Friday

Books

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, by Ambelin Kwaymullina

I picked up this book after seeing Ambelin Kwaymullina at Continuum in June. I read the first few pages in the bookshop and had to force myself to leave. I ended up buying it about a week later and read the first chapter before I had to set it aside to work. So I ended up reading it on a plane, straight through, five hours. I loved it.

The first pages gave me a sense of the setting enough to compare it to The Chrysalids and Obernewtyn. And, sure, it’s a post apocalyptic story about kids who are born with abilities that make them objects of fear and censure of society. They have to use these abilities to fight for their freedom. But it’s also not like the other books because these characters already know and understand their powers, and society knows and formally recognises (controls) these powers. Further, the debate around the place of people with abilities in society hinges on interpretation of the governing principles of society, inherited from the reactions to the apocalypse. In this case, everyone works to maintain the Balance in order to prevent another disaster. So the treatment of people with abilities by society in general is based on whether they are considered part of the Balance or outside the Balance and a threat to it. This is much more interesting to me.

The story itself is great and compellingly told. Ashala (and Kwaymullina’s) love of the land is so wonderful to read. I have book two, waiting for its turn to be read. And I understand there are two further books beyond that, which is fantastic.

Song of the Lioness, by Tamora Pierce

I have just finished rereading the first 12 Tortall books, so I am not going to treat them separately.

This is still my favourite series. OK, so there are few female assigned male presenting characters that I’ve ever encountered in fiction, and I’m sure that that has something to do with it. It may also be that the world is less settled/planned/worked out in this than later books. Alanna’s adventures have a sense of discovery to them that only comes from an author who is discovering their world as they write. That may not be entirely accurate, but certainly the world building aspects of the later series feel different from the way they are here.

Also, Alanna spends a lot of the first two books things ‘friendship, what is that, how does that happen?’ and ‘they wouldn’t like me if they knew I was really a girl’, both of which resonate with me. And she spends time in the desert, which is always good. Living in a country where one leaves the city and eventually reaches desert areas which are the home of people who have an uncertain and difficult relationship with their formal government (to say the least), the scenes among the Bazhir are the most familiar part of the series.

The Immortals, by Tamora Pierce

Everytime I reread this series I like it and Daine more than I thought I would. Which is odd, because I certainly really enjoyed it the first time round. I remember reading book four while sleeping in my grandma’s swag on the floor of her study. I think the bit that gets me is the sentimentality of the ending of book one. And perhaps the transparency of the moral that Daine needs to learn to like Stormwings. Also, Daine’s anxiety for the first book is based on something that she doesn’t reveal to the reader and I expect to find it frustrating once I know what it is. I don’t understand Daine as easily as I understand Alanna, so some of the decisions that drive the plot don’t resonate with me at all.

That said, I still enjoyed reading all these again and devoured them. There are many great things. Some great humour. A broad range of characters and character relationships and developments. The progress of the war and the work that war takes, and diplomacy, too. Having a story at the scale that Pierce does is good to read.

Protector of the Small, by Tamora Pierce

Kel! I think the first time I read this series it took me some hard going. Maybe it was just Kel’s frustration rubbing off on me. This time was much easier, probably because I understand the dilemma of duty better. Also, I can see what Kel admires about Wyldon now. There are more characters in this series and Alanna’s than in Daine’s, which might explain a lot of what I prefer about them. Or, rather, there is a group that moves through the series together, which is something I very much enjoy reading.

I expected a lot of the things that happen to Kel to seem contrived, knowing how certain bits of the plot fit together pretty neatly. For example, when the Griffin shows up, knowing that the Griffin feathers are important. But in fact that didn’t hr example. The Griffin is more annoying and just there as an ongoing thing to deal with and the feathers less critical than I remembered, so that it seems much more natural. Especially, having just spent so much of Daine’s point of view dealing with immortal creatures, and the fact that Pierce established economies around Griffins. There is an integrated world here.

I suppose that is a difference between Alanna’s series and the later ones. The later ones take place within a world where a lot of other things are established to be happening, and the reader’s imagination gives space to what all those other characters are doing. Not just Alanna, Daine, Numair and Raoul, but also Stephan the Groomsman and Gareth then Younger. The glimpses we get of them are of whole people, whereas in Song of the Lioness the backstory, such as Alan’s relationship with Duke Gareth, takes up literal words on the page.

The German Genius, by Peter Watson

This is a book on the history of German thought from about the middle of the seventeenth century, I think, until the present. It has taken me many months to read it, so the beginning is kind of hazy. It is a well written book. The topic is interesting, being a history of waves of influence. Watson’s thesis is that much of what we think of as modern thought finds its roots in German intellectual history. He’s convincing, too.

I was able to pay more attention in the bits that were about times or ideas with which I was already familiar. Once we got to the early twentieth century it was much easier. Also there were then some women discussed, which was a relief. I know that in a book that encompasses so much so briefly, only those people whose ideas were most widely disseminated are going to get mentioned, and the sexism of history means that this is almost exclusively men. But I would have appreciated acknowledgement of this. Or, include in the history a recognition of the status of women in that time and place. It is not as though the status of women and their access to history did not influence history.

That aside, this was an enjoyable and effective blend of examples, anecdotes and historiographical theory.

Films

The Lunchboxdirected by Ritesh Batra

This was lovely. It was brilliant to see Mumbai. The story unfolds so well. It’s relatively straightforward, which gives it room for a lot of little things to happen and a profound shift that is very satisfying. And it is not at all overworked or cloying. Given that most of what I know about how people in India live is from the news (also Rick Stein), this film was new to me in terms of the rhythm of people’s daily life, which was itself a refreshing thing to watch.

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