“The nice way of saying it is, he was a lazy bastard.”
“We’re trying to clear the warehouse, and so I have got a pack of these heavy-duty garbage bags which are large enough to contain a human body. But they are clear.”
“Oh, I do not mind.”
“So, Riders, how are you feeling about your job now? I know you’re in a tough spot, you’ve got [County] and [Court Case] and there’s that murder suspect–”
“–has C1 told you about that yet?”
“I hadn’t told her about that one yet.”
“So now we gotta deal with this wench.”
“Well…she ain’t a bitch. She’s never been hateful to us or cussed us out or anything like that. Some people do. She’s not like that. She’s just [redacted]. So she’s something. So she’s a wench.”
“We don’t ride with [Agency] anymore, but if you’re ever in a car with J–”
“I heard, don’t talk to him.”
“….because he’s got hearing loss, he won’t hear you.”
“No, because he apparently watches your lips in the rearview mirror instead of watching the road.”
There’s just something about swashing buckles that hits the spot. This is why Captain Blood, Sea Hawk, Scaramouche, The Three Musketeers, and their lesser children–like Pirates of the Carribbean–exist. Rafael Sabatini might not have been the first, but he is the best of the best. And with the best you get cunning heroes, ravishing heroines, billowing sails, cannonade, heaving bosoms, cutlasses, sabers, rapiers, flintlocks, the high seas, highwaymen, and those really nice lace cravats.
Unfortunately, Mistress Wilding isn’t one of the best. It isn’t even in the top ten.
Its cast is simple:
– Ruth Westmacott-slash-Wilding, who is wonderful, gentle, rich, beautiful, and rich, and also beautiful, while furthermore beautiful and slightly spineless.
– Richard Westmacott: who is worthless.
– Rowland Blake: who is also worthless, and after Ruth’s money.
– Ruth’s Cousin Diana: who is jealous of Rowland Blake, and the second most proactive character in the novel.
– Anthony Wilding: who is the hero.
– Nick Trenchard: who is the hero’s psycho sidekick, the most proactive character in the novel, and the guy who actually disposes of the villain while the hero is making out with his wife.
– Some other people.
Its plot is likewise simple:
– Richard’s life is in danger (due to him having insulted Wilding)! Ruth must appeal to Wilding to save him. Wilding saves Richard, at the price of Ruth and Wilding getting married.
– Part 2: Richard’s life is in danger (due to him trying to backstab Wilding)! Ruth must appeal to Wilding to save him. Wilding saves Richard, and then has to run for it.
– Part 3: Wilding joins the Duke of Monmouth, but the rebellion is doomed to failure. This part is quite boring. No heaving bosoms at all.
– Part 4: Wilding’s life is in danger (due to Richard being part of a plot against the Duke)! Ruth must save him! Woo, a plot twist! Then Wilding saves the Duke.
– Part 5: Ruth’s life is in danger; Wilding gallops madly after to save Ruth! Surely there will be bloodshed this time, our gallant hero will seize the villain who rode off with the lady over his saddlebow…wait, no fight? More talk?
– Richard betrays Wilding. Oh no, who could have seen that one coming?
Wilding is sentenced to be shot! But he’s given one minute to reconcile with Ruth! She luvs him! Woo, finally! And then he’s marched out to be shot, but, y’know.
…marched out to be stood up in front of a ditch. In the dark night. While wearing black. Um….
– Part 6: The Duke of Monmouth loses the war while Wilding is getting a shower and a nap. (Captain Blood is meanwhile gearing up for his adventures, I take it.)
Nick arrives to fetch Wilding so they can commence getting the hell out of Dodge. Wilding has a better idea! Involving…his boots?
– Part 7 : What the hell is Rowland still doing at the Westmacott house? He straight-up assault-kidnapped Ruth!? A dramatic entrance! Horay!
“Sir, had I a man at hand to make you regret that insult!”
“Madam, that man is here.”
So Wilding’s cunning plan was to take the secret letter in his boot to the King’s agent and thus become the King’s very own best friend. And to think that until now he’s been the only character to not betray or turn aside from his actual loyalty to the Duke. He and Ruth are reconciled and prepare to go home, but the matter of Rowland and his (repeated) insult to Ruth…
…is conducted off-screen, by his sidekick.
Not only is there no battle, no duels, and no fights, there isn’t even a climactic fight to end the book?
All in all, this is one of Sabatini’s much lesser efforts. There is no (nil) on-screen action, tedious interludes, and the weakest (Ruth) or least likeable (Richard, Monmouth) characters are much in the fore. This isn’t to say that they’re all bad: I liked Diana, who at least knows what she wants and how to get it, and I liked Nick, who just keeps being thwarted in his efforts to do the smart thing and eliminate his buddy’s troubles at the source. But Wilding himself, while in some ways an exemplar of swashbuckler/pulp heroes in the charisma and charm department, lacks the brawn to back up his reputed brains; he’s too undisciplined in any area that involves Ruth, and frankly tends to slither in and out of situations without any real effort.
Ruth herself isn’t perhaps so much spineless as unable to act without outside prodding, usually from Diana, and just seems to have no real influence on anyone (other than Wilding) when she does. And, to cut her just a little more slack, this might not be a problem if she, say, tried and once, but when she’s dragged/pushed/rushes into a court of law for the third freaking time for pretty muchly the exact same reason as the first, it’s clearly a problem of the author and not the character.
Rated: Two heaving bosoms out of five. A decent romance, but a poor swashbuckler.
(Insert usual disclaimer about this not being a recipe blog, I read science fiction and fantasy, honest. I’m just trying to generate content here right now. Also, ironically, after having lived all summer in a cabin with just a microwave for cooking, I now have moved into an apartment with no microwave. This might be what you’d call a first-world problem, but it’s throwing me off.)
Sweet potato pancakes with protein and stuff (makes three, serves one very hungry person)
– 130 g sweet potato, cooked and mashed (such as if you’ve baked a couple of sweet potatoes in the oven and then realized you have no convenient way to reheat them)
– 50 g pancake mix or flour + 1 tsp baking powder
– 30 g shredded cheese
– 1/8-1/4 tsp salt, especially if your mix doesn’t include it. This is important.
~ 1 tsp garlic powder
~ chilli powder
~ additional herbs if you have them: rosemary or thyme especially would work
~ water to make a batter of the correct consistency
Mix up, heat skillet, fry on medium. I made three, and two of them were great with cheese and the other one rounded off nicely with some honey.
I kind of really wanted to like this movie. Unfortunately, it lacks style and charisma. John Woo wasn’t exactly dealing with the cream of acting crop, sure, and it’s a big step down to end up with Christian Slater when you’re used to Chow Yun-fat, but when he can’t even make flying through the air sideways while firing two guns cool…you’ve got problems. (Apparently, this is the fault of the studio execs, who trimmed most of the violence and an unknown amount of the characterization.)
So…it’s…it’s not good. But it’s not actually….bad. It’s not nearly as stupid a stupid action movie could be, because every time something is happening that looks like it’s going to be utterly moronic…something else that’s only moderately stupid happens instead. And there are some bits that are just beautiful. Mainly, I think the problem is the cast. While John Travolta has plenty of material to go ham on (and does), Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis as our embattled heroes have a lot less dialogue, and a lot more action-interaction. And while on paper they become a fire-forged, nuke-disarming team…they just utterly and completely lack any spark together. (IMDB claims they were exes, which might explain it.) Slater actually does pretty well too with the bonkers dialogue (“When the day comes when we have to go to war against Utah, we are really going to kick ass.”)–but without it, well…
As far as other performances go, they’re fine. Look, I don’t know anyone else’s name. The black guy who played the good-guy colonel, and the weasely guy who played the analyst were also quite fine.
Plot: Travolta and Slater are Air Force pilots. Travolta is the senior and more colorful Colonel, while Slater is the Captain guy who, if he had a family, would be showing pictures of them to his coworkers. [OH SHIT I’VE BEEN DOING THAT] However, since he’s the heartthrob hero, he manages to eject and survive when Colonel Travolta turns out to be working with a crew of bad guys, crashs of the triangle-stealth-aircraft thingy and steals the nukes. While the Pentagon is sending guys to rappel down canyons (no idea why they couldn’t just walk in, but it does look really fun) and scrambling a weasely-looking analyst to the scene, Captain Hero has landed in a national park and is discovered by a cute park ranger girl.
And, well…look, if you’re going to have your lead characters meet and hit it off with a martial-arts-infused knife versus gun Mexican Standoff that becomes a No I Have The Upper Hand But Look I Gave You Your Gun Back Please Trust Me…it ought to be well-choreographed and they ought to have insane levels of chemistry. Neither of these things apply. Anyhow, whenever John Woo actually has something to sink his stylistic teeth into (the loading a revolver while the attack helicopter approaches montage), it’s great. On the other hand, while our heroes are wandering around in the desert with no way of affecting the plot and nothing to do but attempt to act, it’s not great.
(Also, the action sequence with the cars was great.) I mean, in what other movie ever have you seen a car chase end with the villain hosing his own car down with a fire extinguisher?
Still, this movie has an interesting degree of charm, partly because it thinks it’s really cool (slow-mo John Travolta in aviator shades striding through the desert! John Travolta chowing down on scenery in teeth-baring display of low-volume hamminess!) and partly because it, well, it kind of is cool. I mean, you’ve got helicopters (that are real helicopters), desert settings (that are real deserts), natural colors (that aren’t washed out with orange and blue filters), explosions (that are real gasoline explosions), and stuff like depth of field (that isn’t zoomed in on some jackass actor’s face as he tries to be theatrical–you get real desert vistas and canyon walls. Quality stuff, especially these days when everything except the jackass actors is CGI.) Woo and company took a crew and a brace of actors and a set of vehicles that they took out into the desert, lined everything up, and hit Go. And it looks good.
(Stupid, but good.)
Anyhoo, the plot proceeds, with our heroes disposing of one nuke relatively safely in an abandoned copper mine (I mean, it does go off), but the other one still at large. Also, the EMP blast has ensured that the government’s response is going to be even more incompetent than it has been so far. Which is pretty freaking incompetent. Nevertheless, our heroes persevere. And if they’d been played by people who could act or at least sell the lame dialogue they’re forced to recite, it would have been a lot more exciting. (The heroine is set up to almost be a cool, tough, actiony but still vulnerable heroine. She just….can’t act, isn’t athletic, can’t do martial arts, has zero chemistry with the hero [even when doing the mandated post-riverborne escape scene cuddling], and isn’t even all that good-looking, though that might just be the 90s’-style makeup.)
So anyway, the heroine ends up on the truck with the nuke whilst the heroes have a brief argument re: SAVE THE GIRL versus I HAVE ORDERS (haha, j/k, we’re gonna save the girl.)
So there’s a helicopter-vs-train action scene, until the helicopter explodes because the pilot forgot that he had ONE JOB and flies INTO A MOUNTAIN. DUDE. It’s a really, really egregious way of turning the battle into a gun-vs-gun fight, which devolves into a fistfight which, what do you expect, the hero wins and oh boy he manages to click-disarm the nuke whilst diving sideways out of the speeding train, come on you gotta admit that’s cool.
Anyhow, day saved, villain killed, heroes hug (so terribly awkwardly it’s probably for the best Woo cuts away quickly). And, well, good riddance.
Rated: it coulda been a contender.
Next movie up: Cattle Empire (1958)
So technically I ought to be reviewing Lois Bujold’s Memory, or at least Terry Pratchett’s The Fifth Elephant. Thing is, it’s hard to read with a critical eye when you’re just hanging out with an old friend.
So the next book up is either going to be The Telzey Toy by James H. Schmitz (which, let me crow, I picked up for under 2$ at a used bookstore). This is, I think, the non-Baen modified original novella/story collection, published 1973, and might be slightly different than the republication as “Ti’s Toys” in T ‘n T: Telzey and Trigger (published 2001).
(Edit: well, whaddaya know, the local small town library has a much better selection than the big-city library. These guys even have Zelazny books! OTOH, they had the Dresden Files carefully shelved together in the Mystery section. So the next book might be The Lord of Castle Black by Steven Brust instead.)
Dark Avenger’s Sidekick is the second trilogy in the Moth & Cobweb series by John C Wright, comprising Daughter of Danger, City of Corpses, and Tithe to Tartarus. It is YA novel that straddles the line between science fiction, urban fantasy, and high fantasy and does it effortlessly. It’s written by the one SF/F writer alive who can use prose on the level of Jack Vance and write worlds with the scope of Roger Zelazny. I liked it a lot less than the previous trilogy. I wanted to like this book a lot more than I liked it; caveat: I think part of my problem is that I don’t like Urban Fantasy that comes down too heavily on the Fantasy side.
In short? I was disappointed in the resolution of the plot, and did not feel that the heroine’s characterization worked properly for the genre and her narrative role in it.
Also, not enough respect for my boy Batman/Winged Vengeance.
Plot: an amnesiac woman wakes up in a hospital bedroom, convinced that it is a trap. She’s right. A trio of monsters invade and try to kill her; she fights her way clear and escapes. (The whole five-feet tall, 90 pounds soaking wet = ineffective combatant rule doesn’t apply to mooks, I guess). She’s wearing a hospital gown and a mysterious ring that changes its appearance and has various powers.She doesn’t know her own name.
Long story short, she is Yumiko Moth the Fox Maiden, apprentice of a night-stalking vigilante called Winged Vengeance (he’s basically Batman except hardcore, lol); she lost her memory during a raid and was either left behind by Winged Vengeance (boo), or escaped via the sacrifice of her fiancee, Tom. I forget which. In any case, Tom is being held prisoner by the bad guys and is going to be sent to Hell as teind for the court of the evil faery. Does this sound vaguely familiar yet?
Yumiko, despite her deep reservations about the kind of silly, post-modern, unrealistic story where *girls* rescue *boys* (hmph!), well, has to go rescue him. Part of this involves going undercover. In time-honored tradition for beautiful young female detectives, this involves being scantily clad. (Book 2) I did snicker at the wardrobe mistress assuring Yumiko, with sadistic cheerfulness, that their weight-watching regimen was no more arduous than that of a professional wrestling team.
Book 2 and a chunk of book 3 comprise Yumiko failing at her mission in various humiliating-to-hilarious ways, until she teams up with the hero of the previous trilogy, Gil Moth, is baptized as a Catholic, and stops trying to fight for her love and just to hold on to him. Literally. While being injured in various gross and horrifying ways that are described with sadistic relish.
I found this ending unsatisfactory.
I have three problems with this story overall.
Problem 1: Improper handling of female character archetype. See, authors have limited repertoire of characters. Their expertise is in how they change and modify their own stock of characters by giving them different skillsets, placing them in new settings, or using different, new plots to show them off in different ways.
This is why Roger Zelazny writes of tall, laconic, green-eyed men with many names; but they are differentiated into the tall, ballad-writing, many-named Corwin of Amber, the tall, laconic, many-named hero of My Name is Legion, and the tall, sarcastic Carlton Davits. All have different roles to play. His female characters are either sultry but straightforward or sultry and coy; they are memorable either way. Larry Correia writes big, burly men who are smarter than they look and like guns, handsome antagonistic men who are dumber than they look and like guns, and beautiful women who are not particularly sophisticated, who like guns *a lot*. Gordon R Dickson writes square-jawed space-age heroes who Know How Systems Work, who confidently set forward to make them Work For Me. The confident hero can either not be quite as smart as he thinks he is (Soldier Ask Not), not nearly as smart as he thinks he is (Pro), or dead right (Wolfling). His female characters tend to be: annoying. Well, you can’t do everything all at once. Especially if you’re a nerd. Writing for nerds.
Again: an expert author can have a limited repertoire, it’s fine–but he must know how to use what he’s got.
John C. Wright’s female character repertoire is singular: highly feminine, happy to be so, happy with life in general, cheerful, helpful. (Any similarities to Mrs. Wright, who, as per her blog seems like a lovely person, are purely speculative. But, yeah.) This type of heroine works quite well–as he himself noted in character, in the Golden Oecumene—if the genre is first-person romance (heh). Now, as his skills improve, he is able to vary this somewhat: highly feminine, cheerful, and secretly a femme fatale Trying To Lure Hero Into MORTAL SIN (Iron Chamber of Memory); or, highly feminine, not cheerful because her mission is not going well, and doesn’t particularly like her putative love interest (yet) (Somewhither). Both of these heroines do work and I rate both of those books highly.
Yumiko is an attempt to write a Short Female Badass (an archetype in its own right)…who is also highly feminine, giggly, and revels in male attention. She starts out as the Fox Maiden, the Dark Avenger’s sidekick, someone whose deeds of vengeance strike fear and nausea into the hearts of her victims. Or so we’re told. Yumiko herself has amnesia and, over the course of the story, mostly proves herself to be the kind of girl who, as a presumable adult, still has relations with a large stuffed teddy bear. (not kidding). The dichotomy doesn’t work. Now, while I think there is a way it *could* have worked, (see the Tam Lin section below), as it is, it doesn’t.
Problem 2. Subversion of narrative structure.
Bear with me.
The central tenet of fiction is that heroes win after they lose. Especially after losing in a particular way, with additional humiliation, by showing more prowess, intelligence, technique. Those who completely abandon their initial techniques and try to win without fighting are those who are certain of possession of the moral high ground (Return of the Jedi) (or physical high ground, Revenge of the Sith), and the conflict ceases to be about the fight so much as about the moral and psychological dimensions of it.
The hero’s learning curve has to continue logically forward from whatever has already been shown before. Otherwise, why show it? So if hero lost before by: applying brute force instead of strategy–win by applying superior strategy. If loss was by expecting fair play–win with overwhelming force.
Yumiko doesn’t change her initial technique by Being More Clever. The heroes are outwitted at every single step of the way by What’s-his-name Moth anyhow. She doesn’t change her initial technique by Working On A Team and Trusting Her Allies, either. No: what she *does* change is her violent pagan heart for a new, sinless, Christian (Catholic) one, and then also doesn’t fight. (Not Kidding) Protestants (and atheists) read these damn books too, you know.
This is, I believe, a narrative-level mistake. Changing from a physical battle to a physical struggle that isn’t a battle, without allowing hero to negate their previous failures is highly unsatisfying. Not allowing the hero to make up for previous humiliations caused by being dumb is unsatisfying. If Yumiko had won without fighting by outsmarting the Moths and the forces of Hell, that would have been satisfying. If Yumiko had managed to learn a new fighting technique and suddenly was able to overpower the enemy physically, that would have been satisfying. Instead, Yumiko wins by being passive. (Is it because girls should be passively courageous and not try to fight and (hmph!) rescue boys? I have my suspicions.)
The climax of the story is a nearly point for point retelling of Tam Lin. For your amusement and/or edification, please follow the link, which is a brief and highly editorialized retelling. In short, though: heroine’s lover is on his way to hell; heroine must identify lover accurately; heroine must physically grab hold of lover; heroine must hold on to lover through various shapeshifts, boom, lover has been saved from hell.
(Image via wylielise.deviantart.com. Have I mentioned recently that WORDPRESS SUCKS AND THEIR EDITORS ARE NOW FAR LESS USEFUL THAN BEFORE? BECAUSE WORDPRESS SUCKS.)
Ahem. So, anyway: despite being someone so absolutely gifted at reimagining old tales, putting new twists into them, making utterly absurd and illogical things happen in charming and funny ways…Wright nonetheless plays this absolutely, completely, straight. And misses by a mile.
Part of the reason Tam Lin works is that there’s an extra archetypal quality to it, something my liftime as a Pratchett reader insists on calling “myffic.” Janet is pregnant; she needs Tam Lin to live not only for her own sake, but for her child’s. Tam Lin wants to escape Hell, and also to escape the Faerie, to be a father to his child in the world of men. The subtextual meaning of this story is that people who take responsibility for themselves at each step of the way, can, will, and should make great efforts to better their lives and the lives of their children.
This paratext is absent from Wright’s story. And I think that actually putting it back in–making Yumiko knowingly or unknowingly pregnant during her story–would have actually worked at some level. At the very least, it gives Yumiko an out for not being All That, physically. Thus it’d be OK that she can’t defeat the enemy in a hand-to-hand battle; thus, it would add a ticking clock element to her days as a corseted undercover dancing girl.
A second myffic point in Tam Lin is that Tam doesn’t injure Janet even though the enemy turns him into different, scary animals to try and make her let go: things may be weird, appearances may be scary, but he is the same person underneath, worthy to be her husband and the father of her child. He may not be able to control his outside circumstances (shape), but he can control himself and not harm the mother of his child. Here, Yumiko is *horribly* injured as Tom is turned into a variety of porcupines, sword fish, ray fish, sawfish, venomous porcupines, and other nasty things with spikes on them. What’s more, this section goes on for a long time.
Misery porn + the climax of your novel? DO NOT MIX.
(Then she gets healed by drinking the blood of her vampire priest cousin. Not kidding. What??)
Could Yumiko have used her Tom-provided technology nonlethally as it was “intended” to be used, to grapple and hold him? Sure. Does she? No. Could Yumiko have provided the bigwigs of Faerie proof of What’s-his-Name’s treachery and misdeeds, and persuaded them to switch out Tom for him? Sure. Does she? No. Could Yumiko have engaged in one-on-one battle for Tom? Sure (she has a magic ring that is kryptonite to the faery, a magic bow that is kryptonite to the faery, a magic sword that is…yes. If that’s not enough to make it a fair fight, then Tom should have made her some ray guns, too.) Does she? No.
Does this book have any pros? Yes, like all JCW books, it is superbly worded, the worldbuilding is excellent, the descriptions, gadgets, and settings are vivid. There are many good points about this story; I’m just out of time to write about them and it was more fun to complain.
Rated: 2/5 magic swords that are never drawn, magic bows that are never strung, and magic arrows that are never fired.