Trail of Lightning is set in Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation, after a climate apocalypse that drowned half the world. In the post-apocalyptic landscape, old gods and spirits now prowl. Maggie ends up hunting those old gods and spirits, looking for her former mentor, trying to keep her sidekick alive, and killing some nasties along the way — you know, the usual sort of urban fantasy shtick, only with a decidedly non-usual setting.
Maggie’s got clan powers: skills which allow her to do superhuman feats in battle, and run faster than is physically possible for most humans, which come from her heritage. In principle, it’s all really interesting, and I do enjoy the setting and background. It’s not the beaten path, and that’s great.
I don’t think I liked the side characters as much as I should have, and mostly I mean Kai. I needed to feel more of a connection with him for the ending to really work, I think, and I was actually grossed out by aspects of his behaviour (which I shouldn’t spoiler!). He’s meant to be nice, but his manipulation of people is not something I admire in a character.
As for the plot, well, as soon as Coyote came along, I knew there was going to be some kind of reversal, some kind of trick. I did actually fall into part of the trap just because I disliked a particular character so much and was ready to believe the worst of him, but I was never really along for the ride because I know what Coyote is — or at least, I know a number of stories about Coyote, and about tricksters in general, and it was obvious that there was a twist coming.
I think overall I like the idea of the book more than I like the book itself, and that has sort of settled in — over the time since I finished the book — as my conclusion. I’m interested enough to read Storm of Locusts — and it’s higher in my Hugo ballot that Space Opera for sure — but I’m not in love with it.
You either are magic, or you are not. Ivy was not, but her twin sister was — a fact that came between them so that years later, they’re almost strangers. Ivy’s a private investigator, though, and when approached by the head of the magic school where her twin Tabitha works to help in solving a suspicious death, she jumps at the chance to see a little of what she’s missing. The problem is that she lies, lies and lies again as she tries to live the life she might have led, if only she was magic.
There is one way in which Magic for Liars is just so totally not for me: it relies fairly heavily on miscommunication (deliberate miscommunication, at that). That’s Ivy’s MO here, and it’s what gets her into half the trouble, and I just find that so vicariously embarrassing and so annoying. Ivy’s problems towards the end of the book are 100% caused by herself and her own stupid decision, and that is not a plot line I enjoy, at least not when it’s made quite so explicit, or is so utterly avoidable. Hubris is one thing, but getting caught in a web of your own lies — lies you know to be stupid — is just… gah.
On the other hand, it is a fun read: Gailey does some fun misdirection and plays with the tropes, and her writing is just… When I first came across some of the lines, one comparison immediately jumped to mind, and that’s Raymond Chandler. There’s something fresh about the way she puts things, a sense of ‘that’s perfect, but also new’ that I think I honestly last encountered when I first read Chandler and followed his ‘shop-worn Galahad’ around town. Things like “Monday morning came on like a head cold” — not even the best example, but one of those right, yes, that feeling moments.
(For all his faults, Chandler was one hell of a writer. This is 1,000% a compliment.)
There’s a lot to enjoy about this book, especially if you enjoy the idea of following around a profoundly damaged and self-sabotaging person. What she’s doing to herself is beautifully clear; it’s just not my jam at all.
Stakes are getting higher and seemingly more personal for Maggie as she finds more back-up in her fight that she can’t seem to simply walk away from. How do you feel about ‘found family’ stories, and do you think that’s what we’re getting here? What do you think of Grace and her family?
We find out more about Kai – specifically, that Maggie isn’t the only one with clan powers – after a particularly brutal run-in with Longarm. What’s your verdict on how Maggie handled the corrupt cop, and has your opinion of Kai changed with this reveal? If so, how?
Ma’ii’s method of transportation was an interesting one, and it raises the fact that Neizghání isn’t the only one with a ‘signature’ that involves lightning. Do you think it’s possible (or even likely) that Neizghání’s involvement in this mystery is a red herring?
What do you think we can expect from Maggie’s visit to Shalimar? Nothing but trouble, or will she get what she’s there for?
As I said last week, I’ll confess, I’ve finished the book. So I’m trying to answer this without any spoilers and with what my impressions were at the time, but I apologise if I get inadvertently spoilery!
Found family/Grace and her family:
I feel there’s not quite enough development on this to make me really feel like Maggie’s part of Grace’s family at this point. Maybe if they continue to partner up through the second book, but… actually, I’m finding that stuff like this is already fading for me. If I don’t read Storm of Locusts soon, I won’t remember who everyone is.
Kai’s clan powers:
I knew this was coming and it actually pisses me off. Any kind of mind control grosses me out, and I didn’t trust Kai from the moment I knew that’s what he was doing. I don’t think we’re meant to take such a hard line on it, but he’s been using it to manipulate Maggie, despite all his requests to be partners and for her to trust him. It’s not trust when it’s compelled.
He seems like such an asshole that nothing would’ve surprised me where this came from.
Ma’ii’s involvement meant much much suspicion of every aspect of his mission for Maggie, this included. He’s a Trickster. It’s not going to be what it seems, or the rug is gonna get yanked out from under you even harder because this does go to plan.
The Ninth Rain:
1. Vintage’s journal entries at the start of each chapter seem to be filling in more backstory for our heroine, but what do you think of this approach to providing information about her? Are these entries fascinating, or distracting?
2. More details emerge about what happened at the end of the Eighth Rain… What do you think happened to (or between?) the Jure’lia queen and Ygseril?
3. And now it seems that the god-tree still lives. Or does it? What’s your take on what Hestillion is doing, and what do you think she’s going to do with her surprise guests?
4. Make love, not war. Or, if you’re Tormalin the Oathless, do both. How do you feel about the particular mixture of Tor’s skills, and what do you make of his interactions with Noon so far?
I’ve also finished this one now, but I’ll do my best not to give any spoilers!
I think they’re very cleverly done, because it’s not only a source of lore for the world, but it’s powerful characterisation for Vintage (and some of the people around her). I’ve known books where I always skipped this kind of thing, but these are interesting for being in Vintage’s voice and they provide plot-relevant information. Do not skip!
The end of the Eighth Rain:
I kind of assumed, at this point, that there was some kind of mutual destruction, or possibly just fighting each other to a standstill, and what we see is their long, long deadlock. I was biased toward mutual destruction since we hadn’t heard anything from Ygseril. (Personally, I thought the death of the Jure’lia queen was probably only a temporary setback for the Jure’lia.)
I’m sceptical of anything so conveniently sudden after years without contact. Hest’s been diving deep all this time: why is she only making contact now? Something seems to be stirring, and I didn’t really believe it could be Ygseril.
Make love, not war:
I don’t think it’s that unusual; Tor’s lived a long time, and has a long time left to live. I’d be surprised if this was the full extent of his talents, too. In terms of his interactions with Noon, I thought that was a fairly obvious and conventional story with an obvious trajectory — not that I object to that.
This whole book makes me think so much of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The parasite spirits and what they do seem so like the spirits in The Spirits Within that that’s basically how I picture them, and the dream of the Jure’lia makes me think of Aki Ross’ dreams.
For a while now I’ve been meaning to do some little discussions of genres, talk about the books I’ve read that sold me on the genre or really formed my impressions of it, so it seems appropriate to start off now, during Wyrd & Wonder, with one of my major genres — one that I’ve been reading throughout my life.
Fantasy is a really, really big genre, to be honest. It comes in so many shapes and styles that can overlap and borrow from one another, and the tone can be anything from dead serious to satirical to silly. You can spend your whole time reading in a subgenre and there’ll still be plenty there for you, particularly if it’s a major subgenre.
What counts as fantasy?
With all the subgenres and the changes in tone, it can be hard to put a finger on. I just settle for saying that it depicts a world at an angle from ours: there may be magic, events may have been different, dragons may be real, the characters may be animals or eldritch beings… Whatever it is, you know that it isn’t our world, however much you may wish that it was.
My first fantasy novel:
I’ll have been read several as a kid, but the first one I remember reading with any clarity is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My versions of those books had lovely covers, and I regularly read them to pieces.
My favourite fantasy novel:
This is a toughie, and always an unfair question, but if I had to go with my gut and blurt something out, right now I would say The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison.
My favourite fantasy series:
This one is even tougher. There are so many trilogies and sprawling multi-volume epics that I find myself without even a gut feeling. And yet something does seem like clearly the right choice if I stop and think: Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels.
The last fantasy novel I read:
The last one I finished was The Ninth Rain, by Jen Williams. I’m eager to jump right on the next… just as soon as I finish the last 12 books from my Wyrd & Wonder reading list!
Top five subgenres:
Secondary world fantasy, where the author has invented a whole new world
Portal fantasy, where people from our world end up in a fantasy world
Historical fantasy, where historical events are retold and changed by fantastical elements
Urban fantasy, where fairies and magic and all kinds of chaos can intrude into the modern cityscape
Fairytale retellings, where traditional stories are deepened and widened, and sometimes twisted
Suggested gateway books:
If you’re into secondary world fantasy, then J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books might appeal — or for something more recent, try some N.K. Jemisin (start with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) or Robert Jackson Bennett (City ofStairs). For a recentish but very traditional epic fantasy series, you could really get your teeth stuck into Tad Williams’ Osten Ard books.
When it comes to portal fantasy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a classic, but I’d personally go for Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy instead. I need to finish Foz Meadows’ A Tyranny of Queens, but An Accident of Stars was enjoyable. If you have other good recs for portal fantasy, actually, let me know! I love the idea, but need to read more.
When it comes to historical fantasy, I could just refer you back to Guy Gavriel Kay (Sailing to Sarantium is a particular favourite), but I’m coming to really appreciate Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist books, and Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent books are a treat.
For urban fantasy, Seanan McGuire’s cooked up a treat in the October Daye books, and I’d say Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books are well worth it as well. Urban fantasy can get a bit samey, but Toby and Kate still kick ass and takes names from where I’m sitting.
Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is the first book that leaps to mind when I’m talking about fairytale retellings, but there are others that hew closer to the original story — like Robin McKinley’s Beauty, Spindle’s End and Rose Daughter. Personally, I’d go with T. Kingfisher’s retellings, Juliet Marillier’s Heart’s Blood, and a side of Genevieve Valentine’s retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in the 20s, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.
There’s so much out there, so if you’re interested in fantasy but not sure where to begin, I can guarantee there’s a book out there for you — and I’ve had some of my best successes by just picking a random book off the shelves. Get out there and dabble, is my advice!
(The next genre discussion, in a couple of weeks, will be Mysteries and crime, I think, so keep an eye out if that’s more your thing!)
This was a reread for me, in order to get back into the world so I could finally read the rest of the trilogy! It opens with Blackthorn in prison — a horrible sort of prison, where all kinds of atrocities are committed, creepy-crawlies are your closest companion, and you scratch on the wall to count the days until the hearing where you might receive justice. There’s one night left, except the guard says she’s not going to have her trial. There’s a ray of hope, though: Conmael, a fae man, offers her a deal. She must leave the area for seven years, use her craft for good, and say ‘yes’ to any request for help.
Blackthorn takes the deal, of course. Conmael fulfils the start of the promise in an unexpected way, and Blackthorn escapes — with a companion from the prison, Grim — and travels to her new home. She expects to see folk just like the folk she left behind, and a lord who is no better than the one she planned to testify against at her hearing. Enter the other main character, Oran: a gentle poet who tries to be generous and fair to his people, and who has a little dilemma of his own to be solved…
The main thing for me in these books is the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim. It’s coded non-romantically and non-sexually: they are friends, they rely on each other, and they’re even somewhat co-dependent, but there’s no hint that the relationship is or could be romantic. (God, I hope this stays true of the other books. It wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker for me, but I don’t really read it as a romantic relationship. At least not in this book!) Blackthorn’s not interested, and Grim’s only interest is in being useful, in drowning out the nastiness in his past and the horrors of the prison to be by Blackthorn’s side. It’s the strongest part of the book, their bond, and I only hope it will stay rock-solid through the other two books.
I’m less interested in Oran, whose management of his lands and people reads like a modern insertion — he’s just too egalitarian for the medieval Ireland-ish setting we’ve got here, though we do see a less flattering side of his character in his total impatience with Flidais for not acting the way he expects. His love story with Flidais is interesting in terms of the mystery it provides, but I don’t really believe in either of them as people, and I found some aspects of that storyline vicariously embarrassing (usually a death-knell for me, with any form of media). The solution is rather neat and ties most things up, so I rather hope the focus will be elsewhere in the next book. Despite my reservations about Oran, I’m ready to dive in.
The first time I read this book, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. This time, I was surprised by the way the world was stripped back and all the stuff I remembered from later book was not here yet… though there is some delicious foreshadowing, and really, if you’re paying attention, you have some idea of what’s up by the end of this book.
I’d also forgotten how much these books make me laugh.
Magic Bites gets dismissed as paranormal romance, but there’s really not much romance in this book. There’s one potential romance that fizzles out because the main character is suspicious, emotionally unavailable and wedded to her job (her job is killing things), and there’s a hint at what’s to come in later books. But for the most part this book is Kate Daniels going it alone. She’s a mercenary who gets herself involved when her mentor gets killed. Wherever there’s trouble, she’s there, and half the time she’s the cause. Try saying ‘here, kitty, kitty, kitty’ to the Lord of the shapeshifters, a lion shifter… yes, that sounds like a good idea.
I love the setting of these books. It’s set in Atlanta, post-magic-apocalypse, where the world alternates between magic and tech — so you need a jeep and your horse if you want to be sure of getting around. It’s a wilderness of old tumble-down buildings that should have stood for years, and a world where shapeshifters and vampires (very creepy vampires) rule the shadows.
Really, those who dismiss this as paranormal romance and decide it’s not their thing because everyone knows paranormal romance is just ‘sex with a plot’… might just want to give it a go. Kate’s tough as nails and a lot funnier, in a deadpan scary sort of way, and the world-building is actually an interesting set-up. It’s not all about who Kate gets in bed with, and honestly in this book it’s barely even about that at all. I’m not saying it’s perfect: I think some people struggle with the worldbuilding, because you’re expected to take it for granted, and I think it’d have given me more pause the first time too. I think some characters you’re supposed to like come off fairly badly.
But it’s funny, and there’s so much potential. After Magic Bites, there’s so much more to come. Looking forward to revisiting the books I’ve read before, and finally reading the newer ones!
Snowspelled is a short read, so be prepared for that going in. It opens on an invitation: Cassandra Harwood, her brother, and his wife Amy have been invited to a house party, which Cassandra’s ex-fiancé is due to attend. The story unfolds from there: it’s not quite a direct flip of the gender/power dynamics of British history, because though women rule Britain (as a body called the Boudiccate), men wield magical power… traditionally, at least. Cassandra is one of the few women who has ever mastered magic, and despite her successes at school, has failed to really make her way in the magical world. Which makes it doubly bitter that she tried to work a spell too strong for her, and nearly died in the attempt, leaving her unable to use the least magic for fear of her life.
Her ex-fiancé is naturally still a brilliant magician — and still deeply in love with her. It’s inevitable, then, that their paths immediately cross as soon as she arrives at the party, and he becomes sucked into her conundrums. And naturally she immediately gets herself into trouble through a rash promise… and this is a world where Faerie and the Boudiccate are (sometimes uneasy) allies.
I really wanted certain things to happen in this book, and they didn’t. Which is probably for the best, because the solution you want isn’t always the best story, but gaaah. I’m looking forward to reading the second book: in many ways, the novella format makes the worldbuilding rather sketched-in, so another book exploring that will be nice. And knowing it’s about Cassandra and her efforts to help other people like her find their places in the Boudiccate… well. I’m intrigued!
In a peaceful valley in Polnya, Agnieszka has grown up with her best friend Kasia, knowing that all girls their age will be lined up for the magician who rules the valley, the Dragon, to choose one of them. It seems obvious that the choice will be Kasia: she’s brave, beautiful, and somehow everyone has known all along that it will be her. Needless to say, things turn out rather differently, and Agnieszka finds herself dragged off to the Dragon’s tower, there to cook, clean, and… learn magic?
Nothing goes smoothly at first: Agnieszka’s main talent in life has been getting dirty and running wild, and the Dragon’s rather rough on anything that isn’t perfect. The magic exhausts her, and the lack of freedom wearies her. And then the Dragon has to leave, and just as he does, a call for help comes from the village she was born in.
It’s Beauty and the Beast, but not as we know it, Jim.
I love the way this draws from Polish folktales, creating a setting that is a bit sideways from the usual European medieval fantasy. I enjoy Agnieszka, and the way she keeps her hope alive throughout, keeps trying. I’m not entirely sold on the Dragon, nor Agnieszka’s relationship with Sarkan. There’s almost enough to show that behind it all, he’s awkward and hindbound but still able to grow, still able to be reached by Agnieszka… but it’s just not quite enough for me to believe in him. That he’s on the right side is undoubted, that he wants to do right for right’s sake also, but whether he’s a likeable person beneath the stiff attitude… there’s only a few glimpses, and that’s not enough for me to jump right into “zomg I ship it”.
The story itself works for me, as a whole, though. Even Agnieszka’s attraction to Sarkan works for me — I’m just not quite ready to believe it’s a thing that will work. Even though I’ve read the book before, though, it pulled me right in, seduced me into the flow of the story; even though I remembered what happened, I still needed to keep reading, needed to see what the next thing would be.
I’m still not quite ready to give it five stars, but it’s close.
In this installment from the Wayward Children universe, we learn more about Lundy’s past, only briefly glimpsed before. We see her finding her door as a child, and we watch her learning the rules of the world she stumbles into: a world strongly based on fairness and trading. A Goblin Market, of sorts (though it’s not quite a retelling of Christina Rossetti’s poem, in quite a few ways). There’s something rather distant and fairytale-ish about the tone in this one, something that reminds me more of Cat Valente’s knowing narrator from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland than the other Wayward Children novellas. I’m not certain I liked that; I felt like I never really got to know Lundy, as herself, because I was always being told what to think about her.
The world is fascinating, of course; I found myself pondering whether I’m giving fair value or not in all sorts of ways, which is a rather interesting way to think. But… not quite sold on Lundy’s world or her story. The ending, leading up to her decision, felt a little rushed, and was one of the parts where it felt most like we were being told about things rather than shown them (which is not always bad writing, there’s definitely a place for it, but didn’t work for me here). That happens at the end of each section of the book, really, and it feels like being cheated of half the story (although I know the adventure parts aren’t the point).
It’s not a bad story, but definitely not my favourite.
First up, let’s talk about the setting/worldbuilding. What are your first impressions of where/when the story begins?
On to the cast of characters! We get a fairly no-holds-barred introduction to Maggie Hoskie, and some interesting interactions between her and other key characters (or so they seem). What do you think of her, and of Kai and Grandpa Tah?
The plot’s afoot … Perhaps just barely, but still. Any thoughts/suspicions/predictions? Or are you content to be taken along for the ride?
First impressions: I knew about the setting already, and I’ve already read on beyond the eight chapters, so the setting is pretty clear to me. We’re a few years post-inundation, caused by anthropogenic climate change, and in Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation. Here people survive — exclusively or at least largely Native American people — and so do their gods and legends, now walking abroad in the same world. On a scientific level, not sure if the speed of the inundation sounds right — or on a geographical/meteorological level, not sure about the fact that Dinétah is now in drought* — but we’re in a world of magic anyway, so I’m not gonna worry about that.
*It sounds ironic, but even in a world with a huge rise in water level, there can definitely be arid areas. One way would be if there’s mountains all around. Clouds would form over the water and any waterlogged land, but the clouds would get pushed up on reaching the mountains. The air at altitude is less able to hold moisture, so the water would condense as the clouds got pushed up, and rain would fall over the mountains. Get you some mountains high enough and all the rain will be lost on the water-ward side, leaving none for the land beyond the mountains, and potentially none to even run down on that side of the mountain range. Mountains on one side, long stretches of flat dry land on the other, and you can see how somewhere can end up with few clouds and little water, post-inundation. I’ve no idea if that works, geographically, because I suck at understanding maps, but I have seen a review complaining that the drought conditions in Dinétah aren’t possible post-inundation, and I think they are, so you get my thought dump about that!
Maggie Hoskie: She’s the sort of tough urban fantasy protagonist you’d expect; shades of Kate Daniels and October Daye and a dozen other leading ladies in fantasy. Oh no, she has a dark side. Oh no, she has a killing rage. It’s kind of typical — which is not necessarily a turn-off, but neither is she striking me as particularly special. Except of course in being Diné, which is pretty cool in this world of fairly homogenous white heroines, and because the story and her skills are based on Native American traditions and stories.
Kai Arviso: Has obvious secrets, probably clan-powers, or he’s not quite human. I don’t feel like we know anything about him yet, and we’re supposed to be misjudging/underestimating him, so. As a reader I find that set-up somewhat annoying and refuse to be drawn into speculating; I’ll see when it happens.
Grandpa Tah: Old man with a love of gossip and meddling, and a twinkle in his eye; also fairly non-surprising as a character type.
That sounds like I’m not enjoying it, re: the characters being fairly typical, but that’s not it. There’s plenty to enjoy about a tough bloodthirsty female protagonist, a mysterious dandy and an old man with a twinkle in his eye, it’s just not surprising.
Thoughts/suspicions/predictions: I predict I’m… going to read ahead of the readalong, knowing myself, but hopefully I’ll be able to keep participating in the discussions sensibly and without spoilering anyone. Obviously we’re going to have more encounters with Neizghání, either actual encounters or we could just as well be strung along the whole book in his footsteps without seeing him. I think a knowledge of Diné stories and mythology might make a lot of this more obvious; makes me wonder if it’s more fun if you do know the mythology or if you don’t.