Time for another reading update!
I was going to roll this week’s giant book unhaul into this post but then it gained sentience as these things normally do and I realized I was also planning to say a lot about my current reads and long story short they’re now two separate posts but hey at least I tried 😬
Mid-Month Reading Stats
8 books finished // 2,828 pages read
4 books finished // 1,251 pages read
6 books finished // 2,048 pages read
7 books finished // 2,063 pages read
I’ve read seven books this month. Four of them were comic books and only one of them was actually on my official 2020 TBR. I…….may have some slight regrets. 💀
I’m reading two amazing books this week (and have been for the last two weeks before I got sidetracked by two different versions of Macbeth), but now there’s no more Macbeth and I have no more excuses.
The Poppy War
Current rating: 4 stars.
After the Priory of the Orange Tree debacle, it’s nice to read an Asian fantasy written by an author who actually knows what she’s talking about. Some of the names in Poppy War are kinda weird, but holy shit do these characters feel Asian. They eat foods I know. They inhabit places I can easily picture. They behave and interact in ways that are instantly recognizable to me. They’re not Asian-faced robots dreamed up by somebody who’s apparently only encountered Japanese people in old samurai movies, they’re living, breathing people. IT’S SO NICE. As for the names, well, Kuang was 20 when The Poppy War was accepted for publication and there’s definitely a bunch of names that sound like they were thought up by a teenager (I’m sorry, but “Speerlies” just sounds absurd to me), but that’s not a hill I’m prepared to die on. At the very least the Japanese names make sense, so in that respect we’re good.
The Poppy War follows Fang Runin (Rin), a peasant girl in the Nikara Empire, a looking glass version of China where the gods are real and can act through human conduits. She is a war orphan and has few prospects beyond an unsatisfactory marriage until she aces the Keju, a nationwide exam along the lines of the Chinese imperial examinations, and is grudgingly admitted to Sinegard Academy, an elite military school. Though she initially struggles to fit in, currently she has found a place of sorts for herself, and is trying to learn to control supernatural powers she doesn’t understand. Meanwhile, Nikan has been invaded by the Federation of Mugen (Japan), and has been dragged into a fantasyfied version of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
I’m currently on page 323 out of 544, and so far I really like this book. It’s surprisingly funny, considering everyone goes out of their way to describe it as grimdark, and for the most part pretty well written. The only thing I would note is that the style is very American, which I found jarring at first, but I’ve acclimated; and, given that my own fantasy novel-in-progress is written in a similar style, I can hardly criticize Kuang for doing the same thing. Overall I like the world, the characters, and the lore. I love Rin, who is a feisty little bundle of ass-kicking rage. She has an ongoing rivalry with an upper-class asshole named Yin Nezha, which reminded me a bit of Tané vs. Turosa, but Rin’s rivalry is way better because she actually gets to kick Nezha in the balls, which Tané never does, and in the end they find their way to a grudging, in-the-heat-of-battle respect. Rin may not be the strongest or the most brilliant student in the school, but she’s smart and scrappy and she’s not afraid to make mistakes or get hurt. She’s so determined not to let anything get in her way that she asks for and receives a drug that completely destroys her uterus shortly after getting her first period. It’s hard to watch other people living your dreams. 😭😭😭
Also, I’m not sure if I’m the only one who feels this way, but I really like Jiang, Rin’s weird ass Lore master, because he always seems to be high and is always putting the wind up the other Sinegard masters, who grumble about him but can’t actually kick him out because Politics. (I knew he was the Gatekeeper. I FUCKING KNEW IT.) I’ve been photographing passages as I’ve gone along, so naturally I have a collection of favorite Jiang moments.
Rin Doubting Jiang
“If this had continued, you would have gone mad. But I am here to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’m going to keep you sane.”
Rin wondered how someone who regularly strolled through campus without clothes on could say that with a straight face.
And she wondered what it said about her that she trusted him.
Rin Telling Jiang About Himself
“You’re not the first student to pledge Lore, you know. Oh, Sinegard’s been trying to produce a shaman for years. But you want to know why no one takes this class seriously?”
“Because you keep farting in faculty meetings?”
Jiang Pullling Rank
“No buts. I’m your master. You don’t question my orders, you obey them.”
“I’ll obey orders that make sense to me,” she retorted as she teetered wildly on a post.
Jiang snorted. “The matches aren’t about winning, they’re about demonstrating new techniques. What are you going to do, light up in front of the entire student body?”
Jiang Freudian Slipping
“But why that particular dream? Why would your sleeping mind have chosen to extract those images from your memory compared to any other images? Why not a horse, or a field of jasmine flowers, or Master Jun riding buck naked on the back of a tiger?”
Rin blinked. “Is that something you dream about?”
“Answer the question,” he said.
Jiang Being Disrespectful
“Jiang Ziya,” said the general. “So you live after all.”
“Do I know you?” Jiang asked.
I also have a bunch of favorite miscellaneous moments not involving Jiang buckle up cus this is way out of my control now 😬
The Empress Being Disrespectful
On the third day, Emperor Ryohai of the Federation of Mugen issued by courier pigeon a formal demand to the Empress Su Daji for the return of his soldier at Muriden.
The Empress called the Twelve Warlords to her throne at Sinegard and deliberated for seventy-two hours.
On the sixth day, the Empress formally replied that Ryohai could go fuck himself.
Altan Letting Rin Know What He Knows
“Hi,” said Altan Trengsin. “What was that about losers and rejects?”
Altan Being Comforting
“The Cike aren’t so bad once you get to know them,” he said as he led her out of the basement. “I mean, we kill people on orders, but on the whole we’re quite nice.”
Qara Explaining Foreigners
“Are there still any Hesperians [English] in the city?” she asked hopefully.
“A couple hundred,” Altan said, but Qara shook her head.
“Not anymore. They’ve cleared out since the attack on Sinegard…There are one or two of their missionaries left, and a few foreign ministers. They’re documenting what they see, sending it to their governments back at home. But that’s it.”
Rin remembered what Kitay had said about calling on Hesperia for aid, and snorted. “They think that’s helping?”
“They’re Hesperians,” said Qara. “They always think they’re helping.”
Baji Being a Total Mood
“Which god do you summon?”
“The god of pigs.”
“I summon the fighting spirit of a very angry boar. Come off it. Not all gods are as glorious as yours, sweetheart. I picked the first one I saw. The masters were disappointed.”
Confession time: I like what I’ve seen of Altan and the Cike, but I’m not sure if they’re what’s best for Rin, or if Jiang’s way is the right way. On the one hand, Altan’s fights are So. Fucking. Cool. On the other hand, Jiang is right when he says that Rin lacks the patience to weaponize a god, and that any attempt to do so would end in disaster anyway whether she was patient or not. She’s seen firsthand that she can’t control what the Phoenix does. She knows perfectly well that she is impatient and not experienced enough to try to harness the power of a god. This is her first thought during her first real meditation:
She thought of the warrior Bodhidharma, meditating for years while listening to the ants scream. She suspected that the ants wouldn’t be the only ones screaming when she was done.
Unfortunately Jiang’s fucked off to gods know where and it’s unclear when he’ll come back (he’s definitely going to come back, I’ll be really surprised if he doesn’t), or whether he’s actually a good influence on Rin. I want to say that he is, but I’m also terribly biased towards Jiang, so it could very well be that he’s not as well-intentioned as I want to think he is. It could also be that Altan’s not as benevolent as he seems because we’ve heard some dicey things about him, and, though he’s good at pushing the boundaries of his magic, I don’t think he has as much control as he thinks he does. I have a feeling that channeling the Phoenix is going to end badly for him, which would really be a shame because I like him. I’m 99.999999% convinced that he and Rin are secret siblings (I was thinking that maybe they were going to keep the mostly extinct Speerlies going but then Rin reminded me that she burned out her uterus), but there’s still a small part of me that thinks that Rin will turn out to not be Speerlie after all. I kind of hope her instincts are off because I really really want her and Altan to be siblings, though she currently has a crush on him and his ideas are somewhat sketch.
I’m also kind of on the fence about Qara, who seems cool in general but pissed me off big time when she and Rin clashed over Rin’s Sinegard Academy apprentice armband. I don’t like people who keep talking over you and cutting you off to repeat the same fucking argument, which is literally what Qara was doing, and I especially hate people who use the phrases “You don’t understand” and/or “Understand?” The moment you start telling me I don’t understand is the moment I start telling you to go fuck yourself. Qara wasn’t wrong to tell Rin that she needed to ditch the armband and she definitely knows way more than Rin does, but she also didn’t make any effort to listen to what Rin was trying to tell her, which was that the armband was more sentimental for her and not a status symbol.
And, as long as we’re on Altan and the Cike, where exactly is Speer? Given that it’s an island and given its location on the map, my natural instinct would be to assume it’s Taiwan, but I’m getting more of a Mongolian vibe from the people and the names. This is one of the problems I’ve been running into: it’s not nearly as bad as it was with Priory, but I’m still spending more time than I should be trying to figure out real-world counterparts because I really don’t know what Speer is supposed to represent. Neither the Taiwanese nor the Mongolians were wiped off the map during the Second Sino-Japanese War because obviously there are still Taiwanese and Mongolian people in the world, so consulting the history of the war doesn’t help. For that matter, what are the Hinterlands? Are they the Middle East, or are they more like Mongolia and/or Manchuria? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.
Current rating: 4 stars.
It’s always a bad sign when the wallpaper starts talking to you.
Mexican Gothic appears to be a 1950s Mexican retelling of The Yellow Wallpaper, and I am so into it. (And, if it’s not an intentional retelling, it’s the biggest coincidence I’ve ever seen in literature.) The story is narrated from the POV of Noemí Taboada, a flighty socialite who is unexpectedly shipped from Mexico City to the most English manor you could possibly imagine outside a little town called El Triunfo. She has been sent by her father to evaluate her cousin Catalina, who went AWOL after a shotgun wedding and has recently begun to send worrisome letters to Noemí’s family. Noemí’s father wants to bring Catalina back to Mexico City and put her into psychiatric care, but he has been blocked by Virgil Doyle, Catalina’s handsome asshole husband, who insists it’s just tuberculosis.
So far Noemí has hit it off with Francis, Virgil’s much younger cousin, but butted heads with every other member of the family. I really cannot overstate how English these people are. They’re the kind of English who set up shop in another country but either can’t stand or overexoticise the people who were already living there, and have therefore set up their own little England in a remote corner. Personally I tend to think that if you don’t like Mexicans you should stay the fuck out of Mexico, but what the hell do I know? In any case the Doyles used to own a silver mine but have since fallen on hard times, so there’s a very good chance Catalina’s overnight husband is a gold-digger in addition to living in the wrong country, and his aunt and his father aren’t any better. Francis seems to be the only decent member of the family, but I’m only on page 116, so it may be a little early to tell.
I may not like the Doyles, but so far I’m really enjoying this story. I love that it’s set itself up as a Yellow Wallpaper rewrite: Charlotte Perkins Gilman had some great ideas, but her views on race were less than ideal, and I like that her story is being retold from the perspective of a woman she would’ve labeled “savage.” I actually like Noemí. I wasn’t sure I would based on the description of her in the synopsis, but, though it’s true that she’s flighty and not very serious and she had to be bribed to make the trip to El Triunfo, that doesn’t mean she’s shallow. She’s smart and funny and resourceful, and isn’t above throwing racist magazines that aren’t hers into the trash. She genuinely cares about her cousin, and has been trying everything she can think of to get her the help she needs while Virgil gaslights and his bitchy aunt and his creepy racist ass father hover menacingly in the background. Also their family might be cursed, but nobody knows for sure. For the record, I kinda hope it is. I’m going to be so sad if we get to the end of the story and the family curse turns out to be an elaborate hoax concocted by one or all of the Doyles (or even by Catalina, because who even knows at this point?). It’s October. I want a flesh-eating ghost.
I haven’t even finished The Poppy War and I’m already thinking about buying the audiobook. Obviously this will depend on how the next 221 pages go, but the audiobook is narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, who also narrated Three Souls, and I was beyond excited to see her name. I always make a point of checking the narrator for every audiobook I buy, because I don’t see the point of buying a book read by someone who can’t pronounce the names.
Whether I end up buying the audiobook or not, I’ve been loving these books and I anticipate no difficulties in finishing them both by Sunday, which is good because I’m supposed to start reading Wicked on Sunday and I still need to get through four more books in the next two weeks to have a shot at finishing my 2020 TBR why was I created this way 😭💀