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Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Bujold) [Apr. 16th, 2016|09:59 pm]
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3/5. I was too unenthused to buy it or even to put it on hold at the library, but interested enough to check it out once it appeared on the New Books shelf at the library. And, I mean, it was fine? I had been thoroughly warned about the Babieeeees theme and the Bujold Thinks She Can Do Romance theme and the This Has No Plot property, so those didn't bother me overmuch.

In fact, the only people who are crazy about babieeees are Cordelia and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Jole, which I think makes a certain amount of sense in both cases. Cordelia makes a lot of sense; in canon she has always desperately wanted loads of kids, and if I'd spent 20+ years in a limbo where I desperately wanted kids but couldn't have them now but there was, like, this chance that I could have them later, I'd be… a little crazy. (In fact, I was a little crazy, and it was only, like, a year or two. 20+ years, even with a much greater lifespan and a bigger chance of success at the end, is not something I want to think about.) I'd seen a spoiler that said disgustedly that there was talk of Mark and Kareen having kids, but as far as I could tell it was mostly Cordelia thinking wistfully and greedily about it; it seems clear to me that Mark and Kareen are not telling her anything (and rightfully so) about their reproductive plans, or lack thereof.

So what no one warned me about (although I had been warned, now that I look back at my flist, that it was deeply boring, which I agree with and which is, I think, related) is how the main characters have… basically… no character, which is kind of a problem when your whole book depends on the reader buying the romance between them. Jole in particular is just incredibly bland. Here are the things I now know about Jole:

1. He has blue eyes. Really bright blue, you guys. No, really blue. As blue as Alexander Hamilton's. So blue that even I, who regularly skip over descriptive words and phrases, noticed it at about the tenth time it was mentioned. Also he is tall. And greying blond. These descriptors are also repeated at fairly regular intervals.

2. He likes boats. Because he takes Cordelia sailing once in the book, and [mild spoiler]. I mean… I think this may have been a little better set up than I'm giving it credit for (I did read this while trying to run herd on two kiddos and house chores), but I got the sense that Bujold wanted to give him A Well-Rounded Interest, and this was it, without really thinking about it more closely.

3. He likes… zoology, or something? I am actually not really quite sure about this one (is it biology in general? zoology in particular? or does he just think looking for new species is cool? which are sort of conflated in the text). So as far as I can tell, the principal pieces of evidence for this are (a) he thinks the sea life on the aforementioned boat trip is kinda neat — even though, I might add, he has never apparently noticed it before (the in-text reason given is that the hull is clear on this boat, but… seriously, he's never looked over the side of a boat and seen the Sergyan equivalent of fish or dolphins, and been interested enough to watch them for a while and see how they behave?? And we're supposed to buy that he is really into animals??) and (b) he tells a professor of biology that he's read his papers. We never actually see him reading said papers, mind you, or applying the concepts to… anything… I don't know, I just wasn't at all convinced by it. I was especially not convinced that it was a large enough interest that it could drive the ending the way it does.

That's it. That's what I know about the guy. He doesn't seem to have friends except one guy at work whom he sort of vaguely talks to about his hypothetical kids (okay, those part were really great! More of that! More, dare I say it, characterization!) — in fact, I feel like this guy, General Haines, who appears in several scenes but is definitely a rather minor character, was more fleshed-out than Jole, I got much more of a sense of what he actually thought about things, how he'd react to something, than I did about Jole. I would happily have read a lot more conversations with him!

And then there's Cordelia. Cordelia herself is kind of low on character, which is weird… I mean… in the last several books she's kind of swooped in as Betan Counselor As To How People Should Run Their Lives Extraordinaire. And, well, she's in that job again, and that's it, amen… I think part of the problem is that Jole is so incredibly bland that all their interactions are kind of… well… bland. Also, she is even lower on people to interact with who aren't Jole. I would looooove to have the scenes where she and Alys talk about Jole, or she and some Sergyar friend… does she have any Sergyar friends? Where are they? I mean, hasn't she been there for a really long time?

There were some parts that were great and rang very true, like the bit where Cordelia says about Jole's talking about his potential news of being a parent at work, "You may find out you've joined a club you never knew existed." (Yeah — this absolutely happened to us; our work social circle, for example, shifted dramatically once we had kids; not just because of that, but it was certainly the catalyst). And every time Ekaterin communicated anything (especially nonverbally) was pure gold. But these moments were relatively rare.

There's also a LOT of exposition about what happened in previous books, most of which didn't really seem all that relevant to me. If you knew what happened, then you didn't need the exposition, and if you didn't, it didn't seem to me like it would really add much, most of the time. (It concurrently suffered from Flashbackitis, which I've seen a couple of times lately in other contexts, except that there wasn't even any plot payoff to it.)

I also really want the fic where Cordelia realizes, after having two or three kids, that she can't, actually, deal with six hyperactive little gits, and what she does with the fertilized eggs she's saving once she realizes that. And/or where Cordelia and Jole decide they're great, er, romantic buddies, but terrible co-parents. Now that, I think, would be a very interesting book!
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