kaigou: so when do we destroy the world already? (3 destroy the world)
[personal profile] kaigou
Reading several of the books I got in Philly (among them, currently, Berry's Hideyoshi and Borschberg/Roy's The Memoirs and Memorials of Jacques de Coutre), but also just yesterday got a hankering for fiction and picked up three more, although The Goblin Emporer has been set aside as an award for later.

David Liss' The Coffee Trader is historical fiction but it might as well verge on fantastical for me, since it's all about machinations and the stock market and the Dutch East Indies Company mixed in with the politics of a community of former Converso/Secret Portuguese Jews, in Amsterdam in the mid-to-late 1600s. Fascinating stuff, really, not just for the stocks and markets and shares part, but also for the complexity of transversing identities between Jew, Secret-Jew, and Jew-raised-Catholic. One more layer on top are the various characters' entrapments (of themselves and others), as well as the almost alternate-world feeling of the Protestant/Calvinist Dutch, compared to the world they grew up in, of Catholic, Inquisition-ruled, Portugal.

It's not the easiest story, in some respects. I keep having to check wikipedia and related online resources to make sure I know what the characters are talking about. A few times the characters have said stuff that would've made more sense in narrative -- an "as you know, Bob," but those slips are thankfully rare. Also, I totally get that in business no one will reveal all their cards, but when a non-business character decides to also keep secrets, it's a little annoying. I just haven't been given a good enough reason, and I have a feeling the secrets in question are going to torpedo stuff later on.

Interestingly, although the characters switch between Portuguese, Dutch, and even Hebrew (I guess Yiddish came later? idk), there's very little non-english in the text, other than long-standing loan words. I guess when the concepts are already pretty difficult -- stock options and futures trading and whatnot -- throwing in too many non-english terms would render it all incomprehensible.

The one growing quibble (other than certain characters keeping secrets for no expressible, believable reason) is that the bad guys are so clearly delineated. There's not a lot of nuance, outside the few main characters. For that matter, only one character's assistance has been given any backstory, even if the main POV character isn't aware of the reasons. The characters who fall in the 'bad guy' column do so, so completely, that it's almost caricature. Fortunately there are enough characters with their own murky motivations that it's not a deal-killer.

The last one is one I'd really like to like, but it's getting hard, and I'm only about a quarter in. Patrick Den's The Boy with the Porcelain Blade should hit many of my favorite buttons, but cripes. Enough with the flashbacks. At minimum, give me the character's age at the start of a chapter, so I know what's flashback and what's not. Instead I get years, and since I didn't really notice those at the start, I'm lost. (I'm reading ebooks, too, which makes paging back and forth a little harder.)

There have been a few hints of bad-guy nuance in The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, but the POV character doesn't even seem to register those, or even have any sense for analyzing what's going on around him. In both present and past, he comes across more like he's just being buffeted one way, then the other. A few times the action has been so over-the-top (especially concerning abuse towards our poor beleaguered protag) that I've found myself waiting to discover it's a dream sequence or something. It's just too much, to the point of stretching disbelief to the wallbanging point.

The other damage of flashbacks -- every other chapter, while making for predicable pattern -- is that it breaks the flow of the current events. Then I realized that the current events themselves are kind of dragging, because the protag really doesn't have a clue. He's still reactive, which means his present-day storyline consists of him getting knocked out, beat up, thrown out, whatever, and then coming to, getting a few more tidbits of the picture, and then onto whatever will knock him out the next time. I swear, the kid's got to have a bad concussion by this point, but maybe that would explain his blundering about.

So far, I've only had one point where I seriously considered ditching the book, and that was early on. I don't think it's spoiling if it's only the second chapter, and it doesn't (yet) appear to have bearing on the storyline. I hope not. It'd be one of the worst cliches if that's the gimmick, but cripes, the hints are all there. Three ships set out for a new land, losing all three captains along the way, including the crew, but the passengers are all safe. Except they're asleep, so the new land is made ready a few at a time, and then the rest of the passengers are woken. In the three hundred years since, the people have had significant birth defects (four eyes, no ears, multiple arms, even things like crying blood or having blood that runs blue). If you've read your SF 101 texts, I'm sure you can see where I'm expecting this to go (and really hoping it subverts or inverts that all-too-well-tred path).

Eh, well. I'll keep slogging.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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