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Namesake Paperback – August 7, 2017
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Firstly, I loved this book. I read it in one sitting. I missed dinner reading it. I'll probably reread it again in the next 24 hours (I've reread several of Ms. Stradling's other works multiple times and this is definitely going to join that club).
This book surprised me in good ways multiple times. I know that I love Ms. Stradling's books, so there is very little risk there of one I won't like, but the difference in tone surprised me. The gritty detail (never gruesome but dark enough to feel appropriate for some of the circumstances in the book). I especially loved a few things - I LOVED that Anjeni never considered abandoning her responsibility or manipulating it for her own benefit. I LOVED that the supporting characters were good characters - not just rich in detail and characterization, but ones who were overall redeemable. Ones who you want to see succeed and can root for without reservation. I feel like Ms. Stradling never has to stoop to cheap tricks to make her plots work or ensure that readers remain interested, and I love that. Every book I've read by her seems extremely well thought out, deliberate. I've never read one of her books and thought that she had to pull a stunt out of her back pocket to get herself out of the corner she'd written herself into. She doesn't have to rely on something "classically" disgusting to make you hate the antagonist ("Let me prove this guy is the bad guy by... making him murder someone's pet!" Just no.) Her writing is just never lazy.
****MAYBE spoilers below? Just... proceed with caution. Nothing crazy specific, though, I promise****
But, a big one that may be unpopular, I loved most of all that Anjeni never lost herself in her power. When in a war, she struck a balance between respect for life and understanding the necessity of sacrifice that resonated with me.
I am a vet (the army kind not the dog kind) and, when struggling hard with some of the parts of my job that (in my opinion) tar your soul a little bit, people often vary to an extreme (devaluing all life vs paralyzed). A friend told me that sacrifice can be accepting the black mark on your own soul to save others from having that mark or from suffering from your inaction - and I feel like Anjeni really was the perfect example. She showed compassion to refugees but not to those torturing and killing the refugees. She killed without taking any joy in it, without giving in to a baser instinct. And she never considered NOT killing these (incredible evil and violent) characters because of the inherent icki-ness or because it weighed on her (though it did), because she knew that doing that would cause more deaths and of innocent (or more innocent) people.
I'm sure I'm projecting a little bit, I'm obviously not an objective and unbiased reader, etc. Maybe other people won't have this reaction, maybe they will see it very differently - that's cool, I get that. But this resonated with me very deeply. I always appreciate when characters don't feel the need to protect themselves from the "ruthless calculus of war" (what up, mass effect!) at the expense of others. And Ms. Stradling wrote all of it and conveyed the weight of battle without a willy nilly random killing of beloved characters - like I said, her writing isn't lazy. A scalpel instead of a sledgehammer.
Brava. I can't wait for the next one.
What I loved:
- The world-building. Ms. Stradling has an amazing ability to build her worlds with all the detail a reader needs to see and understand the (usually new) cultures we encounter, without resorting to ponderous descriptive passages that beat you over the head with cultures and customs. You feel immersed in the story without being drowned by trying to remember things. It's almost the same feeling as when you read contemporary fiction - no one describes what a car is, because everyone knows what a car is. Ms. Stradling knows her world so well, she knows what is worthwhile to actually comment on, and what she can ignore.
- The characterization. Lots and lots of lovely, fleshed-out characters. People who are true to who they are and what their past is and what they learn between when we meet them and when we leave them. Not only does Anjeni grow into herself, other characters do as well!! (Wait, was that a spoiler?). Also, there was a refreshing lack of Annoying Angst. Yes, Anjeni has problems. Yes, she has personality flaws. But she doesn't sit down on a rock and sulk over the fact that life is difficult and she doesn't know how to go on. She sacrifices for what is important, but she doesn't shove our faces in the fact. It is SO NICE.
- The writing. Ms. Stradling has tight, impactful prose that draws you in and keeps you in your chair. I had to split reading this over the course of two days because I am a Working Adult and finishing it the first night would have wasted me for the next day...but I'm still not convinced that putting the book down to go to sleep was the right choice.
- The plot, the Here-And-Now references (relating to things that we recognize to help us to connect to the world building? Genius!), the echo of the bad guy to other bad guys from history...and all of the things I can't actually talk about because spoilers, sweetie.
Conclusion: it was a fantastic book. You should read it. And when you're done reading it, you should get The Legendary Inge, because that was also amazing.
Three days past this release, and I'm already looking forward to her next book...
Overall a very solid coming of age story and accepting responsibility to save and help others
I've read the ruses stories by this author and I like this story the best. It has a nice change of pace writing style and I really loved our heroine.