Hard Spell isn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, but it was fun — fairly typical in some ways, for urban fantasy, but still, compelling enough that I finished it and have grabbed the second book from my TBR pile. There’s a lot of male gaze-y stuff going on, with a couple of blatant male fantasy characters, but there are some surprises too — the main character starts with some prejudices pretty well fixed, but he’s able to change with the circumstances, which makes for a pretty satisfying end.
Overall, the plot is nothing new, but the writing is solid and it avoids shoehorning in sex and romance as the most important thing, which other urban fantasy can fall afoul of. In fact, that’s not a thing at all here — the leading lady in Stan Markowski’s life is his daughter, Christine, if anything. He does have a tragic past, etc, which all sets up how the story works out, but at least that all hangs together coherently. There’s some cool world building done on the premise that supernatural creatures are a part of the world for good — SWAT teams exist, but mean something else entirely, for example…
This is a pretty ambivalent review, I know. It’s pretty much a “hey, Gustainis, better impress me next time” kind of review.
Throwback Thursday, the “I really need to get round to reading this for Hugo voting” edition! (See also: my post about how I will be reading/voting.) Also, if you’re curious, I’ll be attending Loncon on 16th August, and while I am quite an anxious creature still, it would be great to meet any other bloggers I know there.
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar
Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.
In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between the empire’s two most powerful cults. Yet even as the country shimmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of becoming free by setting her free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that seductive necromancy, reading.
I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, so the Hugos just make a good excuse to shuffle it up the pile. Samatar is up for a Campbell award, which is not technically a Hugo, but shush. It’s voted for during the Hugo voting process. I don’t actually know much about the plot of the novel beyond the blurb, so this should be exciting.
Nexus, Ramez Naam
In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link human together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.
When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.
From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.
The idea sounds amazing. The idea of being able to link mind to mind — well, it’s sort of appealing, until you think about the kinds of thoughts you prefer not to share even with your nearest and dearest. If you say you’ve never had an uncharitable or inappropriate thought, I won’t believe you. Plus, an Angry Robot author!
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
From Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke Award nominated debut author, Ann Leckie, comes Ancillary Justice, a stunning space opera that asks what it means to be human in a universe guided by artificial intelligence.
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.
Yeah, I’m way behind on this one. So many people I know have read it, loved it, criticised it, talked about it — I really need to catch up, even if we ignore the Hugos!
I was really sad and shocked today when I was scrolling through twitter and saw this sudden announcement from Angry Robot:
As you will be aware, Angry Robot Books has a history of innovation and we continue to go from strength to strength. We’re constantly trying out new concepts and new ideas, and we continue to publish popular and award-winning books. Our YA imprint Strange Chemistry and our crime/mystery imprint Exhibit A have – due mainly to market saturation – unfortunately been unable to carve out their own niches with as much success.
We have therefore made the difficult decision to discontinue Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, effective immediately, and no further titles will be published from these two imprints.
That’s not all that’s out there by a long shot, but that should give everyone an idea of the fanbase those imprints had out there, and how shocking the news was for everyone. I’ve been a fan of Angry Robot and everything they do for a while, especially since I won the Robot for a Day competition (where I met the staff and the blogger who was at that point their intern, Leah @ Uncorked Thoughts). I have a huge backlog of their stuff to read, from all three imprints, but I think I might spend this weekend finally getting round to books by Kim Curran, Laura Lam, Gwenda Bond, etc.
The good news is, the books already published will still be supported by Angry Robot, and rights for future books are reverting to the authors. The bad news is that various books that were slated to come out in the next few months won’t be, some series aren’t going to be finished (at least not with Strange Chemistry), and some authors don’t know where they can go next.
I’m going to follow the example of one of the posts linked above and do a giveaway of some of my favourite Strange Chemistry books. Comment with which you want to be entered for, and I’ll pick at random on the 1st July. You can enter for multiple books, but you will only win one. If you would prefer ebooks, we can probably arrange something, but the idea is that I will buy copies via The Book Depository and send them straight to you. I want to encourage new readers to get their mitts on these books and generate some buzz that might help the authors place future books with publishers! And yes, this is international.
So, without further ado, the giveaways:
Martha Wells, Emilie & The Hollow World.
Sean Cummings, Poltergeeks.
Rachel Neumeier, Black Dog.
Cassandra Rose Clarke, The Assassin’s Curse.
Winner’s choice of any book from Strange Chemistry or Exhibit A.
And honestly? I wish it could be more. I have so much sympathy with all the authors and staff affected. Let’s give them a good send off!
ETA: So, the winners! Grace won Emilie & the Hollow World; majoline won Poltergeeks; Erin won Black Dog; ameliazane won The Assassin’s Curse; Jessica won the winner’s choice (and chose Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood). All of them have been emailed and all of them responded already, so the books have been ordered and are en route.
As with the last couple of weeks, I’m using Throwback Thursday (hosted here) to highlight some books that’ve been knocking round on my to read shelves for a while (aka, too long). This week, I actually have a theme: vampires! Don’t ask me why I always pick three. Probably something OCD related. Or I just like the alliteration with Throwback Thursday.
Carpathia, Matt Forbeck
It’s Titanic meets 30 Days of Night. When the survivors of the Titanic are picked up by the passenger steamship Carpathia, they thought their problems were over.
But something’s sleeping in the darkest recesses of the ship. Something old. Something hungry.
I’ve had this since I visited Angry Robot HQ, so it’s high time I got round to it. I’ve enjoyed some of Matt Forbeck’s other work for them, so I’m hopeful about this, though some of the GR reviews aren’t so positive. Fingers crossed!
Blood Price, Tanya Huff
Vicki Nelson, formerly of Toronto’s homicide unit and now a private detective, witnesses the first of many vicious attacks that are now plaguing the city of Toronto. As death follows unspeakable death, Vicki is forced to renew her tempestuous relationship with her former partner, Mike Celluci, to stop these forces of dark magic—along with another, unexpected ally…
Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, has learned over the course of his long life how to blend with humans, how to deny the call for blood in his veins. Without him, Vicki and Mike would not survive the ancient force of chaos that has been unleashed upon the world—but in doing so, his identity may be exposed, and his life forfeit.
I’ve actually read this one already, many moons ago, but I have the whole set to get round to; I only read this first one. Trivia: Vicki Nelson has retinitis pigmentosa, a common reason people come to the eye clinic I volunteer at. (Is this where I throw in a PSA about getting your eyes checked regularly? Because you should. There’s lots we can do if we only catch the problem early.)
Anyway, I like Tanya Huff in general. She has a handful of queer characters, and her writing’s always fun.
The Passage, Justin Cronin
An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.
I know I’m way behind the curve on this one, but a friend just posted an enthusiastic review, so I’m bringing it back up the list.
Remember way back in, what was it, November? When I won the Robot For a Day prize with Angry Robot, and attended an acquisitions meeting where they decided to acquire Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life?
Well, now the cover’s been revealed by SF Signal, and there’s a giveaway running there too! Go here to enter the giveaway and get a better look at the cover.
I really hope I get hold of a copy soon… It’s pretty exciting to be however minor a part of this process and see it all actually happening. I read the first few chapters back when I was preparing for the acquisitions meeting, and I can’t wait to read the rest.
I’ve been a supporter/fan of Angry Robot and their sister companies, Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, since… well, early on, really. So I’m glad that the second author I get to host here on this blog is Strange Chemistry’s Rachel Neumeier, promoting her new book, Black Dog. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but my review will be coming up soon: for now I’ll just say I’m intrigued by the Mexican-American heroes and heroine, and I think Neumeier is doing something fascinating and new here.
Anyway, I came up with a whole list of topics Rachel Neumeier might like to post about. I’ll let her introduce herself now!
“Thank you, Nikki, for inviting me to post at The Bibliophibian – it’s a pleasure to be here!
I liked the idea of picking out a Top Ten list of werewolves, but quickly discovered that ten was beyond me . . . I simply haven’t read enough UF or paranormal to manage a top ten list, yet. I know that’s kind of shocking. I haven’t read anything by Eileen Wilks yet – though I want to, and have her first book on my Kindle. I haven’t read Nalini Singh. I’ve heard great things about NIGHTSHIFTED by Cassie Alexander, but I just haven’t found the time, yet.
I will say, any werewolf story that is more horror than fantasy isn’t likely to make my Top Ten list. I like the modern shapeshifters of urban fantasy and paranormal much better than the old-fashioned horrific werewolves.
Let me start with werewolves and then move on to other shapeshifters – including at least two that I bet have never before appeared on “best shapeshifter” lists, though they totally qualify.
Okay, I discovered my all-time favorite werewolves in MOON CALLED by Patricia Briggs. And my favorite little coyote, too, of course. I totally fell in love with Bran Cornick not to mention Samuel and Charles. And Adam, of course. Scarily competent always works for me.
It’s hard to overstate how important the Mercy Thompson series was to me – without this series, it’s very unlikely I would ever have written BLACK DOG. I would have stuck to straight secondary fantasy and maybe branched out into SF, but UF or paranormal? Very unlikely.
Is it cheating to pick two books in the same series? But it’s my favorite series, so I think I will go with it. IRON KISSED, the third Mercy Thompson book, is a really powerful story and made me really love Ben as a character.
Even though I haven’t even begun to read All The Things, I think the best wolves in UF/Paranormal are probably found in BITTEN, by Kelly Armstrong. I don’t mind when werewolves don’t act a bit like real wolves no matter what form they’re in – but I am not so keen on werewolves that are supposed to act like real wolves, but don’t. I really love the way the werewolves in Armstrong’s series act so much like real wolves when they are in wolf form. Armstrong does by far the best job of capturing the playfulness and joie de verve of wolves.
The very first werewolf book I ever read was BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE by Annette Curtis Klause. This story hits all the werewolf tropes – and it does it very well, too. It’s easy to get pulled along by the new, shiny titles as they hit the shelves, and of course we all have ever-expanding TBR piles – but this one is well worth looking up.
I’ve read other werewolf stories, of course, but none that would make a Top Ten list. Instead, I’m going to expand the parameters to other kinds of shapeshifters and see if I can fill out the rest of a Top Ten list that way.
And that leads me to an obvious choice, because, hey, Ilona Andrews! For me, the Kate Daniels series did not hit its stride until the third book, MAGIC STRIKES. Everyone insisted I should keep going, and I’m glad I did, because with the third book, everything pulled together and the series stepped up from “okay” to “can’t miss.” Now Ilona Andrews is an auto-buy author (s) for me. Because, Kate! And Curren! And their amazing chemistry. Everyone needs to read this whole series just so they can appreciate the “Oh, sorry, we broke your rock,” line in MAGIC RISES. There are probably other werelions out there, but I bet no one else does it as well as Ilona Andrews. And, of course, there are also some fine werewolves in this series as well.
Another story which has werewolves, but I love the cat better, is DEFINITELY DEAD by Charlaine Harris. Quinn! I can’t even imagine. What an amazing creature a weretiger must be. I was sorry it didn’t work out between him and Sookie.
There are no werewolves at all in WAR FOR THE OAKS by Emma Bull, but every single person who loves UF should give this one, published in 2004, a try. Because the Pooka is amazing. And, hey, a Pooka who turns into a big, shaggy, black dog is sort of werewolf-like, right?
While we’re on the subject of black dogs, the ones in Deb Coates’ DEEP DOWN are not shapeshifters, so they don’t count. Yet this is an UF . . . well, a rural fantasy . . . that readers who love the genre might not want to miss. The black dogs in this one are not a bit like mine, being instead the classical harbingers of death. If you’re the sort of person who can see ghosts, you may find these black dogs following you around and chatting with you, which may be a bit disconcerting.
Returning to shapeshifters, but departing from anything even vague dog-like, one of my favorite shapeshifters in fantasy is found in THE GREY HORSE by RA MacAvoy. You will surely have no trouble guessing what kind of shapeshifter we find in this story, a beautiful, quiet fantasy first published back in 1987, set in Ireland. I’m delighted to see that this one is now available on Kindle, though I have to say, I definitely preferred the original cover.
And, while we’re on the subject of shapeshifter stories that also make the horse lovers among us happy, DUN LADY’S JESS by Doranna Durgin approaches the concept of shapechanging from the other direction: a horse that is turned into a woman. This story is actually a portal fantasy, clever and beautifully written, and anyone who ever went through a horse-crazy period (or is still horse-crazy now) should definitely look it up.
And that’s ten! Werewolves, werelions and weretigers, pookas and black dogs, and a couple of wonderful horses: a shapeshifter menagerie. At the moment, I don’t plan to ever write shapeshifter stories set in any world other than that of BLACK DOG – but who can say?
Thanks to Rachel Neumeier for stopping by on her blog tour. Don’t forget to check out her site, and if you’re interested in Black Dog but haven’t got your hands on it yet, I’m doing a giveaway! Just use the Rafflecopter linked below to enter, and I’ll contact you if you’re the lucky one!
Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.
But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.
In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.
Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.
But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.
I’ve only read one of Martha Wells’ books before, but that was enough to make me a fan. Compared to that one, City of Bones,Emilie & the Hollow World is a much more simplistic story, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Someone described it as a “girl’s own adventure” story, which I think is pretty accurate. The main character Emilie is resourceful: I don’t understand people who are criticising it saying she spends the first half of the book just following people around. She runs away from home, stows on board a ship, saves someone’s life with impulsive action, and immediately starts making sensible suggestions to the crew of said ship.
Now, if you were to say she’s a bit wish-fulfillmenty, well yeah, maybe. But heck, I loved Emilie’s adventures and her resourcefulness; I don’t see why it should be odder for a girl to be plucky and resourceful than for a boy. There’s also people complaining that she doesn’t act like a Victorian girl, but… this isn’t meant to be set in the Victorian period? It’s plainly another world entirely, for all that the vaguely steampunkish trappings might make you think it’s just alternate Victoriana, and there’s a hint of Victorian-ish morals around Emilie’s family. Still, those’re parallels; that doesn’t mean Wells has to stick with it.
Which brings me to another point I really liked — the world-building. I expected that, from the standard City of Bones set, and while this is lighter, that imagination is still there. I loved, for example, the half-underwater city. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything quite like that before. There’s other stuff to appreciate, too, like the casual flipping of gender roles where Rani talks about Kenar pining for her, and when they reunite, she spins him around in her arms!
Overall, very much looking forward to my ARC of Emilie & The Sky World.
Some other blogs I follow do this meme, every Tuesday, and it seemed like a good idea. So! This week the top ten theme picked by The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten new-to-me authors in 2013”. This is pretty hard — I’m rubbish at picking top tens — but hey, with this one I just need to use Goodreads and look among my four and five starred books for this year, and hopefully I should be able to figure something out. They will not, I warn, be in any particular order.
Cassandra Rose Clarke. I loved The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, which reminded me of a more daring, personal The Positronic Man (Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg). All sorts of themes which I love, and there’s something so powerfully sensual about it, too — there’s a physicality to it that surprised me and moved me.
Georgette Heyer. I think I may technically have read one or two of her detective novels in 2012, but I kept away from her Regency romances, because I thought that was obviously not my thing. How wrong I was! The Talisman Ring, The Reluctant Widow and The Grand Sophy were probably my favourites. Heyer’s romances are actually way more fun (for me) than her detective novels, and often wickedly funny too.
Karen Lord. I’ve only read part of The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I’m enjoying it, and I really loved Redemption in Indigo. Folk-story type narration and structure, awesome female characters, etc.
Martha Wells. I’ve only read City of Bones, but I loved it. Non-traditional gender stuff, avoids the easy way out, lots of tasty, tasty world building. I think I’ve bought almost all the rest of her books as a result.
Franny Billingsley. Oh my goodness, Chime. Just, oh my goodness. I loved the narration, the magic, the things it said about abuse and surviving and living again. I also enjoyed The Folk Keeper and Well Wished — less so, and they’re less touching/heavy subjects, but they’re a lot of fun too.
Arthur C. Clarke. Yeah, I know, I’m a bit late on this one. But I really enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey. I didn’t realise that I’d enjoy his writing style so much — I had him sort of filed away as maybe like H.G. Wells, interesting for ideas but not quite entertaining. Wroooong.
LordDunsany. Yeah, again, I know. I read Time and the Gods and am determined to spend more time reading his stuff: it’s just the sort of mythic, rich stuff I can really dig into.
C.J. Sansom. I’ve been meaning to read his stuff for quite a while, but this year I finally got round to it. I enjoy his writing style, and while there are bones I have to pick with the Shardlake books, I do enjoy his way of portraying that time period and his choice of protagonist.
Chris F. Holm. About time another Angry Robot author showed up, doncha think? I love Dead Harvest, etc: it’s funny, it’s a good pastiche of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett et al., and the covers are amazing. I just had so much fun reading these books.
David Weber. He and Aliette de Bodard fought a fierce battle for this last spot, but he won. I loved On Basilisk Station, despite many flaws I could find in it. I mean, ten pages of exposition slap bang in the middle of an epic space chase/battle. WHAT. But still. I love Honor and I’m looking forward to reading more of the series.
I’m being good and sticking to the letter of the law: only a top ten. The top ten books I read in 2013 is coming up not next week but the week after: goodness knows how I’ll manage with that. But for now, off I go to bury my nose in the pages of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Alan Bradley).
What did you recently finish reading?
The ARC of Adam Christopher’s Hang Wire. Much fun, looking forward to going back to his previously published books. Also, in that case: superheroes! In this case, circuses and gods (including a trickster god!), a bit of a mystery, and maybe more than a touch of the thriller.
What are you currently reading?
Well, many things, as you can tell from this post. But most actively, Alphabet of Thorn, by Patricia McKillip. And I am eager to get my hands on all her books, especially the ones with the gorgeous covers like the one for Alphabet of Thorn — though not just because of the gorgeous covers. I remember not getting along that well with Winter Rose, but I loved The Changeling Sea and I love Alphabet of Thorn too: I love the writing style, the lyricism in it, I love the world of kings and intrigue and magic — and libraries. I love the slow, contemplative pace, too.
But hey, who does the paintings for the covers?!
Oh, and thanks to Olga Godim, I started Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I’m barely started on it, but I’m intrigued so far: Olga suggested it as a better alternative to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, with emotions, magic realism and food. So far, I am enjoying it more. Particularly as it’s less conscious of being quirky than Lemon Cake felt. This one won’t count for my bet/incentive/thing with Mum, though, so really I should put it on a backburner…
What do you think you’ll read next? One of the books from my currently reading list previously linked! Probably A Red Herring Without Mustard, since I find Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books really fast and easy to read, and I have an ARC of the latest to get to. I’m quite near to finishing Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin, too.
Books acquired: I bought Chuck Wendig’s Irregular Creatures (because it’s available for 75p!), and I’ve been given access to the ARC of Rachel Naumeier’s Black Dog on Netgalley — with this in the summary, how could I not? “Think of it as Robin McKinley’s SUNSHINE but with werewolves instead of vampires.”
I’ve wanted to read this since I was given the summary to have a go at coming up with a blurb, back when I visited Angry Robot for a day (especially with seeing the cover art, which to me seems perfect in its relative simplicity). So I gleefully pounced on the email offering ARCs, crossed my fingers, and waited. When I got back from Belgium, I had a whole package of books from Angry Robot, including Hang Wire, which I cracked open as soon as I could.
I have Adam Christopher’s other books with Angry Robot, except The Age Atomic, but I hadn’t got round to them yet. So this was my first book by Adam Christopher, which works fine, as it’s a standalone. It’s urban fantasy, with a touch of the thriller and a bit of fake Celtic magic, and real gods of various stripes, and real people affected by them. It took me a while to get together what was happening, partially because I never pay attention to dates at the beginning of chapters even when authors are so helpful as to give them, and partially because I have a cold. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)
It’s an absorbing read, even if you aren’t quite hanging on and catching all the hints and implications, and it might take you some places you aren’t expecting. The pacing is really good: there was never a point where I could put it down and not wonder what was coming up next. The writing works well for me: I could picture things clearly, but it wasn’t fussy, either. There were some bits I still haven’t quite sorted out in my mind, but the plot carried me along fairly smoothly; I’d have to reread it to tell you if that was just me being dense (having a cold) or not.
Definitely an enjoyable one, and worth picking up when it comes out — and I’m veeerryyy interested in hurrying up and getting to read Adam Christopher’s other work.