schneefink: (ahsoka)
[personal profile] schneefink
I picked this book as my "done with my thesis & I finally have time to read again!!" celebration, it's long enough that I didn't dare start it earlier. It was a good choice.


Slow beginning. First during Anjihosh's reign, that we already know will end tragically. Then years later, an assembly of characters but it takes a long time until the plot becomes clearer. When it does, after more than two hundred pages, things get a lot more interesting and I didn't want to put the book down anymore.

Both Tavahosh and Jehosh dead already! It's the first book of a trilogy, so I didn't expect that. It makes things more interesting going forward. Heir is Farihosh, but he wants to become Emperor of Sirnia instead of ruling the Hundred. Not that anyone knows that yet, not officially. Since Farihosh is in the South, Queen Chorannah might try to have Kasad killed to make sure he doesn't try to become king in Farihosh's absence. Queen Dia and Kasad have prudently left Toskala, and Kasarah is a woman and therefore not a threat, but she'll be in an extremely uncomfortable position. Chorannah is Sirnian and therefore can't appoint herself as Farihosh's regent, Ulyar is dead – Vana, maybe? Controlled by the priests, or at least Chorannah would probably prefer that. I'm not sure how much Vana knows and what his plans are, this could be interesting.
I wonder what Queen Dia wants, and Kasad and Kasarah. Her country free?

Tavahosh was an arrogant asshole, so much so that I was surprised Dannarah and Kellas only saw him as an instrument of his mother and not as a threat in his own right. We don't know how much of his plans he came up with himself, but they were actually quite clever. The training of the talons began years earlier, under chief marshal Auri, it's something that can be sold well to young men. Ouch, the poor female reeves.
Reyad killed him in a way that people think Tavahosh may just be traveling, neat.

I did not see Jehosh being the one behind Atani's murder coming! I didn't think he was decisive and ambitious enough for that. But then, he did conquer a country so he could marry Dia. I wonder who raised him? We know very little of Yevah, but somehow I doubt she'd be the type. Did he get his views on kingship from Zayrah?

It's funny, before Mai mentioned it I was only vaguely aware of King Anjihosh's role as a conqueror. Probably because we are introduced to him via Kellas, who is of the Hundred, and even he believes the story that he saved the country even though it wasn't that long ago at that time. If Anjihosh was a violent conqueror I would have expected Kellas to be more aware of it. But then he was very young back then. Maybe it was a mix, Anjihosh did defeat some corrupted demons (and their armies? Who did he fight?) and people were grateful for that, but didn't expect or like his establishing himself as a king, especially once he started to interfere with their customs.

I like Kellas and Mai's relationship now, with their family and Mai's plans, though at the beginning as always I had trouble with the "love at first – or second – glance" setup. I got the impression when Kellas met her again he'd already outgrown most of his adrenaline seeking side, apparently not. So Hari and Arasit are their children, Fohiono and Treya and Melisa the grandchildren, were there more children & grandchildren? It's unlikely Mai had more biological children, Anjihosh would have noticed Mai becoming pregnant and after his death she was already quite old. But they could have adopted more. Plum Blossom Clan is quite prosperous and able to send two trained hundred men to Toskala when Kellas asks for them. I wonder when they started rebuilding the Black Wolves in secret, and whose idea it was to call them that; my guess is Mai, certainly not Kellas. Elit, traveling with Hasibal's players, calls herself a Black Wolf, which seems to mean fighting for a free Hundred with its own traditions and laws instead of the king and the priests of Beltak. Kellas is captain, he's still "hale and vigorous" but he is over seventy and he does feel his age. He says Fohiono might one day be a worthy successor, and eventually he does call her to Toskala to help him, but I wonder who would take over if Kellas died right now. Probably a combination of people, Mai and Arasit and Oyard etc.

I like the contrast of how the cultures deal with children: the Ri Amarah are monogamous and sexually exclusive and it's important who the father is, and it seems to be similar in Sirnia. In the Hundred less so: Kellas says a child is more important to a clan than who its father is, and Gil is surprised by the idea of sexual exclusivity in a marriage if not stated in the marriage contract.

Speaking of Gilaras Helerian – this is all out of order because it's easier this way btw – great job first presenting him as a disrespectful good-for-nothing spoiled brat. Defiling and attempting to sell a corpse, hoo boy. But Sarai is very good for him. I like their relationship, they only know each other a few days but it's well shown what they see in each other and why they become so fond of each other. Her regard for him helps him discover his self-respect instead of only his opposition and resentments toward his family. A family which doesn't seem to be as bad as he portrays them to be, at least Shevad shows concern for him even as he dislikes his actions, though Gil tells himself it's only because Shevad needs him. Good catch by Kellas to discover Gil right at the moment where he's ready to pick a new direction – and then he's arrested by Ulyar, terrible luck. He and Tyras both.
I dislike gratuitous rape scenes in fiction, but poor Tyras' rape by the workgang chief "works" quite well and make Gil realize the reality of the bad situation they're in; no beating or anything else would have had quite the same effect on Tyras and him. I wonder how Kellas planned to receive word from Gil, a spy is quite useless if there's no way to contact him. Agents they meet on the road? But if Kellas has spies there why does he need Gil and Adiki?

In general I'm not quite sure how Kellas spy network works, and how well. He does seem to have a net of agents, but he seemed badly informed of the state of the palace when he arrived, even though he should know better. So was Dannarah, though in her case it's more understandable why she isolated herself from the palace, she wasn't planning to have anything to do with it and it fits with her character. She still majorly fell down on the job when it came to keeping an eye on the reeves in general and what the other Holds are doing. Again, not technically her job, but the job she wanted, and she should have at least heard whispers of all the things going wrong in the other Holds. Unless Auri was a lot smarter than he was shown to be and very successful at isolating the Holds. But there are always reeves flying from one Hold to the other, if only as messengers, like Reyad. If only Dannarah had not isolated herself so completely from politics and been more aware – in the past several years, did really no reeve fly over the new temple being built and notice that nothing progressed, or the army assembling there? Reeves would also be able to discover where the workgangs are going, Kellas could have asked Dannarah to send Tarnit or one or two loyal people instead of asking Adiki to go undercover. Gil and Tyras otoh were already arrested, so why not make use of them.

Dannarah is a fascinating character. She's definitely flawed: quick to anger, blunt, has a narrow view of things but a high opinion of herself, used to be very selfish, judges people quickly and then finds it hard to change that assessment. (She was very wrong about Chorannah, for example.) She's aware of most of her own flaws, some she tries to curb and some she doesn't. At first I wasn't sure how much I actually like her, which is a problem because I usually need characters I like to get invested in a story. But her tendency to cut through bullshit is refreshing, and it's not like her frustration isn't understandable, and eventually I started to feel for her. When Dannarah finds out that Atani kept important secrets from her – ouch. I love sibling relationships in fiction, and this one is well portrayed and thus in hindsight painful. Young Dannarah was even more impulsive, more arrogant, and more ambitious than old Dannarah. I wonder how Atani felt about her frequent reminders that she wanted to rule the Hundred and thought she was better suited for the job than he was. If she hadn't been jessed she'd have become even more frustrated and probably bitter, she was lucky. Even so she has to fight to keep her position in this world: Tavahosh almost stole what she held most dear right out from under her feet and destroyed it, and it's still very much in danger. Now she has to figure out what her new plan will be.
I liked that when she found out that Reyad deliberately put Auri in a position to be killed her reaction was that Reyad is a different tool than she thought and she has to consider that to use him effectively, which eventually she does. She is her father's daughter, and she would have made a forceful Queen. A good one, eventually, probably. She wouldn't have reacted well to Mai's plans either, because she'd already be very aware and overly cautious of people trying to take her power away, but she'd have listened to Atani eventually.

I didn't see Atani being a demon coming, though I suspected early on that he was a demon-heart. I'm not quite sure what the difference is, actually, since he was still to a large part human. Interesting that demons apparently can't leave the Hundred.
Kellas said Atani only used his ability to erase recent memories three times. Once to prevent Anjihosh from killing Kellas when he discovered Kellas was sleeping with Mai. And the other two times? At first I thought maybe he told Dannarah about his heritage and his plans once, she reacted badly, and he erased that memory; but we saw him trying to tell her and she didn't take him seriously and he didn't dare. He also didn't use it after telling Jehosh about his plans for his kingdom, even though Jehosh must have reacted badly. So what were the other two times? I wonder if we'll find out.

I hope we'll still get a bit of background on Sarai's mother's involvement with the plot to kill King Atani, otherwise it seems like a pretty random connection. I like Sarai: determined to find her own way, loyal to her husband because she likes him a lot even though they only recently met, setting her own boundaries, curious, and clever. A threesome with Sarai, Gil, and Elit would be fun ^^ I hope Sarai can keep her baby because she wants it. At first I thought she was lucky to find her brother Aram and his wife Jiara, who seem willing and able to help her, but then Aram's father Aram Elder attacks her because she's proof his wife slept with another man, in trying to defend herself there's a magical accident, and Sarai and Aram Elder are transported somewhere else and Aram Elder accuses her of waking the "sleeping Imperators" who will now find them, i.e. the Ri Amarah. I hope she'll be all right.

The Ri Amarah seem like "fantasy Jews." They're outsiders even though they've been in the country longer than the Qin and Sirnians, but they guard their own traditions and secrets carefully and don't intermarry with people from other cultures. They're seen as mysterious and probably have magical powers, but they're accepted because they're rich. (Do we know why? Are they merchants, or superior craftsmen? I don't remember if that was mentioned.) They had a contract with King Anjihosh guaranteeing their safety, but people are suspicious of them, say that they manipulate and bewitch their victims, and have started to attack them. I wonder who the Imperators are? They seem to be connected to the demon coils, which is curious because the coils exist only in the Hundred and the Ri Amarah came from elsewhere. Maybe the coils protected them from the Imperators and that's why they settled in the Hundred, and Sarai's accidental magic somehow removed a layer of that protection? It was pretty flimsy, in that case.

Another culture we don't yet know much about is the Tandit, who tried to claim Lifka as one of them. I really like Lifka's insistence that her family is the one who took her in and raised her, not her biological family. It would probably have been smarter to learn more about her heritage from Dia and her women so that she knows what to expect. They won't leave her alone, she'll have to deal with it somehow. She doesn't know how old she is, but probably around eighteen? I think Sarai is twenty or so, it was mentioned but I forgot. (Disadvantage of buying paperback over ebook, no text search function.)

I checked to see when the next book will come out and saw that this one only came out in November, so it'll probably be a while… I found out that the "Crossroads" trilogy by Kate Elliott takes place in the same world only earlier, concentrating on Mai, Anji, Marit, and others during the time before and when Anji became king. I'm not sure I want to read them now: it would give me more background, but I enjoyed learning about the world bit by bit. Maybe after this trilogy is finished I'll go back and read the prequels. Or maybe I'll be too impatient to wait that long.

Date: 2016-02-08 04:44 pm (UTC)
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
From: [personal profile] dolorosa_12
A lot of things about Black Wolves make a lot more sense if you've read the Crossroads trilogy first - I don't want to go into too much detail if you're planning to read them at some point, but suffice it to say that both series seem to be about the tension between history and memory. They're about how people's legacies, how they are remembered, end up being very different to what they were actually doing and why they thought they were doing it.

The Ri Amarah are absolutely a fantasy analogue for Jews - Kate Elliott is Jewish and I think I remember reading that she wrote them that way deliberately.

If you do end up reading the Crossroads books, do let me know, as they're my favourite series by Kate Elliott (and indeed one of my favourite series of all time) and I'm always keen to talk to people about them.

Date: 2016-02-10 04:37 pm (UTC)
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
From: [personal profile] dolorosa_12
Let me know if you decide to read them - as I say, I'm always happy to talk about the Crossroads series!

Sarai is a fantastic character - probably my favourite new character in Black Wolves.

Date: 2016-02-12 04:40 pm (UTC)
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
From: [personal profile] dolorosa_12
I love your Matilda icon.

It's by [livejournal.com profile] peppermintsheep, and I feel like I snagged it a really long time ago (possibly on an icons comm) back when LJ was the main fannish space, so it's a pretty old icon!

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