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.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
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?
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.
What 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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+++.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So yeah, quite a mixed bag. Looking forward to seeing what other people have this week!
Lifelode, Jo Walton Originally reviewed 16th March, 2011
I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Jo Walton, but it’s so hard to rate them in relation to each other, because they’re each so different. I enjoyed Lifelode more than Tooth and Claw, but perhaps less than Farthing — yet I rated both four stars. I loved Among Others most of all her work so far, and I’m not sure Lifelode matches up… Maybe I should be rating all her work that I’ve read so far five stars, except Tooth and Claw.
Her range of work is fascinating. Her books are not like each other, and yet all of them are well-written and ambitious, and succeed very well with their ambitions. The narration of Lifelode, for example, is done in both past and present tense, because for one of the main characters, time is like that: all things happening at once. I expected to see more of the more distant past, through Taveth, but it was very much about that generation, the people she knew. It’s a very warm book, full of family bonds and love.
It’s also interesting in that polyamory seems to be the default, and Jo Walton treats that sensitively. There’s a sense of great strength in the relationships, but also an acknowledgement of the problems they’ll succeed. There’s also LGBT people, and one who seems pretty much asexual. She always writes about all kinds of people, and that’s another thing I really appreciate about her writing.
It’s also nice that the gendering of roles isn’t a really big thing here. Taveth is a housewife, but she chooses that, and her role is central to the functioning of her home. But even a female priest is still just called a priest, not a priestess.
I’ve managed to say all that and say nothing about the plot. It’s a domestic fantasy, although there is also a level on which it is about gods. I think the homelife is as important to the story as the bursts of fighting, and the magic — the bonds between people are, I think, more important, as they are what is under threat. Don’t go into it expecting a big showdown at the end, or something like that.
Hmm, this week’s theme is about recommending stuff you like if you like something popular, and I’m never sure about what’s actually popular and what I just know about because I’m in my own little circle. So I’m just going to suggest some readalikes.
If you like N.K. Jemisin, especially The Fifth Season, try Kameron Hurley. Reading the start of The Fifth Season, I was so struck that it ‘felt like’ The Mirror Empire.
If you like J.R.R. Tolkien, particularly in The Lord of the Rings mode, try Poul Anderson. He was also one of the founding writers of SF/F, and dug into a lot of the same material that influenced Tolkien.
If you like Raymond Chandler, try Chris F. Holm. Mostly if you like SF/F as well, because the Collector series is a lot of fun, and riffs on Chandler and Hammett’s style and plots. But The Killing Kind is also great.
If you like Jacqueline Carey, particularly the Kushiel books, try Freda Warrington, starting with A Taste of Blood Wine. There’s a similar lushness there in the language and style.
If you like Ilona Andrews, try Jacqueline Carey! She has written some urban fantasy type stuff with the Agent of Hel trilogy, which is now complete.
If you like Catherynne M. Valente, try Patricia McKillip — or the other way round, both being differently famous depending on your circles. The lyrical writing and some of the themes seem akin.
If you like any books at all, try Jo Walton. She’s written in a whole range of genres, but mostly I’m thinking of the fantasy/coming of age story, Among Others. If you’re in love with books, you’ll have something in common with Mori.
If you like Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, try Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. Also has LGBT themes, in a more fantastical world. Never seems to get the love I’d like to see for it!
If you like epic fantasy, of whatever stripe, try Tad Williams. I really enjoyed the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books, and though they stick quite close to a traditional fantasy mould, they had a lot there that I appreciated, especially by way of characters.
If you like Gail Carriger, try Genevieve Cogman. The tone is less silly, but some of the same enthusiasm and tone is there.
I’ll be interested to see what other people are recommending here! I found this one difficult, because I’m never sure how to judge other people’s taste.
The Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton Received to review via Netgalley
I should probably additionally note before I write this review that I consider Jo a friend, but I was a fan of her writing first. Actually, surprisingly, I have pretty mixed feelings about this one. It’s surprising to me, anyway — but everyone seems to connect to different books even just among Jo’s bibliography, because she’s written such a range of things. Only a little while ago I was talking about how strongly I connected with The King’s Peace/The King’s Name, which my friend Bun wasn’t nearly as enthused about.
I do like this trilogy, and I’m curious to see what the final book does with this set-up. I love the whole idea of it, and it makes me want to have Sokratic debates with everyone (in which case my mother would probably dearly wish to be able to turn me into a gadfly). I’d love to know my metal, I’d love to get the education that they have in the Just City. And I love the characters, the way everyone is learning, the way nearly everyone has subtleties and can surprise you.
My main problems with this book were to do with the pacing and one particular character. As the book starts, there’s a major drive to do a particular thing. That’s resolved by 70% of the way through, maybe even a little before, and so the rest of the book had the curious feel of being an epilogue. The emotional drive of the story, the whole tone of it, just changes — and yet then there was another climactic moment in the last 10%, after I was expecting it to end, and this one really was a gamechanger.
As for the character, I felt like I didn’t understand him anymore. Up to that point, I had understood him, and even half-sympathised, but there was a sudden moment when he felt less like the character I ‘knew’ from reading The Just City, and simply made up of the worst parts of that person, magnified. And I didn’t really see where the change came in — the problem being, of course, that none of the narrators saw him for years between The Just City and this book. It just didn’t quite ring true, for me, like there was a step missing.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading The Philosopher Kings very much, and will deeply enjoy talking about it and debating about it with my partner and anyone else who wants to.
This week’s theme is “Ten Characters You Just Didn’t Click With” and actually, I’m having a bit of trouble thinking of it. Okay, here goes…
Jill Pole and Prince Rillian from The Silver Chair. Actually, most of the characters in the last two books. They just didn’t have the magic, somehow.
Prince Sameth, Lirael & Abhorsen. Compared to their mother, both him and Ellimere are just weak tea. He spends so much time denying his responsibilities, where his mother just took it all on and never dreamed of saying no. In a way, it’s a more realistic characterisation, but gah, so much whining.
Elvira, from Half a Crown. I love most of Jo Walton’s characters, but Elvira’s concerns seemed so far away from the concerns of the more mature characters we’ve already spent time with.
Boromir, from The Lord of the Rings. I know he’s actually a good guy at heart, and we see the evil power of the Ring twisting him, but there was something so glory-seeking and self-centered about the guy, especially when compared to Faramir.
Malta Vestrit, from The Liveship Traders trilogy. Ohh my god, so spoilt. And it doesn’t really get better even as she begins to grow up; I never liked her. Mind you, a lot of the characters in this trilogy were very dislikeable, to me.
Miriamele, from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Speaking of spoilt characters…
Jaelle, from The Summer Tree. I never felt like I really understood the character, and I wanted more out of her.
Katsa, from Graceling. I know! She’s pretty kickass, but I never really connected with the character. It’s why I didn’t like it that much the first time I tried it.
Lancelot, in anything. Almost the sole exception is Heather Dale’s music and parts of Steinbeck’s retelling of Malory.
Dorian Havilliard, Throne of Glass. Actually, I didn’t really ‘get’ either love interest in the first book, but Chaol is growing on me. Dorian… there are some aspects I’m liking, but in the first book, he really didn’t win me over.
I tried to pick books I liked, in general, and characters who are not meant to be villains. I’ll be interested to see what other takes people have on this theme!
This week’s theme is auto-buy authors! I think I did this topic the last time it came round, but these things are prone to change. It’ll be interesting after I’ve made the list to look for the old one!
Scott Lynch. Even seeing a short story of his is in a collection is enough to prompt me to at least consider picking it up.
J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure he’d even approve of the state of the stuff Christopher Tolkien is putting out for him is in, but I will always be fascinated with every word the guy wrote.
Jo Walton. If I can’t get the ARCs, at least… Jo is my friend as well as a favourite author.
N.K. Jemisin. I think I knew she’d be an auto-buy author from the first page of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Jacqueline Carey. I’ve seen her deal with stuff I wouldn’t be that interested in ably, in a way that comes out fun. Yeah, I’ll buy anything.
Guy Gavriel Kay. Person most likely to make me cry at his work, except possibly Jo.
Garth Nix. I haven’t even read all his backlist yet.
Patricia A. McKillip. It took me a while to get into some of her books, but I think I’m securely hooked now. I’m glad there’s still a whole bunch of backlist titles I haven’t got to yet.
Neil Gaiman. Okay, I’m not 100% a fan of everything the man says, and the title of his latest collection of short stories didn’t work for me, but if he writes a book, I’ll probably get it. Maybe not immediately. But in the end.
Rainbow Rowell. It surprised me, but I just preordered Carry On and realised that yeah, I probably will automatically buy anything by her. Something about her style just… works for me.
This week’s theme is books you’d like to see as movies/tv shows. The proviso here is that I would want appropriate casting, e.g. not a white man for Ged or Patriot.
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin. Shush. There hasn’t been one. Doesn’t exist.
Captain Marvel. Sooner than planned, please. And keep in the recent bit about her dating Rhodey!
Young Avengers. You’ve got all the ingredients ready, Marvel. Dooo iiiiiittttt.
Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas. It could be really epic, and it’d require a female lead who could do stunts and would need a good range of acting skills.
A Natural History of Dragons, Mary Brennan. I’m not sure how well it’d translate to the big screen, but again, it’d require a female lead and it’d be a little bit like Walking With Dinosaurs, only dragons and fiction.
The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell. Do Arthur right!
Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay. In the right hands, it would be beautiful.
Sunshine, Robin McKinley. Female lead who is both a reluctant hero type and a baker. Interesting vampire lore, gorgeous imagery. It’d be amazing, right?
Farthing, Jo Walton. Could serve as a timely warning to a country embracing conservatism right now, too.
Bloodshot, Cherie Priest. Weird found-family dynamics, kickass female lead, ex-Navy SEAL drag queen? Okay, there’d be so many ways for them to mess it up, but we’re talking an ideal world here, and it would be so very right.