Tag: SF/F

Review – A Closed and Common Orbit

Posted 5 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky ChambersA Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers

The first time I read this book, I was vaguely resentful that it wasn’t about the same characters as the first book, and I briefly had the same sensation here. Becky Chambers is so good at creating characters I care about — even if I don’t like them necessarily — and it took me a while to switch gears. However, it was easier on a second reading, and I was quickly caught up in Pepper and Sidra’s stories once more.

In this book, there are two parallel stories: one follows a little girl who escapes from a scrap sorting factory and finds a derelict ship, still equipped with an AI who takes care of her, teaches her, and helps her escape that world. That girl grows up to become Pepper, and Pepper takes care of Sidra. Sidra was an AI, and now she has a humanoid body, and through the course of the book she learns to deal with that. There’s all kinds of great stuff going on about identity and embodiment and learning how to be content with what you are, all wound up in an emotional story about family and belonging.

So naturally, Chambers rocked it. She’s great at aliens, she’s great at figuring out what an AI suddenly thrown into a human body would be like, she’s great at making the reader care incredibly much. I’m not a big cryer in general, and even less so at media, but this book (and the first) makes me cry — and not in a bad way, because there’s so much warmth and hope and joy here, amidst the normal fears and worries of being a person in a world that isn’t always friendly.

I can’t wait to get on and read Record of A Spaceborn Few now. I know I’m going to be hesitant (give me the Wayfarer crew! give me Pepper and Sidra!) and that I’m going to end up loving them.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Glamour in Glass

Posted 2 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette KowalGlamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal

Glamour in Glass follows the Vincents as, early in their relationship, they take a trip to the Continent to study and work glamour together with one of Vincent’s friends. This time, Kowal explores the way her magic system might affect pregnant women, while playing with the historical backdrop as well. The Vincents find themselves at risk from Napoleon’s followers, and their trip becomes less about the glamour and more about spying out what exactly might be happening — perhaps even betrayal from the people they call friends.

This was where the series took off for me, the first time I actually read this book, and while I’ve come to appreciate the first book, this is still where I would say the series really gets interesting. This is where Kowal starts to work out the implications of the magic and how it changes society, eclipsing the primarily romantic plot of the first book. I’d say the third book is even stronger in that sense, but this one is certainly nothing to sniff at, either. It’s all up from here, and this has really become a series I think about fondly.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Memory Called Empire

Posted 27 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Memory Called Empire by Arkady MartineA Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine

Received to review via Netgalley

Arkady Martine’s debut novel is an exploration of identity, colonialism and loyalty, pitting the main character Mahit against a culture she loves — the culture of an empire waiting to swallow up her own home, Lsel Station. She’s the ambassador from Lsel Station, taking over after the unexpected death of her predecessor. She has one secret weapon: within her she carries a recording of her predecessor’s personality, partially integrated into her own, though somewhat out of date. At least, she has that weapon until something breaks, and she loses touch with that barely-integrated personality within her.

You can probably see from this description already why I was reminded powerfully of the work of Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee. This is very much in their vein of work, and that sense of familiarity left me a little disengaged. You’re not going to beat Jedao in that role of a shadow from the past half-integrated into a new, younger, female body, and it’s just too darn similar!

There is a lot of entertaining and interesting stuff here, despite that sense of over-familiarity. I definitely enjoy Nineteen Adze and her power; Three Seagrass and her relationship with both Mahit and Twelve Azalea (“Reed” and “Petal”, ahahaha); all the little glimpses we get of how things work… There was also that big barely-defined threat in the background, so it’ll be interesting to see how things go on. I assume it’s going to pick back up the threads of the relationship between Mahit and Three Seagrass, as well; that barely started before it felt cut off by the ending.

In the end, though, I don’t know. I never got quite that engaged with it, though once I hit around 57%, I did enjoy it enough to keep on reading to the end in one go. The similarities to Ninefox Gambit and Ancillary Justice eclipsed a story I might’ve enjoyed on its own terms. I’ll probably pick up the next book, but… there’s definitely no compulsion to do that, for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Lost Girls

Posted 26 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Lost Girls by Sarah PainterThe Lost Girls, Sarah Painter

Received to review from the author

Let’s see if I can do this without any serious spoilers! The Lost Girls is a standalone fantasy with two protagonists. One, Rose MacLeod, is an ordinary student in Edinburgh, in her first year, living with her parents. Well, ordinary apart from the fact that she regularly has blackouts, which can last for days, even weeks, which nobody else around her seems to notice. And the other protagonist is Mal, a decidedly non-ordinary bloke who can see magic, hunts demons and does dodgy errands as a kind of freelance supernatural hitman.

There are strong resemblances to the story of Supernatural, from Mal’s upbringing by a strict father and his older brother, to the fact that bereft of his dad and then his elder brother too, he ends up going down a fairly dark and morally dubious path. He even thinks of himself as a hunter. Sam Winchester, is that you? Part of the resemblance is probably just that it’s completely unavoidable if you want to have humans hunting down supernatural creatures, but the parallels were a little eyebrow-raising.

Rose is a bit more of a non-entity, due to the flashbacks and the sketchy, blurry idea she has of who she is. It’s a bit weird, then, that there’s a romance subplot centering her, because there’s not much to build on.

Anyway, over the course of the novel, obviously the two get drawn together, as Mal looks for Rose to hand her over to the supernatural crime boss he’s contracting for, and also tries to figure out what’s happening to girls who are being murdered under mysterious circumstances. Rose finds herself remembering things she shouldn’t, and dreaming of girls dying… and tries to escape Mal, with the help of her friend Astrid. Inevitably, they end up together, and the story does a flip as it races toward the end.

I enjoyed reading this, for sure; I read it all in two sittings, and it kept me interested throughout. I wouldn’t say I was riveted, but to be fair to the book, it’s relatively rare these days for me to sit down and read straight through something, and that’s definitely worth considering. The ending, though, felt unsatisfying: it’s better when I think about it, but at first it struck me as wasting some of the stuff that had only barely been built up (the romance subplot, the characterisation of two characters in particular). I’m still unsure of quite how to rate the book, to be quite honest!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Beauty

Posted 20 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Beauty by Robin McKinleyBeauty, Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley has written two retellings of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale; this one is the closest to what you might think of as the classic story (i.e. actually the version immortalised by Disney, albeit with touches like including Beauty’s sisters), and is also the youngest in terms of how it’s written. It follows the traditional set-up, and the retelling mostly relies on filling in the gaps — characterising Beauty’s sisters, playing with irony (Beauty is not, in fact, beautiful — at least not at first, though somehow she becomes very pretty over the course of the book), creating several secondary love stories — rather than being wildly transformative or creating a rich world. Rose Daughter… well, I’ll come to that when I’ve finished that reread!

I find it very enjoyable, partly because it’s kept fairly simple, and because I enjoy the characters. It’s an undemanding read, but it’s fun.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Space Opera

Posted 8 March, 2019 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 1 Comment

Cover of Space Opera by Catherynne M ValenteSpace Opera, Catherynne M. Valente

The plot of this book? A war-preventing intergalactic Eurovision contest in a decidedly Hitchhiker’s Guide-style universe world, where newbies who lose get obliterated and the rankings determine the distribution of galactic resources. It’s a sentience test, designed to figure out whether a species can be trusted to join the ranks of sentient species or needs to be nuked from orbit to prevent future wars. It’s full of glitz and glamour and impossibilities, and Valente has a hell of a lot of fun coming up with weird species and the ways they perform and relate to each other and get high and start wars and have sex.

In fact, she has so much fun with that that the story of Earth’s discovery and non-optional invitation to join the latest contest in order to save Earth is pretty eclipsed by the sheer torrents of verbiage about aliens shiny and strange. It takes a while to realise that Decibel Jones is pretty much the main character, and honestly he’s always pretty much secondary to the wild vagaries of Valente’s imagination.

If you know Valente’s writing, then you can imagine how this comes out. At times, it’s like a firehose of adjectives blasting straight at your eyes, and it takes five minutes to work through a page because the colours are all running — a metaphor, of course, but honestly that’s the indistinct impression I end up with. There’s just too much going on, and it never stops.

And I know it’s not meant this way, because it’s Valente, but it sounds like it’s making fun (in that “oh god SJWs what will they come up with next” way) of some of the language queer people use to describe themselves, and I really don’t find the joy in that. I know it’s meant to be playful, maybe even freeing, but knowing how people complain about LGBT alphabet soups already, it stings. Of course that’s a personal reaction; probably others are really enjoying the freedom from labels pasted onto the characters.

I didn’t connect to the characters or to the plot, and in the end it just felt like I was being hit repeatedly in the head with a discoball while being attacked from all sides with glitterbombs, while someone shouted “ARE YOU HAVING FUN? WHY AREN’T YOU HAVING FUN? IT’S SO QUIRKY AND OFF THE WALL! HAVE FUN DAMN YOU! MOOOORE GLITTER! WHY AREN’T YOU HAVING FEELINGS??” in my ear. So the big finale didn’t come off, I just rolled my eyes.

I do enjoy Valente’s prose in some instances, but nothing about this worked for me — particularly since I think the tone and humour is frequently ripped absolutely directly from Douglas Adams, do not pass go, do not add anything original beyond LOTS MORE ADJECTIVES and a spot of David Bowie. It feels like Hitchhiker’s Guide with the volume turned up to distortion point.

Meh, meh, and meh again. I’m not entirely sure why I stubbornly finished this book, to be honest.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The Goblin Emperor

Posted 5 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

I know, I know; some of you are surely wondering, “Again?!”

The Goblin Emperor is the story of an ill-prepared fifth son, who has hitherto spent his time in exile due to the disfavour his mother was viewed with, finding himself on the throne of the Elflands after the murder of his father and half-brothers. Thrown into the midst of it all, he has to find his feet and become a ruler — one who is careful to respect his father and the tradition of the throne, but who is also prepared to make some fairly drastic changes to benefit his people. All of them.

Naturally, some of his people were quite enjoying the status quo, and even those who wanted to change things had some rather different plans.

This was, I think, my fifth time reading this book, and I still love it so very much. It helps that the main character is so completely endearing: despite a lifetime of mistreatment, he clings to the principles taught to him by his mother (herself fairly mistreated by the system) and tries to be a good person. It’s not that he succeeds entirely — he’s unfairly waspish at times, he has the impulse to be ungracious and to take revenge, he has the urge to run away… The important factor, though, is that he works on it.

I do also enjoy the world-building, which is pretty high quality: Addison has given thought to how the language works, to how the two primary cultures in the book intersect, and to the world that surrounds them. She has so many characters who are intriguing, even when they can only be seen in glimpses due to Maia’s isolation as emperor — so many things I’d love to know more about, and so many opportunities to expand on the story (not necessarily Maia’s story). I’m so excited for the new book in this world; there are so many possible characters it could follow, and I’m pretty excited about most of them.

Saying anything else really comes repetitive of all my other reviews, but as usual, I thought I’d pick out the things I really noticed this time round. One image that this read-through left me with: the image of Maia, on the day of his coronation, in the rocky cave alone; the quality of the darkness, the coldness of the water, the stillness of the room.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Bell at Sealey Head

Posted 3 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillipThe Bell at Sealey Head, Patricia A. McKillip

Sealey Head is a small town, perched above a harbour, where people mostly go about their everyday lives — managing an inn, running a business, selling their wares — with the main magic being in the stories written by Gwyneth and the books read by Judd, childhood friends who have become somewhat estranged as they grew up and had more responsibilities. The strange thing, though it’s now so normal that inhabitants of the town think of it entirely normal, is that every day a mysterious bell sounds. They have no idea where the sound comes from or when it began, though there are a cluster of stories and assumptions around it.

In the big house owned by a local aristocrat, a servant called Emma knows magic does exist, because every so often, she opens a door in the house and sees another world, and a woman she’s never met in this world. Princess Isabo lives a life strictly confined by ritual: light this candle, move this sword, fill the goblets of certain men but not others… and don’t ask questions.

Into that world comes a scholar, Ridley Drow, to shake everything up and make people confront the magic in their midst. It feels like such a typical story for McKillip: it has all her hallmarks in the handling, in the love of books, in the way the magic is handled, in the prose, in the way people relate to each other. So if you enjoy McKillip’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this as well: I certainly did, from the shy reconnection between Gwyneth and Judd to the chattering good-heartedness of Daria Sproule to the daring of Princess Isabo, finally asking questions and breaking the ritual routine.

It all builds up very nicely, but the denouement stumbled a little, for me. After all the build-up, knowing there’s danger and that their friends are in trouble, Gwyneth and Judd rush to Aislinn House to help… only to be thwarted by the fact that no one can open a way into Isabo’s world. Instead of doing anything, they settle down to wait… and the climax of the story happens entirely without them. It feels like all the characters build towards that, but only Ridley and Isabo actually get to see it. It feels odd that they’re left out of the main plot, even though Gwyneth and Judd’s stories are completed in other personal ways.

Also, there are some things I just… missed somehow in the climax of the book — some things seemed to come out of nowhere for me. I didn’t have a clue about the significance of the boat, for instance — or rather, I did realise it was significant, but the reason for its significance just didn’t seem to have been telegraphed at all, to the point where it felt like a deus ex machina. This isn’t a first for me with McKillip’s writing, and sometimes it’s possible she’s just being too subtle for me.

Overall, despite those quibbles, I enjoyed the book a lot, and McKillip’s writing is gorgeous. It’s a great read all the same.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Local Habitation

Posted 28 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuireA Local Habitation, Seanan McGuire

Finally, I’m proceeding with my rereads to get on and maybe someday finish this series! This is the second October Daye book, featuring Toby and Quentin as they delve into a mystery in a neighbouring duchy. For one reason or another, Sylvester hasn’t been able to get in contact with his niece, January, and for political reasons among the other fae, he can’t go himself. Since Toby amounts to an independent contractor, sending her doesn’t count, and Quentin’s just along for the ride… so off October goes, quickly finding out that there are murders being committed at January’s computing company, and even the strongest of the fae who work there are being killed.

To me, the killer is fairly obvious all along, but then I do have the advantage of having read the book before. There are some delightful ideas and bits of fae lore here: I love what we discover about the night haunts, for instance, and the idea of a Dryad being maintained in a server after the death of her tree. There is a sense in which this book is just one continual long thrashing of Toby — if she’s not being attacked by an actual enemy, she’s being seduced by a fae who can drain her and leave her for dead; if she’s not worrying over Quentin being injured, it’s because she’s got to worry about Connor instead… But in a sense, that’s what the whole series is like.

It feels like this book could’ve been resolved faster if Toby was thinking with her brain instead of rolling around trying to avoid the next punch by instinct, and it’s certainly not my favourite of the series (though I haven’t read much of the whole series, my money is currently on An Artificial Night for that title, of the ones I’ve read before), but it’s enjoyable enough and has some fascinating stuff going on, like the idea of how to save Faerie.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Kill The Queen

Posted 26 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Kill the Queen by Jennifer EstepKill the Queen, Jennifer Estep

Jennifer Estep’s Kill the Queen is joyfully tropetastic: after Lady Everleigh witnesses the massacre of everyone who stands near to the throne before her, except one traitor, she escapes due to her hidden magic and plans to disappear, becoming just plain old Evie, despite her promise to the previous queen to take back the throne. She falls in with a group of gladiators and ends up training as a gladiator herself, not noticing the parallel with the fact that the first queen of her bloodline rose to the throne via combat as a gladiator. Throughout the book, she discovers that skills she learned as the seventeenth in line to the throne are useful — things that dealt with certain customs that nobody more important had the time to cater to, like baking a particular kind of pie and learning fiendishly complex dance steps.

It continues in that vein throughout: it’s readable, and fairly well-paced, and it has all the obligatory spices like a fairly obvious deeper plot, and a hate-to-love romance. It’s basically brain candy, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure if I’m going to bother reading the second book or not, but it was fun.

Rating: 3/5

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