Posts by: Nikki


Review – Trail of Lightning

Posted 24 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning is set in Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation, after a climate apocalypse that drowned half the world. In the post-apocalyptic landscape, old gods and spirits now prowl. Maggie ends up hunting those old gods and spirits, looking for her former mentor, trying to keep her sidekick alive, and killing some nasties along the way — you know, the usual sort of urban fantasy shtick, only with a decidedly non-usual setting.

Maggie’s got clan powers: skills which allow her to do superhuman feats in battle, and run faster than is physically possible for most humans, which come from her heritage. In principle, it’s all really interesting, and I do enjoy the setting and background. It’s not the beaten path, and that’s great.

I don’t think I liked the side characters as much as I should have, and mostly I mean Kai. I needed to feel more of a connection with him for the ending to really work, I think, and I was actually grossed out by aspects of his behaviour (which I shouldn’t spoiler!). He’s meant to be nice, but his manipulation of people is not something I admire in a character.

As for the plot, well, as soon as Coyote came along, I knew there was going to be some kind of reversal, some kind of trick. I did actually fall into part of the trap just because I disliked a particular character so much and was ready to believe the worst of him, but I was never really along for the ride because I know what Coyote is — or at least, I know a number of stories about Coyote, and about tricksters in general, and it was obvious that there was a twist coming.

I think overall I like the idea of the book more than I like the book itself, and that has sort of settled in — over the time since I finished the book — as my conclusion. I’m interested enough to read Storm of Locusts — and it’s higher in my Hugo ballot that Space Opera for sure — but I’m not in love with it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic for Liars

Posted 23 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Magic for Liars by Sarah GaileyMagic for Liars, Sarah Gailey

Received to review via Netgalley

You either are magic, or you are not. Ivy was not, but her twin sister was — a fact that came between them so that years later, they’re almost strangers. Ivy’s a private investigator, though, and when approached by the head of the magic school where her twin Tabitha works to help in solving a suspicious death, she jumps at the chance to see a little of what she’s missing. The problem is that she lies, lies and lies again as she tries to live the life she might have led, if only she was magic.

There is one way in which Magic for Liars is just so totally not for me: it relies fairly heavily on miscommunication (deliberate miscommunication, at that). That’s Ivy’s MO here, and it’s what gets her into half the trouble, and I just find that so vicariously embarrassing and so annoying. Ivy’s problems towards the end of the book are 100% caused by herself and her own stupid decision, and that is not a plot line I enjoy, at least not when it’s made quite so explicit, or is so utterly avoidable. Hubris is one thing, but getting caught in a web of your own lies — lies you know to be stupid — is just… gah.

On the other hand, it is a fun read: Gailey does some fun misdirection and plays with the tropes, and her writing is just… When I first came across some of the lines, one comparison immediately jumped to mind, and that’s Raymond Chandler. There’s something fresh about the way she puts things, a sense of ‘that’s perfect, but also new’ that I think I honestly last encountered when I first read Chandler and followed his ‘shop-worn Galahad’ around town. Things like “Monday morning came on like a head cold” — not even the best example, but one of those right, yes, that feeling moments.

(For all his faults, Chandler was one hell of a writer. This is 1,000% a compliment.)

There’s a lot to enjoy about this book, especially if you enjoy the idea of following around a profoundly damaged and self-sabotaging person. What she’s doing to herself is beautifully clear; it’s just not my jam at all.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 22 May, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

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.

Cover of The Afterward by E. K. JohnsonWhat are you currently reading?

I’m currently in the middle of The Afterward, by E.K. Johnstone, which I will probably finish before this post goes live. It’s kind of light, but fun all the same. I’m also partway through rereading The Traitor Baru Cormorant, in that way where I picked it up to read maybe a chapter because I wanted to remind myself I did really like it and it is not actually going to be a chore (because sometimes my brain is daft, okay) and then I read 25% of it in one fell swoop. Oops.

Cover of The Dark Days Club by Alison GoodmanWhat have you recently finished reading?

The Dark Days Club, of which I didn’t think that much; I thought it was relatively predictable, and I’m not super admiring of Lady Helen. It doesn’t feel like she’s really made a choice; it feels like her hand was forced by circumstances. Also, she’s clearly going to be special and not like other Reclaimers and so on. A certain amount of that is fine, but it feels like she breaks the rules we were literally just taught in the story. Meh.

I also finished rereading Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, which… I have more qualms and complaints about it now than I did, but I also appreciate some aspects of it a lot more.

Cover of The True Queen by Zen ChoWhat will you be reading next?

Not a clue! Probably finishing up Valour & Vanity, and then… possibly Fire Logic (Laurie J. Marks) or possibly I’ll start on Middlegame or The True Queen. As ever, I’ll probably figure out what I accidentally inhale it. What I really want to read is The Bitter Twins, but that will have to wait.

What are you currently reading?

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Readalong – The Ninth Rain & Trail of Lightning

Posted 21 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Text banner: Wyrd and Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic (1-31 May) - plus a gorgeous stylised dragon glyph

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseTrail of Lightning:

Stakes are getting higher and seemingly more personal for Maggie as she finds more back-up in her fight that she can’t seem to simply walk away from. How do you feel about ‘found family’ stories, and do you think that’s what we’re getting here? What do you think of Grace and her family?

We find out more about Kai – specifically, that Maggie isn’t the only one with clan powers – after a particularly brutal run-in with Longarm. What’s your verdict on how Maggie handled the corrupt cop, and has your opinion of Kai changed with this reveal? If so, how?

Ma’ii’s method of transportation was an interesting one, and it raises the fact that Neizghání isn’t the only one with a ‘signature’ that involves lightning. Do you think it’s possible (or even likely) that Neizghání’s involvement in this mystery is a red herring?

What do you think we can expect from Maggie’s visit to Shalimar? Nothing but trouble, or will she get what she’s there for?

As I said last week, I’ll confess, I’ve finished the book. So I’m trying to answer this without any spoilers and with what my impressions were at the time, but I apologise if I get inadvertently spoilery!

Found family/Grace and her family:

I feel there’s not quite enough development on this to make me really feel like Maggie’s part of Grace’s family at this point. Maybe if they continue to partner up through the second book, but… actually, I’m finding that stuff like this is already fading for me. If I don’t read Storm of Locusts soon, I won’t remember who everyone is.

Kai’s clan powers:

I knew this was coming and it actually pisses me off. Any kind of mind control grosses me out, and I didn’t trust Kai from the moment I knew that’s what he was doing. I don’t think we’re meant to take such a hard line on it, but he’s been using it to manipulate Maggie, despite all his requests to be partners and for her to trust him. It’s not trust when it’s compelled.

Neizghání:

He seems like such an asshole that nothing would’ve surprised me where this came from.

Shalimar:

Ma’ii’s involvement meant much much suspicion of every aspect of his mission for Maggie, this included. He’s a Trickster. It’s not going to be what it seems, or the rug is gonna get yanked out from under you even harder because this does go to plan.


Cover of The Ninth Rain by Jen WilliamsThe Ninth Rain:

1. Vintage’s journal entries at the start of each chapter seem to be filling in more backstory for our heroine, but what do you think of this approach to providing information about her? Are these entries fascinating, or distracting?

2. More details emerge about what happened at the end of the Eighth Rain… What do you think happened to (or between?) the Jure’lia queen and Ygseril?

3. And now it seems that the god-tree still lives. Or does it? What’s your take on what Hestillion is doing, and what do you think she’s going to do with her surprise guests?

4. Make love, not war. Or, if you’re Tormalin the Oathless, do both. How do you feel about the particular mixture of Tor’s skills, and what do you make of his interactions with Noon so far?

I’ve also finished this one now, but I’ll do my best not to give any spoilers!

The excerpts:

I think they’re very cleverly done, because it’s not only a source of lore for the world, but it’s powerful characterisation for Vintage (and some of the people around her). I’ve known books where I always skipped this kind of thing, but these are interesting for being in Vintage’s voice and they provide plot-relevant information. Do not skip!

The end of the Eighth Rain:

I kind of assumed, at this point, that there was some kind of mutual destruction, or possibly just fighting each other to a standstill, and what we see is their long, long deadlock. I was biased toward mutual destruction since we hadn’t heard anything from Ygseril. (Personally, I thought the death of the Jure’lia queen was probably only a temporary setback for the Jure’lia.)

Ygseril:

I’m sceptical of anything so conveniently sudden after years without contact. Hest’s been diving deep all this time: why is she only making contact now? Something seems to be stirring, and I didn’t really believe it could be Ygseril.

Make love, not war:

I don’t think it’s that unusual; Tor’s lived a long time, and has a long time left to live. I’d be surprised if this was the full extent of his talents, too. In terms of his interactions with Noon, I thought that was a fairly obvious and conventional story with an obvious trajectory — not that I object to that.

General point:

This whole book makes me think so much of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The parasite spirits and what they do seem so like the spirits in The Spirits Within that that’s basically how I picture them, and the dream of the Jure’lia makes me think of Aki Ross’ dreams.

A still from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

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Discussion: Fantasy

Posted 20 May, 2019 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

Text banner: Wyrd and Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic (1-31 May) - plus a gorgeous stylised dragon glyphFor a while now I’ve been meaning to do some little discussions of genres, talk about the books I’ve read that sold me on the genre or really formed my impressions of it, so it seems appropriate to start off now, during Wyrd & Wonder, with one of my major genres — one that I’ve been reading throughout my life.

Fantasy is a really, really big genre, to be honest. It comes in so many shapes and styles that can overlap and borrow from one another, and the tone can be anything from dead serious to satirical to silly. You can spend your whole time reading in a subgenre and there’ll still be plenty there for you, particularly if it’s a major subgenre.

What counts as fantasy?

With all the subgenres and the changes in tone, it can be hard to put a finger on. I just settle for saying that it depicts a world at an angle from ours: there may be magic, events may have been different, dragons may be real, the characters may be animals or eldritch beings… Whatever it is, you know that it isn’t our world, however much you may wish that it was.

My first fantasy novel:

I’ll have been read several as a kid, but the first one I remember reading with any clarity is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My versions of those books had lovely covers, and I regularly read them to pieces.

My favourite fantasy novel: 

This is a toughie, and always an unfair question, but if I had to go with my gut and blurt something out, right now I would say The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison.

My favourite fantasy series: 

This one is even tougher. There are so many trilogies and sprawling multi-volume epics that I find myself without even a gut feeling. And yet something does seem like clearly the right choice if I stop and think: Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels.

The last fantasy novel I read:

The last one I finished was The Ninth Rain, by Jen Williams. I’m eager to jump right on the next… just as soon as I finish the last 12 books from my Wyrd & Wonder reading list!

Top five subgenres: 

  • Secondary world fantasy, where the author has invented a whole new world
  • Portal fantasy, where people from our world end up in a fantasy world
  • Historical fantasy, where historical events are retold and changed by fantastical elements
  • Urban fantasy, where fairies and magic and all kinds of chaos can intrude into the modern cityscape
  • Fairytale retellings, where traditional stories are deepened and widened, and sometimes twisted

Suggested gateway books: 

  • If you’re into secondary world fantasy, then J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books might appeal — or for something more recent, try some N.K. Jemisin (start with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) or Robert Jackson Bennett (City of Stairs)For a recentish but very traditional epic fantasy series, you could really get your teeth stuck into Tad Williams’ Osten Ard books.
  • When it comes to portal fantasy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a classic, but I’d personally go for Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy instead. I need to finish Foz Meadows’ A Tyranny of Queens, but An Accident of Stars was enjoyable. If you have other good recs for portal fantasy, actually, let me know! I love the idea, but need to read more.
  • When it comes to historical fantasy, I could just refer you back to Guy Gavriel Kay (Sailing to Sarantium is a particular favourite), but I’m coming to really appreciate Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist books, and Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent books are a treat.
  • For urban fantasy, Seanan McGuire’s cooked up a treat in the October Daye books, and I’d say Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books are well worth it as well. Urban fantasy can get a bit samey, but Toby and Kate still kick ass and takes names from where I’m sitting.
  • Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is the first book that leaps to mind when I’m talking about fairytale retellings, but there are others that hew closer to the original story — like Robin McKinley’s BeautySpindle’s End and Rose Daughter. Personally, I’d go with T. Kingfisher’s retellings, Juliet Marillier’s Heart’s Blood, and a side of Genevieve Valentine’s retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in the 20s, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.

There’s so much out there, so if you’re interested in fantasy but not sure where to begin, I can guarantee there’s a book out there for you — and I’ve had some of my best successes by just picking a random book off the shelves. Get out there and dabble, is my advice!

(The next genre discussion, in a couple of weeks, will be Mysteries and crime, I think, so keep an eye out if that’s more your thing!)

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Review – Magic and Religion in Ancient Egypt

Posted 19 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie DavidMagic and Religion in Ancient Egypt, Rosalie David

If you’re looking for a comprehensive but readable survey of the beliefs of Ancient Egyptians over time, this should definitely do the trick. It’s an overview, not an in-depth dive into all the ins and outs, so if this is actually your area of study, you’ll obviously be wanting to go somewhere else — but I wouldn’t say this is really aimed at the casual reader, either. You need to have an interest in the topic, at the very least, or the level of detail would be too much.

I wouldn’t say the book is brilliant, and its style is definitely not “unputdownable”, but the topic was interesting enough to carry it for me. And I enjoyed David’s approach, which took things in chronological order and looked at the way religion changed with politics (and/or the way politics changed with religion).

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 18 May, 2019 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

Good morning, folks! I’ve had a busy week, culminating in Friday’s business of going to get my new degree.

That’s an end to degree #3. From English Literature (BA) to Medieval Literature (MA) to Biology (BSc), to…?

(Classical Studies, if they let me enrol.)

Anyway, I have been doing some reading, and some buying of books, so let’s get back on topic!

Acquired: 

Cover of A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes Cover of The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon Cover of The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams

A bit of a mixture there; the first three were treats for a rough day, and The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is on sale at the moment…

Read this week:

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier Cover of Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey Cover of The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams

Reviews posted:

Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier. A reread which I still enjoyed the second time, though with more reservations about one of the characters than I remembered! 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Readalong: The Ninth Rain and Trail of Lightning. My thoughts on last week’s discussion prompts!
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update.

And that’s it for another week! How’s everyone doing?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 15 May, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

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.

Cover of The Ninth Rain by Jen WilliamsWhat are you currently reading?

Mostly, The Ninth Rain! I think I’ll try and finish this next, because I’m well hooked on the story. I need to order the sequels too, seemingly! I’m very much enjoying it, and actually enjoying the chunkiness of it too — it feels like sinking into a deep hot bath, rather than dipping your toes into a pond: there’s so much to enjoy once you get into it. At least, that’s how it’s working for me.

Cover of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last book I finished was my reread of Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho. Highly enjoyable, and I’m glad I refreshed my memory; I know The True Queen can more or less stand alone, but it was very useful to get back in the world in general and the rules that bind it. I’d forgotten far too much. Also, Prunella is excellent.

Cover of The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth DickinsonWhat will you read next?

I haven’t really decided, but it’ll be from my Wyrd and Wonder reading list. Maybe I’ll dive straight into The True Queen, or go off on a tangent and revisit The Traitor Baru Cormorant. As usual, it’s all up in the air and it’s anyone’s guess.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Dreamer’s Pool

Posted 14 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierDreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier

This was a reread for me, in order to get back into the world so I could finally read the rest of the trilogy! It opens with Blackthorn in prison — a horrible sort of prison, where all kinds of atrocities are committed, creepy-crawlies are your closest companion, and you scratch on the wall to count the days until the hearing where you might receive justice. There’s one night left, except the guard says she’s not going to have her trial. There’s a ray of hope, though: Conmael, a fae man, offers her a deal. She must leave the area for seven years, use her craft for good, and say ‘yes’ to any request for help.

Blackthorn takes the deal, of course. Conmael fulfils the start of the promise in an unexpected way, and Blackthorn escapes — with a companion from the prison, Grim — and travels to her new home. She expects to see folk just like the folk she left behind, and a lord who is no better than the one she planned to testify against at her hearing. Enter the other main character, Oran: a gentle poet who tries to be generous and fair to his people, and who has a little dilemma of his own to be solved…

The main thing for me in these books is the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim. It’s coded non-romantically and non-sexually: they are friends, they rely on each other, and they’re even somewhat co-dependent, but there’s no hint that the relationship is or could be romantic. (God, I hope this stays true of the other books. It wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker for me, but I don’t really read it as a romantic relationship. At least not in this book!) Blackthorn’s not interested, and Grim’s only interest is in being useful, in drowning out the nastiness in his past and the horrors of the prison to be by Blackthorn’s side. It’s the strongest part of the book, their bond, and I only hope it will stay rock-solid through the other two books.

I’m less interested in Oran, whose management of his lands and people reads like a modern insertion — he’s just too egalitarian for the medieval Ireland-ish setting we’ve got here, though we do see a less flattering side of his character in his total impatience with Flidais for not acting the way he expects. His love story with Flidais is interesting in terms of the mystery it provides, but I don’t really believe in either of them as people, and I found some aspects of that storyline vicariously embarrassing (usually a death-knell for me, with any form of media). The solution is rather neat and ties most things up, so I rather hope the focus will be elsewhere in the next book. Despite my reservations about Oran, I’m ready to dive in.

Rating: 4/5

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Readalong – The Ninth Rain & Trail of Lightning

Posted 12 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Text banner: Wyrd and Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic (1-31 May) - plus a gorgeous stylised dragon glyph

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseTrail of Lightning:

– 24 hours isn’t long to forge a partnership, but it’s been eventful! Do you think Maggie and Kai make a good team? Why?
– A Trickster comes to tea! We meet our first Bik’e’áyée’ii – what do you make of Ma’ii? …and his mission?
– We learn more about Maggie’s past, and about Neizghani. Do you think she’s too hard on herself? How do you feel about Neizghani’s role in her life – and about the way he left?
– Any predictions or other observations at the half-way stage?

I’ll confess, I’ve now finished the book. I just couldn’t stop reading once I got into it — I was worried I’d forget things. So I’ll try and answer this without any spoilers and with what my impressions were at the time, but I apologise if I get inadvertently spoilery!

Maggie and Kai as a team:

I wasn’t sold on it at this point (or actually even at the end of the book). It feels like there are too many secrets, and Maggie’s holding back too much. There’s certainly potential, because she’s definitely responding to his friendly advances.

Ma’ii:

Is a trickster, so he’s playing a long game and keeping his cards close to his chest. I wouldn’t trust Coyote as far as I could throw him. It’s hard to see at that point what the trick is, but he’s Coyote; you know it’s coming.

Neizghani: 

His whole thing about evil tainting Maggie reminds me of the fact that so many abusers have themselves been abused; there’s an element of truth to it, and to the idea that if you have darkness inside you, you’ll always be fighting it. I don’t think that’s just true of Maggie, though; I don’t think she’s somehow set apart from the people around her, that the people around her are better than her. Neizghani’s oversold it.

Predictions or observations:

Would be unfair at this point, given I’ve finished the book. I’ll just observe that having finished it, I’m curious about the next book, enough that I’ve bought it… but I’m not sold on the series and this definitely isn’t going to top my Hugo ballot (though it will come ahead of Space Opera). The background is fascinating, and I enjoy the fact that it’s not your typical cookie-cutter urban fantasy. But something about the storytelling, the characters, isn’t quite working for me.


Cover of The Ninth Rain by Jen WilliamsThe Ninth Rain:

1. ‘You travel with an Eboran, and you explore the Wild, and you’re looking for things that might kill you. None of it makes sense.’ – What are your first impressions of Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon?
2. Not your traditional Elves, eh: how do you feel about Ebora and the Eborans?
3. Parasite spirits, mutant animals and really big grapes: would you live safe behind city walls, or would you make your home in the Wild?
4. In a nightmarish world, a few bad dreams are to be expected. Or are they? How much are you reading into them?

Vintage:

I love her! She knows what she wants and she’s going for it. I enjoy her scientific curiosity and her will to push on and figure things out. She’s pretty no-nonsense, and yet she has ideals as well.

Ebora:

Reminds me of Elantris, in some respects. The Carrion Wars sound awful; clearly the Eborans have committed atrocities, but just as clearly, they aren’t all bad. Human-ish, just long-lived and different, in part because you have different priorities when you live 1,000 years. In terms of specific Eborans: Tor is entertaining, but could fairly clearly be more. Hest’s fervour is… discomforting; I’ll be interested if she continues to be a quasi-sympathetic character with terrible moral boundaries.

The dangers:

Oh hell yeah I’d be in a city. I want to believe I wouldn’t turn a blind eye to the dangers, and I’d do my part to protect the city, but… nope nope nope. City for me. Of course, a parasite spirit there would wreak absolute havoc, but statistically, it seems a lot safer.

Dreams:

I’m assuming they’re prophetic, some kind of warning, or even an instinct. They could be being sent by someone as a warning, or by the Jure’lia as a threat, or maybe people are just inherently sensitive. Still, I’m fairly sure there’s a new invasion incoming — we know already that they’re cyclic — and that the dreams are significant.

…I suspect I’ll finish this one too before the next question post. Must try and keep notes!

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