The Sisters of the Crescent Empress, Leena Likitalo
I still feel that the first book ended too abruptly, and really the two should have been published together. The first might’ve been a novella, but this was definitely long enough to qualify as a novel, leaving me really wondering why it was published as part of the novella line (though I see others in that line-up now that I wouldn’t have called novellas). Does The Sisters of the Crescent Empress satisfactorily complete what The Five Daughters of the Moon began? Well, sort of.
I did enjoy this a lot: the interactions between the sisters, the way it embellishes the basic story of the Romanov princesses in a fantasy world, the complex relationships and allegiances between the characters, torn between the old world and the new. I enjoyed the development of some of the characters, particularly Sibillia, and getting to see more of Celestia and what made her tick.
I did feel that it ended abruptly, again, and that there’s so much more of the story I want to know, and which the duology feels incomplete without. Does Celestia succeed in ending the riots? What role does Elise play? Does the body-swapping trick work, and how does that end up? Sibillia’s story just ends in a way that feels almost like wasting her character development, but she’s the only one who does get a solid end.
I also felt that sometimes the way the characters spoke felt wrong: the abrupt sentence fragments, for example, just left some of the characters sounding like automatons, when that plainly wasn’t the intent.
I definitely enjoyed this duology, but I wanted more from it, too.
I’ve been meaning to try Hoffman’s books for literally years. Not sure how long this one has been on my TBR, but long enough. Short stories aren’t always my thing, so perhaps it wasn’t the right place to start: nonetheless, it’s what came up on my Kobo first and I thought, well, why not?
I ended up bailing, I’m afraid; it’s competent enough writing, but I didn’t get hooked on the stories or characters, and one of the stories was just unbelievably gross, with a ton of rape and rape culture. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be approving of rape, but it’s just not a sort of story I’m interested in, and the obsession with rape in that particular story turned me off all the others. I’ll definitely try some of Hoffman’s novels, but her short story writing seems to be unequivocally not my thing.
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.
What are you currently reading?
Most actively, iiiiit’s Science and the City, by Lauren Winkless. It’s got a lot of interesting stuff in it, but I’m finding it a little difficult to stay focused — a lot of it is no surprise to me, which is probably why. Other than that, I still have Kushiel’s Chosen, An Accident of Stars and How to Survive a Plague on the go, along with a reread of After Atlas. Oh, and Too Like the Lightning, which I really need to pick back up.
What have you recently finished reading?
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, by Christoper de Hamel. Fascinating stuff — I doubt I’ll remember even a fifth of the details, but it’s still a magical read. Some of the manuscripts I knew a little about from doing medieval literature, but mostly it was all new to me. I was a little disappointed that de Hamel did mostly pick the pretty manuscripts. To me, Beowulf (for one) is far more interesting than a Book of Hours, whichever queen once owned it…
What will you be reading next?
I’m going to focus on getting down my currently reading list, so probably I’ll focus on An Accident of Stars. One can hope, anyway. I am really tempted by some other books, including some ARCs, though: Witchmark, Starless, The Poppy War…
But I’m trying to stay on task and get back to only having three or fewer books on the go at once!
It’s been a while since this book was published, of course, and the science of investigating ancient mitochondrial DNA has been going from strength to strength, but this is still a good book on the background of that research, the importance of mitochondrial DNA, and the idea that we can trace our lineage back through the female line to just a few specific women. (Actually, this is very Europe-centric, a fact that becomes clear when you read the whole book: the seven ‘clan mothers’ mentioned are only the last common ancestors of European mitochondrial lines.)
Sykes writes clearly and well, and the only bit I wasn’t happy with as popular science writing is the little fake histories of the seven women. He tries to put flesh on the bones of what the women might have been like, the environment and social situations they would have encountered, but it’s really far too much like pure fiction for me. If he’d even included some more perhapses and maybes and alternative scenarios, I might have been more comfortable with it. As it is, it gives us a false idea that there were seven such knowable women.
Still, it’s fascinating stuff and I do love reading about this kind of genetic detective work.
I really want to love audiobooks. I have a whole bunch lined up on Audible, and I’ll have the odd fit of listening to them while exercising or while crocheting, but I find them really hard to stick to. I want to devour my books at a heck of a pace, which I guess is part of it: sure, I can turn up the speed of the narration, but I’m still very aware I could be reading faster myself. Admittedly not at the same time as crocheting or something, but still, the slowness grates on me. The tedious bits in some books just drag out for ages and ages with an audiobook, whereas in a paperback I’d be past them in a twinkling. (And yet I hate using the skip forward function in an audiobook. What if I miss something?!)
I think I also find it harder to process the story when I’m hearing it read to me. Adaptations are different: if the BBC adapted every book ever into radioplays, I’d be right there and all over it. I love the BBC radioplays — The Lord of the Rings andthe Peter Wimsey books are just wonderful, as far as I’m concerned. Okay, sometimes the voice casting isn’t quite right, but most often it really is — sorry, Andy Serkis, but Gollum for me is Peter Woodthorpe, forever and ever amen. (Likewise, Bill Nighy is the real Sam Gamgee.)
So I think it’s probably partly that books are usually written to be read, not performed. An adaptation cuts the stuff that doesn’t work in audio, which is why I get on well with it — in fact, I might even get on better with an adaptation than with the source text if it cuts out the kind of thing I don’t pay attention to, like tons of visual description.
A good narrator can sometimes make an audiobook worth it for me, but still… for the most part, I remain unconvinced.
So what do you get from audiobooks that makes them viable for you? Or maybe you’re like me, and you can’t get on with them?
If you’ve read River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, this doesn’t add much to those two novellas. It’s a nice collected edition with two bonus stories, though: one features Houndstooth, Ruby, and the dentist who looks after Ruby’s teeth (and Houndstooth’s money… sort of), and the other features Houndstooth, Archie, and a certain Marshal. They’re nice little snippets in the world, but they don’t add much to the story of the two novellas. And, sadly for me, they don’t feature my fave, Hero.
That said, if you like the idea of an alternate history in which hippos were introduced in the US as a farm animal and you haven’t read these yet, especially if you enjoy a good caper… you should totally, totally pick this up. What better time?
This is really clearly written, it covers fascinating subjects, and the authors have tried really hard to equip readers with the ability to think things through for themselves. They don’t just state conclusions: they lead the reader through how those conclusions were reached, until they are also inevitable for the reader. It’s a smart way to write, although the right people — the people who look at the conclusions and decide they’re wrong without any evidence — probably won’t actually go through the evidence.
Unfortunately, a lot of this evidence involves thinking mathematically, which is not a strong point for me. I can hammer something into my head for practical purposes (I can now do a bunch of statistical tests using paper and a calculator!) and I can remember how to calculate something I find interesting (the number of base pairs in a fragment of DNA from how far it travelled during gel electrophoresis), but I’m not good with big concepts. And Cox and Forshaw tackle some of the biggest here.
At another time, I might be in the mood to work through this more thoroughly. As it is, I didn’t finish it — not because I think it’s bad (it’s not), but just because this is not the time. Too much for me to learn that’s more immediately relevant.
(Remember that my ratings denote enjoyment, not usefulness or interestingness per se. It’s just… maths. Not for me, not right now.)
Good morning, folks! As this goes live, I’ll be spending a weekend in a holiday cottage, possibly ignoring my emails, definitely doing things like sleeping in and going swimming. I will catch up with everything when I get back, I pinky-promise. Since I’m technically away from the bunnies, I have to go with tradition — so here is a pic of Breakfast from earlier this week. He jumped up onto my study notes to make it clear that I should have other priorities. Like petting him.
Meanwhile, I got some new books this week, so of course, it’s time to showcase them.
Received to review:
I asked for American Hippo for the short stories included, but y’all should be all over it for the novellas too, if you haven’t read them. Hero!! <3
Yay! More Murderbot! My one quibble so far is really that both books have had Murderbot meet up with other people, we learn just enough about them to be invested, and then they end up parting ways. I want more of ART, particularly; I want more of the team that Murderbot protected in the first book — gaah, just have everyone come together and have adventures already!
Nonetheless, I enjoyed Murderbot’s interactions with ART a lot, and I’m very curious about ART’s crew as well. I loved them basically doing Netflix and chill together, and I loved ART’s bossy but well-meaning way of trying to help Murderbot — and especially ART’s understanding of the things that Murderbot isn’t ready to articulate or face, and the way ART pushes Murderbot to look more human, act more human, blend into the background more…
I also enjoyed getting to know a tiny bit more about Murderbot’s past. I’m going to guess there’ll be more about that and the ComfortUnits later on; I’m intrigued to get wherever this is going. I just hope ART is there too! And some time for ART and Murderbot to sit down and watch some Worldhoppers or Sanctuary Moon together. <3
In the end, this seemed to be rather more about Emmett chasing the tragedy of Ben and Tom than about Ben and Tom themselves. A queer time travelling couple as the mover for another dude’s life angst, yay? Also, Bury Your Gays. If I think about it in terms of rep, it isn’t great: Ben and Tom’s love might be strong and they might work at it to find each other across all the different times, but a lot goes unexplained (like how they get separated, and why they always end up in war zones), but it isn’t really about them. It’s about Emmett, and the twist at the end did not surprise me (or indeed feel like a twist) — but nor did it quite feel like it followed on logically.
It’s well-enough written (though the chapters in Tom’s point of view could do with being slightly more different in order to distinguish the narrative voices), and there are some very poignant moments between Tom and Ben, but… they’re mostly the backdrop to another dude’s story, including featuring his pointless and unfulfilling relationship with a woman, who he meets because he’s looking for evidence about Tom and Ben.
I was kind of excited about this one, but it sucks that Tom and Ben were the sideshow in a love story ostensibly about them.