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A SCARCITY OF CONDORS by Suanne Laqueur – double review!

Juleón “Jude” Tholet has survival in his DNA. His father, Cleón, lived through imprisonment and torture during Pinochet’s military coup in Chile. His mother, Penny, risked everything to gain her husband’s freedom and flee the country with their newborn son. But as a closeted gay teenager growing up in Vancouver, Jude is targeted by a neighborhood bully called El Cóndor, culminating in a vicious hate crime that forces the Tholets to flee their country again. 

Jude cautiously rebuilds his life in Seattle, becoming an accomplished pianist, but his his wings have been clipped and he cannot seem to soar in his relationships. Only family remains a constant source of strength and joy, until a DNA test reveals something that shocks all the Tholets: Jude is not their child.

Stunned by the test results, the Tholets must dig into their painful past, re-examine their lives in 1973 Santiago and the events surrounding Jude’s birth story. It’s a tale rooted in South America’s Operation Condor. It spreads through Pinochet’s terrifying regime of detention camps, torture, disappeared civilians and stolen children. The journey forces Penny Tholet to confront the gaps in her memory while Cleón must re-live an ordeal he’s long kept hidden away in a secret world. The tale ends with Jude digging through his genetic code in a quest to find his biological parents. Are they alive? Or are they among Los Desaparecidos—the Disappeared Ones?

Suanne Laqueur’s third book in the Venery series explores the desperate acts of love made in times of war, and the many ways family can be defined.

Title : A Scarcity of Condors
Author : Suanne Laqueur
Series : Venery (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count
Genre : contemporary fiction
Release Date : December 31, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★

Hollis’ 3 star review

This rating might surprise people who know how much I love this author, and this series, but my problem with this story is that, for the most part, I didn’t really find myself connecting to these characters. For me, they would come alive in family or group setting moments, not always but often, or in the cheeky sizzle of chemistry-infused interactions leading upto the romance, but overall I didn’t fall in love with these people or places the way I have in other Laqueur — specifically, Venery — books. 

Rosie, I need a favour.”
What, baby?
I’m attempting to seduce this gorgeous gentleman and he’s wisely being prudent about consorting with arrogant and audacious men he doesn’t know.”
In other words, Tuesday.”

This particular installment feels like a big epilogue, and then some, to a story that started in AN EXALATION OF LARKS and, to a certain point, somewhat in the background, continued in A CHARM OF FINCHES. This is a conclusion that part of me thinks would’ve made a great novella or short story to wrap up certain questions from the first book. Because while some of this touched me, I mostly felt myself just going through the motions of the EMOtions without ever really being bowled over by them. Which makes for a lot of page time where I just wasn’t really immersed in it all.

Having said that, the events, the horrible situations, they were treated with the usual care of all the author’s other works. Without shying away from the stark harsh reality but equally without being gratuitous about it, either. Two very different scenes in particular come to mind where it’s a retelling of second-hand events, from the perspective of someone they knew, but without putting the elements and experiences on page in all their gory or brutal glory. Which, considering the telling, was a relief. But it wasn’t without impact. Which I think shows how masterful the author is. She knows when to push and when to pull back, all without losing the gravity of the moment.

When I wasn’t hiding in the closet, I was hiding under the piano.
Well, there’s a Freudian analyst’s wet dream. The strong, solid barrier of wood and ivory hiding your genitals with definitive black-and-white distinctions of tone and.. sorry, I forgot where I was going with that.”

And that applies to so much of this story. The introspection, the therapy, even just random events. She broke them down, processed them, likened them to other feelings or images for the characters and the readers to meet halfway and experience. Some times it was so achingly beautiful. But in this particular story I did feel a lot of it was repetitive, redundant, or rehashed.. sometimes almost word for word. I could understand revisiting some things but I think I expected to learn or see a new perspective when it was brought up again. And rarely did we get that kind of pivot.

Everything Laqueur did in this story had echoes of her other works in the sense that you know you’re in the same world, with characters that connect in some ways, even only in the periphery, so things feel similar — and I mean that in a positive way. Each story handles something important, critical, pivotal, necessary. Often hard, but without flinching. Often beautiful, but also heartbreaking. This one still did all those things. Just not with the same impact on me as a reader. This had all the things I loved from other Venery books. But just didn’t hit the same way. 

[it] was untrue and unfair. Irrational. But sometimes you felt what you felt and nothing could assuage it.

Ultimately, I think my enjoyment of this story was less about the big picture, big connections, and more about the little ones. Quiet moments, devastating moments, which caught me in my feels, whereas the big tie-ins and some of the backstory just didn’t do as much. But I suspect, and expect (and know) many people, fans or newbies alike, will love this. I will forever, and always, recommend the Venery series and my feelings on this book hasn’t changed that one bit.  

As per usual, I read this with my Laqueur buddy (and blog buddy!) Micky and we had a great time reading, discussing, speculating, breaking things down over the course of our Condor-ified weekend.

Micky’s 3 star review

This book had atmosphere, emotion and a family saga to end all sagas. A SCARCITY OF CONDORS was a complex read but then I expect complexity from Suanne Laqueur. If you are fan of the Venery series, you will feel the intertwining of these books, but in particular, there was a strong connection to book one, AN EXALTATION OF LARKS.

The third book returned fans to Chile, Pinochet’s heinous regime but it also opened that Pandora’s box wider and invited the reader to witness some of the atrocities. I say go with trepidation and that there may be themes that are difficult for some.

The book had a slow start for me, taking some time to get into the context and characters. Things I enjoyed included Penny, she was the shining light for me, easy to get to know, easy to empathsise with and admire. What was unusual for me was that I didn’t really connect fully with some of the other characters.

Jude was a character I liked but didn’t love. His repetitive reliving of past events with his psychotherapist was a bit overkill for me. I was ready for him to set down events of the past. So, imagine my delight, truly, when we got to the meet, greet and connection between Jude and Tej. These two connected at a time I just needed some levity in the heavy within these pages. All that said about this relationship, when it came to toils and troubles, there hadn’t been enough narrative for me to feel what they were feeling and so instead I felt like an outsider looking in. I loved these two the most in their early days when they were all playful banter.

The card has some digits on it. If you punch them into your phone, magic things will happen.

The themes of being disappeared, lost babies, torture and reconnecting with unknown loved ones carried gravity of emotion. There was so much going on, almost all of it was incredibly serious as you would imagine and I felt the weight of that. However, there were only a few moments of real emotional connection with the story for me and I am sad about that. Without wanting the spoil, I loved the reappearance of the character who I knew would reappear because of the context and from 70% to the end was a more avid reading experience. I struggled with Cleon’s short chapters throughout. Hollis and I buddy read this and we agreed that in some ways, parts of this book would have made a great novella to book one.

If you know me, you know that I recommend the Venery series to many and all, that hasn’t changed. This hasn’t been my favourite read but it does add to the overall narrative of these characters and context. I don’t know why some elements missed the mark for me but they did and I can’t change that. I have learnt historical detail from this book and what has been translated through human stories in this world. I am the richer for that.

** We received an ARC from the author (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

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