’m not going to fight it – because the behavior does better my neighbors, even if that’s not the totality of the reason why I do it.

Colorado Voter Registration Deadline

While I have very definite opinions regarding the races, amendments (!!!) and other ballot issues this year, my primary concern is the voter turn-out. Americans are abysmal at turning out to vote without a sexy Presidential Election or Immovable Opinions to bring them in.  Personally, I vote a multi-party ticket, and I suspect that I am not alone.

I am invested in a highly-populated, informed voting public, and I know I appreciate having the Am I Registered? Where’s My Polling Place? and What’s On The Ballot? answers within easy reach. So I share that easy reach with you, Dear Reader.

Deadline to Register is October 4 (next Monday).
Election information, voter registration options (including registering online or checking your current registration status) are all available at the CO Secretary of State website:
http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/

The electronic copy of the 2010 Blue Book (information, including write-ups of the opposing viewpoints on all state-wide ballot measures, and not produced by any of the political parties), is available here: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/CGA-LegislativeCouncil/CLC/1200536134742

An audio copy of the 2010 Blue Book is available here: http://www.cde.state.co.us/ctbl/resources/2010_Legislative_Blue_Book.htm

Crowd-sourced information on ballot measures is a beautiful thing to see this year:

We have awesome resources for voters, some of them even disconnected from Party Politics. Yet, it’s our duty to use them – a free country and a working Representative Democracy are not going to be just handed to us.