The Ghoul King, Guy Haley
I was intrigued by Quinn in the previous novella, and this one takes much the same stance: rather than following Quinn directly, the bulk of it is told from the point of view of someone who happens to be protected by him during a journey. It reveals a little more of the world-building and the reason certain things are as they are, while still leaving a whole lot still to explore. I hope there’s going to be more, and soon.
I love the way it becomes apparent to the narrator-character, Jaxom, that Quinn is a good man — not a fun man to be around, not a safe man, not good company or just mildly principled. He’s a good man, prepared to take risks for others even if he doesn’t like them, because his word is his bond.
I still mostly didn’t get into Jaxom’s story for his sake — I was interested in Quinn, what happened to him, what he’s seeking, where he’s going next, and who opposes him. Ideally, I’d like to learn why, too.
Like I said, I hope there’s more, and soon.
Harkworth Hall, L.S. Johnson
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st August 2017
I picked up Harkworth Hall thanks to Bob @ Beauty in Ruins’ review; it sounded like a fun piece of Gothic romance with horror along the lines of William Hope Hodgson, rather than, say, Stephen King. All in all, pretty much up my alley — and even better, it features a relationship between two women (about which I’d better not say too much; Bob’s review already has a minor spoiler). I loved the women of the story: yes, they’re of their time, but they’re not completely circumscribed by the most strait-laced options available to women — Caroline has an independent streak, for one.
As for the horror aspect, it doesn’t go into that too much. It’s more of a sense of unease, of something uncanny, rather than all-out gore and cheap thrills (though there is a scene or two in which the threat is realised!).
I have just one quibble. At one point, two women are talking about being sensible, in the sense of being responsible and not rushing into danger, etc. Then one comments that they lack “sensibility”. Nooooo, that’s not what that word means! “Sensibility” is about appreciating and responding to emotion, not “being sensible” in our modern sense. Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is contrasting the two in its title, not pairing two like words.
That said, I’m looking forward to reading more of Caroline’s adventures, for sure.
Magic Shifts, Ilona Andrews
It’s been a while since I read this, and I’m not sure why I didn’t write a review at the time. Since it’s been a while since I read it (eek, a year!) I can’t comment in much detail, but it’s a worthwhile addition to the series, starting a new chapter in Kate and Curran’s lives — and spending more time dealing with who exactly Kate is, what Roland can do, and what Kate and Curran are going to do without the Pack.
Not that they’re entirely without their old allies, of course…
It’s pretty much what you’d expect from this series, in other ways: pacy writing, Kate and Curran being badass but also idiots, and some really weird shit going on that they really should deal with. If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, you’ll enjoy this one too.
Camelot’s Honour, Sarah Zettel
Camelot’s Honour might be my favourite of the quartet, now that I think about it. Okay, Camelot’s Shadow has Gawain, and the clever weaving together of the story of the Green Knight and the story of the Loathly Lady… but this is the most Welsh-inspired book of the quartet, including characters from the Mabinogion and weaving together various strands of mythology which aren’t necessarily Arthurian. I’m not a purist about that; I loved it.
It might not be the most stirring of the love stories, but the quiet strength Elen and Geraint have together is great. He’s the strong and silent type, less susceptible to a pretty face, and a bit less lionised as completely amazing by Zettel, which makes him more interesting.
Maybe I could wish for a few more of the themes of this book, not to mention the characters, to carry through into others of the series. But it’s still great fun.
Outer Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin
Outer Space, Inner Lands is the second of two volumes collecting together the best of Ursula Le Guin’s short fiction. It’s also the one containing all the SF work, or at least all the less realistic work, and it contains stories like ‘Those Who Walk Away from Omelas’, one of Ursula Le Guin’s most famous stories (at least among people I know) — though not my favourite, as I think the moral is obvious from the beginning.
As always, Le Guin’s writing is clear and strong, and the stories chosen here span her career and showcase all kinds of different ideas and different phases of her work. I prefer it to the first volume, because I find Le Guin’s speculative fiction more accessible.
She’s brilliant. Do yourself a favour.
Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
I could have sworn I reviewed this back when I read it, which was quite a while ago, but apparently not. So this review will be pretty short. Basically, I felt that Sookie wasn’t convincing as a protagonist — she’s just so stupid (“oh, I’ll just wander into a dangerous situation, everything will be fine!”) and yet so lucky (everything is indeed fine). I didn’t find those decisions she made plausible, at least not for a character I’m meant to like.
I do actually enjoy Harris’ books as light reading, or at least I liked the Harper Connolly books. So unfortunately it’s probably mostly that I really didn’t take to Sookie.
A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers
A Closed and Common Orbit felt even more insular and intimate than The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which was pretty closely focused on its crew. This book features Lovelace — the base AI Lovey developed from, but without her memories — and Pepper, who is a side character in the first book. It’s mostly about Lovelace, or Sidra, as she decides to call herself, and how she finds her way and figures out how to be herself, how to be a person, but it also follows Pepper’s past and shows how she got to where she was too. Found family is a theme here again, and there’s the same diversity of characters that a lot of people (including me!) loved from the first book.
This book does improve on The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet in a key way: it doesn’t feel as much like the conflicts and problems are resolved too easily. It does feel as though the characters have to work for it, and have to compromise rather than get an ideal outcome. There were one or two cases of that in the first book, but overall it felt too easily solved; that’s not the case here, in my opinion, which makes the payoff the sweeter.
Again, if soft SF is your thing, and you’re looking for something with interpersonal rather than intergalactic conflicts (though there’s some hints of the wider world as well) then this may well be your cup of tea. I’d start with the first book, though; it’s not necessary, but it gives you some context.
Acadie, Dave Hutchinson
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 5th September 2017
Acadie is a fun enough little story that had me just sort of nodding along… up until the ending, which packs a bit of a punch and casts all the rest in a new light. I still think that some more world-building could go into the utopian colony, because the little bits that were there were only just enough to whet my appetite; a bit more emotional involvement would probably make that ending even more satisfying. Right now, it’s satisfying in an intellectual way, and didn’t leave me as conflicted as I’d hoped.
Nonetheless, it’s an absorbing story with a heck of a sting in the tail. My favourite sort!
Starborn, Lucy Hounsom
This has garnered good reviews from other bloggers I usually agree with, so I was excited to dig in. It’s certainly a quick read, with some interesting aspects — I like the paired Lunar/Solar magic, for example, and the fact that airships were stirred into the usual fantasy mix instead of it just being your usual race across the land with horses. But I found the characters and world rather thin, really, and the events seemed to lurch from one thing to the other without really making sense. It’s obvious from the beginning that Kyndra is going to turn out to be different and special, but then the book makes such a secret of it — it takes 150 pages for that to be even partially confirmed, despite it being obvious.
I’m not a great fan of the writing, either. It’s not laboured or overly ornate, thankfully, but to me there was something thin about it. ‘Kyndra did this, and then this, and felt like this about it.’ I was more intriged by Nediah and Brégenne from the beginning, although their story reminded me of something else I’ve read. (Kyndra’s did as well, but since it’s fairly typical ‘stable boy becomes the king’ type narrative where an ordinary person turns out to be extraordinary, that’s no surprise.)
Also, sexual assault. Also, a disabled character gets magically healed — and not even through their own choice, but just because someone thinks it’s for the best. Also… yeah. Problematic stuff is not addressed.
In the end, I just didn’t get into it. It’s easy enough to read, but I could take it or leave it, and I feel like I know where things are going. Given that and the neverending backlog, I think I’ll pass on continuing this series.
Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes starts out weird and intriguing, with an opening that wouldn’t disgrace a horror story. After that, for a long time it becomes mostly space opera, with some political manoeuvring and a noir-ish detective story alternating chapters. There’s some clumsy world building in the first 100-200 pages, which often takes the form of infodumps. That made me hesitate about carrying on with the series, but after about the 200 page point, I found myself getting sucked in.
I gradually started to be interested in the characters — though Miller is never quite likeable, only piteable, to my mind — and what exactly was going on. Miller’s obsession with Julie Mao was weird, maybe even a little creepy, but his interactions with Holden and his crew were interesting. The way he wants to be accepted, but at the same time is willing to compromise that by doing whatever he thinks is right — even if idealistic Holden won’t like it.
I do think the book could definitely use more female characters. The society itself seems to be pretty equal opportunity, but the main female characters are Naomi and Julie. Julie’s mostly just an idea, and while Naomi is capable, a lot of her importance lies in her relationship with Holden and how that works out.
About halfway through, the weird stuff kicks back in, and then I was definitely hooked. When I got to the end, I decided I’d have to get Caliban’s War to find out what exactly happens next…