AEL: The Fortune of War, three AP books, the rest of The Dark Is Rising Sequence, The Westing Game, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, SU eps, Frozen short films, Zootopia, The Surgeon’s Mate

The Fortune of War by Patrick O’Brian — After enjoying the previous book so much, I definitely loved this direct continuation of the story. I was wondering for a while how this author could possibly have written twenty freaking books in this series, but it turns out he came up with lots of good new stuff on a regular basis. Like, I was really worried it would be twenty books full of increasingly incomprehensible naval battles, and I knew full well I wouldn’t be able to stand it. Glad to be proven wrong!

So this is a series full of white dudes, but I think I’ve mentioned how impressed I am at the author’s seemingly deliberate attempts at including women and giving them character and stuff to do. To a lesser extent this is the case with characters of color as well… they’re still vastly underrepresented, especially in the main cast, but the author did seem to try at least a little to acknowledge their existence and some of their feelings. (This is complicated by Stephen’s descent, I am well aware.)

I’m entertained and simultaneously hurt by the irony of Stephen having got clear of his love for Diana just in time for her to agree to marry him at last. I sincerely hope this doesn’t end up sending him off into depression again just when he’s been doing so much better. I don’t talk about smol sons a lot, but Stephen not infrequently approaches that territory for me.

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters — So I’ve discussed how much I love Guardian of the Horizon… sadly, this next out-of-sequence book she wrote is… not very good, which is even more disappointing after Guardian. This feels like a washed-out imitation of an Amelia Peabody book, and I wonder if Peters wasn’t kinda… losing her edge…? at the end of her life? V. sad.

The biggest problem with it, I believe, is that far too much time is given to the capture and escape of Ramses and David, leaving very little time for the mystery and the actual overall plot of the book — which is a shame, because I think she put together a solid story, if only she’d actually written it instead of glossing over huge chunks in order to blah blah blah Crusaders’ castle.

Also, no excavation?? Petes, did you forget what we read these books for? It’s 1) Unreliable Narrator, 2) Sethos, and 3) Ridiculously accurate and engrossing archaeology. Not necessarily in that order. One little hint that Emerson found hieroglyphs and then they got stolen or destroyed does not cut it.

Yeah, so this one isn’t very good. I would excise it from the reread every time, but I get through books so quickly these days it’s hardly worth it.

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper — This is an interesting installment and has some of the best scenes in the series. Here’s where I feel like the author starts trying to include more women in more active roles, but she still doesn’t succeed very well. The Greenwitch is very compelling, though, the painter is a fascinating villain, and the relationship among the Light, the Dark, and the Wild Magic is a lot of fun to read about.

Greenwitch wrapped up 2017. Look how far behind I am again. This is become the new normal.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin — We listened to this book in its entirety whilst putting together our New Year’s Eve puzzle, and I just have a few comments. First of all, no matter how often I reread it, I never get tired of it; of all the books I’ve ever read, it’s one of the closest to pure flawlessness. In fact, I notice some new detail every time that makes me love it even more.

My one complaint (at least this time through) is probably that Madame Hoo comes across as… kinda stupid? I don’t know why the narration, when it’s giving her private thoughts, still presents them in simplistic, broken English. Later when she’s mastered the language and speaks fluently (and when it mentions she takes over her husband’s business when he dies), it’s demonstrated that she’s a perfectly intelligent and capable person… so I’m not sure why the narration around her in the earlier days is formulated the way it is.

Damn good book, though.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë — I started out believing the main character was female (and can I be blamed for this, having previously read Agnes Grey?), and was subsequently shocked and excited by how very, very gay the book seemed. Obviously I would have preferred it to actually be so, but I was soon disabused.

The actual main character, Gilbert, gives the impression at first that he’s a total ass — self-pitying, angry, jealous, self-aggrandizing, and always assuming he knows not only what’s right, but also what’s true, based on minimal information. The way he treats Frederick in particular is unforgivable.

Mrs. Graham, on the other hand, is absurdly relatable. She seems like a person that doesn’t like social interaction but is forced into it (her line about wanting to see her few friends if she has some but wishing everyone else would leave her alone!!); and also someone that’s just done with the way society treats her and has a big middle finger for its expectations but at the same time is almost more tired than edgy about it.

It feels like the first several chapters of this book could be condensed. The author was clearly aiming for drama and mystery, trying to get you good and interested in the main story and what could Mrs. Graham’s deal possibly be?? but it’s really kinda tedious. Also — not her fault at the time — anyone familiar with literature from this period can already guess pretty accurately what the main story’s going to be about and what Mrs. Graham’s deal is, so all this buildup is pointless.

I partially forgave Gilbert at the end when he demonstrated willingness to change and an ability to connect with Helen on rational and spiritual levels rather than continuing to be a boor and harass her. I suppose he’s better than he could be, which is often all one can expect from literature of the time.

P.S. I may not be Christian, and I may get tired of Christianity’s prevalence in a lot of art I experience, but I do believe that characters being true to the religion presented in the work is admirable. That gave me another reason to admire Helen and kinda-sorta forgive Gilbert. Anyway this was a great book.

Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters — I don’t know how many times I’ve read this series, but I can tell you that only this time through this book did I realize Feisal is the son of the same sheikh Mohammed with whom Ramses and David stayed in 1903. This isn’t a big thing, but it does connect things and tighten up my understanding of the series. It also casts Ramses’ interaction with Feisal in Guardian of the Horizon into a different light: they’re childhood friends, not just casual acquaintances. So much more real now.

Anyway. The story of this book is delightfully complex and very enjoyable. I love to see Ramses (and David) getting started with espionage; it builds up extremely well to the events of the next book. Jeffry is overshadowed by Percy, but is really a remarkable villain on his own.

I do have a long-standing dissatisfaction with the way Nefret is treated by the narrative, but I think I’ll save that for the next one. In any case, this one is still one of my favorite installments.

Steven Universe episodes — These felt very much like filler — particularly Lars of the Stars — but at least there was a tiny bit of interesting information about Pink and Yellow. Also, Emerald? Just out of nowhere? Does she outrank the Diamonds as everyone has long been hoping based on the true rarity of emeralds? Though if so, why did she come across as a comic-relief villain? Anyway, though I didn’t dislike these episodes, I found nothing particularly special in them. Can we get on with the real story?

Oh, yeah, I suppose I should mention: bad Lapis!!

Frozen Fever and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure — I’ve watched Frozen Fever before, of course, but I used it as the video inauguration of my new tablet, and it’s still really cute and fun. As a short story it is, in fact, excellently timed and constructed. The story is good, the song is good, and that green dress Elsa makes with the dressmaking powers that come as a free gift with ice powers is the best dress I’ve ever seen.

Then I watched the new short, and… OK, I liked it. It was a sweet story, and Olaf didn’t even bother me, and I was kinda mind-boggled at how much singing they crammed into such a short piece. But look. You guys.

ELSA AND ANNA ARE SO FUCKING GAY FOR EACH OTHER.

I don’t know; maybe there are sisters that act like these two do to show how close and loving, in a purely sororal way, they are… but I kinda feel like the writers just… don’t really know how sisters work and are writing the only kind of loving relationship they can come up with? Because Elsa and Anna, particularly in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, act 100% more like a married couple than anything else.

And this is seriously the worst type of queerbaiting. (See how quickly I abandoned “the writers just don’t know what they’re doing” and started accusing them of fucking with queer people? Sorrynotsorry.) Because this is the type of queerbaiting that you know for a complete fact will never be resolved. You look at someone like, say, Emma and Regina from a much shittier Disney show, and you can see how the writers could truly go that direction, how easy it would be for them and how well it would fit into the story, and even though you don’t have much hope, you can daydream freely because it’s totally feasible.

But this is incest, so even if you ship the hell out of it (which of course I do), there’s not a shadow of a doubt in your mind that this can never be. Elsa will probably get a male love interest at least hinted at in Frozen 2, and Anna will marry Kristoff, and Elsa and Anna will continue to act as if they’re each other’s wives rather than (or in addition to) sisters.

And given that Olaf’s Frozen Adventure came out years after Frozen when the Anna & Elsa portion of the fandom is long and thoroughly established, and when even those that don’t ship the two sisters have been clamoring forever to #GiveElsaAGirlfriend — that is to say, when there’s an unusually loud queer voice responding to these characters — I absolutely believe that this is deliberate queerbaiting.

The writers know exactly what they’re doing, and they know that by having Elsa and Anna act as gay as possible, they can keep stringing the queer audience along and grabbing those sweet five queer dollars, while all the time hiding safely behind this kinda flimsy facade of sisterly affection.

And the really fucking irritating thing is that it works. I will watch any new Frozen-related media in the hopes of seeing an OTP of mine make eyes and each other and hold hands and sing about their love. Disney can reel me in every time on this.

Unless Elsa gets a fucking boyfriend in Frozen 2. Then I’m done.

(Kristoff I can handle, by the way. He gets in the way of the pairing I like, yes, but I like him as a character and I’m even OK with him with Anna as long as she can be with Elsa at the same time.)

OK, seriously, I need to stop ranting about this and move on. To another Disney movie!!

Zootopia is still almost completely perfect. I watched that on my tablet too, and it’s so fucking amazing. Still really curious where they could/will go with a sequel. Predator/prey romance? Birds or reptiles? WHO KNOWS??? It’ll never be as good as the first one.

The Grey King by Susan Cooper — This is probably my favorite in this series. Its story is kindof haunting, and the direct involvement of Arthurian legend is very interesting.

The lesson in Welsh pronunciation near the beginning is appreciated, but at the same time I find it overly long for its relative level of importance. (And I have to admit that, when you’re reading via audiobook, it seems even more pointless.)

There seem to have been some adjustments to the way Will acts and his power level; he still doesn’t feel like an 11-year-old, but he has more believable moments. I think if I had been the author, I would not have done this, since after the way he acted throughout the previous books it doesn’t feel like something’s been fixed; it just seems weird.

Also, previously Will felt like a Bigger Deal than he is here. Also also, why is this quest a solo quest? A lot of stuff the Old Ones do seems to be pretty passive; this book is a lot of being kinda shunted to the next quest point. That’s why I liked it in Greenwitch when they jumped off the pier.

The same questions as before arise about the Light vs. Dark, especially now that it’s been framed as a struggle greater than humanity and compassion. Like, once again I kinda get a “Why should I care about this?” feeling about it all.

The Surgeon’s Mate by Patrick O’Brian — This story kinda felt all over the place, and seemed to have some Middle Installment Syndrome. All of its elements did wrap up at the end, but that only kinda reduced the feeling that this was several story ideas stitched together. Which is not to say it was bad or anything.

Ohhh, I was so disappointed in Stephen for insisting Diana carry her baby to term. Not up to you, dude. It was no real surprise given the time period, but I’ve been flip-flopping ever since I read that part about whether it was totally in character for Stephen specifically.

This series is so consistently funny. It’s like Dickens, but the unexpected hilarity comes in minor events rather than twists at the ends of sentences. OK, sometimes there are sentence twists as well. And the dialogue is sometimes side-splitting.

I hope Stephen and Diana are OK. They’re in a rather weird relationship at this point. Honestly I kept waiting for Diana to turn out to be a spy after all; when he first took her to Paris I was holding my breath. I just want them to be happy. I want Stephen to be happy.

The Painted Queen by Joan Hess — I actually pre-ordered this book, so I’ve had it for approximately forever. But because of the nature of my reading list (and because I was just starting the series at that point), it took a while to get to it. My mom’s been chafing to discuss it with me, but she’s going to be disappointed, because I didn’t hate it nearly as much as she did.

Everything about this book is off — the narration, the dialogue, the characterization, the events as fitted into this spot in the series — but most of the time it’s only off by a little. As an official part of canon it’s weird and kindof unsettling, but if I’d encountered this as fanfiction I’d have been over the moon about it. Having read other interpolated books after the death of a series author, I was absolutely expecting this, and it didn’t bother me too much.

This particular author did commit a number of pretty egregious errors, though. I won’t list all the little things she inexplicably got wrong (like, how can you write a book into a series without having paid attention to that series and the fact that Amelia carries brandy, not whiskey, on her belt?), but the one thing (besides the brandy) I absolutely have to bring up is this: where the fuck is Sennia? I don’t demand she be with them — she turns into a very tedious character not long after her introduction — but she isn’t mentioned even once? After how crucial she was to the plot in the previous book? Why? Also, what’s with the Lost Oasis apparently being common knowledge now? And where is David’s nationalism? OK, I’m starting to list as I said I wouldn’t do; better stop.

Anyway, I actually kinda liked the silly plot. Though a lot of elements in this book were over the top (I think in a slightly misaimed attempt at duplicating Peters’ humor), I was OK with that. And I appreciated the (I must assume deliberate) Adventure of the Six Napoleons reference; it had been a while since we’d seen any Holmes satire in the series.

I probably won’t reread this with the rest of the series in future, but I may reread it now and then as fanfiction. It had its moments.

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper — And the grand finale of this series falls kinda flat. Like, I don’t hate it or anything, but it’s by far my least favorite book in the cycle. It’s. SO. BORING. The whole Lost Land section is just… I can’t even.

Also, it gets a little too surreal for me, especially near the end. I mentioned that The Dark is Rising gets surrealism right… well, I knew it couldn’t last XD Obviously I can’t read this series without finishing it, but if this book were in the middle rather than at the end, I might be tempted to skip it.

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