Lin prefaces this story by saying that this is a semi-autobiographical story about her own experiences in Japan about ten years ago. Its a very short story, just above 20 pages and I think well-written. The tone of the story is warm and welcoming as 'Jeannie' in the book explains to us how she came to be in Japan by herself lost and searching for the tea ceremony.
Throughout the story she observes how awkward she feels despite the fact she is Asian and surrounded by other Asians. I've never quite left Caucasian dominated areas before, or been in a situation where I couldn't insist that there be some sort of English around so I understand everything. The closest I've come would be Inner City Philadelphia (where you'd be hard pressed to find anybody who can speak English no matter their race) and certain parts of NJ.
Jeannie sets the scene well; the nervousness, but excitement one feels when visiting a new culture and learning new things. The awe when you realize that there are far more busy and insane cities out there then just in the US. The near constant bombardment of sensory data while you try to acclimate. I would have happily read about Jeannie's experiences while she wandered around Japan.
The inclusion of Scott, a graduate student studying Eastern Asian Religion, made for an interesting comparison for Jeannie and the reader. Jeannie observes that his everyman American looks felt more comfortable to her then seeing the scores of people who shared her genetic history.
This was a diverting insightful piece that felt kind of like talking with a friend after a trip. Jeannie, the character, isn't afraid to discuss her flaws or touristy thoughts. Her enthusiasm to enjoy her trip to Japan was obvious making the story relaxing to read.
Honestly I expected something different going into this book. I hadn't read any reviews, as I had enjoyed Host's fantasy Champion of the Rose (which when I think about it had a lot of science fiction elements, just as this had a lot of fantasy elements) and had won this in a giveaway besides. Told in diary format, which one of my least favorite formats, This Cassandra's journey from November to March and is the first in a trilogy.
Part of why I enjoyed this book so much is that its one of my favorite plot devices (ordinary girl shuttled off to an unusual world where she finds out she's special) while at the same time Cassandra was immediately relatable for me. Cassandra isn't extraordinarily gifted in any way, not athletic or a outdoorsy survivalist or terribly crafty. She is extremely resourceful, knows how to make years of pop culture work to her advantage and maintains an appropriately sarcastic level of commentary throughout her diary entries.
I'll fully admit that if Cass hadn't grown on me I wouldn't have finished this book. Diary style books tends to make me feel like its just one huge info-dump (which in ways it is) and as a reader we never actually experience anything. Even as later on Cass finds it easier to relay conversations and events, we were getting everything second hand. Its hard to feel immersed in a world like that. Cass was engaging, that's the only way I can describe her. She admits her faults (at one point she tells her diary that she cuts out all the hysterical crying and sobbing she does during the day since that would make for boring reading wouldn't it?), but remains practical about what she can get done.
The world of Muina, and later Tare, that Cass winds up in is like our world but not really. There's a higher focus on psychic abilities--with a definitive break in society between those who are 'elite' (the Setari) and those who are not (everyone else). The Setari spend much of their lives training to become as perfect as possible in order to protect everyone from the Ionoth (monsters) and are regarded as super stars. I found the entire civilization rather fascinating, though its rather rigid and militaristic (with I suppose good reason) and I wouldn't have fared half as well as Cass I don't think.
Host sets a good pace throughout the novel, giving us plenty of time to see 'Survivor-Cass' and then 'Lab Rat Cass'. We read about a lot of day-to-day activities, which get kind of repetitive after a while interspersed with learning new things about Tare and Cass. It seems like an awful lot happens to Cass in the 5 or so months she's gone from Earth, but to put it in perspective the Taren years is only 4 months long, their equation of time is slightly off from ours.
Unfortunately we see very little of the world outside of the Setari stronghold. Cass' early wanderings before the government takes a keen interest in her don't last long and her brief excursions to go shopping are pretty unremarkable overall. I would like to know more about their culture, but with the developments in the latter third that seems unlikely.
Overall this made me eager for the next book, Lab Rat One and excited for the third book, Caszandra coming this December.
One of my complaints about Stray, the first book, was that we see so little of the world outside of the Setari compound once Cass is sent there to train/live/be tested. That's mostly resolved in this book, though we still see much more of the entertainment side of things then the actual society. Cass is a catalyzing effect for the entire planet--politically, culturally, medically, you name it and Cass in some way effects it. For parts of the book Cass is detached from this; due to the nature of her living arrangements and her abilities she doesn't spend much time with others.
Some of that changes. With news of her being leaked and her life being used as a publicity stunt things begin to boil over for both Cass and her Setari friends. It got a bit tedious though whenever Cass would decide to become stronger, or healthier or more productive only to get horribly sick or lost or a flare up of her powers making things go crazy. It felt like Cass never got better. I'm not sure if Host is doing this on purpose, leading up to something life-altering in the third (and final) book Caszandra or if its just really plot convenient to keep her constantly at health risk.
Occasionally Cass would lapse into what seemed like perfect Taren, but overall she still had many of the language difficulties she faced in the first book. An expansion of her powers affords her the opportunity to show her friends more of Earth (or Urth), which kind of cracked me up. Host peppers both books with a lot of pop cultural references, some of which I get (Johnny Depp! Doctor Who!) and some of which I think are more Australian based and out of the scope of my understanding. She actually does a really good job keeping the slang and colloquialisms to a minimum, but some crop up that I have no experience with and the context is not always handy.
Friendships and relationships deepen, though as this is in diary format I'm wary of truly trusting them. A person's diary is never truly unbiased, thoughts and beliefs are colored by experiences, though with her abilities reaching new heights Cass is remarkably intuitive at times. I'm a bit miffed with how things turned with Ruuel....another drawback of the diary format is that since its all on Cass to describe what happens she can't describe what she doesn't see or understand. So why she thinks Ruuel is angry is a guess at best or why he seems to be comforting is just a deduction. It made it hard to 'get' the relationship between the two.
As of the end of the second book we're at mid-July (the book having covered April 2nd or so to July 13th) and about nine months have passed for Cass since she ended up on Muina. Things are reaching some sort of head and I'm rather worried for the outcome. The cover of the third book isn't at all encouraging, so a bit worried about that I won't lie.
For the record I had no idea that this was part of a larger book series (Gordath Woods), or that events discussed in here were from those two books (Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge). This made for an uneven reading for me at times. As I understand things the other two books are more focused on a character named 'Lynn', though she's not mentioned in here hardly as much as you'd think she should be considering.
All of Kate's adventures (in the first book as a 'slave' to General Marthen and in the second book when Colar is in her world as 'Cole') are either glossed over with quick phrases, or touched upon with only the barest amount of detail. Because of this I never felt invested in the Colar/Kate relationship (though Sarath tried hard to push it), nor on any abuses that Kate suffered earlier in her adventures.
Oh and to say I hate Colar with every fiber of my being is an understatement. I don't know what he was like in the previous two books, but judging from his behavior here I have NO IDEA why Kate fell in love with him. I can understand being forced into a position because of duty and loyalty to one's kin. I can understand being pragmatic and realizing that sometimes one's own desires will harm more than just themselves.
I get that.
What I don't get is why Colar began to act like a complete lout as a result and then had the gall to act like Kate should feel appreciative!
That aside, this was a rollicking fun adventure. If you ignore the angsty I love him moments, it was a lot of fun. I really like the 'Crows', I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to know more about Aeritan. Sarath insisted on focusing on the woes of being Colar far too much and had Kate pine for him for far too long. She's a tough chick! Once she comes into her own and starts thinking with her brain, she's a force to reckon with.
This kind of reminded me of 'Secrets of the Unicorn Queen' (again ignoring the angsty Colar stuff), with Kate finding a deeper destiny awaiting her once she starts giving a damn about things.
I'm looking forward to the next book, whenever its due out, but I don't think I'll be looking into the other two.
What the summary doesn't tell you is that along the way Ash saves half the cast from dire straits at various points (in person's case twice!) because she can not because anyone particularly tells her to. Seriously, she even says she can't help herself it just kind of happens. A lot. (to be fair she also is laboring under a pretty intense case of regret because of Genevieve's death).
Höst says that Hunting was in response to Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer, a story about a girl searching for her brother and getting into a wild amount of scrapes (considering how well to do she was) and constantly needing rescuing. One thing Ash doesn't really need is rescuing (though on occasion she does need help rescuing herself). Ash prepares for things and within reason can estimate how things will shake down to anticipate what she needs to do.
She's not infalliable; her mistakes tend to be underestimating people and their motivations however. Ash has a lot of street smarts--she can turn a phrase so its not quite a lie and adapts to situations quickly. She understands people to a point. Ask her why her peers are hostile towards her or why Genevieve helps people the way she does and Ash will have an immediate response. However despite witnessing cruelty and evil, Ash is at a loss to understand the motivations of the killer hunting the herbalists throughout the city.
And to be perfectly truthful I was a little sketchy on the reasoning as well. A lot is made of the Rhoi (Arun)'s life being put in jeporady...probably. The mystery of who is behind some of the attack's on Arun's heir is less complicated then Höst perhaps intended. I guessed the fiend fairly quickly though whether its because I watch a lot of detective shows or because Höst choreographed this person's involvement quite loudly is anyone's guess.
The attacks are only part of the larger conspiracy and this is when the mystery begins to break down for me. When we find out the "true" culprit things become a bit dicey motivation wise. Its not until late into the game that Ash and Co. make a connection between the culprit and what's going on now. And much of that is because of something said to Thornaster. If that phrase hadn't been said I'm not sure they would have made the parallels they did.
The best part of this book was the characters. Ash is a delight--sometimes a bit too arrogant of her abilities for her own good, but its justified. She's also not above a manipulation to get what she wants, which is good since its put to use throughout the book. Her banter with Thornaster is lively and makes their eventual mutual understanding much easier to see. Ash also keeps lively company with her "Huntsmen" and has some interesting conversations with a couple peers (though I'll admit they're given a much broader stroke of detail than the Huntsmen).
Overall I enjoyed Höst's newest work. Its not quite as defined as her other worlds, but there's an intriguing mythology at its roots and Ash was simply a joy to read.