Saturday, December 28, 2013

THOUGHTS on Amanda Quick's "Rendezvous" and "Mistress"

RendezvousRendezvous by Amanda Quick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This review is structured as a comparison/contrast between "Rendezvous" and another Quick novel, "Mistress."

Amanda Quick's "Mistress" is one of the first romance novels I've ever read, and it spurred me on to read Amanda Quick's entire backlist. "Rendezvous" has a somewhat similar dynamic between the hero and heroine, in that the hero prides himself on using reason and logic to guide his choices, while the heroine is an "original" more driven by emotions and intuition. However, while "Mistress" is an enjoyable comfort reread for me, my reread of "Rendezvous" left me unconvinced of the love story, and hence unsatisfied.

I liked the heroines of both books: the heroine of "Rendezvous," Augusta Ballinger, however, was slightly more difficult for me to relate to. Iphiginia Bright, the heroine of "Mistress," makes her decisions after a careful consideration of both her emotions and a logical, objective assessment of her circumstances (insofar as objectivity is possible). Augusta, on the other hand, prides herself on being a reckless Northumberland Ballinger, and often expresses her disdain for the the logical/objective approach. This made it harder for me to relate to her, since I personally value the ability to use logic as a tool for making decisions, and think that disdaining logic would be just as blind an approach as disdaining emotion. I still liked Augusta, however, particularly for how she emphasizes the importance of imagination and fun in life, and for how she fights for the inclusion of activities that encourage such values in her stepdaughter's curriculum.

It is often the case that Quick has "logical/scientific/academic" heroes who consider logic/reason/science and imagination/hypotheticals to be mutually exclusive. For instance, the hero of "Mistress," Marcus Cloud, the Earl of Masters, is a science/logic-driven hero who at one point in the book refuses to consider might-have-beens, and is only willing to consider "cold hard facts" in his arguments with Iphiginia. This annoyed me at first, since hypothetical reasoning is an important part of the scientific method, and Marcus, as a scientist and inventor, should know that! On further consideration, because Marcus does not seem to be a poor scientist, I ended up interpreting his refusal to consider the might-have-beens as poor argumentation skills driven by (i) his initial emotion immaturity and (ii) new emotions he didn't understand or acknowledge. This brings me to the most important point: Despite his arrogance in how he believes his reasoning always leads to the right conclusions, I still fell in love with Marcus because he seemed vulnerable to me in his loneliness, and in his fear for his brother's livelihood. I also loved how he was mature enough to understand that he would have to sacrifice his pride and change his long-established "rules" if he wanted to be with Iphiginia, and even better, that he was mature enough to admit this to Iphiginia. I feel like I would have fallen in love with Marcus if I was Iphiginia, and so I totally bought the love story. I also liked Marcus' dry humour, and even found his amusement at Iphiginia's innocence to be cute, as opposed to condescending, probably because he never took her ignorance as a reason to lessen his respect for her intellect.

In contrast, "Rendezvous" didn't work for me, primarily because I found the hero, Harry, the Earl of Graystone, to be unjustifiably overbearing and condescending to the point of being cruel to the heroine. For instance, at one point, when the heroine brings up her worries regarding their upcoming marriage, the following exchange ensues:

"I'm glad you find it so amusing," she whispered.

"Not amusing so much as a waste of time. I have seen you attempting to grapple with this sort of thing before, if you will recall. Your reasoning gets muddled quickly, my dear."

The way I read this, the hero manages to both

(i) imply that Augusta is incapable of logical reasoning, and

(ii) say that her concerns about her future are a waste of his time.

I would be furious at anyone that said I was incapable of logical reasoning and I would seriously re-consider marrying anyone who felt that my concerns were a waste of his time. And although there was a point where Harry supposedly realized he loved Augusta (i.e., that their relationship involved emotion, and not logic), I didn't really see any change in the way he treated Augusta afterwards. So I really couldn't understand how Augusta could fall in love with Harry, and thus didn't really believe in the love story.

Writing this up now, I realize that Augusta might not consider Harry's words above to be as much of an insult as I would consider them to be, since she is more disdainful of logic and reason than I am, and hence might not care if someone thought she was incapable of reason. But the disrespect he shows her in the above passage is still too blatant for me to swallow. So despite my view that people should at least try to consider facts objectively when assessing the merit of a thing (or future action), the Anaïs Nin quote "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are" plays a big role in why "Rendezvous" didn't work for me, while "Mistress" remains one of my favourite romance re-reads.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Outgunned": A Tribute to Meljean Brook's "The Iron Duke"

"Outgunned": A Tribute to Meljean Brook's "The Iron Duke"

Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth and Rhys Trahaearn from Meljean Brook's "The Iron Duke." This was inspired by the scene in the lift, when Mina "fires back" at the Iron Duke, even though she was "outgunned."

I enjoyed "The Iron Duke" a lot on my first reading, and then grew to like it even more on repeat readings - my favourite kind of book : ) I think I didn't like it that much on my first reading because I didn't really fall in love with Trahaearn. With repeat readings, though, I think I understood why he did things better, and re-interpreted what seemed like 'autocratic jerk' on my first read as 'autocratic but that's because his past has rendered him so socially inept that that's the only way he knows how to behave.' I really loved the second in the series "Heart of Steel" as well too - I loved it on my first read, but haven't re-read it yet [1].

Although all of the books and novellas in Meljean Brook's "The Iron Seas" series are good - especially the world building. And I am rather obsessed with her Guardian Series as well.

Reference-wise: I used a picture of Lee Da Hae as a reference for Mina, based solely on the description of Mina being pretty and having a round face. And I very, very loosely based Rhys on Jonathan Rhys Meyers (because when I was reading "The Iron Duke" I couldn't get past the name and kept picturing a darker, giant Jonathan Rhys Meyers in my head.) I tried to make his nose longer and more hawk-like than Rhys Meyer's though, to fit the description of Trahaearn in the book.

This picture took me ages to paint because

   (i) there's a hand in it, and
   (ii) I tried to make it so that they were looking at each other. And clearly gave up.

Still have no clue how to systematically paint the light and pupils or whatnot in the eyes (I guess the eyelids/eyeshape might matter too) to get the effect of making the eye look where I want it to look.) That's a study that needs doing.

[1] This is because it's not as angsty, and 70% of the time, I want to read angst. I like to blame L. M. Montgomery and the 'Anne' series for this.  But I loved Archimedes as a hero. And I was laughing from the outset of "Heart of  Steel,"with the Capitalized Phrases in the letters between Archimedes and his sister.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tribute to Martha Wells' "Raksura" Series

Jade, sister queen, and Moon, first consort, from the Indigo Cloud Court, of Martha Wells' Raksura series.

I really liked the first two books of this series, especially the world-building (so interesting how the gender dynamics are switched around because the biology of the Raksura). And for some reason, the third book of this series multiplied my "like" of the characters into "love," so I wanted to paint a fanart tribute to the series.

But I had so many issues painting this! I actually started this painting before the painting of Mercy, and I ended up having to paint Mercy as a breather/break from this one. My tribulations painting this are as follows:

Originally I wanted to paint Moon in his winged Raksura form, but I had major issues with figuring out how to do black scales with a bronze undersheen, so I ended up turning him into groundling form. Which was actually good, because my attempts at the Raksura frills apparently look like girly ruffles. I didn't really know what to look at as a reference for Jade/Moon's spines and frills. And then I had to repaint over Moon's face twice because it looked weird. And then I repainted over Jade's face three times, and I'm still not happy with how she looks. I wanted to approximate how cute Moon and Jade are in when they snarl at each other (eg., because one has taken some risk that the other doesn't approve of, but would of course do themselves) but Moon looks too young to me, and Jade looks too harsh. And by the time I put a single layer of scales on Jade, I felt like there was already too much going on with her skin to do another overlying pattern of grey. Also, I originally had Jade with claws, but then the picture started to seem really sinister, since I couldn't make Jade's face look less mean, and Moon's looking all vulnerable in groundling form! So I made them more like hands and less like claws, and then decided to throw out accuracy with the book for what was fun to paint, and made her wings translucent. *breathes*.

But despite all that, now I sort of want to draw Frost, Thorn and Bitter, the royal Clutch, with maybe Stone in the background, and oh that would be way too complex for me...

I was listening to the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce while painting this (pre-Mercy breather), and actually finished it off without an audiobook. It was around Christmas Eve/Christmas though, so I MAY have been listening to Christmas music.

THOUGHTS on Steel's Edge (Book 4/4, Edge Series by Ilona Andrews)

Steel's Edge (The Edge, #4)Steel's Edge by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steel's Edge is the fourth and final installment in Ilona Andrews' "Edge" series, and it's my second favourite of the series, after Bayou Moon (the second book). Although I liked the grittiness and twists of the plot in "Steel's Edge" better than the plot in "Bayou Moon," the romance and character development worked for me better in "Bayou's Moon." And since I've always read the "Edge" books with the expectations for a fantasy/romance, as opposed to an urban fantasy (like their excellent Kate Daniels Series), there were some issues with the romance and character development that I'd let slide for an urban fantasy, but couldn't quite get around for "Steel's Edge." But even with these issues, overall, I found "Steel's Edge" to be well-written and highly entertaining - I really liked it!

One of the reasons that I love books by Ilona Andrews is that they nearly always hit all four of my "funny, sad, gritty and grand criteria" for what makes a good book - i.e., there are always parts that are funny, parts that are sad, parts that are gritty and parts that are grand. As for the "funny," there are always funny parts in an Ilona Andrews book - I love what Jason, the crimelord of Kelena, offers Richard when he mistakenly thinks Richard has married Charlotte and that they'd bought a dog together, and I laughed out loud at the part where/how Jack informs Sophie and Charlotte that he is "adored" by his adoptive grandmother. And the "gritty" part is definitely achieved in "Steel's Edge." The hero, Richard Mar, is a vigilante whose aim seems to be to single-handedly wipe out the the illegal slave trafficking that operates in the Edge. And the heroine, Charlotte de Ney, is a healer who has grown disillusioned with parts of humanity that she begins using her healing gift to kill (albeit she is killing slavers). Any book whose main characters deal with slavery, human trafficking and disease is going to be fairly dark and gritty.Also, like the previous "Edge" books, there are gruesome maimings/deaths that are omfg!shocking (a good thing, imo), especially given romance-genre expectations. SPOILER
And the gruesome maimings/deaths are not not just of redshirts, but of characters who the reader has become attached to. **END SPOILER**
And these gritty events are interspersed with enough spectacular/grandiose parts - i.e., Richard doing some brilliant swordplay, or Charlotte implementing some impressive healing/antihealing, to satisfy my need for"grand" bits. And these gritty events are interspersed with enough spectacular/grandiose parts - i.e., Richard doing some brilliant swordplay, or Charlotte implementing some impressive healing/antihealing, to satisfy my need for "grand" bits.

There are also sad parts in the book. However, the most heart-wrenchingly emotional parts SPOILER
(i.e., Eleanore's death and the major plot twist regarding the captain of the slaving ship, omfg that part was amazing **END SPOILER**)
aren't associated with the hero/heroine, but with Jack and George, who the reader has been introduced to in the first Edge book "On The Edge." Now, like everyone else who reads this series, I've completely fallen in love with Jack and George, so these parts of "Steel's Edge" really tugged on my emotional heartstrings and even made me cry. But after reading these parts, I was left wondering whether I'd been tricked by some sort of sleight-of-hand. This is because when I'm reading a romance, I have the genre expectation (whether justified or not) that the deepest emotional arc should belong to the hero and/or heroine. And although there is a parallel drawn between George and Jack's situation on the one hand, and Richard and Kaldar's situation on the other hand, I didn't find this parallel developed much beyond a single mention. So in the end, while I was definitely getting the emotional highs and lows I want from a good book, I felt as if Jack and George's high-lows were given to reader in lieu of character development for Charlotte and Richard. And so I wasn't quite sure whether in the end, I really got to know Richard and Charlotte.

This in turn affected how well the romance worked for me. Although I could understand why Charlotte falls in love with Richard, I didn't quite buy how Richard falls in love with Charlotte (although I liked her well enough). I know that one reason Richard wants Charlotte is his conviction that Charlotte would "never become jaded or lose her resolve." He comes to this belief when he observes that she doesn't let go of her revulsion at injustice, even after all of the terrible things she (and Richard) sees in the slaver city. And although I do think Ilona Andrews did an excellent job coming up with travesties that would jade (or scar) most people, I didn't quite buy that Richard would take Charlotte's failure to become jaded after this experience as evidence evidence that Charlotte would NEVER become jaded or lose her resolve. This is because Richard himself is an example of someone who has been seeing these sorts of horrors for years, and doesn't seem to be someone who became (or considered himself) jaded after his first exposure to them.

There are also parts of the romance that I liked very much, however. In particular, I liked how most of Richard and Charlotte's interactions were so unfailingly cool and polite, despite the harrowing circumstances of their situations. While an average person would throw manners out the window in these sorts of circumstances, this is not so for Richard and Charlotte. Knowledge of, and adherence to the proper behaviour of nobility is where Richard and Charlotte excel, and their maintenance of courtly politeness to each other, even among plague, death and disfiguring, as well as Richard's dry attempts at levity in rather grave situations, really captured the "regency" part of the "regency in jeans" description that Ilona Andrews used to describe "Steel's Edge" on their author blog. Although I've read some reviews that disliked this aspect of their romance (I think they saw Richard and Charlotte's adherence to proper behaviour as relationship as indicative of a cold and passionless relationship), I read Richard and Charlotte's determination to maintain manners and proper behaviour in these crazy circumstances as a subtle competition between the two of them, and believable as the sort of interaction two people like Richard and Charlotte would engage in.

Now that I've more carefully thought about exactly why I had some issues with "Steel's Edge," it seems like the issues mostly arise becaues I have specific subgenre expectations, where "Steel's Edge" doesn't really fit into the relevant subgenre. Or actually even into any standard fantasy subgenre. So I don't think that going back and rereading "Steel's Edge" with UF, as opposed to romance, expectations would make me enjoy it more. For example, even if I considered the dismantling of the slavery-ring to be the main point of the book, and considered Richard and Charlotte's romance to be a side-plot (of which I have much less stringent expectations as compared to a main romance), I think I would still have issues with the fact that the main emotional arc of the story is associated with the side-characters, Jack and George, as opposed to the main characters, Richard and Charlotte. But maybe if I went into the book with only fantasy-genre expectations, and considered Jack, George, Richard, and Charlotte (and maybe Eleanore and Sophie) to all be "main characters" or the "main ensemble cast" or something, sort of like how I read the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, "Steel's Edge" would work better for me. Although I'm not quite sure about this either! One thing that I love about Ilona Andrews books is their world-building (I already loved the aspects of the world built up from the previous books in the Edge series, and "Steel's Edge" gave me more of what I loved - I loved the description of the city, Kelena, in particular.) But one thing that throws me off-balance with the world-building in the Edge series is the way that the authors break standard fantasy genre conventions.


For instance, in "Bayou Moon," Cerise and William break the "You can't bring a dead person back to life" Rule.

And "Steel's Edge" seems to me to break the "When a character uses their powers for evil, what ensues is a long and bitter struggle between that character and temptations from the dark side" Rule for Charlotte.

And although I sort of like it when genre conventions of this sort are broken, I usually want there to be a reason WHY they're broken, or to see repercussions of this rule-breaking throughout the rest of the world-system. And I'm not sure (on my first read through the series) if these reason or repercussions were made clear to me as a reader.

View all my reviews