Show Notes for Episode 1.16

Quick Links for the Episode

  • Like James Barclay, Brian Staveley also has a Fantastic Fiction page.
  • You can also visit Brian Staveley’s website for more information about the author and his latest work, engagements, etc.
  • As mentioned in the episode, here is the Tor review on The Emperor’s Blades that Jennifer read. She also read a Tor review on The Last Mortal Bond, the third and final installment in the trilogy. Not really sure if Tor did a review on the second book, but the overall picture of progress and improvement in Staveley’s writing seems to be clear from reading these two.
The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley (2014)

This was Paige’s last Book We Hate pick. Her distaste, Jennifer discovered came not necessarily from the content – though there were issues there as well – but from the experience of listening to this story as an audio book. Similar to Jennifer’s experience with other fiction audio books, Paige could not get past the male reader straining to reach a higher register for female characters. Unable to finish, Paige was just as clueless to the ending of The Emperor’s Blades as Jennifer was upon beginning this read. But did Jennifer hate The Emperor’s Blades as much as her co-host?

Main Points from the Episode

  • A few notes about the author before we begin: Brian Staveley is a writer, teacher, and editor for Antilever Press. He has a Master’s in Creative Writing, and appears to be quite the active outdoorsy sort currently living in Vermont. The Emperor’s Blades was his first published work, won several awards, and the entire trilogy was generally well received – though there are some criticisms, some of which we will get into in this episode.
  • In what is becoming a tired refrain here at BBE, The Emperor’s Blades is another fantasy written by a man that includes unbelievable female characters, playing into stereotypes without innovation. The two most significant female characters in the story, Ha-Lin and Adare, are either only included to forward the character development of male characters or feature so infrequently that you literally forget they exist. The saving grace for The Emperor’s Blades is that Pyrre is such a badass character. Though still extremely one-dimensional, that could perhaps be forgiven since she appears very late in the story. In fact, Staveley wrote an entire book about Pyrre, Skullsworn, which was published after the trilogy and certainly sounds intriguing given how compelling a character she is!
  • A singularly odd and frankly disappointing aspect of Staveley’s writing is his portrayal of fat or overweight people. While it was not so blatant that all fat people were bad or evil (which is the case in some books – yikes), how Staveley described them was disturbing: in detailed, visceral, and negative terms.
  • Racism or discrimination also rears its ugly head in The Emperor’s Blades. There are characters in the book called leaches that possess a unique ability to harness the power of the natural world. This power also means that they are seen as dangerous and are persecuted brutally in most cases. When they are left alive, they still face ridicule, violence, and hatred. BBE has talked about including such touchy topics as racism and sexism before, perhaps most notably in our discussion of Green. In this episode, our main conclusion was that it is perfectly okay to include negative things like sexism and racism in your story as parts of a society because some societies (most, let’s be real) are that way. What is important, however, is how the main character responds to these beliefs or values. This is an opportunity for the author to show their own views, or to subvert these systems. What is interesting about The Emperor’s Blades is that the character, Valyn, is actively struggling with his internal biases against leaches because he is forced to work with one. While we are unsure if this promise of character growth is fulfilled in later books, it sure would be nice.

Conclusion

Overall, Jennifer found The Emperor’s Blades to be compelling. While there were issues that had her eyes rolling from time to time, it was sufficiently engaging that 600 or so pages went by pretty quickly. The worldbuilding had good depth and quality to it, the juxtaposition and exploration of emotions through two main characters (Valyn and Kaden) was fascinating, and the Csestriim made great soulless and emotionless villains. Jennifer is pretty sure that if Paige had read the book rather than listening to it, it wouldn’t have landed on our Books We Hate list. Jennifer finished the episode by giving Staveley 4 stars. In fact, if her TBR wasn’t already overflowing, she may even be interested in finishing the series. What more of a glowing tribute could a Book We Hate ask for?

Coming up next week: Bonus Episode 1.4 on Tolkien’s The Return of the King. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review, and to keep up with all the BBE news, follow us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the podcast, head on over to Patreon (all links below). Until next time!

May Sneak Peek

Well book nerds and book ninjas, we have entered the final month of Season 1! It seems like only yesterday we published our very first episode way back in January, and were subsequently shocked that people actually listened to it. Thanks to everyone that has tuned in all season, we can’t wait to come back better than ever for Season 2, starting July 2020.

Scroll on for a Sneak Peek of the picks we are covering in May:

The first pick for Books We Hate this month, Paige selected another grimdark fantasy, Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades.

Jennifer’s final Thrift Store Find pick is a sci-fi classic, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Jennifer typically dislikes sci-fi, so we will see how this goes? There may be some crossover with Books We Hate this week.

Jennifer has tried to read through Jane Eyre several times…and failed every time. Will Paige make it through? Will she become another adoring fan of this Bronte classic?

Written by a Mayan Elder and priest, The Book of Destiny is Paige’s final Thrift Store Find of the season. Apparently this book will help BBE unlock their destinies and fulfill their true potential. Quite a finale for the regular season!

This month’s bonus episode is our last Deep Dive episode into the world of Tolkien. Posthumously published, The Silmarillion is Jennifer’s favorite Tolkien work and she can’t wait to hear what Paige thinks. Full episode available only through Patreon.

And that is a wrap for our May Sneak Peek! Follow the links below to keep up with BBE on social media during our break. If you would like to support the podcast, you can head on over to our Patreon (also linked below). Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

Show Notes – Episode 1.4

Time for Reflection: BBE Talks The Mirror Empire

The Mirror Empire (2014)

The time has come for our second Books We Hate episode. This week, BBE is breaking down Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire. This contribution to the grimdark subgenre of fantasy was picked by Paige, who was originally drawn in by the cover work (see photo), with it’s dark and shadowy allure, as well as the summary on the back of the book, which seemed suitably action-packed and intriguing. However, the love affair ended for Paige nearly as soon as she began to read. Despite a promising start, the large cast of characters seemed insistent on making bad, selfish, or downright evil choices. After over five hundred pages, it didn’t seem like things were going to get better, but Paige nevertheless persevered and attempted the second installment in the Worldbreaker Saga: Empire Ascendant. Much to her disappointment, the characters were still even less likable than before, so she gave it up…and handed it over to Jennifer to read for the BBE podcast. But did Jennifer feel quite the same way about The Mirror Empire?

Kameron Hurley is a decorated science fiction and fantasy author. Hurley studied history at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. Hurley’s historical background is evident in her writings, particularly her specialization in resistance movements. This background likely also contributed to Hurley’s work being classified as grimdark fantasy, generally reserved for books with the most brutal, dark, and violent themes. In an article with Mahvesh Murad for Tor.com, Hurley addresses this categorization of her novel, arguing that in fact she finds her work to be rather tame in comparison to the horrifying reality found in human history.

Echoing some of the sentiments in Murad’s article, BBE’s discussion of The Mirror Empire revealed that the complexity of the plot and the number of characters and cultures to keep track of, leaves the reader wanting. While some authors may be able to weave together story lines into tapestries, The Mirror Empire is significantly more disjointed. Hurley herself admitted that the book took tons of work to get into shape, even mentioning sobering structural edits from her editor, but over the course of our discussion, it became clear neither of us is convinced the book is the best it could be. Both Paige and Jennifer struggled to get acclimated to all the many elements Hurley included. In addition to having to learn a new magic system, new environments (with added bonus of carnivorous plants and tame bears), and an intricate plot with multiple POV characters, Hurley has also constructed three different social systems that incorporate numerous gender pronouns, polyamory, and even ritual cannibalism. It is A LOT to get a handle on. Jennifer also found certain parts of the text to be more problematic than others. For example, Hurley’s inversion of the traditional patriarchal model in the Dorinah Empire was undoubtedly meant to be thought-provoking in combination with the many other explorations of gender Hurley includes. However, Jennifer found it to be unimaginative in it’s straightforward imposition of male stereotypes onto females. In these particular portions it should also be noted there is sexual violence that may be triggering for the reader. With all these elements combined with short chapters and swiftly shifting POV’s, The Mirror Empire does not make for a coherent read.

Overall, while Jennifer didn’t hate The Mirror Empire like Paige did, but she wasn’t in love either, giving it three out of five stars. There was good along with the bad. Even though the plot is enormously complex, it is inventive in many ways, and has a truly interesting premise and other world building elements. Hurley’s explorations of gender and inverting social norms are also something to be commended even though Paige and Jennifer did not necessarily enjoy the outcome. Tune in to listen to all this and much more, and be sure to check out the links below, especially if you are interested in finding more examples of LGBTQ+ in the SFF genre!

Here’s a list of links you may find illuminating:

  • Here’s the review on The Mirror Empire from Sword & Laser mentioned in the episode.
  • Here’s another review with interview excerpts from Hurley from Tor.
  • Check out Kameron Hurley’s personal website if you are interested in learning more about her works, including the recently released third installment in the Worldbreaker Saga, The Broken Heavens.

And check out this list if you want more examples of LGBTQ+ in the science fiction/fantasy genre:

  • The Fifth Season, JK Jemisin
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula le Guin
  • Fire Logic, Laurie J. Marks
  • Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon
  • The Tiger’s Daughter, K. Arsenault Rivera
  • Huntress, Malinda Lo
  • Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey
  • The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie
  • Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir
  • The Rain Wilds Chronicles, Robin John
  • Luck in the Shadows, Lynn Flwelling
  • The Black Tides of Heaven, JY Yang
  • This list is obviously extremely brief, there are some EXCELLENT lists on The Illustrated Page and Book Riot. The Illustrated Page list is even broken down into what areas of the spectrum you are interested in.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.5. Follow us on social media if that is your thing, and be sure to check out our Patreon for extra BBE content, including bonus episodes!

February Sneak Peek

Coming up on BBE in February:

First, a huge shout out to everyone that tuned in during Big Book Energy’s inaugural month! We hope this coming month is just as entertaining. We’ve lined up some uplifting picks filled with booze, SFF genocide, pandemics, and more muddling in philosophy because apparently past Jennifer really hated all things abstract and ambiguous. Scroll down to see the February Sneak Peek:

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is Paige’s pick for Books We Hate this month. A contribution to the grimdark subgenre of fantasy, Hurley’s ambitious work incorporates several relevant trends such as exploring gender. Despite these positive strides, The Mirror Empire left Paige a little wanting. Will Jennifer hate this book as much as Paige did?

Continuing our lighthearted line up for February, John M. Barry’s nonfiction work, The Great Influenza covers the 1918 flu pandemic that killed more that WWI and WWII combined. This outbreak occurred at a critical moment in modern medicine, and this Thrift Store Finds pick comes at a highly relevant time!

Our second Books We Hate pick of the month, Jennifer hated this Paulo Coelho classic when she first read it. In fact…she has admitted that it was so distasteful to her, she didn’t even finish it. Will Paige feel the same? Or will she agree with the countless fans of The Alchemist?

Another nonfiction offering, Linda Himelstein’s The King of Vodka follows the life and times of Pyotr Smirnov, creator of Smirnoff vodka. Sit back, have an adult beverage or two, and follow along for a stranger than fiction tale.

Our Deep Dive pick for February is a continuation of our Tolkien theme. We will be discussing part one of Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring. Our theme this week will be exploring how Tolkien’s personal history helped him to create the vibrant world of Middle Earth and devise the story of the Lord of the Rings. Keep in mind Deep Dive picks are bonus episodes only available in full to Patreon subscribers, though a short teaser will be available for everyone. If you would like to unlock this episode and support BBE in the process, check out the link to our Patreon page above.

And that is a wrap for February 2020! Follow up on social media (links above) if you want to keep connected with all the latest BBE news.