Tag: SF/F

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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Review – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Posted 31 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. LewisThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

For a long time, this was definitely my uncontested favourite of the series, despite Eustace. It might still be. The preaching is more or less kept to a minimum, although as an adult I do notice it more: scolding of Lucy for wanting to be beautiful, Eustace’s Road to Damascus, Caspian’s scolding for selfishness, the punishment of Coriakin the Star, the supper at the end of the world, Reepicheep sailing off in his coracle like an Irish saint… But it’s so full of fascinating episodes that it’s hard to pay heed to that. Dufflepuds! Sea monsters! Dragons! To my mind, it has all the best of the Narnia books… although of course, none of it is actually set in Narnia.

Caspian, Lucy and Edmund are all appealing leads, and even Eustace gets better at it. I have to agree with Eustace on finding Reepicheep fairly self-righteous and irritating at times, though of course, he’s a good Mouse. And you’ve got to love the asides from the working crew and their perspective on the whole adventure.

Yep, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader remains highly enjoyable, despite its flaws. Honestly, I’d rather not think about the flaws.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – City of Wolves

Posted 31 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of City of Wolves by WIllow PalacekCity of Wolves, Willow Palacek

City of Wolves makes a good, quick steampunk/mystery read, but it doesn’t have much depth. It’s competently enough written, but the fact that it zooms along hinders it somewhat from feeling like a fully developed world. I was actually intrigued by the background of the Loyalists and the War of the Wolves, but there was very little solid happening there. It felt like a potential setting for more, with this just being a taster.

It’s enjoyable, and I’d read more set in the same world, but it fails to satisfy, I think. More substance is needed, really — flesh on the bones, so to speak. Also, the revelation at the end… I saw it coming.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Three-Body Problem

Posted 27 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Three Body Problem by Cixin LiuThe Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, trans. Ken Liu

Since this one pipped The Goblin Emperor to the post for a Hugo, I was very curious to read it. Buuut, a bunch of people who normally share my taste in books found it boring and completely flat, so I was a little apprehensive. Part of the problem is, I think, the cultural translation: Ken Liu added some explanations and footnotes, but the tone still isn’t very Western. The writing feels really flat and simple: this character did this. He took something out of his pocket and did something with it. Then he smiled. It doesn’t flow in the same way as most Western writing, to my mind. The translation works in that it keeps a sense of the original, but I’m not sure that was the best decision in terms of an engaging tone in English translation.

I was intrigued by the story, anyway, and honestly loved the way it was thoroughly rooted in Chinese culture and the Cultural Revolution. I didn’t know that much about it, but I enjoyed learning (and doing some extra reading). The Trisolaris sections are rather odd — suddenly Copernicus? Einstein? What? I didn’t understand what exactly was going on with the characters, though the idea of Trisolaris is compelling. The hard SF concepts were… less easy for me to grasp. You’re unfolding a proton into two dimensions? What, why? I’m confused…

But the central conflict, the idea of there being people who have so far given up on humanity that they called to aliens to invade… yes, that is intriguing, and it’s that plot which makes me want to read the next book. It’s more of an ideas book than one about characters, which is usually less appealing to me, but I’m intrigued enough by the plot that I think I will read on.

(Do I think it should have beaten The Goblin Emperor? Not in a million years.)

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Natural Causes

Posted 22 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Natural Causes by James OswaldNatural Causes, James Oswald

I’m not entirely sure why I originally picked this up; I think it might have been one of those deals where you can get a book for £2.99 if you buy The Telegraph, or whichever other newspaper. At the time, I was regularly buying the newspaper for my grandmother, and if her choice of paper wasn’t available, I’d pick something else more or less at random. A newspaper that offers a cheap book alongside it is always going to win with me, of course.

Anyway, so I knew little about this book going in. It seems to have caused no little frustration for some people: though marketed as a crime fiction novel, in fact the cause of the murders turns out to be supernatural. The murder can’t be solved unless you assume the presence of a demon which jumps between different people’s bodies, despite the fact that the rest of the story builds up clear chains of evidence, links together cases, etc. I don’t mind that, but I do think there’s a bit of a sense this book was mismarketed — though equally, I don’t think it’d appeal to the more fantastical crowd either. It’s no Rivers of London or Storm Front. The two elements sit oddly side by side here, and to me, it’s not clear where it’s going to go as a series. Is McLean going to become a supernatural investigator? Or was this the one strange case of his career? Presumably not the latter, since this is the first book of a series, but it’s not obvious.

The pacing is relatively sedate: it feels like a police procedural. I think that’s the problem — it’s a police procedural with supernatural trappings, and that just doesn’t seem to wash. It’d have to be more integrated — something like, to harp on it, Rivers of London.

I’m not that interested in reading other books, though it wasn’t a bad experience. Shades of fridging, though: the main murder victim is an innocent young girl whose case consumes the inspector’s thoughts because of her youth and innocence, a young PC dies to protect the main character (presumably mostly for his sense of guilt), and the most important woman in McLean’s life is his comatose grandmother, who dies partway through. Hm.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Terra

Posted 18 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Terra by Mitch BennTerra, Mitch Benn

This was the perfect read for me at the point when I got hold of it. It’s funny, sometimes silly, but it also has a lot of heart. It’s sceptical about humanity and the way we behave, but hopeful too. There’s all kinds of fun glimpses at the alien culture Terra becomes part of, with its different norms and expectations. And goodness knows, if my dad weren’t pretty awesome and probably a space alien anyway, I’d want Lbbp to be my father-figure.

It’s relatively simplistic and light, written more for a young adult audience, but it was exactly what I needed at the moment I read it. It’s well written, well paced, and has a refreshingly nice take on human (and alien) nature.

I don’t know what to say about it, except that I found it a delight, and my wife had better read it soon.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Boys from Brazil

Posted 13 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Boys from Brazil by Ira LevinThe Boys from Brazil, Ira Levin

The Boys from Brazil is a bit of a classic; I actually remember my Religious Studies teacher telling us the basic plot and asking us about the moral issues at the centre. So for quite a while, I’ve been very interested to read it. It’s a bit odd to read, because it’s written with a sort of affect-less style: ‘the man did this and then the man did that, and turned to the blond man and said…’ I mean, here’s an actual example of the style:

“The blond man, panting, stopped stabbing, and the black-haired man lowered the surprised-eyed young man gently to the floor, laid him down there half on the gray rug and half on varnished wood. The blond man held his bloody knife-hand over the young man and said to the black-haired man, ‘A towel.'”


The actual plot and the thriller aspect is interesting, and the moral dilemma is perhaps more relevant/possible now than it was when the book was written, but I do think it’s dated badly and the writing style does it no favours.

Rating: 2/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 7 December, 2016 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

It’s been a couple of weeks since I did this last because I’ve been so busy with assignments. Fortunately, I’ve had a bit more time to myself this week, so this feature is back!

What have you recently finished reading?

I’ve been rereading the Narnia books, so I just finished The Horse and his Boy. I read in chronological, rather than publishing order, so I’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I still love the narration. Lewis managed to get something wonderfully warm into it, particularly in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and less so in some of the others. But it is so preachy. Partly just because of the target audience (kids) and writing style (somewhat didactic), but also because of the Christian overtones.

I actually spoke to someone recently who hadn’t figured out that Aslan = Jesus? I actually miss having that kind of innocence about the books, because knowing it’s an allegory and being able to identify all the various points with clear correspondences takes away some of the fun.

I’ve also been rereading Sarah Zettel’s Camelot books, though so far I’ve only finished Camelot’s Shadow. It’s probably my favourite of the four because it has the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. There’s some minor typographical and editing issues that are driving me a little bit nuts in the UK editions. Like when Father is used as a name but not capitalised! But it’s a very interesting take on the Arthurian legends, even with the romances being the foreground. I love the fact that the matter of succession has been considered, and Gawain is openly being groomed to follow Arthur, while Guinevere has an active role in running Camelot, and… so on. I need to write my review, clearly.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve finished most of the books I have on the go at the moment. I’m partway through rereading Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas; hopefully, I’ll catch up with the series this time. I still feel the same about it as I did the first time. It’s fun, but it’s not nearly perfect.

Next up: Camelot’s Honour, Prince Caspian, Crown of Midnight…

What are you planning to read next?

After dropping my reading goals, I’m trying to find more joy in my reading again, so I’m doing quite a bit of rereading. I know I want to reread The Invisible Library and The Masked City, by Genevieve Cogman, so I can get round to reading the new one. I just got approved for the ARC! I also want to reread Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, and Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, as well as finish rereading Sarah Zettel’s Camelot books, the Narnia books and of course, Tolkien’s The Return of the King.

I’m also trying not to plan too far ahead. I finish a book; I pick up the next one which makes me smile.

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