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Nutshell

September 25, 2016

It was mostly Jenny’s glee over the very idea of “an in-womb fetus who is also Hamlet” at Reading the End that made me pick up Ian McEwan’s new novel Nutshell when I came across it. In the past, I’ve been a fan of McEwan’s writing. I loved Atonement and The Children Act and liked Sweet Tooth. This tale told by a fetus, however, was a bridge too far.

After telling how he came up with the idea for the novel, McEwan says in an interview “I’m going to get such a kicking for this. But, the more I thought that, the more I enjoyed it. I was committed from the first sentence. I just had so much fun.” So the novel itself ought to be more fun.

It isn’t, though. The conceit weighs heavy on the narrative, with the fetus making frequent references to how he knows something: “When, in the early days, she inserted her earbuds, I heard clearly, so efficiently did sound waves travel through jawbone and clavicle, down through her skeletal structure, swiftly through the nourishing amniotic. Even television conveys most of its meager utility by sound. Also, when my mother and Claude meet, they occasionally discuss the state of the world, usually in terms of lament, even as they scheme to make it worse.”

The fun of the fetus being like Hamlet, unable to act—in this case literally, because he isn’t born yet—is muted by his ponderous musings:
“So, getting closer, my idea was To be. Or if not that, its grammatical variant, is. This was my aboriginal notion and here’s the crux—is. Just that. In the spirit of Es muss sein. The beginning of conscious life was the end of illusion, the illusion of non-being, and the eruption of the real. The triumph of realism over magic, of is over seems. My mother is involved in a plot, and therefore I am too, even if my role might be to foil it. Or if I, reluctant fool, come to term too late, then to avenge it.”

Fetus Hamlet’s father is a sensitive poet while his uncle Claude is a shallow, money-grubbing real estate type. From this, I guess we deduce the author’s own idea of who should rule, and who is the criminal who would overthrow such rightful rule. The fetus also articulates what I presume to be McEwan’s own view of the United States: “Its nervous population obese, fearful, tormented by inarticulate anger, contemptuous of governance, murdering sleep with every new handgun.”

There is way too much description of drinking, with the fetus spewing out long and unlikely reviews of wines, like “the spicy cassis and black cherry…the hint of violets and fine tannins suggests that lazy, clement summer of 2005, untainted by heatwaves, though a teasing, next-room aroma of mocha, as well as more proximal black-skinned banana, summon Jean Grivot’s domaine in 2009.” There is so much to give the author a kicking over here, and so little fun in asking questions like what the hell can a fetus know about the next room?

Also there is way, way too much description of late, third-trimester sex between the fetus’ mother Trudy and her lover Claude. Other reviews (yes, I read some to determine if anyone has yet given McEwan the kicking he deserves, and I concluded not) have made much of lines like “Not everyone knows what it is to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose,” but it seems to me that no one has yet adequately conveyed how repellent the sex is, how often it happens, and how much this weighs down a reader’s progress through the book. Maybe we’re supposed to feel the grossness of Claude’s hands “paddling in her neck,” or wherever, but mostly what I felt was weariness and disgust at the repetition.

The little jabs at current events fall just as flat as the long, still moments after the kick of a little foot from inside, when an expectant father or friend stands there with his hand on the still and stretched belly, waiting. When a fetus pronounces that “If my college does not bless me, validate me and give me what I clearly need, I’ll press my face into the vice chancellor’s lapels and weep. Then demand his resignation,” it is pretty clearly not the fetus himself speaking.

The task of reading this short novel is arduous. Do not undertake it. There is not enough fun to be had.

Field Guide to the End of the World

September 19, 2016

poeticbuttonIn an essay called “The Lighter Side of the End of the World, Jeannine Hall Gailey explains why she started writing the poems in Field Guide to the End of the World:
“When I started writing my latest book, Field Guide to the End of the World, I was thinking of the grimness of the news footage, politics, civil wars…even the weather reports sounded frightening, with their floods and snowpocalypse, the occasional meteor passing close by the earth. The grimness of today’s YA literature and movies, in which every government is sinister, every adult is out to steal your blood or control your mind and life isn’t about happy endings, but rather a set of confusing and meaningless experiments run by shadow organizations. The dour headlines of scientific news: endless stories of killer antibiotic-resistant germs, global warming, that we’re heading for a sixth extinction, also inspired more than one poem.”

The idea of a “field guide,” that there will be a need and there is still a person left to take notes, is kind of funny all by itself. In the title poem, “Field Guide to the End of the World,” we’re told that “The Kingdom may already be at hand. Marshal your resources.” Being able to see when the end begins is a matter of perspective, and maybe survival.

In “Martha Stewart’s Guide to Apocalypse Living,” we get recommendations for going out gracefully, ending with “Now’s the time to get out your hurricane lamps! They create a lovely glow in/these last days.”

There’s a fan letter to a movie star, “Letter to John Cusack, Piloting a Plan in an Apocalypse Movie” which includes the realization that “I suppose we must finally shed our black trench coats and bad attitudes, because why be subversive anymore? We must create our own shiny new future, maybe featuring spaceships.”

My favorite part of Gailey’s premise is that it’s the end of the world for every kind of being, not just mortals. One of the best poems in the volume is about what is happening to vampires as the world ends:

Introduction to Teen Girl Vampires

They turn feral while defending their human boyfriends, harmless and blond
in Varsity jackets and crew-cuts. These girls just want to be loved, and fed,

in that order, and can we blame them? A nurse here or there won’t be missed,
or the guy playing “second policeman.” Bram Stoker equated blood and sex,

Mina chaste and clever while hunting her Dracula down, his bite awaking
impulses that ignited and were ignored. These days, teen vampire girls enjoy sex

with abandon, tossing lovers around like tree limbs. These days, the girl
doesn’t succumb to the monster, she is the monster, teeth gleaming in the moonlight,

coquettish limbs and curls masking superpowers. Oh, she still wants to be
the prettiest girl at the prom, and perhaps she mourns some future idea

of motherhood. But men line up for the promise of her bite, her blood.
And she has nothing to fear; she cannot be broken, tarnished by age, her heart

impenetrable to anything except for that wooden stake.

The poems are not only about survival. In “Introduction to Time Travel Theory,” we get a list of the reasons we should want to go on living, “to explore our ‘what if’ Imaginariums, to wormhole our way/out of problems and ensure the miracle of our own birth,/the end of the war that destroys our planet.” What we love is also listed, like the poem’s reference to the running joke in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel about “the universe in which there are no shrimp.” And hope is on the list, like everyone’s secret hope that soon “alternate-future-you rides a dragon into a time loop/or carries a samurai sword engraved with an important code/only you will be able to decipher.”

Some of the poems are more personal, about the disconcerting failures of the speaker’s body: “If my own light is burning out, then it feels right/that the earth should too.” Some are about living in California: “I’ve gone all the way to the edge, you see, where they grow/oranges and avacadoes and the sun always shines.” A few are about dreams: “we dream of robots, of zombies, of plagues and comets,/of tidal waves that wipe out our world. We dream of the end/because we long to disappear.”

Near the end of the volume, I enjoyed the humor of “But It Was An Accident,” which begins with:

“Yes, I was the one who left out the open petri dishes of polio and plague next to the pasta.

I leaked the nuclear codes, the ones on the giant floppy disks from 1982.

I feel asleep at the button. I ordered tacos and turned out the lights. How I was I to know that someone was waiting for the right time?

I thought the radio was saying ‘Alien attack’ and headed for the fallout shelter, and failed to feed the dogs.

I followed evacuation plans. I just followed orders.”

In “Remnant,” we get “those tubes/of sunlight that show up on the path, lighting the way” while in “The End of the Future” we see that children “have been taught to fear everything—salmonella in the peanut butter,/allergens in the air, the creepy guy next door who, let’s face it, probably/is a pervert.”

The volume has an “Epilogue: A Story for After,” in which “There are no more shotguns or dusty trails lined with diseased corpses. A ship arrives on top of a mountain, heralded by doves, an airplane lands on another planet, seatmates dazed by the lack of gravity.”

It’s like the ending of Shelley’s “Ozymandius” has been reimagined, the eternal truth made new again with the addition of modern images and allusions and by paying close attention to “what fools these mortals be.”

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

September 15, 2016

Reading Becky Chambers’ new space opera novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is like being reunited with some of the characters you loved most in Firefly except that most of these characters aren’t human, or even “Exodan,” which is a different strain of our species in this fiction. There’s the Zoe character, except she’s named Sissix and from an affectionate lizard-type race. There’s a Shepherd Book character, with a mysterious badass episode in his past, except that he’s among the last of a dying giant caterpillar race and instead of a preacher, he’s the doctor and chef. There’s a Kaylee character named Kizzy. The captain of the ship, Ashby Santoso, is a Mal figure but without Serenity Valley in his past and with a secret alien lover. We’re introduced to this crew, the crew of a spaceship called The Wayfarer, when Rosemary, a woman with a past she is trying to hide (the Simon Tam character), joins them. She is escorted around the ship by the Jayne character, a guy named Corbin who has no social graces but is good at keeping their algae alive, the fuel for the ship.

There are characters from other science fiction universes, too. Kizzy has a partner who is also a spaceship mechanic, Jenks, and he is physically different from everyone else because his mother was part of a group of humans who refused alterations to her offspring. Jenks falls in love with the ship’s computer, Lovelace, who is a version of Heinlein’s Dora, only much less silly (since she was written in the 21st century). The navigator, Ohan, is straight out of Frank Herbert’s Dune, except instead of being addicted to spice, “they” have exposed themselves to a virus that helps them see how to fold space.

So it’s all slightly familiar, while the conversations and adventures are delightfully alien. In an early conversation with Sissix, Rosemary reveals the fact that she’s never eaten a very common kind of bug, and thinks:
“She felt guilty just saying it. Insects were cheap, rich in protein and easy to cultivate in cramped rooms, which made them an ideal food for spacers. Bugs had been part of the Exodus Fleet’s diet for so long that even extrasolar colonies still used them as a main staple. Rosemary had, of course, at least heard of red coast bugs. The old story went that a short while after the Exodus Fleet had been granted refugee status within the Galactic Commons, a few Human representatives had been brought to some Aeluon colony to discuss their needs. One of the more entrepreneurial Humans had noticed clusters of large insects skittering over the red sand dunes near the coastline. The insects were a mild nuisance to the Aeluons, but the Humans saw food, and lots of it. Red coast bugs were swiftly adopted into the Exodans’ diet, and nowadays you could find plenty of Aeluons and extrasolar Humans who had become wealthy from their trade. Rosemary’s admission that she’d never eaten red coast bugs meant that she was not only poorly traveled, but that she belonged to a separate chapter of Human history. She was a descendant of the wealthy meat eaters who had first settled Mars, the cowards who had shipped livestock through space while nations starved back on Earth.”

I like the details about the universe Chambers has created. I like it when Kizzy sings a song she calls “Socks Match My Hat” and we find out that it’s prohibited in the Harmagian Protectorate because it’s actually called “Soskh Matsh Mae’ha” and it’s about “banging the Harmagian royal family.”

I like the way Jenks is critical of an organization that calls itself “Friends of Digital Sapients” because “they didn’t have a lot of techs in their ranks. They ignored the actual science behind artificial cognition in favor of a bunch of fluffy nonsense, making AIs out to be organic souls imprisoned within metal boxes. AIs weren’t like that.”

I like the explanation of how the Wayfarer makes tunnels through space, and the picture of what could happen if this went wrong:
“The Kaj’met Expanse was a Harmagian territory, half the size of the Sol system, in which space had been completely rent asunder. The pictures from there were terrifying—asteroids drifting into invisible holes, planets snapped in half, a dying star leaking into a debris-crusted tear.”

And I like the way some of the aliens are really alien, like the Aeluons, who
“lacked a natural sense of hearing, and had no need for a spoken language of their own. Among themselves, they communicated through color—specifically, iridescent patches on their cheeks that shimmered and shifted like the skin of a bubble.”

The adventure begins when the Wayfarer and her crew accept a tunneling job that takes them through newly-opened space. They get fired on and boarded by Akarak space pirates, and are saved when Rosemary knows enough about their culture to bargain with them and enough of a language they speak (Hanto) to communicate with them.

After the space pirate incident, they land on a planet in order to buy some shields and weapons, and meet “modders” who have modified their bodies in order to perform specialized tasks. Kizzy discovers hidden bombs on a spaceship docked with the Wayfarer and defuses every one. Sissix rescues Corbin from a Quelin prison, and Corbin later saves Ohan’s life, against their will.

The ending, which begins winding up within sight of the “small, angry planet,” is a mess of overheard conversation, suspicious aliens, a last-minute getaway, and the death of one of the crew members.

I liked reading the book so much I stayed up late to finish it. My only complaint is that Kizzy started to get on my nerves after a while–she does things calculated to make her about 500 times cuter than Kaylee, like knitting hats for little helper bots…just too precious. Also she eats all the time but never gains weight or offends anyone else with her crumbs or her greed. Perhaps I’m agreeing with Jenny that the way these characters get along is too good to be true. But hey, it is fiction, and a very pleasant, cozy kind—at least in between alien attacks.

The Secret of Backs

September 13, 2016

For the past two years, I’ve gone twice a week to the local hospital’s “Center for Rehabilitation and Wellness” pool for a water aerobics class. I’m starting my third year, and have seen a lot of different women come and go. Yes, they’re mostly women, mostly menopausal or older, mostly plumper than they’d probably like, mostly gorgeous when they abandon their self-consciousness, forget their chronic pains in the buoyancy of the water, and move in ways they haven’t thought about in years—skipping, hopscotch, cross-country skiing.

Every once in a while, I see one of them fully dressed, walking a half-filled cart down the aisle at Kroger or carrying a loaded tray past my table at Panera. I don’t always recognize them at first, but sometimes, as they pass, I look back and remember where I’ve seen them.

I was re-reading a book of poems by Dorianne Laux that I’d first read in 2011 because I recently found a used copy, and this one stood out to me, on re-reading:

The Secret of Backs

Heels of the shoes worn down, each
in its own way, sending signals to the spine.

The back of the knee as it folds and unfolds.
In winter the creases of American-made jeans:
blue denim seams worried to white threads.

And in summer, in spring, beneath the hems
of skirts, Bermudas, old bathing suit elastic,
the pleating and un-pleating of parchment skin.

And the dear, dear rears. Such variety! Such
choice in how to cover or reveal: belts looped high
or slung so low you can’t help but think of plumbers.

And the small of the back: dimpled or taut, spiny or not,
tattooed, butterflied, rosed, winged, whorled. Maybe
still pink from the needle and ink. And shoulders,

broad or rolled, poking through braids, dreads, frothy
waterfalls of uncut hair, exposed to rain, snow, white
stars of dandruff, unbrushed flecks on a blue-black coat.

And the spiral near the top of the head—
peek of scalp, exquisite galaxy—as if the first breach
swirled each filament away from that startled center.

Ah, but the best are the bald or neatly shorn, revealing
the flanged, sun-flared, flamboyant backs of ears: secret
as the undersides of leaves, the flipside of flower petals.

And oh, the oh my nape of the neck. The up-swept oh my
nape of the neck. I could walk behind anyone and fall in love.

Don’t stop. Don’t turn around.

I know that I should apply what I think about the appearance of the other menopausal women in the class to myself, but it’s not easy. I like this poem because it suggests that the one thing anyone can do is to turn her back and keep skipping or hop-scotching, not to get ahead, but to be able to stay in the same place for longer.

Commonwealth

September 12, 2016

I thought Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder showed that she had reached her peak as a writer, so perhaps it’s inevitable that I would see her new novel Commonwealth as the start of a slow descent from that peak.

Partly it’s just the subject matter. How can a story that originates in suburban Virginia compete with a story in which we get taken into the jungle? The “jungle” in suburban Virginia is metaphorical, sure, but it’s less mysterious and wonderful.

The title Commonwealth is all kinds of symbolic as it’s about six children from two blended families, the trouble they got up to one summer, and how that summer affected the rest of their lives.

The children are not closely supervised during their summers together, and the novel takes a judgmental tone towards that because the children do. They resent being thrown together and they believe their parents should wake up from their sexual daze and see how their actions have affected their offspring. The parents don’t, however, and the offspring have entire days to go off on their own. From their very first outing, they give Benadryl to the youngest so he won’t slow them down and then:
“the five of them swam out farther than they would have been allowed to had the parents been with them. Franny and Jeanette went to look for caves and were taught to fish by two men they met standing off by themselves in a grove of trees on the shore. Cal stole a package of Ho-Ho’s from the bait shop and had no need to use the gun in the paper bag because no one saw him do it. Caroline and Holly climbed to the top of a high rock and leapt into the lake again and again and again.”

There are lots of little close-ups of people that readers will recognize. I recognized some of the ones of an old man getting treatments at a hospital and talking to his daughter—not because of conversations with my father, but with my mother. He tells a story about a man he worked with and says, anticipating her reaction, “can you imagine the lawsuits people would file if someone did that now?” He feels irritated by the daughter’s appearance, thinking that she looked like her mother “but without Beverly’s sense of knowing what to do with her looks….He knew people here, sometimes his doctor came by during treatment. She could have made an effort.”

There are little details that you may recognize too, like this one:
“Just then the lights came down two settings. Heinrich always shut down the night too abruptly, turning the lights so low so fast that it felt like a straight fall into darkness. Every time it happened she had a split second of wondering if something small and important had ruptured inside her head.”

Living in wet and green Ohio at this time of year, I appreciated the description of Virginia as a place where “the world had been rendered deep and lush and essentially fireproof. In Virginia people stored wood in the garage in the hopes that one day it would be dry enough to burn.”

There’s a metafictional turn to the novel when the youngest child discovers that the fictional novel Commonwealth, written by Leo Posen (inside the actual novel Commonwealth, written by Ann Patchett) tells the story of the six children and the summer when they’d given all the Benadryl to him and there was none left when it was needed.

It’s an inventive tale about shifting loyalties and the ownership of the stories we tell. I enjoyed reading it, but I don’t think it’s as captivating and wonderful as the last one she wrote. Commonwealth goes on sale tomorrow, and I thank HarperCollins for sending me an advance copy.

Chasing the Stars

September 5, 2016

I was promised “gender-swapped Othello in space!” when I picked up Malorie Blackman’s Chasing the Stars, and while I don’t exactly feel cheated, I somehow did not expect to get a version of the story that, like the movie O, gives the Iago figure a motive. And then…

Oh, Malorie Blackman, “thou hast not half that power to do me harm/
As I have to be hurt.”

… this version of the story shows Desdemona getting the chance to explain how the handkerchief (in this version, the necklace) was lost. This version also completely exposes the Iago figure’s villainy, in addition to his motive.

Chasing the Stars ends with the most inane dialogue imaginable, the Othello figure saying
“You promised to love me for ever and it was implied, though never stated, that I wouldn’t try to kill you”
and the Desdemona figure still unable to forgive, speaking his parting words
“you take care of yourself, OK?”
The beautiful, haunting words of one of the most passionate plays in the history of the English language reduced all the way down to these. Really?

And it started so well! I liked the science fiction handling of the racial aspect of the play when the Desdemona figure, Nathan, reveals that he is a “drone” and the Othello figure, Vee, (gender-swapped but not race-swapped, evidently) responds “Like you could be a drone! They’re just sub-intellect labourers doing all the menial, manual work that’s too filthy or hazardous for normal people to do” because she’s never been a slave, never seen “The Anthropophagi and men whose heads/Do grow beneath their shoulders.”

The relationship between Nathan (Desdemona) and Anjuli (Cassio) is very nicely set up—on the prison planet where they were both drones, Nathan says,
“Anjuli had befriended me, shown me the ropes and taught me which guards and supervisors to avoid like primate flu and which ones were still relatively human. And she’d actually saved my life once. I would’ve sunk without trace if it hadn’t been for her and we both knew it.”
Similarly, the relationship between Vee and her Iago is very well set up and fits the science fiction theme interestingly, although aspects of it are a surprise that it would entirely spoil the book to reveal.

Let’s talk about the writing, though. I was bothered by the occasional needless use of words like “amongst” in sentences like this one: “The only thing I hadn’t shared with any of the others was the executive command code which allowed me amongst other things to lock out or lock down any computer function at a moment’s notice.” Then it accelerated. I started seeing “whilst” in sentences like “Nathan, you’d better make the most of her whilst you’ve got her” and “He was locked out whilst there were people inside the conduits.”

So I was less inclined to give this author a pass for quoting bits of Othello like “Beware the green-eyed monster which mocks the meat it feeds on” without any reference to what the second part means in this space-age context. I was also complely unprepared to forgive the author of a 2016 novel for using Wash’s famous phrase from the 2005 movie Serenity, about being “a leaf on the wind” in this clunky sentence:
“Aidan made that craft dance like a leaf on the wind.”

It’s not that bad an updating but boy, did it make me angry. Desdemona would never leave Othello. Othello would never leave her. The ending of this particular story is always that when Othello no longer loves Desdemona, then “Chaos is come again.” It’s not just another day in the universe, you know?

Shadow and Bone

August 31, 2016

For a recent trip by plane, I was glad to have all three of Leigh Bardugo’s novels that tell the Russian-flavored fantasy tale of Alina Starkov, who finds out that she is a “Grisha,” someone who can do magic. The first of these is Shadow and Bone. In it, Alina finds that she can make light, but she is attracted to the power of one who can make darkness, and the results of her actions in the trilogy are predictable but entertaining, as she learns to use her power while honoring her alliances.

The plane ride was only an hour, which is about how long each book took and how long my (direct) (this is rare!) flight was from Columbus to Raleigh-Durham, NC, so I had another book to read at the motel where I had a pisgah view of the pool in August—it was filled with water, but closed and surrounded by dirt and equipment. This was the trip I took to help Eleanor move, as Ron made the four-day drive with her from Tucson, AZ to Chapel Hill, NC and then had to fly back as soon as they arrived because he had a “retreat” at work that he couldn’t miss (and then he spent the rest of the week dealing with what I hadn’t been able to get cleared away from the tree falling on our deck and part of the roof in the one day I was home after it happened).

Did I tell you that a tree fell on our deck while Ron was gone? Walker and I were in the part of the house nearest where it fell. We heard it falling—a very big noise—and I froze. I should have run to the farther part of the house, but it sounded like it was coming down all around, and my intellect was not in charge of my body for those few moments. The trunk smashed up some benches and outside furniture, and it made a hole in the roof above Walker’s room (where he was when it fell) and tore off the gutter, but we were pretty lucky. Part of the reason it didn’t do more damage to the house is that it fell on the electric line, which is suspended among the trees in the woods in back of our house. When the trunk fell, it was caught by the line for a moment, and then it smashed the pole and the transformer, which burned on the ground and sent arcs up the wires in back of the house (this was at 10 pm). The fire department came, and the electric company, who just shook their heads and said they would be back to see about it in the morning. The next morning, the tree company came at the behest of the electric company and refused to take down the other two enormous trunks of the tree, which they told me is rotten at the heart and will eventually fall on the electric line. Instead, they trimmed an oak so it had no leaves, and left it lying all over the ground. Ron hired a different tree company to come and haul away the fallen trunk, but he and a friend who wants firewood have been trying to chop up the oak pieces on the ground. We may eventually have to hire the tree company to come back. In the meantime, though, we had an expensive plumbing emergency (it’s an older house), so we’re leaving things alone for a while.

One of the things I liked most about Shadow and Bone is the way it creates an entire culture, complete with mythical creatures. I had to look some of them up, because it’s not clear which are mythical only in the fiction and which are mythical in our world, too. There is “Morozova’s herd,” for instance, which is a herd of magical white deer that appear only at twilight, and they are compared to “unicorns and the Shu Han dragons.”

In the second book, Siege and Storm, they go hunting the firebird, and Alina learns more about the effort it takes her opponent, the “Darkling,” to create monsters called “nichevo’ya,” which he makes using “Merzost,” described as “a corruption of the making at the heart of the world.”

In the third book, Ruin and Rising, they try to discover the secrets of an early Grisha named Morozova without uncovering the forbidden mysteries that led to his destruction:
“He’d killed animals and then brought them back to life, sometimes repeatedly, delving deeper into merzost, creation, the power of life over death, trying to find a way to create amplifiers that might be used together. It was forbidden power, but I knew its temptation, and I shuddered to think that pursuing it might have driven him mad.”

There’s a delightfully smart and adventurous prince named Nikolai who keeps turning up to help save Alina until it’s her turn to save him and her country. I love the scene where she is trapped at gunpoint by Luchenko’s gang and one of them mentions the prince:
“’I saw the prince when I was in Os Alta,’ said Ekaterina. ‘He’s not bad looking.”
‘Not bad looking?’ said another voice. ‘He’s damnably handsome.’
Luchenko scowled. ‘Since when—‘
‘Brave in battle, smart as a whip.’ Now the voice seemed to be coming from above us. Luchenko craned his neck, peering into the trees. ‘An excellent dancer,’ said the voice. ‘Oh, and an even better shot.’
Nikolai then shoots all the bad guys, of course, and swings down from the trees.

The end of all three books has to do with Morozova’s use of “Merzost” to bring back his daughter:
“It wasn’t healing. It was resurrection.”
His actions have far-flung consequences, into succeeding generations. Only Alina, in the end, can disperse his power so that her country and everyone still living who she cares about can be saved.

It’s a good adventure, wrapped up nicely. Just the thing to read while traveling to set up a daughter’s new life and trying to get your own back on track.

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