Just a note: Someone in the comments a couple of weeks ago brought up the issue of triggering. This book is nothing if not full of triggers. So is the recap.
When last we left our intrepid human crew, their numbers had been reduced from 50,000 to 2,000, and then even further to a grand total of 48 people. I just want you to put that loss into perspective for a minute. As far as they know, the human race consists of 48 people. Rescue is not feasible, so for the rest of their lives, all of humanity is this small group.
Let’s make this a real world example, shall we? According to this website, Sheboygan, WI has a population of roughly 50,000. (I admit i picked that city because Sheboygan is fun to say out loud. Don’t judge.) So imagine you’re from there, and an earthquake destroys everything in Sheboygan except your neighborhood. That’s bad enough, right? Your mom lives across town. Your favorite department store is now gone. So you’re reeling from that when another natural disaster takes out everything but your block. If that happened to Meka, that would mean that the entire human race would consist of her, but also the snotty lady next door who is always saying loud passive aggressive things about how Meka occasionally misses a bit of her guide dog’s poop. For me, it would mean that the human race consists of me and a bunch of strangers from my apartment building, of which I have close connections to only one. That is a terrifying prospect.
After the crash, things start to go pear-shaped for Amber because Scott has a deeply ingrained inferiority complex about the size of is penis. (The text doesn’t explicitly say that, but his behavior is so childish that that’s the kindest reading i have.) Amber tries to point out problems. Scott dismisses her until she placates him. It doesn’t help that Yao, lassiter and Crandall, the Fleet men, (or, as I like to call them, Moe, Larry and Curly) know Scott is an idiot but go along with him. Crandall earns my annoyance by being unhelpfully snarky during the initial briefing the leaders have, at which Amber includes herself anyway, despite Scott’s objections. During this briefing, they all put Scott in charge of the food (not much) and the medical supplies (even less.) Scott doesn’t want to hear about the fact that they’ll need to find food and perhaps another source of drinking water, and growls that Amber shouldn’t go telling the rest of the world her fears about their lack of water.
Things only get worse when Scott cuts Amber’s rations. Everybody else gets three ration bars. She gets one. When she tries to protest, with good cause, that this isn’t fair, he snipes that she has plenty of reserves. Plus, he’s in charge, dammit, why won’t she respect that? (This is the point where, if I were, say, Jenny Trout I’d probably insert a picture of Eric Cartman, but a blind woman doing a Google image search seems like a recipe for disaster, so use your imaginations.) Moe, Larry and curly try to give Amber a pep talk. They explain that popularity matters, and what they need to do to survive is make friends. One of the men even points out that she’s right, and scott is an idiot, but he outright says he’s not willing to put his ass out on the line for her. (You know what would have been awesome at this point? If one of the Stooges had started channeling
Kristen Chenowith, but I am not nearly so fortunate. Sigh.)
Then chapter 3 happens, and Fleetman Crandall descends to the realm of my least favorite character in this fucking book. What happens is that Scott produces a pocketknife, and while everyone but Amber is roasting their ration bars on sticks at a fire they’ve made (somehow, all by themselves). She fashions her stick into a spear and tries to take the suggestion that they start hunting to Scott and the stooges. Scott is not only dismissive but contemptuous, and he gets in Amber’s face, threatening to throw her out of the camp altogether. Amber tries to talk the stooges around, but Crandall, earning that spot on my shit list, quotes Lord of the Flies (“It’s about a bunch of gay Brits who get stranded on an island.”) and tells her she should take a lesson from what happened to Piggy. He also quotes Animal Farm, leading me to hope and pray he never got to Shakespeare in high school. He then threatens to take away Nicci’s rations if Amber doesn’t behave. scott apparently wants to take away Amber’s altogether. Amber is angry and mystified, and then Crandall puts a nail in the coffin of my love for him by asking Amber if she wants to fuck. He’s willing to protect her, he says, because after all there are 11 women compared to 37 men, and she’ll need his protection. He also implies that soon she won’t actually have a choice and she might as well take him, but only if she can keep her mouth shut unless he wants it open. Amber’s reaction mirrors mine, because at this point we both threw things and marched off in a huff. But seriously, with that as the alternative, what else is there but a xenophobic racist lizard asshole?
Thankfully for my blood pressure and my will to continue reading this book, chapter 4 happens, and we switch back to Meoraq, rape paladin extraordinaire and I marvel at the fact that I would much rather read about a paladin who rapes women for the good of his god than about the incompetent wastes of space that are the remainder of the human race. Meoraq stumbles across some of the remnants of the ship and interprets them as a sign from Sheul. Then he finds human footprints and follows them, amazed by their customs and trying to figure out who they are. Then he sees one up close and realizes he is staring at a horrible abomination. “It had no face.” Which, as last lines of chapters go, is pretty damn effective.
Meanwhile back in high school, aka the human camp, the rations have run out, so yeah, its time to finally start hunting. This is a hollow victory because Amber just started her period and she’s cramping. As she makes spears, Scott goes up to her and they have another argument, the highlight of which, for me, is Scott mansplaining about how there are 11 women, so their wombs are a viable resource for the colony so they’d better get to breeding, and even though he totally thinks it’s gross, eventually Amber will have to fuck someone. For the good of humanity. Once more, Amber joins me in a desire to punch someone in the face. Luckily for me, fucking for the good of humanity doesn’t start right now. First there’s the hunt. Which goes about as well as you’d expect, since basically the humans have machismo and nothing else on their side. It would have been awesome if some of them had actually managed to kill each other, at least for me, but R. Lee Smith doesn’t seem to want to throw me a bone here. Amber does manage to hit the planet’s equivalent of a deer, but it gets away, and then she stumbles into Meoraq. Their meet-cute redeems this book, dissipating a bit of my rage , as it is both well-written and adorable. They manage to exchange names, and touch each other’s faces, which is not as creepy as it sounds. Then, of course, Scott shows up and tries to rescue Amber, but he is not the alpha male in this book, and his penis is still too small, so that of course doesn’t go over well. Meoraq disarms him and breaks his spear, Amber calls Scott an idiot, he walks away, and Amber invites Meoraq back to camp.
Predictably, no one is thrilled that Meoraq has joined their little group. Scott thinks it’s a terrible idea, and he and Amber have yet another argument in which he threatens to vote her off the island–er–the colony. (Take a drink.) Meoraq unloads a tent and makes himself at home. and Amber promises Scott she’ll teach the lizard man English. Scott magnanimously offers to let her try, threatens her some more with colony expulsion (take a drink) and then leaves her to it. The language lessons don’t start off well, but after a while Amber begins to get the feeling Meoraq understands what she’s saying. Turns out he does. He’s astounded that such ugly creatures have the ability to speak a language. Of course, according to God, there can only be one language for those that follow Sheul. Sigh. So our rape paladin is not only a rape paladin but also xenophobic. I can see no way in which those character traits will annoy me for the next six books.
After the camp settles, Meoraq meditates and has a dream, which features among other things, a group of his people and Amber’s joined together. There’s also some great sexual tension in this section, and in the dream she communicates her story with him. He wakes, and then rouses Amber and, via drawings, communicates that he will take the humans with him to Xi-Matezh, to await further instructions, including, very possibly, the order to kill them. There is also some more reflection about how he lusts after Amber, . but he can’t act on it because he’s not raping her.
Meoraq goes off for a while after is conversation with Amber. When he returns, he brings a dead saoq–the deer that Amber and the colonists were trying to hunt. He still doesn’t attempt to speak any English, but he does teach Amber a few words of his own tongue. (Nope, rampant xenophobia isn’t annoying me at all, why do you ask?) There is an obligatory Scott being a dick scene, (take a drink) though he shuts up when Meoraq shoves saoq meat at him. He and Amber eat, there is another Scott being a dick moment, (chug-a-lug) and Amber finally seems to get that Meoraq is a complicating factor she can’t really deal with.
Meoraq, meanwhile, thinks of the humans as his pets, which makes logical sense but does not earn him any brownie points. He’s meditating on how it feels to be a new pet owner when he sees Scott taking a piss. This necessitates a lesson in human biology with Amber, who explains that she’s female, and no, there are no babies in the group just yet, thank Sheul. The sex ed talk freaks Nicci out, because she has not been obnoxious and whiny in at least a chapter, and Meoraq has to go lie down for a while and think about how wrong it is that he wants to have sex with Amber considering she’s an ugly human. (I haven’t decided if this particular conflict warrants being added to the drinking game. So far, no… but we’ll see where we are next week.
Weeks pass. Meoraq feeds the masses, but he makes no effort to speak English. Eventually, there is yet another argument about how Amber is clearly failing at her one job, like Scott knew she would. (Take a drink.) He suggests Amber go off for a walk and think about what she’s done. She does, and attempts another hunt, but chickens out at the last minute. Luckily, Meoraq is on hand to retrieve her. Back at camp, my liver implodes because there is yet another argument. This time, Meoraq finally reacts, and utters a few words of English. It becomes apparent he and Amber can basically understand each other now, which means Meoraq is going to take his herd of humans to Xi-Matezh. I guess it’s good he can speak her language now and didn’t have to have, like, yet another dream in which he and Amber communed, a la Ayla and Jandallar. Then again, if they had, this would not have dragged on quite so long.
1. So clearly this section didn’t work for us, but I thought we’d start with something positive. Do you see the romance yet? We know it’ll work out, but are you invested in that part? And what did you think of the meet-cute?
I will try to write about this without the incredible rage I am feeling at this moment concerning this entire book. Meoraq and Amber’s meeting is the best thing that could have happened in book three, because God knows nothing else good comes about. I thought that Smith did a wonderful job of actually showing how different their cultures are. There isn’t this instant understanding, and the author could have really taken a cheap shortcut and done things that way. There is the need to learn on both sides, and the frustration that comes from them not understanding the other person. Their first meeting was absolutely adorable, and I really love the writing techniques that are employed by the author to show us what each of them sound like to the other.
Meoraq slapped Amber, but at this point, it isn’t enough to take me off team Rape Paladin, and girl, that is saying something. I am usually not down for my heroes knocking the crap out of heroines, but he was also worried. And considering that he usually rapes for the lord, it’s likely a step down from what he could have done. Yeah great. I’m making excuses for lizard on woman abuse. Oh how far I have fallen.
Meoraq is at the point where he is having a lot of arguments with himself, and that is probably the most adorable part of the book for me. Well, that and the fact that he’s feeding amber food. They commiserated over a dead animal together. I mean, what more could a girl ask for? Well, he did knock the hell out of Scott repeatedly, so there is that. I would have felt better if he’d pinned the guy to the ground with his sword, but I guess I’m just getting greedy.
I don’t think that I am invested in the two of them enough to keep going, however. I wish them the best, but the other assholes in this book are ruining it for me.
Given our intro to Meoraq, and given my own skepticism about this book as a romance, I was surprised by the level of tenderness Meoraq shows Amber from the start. I think the fact that he has to struggle and fight his feelings is quite interesting, though could grow tedious rather quickly.
I’d forgotten that Meoraq smacked Amber around in these chapters. While that is never excusable, I’m willing to give it a pass because at this point Meoraq doesn’t see Amber as a sentient being. He sees her as a pet, so in that instance his behavior is understandable, though I can always hope there are regrets about that later.
Oh and I did love the way Smith managed to tell us what the humans sounded like to Meoraq. I can’t think of any similar scene in any other speculative fiction where that happens.
2. Do your opinions of the characters still hold true or have you changed your mind?
The one thing that I always look for in a book is consistency. R. Lee Smith gives that to me in spades by giving me terrible, one-dimensional secondary characters that I absolutely hate with every fiber of my being. I don’t buy a lot of what has been happening. Are you going to tell me that no one else thought ‘hey dudes, we’re going to be out of rations soon so let’s go hunting!’? I mean, really? No one else got the bright idea that soon they would run out of rations and need to figure out their food situation before this? Everyone just let’s scott run roughshod over people and allow him to do whatever the hell he wants and people are content to just let that fly? Have these people never had to do a group project in college? I am not buying this little brand of human nature right now, not one little bit. No one has cried or had an emotional breakdown except for our spazlet Nicci, who I also pretty much hate now. The only person with a brain is amber, and the rest of these characters have been given a terrible disservice by only having one mode. Whatever their motives, it’s like we’re being slapped across the face. ‘And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the human personification of asshole. While over here, rolling around in her natural habitat and too stupid to figure out how to start a fire is the amazingly temperamental, ragey Nicci. While over here is this woman who opens her legs so that she can stay warm at night.’ I am so over all of these people. No one has any initiative except for look-at-me-I’m-the-blatant-villain Scott, and his cohorts yabba, dabba, and Do. That’s Yao, Dag, and Crandall respectively.
What is the point of anyone even bothering to come out of their role when they just get slapped right back in to it anyway? Everytime I see someone standing up for Amber, they just cave. I am absolutely sick of it. I do not buy that there wouldn’t be more arguments from everybody in that camp, but this is let’s pick on the fat girl who gasp! Speaks up for herself and gives more than two shits about everybody in that good-for-nothing space camp full of losers. Just, fuck all these people right now. Shannon can tell you that when a book makes me that mad and I curse this much, I am too dangerous for the interwebs.
Thank goodness for Meoraq. He might be rapey, but at least he stays true to form and shows some signs of redemption. At least he’s trying at this point. At least *he* is showing the possibility of change. At least *he* sees something of value in Amber, even if right now he does think they are all his pets. Screw Scott, give me the rape paladin and his orgasms for his god that makes little baby lizards.
I couldn’t have said that better myself, but I’ll add that, as I mentioned on the blog the other day, I’m reading Stephen King’s Under the Dome. In that book, the big bad is town selectman “Big Jim” Rennie. Rennie is a two-bit cartoon villain, but he would still snack on Scott for breakfast. He would have done more than making pretty speeches to ensure his popularity. Hell, if Amber is really that much of a threat, why does Scott bother with the grandstanding? Wouldn’tit be easier for him to quietly have her killed? Granted, we wouldn’t have a book if he did that, but I seriously don’t get his motivations.
As for the rest, my opinion hasn’t changed. Nicci is still useless. I am still rooting for Amber (though in kind of a halfhearted way, like you might if you know your team is going to lose), and I… don’t exactly like Meoraq, but he’s the best option at this point.
3. I know it’s early days to be saying any of this, but it’s worth asking anyway. This book is long. Do you think all of what we’ve read has been necessary and integral to the plot?
I don’t believe that everything we have read has been integral to the plot. It is a given that whenever Amber tries to do something to improve the camp’s situation, Scott is going to be all over it like white on rice. And then they are going to argue. Repeatedly. Forever. And ever. It’s not going to change. Book three could have been a third of the length if we didn’t have to keep reading about a pissing contest that no one is ever going to win unless someone shoves a knife threw Scott’s villainous, misogynistic heart. Quite frankly, what this book could use is a lot more stabbing action. We also don’t have to continue reading about how none of the camp will grow a pair of balls, either. It’s pretty much a given at this point.
I did find a lot of these chapters repetitive. Quite frankly, they made me tired, and I am worried that as the book progresses, things won’t so much be epic in scope as they will be long and draggy. That said, I haven’t thought anything before this point was superfluous. The first two books fleshed out who the characters were, and I figure that once you’ve read them, it’s fairly easy to decide whether you’ll want to keep investing time with them. This section, though, could have been pared down quite a lot and still retained the basic points.
4. So we were both angered by this book. What was the part that annoyed you?
I am simply angered by the pointlessness of it all, and the characters who only have one mode. Nicci’s is needy/whiny/ragey in one incredibly unattractive package. Crandall just wants to get his knob slobbed. Eric is an ass-kisser, Dag is going to be a stupid little lackey, Maria who could have been someone great is just going to fuck Eric for warmth, Scott is going to continue to be a raging douche canoe, Amber is going to continue to be absolutely fucking fabulous, and Meoraq is going to keep on being a zealot with the possibility for change if only he’d stab some of these other people. The rest of the camp are a bunch of formless, nameless, personality-deprived faces who don’t do anything about anything.
We’ve hit on most of what made me ragey. The only thing to add is the fact that the portrayal of the women also bothers me. Nicci is a “good little woman”, and Amber won’t shut up and let the men make decisions. For her pain, she is denigrated and stomped all over. I’m assuming that eventually she’ll get her comeuppance, but there’s a lot of stuff to go through before that happens. If Amber’s punishment for having agency is to be abused, but hey, she gets the lizard in the end, that just depresses me.
Also, and this doesn’t make me angry as much as it makes me sad, it’s becoming obvious that Amber is not the protagonist of her own book. Sure, she’s the lead, but I don’t see a character arc for her. That honor goes to Meoraq. Maybe that’s why the humans have no depth. They’re not important, because, all trappings of nifty sci-fi adventure aside, they don’t matter. It’s Meoraq’s story we’re going to read.
5. Any adjustments to your predictions from a couple of weeks ago?
I have a feeling everyone is going to be the same as they always are, except that situations are going to get a lot worse. Nicci is not long for this world since she seems to enjoy being useless. Amber, being fierce and fabulous, is going to be tormented beyond belief. Dr. Yao, who actually did speak up for her and big ups to him, will probably die because he went against the Scott. Scott is probably not going to die soon enough, if ever.
I feel terrible for having to dip out of this read-along with my bestie, especially since us reading the book together was my idea. But at this point, I’d just be hate reading it. I hate these people and I no longer care what happens to any of them except for Amber and Meoraq. Any lingering concern I had for Nicci has been curbstomped right the hell out. But I will still be reading the recaps and adding my commentary! For the record, I hope I am wrong. I hope we see more life in the other people. But now, I have become a cynic.
I read a post recently about how this book was a great crossover in to the romance genre for someone. I had to sit on my hands. I am so glad it is working for other people, but I do not classify this as a romance. Not yet, anyway. But again, I can be proven wrong. Team Rape Paladin for life!
I have nothing much to add to that, either. I will say that as I go it solo, I will try very hard not to hate read. I do want R. Lee Smith to surprise me by bringing some of the awesome of which I think she’s capable, and besides, I don’t really like snark for its own sake. I make no promises, though, except to stick it out to the bitter end.