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review 2016-10-31 01:45
"The allure of the exotic"
An Import of Intrigue - Marshall Ryan Maresca

An Import of Intrigue

by Marshall Maresca

 

To say I enjoyed the first book in this series, A Murder of Mages, is an almost criminal understatement. As soon as I finished the book, I (a) went out and purchased the only other novel by Maresca I could get my hands on, and (b) reread the book. Given this highly atypical behavior on my part--I almost never buy books-- you can imagine my excitement when I received an arc of the sequel, An Import of Intrigue.

It's a bit hard to explain why these books work so well for me. Part of it is the genre: I absolutely adore detective novels crossed with speculative fiction, and police procedurals in this vein are particularly fun. I also have a deep fondness for urban-fantasy themes in high-fantasy worlds, and I thoroughly enjoyed Maresca's blend of clockpunk and steampunk. Last but not least, there were the characters: Satrine, the wife of an injured cop and a mother of two, with a history in spycraft and a goal of tricking her way into a decent-paying job, made for a highly sympathetic female protagonist. And then there is Minox, a member of a multigenerational clan of coppers with the not-so-secret disability of uncontrolled magic. I particularly liked Minox, who came across to me as fitting somewhere on the spectrum. In Import, we get to see a new side of the city: its foreign quarter. A mysterious murder has taken place that seems to involve every major foreign group in the city, and Satrine and Minox are taxed with finding the guilty party, hopefully without starting too many riots.

Given my feelings about the first book, you can imagine how much it breaks my heart to say it, but An Import of Intrigue really didn't work for me. I've always had some issues with the way that Maresca approaches race in his book, and this story merely exacerbates my issues. The Druth, who seem to me to be a vaguely British/European-based culture, create a white default, and all of the "exotic" foreign cultures the book deal with are varying shades of brown (and, in one case, grey). By the time we're in a fantasy world, why do authors insist upon basing so much upon skincolor? Why do they not understand the massive cultural baggage involved in having a character, say, go in blackface? Worse still, the imaginary cultures are clearly stereotyped shills for real-life cultures. The Kierans, for example, with their obsessions with bathing and art and trade and their general decadence, are based on the Romans.

The Lyranans are more problematic. Here is the opening description of them:

"They spoke in similar ways, with that tonal quality, and their faces had nearly no expression, at least none that Minox could properly understand. The only thing he could get out of it was haughtiness, but that might just be his own biases. Even the graceful, fluid way they moved their hands was odd, almost inhuman. More disturbing was the difficulty he had in identifying their differences. There was no sense of age he could place on any of them."

The Lyranans have names like "Fao Nengtaj" and "Pra Yikenj"and their language includes words like "teungzhai". Characterized as being extremely formal and with an obsession with titles and propriety, they eat glass noodles with "strange utensils" and have one agent skilled in an exotic martial art. They speak with a "strange tonal quality", their writing is made up of complex symbols, and they value poetry, particularly in a specific complex form. Given all this, is it any wonder that the Lyranans came across as a shallow and ill-informed stereotype of generic Asian culture?

The Imachan culture was even more offensive. How sure am I that the Imach culture is ripped off of some of the worst stereotypes of Muslims? Well, they have names like"Nalassein Hajan," "Ghalad", "Kadabali," and "Assan Jabiudal". The men wear "thick beards" and women are forced to wear heavy fully-covering clothing and are generally considered "unclean." And their "Eht'shahala"-- way too close to "inshallah," isn't it? Oh, and they are religious zealots, run by "his High Holiness the Cehlat of Imachan", and the story involves two different sects who bitterly hate each other. How over-the-top offensive was the characterization? Well, here's an example quote:

"The presumption--an accepted convention--is that Imach men are enflamed by fair-haired Druth women, and even more so by my coloring."
"Surely they wouldn't attack you."
"Probably not."


Look, I get it. Maresca is trying to write a book about racism, tolerance, and clash of cultures. There are quite a few gratifying moments when Minox is called out for his thoughtless assumptions and biases. But here's my problem: if you're trying to write a book about racism, you better be really, really sure that you aren't thoughtlessly invoking biased stereotypes. And in my opinion, Maresca lost that one and lost it hard. If you want to write about foreign cultures, even in fantasy, then I believe that you have to do it right and do the research. It can be done; The Golem and the Jinni is a beautiful example of respectful multicultural fantasy. If other authors are daunted by the seven years of research that Wexler put in, then why not use their imaginations and create their own cultures? This is supposed to be fantasy.Why attempt to superficially mimic real cultures rather than create your own? I just don't get it.

Maybe it was because I was already in a bad mood, but this book also injured my view of the protagonists. In this book, we learned that Satrine didn't actually earn her skills in the spy trade; he got them via magic which required no effort on her part. Worse still, Maresca finally applied to what started out as an important main character some of the most standard objectifications against women.

He has reduced her to a walking womb. She has gone from a strong women with an ill husband to a girl shoved into a situation her smarts had nothing to do with, got pregnant, participated in a shotgun wedding, and hid away her kid. She's no longer a cop; she's a womb, the progenitor of a royal heir. 

(spoiler show)

And to top it all, the mystery was, sad to say, pretty lame, although at least the characters thought so as well.

As Satrine puts it, "a confession drops into our lap."  If Rup-Sed wanted to bring attention to what was going on, why didn't he try to tell the investigators what was going on?

(spoiler show)

 Whenever I could rip my thoughts away from fuming about the Imach and Lyranan cultures, I tried to enjoy the book. We get to see all of the fun characters of A Murder of Mages as well as some sly mentions of the other story arc taking place in the world.

Is this book worth a read? Well, it's definitely worth checking out A Murder of Mages first. If you've fallen in love with the world, and your rage triggers aren't the same as mine, then maybe this book could be a lot of fun. The book also puts a larger story arc into position that I'm interested to explore further. Even though I'm mourning the missed opportunities of this book, you can definitely count me in for the next.

~~I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group, in exchange for my (depressingly) honest review.~~

Cross-posted on Goodreads.

 

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text 2016-06-07 19:46
Librarything

My Librarything has been more less dormant since I joined Booklikes. After the scare we had recently, I decided to start using my other book communities more. I hadn't added any books to LT for ages. So I decided to try to do an import, not feeling very hopeful that it would work. Booklikes doesn't seem to have a way of exporting, does it? When I found out that Leafmarks was going to shut down, I downloaded my books from there, like everyone else. To cut to the chase, I was able to import that file into LT. It even looked as if some of the titles I read as ebooks were added, but surely that can't be right? Anyway, I feel a lot better now that (most of) my book collection is safe. It's on Libib too, so hopefully I won't have any trouble in the future. All three can't just disappear at once, at least I hope not.

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review 2015-02-28 17:19
Age of Tomorrow (2014), directed by James Kondelik
Age of Tomorrow [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] - Robert Picardo,Kelly Hu

Another Asylum (Sharknado) crockbuster, this one  fudging its title from Edge of Tomorrow. "When the sun strikes an altar hidden within the ancient Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico, it creates a beacon that triggers an alien blitzkrieg." So says Asylum, in a tacit admission that when your films are as bad as theirs, not even an accurate plot description matters. Kelly Hu stars as an unimaginative prostitute whose liaison with a smug but untalented alien spawns the cast and crew of this film. Perfect for viewers with no self-respect. Direct-to-video.

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text 2014-11-20 13:14
Four Ways To Keep On Reading and Reviewing

 

What are two easy ways to keep on reading and reviewing? Keep a record of your reading progress and review after reading. These two solution will keep you in a bookish mood, motivate to finish up the book, think it over and express your opinion. Then you're ready for another literary round. The completion of these stages is easier with two new BookLikes' features. 

 

 

One: Update your reading progress

 

Firstly, we've updated the +Shelf Advanced window with a new option, now when you add a book to your Currently reading shelf, the total number of pages will be filled up according to the book edition. To keep record of your progress, just fill up the page you're on and keep updated when reading. When the edition is an ebook, the total number is changed into 100%. We're working on the solution for audiobooks. 

 

 

The total number of pages will be filled up when you use advanced +Shelf options and Update option on Dashboard. 

 

 

 

Two: Review after reading 

 

Secondly, when your click Finished! under your book in the Currently reading spot on your Dashboard, you'll see a new option Save and write a review which will save the rating and reading dates, and move you to a writing window. Plus, the finished reading date will be filled up. 

 

 

 

 

Updates

The Author Page

The author page on BookLikes has just received a new option: Add a new book. Now when you won't find a book in the book catalog, you can add it directly on the author's page. The author will be selected automatically in the add a new book form.

 

 

 

Three: Synchronize and stay active 

 

The BL->GR Sync 

The BL->GR synchronization received an update. To synchronize your accounts, go to Settings/Import and click Connect. Remember to be logged into GR in the second tab and to authorize the app (unless it's already been authorized).

 

The synchronization includes the following actions: adding books, adding/editing ratings, adding/editing shelves, adding/editing reviews. Once you do one of those things on BookLikes, they will be published on your BookLikes webpage and on your Goodreads profile.

 

Remember that the synchronization is possible due to the ISBN numbers and that some delays may occur. 

 

Four: Import and share

 

The GR Import

The import from Goodreads received an update - now the import process includes the private notes. To import your GR collection export your books on GR to a CSV file, go to your BookLikes Settings/Import, select the file and hit Import. We'll import your books, ratings, reviews, private notes, shelves and dates. The updated option works only for new imports. 

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review 2014-05-20 00:00
The interest of reason in religion with the import use of scripture-metaphors, and the nature of the union betwixt Christ; believers: with reflections ... the knowledg of Jesus Christ, (1675)
The interest of reason in religion with the import use of scripture-metaphors, and the nature of the union betwixt Christ; believers: with reflections ... the knowledg of Jesus Christ, (1675) - Robert Ferguson Robert Ferguson was a 17th century English Non-conformist. He was later tried as a plotter against the crown.
He is an example of an erudite Protestant semi-Puritan theologian. A good part of this book is a refutation of another work by an author named Sherlock that indicated semi-Socinian tendencies. The Socinians were basically 17th century Protestant Arians; as Jehovah's Witnesses are the more modern version of the same. Arians basically deny the deity of Jesus Christ. This erroneous teaching has popped up time and again throughout the history of the church. It was refuted extensively and thoroughly by the Nicene fathers. Errors like this have a tendency to get revamped for some reason and metastasize into new cults that compete with traditional Christianity.
Anyway, a good portion of the book deals with methods of reading scripture and basic rules for using particular methods. His discussion of plain sense versus metaphorical is quite interesting and is treated exhaustively. His discussion of the church and what it constitutes is quite good as well; albeit from an absolutely Protestant perspective. One thing caught my attention particularly and that was his distinguishing between the idea of pardon and justification; he never really discusses his thoughts on this distinction in regards to salvation unfortunately. His discussion of what relationship Christ has with the church and individual Christians was interesting, although not entirely consistent, nor entirely clear. He spends some pages condemning the idea of Christian "oneness of essence" with God/Christ which he attributes to certain mystics (without ever quoting what they actually said) and then later states that we have "essential unity" with Christ. The phrases are really practically identical in meaning and he never states what he believes the differences are between the two. In vain I waited for him to clarify the difference but he never did; and in fact seems to hold the same doctrine he condemned at least grammatically. I think his real mistake was not understanding how the church fathers and the mystical writers talked about divine union. They described it as the soul being like metal that is heated; the metal doesn't lose it's distinct nature, it gains fire/heat which permeates the whole substance. His misunderstanding of what mystical theologians meant may have contributed to his reproachful attitude; as well as contributing to his own inability to fully comprehend his own position on the church's unity with Christ. The book is quite long and it would be impossible to give it a thorough treatment in this review.
The book on the whole was a good read and I didn't have to take an extended break from it, even though it was over 600 pages. Most of his points I agreed with and don't feel like anything was discussed shoddily. My only real bone of contention I addressed above. I give it an excellent review.
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