Tag: Jo Walton


Review – Lent

Posted 6 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Lent by Jo WaltonLent, Jo Walton

This review might be a little spoilery, so if you want to go in totally blind, this is more than just a high level overview of the setup. Just as a warning!

Though I didn’t know much about Savonarola, I thought that even for Jo, making me like him might be too much of a task — and here he’s the main character! But it works: with the first section of the book, we’re introduced to Savonarola, his genuine piety and his earnest attempts to rid himself of his sins, to the point where the first return burns. It’s just a horrifying moment, this holy man who loved God finding himself plunging into Hell, and finding that all his life has been a kind of cosmic joke, because there is no forgiveness, and even his “god-given” skills of prophecy and banishing demons are actually due to his demonic powers.

And then it begins again. This was a weaker part of the book for me, because it’s hard to avoid the repetition of all the different lives while also making it clear how much of a grind it is. The different lives are interesting in themselves, and it’s fun getting to see other sides of the same characters, and every return is still awful. But the actual resolution comes both too fast and too slow — it felt half too easy and half like reading it was about to become a drag. It’s an awkward line to walk, and I do think the book does a good job with something that’s difficult to portray well.

The section of this that is historical fantasy is beautifully done, and making me like — or at least be fascinated by — Savonarola when I was predisposed not to was quite a feat. I feel like I’m still chewing this one over, in a good way, even if I ended it not quite sure how I felt exactly. If I rated solely based on the punch in the gut of the first return section, I’d give it five stars.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Necessity

Posted 29 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Necessity by Jo WaltonNecessity, Jo Walton

It took me far too long to get round to reading this, but I’m glad I did so after just now having reread the first and second book. I think it would’ve been rather odd to jump back in without preparation: by this point, there are so many names and things to remember, not to mention following which city believes what and who is related to whom exactly. It’s definitely not a good book to start with, but I never do think that about series — I find it so weird when people jump in at the middle! I could have done with a family tree by this point, even having read the other books so recently; that might have helped me keep everything straight!

In any case, Necessity takes place on the new planet Plato, just after Pytheas — Apollo incarnate — has finally died, leaving behind a whole tribe of descendants. One of his descendants is a point of view character, but we also get Apollo himself, Crocus (the Worker who first became sentient!) and a Silver-ranked member of the city, Jason, who is rather in love with one of Apollo’s grandchildren. Oh, and the planet has just been conquered by the first other humans to venture out that far from Earth the conventional way.

Most of the story is taken up with chasing Athene through time, and it turns out that she did have another reason for setting up the Republic. There’s also a new god — an alien god — and the inclusion of alien characters, the Saeli. In other words, there’s magic, tech, philosophy, romance, aliens, spaceships, prophecies, gods, and more or less everything else you can think of, in a nice big melting pot.

I’ll admit that this trilogy hasn’t been my favourite of Jo’s works; I did love The Just City, but The Philosopher Kings didn’t work as well for me. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of this book, though I think it finishes out exploring some of themes of the whole trilogy beautifully. And I read it in a day, almost without pausing; Jo’s prose is always so clear and leads you on effortlessly from page to chapter to oops I finished the whole book in a day. So though it’s not my favourite, I have to say I admire it — I wasn’t sure how things could pull together, and not go sprawling off into infinity, but this does pull it off. It’s a satisfying end, and there’s so much more I could talk about!

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Philosopher Kings

Posted 18 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Philosopher Kings by Jo WaltonThe Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton

This book follows The Just City, and develops on some of its themes. After the Last Debate, in which Sokrates defeated Athene, the Just City fractures: some left with Kebes, while others splinter off to form other cities following other principles. Athenia tries to follow Plato’s Republic even more strictly, while Sokratea questions everything; other cities exclude women, focus on numerology, mingle in Christian principles… I was about to say that isn’t really the heart of the book, but maybe it is in the sense that this book is so full of people trying to implement a just city in different ways, all more or less just, all flawed, but all trying.

In the emotional sense, however, the heart of the book is Pytheas, after Simmea’s death in a stupid art raid. Pytheas intends vengeance, absolutely sure it must have been Kebes’ fault, and into this Ficino, Maia, Arete (Simmea and Pytheas’ daughter) and a number of others from the Remnant City are dragged, going off on a voyage of exploration. They find other people, outside Kallisti, all trying to create just cities as well — with differing ideals, different ways of trying to achieve it, but all trying.

The most horrible and possibly unnecessary part of the book is when Pytheas takes vengeance on Kebes; I really didn’t like it, and I’m not sure it worked for me. The exploration of the other characters, particularly Simmea and Pytheas’ children, works for me, but that one scene is a sour note. Of course, it’s not meant to be fun to read, but still. I wanted Pytheas to be better, sooner, and I’m not sure he ever quite understood what Simmea wanted when it came to Kebes.

And then of course there’s the end of the book. I’m intrigued to see what happens in Necessity, and who the narrators are; I’m hoping there’s not too much of Ikaros/Pico della Mirandola, because I’m not a huge fan of him. (I’m more of a fan in Lent, but that’s quite different.) I do enjoy his struggle to understand what happened with Maia and the slow degrees by which he reaches a conclusion, but… gah.

In any case, I love this less than The Just City — I miss Simmea, and I don’t enjoy Pytheas’ character arc until the end — but I’m interested in where things are going for Necessity.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Lifelode

Posted 9 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Lifelode by Jo WaltonLifelode, Jo Walton

Lifelode is a mostly domestic fantasy: the central character (for the most part) is Taveth, a woman whose lifelode (chosen purpose in life would be a simple way of “translating” that) is taking care of the home. There are lifechanging things for the characters of the book, but Taveth is usually making the bread or washing the clothes or cleaning out the bedrooms when it happens. When there’s an attacking force, she’s the one who worries about the supplies; as people storm the gates, she’s making stew and figuring out what will keep the children happy.

Arguably the other central characters are Hanethe and Jankin, but they aren’t really the emotional heart of the story: they’re the movement that stirs the whole pond, but Taveth is the core of it all, what holds it together. It’s tempting to talk about the plot and say too much about the way Hanethe is being pursued, the cause of the problems that she stirs up, but really the key to this book is the domesticity and also — to me, at least — that concept of a lifelode. Something that you not only intend to spend your life doing, but which to me gives you more life. You can pour everything you have into doing it, and it repays you tenfold.

When I first read this, I was 21, and I don’t think the idea resonated with me so much. I would’ve been towards the end of my first degree, and planning a fairly straightforward track through academia. At 29, with another two degrees behind me and eagerly looking forward to the next, it’s clear English Literature was not my lifelode, but just a part of it. Really, what gives me joy and feels like my real work is finding out more, about all kinds of things. Not just with the degrees, but with everything I read and do and talk about. It’s such a powerful concept, and probably not enough of us in this world think about finding our lifelode and making it work — and I’m glad I picked this book up again now and got to have a think about that, and about what I’m willing to do to keep pushing through and doing what I love.

There are also other lovely things about this book — the domestic detail, the casual queerness (including asexuality), and yes, the magic and the actual plot, and the structure of the narrative. But really this time what stuck with me and resonated with me was that idea of a lifelode. I’m really very curious as to why I never seem to have thought about it the first time I read it, but then, I know I hadn’t figured out yet that there was no straight track through to an obvious career that was going to satisfy me!

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Just City

Posted 7 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Just City by Jo WaltonThe Just City, Jo Walton

This whole novel is a bit of a thought experiment about people enacting a thought experiment: what would happen if people travelled through time to make Plato’s thought experiment of the Republic real, with the help of the Greek goddess Athene, the participation of her brother Apollo, and the addition of robots to do the hard work. There are multiple points of view: Maia, one of the readers of The Republic who comes to the city to found it; Simmea, one of the 10-year-olds recruited to be the first generation raised in the Republic; and Pytheas, the god Apollo incarnate in human form as another of those children. Those three perspectives together give us the City, from start to… well. The end of the book.

It’s really fascinating reading about the arguments for setting up the Republic, the way the Masters (Maia’s generation) interact and react to each other — because of course, very few people read The Republic and think that Plato’s suggestions should be implemented exactly as he says, but most people disagree on what things are right. And Walton has fun with who might plausibly be part of setting up the Republic: Pico della Mirandola, Ficino, Lucrezia Borgia… along with other people real and fictional.

(It’s especially fun going back to this after reading Lent, and seeing two different…ish takes on Pico!)

It’s also fascinating following Simmea and Pytheas, seeing the way they pursue excellence not only for themselves but for each other. If there’s an ideal love affair in fiction, this might be it: while there are physical elements to their relationship (more implied in the second book than actually seen here), that’s not the basis of their love for each other, and they’re never static. Right to the end, they’re always pushing at each other, demanding excellence of one another, and it’s lovely.

And then of course there’s Sokrates, brought into the City in its fifth year. With him comes change: greater freedom for Simmea and others like her who are deemed to be ‘golds’, or budding philosophers, and greater questioning of what Plato meant, what will work, and of almost every assumption the Republic has been founded on. I’d have loved to see more of Crocus and the other robots and their developing intelligence and sense of self.

Really, I could delve into several different aspects of The Just City, have it all in much greater detail, and be pretty happy.

Before writing this review, I deliberately refused to look back at what I thought when I first read it until I finished writing this. It’s… a quite different review, from a different me, and probably also worth reading; I still agree with it, but I experienced the book differently this time!

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Farthing

Posted 3 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Farthing, by Jo WaltonFarthing, Jo Walton

I think this is the second time I’ve read Farthing, and it gets more chilling all the time. It’s an alternate history in which Britain compromised with Hitler, and documents the creeping anti-Semitism and losses of freedom. It’s about compromising with the devil — and in the case of one of the characters, knowing exactly what you’re doing, hating it, and knowing you’re not strong enough not to do it. I love Carmichael, but god, I hope I’m not like him (though I fear I am; one can only hope that when they get offered a choice like that, they have the brains to see it and the guts to say no).

It’s particularly painful for me to read because I do see it happening in Britain now; gradually, people are becoming more and more negative toward foreigners, and it’s all been legitimised by Brexit. I hate it, but I’ll be honest: I’ve started hesitating to admit that my wife is European, gauging the audience to make sure it’s going to be okay. I’ve been told I’m a race traitor for marrying a European; I’ve been told I’m an EU collaborator and a traitor to the UK — etc, etc, all that sickening crap that comes from a certain kind of Brexit supporter. (Not saying all Brexit supporters are doing that and saying things like that, but it’s happening and it’s shocking how little anyone cares apart from to assert it’s not them saying it!)

I imagine US folks would probably have much the same experience right now, and more so.

Despite that, it’s also a deeply entertaining book — Lucy’s narrative voice is great, and the Golden Age crime fic pastiche is great fun. This was the first of Jo’s books that I ever read, and it had me hooked — and it did again this time. She’s excellent with character, with mood, with description, with pace… Honestly, I can’t think of any complaints I have about Farthing, except perhaps that it’s far too on the nose right now.

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Starlings

Posted 28 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Starlings by Jo WaltonStarlings, Jo Walton

Received to review via Tachyon; publication date 30th January 2018

It’s no secret that I love Jo Walton’s work, and I’d better add here that I’ve spent time with her as well — I’d call her a friend. Still, I knew her work first, and this is a fun collection. Jo may say she doesn’t know how to write short stories, but all the same everything here works pretty well. I only knew ‘Relentlessly Mundane’ and some of the poetry before, I think. It was nice to re-encounter the poetry here and spend some time with it — reading it online wasn’t the same at all. I hadn’t read the play, either, ‘Three Shouts on a Hill’; entertaining stuff.

My favourite of the short stories… hmm, possibly ‘Sleeper’, and I liked ‘What Joseph Felt’ a lot too.

Really, I never know quite how to review short story collections: suffice it to say that I enjoyed it, and I think it’s worth it, especially if you’re already a fan of Walton’s work. I’m glad I got to read it ahead of time.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

WWW Wednesday

Posted 23 August, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 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 Mask of Shadows by Linsey MillerWhat are you currently reading?

I started Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller, on the train, and I think that’s the only thing I’m really actively reading right now. It’s fun, especially because of the genderfluid main character, but it’s very much like Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass, in a lot of ways. Also a touch of The Hunger Games.

What have you recently finished reading?Cover of Starlings by Jo Walton

I just finished Jo Walton’s Starlings on the train today; most of the stories I hadn’t read before, and I hadn’t spent much time on the poetry before either, so that was nice. And last night I read The Wimsey Family, which is a short book collecting some of Sayers’ speculations about Lord Peter’s family through the ages. I like the fact that she thought it all through more than actually reading it, but it was still fun.

Cover of Caliban's War by James S.A. CoreyWhat will you read next?

I should get to Caliban’s War, which is one of my book club reads for this month. Come to that, I really need to get to it, since I’m probably not really going to be online at the end of the month. Canada trip, ho!

What are you reading at the moment?

Tags: , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 24 May, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme is an interesting one: ten books I feel differently about now time has passed. There’s a lot of books I feel that way about from when I was a kid, of course, but I’ll try to go for more recent stuff.

  1. Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood. I reaaaally changed my opinion on this one, and ended up devouring the whole series. But the first time I tried it, I hated it.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve always liked reading it, but I’ve gone through periods of being more or less critical. There was one point where I didn’t dare reread it, because I thought I’d find it too racist, sexist, simplistic… But thanks to Ursula Le Guin’s writing on Tolkien’s work, and then studying it during my MA, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. A lot of the things people complain about post-Tolkien fantasy really are post-Tolkien — he didn’t bring them in. Derivativeness, lack of thought about the implications of this choice or that on the world — I’ve come to see that lack of thought was never Tolkien’s problem, though it has been a problem for people after him.
  3. The Diamond Throne, David Eddings. I’ve had a long succession of feelings about this too; loved it and thought it really romantic as a kid, grew up and thought it was crappy and derivative, but recently I reread a bit and thought it was kind of funny anyway. (Even if Sparhawk and Ehlana is actually a creepy relationship.)
  4. Chalice, Robin McKinley. I think I originally gave this one three stars, but I keep thinking about it and I’ve read it again since and I just… I love it.
  5. Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton. Didn’t love this the first time, fell right into it on a reread. The right book at the right time, I guess.
  6. The Farthest Shore, Ursula Le Guin. This is less one that I’ve got to like more, and more one I appreciate more. I’m still not a big fan of it and wouldn’t idly pick it up the way I would, say, The Tombs of Atuan. But I see its purpose and beauty.
  7. Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn. I loved this at the time, but I don’t know if it’d stand up to that now. I’m a little afraid to try, so I think that counts for the list?
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden. I know in how many ways this is exploitative and so on, but I did love this at one point. Another one I don’t think I’ll try again.
  9. Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country, Rosalind Miles. I might like this more now that I read more romance, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. My opinion got worse and worse as I read more of her books.
  10. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart. The misogyny drove me mad the first time, but I actually appreciated parts of it more the second time.

That was… harder than I expected. Although I was also distracted by being a backseat driver to my partner playing Assassin’s Creed.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 2 February, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and Bookish is about past and future settings, so I decided to pick out ten historical/alternate history settings which I’ve loved. I’m pretty eclectic and a good story can get me interested in just about any period, so this might be a rather mixed list…

Cover of Farthing, by Jo Walton Cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood Cover of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro Cover of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke Cover of Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

  1. Farthing, Jo Walton. This alternate history is set post-WWII, and asks, what if we compromised with Nazi Germany? What happens then? What societal creep, what slow insidious curtailing of freedom? It’s a heartbreaking trilogy, full of characters to love and hate, and I think Jo does a great job evoking that version of Britain.
  2. The Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood. I never thought of Australia as a setting I’d like to read about, but I am greatly enjoying this whole series, and the era. I have ghostwritten a book with a flapper heroine, so that might help with my fascination with Phryne and her Melbourne.
  3. Arthurian Britain, in all kinds of books. Or post-Arthurian, in the case of The Buried Giant. It’s quite a wide field, really; some people have a Romanised Arthur, some a very Saxon Arthur. There’s some great stuff which contextualises Arthur in various historical periods — Bernard Cornwell being a good example of an anti-Saxon, post-Roman Arthur.
  4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke. The way the magic is integrated into the early nineteenth century and its history works perfectly for me. It’s a long book, but so rich in detail and care that I don’t mind a second of it.
  5. Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan. That whole series, really — and some other books featuring the exploits of women in that sort of period, like Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency fantasies. Finding a bigger place for women in history? A+++.
  6. The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff. Whatever inaccuracies there might be in Sutcliff’s work, it feels right. I’ve always loved her Roman/post-Roman Britain books, and pretty much everything she writes has a fantastic sense of time and place. The Eagle of the Ninth I’ve always loved especially, because it takes a historical mystery and examines it, tries to explain it through fiction.
  7. The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw. Along with Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium and the sequel, this book opened my eyes to the possibility of historical fiction set in Constantinople. This wasn’t a period of history I knew well or thought much about, but now I’d happily pick up more books set there.
  8. Dissolution, C.J. Sansom. And other medieval/renaissance detective stories, like the Cadfael books, too. But this one felt especially rooted in the time period, shaped by the politics and issues of the time.
  9. Outlaw, Angus Donald. Okay, that book itself wasn’t one of my favourites, but that whole period dealing with Robin Hood? Like the Arthurian stories, I love it when writers choose to make Robin Hood feel as real as possible.
  10. Greek/Roman settings. That encompasses Rosemary Sutcliff’s work in some ways, and Jo Walton’s Thessaly books too. It’s just a great period of time with all kinds of things going on, where you can introduce mythic elements or figures that have become legendary now, at the same time as peopling the streets of Rome or Pompeii with ancient people.

Cover of The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff Cover of The Bearkeeper's Daughter, by Gillian Bradshaw Cover of Dissolution by C.J. Sansom Cover of Outlaw by Angus Donald Cover of The Just City by Jo Walton

So yeah, quite a mixed bag. Looking forward to seeing what other people have this week!

Tags: , , , ,

Divider