The City of Dreaming Books, Walter Moers, trans. John Brownjohn
The City of Dreaming Books is delightfully whimsical, crammed full of ideas that practically want to burst out of the pages, and it’s all about books and writing and the love of reading. There’s so much going on — so much humour, so much inventiveness — and it’s all supplemented by the illustrations. I was a little worried after reading a synopsis of one of Moers’ other books (which is apparently in the same world, though this one stands alone) that it’d be too childish, but it didn’t feel that way at all. Of course, it’s a total adventure yarn, but it’s the sort that I think should appeal to anyone who likes a bit of adventure.
There are catacombs full of books, creatures that live only far beneath the surface of the city and devote their lives to learning to recite a single author’s output, deadly books and living books, monsters made of paper… And, you know, the main character is a dinosaur (who loves books excessively and wants to be a writer), and…
It’s hard to describe all the stuff that’s going on in this book. I can only conclude by saying that I found it deliciously readable and a lot of fun.
Bloodshot, Cherie Priest
There’s a lot to love about Bloodshot. The protagonist is a flapper vampire with obsessive-compulsive disorder, who uses her skills to steal things and sort of looks out for two street urchins who’ve taken up residence in her warehouse. Her client is a blind vampire who may be able to control the weather, having been experimented on by the government, and her eventual sidekick is a crossdressing ex-Navy SEAL who looks fabulous in either male or female clothing, kicks complete ass, and is trying to find out what happened to his sister in the same sort of experiments. The interactions are delightful, and Raylene’s tone is often funny.
There are some quibbles — Raylene tends to ramble, and on a second read it becomes obvious how long it takes for the plot to get off the ground. I’m still immensely fond of the characters and all the ass they kick, despite being tiny and obsessive-compulsive (Raylene), in high heels and a glittery thong part of the time, including during action scenes (Adrian) and blind (Ian). They make for a great team. Raylene’s a little too trigger happy — or rather, I guess, fang-happy; she’s definitely morally ambiguous, for all that I totally rooted for her throughout.
It might possibly work better as a TV show or movie, in that Raylene’s inner monologue is part of what slows things up. Not that I can imagine anyone making something of this and not utterly butchering it in some way — what charms about it is partly that these characters would rarely be allowed to shine in quite this way in mainstream fiction, and it’s possible in another context Adrian would be used as comic relief in some way. (Which he isn’t, which is great.)
Still very fun, but also definitely still flawed on a reread.
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
Ancillary Sword has a smaller scale than Ancillary Justice, which actually continues into book three. It’s not that the wider events are forgotten, but it narrows down to the narrow section of space Breq can protect, her ship, and Athoek Station. As with the first book, I liked this more on the second reading — probably because, yes, I did know what to expect, so I could appreciate it better, but also because on reflection I like that Leckie doesn’t try to tackle the huge sweep of events. Instead, she focuses in on Breq and those around her, and keeps it manageable in plot and for the reader to appreciate.
There was less of Seivarden in this book than I remembered, and actually I think I’d have liked to see more of Seivarden. She’s got learning to do, but all the same, I’ve come to appreciate the character. She’s far from perfect, and she’s not even an anti-hero — she’s just a flawed person. But nonetheless, she grows and develops.
Sometimes Breq is a little too… far-seeing. There are things she suspects in this book that only really become obvious in the third book. In retrospect, I enjoy the way things come together, but the first time it felt like Breq was a little too good. But then, of course, she’s not human. She’s an ancillary, and so she thinks differently. I suppose that’s part of what we’re being shown here too.
So, yes, conclusion continues to be: well worth the reread, and definitely as good as or better than I remembered it.
The House of Binding Thorns, Aliette de Bodard
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 4th April 2017
I know this review is terribly late; I salved my conscience by buying a copy as well. Aliette de Bodard has built a fascinating world in this post-apocalyptic Paris, and it’s so refreshing to get Vietnamese influences running through a story like this — it might be set in France and involve angels of a rather Western bent, but it also features dragons of a rather more Eastern variety.
I don’t think you can really read this without The House of Shattered Wings; you need the background for Madeleine and Philippe. I was surprised, though, at how interesting I found Asmodeus. I wasn’t too taken with him before, but this book does show another side to him. There’s also a lesbian couple, Françoise and Berith, and their story is new here, but adds more to the world.
If The House of Shattered Wings didn’t work for you, I suspect that The House of Binding Thorns won’t, either. I found it bleakly beautiful, and really enjoyed the additions to the world-building and the way the characters grew and changed, or at least revealed other aspects of themselves. It also won’t work for you if you’re not a fan of something that falls squarely into moral grey areas: you could have believed Silverspires were the good guys, in the previous book, but now the house is Asmodeus’, and for all that you kind of find yourself rooting for him, he’s still not a pleasant person.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve started in on rereading the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb, finally. Just 100 pages a day, pacing myself. I’m also reading A Crack in Creation, by two of the people from the team that discovered cas9/CRISPR (which is a really powerful, really important way of editing genes in all kinds of situations). I’m guessing the moratorium Doudna asked for on using CRISPR for gene editing didn’t come to pass, given I know it’s a big thing in psychiatry lately per my mother!
What have you recently finished reading?
The Glass Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg. It’s not great, but it’s light fluffy fun — I’m reading the series while I can’t sleep at night, and they’re proving quite good for just occupying my brain a while until I’ve wound down enough to sleep. Other than that, I think the last book I finished was Spellslinger, by Sebastien de Castell. I still need to write up my review; I found aspects of it a little frustrating — mostly the love interest and the totally abusive family structure — but overall it was good fun.
What will you read next?
I’ll probably start on Leviathan Wakes, which is one of my book club reads this month. I’ll also try and finish a couple more of my started-but-not-finished pile (“Finish Or Flee”, I call it), like Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff.
Shattered Minds, Laura Lam
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 20th June 2017
Shattered Minds is set in the same world as False Hearts, with endless possibilities for body modification and indulging all your fantasies, and no crime. Sort of.
Naturally, both books give the lie to that, but especially this one, exploring the world of an addicted woman struggling with her urges to kill, and how she ends up exposing a company’s lies for what they are — and getting back her whole self, since it turns out it was that very company who programmed her and made her the way she is. It also features a group of hackers who are trying to get the word out, whose paths converge with hers.
I love the diversity of Lam’s world — Dax, who becomes a love interest, is trans and Native American; Raf has a boyfriend who’s a cop… This isn’t as warm a read as False Hearts — lacking the love between the twin protagonists that drives that story — but the characters made up for it, drawing me in and making me wonder how they would ever all fit together. Even Roz, the villain of the piece, is compelling in her way — I have so many more questions about her and what drives her.
Basically, if you’re looking for another thriller like False Hearts in a nearish-future sci-fi setting, Shattered Minds delivers, with more than a dash of the Firefly feel (circa Serenity, though; less funny and fuzzy than some of the episodes): disparate group of wanted criminals takes down a mind-hijacking superpower of their world.
Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty
This is rather different to Mur Lafferty’s other books, The Shambling Guide to New York City and The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Different isn’t bad, though if you’re looking for the same humour and light-heartedness, that’s not so much in evidence (although I’d argue that yes, there is wit). It’s a fascinating locked room mystery in a sci-fi setting, essentially, where the locked room is a generation ship (ish, actually people can survive by being clones or through being in stasis).
I found it riveting, though I guessed early on who the culprit was because I just didn’t latch onto him at all, and wanted it to be him. But half the mystery is also in how the characters are related to each other, and how they got to where they are, and that wasn’t always as easy to figure out. I didn’t love the captain, either, but I did find her and the other characters intriguing — it’s only the culprit who totally didn’t interest me, which might be an individual thing (or might be a giveaway, if other people reacted the same).
That said, while there’s a culprit on board — of course — it’s all part of a larger plot, and you have to figure that out too. And as they say of the MCU: “Everything is connected.”
On top of all that, there’s also some introspecting about identity, brain hacking, the implications of cloning… I found it all entertaining and intriguing, and I’m very glad I managed to get my hands on a copy despite it not being very easily available in the UK (at least when I read it).
Walking on Knives, Maya Chhabra
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date is 26th July 2017
When the warning says “Walking on Knives contains some explicit content and a scene with dubious sexual consent”, it’s not kidding. I know there’s a whole debate about whether you can say consent is “dubious”, but I think I see why in this case — in both cases the characters explicitly consent, in pursuit of a goal, without actually wanting the sex itself.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure I buy any of the emotions here. It has the potential to be dark and twisty, but because I don’t believe in any of the love stories, it doesn’t work; it’s still too much in the fairytale style, with none of the characters named. Worse, it gets confusing between all the epithets; ‘the little mermaid’, ‘the sea-witch’, ‘the strange woman’… and then all the ‘she did this and she did that’. In the end, I just… nah.
Honestly, I feel most sympathetic toward the Prince. I wanted to root for the little mermaid and the sea-witch’s sister, but that didn’t feel real. The Prince’s conflict was the most real part of it, and I felt like he deserved more of an ending.
Newt’s Emerald, Garth Nix
I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’m not entirely sure what finally prompted me to pick it up — but hurrah that I did. If you enjoy Georgette Heyer’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this. It’s a little adventure very much along the same lines, only with magic as well. Girls disguising themselves as boys, a Pride and Prejudice moment for the romance, and daring escapades. The tone is light and witty, and okay, it’s not as though as it’s as deeply committed to being authentic as Heyer was, but you wouldn’t expect that from a book that injects magic as well!
I found it really fun, and a surprisingly quick read too. The romance is… well, Heyer-ish, so if dislike-turns-to-love and capricious young ladies who deny they have any feelings for That Odious Man bother you, it probably won’t be your thing. It’s definitely not much like Nix’s other books (at least the ones I’ve read).
It’s a little magical cream puff, and I enjoyed it greatly. It helps that the main character gets to be kickass and daring, and she’s also really smart. She’d verge on too perfect if she didn’t have the odd immature and petulant moment too, but as it was, she was a lot of fun.
The Emperor’s Railroad, Guy Haley
I didn’t actually read much about this beforehand; I picked it up because it’s one of the Tor.com novellas, and I’ve generally found them worth trying, even if they haven’t all been my thing. I was a little wary in that I’ve read part of one of Guy Haley’s books before and didn’t really get into it. Not so with this one: it has a strong voice and it’s set in a fascinating post-apocalyptic world. I’d love to know more about it, and I’ll definitely pick up the sequel. The main character, Abney, isn’t really the important one, despite the fact that it’s told from his point of view: instead, it’s his short journey with the knight Quinn that matters. I really want to know more about Quinn, but I don’t care about spending more time with Abney — his story’s pretty much told. Fortunately, looks like that’s exactly the direction Guy Haley took.
Not that Quinn is the only attraction of this book; Abney’s mother might be the only female character, and it’s a shame she dies, but she is also a strong woman who makes a place for herself in what appears to be a man’s world. I’ve read that there are more female characters in the sequel, which is good to hear.
Also, I really want to know what’s going on with “angels” and “dragons”.