Tag: Elizabeth Bear

Review – A Companion to Wolves

Posted June 9, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Companion to Wolves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah MonetteA Companion to Wolves, Sarah Monette, Elizabeth Bear

I think a lot of people have read this expecting something it really is not: comfortable LGBT fantasy romance. But while there are gay characters and themes, the main character is more straight than not, and the gay sex goes toward highlighting issues which previous work like Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books ignored. Instead of telepathic dragons and euphemistic sex scenes which turn out okay for everyone because of course the green dragons choose gay men, this explores the complications for gender identity and sexuality. To that end, there’s a lot of dubious consent here: the wolf-brothers’ relationships mirror the wolves themselves. If that’s going to bother you, definitely don’t read this (or read it with caution), because it’s quite deliberately difficult for the main character to navigate and accept. If you’re reading this because you loved The Goblin Emperor — uh, don’t, at least not just for that reason.

However, since I didn’t go into this expecting sappy gay romance, since I’ve read part of Sarah Monette’s Mélusine, I was pretty prepared for this. Having noticed all those issues with the mating sequences in Pern when I reread the first book, it was interesting to see someone deal with it, and also to place it in a context that more or less forced the authors to deal with it. Of course, this is “Iskyrne”, not the Norse world, but it’s close enough, with similar gender politics and social issues to navigate.

The whole thing is an exploration of honour and how Isolfr has to adjust his ideas of honour — and how his father also has to adjust, since that theme runs from the start of the story. It’s not always comfortable and I don’t think there’s really a happy end for Isolfr. There’s just adjustment: everything is worth it for the sake of his wolf. That’s the real emotional core of the story: Isolfr’s relationship with Viradechtis.

The fantasy world is also interesting, although it’s somewhat typical: trolls and (essentially, though not described in this way) dwarves, magical wolves, etc. The set-up for the wolfhealls is essentially the same as for the Weyrs of Pern: protecting the world. The difference is essentially a) in the amount of ice, b) wolves can’t fly, and c) it actually deals with the issues of consent it raises.

I enjoyed it, even though it wasn’t always comfortable. I don’t think the brutality of parts of it are actually intended to be some kind of indictment of the lifestyle, as some reviewers have thought. There are gay couples in the story who have a meaningful and romantic relationship, just as there are characters who don’t have sex with men outside of the breeding cycles of the wolves. It reflects less of an obsession with sexuality, showing more fluidity, which is entirely possible in the society depicted in the wolfhealls.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Bone and Jewel Creatures

Posted May 4, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth BearBone and Jewel Creatures, Elizabeth Bear

Bone and Jewel Creatures has an interesting setting, which I’d love to explore more – it barely scratches the surface of the potential magic, and the political situation seems fairly sketched in – and an interesting character. How often do you get a 96 year old protagonist with arthritis? Although being a stubborn old lady isn’t unique, the fact that the effects on her work are touched on and the concern other characters have for her is quite cool.

Because it’s a novella, there’s a lot of stuff that would be fun to explore and go further into, and there’s a lot of suggestion and doing your own legwork, but it has a satisfying story arc of its own, and works well as a standalone piece. I didn’t actually know of, or feel the lack of, anything else set in the same universe. You have all the details you need.

The writing is good too, with some lovely moments of description – the wariness of the child, the glitter of the titular bone and jewel creatures. Overall, I found it pretty satisfying, which is rare in a novella; normally I just want more of it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – One-Eyed Jack

Posted August 22, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth BearOne-Eyed Jack, Elizabeth Bear
Received to review via Netgalley

Originally, when I got this, I intended to read the other books that are loosely in the same series first. I didn’t in the end, and I think that might have impacted my understanding of all the terms and the worldbuilding. It didn’t help that I also don’t know The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or I, Spy fandoms, given that this is very meta-fictional and several of the main characters are essentially based on those works. And then there’s also my lack of knowledge of US history and places; this was the easiest to catch up with, since everyone knows something about Las Vegas, but still.

All the same, it was a lot of fun. Queer all over the place, but not in a way that felt inorganic — actually, I loved Jackie and Stewart, and if you’re telling me we weren’t meant to see wells and wells of subtext between Nikita and Sebastian, I’ll wonder if we read the same book. I loved all the unspoken stuff between them; the way they could communicate with just a look. And despite not catching on very well to the worldbuilding, I did enjoy the setting and the plot. It’s not really a spoiler to tell you that it includes such gems as vampire!Elvis.

Judging from Karen Memory, it’s fairly obvious that this was an earlier work of Bear’s, and her writing isn’t as good. But it’s still plenty of fun.

Rating: 3/5

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Who Am I?

Posted August 10, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 14 Comments

It’s been a while since I did any kind of introduction post, and I have quite a lot more followers now, so I thought I’d introduce myself a little! I cobbled these questions together from interesting stuff I found in other introduction posts and memes. If there’s something you want to know, ask!

Name? Nikki.
Age? 26.
Gender? Irrelevant.
Partnered? Yes. Her name is Lisa. She does read books, I promise.
Family? Parents, sister, brother-by-mutual-agreement, grandmother. They also read books.
Background? Welsh, grew up in England.
Politics? Don’t get me started. (Small l liberal, small g green, disenchanted by all current political parties.)
Religion? Unitarian Universalism. Dad’s an atheist, Mum’s a Christian, I’m a melting pot of Christian-like and Buddhist-like beliefs.
Team? Wales (mostly in the rugby), followed by “anybody but the English”.
University? Yep, twice so far. English Literature BA and MA, and I’m a smartypants who got first class honours in the BA.
Job? A bit of everything, freelance. Mostly transcription, ghostwriting, copy. Also a volunteer for the RNIB and on the committee of a community library.
Hobby? Reading, mostly. Also sometimes running, crocheting, gaming, writing.
Earliest memory? Playing with Lego with my Grampy. He taught me how to overlap the bricks to create a stable Lego house. He liked books too.
Ebook or dead tree? Both.
Favourite book at the age of 5? There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, Hazel Edwards.
Favourite book at the age of 10? The Positronic Man, Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg.
Favourite book at the age of 15? The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Favourite book at the age of 20? The Grey King, Susan Cooper.
Favourite book at the age of 25? The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison.
Favourite book you still have to mention? Among Others, Jo Walton.
You’re going on holiday for a week, how many books do you take? At least five, plus my ereader.
What genres will you read? Fantasy, speculative fiction, mystery, historical, alternate history, space opera, steampunk… The list goes on.
What genre won’t you read? At this point, I’m not sure what’s left that I haven’t tried at least once. Family saga?
Do you read non-fiction? Yes, anything that catches my interest. This sometimes produces weird looks at the bookstore or library.
If you were a book, what genre would you like to be? Fantasy. Portal fantasy, probably; I can’t help it, I’d love to end up in a Fionavar or a Middle-earth. Though preferably not at a time of war and destruction. Oh, oh, can I go visit Maia from The Goblin Emperor? Mind you, my manners would probably appal.
What fantasy creature would you like to be? A book hoarding dragon? I’m Welsh, after all.
What book do you wish you had written? The Lord of the Rings. Oh to be as clever and meticulous in creating a world as J.R.R. Tolkien.
Do you have a favourite poem? Sonnet XCIV‘, Pablo Neruda. “If I die, survive me with such sheer force / that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold”.
What do people say to you in bookshops? “Awesome shirt.” (Truth.) Or “no, come on, put it back, you have enough books.” (Lies.)
Where are you going? Probably the library.
Do you do anything that is not books? No.

Any questions?

And hey, if you want to steal this and use it as a get-to-know-me-post, you’re welcome to.

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Review – Karen Memory

Posted June 11, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Karen Memory by Elizabeth BearKaren Memory, Elizabeth Bear

I was in such a hurry to read this when it came out that I bought it on release day, started reading and — promptly got distracted, because I’d been reading it at clinic and then I didn’t go to clinic for a few weeks, and lost the thread, etc, etc. So I started it again today, and devoured it all in one go. I love the colloquial narration, which manages to skirt the line between feeling genuine and being annoying really well. I love the casual way characters of all colours and persuasions are a part of the story, and the way Karen describes the world around her, taking some things for granted and explaining others. For those with pet peeves about narrators, I promise there’s a reason for Karen to be telling the story the way she is, though that isn’t made explicit until the end.

Speaking of explicit, you’ve got to admire the way Bear manages to come up with euphemisms so that a story about “soiled doves” isn’t actually explicit at all, and bar some of the language, isn’t more than a PG rating.

When I started reading it, I had no idea it would actually be a lesbian love story, with a happy ending. But Priya and Karen are so darn adorable it’s worth saying up front: they never get beyond some kissing and holding hands, it’s all making eyes and getting fluttery feelings and figuring out how the heck to tell someone you care without making a mess of it. It works really well, without ever being a big crisis or the most important thing about the whole plot.

Which is a point: if you’re reading this for the steampunk, or the LGBT, or the Wild West, and you’re not so interested in the other aspects… it’s probably one to skip. It’s all of those things and a mystery story, but it’s all those things together, and not focusing just on any one thread. In fact, the mystery/thriller aspect is more prominent than the rest; the rest is background, colouring the story and shaping it, but not foregrounded as such.

I’m gonna need a hard copy of this at some point, because I just love the cover art. But my first priority is getting my sister a copy, ’cause I’m pretty sure she’ll love this one.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted October 4, 2014 by in General / 10 Comments

Good morning, folks! Shortly after this goes live, I’ll be on the way to Belgium again, whoo. So I’ll be around to check out your posts later than usual. This one is a short one by my usual standards, anyway — just three books to review!

Cover of As Chimney Sweepers by Alan Bradley Cover of One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear Cover of Sand and Ruin and Gold by Alexis Hall

Yep, that really is it. I’ll be buying a few more books for my Kobo before I set off, but I haven’t picked ’em yet, and I don’t have time to add them later. So they’ll be in next week’s post!

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