Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

The Duchess War, by Courtney Milan, and Jhereg, by Stephen Brust

Apple did a "First in Series" book giveaway promotion (which I found out about because haikujaguar's Earthrise was featured). After much struggling to get iTunes to work with the iStore, I downloaded a bunch of free ebooks, most of which I suspect I will never read. But I'd been wanting to use my shiny new iPod as an ereader anyway, because it has about 10 times the battery life of my phone (my default ereader).

Then there was more struggling to get my iPod to sync with my computer. For some weeks now, my iPod had been complaining about memory problems every time I tried to update it, and refused to update. When I plugged it in to try to sync the new ebooks, it stopped working entirely. I walked through several diagnostic steps, including 'attempt a factory reset', and got to the step that said "try turning off your firewall, or using a different computer to do the factory reset".

Do you know how you factory-reset my Android? You hold down the power button while booting, and "factory reset" is one of the menu options.

Do you know how you factory-reset an iPod Touch 8? You plug it into a computer which must be running the latest version of iTunes, and must be connected to the Internet.

Apple, I am not impressed.

Rather than turning off my firewall or installing iTunes on Lut's computer, I waited until the next morning when Lut was awake. "Lut? My iPod bricked itself. Will you see if you can fix it?"

Lut: "Sure. I'll find a hammer."

Me: "Okay, thanks." *leaves for work*

Lut: *finds a hammer*

iPod: "NOT OKAY! Don't listen to that crazy woman! I'm fine! JUST GIMME A CHANCE, MAN."

Lut: *plugs in iPod to my computer*

IPod: "I'm updating! Look, see, everything's cool. Update-update-update! No idea what that chick's problem was, hahahaha oh god man whatever you want just please put that hammer away."

So when I got home, I enabled books to sync with the iPod, and was at last able to read my new stash.

I started with The Duchess War, another 19th-century England romance by Courtney Milan. I don't know what it is with 19th-century English dukes, man, but there's way more romances about them than there ever were dukes.

As with the previous three books I've read by Milan, this is a solid, enjoyable romance. Minnie, the female protagonist is imminently loveable: I adore her. She understands tactics. It's wonderful and refreshing. The male protagonist, Robert, is flatter by comparison, but still a good person with an appealing grasp of his own failings.

As with the three other Milan books I've read, both characters have the obligatory Tormented Past: the heroine is haunted by Scandal that will Destroy Her, while the hero was Emotionally Tortured by His Parents. You could say the exact same things about the protagonists in the previous three books I read by her. Milan, it's okay if you want to mix this up a little. Maybe in your next book, the man could be haunted by scandal and the woman be an abuse victim*!

* This may actually be the case, given the preview of one of the books that follows The Duchess War.

... actually, I am perfectly okay with protagonists that don't have a Tormented Past. I do not find Tormented Pasts add that much to a romance. Sure, everybody's got their problems and traumas, but they don't have to be things that shape every facet of their current lives.

Other than laying it on a bit thick with the Tormented Past thing, I had a good time with the story. The various characters have consistent, plausible motives for their actions, for good and ill, and both Tormented Pasts are plot-relevant, so I can't even say they're just tacked on for the angst of it.. The story as a whole hangs together well. I'll give it an 8 out of 10.

I also finished Stephen Brust's Jhereg recently. I've read this book three times now. The first time was when I was in high school. Years later, my college boyfriend extolled Brust's virtues to me, and I said, "I don't remember anything about Jhereg or its prequel except how he met his wife and that I didn't like the books much." So I re-read them.

A few years after that, I didn't remember anything about the books except how he met his wife and that I liked them.

I figured I'd give it another shot and see if I could retain anything that happened in the books this time.

Jhereg has an ineffable 80's fantasy feel to it. I don't know how to describe it, exactly. There's the hundreds-of-thousands-of-years of history. There's a certain lack of description: I felt like the characters were talking in a white room a lot of the time.

I do want to give the setting a shout-out for not having the "generic medieval Europe" fantasyland feel. There's a bit of the medieval Italian "in-fighting amongst rival houses" going on, but the setting is magic-rich and the magic is integrated into the society, and that colors the setting to make it unique. The two different magic systems do not have the rigor of, say, a Sanderson magic system, but they're distinct and well-drawn. The main character is an Easterner among Dragaerans, and the differences between the two races are reasonably well-handled. Dragaerans live for thousands of years, while Easterners have normal human lifespans. Logistically, this bugged me -- I feel like this would make the gulf between the two races vast and unbridgeable, and while it's significant in the story, it's understated. The Dragaerans don't really act like they have all the time in the world compared to the Easterners. Both races have an equal sense of urgency in the story.

There is a lot of plot in the book. The mystery is pretty good. There are a lot of characters, and most of them don't get much development. The climactic scene struck me as weak and didn't fit well with the rest of the story.

The main character is an assassin. Pretty much all the characters are kind of crappy people. Oddly, I think of myself as not minding protagonists who were lousy people when I was a kid and that it bothered me when I got older, which doesn't fit with the whole "liked it better in college than in high school" thing. I don't know where I stand on antiheroes nowadays.

I'm giving this a 6, but I may go ahead and re-read more at a later date anyway. For one, it feels like some of the book's weaknesses were first-novel problems, and I think Brust improved with age. Maybe I'll re-read The Phoenix Guards, Brust's homage to/fantasy rewrite of The Three Musketeers. I remember liking that one well.
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