Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee
Received to review via the author and Netgalley; publication date 14th June 2016
I am so late to this one. I’m sorry, and especially sorry because when I finally picked it up, I read it in an evening and immediately formulated a plan to go and pick up the sequel at my earliest convenience or possibly earlier. I didn’t start out that well with it, because the talk of maths blindsided me; once I started treating it like magic, however, and therefore subject to rules I may not understand, I got really fascinated by the whole system. It does keep you on your toes, and often avoids spoonfeeding you the things you need to know, so if you’re looking for something to turn your brain off and settle into, this isn’t it.
However, I got totally caught up in the characters, too. Not so much because they’re likeable — I’m not sure they are — but because I wanted to know what made them tick, what was going to happen, and how they were going to achieve their goals — or indeed, what their actual goals were.
I don’t know how to say more about this without merely describing it or giving spoilers, but suffice it to say I enjoyed it a lot. There’s something of the feel of Ancillary Justice (and the sequels) about it, although in many respects it’s totally different.
Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb
It was a little odd rereading this, because it’s been quite a while since I read these books, and yet they’re still so very familiar! I know every beat, and I think I could practically recite some of Fitz’s monologues. It’s still a great book, though the familiarity perhaps spoils things a little bit — I know exactly where things are going, and how stupid Fitz is being about x, y and z. I always had the urge to reach into the book and shake him, and I definitely had that now. Especially, perhaps, because last time I read it I was a teenager, like Fitz, and now I am an adult and oh my goodness, Fitz, don’t be an idiot.
I love the characters so much, particularly Verity. I can’t imagine why people would ever have preferred Chivalry, because from the sound of it, he was just too perfect. In contrast, Verity is blunt, sometimes unthinking, but he’s so dedicated to his people. He’d sacrifice anything, and he also cares for the small people — including Fitz, whom others consider a liability or a worthwhile thing to sacrifice.
I find Burrich frustrating, because his opposition to certain things is just based on superstition, as far as it appears to Fitz — he expects Fitz to obey him without ever explaining why. Of course, we’re meant to feel that way, ’cause he’s a stubborn ass, but I still find him frustrating.
I’m looking forward to rereading the rest of the trilogy. Except for that bit — Hobb is all too good at making her characters suffer.
Defy, Sara B. Larson
I loved the sound of this — set in the jungle, with a heroine who has dressed herself as a boy and maintains her position in the prince’s guard. More than maintains it: she can beat any of them. It seemed typical in other ways, in fact reminiscent of Throne of Glass, but I was ready to follow along for the fun of it. Unfortunately, Alexa keeps nearly revealing herself as a woman by being uncontrollably attracted to men and prone to blushing.
Now one, attraction to men does not make you a woman. I know this is YA, but that’s not the first assumption people would necessarily make. And two, I know I don’t have any experience with overwhelming attraction, being ace, but I still haven’t much noticed people being this thrown off by random thoughts about how attractive other people are. With that and the fact that whoops, everyone seems to know she’s a girl and whoops, they start acting protective once that is out in the open… blech. I lost interest. The love triangle didn’t help, either. It just felt so. very. generic.
I mean, come on. If you’ve known someone is a girl for a long time and managed to avoid acting protective, why would you start up being protective just because the girl now knows you know she’s a girl? Especially when she’s been regularly thrashing every one of the guard in sparring matches since she first joined.
The Ghoul King, Guy Haley
I was intrigued by Quinn in the previous novella, and this one takes much the same stance: rather than following Quinn directly, the bulk of it is told from the point of view of someone who happens to be protected by him during a journey. It reveals a little more of the world-building and the reason certain things are as they are, while still leaving a whole lot still to explore. I hope there’s going to be more, and soon.
I love the way it becomes apparent to the narrator-character, Jaxom, that Quinn is a good man — not a fun man to be around, not a safe man, not good company or just mildly principled. He’s a good man, prepared to take risks for others even if he doesn’t like them, because his word is his bond.
I still mostly didn’t get into Jaxom’s story for his sake — I was interested in Quinn, what happened to him, what he’s seeking, where he’s going next, and who opposes him. Ideally, I’d like to learn why, too.
Like I said, I hope there’s more, and soon.
Harkworth Hall, L.S. Johnson
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st August 2017
I picked up Harkworth Hall thanks to Bob @ Beauty in Ruins’ review; it sounded like a fun piece of Gothic romance with horror along the lines of William Hope Hodgson, rather than, say, Stephen King. All in all, pretty much up my alley — and even better, it features a relationship between two women (about which I’d better not say too much; Bob’s review already has a minor spoiler). I loved the women of the story: yes, they’re of their time, but they’re not completely circumscribed by the most strait-laced options available to women — Caroline has an independent streak, for one.
As for the horror aspect, it doesn’t go into that too much. It’s more of a sense of unease, of something uncanny, rather than all-out gore and cheap thrills (though there is a scene or two in which the threat is realised!).
I have just one quibble. At one point, two women are talking about being sensible, in the sense of being responsible and not rushing into danger, etc. Then one comments that they lack “sensibility”. Nooooo, that’s not what that word means! “Sensibility” is about appreciating and responding to emotion, not “being sensible” in our modern sense. Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is contrasting the two in its title, not pairing two like words.
That said, I’m looking forward to reading more of Caroline’s adventures, for sure.
Magic Shifts, Ilona Andrews
It’s been a while since I read this, and I’m not sure why I didn’t write a review at the time. Since it’s been a while since I read it (eek, a year!) I can’t comment in much detail, but it’s a worthwhile addition to the series, starting a new chapter in Kate and Curran’s lives — and spending more time dealing with who exactly Kate is, what Roland can do, and what Kate and Curran are going to do without the Pack.
Not that they’re entirely without their old allies, of course…
It’s pretty much what you’d expect from this series, in other ways: pacy writing, Kate and Curran being badass but also idiots, and some really weird shit going on that they really should deal with. If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, you’ll enjoy this one too.
Camelot’s Honour, Sarah Zettel
Camelot’s Honour might be my favourite of the quartet, now that I think about it. Okay, Camelot’s Shadow has Gawain, and the clever weaving together of the story of the Green Knight and the story of the Loathly Lady… but this is the most Welsh-inspired book of the quartet, including characters from the Mabinogion and weaving together various strands of mythology which aren’t necessarily Arthurian. I’m not a purist about that; I loved it.
It might not be the most stirring of the love stories, but the quiet strength Elen and Geraint have together is great. He’s the strong and silent type, less susceptible to a pretty face, and a bit less lionised as completely amazing by Zettel, which makes him more interesting.
Maybe I could wish for a few more of the themes of this book, not to mention the characters, to carry through into others of the series. But it’s still great fun.
Outer Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin
Outer Space, Inner Lands is the second of two volumes collecting together the best of Ursula Le Guin’s short fiction. It’s also the one containing all the SF work, or at least all the less realistic work, and it contains stories like ‘Those Who Walk Away from Omelas’, one of Ursula Le Guin’s most famous stories (at least among people I know) — though not my favourite, as I think the moral is obvious from the beginning.
As always, Le Guin’s writing is clear and strong, and the stories chosen here span her career and showcase all kinds of different ideas and different phases of her work. I prefer it to the first volume, because I find Le Guin’s speculative fiction more accessible.
She’s brilliant. Do yourself a favour.
Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
I could have sworn I reviewed this back when I read it, which was quite a while ago, but apparently not. So this review will be pretty short. Basically, I felt that Sookie wasn’t convincing as a protagonist — she’s just so stupid (“oh, I’ll just wander into a dangerous situation, everything will be fine!”) and yet so lucky (everything is indeed fine). I didn’t find those decisions she made plausible, at least not for a character I’m meant to like.
I do actually enjoy Harris’ books as light reading, or at least I liked the Harper Connolly books. So unfortunately it’s probably mostly that I really didn’t take to Sookie.
A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers
A Closed and Common Orbit felt even more insular and intimate than The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which was pretty closely focused on its crew. This book features Lovelace — the base AI Lovey developed from, but without her memories — and Pepper, who is a side character in the first book. It’s mostly about Lovelace, or Sidra, as she decides to call herself, and how she finds her way and figures out how to be herself, how to be a person, but it also follows Pepper’s past and shows how she got to where she was too. Found family is a theme here again, and there’s the same diversity of characters that a lot of people (including me!) loved from the first book.
This book does improve on The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet in a key way: it doesn’t feel as much like the conflicts and problems are resolved too easily. It does feel as though the characters have to work for it, and have to compromise rather than get an ideal outcome. There were one or two cases of that in the first book, but overall it felt too easily solved; that’s not the case here, in my opinion, which makes the payoff the sweeter.
Again, if soft SF is your thing, and you’re looking for something with interpersonal rather than intergalactic conflicts (though there’s some hints of the wider world as well) then this may well be your cup of tea. I’d start with the first book, though; it’s not necessary, but it gives you some context.