Tag: SF/F


Review – A Taste of Honey

Posted 20 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante WilsonA Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson

Received to review via Netgalley; published 26th October 2016

I want to like A Taste of Honey, just as I wanted to love The Sorceror of the Wildeeps. There’s some fascinating world building in the back of this, and some beautiful, lyrical, sensual language. And there’s LGBT characters! And the cover looks awesome! It actually gives me more of the background I wanted from the other novella, and the relationship was also much more up-front; obvious from the start.

Knowing other people really enjoy both Wilson’s novellas for Tor.com, I guess I just have to include it’s a case of “it’s not the book, it’s me”. It’s harder to even put my finger on what I didn’t like about this one — it just felt so disjointed, so opaque.

It’s a shame, but unless I hear something very different, I probably won’t read Wilson’s work again. It just doesn’t work for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Posted 19 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 12 Comments

Cover of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

This book is exactly what I reread Narnia for. Though it’s a blatant allegory (e.g. Aslan is Jesus, Edmund is Judas, the Emperor Over the Sea is the Christian God), it’s also a good story. Perhaps it helps that the story it’s based on is also a good one… In any case, there’s so much warmth in the narration, the way the narrator speaks to the reader and gently explains the characters’ faults and virtues. The scene with Mr Tumnus in his cave feels genuinely cosy, as does the scene with the Beavers. The treks through the snow feel genuinely freezing, and the slow dawning of spring feels like a breath of fresh air…

In other words, this book has some of the best of Lewis’ writing for children, in my opinion. The allegory doesn’t matter: I still care fiercely about Aslan, I still want Edmund to be redeemed. It mostly avoids being preachy. As with Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, Edmund’s thought process makes sense, and he’s a more sympathetic character too.

I still don’t get the appeal of Turkish Delight, though.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Invisible Planets

Posted 18 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Invisible Planets ed. Ken LiuInvisible Planets, ed. Ken Liu

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date was 1st November 2016

It took me a while to get through this, as I found the tone of the stories rather same-y. I don’t know if that’s because of the translator (because granted, I had the same impression of Cixin Liu’s work in the novels Ken Liu translated). But it’s a great survey of Chinese science fiction and it’s well worth the read; I don’t remember well enough what I’d pick out now from the beginning of the book, but there’s quite a breadth of choice here. There’s usually several stories by each author, to give you a good taste of what’s out there.

The thing I find really often with novels in translation that the translation somehow deadens the feeling, and I found that quite a lot here. Maybe having different translators would’ve helped, I don’t know. I think that’s really where it didn’t work for me — which is a shame, because it’s a pretty awesome collection in other ways, but this was my main impression.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Camelot’s Shadow

Posted 16 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Shadow, Sarah Zettel

I’ve read this several times now, and I always go back and forth on it a little. Initially, I think I was a teeeeeny bit ashamed to be caught reading something that is a romance in both the modern and the medieval senses of the word. Then I included it in my dissertation and had to think about it critically. And now… now I get to read it just for pure fun. Which is great: it makes me realise how much this version of Gawain is exactly what made me love the character in the first place, and that this retelling of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’s story was what guided me toward reading and loving the Gawain ballads.

It’s fun, with and without the romance; I love this version of Camelot, which is practical at the same time as romantic. There’s the knights, but there are also Saxon boys staying at the court as hostages. Guinevere is a queen and a figure of romance, but she’s also Arthur’s other half, managing Camelot alongside Kay, maintaining a whole set of duties belonging to queenship. There’s no polite ignorance of the need for an heir: Gawain is openly Arthur’s heir. (And definitely worthy of it; this version of Gawain doesn’t kill women or go on mad rampages yelling for blood. He’s courtly, though human — somewhere between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Le Morte Darthur‘s least flattering sections.)

And Rhian is a great character too: determined, but not foolhardy; clever, but not infallible; cautious, but not immune to Gawain’s pretty face. Brave, but not insensible.

The two make a great pairing, and it’s a joy to read — as it’s also a joy to read of Arthur and Guinevere’s genuine love.

There are some frustrating aspects to this, like a certain judgemental quality around women who have sex (but not men), and an unfortunate editing slip-up where even when “father” is being used as a name, it isn’t capitalised… but it’s still fun, and I’m glad I got the chance to read it in a relaxed way like this.

Sidenote: I don’t understand why the US version has changed Rhian’s name to Risa. Well, probably to avoid people thinking it’s pronounced “Ryan”, but that doesn’t mean I like the decision — Rhian is a pretty and Welsh name, and it fits much better in the context than “Risa”.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Invisible Library

Posted 14 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanThe Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman

I don’t know why I was rather hard on this book the first time I read it. It’s a romp, and there’s a lot of seemingly disparate elements — mechanical centipedes alongside the fae — but it comes together really well. The main characters are Irene, Kai and Vale, and they’re all pretty fun. Irene is capable, but not infallible. Kai is a bit of a mystery, but also a decent person who genuinely forms bonds with those around him. And Vale is the archetype of a great detective, which is rather fun — especially if you know your great detectives. Brandamant is also interesting: very different to Irene in some ways, and yet I think they do have commonalities, and perhaps that’s why they don’t like each other.

I still wish there was more time spent in the Library itself, but now that I reflect on it, that’s more the book lover in me than the plotter. The Library would severely cramp the action: I’m sure there is a story that would work with that setting, but this isn’t it — these characters aren’t the ones. Not in this book, anyway.

It’s a fast-paced romp, and on this reading, I completely devoured it and loved it. I’m almost tempted to give it the full five stars.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Magician’s Nephew

Posted 13 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Magician's Nephew by C.S. LewisThe Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis

When I planned a reread of the Narnia books, this isn’t one of the ones I was especially looking forward to. It’s so blatantly allegorical: it’s basically Genesis, Adam and Eve, etc. It’s preachy too, more so than my preferred Narnia books. As a myth on its own merit, I think it was Tolkien who complained about the mishmash of influences in Narnia, and he wasn’t wrong. It’s not so noticeable in The Magician’s Nephew, but it’s still a little weird. I think ultimately, I come down on the side of liking it; it’s a mess, but it’s a joyful one.

Diggory and Polly aren’t the most likeable characters, but Jadis makes an excellent villainess — and even Uncle Andrew’s weakness and vanity is well-drawn. The Pevensies are more engaging as heroes, but the villains here might just be the highlight.

Despite the allegory, there’s still something warm and engaging about Lewis’ writing. That’s the only reason this isn’t slipping down to two stars, I think.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Assassin’s Blade

Posted 11 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. MaasThe Assassin’s Blade, Sarah J. Maas

The stories contained in this volume are much more meaningful if you’ve already read at least the first book of the series, Throne of Glass. They fill in details referenced in Throne of Glass about Celaena’s background, and how exactly she came to be in the position she’s in at the start of that book, but they have more impact if you already know Celaena. If this was your first outing with her, you probably wouldn’t get to know her well. Each story is connected and leads fairly logically from the previous one, though it doesn’t quite have the cohesive feel of being a novel — it’s definitely episodic.

If you enjoy Celaena, it’s worth picking up; it fleshes out details about her past and gives more weight and meaning to some of the things she says and does in Throne of Glass. It’s an easy read, too; for all that it’s 450 pages worth of storytelling, it seems to fly by.

The books themselves… I’ve never been quite as in love with them as a lot of YA bloggers are, or were, so the collection remains exactly what I expect of Maas: an entertaining story (or in this case, set of linked stories), with an engaging but not perfect female character. (Come on, though; Celaena’s a highly trained assassin, yet she trusts the wrong people, she can be spoilt and petulant, etc. Sam Cortland, I think you deserved better.)

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Carry On

Posted 9 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of Carry On by Rainbow RowellCarry On, Rainbow Rowell

Didn’t I just read Carry On? It’s true, I read it not that long ago, but after the US elections and various personal stresses (I have how many assignments due?), I needed some comfort reading. Harry Potter doesn’t work for me — for one thing, I’ve never been that big a fan, and for another, I had to read the second and third books five times each in a week on a school trip, since my mother only let me take two books. Since then, and especially considering how miserable the other kids made me, I’ve rather gone off Harry Potter.

My love for Carry On is totally separate to anything I feel about Harry Potter, though. I’m aware I’m in the minority there, but I only read four of the Harry Potter books, and never experienced the end of the series or got into the fandom. So I felt in the position to just love this: love the way the magic works, the way it permeates their thinking; the way Simon and Baz have always been drawn to each other; the way even their love scenes read a little bit like fighting in place.

There are things I don’t love — the constant POV switching, for example. It’s particularly jarring when it happens several times in what should just be a paragraph. And I don’t love feeling like Penny, Ebb and Agatha had their own stories that needed telling, and that they came so close to being able to tell them… before being cut off by the inevitability of Simon and Baz, and Simon’s victory. Particularly in Agatha’s case. I thought the descriptions of her feelings toward Simon were great, and I’d have liked to see some closure between them. In fandom, it’s always been the female characters that suffer from people’s attempts to pair up the boys, and it’d have been nice to get a fuller picture of Agatha. Simon’s still very much the Chosen One, narratively.

But these are things that could probably only be addressed by whole books that deal with these tropes, and deal with the lives of the women around Simon and the Mage. I don’t think there really was space here. Penelope Bunce still rocks the heck out of the book.

And it’s still a book I enjoy very much.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Steerswoman

Posted 7 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Steerswoman, by Rosemary KirsteinThe Steerswoman, Rosemary Kirstein

The Steerswoman is an interesting novel with a fantasy feel, but some hints that it might be more of a science fiction universe — especially if you see the original cover of the second book. In this book, the hints are subtle but do begin to build up, and even if you jump ahead in your guesses, it’s strangely satisfying to watch the eponymous steerswoman, Rowan, get stuck into the problem.

That’s probably starting at the wrong end, so here’s the intro: The Steerswoman is a fascinating novel which follows a character called Rowan as she investigates the world around her. She’s a steerswoman, a group of people who investigate the world around them by asking questions, making observations, and eventually forming theories. If a steerswoman asks you a question and you don’t answer, no steerswoman will ever answer you again. This can be quite a big moral dilemma and it produces some interesting conflicts.

Alongside Rowan is a female warrior from the Outskirts of their world, Bel. She’s got a different and refreshing view on it, and she and Rowan are both clever and capable in their own ways. You’d think they make a bit of an odd couple (so to speak), but actually they work together pretty well. There’s also a third member of their little band, later on, a boy called Willam, who despite being common-born, knows some of the tricks that only wizards are supposed to know…

The whole point of this novel is discovery, questioning, and whether any limits on knowledge should be accepted — and indeed, whether perhaps there might be a reason for keeping some secrets hidden. It doesn’t feel like a conventional fantasy novel — in fact, Rowan is a scientist, a logician, a mathematician — though it ultimately seems to sit in that genre. I enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to reading more. The pace is a little slow, and I hear it doesn’t much speed up, but the individual arc of the book has been solved so that it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger.

Oh, and it’s casually queer — there are a pair of wizards, brother and sister. It turns out they both love the same woman. It’s a casual detail, but it’s nice to find such casual details sometimes.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Winter Tide

Posted 6 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Winter Tide by Ruthanna EmrysWinter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 4th April 2017

Winter Tide has a very interesting premise, which builds on a short story by Ruthanna Emrys, ‘The Litany of Earth’ (you can find the story free to read online here). It took me a while to get used to what was going on because I hadn’t read that short story, but once I did, things started to fall into place. I do have to say that you’d probably appreciate this more if you’re familiar with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Since I’m not, I couldn’t appreciate a lot of the detail and the way Emrys reframes the sexist, racist themes of Lovecraft’s work. From the reviews/commentary I’ve read, that’s really well done.

The problem for me, aside from not having the background in Lovecraft’s work, is that I found it kind of slow-paced. I appreciated the character development, the descriptions, all sorts of things about the world… but I wanted a story that was going somewhere faster. It was worth sticking with it, but I found that I enjoyed ‘The Litany of Earth’ (which I read when halfway through Winter Tide) more satisfying somehow.

Still, I did appreciate that all the markers of monstrosity and so on were subverted here. I think Emrys loved the material and took care with making it more accessible to a modern, diverse audience, and it shows — as well of being a story of its own.

Rating: 3/5

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