The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making,Catherynne M. Valente
This is a reread for me, for the sake of pure delight, and it definitely worked to uplift me during my exam period. I know these books show up in the young adult section, sometimes even the children’s section, but I really don’t think they’re primarily meant for kids: the knowing, clever narrator is surely aimed at someone with years of experience of books, including books where people go to fairyland. Surely the references — like September being Ravished — are there for the clever reader with a wide background. There are kids who have that background already, but I still can’t help but feel that it’s a book (well, a whole series) that’s really meant for adults.
Which is not to say that it’s not pure magic. Valente’s writing is just delicious, and I enjoy the heck out of her narrator. I love A-Through-Ell and I love the complex nature of the Marquess and her background; I love Saturday and the way Marids live; I love all the little details we catch glimpses of while the narrator hurries us along. (And I’m sure they’re meant for exactly that tantalising purpose.)
Perhaps some of it just a little too whimsical to really swallow, but I think that’s my fault for having too much of a grown up heart. I want to love the velocipedes, I do.
YES! Jacqueline Carey has a new book out, and you and I can get our hands on it right now. But before you rush off to the bookstore, I do have some chances here for you to win a copy of the book and, if you’re in the US or Canada, a bag full of extras! And that’s not all: below is an excerpt exclusive to this blog tour, just to whet your appetite…
A hundred yards from us, Pahrkun the Scouring Wind loomed out of the desert. For the space of a few heartbeats, my wits ceased to function altogether. Cloaked in swirling sand, Pahrkun stood mountain-tall. High in the sky, his great black head, long and inhuman, turned this way and that, glowing green eyes set in deep hollows surveying the landscape. I dropped the reins in my hand and fell to one knee, genuflecting without thinking. Beside me, Brother Merik did the same.
I forced myself to my feet, only to fall and genuflect again as Pahrkun moved with slow, graceful strides to reveal a vast tower of flame behind him: Anamuht the Purging Fire. One skeletal bone-white arm emerged from the flames to lift high, lightning crackling in her fist.
Brother Merik was shouting in my ear and pointing.
Anamuht flung her arm forward and a bolt of blue-white lightning struck the barren earth between us. In its sudden glare, the small figure of a man struggling to keep his seat in the saddle of a terrified horse was illuminated.
“. . . with the horses!” Brother Merik shouted. “I’ll get him!” Dumbstruck and nigh frozen, I did as he said, gathering up the fallen reins. The horses tossed their heads in protest, fretful and fearful. Brother Merik ran unerringly toward the Shahalim, unwinding his head-scarf as he ran. He wrapped it around Brother Yarit’s mount’s eyes and began leading them back.
The wind howled.
“Let’s go!” Brother Merik cried. “Go, go, ride!”
I tossed his reins to him. Carrion beetles crunched underfoot as I hopped about in an effort to mount my horse. A strong hand grabbed the back of my tunic and hauled me belly-down across my saddle. From this undignified perch, I managed to scramble upright, my feet fishing for the stirrups.
“Watery hell!” Brother Yarit wheezed. His face was coated with a rime of dried sweat and sand, his eyes bleary and bloodshot. “All right, kid. I guess we’re stuck with each other.”
We rode, the wind dying in our wake.
I glanced over my shoulder once as we fled. The Sacred Twins had vanished into the desert.
Thanks to Tor Books, for folks in the US or Canada I have a hardback of Starless to give away, with a bag of swag featuring a Starless quote postcard, hawk feather, #FearlessWomen sticker, #FearlessWomen pen, and star confetti. Enter below for your chance to win!
For those outside the US and Canada, I’m providing a prize of my own — the lucky winner will receive a hardback copy of Starless sent to them via Book Depository. Please do not enter this one if you’re from the US or Canada, because you have a chance at the prize above!
It’s been a long time since I read this — longer than I thought, in fact, and I’ve come to the conclusion I must have read it originally as a very young teen. I’m not sure how well I really took it on board, then: I wasn’t as much into the kind of cerebral, considering, anthropological fiction that Ursula Le Guin did so beautifully. Granted, I was excited about Sutty being a lesbian, and I found aspects of the world interesting, but I really wasn’t ready to enter into the spirit of the teaching. I was more worried about the man who walked up into thin air than about the tradition he was part of — which fortunately, the POV character never does lose sight of.
Now, well, the love of books and the desire to save a lost language and lost ways of being hits a lot closer to home. (Partially through knowing, for example, about the Welsh Not and the Treachery of the Blue Books — knowing that Welsh history, language and culture have been lost through the feeling that they were not civilised, not focused toward advancement.) I’d completely forgotten the ending and what Yara does to reconcile his conflicting loyalties, but now I’m not sure I can get the image out of my head.
It’s beautifully written — of course, it’s Le Guin — and though Sutty as a character is a bit passive at times, when you know what you’re in for there’s a lot of beauty in Le Guin’s work, in the quiet spaces around her words (“to hear, one must be silent”, after all) that let the imagination breathe.
Koko Takes a Holiday is definitely fun, in a rip-roaring blood and guts and plenty of sex sort of way. It rolls along at a tremendous speed, and it’s a really fast read because of it: there’s very little sitting around and thinking about what’s going to happen next, because what’s going to happen next comes straight through the door at you ready to pounce. That said, I was never really in any doubt that Koko would make it and probably shack up with a particular other character at the end, and I never really felt like her losses were earthshaking. She’s all ready to slide back in the status quo, no introspection, no bad memories, nothing.
Also, Flynn has the potential to be an interesting character, with his diagnosis of Depressus (which is basically depression only everybody encourages you to go top yourself because life’s not actually worth living and it’s untreatable, blahblahblah) and how he handles it, but since it’s basically handwaved away through danger and sex (“you’ve just got to change your life!” is almost literally what Koko says), it actually comes across as a little insulting (that’s not how depression works, even the ordinary kind). Depression can be a big problem, we don’t have any surefire treatments that will fix you right up, and this book’s portrayal of a society which is just all casually “yep, go kill yourself together in a regularly scheduled jump into the atmosphere from really high up” as a reaction sits really badly with me. More badly the more I think about it, actually.
Also, much grossness, like people literally pissing themselves with fear (described in loving detail) and biting people’s eyes out (also).
Ultimately, it’s popcorn, and that’s fine once in a way for me, but I can’t see myself reading any of the sequels. And I do have serious questions about the flippant treatment of depression implied in Koko’s “cure” for Flynn, now that I think about it. Ugh.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, Margaret Killjoy
This one is kind of like an origin story for a hunter in Supernatural, only with more women and people in general who aren’t co-dependent white dudes, and deeply connected to an anarchic, footloose sort of life — the characters are all travellers and squatters, some more settled than others, which I found a fascinating new skew on the world. New to me, I mean; I’m neither an anarchist nor at all footloose.
There’s some really creepy-feeling stuff here, like the giant demon murderstag — not so much creepy in the “I don’t want to keep reading, gaaaah” sense, you know, where you start worrying a hand is going to come out from under the bed and grab your ankle if you get out of bed, but just wrong and unsettling.
And, you know, all the undead animals that would normally be hunted. There was something about the pacing that made me feel hurried through it, though; something I just didn’t quite get hold of. I’m sort of curious to read the sequel, but then I’m not sure (embarrassingly) that I’ve really grasped the characters and will remember all their interactions and relationships even if I pick it up really soon. Even though I found it different in terms of the cast and even refreshing for that, I’m mostly left with the murder deer, and he’s exited stage right at this point.
This one sounds pretty exciting: queer retelling of The Little Mermaid, with Ursula as the heroine, including a Norse warrior girl and visits from the god Loki. There was a lot to like about this: I enjoyed the strength of Ersel’s relationship with her mother, and the complicatedness of her relationship with her friend. Loki’s character is also rather enjoyable: they’re genderfluid, and a true trickster: you’re never quite sure what they want and why.
Ultimately, it did feel a little thin to me at times, though, and the general background of misogyny and nastiness toward the female merpeople was a little unbearable to read. Not that I’d expected pure sunshine and puppies, but I wasn’t quite ready for the torture and enforced pregnancies, etc, etc. I could’ve done with more development of the relationship between Ersel and Ragna, too: it started well, but I found myself wondering how well they really knew each other at all, how likely it would be for their bond to actually be stable and lasting, given all the differences between them and the slenderness of their acquaintance.
So, an interesting retelling, but not in the end my thing.
I kept not picking this up for the longest time because I had a vague memory of reading it and not ‘getting’ it, and thus I also avoided other books in the same world. Wrong! I’ve no idea what book I was thinking of, but it wasn’t this one: some aspects of the culture are a little bit opaque to me, like the significance of the poem that is a key moment for the characters, but it was a fascinating read. The characters are complex: not necessarily likeable, in fact most of them aren’t, but human. You can see why they do the things they do; it’s complicated, and there’s no easy answer to who is right and who is wrong.
I think I was most intrigued by the Honoured Ancestress, and her place in the story. Of course I thought of Iain M. Bank’s Culture novels first, and the Minds, but clearly this isn’t just like that. I found the AI’s distress at falling apart and failing one of the most affecting parts of the story: feeling your mind crumble from within…
Definitely interested in reading more in this world. Not sure what book steered me wrongly away from this through resemblance in title or cover, but it was lying.
I’m always willing to try Cherie Priest’s books: I haven’t loved all of them, by any means, but there’s usually been something — an idea, a sense of atmosphere, a character — that just really makes it for me. So it was this time: I got really interested in gentle, tortured Tomas, in good-hearted and lively Alice, and I wanted them to triumph. I hated what was happening to Tomas, and to the community Alice finally found of people like her. I enjoyed Alice’s irreverence, her good intentions, her delight in things like food and drink and the fact that she didn’t care what people thought of that, for the most part.
The solution to the mystery of what’s haunting Tomas didn’t surprise me any, and the way things worked out was pretty much as I expected too. The strength of it was in how badly I wanted things to be okay for Tomas, how much I wanted them all to triumph, and the fact that I was actually afraid that one particular character would die before the end of the book.
The horror here is mostly, for me, in the way Tomas is manipulated which is really what darkened the book for me. Violent and demonic ghost/spirit/things, eh, but those things hiding themselves and using a (relatively) innocent man — that got to me.
Wow, where to start with this. My thoughts are still all scattered! I wasn’t very wowed while reading it: that’s not what has me conflicted. It was an interesting enough story and setting, though at times it felt as if Fisher was just lurching from crisis to crisis, with no real indication of what happened in between. I wanted more characterisation, more meat on the bones of the ongoing tragedy, to make me really feel it and feel the strain of the characters’ journey, their isolation.
There are some really raw feelings here — hurt and betrayal and displacement and fear… but it was blunted by not knowing enough about the people it was happening to. I would’ve also enjoyed more background and depth to the world: it didn’t feel two-dimensional, but it felt like a sketch map rather than a painting, if that makes sense. The detail might’ve been there, but I couldn’t see it at this resolution.
Anyway, before I delve any further into mixed metaphors (ack! there I go again), I’ll just have to conclude that I found this tantalising and intriguing, but I wanted more from it, and I wanted a bit more foreshadowing of the conclusion, which was like a bolt from the blue for me as well as for the characters. It should fit in with all the other pieces, in hindsight, but it didn’t quite.
The Sisters of the Crescent Empress, Leena Likitalo
I still feel that the first book ended too abruptly, and really the two should have been published together. The first might’ve been a novella, but this was definitely long enough to qualify as a novel, leaving me really wondering why it was published as part of the novella line (though I see others in that line-up now that I wouldn’t have called novellas). Does The Sisters of the Crescent Empress satisfactorily complete what The Five Daughters of the Moon began? Well, sort of.
I did enjoy this a lot: the interactions between the sisters, the way it embellishes the basic story of the Romanov princesses in a fantasy world, the complex relationships and allegiances between the characters, torn between the old world and the new. I enjoyed the development of some of the characters, particularly Sibillia, and getting to see more of Celestia and what made her tick.
I did feel that it ended abruptly, again, and that there’s so much more of the story I want to know, and which the duology feels incomplete without. Does Celestia succeed in ending the riots? What role does Elise play? Does the body-swapping trick work, and how does that end up? Sibillia’s story just ends in a way that feels almost like wasting her character development, but she’s the only one who does get a solid end.
I also felt that sometimes the way the characters spoke felt wrong: the abrupt sentence fragments, for example, just left some of the characters sounding like automatons, when that plainly wasn’t the intent.
I definitely enjoyed this duology, but I wanted more from it, too.