Many, many moons ago, I think this is one of the books I got free from Angry Robot when I visited them as a contest winner. But I’d been meaning to read it before that; I love the idea of cyberpunk and virtual realities, love messing around with the idea of AIs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get on with this too well; first off, it felt unfocused because it took so long to figure out who the protagonists are. Okay, you get Richards in the two-page prologue, but then not again until fifty pages later. Veronique might be cool, and feels at first like a potential protagonist, but it’s clearly meant to be Richards and Klein — given the book’s called a Richards & Klein investigation.
I got a little further in and wasn’t a fan of Otto at all; he’s brutal, makes homophobic jokes about rape (there’s a whole scene with him taunting someone he sent to prison about how he must’ve been raped there, seriously), resorts to torture, etc. Just… not the sort of character I enjoy spending time with. So I skimmed from that point on, and didn’t really find anything that hooked me back in. The story very obviously continues in Omega Point, but I’m not interested enough in reading it. I get that a lot of the unpleasant stuff is part of the genres Haley’s playing with, but… it’s not the good stuff about those genres.
Disappointing, especially as I came back to this to give it a second chance after enjoying The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, and seeing that there are now three books in the series (which I think I read is complete as a trilogy?), I thought it was about time I got round to it. I’m not necessarily a reader of steampunk for steampunk’s sake, but the set-up intrigued me, and especially the double life lived by the protagonist.
I have to say that I missed some things which other reviewers spotted, like the date this is set, but I enjoyed it all the same. It does feel a bit gimmicky and faux-Victorian, and I’d like to see more of the whys and wherefores of the level of technology maintained, but overall it works quite well.
I’m not majorly entranced by the story, but I’m curious enough to read on. Elizabeth is a fun character – capable, determined, intelligent – and the fact that the title defines her as someone’s daughter feels all the weirder because that person never appears and doesn’t really define her as a person at all. She’s independent and, in fact, so much of the novel is driven by her determination to be her own person and keep her own freedom.
The supporting characters are okay; it’s great that Elizabeth has a female friend who, though different from her, ends up drawn into her adventures and helping her. There’s also a good range of characters helping and hindering her, for many reasons, and sometimes the hindering is well-meaning. That makes it feel all the more real; things don’t go smoothly for Elizabeth, and sometimes that is due to well-intentioned people.
Seven Forges, James A. Moore Received to review via Netgalley and Angry Robot
I’m embarrassed about how long it took me to get round to finishing and reviewing this. I did actually read most of it before it came out, and I’m pretty sure it was one of the books I chose as my Robot for a Day prize when I visited Angry Robot’s HQ, because I’d been enjoying it. Reading it today, I just determinedly pushed right through it so I can finaaaally get onto the next book (and hopefully request the third book too).
There were a couple of rockier moments, in retrospect: some of the female characters and the way the male characters related them — that constant undertone of sex, sex, sex from certain characters, and the description of various female characters as stupid in that vapid pretty blonde stereotype way — and some of the writing, which amounted to “as you know, Bob”, and “little did he know, but”.
Still, the setting is interesting, and the culture clash between the two groups is understandable and bound to drive further conflict. The twist at the end with the assassination, well, I half-expected it, but from a different quarter. I’m interested to see how that plays out; it’s obvious that one group is working on a political agenda, and the other on one directly from their gods. I’m eager to see how the various characters handle it — particularly Nachia and Swech.
I’m less interested in Andover and Tega, because that story is relatively well-trodden in fantasy. But they may yet surprise me.
Cities and Thrones, Carrie Patel Received to review via Netgalley
Cities and Thrones is a solid follow-up to The Buried Life, expanding the world and giving us a glimpse of the politics at work both in the other cities and the things that motivate the key players of Recoletta. We get a few more glimpses into the Library, and how exactly the underground society of Recoletta came about. If you hadn’t worked it out already, well, this book also gives us more hints about the link between the state of society in Recoletta and the modern day. Some things are not unfamiliar or unusual concepts to us…
Malone continues to be an interesting character, loyal to her city and not bending to politicking. Oh, she’ll take part in an effort to bring the city stability, but ultimately she acts for the good of Recoletta, not to further anyone’s agenda. Not even her own, really: again and again she puts herself at risk. Meanwhile, Jane continues to be a pawn unsure of who exactly is moving her, fighting for autonomy and finding that she only succeeds in getting herself in deeper, and deeper again. I’m not sure about the thing between her and Roman, but I’m reassured by the ambivalence there; it’s certainly not a straightforward romance or an easy relationship.
The last chapter of the book raises the stakes again; I’m curious to see where this is going. I read this book in one go, quite literally in one sitting, and it’s definitely a worthy sequel.
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley Received to review via Netgalley
It took me long enough to get round to this one, I know. Props to Ryan from SpecFic Junkie for poking and prodding me to finally get round to reading Kameron Hurley’s fiction. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it, because I had read the start of both this and God’s War before, and bounced off. That seems to have been a timing/mood thing, because I found a lot to fascinate me this time. Hurley can really do weird, in ways that come to feel more organic than, say, China Miéville’s brand of weird. I can never forget that’s weird. Reading The Mirror Empire, carnivorous plants and mirror worlds and all the other details quickly settled into feeling normal for the reality I inhabited while reading the book. It was never not fascinating, but I learnt the rules, and I didn’t feel like bizarre things were there just to be bizarre. It was part of building a whole world with a coherent mythology.
The contradictions that other reviews I’ve seen have mentioned… well, I didn’t notice them. To me, the whole concept of the mirror worlds came together well. Likewise, the stuff people accuse Hurley of putting in just to be shocking. Like, the ataisa, people who are neither male nor female but somewhere in a grey area. That’s not new in speculative fiction at all, and it’s baffling when people say it is. It isn’t even new in the real world for people to feel that way. What’s shocking and new is apparently just the fact that Hurley includes them, matter of factly, and it doesn’t have to be plot-relevant. I’d love to know more about Taigan and why she is the way she is (I use ‘she’ because that’s how she identifies at the end of the book), particularly the fact that unlike other ataisa, her transformation is physical. But it doesn’t have to be plot relevant: it’s character relevant, it adds another layer to the world. Why not?
There’s also polyamory, queer relationships, female-led societies and relationships. None of that is shocking — or rather, if it is, then you’re living your life with blinkers on.
I did struggle with the rape elements in this story. The degree to which particular characters consent or not, whether we’re meant to see one character in particular as heroic. In the end, I felt that Zezili — for example — was a character with nuance; her relationship with Anahva was unequal, and it didn’t seem to matter whether he gave consent or not, to her. But I didn’t see that as being excused by the story. It was a part of the character, like killing innocents, like opposing the Big Bad of the book. Good and bad in one person, and not always distinguishable.
As for the complaint about a lack of strong male characters… uh, Taigan? Roh? Ahkio? Oh, I see, your problem is that they aren’t all traditionally strong (or male all the time, in Taigan’s case). But it’s nothing like the straight flip that people are making out: the female characters aren’t all one brand of strong, either.
In the end, I enjoyed this a lot. It does feel a little too dark for me at times, but there’s a lot to enjoy too; loads of world-building, interesting characters and relationships, etc. I’m looking forward to the next book, and to going back to God’s War.
Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres Received to review via Netgalley
I’ve been meaning to read something by Marianne de Pierres for ages. I don’t know if this was a good place to start, but I usually enjoy Angry Robot books; they usually have interesting ideas, and they’re quick reads. And I got this on Netgalley before I cut down my requesting habits, so I have finally, finally got round to reading it. And I enjoyed it! It keeps up a hell of a pace, there’s a bunch of interesting mysteries (some characters are mysteries in themselves, there’s a larger mystery which causes all the mayhem, and there’s an ongoing question yet to be solved, presumably awaiting further books), etc.
In some cases, it felt a little too scattered, waiting for something to pull it all together: why is Heart so involved in Virgin’s life? Why does Hamish care? How much does any given character know about what’s going on? And some things felt a little too convenient/easy. The park is easy to picture, but other areas less so: Virgin doesn’t spend nearly as much time describing anywhere but the park, which makes sense with her character, but still. The near-future setting kept throwing me: where exactly is the technology in relation to ours? Etc.
Overall, it’s fun. A bit Western-y, a bit urban fantasy, a bit near-future spec-fic. There’s a pretty diverse cast of characters, and nearly all of them have a role to play — there’s no, or at least few, throwaway characters who are just there to prop up a bit of the plot.
I had really high hopes for this based on the first chapters I read way back, and as with most Angry Robot books, I found the ideas really fascinating. The whole set-up of the world, the mystery behind the way it’s got there (because it’s quickly obvious it’s a post-catastrophe version of our world), combined with the two main characters. They’re both women, and they’re both awesome in very different ways: Liesl Malone is a tough as nails cop, and Jane Lin is a laundress in a highly stratified society which doesn’t necessarily see the value of her quick wits and constantly underestimates her.
I think the set-up for this story is great, and the characters too — although I predicted the plot whenever it involved Roman Arnault, particularly! — although I found it a little weaker in the middle. It starts out strongly, but the mystery doesn’t really stand out, and details come out a bit too slowly. Liesl (in particular) is awesome, and the whole issue of the sheer volume of knowledge being kept from the populace gives it an interesting background, but some parts just didn’t feel as sharp as they could be.
I’m looking forward to reading Cities and Thrones, the sequel, which will hopefully expand on all the stuff I’m interested in. The positions the characters are left in at the end of the book intrigue me particularly; everything’s changing for them.
It’s been a while since I did Throwback Thursday, which some book bloggers are using to highlight books they’ve had kicking around for a while and haven’t got round to yet. But there’s definitely tons and tons of books on the list for me. Each time I do this, I narrow it down to three… So far, it hasn’t got me to hurry up and read them yet, but I live in hope.
The Alchemist of Souls, Anne Lyle
When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?
Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.
It’s an Angry Robot book, so it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll get round to this in the end. And I do love alternate history scenarios, especially when they blend in magic. I’ve actually got the whole trilogy, so it’s really high time I got round to this.
River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay
Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.
Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.
In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.
I love pretty much everything GGK’s written, so I’m excited to get round to this. That’s a while away, though, because I have a plan to read through all of his work, chronological order by publication, to watch his skills and themes developing. I’m on A Song for Arbonne.
To Ride Hell’s Chasm, Janny Wurts
When Princess Anja fails to appear at her betrothal banquet, the tiny, peaceful kingdom of Sessalie is plunged into intrigue. Two warriors are charged with recovering the distraught king’s beloved daughter. Taskin, Commander of the Royal Guard, whose icy competence and impressive life-term as the Crown’s right-hand man command the kingdom’s deep-seated respect; and Mykkael, the rough-hewn newcomer who has won the post of Captain of the Garrison – a scarred veteran with a deadly record of field warfare, whose ‘interesting’ background and foreign breeding are held in contempt by court society.
As the princess’s trail vanishes outside the citadel’s gates, anxiety and tension escalate. Mykkael’s investigations lead him to a radical explanation for the mystery, but he finds himself under suspicion from the court factions. Will Commander Taskin’s famous fair-mindedness be enough to unravel the truth behind the garrison captain’s dramatic theory: that the resourceful, high-spirited princess was not taken by force, but fled the palace to escape a demonic evil?
I’ve been meaning to try Janny Wurts forever, ever since I was reading Raymond E. Feist’s books and she did work with him. I’ll probably get to That Way to Camelot first, but I’ve read the first few pages of this one and was very nearly sucked in…
What have you recently finished reading? Mindstar Rising, by Peter F. Hamilton. I think it was his first novel, according to the back of it, so I might try something from his later stuff, but this didn’t impress me that much. It was aaaaall about the male gaze, as well: the first thing we know about female characters is whether they’ve “let themselves go” or how young and nubile they are. Ugh. So in the end, not impressed.
What are you currently reading?
Some of the things I’ve been featuring on this list for a while are quite big books, so they don’t go on the bus with me, etc. So The Vanishing Witch (Karen Maitland) and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Thomas Sweterlitsch) are still in progress…
My reading in the clinic is currently Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood, which works for the Strange Chem reading month, and which I’ve had for a while. Because of it, I ended up on Wikipedia last night reading up about Roanoke, Croatoan, and then all sorts of missing persons stuff — though I did also read about the genetic testing being done to see if the lost colonists actually assimilated with the local Native American tribes, which is more plausible than some theories, and quite interesting. I want to know what they find!
At home, for ARC August, along with the others I’ve also picked up Marcus Sedgwick’s A Love Like Blood. I’ve been slightly spoilered for the ending by an injudicious review, but I don’t have a great problem with spoilers, so I don’t mind too much. It’s interesting, though very similar in tone to other books in the genre in many ways.
Aaaand from my epic library clean-up, I’m reading Jurassic Mary: Mary Anning and the Primeval Monsters (Patricia Pierce), which is very interesting, although there’s a lot about the various men in the profession who overshadowed Mary Anning, which I regret a little in a book that wants to cast light on her.
What will you be reading next?
As usual, heaven knows, but Strange Chem-wise, I think I’m going to fiiiiinally read Stolen Songbird, and that also covers ARC August as well. Even if the “advance” part is kind of dead in the water, I still received it as an ARC and I feel obligated to get round to it.
Library-wise, I think it’ll be Sarah Canary (Karen Joy Fowler), which will also cover my ten-new-to-me SF Masterworks goal.
People who already know my blog will know I’ve been excited about this book for a while, because I was involved (very tangentially) in acquiring it at Angry Robot (read all about it!). I’m amazed by how fast the actual release has come around: it doesn’t seem like that long since I met the team. Anyway, when the blog tour for The Buried Life was announced, of course I asked for a slot — I’ve championed the book since the start! (My review will arrive shortly. I intended it to be ready by yesterday, and then I somehow missed that it is now July. To prove that, I just typed “June”, the first time.)
So here’s Carrie Patel, graciously answering my chatty nosy questions!
Hi Carrie, it’s great to have you touring on my blog. I voted for The Buried Life in the acquisitions meeting I attended back in October, so it’s exciting to see it all ready to hit the shelves. It feels like it’s been no time at all, to me, but how’s it been for you? Did you have to spend much time editing and tweaking it? Does it feel real yet?
Hi Nikki! Thanks so much for hosting me! The last several months have been busy and exciting—between getting ready for this release and working on the next book, the time has definitely flown. Fortunately, The Buried Life didn’t require too many edits, so I’ve been able to focus on writing the sequel. It’s still pretty surreal, though—I attended my first convention as a speaker last weekend, and sitting on the other side of the table felt unreal!
After my visit to Angry Robot, people were very keen to know things like how much input authors have into the cover designs of their books. I don’t actually know the answers, so what’s that whole process been like for you? Did you make any suggestions, or did it just appear like magic?
It’s funny that you ask, because it seems that the question of cover design comes up a lot. At the start of the process, Angry Robot asked me for any particular styles, images, and comparable book covers that would fit with the story and the atmosphere of The Buried Life. As I understand it, that’s unusually collaborative—many authors don’t get any input on cover design.
So, I sent Angry Robot a hodgepodge of images and reference covers that seemed to evoke a certain tone. My main request was not to feature the main characters on the cover. I don’t have an incredibly specific sense of visual aesthetics—I was more looking for something that hit the right mood or conveyed a certain atmosphere—but John Coulthart’s cover art was exactly what I was hoping for.
I know this is your first (published?) novel, so I just wondered how long that process has been for you. Were you always gonna write, or did The Buried Life knock on your door and take you by surprise? How many hoops have you had to jump through?
I always wanted to write a novel, but The Buried Life took me by surprise. I’d played around with a few concepts before, but none of them had really stuck. Writing The Buried Life began as a kind of progressive experiment—the first draft was a challenge to see if I could finish a book, and each new revision was a test to see if I could fix it up for publication.
The revisions were probably the most important part of the process, and I learned a lot from having to analyse and edit my work like that. All in all, the process took a few years, but a lot of that was just time between revisions, which allowed me to come back to my drafts with fresh eyes and a new perspective. I wouldn’t want to take that long on future books, but the first time around, it was certainly useful.
Is there a character in it who you’d like to be more like? Or maybe even less like?
My husband (rightly) accuses me of being a little too type-A, which is a very “Malone” quality. I’m goal-oriented by nature, so I can sometimes lose sight of other things when I zero in on a goal. I’d love to be more like Sundar! He’s driven but kind, and he maintains a sense of humour in the face of adversity. He’s perceptive about people because he’s genuinely interested in them.
When I’m writing, I know that things sometimes come together in ways I wasn’t expecting. Did you have anything like that? What surprised you most while you were working on it?
The manner in which Jane’s and Malone’s stories came together and commented on one another surprised me. I always wanted to write them both as protagonists and perspective characters, but I don’t think I realized until I was well into the process how different the two characters really were and how much that affected their respective conclusions at the end of the story. I love perspective and the idea that two people recounting the same set of events can tell completely different stories, and that came through for these two characters in a surprising way.
What’s the most difficult part of writing, for you? Is it something in the process of writing (getting started, editing, letting other people see it) or is it on a narrative level (being mean to your characters, not letting them run away with the plot…)?
Getting a good plot foundation can be difficult, and yet I often have a hard time pushing forward with a book like The Buried Life (or its in-progress sequel) until I have that. I take lots of notes and make spreadsheets of characters, motivations, events, and themes, but there comes a point at which I’ve written just about all I can about the story without actually having written it. Figuring out what’s missing and how to plug a gap in the plot, or give a character a more solid motivation, can be difficult.
What media has influenced you in your writing? From just making you want to write to something that sparked some of the themes and ideas in The Buried Life — I’m interested in any kind of influence, and obviously I know you’re a narrative designer, so it certainly doesn’t have to be books.
Books were the biggest (and first) influence for me. When I was in school, I couldn’t go anywhere without one. I’d read on the school bus, in the car, and at restaurants if my parents let me get away with it. I did get in trouble (at least once) for reading under my desk during class. While I’ve enjoyed stories in many media, novels have been the most significant influence, and certainly the one that pushed me to write The Buried Life. There’s something uniquely personal about novels and the experience of reading them.
I don’t know how many people read the acknowledgements pages of novels, but I always like to. So who’s behind you, behind The Buried Life, who have you really got to thank for getting this far?
My husband, Hiren Patel, has been immensely supportive of my writing. His encouragement, and his focus in his own work, has pushed me to keep improving mine. Also, I might never have finished the first draft without Josh Sabio and Will Moser, two friends of mine who read it in college as I was working on it. Knowing that someone was waiting to read my draft was a huge motivation.
When I got more serious about revisions, my critique partners, Jacqui Talbot, Michael Robertson, and Bill Stiteler, were great about offering the feedback I needed to get The Buried Life the rest of the way there. I’d thank my agent, Jennie Goloboy, and the Angry Robot team, including Lee Harris, Mike Underwood, Marc Gascoigne, and Caroline Lambe, for taking a chance on a debut.
Finally, I thank my family—my parents, Richard and Jackie, and my sisters, Julie and Sydney—for their love and support.
Six word blurb of The Buried Life for newbies. Go!
Sinister conspiracy in an underground city.
Thank you for answering my questions, and I hope you have a whale of a time promoting The Buried Life. Congratulations!
Thank you so much! It’s been a delight to have you along from the beginning of this crazy ride!
So, everyone: don’t forget that The Buried Life is coming out in August. Preorders are a great push for any book, and you might want to consider doing that through an indie bookstore. Once it’s out, it’ll be available DRM free through Angry Robot, but also on major ebook sites for convenience.
One of the great things about Angry Robot (and Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, when we still had them) is their willingness to take on debut authors. Let’s give them no cause to regret it!
In the meantime, I have my own copy already, so here’s another giveaway — comment here with a link to somewhere you’ve promoted this blog post (twitter, your own blog, facebook, tumblr, any mention counts) and you get an entry. On the day the book is released, I’ll draw a winner and buy them a copy via The Book Depository (or a retailer of your choosing that can take my order and deliver it to you). If there’s significant interest, I’ll pick two winners, so you increase your chances by spreading this to a wider pool of people.