The Beautiful Ones, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 24th October 2017
I wasn’t a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise, though I liked it well enough, but I wanted to give more of her work a try. I wasn’t disappointed! The Beautiful Ones is a sort of Heyer-esque romance, only with magic as well — maybe Austen. You get the vague idea. It’s alternate universe, but there’s enough parallels that I just sort of nodded and accepted it as our-world-but-with-different-names. I’d have loved more world building about that, but it might have taken away from the character study and the romance, so I’m not too disappointed.
The characters, well. I spent a fair amount of time wanting to shake them into being sensible and communicating properly, but I enjoyed them and rooted for them — except of course for Valerie, who I didn’t quite hate (Moreno-Garcia does a reasonably good job of pointing out why she is the way she is), but who definitely isn’t a character to love. I found the lengths she ended up going to a bit unconvincing and unpleasant — sucks that it’s a guy who at the end decides to do the decent thing and come clean, and Valerie ends up being pretty irredeemable.
If you don’t like romance and novels of manners, this probably won’t appeal; if you do, then I recommend it. Even if you’re not so much into fantasy, really; that aspect is relatively slight.
First Grave on the Right, Darynda Jones
Received to review via Netgalley
I didn’t have high hopes for this, I admit, but what people said about it made it sound like some light fun.
Guys, this needs to come with trigger warnings. This review needs a trigger warning because it describes the problematic stuff. It opens with the main character having a sexy dream. Only it’s not just a dream: there’s some kind of supernatural agent behind it and it is actually a person who she knows. Okay… I’m a little dubious about the consent here because it sounds like he just jumps into her dreams and goes at it, but I’ll hold off. It’s clear she thinks she knows who the guy is and that she’s more or less okay with him having sex with her.
That’s fine, but I’m not along for the ride because it’s revealed later that they’ve met once before. She tried to help him in a situation which appeared to be horrific abuse, and he pinned her against a wall and groped her while asking if she’d ever been raped (read the scene quoted here).
THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC. THIS IS NOT LIGHT FUN. I DO NOT WANT TO BE HERE.
Now, I’m not judging people who find bad boys sexy or whatever, and maybe somehow all that is dealt with. But it didn’t look like it was being dealt with, and I was very uncomfortable.
Given the importance of sex and who likes whom to the apparent plot (which is otherwise jerky and felt oddly paced), it’s perhaps not a surprise I didn’t get along with it in other ways either, but… yeesh. At the very least, I’m shocked no one I know has brought up that aspect of the plot/characterisation/pile of problematicness before.
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
I’m sorry. I don’t get it. I think I might’ve loved it if I read it at a formative age, but the basic concepts of fighting a great evil (and even some of the relationships between characters) reminded me mostly of The Dark is Rising, which I’m afraid has first place in my heart. I didn’t get the sense of wonder and fascination that I think it could’ve invoked, encountered at the right time, and I just felt rather impatient with the protagonists.
I’m not sure if I’ll read the other books or not – I know that if I’d gone on Over Sea, Under Stone alone, I’d never have finished Susan Cooper’s series. On the other hand, I just don’t enjoy the half fantastical, half scientific backdrop, and part of the reason I didn’t connect with the characters was because I couldn’t pin them down – one minute they seem painfully young and naïve, and the next I seem to be expected to root for a romance between them.
Really, it reminds me of so many other books — The Wizard of Oz, The Railway Children, The Dark is Rising, Little Women… It never quite became its own story for me.
Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor
The title pretty aptly describes the book. It is a fun romp, as others have described, but I seriously think the writing needs tightening up — the plot jerks ahead with little sense of time passing (all of a sudden, two characters have known each other for five years — since when?! I thought they met a couple of months ago!) and there doesn’t seem to be a comfortable ending. It sort of goes, “Oh, and another thing.” And a couple of events rely on sexual assault, which… jdnsjgn. The author deals reasonably well with the character’s feelings afterwards, but it’s used twice as a vehicle for “this guy is really nasty, and oh the plot is moving”. Not my favourite trope, by far.
Also, also, the love interest once yells at the main character for very little reason except that someone told him she lost his baby, when she wasn’t intending to tell him she’d ever been (briefly) pregnant. He loses it and calls her a slut, etc, as do other people in the building. It’s more or less out of nowhere and out of character — and she forgives him with shocking ease.
It just didn’t quite come together for me, and honestly at times I wondered if I was reading the same book as other people. I don’t think I’ll be continuing with the series.
Jhereg, Steven Brust
Ages ago, I read Jo Walton’s reviews of the Vlad Taltos books and resolved to read them immediately. I did pick up this first book, but after that failed to carry on, even though the first book is good and Jo’s reviews fascinating. There’s a lot going on in this world, and I really want to read more of the books to get a better grasp on it. In the meantime, Vlad Taltos himself is snarky, moderately capable, and definitely capable of getting himself into trouble. A winning combination – even without Looish, his jhereg companion.
It’s a fun beginning, which leaves a lot of questions unanswered (and sometimes even barely posed). This time, I mean it; I’ve gotta get on and read the rest!
The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
I struggled a bit with this book, which surprised me. It’s not the fairytale-like narration, because that worked for me, nor the choice of setting (semi-historical Russia), or the characters, or the choice of fairytales to invoke. Perhaps it’s just that I felt I knew where it was going and how it would unfold, and I am so very tired of stories all about taming a wild young woman who doesn’t belong among her people.
It’s well written, and I enjoyed the Russian flavour – probably helped by the fact that I don’t know Russian well at all, so the words chosen to give a flavour didn’t contradict each other in the way they were Romanised or used. I do enjoy Vasya and her determination, her basic goodness, her love for her family and duty to the people who, unknowingly, relied upon her. I enjoyed the little snippets that joined it to history.
I just… didn’t quite click with it in some way I can’t put my finger on. I’m glad I read it, and I’ll probably pick up the second book to see how I get into that, but… something didn’t work for me.
The Man Who Fell to Earth, Walter Tevis
Ouch. I was sort of enjoying this, but not really bowled over — and then that ending. Of course that’s the way the US government would end up treating an alien. Of course it’s not that easy to save the world.
To start at the beginning, this is a short novel which imagines what would happen if an alien came to Earth with the intent of saving our world, in order to save his own. Newton is from Anthea, which sounds like it’s probably Mars (back when we thought Mars might have had intelligent lifeforms), and his people need a new world. So they send him to Earth to kickstart technology, enough to build an ark to fetch them to Earth. And from there, they’d take over Earth quietly, guiding humans to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, etc, etc.
To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t quite go as planned, but the way that works out is fascinating. The weird thing for me was how much people drank, and how routine alcoholism was for the characters. Just… not a world I’m used to. But it’s an interesting book, and I enjoyed it — and it gets an extra star for that ending.
The Carpet Makers, Andreas Eschbach
I loved this, the first time I read it, and it’s stayed with me ever since — not all the details, but an overall impression of great craft in the writing (and no doubt on the part of the translator, too) and a mystery which, once solved, seemed amazing. It’s not a format I’d usually like, since it doesn’t follow a single character or handful of characters through a story, watching them develop and react; instead, each chapter is linked to the previous, but has different characters. Some of the characters, you just don’t know how they end up, or you only see a little glimpse of it. Each story has its own arc, arousing sympathy, horror, curiosity, anger.
It’s a great book — not a collection of short stories, as you find once you’re halfway through. No: it cleverly unravels the mystery in little pieces, revealing it piece by piece until at the end you say — ah!
I won’t say more about it, because the plot needs to be discovered for itself. The writing is beautiful, though; each word feels like it’s in its exact right place, carefully laid out and planned in advance like one of the carpets made by the people of the title. It’s almost fable-like in some places — and honestly, I found that my suspension of disbelief didn’t matter. It was all so clever, and it expected the reader to disbelieve, to feel staggered by the scales, the things suggested.
It’s great. I find it unforgettable.
A Rare Book of Cunning Device, Ben Aaronovitch
Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, this is a short story set in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London world. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a great narrator and sounds just perfect for Peter, and while it’s a short story, it’s fun and features Toby and Postmartin… and the British Library. And, of course, a rare book of cunning device.
I won’t spoiler you if you haven’t listened to it, but it really is fun, helped by Holdbrook-Smith’s delivery. If you enjoy Peter Grant and his brand of humour, you’ll be in for a treat. And as I recall, it’s free on Audible…
Mask of Shadows, Linsey Miller
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 29th August 2017
I was intrigued by the sound of Mask of Shadows, because the main character is non-binary and throughout the story, asks to be addressed by pronouns that match what they’re wearing — and by neutral pronouns (they/them/their) if they’re ambiguous. I thought it was reasonably well done; people didn’t get too obsessed with finding out, and not everyone was a total douche about it either. The narrative didn’t linger on it, either.
On the other hand, it’s basically Throne of Glass with a bit of The Hunger Games, apart from maybe the figure of the queen, who is intriguingly ambiguous in the end, although she starts as a saviour figure. There is some interesting world-building — the shadows — but really, it feels so much like Throne of Glass. I enjoyed Throne of Glass well enough, but I don’t want to read it again.
There’s a couple of issues with pacing too — sometimes the story seems to jerk forward, leaving me wondering where something came from. But for the most part, it’s fun; just not original.