Ditched: Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

I ditched a book called “Promise of Shadows” by Justina Ireland.

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I gotta say, when I saw the cover and read the jacket-flap, my first thought was something along the lines of “more like Promise of Awesome.”

It’s about a harpy who avenged the death of her sister by killing the god who slew her. To do this ‘impossible’ task, she used a secret, forbidden power. Now she’s locked away in the Pits of Tartarus, basically a work-camp. But then she reunites with an old friend and learns, bam, she’s the Nyx, a “dark goddess who is prophesied to change the power balance.” Aw yeah, revolution. A harpy as a main character. Bring it on.

 

But almost halfway through the book I changed my tune. The inaccuracies are stunning. I mean, this book is 99.9% Greek mythology. But then there’s some random other stuff thrown in, too.

 

Number one being that half-god, half-mortals (which in this case includes ‘magical creatures’ such as harpies and dragons and minotaurs), are called “Vættir.” But “vættir” is a NORSE term for spirits, which the Norsemen then group into different clans, like the Aesir and Vanir (god clans), the Jotnar (giants), the Alfar (elves), and the Dvergar (dwarves). Why would a book steeped in GREEK mythology use a Norse term? Especially since, if use accurately, the term would pertain to both what the book calls vættir and what the book calls Æthereals/Exalteds/gods.

 

And then there’s some brief mentions of the Du’at (Egyptian) and Folkvangr (Norse) being parts of the Underworld.

The Du’at is the Egyptian underworld, where a dead person must pass through a series of guarded gates (12 gates, passed through by correctly stating the guardian’s name—sort of Rumpelstiltskin type of thing) and dangerous landscapes to read the afterlife. If the dead person made it, then their heart would be weighed. Those whose hearts failed were eaten by Ammit. Those whose hearts passed went on to live happily-ever-after in the paradise of Aaru.

Basically, the Du’at is not a permanent residence. It’s more like a dangerous obstacle course. Or maybe a salmon run. It makes you wonder if the author so much as pulled up the Wikipedia page.

Folkvangr, on the other hand, is a meadow ruled over by the very-important-and-occasionally-confused-with-Odin’s-wife-Frigga goddess Freyja. She, and her meadow, receive half of those slain in battle—the other half goes to Odin and his Valhalla. There’s no mention of Valhalla thus far in the book.

 

And then there’s a befuddling throwaway line of “I wonder if [Hades] has the power to see the stains on my soul, like Anubis.”

 

Am I supposed to infer, from all of this, that other mythologies, namely Egyptian and Norse, are real? Because other than these casual asides, there’s no evidence of them existing. And I’m nearly halfway through the book.

 

AND THEN, even worse, there’s the fact that the author doesn’t seem to know all that much about ancient Greece or Greek mythology.

 

For one thing, she describes an animal with a lion’s body, an eagle’s wings, and a scorpion’s tail as a chimera. A chimera is part lion, part snake, and part ram. What she describes was clearly a manticore. And she made this even weirder by having one character ask if it was a manticore, and then having the mentor character reply, no it’s a chimera.

 

And then there’s the fact that a character, a really old female character who supposedly lived during the time of the Trojan War in ancient Greece, was described as wearing a toga. There’s two problems with this.

One: in ancient Rome, tunics were almost always worn under a toga. They weren’t really a stand alone garment. It came, as I understand it, not from the Greeks but from the Etruscans.

And two: ancient Greeks DIDN’T WEAR TOGAS. In colder weather, they would wear an outer cloak similar to a toga called a “himation,” but it was not a toga. Women wore tunics called peplum (singular: peplos). In addition, there was a shawl—for women—called a epiblema, and a short cloak—for young men—called a chlamys. A man’s tunic was called a chiton.

And thirdly: even if the character in question had lived during the Roman times, there are several reasons she wouldn’t be wearing a toga. Number one, they were pretty much for men, particularly high-class men. Number two, they were awkward, cumbersome, and altogether hard to move in. The character is described as running, digging ditches, and fighting, all while in a toga, wearing nothing underneath it. She would not have been wearing a toga.

On a side note, according to Wikipedia (and supposedly the source, Catharine Edwards, “Unspeakable Professions: Public Performance and Prostitution in Ancient Rome”), after the 2nd century BCE, women were expected to wear a sola (over a tunic) to distinguish them from prostitutes who wore togas.

Take this sentence, “Cass stares at the clothes, like she can’t believe people would willingly give up wearing togas.” (page 148). Cass, let me tell you why people willingly, happily, gave up wearing togas. It’s for the same reason you cannot possibly be wearing one in any of your previous scenes; they suck. They’re uncomfortable, unwieldy, and ultimately a pain in the ass—much like this book.

 

rating:

dnf

#23 = All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Book Review

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS by Cristin Terrill

 

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jacket flap blurb

What would you change?

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it…at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

 

thoughts

Time travel stories are not easy to do. There is, inevitably, a long list of questions that accompany any plot point you try to create. But this book did really well. The dangers of time travel are outlined fairly quickly (mainly, time will try and pull you back to the present, so you don’t have all that long) and the paradox issue is covered (aka, it’s not actually an issue because of *interesting explanation*).

The book is written in alternating viewpoints between a girl called Marina, and her future self, Em. It’s interesting to go into both of their heads. They’re very different, and at the same time, its clear how Marina became Em. They are still the same person, but Em has been significantly (and believably) changed by her circumstances.

The story is basically this: Marina is in love with her neighbor, a science prodigy named James. James wants to build a time travel machine to help the world, to fix the mistakes of the past in order to make the present a better place. After suffering the death of his older brother, James’s interest transforms into full-blown obsession that eventually leads him to create a time travel machine (called Cassandra) and start to change time.

It sounds nice, but it swiftly turns really, really bad. Basically, James and his associate-with-questionable-morals go too far trying to protect everyone, and you end up with a police state where the government monitors everything. There’s also fighting and anarchists as the government clamps down, and some wars in the background, and stuff like that. Ultimately, James’s quest to create a utopia completely takes over his mind. He becomes the villain, the antagonist.

While it sounds a little far-fetched, it’s written very well and it’s completely believable. You can see the connections between the younger and older versions of the characters.

I did have a few critiques, though.

In the beginning, Em finds the list of things other versions of her have tried in the drain in her cell. She only finds this because of a weird obsession with that drain. Judging by the end of the book, I assume that the other versions of Em told the younger Marina when she was unconscious/asleep of something that the list was in the drain, or something about the drain. But it’s never explicitly said why Em knows there’s something up with the drain. If it had been explained, it wouldn’t have felt so weird at the beginning. Plus, it would have foreshadowed the end.

Also, the biggest problem with the book was that Em had so many chances to finish the mission (kill young James before he makes Cassandra), but she didn’t take them. Because part of her still loves James and she can’t bring herself to kill him and blah blah blah. And the explanation makes sense in theory, but in the book it didn’t work. It felt like the author was giving Em an excuse so the book wouldn’t end there and leave a whole bunch of things hanging.

I think, if Em’s hesitation had been written better, it wouldn’t have felt so awkward. In the book, at one point, she misses her shot. That worked, that made sense. But at another point, she’s watching Marina and James, through a window, sleep next to each other in bed, and she just stares at them and her hesitation is all internal dialogue. If there was more physical stuff—like maybe she is able to open the window, and line up the shot, but she can’t bring herself to pull the trigger—I think it probably would have worked.

But overall, the book was good. The characters were fleshed out, and they drove the plot forward.

 

rating out of five stars

★★★★☆

 

is it worth reading?

Yeah.

Update and Cruel Beauty review

I know I haven’t posted in a while. Putting links to the books on Amazon/Powell’s for everything somehow managed to suck the motivation out of me. Plus I’ve read some less-than-amazing books recently. So now I’m going to go and rant about some of the books I’ve ditched.

Number one is Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge. I ditched Ms. Hodge’s book very early on due to, firstly, the unadulterated mess that constitutes the world-building and, secondly, the forced personalities of “characters.”

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What the jacket-flap indicated:

A princess, Nyx, was promised at birth to wed the tyrant king who killed her mother. All her life, she has been trained to kill him, avenge her mother, and free her country. Her plan is to seduce him, disarm him, and kill him—thereby breaking the curse he has placed on her country.

But when she meets this tyrant king, “Ignifex,” she discovers that he’s pretty charming and not half bad and his castle’s pretty awesome to boot.

This I figured meant that she would hesitate to kill him just long enough to figure out something important about What’s really Going On. And then she would be forced to find a new way to save her world and Set Things Right.

But what I got (that is in the first couple chapters before I ditched the book) was definitely NOT that.

First off, Nyx’s screwed-up family. And not in a dysfunctional-family kind of way, but in a ‘the author didn’t quite think this through’ kind of way.

Nyx has a little sister, Astraia. It was implied, at least to me, that Astraia was just two or three years younger than Nyx. But she acted like she was around eight or ten years younger. Astraia has also been coddled and loved her entire life, and is not betrothed to anyone.

Nyx feels a little resentful of this because she has not been coddled or loved her entire life. In fact, quite the opposite. Nobody loves her whatsoever. Let me explain.

Nyx’s father vehemently wants revenge for the death of his wife (despite the fact that he’s now sleeping with his wife’s sister), and sees Nyx as nothing but a way to get this. He is hard and distant and pretty much without personality or emotion; he’s a flat cut-out onto which the author has pasted scripted lines to move the plot and scenes forward. He plans to train Nyx and send her into the tyrant king’s arms, knowing that whether she kills him or not she’ll never escape alive. It’s basically a death sentence.

In theory, it works: the grief-stricken father—who I assume is a displaced king, because why else would the tyrant consent to marrying his daughter?—forced to betroth one of his infant daughters to the tyrant, decides to train her as an assassin; someone who will avenge his wife’s death and set free their country. But because he knows she will eventually leave and most likely die, he tries to force himself not to love her and holds her at arms length. Meanwhile, he has no such boundary keeping him from his other, younger daughter.

But in practice, it’s not like that at all. There’s no evidence that Nyx’s father sees her as anything but a means to an end. In fact, there’s no evidence he has any personality at all. This lackingness is shared with Nyx’s aunt, Aunt Telomache, who (thus far) serves no purpose except to interact with Nyx so her father doesn’t have to. This is probably where he lack of personality derives from: she is nothing but a mouthpiece for Nyx’s cardboard father.

Then there’s this line: “You are the hope of our people.” Aunt Telomache says this to Nyx every evening, right after she’s finished telling an inspirational tale about a heroine who, in most cases, dies heroically at the end of the story.

And now we get to Nyx herself. I’d think that by this point she’d have internalized all this stuff people are telling her. She’d believe she really is the hope of her people, she is the blade that will bring vengeance, she is the heroine who will save her country.

I’d think she would fear for her future, that she would partially resent being forced into a suicide mission and partially resent her sister for not having that same weight or doom hanging over her.

But I also think she’d be determined, proud. I think she’d aspire to kill the tyrant and make it out alive. I think she’d love to come back afterwards and stand before her father, alive and successful, and she’d think that then, finally, her father would love and respect her.

But, in actuality, Nyx is not that complex or deep a character. She doesn’t seem to feel anything towards her father—though it’s true he has very little page-time. Mostly she interacts with her father’s stand-in, Aunt Telomache. Nyx doesn’t like Aunt Telomache, but she doesn’t seem to hate her.

While she does resent her sister a little, she keeps her resentment bottled up inside and wears a fake face to preserve her sister’s feelings. Which is admirable, I suppose. It’s also overly perfect (The author’s like, oh, I’ll give her a “flaw” and have her resent her sister, but I don’t actually want her to be anything less than unwaveringly kind and compassionate always, so she won’t actually act on this resentment in any permanent way). Nyx also seems to have a lot of trouble hiding her feelings, which is strange considering her plan to fake-seduce the tyrant king.

Nyx’s one other feeling thus far is her fear of the tyrant. But she hasn’t shown any of this supposed assassin-training. I mean, I’d think she’d try to reassure herself it will go okay by giving a brief self-assessment of her skills or something. But she doesn’t. The only indication that any training has taken place is telling us about how she’s expected to kill the tyrant and has been trained with that purpose in mind.

Now onto the world-building. The crappy, crappy world-building. Going in, I thought this was a fantasy, other-world book. So I wasn’t particularly surprised or jolted to learn that a) there are demons and b) the tyrant is the demon king (with the interesting title of “Gentle Lord”—I like that. It has that whole I-may-be-oppressing-you-but-it’s-for-your-own-good undertone).

I wasn’t pushed out of the experience to find out that this Gentle Lord took over the kingdom, Arcadia, and literally tore Arcadia out of the real world. The sky is not the real sky, and the land is flat and honest-to-goodness at some point it just STOPS and bam writhing demonic hellpit of doom.

Nor was I shocked to learn about the “Hermetic” arts—implied to be science but works like magic. It’s based on the four elements and works by writing certain runes.

HOWEVER, I am VERY VERY confused about the world Arcadia was torn out of. Like, was it in ancient Greece or something? They reference Greek myths, and their gods seem to be Greek gods (which in of itself is weird, because I don’t believe the Greeks were in the habit of naming themselves after gods and “Nyx” is a goddess), and they have names like Telomache and Thisbe and Astraia and Adamastos and Leonidas, which all sound like they could be Greek.

At the very beginning of chapter two, we get a history infodump that tells us before the demons came along and ripped Arcadia off to wherever-the-hell, it was a minor province in the Romana-Graecia empire. But then the empire fell when the “Athena Parthenos” (familiar to all of us Percy Jackson fans) was destroyed and suddenly the only unravaged place was Arcadia.

The prince of the Romana-Graecia empire, Claudius, fled to Arcadia, rallied the people—imperial soldiers and pagans—and “created a shining kingdom.” He was so awesome, in fact, that Hermes came down and showed him how to do the Hermetic arts stuff. But eventually the demons took over and “sundered” Arcadia from the rest of the world.

So is this land sundered from our, real-world ancient Greece or something? It doesn’t seem like it. They live in a castle. But they have wallpaper, claw-foot tubs, a library, and a grandfather clock. And their clothes seem to be Victorian; Nyx’s dad wears a red silk waistcoat, the women wear corsets, and the sister has a ruffled dress with five petticoats. Ancient Greeks didn’t wear that stuff. And the winding staircase on the cover looks anything but ancient medieval-era or pre-medieval-era.

Speaking of culture-clash, remember that list of names? They all sound kind of Greek, right? Well there’s also characters called Ivy, Elspeth, and Edwin. Presumably they are pagan-stock (remember, Arcadia is made of the descendants of imperial soldiers and pagans). They are referenced to believe in “hedge-gods,” which the other characters don’t believe are real. One of these is Brigit, another is her son Tom-a-Lone. The imperial-stock maintain that Brigit is Aphrodite by another name and Tom-a-Lone Adonis.

I know that Brigit is a Celtic goddess, but I don’t believe Tom-a-Lone is. And Elspeth is the Scottish version of Elizabeth, while Edwin comes from Old English. And I don’t remember any Romana-Graecia empire taking over the British isles. So is the “real world” that Arcadia was sundered from some sort of alternate history? Perhaps Romana-Graecia is based on Greco-Roman? I don’t know. I can’t tell. This book is a mish-mash of epic proportions. I mean, they even have teatime.

Plus, going back to the plot, I’m confused about where women stand in this society and what training Nyx has. Because she mentions longing to attend a university called Lyceum, which is in the capitol city (Sardis) and contains an organization of scholars called the Resurgandi who are secretly dedicated to defeating the Gentle Lord and undoing the Sundering. Nyx says she wants to go there because she wants to discover and achieve something besides the fate picked for her by her father.

Interestingly, she could be done at the academy before she would have to wed the Gentle Lord. The “explanation” for her not being allowed to go wasn’t really an explanation at all. Basically Aunt Telomache, in yet another father-stand-in moment, said it would be a waste of time. Nyx had better things to do.

Like what, exactly? Presumably being trained to fight, but we don’t really know. And her asking to go to Lyceum implies that women are allowed there, which is decidedly NOT Medieval/Pre-Medieval.

One last thing. About Nyx’s father: he’s not actually king and she isn’t a princess. Her father is the leader of their village, and who knows why or how this deal came to exist. Apparently he “bargained with the Gentle Lord like any common fool, and now, like any common fool, he must pay.” Still, seems a strange payment. If he was a king, it would make sense. Take Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker: king stops other nation from invading and crushing his people by offering up one of his daughter’s to wed the god-king. But he’s no king. He’s a high level Hermetic Arts guy, but nothing else.

Why, in a society implied to be monogamous, would the tyrant king ask for a wife as payment? Wouldn’t he then have many, many wives? And if not, and this is a special case, why isn’t anyone treating it like so?

Who knows. Certainly not me.

rating:

dnf