I saw some really glowing reviews about Hekla’s Children, and particularly about its originality, so I picked it up despite some reservations about the story as presented by the blurb. There are some kids, check. They vanish mysteriously, apart from one kid who is found a few days later, in a condition as though she is starving — even though she wasn’t missing long enough for that to have been the case. And then a bog body is found in that rough location, yet one of the leg bones — dated to the right period — is nonetheless found to have been pinned to heal from a break using 20th century medical techniques… And this bog body was supposed to protect against some awful horror, which may now be free to terrorise people.
I’m afraid I found it really predictable from the start, and as in another recent read of mine (In the Night Wood), I wasn’t impressed by the stock male character who had his romantic prospects dashed (he was sleeping with a woman who was engaged to be married to someone else, but woe is him, she chose the other guy). Sympathy with him is rather key to the whole thing working and to not seeing the twists coming, so perhaps that’s part of why it didn’t work for me at all.
There were some aspects I felt positive about — there’s a section in the otherworld where a main character gets into a homosexual relationship, and that’s dealt with carefully and sympathetically in a way that works. But otherwise… no, fairly meh.
This book turned out to be pretty strongly not for me. It’s not the plot that bothers me: that’s fairly standard as it goes. A fabricated golem and a fairy are thrown together by circumstances and end up journeying together to discover more about the golem’s past. He’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, more than a golem, made of the flesh of various people with various powers, so he ends up tracking down the various parts of himself to learn what happened. There’s a big bad who wants to be immortal, and then there’s also trips to hell, capture by brigands, etc.
What I disliked was something about the narration. There was a certain “and then this happened, and this happened, and this person said this, and then another thing happened”. I never had a strong sense of causal links between things, or what things could lead to. It actually had a flavour something like a translation of a Russian novel for me — some sense that the storytelling doesn’t quite come from the same tradition (though I don’t think it does? I mean, this is just my sense of how the story “felt”). In this case, it just proved really not to my taste; I ended up skimming a lot, and I definitely didn’t get emotionally involved in the story or care much about how it might end.
The finale of the trilogy! If you are hoping for a massive showdown between multiple parts of Anaander Mianaai, this isn’t quite it. It remains the story of Breq, and all the characters around her: Seivarden, Tisarwat, Mercy of Kalr, Ekalu… Breq continues to hold Athoek Station, dealing with the resistance to her insistence on changing things and figuring out who supports what faction and how to move all the pieces on the board to protect those she feels responsible for. And of course, the Tyrant wants access to the Athoek System, and wants revenge on Breq, and that arc does play out here.
All in all, I find it both a satisfying and climactic ending — involving a lot of the small (and not so small) pieces coming together into a new whole. Not only that, but there are some amazing explorations of the relationships in the story: Seivarden and Breq, Seivarden and Ekalu, Breq and Mercy of Kalr, Breq and Basnaaid… One of my favourite bits involves a three-way conversation between Seivarden, Breq and Mercy of Kalr, but there’s so many other favourite parts to choose from: Translator Zeiat and Sphene, Breq and Sphene, most scenes with either Zeiat or Sphene… There’s a lot going on emotionally as well, and I don’t feel unsatisfied by the fact that the story is entirely tied up in a bow.
I do think these books have disappointed some people by not being focused on the Tyrant tearing herself apart, the larger story which is often just a backdrop to the interpersonal affairs we see. Others have been disappointed by Breq’s measured perspective on things, that her reactions are not more human, more immediate. She does feel things deeply, but you see that through a sheet of ice sometimes, because she was a Ship and she is also analysing things from that perspective, as someone who has been many people in one (or one person in many — I think it’s clear it goes both ways, though: the ancillaries are both the ship’s mind and control, and also a little bit themselves). The deep attachment to Breq and to the other characters through her is one that has grown on me, rather than being there ready-made; it’s not an instantaneous liking as of meeting a person you want to know. I love the way Breq’s character is developed, and the things she has to learn and the ways she feels, but I think she’s an acquired taste, and perhaps one some people won’t acquire, and that’s fine.
But for me, Leckie’s first trilogy remains not just groundbreaking space opera for being different or doing daring gender things or not just being generic white culture in space or any of the things that people have praised it for — it’s also something with a lot to think about, and a lot to love if that kind of story and those kind of characters are to your taste. There’s stuff here to come back to again and again, and I’m sure I will continue to do so.
In the second book of this series, Breq is sent by one version of Anaander Mianaai to secure a system. Before she even arrives at Athoek Station, of course, Breq sets out to change things, defend the system, and serve only her own notions of what is best. Which sounds pretty disloyal, but another version of Anaander Mianaai destroyed the other parts of Breq, and a lieutenant that Justice of Toren loved…
Okay, it’s all very complicated to explain if you haven’t read the first book, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to jump in with Ancillary Sword. It’s in some ways a quieter story than Ancillary Justice: the problems faced are all very local, problems with the crew and with the staff on Station, with only hints of the larger conflict intruding.
In that sense it might feel rather middle bookish, but I think that would be a mistake — seen as a whole, the second book is very much the point of this trilogy. Not epic space battles and daring escapes, but drinking tea, talking to people, changing things with a refusal to accept that things must be right as they are simply because they are that way when you find them. Breq has a journey in these books, but it isn’t to become leader of the whole Radch, to overthrow a whole regime, and this book reflects that: Breq simply wants to make a place for herself, and to take care of those she has become responsible for.
The first time I read it, I definitely didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book; the second time, I think I enjoyed it more. It’s one of those books where I find more to appreciate each time, not in a whirlwind of plot but in people making connections, in people doing what they believe to be right.
This has somehow become a comfort read for me, and it’s hard to explain why. It’s clever, of course: it’s so very clever, with the slow unfolding of the dual-timeline narrative, with the pronouns, with the various bits of worldbuilding that make up a whole lived-in universe. It’s a beautiful exploration of how you might shackle powerful AIs, and also of how identity might fracture and change when you spread yourself through hundreds of bodies across an empire so large you can’t keep them all in immediate contact with one another, and also of various moral decisions to do with colonialism and empire, but also the right thing to do step by step and day by day.
I think this time in particular I noticed how quickly I began to care about Seivarden, despite the fact that nothing about her behaviour is sugar-coated. She’s selfish, inconsiderate, fragile in her refusal to accept her new circumstances — and yet in Breq’s company she begins to change, and even before that change has really had any effect you begin to care. To feel betrayed along with Breq when Seivarden does the wrong thing; to be anguished when you see Seivarden’s misunderstandings of Breq, and the trouble that comes despite it… Seivarden is a walking Problematic Favourite, and made for the purpose: it’s a masterclass in how a character (a person) can be awful and yet redeemable, and worth the effort of doing it too.
The first time I read Ancillary Justice I liked it, but I wasn’t in love. But it haunts me and keeps coming back to me, and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it, again and again.
This novella went wholly different places than I expected, though not in a way that could really be foreshadowed. It was okay, but I wasn’t in love with it; I did enjoy that it is clearly, unapologetically queer, with Latinx main characters. It opens on a prison planet, in a mysterious maze of tunnels which Bee and her lover Chela navigate blindly. They must explore the caves, seeking for supplies which are left for them at intervals, and ensure they arrive there before the bugs that infest the place and seem to hunt them — their punishment for the crime of being telepathic terrorists. However, despite the block on her telepathic powers, Bee feels someone trying to contact her… a woman she realises is in fact her wife.
Things take quite the turn from there, in a way that wasn’t really foreshadowed — too much detail would have made it far too obvious. It’s hard to discuss the rest of the novel without spoilers because of that: suffice it to say that this is a character-focused book, and Bee has to face certain facts and her own trauma in order to win through. The sci-fi plot turns out to be a vehicle for a story about trauma and healing.
In the end, it didn’t bowl me over, but I don’t regret giving it a try. I’d probably try something else by Vylar Kaftan to see whether it was just this story or if it’s her whole style.
Reread this in preparation for the (sob) last book! In Dreadful Company, Greta goes to Paris for a medical conference and finds herself caught up in a conflict of Ruthven’s (although Ruthven is not actually conscious of anyone holding such a vendetta against him) as she’s kidnapped by a vampire coven. There are also weird things going on in Paris — hauntings that should be long-settled, strange timeslips, and the appearance of surprisingly large numbers of summoned monsters. Naturally, Greta ends up in the thick of all of it, since she’s our protagonist.
The book features more of the burgeoning relationship between Greta and Varney, and it’s adorable. Even though that’s the case, Greta’s hardly a damsel in distress; in fact, it’s fairly clear from the beginning that she isn’t going to just sit around and wait for Ruthven to rescue her, however much she misses him and longs to see her friends again. She continues to be a wonderful character: a doctor with a genuine calling, someone who loves what they do and also believes in it. She saves the lives of several of the vampires imprisoning her, because she’s a doctor and that’s what she must do, and I love it.
We do also get to see a good amount of Ruthven being badass, Varney pulling himself together and genuinely participating in society and having friends and generally not slipping back into the depressive funk we see him indulge in a couple of times in the first book. There are also several new characters, while other characters from the first book (Cranswell, for one) are more in the background. There are also new creatures and new supernatural lore, all of which adds very satisfyingly to the world.
I don’t know much about what the last book is going to cover and how things are going to wrap up, but I’m so ready for it. And while we’re at it, I adore the way Greta constantly refers to Corvin as an edgelord, because it’s a bloody perfect description.
This is, what, the fifth Kate Daniels book? So it begins true to type: everything explodes into chaos as Kate takes on a job that looks routine on the surface, and quickly devolves into apocalyptic-level stakes. Personal matters are also fraught, with Kate’s kid Julie refusing to stay in school where she’s safe and heading home, right into an Atlanta that’s boiling with trouble. Curran’s got his own worries, and Kate’s brand new business isn’t doing so well, though she’s gaining employees faster than she’s gaining contracts.
It’s fast-paced and I think rather more even than the earlier books. The pacing doesn’t feel sticky here: it just goes and goes and goes. I’m still in love with the world they create here: the magic waves, the way people get round them, the way society has evolved… and there are still things I don’t love, like the rigid roles in the Pack and the way some behaviour is excused because “that’s how shapeshifters are”. But there are also parts where that gets called out and Curran takes a deep breath and apologises, so… there’s that in the balance as well.
In this particular book, there’s a little more background on Kate’s history, a few hints as to how she might power up… and at the end a terrifying hint that she might have been noticed at last. There’s also a high-powered showdown, and Kate learns a little more about how to use her magic out of pure necessity. This is another thing I love: although Kate wants to be the badass lone-wolf mercenary right at the start, her strength comes again and again from her friends and allies. Alone, she’s a smartass with a sword; with people she loves, she finds a way to be more than that, to accept and use her power to help them. She wouldn’t get there without them, despite the way she was raised, despite her feeling that she’s safer not loving. That’s a pretty powerful thing to take away, and that it comes from the men in her life as much as the women is great too.
In any case, the stakes continue ramping up, but it doesn’t feel like a middle-of-the-series dead book either, by a long way. Everything is advancing the overall arc, yes, but also everything has meaning within the confines of this book. I enjoy this series a lot, and I think people unfairly dismiss it way too often.
(I mean, it’s okay for it not to be your thing! But I think people dismiss it because it’s dubbed paranormal romance, and okay, yes, Kate does eventually get together with Curran and their relationship is a key driver of the plot, but the focus is Kate, what drives her and what she’s running from or toward. Romance is just a part of that.)
Well, what a ride! I expected to love this one, from the company it’s been keeping, and it’s certainly a complex book with a lot of moving parts, some of which I really appreciated… and others which felt weird or even viscerally discomforting to me. I feel like this is one where I almost don’t want to judge it at all until I’ve read the sequels, because the sequels are so necessary to evaluate the plot and get all the revelations that make things fall into place… but I’m also not sure I want to invest the time into them in case the potential doesn’t realise itself and I’m left feeling just as ambivalent.
Let’s start with what the book is even about: Too Like the Lightning takes the form of a document prepared by a man called Mycroft Canner, with the help of some of the other people involved in the events it discusses. It’s set in an attempt at a utopian society of hyper-individual people, where laws are imposed by agreements and a flying car system connects the world with such speed that geography is no longer a divider. There are all kinds of new-to-us social groupings: with the most important being the bash’, a sort of intentional family of like-minded people which may or may not raise children, and the Hive. Hives include Humanists, Cousins, etc, each Hive having different aims and priorities.
There’s all kinds of philosophy underlying this world, and I felt very at sea with that. I have studied some philosophy, but only for a year, and none of the philosophers mentioned here; sometimes I’ve read their literature (Voltaire), and that helped a little. I did wonder if I’d feel more at home in Palmer’s world if I had done the prerequisite reading on philosophy.
There is also not a little theological debate, because on top of all the SF elements, there is a boy who can literally make toys come to life with a touch. A major element of the story also revolves around the work of sensayers, who help people discuss ethics and theology in private (any kind of public proselytising is illegal). And then (no, I’m not done describing the basics of this world), the societies are all basically genderless and use ‘they’ pronouns… but the narrator has definite opinions on this and assigns pronouns to people based on gender stereotyping (a nurturing type is obviously a “she” to him).
That latter is part of what skeeves me out with this book. I’m not sure to what degree it is meant to be about Mycroft himself, though the central importance of other characters who enjoy presenting in a gendered way despite the non-gendered society kind of gets to me as well. The way they do at times verges on sexual assault, to my mind: aggressively in your face gendered sexuality, enforcing traditional gender roles whether the person you’re speaking to is willing or not — perhaps this bothers me so much because I would adore the ungendered world Palmer presents and then has these characters transgress against. Do what you like for yourself, but “aggressively flirting” is not actually your gender identity and your right to do that stops where my body and my comfort begin.
All the politics and all the theology plots are not in the slightest resolved by the end of the book, though, and leaving all of that hanging leaves me unable to form my opinion on whether the gender politics aspect is just gross or integral to the story. Likewise all kinds of other things.
In terms of characters, Mycroft is awful, and the same applies: I’d need to know the motivation behind his past crimes and what he is doing in shaping his narrative in order to judge whether I’m okay with having read all this, and… I don’t know if I want to read on. It’s a bit of a conundrum. There is a lot of fascinating social commentary here, and many elements I really want to learn the answers to. But at the same time… ewwww.
[I wrote this review a month ago and set it aside to stew over a bit longer. I don’t disagree with anything I said before, but I’ve lowered my rating by a star. I don’t think this series is for me.]
This is a novella set in the world of Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels, but taking place in Germany. Tobias Winter is Peter Grant’s equivalent in Germany, apprentice to their one remaining practitioner in much the same way as Peter is Nightingale’s apprentice. The story rumbles along with much the same formula: mysterious death, Tobias is sent in, has a local sidekick/liaison who does not really freak out about magic, and slowly they pick apart the weirdness and unravel what’s going on. Lots of the elements are clear enough if you’ve read the main series: sequestration, genii loci, etc.
It’s not that it wasn’t a fun enough read, but the voice was so similar to Peter Grant’s that it leaves me wondering whether Aaronovitch can do any other characters, really. It was solid in itself and yet weirdly disappointing because it doesn’t bode well for me to keep enjoying the books — it felt predictable, not just in plot but on a line-by-line basis.
I enjoyed Tobias’ competence as a cop, and Vanessa isn’t a bad character either. But… I don’t know, it mostly left me cold.