Saturday, May 28, 2011

Adventure, True Love, and Treacle Tart

Recently I've been reading Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) with much enjoyment. I'm only a bit over halfway done, so I won't share my detailed thoughts on it just yet, but it has served to inspire me to attempt the baking of my very first treacle tart. After seeing it mentioned in countless historical novels (and in Harry Potter if I recall correctly) it has long been stuck in my head as a thing to try, and I've finally done it!

It was quite an endeavor. I first obtained a simple looking recipe and set about gathering ingredients. The most challenging among theses was the golden syrup, which is surprisingly difficult to come by in the United States. Once my syrup had arrived and everything else was in place it was easy enough to make, though I confess I cheated and used store bought pie crust. I'm happy to report that it was a rich and tasty little pie with a strong take of ginger and lemon. It was especially enjoyable over tea.

In other reading news I have (at last) completed Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey, the second in her epic historical fantasy series. So on with my review!
It's been over a year since I finished Kushiel's Dart, toward which my feelings were generally positive. I have
 a friend who loves these books very deeply, has read them many times and is able to recall the most minute trivia from them on command. Sadly I'm not nearly such an expert. But I can say that, so far, I've been impressed by the scale of the story, it's intricate detail, three dimensional characters, and overall satisfying delivery.

I did not find Kushiel's Chosen to be quite as complex or epically enormous as Kushiel's Dart, and I feel that this is a positive fact for the most part. The story follows Phedre in her quest to discover where the traitor Melisande has fled to. If you've read the first book you are aware of Phedre's conflicting feelings toward Melisande, as well as how potentially dangerous the woman is. Phedre is accompanied in her journey by several loyal companions, most notably Joscelin. With their relationship in turmoil and Joscelin following his own private missions, much is uncertain. I am simplifying for the sake of brevity, because of course there is much more to the story than can reasonably be summed up.

The good parts? As said, the scale is just a bit smaller and therefore easier to follow. I was already someone familiar with most of the relevant characters, and thankfully their are few to be concerned with. The characters that are mentioned are, for the most part, more distinct and three dimensional. Phedre goes through quite a bit and changes just a little as a result. There are a lot of adventure elements that I enjoyed--pirates, deadly spirits, gods, and magic.

Negatives? Now, I'm aware that this is not a romance series. However, one of the things that I loved about Kushiel's Dart was the development of the romance between Phedre and Joscelin. Joscelin is not in this book as much as I would have liked. Most of the time, their relationship is on the rocks. I won't give away the manner in which this is resolved, but I will say that I thought it was a bit hasty and unsatisfying. Also, at times Phedre frustrated me with some of her choices. She's a very intelligent and skilled character, but all to often her successes are dependent of luck or the ingenuity of others. That detracts from her likeability a bit.

These are the sort of books you read on cross country road trips or during extended layovers, because they are guaranteed to keep you occupied for a good long time. They are full of political intrigue, magic, and sex. I would recommend this book to fantasy fans. 4 stars.

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