Monday, July 8, 2019

Jeweled Fire

As I already mentioned when I read Royal Airs, I got Jeweled Fire through interlibrary loan after unsuccessfully trying to buy it in paperback a few years ago. The book arrived and I only had a few weeks to get through it so it could go back to its home library out of town.  So I've been reading it over the last few days to make sure it was finished in time to go back.

Jeweled Fire picks up just a few days after Royal Airs ended. Princess Corene has joined Steff and his grandmother, the Empress Filomara of Malinqua, on their journey to bring Steff home. She left without her father's permission (her father being Darien Serlast, so that's kind of a big deal).  Because she ran away in the middle of the night, the only one to accompany her is her bodyguard, Foley (he was Josetta's bodyguard, but told her he was moving on to another assignment because Josetta now had Rafe to watch over her).

Corene knows she is arriving in Malinqua as a potential suitor to one of the four potential heirs to Filomara's throne.  She is joined by Princess Melissande of Cozique, Princess Alette of Dhonsho, and Liramelli, the daughter of the prefect of Malinqua. Filomara has not yet chosen her successor, and Steff's arrival complicates the playing field, which otherwise consists of Filomara's nephews Garameno, Jiramondi, and Greggorio.  All three have a flaw: Garameno had a riding accident that has left him in a wheelchair; he is considered to be "half a man" by many people, and there is some question as to whether or not he can have heirs.  Jiramondi is, as Melissande says,  "sublime": he prefers the romantic company of men.  In Malinqua, that is considered a detriment.  And Greggorio, the youngest, looks the part, but is not terribly bright nor interested in running the kingdom (although people say perhaps advisors could make up for his severe lack when it comes to running the kingdom)?  The succession is further complicated because Filomara's daughters have both died, two of her brothers died, and the remaining two have been exiled from court because they are suspected of having something to do with the other brothers deaths.  As the bodies continue to pile up, it becomes increasingly clear that someone is trying to eliminate the competition.  And unfortunately Corene and her new friends are right in the middle of everything!

I absolutely loved Jeweled Fire.  I wasn't expecting to like Corene as much as I did.  But I loved the story of how she finally came to have friends she cared about.  She's no longer the spoiled and selfish princess that she fears she is (that her mother tried to make her into).  While she can still be quite sassy (and sometimes rude when she wants to be), she means well and is just a lot of fun.

I also really liked how she came to realize what she wanted out of life.  Corene had been raised to think she should be queen, so she came to Malinqua intending to secure her crown now that she has no place in Welce.  Her father is due to be crowned king, but she is being overlooked in favour of her half-sister to be his heir.  So Corene was left adrift, thinking that she was a burden on everyone, and I enjoyed reading about how she found her own place in life while also discovering that people do care about her for being herself, not for being a potential queen. 
And of course, I loved her interactions with Foley.  Foley is a torz man whose only blessing to ever be drawn is "loyalty."  He is the perfect, no-nonsense bodyguard.  So when Corene wanders up and starts asking him ridiculous questions, their interactions get pretty great (especially in how they try to outmaneuver each other).  As the book continued, it became increasingly obvious that these two were meant for each other, and I was so happy when it finally happened that I cried (it was also a fairly emotional scene: Corene had to jump from a burning tower and he promised that he would catch her.  She didn't want to jump because she was terrified that landing on him would kill him. And he wanted her to jump because he couldn't stand the thought of her dying).

I also really liked Corene's friends.  Steff is so practical and blind to court politics that you just have to love him.  The three other girls were such opposites that managed to compliment one another, and they really looked out for one another.  And the heirs were all so intriguing: Garameno was the oldest who already advises the queen - he was knowledgeable, gallant, and didn't let his accident stop him.  Jiramondi was fun, and fit in really well with the group.  And Greggorio was a good person: he watched out for people and was always there to help.

As I said, I really did love this book.  Jeweled Fire is, at its heart, a story I think we can all relate to: finding our place in the world (and our people).

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Rather than jump right into reading Jeweled Fire, I decided to take a very quick nonfiction break and read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning first.  This tiny book was given to me by a friend because she knew I liked this sort of thing. For my part, I've seen The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning around and figured I would give it a read, especially since it's only about 100 pages long. 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is all about clearing your clutter so your family doesn't have to deal with all your things when you pass away.  That is the primary focus of the book, but it's also fine if you're just wanting to downsize, perhaps because you are moving, or perhaps because you just know you have too much stuff.  Margareta Magnusson, a woman who is "between eighty and one hundred years old," has death cleaned for her parents and husband; she knows her time on this earth is limited now, so she wants to make her passing easier on her children by getting rid of her clutter. She looks at various facets of life and offers advice on how to deal with your various objects (the usual keep, give to friends and family, donate, or trash/paper shredder/recycle).  She also offers many fun anecdotes along the way (like how she once went skiing in a bikini).  The book also has some really cute drawings that accompany it (including one of skiing while wearing a bikini).

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is more of a coach than a real how-to manual.  If you're looking for a book that has lots of nitty-gritty ideas for clearing clutter, that is not this book.  Wha it is is a cheerful, gentle read to help you think about decluttering, especially when you know your time is almost up. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Royal Airs

Oh my gosh, has it really been almost FOUR YEARS since I read Sharon Shinn's Troubled Waters??? 

I bought Royal Airs not long after loving Troubled Waters.  But the third book, Jeweled Fire, had just come out in hardback, so I decided to wait to read Royal Airs until I had the third one in paperback, too.  I waited.  And waited.  And saw the publication information change, saying the paperback version of Jeweled Fire wouldn't be coming out for like twenty years!  I pre-ordered it on Amazon in 2016; earlier in June (2019), Amazon cancelled my order because they found out the book wouldn't be released at all. :(

(Yesterday I discovered the reason why: the publisher decided that people will prefer ebooks to paperbacks). So much for my paperback collection of these books. :(

Thankfully, interlibrary loan started back up at the local library.  So I put in a request for Jeweled Fire.  In the meantime, I also found a copy of the fourth book, Unquiet Land (also hardback).  So once Jeweled Fire arrived from out of town, I knew I had to get reading Royal Airs!

Of course, this being four years later, I don't really remember all the details of Troubled Waters.  Thankfully, Royal Airs gives enough of the background information that I was able to piece together the important bits as I went along.

Royal Airs takes place about five years after the events of Troubled Waters.  Rafe Adova, a man who gambles at cards against people for a living, notices a well-dressed red-head slip into the bar he's in.  When some unsavoury sorts corner the red-head at the table, Rafe is quick to stop them.  He has lived on the streets for years now, and appreciated when strangers helped him.

Of course, he wasn't expecting that the wayward girl he was helping was Princess Corene.  And he most definitely wasn't prepared to meet her sister, Princess Josetta, who operates a shelter in the slums.  While in the area, Rafe is later jumped and almost killed because of the strange markings on his ear.  Josetta's guards find him and bring her back to the shelter, where their lives become unexpectedly intertwined because they find each other fascinating.  But when the truth about the attack comes to light (and to the attention of Darien Serlast, regent of the Welce throne and Corene's father) their lives get a whole lot more complicated!

Okay, I'll admit that's a pretty lame synopsis.  There's a lot more to Royal Airs than that, but also a lot less political maneuverings than were in Troubled Waters (I think? Maybe I'm wrong about that?  It's been four years?)  The two main characters, Josetta and Rafe, want to lead ordinary lives.  Josetta likes caring for the poor in her shelter in the slums (I loved how Zoe brought water to the building for her because of course the coru prime can do that!)  I also loved how Rafe had no elemental blessings for years (every time people pulled ghost coins, which are coins that are so old and worn that you can't tell what blessing was supposed to be on them) until Josetta pulled blessings from her shelter's temple, where none of the coins were old enough; only then did Rafe get actual blessings (but they were all extraordinary ones, not ones associated with particular elements). 

But then Royal Airs also has the technological aspects as well.  The elay (air) prime invented cars (elaymotives), and is working on creating flying machines as well (aeromotives).  Rafe was given a fortune for helping Corene, and at Josetta's suggestion he meets the elay prime to invest in an elaymotive factory.  But while there, he discovers the plans for the aeromotives, and gets recruited to be a pilot (which is a huge gamble because there have been seven fatalities already!)

The political maneuverings happen mostly around visits to the state.  First one foreign prince arrives to tour Welce in the hopes of making some trade negotiations.  Then the empress from a second nation arrives as well.  As one of the heirs to the throne, Josetta has to attend both.  And after Darien Serlast discovers Rafe (and Serlast knows exactly who Rafe's parents were, even though he keeps that information close to his chest), Rafe is drawn into the affairs of state as well.  There's also a huge question as to the heir of the country, because the named heir hasn't been seen at court for a year or two (only her decoy). 

All in all, I really enjoyed Royal Airs.  It was great to read more about the characters I liked from Troubled Waters, plus I really liked the new additions as well.  Once again, this book was full of superb worldbuilding, and I can't wait to start Jeweled Fire!