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Author Topic: PC159: Judgment of Swords and Souls  (Read 7669 times)
Talia
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« on: May 31, 2011, 07:25:02 AM »

PodCastle 159: Judgment of Swords and Souls

by Saladin Ahmed.

Read by Stephanie Morris.

Originally appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Layla bas Layla’s breath came raggedly and her blue silks were soaked
with sweat, but she was pleased with her performance. Ten beheaded in
threescore water-drops. She lowered her forked sword.

The clay-and-rag dummy skulls littered the packed-dirt training yard
of the Lodge of God. Boulder-faced Shaykh Saif kicked one aside. He wore
the same habit of silk blouse and breeches as she – he had been a
member of the Order for thirty years longer than she — but even smiling,
his craggy features somehow made the bright blue garments seem muted.

“Only seven-and-ten years old, and you’re better with the forked
sword than I was as a Dervish in my prime. And I was the best, God
forgive me my boasts!”

Layla bowed and sheathed her sword. She ran a hand over her stubbly
head and wondered idly how it would feel to have long hair like the
women outside the Lodge of God.

As if he sensed her thoughts, Shaykh Saif’s smile faded. “Almighty
God willing, someday perhaps your soul will be as disciplined as your
sword arm!” There was a reprimand in his eyes as well as his words.
Layla fingered the red silk scarf wound around her blue scabbard, the
only difference between her garments and her teacher’s. It was the
cause of the discord that was tearing the Lodge of God apart.

She said nothing.


Rated PG.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2011, 06:49:08 AM by Talia » Logged
yicheng
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« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2011, 10:53:41 AM »

Great world-building.  Good imagery.

I felt the ending was a real let-down though.  After all that she and mentors sacrificed, she just gives up her calling (something she's spent the better part of her life doing) in order to become some sort of wandering bandit.  That part just seems completely incongruous with the rest of the story.  It makes me think that if her morality and code were that easy to set down, perhaps she doesn't belong in the Dervish Order after all.
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dragonsbreath
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« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2011, 03:36:54 PM »

I liked the ending. It shows that corruption is found everywhere, especially when human beings are involved. History as shown that the worst form of corruption is found in organized religions covering all faith traditions. This corruption is so destructive in that it can destroy a person's faith in that which is truly beyond corruption - God.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2011, 10:14:15 PM »

I was a little underwhelmed, honestly, especially given how much I liked the previous two stories.  There weren't a lot of surprises.  No twists or new or interesting ways to look at things.  The seemingly harmless oath is indeed harmless.  The good guys are strong and brave and undone only by treachery.  The small-minded petty people are revealed to be small-minded and petty.  Then we end with the final scene from "Hamlet," except that instead of dying tragically, the protag just gets kicked out of the place where nobody likes her and her only two friends have just died.  (Really, why would she have wanted to stay?  Around about the time she "realizes" that they intend to exile her, I was going, "So?  Sounds awesome.  This place kind of sucks anyway.")

It was nicely written and it passed the time, but I didn't find it particularly affecting.  It felt like this was a backstory written about a (perhaps overly) beloved badass female swordswoman character from some other piece.  (In particular, the ending lines about finding "many more" pieces of red silk felt odd for the character as we'd seen her.  She had previously been conflicted and insistent on the scarf because of her mother, but then suddenly she's actually just vain and wants lots more silk scarves?  I felt like I was supposed to go, "Ah, that's why [famous character from other story] is always wearing those fifteen scarves in every shade of red," but since I didn't have that kind of point of reference, it just came across as an abrupt shift in her attitude.)
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iamafish
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« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2011, 07:06:50 AM »

I liked the conflict that the MC experienced between her commitment to God and commitment to her mother, although i would have a bit more self-doubt in her mind. She never experiences any cognitive dissonance between wearing the scarf to honour her mother and not wearing it because it is forbidden. The conflict was all external.

Once this conflict resolved itself into something much larger (as it was always going to), i found the plot fairly standard and uninspiring. I guessed the poison bit almost immediately - that whole thing is a bit tired in the form it arrives in here; you really need to do something interesting with it for it to be effective.

the world building was pretty cool. I especially liked the religious sect that was created here. it was a very interesting take on several different traditions from around the world - the scriptures were fairly western, but the warrior-monks seemed to be more reminiscent of a more eastern tradition.

cool story, but not one i'd return to in a hurry.
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Leprejuan
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« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2011, 08:08:40 AM »

I was a little underwhelmed, honestly, especially given how much I liked the previous two stories.  There weren't a lot of surprises.  No twists or new or interesting ways to look at things.  The seemingly harmless oath is indeed harmless.  The good guys are strong and brave and undone only by treachery.  The small-minded petty people are revealed to be small-minded and petty.  Then we end with the final scene from "Hamlet," except that instead of dying tragically, the protag just gets kicked out of the place where nobody likes her and her only two friends have just died.  (Really, why would she have wanted to stay?  Around about the time she "realizes" that they intend to exile her, I was going, "So?  Sounds awesome.  This place kind of sucks anyway.")

It was nicely written and it passed the time, but I didn't find it particularly affecting.  It felt like this was a backstory written about a (perhaps overly) beloved badass female swordswoman character from some other piece.  (In particular, the ending lines about finding "many more" pieces of red silk felt odd for the character as we'd seen her.  She had previously been conflicted and insistent on the scarf because of her mother, but then suddenly she's actually just vain and wants lots more silk scarves?  I felt like I was supposed to go, "Ah, that's why [famous character from other story] is always wearing those fifteen scarves in every shade of red," but since I didn't have that kind of point of reference, it just came across as an abrupt shift in her attitude.)

This was completely my experience.  After the other two entertaining stories, I may have had high expectations.  I felt as if I was reading the backstory about the red scarf bandit, not an interesting story of its own.  If the character went on and deepened, came to grips with her earlier vanity and lack of foresight, it might be interesting.  For example, she brushes off the death and or maiming SHE did of men who were unimportant to her.  If she were to deal with them as people, that would make a great story.

Having her transfer her insistence on the scarf to just any old silk scarf was uninteresting and unbelievable.  Again, if it is a backstory issue, it's understandable.  Just not good storytelling.

I only wish the ending HAD been more Hamlet-like in that I would have liked Layla bas Layla to have scraped the evil sheik with his own sword.  He would still have died, she might still have been cast out, but it would have been refutation of his lies and would have been more satisfying to me as a reader.  The fact that evil was allowed to stand, good failed, and then she went off to be a bandit left a sour taste for me. I immediately quoted (or misquoted), "Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this thing for?" 
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2011, 11:58:47 AM »

Damn, I love me some Saladin Ahmed.

This reads like the beginning of something, the further adventures of the mad female former dervish Layla, part of a larger world.

I do agree that Layla turning the antagonist's sword against him might have been more satisfying, but I get the feeling that's not the author's point, which (IMHO) is the heartbreaking inevitable clash of idealism (Layla) with reality (the corrupt power-hungry Zaid). Simply revealing the instrument of his treachery wouldn't have swayed anyone all that much. It HAD to come down to a bloodbath. Besides, Layla's far too (naively?) idealistic to use poison herself.
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l33tminion
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« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2011, 01:10:23 PM »

In particular, the ending lines about finding "many more" pieces of red silk felt odd for the character as we'd seen her.  She had previously been conflicted and insistent on the scarf because of her mother, but then suddenly she's actually just vain and wants lots more silk scarves?

I think the line is meant to read as a bitter, sour-grapes statement from a character who's lost everything:  "Who cares.  It's just a red scarf.  There are other red scarves."

One level out, the color red is a symbol of a fall from grace in that setting.  It's really hammering home with the subtlety of an anvil that the main character hasn't just become an exile, she's turned evil.

I thought it was a good story about how people can make the jump from naive idealist straight to nihilistic realist as soon as they encounter a situation where faith and honor aren't enough.
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Maplesugar
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« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2011, 09:17:17 AM »

I also felt "underwhelmed". The ending left me wondering what the point of the story was. I am a great fan of swordswomen who carve their place in a male-dominated society, and was hoping that "Judgment of Swords and Souls" would deliver. I wanted an uplifting, empowering story; instead the main character breaks and flees in the face of tragedy.
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washer
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« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2011, 03:42:17 PM »

A lot of people are pointing out that the ending was abrupt and inconsistent with Layla's previously established actions.  I'm in the same camp there.  She was a very devout young woman who'd dedicated her life to these guys' cause, but when she's forced to leave them she pretty much instantly says "Eh, guess I'll start the brigandry."  Didn't add up and it was really jarring to me.  I've listened to a lot of stories here where the denouement threw me for a loop and made me re-examine the story I'd just listened to, but this one was just confusing.

Also on the topic of the ending.  In an opportunity to prevent discord, the one monk judging the competition doesn't deign to notice that both of the bad guys cheat badly.  That in itself seemed strange, but I could see it happening.  What I found unrealistic was that when Layla loudly accuses Zaid of being a poisoner in front of everyone, no one sides with her.  She has not one supporter in the entire monastery (would that even be the right word?).  And not even people supporting her - there isn't a single person who doubts Zaid's account and tries to fight for the other side, or even speak out and say "Hey, something's fishy here."  In real-life, with this competition taking place in plain view of the assembled company, surely someone would have qualms about the events that transpired.

I love Saladin Ahmed's previously two stories, and I think I would have loved this one as well if not for the ending.

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Lionman
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« Reply #10 on: June 07, 2011, 10:08:06 AM »

I was a little underwhelmed, honestly, especially given how much I liked the previous two stories.  There weren't a lot of surprises.  No twists or new or interesting ways to look at things.  The seemingly harmless oath is indeed harmless.  The good guys are strong and brave and undone only by treachery.  The small-minded petty people are revealed to be small-minded and petty.  Then we end with the final scene from "Hamlet," except that instead of dying tragically, the protag just gets kicked out of the place where nobody likes her and her only two friends have just died.  (Really, why would she have wanted to stay?  Around about the time she "realizes" that they intend to exile her, I was going, "So?  Sounds awesome.  This place kind of sucks anyway.")

It was nicely written and it passed the time, but I didn't find it particularly affecting.  It felt like this was a backstory written about a (perhaps overly) beloved badass female swordswoman character from some other piece.  (In particular, the ending lines about finding "many more" pieces of red silk felt odd for the character as we'd seen her.  She had previously been conflicted and insistent on the scarf because of her mother, but then suddenly she's actually just vain and wants lots more silk scarves?  I felt like I was supposed to go, "Ah, that's why [famous character from other story] is always wearing those fifteen scarves in every shade of red," but since I didn't have that kind of point of reference, it just came across as an abrupt shift in her attitude.)

I have to agree with Scatter on this on several points.  We got to the end of the story, and then ....we were left wanting.  It felt like a prelude to a more in-depth story.  Don't get me wrong, I liked it.  But, as a reader, I want to hear how Justice is played out for the young lady. So, in that respect, it would make a good opening to a further story.  There was enough detail and good world-building going on, you just wonder why this is all we get.

I thought perhaps later, we might see the fellow who lost his fingers being sent to speak with her, since he would no longer be a threat as a swordsman.  So much left over potential to this little story, it could easily have been drawn out into a Podcastle Giant or longer story.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #11 on: June 07, 2011, 11:09:04 AM »

I really liked the beginning to this story, right through the trial. However, as soon as we learned the "rules" for the judgment I knew that something underhanded would happen, and it would likely involve poison. The only surprise for me was that the MC wasn't the one who was poisoned in the initial battle. I re-listened to the denouement, and I guess I can see what the story was going for, but in the end it didn't really take me there.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2011, 08:58:23 AM »

This was good, but not great.  It seemed a little shallow and simple to me, with fairly one dimensional characters that did not stray from their very narrow path.
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2011, 10:21:43 AM »

To me her transition into being a bandit made sense.
She had devoted her body and soul to holy order, only to be constantly told that because of her sex and style of dress that she was inherently weak willed, unintelligent, & being influenced by the evil angel. One can only hear that so long before it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

To me this story is a cautionary tale about religious hypocrisy, if you keep claiming that you are holier and that others are evil for unfounded reasons, eventually you will get a population of people who go around being evil because they were given no other option.

They could have had a great soldier on their side, instead they created an enemy.
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Corcoran
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« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2011, 10:00:35 AM »

Not so great. That may be unfair, but it is not easy to like a story in which religion plays a big part and a negative one, as here, I could scream when I hear discussions about holy scripture. I was from 10 to 14 in a boarding school, run by monks. If religion made four years of your live hell on earth, than every story with a negative touch of religion is hard to like. The reading was nice.
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DKT
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« Reply #15 on: June 09, 2011, 11:10:50 AM »

Corocoran, I'm slightly confused. Would you have liked the story if you felt it had displayed a more positive aspect of religion?
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Corcoran
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« Reply #16 on: June 09, 2011, 11:16:01 AM »

Yes, when in a story religion is used to opress people it hurts me and so I dislike it most of the time
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Scattercat
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« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2011, 03:48:36 PM »

Reading history must be a hoot and a half for you.
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Atras
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« Reply #18 on: June 10, 2011, 08:54:55 AM »

Not so great. That may be unfair, but it is not easy to like a story in which religion plays a big part and a negative one, as here, I could scream when I hear discussions about holy scripture. I was from 10 to 14 in a boarding school, run by monks. If religion made four years of your live hell on earth, than every story with a negative touch of religion is hard to like. The reading was nice.
Was it the religion that was negative, or was it the corruption of the people in charge?  Use of poison was contrary to their faith, the battle was not supposed to blind or kill, is the religion so bad here?

I liked the story.  Fits the Fantasy genre much better than the surreal road trip stuff.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #19 on: June 10, 2011, 11:49:19 AM »

I liked the story.  Fits the Fantasy genre much better than the surreal road trip stuff.

It fits the genre exactly as well. It fits the aspects of the genre you prefer better.

Having preferences is fine; assuming they apply to the whole genre (or everyone else's preferences), not so much.
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