Monday, January 23, 2017

Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rumba #3) by Daniel José Older

The dead now rise… up.

The Council has had its own way for too long. Too many souls have been lost. Too much injustice has been swallowed. The Remote districts, the rebels, the dispossessed are rising up – war is coming.

Of course Carlos, half dead, memoryless and very much adrift – is in the middle of this; even as his own history and murky past come crashing around him.

There’s a lot about this book series I love – which are continued excellently in this book. I love many of the characters and the conflicts they face and the lives they’ve lead. I love their voices and the excellent solid realness behind so many of them. Most of the main cast feel like people, complete people, not extras to advance someone else.

Most of the cast are also POC with their cultures, races and origins clearly labelled. As I’ve said before, this book series does so well with racial diversity because it doesn’t just use racial labels as brief descriptors but not involving them in their actual depiction. We have several latino characters (and “latino” is not just a wide vague descriptor but we have notes on the different South American and Carribean nations and cultures that are covered by that label), Black characters, Native Americans, Asians – there is a huge racial diversity in New York City and this is reflected in this series

The ghosts themselves have so many different and excellent little factions – from the poignant spirits of the Black Hoodies – ghosts killed by police, to the ancient, slow incomprehensible and enigmatic ancient ghosts, to the calm and powerful ex-slaves to the fluffy and slightly silly cyclists who died in traffic accidents. All little societies coming together for reasons both meaningful and silly and all very human.

It’s these characters continuing their story from the previous books which truly make this series – not just Carlos and Sasha but the many powerful characters around them as well. But still, Sasha and Carlos’s examination of their past, both the revelations and how they dealt with it – and how they then relate to each other given their very very very very oh-so-very complicated history – are an excellent part of the book (if almost tangential to the main story). Especially with Juan Flores mixing it up even further.

The plot itself had large amounts of epic elements as well. We have a grand conflict, with sacrifice and loss and desperation and power and passion. It was at times very emotional, often very moving and often blood-fizzling exciting

What did make it harder for me to follow this book is that there’s such a huge number of characters in this book. This is the book where everything comes to a head and we have the full blown conflict with all kinds of factions and forces coming together

But I think that this would work better if we moved it to maybe 3 books in the future it would be better. We have all these many factions, all of these different groups and districts and people all with their own grievances against the council along with other supernatural beings like the River Giants –but all of them feel a bit out of the blue. They’ve all just appeared: the relatively narrow story we had about Carlos and his close associates has now exploded to include all these vast new cast members who are either completely new or had relatively minor roles before. But the way they’re written almost implies we should know them or be invested in them or even get the conflict each personally faces. It feels almost like book three there was a sudden decision to tell a whole different story but there were these two other inconvenient prequels to fit in somehow.

I think that’s another issue that is more than a little jarring. No-one has ever really been a fan of the Council before now, certainly, but full on civil war rebellion? That was barely on anyone’s radar. It feels like an entire new story has just swooped in and mashed everything aside, no, we’re telling this story now. It almost feels like the author can feel that as well – because there are bits of the last two books somewhat pasted on – but it feels like that. Like the Ngks, or Kia or Reza or the whole process that turned Carlos and Sasha into the half-dead people they are: these were major elements of the last few books which felt kind of taped on without them being integrated and the whole ending feels kind of confused and mushed in trying to drag elements of this book together.

Similarly there’s Caitlin – who beyond being a terrible poster child for the so many clueless self-absorbed people out there and bringing with her some genuine sinister power also feels… odd. I mean, why is she here? What does she add to a fight between the Council and her ghosts. We spend a lot of time behind her eyes but in terms of the battle all she is is a weapon… and it feels like another thread from a past book that has been pasted in to try and make the series feel more coherent than it is.

In addition to the racial inclusion we have some LGBTQ characters. Baba Eddie continues to be an almost non-existent support character which is never a great trope. While Reza is there and is awesome she was the utter briefest of appearing characters. That leaves us with Krys, a bisexual ghost woman who is fun in many ways, determined, strong, dangerous as well as a fatter woman which is definitely something we don’t see often. But she also felt so out of place. Despite having the odd chapter which centred her, she seemed to add very little to the other characters, very little presence in the story. One of her friends, Redd, is a trans man who is pretty much in the same position but even more tangential to the actual plot. They were just there and I had no real idea why they were there, what they were supposed to actually add to the main story. they had no history before this, their storyline little real presence during this – and since this feels like the last book in the trilogy, I can only assume no presence after this. It added to the frustrating patchwork feel of this book.

I’m left feeling frustrated and confused. I love these characters, I love this series and I like very much the idea of this grand show down. But why is it here? Where did it come from? Where’s the build up? Who are all these people? Why are all of these characters wandering around the periphery of this story without actually being involved in it? Basically, why here, why now and why like this? I keep checking every site I can to check if I’ve missed a book – because that’s what it feels like: like there should be something between Midnight Taxi Tango and Battle Hill Bolero.