starlady: (sora)
Happy birthday, [personal profile] inkstone!

Walton, Jo. Among Others. New York: Tor Books, 2011.

I've quite enjoyed Jo Walton's other books that I've read, but this one is in many respects on a whole different level. I think just about anyone reading this journal would like it; it's about, well, a lot of things, life and death and growing up and being too old for your age and reading and being strange and most of all about reading SFF.

It's set in 1979 and 1980; Mori Phelps, after the death of her sister, has run away from home and been reunited with her father, who abandoned the family when she and her sister, also Mor, were quite small. Her father's English sisters pack Mor off to their alma mater Arlinghurst, where Mor, who has a disability which makes it impossible to play sports, spends most of her time in the library writing the journal that forms the book in mirror-hand and reading all the SFF books she can get her hands on, with a sprinkling of classics mixed in.

It sounds kind of overdetermined, but it's not, it's wonderful. )
starlady: (burn)
Walton, Jo. Tooth and Claw. New York: Tor Books, 2003.
Walton, Jo. Those Who Favor Fire (manuscript).

I daresay this is a Victorian novel for fantasy readers, particularly those who don't like Victorian novels.

After the death of their ailing father, the four Agornin siblings must make their way in an uncertain world. The two younger sisters, Haner and Selendra, must part: Haner goes to live with their sister Berend and her husband the Illustrious Daverak, while Selendra goes to live with their brother Penn, who is a parson, and his wife and children. Both sisters have only sixteen thousand crowns between them, which will make marriage difficult. Meanwhile, their brother Avan brings Daverak to court for his proper share of their father's body.

Yes, gentle reader, the book takes place in dragon society, in which cannibalism is not only tolerated but is an acceptable way in which to improve the race, and is a very real danger to those who aren't parsons or gently born women (who, in fact, face the very real possibility of dying in clutch).

So, it's a Victorian novel without any Victorians, which really reveals that what makes a Victorian novel Victorian is a) the manners and b) the social constraints--and, though women and commoners suffer most under these, Walton does make clear that men are bound by them too. As [ profile] sartorias points out in this great post, there's a savagery beneath the manners in a Victorian novel (and hell, in Austen too) that comes from people struggling with the very real threats of poverty, disgrace and various strains of ruin; Walton turns the story inside out and makes the savagery literal.

I suppose I could be censured for it in certain circles, but the greater share of my sympathy nonetheless goes to the women in this story, particularly Avram's clerk Sebeth, who has an interesting and tragic past. Walton, who cites Trollope in her acknowledgments, found it necessary for her female dragons to have a distinct physiological reaction which makes it clear whether they have been intimate with males. Though obviously this is the equivalent of virginity in humans, I find it more interesting to regard it as a literalization of Trollope's ideas (read all of that post) about women losing their "first blush", not physiologically but emotionally, when they fall in love. Ick.

My one complaint about this novel is that the ending seems a trifle abrupt, particularly in light of the more or less random Yarg ambassador who shows up in the final pages. To alleviate this feeling, I recommend reading the three chapters of the sequel, Those Who Favor Fire, which Walton has said she probably won't finish. One of my favorite parts in T&C was seeing Haner become a free-thinking radical, which the sequel explores, and other developments in the characters' lives are fascinating. It's too bad we won't have any more. 
starlady: (remember remember)
I've just finished reading Farthing by Jo Walton (aka [ profile] papersky). It is an utterly brilliant, and brilliantly chilling, little book--though it's a quick read, it packs a great deal of wallop into a very unassuming structure, that of the English country-house mystery. In point of fact, I'm reminded more than a little of Robert Altman's movie "Gosford Park," though of course "Gosford Park" doesn't have the naissance of British fascism, in an alternate 1949 in which Britain sued for peace with the Reich in May 1941, hanging in the balance.

Lucy Khan, the renegade daughter of the leaders of the so-called Farthing Set, the faction within the Tories that made peace with Hitler, and her Jewish husband David Khan are prevailed upon by Lucy's mother to come down for the weekend, and when another member of the Set is found dead in his room with a Jewish star skewered to his chest, suspicion inevitably rests heavily on David, though Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard is too smart not to do his own thinking (and indeed, perhaps too smart for his own good). Confound their politics,/Frustrate their knavish tricks! )

On an unrelated, happier note, Hallmark sells same-sex couple wedding cards (though the ones I saw were either for male couples or generic. as usual, the lesbians are invisible). If that's not progress, I don't know what is.


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