Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gather Round, Me Mateys, While I Tell Ye About Emer, Scourge of the Seven Seas!

The Dust of 100 Dogs

by A. S. King

Published by Flux

4 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda

This is definitely one of the more interesting premises that I've encountered in young adult fiction and, given all of the carbon copy Twilight/Harry Potter series books out there, it deserves high praise for that alone.

Young Emer Morrisey has a loving family and a happy childhood until her parents are brutally killed and her village destroyed during Cromwell's invasion of Ireland. From that point on, Emer's life is one disappointment after another: poverty, arranged marriage, abusive uncle, hunger, imprisonment, and rape. It's no wonder that she loses hope in goodness and kindness and, when fate brings her to the pirate haven of Tortuga, she decides to take from others as viciously as life has taken from her. That's right--Emer is kicking ass and taking names as the captain of her own pirate ship and it's not long before she manages to make a name for herself as one of the most cunning and bloodthirsty pirates to ever sail the seven seas. When Emer crosses the wrong man, she is killed and cursed with "The Dust of 100 Dogs," meaning that she will be reincarnated 100 times as a dog before finally being reincarnated as a human being and able to take care of unfinished business.

The novel begins with the birth of Saffron Adams, the human reincarnation of Emer after she has endured several canine lifetimes. Saffron is her own person, yet still has all of Emer's memories and knowledge. As Saffron searches for the treasure Emer was able to bury before her death, the novel deftly switches from past to present as we learn of Emer's past and Saffron's future. If all of this sounds bizarre and confusing, well, it is, but in a good way. The novel maintains suspense and draws all of the storylines together to a satisfactory conclusion. The one expectation that wasn't met for me is that we learn very little about Emer's dog lives; instead, the chapters are interspersed with short vignettes about what Emer the dog learned about human nature from various owners in various time periods. This is probably a smart move on the part of King as reading about the lives of 100 dogs, while intriguing, could become pretty tedious somewhere around the third Milkbone treat given, leg humped, or fire hydrant peed upon.

In reading other reviews, many readers were shocked by the brutality and the sexuality in the book (which I actually found to be pretty tame). Um, yeah, I think that it could be because it's a FREAKIN' PIRATE book and not a Disney theme park ride. Others seemed to be shocked to find such content in a young adult book, but I have no such worries. I'm sure teenagers have already figured out the sex thing, yeah? And they've probably done it from unsupervised watching of cable television and unmonitored Internet usage their parents make accessible. And it's a hell of a lot better than reading three books of Bella lusting after sparkling Edward's cold, hard . . . well, you know. (*removes self from soapbox and drags it back to the corner*)

So, yes, good book, definitely enjoyed it, and suffered no negative side effects other than a desire to walk around saying, "Arrrggghhh, me matey" to everyone I met for a week.

Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Readathon, review the second: MAINSPRING

MAINSPRING (Clockwork Earth #1)
Tor Books
$24.95 hardcover, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Jay Lake's first trade novel is an astounding work of creation. Lake has envisioned a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun. It is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky, and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial gears of the Earth itself.

Mainspring is the story of a young clockmaker's apprentice, who is visited by the Archangel Gabriel. He is told that he must take the Key Perilous and rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. It is running down, and disaster to the planet will ensue if it's not rewound. From innocence and ignorance to power and self-knowledge, the young man will make the long and perilous journey to the South Polar Axis, to fulfill the commandment of his God.

My Review: Several things militate against my discovery of pleasure in this book, such as a Low Tolerance for Capitalization Errors, a complete and oft-expressed disdain for the kind of god present in this book, and its celebration of the Love that Should Shut The Hell Up Already, aka heterosexuality.

But there's an exception to every rule, and this is one.

I confess that the thoroughly requited love story elicited weary, disgusted sighs, and I did a bit of flippity-flip to get past the bits that made me most annoyed, but there's not a whole helluva lot of it, thank goodness. And working for the couple is the fact that she's a different species, sort of.

But the central joke of the book, the mainspring (!) of the humor, the drama, and the action, is the brass track in the sky that the Earth runs on. The Universe IS the clockwork that the famously disproved watchmaker-parable proof of god's existence posits! (If one finds a watch, that is proof there is, somewhere, a watchmaker...the rest is just as silly, so no need to go into it here.)

This I love. This alone gets five whole gold stars with an oak-leaf cluster. This is a new Universe, not just a warmed-over Operation-Sealion-worked yawnfest of an alternative history. (Side note to writers: WWII? Done, done, done, done, done. Aliens even. DONE. Pick something else! ANYthing else!) (Except the American Civil War, also DONE.)

Also because of this complete re-imagining of the laws of physics (good one, Mr. Lake!), I put aside my abiding mistrust of majgicqk as deus ex machina. After all, there's a giant brass track in the sky that emits a mechanical rumble forming the backdrop of all life, the gears of the track must be navigated to go from Northern to Southern Hemisphere, and there are airships! In for a penny, in for a pound. Majgicqk it is.

But it's like all the other tropes that annoy me in fiction (indeed in life), it's *used* in Lake's novel. It's not a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. It's a necessary component of the kind of world this clockmaker god would create. It makes sense. And it happens to be made of desperate needs, which is more like the way the world works anyway.

Hethor, like all heroes, suffers on his quest to save the world, and loses his sense of himself outside his quest. He defines himself as his quest, and is forced to confront the inevitable end of such a self-definition: Complete and utter aloneness and alienation. Because Lake is on the Hero's Journey, the Hero must lose it all.

But Lake is on the Hero's Journey. So, in losing it all, Hethor is rewarded with his heart's desire, and it is not the one he started the quest desiring. That, in my well-read opinion, is how a writer of great gifts ends a Hero's Journey: Wishes granted; now what will those be?

A quarter star off for a villain who isn't a villain but a collection of nasty until far too late in the story to matter. His villainy, as finally expressed, would've launched me into six-star orbit had it been explicit earlier in the narrative.

Whipping back through Mainspring convinces me that a thoroughgoing re-read cannot come amiss. It's that good. It's that rich and dense and satisfying. Just wonderful, and thank you for it, Jay Lake.

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