Tag: SF/F

Review – The Two Towers

Posted 1 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Two Towers by J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

As with The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s hard to know how to review this with objectivity. I’ve been trying to think which of the three sections is my favourite, but even that is difficult; I think the whole they make — and were intended to make, by Tolkien, who did not view them as a trilogy but as a single book — is most important. It’s a little odd in this book to go straight from the whole fellowship at the end of the first ‘book’ to such a fragmented company, spending the whole first half with Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and then the whole second half with Frodo and Sam. It feels a little unwieldy, like that — I could wish for more alternation between the two.

But really, Tolkien knew what he was doing very well. What I find interesting having read it now is that I know the land of Rohan well, from playing LOTRO. Yet as soon as Frodo and Sam reach the Emyn Muil, I can no longer visualise the world, because I haven’t been there in LOTRO. That says a lot more about me than about Tolkien, though: the physical description is still there, and LOTRO is built on that rich resource. But for me… suddenly, there are no pictures in my head for Mordor. And perhaps that’s for the best!

I always find The Two Towers the quickest read, yet perhaps my least favourite; so much of it is about getting the players into position. But at least it features Faramir, who in the books has a nobility to match Aragorn’s.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Everything Belongs to the Future

Posted 28 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Everything Belongs to the Future by Laurie PennyEverything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny

Received to review via Netgalley

I found this a pleasant short story on a fairly familiar theme, which never really got past the point of being readable and good enough to while away some time with. I think my problem was that I essentially knew where it all was going, and the social commentary was pretty obvious. Thus, I find that I have correspondingly little to say about it. It’s competently written, and the conflict of the central character between his deceit and his love was perhaps the best thing about it. His mixed feelings and confused decisions made sense and seemed very human, which is always important to root any story into reality, and especially useful with something speculative.

Overall, I wasn’t incredibly impressed, but I wasn’t bored either — I’d read more by Laurie Penny, though probably not more set in this world. I think the story said all that needed to be said about this concept.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Lost Child of Lychford

Posted 27 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul CornellThe Lost Child of Lychford, Paul Cornell

Received to review via Netgalley

I was a little worried I wouldn’t remember enough about the first novella to follow all of this, but I quickly cottoned on again. The characters were fairly memorable, after all, particularly Judith — her cantankerous practicality was as fun and refreshing this time round as last. I felt like that character had a little less screen time, so to speak, while the Reverend Lizzie had more, but it did make sense in the context of the story — Lizzie is really the key figure in the plot, this time. If there are other novellas to come, I’d guess they’d focus on whichever character is more central to the plot.

It does pick up on some interesting threads from the first book, too, like Judith’s husband and what exactly is going on there. It resolves things a little more, as well.

My quibble would be that I saw the problems sooner than the characters — as soon as the couple who wanted to get married on Christmas Eve were mentioned, I wondered — and that it isn’t so fun to read something where characters are out of their own control for much of the story. If that section had been shorter, I might have enjoyed it more.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Lion Hunter

Posted 25 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Lion Hunter by Elizabeth WeinThe Lion Hunter, Elizabeth E. Wein

Flashback Friday review from 13th February, 2011

The Lion Hunter is less able to stand alone than the other books of this series: the story ends in a cliffhanger, which goes directly on to the last book, The Empty Kingdom, so beware of that! It does help if you have read the other books, too, but really you just need to know what happens in them, what the main characters did in previous books.

Early in this book, Telemakos is severely wounded, and part of the point of this book is his adjustment to that, his ways of dealing with it, and also his ways of dealing with the mental scars from what happened to him in The Sunbird. It’s a story of recovery, and it goes carefully with it — it’s not a magical healing, by any means.

Easy to read, like the other books, but yes, dark and even quite saddening, near the end.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Hammers on Bone

Posted 24 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

cover91235-mediumHammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw 

Received to review via Netgalley

Hammers on Bone is a fun novella which blends both noir detective fiction and something that looks to me like the Cthulhu mythos, though I’m not very versed in the latter. It drips with cliches in a way that works, because the main character is a man out of time — straight from hard-boiled detective fiction, despite the modern setting. The story draws you on with the mystery of what exactly John Persons is. It’s apparent from the beginning that he’s a monster, as his client notices, but what kind of monster? What does he want? Is he actually here to help anyone?

At times I felt like I was lacking information, but I think that might be my general unfamiliarity with the Cthulhu mythos. At least, I assume so, from the little I do know. If it’s meant to stand alone, perhaps it’s a little underexplained — though that can make for great uncanny moments. We fear the unknown the most, after all.

I enjoyed the voice, and even if it’s laid on pretty thick, it makes sense and makes for a fun story. I’d happily read more in the same world. It didn’t strike me as exceptional, but it was enough fun to come back to the world again if there’s ever a chance.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Fellowship of the Ring

Posted 23 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring by TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s difficult to know how to review something I’ve read so many times, and loved so much, with any kind of objectivity. I’ve been through phases with Tolkien: uncomplicated adoration of a plot I could get my teeth into and a mythic world it took work to imagine; disgust at the lack of female characters and the assigning of certain racial characteristics primarily or wholly to evil characters; nose-wrinkling at the moral absolutism; appreciation of the mythic framework and the sheer amount of time that went into the world.

Lately, I’m at the appreciation end — to me, the invented history around all aspects of this, including texts-within-the-text, is just so much fun, and the playing with language is inspired. From Elvish to Klingon (ed. Michael Adams) had a chapter which really made me appreciate the way Tolkien built his languages, including with a sense of history and an understanding of the fact (and the way!) that languages change. We are so ridiculously lucky to have this book, Tolkien’s mind at play on his ‘secret vice’ — it could have remained in his head and been lost, and we’d have been poorer for it.

This time, though, what I noticed mostly was the maps. I’m not a visual person, so I’ve never been good at imagining the sheer scale of the Fellowship’s journey, or understanding the geography. Perhaps unsurprisingly, hours spent riding around the Shire, Eregion and the Gap of Rohan while playing Lord of the Rings Online has given me a much keener sense of the geography (if not so much the scale, since obviously LOTRO isn’t set up to make you take days to cross Eregion). Suddenly it’s much easier to picture, and to realise that Tolkien had a very clear sense of where everything was, even when it came to small scenes. All the details work together — such and such is on the left, so the east wind does [x] — to make it a fully realised sensory experience. You have to have a heck of an imagination to keep all that straight, and for the most part, Tolkien does.

When you know that he also did illustrations for his own books and was a prominent scholar, one whose work on medieval texts is still relevant to undergraduates today, you just have to marvel. The man was a genius, and for all the flaws of moral absolutism and sexism I can see in his work — which nonetheless do make sense in the mythic context he’s creating — I can never again undervalue it. Anybody who dismisses J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is foolish. (Enjoying it is another matter, of course.)

Rating: 5/5

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Review – A Local Habitation

Posted 22 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuireA Local Habitation, Seanan McGuire

When I started this, I found myself wishing I’d read it straight after Rosemary and Rue, even though it hasn’t really been that long since I read that. The world is just complex enough that I felt at sea coming back in — and I was a little surprised by Toby having friends, who I didn’t remember being mentioned before, who she’d actually go out clubbing with. It doesn’t fit the image of Toby I’d formed, somehow. So I’m now determined to chew through this series at speed, because it’s fun — I love the complexities of the world, the rules binding the fae.

Maybe the thing I like a bit less is the constant teasing at romance between Toby and… a bunch of other characters. At least, that’s how I read (for example) Toby’s relationship with Tybalt. I’d actually enjoy it if that sort of thing resolved as friendship. Knowing how my friends feel about McGuire’s work, I wouldn’t be surprised, though; possibly, I’m just reading it too simplistically, a la the Kate Daniels books.

The plot itself for this one was a bit obvious to me, somehow. One character just kept showing up, and one mystery surrounding another of the characters just seemed obvious somehow. But I loved the bit about the digital dryad, and I was rather surprised by the way some aspects of this turned out. We also learn fascinating things about the night-haunts, get an interesting twist to Toby’s relationship with the Luidaeg, spend more time with different kinds of fae… and perhaps, get a peek at Toby’s mother and where she is now, though not in any detail.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these, particularly as I hear they get better as they go on.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Sunbird

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

Cover of The Sunbird by Elizabeth E. WeinThe Sunbird, Elizabeth E. Wein

Flashback Friday review from 12th February, 2011

I think I liked The Sunbird best of the series so far. It goes even further from Arthurian myth — the only character from the Arthurian canon is Medraut — but in the process makes an enchanting narrative. Young Telemakos is growing up and showing all signs of inheriting his father’s ability to stalk prey, but he uses his skills politically.

The story of his search for the figure called the Lazarus, and what happens to him there, are compelling. The darkness from the other stories remains here. Telemakos is a very strong character, almost unbelievably so, and yet still believably a child, too. The reactions of the other characters to what happens to him feels real and shocking, and is well-handled.

Medraut as a character develops further here, into someone one can like, or at least sympathise with a little — largely divorced from the Arthurian canon, by this point.

Again, it’s easy to read, well-written, but there are parts at which the soft-hearted will struggle.

Rating: 5/5

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This Is My Genre, Show Me Yours

Posted 17 November, 2016 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Saw this tag out in the wilds of Lucille @ A Dragon in Space‘s blog, and thought, yep! This sounds interesting.

This is my genre, show me yours!

The Rules:

  • Credit Drew @ TheTattooedBookGeek as the creator of the tag, either use the created tag name graphic or create your own and link back to my blog.
  • Answer the questions.
  • Tag as many people as you want.

Because I’m contrary and have no art skills, I am not creating a graphic.

1. What’s your favourite genre?

Probably fantasy. I mean, I’m really eclectic and wander into science fiction, crime/mystery, non-fiction and even romance. But unless I can sneak in sci-fi too by calling it speculative fiction… actually, yes, let’s do that. My favourite genre is speculative fiction.

2. Who’s your favourite author from the genre?

This is a really big ask. I mean, there’s Tolkien, because his work is an enduring love of mine. Well, I faltered a bit as a teen, but then read Ursula Le Guin’s essays and came to appreciate all over again the good parts of The Lord of the Rings, like the wry notes of humour. And then my degree taught me to appreciate the deep background, linguistic brilliance, etc.

And come to that, there’s Ursula Le Guin, whose works were also formative for me.

But if we’re talking whose work I pounce on immediately, I guess we’re at Jo Walton. She is not only an awesome writer who wrote Among Others, a book which reflects my own heart, but she is also a friend and giver of great advice.

3. What is it about the genre that keeps pulling you back?

The sheer variety, I think. One minute I can travel with Bilbo from the Shire, and the next I can travel by sandworm across Arrakis, or struggle to get home from Mars with Mark Watney. There seems to be just about no limit to the different books I could easily lay hand on even in my own collection.

4. What’s the book that started your love for your favourite genre?

That’s an easy one! The Hobbit! I probably wrecked my eyes reading that book — my parents told me I had to sleep and to stop turning my bedside light on. So I read by the light of the streetlamp… two houses away.

5. If you had to recommend at least one book from your favourite genre to a non-reader/someone looking to start reading that genre, what book would you choose and why?

No, no, this is silly, I’d need to know the person and their preferences. You have to tailor your recs, or it makes no sense. But for a lot of people, I might go with Harry Potter. It seems to have been a gateway drug for many, and it’s a pretty pacy, easy read.

6. Why do you read?

Why can’t I stop? Not that I want to.

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Review – In the Forests of Serre

Posted 12 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillipIn the Forests of Serre, Patricia A. McKillip

This isn’t quite a retelling, but there are elements which look very like Baba Yaga, Ivan and the Firebird, and other such folk and fairytales. That said, it’s very much a book of its own which uses the magic of those fairytale elements to reflect on love and grief, and on struggles with oneself. The prose is lyrically beautifully as always, but less opaque than in some of McKillip’s other books — it seemed perfectly clear what everything meant, except perhaps on the point of Unciel and Gyre’s struggles.

It’s also very full of people, real people whose troubles you can feel: a princess who doesn’t want to marry someone she doesn’t know, but goes in the end because otherwise it would spell disaster for her family — but she’s still scared; a prince who doesn’t want to get over the death of his wife and unborn child; a queen trapped in a loveless marriage with a man who might as well be an ogre, but nonetheless loves her son and serves the kingdom… a scribe who wishes briefly to ride off to save a princess, but in the end stays and does his job, and nurses an old wizard. They all have conflicts and fears you can relate to, and their desires are understandable despite the magic around them. Even Gyre’s desire for power makes sense.

There’s some lovely lines, especially regarding the firebird, though the bit I liked best was when Ronan and Sidonie are together near the end of the book, and she’s drawn to him for protection. It just… rang true. And the parts with Unciel and Euan have a lovely quietness at times — it reminds me of some of the moments in Earthsea of just appreciating the world as it is.

I enjoyed this one a lot, and read it very fast; I think it might be one of my favourites so far.

Rating: 5/5

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