Many people adopted the “spoon theory” to describe energy levels, so I thought you might be interested to read its origin story. I treat my life as candles mainly because hyperactivity allowed/allows me to burn my candles at both ends and down the middle until they vanish in a puff of smoke but sometimes the stubs can be pushed together to form a spare. However, since spoons have become widely accepted, I’ll resort to it on occasion for the same reason this story describes. Not so much for me, but so that those around me can understand and not put their own meanings on my actions/inactions. https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/
Shadowblade is a wonderful story about loyalty, honor, and doing the right thing in an environment ripe with treachery and scheming. While having some similarities to high fantasy, this world has a distinct Arabian Nights feel in both the scenery and the approach to certain problems.
The various cultures are elaborate, and grounded in history and circumstance, making them solid even in their mythology. The blend of science and what appears to be magic is steeped in cultural roots both those forgotten by all and those kept alive through the efforts of a class of historian healers.
Yes, I’m biased toward Middle Eastern cultures, but the world setup is intriguing and complex enough to draw any reader.
There are many layers running beneath the main tale, and each informs or twists the known events beautifully. On the surface, it’s a heroic story of overthrowing a brutal, corrupt regime. But the more you learn, the more a mystery unfolds from within the plot.
To make this come about, the historians construct a plausible background using law and tradition to create firm grounding beneath their actions. The mystery comes into play as this background seems to follow close to what little remains known and raises questions about who the main players really are. There are several plausible links with significant consequences even though circumstance and history deny both reader and characters the facts necessary to prove construct or truth.
The balance of myth, deliberate influence of the characters’ understanding, and truths known only to a limited group makes every moment rife with fascinating possibility. The neat thing about this is how I had my suspicions, many of which proved true, but with so much shifting and deliberate manipulation, I couldn’t fix on an answer. I remained open to various possibilities until the big reveal. Even better, when I got the answer, I knew enough about the main characters to choose a side no matter how my sympathies had been triggered by the various positions.
There is a large cast with Naia and then Karrim at the center of it all while the healer Gassan and historian Mehtab run a close second. I don’t remember who had a POV scene and whose positions became evident through observation (beyond these four), but the cast members play distinct enough roles in the unfolding story that I never got confused.
Naia is a complicated person unwilling to keep her head down at the cost of others while Karrim is her perfect match in more than just blade skills. The machinations surrounding them are not their own, but don’t think they are in any way passive participants. While staying true to the intent behind their orders, they both choose the path of honor even when it goes against their wishes. They’re good people with rare skills and set into play at a tumultuous time when flexibility and intent are key to defending the empire they swore to protect from both external and internal attacks.
This is not a sweet novel. There is violence, sensual scenes, and moral struggles. Each forms a critical piece of the story where politics, personality, history, and emotions ranging from revenge to passion impact the complex plotting. The characters are dynamic. You come to love, hate, respect, and/or revile them. Whether you burn with their struggles or cheer their defeats, I doubt you can stand separate from these events. I certainly couldn’t.
I fell head first into this story and resented any distractions that pulled me from it. The plot raises questions without laying out a clear path so there’s much opportunity to speculate, and the end proved satisfying even where it didn’t follow my expectations. It’s a worthy visit to a vibrant, fascinating world.
P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Note: I’m posting this stray thought as I prepare for this year’s BayCon, the science fiction convention I have been going to in various roles for more years than I can count. This essay was prompted by the article in last week’s interesting links. I don’t want to forget to pick up the convenient ribbons at the info desk for displaying your preferred pronouns (assuming they have them this year as they did before). It’s a step in the right direction, and a declaration of where I want to be going forward.
I ask that you read the whole post before reacting simply because this is a ponder and takes you through my thought process. At times where I’m headed may seem obvious, and yet it might be the opposite of what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts at the end because I am not a finished work. No one has written “the end” on my perceptions or positions, especially not me. To do so would be to assume I had access to all the available information, and I’m far from all-knowing. An open mind doesn’t mean I don’t make decisions along the way. It means I decide based on the what I know at the time, aware that new information may show those positions misguided. Life is a growth process and involves much more than just growing older. This is the point behind stray thoughts as they often involve processing new information or old information seen in a new light. How boring life would be if at an arbitrary age we reach the end of this exploration and know all we can ever know.
They’ve become a common, and sometimes contentious, discussion point in these modern times, but don’t mistake awareness with importance. Humans understand our world in part through the labels we assign. The unknown is locked down into clear relationships this way so it becomes known rather than unknowable. The trouble is just as labels help us grasp the complexities of life, they also establish comfortable boxes and make what cannot fit in those boxes strange, alien, and disturbing. Maybe this helped early humans survive because they didn’t automatically assume a plant was edible because other plants were, for example. As our sophistication has grown, however, instead of making bigger boxes, we’ve spent centuries refining those definitions until the smallest variation becomes a cause for alarm.
I turn to the pronoun “they” for an example directly relevant to this ponder.
Are you one of the lucky few who has escaped hearing the argument: “‘They’ cannot be used as a singular pronoun!”? I most certainly have not. It’s been one of the underlying conflicts in my linguist development in part because I started out learning English largely from British teachers. Not only are there written examples of the singular “they” dating to the 1500s or earlier, but it’s actively used in both British and American English.
The split occurs in common language, though. One rarely says, “They made their way to the grocery store,” in the United States when referring to an individual though it’s a correct usage. The singular “they” and “their” exists in American English in formal language where the “solution” to gender inclusiveness (feel free to chuckle here) is an awkward typographical object: “he/she.” “They” is a long established way to state “a person of unknown gender” and covers the whole gender spectrum rather than defaulting to “he.”
So, where “One cannot hold his principles too firmly,” clearly excludes anyone of the female persuasion, “One cannot hold their principles too firmly,” opens the statement to any person with principles. Who talks about principles, though? Either of the above sentences would turn heads if stated on a busy street. Americans just don’t talk that way in casual conversation no matter what part of the country you’re in, or so I’ve observed. And the people who don’t speak to Congress on a regular basis, for example, may never have used formal phrasing.
It’s the last that leads us to the belief “they” is never used in a singular context. Yes, it should be obvious which side of the question I fall on. I found the “his/her” construction awkward, visually disruptive, and longer than the singular “they.” There’s also the layer where the choice becomes a political statement, dividing readers and distracting from the meaning the sentence is trying to convey. Someone saying, “Americans, men and women, are…” would distract rather than referring to Americans (plural) as “they” because everyone knows Americans come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and genders.
When I was in college (late 1980s), we were given an assignment to write the next chapter of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, a story which might deserve a re-read from a trans perspective come to think of it. The book begins with a male character going through his life, then waking up one morning as a female character complete with all the gendered culture usually trained from birth. For me, the next logic chapter would be an androgynous character. To present this perspective, I had to create a new set of pronouns. The English language doesn’t offer a commonplace pronoun for people who are neither female nor male as defined in modern society and yet their gender is known.
I include this note from my history to show the question of pronouns is nothing new despite some people’s surprise. You might also have noticed I called out the English language here. If you step outside of Western and English-influenced societies, there are many examples of cultures with additional pronouns, acceptance, and social roles for those who do not conform to the binary gender equation. Going back to my comment at the top, this would be one of those cases where decisions are made based on an incomplete picture that would serve to be reassessed with additional information.
You’d think from the above that when non-binary individuals laid claim to the singular “they” I would have been jumping for joy.
You’d be mistaken.
I do not hold to an unchanging language. I accept the world continues to adapt and the language with it. But I have a blind spot where logic is concerned.
I railed against the gradual acceptance of hopefully to mean “I hope” rather than “full of hope.” This word had a purpose, a meaning already, and blindly slapping another meaning into its list just muddied the communication waters.
I felt the same with the singular “they” because it carries the specific nuance of “person whose gender I am unaware of” with the implication of a binary gender that could become known. There’s also the issue of unclear pronouns, which becomes greater when “they” could refer to either the group or the individual in the previous sentence. Now, awareness on the part of the speaker or writer could avoid unclear pronouns regardless of words used, but I can be stubborn at times.
I respect people’s pronoun choices just because it is important to them, but respect of difference is a far cry from acceptance. I might recognize when someone’s personal space is defined by cultural difference so calm my visible defenses against intrusions, but it doesn’t mean my internal reactions vanish.
In my head, the frustration with co-opting “they” still existed, supported by instances of unclear pronouns in gender inclusive fiction, an area where the will has occasionally preceded the ways. I suspect this will shuffle out at some point until clarity is preserved.
I’m happy with the inclusiveness, to be clear, and exploring non-binary characters is something I’ve been doing in my writing long before the concept became visible to the greater public.
I have a non-binary character in the book I’m editing right now. For shanang, it’s a case of genetic divergence with specific markers obvious to any aware observer. They are a third gender added to the binary equation rather than a better understanding of gender definitions as a range of types along a connected line instead of two dots in isolation. I started out using the singular they, but could not solve the unclear pronoun issue to my satisfaction. Perhaps the solution I’d explored in my take on Orlando intruded too persistently. That’s ultimately the pronouns I used, defined within the text and in the context of an outsider unaware of the cultural and genetic differences.
Then an author I admire shared an essay on the question of pronouns (included in last week’s interesting links with a short commentary as mentioned above).
It made me look at the question of pronouns in a greater context than linguistics or during personal interactions. I’m not saying one article or several encounters with pronouns as part of the conversation has washed away all my confusions or concerns about clarity, but I tend not to trust change in a blink. True change more often comes in a slow build of connections until a picture forms that’s different than the one I previously had but grounded in my personal experiences, things I’ve learned, and people I know. Something can be accepted intellectually, but without the supporting framework, I find it’s fragile and can blow away when faced with circumstances where the older understanding comes in direct conflict with the new.
Hence the ponder, the exploration from several different angles, and absorption of events and experiences I might not have considered in the greater context. I’m not there yet, I’m sure. There will be times I’ll stumble, fail to remember someone’s preference or make a grammatical judgment when one of tolerance is called for. I am no more perfect than all-knowing, but here’s a glimpse into my learning process.
Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of gender or on this question, I hope you enjoyed sharing in my journey. If you’re willing, tell us a little about your own. Let’s keep the conversation growing and learning on the path to true inclusion.
I do not care about pronouns for myself, so if you accidentally call me “he” or “sir,” it’s no big deal and has certainly happened a time or two. However, just in making that statement, I am stating “her” and “she” are my preferred pronouns. It’s not something I have had to give much thought. I tend to err on the side of flexibility, as all the people who assigned nicknames to me can attest, but that’s not the case for everyone, nor should it have to be.
This essay provides an important argument (position not fight) for why pronouns should become a part of normal conversation not as a knife to stab with but as a baseline. It’s embarrassing to get someone’s identification incorrect, as embarrassing as having to correct someone who does. But the more we become comfortable with the exchange, the more common and expected it becomes.
Photographers look at the world behind the lens with their focus outward, but this photographer turned things around by making the tools of her craft fun and beautiful. You can join in her revolution to personalize your cameras with a steampunk flare or two. https://steampunk-explorer.com/articles/steampunk-your-camera
Thanks to reviewing for NetGalley, I read a lot of “new to me” authors. Enough so the names don’t always stick. I started reviewing for this very reason…so I could remember why I wanted to pick up another of their books.
Why am I bringing this up now? I’m an Austen fan, but once I read past the title, the author’s name brought back the delight I’d felt when reading Pretty Face some two years earlier. At the time, I recommended the novel to my father. He is the main reason I’ve spent my life on the edge of theater from up front to backstage, at least until my son took over the charge. Lucy Parker folds you into the complications of live theater so completely with her subtle, nuanced writing. She does a wonderful job capturing the absolute love of theater that draws people to the stage as well as the quirky, sometimes poisonous personalities found there. She gets to the heart not just of people but of theater people, who have their own set of motivations.
The Austen Playbook has many similarities to Pretty Face, but I quickly discovered the only true similarity is love of theater itself. Playbook focuses on theater dynasties and the pressure to live up to your family legacy, but it doesn’t stop there. Layer on two families at odds over three generations, with economic and social consequences, add in a grand betrayal that echoes down through time, and you’ve only touched the surface of this story.
While there are elements of melodrama, the characters bring the events into sharp focus through their strengths and flaws, keeping the story from tipping over into an exaggerated caricature. It’s powerful and poignant as two people from opposing families discover they’re stronger and better people when together. And it’s not all deep drama either.
Lucy Parker turns her skillful hand not just to writing revealing body language when words are not enough to convey the complex situations. She includes deadpan humor that made me look around for someone to share the joke with. Or maybe joke is the wrong word. The humor comes into the situation not tacked on but as a natural outgrowth. Simple things like the cast assuming a building designed to mimic older theaters would lack ventilation or Freddy’s attempt to distract working more because she failed to carry it off than because she succeeded. These are not setups, but rather circumstances that provoke empathic chuckles.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention the plot seeding. I was able to intuit the impending crisis from body language combined with events, but then doubted my interpretation enough to be led astray for a bit. That’s the best of possible worlds because the answers are there and yet not heavy handed enough to spoil the fun of exploring possibilities.
There are open door relations between Freddy and Griff for those who care, but it’s not explicit or detailed, and plays into the story events well. There are also many secondary or minor characters with quirky and conniving natures to turn even the simplest complication into something more.
If you haven’t figured out this second taste has won me over, know that I picked up the rest of this series as soon as I finished The Austen Playbook. This novel had me from the start and kept me going until the final moment when Freddy turns formal plans into exasperated laughter. Freddy and Griff are far from similar people, but together they are a perfect match in blended humor, love, and support.
P.S. I received this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.