Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan: Week 5

If you haven't read the book, or the whole series, why not join in and read along with the rest of us? This week you can find links to everyone else’s thoughts at the bottom of this post.

This week we read through to the end of Chapter 30.

1. What is it with Mat and doorway ter'angreals? These foxy people certainly seem very similar to the snake people, but with subtle differences. Any ideas about why they decided to hang Mat and what his new medallion does?

If Mat finds yet another doorway, and goes through it, then he deserves a good slapping! I know that he was dissatisfied with the answers that he got the first time around, but this trip was highly dangerous because he had no idea that he was going into a different world. The fox-people (Eelfinn) seemed far more creepy and dangerous than the snakey ones (Aelfinn), even before they knocked him unconscious and then hung him from a tree. I was genuinely surprised that he returned with all his skin, but I had not expected him to end up almost dead. This makes me wonder if they survive by somehow imbibing the pain and suffering of humans . . . yikes! :(

It seems that Mat was very lucky to survive this encounter at all, because he did not know how to approach them and what bargaining he would need to do. From the way that they responded to his rambling rant, it would appear that they do not answer three questions, as the Aelfinn do, but rather they grant three wishes. Thank goodness he included a wish to return home, otherwise I imagine that they would have decided to remove all of his skin very, very, very slowly. His other two wishes seemed to have been to have his memories repaired and to be immune to Aes Sedai. I cannot see how the medallion would be a way to return his memories, so it seems much more likely that it is a protection of some sort against Aes Sedai or even channeling in general. Of course, this will not stop the Sisters trying to manipulate Mat, but it might make him feel a little more in control of his life.

2. Now that we have been into Rhuidean, were you surprised by the city within the mists or did you expect something different? What do you think has happened to the Jenn Aiel?

I had expected at least one beastie to jump out of the mist at them, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the city was deserted. However, I had not expected there to be a huge collection of angreals just sitting about for no good reason. I find the uncompleted nature of the city rather intriguing as it suggests that the Jenn Aiel vanished before they could finish the building process. However, there does not seem to be evidence of a battle in the city, so I can only assume that they were overcome by a natural disaster or simply dwindled away to nothing. I would like to find out, especially now that we know so much more about the Aiel and their history.

3. The history of the Aiel is revealed to be very complex. Were you surprised to discover that they were originally a people sworn to non-violence and that the Traveling People were actually an offshoot from the original Aiel? 

This has to be one of the most effective, and shocking, pieces of world building that I have ever read. By taking us backward through time, the author makes his ‘big reveal’ gradually, so that we are presented with a series of small surprises but are led in a totally unexpected direction. There is a huge amount of information, much of which is a total disconnect with the modern Aiel, and yet it is not jarring to us because we see it through a series of individuals. This makes it much easier for us to accept their decisions as justified and therefore makes it virtually impossible to condemn them for their actions. Although we can admire those who remain dedicated to The Way of the Leaf, we can also understand why some others lost their faith and decided to choose a different path.

I loved the way that so many details were tossed in to this mix so that we got explanations for so many things. We saw the original Aiel singing to plants with Ogier, and so we now know why the Travelling People seek for the Song. We saw that they held to their tradition not to use swords, even though this is a corruption of the original oath to not use weapons against other people. I also loved that we saw the first Maiden of the Spear and the first example of them veiling themselves before a kill. There was so much history and culture packed into these few chapters, but it was a joy to read even though I was left wanting more.

4. Could you have stood aside, like the Jenn Aiel did, and allowed your friends and family to be murdered or attacked without raising a hand in violence? What do you think of those Aiel who broke their vow of non-violence? 

This is a very difficult question to answer, but I suspect that I would have been unable to stay true to my oath of non-violence. I am politically liberal, but when it comes to violence against the individual (especially animals) I do tend to revert into a more primitive ‘Old Testament’ version of myself. For example, I saw a story on Facebook this week about a man who was imprisoned for killing a small kitten by throwing it out of a second floor window. I am afraid that my response to this is that I would like to take the man and throw HIM out of a second floor window so that he could see how terrifying and painful it is. Honestly, I am not a violent person, but I do not think that I could stand aside and do nothing after someone I love was hurt or killed.

However, I can see how the Jenn Aiel would be horrified to see their brothers and sisters abandoning their oaths after generations of mistreatment and hopeless searching for safety. I can only admire the strength of the Jenn Aiels’ faith and regret that I could never do that myself.

I was not at all surprised that Couladin’s brother, Muradin, could not accept the history that he saw in the ter’angreal. For a society that has a strong sense of honor, it would be very difficult to accept that your ancestors had broken their oaths. I can also see how it would be difficult for someone from a warrior society to learn that those were oaths of non-violence. These revelations would have gone against all of the main teachings of the modern Aiel and rocked the very foundations of Muradin’s personality. I can only assume that failure to deal with this knowledge proves that you do not have the wisdom or flexibility of belief to lead your people. I assume that this is why the Wise Ones must give people permission before they enter Rhuidean, as it would make no sense for the Aiel to lose too many in this way: they must have judged that Muradin had a good chance of surviving.

5. Perrin encounters a strange woman, who seems to know a great deal about the Wolf Dream and the two races beyond the doorways, the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn. She seems familiar: is she someone that we have already met, as she suggests? What do you think about the ability to reach their dimension directly from tel'aran'rhiod?

I can only assume that this is Birgitte Silverbow, whom we last met at Toman Head. I did wonder what happened to the Heroes who answered the summons of the Horn, although this does not really shed any light on that as she could simply be dreaming. Her recognition of Perrin and the hint of something silver on her back were rather large clues.

Yet again, we have a bit of neat world building here, with Birgitte telling us, and Perrin, about the Finn races. I like the way that this information is not shared with Mat, the one person who has visited both of them, but with Perrin, who seems to be unconnected to them at the moment. The ability to reach them through Tel’aran’rhiod is intriguing and suggests that it might be possible to Travel via the realm of dreams. I seem to remember Lanfear complaining about the other Forsaken making use of ‘her’ realm, so perhaps this is how she pops in and out of the real world so easily.

6. Perrin's homecoming is far from happy. Were you surprised by what he discovered? Also, did Faile react in the way you expected? Were the people in the old cottage who you expected?

Although I am very sad for Perrin, I was not altogether surprised that Fain had gone this far in his attempts to attract Rand. I am quite sure that Dain Bornhald would never have stooped to such tactics even though he is desperate to kill Perrin. I can only assume that the Cauthons and Luhhans are only alive because of Bornhald’s protection.

As we predicted last week, Faile came through when life became really tough and showed how much she really loves Perrin. As a person who can be somewhat argumentative with those I love, I know that I can fight with them but no one else is allowed to hurt or threaten them. I think this scene has marked a real turning point in their relationship, as life is now so much more serious for them both.

 I had expected Tam and Abell to be at the old sick house, not a pair of Aes Sedai. However, I suppose that we should have been expecting Verin to show up again, as she is almost as meddlesome as Moiraine!

Extra Thought

How funny was the idea of Perrin and Faile hoping to be mistaken for children riding next to the ‘adult’ Loial? :D

My Fellow Commentators:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sue's Saturday Suggestions #54

My goodness, the blogosphere is quiet at the moment! :(

Interesting Books

I have listed these titles in earlier SSS posts: check out my SSS Books Page for links to more reviews:

The Archived by Victoria Schwab, review at Novel Reveries

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy, review at Parajunkee

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman, reviews at Fantasy Literature

Anticipated Books

A Fantastical Librarian shares her thoughts in the upcoming releases:

My Bookish ways lists her Must Reads for July:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

My Rating: 3.5 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.10 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 / 5.00

It is Greece in the Age of Heroes. Young Prince Patroclus accidentally kills another boy and is exiled to the court of King Peleus. There he meets Achilles, Peleus’ son born of the cruel sea-goddess Thetis. They are the total opposites of one another because Achilles is the epitome of all that is desirable in a Greek man: beautiful, graceful, strong, intelligent and gifted. Nevertheless, Peleus’ golden son is drawn to the troubled Patroclus and the two become firm friends despite Thetis’ antagonism to the friendship.

All too soon they have grown to manhood and are drawn away from their training with the centaur Chiron to join the battle against Troy to retrieve the beautiful Helen of Sparta. However, Achilles learns that he is destined to either be the ‘Best of the Greeks’ and die young or live a long life of no distinction. Achilles chooses to live a brief but glorious life, while Patroclus tries to prevent the death of his lover.

I was very eager to read this title because I have a fascination for the Greek myths and the literature associated with them. As part of my BA in Classical Studies, I studied both The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer in some detail, so I am fairly familiar with them as both texts and evidence for life in Ancient Greece. As such, it was rather difficult for me to approach this work as a layperson with only a passing knowledge of the Achilles / Patroclus mythology, and, unfortunately, it seems that my familiarity was actually a hindrance. The blurb on Goodreads says:
. . breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination . .
However, to my mind, there is little originality in the book because it is so heavily based upon the works of Homer, and the praised imagination is also simply a recreation of the world based upon the evidence that can be drawn from Greek literature and other sources. This led me to be somewhat disappointed with the rather dry approach that the author chose to take in retelling this ancient tale.

I often enjoy a new approach to a familiar story, but this author did not seem able to breath life into the heroic characters at her disposal. The only one who comes across as a truly three dimensional person is Odysseus, while the others are sadly lacking. This is especially true for the two leads, who do not show much change or development over course the story. I imagine that this was because the author has had to extrapolate them from their last days at Troy to the days of their youth, but it was ultimately unsatisfying. Patroclus was almost exclusively a stereotypical underdog, crippled by self-doubt, whilst Achilles was all easy success and heroic magnetism. Their relationship always seemed to be unequal, with Achilles somehow slightly ‘absent’ emotionally and often oblivious to his effect on Patroclus and the other people around him. This feeling was probably heightened by the first person, present tense used to give us Patroclus’ view of events.

I was particularly disappointed by the choice to make their friendship into a homosexual romance. This is not because I have an aversion to reading an exploration of homosexual love, far from it, but I had hoped that the author would try to show how the great love between these two characters could have been based upon friendship alone and not sexual attraction. I know that their relationship, and its exact nature, has been the source of many millions of words of scholarly discussion, but I sometimes feel that to simply write off their feelings as homosexuality makes light of the strong bonds that men can develop that have nothing to do with sexual feelings. Yes, we know that the Greeks did have a culture of Pederasty, but this does not mean that all male-male friendships were sexual in nature. This reminds me somewhat of the dilemma that some people had with The Lord of the Rings films and the physical affection shown between Frodo and Sam: why is it so difficult for people to believe that men can have deep feelings for one another without it being sexual?

Unfortunately, this has become a rather negative review, so I will try to finish with some positive notes. Firstly, I was very pleased with the ethereal, other-worldliness of Thetis. Unlike the gods and goddesses that we often see on television or in films, she is terrible and awesome, with a legitimate grievance against Peleus and the gods that helped him to rape her. Their uneasy relationship is well drawn and yet she loves her son with a total fierceness that is only really revealed in the last few pages of the book. Indeed, I would say that the final two or three chapters are the most successful of the entire story and are genuinely moving.

Also, for those readers who are unfamiliar with Patroclus, this is a great way to discover much about Ancient Greek culture and learn some the less famous stories behind the Trojan War. The world building is relatively subtle and does not feel too heavy handed when it introduces unfamiliar ideas, morals and traditions. The way that these great heroes are depicted as real people is quite refreshing, as are the descriptions of the War itself. This is no glossy epic, but a gritty story full of blood, sweat and tears, which makes it all seem much more approachable.

Other Recommended Reviews:

I read this title as part of a couple of Challenges:


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