polutrope: (Default)
I have just finished Pierre Pevel's The Cardinal's Blades. And I will admit that half the reason I bought it is because the cover is pretty. Also because it seemed trashy and hilarious. I was in fact underestimating the trashiness. Also the bad prose. Maybe it’s the translator to blame, but “Long and high-ceilinged, the room was lined with elegantly gilded and bound books which shone with a russet gleam in the half-light of the candle flames” is completely awful.

FURTHER: Agnès de Vaudreuil (which, admittedly, is a pretty awesome name) a. sleeps around to compensate for some Tragic and Mysterious Event, which we never get to find out about, and b. wears a red leather corset and has a special sword made just for her. Also “emerald green eyes, which burned with a cold flame” seriously. Well, at least she’s not half dragon too, although I think she may be a werewolf. (she is not.)

“Remaining by the door, he again avoided meeting the young man’s gaze as though something dangerous and troubling emanated from him, his elegance and angelic beauty nothing but a façade disguising a poisonous soul.” REALLY.
And now there’s a guy fighting a duel against four people with two swords. I cannot take this remotely seriously.

THERE IS A BAD GUY NAMED MALENCONTRE cracks and shards, this is ridiculous

I am not sure that a code consisting of Latin words and Greek grammar would be that hard to crack. The grammars are much the same; it’s a question of form. Does he mean that when you conjugate verbs, you’d use Greek endings? Like amomai or something? Because that is just terrible.

I am actually not sure on this point: it sounds like something that might be historical, but thinking about it from the point of view of knowing both Latin and Greek, I really don't think it would work. At best, you'd disguise the tense, and that doesn't sound all that effective. (enemies trying to figure it out: oh no, I don't know whether this is subjunctive or some horrible attempt at Latin optative! Surely this will COMPLETELY HINDER my attempts to foil your plan.) this would work even less well with nouns: OH NO the accusative ends in -an instead of -am? THIS IS A DISASTER.

I am also not sure that an ivory sword would work, even though it’s magic ivory. Seriously. Magic ivory from a dragon's tooth.

“Sometimes, throwing yourself into the lion’s jaws was the only means of finding its den.” I don’t know if that sentence would work better for me if I had been swept along by the prose up to now; I doubt it. No matter what the style, the sentence would stand out like a single perfect gem of melodrama.

And then the end got kind of awesome in a totally ridiculous way. Rescue from a burning castle on wyvern-back! Unexpected people are reporting to the bad guys!

Thus: if you don't mind some truly atrocious prose, the cover promises The Three Musketeers - with Dragons! and it delivers. Pretty much everyone is ridiculously overpowered and can shoot straight with 17th century weapons, though.
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
Because I am a giant nerd and therefore must read anything that has four (at least!) operas based on it, I finished all of Orlando furioso. For one thing, as [livejournal.com profile] dolique said the other day, classics are more ridiculous than people think. St. John the Baptist guides Astolfo to the moon to get Orlando's lost wits (because the moon is where things that are lost on earth go, you see)! There's a hippogriff! Melissa the Enchantress (Merlin's sister!) interferes in Bradamante and Ruggiero's love life all the time! Speaking of Merlin, he tells Bradamante all about her illustrious future progeny, including the Estes, Ariosto's patrons - while she's trapped in a pit! Why? I have no idea!

But anyway, there are two things that stand out: The Trojan theme and Ariosto's relation to women. On the first: Since before Vergil, people have been claiming Trojan ancestry (the Norse did it, in fact, and identify Odysseus with Loki, which is fascinating). There are plenty of reasons for this, in the Renaissance especially: Greece was conquered and failing, Rome did it, Hector is probably the most noble character in Homer. This also leads Renaissance authors to vilify Greek heroes, which, predictably enough, Ariosto does* - but he also consigns Aeneas to a low place in Hell for abandoning Dido.

Which brings us to women. Two of the about twenty (I am not even joking) main characters are warrior women. No one really says anything about this - it's just sort of taken for granted. For the most part, women at least try to get out of their problems on their own; if Orlando, or Astolfo, or Rinaldo, or Gradasso (I told you there were lots of characters) aids them, it's because they are the preux chevaliers and knights errant: it's what they do. There's very little sense that women as a class are helpless. He also acknowledges female sexuality and tells a humorous canto-long anecdote about a wife, caught in infidelity, who tests her husband and finds that he too is unfaithful. His views seem to be fairly similar to Dan Savage's, actually: to cheat is human, essentially. Women do it; men do it more, he claims. All in all, it's rather advanced for the 15th century.

Also, it was really fun! if you ever have a lot of time on your hands, I recommend it.

*Although mainly in the passage about the power of poets and thus the importance of having a good one, like me, because you don't want to be forgotten, do you now, Signore d'Este?
polutrope: (Default)
Well, after 5 books, 120 chapters,186 named characters, and 2338 pages, I've finished The Story of the Stone, or The Dream of the Red Chamber.

It's about the life and times of an 18th century Chinese family, the Jias, who have many too many relatives and servants, because we're supposed to be able to keep track of each of them, their histories, and their family relationships. It's really a fascinating look into a culture very different from ours, and I've learned some interesting things, like the status of children of concubines (not much different from children of real wives, but they were lower in rank and received fewer presents), how much marriage sucked for pretty much everyone if your spouse was unkind, and way more than I needed to know about intra-house politics. But the most important thing I learned was that everyone¹ in 18th century China had way too much time on their hands. Their drinking games aren't "if you haven't done x thing, take a drink" - they're "if the dice happen to indicate you, compose a poem in a pre-established meter with a pre-established rhyme, incorporating the common house-hold object² that the person before you will choose." And then if the poem isn't good enough, you finish the whole cup.

And then they start making puns based on each other's names.

The books were rather unevenly balanced in terms of mood.
Book I: Happy drinking games and poetry club; Bao-yu (the main character, a rather dissolute young man) has a household full of female maids and cousins and is friendly with all of them. Dai-yu (his cousin) gets angry at some inconsequential thing.
Book II: Happy drinking games and more of same; foundation of poetry club.
Book III: People get sick. Drinking games. Some cousins are married off and are miserable. Relatively main character dies.
Book IV: Drinking games. In-house politics. People die; relative is accused of murder. Bao-yu takes ill, is engaged to his cousin Bao-chai; Dai-yu dies of sorrow because she thinks Bao-yu deserted her.
Book V: Servants convince Jia She, Bao-yu's father to misuse his post as provincial official to get more money. They are found out; the government raids the house and confiscates everything; it is found that the family is deeply in debt; Grandmother Jia dies. One of the cousins is starved to death by her husband. Bao-yu passes his test and disappears.
Oh, and people get ill pretty much every ten pages. And somewhere in there is "Xue Pan (a relative of some sort)'s wife tries to rape Bao-yu, who apparently has 0 sexual desire.³"

To sum up, best quote ever: "But surely, if Mr. Bao was really a Buddhist Immortal, what need was there for him to bother with passing his exams before disappearing?"
What need indeed.

¹ok, everyone rich
² these being rich people, it was usually something like "pot of cassia" or "jade ornament"
³ which is not to say that he should show some there, just in general he doesn't have any.
polutrope: (rousseau)
So yeah. Obscure opera. Has ridiculous plots sometimes, like people jumping into Vesuvius when it's erupting. But nothing like This (and dammit, [livejournal.com profile] dolique, before you say anything, it was free):
The story is set in sixteenth-century Brazil and deals with the love of Cecilia, daughter of the Portuguese nobleman Don Antonio, and the ‘noble savage’ Pery, chieftain of the Indian tribe of Guarany (who eventually accepts baptism). They are threatened both by the hostility of the cannibal Aimore tribe and by Spanish adventurers led by Gonzales, who has designs on the silver mine owned by Antonio and on Cecilia. The opera ends spectacularly a la Meyerbeer when Antonio, to save his daughter, blows up his castle with himself and his enemies in it.

ETA: Holy cow, this was a common plot device! From the Wikipedia article on Meyerbeer's Le prophète: during the celebrations of his coronation, Jean sets off an explosion which brings the palace down on all who remain of the principal characters.


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