Food and Fandom: A Little Taste of Carthak

I’ve been on a Tortallan high these past few weeks, especially after my bout with Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. As part of my review, I took pictures of quotes I wanted to use and passages I wanted to get back to again just to re-read.

Unsurprisingly enough, most of those pictures involved descriptions of food. I blame Varice for this.

“You should get to know different flavors, alone and mixed,” Varice told him soberly. “We can be brought low by a common poison if we don’t know when something wrong is added to our food and drink. Our Gifts won’t warn us unless, of course, you know your poisons.”

The lovely addition of Varice in Tempests was a splendid move on Pierce’s part. Between Ozorne’s ambition and Arram’s destiny for greatness (as he’s been constantly told by the crocodile god), Varice is one gifted student who has no such desire to become great, powerful, or famous. And yet she’s very intelligent and no ordinary “kitchen witch.”

She’s also a great addition to the narrative because she brings so much perspective on food. Like, seriously, so much food.

As drums pounded and trumpets blared in the arena, a slave selected different fruits and set the on plates, then added small cups of sauce. Varice giggled when she saw that Arram regarded the serving process with mistrust. “You dunk a bite of fruit in a cup, silly. It makes the taste more sophisticated.” She speared a grape on a thin-bladed knife and looked at the three small cups. “This is tamarind syrup, this one is cherry, and this, I am sure, is lime with…” She dipped her grape and tucked it into her mouth before the syrup could drip into her dress. “Mmm, cinnamon,” she said with approval.

That description alone already made me salivate and crave fruits with dipping sauce. Actually I could really just use tamarind juice right about now.

Anyway, the point is, the whole book had a lot of different recipes I wanted to try. Near the beginning of the book, I’d actually found a mention of pastries I wanted to make, like “tassen”, which, after some digging, I found out was a shortened, creative rewriting of “hamantaschen,” which is a Jewish pastry. Now, I’d tried store-bought hamantaschen, but wasn’t actually a fan of the dry texture, so I might hold off on actually making those when I’ve found a decent recipe that I like. That said, there were still a lot of things I could have done for this book that epitomized the Carthaki culture.

The breakfast that waited there helped. While Varice and Arram used pancakes with pistachios to scoop up eggs, Cosmas fed Preet whatever she expressed a wish for in between sips of tea.

One thing I noticed about the food in Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter is that they do eat a lot of stew.

“In the meantime, if you have not read it already, you may wish to look at Strange Things in My Stew by Farmer Cooper of Tortall. It was written three hundred years ago and is out of fashion, but there are things in it you will not find in the modern texts.”

Which eventually brought me to this sentence.

“Stop frowning,” Ozorne told Arram as they dove into their beef tajine.

And, of course I had to look up what beef tajine was, because, ya know, I needed an idea for dinner and this sounded like a good thing to look up.

When I found a Moroccan version of the dish, I just HAD to make it, cilantro and all.

Beef Tajine

Tajine is apparently a common dish in Morocco, and named after the tajine pot it is cooked in. Now, I don’t have a tajine, but I imagine it’s a pot you can slow-cook meats in. I also don’t have an earthenware cooking pot big enough for the dish I wanted to make…but I made do, because, hell, what is cooking if not improvising, right?

Heh.

The recipe and prep times were pretty straightforward. A lot of the waiting actually comes from having to simmer the entire stew until the meat is nice and tender and the potatoes and carrots are soft and easily eaten in a bite. Yum.

One of the only things I had been tentative about adding was the cilantro. I’m not a big fan of cilantro, and I’ve seen a lot of recipes use too much of it in a dish to the point where the cilantro overpowers just about everything else (I’m talking about YOU, guacamole). So when the recipe called for 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, I almost decided not to use it entirely.

Which would have been a big mistake. The cilantro actually augmented the flavors and worked well with the spices involved. In the end, it was so. damn. good. It’s no wonder they eat so much of it in Carthak.

I’d make beef tajine again in a heartbeat.

Again, for the full recipe, check out The Wicked Noodle. I didn’t stray very far from this, to be honest! The only thing I did alter was the carrot and potato ratio. I used one large carrot and an assortment of baby potatoes. Everything else was a mixture of following the recipe and tasting for flavor.

With all this said and done, time for lunch!

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Tortall Just How I Like It || Tempests and Slaughter Review

Initial Thoughts 

Ughhhh I still have so many questions that needed answering WHY DID IT HAVE TO END?! But mostly two things. 1. I am biased to almost all things Tamora Pierce so the rating here could have easily been 5 stars because yes I effing enjoyed the book. But 2. While I absolutely adored Arram living a Harry Potter lifestyle during a fantastical medieval setting, what I was mostly left with was the desire to reread the entire Immortals series again and the desire to move on with the plot because THINGS HAPPEN OMG at the end. BUT THE QUESTIONS!

Alright I’m done.


TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER

by Tamora Pierce
Random House, February 2018
Fantasy, young adult
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

Carthaki-Bound!

You’ve got to understand this about me: I’m a die-hard Tamora Pierce fan. Back in the not-so-distant past, I went so far as to write fanfiction for certain scenarios that were never expanded upon in the Tortallan series. By the time I’d finished-slash-devoured The Immortals quartet, I was so completely enamored by the idea of Numair’s character and his meeting up with the Alanna gang that for a long time I couldn’t bring myself to read anything else. And then I started writing fanfic about it. And then I started sharing that fanfic. And then I began to get really into the details.

Fast forward almost a decade since the rumors of a Numair book has been in tow (no, seriously, I’d been promised one since 2010, dammit, and I’d heard about a possible Numair novel in the works as early as 2007…), and I can finally let out a sigh and a squee because YES, Pierce has done it once again and I cannot wait for the next book already!

Tempests and Slaughter delivers where it counted. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be Harry Potter meets the medieval times plus gladiators and slavery. You have your medieval magical school which is Carthak University. You have your golden trio of Arram, Varice, and Ozorne (though honestly, Ozorne is hardly humorous and extremely prejudiced against a certain race, and it’s Arram who’s the super nerdy know-it-all), and you have a Chosen O–actually, nope. Nah. It’s not that kind of story.

What Pierce did well was make her magical school a workable, plausible one. If the world had magic during medieval times, I’d totally buy this homage to a school system with modified and differentiated curricula (HAH! I’m using educational terminology, take that, nay-sayers!). I mean, who wouldn’t want to teach very promising and enthusiastic students on a one-on-one basis? Only in an ideally magical world, amiright?

I absolutely loved the characters in the story. Pierce has had so much writing experience under her belt by now that getting the details in is seamless for her. She always writes such interesting personalities and backgrounds, and she always delivers on strong female characters, regardless of whether the female is a kitchen witch, a slave/gladiator, or an elderly magic teacher. There are also familiar characters that have appeared in her previous books as well, and it’s really great to see them. That said, now I have to reread The Immortals series again, because there’s so much allusion to that series that I keep wanting to pick up previous books to find characters so I could make sure I knew who they were. Cannot. Deal.

That being said, I did find myself wanting more. A lot of this first book of Arram’s/Numair’s story focused on his time growing up in Carthak’s only magical school (the only other one that could boast a similarly high standard of magical education at this point is the City of the Gods in northern Tortall). At this point we really only get a glimpse of how the characters were like, what the political climate is, and how the culture and setting greatly differed from Tortall’s familiar and favorable world. Not much really happens as far as overall conflict until near the end of the novel. Not that I minded too much, but still, I would have loved to have seen more progression on the plot and wouldn’t have minded a curtailing of Arram’s in-depth studies.

Overall, though, as a fan of Pierce’s work–especially that of her Tortallan series–I’d heartily recommend this. It would not necessarily be bad to read this before getting into the other books, as timeline-wise, this probably happens concurrently or a little after Alanna: The First Adventure. Maybe I should throw in a reading guide order of the Tortall series at some point…that might be a nice idea.

4 out of 5 cookies! With all of the leading up to the next book, I absolutely cannot wait to see what Pierce has up her sleeve next!


TTT: “Queen”ly Books

For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here.

I figure I should get back into the blogging business, and what better way than to get back on track with a Top Ten Tuesday list, amiright? This week, the topic is “Frequently Used Words in [_____] Titles” which made me think of the plethora of fantasy books I’ve seen lately that use “Queen” in their titles. So instead of highlighting ten words that get overused in titles, I decided to do ten books that have Queen in the title!

Ten Fantasy Books that use Queen in the Title

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows – This is probably one of the books that’s been on my TBR for the longest time. I just…haven’t gotten to it yet?

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – Definitely one of the priority reads. I might even end up reading this for my and Meg’s Fableulous Retellings Podcast…

The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice – Read this book years back when I still had a thing for Anne Rice vampires. Wasn’t as great as Interview with a Vampire, but it was still good.

The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa – I actually read the first book of the Iron Fey series, though to be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to read the rest.

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings – Absolutely loved The Belgariad, so I’d recommend the series to high fantasy fans.

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine – Another one that’s on my list to read. I’d given this to one of my voldies as a Christmas present, and she’d enjoyed it.

Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce – I actually liked Trickster’s Choice, but I haven’t read the sequel. Wasn’t too interested in knowing what happened to some of the characters, really.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – The more I think about this book, the more I believe this was only “meh” for me.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – Ugh. Sucky main character = nope.

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – Enjoyed the first book a lot, but I haven’t honestly been catching up to this series. This is a favorite series of one of my voldies, though!

There are definitely more Queen-related titles out there, many of which are not fantasy books, but if I had to keep listing them, I’d never end this list!

TTT: Surprisingly Good Books

For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here.

Sometimes I read books that surprise me in a good way. It doesn’t really happen so often mostly because I tend to have high expectations with my books, and they either meet those expectations or not. (Oh, god, when did I become a book snob?! I SWEAR I’M REALLY NOT.) Occasionally, though, there are some books that pulled punches and knocked it out of the ballpark. So there ya go.

Top Ten Books That Were Surprisingly Good

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Contemporary new adult isn’t something I normally enjoy or read, but I had to pick this up because A) it spoke to me, and B) it’s by Rainbow Frelling Rowell, and I loved Carry On, so I had to try this book. No regrets there. Loved this almost as much as her book on gay wizards.

Gilded Cage by Vic James – With an overglut of dystopian YAs, why would we need another one? Gilded Cage was surprisingly good for a dystopian, but it’s also because there’s fantasy thrown in here, and several perspectives I actually enjoyed.

Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente – Okay, this one was a stretch. I figured I would enjoy this book, and I did. But I didn’t think I’d enjoy it that much. It definitely put Valente on a priority list for me, that’s for sure.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – I will say I actually liked this book better than its predecessor, and that’s a surprise considering it’s the second and sequel of an already good book. This one had a lot more adventure, though, since for the most part, character intros were made and done with in The Bear and the Nightingale.

The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith – This is a sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Honestly, need I say more? I haven’t even read the first book before biting (hah!) into this one, but it was available on audiobook and I just had to borrow it! I will admit I didn’t take this seriously, but it was so well done.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – IS SO SAD THO. Really, it was poetic to listen to as an audiobook. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I thought I would, but I did up until the last quarter of the book. Then I just died inside and asked the world what I did to deserve such an ending. Sigh.

Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter – I find I’m picky with my urban fantasies. Many haven’t really appealed to me, which is a shame because I really do want to try as many as I can. They’re also pretty easy, quick reads. Faith Hunter in particular is pretty good at her craft. For some reason, I’ve actually enjoyed Blood of the Earth much more than Skinwalker, but she’s still an author I’d read more of!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Honestly, I don’t know why it had taken me so long to actually read this! Loved the book to pieces; it was a blast from the nostalgic past, and while I had misgivings about it, Whil Weaton’s audiobook narration clinched the deal. Surprisingly good, and I cannot wait for the movie.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – This was a book that I’d listened to on audiobook concurrently while I watched the show. So I can’t remember whether I’d read the final scenes first or watched them. Either way, I actually enjoyed this book. Maybe the fact that Sam Heughan plays Jamie Fraser helped. A helluva lot.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger – Another urban fantasy new adult mash-up! And yeah, okay, quick read, somewhat silly, somewhat dramatic. But come on. It’s a book about bartenders who have superpowers based off of the type of cocktails they cook up and drink. I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would, clearly.

How about you? What books were surprisingly good?

Empress of a Thousand Skies || Review

Initial Thoughts: 

For something that’s set up for a duology, there is much to tie up plot-wise. Not surprising for a space opera per se, but I thought a few things could have been resolved already. Also, way too many random coincidences used to move the plot. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…anyway, some good parts, some bad, I’m still on the fence mostly on this book.


EMPRESS OF A THOUSAND SKIES

by Rhoda Belleza
Razorbill, February 2017
Young adult, science fiction
Rated: 3 / 5 cookies

The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.

The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.

In a galaxy far, far away…

Cue the whole Star Wars opening sequence for when you read the book jacket summary. I swear to you the overall effect makes it even more dramatic. And, believe you me, this entire thing takes a turn for the drama. But such is a space opera, amiright?

But seriously, can we talk about this whole memory cube business first?

So in this world/galaxy, er, thing, most people are wired into a memory cube, which pretty much holds what I’m assuming is a database of their personal experiences. Because of Rhee’s flashbacks, it seems like an equivalent of a perfect recollection, one which she could go back to over and over again. So when that gets unplugged, most memories are essentially wiped out. And this is a universal thing. I wonder how much of this is hackable and easily attained/rewritten because the whole thing is largely online…

I shudder to think.

Having perfect recall and being able to go back to a memory over and over again is both a blessing and a curse, imo.

But I digress. My point is there’s a lot about this technology that was interesting to me, and I would have loved to have seen it unfold. In fact, Alyosha and Kara’s subplot kind of touches on this conspiracy about the memory cubes, which is probably why I found their POV the second most enjoyable scenes to listen to, the first being the fast-paced, high-risk chase taking place with Vin and Aly.

That being said, a lot of the story hinged on kismet and character ignorance. Several times, Aly and Rhee escape their conflicts unscathed because of a set of coincidences that were set in motion before they even entered the scene. Several times, the characters do stupid things and they still manage to survive (Aly crashing in a spaceship after a high-risk chase, Rhee dropping a pill and getting herself and Dahlen nearly killed). In one particular scene, it just so happens that both characters meet eye-to-eye for a hot second and then suddenly, everything escalates. I just…where’s the buildup? Where’s the danger? Why are the characters so. frelling. dumb?!

No, seriously. These characters had way too many issues that could have been solved if they weren’t so stupid and self-obsessed. The main villain was predictable, boring, and honestly, sounded like the equivalent of a Mary Sue if villains could be characterized as Mary Sues. Rhee, as the only survivor of the Kalusian dynasty, is supposed to have been taught to take over the throne of an empire, yet I in no way thought of her as anyone who would be fitting to take over a throne. The beginning of the book pretty much starts a few days before her coronation, and yeah, okay, shit happens, and we have explosions and death, and mo’ money, mo’ problems, but from the get-go, Rhiannon was the most aggravatingly ignorant girl ever. She reminded me of another YA girl-ruler who I completely despised because all that education and preparation amounted to absolutely nadand in the end do we really want to trust someone like that in a seat of power?

You’d think perfect recall would allow Rhee to dwell on memories and analyze the minutiae of human interaction and facial expressions. You’d think she’d pick up on facial cues through that recall. Instead, she spends the entire last few years thinking about shanking the guy she THINKS killed her family. Without proof. Without any other evidence other than the fact that she has a memory of her father’s adviser arguing vehemently against peace. And because the guy was so against her father’s policies, it’s clear that he TOTALLY DID IT.

Spoilers, he didn’t. Oopsie daisy? And does Rhee learn? Not in the slightest.

I could probably list a few other things that bothered me about this so-called empress, but I’m so over it, and I want to move on to better things.

Alyosha’s arc was definitely the most interesting to read. While Rhee’s journey was focused on the overarching galactic politics (peace versus war, an empire in arrears, a princess looking for revenge, and a madman trying to frame the wrong person), Aly’s had the most human-interest. Besides the memory cube technology, what I thought Belleza did well on was her touching upon race and racism in the galaxy. The Wraetan are looked down upon, and it mostly has to do with the coloring of their skin. When Rhee’s ship explodes before reaching her coronation ceremony, all the blame goes to Aly, a Wraetan who is blamed because of course it would be a dark-skinned Wraetan who would want to kill off Kalusian royalty. This aspect continues to be brought up throughout the book, and Aly has to constantly deal with not only escape, but survival. Easier said than done when most of the empire is out there to kill him…

Overall, a lot of what the characters did bugged me. A lot of the events made me roll my eyes because of course it would happen that way. I did greatly appreciate the interesting twist with the technology, and I liked the inclusion of different race dynamics in the story. I also liked that this was a space opera, because then lots of different characters and plots within plots within plots. There were a lot of loose ends that still needed to be tied up, however, and Belleza could have kept her story a little less convoluted. That said, I actually am keen to read the next book, if only to find out more on the whole memory cube plot.

3 out of 5 cookies! And honestly, this whole “the two fugitives must join together” thing on Goodreads is another blurb gone wrong. The two main characters never actually meet each other in the book, so um. Yeah.


Did you read this book? What did you think?