Book Club: “Will of the Empress” and “Ammonite”




1. The opinions on this one seemed to veer starkly into love or hate. Which camp did you fall into? Why?

While I rarely actually use the word “hate” in regards to books, I have to say that for a good chunk of Ammonite, I was more on the dislike or just severely bored side of things. At the beginning, I was surprisingly into it from the first page, as Marghe prepared to embark onto Jeep. Griffith is clearly an extremely fine writer and world builder, and I found the whole idea of this world fascinating. I loved the Jodie Foster in Contact vibe of Marghe on the Estrade. But from her landing on Jeep to her journey through the Tehuantepec, I struggled. This may perhaps be because I am a wimpy, squeamish reader, and her experience with the Echraidhe was so harsh and bleak that I just didn’t enjoy it. By the end, of course, I realized that that experience with the Echraidhe was essential for the final, exciting action of the story, but it just took so long to get to that exciting action.

Which I think brings us to the real question of why we did or did not like this book, as was also brought up in the Goodreads discussion, which is: especially in sci-fi and fantasy, how important is the balance of description and action? I think it’s tough, because I actually really did love the last third of the book. I stayed up late to find out what happened next, and at the end, I really was glad I got to experience Jeep as a reader. And the only reason I probably did care about Jeep so much by then was because Griffith had described it so painstakingly well. (I also found Griffith’s short note at the end about why she wrote Ammonite extremely powerful, and important.) Yet at the same time, I only really started to get excited about picking up the book when stuff actually, like, started happening.

2. There was also some discussion about Marghe’s pregnancy. Was it too out of the blue?

Some readers thought the pregnancy came out of nowhere. And I sort of agree. It was like, “Whoa, first date through a woman’s blood stream, and you’re already impregnating each other! They move fast on Jeep!” At the same time, though, it still worked for me because Marghe and Thenike’s relationship, which I actually enjoyed, had been built up so steadily and wonderfully leading up to then.

3. Were there characters or plot points you wish you knew more about?

Danner and Haim were mentioned by readers as not getting enough play, that it would have been nice to see more of their backstories, as well. I also think that going back to Port Central to break up Marghe’s storylines more often would have helped move it along more for me. They wouldn’t have had to be long chapters, but it would have been a good reminder of the conflict and tension of the story that’s still there, that you know is going to come to a head eventually, while Marghe wanders over the landscape and almost dies in the snow and stuff.

4. Was Marghe’s story realistic?

Meaning, do you think it’s realistic for a person to give up their former lives and be absorbed into a new world so completely? I feel personally torn about this. My first reaction is yes, her story was completely believable, because Griffith wrote it so well. I really enjoyed her transformation within herself, and I think her life as a viajera fits completely well with her previous life as an anthropologist—to constantly see new places, to hear and absorb people’s stories. It really is becoming the truest version of herself.

But the more I thought about it—especially with the ending of the novel that truly isolates Jeep from the rest of the universe—it seems a little strange that Marghe never would have even once had a slightly remorseful or wistful thought about never, for instance, seeing her dad again. Yes, they were clearly estranged, but we never really hear about him again after the scene with him in the beginning.

I’m always a little cautious about the idea of someone giving up their past life 100% completely, because it in fact doesn’t seem realistic, or healthy—which is why I was happy that Thenike accepted Marghe’s need to return to Port Central to check on the well being of Danner and the Mirrors. While Thenike clearly needed to trust that Marghe was committed to her new life as a viajera, she also understood her need to still look out for her old kith, as any reasonable parter should. It made me feel confident and hopeful about their relationship in the future.

What were other thoughts you had about either of these novels?

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