Read-along: The Poison Song by Jen Williams (week 5)

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Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More

This is the end, people *sniffle*. And it really looked like it might be the end of everything for a minute there … but I’m getting ahead of myself. Thank goodness for prompts, that’s all I can say, because without this week’s prompts, as posed by the most laudable Lisa of Dear Geek Place, I’d just be a gibbering wreck.

So, before we go on, the usual warning: there will be SPOILERS. Only this week those spoilers are about the absolute end of the whole series. The things that get talked about this week do not get undone or prove themselves later to be some sneaky sleight-of-hand by the author. This is the end. These spoilers are the worst ones. *sniffle*

 

Week 5 – Chapters 43 to the end

It’s all about endings, now… First up, Tyranny and Windfall. How do you feel about the way the self-made Queens of Tygrish went out?

I was kind of glad to see them back after thinking they’d died horribly last week. Sure, Windfall has lost an eye and Tyranny is all kinds of shook up, and they haven’t really come to help out at all, but their survival still felt like a little victory. And yet … and yet … it felt weird too. I mean, it was a pretty awful way to go after they’d sort of come back to fight on the side of right, but before that – and even with Vintage summing up Tyranny’s many crimes against team Ebora – the queens of Tygrish were accepted into the fold very easily. It was just a bit quick, you know?

Then again, their deaths also made the Jure’lia queen suddenly a heap more terrifying. Like I suddenly saw her in close-up right then. Not that she wasn’t already a scary-creepy-awful amorphous blob of vicious black goo …

 

After all this, both of the Eboran siblings survived. Tor gets to live with his grief, but live he shall. Whereas Hestillion gets to live with her guilt. Do you think Hest’s fate was deserved? And do you think she’d ever own her mistakes, even now?

I didn’t see it coming. I was pretty sure Hest would go down with the Jure’lia in the end, and I figured Tor would get to go out in his blaze of glory like he wanted to, (never underestimate a fell-witch, I guess).

It’s hard to think about Hestillion in terms of what she may deserve. She’s made incredible, stupid, horrifying decisions right the way through the trilogy, but she’s been so hard to fathom too. Everything she’s done has had a clinical, assessing edge to it. What kind of justice should be meted out to someone who hasn’t operated out of malice so much as out of a powerful self-preserving logic? Someone who really doesn’t seem to have any compassion at all? Can there be justice for someone who doesn’t feel they’ve done anything wrong?

Underlying it all has she just been terrified of the unfixable, uncontrollable nature of the crimson flux? Or more broadly, has she been afraid of not having control? If so, perhaps a wandering, aimless life is the most appropriate fate for her. All I know is she’s alone again at the end, just as she was, drifting through the ghost-palace before this all began. That seems … poetic, if nothing else.

 

Every time I’ve thought I was getting to grips with Hest’s motivation Williams added something more to the mix that threw me off. She’s a masterpiece of complexity. I tip my hat most respectfully to Jen Williams.

 

Celaphon makes a final choice in the final battle, after telling Hest that what happened to him wasn’t her fault. Do you agree with that? And what do you think of his apparent reason for his choice to turn on the Jure’lia at last?

Of course it was her fault! *stamps foot* Don’t try to make her feel better about any of what she did to you, Celaphon!

But, oh, Celaphon. You poor beautiful-ugly mixed up soul you, I knew you’d break my heart, but it didn’t make it hurt any less when it came. Even at the end you weren’t able to become the perfect, pure beast you should have been, but in your own way you stuck it to the Jure’lia queen and I was so proud of you. You tried. There was still some warped thinking at the back of it, but you tried. And yes, my darling, we all saw how mighty you are. Were. *sniffle*

I couldn’t really pinpoint what made him attack the behemoths right then, though. Windfall and Tyranny had just died and if he could still feel the war-beast connection he’d have felt that. Then Hestillion is knocked unconscious by Noon – would he have felt that? And the queen had reached the gates of the palace, so it was all getting a bit desperate. After hanging back for so long, did he choose that moment to prove how mighty he was? Like a final defiant flip of the bird to his brothers and sisters even while helping them out? It’s in keeping with his slightly petulant nature. Anyone else got any thoughts on this?

 

And finally … Noon makes the ultimate sacrifice, to save Ebora, to save her family, to save the world. How many pieces did this final act break your heart into?

All the pieces. So small they were as dust and blew away. I have no heart now.

I should have seen it coming. I think it felt worse because of that. I was blindsided by Tor’s illness and didn’t see Noon’s death coming until it was too late.

And I am in awe of just how far Noon has travelled. When we first met her I had no idea she was going to be the absolute heroine that she became. I’ve loved every surprising, delightful, awesome step of her journey.

‘Only the strongest, she said, could possibly keep it inside themselves, could live with the green fire in their guts. Only the strongest.’ Abruptly, she found that she was grinning. ‘And it’s fucking true, isn’t it? I’m standing here, and I can see it when I look at you. We’ve survived, we’re still here, and we are the strongest. All the terrible things the Winnowry did to us, all of the terrible things that people have said and done, all the people who have hated us because of what we are … and we live, still. The power is still ours. The flame never died.’

 

Any final thoughts? Overall impressions? Leftover feelings to mop up? Do share!

Noon’s insight into the Jure’lia at the end when she was sucking up their life juice was a confirmation of things implied along the way, but was still fascinating.

Vintage and Chenlo’s happy ever after (and Aldasair and Bern’s) makes Tor’s loss that much more heart-breaking, at the same time that it gives me something to cling to so I don’t cry about Noon forever.

I was so glad that we got to see one last letter from Vintage to Marin before the end. And it occurs to me only now that as these letters are purportedly from the private letters of Master Marin de Grazon that kind of implies that he’s alive. Which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy for Vintage. *happy sigh*

Vintage also had some of the best lines yet again. My favourites? “Fuck my old boots” and “That particular monster can fuck right off” – tell it like it is, Vin darling.

And finally, did Noon teach She Who Laughs compassion???!

 

 

 

 

Addendum:

You can read the rest of my The Poison Song read-along posts by clicking on the links below:

Week 1 – Chapters 1 to 9 inclusive

Week 2 – Chapters 10 to 19 inclusive

Week 3 – Chapters 20 to 30 inclusive

Week 4 – Chapters 31 to 42 inclusive

 

And next week Wyrd and Wonder’s 13-day-long Spooktastic Reads event begins, hosted by Lisa of Dear Geek Place, imyril of There’s Always Room for One More and Jorie of Jorie Loves a Story … so I’d better slap out of this glumness fast so I can get reading about ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night!

 

 

 

 

 

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Read-along: The Poison Song by Jen Williams (week 4)

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Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More

We’re moving inexorably towards the grand finale and this week the tension has ratcheted all the way up to eleven. Coherence is going to be difficult, even with this week’s prompts from the incredible imyril of There’s Always Room for One More to help me along. I shouldn’t have to say it anymore, but there will be massive, painful, heart-breaking SPOILERS from the start …

 

Week 4 – Chapters 31 to 42 inclusive

 

Take a seat. Make yourself comfortable. Now, in your own time – how are you feeling after this week’s developments?

… um …

I can do this. Come on …

How do I feel? I feel exhausted. And bewildered. And heart-sore. And bruised.

What the Jure’lia queen did to Bern was unspeakably torturous to read and I am shaky with relief that it looks like he may be OK (for a given value of OK), but the damage she has done is still raw and new and will he ever truly be OK?

What Celaphon did to (for?) Bern was equally traumatic (and omg, he ate it!!! *shudder*) and, frankly, it’s a wonder he’s still alive at all after the combination of crap he’s been through.

And Celaphon. Yeah, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Noon’s return had me both in tears and punching the air – it was the “nose to nose” that did me in, I don’t know why.

Vintage’s remembering Noon when they first met had me thinking about how much has happened in the space of these three books and just how much crap all of these characters have already weathered and (perhaps because it’s late and it’s been a long day), I’ve gotten a bit maudlin about it all and don’t want it to end. What’s going to happen when it’s all over? However it finishes their world is going to look so different …

 

 

The fruit may fall far from the tree, but all war beasts share a connection. What are your thoughts about Celaphon as we head into the final act?
Oh, Celaphon. Way back when we were reading The Bitter Twins I felt so sorry for you, runt that you were, paired with Hestilion and so far from your brothers and sisters. And this week that all came flooding back. How can you help being as you are when you’ve been warped and poisoned by the Jure’lia and by Hestilion? And yet inside that thick hide still there is that beautiful little creature, constantly in pain, craving connection and family. When he described the link between Bern and the others as a bright gold thread I got all choked up (again); Celaphon’s world is mostly defined by the purple and oily green-black of the Jure’lia – that he can still perceive that glittering gold thread is at once hopeful and soul-destroying.

And what he does for Bern, while gross and savage, is still a good action, I think. It seems telling that he saw how degrading it was for Bern the Weapon to be made Bern the Tool by the queen. I wonder if he will realise that this is what has been done to him too? Or does he know already?

Finally, when Celaphon asked Hestilion why they never went to the lake for fish or far, far away to be alone like she said they would, again I blubbed like a very blubby thing (seriously man, my hankie is a mess!). It was just so … plaintive. Like a child asking why promises have to be broken and things have to end. While I can’t see a happy ending for Celaphon, I am hoping beyond hope that he gets to feel some love from his brothers and sisters before he finds peace.

 

 

Did Tyranny and Windfall get what they deserved? How do you think our heroes will fare against Hest’s latest tactics?
Um, no. No one deserves to have their insides eaten by Jure’lia bugs, I don’t care what they’ve done. This was actually the most disappointing bit for me. I kind of felt that Tyranny and Windfall would somehow make it through to the final round as neither seem the type to just lie down and die. And while there’s an infinitesimally-slim chance that Tyranny survived Hest’s attack, I think that that bug burrowing into Windfall’s eye was a pretty conclusive fate for the other queen of Tygrish.

 

…any last thoughts before we plunge into the final week?

Three more downer thoughts:

You couldn’t understand love, despite having a clutch of eggs that you will do anything for, but revenge you get??! Well, of course you do! *splutter*

Erm … what’s happening to Ygseril? What does this mean? And why now? Not cool, man, not cool.

The queen’s new mask is frigging creepy!! Bad Things are coming!!

 

 

And two slightly more positive thoughts to end on:

Sharrik cracks me up. He talks like a classic black-and-white movie hero: “Villain, it is time for you to pay for your outrageous strike against us!” Take that you bounder!

And … *chanting in a small voice* Chenlo loves Vintage. Chenlo loves Vintage. Chenlo loves Vintage.

 

 

 

Addendum:

You can read the rest of my The Poison Song read-along posts by clicking on the links below:

Week 1 – Chapters 1 to 9 inclusive

Week 2 – Chapters 10 to 19 inclusive

Week 3 – Chapters 20 to 30 inclusive

Week 5 – Chapters 43 to the end

 

 

 

 

 

Read-along: The Poison Song by Jen Williams (week 3)

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Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More

Wow, there’s been some serious adventuring done this week! Vintage has been in her element, Tor has contracted the gathering information bug, and Noon has just undergone the worst session of hypnotherapy ever. Let’s talk about it all, right now!! This week’s prompts have been posed by the inimitable imyril of There’s Always Room for One More and I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: SPOILERS all the way.

 

Week 3 – Chapters 20 to 30 inclusive

Tyranny goes full Bond villain this week. Do you think that’s the last we’ll see of her? Can there be any reconciliation after setting fire to Windfall?


Oh my goodness, if we don’t see her again then Williams’ is not only missing a trick, but also not the writer I take her for. My dreams of Tyranny joining the Good Guys in the fight against the Jure’lia seem dashed, however. If she comes back now I’m pretty sure it’s going to be with revenge in mind – not only for escaping Certain Death by Wild Cat, but also for burning Windfall and stealing some of her bats … Vintage has been on fire this week!

Let’s talk about that: Vintage has just been awesome. Whether she’s been schmoozing in the gambling house or breaking, entering and taking without leave, she’s been perky and quick-witted and utterly delightful. I wonder if she’s trying to impress someone, perhaps? Or is she just back to her old self after too long ankle-broken, heartbroken and out of action? Whatever the reason, I’m so happy to have her back in the thick of things.

 

Now we know What Noon Did, how do you feel about She Who Laughs – and what do you make of Noon’s response to being confronted by her past?


Noon. Oh, Noon. I feel for her so much right now. Rather than discover that she burnt everyone by accident she’s discovered that her curiosity (and inability to control her experiment) killed everyone she ever knew. And her awareness of her mother’s thoughts right at the end was a killer. She’s got to go through all that self-loathing again, only magnified ten-fold.

And now I get She Who Laugh’s whole ‘you’re good at figuring things out’ thing. And what Noon worked out is … well, it’s huge. It’s a game changer if she can teach it to the other fell-witches and if they can learn to control it. I can almost see the shape of the army they might become and, darn it, it’s an exciting sight!

So come on, Noon, I believe in you. You’re not that kid any more, you’ve grown up, you’ve learned so much, you are so much more than you were when we first met you – don’t let this memory destroy you. Someone say something to make her see that’s she’s forgivable, please? Tor? Surely you can say something … right?

 

At home with the Jure’lia: giant spiders, insect people, and a full-on Aliens hatchery. Did Tor make a huge mistake? What do you think will happen with Bern?


Urgh. The most Wild-touched place on the planet is a disturbing place indeed. I don’t think Tor has made a mistake, what he and Bern have discovered is valuable information, but I do question his desire to go further in when they could have left. You could almost see the desire to go out in a blaze of glory written all over his face, but if we love Bern because of it …

What I want to happen to Bern is for him to convince the Jure’lia Queen that the crystal imbedded in his hand was bad idea so that she’ll undo the damage and let him go free, but … yeah, we all know that’s not going to happen. I wonder if the Queen will ask him about the memory he’s infected her with – how far does she want to understand what has happened? Or does she just want it undone? Whatever, if he gets away with his life I will be so relieved.
(I had to laugh when the Queen was all like, ‘You!’ and Tor was like ‘yeah, it’s me, Tormalin the Oathless here to kick your ass’ and she was like ‘not you! Him!’ pointing at Bern – because even when faced with your own mortality Tor, it’s still not all about you, buddy).

 

 

And finally, your shipping forecast?

If Chenlo doesn’t fall in love with Vintage after seeing her laugh in the face of death by worm-touched cat, navigate The Shining Coin like a pro, make a deal with an assassin and execute a daring plan to steal four of Tyranny’s bats in order to ship a Secret Weapon back to Ebora, then her heart’s made of stone and I want nothing more to do with her. As it is, I’m pretty sure she’s falling for our darling Vin – which would be wonderful after the blow of Nanthema’s betrayal. I feel like Vintage recognises how much of that relationship was one-way now. And I feel that Chenlo is a much steadier prospect … and we already know that Vintage thinks she’s “exquisite” *all the hearts*.

Not that that will make up in any way for the utter heartbreak I think we’ll all feel if Bern does not survive. After everything Aldasair has been through, surely Williams’ will give him a happy ending? Or at least the opportunity to go out in fighting style with his beloved Bern by his side? Seriously, Williams, don’t let me down now. Please.

 

 

 

Addendum:

You can read the rest of my The Poison Song read-along posts by clicking on the links below:

Week 1 – Chapters 1 to 9 inclusive

Week 2 – Chapters 10 to 19 inclusive

Week 4 – Chapters 31 to 42 inclusive

Week 5 – Chapters 43 to the end

 

 

 

 

 

Read-along: The Poison Song by Jen Williams (week 2)

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Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More

 

It’s the final volume of the trilogy, and yet things continue to get more and more complicated. Get ready for more new characters, more surprises and more feelings in this week’s garbled and emotionally-driven responses to the prompts posed by the most marvellous Lisa of Dear Geek Place … and if you don’t already know the deal: Warning – SPOILERS all the way!

 

Week 2 – Chapters 10 to 20 inclusive

Noon meets ‘She Who Laughs’, after a rather unexpected departure in the middle of a battle… What’s your take on this strange ‘goddess’ and the lore drop she brings with her, and what do you think this meeting will lead to? Do you have any thoughts/suspicions about the significance of what happened in Noon’s past?


If Jen Williams’ has taught me anything over the course of this trilogy it’s that no new knowledge comes without a hefty price tag. And that no being with interesting powers is uncomplicated. And that I should never trust anything that seems promising. With this in mind, I am extremely wary of She Who Laughs’ motives in summoning Noon. I’m glad to finally make sense out of the Aboran reaction to Noon back on Origin, but I can’t help feeling that She Who Laughs wants to use Noon in some way that isn’t going to be pro-Noon. She seems far too keen to flatter Noon, telling her how good she is at figuring things out (she’s positively obsessed with this aspect of Noon’s nature, in fact … hmmm) and how clever she is. SWL was used as a power source by the Aborans – how? How did they harness something so powerful? Does she lack something in the figuring-things-out department? She’s delighted by “Words and skies and chairs and feet …” and she’s made a grey glass castle out in the desert (with not quite functional stairs…), but she is essentially an alien intelligence. Maybe reasoning and deduction is beyond her or something? I don’t know, I’m just spit-balling here …

As for the second question: I’ve always thought Noon’s past was exactly what it appeared to be: a tragic memory that she has suppressed, because after everything else Noon’s been through, that seemed like enough, you know? Now I’m suspicious – because why is SWL so insistent that Noon remember? – but there’s no real shape to my suspicions yet, just a general lump of anxiety in the stomach.

 

This isn’t so much a question, as just a chance to check in with him, but: what are your thoughts and feelings on Tor’s reaction to Noon’s disappearance? Clearly our boy is not taking it well…


Awww, I think Tor loves Noon more than I realised. More than he realised even. It’s interesting that he has gone back to his old drinking habit – something he indulged in when he previously felt there was no hope. Even after all he learned on Origin he didn’t stoop so low because he still had Noon. Which leads me to think that Noon has come to represent capital-H Hope for Tor. She inspires him to action despite himself.

I am excited though, that even in this monumental funk he’s worked out that the Jure’lia always retreat in the same direction. Seriously, this dude would be formidable if he didn’t sabotage himself so much.

And I’ve got to mention Vostok here too. She is so clearly as lost without Noon as Tor is. What? No, I’m not crying … I’ve just got something in my eye, OK?

 

 

Onward to Tygrish, where Vintage and Chenlo … do not precisely receive a warm welcome. What do you make of the situation here under the rule of Queen Tyranny (and Queen Windfall!)? Is this royal partnership going to last, do you think?


Tyranny’s got herself a war-beast bat! Woo! I’ve been missing Fulcor something fierce, so more bat characters is awesome! Although Queen Windfall has got an attitude to rival Vostok’s it seems. Be interesting to see how things go if the two of them ever meet.

Nah, I don’t see Tyranny and Windfall’s reign lasting. I’m not sure Tyranny would be able to hack it long term, and both she and Windfall are strong characters (I’d like to see a bit more of their relationship – what’s that bond really like? And how will it stand up to being a part of the larger bond between all the war-beasts, if that even happens?).

Was I the only one who had a Bond-villain moment here? Tyranny, in all her new finery, taunts Vintage and Chenlo in her throne room. Then they’re taken away while she decides on a suitable way to have them both killed, as a further display of her power. So, what? She’s going to drop them into an alligator pit or something? … it’s all just a touch too theatrical. I’m not sure Tyranny is handling being a Queen.

 

That’s it for my questions, but as always your extra musings/suspicions/discussion of favourite bits/general flailings go here!

It’s all bad feelings this week!

Firstly, I’d completely forgotten that the last time we saw Okaar he was badly injured. (Should have done a quick re-read of the previous books before we started this, I see that now). It kind of hurt to see him so damaged, I liked him.

Secondly, I don’t feel good about SWL’s disregard for all the suffering that has happened to so many fell-witches. When Noon challenges her for only caring about those who celebrated winnowfire, she says she only gave it to the strongest (so they could take it) and that she herself has persecuted no-one. It’s not a great argument – ‘yeah, I knew a lot of people I gave this to were incarcerated, beaten and degraded, but I did nothing’ is akin to ‘yeah, I knew my neighbour was beating their puppy with a stick, but I did nothing’; SWL has clearly never been to the “with great power comes great responsibility” school of thought.

Thirdly, I’m troubled by Chenlo’s whole “we were sisters once” and “After all I did for you, you don’t trust me?” comments to one of Tyranny’s fell-witches. I mean, I get that she was by no means one of the worst Winnowry agents, but she was still an agent. One who hunted down women and brought them back to the Winnowry and a life of imprisonment. I don’t know why she can’t see that no one who knew her then is going to think well of her now.

Fourthly, I’m starting to feel terribly sorry for Sarn itself. Not the people, but the planet and all its other lifeforms. It sounds like a beautiful, various planet teeming with life, but thanks to the interference of two alien races (one that thinks it knows better and one that functions like some sort of cancer) it’s been scarred, tainted and poisoned beyond recognition. (Anyone see what I’m seeing?)

And finally, did anyone else catch that slip by the Jure’lia Queen?: “That which is not Jure’lia seems riddled with uncertainty, and I fear the crystal memory has infected me with such … I am certain nothing else could have touched me in such a way. Us, in such a way.” (yeah, it’s not uncertainty, it’s love that Bern put in the crystal methinks, you stone cold bitch … but thinking of yourself as a separate entity? Interesting side effect …)

 

 

 

Addendum:

You can read the rest of my The Poison Song read-along posts by clicking on the links below:

Week 1 – Chapters 1 to 9 inclusive

Week 3 – Chapters 20 to 30 inclusive

Week 4 – Chapters 31 to 42 inclusive

Week 5 – Chapters 43 to the end

 

 

Read-along: The Poison Song by Jen Williams (week 1)

poison-song-banner
Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More

Hurrah, Hurray! It’s here! The read-along for the final volume of Jen Williams’ Winnowing Flame trilogy, and oh my goodness, I’m excited! I’m hoping for answers and maybe a happy ending or two, but this is Williams we’re talking about, so who knows what we’re going to get! Let’s do this thing!

This first week’s questions were posed by the most excellent imyril of There’s Always Room for One More, and, as in previous read-along posts, please beware of SPOILERS from here on out.

 

Week 1 – Beginning to end of Chapter 9

Enter Agent Chenlo. What are your first impressions of the Yuron-kai Winnowry agent and her interactions with Noon and Vintage?

Ooooo, I really like Agent Chenlo. And I’m really hoping she’s not going to turn out to be a Bad Guy. I miss Vintage’s journal excerpts and letters at the beginning of each chapter, but I find Chenlo’s private record snippets an interesting swap-out. The details of the girls’ lives that she is saving (for them?) are heartbreaking. And I think Chenlo and Vintage might become friends; they’re both record-keepers, after all. But Chenlo and Noon? Not so much.

I am glad we’ve kind of circled back to the Winnowry too. After learning so much about them in the first book, I was disconcerted that there wasn’t really anything more about the fell-witches in The Bitter Twins (give or take the odd reference and the whole Tyranny Munk affair), they feel like such a potentially important weapon. (Another reason to like Chenlo: she calls the witches’ fire an ability not an abomination. It’s the little things).

 

So Bern’s gambit succeeded and the Jure’lia have retreated in disarray. Hest is not happy to find herself on what feels like the losing side. Has she miscalculated? What do you make of her response?

Wow. I want to resign myself to the fact that I’m never going to understand Hest, but I just … can’t. Is it all about some deep-seated need to feel superior no matter what? She seems so impatient with the queen for being side-tracked by Bern’s gambit. And now she’s making her own creatures, like, ‘if you want something doing, do it yourself’ kind of thing. She can’t honestly believe that if the Jure’lia achieve their goal she will be able to survive – they want to cover the whole planet in a shiny green glaze so their eggs can hatch for goodness’ sake (which sounds weird when I type it out). She keeps mentioning not wanting to be alone, and yet she is the most alone character in the entire book.

 

Tyranny Munk, Queen of Tigrish, companion to warbeasts. What do you think will happen when Vintage and Chenlo make it to Jarlsbad?

Is Tyranny Munk going to become the Bad Guy I though Agent Lin was going to be? All I know is Williams’ keep surprising me, so based on that I’m going to guess that Vintage and Chenlo will get to Jarlsbad, everything will be forgiven and they’ll become super-awesome-friends with Tyranny who will join them on a crusade against the Jure’lia.

Ok, ok, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I hope there’ll be a good dose of verbal sparring between Tyranny and Vintage, just for fun. I wonder if Vintage will be able to get Okaar on side and use him to convince Tyranny to join the good fight.

More importantly than any of that though, I really really want to see Tyranny’s warbeast – what creature did she get??

 

Oh dear stars above, Tor is sick. We’ve reached the final act, my darlings. Time to cast your auguries: who will survive The Poison Song?

Aww crap. I don’t want Tor to die. Not like that, with the lingering and the coughing and the sores. If he’s got to die, I hope he gets to go out in a blaze of glory. (OMG, what will happen to Kirune?).

Hmmm, who will die? I am very afraid for Bern right now (if I’m honest, I’m way more worried for him than for Tor – he and Aldasair only just found each other, that’s got to mean something, right?!) and I want to believe that a solution to the evil-crystal-imbedded-in-his-hand problem will be found, but I can’t imagine what shape such a solution would take, and I don’t think hacking off his hand will be the answer.

I don’t see how Hestillion can live to the end of it all, so I’ll predict her death.

And I think it’d be a kindness if Celaphon died.

But out of the Good Guys? I really can’t. If any one of them dies I’m going to think it’s the Worst Thing. Noon? Love her too much and she’s come so far. Tor? Sure he’s selfish, vain and intolerable, but love him too much and he’s come so far. Vintage? If she dies I’ll burn the books and never speak the name Jen Williams again. Aldasair? You know my feelings surely about this beautiful, fragile Eboran. Bern? Same. Any of the warbeasts? See previous comment about burning the books etc.

 

And of course anything else you would like to talk about!

Why have we changed from Vintage to Chenlo at the beginnings of the chapters? Is this significant? (secret hope: will Vintage and Chenlo fall in love? I don’t want Vintage to be lonely …)

Will Tyranny’s warbeast feel the call of her brothers and sisters when they get closer? Is it just because she’s so far away that they haven’t sensed her? I feel like they should all just know about each other, but then the magic is broken, I guess.

And in all seriousness, is it too much to ask that we get miracle cures for both Bern and Tor? What about if I say please? Pretty please? With sprinkles and a cherry on top?

 

 

Addendum:

You can read the rest of my The Poison Song read-along posts by clicking on the links below:

Week 2 – Chapters 10 to 19 inclusive

Week 3 – Chapters 20 to 30 inclusive

Week 4 – Chapters 31 to 42 inclusive

Week 5 – Chapter 43 to the end

 

And week 5 will bring us very neatly up to Wyrd and Wonder’s 13-day-long Spooktastic Reads hosted by Lisa of Dear Geek Place, imyril of There’s Always Room for One More and Jorie of Jorie Loves a Story. Thus ensuring none of us fall into a funk no matter what The Poison Song dishes out!

 

 

 

 

 

Space Opera by Catherynne M Valente

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Man, I hope Valente enjoyed writing this as much as I enjoyed reading it. I loved every manic, over-complicated, absurd sentence; every ludicrously adorable/terrifying/incomprehensible (delete as appropriate) alien species; every pun, gag, metaphor, reference and made up word. In this sparkly, rainbow-coloured meditation on humanity’s possible sentience Valente salutes Douglas Adams, tips a wink to Sir Terry Pratchett and blows David Bowie a kiss as she steams on by. It is an unapologetically glorious, over-the-top extravaganza.

Briefly (for anyone who’s had their head buried even deeper in their own personal imagination cloud than me and hasn’t heard about Space Opera yet), it’s about a washed-up glam-trash band called Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros being whisked to another planet to compete in an intergalactic version of the Eurovision Song Contest to prove humanity’s sentience and right to exist. Failure will result in the human race’s demise. I finished reading it the day before the Hugo Awards were going to be announced and, knowing it was on the shortlist, was convinced that it would win. Prayed fervently, wholeheartedly and without pause that it would win, because a book that can argue so successfully that humanity does not have the right to be classed as sentient (something I have suspected for a long time) and then win me over to the other side without providing any real evidence for humanity’s continued existence, and still have me cheer at the end, is a book that should win all the things.

(With hindsight I appreciate that the humour is not everyone’s cup of tea, that it is, in fact, an incredibly Marmite affair; and that while I love it unreservedly and have already bought several copies for friends, am recommending it to anyone who pauses long enough to say hello, and have put it in my Happy Box – everyone should have one *wink* – this book is not ever going to be universally acknowledged as the beautiful glitter-encrusted ball of joy that I feel it is.

And that is OK).

 

“But in the end, all wars are more or less the same. If you dig down through the layers of caramel corn and peanuts and choking, burning death, you’ll find the prize at the bottom and the prize is a question and the question is this: Which of us are people, and which of us are meat?”

Anyway, there is no way I can keep up this long sentence stuff, and I’m not going to be able to remain coherent for much longer (I can actually feel the excitement building in my chest as I write this and I just want to run around the room screaming ‘squeeeeeeeee’ instead of making a balanced presentation of Space Opera’s pros and cons … and I wish I was being hyperbolic, but I’m really not …), so here, in no particular order, are some of the things I loved most:

  1. The Esca – seven-foot tall, ultramarine anglerfish-flamingo aliens with Disney princess eyes and spun-glass legs. Their evolutionary approach to survival is kickass!
  2. Goguenar Gorecannon’s increasingly silly Unkillable Facts – my favourite being: “Though any species on any dumb gobworld may develop sentience (the poor bastards), no government ever does”.
  3. The similarities between pandas and Quantum-Tufted Domesticated Wormholes.
  4. The throw away mention of a “functional-to-fabulous” score – by which I want to grade everything I own, simply so that I can drop it into conversation on a much-too-regular basis: ‘Oh, this old thing? I only keep it around because it has a functional-to-fabulous score of 109!’
  5. The question: “What do you mean nothing on your planet excretes spaceships?”
  6. The Frockade – a Portaloo that dresses your outsides to perfectly match your insides?!! Oh man, I wanna go in one of those!!
  7. Chapter 4 – I want this whole thing tattooed across my body.
  8. The Voorpret – may I have a spin-off book all about life as part of a sentient zombie virus please, Ms Valente?
  9. Decibel Jones. He doesn’t remember anything about you, whether he slept with you once back in 2002 or has known you his whole adult life, and he’s as self-centred as they come, but he can turn on a sheepish smile at any time of the day or night and win the room over. (If he doesn’t look like Luke Spiller from The Struts when I meet him, I’ll eat my hat).
  10. Everything else I’ve failed to mention.

 

I want to say if you love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you’ll love this. You may well do. Then again, you might not. The only way you’ll know is to read it for yourself. I have no idea if the people I’ve gifted this to so far are going to love it as much as I do, or are going to spit it back out half-digested. I have hope … but right now, that’s all I’ve got. That, and a much-anticipated future in which I get to reread this again and again and again and again and again …

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

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Don’t let the cover fool you …

Last year I read and loved Lanagan’s short story “Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow” in a very satisfying collection by various authors that I wrote about here. I picked up a copy of The Brides of Rollrock Island shortly afterwards from the library and the book has bounced between my work locker and library-book spot at home ever since. What can I say? Sometimes I just don’t want to share. Anyway, last weekend I buried myself in a blanket and read it from cover to cover, and it was well worth the wait.

My husband Thumbs, his brother, my brother and I play a game occasionally where we try to sum up a thing we love (or hate) in as few words as possible, a “quick fire review”. I’ve been trying to think of one for this all week, and finally came up with: Zoe Gilbert’s Folk by way of Levin’s The Stepford Wives, sprinkled with Shirley Jackson-ish unease. By which I mean, I frigging loved this story. And I have no way of talking about it without big fat SPOILERS, so, please be warned.

It’s a much sharper edged thing than Folk, but there are some interesting similarities: both are about a couple of generations of people who live on a small island largely cut off from the wider world, both contain wives/mothers who have come from the sea (although this is the main thrust of Lanagan’s story and was only a single thread of Gilbert’s), and both are predominantly melancholy in flavour. Both are also stories told from a number of points of view. Lanagan has a lot to show us about the darker hearts of men and women however, and this makes her book far and away the spikier and more unsettling read.

“For a long time I seemed to be everyone’s but my own; I was like a broom or a dishrag that anyone might pick up and use, and put aside without a thought when they were done with me.”

Misskaella Prout (gotta love that name) is cause and reason for everything that happens within the pages of The Brides of Rollrock Island. We meet her ever so briefly in the opening pages as an old witch knitting on the sea shore, before we are taken back to her childhood. The youngest of seven children, she is described early on by one of many insensitive-bordering-on-just-plain-cruel relatives as “a bit slanted, a bit mixed” and “miscast”, because she “harks back” to the selkie blood that runs through her father’s side of the family. When she turns nine she is struck by a strange illness (in fact the awakening of her magic), and as a result very slowly begins to see how she might become “a braver and steadier Misskaella”. But there’s plenty more crap she has to go through before she gets there, and that she becomes a savage, greedy old witch is tragic, but no surprise – sometimes a person cannot rise above the cruelty that’s dealt them.

There’s plenty of casual cruelty dished out over the course of the story, powered by greed, desire, jealousy and resentment, as well as by Misskaella’s thirst for revenge against the community that spurned her for what she reminded them of and for what she might become (thus turning her into the very thing they most feared). And while no one is portrayed in a very good light, men get particularly short shrift. As soon as the first quiet, beautiful, pliable selkie sets foot on the island all the men, married or not, turn into idiots. That it is an enchantment they have little power to resist doesn’t pardon any of them for their actions (because it is never okay to keep a naked woman in a cupboard, guys, alright?) and I spent Bet Winch and Dominic Mallett’s portions of the book seething, yet unable to look away.

Fortunately, sometimes children surpass their parents. The boys born to the selkie mothers prove themselves more capable of compassion than their fathers (although it still takes two suicides for the lads to sit up and realise their mothers are unhappy), and work to undo Misskaella’s magic. Some of the most beautiful writing in the whole book is here, as Dominic’s son Daniel tells of his time as a seal, completely free of all the thinking and feeling required of human beings. Upon his return to land and man-shape all the men of Rollrock are changed. Grief and loneliness, and perhaps thoughtfulness, has transformed them. There is the quietly hopeful suggestion at the end of the book that human women might be valued again on Rollrock.

But.

But, Misskaella was never happy. Despite the potential she sensed within herself; despite the power she wielded over the people of Rollrock and all the sorrow she brought down on their heads; despite all the worldly goods she acquired and packed into her big, fancy house until it was so full she couldn’t fit in herself; despite the strange little family she gathered to herself after the deaths of both her parents and most of her siblings; despite her private liaisons with her own, secret male-selkie; despite never needing a man to provide or care for her, Misskaella’s life was ultimately empty of meaning.

But.

But, the reader has seen from Misskaella’s youth that this was not the first time someone has drawn the selkie women out of the sea; she herself is proof of it, and there are the rumours and the half-remembered stories she heard as she grew up also. And so even though these older, wiser, half-selkie Rollrock men may welcome energetic, practical human women back to the island, how long will it be before this bewildering mess of hurt and suffering occurs again? In the end all that really seems certain in this beautifully told story is that the selkie enchantment is powerful, and men and women alike are ever foolish.