Hourly comic day is technically February 1st, I think. It started back in 2006 when John Campbell, who once drew the comic Pictures for Sad Children (and then later set a bunch of stuff on fire and maybe quit the internet, I don’t know anymore) would draw an hourly comic every day for the month of January, and then invite other artists to join them on the last day of the project. The only rule is typically that you have to draw one panel for every hour you’re awake depicting something that happened during that hour. Technically you’re supposed to draw them AS THEY’RE HAPPENING but I never manage that. These were done during naps. Here I have in some cases done multiple panels in order to provide more of a narrative. Unfortunately it didn’t scan as well as I would have liked. I used to draw them on index cards (1-2 panels per card per hour). Perhaps I’ll try that again.
I’ve actually drawn these before (in Thai too), but not for quite a while. This one happens to cover last Sunday, which was the 4th of February. It was an atypical day around here in a lot of ways… we were recovering from a party the night before and B was struggling with a stomach virus that had been bugging him for a few days, so I did maybe more baby care than I might usually have and also we ate lunch at three in the afternoon. I think I maybe left out one wake up with Henry at 2ish? I don’t remember. Sunday is currently the day that I don’t run, so that’s also different from the quotidian, but that’s probably why I had time to draw this. Oh, and Henry spit up (on me) a few times more than usual. I have only depicted some of the bodily-fluid-related events here. It turns out that as babies get older, they tend to spit up less. Except when they’re fussy, they can swallow air that can lead to more spit ups. Henry got his first tooth last week. So you can maybe guess. Anyway. The lucky part is I didn’t give him the bright red Tylenol until after the last spit up. (Pro tip: If you are holding a baby and you feel his tummy suddenly kind of rumble in a bad way, point him away from you.)
Also, ignore Henry’s skepticism about Night Vision. It really is an excellent book. He is too young to really understand poetry.
File this one under PS3612.U686Z46 2018 for American literature—Individual authors—2001-—L—Biography and Criticism—Autobiography, journals, memoirs. By date.
Plays seen: 14 (this number includes musicals and operas)
Pounds gained / lost: +27 / -42
Miles run: 1,634.21 (because of the way I track my running, this also includes walking intentionally for exercise and elliptical use)
Total mileage since I started tracking in 2012: 13,402.92*
Yards swum: 46,500 (almost all after I was six months pregnant)
Miles biked: 0
Races started in 2017: 10
DNFs / Finishes: 1 / 9
Longest race: 10 miles (Black Hawk Ridge 16k, Oct 22, 2:02:41)
Shortest race: 5k (Freeze for Food 5k, March 4, 29:15; Berbee Derby 5k, Nov 23, 29:39)
Highest place in a race: 5th (Freeze for Food 5k)
Worst place in a race: 19 of 19 (Black Hawk Ridge 16k)**
Babies had: 1
Comics drawn and published on blog: 9 (yeah, there were others that were sketched but left unfinished for various reasons)
Concerts attended: 1 (Foo Fighters)
Quilts completed: 1.75 (still putting the finishing touches on the second one)
* Table of running:
** This is actually a bit hard to calculate–is 19/19 worse than 25/28?
Numerical Goals for 2018:
Running: 2,300 miles
Races: at least 6 (currently I have completed one and am registered for one in May), with a sub-2 half marathon in the mix. Hopefully this would be the IAT half, but that’s a pretty tough course, and I don’t think I’ve ever run it that fast, so we’ll see.
Books to read: 15
Lifting: get the deadlift to 200 lbs, squat 185 lbs (with reasonable depth I guess), bench press over 100 lbs.
Quilts: 1.25 (gotta finish the aforementioned one)
Bonus: I talked to this guy and he gave me a few of his resolutions!
Laugh more, scream less.
Grow some teeth. Not too many, maybe four or five.
Figure out some mode of personal locomotion, such as walking or crawling.
The kid started daycare this morning. So there’s that. The upshot is that I have a few minutes to think about comics. Apparently I finished inking this one on October 10th, which means it took me nearly a month to erase the pencil lines and scan it. Oops.
If you are going to ask me, “Hey Em, why have you been so obsessed with Heidegger lately?” The answer is I’m not sure. I watched a couple of entertaining videos about him last month (example 1; example 2). (I spent a lot of the last twelve weeks sitting on the sofa with a fussy/hungry/just cuddly baby, watching videos about philosophers.) Heidegger’s ideas about learning to live authentically through being aware of our temporary, fleeting lives are interesting in the same way that Buddhism’s ideas about samsara are interesting. And in fact a long time ago I edited a book of essays about Asian philosophy that discussed the similarities between Heidegger and Zen Buddhism. But at the same time, as I’ve been spending time watching our dogs and the kidlet, I’ve become somewhat convinced that the way to live authentically isn’t to live with an awareness of one’s own mortality, as Heidegger would have it, but more to live in the present. Of course, the rejection of “noise” (das Gerede) is probably a good idea to help us learn about the value and connectedness of life (das Sein).
There’s also the problem that Heidegger was kind of a Nazi. A lot of sites that talk about his philosophy gloss over this or sort of apologize for it, but he never really did so. I should note that I have mixed feelings about that article’s seeming removal of culpability from Arendt by saying she was “in thrall” to him. Dude wasn’t a vampire; she made a choice to defend him. But that also raises the question of why, which is not satisfactorily answered.
Simone de Beauvoir’s remarks are influenced mostly by my understanding of her quote about “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Her meaning is about socialization, I believe–being a woman is essentially a social construction. Times of upset in one’s life that require a reorganization, like marriage and births, are times when one can feel one’s socially assigned role shifting significantly, sometimes whether one wants it to or not. There are certainly a lot of people who have told me sort of soppy, annoying things about motherhood (e.g. don’t come up and tell me I’m the most important person in my son’s life, I am not his only parent and I don’t want that kind of pressure), but the “mom shaming” one hears so much about has not really been a problem.
I have been approached by a lot of old people who want to look at the baby though. What’s up with old people?
For more on Donald Winnicott’s ideas about motherhood (or parenthood, if he were writing today), you can see the book Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel. She goes into it much better than I could. Or Wikipedia has a summary here. Basically, “meet the child’s needs, and it’s okay to fail a little bit.”
All right, I am going to spend the last twenty minutes of my lunch break with my head down, since I slept 4.75 hours last night. Whee.
We’ll file this under RC547 L86 2017, for Internal medicine–Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry–Psychiatry–Neuroses–Sleep disorders–General works. Because there doesn’t seem to be a call number for “sleep deprivation torture caused by having a newborn around.” Also, why is psychiatry cataloged under “internal medicine”? If internal medicine just means “stuff inside the body,” it arguably contains (as a category) all branches of medicine except maybe parts of dermatology. Weird.
For those who are totally confused by the set up described here, basically the jogging stroller has an attachment that holds the car seat, and the baby rides in that. I didn’t give this much thought before he was born, but the whole thing adds up to quite a bit of weight. I have found I’m getting faster going up hills when I’m not pushing H though. This past Saturday at the Indian Lake trail run, I got up the Hill (you know which one if you’ve been out there) faster than ever before. Of course I ran the rest of the course at a fairly slow pace overall, but I was proud of how many people I passed scrambling up that hill.
Also, babies are hard to draw. I just want to say that. And by the time I master what he looks like now, he’ll look different.
This one is going to have a shorter chat than usual because, well, someone just woke up from his nap I think. In the meantime, we’ll file it under RG801 L86 2017, for Gynecology and obstetrics–Obstetrics–Puerperal state–General works. I admit that this feels like a bit of a cop-out, but while there’s a subject heading that seems relevant (postnatal exercise), there doesn’t seem to be an obvious call number associated with it. There is an obvious call number for prenatal exercise though, which reinforces the idea that once you give birth, you’re not that interesting anymore (medically or otherwise). Seriously, we got sent home from the hospital with only a few lame self-care instructions given that I’d just had what I’m told was major surgery (like “don’t drive for a while.” I asked, “How long is a while?” Nurse: “I don’t know, you need to ask your doctor.” What, really, you don’t know how long after a c-section I should avoid driving? Don’t you do this ALL THE TIME?).
I could rant about that all day, but I won’t. People are idiots, we already knew that. Anyway. Hope you’re all enjoying the nice fall weather. I am. Talk to you all later.
This is based on actual conversations I had back when I was still going to aikido (something I did up to about 20 weeks). It surprised me when I was talking to guys about pregnancy–and I mean guys who have kids–the two things they know about pregnancy are 1) there is a lot of puking, and 2) get an epidural. Actually, after making this observation, a friend pointed out that most people don’t spend as much time with their spouses/significant others as I do on a day-to-day basis, so the vomiting and labor may be the biggest parts of what most men remember about pregnancy. That and cravings, I guess. But just like I didn’t actually throw up until I got the stomach flu in March, I didn’t really have any exciting cravings beyond granny smith apples with peanut butter.
So when I originally drew this comic, I messed something up–I drew and inked another comic on the other side of the page, and the ink bled through. Fortunately, B was able to save the art with Photoshop. He also produced this version, which I actually think is in many ways much better than the original, betraying a good sense of comic timing as well as an acute awareness of, well, Em (Em qua character and Em qua me):
I’m filing the first comic under HM1161 L86 2017, for Sociology–Social psychology–Interpersonal relations. Social behavior–Interpersonal attraction–Friendship. The second comic will be filed under BJ1491 M48 2017, for Ethics–Special topics–Hedonism and asceticism. Renunciation.
I wanted to add a few notes about running during pregnancy, since I have pretty much finished running (though not working out) at this point, and since I anticipate that in a few weeks, the topic won’t be of too much concern for me anymore but that I may want to retain the information for posterity.
I have run seven races while pregnant:
Race / Distance
New Year’s Day Dash (5 mi)
54th of 144 in age group
Freeze for Food 5k
5th in AG
Freeze for Food 10k
3-4-17 (directly after the 5k)
15th in AG
44-Furlong World Championship (about 5.5 mi)
11th overall (of 18 women)
Donald Dash (12k-ish trail race)
25th in AG
Ice Age Trail Half Marathon
Blue Mound Trail Race (10k)
20th in AG (of 20)
I think this kind of paints a picture. The weather is always a major factor for any runner, but it’s especially a big deal during pregnancy. For example, the Ice Age Trail race was extremely humid–in another year, I would have finished, although slowly (I was on pace for a three-hour half–significantly slower than I’ve ever done on that course–but of course in another year I would have probably been a little faster too). But this year, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and ended the race after the first 6.5-mi loop. In fact, “more” is basically the watchword for running during pregnancy–you need more water, more calories for a given distance, more bathrooms, and eventually, more time.
The situation is not quite as 100% clear-cut as I’m making it sound here, though. Here’s a chart of my pace from November until July (click to embiggen):
As you can see, I have gotten slower, but things are uneven. On the other hand, this is skewed by the fact that I moved my training inside as of May and took to the elliptical only as of mid-June. The moving average is set to a period of five because typically I run five days per week, although since I switched to elliptical only it has been 4 days / week elliptical, 3 days / week swimming.
So here, briefly, is a list of my advice for running during pregnancy. Standard disclaimers apply–this is basically what worked for me, but it may not work for you, or even be feasible.
Read Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by James Clapp.
During the first two trimesters, running was a lot easier when I was running with others. The further along I got, the more true this became. Getting up in the morning in time to meet my running groups got harder and harder though.
Bring water. Also, bring more snacks than you would normally.
You can get a support belt that will help prevent your uterus from bullying your bladder. This belt was most helpful between about 13-20 weeks.
Eventually, moving the workouts inside, where there is climate control and easy access to bathrooms, is a good idea.
Expect recovery to take longer than usual.
Don’t run down a mountain–you will eventually have to run back up. This might be good advice for any time, honestly. I did this around twelve weeks, at altitude (in Colorado), and nearly passed out later that evening because I didn’t refuel well–just downed a coffee and a bagel and took a nap. So if you do decide to do something stupid like this, eat two bagels.
Just because people often compare going through labor and running a marathon doesn’t mean that you have to show up for labor ready to run 26.2 miles. Similarly, it’s okay to switch to elliptical when your joints/organs can’t take the impact anymore. Just keep moving.
The funny thing about this photo is I remember feeling so victorious as I crossed the finish line. But in reality, I look incredibly toasted (and covered with mud). And eight months pregnant. Some things are unavoidable.
 It is perhaps unsurprising that men who have watched their partners go through labor both with and without an epidural will say, “Get the epidural.”
 My current workout regime is ~25 mi/week on the elliptical, 3,000-5,000 yards of swimming, and 3-4 days of lifting weights. I can still deadlift 115 lbs at this point, but I’m getting some funny looks from various gym bros (suck it, gym bros).
 Technically I was pregnant during the 2016 Burbee Derby, but I didn’t know it yet, so I’m omitting that here.
 I’m still kind of disappointed in myself about this. I’d never DNF’d a race before. (For those who aren’t runners, DNF = Did Not Finish.)
 One highlight of the IAT race was stepping off the course to pee in the bushes and discovering I’d chosen a thorn bush to crawl into. Good job, me.
Chomsky didn’t develop this theory (properly called the “propaganda model”) alone–he co-wrote the book with Edward Herman. Wikipedia suggests that the theory was more Herman’s than Chomsky’s, but everyone seems to call it Chomsky’s theory. Here is a video that explains it in more depth than one panel of a comic can do. As a (former, I guess) southeast Asianist, I have mixed feelings about Chomsky…he seems to be generally accepted on this point, but he was so, so wrong about a number of things (specifically, the Khmer Rouge)…
Here is the main interview with Zizek that I referenced. I do enjoy the contrast between the well-dressed BBC host and the Ziz, who always looks like he has been awake for about 43 hours and hasn’t done laundry in a week.
Foucault’s stuff about the power structure and revolution was touched on in this earlier comic.
Fitzgerald has a weird face. Sorry, dude. Of all the real people I’ve tried to draw, he is the weirdest. And this is including J-P “Walleye” Sartre.
Chomsky and Foucault didn’t get along either.
Chomsky was, (possibly) surprisingly, on the side of Hillary Clinton during the last election, while Zizek wanted people to vote for Trump–not because he supported Trump; in fact, he views DT as immoral and terrible, in many ways a total disaster. But he believed that by electing DT, the left would see some galvanization and would begin to reconstruct itself, not just to offer opposition but to offer a viable alternative that did not include neoliberalism/late-stage international capitalism/what have you. Interestingly, I think he was right to some extent. I knew a few people involved in local activism while Obama was in office, but I now know many, many more people who are calling their senators and congresspeople regularly, going to rallies, and actively supporting various campaigns to change the country for the better.
As I’m writing this, however, DT has pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord.* What this will actually mean for the world in the long run is difficult to say at this juncture, since it was a largely symbolic voluntary agreement that many (well, Honduras Nicaragua [ed: damn it]) claimed didn’t go far enough. But I do think that without the governmental impetus, the solution to global warming will wind up coming from the business community–that capitalism will eventually have to save us. If the idiotic old men in power can’t see the writing on the wall, the entrepreneurs can, and in this country money speaks a lot louder than treaty obligations. Which is ironic, because I think that the revolution Zizek had in mind was not essentially the renaissance of cultural capitalism in the role of savior, but (of course) socialism (“the good old welfare state,” as he would put it). To paraphrase Oscar Wilde (or, really Ziz quoting Wilde in the video linked just there), it feels like a bad idea to use private industry to lead the mitigation of the environmental disaster caused by private industry, because their motives will always be profit-driven rather than altruistic, and that means that people not living in the first world are going to wind up getting screwed somehow. On the other hand, as someone who is worried about the environment, I guess I’ll take what I can get at this point?
Circling back to the Ziz’s point about the president as the motive for revolution: the problem is that Trump is a good enemy but ultimately inept. The left doesn’t really have to do anything–they (we) just have to stand there and he’ll turn his administration into a dumpster fire. It’s been less than six months and there’s already been talk of impeachment on the floor of the House by Republicans. Thus, while the base is fired up, the democrats in congress don’t seem to be doing much in the way of providing alternative leadership or pivoting to embrace the more liberal Sanders wing or the multicultural Obama wing–they don’t have to.
And this is where the lack of objectivity I mentioned begins to bother me–rather than seeing any individual action the administration takes as the flailing of an inept and failing regime, the leftermost voices seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on interpreting how this is going to lead to fascism/autocracy/A Handmaid’s Tale/insert your particular fear here. I suppose this is the reverse of Obama, or perhaps more accurately the flip side of it. I discussed a few posts back seeing voters in 2008–especially African American voters, since I was in a heavily African American area of Philly–reconstructing Obama in their own image so that he could serve as a vehicle onto which they could project their ideas/hopes/dreams. Now on the other side, we have the left projecting its fears onto DT–perhaps because of a lack of transparency on his part that keeps him feeling like a remote and unknowable figure, or perhaps because this is how people always deal with their leaders–just as we must imagine that we live in a community filled with others who are basically the same as we are in order to become a nation, we must imagine the same thing about the leader who we will likely never meet in person–that he or she is a specific type of person that either is like us (for those leaders we like) or totally foreign to us (for those we hate).
To provide a possible counter-point to my own point here, I’ll add that while I was sketching out this comic, I found this video on Jacques Lacan,** about whom I know very little (he is widely admired by many of the continental philosophers I mention here, especially Zizek, but not widely discussed in the [undergraduate] philosophy curriculum, possibly because he’s largely still seen as a psychologist? Or because undergrad philosophy is kinda naff in a lot of ways). Anyway, the video quotes Lacan as saying, “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. And you will get one.” Lacan meant that what people want, from the time of infancy, is basically an “ideal parent,” someone who can make everything okay, and we carry this desire into who we vote for. Whereas it is better, following Sartre’s idea of radical freedom, to accept that no leader is going to be able to do these things, and instead to embrace the fact that if we want something to happen, the best way is to make it happen ourselves. Go out and break glass ceilings, clean up the environment, make art–do what you need to in order to be awesome every day.
We’ll file this under P95.82 U6 L86 2017, for Philology. Linguistics–Communication. Mass media–Special aspects–Political aspects. Policy–By region or country, A-Z. This allows it to sit next to the original being referenced, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media, at least at my alma mater.
* When I say “pulled out,” it’s not clear how Bloomberg / the individual states and cities saying they’re still going ahead with the Paris Accord requirements plays into this argument. Bloomberg is of course a total centerist neoliberal (and so on and so on).
Necessary background to this: OB functions at my medical practice happen in Monona, about 25 minutes from here. There’s also a clinic with a lab in Middleton, which is maybe 5-10 minutes away.
So. This feels a bit like whistling in the dark, to be honest.
Tay-Sachs is a degenerative nerve disease, invariably terminal, that is inherited in a recessive pattern on chromosome 15. It’s much more common in a couple of ethnic groups–it was first spotted amongst the Ashkenazic Jews (i.e., Jews with an Eastern European heritage), but I believe it’s also somewhat common among French Canadians and Cajuns. Originally, there was a hypothesis–I think it was called the Jewish Fur Trader Hypothesis–that had all these groups being connected somehow, but in fact it turns out there are different genes that are more prevalent in each group, all of which produce the same symptoms.
Anyway, a test for Tay-Sachs was first developed in 1971 (one of the first such tests available), and since then because of the push for genetic testing, rates have dropped precipitously, even among the ultra-orthodox. There are actually places in the country you can get tested for free (like Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philly), and they used to run drives to get people screened at the Hillel Foundation on campus, if I’m recalling correctly. So it was always kind of in my mind that I would have to get tested if I married someone of Ashkenazic heritage, and I assumed that most people who could be affected would know that. But perhaps not. I was later told, after the encounters chronicled here, that most people don’t walk in to their first appointment and request to be tested for certain conditions–even though the nurse actually asked me specifically if there was anything I wanted to be tested for. This encounter also led me to determine a law, which I formulate as “The more time you spend around medical personnel, the more likely you are to realize that they have as high a rate of idiots as any other profession.” That same nurse pictured in the first panel also advised me not to lift more than 25 lbs. I didn’t ask her what pregnant people who already have a toddler do (other questions not asked: For what lift? Do you mean with one arm, like a dumbbell curl, or like don’t deadlift over 25 lbs? Do you realize how weird and Victorian that sounds?).
Anyway, come back Monday, we’ll do politics.
Let’s file this under RG580 G45 L86 2017, for Gynecology and obstetrics–Obstetrics–Pregnancy–Obstetrical emergencies. Diseases and conditions in pregnancy–Other diseases and conditions in pregnancy, A-Z–Genetic disorders.
 Which, by the way, is kind of interesting in itself–that there isn’t a one to one correspondence between genetic issues and diseases, because in most (all?) cases, the disease was observed first, based on the symptoms, and then a genetic test was developed for it later. We’re only just beginning to use this knowledge to our advantage in treating some conditions, like cancer. Somewhat relevant PhD Comics comic. This is also why the whistling in the dark comment–when you get your results back, they say something like, “We can say with 92% certainty that you’re not a carrier,” because there’s a tick box on the form where you note your background and they look for those genes, so in theory you could still be carrying a gene they didn’t test for.
 The ultra-orthodox tend to be anti-selective abortion, which is weird for various reasons of Jewish doctrine that I won’t get into, as it relies on my somewhat untutored understanding of Talmudic doctrine. Also I should note that rates of out-marriage increased significantly in the twentieth century (probably not among the ultra-orthodox), which would lead to lower rates of Tay-Sachs as well.
Things everyone knows about pregnancy: there will be voms.
Things I had no idea about: the cramps.
Apparently, it’s not uncommon (and totally normal) to get cramps–pretty severe ones, strong enough to wake me up–during the first trimester. I was unaware. Luckily, that stage lasted only a few days or a week, in my recollection. But really, there’s nothing more disconcerting than being awoken from a sound sleep by pain.
Now that I’m well into the second trimester, all is fine on the cramps front, but my life has not become magically more dignified. For example, yesterday when we were replacing our dryer, I bent down to clean some lint out of the vent pipe and nearly dislocated a rib. It turns out that having my uterus taking up a lot of my torso (and I’m 5′ 3″, so there’s not a ton of space there) has made me a lot less flexible.
The photo in question:
Regardless of where you stand politically, I think we can all agree that Obama was amazing in so many ways.
So a thing happened. Some time ago, actually, though I wasn’t quite ready to discuss it publicly before now (case in point: I drew this comic thirteen weeks ago, and I didn’t expect I was going to publish it here, so I didn’t give it a number). I’m currently twenty-five weeks pregnant, as of today. Or maybe as of yesterday. I actually lost count recently and had to do some math to figure out where I was again. As far as I can tell, I’ve basically been pregnant forever and, with fifteen weeks to go, I will continue to be pregnant forever. People keep saying, “August will be here before you know it!” That is not true. Now that I have entered this world of measuring out my life with coffee spoons, I can say with certainty that August is an impossible amount of time away.
It’s actually not that bad, pregnancy. Or rather, I’m somewhat aware that a lot of my discomfort is the result of my own stupid choices. For example, my muscles all hurt; a reasonable person might choose to run less or lift less weight at the gym, but I have not made that choice. I have heartburn, and a reasonable person might choose to not eat curry a minimum of three times per week, but that is a future I am not prepared to face.
A few notes on the comic:
The “gaze” being discussed is not really a Foucauldian thing–it’s closer to Lacan’s conception of gaze or Laura Mulvey’s concept of male gaze. Though Foucault did talk about the medical gaze, his bigger point about bodies was about the shift from people who look like x can do x to “we can create someone to do x” (so instead of looking for a strong young man with good posture etc. to be a soldier, find a young man and train him to be strong and have good posture and do the soldiering). But in many ways Foucault has become the philosopher-muse of the strip, so I decided to put him in.
This might actually be the first comic that both Bryan and Foucault show up in the same panel together. So we have conclusively proven in the Em Oi! universe that Foucault is not Bryan in disguise. Just in case anyone was wondering?
Up until now, Em oi! has served as both an occasional journal comic as well as a somewhat joke-based comic. I’m afraid, for those who are uninterested in pregnancy, that there will be a number of comics on that topic forthcoming. But fear not, I’ll get back to making fun of philosophers eventually.
We’ll file this one under RG551 L86 2017, for Gynecology and obstetrics–Obstetrics–Pregnancy–General works.
Morgan, Richard K. The Steel Remains. New York: Del Ray, 2009.
Warning: viele spoliers ahead. Achtung.
Okay, quick summary: Ringil Eskiath (known as Gil) is a paunchy, 30-something guy who used to be a great war hero and is now sulking in the sticks, telling his story in exchange for free drinks at the local pub. One day, his mother shows up and asks his help in retrieving a cousin who was sold into slavery. For various reasons, Gil agrees to do this thing. The cousin is something of a MacGuffin though—as soon as Gil arrives in his hometown of Trelayne, he starts hearing rumors that there’s a mysterious, almost mythological creature known as a dwenda lurking in Etterkal (the once-bad part of town where the slavers now legally make their living). One evening, he goes down there to kick in some heads, and winds up losing to the dwenda (known as Seethlaw) in the process, but something about Gil intrigues Seethlaw, who doesn’t kill him but instead takes him as a lover. Eventually, they journey to Ennishmann, where the cousin has been shipped to serve as a dwenda sacrifice prior to a planned invasion.
In the meantime, we also follow the stories of two of Gil’s former comrades-in-arms, Archeth, who works for the Throne Imperial, and Egan, a member of a nomadic tribe called the Majak. While Archeth investiates an apparent dwenda attack on a garrisoned port city, Egan deals with mutinous forces among his people. Eventually, all three of them wind up in Ennishmann, and there’s a big battle with the dwenda, who at least appear to call off their invasion for the time being and leave.
Okay, so I have a lot of feelings about this book. First, the good:
A fantasy book, with two gay heroes (Gil and Archeth)!
A lot of the action is pretty political and revolves around the laws of the various societies in which the heroes reside—these societies are all well fleshed-out and the cultural differences and similarities are clear. The world also has a pretty complicated history that is not entirely explicated. World building!
A fantasy book with a woman as one of the main characters! And she doesn’t have a tattoo on her lower back or fight in nothing but a leather sports bra!
The language used is very modern, with no attempt to be high falutin’ (aka Tolkienesque)—this makes the action in the book seem very close to the reader.
Interesting discussions of important social issues, like slavery and war.
The dwenda wound up being a lot more complex than just a monster-of-the-week thing, and Gil’s relationship with them was gratifyingly complicated.
And my other feelings; I hesitate to call them “negative,” more like just things that are lingering questions:
Archeth is different from all other women because she’s a war hero and because she’s half Kiriath, a race that has (in the time since the war in which she served) left the world. Although it’s not really discussed, it seems implicitly that these differences allow her to essentially act as a man does in this world—there are no other women in military or command positions. Although the men she commands don’t question her on the basis of her sex, it does seem like she’s being given a latitude that’s not extended to anyone else. Although women are routinely sold into sex slavery here, women’s role in society isn’t really discussed in any depth, and all the other women who have speaking lines in the book are either 1) Gil’s mother, 2) slaves/servants/so oppressed they might as well be slaves, or 3) whores/girlfriends of various other characters. Even though Archeth herself disapproves of slavery (though not to the point of trying to end it), she doesn’t in any way seem to question the role society assigns to women who aren’t her. (Although to be fair, she does significantly question her society’s treatment of some groups of people, like those who don’t follow the local religion. She’s not totally blind.) So if you were hoping for a true feminist novel where women are either equals or their subservience is questioned, you’ll have to look elsewhere. (That said, the book does pass the Bechdal test.)
Gil’s relationship with Seethlaw was complicated, but I had hoped that at the end it would go in a different direction. (Warning: spoilers here) At the end of the book, Gil wrests his cousin away from the dwenda, flees until he and Egan can regroup, then fights them and kills Seethlaw. Instead, I wanted to see Gil come to sympathize more with the dwenda, who were (as mentioned earlier) a complicated group of individuals, and even potentially come to collaborate with them.
There are a bunch of plot threads that aren’t really tied up.
Some of the plot lines are a little thin. Egan’s plot especially starts out interesting enough, with a member of the tribe killed by steppe ghouls and a blossoming argument with the tribe’s deranged shaman. And then things stall. Egan spends a lot of time sulking in his yurt before getting teleported (south?) by a god(?) to save Gil’s ass. Clearly, some of the stuff here is left untied for the sequels to sort out, but it’s a little frustrating. Archeth, similarly, gets more motion (traveling to the port, investigating it, traveling back) but a lot of her actual time is spent arguing with people at court.
Finally, all of Gil’s lovers (the ones we meet, anyway, with names and such) die. Admittedly, he kills two of them himself, but I feel like this is kind of a trope. Also, Archeth has no lovers or love interests, though she is offered (and refuses) a female slave.
I’m planning to read the two sequels, so don’t take any of the above points as reasons to not read this. They’re just some things that stuck out in my mind when I was finished.
I started reading the book because I was told that the use of language was much different from other fantasy novels, and it was. The presence of an interesting female character was also exciting. This started as my read-on-the-dreadmill book, but quickly became a read-all-the-time book. Highly enjoyable and recommended.