Benjamin January # 3! This one was way less grim than Fever Season. I realize that's easy to say, so I will give it an independent grimness rating.

Grimness of content: Medium. Racism and other isms, slavery, murder; child abuse is discussed but not shown.

Grimness of tone: Low. The subtitle is "a novel of suspense" and that accurately describes the tone. It's a very atmospheric mystery with some excellent action and really great characters. I loved everyone in this book, except for the villains and racists, obviously. Also, it contains a number of fun tropes, including hurt-comfort, creepy pottery, courtroom drama, spirit possession, and dodging alligators in the bayou. Plus Marie Laveau. The plot is very well-constructed and entertaining. And there's some very funny banter, plus a number of dramatic, alarming, and/or hilarious courtroom scenes.

Benjamin January is a devout Catholic and regularly prays for the soul of his sister Olympe, a voodoo practitioner. When Olympe is railroaded into jail for poisoning a man, mostly due to prejudice against voodoo, Ben gets on the case.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of voodoo. Hambly has an afterword discussing her research (she's a historian) and interviews with current practitioners where she gives a sense of how varied the practice and history is-- as is the case in any religion. From Ben's outsider/insider perspective, it's simultaneously alien and disturbing, familiar and enticing. It was a great way to convey how any religion is sustaining and ordinary for its followers, and exotic and weird to outsiders who don't understand it. Marie Laveau is one of my favorite characters in the series, and she naturally has a big part in this.

For the first time, supernatural forces appear as a (possibly) real force. The vivid scenes of spirit possession can be interpreted as simply the power of belief, but they make more sense if the Loa are objectively real. I liked the delicate balance of deniability at play through the whole book.

Since my favorite thing about this series is the characters, I'll do a check-in. Augustus Mayerling, the sword master who was one of my favorites from the first book, re-appears. Poor Hannibal is so sick with consumption that it was a relief to know while reading that he's still alive ten books later-- he spends most of the book either in bed or helping Ben with various tasks while trying not to pass out. (Someone said he's based on George Alec Effinger? Can you enlarge on that?) Rose makes some satisfying appearances, though I wish she was in the story more. Ben's awful mother Livia is still hilariously, deliciously catty. Olympe and her family have nice big roles-- I really like her, her husband, and her son Gabriel. And Ben has a really satisfying character arc.

Graveyard Dust
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


I really loved Hambly opting to make one of the major characters a voodoo practitioner in this series -- and not only that, but someone who does it professionally while also being a devoted mom/family woman. I don't think I've ever seen a character like that before, which is awfully sad (but nice to see in this book!).

I also thought she did an excellent job walking the fine line between "this religion's beliefs are objectively real" vs. "this religion's beliefs are objectively not real". It could be viewed either way, which is a really hard trick to pull off.
Edited Date: 2014-09-01 07:55 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Someone said he's based on George Alec Effinger?

Talk about awesomely depressing: http://www.fantasticalandrewfox.com/articles/george-alec-effingers-thousand-deaths/ http://martyhalpern.blogspot.com/2009/04/george-alec-effinger.html

Obviously he was tremendously talented, makes you wonder what he could've done had he had health insurance. Or even just a little money. Or at least a respite from the goddanm hospital bills.

From: [identity profile] zahrawithaz.livejournal.com


I enjoyed this one--the plot is a little too convoluted, I think, but the way she manages to be respectful of both Vodun and Catholicism (while also recognizing the faults of selected practitioners of both) has always warmed my heart. I can't think of another book that manages to be so respectful to such different faiths.

And I adore Livia. Probably my favorite character, and that's saying a lot given how much I love Ben, Rose, Olympe, et al.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


You could probably start here. I think. But if you like Augustus Mayerling, you'll probably want to go back and read the first book, A Free Man of Color.
Edited Date: 2014-09-01 06:47 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Claude Rains)

From: [personal profile] sovay


Also, it contains a number of fun tropes, including hurt-comfort, creepy pottery, courtroom drama, spirit possession, and dodging alligators in the bayou.

Creepy pottery!

The vivid scenes of spirit possession can be interpreted as simply the power of belief, but they make more sense if the Loa are objectively real.

Nice.

From: [identity profile] egelantier.livejournal.com


you're tempting me to go on the re-read spree... like, now that i've gotten over the whole series and can not be reading in terror through my fingers, i want to just skim-read for all the tropey tasty parts, which are: ben/rose/hannibal; hannibal being loyal and hurty; livia being livia; shaw blatantly covering for ben always; banter; banter; so much sarcasm. sooo tempted.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Decipher at rot13.com: Ora gnxvat pner bs cbvfbarq Unaavony orsber ur qrnyf jvgu uvf bja cbvfbavat jnf pregnvayl n terng zbzrag. V'z fher Unaavony jbhyq qb gur fnzr sbe uvz, vs ur jnfa'g gbb ohfl snvagvat.

From: [identity profile] egelantier.livejournal.com


it's all your fault too! i'm tempted, but nothing ever will make me reread sold down the read.

well mayyyyyyybe this bit in the end with shaw and how ben Totally Did Not Have A Rifle.

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com


Okay, you can skim that one (Shaw's dramatic rescue, yes, and also don't miss the part where Ben calls Hannibal a "Saracen maiden") and join in the reread on the next book. :D

ETA: whoops, sorry about the minor spoiler.
Edited Date: 2014-09-01 08:53 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com


I practiced Wicca for a while when I was in high school and college, and saw several incidents of spirit possession – not of the Loa, obviously, usually of various Ancient Greek gods, but the principle is pretty similar – and so the scenes in this book actually made Voodoo feel really familiar and understandable to me (with the caveat that I never witnessed anything that came remotely close to the stepping over the bounds of rational explanation). Which is not at all what I expected, given my previous very scanty knowledge of Voodoo, but I really love that aspect of this book.

It's such a common trope in mystery series to do the "friend/family member of the detective is accused of a crime; the detective must choose between love and justice" that I'm amused that this series never does it. Olympe is accused here, and some other characters are in later books, but Ben pretty much never doubts that they're completely innocent. I really like his level of faith in and loyalty to his friends.

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com


The descriptions in this book are really accurate, to my experience. I particularly like how Ben compares it to actors improvising – there is that weird aspect where it seems completely within the bounds of human creativity and skill, but also how there's often something mystical about how great artists can feel almost too good or too clever or too quick to be entirely believable.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Yes, I've definitely seen that. The way they take a breath, and transform.

There's an actor I met once with Tourette's Syndrome. His tics were so severe and constant that they were almost like seizures-- he couldn't sit in a folding chair because he'd knock it over. But you'd never know if you'd only seen him on stage. I once sat where I could see a tiny bit of the wings. He stepped into his position, waiting for his entrance... and when he heard his cue, his entire body became completely still. He stepped onstage, in character.

For two hours, he could've sat in a folding chair. He could have balanced a wine glass in the palm of his hand.

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com


Oh, that's an amazing story. Stuff like that really does seem so magical.

From: [identity profile] somebraveapollo.livejournal.com


It's such a common trope in mystery series to do the "friend/family member of the detective is accused of a crime; the detective must choose between love and justice" that I'm amused that this series never does it. Olympe is accused here, and some other characters are in later books, but Ben pretty much never doubts that they're completely innocent. I really like his level of faith in and loyalty to his friends.

Definitely, though, also, Benjamin's relationship with the police is really interesting - he mistrusts them as much as any grizzled noir hero does, although he's actually kind of drawn to rules and respectability, like, personality-wise. But he's also a realist, and he's compassionate, so of course he doesn't trust the law enforcement and justice system. Like, it's clear from the start that his friends and family would get treated unjustly, he doesn't even have to think about it.

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com


Yes, good point. And when it's as dangerous to be held in jail, even pre-trial, as it is here, he has really good reasons to want to keep anyone he cares about out of it.

From: [identity profile] oracne.livejournal.com


I am having such fun seeing this series through your eyes.

Clearly, Hannibal's mutant power is surviving with TB.
.

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