Tag: Jo Walton

Review – Lifelode

Posted October 23, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lifelode by Jo WaltonLifelode, 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.

Rating: 5/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted September 29, 2015 by Nikki in General / 16 Comments

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. If you like Ellen Kushner’s Swordspointtry 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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Review – The Philosopher Kings

Posted September 12, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Philosopher Kings by Jo WaltonThe 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.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted September 1, 2015 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

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…

  1. Jill Pole and Prince Rillian from The Silver ChairActually, most of the characters in the last two books. They just didn’t have the magic, somehow.
  2. Prince Sameth, Lirael AbhorsenCompared 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Miriamele, from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Speaking of spoilt characters…
  7. Jaelle, from The Summer Tree. I never felt like I really understood the character, and I wanted more out of her.
  8. Katsa, from GracelingI 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.
  9. Lancelot, in anything. Almost the sole exception is Heather Dale’s music and parts of Steinbeck’s retelling of Malory.
  10. 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!

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted August 18, 2015 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Jo Walton. If I can’t get the ARCs, at least… Jo is my friend as well as a favourite author.
  4. N.K. Jemisin. I think I knew she’d be an auto-buy author from the first page of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
  5. 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.
  6. Guy Gavriel Kay. Person most likely to make me cry at his work, except possibly Jo.
  7. Garth Nix. I haven’t even read all his backlist yet.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

What about you guys?

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted June 2, 2015 by Nikki in General / 15 Comments

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.

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin. Shush. There hasn’t been one. Doesn’t exist.
  2. Captain Marvel. Sooner than planned, please. And keep in the recent bit about her dating Rhodey!
  3. Young Avengers. You’ve got all the ingredients ready, Marvel. Dooo iiiiiittttt.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell. Do Arthur right!
  7. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay. In the right hands, it would be beautiful.
  8. 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?
  9. Farthing, Jo Walton. Could serve as a timely warning to a country embracing conservatism right now, too.
  10. 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.

Gaah, gimme them. Nowww.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted May 19, 2015 by in General / 10 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:

“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”

So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!

  1. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
  2. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
  3. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
  4. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
  5. Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
  6. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
  8. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
  9. Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.

Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —

Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!

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Review – The Just City

Posted May 18, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

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

Originally borrowed a review copy from Robert, then got approved for it on Netgalley, and then finally bought it, because I felt awful. It is not Jo Walton’s fault as a writer in any way; the book is fascinating, I just couldn’t sit still for it. I still don’t know why. I didn’t connect with it in the same way as I have some of Jo’s other books, but then I haven’t necessarily taken ages to read them because of that. There’s even stuff I love here: tons of classical references, as fun to spot as the books in Among Others; the awe and admiration of art; the role of the female characters and the ways they contribute to the city; loves that are not of the body but of the mind, and an understanding of different kinds of love…

The plot itself extends the thought experiment of Plato’s Republic. He came up with this thought experiment, and now the characters of the book actually try to live it; the book explores the ways they compromise on that, and the new light that sheds on the original ideas. (And Jo’s exploration is itself a thought experiment, in a way… oh, the meta.) The whole thing is, in a way, another Socratic dialogue: every character asks questions of the others, and together they try to make the Just City. Compromising the ideals leads to compromised results, and I think it’s up to the reader to figure out to what extent that is justified, to what extent the experiment is successful, to what extent a more positive result would even be possible.

It’s pretty optimistic about the human race, really. The children raised in that environment think in a way which is much more ‘just’ than if they had been raised outside it, that’s clear. I’d love to think that’s possible, and I don’t know if it is. And is it because they have been raised in an environment lacking in poverty and most injustice (negative influences), or because of the education they receive and the order of their lives (positive influences)?

If you finish this without a ton more questions, I’d be surprised. And Socrates would be very, very displeased (and so, I think, would Jo Walton).

On a character-and-plot level, I love the evolution of Apollo/Pytheas. I love his relationship with Simmea, the way that they work on agape, and the ways they fall short of that with other people around them. I’ve always thought agape a beautiful idea, and the way it’s explored here is interesting — mostly with Simmea and Pytheas, but with many other characters too. The way that they love each other and want to increase each other’s excellence, and how solidly and unshakeably they both believe that is beautiful.

There’s so much else I could say about this book, and so much else I’d like to say and can’t word. Suffice it to summarise with: it’s an interesting book, one which raises a lot of questions, which still has characters you can love and cherish as well. I recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted April 28, 2015 by in General / 10 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____”. So, because I’m predictable like that, let’s have my top ten characters who love books!

  1. Matilda, from Roald Dahl’s MatildaI don’t know about anyone else, but I used to sit and stare at things and wish I could have powers like Matilda. But even better would’ve been to read as fast as her.
  2. Mori, from Jo Walton’s Among OthersI think this one is extra-specially predictable. Shush.
  3. Hermione Granger, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry PotterI’m in the middle of my rereads of these books and remembering just how much I loved Hermione — I was that know-it-all who sucked up to the teachers, though I didn’t have such good and loyal friends as Harry and Ron surrounding me. And unfortunately, I still didn’t have powers.
  4. Cath, from Rainbow Rowell’s FangirlWhy is this list so populated with people like me…?
  5. Harriet Vane, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Wimsey mysteries. Well, she’s more of a writer and we don’t see her reading much, but we do see her engaging with literature, and practically sparring with Peter via quotations from books.
  6. Beauty, in Robin McKinley’s BeautyGimme the Beast’s library, please.
  7. Alec, from Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. I suddenly remembered a scene with Richard bringing Alec a book and the hunger Alec seemed to feel about it…
  8. Jean, from Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Jean!
  9. Memer, from Ursula Le Guin’s VoicesI need to reread this one now I’ve remembered about it!
  10. Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little WomenI think I actually came across Jo and Matilda not that far apart in time. Both of them lived in a world of books that only encouraged me to read more!

That was actually harder than I anticipated. Huh. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people are going with!

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted April 14, 2015 by in General / 16 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “Top Ten Inspiring Quotes from Books”. Which is a little bit hard, because I don’t really keep track of quotes. But there are some that stick with me — maybe not inspiring, so much, but defining.

  1. “Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.” (I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith.)
  2. “If you marry a man like that and live his life, then I agree. You may not really want to hurt people, but you will.”
    “That is hateful. Hateful! To say it that way. That I haven’t any choice, that I have to hurt people, that it doesn’t even matter what I want.”
    “Of course it matters, what you want.”
    “It doesn’t. That’s the whole point.”
    “It does. And that’s the whole point. You choose. You choose whether or not to make choices.”
    (The Eye of the Heron, Ursula Le Guin.)
  3. Only in silence the word,
    Only in dark the light,
    Only in dying life:
    Bright the hawk’s flight
    On the empty sky.
    (A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin.)
  4. “For Drake is no longer in his hammock, children, nor is Arthur somewhere sleeping, and you may not lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you.” (Silver on the Tree, Susan Cooper.)
  5. “The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne’s are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God.” (The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell.)
  6. “Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow, ‘Get out, you don’t belong here?’ Does the tree say to the hungry man, ‘This fruit is not for you?’ Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?” (The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman.)
  7. “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” (On the Road, Jack Kerouac.)
  8. “It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” (Among Others, Jo Walton.)
  9. “Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole.” (The Scar, China Miéville.)
  10. “That’s how you get deathless, volchitsa. Walk the same tale over and over, until you wear a groove in the world, until even if you vanished, the tale would keep turning, keep playing, like a phonograph, and you’d have to get up again, even with a bullet through your eye, to play your part and say your lines.” (Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente.)

That was… surprisingly hard to choose. On the Road makes it only because of something else I once read that quoted that line; I’m afraid I don’t like the book itself.

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