Discussion Post: Homecoming by Robin Hobb

Homecoming is the very start to the Realm of the Elderlings – a world that consists of five short stories, one novella, and 16 novels.

You can read my review of Homecoming here, and Bethwyn’s blog here.

 

Bethwyn: So we come to our first short! And I really enjoyed my time with this one. I think this really showed how Robin Hobb can create a character and then use that character to really introduce you to the world – she was showing us so much through the diary entry format that I felt like I was kind of there! That world does not seem pleasant, though.

We begin with Day 7 of the Fish Moon, with our main character (who is a bit… what’s the polite way to say ‘horrid’?) who is on the ship Venture and is extremely dissatisfied with their living conditions.

 

Katharine: I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t be too happy to be pregnant, two kids in tow, and having had to pack everything away onto some ship… but her issues seem to be more that she feels that people aren’t showing proper diffidence to her status. She expects her family should have better provisions, that certain people should be offering company, that others shouldn’t dare speak to them and so on.

 

Bethwyn: Yeh. It seems that Hobb really sets her up to be unlikeable in the beginning, which I thought was an interesting stance to take. But as we slowly begin to experience her entries into her diary, we learn more and kind of begin to understand – along with the main character – what is actually happening. I kind of began to like seeing things through her eyes, in a strange way.

 

Katharine: Originally she believed that they were on board as willing investors to colonise the Cursed Shores. Then it turns out that her husband (and so she and their children) are being sent away in disgrace as a way to earn their way back into society. The plan is that ships will follow next Spring to bring supplies and if, by then, that they’ve established lands and discovered gold and jewels that were supposedly left there, that they’ll give half to their king and then be welcomed back into Jamaillia.

This is a pretty rude awakening for her, and it only gets worse from there as they finally arrive only to find the land isn’t fertile at all. The river that they go down to that connects the sea to the land starts to eat away at the wood of their ships. The boggy lands make it difficult to walk in and also eat away at any material it touches – shoes, hems of clothing, etc. Skin is left with rashes and sores.

They don’t see any riches, and the land seems actively hostile. The thieves and other expats from the ship are soon left barely able to sleep and no clue what they’re meant to do next.

 

Bethwyn: Rude awakening indeed! Honestly, it seems like people start dropping like flies. The captain of the ship they’re on basically dumps them and leaves – he can’t afford for his ship to get eaten away anymore, which I get, but he can see that the people have very little chance of surviving in this new place, and yet…

Anyway, our protagonist spends a bit of time complaining and still thinking everyone is below her station – etc. etc. – but then kind of sinks into a depression of sorts. Understandable, given the conditions. She also (still pregnant, I might add) starts to have unusual thoughts and feel like the place isn’t completely uninhabited?

 

Katharine: Some of them start hearing voices, or hearing singing. They search for stable ground they can live on and ways they can sleep without sinking into mud, and also what food and water they can safely consume.

Then Lady Sarillion’s husband leaves. A party say they’re going to head out and see what they can possibly find and with them they take the majority of supplies.

Through limited remaining options our protagonist has to mix with the commoners. There are other pregnant women there, and one of the sailors seems quite intelligent despite his lack of formal education (shocking, I know).

But the singing is still there, and sometimes, in their wandering around, if they brush up against something they have visions of a busy marketplace, or other visions they can only assume are from the past when this dense marshlands was instead part of a bustling township.

Throughout people have been disappearing, just never returning from foraging expeditions or similar journeys. But then Lady Sarillion’s own children – the eldest (who’s been mixing with the other kids of commoners) is hearing the singing often, and all seem to be developing rougher skin – almost like scales – down their backs…

 

Bethwyn: I think Robin Hobb does a fantastic job here of evoking this strange and altogether ‘other’ landscape in this story – I found myself really drawn in. This is a short work, but not like ‘a couple of pages’ short, but I still read it in one sitting. I was just so intrigued.

Around this time, Lady Sarillion goes into labour and has her child – she is lucky enough to have some of the ‘common’ women around to help her, but she never sees her child. Though she’s sure she heard it cry…

I think this event also sort of indicates the changes in people and how they are starting to band together a little more – Lady Sarillion begins to work together with the other women in trying to come up with little shack-type things for them to live in together. Initially the other folk kind of laugh at the women trying to make houses of sorts, but they do seem to be a little more comfortable and at least feel a bit safer.

 

Katharine: And from here it progresses further. Lady Sarillion (I’m just going to call her Carillion from now on – she’s barely a lady now anyway) takes note of what works and what doesn’t, and is soon constructing walkways and platforms up in the trees, where they’re safe from the corrosive waters. They’re learning what is safe to eat, and we can start to see how they’re going to survive in this eerie yet beautiful place.

One night, her son, Carlmin, comes to her, trembling and scared. He and another boy, Olpey, have found a partially submerged building that’s still able to be entered if you know the way and aren’t afraid of the dark, or of the voices that echo or the music that plays only to those who can hear it. Carillion and Olpey’s mother, Chellia, leave in the morning to investigate.

Olpey doesn’t want to leave the strange place as he’s found gold and riches like the sort they were all promised when this hopeless venture started (and what use is gold if you can barely sleep, eat, or find safe water?), but Carillion and Olpey’s mother drag him from there and return home, only to find that the men have returned. Her husband barely recognises her or their son, makes no mention of how Carillion must have lost the baby, and reports that they only found more swamp and lost five men in their journey. Olpey’s father was one of the men lost.

They did however find another group of people who were marooned further downriver from where their ship left them. They are in the middle of planning how they will leave and journey down the river and to the coast, hoping for rescue.

That is until, they notice the jewels Olpey’s still wearing, refusing to be parted from.

 

Bethwyn: Carillion’s husband seriously drove me nuts throughout the book – he just kind of expected Carillion and the kids to ‘fall in line’ about everything – he was the man of the family, so they should just follow his word unwittingly. So frustrating!

Anyway, of course he – along with many of the other men – insist on going to investigate the unusual sunken building, and Olpey disappears into it once more. His behaviour is becoming markedly strange – he hisses when people try to take away the jewels he carries, and he speaks like a middle-aged man rather than a playful young boy. Like he’s taking on the persona of another.

Carillion has started to have feelings for a sailor fellow, Retyo, who supported her and helped her and her two sons the entire time her husband was away. With her husband’s return, Retyo kind of disappears into the background once more, but you can tell Carillion is torn up about it, despite her feeling beholden to her husband, she still thinks of Retyo.

The people who have gone off to hunt for treasure rarely return, generally bunkering down and trying to find even more treasure. They seem to be becoming selfish, possessive, and violent at times. Carillion’s eldest son says that the music is even louder so that he can hardly hear himself think, and he insists he can see flashes of strange people that flicker in and out of existence….

 

Katharine: And so we come to the crescendo. The sunken building is starting to sink even more and they’re losing access, and rooms are starting to flood. Carillion, Chellia, Retyo and some other sensible people go in once more to get Olpey out and try to convince anyone else to come with them. Carillion’s husband demands instead that they’re leaving, and to go into the sunken room means they’re dead to him – he has his gold and riches and he (and some others) are going to start walking the coast until they can find a way to get back to Jamaillia. Carillion can’t leave her friend’s son behind though, and her husband is a jerk anyway, so we’re all just sitting her cheering as she and others go down into the dangerous and strange building.

 

Bethwyn: I did feel kind of sad that the husband took their younger son with him… that kind of sucked. What a jerk.

Anyway, things are really creepy down in that building – not only are the tunnels and rooms beginning to cave in and fill with soil, but everyone who is already down there is very Gollum-of-LoTR about their treasures: ie. very willing to fight and kill anyone who comes close. This seems like apocalypse level stuff. So glad that Retyo is back because he just seems like a good egg, and willing to help everyone as best he can.

They do find Olpey, but he is in full not-actually-a-child mode and acting like he is middle-aged and like the building isn’t sinking, and they’re not all about to die. Around this time Carillion realises that when she touches the walls of the building, she sees visions almost overlayed onto the area they’re in – almost like she can see the world and what is was like before everything was abandoned.

 

Katharine: Which comes in handy, as when they try to escape they find their usual way out is no longer accessible and she’s able to access these visions to find another way out, and lead them (and the others they’ve managed to convince to leave also) back to sunlight.

It’s to find her other son stayed despite the father leaving, and together they all go to make a life for themselves amongst the trees. So at the start Carillion was a haughty and frankly painfully annoying piece of work, and at the end she’s with the lovely Retyo, has many more friends who can actually be relied upon, and has a far more rewarding life in the harsh yet beautiful surroundings.

That’s a win, surely.

 

Bethwyn: Agreed! I really loved the ending. And they also kind of mentioned the scales again, that seem to be popping up all over everyone’s bodies… Which I felt like was a hint about something that I know nothing about as yet! They specifically mention the babies being born, and that they are ‘as scaled as a snake’. Count me intrigued.

 

Katharine: We have a way to go into our Realm of the Elderlings read until you see more of these scales… but it’ll be worth it, I assure you.

Should we get going with it all so we get there sooner? :D



Bethwyn: Yes, please! :D

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Reading Challenge: Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

In 2016 I joined the lovely Ju and Steph in reading all the of Twelve Planets, a project they called A Journey Through Twelve Planets.

Then, from Feb 2017 through mid 2018 Tsana and I read The Vorkosigan Saga both reviewing and then discussing each of them, which can be found here: Reading Challenge: The Vorkosigan Saga

And now Bethwyn and I will read each book in the five series that makes up the Realm of the Elderlings. All of which I’ve previously read, except for the last novel which I just can’t bring myself to just yet. Bethwyn is yet to read any of them.

Chronological Reading Order

Prequel Shorts
“Homecoming” (short story) – my review / our discussion
The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince (novella) – my review / our discussion
“Cat’s Meat” (short story) – my review / our discussion

The Farseer Trilogy
Assassin’s Apprentice – my review / our discussion

Shorts
“Words Like Coins” (short story) – my review / our discussion
“Blue Boots” (short story) – my review / our discussion

The Farseer Trilogy
Royal Assassin – my review / our discussion
Assassin’s Quest – my review / our discussion

Shorts
“The Inheritance” (short story) – my review / our discussion

Liveship Traders Trilogy
Ship of Magic – my review / our discussion
The Mad Ship – my review / our discussion
Ship of Destiny – my review / our discussion

The Tawny Man Trilogy
Fool’s Errand – my review / our discussion
The Golden Fool – my review / our discussion
Fool’s Fate – my review / our discussion

The Rain Wild Chronicles
Dragon Keeper – my review / our discussion
Dragon Haven – my review / our discussion
City of Dragons – my review / our discussion
Blood of Dragons – my review / our discussion

The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
Fool’s Assassin – my review / our discussion
Fool’s Quest – my review / our discussion
Assassin’s Fate – my review / our discussion

Discussion Post: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the latest and very last novel in our Vorkosigan Saga Project! This novel follows Cordelia and Oliver Jole — who has previously only been a minor side character — and takes place after Cryoburn, currently serving as the chronological end of the series.

You can read Katharine’s review of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: To me this book is a bittersweet ending to the series. The characters all get happy endings, but it’s not one of my favourites. There’s not enough action or comedy (either would do) for my liking.

 

Katharine: It certainly is a slightly odd addition as one of the more recent books. But it also such a nice balance to have Cordelia’s story at both the start and the end of the series.

 

Tsana:  I agree. It’s nice that Cordelia gets a happy ending and I certainly understand why Cordelia likes her new life, etc but it didn’t make for as exciting reading as most of the other Vorkosigan books. I remember the first time I read it I kept waiting for something “exciting” to happen — by the standards of the series — and so many disasters just utterly failed to come to pass.

 

Katharine: Especially with how much the party was built up, and then described scene by scene… and then while something did happen he was literally able to sit up and watch the fireworks later… but this is jumping ahead by quite a bit… Basically, I agree. But it was still interesting.

 

Tsana: I’m going to list all the things that didn’t happen as soon as the spoiler shield is up. But before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about Jole. He’s mentioned in passing in some of the other books, but this is the first one in which he’s a main character. Not that there’s anything wrong with introducing a new character in the last book. And his presence does shine a light on events that happened in parallel with a lot of Miles’s stories but which Miles was entirely unaware of.

 

Katharine: Which means now I want to read back in the previous books to see if there were any hints to his importance in Aral and Cordelia’s life.

 

Tsana: He was definitely mentioned a few times as being in places and saying a few words to Miles or whatever. But I barely remember him from The Vor Game, even though that’s the most exciting event from his early career that gets brought up a lot on Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. Of course, this is partly because we saw events The Vor Game from Miles’s point of view and Jole was hanging out with Aral at the time…

 

Katharine: Ah yes, I’ve just re-read that bit. Miles ‘sighed in hopeless jealousy every time he ran across him’. I really like Jole – there’s something about people who are ridiculously capable.

 

Tsana:  Wait, which bit is that from? Why is Miles sighing and jealous of Jole?

 

Katharine: The bit about Jole in The Vor Game. I looked it up to see if there were any hints, and Miles’ sighing is amusing.

 

So Oliver Jole is Admiral, Sergyar Fleet and the other person almost in charge on Sergyar along with Cordelia, who is currently Vicereine. Aral passed away three years ago now and their jobs have kept them both incredibly busy.

 

Tsana: Compared with before Aral’s death, when they weren’t busy at all /sarcasm. But yes, they’ve been busy and sad enough that they haven’t hung out much except for work. Which is a bit of a departure from their lives before Aral’s death.

 

Katharine: Time for spoiler shield?

 

Tsana: Before we get into details, yes. But I think it’s relevant to mention that Cordelia, Aral and Jole were in a polyamorous relationship before Aral went and died on them.

 

<spoiler shield up!>

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Discussion Post: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Cryoburn is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project and the second last in our chronological read-through. This novel follows Miles, accompanied by Roic, on Imperial Auditor business, and takes place after Flowers for Vashnoi and before Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

You can read Tsana’s review of Cryoburn here, and Katharine’s review here.

Katharine: Welp it’s going to be incredibly hard to discuss the book properly after an ending like that, but I’ll try anyway… Miles is off to Kibou-daini in his role as Imperial Auditor to do what he does best – investigate something strange by shaking things up and seeing what falls out.

Tsana: When we first encounter him, he is drugged and hallucinating and, having escaped his kidnappers, is wandering around in underground catacombs full of cryogenically frozen people/corpses. Which is super creepy, but a staple of life on Kibou-daini.

Katharine: Once he manages to get to the surface he runs into a very kind lizard-person who sneaks him into his home to rest and recuperate. Which is lucky, as Miles’ hallucinations could lead him pretty much anywhere, but in the morning he is safe, and the lizard-person is an 11 year old boy called Jin, who likes to adopt pets. And Miles is quite pet-like when he’s not hyperactively solving cases.

Tsana: It’s also fortunate that Miles is good with children because, once sober, he quickly asuages Jin’s fears around adults taking over and treats Jin respectfully rather than condescendingly like many adults apparently do. Which is an interesting insight into Miles’s personality in a few ways, I thought. On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss “good with children” because, well, Miles has kids now so he’s had the practice. But on the other hand, I think he’s pretty much always been good with children, we just haven’t had as much chance to see that in other books. The first example that jumps to mind is in Komarr when he first meets Niki (now his stepson) and is perfectly happy bonding with him about jumpships (before he has any ulterior motives to befriend the kid).

Katharine: Spoiler shields up so I can say a thing!

*klaxon klaxon klaxon*

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Discussion Post: The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold

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The Flowers of Vashnoi is the latest story we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project and the most recently published, with the ebook having dropped only days ago. This novella follows Ekaterin and takes place after Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and before Cryoburn.

You can read Katharine’s review of The Flowers of Vashnoi here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: Such perfect timing to have a new novella come out that fits perfectly into our chronological read-through!

 

Katharine: I’m actually here for a new book! It’s a weird feeling to be one of the first to read it and see how few reviews/chatter there is out there (I mean, still tons as heaps bought and devoured it first day of course) but it’s still all so fresh!

 

Tsana: And, OK, it wasn’t a super long novella, but still, yay. And it’s a story that’s all Ekaterin’s own, instead of alternating chapters with Miles like in the novels she’s featured in.

 

Katharine: And she was really able to hold her own. Not that there was any doubt on either her or Bujold’s ability, but it’s so excellent to see Ekaterin so relaxed and confident in her not-so-new life, when you think to how she was when she barely thought she deserved any kind of happiness.

 

Tsana: Right? This is the first time we’ve seen her properly after she’s had a chance to get used to her new life with Miles and of course she kicks arse because that’s basically a prerequisite for being around Miles.

 

Katharine: And I love how she’s so easily able to be loving and exasperated with both him and their kids (and the battle tactics on the poor cats). It’s almost as if it’s a realistic portrayal of a decent marriage – shock, horror!  

We also see the return of our favourite (well, only) scientist, Enrique Borgos. And the bugs.

 

Tsana: Yep. Although there’s two books that happen in between, The Flowers of Vashnoi seems to be a successor to A Civil Campaign, which introduces Enrique and the butterbugs (to much hilarity) and sets up the possibility for The Flowers of Vashnoi. I don’t think this new novella has as much impact without having read A Civil Campaign first (but I still hope people nominate it for a Hugo next year…)

 

Katharine: Agreed. So in this we see that the bugs have now been engineered to be able to assist with fixing the bit of land that’s still radioactive. It’ll be pretty incredible if it is possible, which does seem hopeful after their first visit to the area. However, they also find that some of the bugs, once again, have escaped the confines of their new habitat much to Miles’ disgust.

 

Tsana: Spoiler tag time!

<shields up!>

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