AEL: Tomb of the Golden Bird, Career of Evil, Night at the Fiestas, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Wild Seed

Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters — Tutankhamen’s tomb is very interesting, and I like thinking and reading about it. And it was obvious the author had to bring the series up to that point in Egyptological history. But by this book, I always get the feeling she was nearing the bottom of the barrel. (In fact, if The Painted Queen is any indication at all of what she was planning for future installments, she’d long since started scraping.) This book just isn’t very interesting or exciting… or even particularly coherent beyond the parts directly dealing with Tut’s tomb.

I do, however, like having the series’ final villain be a distant, shadowy, nebulous organization. It’s not only a nice change of pace from what is essentially a string of mustache-twirlers, it’s a good way to set things on a larger scale for the ending, and an indication that the world is changing that fits with the series coming to a close. Very appropriate.

There have been times when, upon finishing this series, I’ve been pretty depressed. Letting go of friends like these is difficult, you know? However, those times were all before I instituted my current system of breaking up every series I read by putting two unrelated books after every series book. So back then, not only was it difficult to let go of Amelia and company, I was simultaneously totally burned out on them XD Nowadays I’m fine when I get to the end. Still a great series, but my heart doesn’t break quite so badly at “I have concluded that you are immortal” the way it used to.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith — This book is a tough nut, man. I love it just like I love the previous two, but it’s too painfully real in some ways, and therefore hard to get through. The glimpses into Laing’s head we get all along are just so hideous and disturbing that it kinda pushes this book across the line from just mystery into mystery-horror. It doesn’t keep me from reading, but I do hope Lethal White backs off a bit from the grimness of this installment.

And it isn’t just Laing’s internal monologue that makes this a horrific tale. The very nature of the crime and its suspects renders the investigation an ongoing catalog of abused women. It’s pretty relentless, and, once again, difficult to get through.

(Incidentally, is it entirely Laing’s internal monologue? I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be, particularly, but I’m always thrown off by that bit near the beginning where he’s like, He should have had a son. Or rather, he should still have had a son. I mean, that baby could easily have been a boy, but that passage seems… weird.)

There’s an interesting parallel between Strike and Laing. I made these notes long enough ago that I don’t remember the wording of the passage I’m looking for well enough to find it, but it had something to do with Strike feeling — or fearing — he’d lost some kind of essential humanity, some empathy he’d once had, I believe largely due to his failed relationship with Charlotte. And Laing’s interactions with women, his total lack of essential humanity and empathy, forms a dark mirror to that, especially when we’re allowed to see how each man deals with this void in himself. I wish I could find the specific passage, though XD

I noticed this time through that two of the three prime suspects are mentioned interacting with a cat… but only the actual murderer they’re after successfully killed the cat he came into contact with. That’s a great subtle little clue, I think.

So Matt is even more a piece of shit here than before, and my blood boils at the very thought of him, let alone at the idea of my beloved Robin marrying that fucking trash. Of course what’s revealed about him in this book comes as absolutely zero surprise after what we’ve gotten to know in the previous two, but I’m still desperately curious where Rowling’s going with this relationship. She has to know how fucking awful it is; I really hope she has something good in store for Robin eventually. The relationship with Matt is perfectly, sadly realistic, but I hope it’s not endgame. Honestly I hope Robin and Strike in a romance isn’t endgame either, because friendship, but anything’s better than fucking Matthew.

Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade — It’s rare for me to dislike a book so much at first reading that I decide I’ll never read it again, but here’s one. This was strange and miserable and I more or less hated it.

So first the good part. This author has a remarkably excellent grasp on fluctuating emotional nuance, and portrays the inconsistency of the human heart poignantly accurately. But that’s… that’s the only praise I have for this work.

The protagonists of these stories are consistently unlikable. They’re all obnoxious, snobbish, and pretentious, so it’s no wonder everything that happens around them is unhappy. I don’t think there was one single character in the entire book that I could really get behind, and when one after another after another demonstrated the same special kind of academic elitism, I was ready not even to finish the stupid thing.

And the stories themselves were, I thought, poorly constructed. There’s a fine line between a subtle or implied resolution and simply an unfinished story, and too many of these strayed onto the wrong side of that line. Very few of them had real endings or ever wound around to a real point, the one exception being the story in which there was fucking violence against a fucking dog, which is an automatic deal-breaker for me regardless of how well the story is or isn’t put together.

The whole collection left me feeling artistically discontented and emotionally depressed, so, yeah, I won’t be reading this one again.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum — This is indeed, as he claimed, more faery tale than anything else, but what I find hilarious is how, in the introduction, Baum said he was writing a faery tale without the gruesome bits old faery tales are so full of… and then the woodman slaughters forty wolves, and the witch is melted into a puddle of goo, and the lion bites the head off a giant spider… Like, Baum got excited and forgot XD

Of course the attributes that the three companions are “missing” is not only a running joke as they continually demonstrate them throughout their journey, but also an interesting parallel to Dorothy wanting to get home and having the power all along if she had but known. Familiar as I am with Baum’s utter carelessness about this series, I think this is probably a purely accidental symbolism XD

In any case, there’s also something touchingly admirable about wanting to have a loving heart and be a kind person, or wanting wisdom in order to think of ways to repay those that have helped you. Maybe not the lion so much; he’s actually kindof a bully.

But Dorothy wants to get home to her aunt and uncle because she loves and misses them and doesn’t want them to be sad and inconvenienced (such as by having to buy mourning they can’t afford!) by her absence. In the ultimate scene in which she expresses her desire to get back to them, she’s specifically described as “the loving little girl,” and all of this plays into a sense of righteousness and purity in the goals of our friends — mostly — that sets them apart from many a faery tale hero that’s just set out “to seek his fortune” or some shit (or even an Alice that’s just trying to get into some pretty garden), and to me that puts this story into the upper ranks of faery tales, morally speaking. That was probably another accident, though XD

But you know what was never an accident? Baum’s freaking feminism. I’ve mentioned when discussing The Force Awakens what a shocking, tear-inducing delight it is to see and hear so many women in a context (storytelling in general, really) where I’m used to a dull and overwhelming majority of men. And it’s strange and fascinating and touching to step back over a century and get the same impression from this ridiculous, casual little children’s book.

And a couple of quick notes on the 1939 movie, which I haven’t watched in decades but remember thinking was OK (though obviously not good enough to rewatch): first, Shirley Temple was the precisely correct age that year to play Dorothy, and it’s a damn shame the world was robbed of that opportunity. Second, it’s weird to consider that when this movie was released, all fourteen canon (for lack of a better term XD) Oz books had been out for twenty years already and Baum was long dead. I tend to associate inaccurate adaptations (as if there’s any other kind) with cash-grabbing right in the middle of a series’ release in order to strike while the interest is hot. So, you know… weird.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler — I wasn’t sure if I would reread this book. I’ve rarely felt so betrayed and outraged at the end of story. I love every moment of it right up until the quintessential “but he fell in love” ending. I decided to give it a second try and found that, being braced for the ending, I was able to enjoy the book pretty well and not suffer too detrimental a blood pressure spike at what I already knew was coming when it came.

The thing is, Doro is a disgusting coil of rat intestines from the VERY FIRST MOMENT HE APPEARS, makes almost no discernible improvement over the course of a fucking century and a half, and pisses me off in the meantime with ever-increasing intensity as he heaps more and more abuse on Anyanwu as the decades pass… and then the narrative expects me to… what? Rejoice at the end when he finally admits that, though he hasn’t stopped thinking of people as breeding animals and science projects and totally expendable, he does love and need Anyanwu specifically? What the actual fuck?

And at one point he pulls a classic Nice Guy move in assuming that if only she ~knew how much he cares~ things would surely be different. He keeps thinking she’s upset with him because he’s forced to kill to survive; on and on and on he thinks that. It’s the only time I actually get a little annoyed at her, because she doesn’t make it clear to him that his entire attitude toward people needs to change — that he needs to start seeing and treating them as people. But I can’t stay annoyed at her, because all she ever does is good, and I just want her to be happy.

I like Isaac pretty well, but the way he talks about Doro makes it clear that he doesn’t get it either. “He can be a reasonable being,” he says with wiser-than-thou gentleness, and asks Anyanwu to sacrifice herself to the goal of keeping Doro slightly less murderous because they’re ~so compatible~. No, dumbass. Fuck off.

This idea that a certain similarity — even one as profound as immortality in a world of mortals — destines or even basically suits two people for each other is disgusting. It reminds me of shitty backward (or just old) TV shows (and often other media) where the moment a second Black character shows up you just know the two of them will get together because duhh.

When I calm down, I can mention aspects of this book like Butler’s characteristic unique and fascinating worldbuilding and her ability to create a lead female that inspires intense loyalty and protectiveness in the reader — things that make it an endurable read despite the slap in the face she delivers at the end. And honestly that makes it all the more frustrating — just like stupid The Mill on the Floss.

So the question is, as was present but far more distant the first time when I didn’t even know if I would ever be reading this book again, whether I should progress farther into the series. It’s very distressing to consider that she wrote this one, with its 150 years of abuse followed by that ending, last of the five… but there’s still a chance that the rest of the books bring things to a more satisfying conclusion and it was just necessary to go back and set up a situation that eventually got better. I don’t know. I’ve been burned, and I just don’t know.

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