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on March 27, 2012 :
An impressive but dark, so very dark novel. It's like bittersweet chocolate. I must caution, this book is not for the squeamish, though the prurient should look elsewhere.
How to describe the book? Imagine a draconic version of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian empire at its peak. Imagine that he never fell, that instead his descendants went on to conquer worlds, crushing countless races beneath their heels, ruling with deadly talons and the ability to shift into the forms of their most feared enemies... Their agents may be insidious, but their rulers are cruel and decadent, sadistic, and they rule by fear and martial prowess.
Now put them alongside the Alliance, a Star Fleet-like utopian civilization that believes in shared goodwill between all. Imagine what happened to the first twelve ambassadors sent to address the Chatcavaans' slavetaking and military provocations, all possessed of the belief that good intentions and diplomacy will avail them, when poison and martial challenges are the rule of the day.
Right. Now that you've cleaned the blood and gore off your imagination's floor, how would you deal with the situation?
I've always preferred sly and cunning heroes; others might put forward rough and ready heroes who can take out entire squads single-handedly. But in this situation... Trickery will not sway a vast warlike emperor. War will consume many lives. Instead, the author brings forth a sacrifice by one man, someone who goes in to change the very fabric of Chatcavaan society from the inside. This is a powerful story, full of darkness... But also hope and determination.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on Oct. 22, 2011 :
(A style note: Foreign words that come into the Chatcaavan language are marked with /slashes/, not italics. This works better, for me, in the text emails that go between Lisinthir and his Alliance contact (when the whole thing is in italics _and_ has slashes) -- but it's a deliberate style, not a sloppy formatting error. (I do think it would have worked even better in an entirely different font, but e-readers in general can be touchy about that.) )
Now, to the story. It's not a happy feelgood fluffy story, obviously. A lot of the details are left to the imagination, but in the first two chapters we find out that one of the antagonists is a sadist who thinks murder's a fine thing to do when with a female. Basically, the Chatcaavans -- draconic, mammalian humanoids -- have a violent, status-conscious, misogynistic society that makes Ferengi look egalitarian, and Klingons look refined. Into this mess comes Lisinthir, a touch-empath of a long-lived race that has a courtly society with shadings of meanings in the language that... Well, they're kinda space-elves, okay? Tall, lovely, delicate, overly-civilized, and you'd expect them to faint if they stubbed their toes or broke a nail.
Suffice it to say that Lisinthir is not like his overly-civilized kinfolk -- though even he is not untouched by the morass of machismo, non-consent or dubious consent beddings, and general "wingless freaks exist to be played with and/or killed" attitudes that he finds. And he's even going to become even less-civilized before this is all done. His one ally is the Slave Queen, who barely thinks of herself as a "person." His target is the Emperor, and the Emperor's two main commanders, Second and Third (Chatcaavans think names are namby-pamby; Titles are where it's at for anyone of importance). Things get... complicated. Especially when Ambassador Lisinthir realizes that his goal, to make the Chatcaavans respect the Alliance, could backfire hugely if it succeeds.
A minor flaw is that some of the darker scenes are _not_ spelled out at all explicitly. Most of the time that doesn't matter, but the impact of the first time the Emperor physically asserts his dominance over Ambassador Lisinthir... is lessened, being pretty much dealt with in one sentence. Considering the different body-structures and the empathy thing, abruptly glossing over the situation was disconcerting; there was no real way to grasp how Lisinthir was coping, or what he was using to keep himself from breaking as just about any other member of his species would have broken.
One detail of interest which is absolutely never stated outright, but only implied and hinted around, is that though the Chatcaavans are not overtly living in a "fallen technolgoy" state (their tech is hidden, but quite impressive when it shows up), they _are_ living in a "fallen culture." The remnants of it are in the beauty of their gardens, their architecture, even some of their "living statue" bondage; the Slave Queen speaks of their history, before strength came to mean "must destroy so others know you're strong." So while they don't need to reclaim their technological heritage... They do need to reclaim their social legacy. And that's going to require empathy.
Good thing there's a touch-empath on call, eh?
(reviewed long after purchase)
on Sep. 19, 2011 :
Oh but where to begin?
In American civilization there is an intense respect and desire for the Alpha Male. The aggressor, who protects his home and his family, loves his women and children while keeping them in their place, and brilliantly succeeds at everything that he does.
In the Chatcaavan Emperor readers may find an echo of this man, only turned on his heel to be a bit of a tyrant. Told through two perspectives this novel does justice to Hogarth's writing. The emotional depth and breadth of our narrators shines forth, drawing the reader deeply into a world that is sometimes highly upsetting and alien and into situations which the average reader would probably deem Not Okay.
As with 'Worth of a Shell' the reader will find their preconceptions and social morality butting sharply against an alien culture. The Ambassador, Lisinthir serves as the reader's voice to this discomfort and unease, putting forward a different viewpoint than the one that the society around him follows.
It is an engaging read, tightly plotted and not lacking in action or violence befitting the empire that our Ambassador has fallen into.
A gentle note to readers, there is some very trigger-worthy content in this story. Self-care is advised. Beyond that though, the play of power and will against situations of dubious or no consent is one of the more intense and interesting parts of the novel.
All and all it is a fine work, one that begs for a continuation at the end!
(reviewed within a week of purchase)
on Sep. 17, 2011 :
I've just finished reading this book, and can sum up the entire thing in a single word: Intense.
This book tackles heavy situations, serious themes, and is a delightful juxtaposition of beautiful prose and not-so-beautiful subjects, all of which lead to an inevitable but extremely satisfactory solution.
Not for the faint of heart, but an excellent read.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)