Friday, January 12, 2007

Rebel Ice and Plague of Memory by S.L. Viehl

Anyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I'm a fan of S.L. Viehl's writing, under whatever pseudonym. The only ones of her books that were not an instant favorite were her early romances. Those books showed a developing style that I've come to appreciate, but weren't quite cooked yet in my opinion.

What has that got to do with this post? Well, all will come clear in time. However, you have to know right now that this post will contain spoilers for Rebel Ice. I'll try to keep them to a minimum, but some I cannot avoid.

Regarding Rebel Ice, my experience with this book was a bit odd. First, my husband won it on one of Sheila's blog contests so it was "his" book. He had to read it first. Then life happened in a big way, ending up with a state to state move, our first since we met, and so no book for me.

Meanwhile, I had a couple friends who wanted to discuss it and were highly annoyed that I still hadn't read Rebel Ice.

Okay, so just over the six-month mark in our new house, still without being completely unpacked :p, I finally got my chance. I'm in a bookstore with my family, each of us holding a gift card from Chanukah, and my hubby says I have to buy the next Stardoc since it's on the shelf (early) and he "bought" the last one, but I can't read the back because it has major spoilers for Rebel Ice. I'd been planning to get it anyway, but boy did I grumble over buying a book I wasn't even allowed to look at because he'd been holding back on Rebel Ice. I made him give it over that night :).

As usual with Sheila, the book sucked me in. I was cheered to see Reever finally coming into his own (cause he's been my favorite for Cherijo from the very beginning ;)), I enjoyed the concept of the Raktar, found the culture interesting and logical for the world, and pretty much loved everything up until the end.

Here's the spoiler.

The twist didn't work for me. I could go back and construct events that could possibly have served as clues, or more likely warnings, but I felt cheated. A scene had been cut from the chronological telling specifically to hide this big secret, which really didn't affect all that much at all. I know the scene was cut because it is told as a flashback only after the big reveal. I don't do well with big reveals, because if it acts as a reveal, either I didn't enjoy the story and was skimming, or the seeds weren't there to build up to it. I really didn't think I was skimming, but I had no clue where this came from or even why. I still don't. That's frustrating to me because I feel it undermined Reever's chance to shine. The book is really his and Teulon's, but it's soured by a twist that failed for me.

I went back to those who had bugged me, and also asked my husband, to try and understand if I'd missed something big. Guess what? They hadn't even appreciated what I loved about the book. I loved it right up until the last ten or fewer pages. So curious me probed their reasons and have come to my own conclusions.

I think (besides the twist) that Rebel Ice was marketed in a way that built up false expectations. I knew it was a new Sheila book, so I read it. I'm simple that way. But I go back and read the cover now and it says: "The New Stardoc Novel." Except that it isn't about Cherijo. It isn't in first person, it has multiple POVs, it jumps from place to place so the action isn't all in the same locale as Cherijo, and she barely exists in the book. On the back cover, there's a two paragraph blurb. The first is about Cherijo, saying only that she's lost her memory. The second is about Duncan and the war. Now the second is true to the book, but the first sets her up as a player, which she basically isn't.

All this leads to my theory. Stardoc readers are more likely to be disappointed in Rebel Ice and not give it the benefit of the doubt because it changes how the world is set up by breaking the expectations set in the previous novels of the series. Though this part didn't bother me because of my tendency to treat a book as a book (yes, I do read series out of order), it did bother some of the people I talked to about Rebel Ice consciously.

I've said before that I tend to give authors more than one chance when they lose me. I'm no different with Sheila, and if anything, the number of books that have worked all the way to the end make me more inclined to let this one pass. Part of me just wants to put a marker at that last bit so I don't read it and can remember all that worked and all that I enjoyed in the book rather than what felt like a plot ninja, thrown in at the last second for reasons I cannot determine. I'm sure she had a reason, and I'd guess it probably felt seeded to Sheila, but though I can puzzle out 2-3 clues, there was no way to interpret them as I read and many reasons not to interpret them that way.

So, a little frustrated but hoping Plague of Memory would make it all right, I started into the next one. Okay, so Cherijo isn't Cherijo anymore (which you know from the back of Rebel Ice so it's not a spoiler), but those conventions I mentioned above are largely back in place. Not only that, but the book is a solid read. It drew me in and had me focused the whole way through. There are no tricks, no twists, nothing out of place in this book at all...which is not to say there aren't surprises, but they're surprises with the logic of the book, not imposed from outside of it.

Everyone who turned aside after Rebel Ice would be doing themselves a major disservice not to read Plague of Memory. I can't say anything specific without spoiling something, but let me say it holds all that the earlier novels held for me and more because of how Cherijo has changed. We get to see a new character with the same face and some of the same mannerisms, but a different approach that makes her fresh while staying familiar.

I will say that everything except the twist (yeah, I'm still griming about that ;)) in Rebel Ice is necessary for Plague of Memory to exist. Could you read it as a standalone? I think so. It references older books as well, but there's enough explanation that a new reader would be drawn to search the older ones out rather than to throw up hands in frustration. But, having read the books in order, things build on events that occurred in Rebel Ice and despite its change in format, I think it is necessary for the series, especially since something had to buffer the changes in Cherijo or the readers wouldn't buy it. If you haven't read Rebel Ice, just accept it as a book and don't beat it up with what style the previous ones had. I think it will read better that way and you'll enjoy it. If you haven't read Rebel Ice though because of what people have told you, read Plague of Memory. It's wonderful :).

Oh, and a simple plea. If you can explain the twist to me, point out something I missed that both makes it make sense and makes it important, please drop me a note. If you put it in the comments, remember to include a spoiler notice. If you want to send an email and don't have my address, just use the link to my website (Left Brain/Right Brain) on the left sidebar.


Jean said...

I just finished Plague of Memory last night. I agree it goes hand in hand with Rebel Ice. I read Rebel Ice when it first came out, so I'm a little rusty about it. I figured out early it was Cherijo in another situation. I found it somewhat frustrating, but I wasn't nearly as disappointed with it as some readers reportedly were. I do remember reading and holding my breath at several crossroads where she had choices that would "mess up" the Cherijo part of her life (which I knew would have to re-intersect sometime), but she never really did anything to "betray" herself.

I think some readers were bitterly disappointed with Rebel Ice, but there was also the segment of readers who found her approach in Rebel Ice brilliant. I've tried to see it from that perspective.

For this book, there was one scene early on that I felt either wasn't necessary or the loose plot thread never got tied up -- or it was a red herring that didn't fit quite right for me. Then the information was never used, so I still wonder why that scene was there.

Other than that, I enjoyed the Cherijo/Jarn struggles (is that a spoiler? I don't think so). Because of the need to inject backstory at nearly every turn, this should be an easy novel for new readers to gain a solid understanding of the series. In that respect, I agree it will help people new to the series decide to go back for "the rest of the story."

My observation (and I hope it's amusing) was about PyrsVar. I think his name is supposed to be pronounced PiersVar but it always came out as PissVar in my head.

Deirdre said...

So...I don't know if you know S.L. Viehl personally but she links to your website on her blog so she's at least peripherally aware of who you you might try dropping her a note and see if *she* can tell you what the clues are...

Just a thought :-P

Margaret said...


Well, that's the spoiler I was trying to avoid, but I suppose it doesn't spoil much and there were warnings in the original post. Honestly, the writing style of Rebel Ice is closer to what I prefer in my other readings, so that may also contribute to why it didn't bug me. And Cherijo in another situation? When is she not ;)? I do have to wonder though if the parts where you were holding your breath were the same parts I was, in which case, it seems you were in the same situation I was, which probably means you were tricked just as I was. That said, it may not bug you as much :). Hmm, though. A scene in Plague that didn't resolve? I'll have to think on that one :).

And yay for a book to draw in new readers. That's the best way to keep the story going.


Yes, I know Sheila. I also know she hates to be bugged about her books :D. Though I swear I never told her she couldn't kill Reever. I didn't want her to, but I swear I never said she couldn't! ;). I figure if she has a spare moment and is willing to fix this for me...I'm open to it being a misread, hoping for it actually...she'll drop a comment here or drop me a note :).

Margaret said...

Argh. And after all that I forgot to say I read the name as PissVar too. Didn't even see the "r" until you mentioned it, Jean.

It just goes to show you that whatever you do, do not become attached to pronounciations :).

Jean said...

Exactly -- when is Cherijo not in a different situation? This was more extreme than most.

I do like the way it's resolving for Reever in Plague -- don't want to say more to ruin it for someone who hasn't read it yet.

As for PyrsVar, I think he just fit that pronunciation so well that it seemed natural. ;)

And Sheila is dead on that for a series this long, Cherijo needed some major life-changing issues to keep the series fresh. Boy did she find 'em!

Jean said...

The section in Plague that seemed out of place can be found on pp 112-113.

Did I miss something there?

Margaret said...

LOL on PrysVar and yes, I agree with you about Reever. I'm very happy there.

You won't find me disagreeing on how Sheila handled the keeping interest factor. I think she's one smart writer.

On the scene, there are several things that came up there that have not yet seen full bloom. The ones about the planet were logical considerations that required no more in my mind, the other two (and yes, I'm trying to be subtle) I believe to be a question for the next book to come :).

Margaret said...

bah. PyrsVar.

Now that I've seen the "r" I want to shuffle it to a more prominent position :p.

Jean said...

Ah, but PrissVar has a very different connotation and wouldn't fit as well.

My concerns were with the planetary considerations. It seemed as if, in addition to immediate security concerns (which made sense), that something more was going on. That seemed out of character, but maybe my mind was trying to force things into another direction they weren't meant to go.

Margaret said...

Ah, whereas I took that as reasonable scoping of the situation in case it took an unhappy turn. The fact that it might was reason enough for the questions and planning, and I would have felt a hole if they went in blind to the possibility so that in itself was enough for me.

And back on Rebel Ice, my husband just brought up a different aspect as to why he didn't like it. Stardoc tends to be about relationships, about how unlikely people come together and form bonds. Plague of Memory returns to that theme in spades, but Rebel Ice is the exact opposite. It's about broken relationships, and what healing occurs comes at the very end. To me, the way the world was set up, very Hobbesian, the way people related, or didn't, the secrets, the tricks in how they interacted, made perfect sense and fit with the framework provided. However, he doesn't read books without that characteristic. That's what he reads for in all authors, not just S.L. Viehl. So in being true to the environment she set up, she lost his interest. Sigh. Being a writer is difficult :). Me, I just want the story to be true to itself, which barring the twist, Rebel Ice was.

I must admit though, the controversy of figuring this out has been fun. Still no takers on untwisting the twist for me though :).