Acadie, Dave Hutchinson
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 5th September 2017
Acadie is a fun enough little story that had me just sort of nodding along… up until the ending, which packs a bit of a punch and casts all the rest in a new light. I still think that some more world-building could go into the utopian colony, because the little bits that were there were only just enough to whet my appetite; a bit more emotional involvement would probably make that ending even more satisfying. Right now, it’s satisfying in an intellectual way, and didn’t leave me as conflicted as I’d hoped.
Nonetheless, it’s an absorbing story with a heck of a sting in the tail. My favourite sort!
Starborn, Lucy Hounsom
This has garnered good reviews from other bloggers I usually agree with, so I was excited to dig in. It’s certainly a quick read, with some interesting aspects — I like the paired Lunar/Solar magic, for example, and the fact that airships were stirred into the usual fantasy mix instead of it just being your usual race across the land with horses. But I found the characters and world rather thin, really, and the events seemed to lurch from one thing to the other without really making sense. It’s obvious from the beginning that Kyndra is going to turn out to be different and special, but then the book makes such a secret of it — it takes 150 pages for that to be even partially confirmed, despite it being obvious.
I’m not a great fan of the writing, either. It’s not laboured or overly ornate, thankfully, but to me there was something thin about it. ‘Kyndra did this, and then this, and felt like this about it.’ I was more intriged by Nediah and Brégenne from the beginning, although their story reminded me of something else I’ve read. (Kyndra’s did as well, but since it’s fairly typical ‘stable boy becomes the king’ type narrative where an ordinary person turns out to be extraordinary, that’s no surprise.)
Also, sexual assault. Also, a disabled character gets magically healed — and not even through their own choice, but just because someone thinks it’s for the best. Also… yeah. Problematic stuff is not addressed.
In the end, I just didn’t get into it. It’s easy enough to read, but I could take it or leave it, and I feel like I know where things are going. Given that and the neverending backlog, I think I’ll pass on continuing this series.
Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes starts out weird and intriguing, with an opening that wouldn’t disgrace a horror story. After that, for a long time it becomes mostly space opera, with some political manoeuvring and a noir-ish detective story alternating chapters. There’s some clumsy world building in the first 100-200 pages, which often takes the form of infodumps. That made me hesitate about carrying on with the series, but after about the 200 page point, I found myself getting sucked in.
I gradually started to be interested in the characters — though Miller is never quite likeable, only piteable, to my mind — and what exactly was going on. Miller’s obsession with Julie Mao was weird, maybe even a little creepy, but his interactions with Holden and his crew were interesting. The way he wants to be accepted, but at the same time is willing to compromise that by doing whatever he thinks is right — even if idealistic Holden won’t like it.
I do think the book could definitely use more female characters. The society itself seems to be pretty equal opportunity, but the main female characters are Naomi and Julie. Julie’s mostly just an idea, and while Naomi is capable, a lot of her importance lies in her relationship with Holden and how that works out.
About halfway through, the weird stuff kicks back in, and then I was definitely hooked. When I got to the end, I decided I’d have to get Caliban’s War to find out what exactly happens next…
Buffalo Soldier, Maurice Broaddus
I think my enjoyment of this book would be greatly enhanced if I knew my US history a bit better. As it is, it’s an alternate history, and yet I can’t judge the cleverness of it and what it’s trying to show. I feel like I might’ve got into it more at novel length, even without more history knowledge; events might have come upon me a little less abruptly, then.
It’s definitely readable and pacy; that’s not the issue at all. There’s some great lines, including some bitterly funny ones (“We call them engineers. It’s from the Navajo meaning… engineers”). The world building is intriguing, but I just didn’t know enough — either about the world being built, or about the world it is building on. There’s great action scenes, but.
After the whole concept of his King Arthur retelling totally failed for me, though, it’s good to have tried some more of Broaddus’ work. I think I’ll pick up something else by him if I get the chance.
The Fire’s Stone, Tanya Huff
It’s been ages since I first read this, but I’ve been meaning to get round to rereading it for ages, and I’m glad I finally did. The world itself isn’t particularly distinctive: wandering peoples, oppressive clans, magic which requires detachment from the world, royalty and court intrigue… but the characters are what make it shine for me. Chandra, Aaron and Darvish each have their faults, but together they make up a surprisingly strong team, compensating for each other’s faults — and not just easily or naturally, but by working at it and learning to rely on one another. Each has their own sadnesses and goals, and gradually they learn to come together and deal with it.
The relationship between Chandra and the other two is as important as their romantic relationship with each other; she’s not just a woman in the way of the guys getting together, as some people seem prone to viewing women in queer stories. Chandra is just as integral to their strength as either of the men.
I think the process of dealing with Darvish’s alcoholism is also well done. The reasons he drinks, and the reasons he stops; the way he tries to resist it and where he fails. All of it is sensitively done, to my mind, and felt real. Aaron’s struggle with his sexuality is one that is also, unfortunately, real; there’s plenty of people who’ll force themselves to stay in the closet because of fear of what society or particularly their families would say. And Chandra’s determination to remain independent, because attachment might blunt her powers — well, that feels real, too. (Think of the people who complain that a woman will be ‘distracted’ by having a partner and family…)
I enjoyed the book a lot, and it’s also nice that it’s a stand-alone. Not that I wouldn’t mind more of the trio’s adventures, but I feel that it’s unnecessary. The story is complete as a one and done. That’s kind of refreshing in a world of so. many. trilogies.
Mapping the Interior, Stephen Graham Jones
I don’t know what to say about Mapping the Interior. It’s weird and creepy and it got under my skin. It does involve one character who is disabled being treated fairly badly, including by family, so if you’d prefer to avoid that, then it’s important to know going in. The narrative isn’t exactly okay with it or promoting it, but… I don’t know, in a way it does. The ending, mostly, is what made me feel iffy about it.
It’s also an interesting exploration of Native American community and identity, on which I don’t even know how to begin to comment.
It’s powerful and, yes, that word visceral that gets thrown around. And I’m finding myself otherwise at a loss to describe it.
The Glass Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg
Like the first book, this is basically a bit of cotton candy, and I enjoyed it as such. The alt-Victorian-ish world isn’t sketched out very clearly, but the magic system is fascinating, and it gets extended somewhat in this book, which is interesting. And I can’t help but want Thane and Ceony to get together, even though it was kind of abrupt in the first book.
Ceony herself continues to be irritatingly impulsive and lacking in self-awareness. In the last book, it made a certain amount of sense; no one else was planning to go and rescue Thane. In this book, there are plenty of people who are way more qualified than she is, and she succeeds only in making things more complicated (although of course, in the tried-and-true style, she ends up saving the day even despite that because she has heart and pluck and throws herself in there).
It’s not a particularly surprising story or world, but it remains fun.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
I know that there’s probably a ton of “problematic” themes/scenes/descriptions in this book; without paying much attention to the specifics, I’ve still gained the impression that Gaiman isn’t exactly beloved of the social justice crowd, for various reasons. And I can definitely understand the criticisms of some of his actions, statements, aspects of his writing… but American Gods is still a really satisfying, solid read, and I enjoyed it. I found some of the mythology a little too obvious this time round — “Low Key Lyesmith”, really? The hints were just way too obvious for someone with a solid knowledge of Norse mythology.
Still, the other mythologies that are glimpsed are less well-known to me, and I love the way they’re all woven together to make a rich story that’s like a tour of the US and of its people’s history. I’ve no doubt there are gods that should have been included and aren’t, and that other gods have more prominence than they probably should (well, Odin for one). But honestly, I wasn’t thinking that while I was reading. I was just enjoying it.
It’s true that Shadow, the main character, is a bit of a cypher — intentionally. It’s hard to like someone who seems to go through life so numbly. But really, I’m here for the game Gaiman’s playing with the mythology, so it works for me all the same.
Some of the stuff that really doesn’t work for me, though, would include the way the female characters are treated: so much sex and lying, and “bitchiness” (for lack of a better word)… I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel quite right.
It’s a fun read, though not perfect. I think that has to be my conclusion.
Spellslinger, Sebastien de Castell
Received to review via Netgalley; published 4th May 2017
I’ve read one other book by Sebastien de Castell, Traitor’s Blade, and it was a lot of fun, much like this — although aimed at a different audience, somewhat, given that this is essentially a coming-of-age story, and deals with the various trials and tribulations of proving yourself to your society, living up to your parents’ expectations, and discovering you’re just not like everyone else. It surprised me in that it doesn’t take the easy way out, emotionally. Kellen has to get through the whole book with more or less the same advantages he started with.
The family dynamics are just… painful. They’re plainly abusive, even when they express affection/pride in any way, and it’s just not at all fun to read for me. The way Kellen’s friends turn their backs on him, too. I don’t want it to be a true depiction of people, of family and friendship, but I’m afraid it really can be, and that’s kind of awful.
Spellslinger doesn’t go easy on the protagonist or the reader, it has a pretty cool magic system and world-building, and plenty of space for more adventures. Oh, and a talking animal sidekick which is not a dog, but a squirrel cat. I’m here for this.
There’s plenty more room for world-building, and I feel like things might really kick off in later books — this did feel like an origin story, though there are one or two themes that I imagine will be explored further.
The Martian, Andy Weir
Reread, because I just felt like it. It’s a great adventure story which uses a lot of reasonable, modern science to imagine how we’d get people to Mars to explore — and what we’d do if someone was stranded there. The main character, Mark, is funny, which both builds sympathy for him and ameliorates some of the frustrations of the way things just keep going wrong. I love the bit in the afterword by the author where he explains that he found that each solution to the last problem naturally presented a new problem for the characters; now that’s a good way to put a story together.
Most of the characters aren’t that well rounded, because so much of it relies on reporting Mark’s diary entries as he struggles to survive on Mars. It mostly still works, though, and there’s some excellent snark I just love, e.g. the whole “Elrond” meeting.
It’s not a perfect book, but I enjoy it a lot. If you’re a fan of the Apollo 13 movie, or of space stuff in general, then I think this should appeal — as well as if you’re into survival adventure stories.