Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Kraken King and the Greatest Adventure (Kraken King #8, Iron Seas #4.8) by Meljean Brook

Zenobia and Ariq must now move quickly and carefully. It’s not just the Rebellion against the Horde that are manoeuvring to claim the Skybreaker, but the Nipponese Empire as well. Both of them are powers that can wipe out Ariq’s home of Krakentown and all the people who have come to respect and rely on him.

They need to stop this conflict before it even begins – because against such powers even if they win the fight, the cost will be impossibly high to pay

This finally concludes the whole saga of the Kraken King. On the whole I’ve loved it, but I think in future I will wait for all the individual “episodes” to be released on one book – the short story format doesn’t work well for me, though this series has done a very good job of resisting the urge to recap excessively with each instalment and has assumed that we remember the last book and didn’t need it regurgitating all over again.

The writing is also excellent. We’ve got the perfect pacing without either the rush which leaves emotions flat and the world unexplained, or the vast rambly lines of someone who loves their angst monologues or who is desperate to give me a lecture on their world and how much they love it. We have humour, we have action, we have plotting and thinking and rich worlds and snark and good emotion – we have it all and I love it, yes yes I do. And as an ending book in a mini-series this is the ending and it ends it well – it’s satisfying, it’s triumphant, it leaves you feeling vindicated and victorious and doesn’t leave any ends left loose – while still leaving everything in place in case the author wants to come back.

The writing has always made me like this series. But what has made me love this series throughout are the characters

Perhaps my greatest love has been how practical they are. I read a lot of books and watch a lot of shows where people lose their ever loving minds on a regular basis. They constantly do things that make little sense – or which require them to act in a grossly excessive, self-absorbed or emotionally extreme manner. Zenobia and Ariq are not those people. They are sensible – when they’re hurt or upset or angry, they feel it, they feel it deeply – but they also factor in common sense. They don’t leap off without thinking (or are at least aware when they do), they maintain perspective and they maintain their priorities. Zenobia in always keeping herself safe and not letting love overwhelm caution and Ariq by always remembering his people who rely on him and he has a duty to. Zenobia is no coward but fully recognises what she can and cannot do and when her presence adds nothing. Ariq is protective but fully recognises that this can be stifling and smothering. He’s huge and dangerous and capable of massive violence both personally and with the weapons at his command – and he doesn’t use them because he recognises the long term consequences.

This has been maintained throughout the books and really shines through in the ending. An ending where angry lashing out would work – where rage and vengeance would not only be acceptable but something I would cheer… and they don’t. They’re sensible, they’re restrained, they recognise what is good in the long run for themselves but mainly for the people who they owe respect to. They’re actually worthy of being leaders not because they’re super strong or pretty or have special woo-woo, but because they take that duty seriously. They’re certainly better people than me.

In turn this also worked really well with the romance, it was passionate, it was stormy, they had falling outs and difficulties and rifts but all were very natural to their characters, all came with understandable, sensible even while emotional responses and none of them felt ridiculous. I felt for them, I didn’t get frustrated by them. Perhaps this is as much because neither of them stopped becoming people in order to become love interests which I think a lot of romance I’ve read has had a problem with: the romance hits and their world disappears – except for the romance and things that affect that romance. Ariq and Zenobia end this book in love, their marriage affirmed and all the stronger for the respect they have built for each other rather than the ZING INSTA LOVE STRIKES!

I love this world – again something I’ve said before but really continues in this book. We not just have the wonderful steampunk with all it’s technology but it’s different history and different source of empire creates a really fascinating world with a lot of really good differences from our own – like native peoples, not a victim of colonialism, being a power to be reckoned with. The Nipponese Empire may have fled to Australia to escape the Horde, but while they are a massive power that Ariq respects, even they are wary of angering the Wajarri. Equally, I like how Ariq respects them as independent people who don’t owe him anything – and doesn’t expect them to be dragged into his conflicts even if they do provide incidental help.

There’s also a lot of complexity that goes into the overall story of the rebellion against the Horde. The fact that the rebels are acting in exactly the way that once provoked the rebellion in the first place touches a lot on the complexities of the world. I also really enjoyed Ariq’s analysis of Temur Agha – who had committed atrocities he can never be forgiven for; but who feels guilty because of them and therefore is more worthy of trust than one who’s record is cleaner but is indifferent towards the carnage he may cause. The subtlety and nuances of this world are really rich and worth appreciating.

On top of that we have a large amount of racial diversity in this book. Set in Australia with representatives of the Horde and Nipponese empire, White characters are the exception, not the rule. In addition we have a lot of conversations about cultural differences, customs, beliefs and a lot of character in the POC without resorting to gross and simplistic stereotyping.

While Zenobia is an awesome woman there are other women around her all with skills and talents – Helene was misjudged a lot but is handled with relative sympathy and insight. Mara is capable and dangerous – and more than just a weapon, even if we don’t see a lot of her she’s still painted in detail. Of course we have Yasmeen dropping in from previous books and both she and Zenobia are skilled, capable and don’t hate each other. Ariq’s mother died but she is mentioned constantly with great respect nor is her death used as a motive to drive his actions – just as Zenobia’s mother’s plight is regarded with great sympathy without it being any more of a shaper of her actions than her father’s abuse or even than the kidnapping that comes from her brother’s wealth.

The Horde’s use of mechanical alterations on people – often adopted by others as well – is often used as a way to examine disability and class as well.

Sadly, throughout the whole serial there are no LGBT people which is a real shame in this rich world.

Having finished this book I can only hope that this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Zenobia – even if she’s only a guest in her brother’s stories. Her story and her snark are far too precious not to bring out again and again.