Book Review — The Spark by David Drake

The Spark
The Spark and Ulysses were this month’s TBR jar picks!

So I received The Spark in a Page Habit box a few months ago and it was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

David Drake was born in 1945, he’s a Vietnam War veteran and he’s known for being a major author in the military science fiction genre. The Spark is the first book that I read by Drake and I really enjoyed it!

The Spark is a take on an Arthurian legend, if you are familiar with the tale, you’ll see plenty of parallels, but the differences are what really caught my attention. First is the world where this story takes place. It is a world that has many towns and cities connected by a Road. The world is divided into Here and Not Here, two sort of parallel universes that connect or overlap in certain places, one of them being this Road that connects everything. There are artifacts from the Ancients (which seem to be today’s world since there are references to umbrellas, projectors, and weapons) that only certain people are able to fix and make work again, these people are called Makers.

“Since I’d come away from Beune, everything I’d seen was people in pyramids, somebody at the top and everybody else scrambling to get on top instead. Or at least to get off the bottom” — Pal

So, Pal is our main character, he’s a young man from a small town that’s not exactly governed by the Commonwealth but Pal’s dream is to become a Champion of Humanity (Pal’s also a Maker!). The Champions are selected at Dun Add, a city where King Jon rules the Commonwealth. The story begins as Pal arrives at Dun Add after traveling through the Road with the help of his dog Buck (people can’t see well in the Road and must see through the eyes of their animal companions in order to travel safely).

Truthfully, the part that I was dreading the most was that of the romance. Of course there must be a maiden in distress that needs saving! However, even though there was a woman who needed help finding her sister, there was no romantic love there! Even the one who might be Pal’s main love interest is not even considered so by him until perhaps the end of the novel. I liked this because it wasn’t the usual “Oh, they saw each other for the first time and now they are in love and will get married tomorrow after they slay the dragon” deal. Women are portrayed as individuals with purpose and their own dreams and desires. They aren’t always nice and pretty and princess-like, they are raw and real and troublesome too.

Then there was the violence. There are certainly deaths and some gory parts that stand out in my mind even days after reading them. Drake is really good at describing the battles and the fighting, he gives us enough detail to know what’s happening but not too much that we are overwhelmed.

“You can’t spend all the time thinking about how to stay safe and still live what I’d call a life” — Pal

So all in all, this book had a variety of interesting characters, three different adventures all rolled into one, and it was entertaining!

I don’t know if I’ll like other books by David Drake, but I now know that he can tell a story without going for the usual tropes and cliches that one tends to find in this genre. If I come across another of his books, I’ll likely give it a try.

Have you read any of Drake’s books? Which one should I read next?

Book Review — An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon was a book that challenged me for the better. I got to see through the eyes of a woman who lives in a society that treats people like objects and who is missing the knowledge of her family history. She feels like she is missing something but she doesn’t dwell on it since there are no clear and quantifiable answers.

“A part of each person lay in their past, in their parentage and grandparentage, and if that history was missing, were said people incomplete?
–Aster

As part of the lack of history that she feels, she seeks knowledge of her surroundings, she immerses herself in studying the world around her, from growing plants to synthesizing chemicals to aid her in her work as a healer. She’s a crucial part of her community, going around and healing those who don’t have access to doctors, but soon all that will change when she gets some clear information on what led to her mother’s death.

“Chemicals plus chemicals makes magic”
— Aster

Although this book is a science fiction novel, it was not what I expected, it’s not just a voyage in space. It is a novel that gives an immensely important voice to social and cultural issues that are not represented in many forms of media, from film to books and everything in between. Among these issues is gender. In Matilda, the ship that carries what’s left of humanity through space, people live in different levels depending on their social status, skin color, and gender. It is explained that humanity has developed a third gender “they”, which was a result of a hormonal condition that made it so that people of this gender didn’t fit biologically into male or female.

“…said Flick as she–he–no, they–shook the starjar. Aster regretted her error.”

The third gender uses the “they” pronoun and it’s the first time that I even read a book where this pronoun is implemented. Such a book can be very powerful for people who use this pronoun and for those who don’t know or don’t understand why or how to use it.

The world that Solomon creates in this book is slowly built up through Aster’s eyes. At first this was frustrating to me because I wanted a clear picture right away, but I learned to be patient and see things as Aster did. Aster only sees specific details that are important to her. It was frustrating to have a very meaningful and emotional encounter happening and have Aster focus on a seemingly trivial thing that leads to the sudden end of that encounter. This is actually very important because not everyone sees the world in the same way, some may only pay attention to the details and others may focus on the bigger picture. This book taught me to be open to the way that others see the world, even if at times it can be hard and frustrating to stop and see a situation from the other person’s point of view to realize that we might both want the same thing and that it will just take a bit of understanding from both parties to reach the objective.

This book really did leave me thinking, it was really well written and it gave me something that no other book has given me: a perspective that was very difficult to connect to, but which taught me how to be understanding of those who don’t express themselves the same way that I do.

What’s a book that you’ve read that had a difficult perspective but which was valuable and worth reading?