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PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2019 9:11 pm 
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China's World War II 1937-1945 Forgotten Ally
By Rana Mitter


Rana Mitter Ph.D. was born Shantashil Rajyeswar Mitter in 1969 inside the UK to Bengali parents. Incidentally, his father was a respected historian of Indian art. He attended King's College in Cambridge and when he was 18 made the at the time somewhat whimsical decision to study Chinese. This would expand to studying China over time and today he is Professor of History and Politics of Modern China at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University (Nice!). He's also a regular presenter on BBC radio and has written a number of books, the latest being the subject of our review, published in 2013 by Mariner Books, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a textbook printing company (I speak on behalf of all those who have had to buy textbooks… The guillotine they deserve is of the sort used to cut paper.). Before we dive in, I do want to touch on where this review comes from. Last year around November I did a review of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. As per usual I did some digging on the author after finishing the book so I could present you, my readers, with as full a picture as possible. This book we're reviewing was one of the books that Ms. Kuang kept bringing up. That stayed with me, so I had to take a look and here we are.

In Forgotten Ally (titled Struggle for Survival in the United Kingdom and elsewhere) Dr. Mitter sets out to give us the broad outlines of China's war of national survival against the Empire of Japan. I term it a war of national survival because the vision that the Japanese outlined for China was one of a China divided into roughly half a dozen client states and the sheer loathing dismissal the Japanese government of the time had for Chinese nationalism. Part of this was that it conflicted with the Japanese pushed version of Pan-Asianism (where Japan sat at the top of course), another part was the view that China wasn't a nation, but a geographic location (Which is ridiculous. Like the rest of Japanese State Ideology at the time and largely continuing to this day.). However, the book makes us clear to us that the dismissal of Chinese nationalism wasn't just a Japanese stance and was fairly common from Tokyo to London (But of course! You can’t systematically dick around and erode the sovereignty of one of the oldest civilizations on the planet without some sort of ethnic and cultural dismissal.). It's easy to see why as Dr. Mitter clearly sets the stage for the brutal 8-year war that occurred between the Chinese and the Imperial Japanese state. The Qing Empire had fallen apart into feuding warlord states with imperial western powers picking choice bits off the corpse. Westerners and the Japanese enjoyed extraterritorial status, where any crimes they committed could not be tried by Chinese courts but special ones set up by the imperial powers (Justice® was done in these courts.). Even parts of China's great cities had been sectioned off and placed outside the rule of any Chinese government in those years. That said, a nationalist movement was occurring as the Chinese were fully aware of what they had suffered and the need to modernize and unify if they were ever to secure a place for themselves in the modern world and face of the predators around them. Dr. Mitter gives us a brief overview of that process of the Chinese trying to pull themselves by hook or crook into the 20th century but the meat of the book takes place, as it should, in World War II.

For the Chinese (and Japanese) World War II started in 1937 in a confrontation near what the west calls Marco Polo bridge. Tensions in the north of China had been high since Japan overran Manchuria in 1931 and set up the puppet set of Manchukuo. The Nationalist Government under Chiang Kai-Shek was playing for time before another confrontation occurred, believing that they would only get one shot at this, so they best not miss. When things finally broke out into a firefight, things kind of skidded out of control with local Japanese commanders not listening to Tokyo (a reoccurring problem) and Chiang being backed into a corner because if he backed down again, the people of China could lose all faith in his government and turn to rival factions (Like communism. Sarcastic Spoiler alert: this whole thing worked so well for him! {Soo… Should he have not resisted the Japanese then?} No no. He should have. I’m just saying that ultimately he still failed to keep the population from turning to rival factions.), causing more disunity in China when they could least afford it. The picture painted here is a war that no one really wanted, no one really planned to have just yet but a war that they were going to have because it was too late for the pebbles to vote on this avalanche Dr. Mitter takes care to take a look at the effect of the early war on China both on the Nationalist and Communist party. This led to the creation of the common front, as the Nationalist and the Communist agreed to shelve their problems with each other until such date as there weren't Japanese armies running around trying to conquer their nation out from under them. Dr. Mitter also shows us the strange bedfellows that such wars produce. While Chiang and the Nationalist government were deeply anti-communist, at this point the Soviet Union would step forward to become the Nationalist’s only real foreign ally. To enhance the strangeness, the USSR was replacing Nazi Germany as Nationalist China's greatest ally. This is explained as a result of the times. You see Germany lost all its possessions in China after WWI and as such, it was seen as a safe power to ally within the inter-war years because they had nothing to lose in seeing a modern, industrialized, unified China rising up. Unlike the other Western powers like the French, British, or the United States (the US occupied an odd position here but we'll get to that). The USSR in turn needed to prevent a two-front war where they would be battling Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany at the same time and creating a China that could if not defeat Japan at least pull Japan into a long, grinding war was a step towards avoiding that. So Stalin backed the Nationalist despite them being the foes of the Communist party of China. The latter position of the Western Allies is also covered in depth. Chiang and the Nationalist (Shockingly) never really trusted the British Empire (the communist simply didn't deal with them) but the relationship with the US was vastly more variable. For various reasons the US didn't attract as much bile as the European powers, but that would change over time. Part of this is the constant demands for Chinese troops when there simply weren’t any to spare, another is the fact that the US sent exactly the wrong person to represent their interests to the Chinese. That being General Joseph Stilwell, aka Vinegar Joe. While to his credit General Stilwell preached that the Chinese man could be just as good a soldier as a white man with the proper training and equipment, he also believed he was the only one who could win the war for China and constantly led China's best troops into offensive campaigns that had no chance of victory. On top of this, he would constantly antagonize the leadership of Nationalist China. Which led many of the Nationalist leaders to believe that the US held them in contempt, which wasn't entirely false (Of course it wasn’t entirely false! The Chinese Exclusion Act was still in place at the time and would remain so until 1943. Even then, the quota was 105 immigrants a year. It was the official position of the US that Chinese people were not even welcome in the country. General Stillwell, despite evidently being a cantankerous madman, was remarkably less racist than his contemporaries.{And yet he completely undermined Chinese-American relationships and destroyed many of the best Chinese units in a mad quest to conquer Burmanese jungle, insisting he was the only one who could lead China to victory} As I said, cantankerous madman! Just… a less racist one.).

That said, Dr. Mitter also spends time looking at the domestic issues that were plaguing China even as it was engulfed in a war that would kill millions. As many fled Japanese domination, the Nationalist and Communist governments were obliged to expand social services even as they were having to massively increase the resources that went to their militaries. Both governments would use this as an opportunity to attempt to reshape China into a more modern mold even as they fought to create a China that wasn't dominated by foreign interests. The Nationalist programs were less successful and Dr. Mitter carefully shows why they failed. Part of it is because the Communist committed to a program of guerrilla warfare and avoided large scale confrontation with the Japanese forces, this meant that they could get away with spending less of their resources on military commitments. They were also able to push initiatives to make their population more self-sufficient since they weren't under direct attack by the Japanese. The Nationalist who had to field conventional armies and fight the Japanese in large set-piece battles had no such choices. This was also a problem as their areas of China were afflicted with famine and bad harvests, partly due to the Nationalist breaching the dikes of the Yellow River to hold back the Japanese Armies (while killing hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers). That said, the Nationalist government was often riddled with corruption but much of it was the corruption of men who have to turn to such methods or starve to death. For example, soldiers would be issued rifles, ammo and, grain or rice; but any vegetables, meat, medical supplies, and most clothes the soldiers would have to get for themselves while being paid wages that wouldn't even get them the rice they were issued on the open market (And so the predictable happens…). That's when they got their full wages, which were given to commanding officers in lump sums (Oh Dear God!). Most officers weren't well paid either with even Colonels having to take second jobs to make ends meet. So many officers skimmed from their men’s wages to avoid that and being punished for having a second job. Now I will admit that the Communists did engage in military operations against the Japanese but never as often as the Nationalist and never on the same scale. So the Communist strategy seemed to be to let the Japanese punch themselves out on the Nationalist and then dart out to land a quick blow or two and then use the Nationalist as a shield (This is a highly effective strategy…{Sure, but then constantly criticizing the Nationalist and trying to undermine them while using them as a shield… Well that gives the impression this is all about expanding your power base} Hey, I’m not making moral judgments. It was effective at achieving both of Mao’s strategic aims.). The Japanese, in turn, would launch campaigns against the communists but these campaigns tended to be limited in scope and duration compared to the offensives they launched against the Nationalists. Both the Communist and Nationalists, however, did use the war as an opportunity to remove political opponents in their own ranks. The Nationalist secret police under Dai Li created a system of terror to root out opponents to the Nationalist system. Mao would use his security chief Kang Sheng to purge anyone who could rival him in the party and turn the Chinese Communist Party into a personality cult, where the study of Mao's own written works made up the majority of mandated course work and refusal to bend to his will led to punishment, torture, and death. Much like just about every other communist state out there (<Weeps in Communist>).

The Postwar period is covered as well, as the crippled, hollowed out Nationalist party found itself unable to defeat a Communist Party whose strength was only increased by the war. Much as been made of the west forgetting such atrocities as the Rape of Nanking but interestingly they were all but forgotten in China as the Communist government didn't discuss or teach these events from 1950 to 1981, focusing instead on the actions of the Nationalist Government and accusing them of collaborating with the Japanese. It wasn't until the late 1980s and 1990s that the actions of the Japanese themselves were seriously considered, and that Chiang was admitted to the pantheon of men who fought to keep China from becoming a colony. Part of this is the fact that Mao and Chiang were both dead and while throughout the cold war it was more convenient to focus attention on Nationalist misdeeds (apparently there were also Chinese efforts to woo Japan away from alliance from the US to create a 3rd power block in the cold war but the book gives no details there). Now that the Cold War is over and the PRC is more interested in promoting the idea of reconciliation the sacrifices of the Nationalists and the actions of Imperial Japanese forces are recognized. Dr. Mitter takes this part of the book to link all of this to the present day and show how the events from 1937 to 1945 have had a profound effect on how the Chinese see themselves, the world and what to expect from their governments. Which makes it a useful book on many levels.

Forgotten Ally provides a good overview of China's situation throughout World War II. Capturing the desperation that the competing governments of China felt as they fought against common enemies and dealt with the fact that their common allies considered them a lesser priority. Dr. Mitter works to present us work as free of bias as possible while admitting to the flaws and bad actions of everyone involved and to be fair, there are plenty of bad actions and decisions to go around. Personally, while I'm no fan of the government of the People's Republic of China, I've never been sympathetic to the Nationalist government either, seeing them as hopelessly corrupt and wondering at times when I looked into it just how close they were to being a fascist state themselves. I complete this book with a great deal more sympathy for the Nationalist government while at the same time having to point out that their behavior wasn't all that different from the Communist party when it came to governing China. If you're wondering about this front in World War II, this is a great book to start with and get a good idea of the issues involved, the personalities and general events. If you're looking for details about specific battles or campaigns, you will be frustrated as there simply isn't space in the book for such things. That said I would encourage anyone who hasn't made a study of China in World War II to take a look at this book. There is also a good notes section in the back and even more exciting a section where Dr. Mitter suggests books for further reading (And Frigid has to get a bigger apartment with more shelf space.{nonsense, I just need to build more shelves!}) All of this adds up to me giving China's World War II 1937-1945 Forgotten Ally By Rana Mitter an A. Dr. Mitter has done good work with this book.

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text your reviewer Garvin Anders

Thank you for joining us! If you enjoyed this consider joining us at Frigid Reads is creating book reviews, book discussion | Patreon where for a 1$ a month you can vote on what gets reviewed in the next month. 3$ a month lets you see all the glories of your editor and reviewer 'discussing' the book (this month we have a special sneak peek at what that looks like). Next week we start America Month, opening up with the Patron selected GI Joe Vol 2. We'll follow that up with Ratification the People Debate the Constitution 1787 -1788 by Pauline Maier, so stay with us, stay cool and above all keep reading!

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 05, 2019 8:35 pm 
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GI Joe Classic Vol II
By Larry Hama

“I've made my peace with the weasel. Kwinn will not harm you while he lives that—I—Promise.”
Kwinn page 210.


So when my patrons voted for GI Joe as part of America month (this is going to be an interesting month in my red text…), I admit I had to ask myself if that was a great idea. Then I realized that a pro-soldier comic book, that constantly sought to avoid jingoism and is critical of government behavior written by an Asian American veteran was likely the most American thing on the block and if it isn't then maybe it should be. I feel like my first review provided a rather exhaustive look into the origin of the series (I mean really what else could I say?) as well as a good summary of everything we really need to know about Larry Hama, as I'm sure any further details are none of our business. All I'm going to say - and demand - is that someone let him write Scrooge McDuck! Volume II covers issues 11-20 and runs the first major story arc that takes place over multiple issues and sees changes that bring the Joes closer to the classic structure that we all think of today. It's also where Mr. Hama really draws the line that would separate the comics from a lot of other Joe Media and even a lot of other comics. Characters were going to get hurt, they would suffer consequences and some of those consequences would be lethal (Go on….).

A number of major characters are introduced in this Volume: on the Joe side we get characters like Airborne, Snow Job, Wild Bill, Torpedo, Doc, Gung Ho and Cover Girl (Really? Please tell me this is because she’s a woman who provides covering fire with a SAW and not because she has tits…{Actually because she’s a former model who quit fashion shows to join the army and drive a tank, she became so good at it they made her a special forces tank driver.} Good enough! And the coaxial machine guns count as cover.) as the second Lady Joe. These new joes are more colorful than the original Joes (baring Scarlet and Snake Eyes honestly, although Stalker holds his own) having more individual uniforms and weapons. They're also even more specialized than the original Joes which was a trend that would increase over the years. Mr. Hama does a good job introducing them, having friction show up between teammates; such as between Gung Ho and Rock and Roll, as well as between Cover Girl and Scarlet; before everyone settles down and starts focusing on wiping out Cobra. It's fairly realistic as not everyone is going to get along in a military unit. When you have people from all sorts of viewpoints and places thrown together some personality conflicts are unavoidable. However, in this business, you need to learn to focus on the job at hand and leave your baggage at home (The prank wars are for later). So you have to learn to at least work together without to much trouble and the Joes do that since if they don't the results might be the fall of the free world. Which really looks bad on a resume Mr. Hama takes his time to give every new Joe time to shine while still keeping the old guard in the picture and not ignoring them. That said the standouts in this volume for me are Doc and Gung Ho. Doc for saving the Joes and preventing Cobra from becoming a Nuclear Power despite not carrying a weapon (nice). Gung Ho… honestly just for the amount of silliness that Mr. Hama lets him get away with.

We get a bevy of new characters on the Cobra side as well, but unlike the Joes who do not let their head butting get in the way of the mission, our villains are more than happy to put personal position ahead of grand dreams of world domination (Dear God that is so cliche. In real life too. It isn’t just fiction. The Third Reich had so much ridiculous infighting…{Japanese commanders were plotting against each other while being shelled on Guadalcanal, to the point of sabotaging each other’s counter attacks} Oh god! Yes! The Navy vs Army fights! Plus… the Army on Army fights! YAAAASSS!). It's hard to overstate the number of times Cobra runs up to the finish line… Only to pull out an Uzi and blow off their own kneecaps. I'll just note that the leaders of Cobra would fit right into more recent entertainments like Game of Thrones. The biggest arrival on the Cobra side is the metal masked man, the arms selling legend and larger than life myth, Destro himself! Cobra Commander brings in Destro to serve as his battlefield commander, a right hand to carry out the tactics and see to the on-the-ground details of fulfilling the vision of Cobra Commander. Destro does provide very solid battlefield leadership, inflicting a good amount of pain and suffering on the Joes, even if they are able to pull out the win in the end. However, Destro has his own ideas of what the Cobra Organizational Chart should look like, mainly he wants to make changes at the top (Because of course, he does!). By his second appearance, Destro is plotting to take out the Commander and replace him while trying to rekindle a relationship with the Baroness. How Destro was recruited, where he met the Baroness, and the circumstances of their old relationship and its end aren't answered in this Volume but it's made very clear that Cobra Commander, Baroness, and Destro all have long histories with each other and none of them are fully aware of the other characters relationships with the other (Oh Dear God. Someone call Maury Povich.). Which creates a mess of conflicting desires and loyalties that turn Cobra command into a snake pit if you pardon the pun (Get out {It’s my review!}). Cobra Commander, of course, has a lot of flaws but he's not an idiot and quickly realizes what's going on and so he brings in another new character, Major Bludd. Major Bludd's job is pretty simple to describe but hard to do: kill Destro and make it look like an accident. Major Bludd here is a mercenary and published poet but frankly given the examples of poetry Bludd preforms you might be asking if the bar for a published poet might be lower than reasonable (Given my old high school literature magazine, which I edited… no. No, I am not. At some point you’ve already got all the good stuff in there, including the best few out of a pile of terrible Jesus poems you have to include some of to avoid accusations of discrimination. You still have fifteen pages left so you start going through the piles of shitty secular poems because you also want to avoid accusations of proselytization. They’re not bad! You insist. They’re unique.). Still, Major Bludd is effective but honestly comes across as a bit outmatched and the sheer mess of conflicting loyalties in Cobra undermine him pretty fast and hard. This volume gives us a massive step forward into the modern Cobra, where if they could ever just stop plotting against each other, they might actually pull off their goals (Someone needs to read from Palpatine’s playbook.). It’s a Cobra that you won’t recognize if you’re only familiar with the cartoons but it’s honestly one I prefer. It's a good commentary on how ambition and ruthlessness are incredibly self-defeating if they aren't wedded to some form of restraint and morality (Or even just a planning threshold based in rational self-interest?).

For me, though the main focus of Volume II is the return of Kwinn the Inuit Mercenary and the developing feud that is born between him and Snake Eyes on one side and Dr. Venom on the other. Let me talk a bit about Dr. Venom. He is the original Cobra Mad Scientist, inventing such wonders as the mind scanner, robot suits that brainwash their wearers and make them super-powered soldiers for Cobra, and a plague that could bring civilization to its knees (YAAAASSS!!!). That's just the plot-relevant stuff we know about. His motto might as well be that ethics committees exist to test his latest virus (We’ve all felt that way at some point or another. Usually when a protocol is rejected.). He also wields a Luger just in case you were gonna miss the Nazi Doctor subtext there. Although I'm not entirely sure the text is sub, if you catch my meaning. When a mission goes bad and the three of them are abandoned for dead in the middle of a collapsing Latin American country, they have to work together; pool their skills and strength in order to escape and survive. Despite having tried to kill each other before Snake Eyes and Kwinn work really well together but Dr. Venom cannot let go of his grudges and has to attempt to murder both of them any chance he gets. This of course really gets Kwinn upset (Snake Eyes already hated the Doctor) and leads to Kwinn deciding to seek vengeance. This whole story arc is sustained b-plot through several issues and ends up having a lot to say about the nature of evil, how self-defeating it is, and the dangers of putting revenge above everything else. The focus comes more here on whether or not Kwinn can overcome his anger and desire to murder Dr. Venom slowly with his bare hands. This storyline alone makes this Volume worth reading if you ask me and really shows us the level of storytelling we can expect.

Volume II takes major strides in the plot and development of the Joe and Cobra organizations as well as the characters within it. We're not at the Joe gold age just yet but all the pieces are emerging for one of the greatest series of the 1980s. With the emergence of iconic figures like Destro and a great storyline, as well as a number of great supporting characters and single scene characters that almost steal the show (my favorite being a retired couple on the beach just knocking back and discussing the nature of fear, while a Lancaster bomber is skipping the waves heading towards them to crash land on the beach!). Mr. Hama carefully creates an amazing world full of colorful characters for us to enjoy as he tells stories that might just have things to say that are worth listening to. GI Joe Classics Volume II by Larry Hama gets an A, the storyline of Kwinn and Dr. Venom really bring it up another notch.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to ensure there are more, consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where for a 1$ a month you can vote on upcoming reviews, with more input at higher tiers. Next week we are reviewing Ratification The People Debate the Constitution 1787-1788 by Pauline Maier. Thank you for your support and Keep Reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen.
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 12, 2019 9:53 pm 
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Ratification The People Debate the Constitution 1787-1788
By Dr. Pauline Maier


Pauline Alice Maier was born Pauline Rubbelke in St. Paul Minnesota in the year 1938. Her father was a firefighter and her mother was a homemaker, and Pauline was one of five siblings. She attended Radcliffe College (at the time it was the Woman's institution in coordination with Harvard University, which only allowed general woman enrollment in 1950 [Because clearly, until then women were incapable of handling the rigors of higher education or whatever sexist bullshit they used to justify holding off until 1950, which was late even by contemporary standards]) with the goal of becoming part of the newspaper business (But the anglerfish lure of academia clearly caught her. I’m not bitter, it was a different time.). Because of that connection, she was able to work on the Harvard Crimson, which is a daily student newspaper run by Harvard undergraduates. It was working on the newspaper that she met her future husband Charles Maier. She graduated from Radcliffe in 1960 with a degree in history and literature. She and Charles both attended Oxford on fellowship, she was there as a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Afterward, they toured Europe and got married. They then returned to Harvard to complete their studies, both achieving PhDs. Dr. Maier then taught at the University of Massachusetts for nine years, the University of Wisconsin for one and then became a professor of history at MIT. She and her husband (who is a professor of History in Harvard) lived at Cambridge MA and raised 3 children and she published five books and co-authored eight more. She passed away in 2013 at the age of 75. She has been widely praised as an insightful writer who did not let ideology distract her from the truth. Ratification was her last book published in 2010 by Simon and Schuster. Today it's our review, let's turn to it, shall we?

Ratification mostly covers the period after the Constitution was written by the Constitutional convention but before it was ratified by the original thirteen united states. As such it covers a tense but somewhat forgotten part of American history (although it's receiving more attention these days) where the people of the United States made the decision of what kind of government they were going to have and whether they were going to have a country or not. Dr. Maier takes pains to cover how the convention was set up in the prologue focusing mainly on George Washington and his decision on whether or not to attend. It wasn't as clear cut a decision as some of my readers might think, the George Washington of 1780s was a tired man, having given his all in the struggle to win independence and really, really just wanted to focus on his farm and maybe some work on expanding the navigation of the Potomac River to encourage westward settlement (By which you mean ethnically cleansing the Native American population {No, I mean settlement, most of the natives were already dead or fled due to a combination of disease and prior warfare… Ironically half of them were fleeing other natives}). However when the governor of your state and all your old war buddies call you up and tell you if you don't drag your butt up to Philadelphia everything you fought for is going to come crashing down... Then you drag your butt up to Philadelphia (The Articles of Confederation were such a clusterfuck…). It is not an understatement to point out that the convention in no small part only happened because Washington let people declare he was attending and likely only succeeded because he was there. That said Dr. Maier doesn't linger on the convention itself, it's the aftermath that she's mainly concerned with and frankly it's a massive drama unfolding on a continental sized stage with implications that will continue to be felt long after everyone reading this is nothing more than dust in a half-forgotten grave (Remember the Electoral College? Yeah. I do too.).

Dr. Maier doesn't grant every state it's own chapter (the book is already pretty thick standing at 475 pages not counting the notes and appendices) but she does devote time and space to each state. She just chooses to cover them by stages. The first group is focused on Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Georgia, all five states ratified the Constitution fairly quickly. However, Pennsylvania shows us that often it's not whether or not you win but also how you won that's important. As the Federalists (the supporters of the Constitution grabbed the rhetorical high ground by naming themselves and their opponents but I'll get back to that) won by running utterly roughshod over their opponents and giving no considerations to their reservations and thoughts on the matter. There was also a local fault line that broke open during the debates, as two factions that had formed over whether or not to rewrite the Pennsylvania Constitution decided this another issue to fight over. The Pennsylvania Republicans who favored rewriting the state Constitution joined the federalist side (as a taste of how confusing this could get, the anti-federalist in New York would adopt the name of Federal Republicans as they tried to block the Constitution) while the state party that favored keeping the state constitution but opposed the federal Constitution were called Constitutionalist (Oh Dear God). The ramming through of ratification while screaming down the anti-federals led to an explosion of resistance across the US as it confirmed to many doubters that the Constitution was a plan to strip them of their rights and had to be opposed. Additionally labeling them anti-federals which was a name coined by the Federalists in a piece of masterful propaganda (as one lovely communication major once explained me, being anti is negative and most people view that poorly, but being pro something is positive. So it's always better to label yourself pro something than anti-something. You can see that in modern politics pretty clearly if you look) didn't help calm anyone down. Now the anti-federalists would have their revenge in Rhode Island (a fun fact is just how loathed this state was back then! They didn't pay anything to the Confederate Congress, rarely sent delegates to Congress but demanded they be considered super patriots. [And as we all know, not paying people who work for you and screaming like a man-child is super-patriotic.]) and North Carolina (where the anti-federals basically refused to debate for the majority of the convention and just voted no [I feel like this will be important in oh… the 1860s.]) but let's look at other examples.

In contrast, Dr. Maier shows us the Massachusetts and Virginia conventions where there was intense debate and horse trading. Massachusetts would pioneer a compromise where the state conventions would vote to ratify the Constitution in exchange for the delegates to the first Congress being instructed to pursue amendments to the Constitution. This went so well that the anti-federalist delegates, even the ones who didn't switch sides, declared that they were perfectly happy to live under the new government and would cause no trouble. This is something we should celebrate as an amazing feat of diplomacy and politics because it wasn't that long ago that some of the delegates were shooting at each other! (Because this is America, which is madness, akin to Sparta. Thankfully with flintlocks it really is hard to hit the broadside of a barn without massed volleys.) In 1780 Massachusetts was the scene of Shay's Rebellion as poor farmers from central and western Massachusetts took up arms against a government that refused to hear their complaints. Many federalists were those who had opposed the rebellion, while anti-federalists were often pro-Shay Rebellion or men who had been fighting under Captain Shay. Dr. Maier shows us how despite missteps the Federalists found a way to address complaints in order to achieve their objectives. This would be adopted across the country as a new tactic by federalist who were willing to openly admit that the Constitution wasn't perfect, that's why they made it amenable in the first place. While insisting that no state could add amendments as part of the ratification process. The idea of every state adding their own demands and amendments as part of their ratification was rather unworkable and the only way that would have ever been hammered out is by a second federal convention. Which the federalist and a good number of anti-federalists were desperate to avoid for much the same reason that the idea makes most modern political junkies and partisans break out in a cold sweat today. There are no rules to federal conventions, so anything and I mean anything could come out of one. If you're okay with that I ask you look across the political divide and think what the worst extremists on the other side would push for and imagine people like that running loose in a convention meant to redesign the government from the ground up (Yeah, how about I nope the fuck right out of that and run screaming the other way!).

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Dr. Maier does a pretty good job describing just how bruising these debates were: with men like James Madison, James Monroe, and Patrick Henry dueling it out as well as lesser-known men like George Mason, an anti-federalist who became a national voice against ratification. During this period Dr. Maier also shows us George Washington wisely staying on the sidelines, even if he used private letters to coordinate and encourage the federalists in their battles. I say wisely because these debates provoked long term consequences, breaking apart friendships and creating lifelong rivals and enemies. Madison, for example, was brought to near violent hatred of Patrick Henry (I'll note Jefferson loathed Patrick Henry as well). By staying out of the front lines, Washington - who already had a unique position as practically the only universally respected and admired man in America - could play peacemaker later and as President help keep everyone reconciled to the new government. I had to admit that Dr. Maier takes great pains to show Washington was thinking ahead and wanting a unified country that was happy with its government. Virginia would vote yes when it became clear that 9 states had already ratified the Constitution making it the government of the United States. The decision in Virginia and the promise of pushing for amendments also led to New York state deciding to ratifying as well. It was North Carolina and Rhode Island that held out, with Rhode island holding out the longest. Rhode Island only joined when the US launched a trade embargo and demanded that since Rhode Island was an independent state it owed the US it's share of the Revolutionary War Debt (The US had assumed all payments of the debts) which lead to the coast towns of Rhode Island to discuss leaving Rhode Island. Facing poverty and dismemberment the Rhode Islanders finally yielded (Good because they were dicks).

Dr. Maier also talks about how the Bill of Rights (while pointing out that no one called the first 10 amendments the Bill of Rights until pretty much the 20th century) was adopted with most of the credit going to James Madison who relentlessly cajoled the first Congress into putting some actual work into them. Interestingly enough they authored more than 10, including one amendment that was only ratified and added to the Constitution in 1992 (which I suppose is a message about never giving up). One amendment that anti-federalists desperately wanted but never made it in, an amendment forbidding Congress from directly taxing citizens, demanding they tax the states instead (HAHAHAHAHAHA!). A limitation that had left the Confederation constantly broke in the first place. Dr. Maier ends the book with a brief discussion of the amendments and the other acts of the first Congress.

Ratification is a massive tome as you would expect it to be considering the subject matter. Dr. Maier clearly put in a lot of research as the notes section in the back is staggering and there is a handy index on top of that. Just in case you didn't have one handy there is also a copy of the Constitution in the back of the book as well as an Appendix. I found the book well organized and incredibly detailed, but I do have to mention if you don't have a passing grasp on what was going on in early America you will be completely lost. You will likely need to rush over to Wikipedia more then once. Dr. Maier does try to make this accessible but this clearly isn't for beginning students of history. On the flip side if you have the Federalists and Anti-Federalists Papers on your bookshelf then you'll be right at home (Pretty sure Frigid does). That said, with works like Hamilton out, we do have an increasing amount of work that can bridge the gap for you! So you know, read Hamilton first, then read this! For those who are somewhat familiar with the early history of the United States, this book is invaluable, even if all you know is the basics. Ratification The People Debate the Constitution 1787 to 1788 by Dr. Pauline Maier gets an A. This may have been her last work on Earth, but it was a worthy one and I applaud it.

Next week, we have a double feature as I review two separate Captain America Graphic Novels. Join us for Captain America: Theater of War, and Captain America: Living Legend. Both of these were voted for by our Patrons so I decided to get them both this month. If you would also like to vote on what gets reviewed here, make suggestions for new books, or even see my editors raw, unfiltered comments join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where for a dollar a month you can vote on upcoming reviews.

Until then, keep reading!

red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen.
black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2019 1:09 am 
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Captain America Theater of War and Captain America Living Legend

“We all have duties Emilia, sacrifices we have to make for the things we love... But I guess that's how we know we love them.” ~Captain Steve Rogers, Prisoners of Duty
Welcome to our first double feature, readers. So rather than come up with some elaborate story, I'm just gonna cop to the true origins here. When I posted the poll for what books should be reviewed in July on our patreon, I forgot to limit the votes per person. So both of these comics got votes, and because this is my fault, I decided, why not review both? (That isn’t the real reason. It’s because if he didn’t worship the God of Abraham, he’d sacrifice fascists on the altar of Steve Rogers. This is not a criticism. {It’s also ridiculous Captain Rogers would never accept human sacrifice, even Nazis}) Especially considering that Theater of War is more a collection of short stories than a graphic novel per se. Living Legend is a full graphic novel with a single story so let me confront that first.

Living Legend was written by both Andy Diggle and Adi Granov; the script work was done by Mr. Diggle, Mr. Granov illustrated the comic. It's interesting for me to note that neither of these men were born in the United States (It’s almost as if immigrants contribute to our society or something.). Mr. Diggle was born and raised in South London and currently lives in Lancaster with his wife and children. He started as an editor for 2000AD but branched off into other works and is mainly known for his work on books like Hellblazer, The Losers, and Swamp Thing. Adi Granov was born in 1977 in Sarajevo. In 1994, his mother took him and his sisters and fled to the United States to escape the civil war that was raging there at the time (For those of you too young to remember, during the post-Soviet breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbs throughout the republic tried to dominate over Croats and Boznians within the territory of the soon-to-be-former Yugoslavia. Independence was declared by said Bosnians and Croats into separate states - Bosnia and Croatia respectively - and a civil war kicked off. This civil war included the ethnic cleansing by Serbian troops of aforementioned Bosnians and Croats. By the way, never mention the fact that Serbs and Croats speak the same language in their presence.). He would study art and concept design in the US and find himself influenced by American and European poster artists and some manga artists as well. His first work in comics was for Dreamwave Productions (which is infamous for its bankruptcy saga but that's for another day) for which he wasn't entirely... paid (Read: his labor was outright stolen rather than alienated). Thankfully this didn't put him off working for comic book companies so when he received an email out of the blue from a Marvel editor to come on board, he was happy to do so. Not only would Mr. Granov end up on the team that wrote Iron Man: Extremis (which provided the base for Ironman 3), he also helped design the Iron Man and Iron Monger suits for the movie series. He even designed one of the suits for the Playstation 4 game Spider-Man (the Velocity suit). I suppose it's a good thing he was able to flee war and find asylum in the United States. I can certainly understand why he fled here, it's been almost 130 years since warfare last touched the continental United States. He met his wife Tamsin Isles on an online forum where they became best friends before heading into romance and marriage.

Living Legend was originally meant to be Astonishing Captain America 1, a new series that would launch in July of 2011 but was canceled before hitting the presses. However, Mr. Diggle and Mr. Granov were able to convince the powers that be to release the story as a 4 issue mini-series. I picked up a collected copy on ComiXology but a physical graphic novel collection was published in 2014. The story starts in World War II but mostly takes place in the modern-day and revolves around the encounter between Soviet true believer Sgt Volkov and Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. They were both sent on a mission to retrieve German Rocket Scientists in the last days of World War II. Now the use of armed forces and spies to kidnap or recruit Nazi scientists happened in real life, the American Operation Paperclip and the Soviet Operation Osoaviakhim both of which scooped up thousands of engineers, scientists, specialists, and their family members, mostly focusing on rocketry experts but also grabbing others along the way (Now there is a difference in the two programs. It would be fair to say that the Nazis picked up by the US defected, and the ones picked up by the USSR were prisoners. I will leave the audience to decide which of those two is better.). Both powers did so because bluntly they realized with the creation of the V2 rocket and later with the unveiling of the American atomic bomb that a nation that was unable to build an arsenal of weaponized rockets would be at the mercy of nations that could. Neither nation was all that inclined to depend on the mercy of others at the moment. While we never find out who got the scientist we do see that Volkov gets shot and is only saved by the intervention of Captain America. We also find out that Volkov would later become one of the men chosen for a Soviet mission to the moon in 1968. A mission that goes very, very wrong.

How wrong it goes is hidden until the 21st century when a western science station in Low Earth Orbit is pulled into Siberia when an experiment using Dark Energy goes wrong. As a side note, dark energy is an actual theorized thing in physics, suggested to be what's powering the expansion of the universe if I understand it correctly? (You do understand it correctly.). Well, the Russian Army surrounds the site and tells S.H.I.E.L.D to take a hike, which leads to S.H.I.E.L.D turning to Captain America to sneak into Russia, get past the Russian Army, find out what's going on and keep it from damaging life on Earth. Well, keep it from damaging life on Earth less than the average Kree invasion would. However, Cap is walking into a lot of hidden demons from the past, most of them someone else's but it turns out they don't have to be your demons to chew off your face. Which the help of a Russian Colonel willing to put his country ahead of his government, Dr. Lauren Fox - the sole survivor of the science station and creator of the experiment - and the protection of his mighty shield, Steve Rogers faces off against something that doesn't belong on this level of existence but wants to make itself at home... But what does Volkov have to do with all of this? Steve will have to find out quickly because as always the clock is ticking.

Living Legend was a fun read but it wasn't what I would consider groundbreaking or a classical Captain America story. However, it was well-done and I did enjoy reading it. The science-fiction elements were good but I feel like there was a missed opportunity to look at the American and Soviet use of German scientists after World War II and what they wrought both good and bad. Even the problems of modern Russia or the United States are kinda pushed to the side and the relationship between Volkov and Cap is rather distant, so it's not as memorable as it could be. So I'm giving Living Legend by Andy Diggle and Adi Granov a C+. It's a good example of a self-contained mini-series that you can read without knowing too much about Captain America, but not a great one.

Theater of War is a bit more complicated as it is a collection of one-shots. However, writer Paul Jenkins is the most featured writer in the book, so I'll focus mainly on him. Paul Jenkins was born in the Western United Kingdom in a single-parent home, he immigrated to the United States in 1987. He's been an editor and writer on a wide variety of books ranging from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (in fact he started in Mirage Studios) to Wolverine Origins, Spectacular Spider-Man, and a variety of other titles. He's also known for being a supporter of creator rights in part due to his start in Mirage and working at Tundra studios. He writes three of the six stories in this book and the ending poem ‘Ghost of my Country’ and so sets the tone of the work. Theater of War becomes less about Captain America the superhero and more about Captain America the soldier in and out of war under his influence and that pulls the book together.

I'll explain through examples. The first story “America the Beautiful” is about Captain America retrieving and bringing back the body of an American soldier who died in a German bunker during D-Day. The soldier in question is someone Steve Rogers knew, a man named Bobby Shaw who was honestly a horrible soldier and a bit of a coward. To be honest, reading the story, I can't help but think that in the modern military such a man would have washed out (Yes, but our current army is a volunteer army. Back in the 40s, it was largely a conscript army. The standards were different, and training wasn’t anywhere near as good. They didn’t actually have a good way to… teach kids how to deal with the fear and bluntly, the resistance to killing.) and it's interesting to me that Steve sees himself as having a lot in common with Bobby. Say what you will about Steve Rogers, he was never a coward. However, even the most scared man can rise above himself and become a hero and that's what Bobby Shaw did, giving his life to save his platoon mates and get them off that damn beach. Captain America can only fulfill a promise decades later to bring him home and he does. The next Paul Jenkins story “Brothers in Arms” takes place entirely in World War II, where Steve leads a detachment of rangers behind enemy lines to secure a vital objective ahead of the main advance. When the Rangers find themselves surrounded by SS troopers and themselves with a single Wehrmacht soldier as a POW (Wait, what? Correct me if I’m wrong here, but don’t Rangers behind enemy lines not typically take prisoners for this very reason? Note: this is not a criticism. Military necessity given mission parameters.{Their orders were to hold, so Cap being in command decided to take a prisoner} Ah okay. That’s a bit more reasonable.). Several rangers would rather just shoot the damn Nazi and be done with it. Cap of course insist that the laws of war be followed, even in the face of mockery from the SS. However the German soldier volunteers to be a medic and actually does manage to save the lives of several Rangers, only to be killed by the SS when Captain America tries to return him to his own side. To Soldier On, the third and last full story by Paul Jenkins is set in Iraq, first during the invasion and then during the early occupation. Given my own experience, which I won't bog the review with, this story stayed with me. Captain America isn't the main character here, that’s Sgt Anderson, an Army Sgt who witnesses Cap's abilities during the invasion and then is tasked to escort Cap as he attempts to win hearts and minds during the occupation. Mr. Jenkins does a fairly decent job of capturing the frustration of the early occupation before the emergence of new doctrine created by men like Army General Petraeus and Marine General Mattis as troops operated with no real sense of overall planning or mission and just tried to keep some sense of order and the explosions down to a minimum. Unfortunately when caught by Cap sitting on his hands while Iraqi Police beat a failed suicide bomber (to be fair the suicide bomber was trying to blow up the Iraqi Police, so they're gonna be a bit excited [Doesn’t excuse him sitting on his hands while they commit a war crime. I know you know, but I want to make it clear to our dear readers.{While I don’t disagree, the snob in me feels I should point out it’s not a war crime when native police units do it… Its police brutality} Country was occupied at the time, and if it wasn’t a war to have war crimes in, we shouldn’t have been holding people as enemy combatants without meaningful trials. One cannot have the cake and eat it.]), Sgt Anderson and his boys are sent out on a patrol and get caught in an ambush where Sgt Anderson loses his legs and one of his hands. However, thanks to advances in prosthetics (I kinda find it a grim joke that one of the few positive effects of the Iraq War was a rapid advancement in the science and art of prosthetic creation [Oh this is basically the history of trauma medicine and reconstructive surgery in a nutshell. War has always been the catalyst for medical innovation in these fields.]) mean that Sgt Anderson can stand on his own two legs. Captain America is more of a recurring character in this story interjecting an element of the fantastic into what would otherwise be a story that could have taken place any time between 2005 and 2010. These stories set a common theme of how war - even when you win and have to fight for good reason - is a tragic event, where good people die, lives are ruined and the worst parts of us are often given license to run wild. The only thing keeping it in check is the willingness of good people to make sacrifices for what they believe in and to refuse to condone or sanction or aid evil behavior and to give up much to stop it. War might be a terrible thing, but sometimes, it's not the worse thing.

Of the three remaining stories, Prisoners of Duty by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel fits best into the themes and overall tone set by Mr. Jenkins. Set in World War II, Steve Rogers is a POW and has to figure out to break out a company of his fellow Americans from an honest to God castle after the failure of Market Garden while being watched by a Nazi Colonel. There he meets Emilia, a German woman who had come to America but returned to care for her family and was impressed into service as a nurse. Prisoners of Duty fits in well with Mr. Jenkins stories because it's a story about how every victory in war is also a tragedy and every side will have good people working for it, even the damn Nazis (Especially given conscription and penal battalions. There were people who were forced to fight for the Reich who definitely didn’t want to fight for the Reich. They pressed POWs from other countries into penal battalions. There was one poor schmuck who was captured and pressed into the armed forces of three different armies and wound up as a Korean fighting in a German penal battalion in France. {That poor bastard, it must have been a shock when the US Army didn’t impress him into service} Honestly, I’m just shocked he survived.). Operation Zero-Point by Charles and Daniel Knauf is more action-packed, as Captain America is sent behind enemy lines to extract a scientist who has warned the allies that a powerful new weapon system is on the verge of becoming functional. Once there, Cap will have his hands full trying to stop the weapon and trying to keep everyone else alive. It does manage to not stand out too much but it does wander a bit away from the tone that Mr. Jenkins sets but does give us a new variation on the themes.

The last story sticks out like a sore thumb, entitled America First by Howard Chaykin. It doesn't feature Steve Rogers, but instead Commie Smasher Cap (Fuck that guy). I'll explain. In the original run, before Marvel bought the character, Captain America continued into the 1950s, retooled as operating on American soil against communist infiltrators and subversives (Oh Good God. Captain HUAC!). It didn't go over well, Marvel at first decided to quietly deep-six that part and bring back Captain America from 1945 by having the Avengers find him in the ice (in the original comic runs, Captain America wasn't a founding member of the Avengers). That worked a lot better and for decades everyone was content to simply pretend that the post-WWII run didn't happen. However, later it was decided to retcon it that there had been a Captain America active in the 1950s, but it was a guy who was surgically altered to look like Steve Rogers and was obsessed with finding Communists. In this version, a character who is clearly playing the part of Senator McCarthy is a deep-cover Soviet agent who has worked his way deep into America government and uses the preaching of paranoia to divide Americans against one another and amass power for himself, while inserting more Soviet agents (Now that is some maskirovka I can see the USSR considering, and then passing on because it’s too crazy. They were really good at inserting deep cover agents - to the point of having hand-drawn google street view of several cities - but not that good, and not every communist in the country was a soviet agent or even a fan of the USSR. Hell, I’m certainly not, weeping in communist over their not landing anyone on the moon aside. I will give credit where credit is due. The USSR beat us at every step of the space race except the moon {No, they didn’t, we had the first communication and weather satellite, the first pilot controlled space flight, first satellite recovered intact from orbit, first picture of Earth from orbit, we also were continually setting records having the first 8 and 13 day space missions, all before landing on the moon [I’ll grant that.]}, - including our two nearest planets - and they did it on a budget of practically nothing. Now we use their rockets to get to the ISS and all astronauts are russian-bilingual, because we forgot how to build the Saturn V <Weeps in American> {Stop your weeping, the BFR says we don’t need Saturn anymore.} Yeah, anymore). The writers clearly want us to side against the historic red scare but... very brutally undermine themselves by having the McCarthy proxy be right. There are deep-cover Soviet agents at every level of American society and he knows that because he's one of them! In such a situation we would have no choice but to assume he couldn't be the only one and adopt stricter security to weed them out or risk having the leaders of the Soviet Union know our plans and secrets before our own leaders do! Now I'm not saying the real red scare was right, in real history, Senator McCarthy was fear-mongering mostly to raise his political profile and was in the end resisted and thrown down. An example we should follow whenever fear-mongering politicians or demagogues rear their heads. You should always beware someone who tells you everything is on fire and he alone can fix it. Especially if he blames some other group or them, but I'll stop preaching here (That way lies fascism, and whether you are a leftist like me or a centrist, fascism must be opposed!).

I guess it's supposed to be a home front story but honestly, it's so out of place with the other stories that it just brings the whole collection down. So I'm giving Theater of War a B-, although I think it jumps nearly a letter grade if you dump the America First story, easily a B+.

Well, next week we are heading into the realms of nonfiction again, with what would be called a primary source (that is something written first hand by a first-hand observer) join me for A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, Slavery in the Years Before the American Civil War. Also if you enjoyed this review consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where for a 1$ you can vote on what books get reviewed next month.

Red text is your editor ComradeTortoise
Black text is your reviewer Frigidmagi

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2019 9:42 pm 
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A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States
Slavery in the Years Before The American Civil War
By Frederick Law Olmsted


“Oh! No sir. I'd rather be free! Oh, yes, sir, I'd like it better to be free; I would that master.”
A Louisiana Slave page 482


Frederick Law Olmsted was an accomplished man. He was born in 1822 in Hartford Connecticut to a successful merchant and was preparing to enter Yale when sumac poisoning weakened his eyes (Poor bastard). Instead, he settled on a farm that his father helped him buy in 1848, but was not content to stay there long. In 1850 he visited England to see their public gardens and was deeply impressed by Birkenhead park. He was so impressed he wrote a book about it called “Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England” which was published in 1852. This drummed up more job offers and he was employed by the New York Daily Times (now the New York Times) to head into the south on an extensive research journey across that region. From 1852 to 1857 he traveled across the south, sending back dispatches to the paper which were read and commented on across the nation. They would be collected into three books, this being the first one. Other than his books, was a well known public administrator and landscape architect, in fact, if you've ever been to New York, you've seen his work. He co-designed Central Park in 1858 with Calbert Vax, Central Park was an expression of Mr. Olmsted's belief that public green spaces were vital to the health and well being of a city and its inhabitants (And he was objectively and absolutely correct, on so many levels I cannot possibly overstate that fact.). He spent his time as park commissioner in New York battling to protect and expand that idea and developed it further that by conceiving of an interconnected system of parks and parkways to provide expanded green spaces. However, it is his earlier work that we're here to discuss so let's turn to it.

Journey begins in the state of Virginia, goes through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama before ending in Louisiana. Most of the book - over 200 out of the 514 pages - are focused on Virginia, with Louisiana receiving second place with 100 pages. The vast majority of those pages are focused with laser-like intensity on New Orleans and the surrounding region. Mr. Olmsted barely spends any time on Alabama with a bare 19 or so pages devoted to it. The book could be described in several ways. Partly it was a travelogue with Mr. Olmsted frankly discussing the various experiences he has with the hotels, coaches, trains, and boats of the South; along with conditions of the road (almost universally bad [because as we’ll learn and I’ll discuss at length, the South did not invest in infrastructure]) and scenery. It is also an Anthropological work with interviews with various people he meets across the south and investigations into various ethnic and social groups, in fact, this book pays more attention to the poor whites and their various cultural works then any other book I've read. I'll be honest this alone makes it incredibly interesting to me (And me). It could also be considered a history book, as Mr. Olmsted takes pains to provide a brief history of each state, starting from pre-Revolution times to the 1850s. I'd recommend everyone read his brief history of South Carolina if only to see how to artfully write a history that comments while sticking to the dry facts, such as the fact that Charleston was a pirate hub and happily allowed Blackbeard to sell his stolen goods in their stores. It also serves as a political and social commentary on the South as it discusses the governing, religious, social and educational practices of the South, which would have given me gray hairs if I had any hair left on my head. South Carolina, for example, didn't have a public education system, with over 75% of its white population illiterate. Virginia, one of the best-educated southern states, had a public education system that existed more in theory than in fact. Lastly, it serves as a powerful statement in the most important debate in the United States at the time, the fate of Slavery (And before anyone says that slavery is over, it isn’t. Prisoners are regularly forced to work without pay or with very minimal pay which is often garnished from them as payment for their own imprisonment, and the Jim Crow practice of convict leasing has, in fact, started up again.).

Slavery was a bitterly divisive question even at the time of the Ratification of the Constitution and by the time of the 1850s, it had outweighed every other national question when it came to the passion it inspired and the blood and ink it spilled. Even before the civil war, if you doubt me, go look up Bleeding Kansas and the Filibusters and then come back. While the vast majority of the northern states had outlawed slavery soon after the revolution was successful - Vermont had abolished slavery in 1777, while still independent and Pennsylvania would do so in 1780 - by 1804 every state north of Virginia had outlawed slavery. Meanwhile the South, despite work by some figures (Jefferson, for example, had pushed for an emancipation plan but was furiously rejected), clung to Slavery. This was made worse by the invention of the cotton gin, which increased Southern demand for slave labor and ensured that the elite class of South would literally defend slavery to the death (A pity we didn’t execute the leaders of the Slaver-Rebellion. {Wouldn’t have helped, the issue was that reconstruction was abandoned half done, frankly breaking up the plantations and dividing them among the slaves and poor whites would have done it faster and better.} I don’t see these things as mutually exclusive. And yeah, Sherman’s forty acres and a mule would have done a pretty good job leveling the playing field.). The United States was deeply divided but the political struggle was merely a symptom of a deeper and more intractable problem.

That problem being that the nation had become host to two separate political, economic and social systems that could not coexist. In the Northern states, a capitalist system built on the supposition of free labor and mass participation in politics was developing into an industrial powerhouse and was a magnet for immigration across Europe. Its educational system created a large literate class that led to more inventions and experimentation that led to increases in efficiency and industry. It was not a perfect system, being prone to abusing the working class and having inadequate social networks for supporting those who could not support themselves but it was one that created social mobility and opportunity that drew millions to American shores. The South, on the other hand, had locked itself into a feudal caste system based on racial ancestry, where a man could enslave his half brothers and even his own children based on who their mother was. Do not believe that skin tone was any defense either, Journey itself provides evidence against this by showing us ads for runaway slaves (Which brings me to the Fugitive Slave Law! See, today, confederate apologists will scream and caterwaul about how the civil war wasn’t about slavery but was instead about States Rights. This is a revisionist lie. The South ramrodded the Fugitive Slave Law through congress. This not only forced police in free states - against their will I might add - to hunt down escaped slaves but denied any black person accused of being a runaway slave the right to a hearing. Yes, this was used by southern slave owners as a means of kidnapping people who had never been slaves at all. {This led to riots in the North and mobs attacking jails to free captives. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your average Northerner wasn’t racist but they loathed the idea of some damn Dixiecrat coming into their state and kidnapping people without so much as a Mother May I.}). Some of them being blonde and blue-eyed but even if every slave was midnight dark of skin and hair, it was still a system where your parentage determined your lot in life for your entire life. If you were born a slave or a member of the poor white caste, it didn't matter how intelligent you were, how talented or driven. You would, barring the mercy of one of your masters, die as you were born, enslaved and poor. It wasn't only the slaves that suffered, the middle class was vanishingly rare in the South with the majority of white citizens living completely hand to mouth on small farms on plots of land that the wealthy just didn't want. Meanwhile the wealthy gathered as much of the prime farming land as they could and used it to grew cash crops. Cotton being the most famous but there were other cash crops like tobacco, rice, and even sugar (Extracting sugar from sugar cane is, by the way, absolutely fucking brutal and was one of the reasons the slave revolts in Haiti and Jamaica occurred decades prior to the American Civil War). As a result, the South was entirely dependent on exporting these commodities. Despite constant complaints about how nothing was made in the South, the elites of the South would bind themselves ever tighter to their cash crops and measure their wealth in the number of human beings they entrapped in bondage. (Okay, dear readers, this is what was going on. Social status and wealth were tied up in slavery. So someone who made good didn’t invest in say, a textile factory, printing press, or building a dairy industry. No. They bought slaves. {They would even go into debt to buy more slaves, despite already owning hundreds of people, it seems almost manic} As a result, industrializing the South was impossible. Becoming a slave-holder was the American Dream of the 1850s South.)

Mr. Olmsted adds another piece to the discussion. His argument is simple, slavery is bad for the slave and the master. In his work, he clearly sets out to show how slavery wasn't a pillar holding up the South but a chain pulling it down into poverty and stagnancy. Through first-hand accounts and fairly straightforward statistics, Mr. Olmsted is able to compare the economic output and efficiency of the North vs South. Additionally, he takes time to compare the physical well being of the slaves to the Northern Labor, by comparing their diets, living spaces, working days and more. He finds that it takes the labor of four slaves to equal the labor of a single free man, as slaves invariably take longer to complete a task, often don't do it as well and are more prone to breaking their equipment or finding an excuse not to finish. Mr. Olmsted also shows how this has seeped out to the entire of Southern society, as the trains and boats he uses to travel are constantly late or breaking down. Coaches fail because the slaves assigned to them don't take care of the harness or horses unless specially ordered to and watched while they do it. The white elites that Mr. Olmsted speaks to often attribute this to the African American slaves being childish and incapable of complex thought or motivation (Of course they do! They have to, or they cannot continue to deny the basic humanity and dignity of the people they hold in bondage. So they rationalize it by claiming that the slave is stupid to the point of being subhuman. Not even the Romans did this.) but Mr. Olmsted undermines this argument by taking pains to show us what the Slaves are doing. For example, the most efficient industries in this book are the ones where the slaves are given a goal, told they'll be paid for anything extra they do past this and then left utterly alone. An example that sticks most vividly in my head is a slave camp established in the Great Dismal Swamp for logging. The Slaves were left alone for months at a time, with each one given a quota and a bonus to be paid for being above the quota. The more above the quota you are, the bigger the bonus. The Slaves were always above quota, without fail, as long as they were paid. Removing the bonus resulted in their productivity dropping like a rock. Showing that the only way to get more than the bare minimum out of a man is to bloody well pay him for it and even holding the power of life and death over him doesn't change that! Slaves often conducted passive resistance in this book, misunderstanding orders, taking their time or faking sick to get out of work and frankly who can blame them? (I don’t.). Why work hard for a man who denies your basic humanity so deeply that he thinks it's okay to treat you like property?

Mr. Olmsted's work is also interesting in how he allows the white elites to make their defenses before pointing out the flaws in their arguments. For example, just about every slave owner claimed that no one would mistreat a slave, as slaves were expensive and such brutish behavior would result in social censor (You still find slavery apologists saying this to this day.). Mr. Olmsted was able to point out local stories (often told to him by those same elites) of slaves being murdered or tortured. These people are never convicted, even when their behavior was illegal because the way southern law was set up at the time made policing slave owners impossible. You see, a large amount of the slaves in the south were owned by a small group of people. They were kept on large isolated plantations where the only whites would be their owners, their owner's family and the overseers hired by their owners and dependent on their good word. The final ingredient, a common-law across the south was that an African American’s testimony was inadmissible as evidence. So if the only ones who saw you do it were the slaves, or people dependent on your goodwill... Well, you would walk. It's questionable whether the testimony of a white overseer would be enough to convict someone as well. Every other white person in this book, no matter their station or position in life speaks of having a deep and utter loathing for white overseers, seeing them as the most brutal, savage and undependable kind of men (Well yes, because everyone knew deep in their souls that what they were doing was wrong, so the person carrying out the dirty job of keeping the slaves oppressed is going to be the hated one. The face of the systemic evil. The sin-eater for the entire society. And yes, they were brutal often sadistic garbage people, but hating them allowed the slave-owners to escape their own guilt.). More then one slave owner states they'd rather leave the slaves in charge of themselves or use African overseers but they're forbidden from doing so by law (But they write the laws. That’s just an excuse.). Because of this it was common for laws regarding the treatment of slaves to be flouted in some measure, whether it was laws against making slaves work on Sunday, or how much meat a slave was required to be fed, they were simply unenforceable, not that there was a police force capable of heading over to the plantations to check in the first place.

We also take a long hard look at the poor whites of the South. There are many different cultural groups on display but they all often have certain things in common. They are forced onto marginal land that no one else wants. They must farm for a living for any industrial jobs (Which were few and far between. The entire South wasn’t even able to produce shoes and butter for its army during the civil war, despite having everything they needed for both) are often turned over to the slaves (for example a coal mine that Mr. Olmsted visited in Virginia had a large slave labor force). They have been told over and over again that manual labor is fit only for slaves so they avoid it and often their greatest hope is to own a slave someday. Due to the lousy infrastructure, they have limited opportunities for trade or education, rendering them deeply ignorant and lacking in contact with the outside world and they are thoroughly looked down upon and considered good for nothing. These people are often willing to talk to Mr. Olmsted though are not necessarily friendly (although some of them are). These people are ignorant, more racist than the elites and provincial, they ain't stupid. They knew that the reason they had been locked out of the good farmland and trades was because slave labor has allowed the elite class to take over those spaces completely. So while some of them like the idea of getting rid of slavery, their support was dependent on the freed slaves leaving so they don't have to compete with their labor. This provides perhaps the first documented stance of “they stole our jobs” in American history (And it continues to this day, and unlike with slave labor, it isn’t even factually justified. But the wealthy of society know a good scapegoat when they see it, and always have).

As a primary history source, this book is rather invaluable. That said it is written in the language of the time and can be a little hard to wade through. Also, Mr. Olmsted wrote many of his interviews trying to capture the speaker's dialect, which adds its own problems in understanding them (Oh dear god yes). There's also a lot of examples of casual racism in this book towards African Americans (racial slurs are everywhere in this thing! Do not bring it into a classroom for children!) Irish, Native Americans, Germans and other ethnic and racial groups. If I'm going, to be honest, you can't do a real representation of American society at the time without at least nodding at the racism that infected it at this point. Racism that frankly we're still dealing and struggling with, despite the denials of some (You all know who they are.). Additionally, there are weaknesses in this book, Mr. Olmsted didn't get a lot of chances to speak alone with African Americans freed or slave and when he did, he was often mistrusted (to be fair would you trust a random white guy if you were in their shoes? I wouldn't!). There is one unguarded instant of a slave speaking freely to him and, well it's the quote at the top of this review. So the book is heavily weighted towards the white experience, on top of that Mr. Olmsted barely spoke to any women so this book is incredibly weighted to the white male experience. That doesn't mean that the book is wrong or somehow less useful but you have to keep in mind that voices are missing here so it presents an incomplete picture of the south. I would honestly recommend combining this with My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglas to cover some of the gaps. As for A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States Slavery in the Years Before The American Civil War by Frederick Law Olmsted, I'm giving it a B+. It's incredibly informative but will be hard to read for a lot of modern readers and should be kept away from people who don't know not to echo the offensive terms in the book.

So this book was a primary source, historically speaking. What does that mean? I invite y'all to join me Sunday for a sidebar on what a primary source is versus a secondary source! Next Friday, we will take a break from more scholarly activities and review the 1st volume Dark Horse Omnibus of Conan the Barbarian by Kurt Busiek! That review was voted on by our paterons. If you would like to vote on upcoming reviews, or see the full comments from our crazed editor, or even suggest new books consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where tiers start at a 1$ a month.

As always thank you for your support and Keep Reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 1:59 am 
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Sidebar VIII
What is a Primary History Source?


Last Friday we tackled A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States. The book was one of, if not the oldest works that has been reviewed in this series. The questions of what is the value of a work that was written over 160 years and how should you approach it are valid questions. Additionally, I did want to talk about primary and secondary sources but the review was already running very long and I felt it best to address it separately.

A primary source is something from the time in question. A first-hand account of places or events, or an artifact from those times. It doesn't have to be a written book or account to qualify either. For example, a piece of pottery from ancient Greece would be considered a primary source, because archaeologists can get first-hand information from that pot. Art, pictures, and photos can and do certainly count. Hell, for that matter youtube videos from historical events are easily considered primary sources. Assuming that many, many videos and pictures that are generated in the 21st century are preserved, historians specializing in our era will have an easier time of it then someone studying Mesoamerica before European contact would in a lot of ways. Now secondary sources are works that are created after the fact, often using primary sources to reflect or educate on history. Medieval or later art showing the Fall of Rome for example, historical dramas or plays. These are all secondary and because of that, they can often fall prey to inaccuracies. Additionally, the beliefs of the time can color a secondary source leading to a reinterpretation of a historical event that the people who experienced it would find incredibly foreign. History books are almost uniformly secondary sources. In fact parts of Journey qualify as a secondary source since Mr. Olmsted goes into detail discussing the history of each state and he certainly wasn't around to observe the founding of the North American colonies in the 1600s.

Journey also qualifies as a primary source on the South before the Civil War by virtue of being a first-hand account written by an eye witness. Most of the book is about Mr. Olmsted's direct experiences in the south, as told by him. Primary sources are important not just for what's written (or drawn) in them, however. Mr. Olmsted's book doesn't just give us an account of what the South was like but reveals a major cultural battle taking place in his society and tells us a lot about the how the debate was being conducted, who was conducting it and what the end goals of both sides were. This is incredibly invaluable, because if you're studying history knowing the thoughts and feelings of the people who were actually experiencing events. This also leads us to the fact that primary sources are rarely if ever objective and you should always be aware of that. Mr. Olmsted wrote this book with his own bias and beliefs of the world coloring how he presented events and people. His biases also colored who got representation in his book in the first place. It's important to keep your eyes open and remember that a primary source isn't free of political agendas or biases. That's not necessarily a bad thing and you might even agree with the source's agenda (hell, the agenda of the source might even be right) but you should still keep it in mind. That doesn't mean that the primary source will lie to you but it will influence what facts are presented and how they are presented. You should always be looking at this with an eye to puzzling out what you're not being told and if you're being lead to a conclusion. This runs true for secondary sources as well. Another issue is that it's entirely possible to read into things in the primary source that wasn't meant because of your own modern experiences and biases as well.

That's why you have to approach each source keeping in mind the context in which it was created. What do I mean by the context you might be asking? Context is the environment that the source was created in. By that I mean, the political environment, which is what is the kind of government that the writer/artist lives under, what are the big political questions dividing people, what kind of factions are active in this time and place? There's also the social environment, which is different from politics because it covers things like what is the class set up? What kind of behavior is expected from the writer/artist, what is considered moral/immoral? What's the economic environment? Is crushing poverty the norm? How comfortable are people? How easy is it to get food and clothing? How do people go about making their living? You want to consider this stuff when grappling with a primary source and secondary sources are the easiest way to find that stuff out. On top of that there are language issues. For example, if I were to ever review Xenophon or The Conquest of Gaul, I wouldn't be able to read the original versions because they were written in ancient Greek and Latin. So I would be dependent on translators, which means that some words might not be quite what the original writer meant. To go back to Journey the English language has changed in the last 160 years since it was written so some of the word choices and sentences structure don't come easily to the modern reader. So generally I encourage people to start out with modern secondary sources and work their way back. A secondary source can tell you about the context and the surrounding events in which the primary source was created. Once you have that understanding, you can approach a primary source on its own ground and learn a lot from it. Because to put it simply, primary sources are simply the best way to get the first-hand feelings and thoughts of the people who were experiencing events as they occurred. If you really want to know what the people at the time were thinking and feeling, you need to get in their own words.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 02, 2019 9:19 pm 
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Conan Omnibus I: Birth of the Legend
By Kurt Busiek

Odds are pretty good that you don't need me to tell you who the character Conan the Barbarian is. Created in 1932 by Robert Howard, Conan and his imitators have stalked through fantasy for 87 years now. If we're going to be honest Conan and the idea of the barbarian adventurer who climbs his way up civilization may be both the most American fantasy character out there and our most enduring donation to the fantasy genre as a whole. Mr. Howard, who sadly took his own life before hitting his prime, wrote twenty-one full Conan stories and numerous fragments before his death. Many of those fragments were taken up by L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter who reworked and in some cases rewrote some of Mr. Howard's work. Since then Conan has appeared in movies, live-action television, cartoons and video games with regularity. One medium he has thoroughly conquered however is comic books, with a Conan comic book of some type being in print nearly continuously from 1970. Marvel's Conan the Barbarian ran for about twenty-three years, ending in 1993, with the Savage Sword of Conan running from 1974 to 1995. In 2003, Dark Horse Comics began their own run, entitled simply Conan by Kurt Busiek.

Kurt Busiek was born September 16, 1960, in Boston, Massachusetts. He did not grow up reading comics, as his parents disapproved of them (Dear god). Despite this when he opened his first comic at the age of 14 (Daredevil 120 in 1975) he was hooked by the history and connections to an entire fictional universe. He started making comics in high school and college and had several letters published in the reader's comments section of various comics. In fact, he's credited for the theory that the Phoenix was a separate entity and had merely replaced X Men character, Jean Grey, paving the way for her first return from death (And so it begins… See kids! Your supremely dorky fan-theory can influence the development of entire genres!). Busiek started working for DC and Marvel in the 1980s and over time would also work on his own ideas, such as the award-winning Astro City or Autumnlands (the first volume of which we did a review on). He was the writer for the first year or so of the Conan Series. So let's finally start talking about the book.

The Dark Horse series decides to tackle Conan from the very beginning, the small hill village in the dim, misty land of Cimmeria. Telling us the tale of Conan's birth on a battlefield (Woah, um… there’s a mental image), his childhood, and growth to a young man. The series also confronts the problem of tying the stories of Conan into a single linear narrative that is coherent as well as entertaining. Mr. Howard usually used the medium of short stories for Conan and he did not write in linear order. Adventurers leaped about freely from one period of Conan's life to another. Mr. Howard would claim to friends later that was how the stories came to him as if Conan was sitting with him and telling him stories from his life to pass the time or entertain him. Mr. Busiek tackles this by weaving in and expanding Conan lore from Mr. Howard's letters and using a narrative framing device. In this case, the series is framed as a vizier (possibly a dark sorcerer) of what could be the Ottoman Empire reading recovered scrolls of the Nemedian Chronicle (a fictional in-universe account of Conan's world) to a prince who finds himself fascinated by a long-vanished king. With the vizier/sorcerer complaining that there's no way that this chronicle could be accurate and has to be an overblown narration, Mr. Busiek gives himself some operating room for his own inventions and expanding on Conan's family. While Conan’s family doesn’t appear in Howard’s story, he did discuss it in some letters to fans. For example, stating that Conan’s Father was a blacksmith and that his Grandfather had spent a lot of time outside of Cimmeria. This meant that Mr. Busiek could bring Conan’s Grandfather to the fore as the man that Conan was closest to, able to calm and educate Conan about the world by weaving tales of the world to the south. A world of silks, gems, good food and drink, and beautiful women.

The young Conan we get here is a moody young man, often finding himself somewhat separated from the fellow children of the village. Shaped by the dangerous and grim land that he was born into, where his clan has to fight to wrest out a living from the hard hills, Conan grows quickly. A major issue we're shown is just how talented Conan is at fighting and killing, he is frankly more dangerous than most modern adults will ever be. This is a problem because being a child he hasn't learned the restraint needed to avoid tragedy. On the flip side, his society doesn't work that hard and if we're going to be honest, can't afford to work that hard to keep Conan restrained. Mr. Busiek takes pains to show us that life in Cimmeria is hard, rough and dangerous. Honestly, I appreciate the savagery, as there is a tendency to romanticize pre-industrial lifestyles and forget that it often means putting yourself completely and utterly at the mercy of forces such as winter or blight (The myth of the Noble Savage is utter bullshit that persists to this day and gets even more stupid than it was in its inception. You see it every time someone talks about how we need to go ‘back to nature’ in order to be healthy. I’m a biologist, I love nature, but nature is scary and being at its whims is not our friend.). Add in that the hills of Cimmeria teem with predators who view the humans sharing their habitat as a potential meal and that Conan's clan must often face raids and attacks from their neighbors. This is not restricted to other Cimmerians, although they fight amongst themselves fairly often; but other nearby ethnic groups like the blonde, blue-eyed Asgardians and their red-headed rivals the Vanir. Faced with so many dangers without, they need the strength and rage of men like Conan to stave off extinction and if that means putting up with their growing pains so be it (He may have killed the guy in the next hut in a drunken rage, but he killed ten Asgardians last week so it’s a net positive! {And a pack of wolves and a panther}). Although this means that Conan ended up crippling one of his clan-mates as a child (the boy attacked him and was trying to bash his skull with rocks to be fair) and killed another through accident and while he was punished, he got off lighter than others would. Which explains some of his later behavior honestly. This also shows us the fact that Conan doesn't realize just how strong he is yet and that he's not fully comfortable with himself. Of course, at this point, he's fourteen (Show me one of those who is comfortable with himself). I will note that Conan even at this young age is able to realize when he's wronged someone and attempt to make amends, accepting the guilt for the man he killed and submitting to the victim's family for whatever decision they come to. While Conan's morality isn't our 21st-century American morality, it is recognizable as a form of morality and his struggles to understand and act in what he views as moral and honorable behavior add dimension to his growing pains.

In this volume is also where Conan takes part in the sack of Venarium, something that was discussed in one of the stories that Mr. Howard wrote but never really got into. Venarium was a frontier town of the great nation of Aquilonia. That frontier is the southern lands of Cimmeria, rich in iron, tin, and other ores (Tin? Daaaamn. Getting into the head of an ancient person, a good deposit of tin will make you rich as fuck, what with tin’s scarcity relative to copper. Bronze is important yo! Even in the iron age). The Aquilonias are socially more advanced than the Cimmerians and as such see themselves as having a right to take land from the Cimmerians (Do they have a flag? </Eddie Izzard>). The Cimmerians don't agree with this and are prepared to make murdering Aquilonians the new national hobby as a response. Here Mr. Busiek doesn't shy away from the grim realities of such a war, as both sides commit atrocities without any restraint. Cimmerians raid and brutalize any Aquilonians they can get a hold of, while the Aquilonians in their turn ruthlessly hunt down and torture and kill any Cimmerians they find in turn. In the end, Venarium falls and the Cimmerians murder all the women and children they find in the fortress. Including a young Aquilonian that Conan had come to know and love, added with the loss of friends and family this brings the cost of such wars fully to the fore and makes for a powerful reason as to why Conan would leave his home. There were simply too many memories pushing him out and nothing left to keep him.

Mr. Busiek covers Conan's first journeys beyond those misty hills, heading north into Asgardian and Vanir lands, seeking the nearly mythical Hyperborea. From this point, he's able to work in new adaptations of Mr. Howard's work as well as original works of his own and do a good job of welding them together into a coherent whole. In this case, we see the Frost Giant's daughter, told as an episode in this journey to the far north. We also get Conan's first experience with the civilizations south of his home as he moves on to see the truth of his Grandfather's tales. It's here that we see more of Mr. Busiek’s original work with the inclusion of an immortal witch the Bone Woman as a background character and her servant the swords-woman Janissa. Janissa is an interesting character. At first, I thought she was just a Red Sonja stand-in but Mr. Busiek was smart enough to make her a very different personality and character. Janissa is more bitter and biting than most modern takes on Sonja and she is bound to service of the Bonewoman, who in exchange magically enhanced her strength and speed. She also fights much differently then Red Sonja using a pair of blades modeled on a Khopesh - a curved blade believed to be invented in bronze age Egypt. This lets her stand apart from Red Sonja, Belit and the other various warrior women of the Hyborian Age. That said there are parts of her origin that I found kind of distasteful. As part of Janissa's training was to be tossed in a pit, where she would be attacked by a growing number of demons. If they defeated her, which they often did, they would beat and then rape her. If she killed them all, she would be let out of the pit, well more like she wasn't allowed out of the pit until she won. Frankly, this just kinda feels unnecessary. I'm not saying you can't use rape as part of a character's backstory or never have it show up in your stories but there's a line between using it as a plot element and using it for shock value. There's a whole discussion to be had here, but I'll simply put it like this: could you get the same value from the story if you cut out the sexual assault? If the answer is yes, then you should most likely do so. This is really the only black mark I can lay on the Omnibus but it's not a light one, honestly though given how Mr. Busiek approaches other heavy topics, I view this as a well-intentioned attempt to call back to the older origins of Red Sonja, but in all honesty I'm no fan of that origin either.

Despite that, overall I enjoyed the comic and found it a compelling way to tell Conan's story and introduce people to his world. Mr. Busiek gives us a moody and savage young man struggling to come to terms with the world and himself but eager to force the world to come to terms with him whether the world likes it or not. He also gives us a world haunted by dark, hungry, ancient powers that also have civilizations that strive towards new heights and is full of people who feel real and alive. Despite some missteps, Mr. Busiek overall does an admirable job here. I'm giving the Conan Omnibus a B+ and I'm hopeful of seeing future volumes hit the A rank before too long.

Next week, we return to Miles Cameron Traitor Son Cycle with The Dread Wyrm, which was also voted for by our paterons. If you would like to vote for books to be reviewed consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads whereas little as a 1$ a month gives you a vote on what books come up for reviews. Until then, Keep Reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 10:01 pm 
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The Dread Wyrm
By Miles Cameron


The Dread Wyrm is book III in the Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron. We've already reviewed The Red Knight and The Fell Sword, books I and II in the series. Before I start I want to slap up a spoiler warning, at this point there is no way for me to review the book and discuss the characters without involving some at least minor spoilers. So if you're interested in reading these books without me ruining the surprises... Go read them and come back. Seriously this review will still be here. So now that y'all have been properly warned, let's just jump right into it.

The book takes place entirely in the land of Alba (aka Not England), the kingdom of men that lays right up against the bounds of the Wild, the wilderness where many non-human races dwell in strange and alien civilizations. Things are not going well in the land of Alba. Our protagonist and increasingly grumpy hero Gabriel, aka the Red Knight, is returning home from the ancient Morean Empire a conquering hero and newly made Duke of Thrace and is expecting to take part in a Tournament where he can cement his reputation as a great warrior and general once and for all. When in actual fact, he's walking right into a civil war on the brink of exploding, just when the no-longer human-sorcerer Thorn has gathered new armies of creatures from the Wild to hurl into Northern Alba. Worse Thorn has ceased to be a free agent and is now nearly enslaved by something even more dangerous and wicked then he is. On top of all this, Gabriel has to deal with the fact that his mother is coming to visit him and is towing along the lady of his affection, the Nun Amicia (Wow mom. Wow.{She’s an abusive, controlling sorceress, what are you expecting here!?!}). Amicia is still keeping to her vows and has only grown more magically powerful in the meantime but let's focus on Alba first.

Now in the last two books, the nation of Alba increasingly found itself hosting an ever-growing army of foreigners from Galle (aka Not France). That's not a metaphor, this is a literal army of foreign Knights and their soldiers who have moved into the capital, started taking positions in the government and are quietly trying to push the natives out of the government (And the Kingdom… tolerates this? In the actual middle ages there would be a not-so-civil war already. Nobles would be hacked apart during peace talks on bridges etc.{The common folk burn down the arch-bishop’s palace and the city militia has a street fight with the Galle’s infantry, I wouldn’t say they’re tolerating this.}). To the point that the arch-bishop is now a Galle and is preaching against the native orders of Knight-Wizards who hold the Wild at bay through combat ability and magic use (Now that just seems counter-productive.). The Galles are led by Jean De Vrailly, who believes himself the greatest knight alive and is almost as good as he thinks he is (Oh god. A narcissist. Though not uncommon for medieval nobles. Most of them were arrogant man-children So points for authenticity!). I would like to take a moment to really take a look at our antagonist because I think he's a great one. I loathe De Vrailly. I mean I really hate the guy but I love the amount of work and complexity that has been poured into him. Because De Vrailly isn't some schemer or underhanded baby-eating monster, he's a person who honestly believes what he is doing is ordained by God and is the best for everyone (God save us from people who believe themselves his annointed.). Now, that’s easy to say but where Mr. Cameron shines is in getting you to believe that De Vrailly actually believes this. To the point where he thwarts his own allies plots if they don't match what he believes is honorable. That's not to say he's a good person, what he believes is honorable is incredibly self-serving but you realize that De Vrailly lacks the self-awareness to recognize this. So when De Vrailly demands that there be a trail of combat to prove the guilt of Queen Desiderata even when his own cousins and allies are practically begging him to just kill her and be done with it; you realize this is a guy who sincerely believes that all the terrible things he's done are right and justified and that God is smiling down on him. I can almost see De Vrailly as a victim of his own culture, but his fellow Galles and members of his family don't feel so bound by the code of honor that De Vrailly preaches. Even the other honorable Galles think that De Vrailly is incredibly self-serving in his beliefs but is willing to take on the burdens those beliefs demand down to the last jot and title. To the point that when berated by a twelve year old for taking hostages dishonorably he gets down on bended knee apologizes and admits fault. While being willing to massacre defenseless peasants for daring to demand he obeys Alban law, and burn a woman alive. Not to mention his pure rage at having the common people of Alba resist his authority and his troops and even dare to fight back against their abuses (There we go. There’s that civil war!). I find De Vrailly morally hideous but a wonderfully realized character and the type of person that is unfortunately found everywhere and in every time.

Vrailly has come to Alba because he has visions of an angel promising him that he will be the next King of Alba (Delusions of grandeur, check!), but to do that he's gotta get rid of the Queen Desiderata because she's pregnant. So Vrailly and his allies have accused her of adultery and trying to plant a bastard from one of her lovers on the throne. This is easier to sell than you would think because the King believes himself sterile to a curse that... Well, he earned that curse by raping his sister, Gabriel's Mother (Woah! And we’ve gone Full Game of Thones. Well at least there is a curse for that…). In fact... Gabriel is the result of that. Now Desiderata was unaware of this and honestly believed her husband to be good, if not a very wise man (Honestly this is really common. “Oh, my husband would never do that, I know him!”. We see it all the time. Even when its their nine year old saying he touches her.). This is actually very believable to me, because way back in the first book, The Red Knight, my first real impression was that the King was generally an okay guy who just wasn't very wise or smart. As the plot unfolds though more and more of the King's character flaws become apparent and you generally find yourself swinging between contempt and pity. The pity comes from just how badly he's being used by the Galles because since De Vrailly can't be everywhere, they're willing to drug him into suggestibility and encourage his self-destructive habits (How honorable of them). What makes this a civil war is the number of Albans willing to side with the Galles, for personal gain or because they're afraid not to or because they think the Galles can do a better job holding back the wild.

Our mercenary heroes cannot afford to just focus on human problems though. Thorn has finished rebuilding himself and his army but finds himself in thrall to a greater darkness with a greater agenda. One that may lead to the destruction of the whole of human civilization as a prelude to the real campaign of destruction. Thorn is coming and he intends to burn the entire north of Alba into ashes and to avoid making the same mistakes he did last time, he's found himself an ally. That being Hartmut Li Orgellus, who was introduced in one of the many, many plotlines of the second book. Hartmut is also a Galle, sent into the wild north of Alba by their king to create a Gallish presence there and destroy the northern frontier of Alba and thus any resistance to De Vrailly. Hartmut is in a lot of ways De Vrailly if you stripped away most of his good traits. He's ruthless to the point of condoning slaughter and depravity, overriding his own officers when they object. He refuses to even speak to commoners, issuing orders as if he was speaking into the thin air. On top of that, he's a hypocrite as he insists that everyone who fights him should follow the rules of chivalry while ignoring any part of chivalry or any other ruleset that would restrain him in any way whatsoever. So, of course, he's willing to ally with the genocidal Thorn and his crew of people eating creatures and monsters. Best of all, their first target is Gabriel's family home where his entire family lives. Well minus one brother who joined the mercenary company.

Luckily our hero isn't without his own allies. As always he has his own crack band of knights, men at arms and archers capable of fighting and killing humans or nonhumans with equal skill and fierceness. The armies of the Morean Empire are marching, due to Gabriel saving the Emperor's life in the last book. In the Wild, there are forces opposing Thorn and they have rallied around the Fairy Knight, a mythical immortal whose magical abilities and fighting skills aren't to be dismissed. Within Alba the forces of the north organize themselves and in the south, the common people stubbornly resist the demands of the Galles, even if it puts the capital city at risk. Gabriel is going to have to convince every one of these groups to put aside their feuds and work together long enough to avoid extinction. Thankfully no one is an idiot about it, but there is still some resistance to the idea of hanging together to avoid hanging separately. If anything I would say that's the overriding theme of this book. If we don't learn to hang together and deal with our differences constructively, then we're all going to be hanged separately and leave nothing behind but bones to be gnawed on. This is further supported by another theme: how easily the law can be subverted if we don’t all hang together and insist on its enforcement. The Galles are able to ride roughshod over a lot of people because people kept refusing to work together and force the Galles to respect the law. Often they went to the King to do it, only to find he was either uninterested or unable to enforce the law fully. Mr. Cameron makes a point in this story that the Rule of Law great when all of us are working together; but if enough people simply ignore the law or refuse to enforce it, then it simply stops working. Which is food for thought (I can think of a few… poignant examples). Still, Gabriel is a powerful sorcerer in his own right and one of the great knights of the age, so if anyone is going to do it, it's him. After all, while Gabriel thinks he's the smartest and most capable man in any room he walks into, he’s more often right than wrong and even when he's wrong, he's smart enough to realize it and recover from it. But Gabriel is finding himself with a long list of work to do (I can imagine his daily agenda…). He'll have to rescue the Queen and protect her child; put a fast and decisive end to the civil war before it starts and cripples them against the armies of Thorn; and then gather everyone together to effectively resist Thorn and his new master. He's also got to do this fast because everything is already kicking off. Even as he arrives the plots are spinning, the armies are marching and he is running out of time.

I definitely enjoyed this book more than the last one Fell Sword. The plot threads are all coming together, so I can see how the plots are related, there are fewer story-lines to juggle and the action is well written and paced. There's a lot of action here too, as there are about a dozen battles as the various forces struggle to unite for the decisive battle of the war. I will make a note though that no one is safe in this book. There are a number of viewpoint characters that have been with us the entire series who die and often their death is in a single line. Which is brutally realistic but might be a turn off for some readers. There are some new characters introduced but mercifully few since the cast of these novels is already so large. The world-building is slightly expanded but for the most part with the book taking place in Alba we just learn more about the places we've already been which I like. Honestly, I think this is the best book of the series so far. Much is revealed, many stories are tied together and we get the pay off that was denied to us in Fell Sword, in some ways it feels like Fell Sword was just build-up for this book. While the ending is open enough to continue the story (which is good because there are two books left) it is conclusive enough that the book is a full story all on its own. I'm giving The Dread Wyrm by Miles Cameron an A. It took a while to get here but it was worth the trip.

This week's review was chosen by our patrons. If you would like a vote on upcoming reviews for as little as a dollar a month, consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads the poll for September is still open! Next week, we'll be reviewing a novella entitled She Who Hears All Whispers by DaVaun Sanders. An author whose work was reviewed in the dim early days of this review series (go ahead and look up the Seedbearing Prince for an example of Mr. Sanders work though!). Thank you and as always Keep Reading.

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She Who Hears All Whispers
By DaVaun Sanders


It's been a while since I've reviewed anything by Mr. Sanders. In this review series grand tradition of full disclosure, I know Mr. Sanders. We've worked together, being part of the same training class in 2014 where he was dubbed Mr. Radio for having the best voice in the class (Don’t worry, I’ll keep Frigid honest). Since then, we've both transferred to different departments but I still consider him a friend and count myself lucky to do so. That said, as my editor will tell you, friendship will not stop me from giving an honest opinion and I will attempt to do so here.

Mr. Sanders has lived in Phoenix since 2002 after earning a degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He started writing novels after the Great Recession forced him to step away from architecture in 2008. He has since then written three novels, a variety of short stories and scripts, and found time to start a family with his wife. He is currently the proud father of twins. He is also an acquiring editor of Fiyah, an online magazine for Black writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror (Good for him!). All while working a day job. My current theory is that Mr. Sanders doesn't sleep for more than 2 hours a day but I could be wrong (No no. You’re probably right.).

She Who Hears All Whispers take place in the disease-ravaged Revealed Lands within a society that embraces the very thing ravaging it (I will not talk about the lumpenproletariat, I swear). The Phage as it is called is a collection of highly infectious diseases with a variety of symptoms, none of them good. At best it causes shortness of breath and saps strength from your limbs. At worst it causes crippling pain while encasing your body in orange growths some of which are flesh-eating (Nice). To be honest there seem to be at least dozens of the Phage, all with different effects on the human body. It can be airborne, spread through fluids, blood, all manner of methods of infection. Society has embraced the Phage due to the fact that some people can use the Phage to fuel what I'm gonna call magic (Well then. That… alright. I’ve seen people sacrifice more for arcane power.). Powerful Phagelords can fly, destroy entire city districts with phagefire and listen to conversations from vast distances. The Phagelords use people called kaydka (fun fact, this is a Somali word which means reservoir as near as I can puzzle it out) to carry reserves of the phage for them that they can draw power out of. The Kaydka themselves can also take their own Kaydka, making themselves into a center-point of an entire system of disease-driven strength (... Holy Fuck it’s a magical ponzi scheme). This has evolved into a system of vassalage and oaths all focused on infecting people and using that infection to feed magical power to the people at the top. This is sealed by a blood ritual called Qaadasho (another Somali word meaning something like to take or captivate) which increases the amount of phage you can pull from a person and the distance you can pull from using an exchange of blood and flesh to link the two people. It's gory but feels very real as a ritual. (Can you imagine the thought process by which all of this is discovered? “Hey Steve, I bet if we become blood buddies I can use your disease for power” {well if you’re physically close to them you can pull power without needing a connection, the ritual just makes it easier and work over longer distances, plus allow you build that pyramid!})Worse it seems that the more destructive the strain to human well-being, the more power you can draw from it. So the elites at the top also experiment with the phage to create more powerful varieties to infect their people with... So they can draw from it for more magical power in their struggles against each other (No, this… this isn’t an allegory at all! Nope!). They do have to be careful, however, it is possible to draw all the phage out of a Kaydha, thus rendering them immune to the phage for the rest of their lives. These people are called damiyann (I have to admit here that my research broke down here can I couldn't find any sources for the word) and many yearn for such a gift and many who fear it.

The city of Mataano Qahndo is one of the great cities of the Revealed Lands, ruled by She Who Hears All Whispers, who also called the Matriarch or the Boundless Mother. She is served by her lieutenant phagelords, called The Matriarch's Daughters. The Daughters provide much of the administration and justice in the city, carrying out their overlord's will. They are all also magic users with Kaydha of their own to draw from magnifying their powers. So while even the Matriarch can't be everywhere at once, she doesn't have to. The Daughters can be in plenty of places. The city sits next to the Bay, widely believed to be the source of the phage. The Matriarch sends children out to dive into the bay and drag up animals and plants that might have new strains of phage to increase her own powers. This gives her an edge over rivals and allows The Matriarch to rule as an unquestioned goddess dispensing reward and punishment, cure and infection as she sees fit among her people. As a result, there is a constant stream of rural people, often called riftlanders come looking for a better life for even a Kaydha can find more luxury and comfort than some of the villages out there (Given these diseases… Fuck. Okay, this is thoroughly dystopian.).

One of those riftlanders is a woman named Suraldisha but she's not coming to Mataano Qahndo in search of a new life. She's coming to end a life but not just any life. Suraldisha is aiming at the most dangerous of targets. She's on a mission to kill the Matriarch herself (Good for her! You go girl! Slay [the] Queen! Slaaaay!). She's bringing a dress, a fish gutting knife, a bag filled with small bones and a secret that might be enough to set the whole city on fire. That fire would be metaphorical and literal by the way. She'll have to get inside the city, avoid an active guard force, survive phage pits and more just for a shot at her goal. However, she is possessed of a monomaniacal focus on her goal and just enough mental agility to reach out to others that could be of help to her. There's also the small fact that she doesn't have much if anything left to lose so she is willing to give up anything to achieve her goal because that's the only thing of value left to her. Interestingly enough though, the question isn't just can she take down the Matriarch, but is that enough? Because while the Matriarch is a tyrant and quite likely deserves death (there is no likely about that), in the end, she's only an element of a giant system of misery and oppression that runs on the devastation and sickness of its people. Kill one phagelord and another simply rises in her place. Because it's the nature of complex systems to make everyone expendable, including the elites. Destroy one member of the elite class and the system will swiftly fill that void with another one. The new boss may be worse or better than the old boss but the dictates of the system will limit their behavior. If for no other reason that if they don't tailor their behavior to the system they find themselves in, they'll be replaced by someone who does. Suraldisha may have to ask herself if simply murdering arguably the most powerful woman in the world is enough to achieve what she wants... Or if she needs to set her sights even higher than that.

As I've noted in Seedbearing Prince, the book series by Mr. Sanders that I reviewed in the past, there are few people out there who can world build with the kind of vivid imagination that Mr. Sanders brings to the table and do so as thoroughly and believably (From what I’m seeing...yeah.). She Who Hears All Whispers is a short book but Mr. Sanders uses his space with efficiency and gusto, keeping tightly focused on the story but giving us enough detail and information to realize that there's an entire world out there beyond Sauraldisha's experience. The story also benefits from well-written action and magical duels and Sauraldisha’s own intense character. She is a very driven and focused woman but not an idiot, despite making mistakes throughout the story. I will note that here it is a good thing to have your protagonist make mistakes and have to pay a price for those mistakes and Mr. Sanders doesn't hesitate on that front. Sauraldisha does, however, dominate the story completely and doesn't leave much room for the small supporting cast. So we're not given much delving into their motivations or thoughts. Given that some of them were more educated about the world around them and interesting characters in their own right, that's unfortunate in my opinion. Some transitions in the story aren't as smooth as I would like. I understand what Mr. Sanders was trying to do with his final reveal and why it was done but I'll honest and say I just don't enjoy that style. I can't go into that without spoilers but I'll just say it wasn't for that it would have gotten a higher grade. Still, She Who Hears All Whispers is fantastic at what it does and how it does it. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in taking a look at a strange new world and deeply and vividly human characters within it. She Who Hears All Whispers by DaVaun Sanders gets a B and a recommendation from me, it is available both in print and kindle.

For those of you who would like to take a direct look at Fiyah Magazine, please take a look. Let them know I sent ya. https://www.fiyahlitmag.com/

Now, this review wasn't chosen by our patrons but as part of my goal of looking at stories review by independent authors. That said, if you like the idea of someone grabbing stories by independent writers and giving them a review, consider joining us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where you can vote on what books get reviewed for as little as a 1$ a month. Next week I return with the Dragon Republic by Ms. R.F. Kuang, join us to take look at the sequel to the Poppy War! Until then, as always Keep Reading!

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2019 10:48 pm 
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The Dragon Republic
R.F. Kuang


Ms. Kuang was born in Guangzhou China on May 29th, 1996, but she grew up in Dallas Texas after her family moved there in 2000. She graduated from Greenhill school in 2013 and attended Georgetown University as part of the debate team. She was in China during a gap year working as a debate coach when she began writing the first book of this series: The Poppy War, which was published in 2018. This is the same year she graduated from Georgetown with a degree in Chinese History. She is currently pursuing her Masters of philosophy in Modern Chinese Studies at Cambridge University, where she is researching the wartime fiction of Northeast writers from 1931 to 1945 (Nice!). The Poppy War itself made quite a splash, being listed by Amazon, Goodreads, and The Guardian as one of the best books of 2018, additionally, I reviewed it and gave it an A. The novel also won the Crawford and Compton Crook Awards for Best First Novel and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. The internet also embraced this for the most part with Reddit dubbing Ms. Kuang Grimdark's Darkest Daughter and in this novel, Ms. Kuang shows no interest in pumping the breaks. Before I jump into this, there are going to be spoilers for The Poppy War here. I want to take this moment to really encourage you to read that book first and then come back and read this review.

The Dragon Republic picks some months after the end of The Poppy War. Our main character Rin has learned of her heritage as a Speerly. The Speerlies were an island people who worshiped the Phoenix, one of the sixty-four gods of the Nikan Pantheon (and others). Because of this, they could connect with the Phoenix to channel fire. Rin forged a connection with the Phoenix and became a Shaman: a person who has a direct connection with one of the gods and can use their powers in the physical world. This comes at a massive price, as Shamans must constantly duel their gods for control of their bodies and if they lose, often destruction and death are the results. Worse, eventually, every Shamen does lose and is overtaken by the god who is connected with them. The only solution for this historically was to entomb them alive in coffins of stone inside a mountain with properties that prevented the gods from breaking out. So if you thought your job had a crap retirement package, at least you have a retirement package (I mean, strictly speaking, this is a retirement package. She will be retired while being kept inside a package of sorts.). Rin isn't thinking about that however, as her list of immediate concerns is vast and overwhelming. First off is dealing with (or refusing to deal with) the fact that Rin used the powers of the Phoenix to trigger a massive volcanic eruption on the home island of her enemies the Mugen Federation and basically genocided their civilization (Is there a Hague? Someone build The Hague!). Second is the fact that her own Empress sold out Nikan to the Mugen and Rin refuses to die until the Empress is dead (Death to the monarchy!). This is gonna be a problem because the Empress is herself a Shaman and the Viper isn't an easy god to get rid of. The third is the fact that she and the rest of her Shaman empowered unit the Cike are outlawed with a massive bounty on their heads. Fourth her somewhat marginal alliance with a Pirate Queen (based on a historical figure like so many characters are in this book) isn't really paying off for her. Fifth, the Mugen Federation may be dead but there are still large armies of Mugen in the field and they are running rampant in the countryside, meaning the nation is an utter shambles. Lastly, it's hard for her to care about any of these problems or do anything to really solve them because she is so far gone in the throes of opium addiction that rational lucid thoughts are novel experiences (That seems like a really bad way to keep an angry god in check… someone get her Narcan and addiction counseling!). Now I'm not trying to knock Rin for that because look, you try surviving the invasion of your homeland by a vastly more advanced and better-organized foe, being experimented on like a lab rat and losing the only person you felt understood you and see where you end up (I’d probably end up snapping and becoming Stalin…).

Rin has few if any human ties left and a desire to keep the Phoenix from eating her soul. Opium at least lets her have a few hours of peaceful oblivion, so I see the temptation. Even if the addiction is slowly killing her. However, that option is going to be taken away from her. Her old classmate Nezha’s family not only survived the war but kept their power base intact. You see Nezha's father is the ruler of the Dragon Province and because the province avoided the invasion, their biggest problem is dealing with refugees (All on my own… with a million refugees… A cookie for the reference!). Looking out at the burning wreckage that once was the rest of their country, they've decided there's only one answer to this crisis. A good old fashioned civil war, but Vaisra, Nezha's father and the man in charge has a new vision for Nikan. He's going to create a Republic, even if everyone else has to die to get it (Oh this is gonna be bad…). Especially if the Empress has to die, which certainly gets Rin full-hearted support. In this book, we get a closer look at Nezha who served as an antagonist in the first half of The Poppy War. He was everything that Rin wasn't, wealthy, privileged, and prized by teachers and their peers. However, Nezha has his own secrets and his family has their issues boiling under the surface. Just how much they're going to impact the war and Rin is something you'll have to read the book to find out. Another burning issue is that the Dragon Province can't do it alone and the Empress isn't about to meekly shuffle off stage so Vaisra is turning to the other great foreign power beyond the sea.

The Hesperians are basically westerners, they're white, blue-eyed, blonde and tall. Even more technologically advanced than the Mugenese with firearms and airships and because they have a whole continent to themselves in the west, they're more numerous (No! Don’t do it! They’ll enslave your people in colonial oppression!). They worship a single male creator deity and consider the people of Nikan to be racially inferior to them. Ms. Kuang doesn't pull any punches here, as the Hesperians actions and history in Nikan basically mirrors the West in our world. In short, deeply exploitative and imperialist action covered by high minded rhetoric that falls flat in the face of the pervasive racism coloring everything they say and do. When I say the West here, yeah I am including the United States, as our own history in China is full of exploitative actions. While we never sought to make a colony out of China like we did the Philippines, the fact of the matter is we spent a lot of manpower, time, and money using Chinese labor for our economic benefit and trying to remake China in our own image. The desires of the Chinese be damned (And then we went and passed the Chinese Exclusion Act so they couldn’t even emigrate out of the clusterfuck we helped create. And the army slaughtered Chinese rail workers who demanded better conditions etc etc.). You can debate whether or not the individual westerners in China had benevolent intentions or not but you can't debate that people who are being told they're racially inferior and need to allow the erasing of their entire culture and identity aren't going to see that way. Especially when their nation is being carved up into special zones and they're being exploited for all they're worth; but back to the novel. Our main interaction with the Hesperians is through the Grey Company, a band of priests of the Hesperian god (Oh hell) who have come to decide whether or not Vaisra is socially advanced enough for aid and to study Rin like a lab animal(Thus proving that they are in no position whatsoever to determine who is or is not socially advanced.). The Hesperians are big believers in order (As judged by them, with all their ridiculous self-serving biases.{I’m not sure how you judge social advancement without falling prey to bias, it’s a slippery thing to judge}) and Shamanism is chaotic at the best of times. So the Hesperian’s response to this is to try and find ways to shut down Shamanism whenever possible (Never mind the fact that it is a concrete and certain manifestation of Gods who actually exist. {Ehhh, considering what the gods do here, I’m not sold at taking them at their word as to what they are, clearly they’re supernatural beings of great power but there’s more than one kind of supernatural being} Sure, but at that point defending monotheism, especially aggressively expansionist monotheism, becomes a bit difficult.). I can kind of see the Hesperian argument here, after all, remember that eventually, each Shaman is going to go mad and have to be entombed alive to prevent the god in their head from going on a rampage. On the flip side, Rin is a person and doesn't deserve to be poked and prodded against her will and told she's inferior in every way by a group of judgmental foreigners. Given her experiences with the Mugenese, you can understand why she's not happy about this(Yes).

Rin starts this book lost but still tied to the memories of the people she lost in the first book and unable to believe in herself. This makes her easy prey for Vaisra even though she doesn't believe in democracy. Again being fair, why would she? Rin has never seen or experienced Democracy, it's an alien system that turns everything she knows and has experienced upside down. Especially since having grown up in the poor rural south of Nikan, she knows just how close-minded, ignorant and selfish the average voter would be (See, democracy is great, but there’s a certain… I’ll call it social infrastructure that has to be built up for it. You can’t just impose it on a population by fiat without, ironically, having the political investment of the population first. If you do they won’t be invested in the norms that allow democracy to function.). She's however willing to kill and even die for Vaisra's ideals of a Republic because she can't accept the idea of operating under her own power and agency (See what I mean? Democracy requires exactly that and without it… well…). Rin has to wrestle with the idea that there's no one she can trust to tell her what to do and she needs to chart her own course and make her own decisions. Being Rin, she will, of course, have to learn this the hard way... The very hard way as she has to confront the Empress and worse while worrying about just how far will Vaisra go to protect her from the foreigners he insists he needs more than anything. This might seem like odd behavior for a woman who can summon forth the power of a god, but it makes perfect sense for someone reeling under the weight of the last big decision they made. After all, when you ask yourself what's the worst that can happen and the response is you could destroy entire civilizations in a fit of rage and grief... You tend to want to avoid making decisions. Rin doesn't have that luxury because - given her power - everyone will try to use her or get rid of her. So rapidly the choice is for Rin to become a disposable pawn in someone else's game or become a player in her own right. There's also the question of if Rin doesn't believe in the old imperial system or in the new Republic that is being promised, what does she believe in? What is she going to be fighting for beyond her own freedom, especially since she's gonna need people to sign on with her? Who are those people going to be, what is she going to offer them, is she even going to do this or decide to stay a pawn and avoid the crushing weight of responsibility?

In The Poppy War, we saw the creation of Rin's personality and power. I noted that in The Poppy War, Rin had plenty of choices. She could have chosen a different path than Shamanism, she could have tried different ways to succeed but she didn't. Because she wanted the power. However, as we see in the Dragon Republic having power is one thing, knowing what the hell you're doing with the power or why you use it is another. Rin learns what and why she's using her powers for and whether that's something she can get from someone else or if she can only generate that from within herself. It's far from the only conflict in the book. This is a book full of grand naval battles, magical duels, shocking reveals about the past and even an elemental duel in the sky above a massive naval battle for the fate of a nation. I like the fact that Ms. Kuang doesn't pull her punches here, the Empire is one massive mess in the aftermath of the Mugen invasion. On top of that, the end of the invasion doesn't end the factionalism or divisions within the Nikan nation but makes them worse by adding pressure to the fault lines. This isn't a cheerful book but it's one I had trouble putting down and it's one operating on several different levels. The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang gets an A, as it matches the skill and intelligence that The Poppy War showed and then some. As Ms. Kuang has promised book 3 either in 2020 or 2021. I'm looking forward to it. If only to see how much bigger a mess Rin makes.

If you enjoyed this review and others like it, I encourage you to consider joining us a https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads, where for a 1$ a month you can vote on upcoming reviews, and for 3 dollars see the full comments of your mad editor and my own valiant responses. Join us next week, as we end August on a Non-fiction note and check the Secret History of Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford! Until then, Keep Reading!

Red Text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer, Garvin Anders.

_________________
"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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