This is largely a response to the book, rather than plot synopsis. For a plot synopsis, check Amazon’s listing on ‘Songmaster’: http://www.amazon.com/Songmaster-Orson-Scott-Card/dp/0312876629
I attempted reading ‘Songmaster’ once before and gave up, finding it too graphic (in many ways) for my conservation fourteen/fifteen year old tastes. That was the right choice. But now, I found myself wanting to know the conclusion badly and remembering loving the beginning and the way the characters were so exquisitely painted. So, while remembering that it had material about homosexuality and pedophilia that I hadn’t agreed with (and hoping they wouldn’t be major themes), I went back to it.
Songmaster reads almost like non-fiction with its depictions of place, emotion, and, most prominently, pain. In fiction, I often long for conflict, because it moves the story forward, develops characters, and shows how they react to pain. But, in fiction, pain is usually tied up kindly in closure, before too long, and before a character is shattered by it. Not so with ‘Songmaster.’ Almost three hundred pages in, I exclaimed to my dad that ‘everyone is crazy or dead!’ This book journeys to dark places and by the time Card brings the reader out of them, I was tired. Drained. I wanted this book to end, thought it was going on too long, and good Lord, give Ansset a break already. You know things are bad when the only way out for the character seems to be suicide, because you know they just want to die. It’s a rough read after a while, and those themes I didn’t like are pretty darn prominent.
But Ansset doesn’t die. Despite the book’s length, Card brings it out into hope and makes the most of misery in one of the most surprising, controversial endings I’ve read in his books. It is brilliant and exhausting.
But those prominent themes: I think they are bearable. Card examines homosexuality with a careful hand, moving characters’ perceptions of it from suspicion to acceptance or, in some, just apathy to any sexual preference. It’s a little unrealistic that Ansset would have no feelings on the matter, at seventeen (?), but he doesn’t. Okay. Josif, by compaison, is a wonderfully-developed character, just for the depth and breadth of his actions and reactions and precautions. He’s much more than his sexuality or a stereotype and I loved what Card let him be, even if I think Josif, of all people, got hurt the most and did the least.
Connected to Josif… there are periods of violence in this book were almost too graphic. But they weren’t. But they were. But they—gah. They were real. They described reality, and how it doesn’t shutter its windows for children, and yes, there are morgues in the city where a certain child and his caretaker can walk in and watch the embalmer at work, seeing that bodies without souls, bodies after death, are just bodies. And it’s very disturbing, but at the same time believable. There is actual violence too, with swords and self-destruction, and that is also upsetting. I hesitate to call it gratuitous, though it might be. I know it painted some pictures in my head that don’t go away.
Overall, it’s an excellent read of something that shouldn’t have happened to a child, but did, and how even a ‘corruption’ can be lived through. The emotions are honest and unflinching, people live and die, and Card does much more than just record it, he wraps words around it. I love Card’s style of writing and it was reading ‘Enchantment’ and ‘Stonefather’ that made me believe I had to finish ‘Songmaster.’ I don’t regret it, but know that your thoughts will return to this book for a while, and wonder. Its characters really do read a bit like non-fiction, sci-fi aspects aside, and the very end feels… feels like there should have been more. In a movie, there would be. But it is a right ending, and closed.
One final addendum: The cover art’s weird. And the title could just as well as have been Songbird.