Tag: SF/F


Review – Circe

Posted 22 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Circe by Madeline MillerCirce, Madeline Miller

I know The Odyssey pretty well, by necessity: I did Classical Studies for both a GCSE and an A Level. In fact, I got a little sick of Odysseus. Circe obviously isn’t all about Odysseus, and brings in a lot of other sources as well, but I do have to pause to note that it does wonderful things with Odysseus. It manages to give us both the good and the bad in Odysseus, the things that make him an attractive person and the things which mar him, and it really works. I was both invested in his relationship with Circe and in his safety, and yet still horrified at the bad sides of his character. The book also does a great job with Telemachus, making him more than just a chip off the old block: the descriptions of him are lovely, even as you know it’s Circe’s feelings tinting the whole narrative.

The story as a whole does a great job of synthesising the different sources and giving Circe a voice. It reminds me of someone else’s writing, and I can’t quite put my finger on what, but I suspect it’s actually Ursula Le Guin. In fact, the descriptions of Telemachus and the way Circe’s story ends clinch it: something about this book very much reminds me of Ursula Le Guin’s work, and that’s a pretty towering compliment.

I’m usually stingy with my five stars, but when I try to think about anything that would make me dock a star with this book, I couldn’t put my finger on anything. It’s not one of my favourites ever that you can pry from my cold dead hands someday, but it’s good and I think Miller’s done an astounding job. I found it engaging and felt like she gave Circe a voice that worked, and I would recommend it to others.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – A Study in Honor

Posted 20 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Study in Honor by Claire O'DellA Study in Honor, Claire O’Dell

Oh man, what to make of this? I love so many things about it: the casually queer main character, the fact that it’s a Sherlock Holmes retelling/homage with female Holmes and Watson, the fact that they’re also black, all the references to the books they’re reading (Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Martha Wells — all names I know, treated as classics). I enjoyed the characterisation of Janet, her sense of duty and honour, her dedication to finding the truth, her unwillingness to be jerked around.

At other times, though, I felt like I didn’t quite know what was happening. A little too much was held back from the reader, so I didn’t follow the leaps to understand exactly what Sara was up to. Janet’s a heck of a smart cookie too, and she left me behind in her understanding of Sara, who is just — man, I’d just want to kick her all the time for being insufferable, and I can’t quite understand the closeness that grows up between the two. Mind you, that goes for the original Sherlock and Watson too, in many ways.

In terms of being a Sherlock Holmes retelling, it isn’t quite. There’s a lot else going on, and a lot more focus on the war-time issues that are affecting their society. It’s more inspired by and referencing Conan Doyle than really using his characters or situations. Janet isn’t John; Sara isn’t Sherlock. They’re their own people, and very much so.

I wasn’t always convinced by the political background. It references recent events like Trump becoming president, and then talks about them being quite a ways in the past and things having been better again… only to describe a situation that sounds very much like current politics, only with more technology (but not quite enough technology to make me believe that it had been a long time). It was very relevant and topical, but I couldn’t fit it all together in my head.

That might very well be a case of it being me and not the book, and even with my quibbles above, I tore through the book and enjoyed it. Janet’s a good person, struggling with various issues but trying to do her best — not only for her own sake, but to do her best ethically, which makes her exactly the kind of character that attracts me. I’d read more of Janet and Sara’s adventures, for sure. My rating feels a little unfair, if it was a case of it’s-me-not-you, but this is another of those rare cases where I kind of wish I used half-stars, just to denote my on-the-fence-ness. I enjoyed the book a lot, but I’m not sure how it’ll stick with me and whether it’ll improve or fall apart as I turn it over in my brain.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Regional Office is Under Attack!

Posted 15 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Regional Office is Under AttackThe Regional Office is Under Attack! Manuel Gonzales

Hm. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I found some parts of it quite interesting — like, I’d love to know what the hell is up with Sarah’s arm and then her foot and then, well, that’s spoilers. And I found it quite a fast read, too. But the narration drove me a little nuts: it’s rather stream-of-consciousness, and things keep repeating, or thoughts don’t quite seem to finish. Or you get through a long paragraph and then realise it was all hypotheticals and the character has yet to act at all.

I’d love to know a bit more of the background stuff, really: Oyemi, and what was going on there; why any of these powers and people existed; what’s going on with Sarah, because that was creepy and weird and fascinating. It feels like a mash-up of superhero/sci-fi tropes that doesn’t quite go anywhere, leaving you not even knowing which side to pick. It was fun enough to read, but at the end, I’m left staring a bit blankly, and I don’t think I could really explain why any of it happened. It just… peters out, boom, the end. I don’t get it.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Dreadful Company

Posted 14 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian ShawDreadful Company, Vivian Shaw

I was so excited to get this, and then I didn’t want to be over, and took longer than I should’ve to actually finish it. But while I was reading it, I was mainlining it: chunks and chunks of it all at once. I find Vivian Shaw’s writing just really easy to read, and it helps that I adore the characters. I was sad that there wasn’t more of Fass in this book, and I didn’t love some of the newer characters as much (Grisaille, but that’s obvious; Emily needs more development; more St. Germain wouldn’t go amiss; etc, etc), but I loved some of the little details — like the croissant-baking demon.

I think I prefer the first book, because it has more teamwork, more togetherness. This book is less comfortable, somewhat, even though I find myself sure Greta can get herself out of anything with her knowledge and her level head. On the other hand, Varney and Greta are just sweet — this is a romance that kinda works for me, though I feel like some development was missed out on in the time between books. (A bit unavoidable without making it a romance straight up front, though, and it isn’t: the romance is just part of it. Friendship is a far bigger part, to my mind, particularly that of Ruthven and Greta.)

All in all, I had a lot of fun and I think it lived up to how much I loved the first book. I’m looking forward to more with great eagerness! Also, I kind of want a whistler of my own. And a wellmonster.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Masked City

Posted 12 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Masked City by Genevieve CogmanThe Masked City, Genevieve Cogman

The Masked City follows on admirably from The Invisible Library, providing the same madcap mix of genre with aspects of metafiction (one of the main characters is a Great Detective; the Fae are living archetypes who really get on best by living up to their cliches) and the same pacy narrative. Vale, Irene and Kai continue being a heck of a team, although they’re all separated for a while. There’s some fascinating new layers to the Fae, there’s more contact with the world of dragons…

If you didn’t enjoy the first book, I can’t imagine this would really hit any new notes for you. But as the second book of the series, it works quite well. There’s an element of middle-bookness, in that Alberich doesn’t play any kind of serious role, after being set up as a Big Bad. But there’s plenty of adventure and interest, and I mainlined it the second time just as much as I did the first.

Rating: 4/5 

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Review – Witchmark

Posted 11 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Witchmark by C.L. PolkWitchmark, C.L. Polk

Received to review via Netgalley

Witchmark is a little bit of a lot of things — a romance, a mystery, a family power struggle against a fantasy background, dealing with social upheaval and war… It feels like quite an odd mixture of things if I think about it from outside, but while I was reading it I had no quibbles.

Miles is the only character who I feel is really well fleshed out, and I really could use knowing more about Tristan before I can really fully buy into the romance and the Big Romantic Thing that happens near the end. Grace is… interesting, and surprisingly weak — and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. It’s just that she comes along and takes command and she’s meant to be the strong one, and yet she’s so led by her family and by adhering to the social customs. It’s interesting as a character study, and I think there was a surprisingly good job done of making her likeable if only she wouldn’t participate in what’s expected of her.

Everything builds together pretty well for the finale, except maybe that romantic plot. I felt like we needed less of the magical attractiveness and more of the two talking to one another and figuring each other out: there wasn’t enough to make me really root for them. It’s the interplay between Grace and Miles that really made the story, for me.

I’ve kind of been avoiding getting this review written, because I wasn’t wholly sure what to say. I wasn’t as wowed as I hoped to be, but I think on reflection it was enjoyable and I’d read more. If I went in for half-stars, this would probably get another 0.5.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Fury from the Tomb

Posted 9 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Fury of the Tomb by S.A. SidorFury from the Tomb, S.A. Sidor

Received to review via Netgalley

I loved the idea of this, a pulpy horror story in the tradition of something like The Mummy (not that I’ve seen that film). And honestly, it was quite a lot of fun, in a fast-paced way, with interesting stuff going on with the various mythical stuff brought into the story. It’s fairly tropey and predictable, and the pacing is a bit jerky, but I stuck with it and had a reasonable amount of fun. Not something that I’d recommend unless you really love pulpy Penny Dreadful type stories with mummies and vampires and all kinds of weirdness, but it wasn’t the worst way to spend the time either.

Things that would have made me like it more… more of Evangeline, less of Evangeline being an object of desire for Rom and apparently everyone else; more flesh on the bones of McTroy and what went on in his head; and… some kind of change to Rom’s character. He struck me as stuck up and ignorant in many ways, and the effect was something like Simon Tam from Firefly, except with no willingness to get his hands dirty (except maybe with grave dirt) and no trust of the people around him. Basically, Simon Tam without the good bits.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – At Amberleaf Fair

Posted 8 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of At Amberleaf Fair by Phyllis Ann KarrAt Amberleaf Fair, Phyllis Ann Karr

This is a relatively quiet fantasy with a spot of mystery and romance, with a rather fascinating world. I didn’t follow the economics entirely, but the magic, the metaphors, the people’s roles in lives — it was very clear that this was all set up with a great deal of thought and care. I didn’t absolutely love the characters — and I have no idea why Torin liked Valdart at all, or thought he wanted to marry Sharys — but some of the interplay was pretty good, and I enjoyed the fact that the gender of the judge was never mentioned at all.

If you read the author’s note, it’s obvious she envisioned it as our world, post-apocalypse and a lot of growing up for the species. In that light, it’s interesting to see what she thought would change and what she thought would stay the same, and why she thought that (for example, she thought that theft would continue to be a problem, largely because the idea of individual property was breaking down; I’m not sure that follows, since we have a pretty robust idea of individual property now and plenty of theft).

All in all, it’s not groundbreaking, but it works as a gentle read for a quiet evening.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Strange Practice

Posted 6 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 11 Comments

Cover of Strange Practice by Vivian ShawStrange Practice, Vivian Shaw

It hasn’t been that long since I first read this book, but the sequel is now out and I wanted to refresh my memory, and honestly I found Strange Practice just delightful. I adored what it did with the idea of a doctor for the monstrous/undead/etc, and I don’t know who would fail to smile at the idea of treating a banshee for a sore throat or a ghoul for depression (I’m not sure I agree with the choice of venlafaxine for the reasons actually mentioned — it’s nasty for withdrawal — but that’s by the by). I loved Ruthven and his concern for all the supernatural denizens of London, his hospitality and generosity, along with his little flaws and quirks. I loved the examination of what it might be like to be immortal, to be Ruthven or Varney or Fass: the years seeing other people die, the years of having to come up with something to do all the time.

I adore that Ruthven drove an ambulance in the Blitz, speaks a bunch of languages and knows how to darn socks. It just makes sense.

The plot itself is maybe less delightful, because hey, crazy cult, but the way the characters come together is glorious, and the climax of the story is just whoooa. The Devil himself shows up, and nothing is quite how you’d expect.

Greta Helsing, who is really the main character, is pretty awesome too. She’s the kind of doctor who recognises her duty to help people, but she’s also a brave young woman who is determined to do what she can, no matter what. She’s not perfect, and sometimes her reactions are very human — there’s a bit at the climax where she’s meant to be helping her friends, something goes wrong concurrently, and just… aaah.

Normally I can see why other people don’t like books (apart from personal taste stuff on the genre level), but I don’t really get it with this one. I enjoyed the heck out of it and I want some of my other friends (and my wife, hello dear) to read it soon so we can discuss Ruthven’s silk curtains and whether Varney is ever going to stop being melancholy.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Invisible Library

Posted 3 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanThe Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman

Another reread! Mostly because I felt like it, and partly to refresh my memory of the series to read The Lost Plot. It remains tons of fun: heists, steampunk trappings, magic, dragons, fae and most importantly, books. I love Vale and Kai and the way they interact with each other and with Irene, and Alberich remains a creep-as-heck villain (come on, he impersonates people by wearing their skin). The whole lore of the worlds, the way Fae work and the way that chaos/order affect magic… that all makes a good background for a story that ticks along at a fast clip. It feels like Cogman’s put everything and the kitchen sink into these books (especially with the more sci-fi trappings of some of the other worlds) and it works.

Above all, I think, I love the fact that the people who work for the Library genuinely love books. That’s one of their chief motivations in life. They’re not after keeping the worlds in order, just after books — on the surface, at least, and definitely for the junior Librarians like Irene — and that’s just… fun, nice to read, because in that secret kid part of you that hoped for a Hogwart’s letter (if you’re that kind of person), maybe you could be a Librarian

So yeah. No surprises I’m giving it a high rating again. It’s not perfect, perhaps, but it’s so much fun.

Rating: 4/5

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