Tag: Jo Walton


Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 24 May, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme is an interesting one: ten books I feel differently about now time has passed. There’s a lot of books I feel that way about from when I was a kid, of course, but I’ll try to go for more recent stuff.

  1. Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood. I reaaaally changed my opinion on this one, and ended up devouring the whole series. But the first time I tried it, I hated it.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve always liked reading it, but I’ve gone through periods of being more or less critical. There was one point where I didn’t dare reread it, because I thought I’d find it too racist, sexist, simplistic… But thanks to Ursula Le Guin’s writing on Tolkien’s work, and then studying it during my MA, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. A lot of the things people complain about post-Tolkien fantasy really are post-Tolkien — he didn’t bring them in. Derivativeness, lack of thought about the implications of this choice or that on the world — I’ve come to see that lack of thought was never Tolkien’s problem, though it has been a problem for people after him.
  3. The Diamond Throne, David Eddings. I’ve had a long succession of feelings about this too; loved it and thought it really romantic as a kid, grew up and thought it was crappy and derivative, but recently I reread a bit and thought it was kind of funny anyway. (Even if Sparhawk and Ehlana is actually a creepy relationship.)
  4. Chalice, Robin McKinley. I think I originally gave this one three stars, but I keep thinking about it and I’ve read it again since and I just… I love it.
  5. Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton. Didn’t love this the first time, fell right into it on a reread. The right book at the right time, I guess.
  6. The Farthest Shore, Ursula Le Guin. This is less one that I’ve got to like more, and more one I appreciate more. I’m still not a big fan of it and wouldn’t idly pick it up the way I would, say, The Tombs of Atuan. But I see its purpose and beauty.
  7. Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn. I loved this at the time, but I don’t know if it’d stand up to that now. I’m a little afraid to try, so I think that counts for the list?
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden. I know in how many ways this is exploitative and so on, but I did love this at one point. Another one I don’t think I’ll try again.
  9. Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country, Rosalind Miles. I might like this more now that I read more romance, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. My opinion got worse and worse as I read more of her books.
  10. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart. The misogyny drove me mad the first time, but I actually appreciated parts of it more the second time.

That was… harder than I expected. Although I was also distracted by being a backseat driver to my partner playing Assassin’s Creed.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 2 February, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and Bookish is about past and future settings, so I decided to pick out ten historical/alternate history settings which I’ve loved. I’m pretty eclectic and a good story can get me interested in just about any period, so this might be a rather mixed list…

Cover of Farthing, by Jo Walton Cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood Cover of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro Cover of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke Cover of Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

  1. Farthing, Jo Walton. This alternate history is set post-WWII, and asks, what if we compromised with Nazi Germany? What happens then? What societal creep, what slow insidious curtailing of freedom? It’s a heartbreaking trilogy, full of characters to love and hate, and I think Jo does a great job evoking that version of Britain.
  2. The Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood. I never thought of Australia as a setting I’d like to read about, but I am greatly enjoying this whole series, and the era. I have ghostwritten a book with a flapper heroine, so that might help with my fascination with Phryne and her Melbourne.
  3. Arthurian Britain, in all kinds of books. Or post-Arthurian, in the case of The Buried Giant. It’s quite a wide field, really; some people have a Romanised Arthur, some a very Saxon Arthur. There’s some great stuff which contextualises Arthur in various historical periods — Bernard Cornwell being a good example of an anti-Saxon, post-Roman Arthur.
  4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke. The way the magic is integrated into the early nineteenth century and its history works perfectly for me. It’s a long book, but so rich in detail and care that I don’t mind a second of it.
  5. Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan. That whole series, really — and some other books featuring the exploits of women in that sort of period, like Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency fantasies. Finding a bigger place for women in history? A+++.
  6. The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff. Whatever inaccuracies there might be in Sutcliff’s work, it feels right. I’ve always loved her Roman/post-Roman Britain books, and pretty much everything she writes has a fantastic sense of time and place. The Eagle of the Ninth I’ve always loved especially, because it takes a historical mystery and examines it, tries to explain it through fiction.
  7. The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw. Along with Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium and the sequel, this book opened my eyes to the possibility of historical fiction set in Constantinople. This wasn’t a period of history I knew well or thought much about, but now I’d happily pick up more books set there.
  8. Dissolution, C.J. Sansom. And other medieval/renaissance detective stories, like the Cadfael books, too. But this one felt especially rooted in the time period, shaped by the politics and issues of the time.
  9. Outlaw, Angus Donald. Okay, that book itself wasn’t one of my favourites, but that whole period dealing with Robin Hood? Like the Arthurian stories, I love it when writers choose to make Robin Hood feel as real as possible.
  10. Greek/Roman settings. That encompasses Rosemary Sutcliff’s work in some ways, and Jo Walton’s Thessaly books too. It’s just a great period of time with all kinds of things going on, where you can introduce mythic elements or figures that have become legendary now, at the same time as peopling the streets of Rome or Pompeii with ancient people.

Cover of The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff Cover of The Bearkeeper's Daughter, by Gillian Bradshaw Cover of Dissolution by C.J. Sansom Cover of Outlaw by Angus Donald Cover of The Just City by Jo Walton

So yeah, quite a mixed bag. Looking forward to seeing what other people have this week!

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Lifelode

Posted 23 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lifelode by Jo WaltonLifelode, Jo Walton
Originally reviewed 16th March, 2011

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Jo Walton, but it’s so hard to rate them in relation to each other, because they’re each so different. I enjoyed Lifelode more than Tooth and Claw, but perhaps less than Farthing — yet I rated both four stars. I loved Among Others most of all her work so far, and I’m not sure Lifelode matches up… Maybe I should be rating all her work that I’ve read so far five stars, except Tooth and Claw.

Her range of work is fascinating. Her books are not like each other, and yet all of them are well-written and ambitious, and succeed very well with their ambitions. The narration of Lifelode, for example, is done in both past and present tense, because for one of the main characters, time is like that: all things happening at once. I expected to see more of the more distant past, through Taveth, but it was very much about that generation, the people she knew. It’s a very warm book, full of family bonds and love.

It’s also interesting in that polyamory seems to be the default, and Jo Walton treats that sensitively. There’s a sense of great strength in the relationships, but also an acknowledgement of the problems they’ll succeed. There’s also LGBT people, and one who seems pretty much asexual. She always writes about all kinds of people, and that’s another thing I really appreciate about her writing.

It’s also nice that the gendering of roles isn’t a really big thing here. Taveth is a housewife, but she chooses that, and her role is central to the functioning of her home. But even a female priest is still just called a priest, not a priestess.

I’ve managed to say all that and say nothing about the plot. It’s a domestic fantasy, although there is also a level on which it is about gods. I think the homelife is as important to the story as the bursts of fighting, and the magic — the bonds between people are, I think, more important, as they are what is under threat. Don’t go into it expecting a big showdown at the end, or something like that.

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 29 September, 2015 by Nikki in General / 16 Comments

Hmm, this week’s theme is about recommending stuff you like if you like something popular, and I’m never sure about what’s actually popular and what I just know about because I’m in my own little circle. So I’m just going to suggest some readalikes.

  1. If you like N.K. Jemisin, especially The Fifth Season, try Kameron Hurley. Reading the start of The Fifth Season, I was so struck that it ‘felt like’ The Mirror Empire.
  2. If you like J.R.R. Tolkien, particularly in The Lord of the Rings mode, try Poul Anderson. He was also one of the founding writers of SF/F, and dug into a lot of the same material that influenced Tolkien.
  3. If you like Raymond Chandler, try Chris F. Holm. Mostly if you like SF/F as well, because the Collector series is a lot of fun, and riffs on Chandler and Hammett’s style and plots. But The Killing Kind is also great.
  4. If you like Jacqueline Carey, particularly the Kushiel books, try Freda Warrington, starting with A Taste of Blood Wine. There’s a similar lushness there in the language and style.
  5. If you like Ilona Andrews, try Jacqueline Carey! She has written some urban fantasy type stuff with the Agent of Hel trilogy, which is now complete.
  6. If you like Catherynne M. Valente, try Patricia McKillip — or the other way round, both being differently famous depending on your circles. The lyrical writing and some of the themes seem akin.
  7. If you like any books at all, try Jo Walton. She’s written in a whole range of genres, but mostly I’m thinking of the fantasy/coming of age story, Among Others. If you’re in love with books, you’ll have something in common with Mori.
  8. If you like Ellen Kushner’s Swordspointtry Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. Also has LGBT themes, in a more fantastical world. Never seems to get the love I’d like to see for it!
  9. If you like epic fantasy, of whatever stripe, try Tad Williams. I really enjoyed the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books, and though they stick quite close to a traditional fantasy mould, they had a lot there that I appreciated, especially by way of characters.
  10. If you like Gail Carriger, try Genevieve Cogman. The tone is less silly, but some of the same enthusiasm and tone is there.

I’ll be interested to see what other people are recommending here! I found this one difficult, because I’m never sure how to judge other people’s taste.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Philosopher Kings

Posted 12 September, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Philosopher Kings by Jo WaltonThe Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton
Received to review via Netgalley

I should probably additionally note before I write this review that I consider Jo a friend, but I was a fan of her writing first. Actually, surprisingly, I have pretty mixed feelings about this one. It’s surprising to me, anyway — but everyone seems to connect to different books even just among Jo’s bibliography, because she’s written such a range of things. Only a little while ago I was talking about how strongly I connected with The King’s Peace/The King’s Name, which my friend Bun wasn’t nearly as enthused about.

I do like this trilogy, and I’m curious to see what the final book does with this set-up. I love the whole idea of it, and it makes me want to have Sokratic debates with everyone (in which case my mother would probably dearly wish to be able to turn me into a gadfly). I’d love to know my metal, I’d love to get the education that they have in the Just City. And I love the characters, the way everyone is learning, the way nearly everyone has subtleties and can surprise you.

My main problems with this book were to do with the pacing and one particular character. As the book starts, there’s a major drive to do a particular thing. That’s resolved by 70% of the way through, maybe even a little before, and so the rest of the book had the curious feel of being an epilogue. The emotional drive of the story, the whole tone of it, just changes — and yet then there was another climactic moment in the last 10%, after I was expecting it to end, and this one really was a gamechanger.

As for the character, I felt like I didn’t understand him anymore. Up to that point, I had understood him, and even half-sympathised, but there was a sudden moment when he felt less like the character I ‘knew’ from reading The Just City, and simply made up of the worst parts of that person, magnified. And I didn’t really see where the change came in — the problem being, of course, that none of the narrators saw him for years between The Just City and this book. It just didn’t quite ring true, for me, like there was a step missing.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading The Philosopher Kings very much, and will deeply enjoy talking about it and debating about it with my partner and anyone else who wants to.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 1 September, 2015 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

This week’s theme is “Ten Characters You Just Didn’t Click With” and actually, I’m having a bit of trouble thinking of it. Okay, here goes…

  1. Jill Pole and Prince Rillian from The Silver ChairActually, most of the characters in the last two books. They just didn’t have the magic, somehow.
  2. Prince Sameth, Lirael AbhorsenCompared to their mother, both him and Ellimere are just weak tea. He spends so much time denying his responsibilities, where his mother just took it all on and never dreamed of saying no. In a way, it’s a more realistic characterisation, but gah, so much whining.
  3. Elvira, from Half a Crown. I love most of Jo Walton’s characters, but Elvira’s concerns seemed so far away from the concerns of the more mature characters we’ve already spent time with.
  4. Boromir, from The Lord of the Rings. I know he’s actually a good guy at heart, and we see the evil power of the Ring twisting him, but there was something so glory-seeking and self-centered about the guy, especially when compared to Faramir.
  5. Malta Vestrit, from The Liveship Traders trilogy. Ohh my god, so spoilt. And it doesn’t really get better even as she begins to grow up; I never liked her. Mind you, a lot of the characters in this trilogy were very dislikeable, to me.
  6. Miriamele, from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Speaking of spoilt characters…
  7. Jaelle, from The Summer Tree. I never felt like I really understood the character, and I wanted more out of her.
  8. Katsa, from GracelingI know! She’s pretty kickass, but I never really connected with the character. It’s why I didn’t like it that much the first time I tried it.
  9. Lancelot, in anything. Almost the sole exception is Heather Dale’s music and parts of Steinbeck’s retelling of Malory.
  10. Dorian Havilliard, Throne of Glass. Actually, I didn’t really ‘get’ either love interest in the first book, but Chaol is growing on me. Dorian… there are some aspects I’m liking, but in the first book, he really didn’t win me over.

I tried to pick books I liked, in general, and characters who are not meant to be villains. I’ll be interested to see what other takes people have on this theme!

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 18 August, 2015 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

This week’s theme is auto-buy authors! I think I did this topic the last time it came round, but these things are prone to change. It’ll be interesting after I’ve made the list to look for the old one!

  1. Scott Lynch. Even seeing a short story of his is in a collection is enough to prompt me to at least consider picking it up.
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure he’d even approve of the state of the stuff Christopher Tolkien is putting out for him is in, but I will always be fascinated with every word the guy wrote.
  3. Jo Walton. If I can’t get the ARCs, at least… Jo is my friend as well as a favourite author.
  4. N.K. Jemisin. I think I knew she’d be an auto-buy author from the first page of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
  5. Jacqueline Carey. I’ve seen her deal with stuff I wouldn’t be that interested in ably, in a way that comes out fun. Yeah, I’ll buy anything.
  6. Guy Gavriel Kay. Person most likely to make me cry at his work, except possibly Jo.
  7. Garth Nix. I haven’t even read all his backlist yet.
  8. Patricia A. McKillip. It took me a while to get into some of her books, but I think I’m securely hooked now. I’m glad there’s still a whole bunch of backlist titles I haven’t got to yet.
  9. Neil Gaiman. Okay, I’m not 100% a fan of everything the man says, and the title of his latest collection of short stories didn’t work for me, but if he writes a book, I’ll probably get it. Maybe not immediately. But in the end.
  10. Rainbow Rowell. It surprised me, but I just preordered Carry On and realised that yeah, I probably will automatically buy anything by her. Something about her style just… works for me.

What about you guys?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 2 June, 2015 by Nikki in General / 15 Comments

This week’s theme is books you’d like to see as movies/tv shows. The proviso here is that I would want appropriate casting, e.g. not a white man for Ged or Patriot.

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin. Shush. There hasn’t been one. Doesn’t exist.
  2. Captain Marvel. Sooner than planned, please. And keep in the recent bit about her dating Rhodey!
  3. Young Avengers. You’ve got all the ingredients ready, Marvel. Dooo iiiiiittttt.
  4. Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas. It could be really epic, and it’d require a female lead who could do stunts and would need a good range of acting skills.
  5. A Natural History of Dragons, Mary Brennan. I’m not sure how well it’d translate to the big screen, but again, it’d require a female lead and it’d be a little bit like Walking With Dinosaurs, only dragons and fiction.
  6. The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell. Do Arthur right!
  7. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay. In the right hands, it would be beautiful.
  8. Sunshine, Robin McKinley. Female lead who is both a reluctant hero type and a baker. Interesting vampire lore, gorgeous imagery. It’d be amazing, right?
  9. Farthing, Jo Walton. Could serve as a timely warning to a country embracing conservatism right now, too.
  10. Bloodshot, Cherie Priest. Weird found-family dynamics, kickass female lead, ex-Navy SEAL drag queen? Okay, there’d be so many ways for them to mess it up, but we’re talking an ideal world here, and it would be so very right.

Gaah, gimme them. Nowww.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 19 May, 2015 by in General / 10 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:

“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”

So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!

  1. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
  2. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
  3. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
  4. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
  5. Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
  6. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
  8. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
  9. Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.

Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —

Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Just City

Posted 18 May, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Just City by Jo WaltonThe Just City, Jo Walton

Originally borrowed a review copy from Robert, then got approved for it on Netgalley, and then finally bought it, because I felt awful. It is not Jo Walton’s fault as a writer in any way; the book is fascinating, I just couldn’t sit still for it. I still don’t know why. I didn’t connect with it in the same way as I have some of Jo’s other books, but then I haven’t necessarily taken ages to read them because of that. There’s even stuff I love here: tons of classical references, as fun to spot as the books in Among Others; the awe and admiration of art; the role of the female characters and the ways they contribute to the city; loves that are not of the body but of the mind, and an understanding of different kinds of love…

The plot itself extends the thought experiment of Plato’s Republic. He came up with this thought experiment, and now the characters of the book actually try to live it; the book explores the ways they compromise on that, and the new light that sheds on the original ideas. (And Jo’s exploration is itself a thought experiment, in a way… oh, the meta.) The whole thing is, in a way, another Socratic dialogue: every character asks questions of the others, and together they try to make the Just City. Compromising the ideals leads to compromised results, and I think it’s up to the reader to figure out to what extent that is justified, to what extent the experiment is successful, to what extent a more positive result would even be possible.

It’s pretty optimistic about the human race, really. The children raised in that environment think in a way which is much more ‘just’ than if they had been raised outside it, that’s clear. I’d love to think that’s possible, and I don’t know if it is. And is it because they have been raised in an environment lacking in poverty and most injustice (negative influences), or because of the education they receive and the order of their lives (positive influences)?

If you finish this without a ton more questions, I’d be surprised. And Socrates would be very, very displeased (and so, I think, would Jo Walton).

On a character-and-plot level, I love the evolution of Apollo/Pytheas. I love his relationship with Simmea, the way that they work on agape, and the ways they fall short of that with other people around them. I’ve always thought agape a beautiful idea, and the way it’s explored here is interesting — mostly with Simmea and Pytheas, but with many other characters too. The way that they love each other and want to increase each other’s excellence, and how solidly and unshakeably they both believe that is beautiful.

There’s so much else I could say about this book, and so much else I’d like to say and can’t word. Suffice it to summarise with: it’s an interesting book, one which raises a lot of questions, which still has characters you can love and cherish as well. I recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider