The House of Binding Thorns, Aliette de Bodard
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 4th April 2017
I know this review is terribly late; I salved my conscience by buying a copy as well. Aliette de Bodard has built a fascinating world in this post-apocalyptic Paris, and it’s so refreshing to get Vietnamese influences running through a story like this — it might be set in France and involve angels of a rather Western bent, but it also features dragons of a rather more Eastern variety.
I don’t think you can really read this without The House of Shattered Wings; you need the background for Madeleine and Philippe. I was surprised, though, at how interesting I found Asmodeus. I wasn’t too taken with him before, but this book does show another side to him. There’s also a lesbian couple, Françoise and Berith, and their story is new here, but adds more to the world.
If The House of Shattered Wings didn’t work for you, I suspect that The House of Binding Thorns won’t, either. I found it bleakly beautiful, and really enjoyed the additions to the world-building and the way the characters grew and changed, or at least revealed other aspects of themselves. It also won’t work for you if you’re not a fan of something that falls squarely into moral grey areas: you could have believed Silverspires were the good guys, in the previous book, but now the house is Asmodeus’, and for all that you kind of find yourself rooting for him, he’s still not a pleasant person.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve started in on rereading the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb, finally. Just 100 pages a day, pacing myself. I’m also reading A Crack in Creation, by two of the people from the team that discovered cas9/CRISPR (which is a really powerful, really important way of editing genes in all kinds of situations). I’m guessing the moratorium Doudna asked for on using CRISPR for gene editing didn’t come to pass, given I know it’s a big thing in psychiatry lately per my mother!
What have you recently finished reading?
The Glass Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg. It’s not great, but it’s light fluffy fun — I’m reading the series while I can’t sleep at night, and they’re proving quite good for just occupying my brain a while until I’ve wound down enough to sleep. Other than that, I think the last book I finished was Spellslinger, by Sebastien de Castell. I still need to write up my review; I found aspects of it a little frustrating — mostly the love interest and the totally abusive family structure — but overall it was good fun.
What will you read next?
I’ll probably start on Leviathan Wakes, which is one of my book club reads this month. I’ll also try and finish a couple more of my started-but-not-finished pile (“Finish Or Flee”, I call it), like Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff.
Shattered Minds, Laura Lam
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 20th June 2017
Shattered Minds is set in the same world as False Hearts, with endless possibilities for body modification and indulging all your fantasies, and no crime. Sort of.
Naturally, both books give the lie to that, but especially this one, exploring the world of an addicted woman struggling with her urges to kill, and how she ends up exposing a company’s lies for what they are — and getting back her whole self, since it turns out it was that very company who programmed her and made her the way she is. It also features a group of hackers who are trying to get the word out, whose paths converge with hers.
I love the diversity of Lam’s world — Dax, who becomes a love interest, is trans and Native American; Raf has a boyfriend who’s a cop… This isn’t as warm a read as False Hearts — lacking the love between the twin protagonists that drives that story — but the characters made up for it, drawing me in and making me wonder how they would ever all fit together. Even Roz, the villain of the piece, is compelling in her way — I have so many more questions about her and what drives her.
Basically, if you’re looking for another thriller like False Hearts in a nearish-future sci-fi setting, Shattered Minds delivers, with more than a dash of the Firefly feel (circa Serenity, though; less funny and fuzzy than some of the episodes): disparate group of wanted criminals takes down a mind-hijacking superpower of their world.
Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty
This is rather different to Mur Lafferty’s other books, The Shambling Guide to New York City and The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Different isn’t bad, though if you’re looking for the same humour and light-heartedness, that’s not so much in evidence (although I’d argue that yes, there is wit). It’s a fascinating locked room mystery in a sci-fi setting, essentially, where the locked room is a generation ship (ish, actually people can survive by being clones or through being in stasis).
I found it riveting, though I guessed early on who the culprit was because I just didn’t latch onto him at all, and wanted it to be him. But half the mystery is also in how the characters are related to each other, and how they got to where they are, and that wasn’t always as easy to figure out. I didn’t love the captain, either, but I did find her and the other characters intriguing — it’s only the culprit who totally didn’t interest me, which might be an individual thing (or might be a giveaway, if other people reacted the same).
That said, while there’s a culprit on board — of course — it’s all part of a larger plot, and you have to figure that out too. And as they say of the MCU: “Everything is connected.”
On top of all that, there’s also some introspecting about identity, brain hacking, the implications of cloning… I found it all entertaining and intriguing, and I’m very glad I managed to get my hands on a copy despite it not being very easily available in the UK (at least when I read it).
Walking on Knives, Maya Chhabra
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date is 26th July 2017
When the warning says “Walking on Knives contains some explicit content and a scene with dubious sexual consent”, it’s not kidding. I know there’s a whole debate about whether you can say consent is “dubious”, but I think I see why in this case — in both cases the characters explicitly consent, in pursuit of a goal, without actually wanting the sex itself.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure I buy any of the emotions here. It has the potential to be dark and twisty, but because I don’t believe in any of the love stories, it doesn’t work; it’s still too much in the fairytale style, with none of the characters named. Worse, it gets confusing between all the epithets; ‘the little mermaid’, ‘the sea-witch’, ‘the strange woman’… and then all the ‘she did this and she did that’. In the end, I just… nah.
Honestly, I feel most sympathetic toward the Prince. I wanted to root for the little mermaid and the sea-witch’s sister, but that didn’t feel real. The Prince’s conflict was the most real part of it, and I felt like he deserved more of an ending.
Newt’s Emerald, Garth Nix
I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’m not entirely sure what finally prompted me to pick it up — but hurrah that I did. If you enjoy Georgette Heyer’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this. It’s a little adventure very much along the same lines, only with magic as well. Girls disguising themselves as boys, a Pride and Prejudice moment for the romance, and daring escapades. The tone is light and witty, and okay, it’s not as though as it’s as deeply committed to being authentic as Heyer was, but you wouldn’t expect that from a book that injects magic as well!
I found it really fun, and a surprisingly quick read too. The romance is… well, Heyer-ish, so if dislike-turns-to-love and capricious young ladies who deny they have any feelings for That Odious Man bother you, it probably won’t be your thing. It’s definitely not much like Nix’s other books (at least the ones I’ve read).
It’s a little magical cream puff, and I enjoyed it greatly. It helps that the main character gets to be kickass and daring, and she’s also really smart. She’d verge on too perfect if she didn’t have the odd immature and petulant moment too, but as it was, she was a lot of fun.
The Emperor’s Railroad, Guy Haley
I didn’t actually read much about this beforehand; I picked it up because it’s one of the Tor.com novellas, and I’ve generally found them worth trying, even if they haven’t all been my thing. I was a little wary in that I’ve read part of one of Guy Haley’s books before and didn’t really get into it. Not so with this one: it has a strong voice and it’s set in a fascinating post-apocalyptic world. I’d love to know more about it, and I’ll definitely pick up the sequel. The main character, Abney, isn’t really the important one, despite the fact that it’s told from his point of view: instead, it’s his short journey with the knight Quinn that matters. I really want to know more about Quinn, but I don’t care about spending more time with Abney — his story’s pretty much told. Fortunately, looks like that’s exactly the direction Guy Haley took.
Not that Quinn is the only attraction of this book; Abney’s mother might be the only female character, and it’s a shame she dies, but she is also a strong woman who makes a place for herself in what appears to be a man’s world. I’ve read that there are more female characters in the sequel, which is good to hear.
Also, I really want to know what’s going on with “angels” and “dragons”.
The Ghost Train to New Orleans, Mur Lafferty
The Ghost Train to New Orleans picks up where The Shambling Guide to New York City left off, taking Zoe and her team (some of them new, some familiar) to New Orleans, and deepening the plot concerning Zoe’s abilities. It’s a little tropey — Zoe is an orphan, and the reason that her ability is rare is due to a purge in the coterie community where, for some reason, they felt a bit cross about people like her using their abilities to kill people. Zoe continues to be rather put off by some of the coterie around her, their abilities and tastes, and sometimes that just doesn’t make her look good.
But it’s still a really fun read, and I ate it up. I appreciated the way it dealt with Arthur and Zoe’s little budding romance (which dies on the branch before the end of this book, in case anyone was worried about urban fantasy tropes), and the way it was affected by Arthur’s problems. It becomes very clear that nothing comes for free in this world, which takes a particular character in an new direction — which could’ve been fascinating, if there were any more books to come.
I’m probably overlooking more faults, but honestly I wasn’t interested in picking nits. I really enjoyed the tone and some of the lore, and I wanted to know what happened. That was enough for me.
Instead, alas, I learn that Orbit only took on the two. Publishers, you’re mad. I’d grab the third book eagerly if it existed — I read the first two in two days.
Saturn’s Children, Charles Stross
I haven’t really got on with any of Stross’ books, but I’ve never hated them in the way that made me really disinclined to pick up another. I was hopeful about Saturn’s Children — I can’t remember why, but I think it was somebody’s review. And I must say that I probably got along with it better than with most of Stross’ other work that I’ve read. Unfortunately… that isn’t saying much, and there was a great deal I found annoying or even icky about this. I know that it’s meant to be a pastiche/parody of a certain period of Heinlein’s writing, but I haven’t read those books, so I don’t know the references, which didn’t help.
But mostly it’s the way, way over-sexualised stuff and the heavy-handed rape metaphors, and a general feeling that nothing could be off-the-wall enough to surprise me. It’s not that I predicted the plot, it’s just that I felt it might go more or less anywhere, regardless of the information I already had. That’s a feeling I really hate when I’m reading fiction.
It’s not like Freya actually breaks out of the sex-doll-turned-spy mould at all. She pretty much does exactly what you’d expect, with a pouting petulance all the way. She didn’t have a distinctive voice, which made it difficult to tell her apart from Juliette and figure out the personality changes. It did keep me turning pages, but mostly just to get to the end.
So, overall, meh. (For me. I know I’m in a minority in being lukewarm at best on Stross’ work.)
The Shambling Guide to New York City, Mur Lafferty
I was kind of avoiding these because… I don’t know why, really. I thought it might be more like World War Z; a gimmicky set-up with comparatively little story. Wrong! There’s a solid story and direction behind The Shambling Guide to New York City, and though it does contain excerpts from the actual guide, the book itself is not written as a guide to New York City from the point of view of monsters — called, in this book, coterie. Instead, we follow our intrepid, sometimes somewhat slow heroine, Zoe, as she accidentally gets herself employed by a coterie company, learns that monsters are real and do want to eat her, and gets dragged into epic showdowns of opposing coterie.
Okay, in a way it’s wish fulfilment, because Zoe is adaptable, quick on her feet, able to train to learn to cope with all this. Most real people wouldn’t be a quarter as adaptable. But it worked for me all the same: I loved the rather mild Phil the vampire, who turned out to have a vicious side after all. (I don’t know what it is with me lately, but I’d fancast Clark Gregg for this role too.) It reminded me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent. There wasn’t too much romance, and the creepily persistent (or persistently creepy) incubus who wants to seduce Zoe gets nowhere fast.
I love most of the characters — Gwen, the Welsh death goddess; Morgen, the water sprite; Granny Good Mae, the… slightly eccentric Yoda to Zoe’s Luke Skywalker. And those I don’t like still make sense, rather than being caricatures designed to be hated, except maybe one particular character.
Overall, I found this thoroughly enjoyable, and I immediately went on and devoured (heh) the second book, The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Recommended!
Also, the covers! Jamie McKelvie, I believe?