Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Blood of the Hoopoe - Naomi Foyle

The Blood of the Hoopoe is the third volume in Naomi Foyle's Gaian Chronicles. The series combines Gaia theory, Middle Eastern culture, and a post-apocalyptic future in unexpected ways. I got the first book in a giveaway a couple of years ago and decided to stick with the series. Although these books might not be everybody's cup of tea,  I enjoyed reading the previous two volumes a lot. This third volume picks up right after the end of Rook Song. While this third volume is an enjoyable read, I did feel that it lacked a strong story arc of its own. If this series was a trilogy I'd say it suffered from middle book syndrome.

Astra is striking out on her own again. Together with Muzi she is heading into the desert in search of her father. She is still uncomfortable with the role of prophesied unifier that has been cast upon her. This journey may help her find a direction. She leaves behind the Is-Land/Non-Land border in turmoil. The violence has claimed many lives and the situation is rapidly deteriorating towards all out war. With the Sec Gens, Is-Land is well defended, but their defences may well be stretched if more Non-Landers join the opposition. What's more, the leadership of the Sec Gens is beginning to show a worrying disregard of human lives. The rot within is perhaps an even bigger threat than the external enemy.

We get to see quite a bit more of the world than Is-Land and its borders in this novel. Astra takes us further into the polluted wasteland that lies beyond the paradise she grew up in. It is a place littered with the remains of crimes against Gaia and the evidence of the foolish wars fought in the region. It gives Astra new insights into the world and its history, some of which the Gaian elders did not think needed to be included in her education. The place she travels through is a fascinating mix of truly ancient references and more modern history and mythology. It ranges from references to ancient Sumer and Akkadia to early Arabic writing and then on to a lengthy passage containing an account of the ongoing civil war in Syria (including a very unflattering depiction of Bashar al-Assad) turned into something that is part history, part legend. I'm pretty sure I missed half of it.

Part of experiencing life beyond Is-Land is Astra's collision with patriarchal societies. Her upbringing included a level of sexual freedom and gender equality that is unprecedented in the world beyond Is-Land. When she falls in love with Muzi, a complicated relationship fraught with cultural clashes, miscommunication and arguments evolves. They are almost completely on opposite sides of the issue. To Astra sex and marriage are not linked, while Muzi feels he must marry her and gets frustrated when she doesn't agree to a permanent arrangement. Quite a few of the characters in the novel have more pragmatic opinions on the issue but Astra and Muzi are young and sure of how the world is supposed to work. There is something endearing about the whole affair but sometimes you just want to tell them to stop being idiots too.

The novel follows events closer to Is-Land as well. Partly through the eyes of Peat, the Is-Land Sec Gen and Astra's brother. He spirals deeper in the corrupt mess that is Is-Land's border guard. His leader is a man with a distinct sadistic personality and a complete disregard for human life. His ideas on what is acceptable if he can (genetically or psychologically) manipulate the subject into consent is sickening and some of it is quite explicitly described. Through Peat's eyes we see the image of an ecologically sound but morally corrupt state. Astra will have her work cut out for her trying to fix that mess.

Foyle also shows us the conflict from the site of Youth Action Collective, the main organization fighting with the Sec Gens. Their internal conflicts and the impact the huge loss of life has on their community is described in some detail. Military they are clearly inferior so they look for other ways to gain the upper hand. It's a good view into the mind of people desperate enough to fight impossible odds. While such a fight is not exactly rare in genre fiction, the way Foyle links this struggle with cultural expression and identity is very interesting. The movement goes well beyond resistance. It is a political part, art collective, provides community service and so forth. It reminded me a bit of how the Palestinian Hamas movement is organized, sans the religious extremism.

Each of these three strands of the story is pushed forward but with the exception of some of the more personal aspects of Astra's journey, none of them reach any kind of conclusion. While Astra's trip has shown us many interesting things, it is clear that the real resolution of the control conflict in the novel is to be found in Is-Land. Which is where I suspect we'll be going in the fourth volume of the series. In terms of structure it is probably not the strongest book in the series. It does continue the parallels with the current conflicts in the Middle East, as well as the region's history and culture. The Gaia theory inspired politics are slightly less prominent in the book but still very noticeable. It's a combination that continues to attract me. It will be interesting to see how Astra will juggle the competing demands on her time and attention in the next novel.

Book Details
Title: The Blood of the Hoopoe
Author: Naomi Foyle
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Pages: 320
Year: 2016
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-78206-922-5
First published: 2016

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