Tag: SF/F

Review – A Coalition of Lions

Posted 11 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth WeinA Coalition of Lions, Elizabeth E. Wein

Flashback Friday review from 12th February, 2011

A Coalition of Lions is quite different to The Winter Prince. The narration is straight first person, by Goewin, and it’s set after the fall of Artos’ kingdom. This one explores the role of women in this world better, and is quite empowering to Goewin, which was nice. The decision to include a non-canonical daughter for Arthur is quite a bold one, as is following her after her father’s death, and her attempts to do her best for Britain as though she were its queen.

That, and Medraut’s continued loyalty to Artos and Lleu — the fact that it is not his treachery, only an accident, that brought about the tragedy at the end of Arthur’s reign — is a pretty bold move. I don’t really believe in this version of the Arthurian myth, but it’s a breath of fresh air, a nice change.

Like the first book, A Coalition of Lions is very easy to read, and it’s not as dark. There is a bit of darkness and torture — Medraut would surely have somewhat in common with the brothers who are the coalition of lions — but it isn’t as internal to the story as in The Winter Prince.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Winter Prince

Posted 4 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Winter Prince by Elizabeth E. WeinThe Winter Prince, Elizabeth E. Wein

Flashback Friday review from 12th February, 2011

After finishing The Winter Prince, I had to stop for a minute to think about it — do I like it? How much did I enjoy it? The style is very interesting: it seems to be straight first person narration at times, but when Medraut’s mother appears, it becomes apparent that he’s addressing the story to her. It deals with one of the issues that lie at the heart of the Arthurian mythos, often blamed for the fall of Camelot: the incest between Arthur and his sister. It works out the issues, in a way, binding Medraut to his brother, Lleu, and neutralising him, though it’s not an easy road for either of them to walk.

It also deals with the issues of abuse, a horribly powerful link between Medraut and his mother, and even between his mother and his brothers. He has to deal with the tangled feelings that come when at one moment someone will hurt you horrifically and the next comfort you, when they’ll say it’s for your own good or that you did wrong, to excuse them torturing you. Medraut’s confusion is well done: I couldn’t predict what he would do and how, I couldn’t predict whether he would go free of her at the end or not.

With the point of view it took, I suppose it’d be hard to show more of Medraut’s mother and her motivations, but I found that somewhat difficult to swallow, of everything in the book. So casually evil, toying with other people as though they’re not real… Goewin and Ginevra are positive female characters, to an extent, though the latter does very little after the opening of the novel. Goewin hints at a way she could become like Medraut’s mother, so there is a bit of a sense of circumstances making her the way she is, but still… I did want more, I wanted less senseless evil and more a sense of someone made the way she is by being wronged and so on. Turning Morgause and Morgan Le Fay and their like into evil witches is one of those ways of pathologising female power that people don’t seem to guard against.

The Winter Prince can be a quick, easy read, but there’s darkness at the heart of it — which is, I suppose, countered by the end.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 1 November, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme is Top Ten Books if your bookclub likes ____. Well, I’ll go with sci-fi (or spec-fic more generally), surprising no one. (Except anyone who half expected me to do non-fiction again.)

Cover of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell Cover of The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach Cover of Dark Run by Mike Brooks Cover of Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang Cover of The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri S. Tepper

  1. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. Prepare to have your heart and soul ripped to shreds. It sounds like crack: Jesuits in space! It isn’t. It’s really serious and profound and an amazing exploration of faith and where it might take people.
  2. The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach. The translation is actually really good, and the structure of this book is fascinating. Plenty to sink your teeth into.
  3. Dark Run, by Mike Brooks. This is rather lighter fare: basically Firefly if it did more than nod at diversity. (Come on, I love Firefly, but Simon and River Tam should’ve been played by Chinese actors, following the logic of the world-building.)
  4. Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang. You can even get a book club cinema trip out of this one in the near future, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in a film adaptation of one of the stories. There’s some really clever stuff here.
  5. The Gate to Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper. RIP to the author, who died on the 22nd October of this year. I found this book really fascinating, and it’s an interesting exploration of gender roles.
  6. Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. I really love this whole trilogy (maybe a reread soon?), but it seems like it can be a bit like Marmite. Regardless, there should be plenty to dig your teeth into in a discussion.
  7. Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer. What’s going on in this book? Who knows, but there’s plenty to talk about and analyse. I’d read the whole trilogy, though, to get all the pieces of the puzzle…
  8. Remnant Population, by Elizabeth Moon. This book actually features an older protagonist, which is interesting, and it’s a fun exploration of two species meeting in a less-than-typical situation.
  9. The Broken Land, by Ian McDonald. I don’t know why other people didn’t enjoy this. Whether you see Israel and Palestine in it, or the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, it reflects reality and muses upon it in the best sort of way.
  10. Troika, by Alastair Reynolds. I stumbled across this novella in a library in Belgium, and hadn’t come across it before, despite enjoying the author’s work. It’s an interesting take on the Big Dumb Object trope. If your bookclub wanted to explore a major SF trope, this’d be a good pick, for my money.

Cover of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie Cover of Annilation by Jeff VanderMeer Cover of Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon Cover of The Broken Land by Ian McDonald Cover of Troika by Alastair Reynolds

Looking forward to seeing other people’s lists this week — though it’s not like I need more new books…

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Review – Whispers Under Ground

Posted 30 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Whispers Under Ground by Ben AaronovitchWhispers Under Ground, Ben Aaronovitch

This series remains fun, and the interactions between Lesley and Peter are just A++. I think I found the pacing a bit off reading this for a second time; I couldn’t really remember the plot, but it seemed to be taking an awful lot of time to get to the sewer scenes I remembered. All the same, it’s a worthy entry in the series, with Lesley taking a more active part again, and featuring a less comic-book like amount of violence. Instead, the threat is more personal, more like what you would expect from routine police work… if routine police work required you to notice the vestigia on a murder weapon, and try to track where it came from. Still, this is definitely the most police-procedural-ish of the three books so far; that may or may not appeal to you!

There are some great atmospherics in this book, though, given the sewer excursions (incursions?) and the visit to the Quiet People. And, though I don’t remember it being mentioned specifically before, Peter Grant’s former interest in architecture — the way he can describe buildings and features just adds a little something.

What is driving me mad is that the library had one UK edition and one probably US edition, which spell Lesley’s name differently. I don’t even know anymore. Help. Which does the UK version use?

Not my favourite of the series, anyway; I think if I remember rightly, that’s probably the next one, Broken Homes. Wish me luck going back into that heartbreak, is all I’m going to say.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Anthem

Posted 29 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Anthem by Ayn RandAnthem, Ayn Rand

I’ve never really seriously considered reading Ayn Rand’s books; I’ve never heard anything good about either her prose style and plotting or her politics, so at that point, why bother? But it was available on the Serial Reader app when I was first trying it out, and it was only eight installments long, and I talked with someone else who was reading it, and… ended up giving it a go.

It’s basically a parable against collectivist politics, the total celebration of the ego. It’s not totally without compassion for one’s fellow being — even after discovering the word ‘I’, the narrator does want to go back and find other people like himself. But it is all about making yourself the most important person, and seeking what you want, and damn what society needs to be cohesive. Obviously, neither extreme much appeals to me, at least as portrayed here. Other books have had a more honest crack at collectivist societies, like Le Guin’s The Dispossessed; that both criticises and examines. I’d stick to that, or even to Zamyatin’s We, which is similar to this book in theme but better written.

I don’t regret reading it, but I wouldn’t read anything else by Rand — this gives a clear enough view of her politics.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The House of Shattered Wings

Posted 25 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de BodardThe House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard

It’s hard to pull together my feelings and thoughts on this book, for some reason. I remember not being sure about the first 100 pages — particularly with the brutal butchery at the beginning, and I’m being pretty literal about the butchery — but then I got really into it, ended up reading obliviously until my dinner was stone cold, and finished it off in one great gulp. And promptly started recommending it to people. And yet right now, it’s hard to put my finger on it: part of it is the Paris of the setting, degraded and dark and magical; the feeling of House Silverspires, the history and weight of it; the allure of the Fallen, especially Morningstar, and wanting to know what their stories are. And the Vietnamese legends that get drawn in are also fascinating, and leave me very curious about a culture I know shockingly little about.

At the same time, I see reviews complaining about the unlikeableness and distance of most of the characters, and if I stop to think about it, it’s true. Selene? Well, she’s not cruel, though she’s not entirely merciful, and occasionally you can have a moment of pity for her in the way she has to lead her House. But sympathy? Not really. Madeleine? Well. Some sympathy, perhaps, but in a very pitiful sort of way, because of her addiction. Philippe? Difficult, given his ambivalence, his willingness to betray, and the fact that he participated in the butchery of a Fallen angel at the very start of the book… Isabelle? She’s more of a blank slate, honestly; it’s hard to know what she’s going to become, what’s going on in her head. That’s almost the point of her character, given that Fallen don’t retain full memories of why they fell.

And yet. I know that I did get drawn in — partly by the prose, I think, which breathed that sense of a decaying Paris, of tarnished pride, and by the world de Bodard built. Even if I can’t put my finger on it, I have to give this four stars because, well, what else can you do when something makes you forget all about your dinner for hours?

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Moon Over Soho

Posted 24 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Moon Over Soho by Ben AaronovitchMoon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch

Rereading the second book confirmed that this series is definitely deeply British, usually funny, and with a bit more depth than I originally feared. Reading it this time, I was really interested to note how Peter and Nightingale clashed when it came to understanding the magical creatures around them. Nightingale is a decent guy, and yet he wasn’t prepared to give the ‘jazz vampires’ a single chance, despite all the evidence that they couldn’t help what they did, and didn’t even understand it either. But Peter, an ordinary cop, steps up and says hey, no, we’re meant to protect these people too. They have rights too. He’s the kind of idealistic cop that would greatly better the police forces the world over — he’s not just idealistic, but he also says something.

Granted, he’s also thinking with his dick again, given his personal connection to the case and the fact that women are involved. But it’s still notable that he does the right thing.

It’s also fun that his background, and his dad’s jazz career, are key to this mystery. And it really does leave you wondering how the heck Nightingale managed without an apprentice all that time. Again, despite the fact that he’s generally a good guy and well meaning, I think it shows that Nightingale has been a bit blind.

Also, hey, who doesn’t enjoy the lines like this?

For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.

Well, okay, the “NO HOMO” tone it takes sometimes is less fun, but the lack of hugging because English… yep.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – How To Traverse Terra Incognita

Posted 23 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How To Traverse Terra Incognita by Dean Francis AlfarHow To Traverse Terra Incognita, Dean Francis Alfar

I can’t remember why exactly I picked this up, ages ago, but it’s an interesting sampling of stories from a writer from the Philippines; at first, I expected the stories to all be around a theme in the sense of being set in the same world, but while they all explore unknown worlds in some way, they aren’t linked one to another. I wasn’t specially wowed by some of the stories — in a way, I expected the endings they had, despite the sense of them being intended to be clever/surprising. They were definitely competently written, all of them, and some of them were more than competent, but I didn’t really get drawn in or mesmerised by the words in any of the stories.

The range is interesting, and given that I did enjoy the collection while not finding it exceptional, I’m going to put the author’s other anthology on my list — Goodreads reviews suggest people, in general, preferred Kite of Stars.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Truthwitch

Posted 22 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Truthwitch by Susan DennardTruthwitch, Susan Dennard

I was pretty excited about this one given the buzz, and with Robin Hobb’s endorsement on the front cover. Unfortunately, and maybe this is partly because of the hype, Truthwitch didn’t really work for me. I loved the idea of the two girls at the center, their friendship being the most important thing, but in practice there was a lot of mooning over boys (well, Merik) on Safi’s part, and they spent a surprising amount of the book apart. I felt like we were told that their friendship was deep and complete more often than we were shown it; Safi’s concern for Iseult in the latter half of the book did help, but she was so quickly re-focused on other things.

The world would be an interesting one, if there was more to it, but instead of a sense of history and a sense of the characters having a place in a tradition of magic and magic-use, I felt like the rules were being made up as the narrative went along. Merik’s magic is weak — but he can fly with it?! I eventually decided that Threadfamily meant the people you were most closely bound to in friendship, and Heart-Thread was a romantic connection, but it took a while to be clear, and I wasn’t always sure of people’s relationships to each other. I do hope that the large dollop of queerness I read into it was true, but I was too hopeful re: Merik and Kullen, so I’m thinking not. And what’s Cleaving — or, no, that becomes apparent, but not the history of it: is it recent? Is it increasing? Has it always been a threat?

It’s fun enough if you read it without thinking too much; it’s basically an eternal chase scene, with Safi and Merik blowing up at each other in a way that’s clearly meant to denote their passion for each other, but which has strong overtones of “insta-luv”. Evrane and Aeduan were more like background characters, but I did find them interesting — particularly Aeduan, since he’s an antagonist but somewhat ambivalently placed.

I think with more background it would have felt stronger and better-paced; instead, with events coming one after the other but often without context, it actually dragged. It’s hard to care when you’re not entirely sure what the significance is, after all.

Since there are people who did love the book, I’m also open to the idea of it being a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” — and it’s not that I think it’s dreadful. I’m just not hooked, and not that tempted to pick up the sequel when it comes out.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Chrysalids

Posted 21 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Chrysalids by John WyndhamThe Chrysalids, John Wyndham

Flashback Friday review from 27th June, 2011

I’ve been meaning to read The Chrysalids since it was mentioned in Among Others (reading books Mori mentions hasn’t steered me wrong, so far). I’m glad I got round to it. I enjoyed Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, but I enjoyed The Chrysalids rather more: I fell in love with the way he created a whole post-apocalyptic world in just a few pages. I loved all the details of it — harsh and oppressive as it would be to live that life, it’s a fantastic read for someone interested in post-apocalyptic dystopia.

It wasn’t, really, all that new to me, the modern reader. Still, it felt like it was, somehow. It leaves one wanting more, too. The ending is open enough that goodness knows what could happen, and the reader is given plenty they have to work out for themselves.

Character-wise, I suppose it wasn’t that strong, as the only characters who stood out to me strongly were the really central ones. Most of the group, I don’t think I’ll remember their names tomorrow. David and Rosalind do have a sweetness to them, but at the same time, if I think of what marked them out as people… David’s uncle, who kills someone to keep their secret, and supports David and helps him despite his difference, he’s actually perhaps the most memorable to me, in a way.

There is, by the by, a lot of moral ambiguity.

I’ll be keeping my copy of The Chrysalids, for sure. I’ll want to come back to it.

Rating: 4/5

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