My tween daughter begged me to watch the BBC show Merlin (now streaming on Netflix and Hulu). I was busy. I had things to do. And Season One was, I’m sorry, AWFUL. But when your tween says, “Mom please participate directly in my life” you realize that this is a limited time offer. So I soldiered on, and while I still can’t say that Merlin is a “good” show in the sense of, you know, making any sense, I can say that I’m helplessly addicted to it as of about halfway through Season Three.
I’m planning to write more about Merlin after I finish the show, so this will be short and, frankly, extremely shallow. Let’s be honest here – most of the things I like about the show are things I like for shallow reasons (Arthur, Gwaine, Lancelot). I’m not also not going to list all the reasons this show is not actually very good except to say that it’s as dumb as a bag of hair. But here are five ways the show got me hooked:
1. Those clothes
The clothes are anachronistic and ridiculous but DAMN they are pretty, and ever since Morgana turned evil her hair jewelry has been AMAZING.
2. Those Guys
I know. Shallow. Revel with me. Unleash the female gaze:
I’m not including Merlin here because the actor does a great job of making him a realistic teenager. But he’s a teenager with potential. Like whoa.
Speaking of Merlin:
3. The Subtext
Are they not the cutest???? KISS!! KISS, DAMN YOU!
Dear Arthur, please stop throwing things at Merlin’s head. The abuse makes it hard to ship you guys. And I really want to:
4. The Acting
In Season One, Anthony Stewart Head pretty much had to carry the show himself through sheer force of will. but Between Season One and Season Two everyone must have gone to acting school or made deals with the devil or something because man, these people are KILLING IT.
5. Women Fight and Men Cry (and vice versa).
This isn’t a terribly feminist show. In some ways it is exit and in some ways it’s progressive. It’s pretty standard stuff. But there are multiple main female characters who have their own lives, they pass the Bechdel Test all over the place, and there are some nice surprises. Every main male character on this show, regardless of where they fall on the “macho” spectrum, has cried, openly and unashamedly, at least once. And Morgana and Morgause are warrior women, although lately they’ve been doing more conniving and less fighting, to my great disappointment.
Over at smartbitchestrashybooks.com, I’ll give a full review of Merlin when I finish watching it. In the meantime, my advice is skip Season One and start with Season Two. You’ll catch up. It’s not that complicated. Oh, and did I mention THIS!
During a brief period of my life I had cable T, which was a problem because I spent all my time watching VH1 Pop-Up Videos (remember those?) Brooks had to hang from a wire a lot to make the video and she is terrified of heights. So add ‘BADASS WHO WILL STOP AT NOTHING’ to her list of character traits. Because youtube LOVES ME here’s the pop-up video version:
It was with a great sense of sadness that I finished the third book of The Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb. Three books: Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny, make up the trilogy that follows the struggles and adventures of the Vestrit family of traders, their liveship Vivacia and the characters that change their destinies. In addition to sea serpents, pirates, and politics there are ships that have memories and personalities and are a major part of driving the complex and compelling plot. There is more, but to reveal it all would be to spoil these great books for those who want to read them.
My sadness came in two flavors – the largest part of the sadness was finishing my journey in this world with characters that I had come to care so much about. While there is certainly an intricate and interesting story (actually multiple stories) that moves the books along – the fundamental focus of the books is the characters. Each character is well-rounded and fully developed. Our protagonists make mistakes and disappoint us – even as we cheer them on and hope for them to succeed. The antagonists develop and many learn from their mistakes and hardships and we often end up rooting for them despite ourselves or changing our minds about them entirely. As a reader, it is a rare experience to completely change one’s mind about a character – in these books it happens all the time. This not only happens in a positive direction, where characters who were initially unlikeable learn from their mistakes and became sympathetic, but also in the other, more uncommon direction. At one point towards the end of the third book, a character that we have come to care about through three books does something in his nature but completely unforgiveable. While what the character did was horrible, looking back at it I still experience a frisson of pleasure that the author was able to unpleasantly surprise me but still keep the integrity of the character.
There are numerous point of view characters and because each is so complex we find ourselves caring for them and wishing them well even when we realize that they have done bad things. At a few points I realized that I was supporting multiple sides in the same conflict and couldn’t decide who I would want to prevail. It is a thrilling and unsettling feeling to have as a reader – one doesn’t quite realize how simple our choices usually are in stories until we experience the rare treat of uncertainty and mixed allegiances.
These books are known from their romances, and the romances are good – some better than others. In general, the relationships between the couples develop over time, have their ups and downs, and when they come together it can be deeply satisfying. Like life, no relationship is simple, and the couples have their misunderstandings, disappointments, and differing goals. Some couples work through their issues and end up together, and in some couples one or both partners realize that they are better off going their separate ways. The complexity and variety of the relationships makes each love story compelling and each ending poignant – no matter how it turns out. The most rewarding stories are the most complex – and the resolutions to those stories are gratifying, even if it isn’t happily ever after.
There are several themes that run throughout the books. A main theme is to not look back with regrets, wishing for what might have been, but to start where you are and live life forward. As one character tells another who is mooning over a part of his life that is lost:
You can’t go back. . . . That part of your life is over. Set it aside as something that is finished. Complete or no, it is done with you. No being gets to decide what his life is ‘supposed to be.’ . . . Discover where you are now, and go on from there, making the best of things. Accept your life and you might survive it. If you hold back from it, insisting this is not your life, not where you are meant to be, life will pass you by. You may not die from such foolishness, but you might as well be dead for all the good your life will do you or anyone else.
This theme is reiterated over and over, with multiple characters and multiple regrets. Another theme that recurs is that learning and growth are not possible if you turn over control of your life to someone else or are overly protected. People start learning, growing, changing and becoming strong when they are not sheltered from the hard facts and difficult tasks. As far as themes go, these are pretty good ones, and it is interesting to watch the characters as they grow and change, but it might have been refreshing if there could have been more variation in the themes and outcomes. Seriously, must almost EVERY character learn from their mistakes? More intransigent stubborn fools would have been credible. There is also a strong theme of the importance of women being allowed to be strong and take responsibility for their own lives. The themes are strong but generally don’t interfere with the stories, although after three books read back-to-back the constant repetition of these themes starts to get old.
The smaller part of my sadness upon finishing also arose because of the complexity of the characters and plot. Given the intricacy and ambivalence of the books, at the end the resolutions seemed a little too perfect, the plotlines a little too tied up in neat packages, too many characters redeemed, the good rewarded and the wicked chastened. While satisfying in most conventional ways, the series could have been truly great, if less gratifying, if more threads had been left frayed at the end.
These books are tangentially related to the Farseer trilogy by the same author in that they take place in the same world. However, the relationship is distant – the tone of each series is different and although I read both series within a year, it was not until I was researching for this review that I fully realized that they were in the same world. The Liveship Traders series shows the hand of a more assured writer. I see that there are additional series set in the same world– time to clear the calendar for more reading pleasure!
Between the Lines Book Club is reading Among Others by Jo Walton this month. If you are in the Sacramento, California area meet us at 10:30AM at Arden Dimick Library on Saturday, October 23, 2015 for an in-person chat! Otherwise, leave comments here. Among Others is a coming of age story about a young woman who finds her place in the world through reading. It may or may not also be a fantasy involving faeries, depending on how you look at it.
If you enjoy Walton’s writing, or if you have an interest in the genre of literary criticism, I urge you to check out another book by Walton. It’s a collection of essays called What Makes This Book So Great. In this collection, Walton talks about a huge range of speculative fiction books, as well as some mainstream fiction. In fact, one of her best essays addresses the difference between SFF and mainstream fiction. When she says, “I tend to read everything as SF” I realized that this is true of me, as well, although I’d say “speculative fiction.”
Walton also talks about the pleasures of re-reading and about the rewards and pitfalls of this practice. I loved her invention of “The Suck Fairy”:
If you read a book for the first time, and it sucks, that’s noting to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading, well, it sucks. You can say that you have changed, you can hit your forehead dramatically and ask yourself how you could possibly have missed the sukiness the first time-or you can say that The Suck Fairy has been through it while the book was sitting on the shelf and inserted the suck…The advantage of this is exactly the advantage of thinking of one’s once-beloved ex as having been eaten by a zombie, who is now shambling around using the name and body of the former person. It lets one keep one’s original love clear of later betrayals.
I recommend this book primarily for fans of SFF but anyone interested in literary criticism should pick it up and read a few of the essays at least. It’s gorgeous writing and Walton always seems like that cool but tough professor who would red ink all your essays but also teach class in a coffee shop and buy everyone snacks.
When I started this blog, my clever plan was to use it to write about all the books I was reading that I can’t review elsewhere. Good news – I’m reviewing books all over the place! You can find me at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Book Page, and RT Book Reviews, as well as SEARCH magazine and, lest we forget, Between the Lines Book Club at Arden Dimick Library. Given all this excitement,here’s something I never thought I’d say:
It’s just barely possible that I can’t read more than 20 books a month. Just barely possible. Not if I’m also taking the time to write about them coherently. And there are other freelance and publishing endeavors I’d like to explore.
So I’m scaling back just a smidgen here at Geek Girl in Love. On Mondays, you will find either posts by myself or guest posts and reviews. On Wednesdays you’ll find links and videos, because they are easy to do and I love telling people I have to browse YouTube “For Work.” On Fridays you will find posts related to Between the Lines Book Club, unless we are on hiatus in which case I may post little snippets of things or (DON’T JUDGE ME) I may take a nap. Who can foretell the future? Not I (zzzzzz).
So – see you Mondays, Wednesdays, and many Fridays! Next Monday I’m going to talk about the five ways the BBC show Merlin has managed to consume my life despite a terrible, terrible first season. THOSE CLOTHES, YOU GUYS. So ridiculous and so pretty. Enjoy this gif of Lancelot until then:
This month Between the Lines Book Club is reading Among Others by Jo Walton. Love comments here or join us in person at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM. Sat Oct 24.
Jo Walton was born in Wales and she speaks Welsh fluently. She moved to Canada in 2002. She’s the author of many science fiction and fantasy books, as well as a recent book of non-fiction titled “What Makes This Book So Great.” Her earlier series were relatively light fare (I’m crazy about them, by the way) and included fantasy (The King’s Peace, Tooth and Claw) and alternate history (The Small Change Series). Her recent series, The Thessaly Series, kicked off with a critically acclaimed book called The Just City. The series asks what would happen if Plato’s theoretical city was actually built, and populated by real children and adults.
Unlike many authors I write about, Walton seems to have led a relatively calm, or at least private life. Her bios are largely lists of awards – Among Other, for instance, is one of only seven books to be nominated for The Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the World Fantasy Award (it won the Nebula and Hugo). Luckily for me, she wrote a bio, she uses on her blog (jowaltonbooks.com), and to introduce some of her works. Here’s Jo Walton’s autobiography:
has run out of eggs and needs to go buy some,
she has no time to write a bio
as she wants to make spanakopita today.
She also wants to write a new chapter
and fix the last one.
Oh yes, she writes stuff,
when people leave her alone to get on with it
and don’t demand bios
and proofreading and interviews
Despite constant interruptions
she has published nine novels
in the last forty-eight years
and started lots of others.
She won the Campbell for Best New Writer in 2002
when she was 38.
She has also written half a ton of poetry
which isn’t surprising as she finds poetry
considerably easier to write
than short bios listing her accomplishments.
She is married, with one (grown up, awesome) son
who lives nearby with his girlfriend and two cats.
She also has lots of friends
who live all over the planet
who she doesn’t see often enough.
She remains confused by punctuation,
“who” and “whom”
and “that” and “which”.
She cannot sing and has trouble with arithmetic
also, despite living ten years in Montreal
her French still sucks.
Nevertheless, her novel Among Others
won a Hugo and a Nebula
so she must be doing something right
at least way back when she wrote it
it’ll probably never work again.
She also won a World Fantasy Award in 2004
for an odd book called Tooth and Claw
in which everyone is dragons.
She comes from South Wales
and identifies ethnically
as a Romano-Briton
but she emigrated to Canada
because it seemed a better place
to stand to build the future.
She blogs about old books on Tor.com
and posts poetry and recipes and wordcount on her LJ
and is trying to find something to bribe herself with
as a reward for writing a bio
that isn’t chocolate.