Reviews in Brief — Prospero Lost, Mocha Manual to Military Life, Ice Song

Prospero Lost was really fun. Basically, it takes up a few hundred years after Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Prospero and his children have funded a multinational financial empire. Miranda remains Prospero’s loyal, virginal daughter, devotee of a benevolent goddess. Miranda’s faith, service, and maidenhead stand surety for her family’s immortality. The years pass; Miranda’s grown older (though not old); the family fractures. However, Prospero remains the constant vital center to Miranda’s world… except now he’s disappeared. What follows is a romp through the USA, featuring Miranda, the Aerie folk, Santa Claus, and a host of other mythical beings, as Miranda tries to figure out what demonic force has captured her dear old dad. As I read this book, I kept thinking of that Piers Anthony book Question Quest, where the Magician Humphrey wonders what it would be like to be in love with a virginal 30 year old woman able to summon unicorns. He ultimately decides that virginal innocence is cute when you’re 16, but that insisting on innocence much beyond that is dysfunctional. Miranda begs to disagree, and I love her for it. She’s analytical, brave, a total devotee to her horned goddess, and passionate. When she’s tempted by her first love, it’s something she views with a sweet excitement that does not eclipse or erase her other awesome characteristics. I really enjoyed her brains, wryness, and humor.

The Mocha Manual to Military Life: A Savvy Guide for Wives, Girlfriends, and Female Service Members is one of the best military spouse how-to’s I’ve seen so far. It talks honestly about deployment, racism on post, and “spousal aggression.” At the same time, it’s implicitly heteronormative. It does include some commentary from female service members and their husbands, which is REALLY unusual, and has several sections applicable to dual career military spouses. I also liked the section on job-hunting as a military spouse. I’ve been enjoying Mocha Manual, because it’s much better than, say, “How to Be a Military Girlfriend,” but that’s really not saying much. The deployment checklists are golden, as is the chapter on PTSD. Unfortunately, some of the sentences might be lifted from other sources. The one I noticed in particular reads “In fact, not until 1988 did the DoD stop the practice of incorporating commentaries on a wife’s behavior in a husband’s job review” (115). This is pretty close to, “Not until 1988 did the DOD stop the practice of incorporating commentaries on a wife’s behavior in her husband’s job review” (from here).” :-/ Talking about this to my real-life friends has led to a great deal of mockery (I guess plagiarism is pretty common outside of school), and has made this book (good though it is) the punchline to many jokes. The thing is, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s the “best” in comparison to some other less useful entrants.

Ice Song was fabulous. Basically, Sorykah is a Trader, which means she trades genders when she’s really freaked out. Her memories are discontinuous — Soryk (her man-self) doesn’t remember the life and experiences of Sorykah (her woman-self) and vice versa. This is not the case for all Traders, though, and is actually indicative of the deep self-hate Soryk/ah has for her unique physicality. Sorykah is deeply committed to living full-time as a woman, even though it costs her job opportunities and has led to her being the only female member of a dangerous mining operation. If anyone finds out her body’s secrets, they’ll kill her. It’s rare for Traders to be fertile — normally the gender swap is so traumatic the Trader miscarries. It’s also rare for a Trader to birth two perfect Trader twins. Sorykah loves her liddle kiddles, and arranges to move their nanny and them to the house she’s purchasing by doing a dangerous mission for the mining company. She waits for them at the train station. They never arrive. What follows is a journey story of the sort female narrators rarely experience. Sorykah journeys across the frozen face of her world, encountering living myths — a volcano oasis, the Queen of the forest of Erun, as well as that forest’s Beast — and dispelling myths about herself. Ultimately, to rescue her children, Soryk and Sorykah will have to learn of each other’s existence — and work together. This was richly inventive. Structurally, Ice Song is arranged like a fairy tale, so there are three trials — the endurance aspect of the journey itself, the trial of memory/loyalty, then the test of courage. At times there are moments when the coincidences of fairy tales seem a little forced in a book that features characters so beautifully realized. Kasai salvages this by introducing the darker side of these fairy stories. Dunya the dog-faced woman, for example, is really well realized, down to her last moment of traitorous compassion, and that complex character exists in the same universe as a bloodthirsty key. So, even though Soryk/ah hit several fairy tale stops (the lovelorn queen, the botanist witch, the lair of the Beast), these all feel as though they’ve received a fresh coat of paint. They’re still recognizable but are nicely renovated.  Plus, I like that Soryk/ah is “seal-dark” and that several of the major characters are POC. I’m really ignoring the cover on this, since the other thing is, Sorykah probably isn’t that wasp-waisted… she and Soryk shift in and out while wearing the same clothes, so even though she’s nursing, I imagine that s/he’s otherwise fairly androgynous.

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