Sunday, September 17, 2017

Perfiditas: Defending The Matriarchy of Roma Nova

Perfiditas is the second book in Alison Morton's Roma Nova series.  I received it as a gift from the author through Book Funnel.  I recently reviewed the first of the series Inceptio here.  For more information about Morton's alternate universe read my review of Inceptio.  I do need to tell readers that the former Karen Brown is now Roma Novan Carina Mitela and an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces (PGSF).

                           


It's the responsibility of the PGSF  to protect Roma Nova from all threats foreign or domestic.   In  Inceptio there was a foreign threat, but in Perfiditas there is an internal threat to the matriarchy.

In order to defeat this threat, PGSF really needs Carina's unorthodox tactics, but officers who think by the book dominate the hierarchy as is typical in military organizations.  This makes Carina a controversial figure similar to Captain Kirk of Star Trek.  Readers who identify with Carina may be outraged on her behalf.  They may think that her husband Conrad should be more supportive.

The plot is exciting.  It includes suspenseful sequences of events, and reversals of fortune.   It shows the fortitude of female Roma Novans from small girls to grandmothers. Perfiditas also displays the loyalty of most of the men of  Roma Nova to the matriarchy.
I was pleased that men in general didn't want to see the Imperatrix overthrown, and weren't interested in collaborating with misogynistic men.   During the alleged "Golden Age of Science Fiction" there were a number of matriarchal dystopias that appeared in which the men rose up against them.  So I find Perfiditas a refreshing turnabout of this classic formula.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mistress Suffragette

My readers here know that I love to read and review novels about suffragettes.  This year  I've reviewed a YA mystery dealing with suffragettes here and a novel about a suffragette in South Carolina hereMistress Suffragette by Diana Forbes is a debut romance taking place in America during the Gilded Age.

I rarely read or review romances. I like unusual books, and romances tend to run to formula. So when I got the request for this review, I had to take a look at what was being said about Mistress Suffragette on Goodreads.  It sounded like there would be more emphasis on the context than I would normally find in a historical romance.  This is why I accepted a review copy, and I am now posting an honest review.

                     


There is a repeating pattern for all three of the suffragette novels I've read this year.  It seemed to me that the protagonists aren't as strong or as interesting as supporting characters.  I always find this disappointing. In my review of In The Fullness of Time by Katherine Stillerman which is the second review linked above, I speculated that the authors may think their protagonists are more relatable.

  When we first meet Penelope Stanton, the protagonist of Mistress Suffragette,  she's sheltered, spoiled and somewhat shallow.   She makes the occasional witty remark, but frankly I found her thoroughly unsympathetic.   I told myself she would improve when she stopped being under her mother's thumb.  She did improve.  She began to be more thoughtful.   Yet throughout the novel, Penelope ends up being swayed by those who surround her.  Some of her worst decisions could only be explained by the proximity of a strong minded individual over-riding her judgment.  She seemed to lack self-determination.

I preferred Verdana, a feminist activist that Penelope encounters after she leaves home.  Verdana's focus is on women's clothing reform to increase mobility.  Verdana is bold within the context of her period.  I liked her self-acceptance and genuine desire to help other women.   For much of the book, Verdana's cause is more central than women's suffrage.  Yet I enjoyed Verdana's expansion of Penelope's consciousness by introducing ideas and experiences that were foreign to her.

Speaking of new experiences, I thought that the scene in which Penelope learns to use a gun and becomes an instant sharpshooter unrealistic.   If you've ever tried to handle a gun for the first time, you know that there's a kick that will be unexpected.  It tends to throw people off.  Diana Forbes should have consulted with someone who knows guns when she was writing that scene.

I  was also irritated by certain character name choices. Names like Daggers or Stalker sound like mustache twirling villains in staged melodramas from the period that Forbes was writing about.  Real people weren't likely to have names like those. I felt that they were heavy handed and predictable.  They would be more appropriate for a satire.

So although there were characters and moments in Mistress Suffragette that pleased me, the book definitely did have flaws.  Judging from reviews, some readers may overlook those issues.  I am hoping that Diane Forbes learned from the experience of writing this book and will produce better work in the future.
                              

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Inceptio-- What if Rome Was Ruled by Women?

Alison Morton tells us in her acknowledgements at the end of Inceptio  that she'd been wondering what the Roman Empire would have been like if it were a matriarchy since she was eleven years old.  That was the origin of the Roma Nova alternate historical thriller series.  Inceptio is the first volume in that series.

 Instead of going back to the beginnings of Rome for the divergence point of her alternate universe, Morton starts with the establishment of Roma Nova.  Morton's Roma Nova is a Roman colony beyond the borders of the Empire which was established during the reign of Theodosius in the 4th century C.E. which is very late in Roman history.   Roma Nova may be located in part of the territory that we call Switzerland in our universe.  There is also a mention of a nation called Helvetica which may be where the peoples of  our Switzerland reside. I'm not entirely certain.  If the author had provided a map, that would have settled the matter.

 The founders of Roma Nova left Rome when Theodosius outlawed all Pagan practices.  This and other background appears in the Introduction which avoids info dumps within the novel's text.  I applaud Morton's solution to this world building problem. 

I received Inceptio for free from the author through Instafreebie which doesn't require downloaders to review free books.  The premise sounded fascinating, but it took me a while to get to Inceptio due to review commitments.

                           


Inceptio takes place in the altered 21st century. Roma Nova is a place where Latin is the primary spoken language.  It's ruled by an Imperatrix and families are matrilineal.  Men marry into the families of their wives. We follow the story of a young woman whose mother was a Roma Novan. She was born in the alternate version of the US.  As the novel opens she is introduced to us as Karen Brown, but events rapidly change her sense of identity. I admired Karen for her adaptability, resourcefulness and courage.

The plot is appropriately fast paced for a thriller with a great deal of action.   Morton doesn't linger to provide very many cultural references or explanations.  There are Latin terms, but I found it easy to understand them from context.  Aside from the setting, the events could be taking place in our 21st century.   There may be variant power hierarchies, but I got the impression that this isn't really a world that's very different from our own.  Modern technology is ubiquitous and societal problems are similar.  I didn't feel that Roma Nova was either a utopia or a dystopia.   

My one disappointment with Inceptio is that I expected to see characters more involved in Roman Pagan customs and institutions.   The founders of Roma Nova apparently left Rome when they did because they valued the traditions and practices of Roman Paganism.  I hoped that there would be more extensive content related to Pagan rituals, and that there might be at least one character who was a priestess.   I wondered if Morton's Praetorians might be Mithrans like many of the ancient Roman soldiers in our world, but there were no mentions of Mithras or any practices associated with Mithraism in Inceptio.   There were also no references to other popular mystery cults of the ancient Roman world.  Perhaps Morton believes that Pagan religion would have largely faded away as a response to science and technology, but in our 21st century there is a significant population that are believers in some form of religion.   I wanted to meet Roma Novans who were equally committed to some of the spiritual paths of ancient Rome.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Inceptio and the evolution of its female protagonist into a strong and capable woman.   I expect to continue on her journey in the remainder of the series.            
                                

                            


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Exiled: Anna Fekete Demands Justice In Serbia

The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto is the third in a series of mysteries dealing with police detective Anna Fekete who lives and works in Finland.  In this book, she goes home to see her family in Serbia and encounters murder in Kanizsa, her home village.  I won this novel in a Goodreads giveaway in 2016. It is the last of  five Goodreads giveaway wins from last year.  I have finally gotten it read while it's still  Women in Translation (WIT) month. Kati Hiekkapelto originally wrote this book in Finnish.  For more information about WIT month see an interview with the Israeli woman scientist who originated it here .

                                 


This is the first novel I've read in this series, but my perception is that Anna Fekete is not a noir detective.  She believes in values that are considered old fashioned in the 21st century like integrity and justice.  The violence in this novel also isn't on the level of the really dark Scandinavian noir that I've read.  There are no stomach churning details.  Although there is 21st century cynicism and corruption on the part of the local authorities in Serbia, I would call this noir lite, and I definitely prefer that. I hate finishing a book feeling totally disgusted as happens with most noir.

I was also glad to see a woman who wouldn't back down no matter how many people told her not to investigate the death of the man who stole her handbag.  It seemed to me that she's a rare woman. Someone else wouldn't have cared about the death of a thief--especially when the thief had stolen from her.  He was Romani and Anna thought he deserved justice.    Anna relied on the assistance of her loyal friend, Reka, a local journalist who gave her information and contacts.  Another woman that I really liked in this novel was Judit, a Romani community leader.

The parallel between Romani in Serbia and African Americans in the United States was very clear in The Exiled.  Romani lives didn't matter.  Whites in Serbia made the exact same sort of  contemptuous comments about Romani as white racists tend to make about African Americans in the U.S.   The people in Anna's village were Hungarians, an ethnic minority in Serbia.  They didn't like it when the government of Serbia discriminated against them, but too many of them looked down on Romani and considered them worthless.

Anna reflected about the village where she was born, and wondered about what home meant.   Could she really feel at home with people who didn't share her values?  I identified with Anna's inner struggle over this issue. 

The current massive refugee problem is part of the background of The Exiled .  The same people who denigrate Romani were equally prejudiced against refugees.  Anna went to the refugee camp with the village's Orthodox priest to see if she could help them.  

The genuinely decent woman protagonist, and her fight against both bigotry and corruption gave The Exiled stature.   It's a cut above the usual mystery.  I look forward to reading the next in the series when it becomes available in English.   



                                 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Pearl Thief

I've read two books by Elizabeth Wein dealing with female pilots, and reviewed one of them on this blog here.  Female pilots are a focus of  this blog. Wein created some memorable women and girls flying planes in  Rose Under Fire  and Black Dove, White Raven.

 I do need to point out that Julie, the central character of The Pearl Thief , isn't a pilot.  She's the spy protagonist of Wein's Code Name Verity which I didn't read because it was written in a way that didn't hold my attention.  There's supposed to be a movie in development.  If this film ever manifests, I suspect I will like it better than the book.

The Pearl Thief  is a prequel about Julie's early life in Scotland.  So why would I want to read the prequel to a book I didn't even like, and why would I think the review should be posted to Flying High Reviews?   You'll have to read my review to find out the answer to these questions, but I'll tell you right now that I did read every wonderful page of The Pearl Thief.

                                   


The main reason why I wanted to read The Pearl Thief is because British Travellers are prominent in the plot.  Travellers are often confused with the Romani who are now believed to have originated in India.  Travellers are native to Britain.  They were also called Tinkers because they mended pots and kettles, but the term Tinker was used as an insult.  Elizabeth Wein serves up intriguing snippets of the history and culture of Travellers in this novel.  I'd love to find out more.
 
Yet this blog is supposed to center on strong female characters.  Are there any in The Pearl Thief ?  You bet! First and foremost is the Traveller girl, Ellen who braves prejudice and abuse whenever she tangles with people in authority.   She's also fiercely loyal to her family.   Another strong female character is Ellen's dog Pinky who also exhibits bravery in the face of any threat to Ellen. Julie is willing to challenge convention by calling Travellers friends and defending them.  She also occasionally dressed in a man's kilt and was mistaken for a boy.

Another reason why I wanted to read this latest book by Wein is that it's a mystery beginning as a missing person case.   I am a fan of the mystery genre and this one involves several surprising twists. So this is an absorbing and well constructed mystery with great characters and a strong statement against prejudice.  I expect this to be one of my best reads of 2017.


                                       
                                   






Saturday, May 13, 2017

In The Fullness of Time: A Novel About A Fictional South Carolina Suffragette

Suffragettes are a favorite historical topic of mine.  So far this year I've reviewed  The Poison in All of Us,  a murder mystery dealing with suffragettes, on this blog here.  I've also reviewed a biography of British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer here.   So I was glad to see a request to review another suffragette novel in my e-mail.   That book was In The Fullness of  Time by Katherine P. Stillerman.  I received a free copy in return for this honest review.
                                    

 I wasn't aware that this book was a sequel until I finished it and read the Author's Note.  The first book was Hattie's Place and dealt with the same protagonist.  Since I haven't read it, I can only speculate about Hattie's Place based on its description.  It sounds more character centered than In The Fullness of Time.

 There is a good deal of telling and conversing about events that occurred off the narrative stage.   When an author does this, it distances the readers from those events.   If they are events that are significant in the lives of the characters, the audience may also feel distanced from the characters.  We don't find out what the characters were feeling and thinking as we would if we got to experience the events in real time as the characters experienced them.  


When I read about the focus and source of inspiration for this book in the Author's Note, I understood why Stillerman made the choices that she did. Like many American feminists, she was impressed by the fact that a woman was running for President of the United States.  So the symbolism of publishing a suffragette novel in these circumstances was irresistible. As a feminist myself, I was sympathetic to that perspective.  Unfortunately, this meant that at times Stillerman was more focused on the history of women's suffrage than on the characters.  It seems to me that the result was that her novel had less impact.

Another problem for me is that I was most interested in Hattie's sister in law, Alice, because she was more independent minded than Hattie.  I often wished that Alice was the protagonist.   Perhaps Stillerman thought that Alice was too unconventional and therefore less relatable for her audience.   Some readers also might think that the book would feel more historically authentic with a more typical woman as the central character.  Yet women like Alice did exist,  and I believe that novels that feature them inspire current readers.  It's also possible that if I had read Hattie's Place, I would have considered Hattie a stronger protagonist.

The male character that I considered most interesting was dead before the novel opened.   He was Alice's husband, Raymond,  an innovative physician with extraordinary insight.   I would love to read a book about Alice's unusual  marriage to this man.   Instead the story of Alice's marriage was used as a learning experience for Hattie.  It seems to me that there would be more dramatic power in showing Alice's experiences first hand.

There was an aspect of In The Fullness of Time that I considered valuable because I love history.   Stillerman describes the political process of how women's suffrage became law in the U.S. on both the federal and state levels, and all the obstacles to achieving ratification.  I have never seen a novel that was this detailed about all the practical politics involved in this issue.  Stillerman cites an extensive bibliography in her Notes on Sources.  Her research definitely shows.  For me, all the details made fascinating reading.  Suffragette novels usually only show dramatic high points in the struggle which is more entertaining for the general reader.   I imagine that I am an outlier, and that most of her audience would prefer a book that is more novelistic.  



 

 

Friday, April 14, 2017

@SiobhanMFallon Hits Home (Or Jordan) with Strong Moral

The Confusion of Languages
As I read this book, I really disliked it, not because of the writing or even the style though that did take some adjustment at first as it goes from present back to what is being read in a journal, but because I didn't like either of the women. Yet, I have to admit, it's a brutally honest depiction of women in real life. The jealousy, the need to be accepted, the looking down on others, the finding of faults... Sadly, most women, instead of picking each other up, put each other down, and are two faced with each one another. In this novel we don't just see the faces women show the world; we see the vicious other face not usually novelized. Because who wants to sit down and immerse themselves in petty jealousy and hatred? In backstabbing and assumption? In eyeballing someone else's spouse?

It's like Devious Maids in Jordan in Army wife format.

But towards the end, as we're finding out what exactly happened and why, I was riveted. I was skimming just because I had to know what happened. I was engrossed despite my dislike of the characters. And then as I turned the last page, I realized that this novel really made me think deep. There's a strong moral here...DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Be careful what you say about others. The repercussions can be vast.

And again, what I took from this is: Women, stop competing with each other. Stop eyeballing each other. Stop putting each other down. We need to band together and help, really help each other. Not pretend help, not help only as long as it benefits us.

Anyway, there's a reason for the pettiness and the jealousy and the thoughts. We have two women in Jordan, both married to Army men. One is childless and resents the other, the prettier, the smaller, the mother. Little does she know that what she sees is not really what is there.

Another interesting thing about this novel is the look into how we should behave in other cultures; how if we don't adapt, things can go very wrong.

I read You Know When the Men Are Gone and I've come to the conclusion Siobhan Fallon is a master writer and has given us yet another thought-evoking read. You can take away a lot from this if you think about what you're reading.