kaigou: this is what I do, darling (2 candy mountain)
[personal profile] kaigou
The Coffee Trader, Whitefire Crossing, Arcanum. I really think the The Lascar's Dagger deserves its own post, for reasons that will become clear.

First: I really, really want to like David Liss' work. It's historical fiction, covering a place and time and culture that really doesn't get enough press: the Jewish finance community in Amsterdam, in the late sixteen-hundreds or thereabouts. This one in particular is about a Portuguese-Jew who moved to Amsterdam with the exodus, and was doing alright until a few bad decisions have landed him in hard times and hot water with just about everyone. A non-Jewish widow of his acquaintance has an idea to corner the market on this new commodity called coffee, but wrapped up in that is the character's sister-in-law, a meddling and somewhat abusive maid, another Jewish trader of major social standing who has it in for the protagonist, the aforementioned widow, a guy ruined by his investments in the protagonist's financial disaster, and a whole bunch more, all of whom have their own agendas and methods and motivations.

It's just... they're all such jerks, even our hero, who seems to want to put himself forward as a helpless ninny who's been cast about by fortune's disfavor, but sheesh. If I wanted suffocating world-building, the tiny and (apparently) leaning-towards-orthodox, highly regimented and self-supervised community of Jews in Amsterdam are clearly it. Given the narrative makes clear the Dutch are pretty live-and-let-live, it's almost insane that the Jews create a community for themselves that's almost as repressive as any Soviet regime. I mean, it's crazy-making. I fail to see how any of the characters haven't just broken and run mad down the street.

Sure, any story about financial wheelings and dealings would automatically require characters keep a lot of secrets -- one word in the wrong place might give someone an idea, and all it takes is the right rumor to upend what's already a seriously risky proposition (cornering a market) -- but still. I'm at the halfway point and now characters with no explainable reason are also keeping secrets, and I'm like, okay, people, someone's got to start talking. This is getting ridiculous.

Not sure I'll hang in there. I keep trying, though, since the time period and culture fascinate me, even if I want to bash all the characters over the head.

Whitefire Crossing would be somewhat standard fantasy fare -- Dev runs/leads/whatever merchant caravans through the mountains, and he's hired to include a young man of questionable background. Naturally Kiran turns out to have a bigger secret (and an even bigger big bad chasing him), and the two characters end up striking out on their own through an Alps-like mountain range to get to some distant city where magic-users are forbidden. Of course everything goes terribly, horribly wrong. Of course.

I don't mind UST in stories (of any kind), nor do I mind stories where sexual implications are part of the bad guy's repertoire. That's so old hat I pretty much shrug and move on. And while the first half of the story or so kept me entranced, one thing I really did like was the growing dependence between the two main characters. (Though I really hate the flip from first-person to third-person-deep, by chapter. Ugh, pick one! Feels too gimmicky for me, unless -- like in A Conspiracy of Kings -- it really is one character literally narrating to another.) I rarely wear slash goggles when reading genre, so I'd call this somewhere between a bromance and an intense reliance. The kind of thing that isn't quite love, so much as the kind of love that stems from action movies and other rely-on-each-other-or-die plot complications.

And then, out of nowhere, Dev meets up with an old friend who just happens to have a rule that she doesn't sleep with coworkers, but she happens to decide that this once, she'll make an exception for Dev, and we suddenly get gratuitous implications of sex (little of the actual sex scene, but enough to make clear what's going on). It just felt so shoehorned and out-of-place (when the character herself is lampshading that she has this rule, hello!) that I ended up with the conclusion that the text would just really, really, really like you to know that Dev is straight. Totally, one-hundred-percent, all for the ladies, see, he's digging being with a lady right there, and there's absolutely nothing going on with Kiran. At all. EVER. Period.

Uhm. Yeah.

I think I roll my eyes any harder, they'll roll right out of my head. Protesting narration needs to shut up, now. Either just act like this strange reliance/bond is nothing more than brotherly affection created by hellacious experiences, or go with the slash goggles and get on with it. The first, those with slash goggles won't care since they'll be in their own version of the story anyway; the second, the genre has shown it can grow up and have non-het characters. Either way, we'd all be saved from gratuitious!overprotesting!out-of-character sex that must be lampshaded. For crying out loud.

I won't even get into the readerly debate over the text correlating gay-sex with abusive-parent-figures. Oh, the evul ghey. Didn't we kill that trope already? I could somewhat forgive this if the text were to present a non-evil relationship (ie, between Dev and Kiran, or hell, between anyone with substantial page-time), but nope. Instead we get the evul ghey and over-protesting sex.

Last in this list: Arcanum. I'm not even sure what it's about. Nice to have a story set in Germany -- not entirely certain of the time, since not really my area of historical knowledge -- but a lot of the dropped names feel like I maybe should know. It just feels very... well, there. It's a story. Okay. And stuff's happening, and there's (of course) a magic user who's a girl, and the rest of the characters (so far) are all guys. I think I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of that description.

Alright, onto the one that I really, really did want to like, as much as I want to like The Coffee Trader -- similar time-period to Liss' work, alt-history, taking the bones of the original and grinding a lot of it up with a heaping of original ideas, much like The Thief series. Except some important stuff got left out while something bordering on appropriation got left in, among other things.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"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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