The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Enemies of Versailles
by Sally Christie
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy (#3)
Published
: March 21st 2017 by Atria Books
Genre: historical fiction > France
Pages: 416p
Source: eARC provided via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★☆

In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute quite another kettle of fish.”

After decades suffering the King’s endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.

Goodreads

I’ve been ill (thanks, brain) and this is much, much later than this review should’ve been posted. Forgive me!

The Enemies of Versailles is masterfully crafted, there is no doubt about that. It’s told in first person by Jeanne Becu (Comtesse du Barry) and Madame Adélaïde (daughter of King Louis XV) in turn. Both of their voices are strong and ring through every word of their narratives. I was enraptured with them both from the beginning – even Adélaïde, which surprised me, since I almost always root for the mistress(es) exclusively in these novels. Adélaïde is a direct antagonist to Jeanne, vying in subtle and later overt ways to oust her from Versailles and keep Jeanne from the king. Madame du Pompadour dies offscreen near the beginning of the novel and this sparks Adélaïde’s crusade against mistresses that carries the plot along.

The beginning was so strong that I lost a few hours and found myself more than a little late to an appointment. The introductions of new characters didn’t always leave it clear who may be important later on. This is less of an issue for a reader who may be coming fresh off of Rivals.

Around halfway, however, I lost the spark. There was a lull in the drama. This, unfortunately for me, coincided with a personal reading slump I was having and suddenly I was reading this book for weeks before I finished it. It wasn’t long after the lull that the story really kicks off again (and I do mean really), and I finished it in a very long night.

When viewing the series as a whole, one gets a scope of just how selfish Louis really is. I don’t think I have ever gone into or come out of a mistress novel thinking that the king was a real stand-up guy. One of my favorite things about this series is that it’s completely unnecessary to read them in order. Each one works as a standalone, which is a marvelous thing. You lose only the king’s overarching plotline this way. Characters overlap in minor ways, if at all, save perhaps Choiseul and Louis himself.

Adélaïde and Jeanne are perhaps the strongest characters of the whole series. They are the voiciest, the most unabashed in their desires, and both of them are pretty witty. I adore this trilogy and the women who have told it. If you’re in the market for a historical fiction series with unique female voices, The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will not steer you wrong.

Disclaimer: A free eARC was provided for review via NetGalley.

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The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie (Illustrator), Matt Wilson (Colorist), Clayton Cowles
Series: The Wicked + The Divine (Vol. 2)
Published
: July 1st 2015 by Image Comics
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Pages: 168p
Source: library borrow
Rating: ★★★.5☆
The second volume of the award-winning urban fantasy series where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. Following the tragic and unjust death of Lucifer, it takes a revelation from Inanna to draw Laura back into the worlds of Gods and Superstardom to try and discover the truth behind a conspiracy to subvert divinity. Includes issues 6-11 of the series, plus supplementary material.

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

For those unfamiliar with The Wicked + The Divine series, the basic plotline is this: Every 90 years, a pantheon of gods are reborn into the human world. In the modern day, they are treated as modern pop star celebrities. It features a diverse cast of characters, and follows the human Laura, a fan of the gods who encounters this century’s Lucifer early on.

I started The Wicked + The Divine series in late 2015. I never reviewed it, either here or on my original blog, and my Goodreads review of Volume 1 is simply this:

I do love me some deicide. And hot damn it was beautiful!

Volume Two is no exception to this at all. The Wicked + The Divine is beautifully crafted, with exquisite art and interesting character designs. This series has haunted me ever since I picked up page one. Too often do I read a book, rate it highly, and then forget about it entirely until it’s time to go through what I’ve read for the year for a Top 10 list and go “oh yeah, this book exists.” Not so with TW+TD. I have meant to grab Vol. 2 ever since I flipped the last page of Volume 1 – for whatever reason, I just kept missing it.

If second-volume-sag is a thing, I felt that Vol. 2 definitely was a victim. Maybe I just loved Luci a little too much. Volume 2 focuses on Laura’s desire to find out who framed Luci, and find out she definitely does. The plot was there, it was solid, I just found myself drifting off while reading and going ‘Is this it?’. I was invested in the plot but detached in a bizarre way. Perhaps my memory of Volume 1 and my self-hype meant that Volume 2 couldn’t live up to my expectations –

Until the ending. Holy shit, was that an ending. The writer certainly knows how to keep someone invested in the storyline. Regardless, my apathy toward much (if not all) of the volume leads me to a sad 3.5 star rating for the collection as a whole.

La’Ron Readus did an excellent review of Volume 2 not long before I got my hands on my copy. He enjoyed it far more than I did, and I wonder if that’s to the massive span of time between readings for me. His review goes a bit more into depth on the connections between the volumes, something I can’t do quite as well since it’s been so long since I began the series.

Right now I’m off to pick up Volumes 3 and 4.

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How To Write Sci-Fi and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
by Orson Scott Card
Published: July 15th 1990 by F & W Publications Inc.
Genre: nonfiction
Pages: 137p
Source: library borrow
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Writing for science fiction and fantasy audiences can be the most exciting writing you’ve ever done. Your readers are curious and want you to take them beyond “”The Fields We Know,”” to help them explore the infinite boundaries of the worlds you create.

Here, science fiction great Orson Scott Card shares his expertise in these genres. You’ll learn:

– What is and isn’t science fiction and fantasy, and by whose standards — and where your work fits in.
– How to build, populate, and dramatize a credible, inviting world your readers will want to explore.
– How to use the MICE quotient — milieu, idea, character, event — to structure a successful story.
– Where the markets are and how to reach them to get published.

The knowledge and skills you gain through this book will help you effectively lead your readers into the strangeness you create — one tantalizing step at a time.

Goodreads | I’m not including buy links, sue me.

One particular quote that stands out to me from this book, on page 19:

Human beings also exhibit this love-fear attitude toward strangeness – for instance, we see the fear in racism, the curiosity in the way people slow down to rubberneck as they drive past an accident on the freeway.

Another, related quote from Orson Scott Card:

The dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.

[source]

Read more on his disgusting views toward queer people here. Or here. If I had been aware of this revolting attitude, I would not have borrowed this from the library. It wasn’t until I brought it home that my partner said “Oh yeah, that guy can really write. Shame he’s a homophobe.” The thought had never occurred to me. At all. I just enjoyed Ender’s Game, and I was hoping that maybe there would be just one nugget of wisdom in these 140 pages that I hadn’t already read online (spoiler: there’s not).

On the very next page, there is a snide dismissal to genres generally geared towards women and teens. He talks in such a disdainful manner toward people who read the same story over and over again, but says “those of us who don’t enjoy gothics or bodice-rippers or teen romances” might be inventive with our stories. This was red flag number two.

Red flags, possibly flares.

There are 4 specific examples of OSC’s own ideas for stories in the whole of this book. The first is a generic fantasy story, the next is Ender’s Game. Neither are addressed in more than a couple of paragraphs at most. The third (for his novel Hart’s Hope) is the first time any character is described in detail; the first two examples have been largely painted with broad strokes, though this one takes up nearly five full pages:

One sister was staring directly into her twin’s face; after separation, er face would be a blank mask, with no eyes, no real nose, and only a gap for a mouth. The other twin, though, was facing half away, after separation, while one eye was missing and one cheek was a ruin, her profile from the other side would look perfectly normal. Which sister suffered more, the one who would never see how hideous she was[…]? Or the one who, by turning her face just so, could catch a glimpse of how beautiful she and her sister couldhave been and then, bystaring at herself full in the face in the mirror, could see just how hideously deformed she was? [p30]

Example four is equally troubling. It begins with instructing on how to address ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions to build a plot. “Why did John slap Mary across the face?” Over the course of the next full page, OSC delves deep into this psychology. We discover that Mary slapped him first, and that John feels guilty. Then alas, “Even that is too easy.”! “Unconsciously, he’s rather proud of it.” John, we learn, has never hit anyone and gets a big ol’ wank off for his ego because he feels strong. “It […] made him strut a little in his dealings with others.” Then, in his workings out, OSC asserts that  she leaves – or:

Maybe she was raised by a strong father or mother who slapped the family around. Maybe she unconsciously wanted John to act out this physically domineering role, and it wasn’t until she slapped him herself that he actually did what she wanted. […] She stays with him, unconsciously hoping to continue provoking him into violence so she can fear and admire him the way [she feared her parent]. [p35]

Example five is a single paragraph explaining how to handle infodumping about space travel. Example six is on why not to make up words for ideas like ‘bread’ and uses no characters at all. Page 65 gives us our seventh example that uses real characters, this time another pair of sisters who are bitter toward each other over the treatment of an alien species, so one destroys the other’s career only to make up in the desert.

At this point OSC makes a switch to referencing Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed for nearly every example, a work with which I’m not familiar and had little to no clue what the fuck he was on about since I was just expected to know it. Oddly enough, when discussing the difference between “Character Story” and “Event Story” he uses no examples of his own at all and sort of skates over it.

The next real example of his own is more intended to mock early SF than actually instruct. It comes off, as much of this book does, as ‘look how much better we are than these guys who invented this! Ha! Also, fuck Star Trek!’. I’m not counting this.

That makes seven examples. Two of which (the first two) outline SFF heroes in very short order. As much as I would love to punch Ender Wiggin in the face, he is seen as a hero.  Two more are short and include no characters (five and six). That leaves us with three, one of which harps on about a pair of women who are tragic because they’re ugly, one about an abused woman who wants it/deserves it/asked for it, and another about two sisters who fuck each other over and are passingly mentioned to reconcile.

Of five examples involving characters, only three delve into characters that are named at all and each one is a varying type of tragic woman be she catty and selfish, sad because she is disfigured and can never be beautiful, or wants her husband to beat the shit out of her so she provokes him into doing it. The first two examples are more or less glossed over, and Ender is neither described in detail nor is…whoever the first example is about.

There is a common theme here. A troubling theme. I am no big OSC buff – I liked Ender’s Game and it took me two years to get through Xenocide. I can only comment on this text alone, something I wish I had found at the thrift store for a quarter so I could line a hamster’s cage with it.

In Short(er)

This is titled “How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” but focuses almost entirely on SF. Fantasy is only mentioned in passing, not expanded upon in any aspect like interstellar travel is (in which OSC sneers at the term “warp speed” and anyone who uses it). The entirety of this book is steeped in arrogance and superiority. Every piece of advice is given as “this is how this is done” not “this is how I do this” which is incredibly irritating. If someone wants to call something warp speed, let them. It’s dicking about in space. Calm down. Stop jerking off your own ego.

In short, this is almost entirely useless in the internet age. Everything in these pages can be found online for free. Everything. I didn’t find a single nugget of information that I haven’t read online in another fashion.This combined with the fact that Orson Scott Card being a generally shitty person means I don’t feel bad sharing this list with you. Most is geared toward fantasy, so if you feel like picking up HTWSFF for a shallow glimpse into sci-fi writing that you can utilize to write the queerest thing you possibly can, I would encourage you to do so. 🙂

Resources

Below are videos and sites I’ve found helpful for writing basic fantasy stuff. This is by no means exhaustive (my resources number in the hundreds) but it’s a good jumping off point for people who want to start and might not know where to start, which is the same demographic HTWSFF is geared toward anyways. If you have any resources, please do share in the comments below!

Websites

Subreddits

Even searching these or looking through related subreddits and reading through wikis can give you an incredible amount of information. Some shit is… questionable. So use caution and maybe don’t read the comments.

Individual Posts

Videos and Playlists

Youtubers (general fiction writing, mostly YA)

What is the best book on writing that you’ve read?
Do you have any writerly resources to share?

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Books that Spoiled a Series

For me. My worst nightmare is having a series spoiled by a bad book, a runaway plot, or a dragging-along of a series past its due (looking at you, season 9 of Scrubs).

Instead of series I disliked much/most of the way through, I thought it would be more interesting to share what book made me put down a series (or which ending pissed me off). Here’s a few books I didn’t like after loving their predecessors.

Morning Star by Pierce Brown (Red Rising #3)

I was in love with Red Rising. I was so excited to enjoy I scifi book that I made my partner read it with me. I liked Golden Son. Morning Star took a shit upon my love and laughed at my dismay.

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee (“TKAM #2”)

This is like shooting fish in a barrel. I’m not going to go in on this one. I’m still mad.

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine[…] #3)

Again, I was in love with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Hollow City never felt right with me. I couldn’t sink into it the way I could with book 1. Either due to the massive span of time between reading books 2 and 3 (about two years) I disconnected from the story entirely. The plot was starting to feel more and more like a listless goose chase and I couldn’t manage past the first half of Library of Souls.

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams (HHGTTG #5)

I believe most people consider this series to have finished  at Life, The Universe, and Everything. There is good reason for this. Everything starts to stretch into too-long-running-sitcom territory and a feeling that everything is trying to hard. It’s still a solid okay, but given how much I enjoyed the first four, I was mad at this.

The Black Stallion’s Ghost by Walter Farley (The Black Stallion #17)

I wish this were a joke but hi, I was am a Horse Girl. This is all I read as a child. I think this was the first time as a child I read a book and went “this is bad.” I didn’t have a concept of bad books when I was young. I figured that it was hard to write a book and be an author, and Walter Farley had written so many books, so surely his books couldn’t be bad, right?

I don’t remember much of the plot but, from what I can recall, there wasn’t much of one. They see a ghost mare in the Everglades or something. It was bizarre, and it was the first time I figured that maybe, just maybe, this was a bit of a stretch and maybe there shouldn’t be 17 Black Stallion books. He should’ve stopped at The Black Stallion and Flame, #15 in the series.

(For the record I also hated The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt (#10) though I persevered but The Black Stallion and the Girl (#18) was when I felt validated in my opinion of ‘Ghost’ because it, too, was shit. -3 stars)

Division Zero: Lex De Mortuis by Matthew S. Cox (Division Zero #2)

My beloved Kirsten (the main character) became unignorably, blatantly sexist and slut-shamey and boy, was I mad. I had a glass shattering moment where I thought back on the story as a whole and realized that I maybe didn’t like it as much as I was trying to. The author also had the habit of describing Kirsten’s body far too often. Just… no. I’m still sad and haven’t touched another paranormal sci-fi story since. Dammit.

A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle (Time Quintet #2)

I hate these books. That seems like book blasphemy, I’m sorry, but I could not stand this. I liked the first one a bit. Or maybe I just tried really hard to like it because it seems like everyone is very “my childhood!” about these. I don’t really know. Charles Wallace is the most annoying little fucker I have ever endured through any work of fiction and it is only by the grace of a bedridden flu that I was able to finish this because I could do literally nothing else.

What book spoiled a series for you?

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The Great TBR Purge

This weekend I spent around two hours purging my Goodreads TBR. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. At one point last year I was up to 800 books on my TBR list, which is more individual books than I’ve ever read (at least separate books, this is before rereads were a thing on Goodreads).

Over the span of a few days I culled it to around 400. It took ages, Goodreads glitched out and gave up on me once or twice so I had to go in batches of batch edit. But let me tell you, it was so freeing.

The drop this time wasn’t so massive – I’m sitting at a cushy 226 at the moment. That’s more manageable for me. I read around 80 books per year, though if I keep up at the rate I’m going in 2017 I’ll likely top 100. I’m more into graphic novels and middle grade these days which are much easier to get through than, say, Anna Karenina eighty times over.

Still, 200 is a lot of books. That’s too damn many books. There is a vintage meme that could better express how many books that is – I think you know the one.

Why the purge?

I read a lot – I’m at 20-something for this year already – but I only read from my ‘official’ Goodreads TBR maybe a quarter of the time. Maybe. A good portion is from something I saw someone post about on Twitter, looked up, and requested from the library without clicking the “want to read” shelf button. Another good chunk are ARCs or books from my shelves that I know I want to read, so I don’t bother putting it on the Goodreads TBR in the first place. My real TBR number is much higher.

Many of the books on my TBR were from when I was in high school and determined to be a ‘good reader’ and read the classics. And then I tried to read the classics, and I couldn’t get more than a few pages in most of them. I tried to read Anna Karenina every day for three years.

Is this a big deal?

No.

The challenge.

Okay, more of a series of questions – but boy am I having fun with this clickbaity Youtuber feeling I’m having right now.

I encourage you to go look through your Goodreads TBR. Hit the new tab button, pick up your phone, whatever. Now here are some questions I asked myself when combing through my list:

  • How many books are on your TBR?
  • Of that number, how many of those can you recall exactly why you wanted to read it in the first place? Do you have a vague recollection of why it’s there?
  • Are there some titles that make you think “huh? What the hell is this?”
  • If past years are anything to go by, how long will it take you to read all of those books if you touch nothing else?
  • Do you still feel as interested in these genres, authors or titles now as you did when you added them?

So, how big is your TBR? If you take the plunge and are willing to spend an hour (or a few) culling your TBR list, or if you have done so in the past, I would love to hear about it! Personally, I feel a bit trapped by large numbers so this was definitely a freeing experience.

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