narfna’s #CBR5 Review #97: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff

Kinslayer FINALFirst of all, I really liked this book. It’s a good sequel to a book that I enjoyed, and I actually think I enjoyed it more than its predecessor, Stormdancer. I think Jay Kristoff is really talented, and I can’t wait to see what he writes after this series and gets all his ‘first book impulses’ out of the way (there’s some stuff mostly with his sentence construction, especially in the first book, that rubs me the wrong way).

Kinslayer is the second book in Kristoff’s Lotus War trilogy, which takes place in a fictional world that is analogous to ours, but doesn’t quite match up. Our hero, Yukiko, is a young girl who is able to hear the thoughts of animals, and this is something that makes her a subject of persecution in the country she lives in. This same country is heavily inspired by Japanese culture. It’s people are split into clans, and magic is real, if rare. Mythical creatures like griffins and dragons are real, but long absent from the world. And their country, and the world, is slowly being poisoned by their dependence on a magical steampunky fuel source that poisons the ground its grown on, overtakes other healthier crops, and can also be used as a drug (that is highly addictive and dangerous). It’s a complicated world. The clans are on the verge of war, the ruling class threatens to collapse, and revolution is brewing. Meanwhile, the Guild that grows the Lotus flower (the poison crop) has mysterious sinister motives of its own. Maybe all I need to say is ‘Japanese fantasy steampunk.’ Yukiko happens upon the first ‘thunder tiger’ seen in generations and forms a bond with him in book one, and it is this relationship that forms the backbone of the series, and this novel. I’m not going to go further into the plot than that. Again, it’s complicated. And you should just check it out if you’re interested. I don’t feel the need to regurgitate plot in this review.

Instead, I’m going to go off on some tangents.

There is a dearth of young adult authors who can actually write prose not only competently but with actual style. Kristoff is one of the few that I think pulls it off. And, I’m not even sure this is young adult? I’m of the firm opinion that just because a book has a young adult protagonist doesn’t mean that book should be categorized as young adult. The difference between adult and young adult literature lies entirely in the content and themes of the story, not in the age of its protagonist. This is something I’ve noticed lately that really bothers me and my OCD. Fangirl and The Ocean at the End of the Lane both make me want to do random Twitter and Goodreads searches, find everyone who calls both books young adult, and then all caps shout at them THIS IS NOT YOUNG ADULT until they realize the error of their ways. I realize this is stupid, which is why I haven’t done it. I’m just telling you how I feel. Anyway, I think this book falls into a similar category. It feels more adult to me than not, and I think the young adult association has hurt its chances of being read by a larger audience (not that young adult literature is inferior, just concerned with different things).

One of the reasons I never wrote a review of the first book concerns the area of my second tangent. There was a lot of furor over the first book about Kristoff’s supposed appropriation of Japanese culture for his story, and people got really upset about it. I didn’t feel comfortable jumping in with my opinions at the time. Kristoff defended his story, saying that because his story is fictional, he is under no obligation to faithfully recreate Japanese culture, and I have to say, I think I agree with him. I don’t understand getting upset about authors writing in worlds they don’t live in. Are writers only supposed to write books and stories about the worlds they live in? That seems limiting, and boring, and horrible. Writing and reading are exercises of the imagination, and if someone wants to take a culture and play around in it, changing things here and there, I guess I just don’t get why that’s such a crime. The world of the imagination shouldn’t have limits. Perhaps this is a bad example because American culture is so out there and trying to homogenize the world anyway, but I wouldn’t get angry if someone in Japan wanted to play around with, I don’t know, the Revolutionary War. In fact, it might be fun to see another perspective on it, and even if the person got things wrong, who bloody cares? I also don’t see how issues of race or privilege come into this. Kristoff’s characters are beatiful human people, fully realized. (I think it might be worth noting, all of the angry reviews I saw personally were written by white people. I don’t have an interpretation for that, and I certainly haven’t read every review written of this book, but I do think it’s interesting.)

Anyway, that’s a short, poorly worded and, I’m sure, poorly informed opinion, but nevertheless it’s my own, and I wanted to express it. I felt I needed to address this issue because the accusations in other reviews of Stormdancer bothered me enough that I’m still bothered by them a year later. I have seen no anger in regards to this topic over the publication of Kinslayer, but maybe that’s because all the people who were angry with the first book decided not to continue with the series.

Anyway, that was two tangents, as promised. If you have thoughts about these tangents, I’d welcome your opinions.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #69: The Tooth Tattoo by Peter Lovesey

This was my first taste of Lovesey’s police procedurals, centered around Homicide detective Peter Diamond who is based in the tourist town of Bath, England, a refreshing change from the “heroics” of London’s stuffy  Scotland Yard and its counterparts. Diamond is another gruff loner cop, trying hard to learn how to compromise in love and obnoxiously proud of his blue-collar ignorance of most things cultural, including the classical music which happens to be at the heart of The Tooth Tattoo.

This murder mystery involves two young Japanese women, whose decomposing bodies are found floating in the canals of two separate European cities about four years apart. They are both Japanese and each are closely tied to a passion with classical music—the first had been a fine violinist before turning hooker, and the second was a classical quartet “groupie” and daughter of a professional violinist back in Japan. Both had been seen at a concert of the world-famous Staccati quartet before their disappearance. Lovesey’s book parallels the stories of these two victims with the travails of the Staccati Quartet, whose violist disappears shortly after the murder of the first victim, and which, years later, has just hired a new violist and is making a come-back.

As Diamond pieces together the identities and backgrounds of the two women, his hunt for the killer hones in on the members of the quartet, and for the rest of the novel we are left guessing as he moves from one to the other with his suspicions, until the final pages in which he rules out one after another until the one that remains is the only possible choice for the killer.

The novel, to my utter delight, is filled with lengthy descriptions of the quartet’s rehearsals of some of Beethoven’s more difficult pieces, including his nearly insurmountable Grosse Fugue. We get a close-up look of the joys and passion—and stress!– of functioning in a top-flight musical quartet in great demand around the world. However, the actual plot left much to be desired. It went in too many directions (“The Thin Man,” the Japanese Yakuza, the landlady’s nymphomaniac daughter, a mysterious millionaire benefactor, Russian ivory carvers, and more) without either the depth or the character development to make those directions worth following. In the opening pages, the quartet’s soon-to-be new violist gets his viola stolen by a Japanese woman working with a second thief, but that goes nowhere except to throw us off vis a vis the later plot.

So, all in all, I would call this a fairly quick light read with some lovely nuances but not one of the better procedural writers out there.