Published: January 16, 2016*
This one is kinda special: the biggest chunk of it by far – nearly half the story – is the “feral book” taking over Lemma’s mind, one bit at a time. Lemma’s such a lightweight that the gap between “normal” and “mindless sex slave” is usually about two paragraphs, but this one draws it out. I like it. (Not that there’s any uncertainty about the outcome: Lemma makes her usual slate of overconfident bad decisions**. It just takes longer.)
Kurtas is kinda an asshole – he wants the book gone, and knows what it will do to Lemma, but doesn’t say, eg, “no! don’t open it!” and just lets it eat Lemma like a popsicle. On the other hand, it is quite interesting that he beat the book. Lemma’s a lightweight, but the book does seem pretty damn tough***.
This, the most unusual book yet, is a good opportunity to talk about the magical books of this series in general. They have a very Pratchett-esque vibe – which is almost never a bad thing, and definitely never in a comedy****. The book she gets from Brinksmoor is a good establisher – wanting to be back in the hands of Librarian, snapping at Iason like an animal that’s been abused. The feral book here is also a great idea – granted the Pratchett/@midorikonton premise that books of magic acquire vitality and power from the magic within them, presumably a sufficiently powerful, unmaintained book would start to go weird and, well, feral. I really like the idea. This is a book that Lemma recognizes and can identify, may even have read a different codex of, but has stopped being “that” book in a way and is now an unexploded, moderately sentient bomb. While still remaining that book. It’s just really cool and yet at the same time a perfectly sensible extrapolation from the established rules.
Spoilers Unfortunately, this is both the high point and the last stop. I picked this one to talk about the books both because the feral book is a great and intriguing concept, and because from here on out until almost the exact end of the story, the books pretty much could all be, in Lemma’s contemptuous analogy, “cookbooks”. This isn’t a severe criticism – the story gets less episodic and more intricate as time goes on, too – but that could probably have happened as well with the original conception of the books. Just seems sort of like a missed opportunity. Spoilers end.
*The publication date is right: this is an after-the fact replacement for another story, “Sex, Lies, and Spellbooks”, which I’ve never read. @midorikonton didn’t like it – obviously, since she replaced it – and I can’t imagine it could have been as interesting as this story, anyways.
**Funny to say in a series that’s, you know, erotica, but Lemma’s vice isn’t even remotely lust. It’s pride, pride, pride, all the way down. Her virtue is a lot harder to place – diligence, maybe? Meanwhile Iason’s sin is difficult (maybe wrath?) but his virtue is definitely either kindness or humility. Hrmm, pride/humility: maybe that’s why they work so well as a team?
***I didn’t think about this until writing this post, but I suppose it’s possible that he’s a slave to the book too and claims he beat it to trick Lemma into reading it. On the other hand, he never “breaks character”, even when arguing with the book through Lemma, so it seems like the straightforward he’s-telling-the-truth theory is more likely, and he’s just an asshole.
****There’s one other comedic moment that struck me as very Pratchett, but we’ll get to that much, much later.
When The Fuck Are We? 🤷
We’re still in Breizh, which I suppose means we’re in a forest somewhere in
Finistère Moribhan Loire-AtlantiqueSuffolk. Let’s keep the book theme going and talk about literacy in the Tin Islands a bit.
Lemma, without thinking about it, assumes Iason can read (data point about Lemuria) and Iason is embarrassed that he can’t (data point for the Sea Peoples). This fits with the advanced society of Lemuria pretty well, but less so the historical Sea Peoples. The Mycenaeans had writing, but it (and reading, for that matter) was a technical skill limited to people whose job it was to keep records. The Dorians, as I mentioned before, were completely illiterate. Classical Greece had writing again (a different, independently-developed system entirely, for the same language – that’s how rough the Bronze Age Collapse was) and as time went on it got widespread enough that a casual assumption of (adult, male) literacy could be plausible. Pre-Roman Britain was entirely illiterate; Anglo-Saxon Britain* had writing as a technical skill but reading slightly more widespread**.
Kurtas as a literate monk fits decently well (that’s who the people with writing skills were in Anglo-Saxon Britain), and Brinksmoor as a literate aristocrat does too (that’s who the non-writing readers were) but Steve is a giant gaping hole in that theory: he’s a nobody in a shitty little village in a shitty, poor part of the islands, and he can read***. So in Lemma’s Tin Islands it seems like Iason and Kurtas’ second wife might be the exception after all.
Slight spoilers: On the other hand, throwing away Steve is the only thing we need to do to get literacy back down to more period-appropriate single digits; in the remaining time on the Tin Islands, IIRC, we meet only one more person who can definitely read, and she was explicitly taught by someone who thought it important that she get the knowledge from this one, specific book. Maybe ignoring Steve really is the best way to go****. Spoilers end.
*I’ll explain why I brought up this time and place in more detail next time, but for the moment the short version: taking the Tin Islands on their own terms I think that, say, 650 CE is a more plausible date for comparison than 1200 BCE.
**It’s one of those things that doesn’t come up much, but there were plenty of places (Dark Ages Europe, Ancient Egypt, probably the Mayans) where reading was moderately widespread, amongst aristocrats at least, but only trained scribes could write. Nowadays reading and writing are taught together, and it’s hard to mentally disassociate them, but that’s not always been the case, and I suspect it would be a good (and historically accurate!) way to make a historical or fantasy society look more alien.
***He also has a library – Tskanka is right to be impressed. A dozen books in the hands of a non-monastic institution would be damn unusual in early Anglo-Saxon Britain. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing you’d only see with a pretty wealthy aristocrat with a thing for learning on top of that, so, yeah, again the polar opposite of poor Steve.
****As I’m sure the people of his village have said more than once. Hey-oh! ;P
Next time: An odd little plot-advancing story. I talk about the Anglo-Saxons for some reason.
I really am proud of this induction. The inspiration for the concept–a book that enslaves the reader, unless they have the strength of will to overcome it–was a forum RP, which in turn was inspired by some image-caps done a bajillion years ago by Couple of Dragons on the Collective.
I don’t really buy into the sins vs. virtues model of characterization; I find the most interesting characters are the ones whose strengths are their weaknesses. So I’d argue that Lemma’s “virtue” is confidence, which of course is the same thing as pride.
I do really like your observation that part of what makes Lemma and Iason work as a team is the pride/humility dynamic, though! Not something I did intentionally, or at least not consciously, but I can see it.