Moth
Moth by Daniel Arenson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this book because, you know, it was free on Amazon, and it seemed like a good entry into Arenson’s oeuvre. This was, I believe, the first book that Arenson wrote and published… and unfortunately it shows.

Let’s recognize the good stuff: the setting is interesting and unique. The world is divided into two halves, a day half and a night half, following a poorly-understood catastrophe in the distant past which caused the world to stop turning. The night half of the world is expecially intriguing, as Arenson has built a fascinating culture and ecology based on a place that never sees sunlight, and he manages to convey most of how the night side works without resorting to infodump. There are some really beautifully described scenes, mostly on the night side of the world, and some excellent battles towards the end.

Furthermore, there are some very clever subversions and reversals of expectation in the presentation of the two halves. Initially we’re given to understand the inhabitants of the night as monsters, creatures who live in eternal darkness, but after a few chapters we move into the POV of one of the night-dwellers. From her perspective, the day-dwellers are demons of fire, creatures who inhabit the realm of blistering light and who emerge from the heat to kill for inscrutable reasons.

But there are numerous problems with the story. We start out in bog-standard Fantasyland, with characters who are pretty stock. We have the Clueless Farmboy who must become a warrior, the Tomgirl (complete with an foreshadowed romance with the Farmboy), a pair of Sidekicks distinguished solely by the fact that one is fat and the other is skinny, a Noble King, and an Evil Priest. All of the creativity seems to have gone into the night half of the world, but since half the story takes place in the day, that means that half of the book is dull and cliche.

The night half of the plot has its own problems: the protagonist of that half of the story leaves early on on a quest, but she’s then presented with a series of irrelevant obstacles which mostly serve to assure that she’s still in the place required by the plot when the end of the book comes. And there is a second subplot which takes place in the dark (which I won’t give details about because of spoilers), which shows up very late, never impacts the main story, and then abruptly closes with no resolution. I can only assume that that plot thread exists to set up elements of the sequel, but it doesn’t pull its weight in this book.

Overall, I would not recommend this book very highly, except as an introduction to the world. The good news, though, is that I’m reading some other books by Arenson, and they get better. Much better.

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The torrential rains have died down to a patter, and the thunder has finally drifted off into the west. Up above, the sun may finally be peeking through the churning clouds. Yes, the Storm Bride blog tour is winding down, with our last two stops both occurring today:

Lilaina Osborne has a very nice review up at On Writing.

The Indie View has an interview with me which includes some interesting discussion of the historical antecedents of the events in Storm Bride.

And that’s all. The storm is over. You can come out now and enjoy the sun.

The Storm Tour continues! This week the storm blew through three more places, wreaking havoc and destruction as it went.

The Gal in the Blue Mask has posted a review of Storm Bride and an interview with me.

Darusha Wehm has another interview with me, using a completely different set of questions.

And finally, another review over at Big Al’s.

Once again, I apologize to all people negatively affected by the flooding, lightning, hail, and earthquakes associated with the Storm Tour. You may address your complaints to the Powers, not that they ever listen.

Today I followed a link to this fascinating book review about the origins and current state of gypsy populations in southern Europe. The book itself focuses on Serbian Roma, but I can’t imagine that the Romanians are much different. Among the grim facts that I learned:

    • “[T]he Roma are socially excluded (and exclude themselves) with life expectancies 10 to 15 years lower than the European norm, high infant mortality, and an 80% unemployment rate.”
    • “Their code of conduct minimizes contact with non-gypsy people, and particularly abjures marriage with non-gypsies.”
    • “Non-Roma are seen as unclean and polluting, interactions with them are to be avoided, and theft and crimes against non-Roma are not morally wrong.” This is the sort of thing that is frequently repeated as a calumny against gypsies in Romania, so it’s interesting to see a scholarly author essentially confirm it.
    • The Roma have “horrific figures for child mortality: 6 per 100 for Christian Orthodox Roma, 13 per 100 for Muslim Roma. By way of comparison, the highest global under-5 death rates are in Africa, at 90 per 1000, and for Europe only 12 per 1000.”

The author of the review goes on to conclude that most of the health and intelligence issues in the gypsy community are due to inbreeding, as well as some other issues. Overall, it’s a depressing read that doesn’t leave one with a lot of optimism for the gypsies.

The Man Who Was Thursday
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t think I’m nearly creative or audacious enough to write something like The Man Who Was Thursday. I could barely believe that I was reading it.

Ostensibly, this is the story of Gabriel Syme, a gentleman, a poet, and a lover of law and order. In the first chapter he takes up an argument with another poet Lucian Gregory, an anarchist poseur. They argue heatedly but ineffectually, and both of them dismiss the other as harmless. However, the evening turns strange when Gregory swears Syme to secrecy, then conducts him to the underground lair of the European Council of Anarchists, where he reveals that he belongs to a cabal of anarchist terrorists, all of whom have taken up disguises as harmless bourgeois dilettantes to throw the police off their scent. Syme then reveals to Gregory that he is in fact a member of the police force, who has been drafted into a secret cadre of police intellectuals commissioned to prevent crimes arising from bad philosophy.

Both of them swear to keep the other’s secret. The anarchist parliament convenes, and Gregory’s election proceeds as predicted, until Syme intervenes. He contrives to pass himself off as a representative of the Council’s president, discredits Gregory, and has himself elected to the council in Gregory’s place.

This double deception is indicative of the whole absurdist tone of the book. People disguise themselves as exactly what they are, fight bitterly with their allies, and collude with their enemies, and by the end of the book even the ridiculous premise described above turns out to be something other than the truth. After Syme is elected to the Council of Anarchists, he becomes privy to a plot to kill both the Czar and the Prime Minister of France with a bomb, and sets out to somehow derail the assassinations without revealing himself to the rest of the group. His attempts result in him being chased by an octogenarian through a London snow storm, a duel with the Marquis of St. Eustache, a desperate flight through the French countryside, and a battle with an anarchist horde at the seashore. None of these incidents are what they seem at first, and all of them are accompanied by further revelations about the true nature of the characters and organizations in the story.

This structure is both the novel’s strength and its greatest weakness. By the third iteration of "this person is not what they seem", it becomes fairly obvious what the general direction of the story is, and some of the final twists in the main plot seemed rather perfunctory. However, as the plot dissolves into obfuscation, a larger and more pressing mystery comes forth, like a shape looming out of the fog: Who is the President of the Council of Anarchists, and what does he actually want? The answer to this question is strange, unexpected, and beautiful. Finding it out also involves a hijacked hansom cab, an elephant, and a hot air balloon.

In many ways, this novel feels like a spiritual predecessor to The Prisoner. As in The Prisoner, the story’s conceit revolves around hidden identities and double-crosses, and as with The Prisoner the novel’s ending does not resolve the plot in any literal manner. Rather, as the story nears its conclusion it ascends out of its novelistic trappings into something like a fairy tale, offering a conclusion which addresses the novel’s questions spiritually and philosophically. Not all readers will like the ending, but I doubt many will doubt its audacity and originality.

If you like Chesterton, you will doubtlessly like this book. If you don’t like Chesterton, you may enjoy this anyway, if nothing else as an example of how to write a cosmic comedy in the guise of a police thriller.

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