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An engrossing read

By Lyn Thorne-Alder, author of Side Quest

Sep 7, 2012: I read this series of stories in one sitting, unwilling to step away from the screen until I had finished.

Although the world of Kherishdar sometimes makes me uncomfortable, I attribute that to the depth of worldbuilding and Hogarth’s ability to portray the alien so very clearly.

Unlike other reviewers, I didn’t feel that the story suffered from the multiple narrators; despite the different viewpoints, this is a story about Shame, and we see him through the entire story. Indeed, I enjoyed the Admonishments more than the Aphorisms.

Well worth a read, if you are willing to be made a little bit uncomfortable on the way.

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All things have a purpose, the trick is seeing it

By Teresa Garcia, author of Selkies' Skins: Temple and Skinquest

Jul 18, 2012: Another "story" in Kherishdar, or more accurately set of stories, we become involved with Shame. I particularly enjoy how in this culture, Shame is both a person and a "thing/feeling." Shame, in Kherishdar, is not so much "negative" as an opportunity for transformation.

These stories are all tales of transformations. The most intriguing though, is that of the common thread in them all, and the Priest that so lovingly tends to his people.

Each story is told by a different narrator, but they all have to come to "our" culture through the same translator (the author). This is what causes the confusion that the editor noted in his review. It is an interesting approach, intentional or not, and as I often read things that are translated by Thomas Cleary from their original (Asian) languages into English, and have noted similar results . . . it makes this set of tales even more believable.

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A Darker Look at Paradise

By S. D. Youngren, author of Rowena's Page

Oct 19, 2010: A companion piece to the author’s popular The Aphorisms of Kherishdar, M. C. A. Hogarth’s The Admonishments of Kherishdar explores the darker side of its alien society. Where the Aphorisms exalts the contentment of the many who fit in, the Admonishments tastes the pain of the few who do not, and, usually, that pain’s resolution.

The Aphorisms should be read first for general background, among other things, and an understanding of an empire in which caste, family, and the common good are all-important. The vignettes explain not only these larger issues but the philosophy and outlook of the people as well, all with the help of a character known as The Calligrapher. The Calligrapher relates these vignettes, each containing a little lesson, expressly in order to explain his society to us. With his help we find out how his alien (yet somehow Asiatic) society is supposed to function, and why. In the vignettes of the Admonishments, we find out what happens when members of the society go astray—and, in some cases, why these transgressions are considered a problem.

At the heart of The Admonishments is the official disciplinarian of Kherishdar, a shadowy figure known as Shame. It is Shame’s duty and his calling not to simply punish the criminals and miscreants of his society but to leave them enlightened and very, very unlikely to ever fall into error—at least, not the same error—again. Therefore the title: Admonishments.

These tend not to be comfortable stories. Importantly, they are told not by Shame but by the people he confronts. They are about anger, resentment and punishment, among other things, and are not so generally heartwarming as the Aphorisms. They are, however, sharper and more immediate, and, I think, more accessible in the sense of being more straightforward and focused. The transgression is explained, the admonishment makes sense, and (we hope) the pain is resolved.

Not all of these offenses are recognizable as crimes in our society; in Kherishdar, we find, one can be corrected for not wanting children, for wanting to work past retirement age, or for, of all things, harboring unwarranted feelings of guilt. Readers of the Aphorisms will not be surprised to find that the transgressions and the (sometimes inventive) corrections reflect a strict caste society with an unyielding emphasis on conformity. That the person who metes out these admonishments is called Shame is no accident.

Also in keeping with the Aphorisms, Shame’s corrections are based on intense understanding of each person’s failing. He finds ways to get people to identify with their victims, ways to get them to see why their society’s rules should be followed, and ways to get them to reconsider their lives. Some of his corrections are harsh; some are gentle. A noble whose fault is an unwillingness to “correct” underlings is bound and read his duties, then released:

"We are done," he said.
    His eyes rested on mine, waiting. I frowned as I met them. "Is there something else?" I asked, fretful.
    He said, "This is your Correction, rathkedi. How do you feel?"
    "Clean," I answered unthinking, and then my breath stopped. "Oh. This is what I deny them . . . !"

Eventually, though, it understandably gets to be a bit too much for Shame. The corrector himself needs help.

It may sound as though I’m relating a plot, but unless you count the above-mentioned breakdown, there really isn’t one. These are separate vignettes, each Admonishment is narrated by the person being Admonished—not by Shame, not by any one other person.

Which leads me to one of my few complaints. It would have been nice if the narrators had more personality and individuality. These are perhaps not highly valued traits in Kherishdar, but then, the narrators here are rule-breakers, and breakers of disparate rules at that. They might sound a little less similar to one another.

There is another way in which sound and style work against the Admonishments as compared to the Aphorisms. The language here is fluid and sufficiently graceful, though not as poetic as in the Aphorisms; a disappointment to many readers as the quiet, reflective, rather haiku-like language of the Aphorisms is one of its main attractions. It would be too much to expect the Admonishments to sound the same way; who could be so tranquil while being admonished? Consequently, the Admonishments are related in a style that’s just a bit poetic . . . poetic enough to make it a proper companion piece but not too poetic (or peaceful) for the subject matter.

Like the Aphorisms, the Admonishments offer food for thought. The emotional range is wider than in the Aphorisms and the writing does carry this effectively. Some of the crimes are dreadful and their stories, not surprisingly, a little hard to take. These stories offer, I think, more impact than do the lessons of the Aphorisms. The resonance here is strong and universal; the imaginative view of an alien culture takes a definite back seat. As with the Aphorisms, post-vignette Discussions are offered which are worth reading.

I must admit I was disappointed when I reached the end and got to Hogarth’s “Coda;” I was expecting one more story, perhaps an epilogue, but found “only” a picture. Not to denigrate the artwork—I wish I could draw like that—but I was hoping (and assuming) that the work would wrap up a little less abruptly. I guess I wasn’t quite ready to leave.

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