4 days until I turn 36!

Welcome Home by Kazymyr — The second fic in the series I mentioned last time was adorably sweet. Of course I love to see characters falling in love because they like things about each other, but it’s even better when their bond strengthens because they connect over shared experiences, even if those experiences are negative — such as that they’ve each lost an older sibling, and feel similarly about it. A couple able to support and strengthen each other is even more wonderful to read about than a couple that just likes each other :D

And meeting Will’s mom was more than fun. It’s something I love in canon, meeting demigods’ mortal parents and seeing what probably attracted whichever god to them. But here it was even better, because Will’s mom’s intensely caring nature that was able to reach through to still-fairly-closed-off Nico was very touching — not only because Nico so needs that kind of parental love in his life, but because her openness and acceptance and the way she connected with him will help him, in turn, open up and connect with others in a healthier way.

I wish we’d learned her name in the story, because she was a great character. I especially loved the moment when Nico recognized that all the traits he loves about Will were inherited from her, not from Apollo. Also, “you should probably stop flirting with him.” XD

And, ah, epithets. They’re a funny phenomenon for which everyone draws the line of acceptable frequency at a different point. Some people can’t stand any, some like ’em all over the place. I fall closer to, but definitely not at, the “none” end of the spectrum: I dislike needless repetition, and feel an unobtrusive epithet now and then can help prevent saying a character’s name over and over and over.

And this author, it would seem, enjoys more varied and more frequent epithets than I do. Well, I can deal with it for the sake of sweet romance and character development XD

Beowulf (and translation notes) — I can’t quite remember when I first read Beowulf, but I kinda feel like I managed to avoid reading it when I was supposed to in high school but then did read it later, purely out of curiosity, because I happened to have a copy (purchased for the high school class for which I ended up not reading it). So maybe 17-18 years ago?

Anyway, I love Beowulf. Every time I read it I’m surprised all over again what a well formulated story it is. For such an old work, it holds up against modern standards of drama and adventure extremely well. It even has a surprising amount of emotional impact, considering how little characterization there’s time for.

Of course the society presented, its values, and the brutish masculinity the story is steeped in are all pretty horrific, but none the less interesting to read about for that. I like to fantasize it was written by a woman and is a subtle pastiche that ironically endures as typical rather than satirical XD

This was the first time I’ve read the poem via audiobook rather than with my eyes, and the narrator — one Crawford Logan — is excellent. I tend to grade a narrator on three points: ability to differentiate characters’ dialogue, understanding of sentence structure/inflection within sentences, and overall sound. (Pronunciation is a fourth category that doesn’t always apply, depending on my own understanding of the pronunciations in question. In a book with a lot of French, for example, a language about which I know Jack-shit, I waive any pretension to judgment on the subject.)

In this poem there is very little back-and-forth dialogue, so differentiating character voices is not terribly important. But in such a flowing work, no matter how far removed from the sound it would originally have had before translation, a good sense for the meaning of the sentences, and therefore ability to emphasize the correct words in them, is absolutely essential. And this guy carries it off perfectly.

I do have to say, though, that I thought this translation seemed a little… simplistic, I guess. I don’t want to call it “dumbed down,” but I did get a little of that feeling. It didn’t seem like a bad translation, exactly, and everything made sense and flowed pretty well… but I remember a charm and elegance to the language in the translation I always previously read that was absent from the almost pedestrian translation here. However, it didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the poem.

Especially since I then read Tolkien’s notes on his translation, which were just as comprehensible even after having read a different version, and… I can’t even express what an amazing experience that was. Tolkien’s language is never lacking in elegance or charm, and at the same time he treats his audience with the greatest respect: while speaking technically and precisely, as if assuming the reader has some idea of how translation works (weird, I know), he also explains everything coherently and thoroughly as if assuming the reader is nevertheless unfamiliar with old English.

In addition to that, his translation notes reveal a world of complexity within the poem that was previously inaccessible, and insight into the culture and history behind the poem, as revealed by its specific language, that only a master philologist could offer. It was deeply engrossing, downright exhilarating to read, and made an intensely fascinating and emotional experience out of one that had always been just casually fun.

No.6 episodes 7 and 8 — Despite anything I said about not wanting to see Shion romantically involved with Nezumi unless Nezumi develops a little more respect for human life, I kinda can’t help shipping them. Personality-wise, they’re really sweet and complementary together. I was happy (and definitely had a moment of romance-fangirl squee) to learn how much the meeting between them years before had affected them, how much of a difference they’d made in each other’s lives…

…but learning how Nezumi was changed by Shion only serves to highlight somewhat painfully how much he still needs to change, how poor his connection to humanity still is. That’s even more painfully emphasized when you find out that his people were slaughtered when he was a child, and he still lacks any empathy for the potential victims of the parasite bees, complete innocents though many of them may be.

Not sure how I feel about this whole thing with Nezumi’s people that lived in harmony with nature, by the way — at least with having them introduced so late in the game here. The description of them juxtaposed with the heartless totalitarian regime of No.6 smacked of polarized environmentalism, which I find excessively tedious. I did, however, like having some sort of explanation offered for the mysterious song XD

Speaking of which, I thought it was more or less hilarious that when we finally heard Nezumi’s amazing singing abilities, he turned out to be… kinda mediocre.

Justice Hall — Aight, so our boys were in Palestine long before Mycroft recruited them. That doesn’t negate the possibility that their homosexuality was used as leverage of some sort, but it does suggest something about the sequence of events.

There’s a thing that happens in episodic works — usually TV shows with loosely progressing (or nonexistent) overall plots, but every once in a while I think it occurs in a series of books like this one — that kinda bugs me: in a large cast with a number of relatively important secondary or tertiary characters, you’ll get multiple episodes in a row focusing on the same side character or characters — and not because the events of one episode lead naturally to the events of the next, but because (you get the feeling) in writing one episode about the character, the writer was reminded of the existence of that character and struck with further ideas about what to do with them.

It kinda bugs me because I usually wish these episodes were spaced out a little more; I feel like it would be better storytelling if they were. And in this Mary Russell series, I feel like having Justice Hall come immediately after O Jerusalem is too much — especially when the events are actually separated by several years and adventures. I think I would like it more if I, like Mary, came back to Ali and Mahmoud as old friends about whom I had solidified expectations from some time ago; I think it would make the shock of change much greater than this “Here are some guys — oh, wait! Now they’re different!” quick turn-around that’s presented in the back-to-back books the way they’re arranged.

In fact I think next time I read this series, I’m going to try putting O Jerusalem immediately after The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and see how I like it. I may have decided it wouldn’t fit into the middle very well, but it might make an excellent direct follow-up. We’ll see.

Justice Hall, meanwhile, is very engrossing. Having the confirmation from Pirate King (which, as I mentioned before, isn’t explicit but seemed pretty clear to me) that Marsh and Alistair are in a romantic relationship adds a sense of urgency even greater than the reader would otherwise feel to Ali’s desire to get Marsh away from Justice and back to the life that fulfills him (fulfills them both). The description of Marsh as a man sacrificing himself to the needs of family is poignant and very distressing, and I certainly feel Alistair’s despair at the turn events have taken.

One thing I’ve appreciated the crap out of is the palpable distress Mary and Holmes evince whenever Marsh drinks. Islam was such a big part of who he was in Palestine that, though they’re not morally opposed to alcohol themselves, they seem to cringe every time they see him going against his previous code of conduct… and that reinforces to the reader just how much Marsh had changed, and how much Mary and Holmes respected his former self and are appalled at the new version.

There’s obviously a lot of religious subtext (and overt religious material) in this series, and I haven’t commented on it much, but this was one of the points that interested me about Ali and Mahmoud in the previous book: just how devoted are they to Islam? Is some of their devotion a facade put on as part of their disguise as Arabs, or are they genuine converts? Given the aforementioned reactions of Mary and Holmes to Marsh drinking, I think our main couple, at least, is convinced of a certain depth of belief on the part of their Bedouin friends. Which just makes the need to get Marsh out of this life all the more serious.

I will set aside my comments on Mary’s religiosity until something specifically sparks thoughts on that subject again. The ones I already have mostly hail from A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and I’d rather not jump that far back. One thing I do want to say about Mary in relation to this book, however, is that I kinda get tired of her amazed reactions to things. She has them all the time, and it seems a little disingenuous on many occasions.

I am 27% of the way through this book at the moment, and I seem to recall that Marsh’s lesbian beard shows up after not too long here. Squee! More thoughts next time, of course!

Steven Universe episodes — Well, you can’t win them all. It certainly doesn’t change my opinion of the series as a whole that I thought Buddy’s Book was incredibly stupid and boring filler that came perilously close to being a Very Special Reading Episode. I’d have put up with it a lot better if it had been during the Summer of Steven and bookended (pun intended) by better episodes.

And Mindful Education… well. I appreciate seeing that Steven, in having faced greater and less straightforward problems that have had unsatisfying and inconclusive resolutions, is agitated and conflicted within himself… and I felt like the writers chose a spot-on method of facing that conflict (that Stevonnie can’t keep it together when one of their components can’t keep it together). And I definitely liked the symbolism of the butterflies in how overwhelming negative thoughts can be. Also I loved the overall idea, “It’s OK and even necessary not to avoid thinking about our past experiences and the impact they’ve had on us.”

But I thought it all just happened too quickly. It’s probably the third time I’ve been truly unhappy with the short episode format. They spent so long on Connie’s issue that Steven’s felt crammed in at the end — and, yeah, Connie’s issue gave them a template for dealing with Steven’s, so that could be resolved more quickly and smoothly because they’d already dealt with something similar, but it still felt… rushed… to me. I wish this story could have been spread out over two episodes.

One thing I really appreciated in Steven’s envisioning of the things he doesn’t want to think about, though, was the quick glimpse of his mother’s face. He is so not in harmony with his new ideas of her, and it’s only worsened by the fact that he doesn’t know what’s true and what isn’t and exactly how much he still isn’t aware of. Can’t wait to see where that goes!!