Tag: SF/F

Review – Soulless

Posted February 1, 2015 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Soulless by Gail CarrigerSoulless, Gail Carriger

I originally read Soulless a while ago, and I didn’t know much about it — just that people found it a lot of fun. And I think I was still being snobby about overt romance in fiction, before embracing my love of Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart (not that this is solely romantic fiction in that way, though it does share some of the features, like a plucky single heroine who is a spinster, etc, etc). Anyway, I thought it was kind of fun, but I wasn’t really prepared to enjoy it for what it was.

This time, I knew it was often ridiculous, would make me laugh, included a rather shocking amount of bodice ripping detail, etc. And I was prepared to enjoy it for that — and somehow that made it easier to focus on the bits of world-building around that: hive politics, pack politics, human politics, the changes Carriger’s made to history to fit in vampires and other supernatural creatures. I guess in a way it stays disturbingly imperialistic and so on — Victoria is queen, it’s a golden age, silly America is kind of backwards, etc. But really we don’t see much of the rest of the empire; it stays pretty parochial. Maybe the word should be territorial?

The mystery is terribly easy, though, especially the second time around. That’s not so much any actual clues as the fact that the author slaps a certain element into every couple of scenes. It’s not exactly subtle as a Chekhov’s gun.

Still, I’m happy to read this as light fun; as a friend said before, it’s a cream puff of a book. And that’s fine. And hey, the positivity of the sexuality between Conall and Alexia is actually pretty positive, and it’s nice that Carriger doesn’t milk angst out of it with too much obsessing over Alexia’s reputation, etc.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Prickle Moon

Posted January 29, 2015 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Prickle Moon by Juliet MarillierPrickle Moon, Juliet Marillier

Prickle Moon is a collection of short stories, most of them previously published but five of them new, and I knew I’d have to pick the book up someday because of that hedgehog on the cover. I love hedgehogs; just yesterday we rescued one from our garden which seemed too small to be out, and sent her off to a carer to spend the winter. Last winter we did that with a couple of hedgehogs; one of them died, but the second lived and was even strong enough to make a break for it. He tunnelled out with some friends and is now living under someone’s decking!

So mostly I got this for the title story, Prickle Moon, because I love my hedgehogs. Like most of the stories in this collection, it’s bittersweet; woven with loss and hope, awful tasks and finding your way through them. Some of the stories are fairytale retellings — Rapunzel, Baba Yaga — and some are new stories very much styled as fairytales, with very familiar motifs. Some of the stories are oddly modern, which jars against the more traditional and more fantastical ones. Marillier’s good at putting her characters into awful situations which require compromise with their morality, and then making it work out so that it isn’t so bad after all. She’s good at grief, and especially healed grief — the kind of grief you learn to live with and live in.

The collection also includes a Sevenwaters story. I haven’t read that series, so it took me a little while to get into it and pick up everything that was going on, but the joy in the ending, the hope, is not something you need to have read Daughter of the Forest and the other books to understand. Though, right now, I’m definitely in the mood to read more of Marillier’s work.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Goblin Emperor

Posted January 26, 2015 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine AddisonThe Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

Yes, again already. I can’t really justify doing a whole new review for this, but I felt the need to at least record that I read it again and loved it just as much — loved the characters, giggled, got embarrassed for them, wanted to just high five someone when they did awesome things. This book is up there among my discoveries of Robin Hobb, Scott Lynch, N.K. Jemisin, Guy Gavriel Kay… I believe it’s Hugo eligible, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to vote again this year for the sake of this book.

Why do I like it so much? Well, here’s my original review; reading the book again, I was excited about the characters (as you can tell from my first paragraph), but also by the world Addison’s created. There’s stuff that’s like the Tudor court or Regency Britain; there’s a more Eastern influence on the religion; there’s steampunk; there’s all the politics, the elf families, the history with other peoples that is only touched on. There’s so much going on with the place of women, the place of queer people in the court, racial difference… and it’s not as if this is a utopia where everything is just as we would wish it, but it’s a world undergoing change with some people meeting it, some people trying to hold it back, some people quietly unaware…

I like a lot of the things it doesn’t show us face-on, too. The complexities of Setheris’ character, his relationship with his wife; Maia’s father, and the fact that despite his neglect of Maia, his court love and respect him; the lot of the more common people which we only glimpse by hear-say; the Great Avar’s court and his relationships with his family. While it’s a rich world, it goes much more for immersion than for infodumping. And if you begin it confused, well, so does Maia; he’s been kept away from most of this society for most of his life, so he’s in the same boat.

I can understand, objectively, that this book is not for everyone. Even some people whose tastes I share quite closely. Subjectively, though, if you don’t like Maia and his struggles, I don’t know if we can be friends.

(I’m joking. I think. Mostly.)

Rating: 5/5 with bells on

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Review – Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome

Posted January 25, 2015 by in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Unlocked by John ScalziUnlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, John Scalzi

This novella gives a lot of the background for Scalzi’s latest novel, Lock In. I was in kind of a reading funk, so I thought I’d try reading something short to whet my appetite for Lock In — or just fiction in general, really. It worked for me: I know what effect Scalzi is going for, and he manages to hit the sweet spot between being too technical and too much like a documentary, and offering glimpses of character (like the President) and an idea of the kinds of things in play when you get to Lock In.

He gets the form pretty well, and while I don’t know much about the technology he suggests, I didn’t see anything completely impossible about the biological aspects of Haden’s syndrome. It pretty obviously draws on the Spanish flu of 1918 and the roughly concurrent encephalitis lethargica epidemic. There are separate diseases which produce the effects Scalzi posits for Haden’s syndrome, he just has them combined — with a suggestion that they have been deliberately combined.

Overall, it can be quite a dry read if you’re not interested in that kind of background, but I am. Still, it’s lacking in real narrative and urgency because of the post-facto documentary nature of it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Half-Resurrection Blues

Posted January 20, 2015 by in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Half-Resurrection Blues, by Daniel José OlderHalf-Resurrection Blues, Daniel José Older

This book is made awesome by the setting and cast — it’s full of detail that places it exactly in time and space, in Brooklyn and in the ghost/s of Brooklyn; it’s full of characters with all kinds of origins and all kinds of stories, all of which is supplemented by the kind of details that make them feel real. Mannerisms, foibles, culture-specific ways of speaking or thinking… and it’s never some kind of monolithic culture, but all sorts of cultures in a melting pot, a dialogue. The background of the story was interesting, too: the halfies, the Council of the Dead, the ngks, house spirits… it comes together into a pretty interesting mythology in general.

In terms of the plot, I was less enthused, though it’s certainly not a chore to read. It’s just a little bit predictable; I was constantly reminded of other books while I was reading it, constantly a couple of steps ahead of the plot. Like, come on, who wouldn’t guess that with the ability to kind of read thoughts, a woman would figure out you killed her brother? And that wouldn’t go down well with her? I’m hesitant to even call that a spoiler, that’s just human.

I’m planning to read Salsa Nocturna anyway, and to read more of Daniel José Older’s work, but I wasn’t blown away. It’s more solid fun than something that swept me off my feet.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Awakened Kingdom

Posted January 17, 2015 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. JemisinThe Awakened Kingdom, N.K. Jemisin

This novella has been released both separately as an ebook, and bundled in with the omnibus of the trilogy. I don’t know quite how I managed to miss that it existed, but I did. I quickly rectified my ignorance by grabbing a copy, and couldn’t resist getting stuck in right away. It helps that the narrator’s voice is infectiously fun; the godling who narrates is a child, full of enthusiasm to live and do and learn and grow. And she does all of this, of course, giving us glimpses in the meanwhile into the world without Sieh, a world where Itempas is learning to change and there is a fragile agreement between mortals and godlings that allows them to live in the same plane of existence. It shows us the world changing in other ways, too — the society in Darre, the actual physical conditions of the world changing and forcing society to change…

And there’s glimpses, just at the end, into the world that comes after that.

Mostly just glimpses, though; this is a novella. I would love to have more of it, although Shill’s voice might get a bit more annoying at length (though I think Jemisin is, as usual, a genius with her narrators). It could sort of stand alone from the three novels, too, but to really understand what’s going on, I wouldn’t recommend it. At this length, it feels that little bit unsatisfying because I think there’s always more I’d want to know about the world, but on the other hand, it ends just where it needs to end to leave you space to imagine.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Days of Blood and Starlight

Posted January 16, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini TaylorDays of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor
Reviewed on 16th June, 2013

Mmmm. I don’t know why it took me so long to get round to finishing this. There’s something very compelling about Laini Taylor’s writing, prompting me to read it in great big gulps. This was a harder read than the first book, emotionally, because here are all these characters you care for and they’re split up, dead, misled, in over their heads… There’s lots of pain and betrayal and more pain. There is still some hope left, at the end of the story, but it’s a battered hope. And when I started out writing that sentence, I wasn’t thinking about the double meaning there, given the meaning of Karou’s name. But that works, too.

I wasn’t expecting the ending — not the key event, anyway, the thing that allows some room for hope. I wasn’t thinking along the right lines when a certain character got involved and spilt all they knew to another certain character. I did guess some of the other stuff, but there was enough going on to keep me intrigued and on the edge of my seat.

I didn’t love this as much as I remember loving the first book, but I did like it a lot and I cannot wait for the third book.

Rating: 4/5

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Waiting on Wednesday: A Darker Shade of Magic

Posted January 14, 2015 by in General / 10 Comments

Waiting on Wednesday is a feature normally hosted at Breaking the Spine, though it hasn’t been updated during January. Regardless, I felt the need to share this one.

Cover of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. SchwabA Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London…but no one speaks of that now.Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see—a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—and that is proving trickier than they hoped.

Since I received access to the preview excerpt on Netgalley, my first Waiting on Wednesday post for a while is an obvious choice… V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. I have various of Schwab’s books somewhere on Mount TBR, some lurking in the foothills even, but I haven’t got round to them. Based on the small part of the excerpt I read, I think A Darker Shade of Magic will probably be the first book I read by this author. I didn’t stop reading because I didn’t like it: quite the opposite. I usually hate teasers when I can’t get hold of the full book, and that’s exactly what happened in this case. I really, really want the book already, and I only read a few pages, skimmed a bit more, and generally skidded over the surface of the book.

I mean, when you open with this, what do you expect?

Kell wore a very peculiar coat.

It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.

The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.

I don’t know if anyone needs to read further, but I sure don’t. I’m hooked, if just to hear more about that impossible coat.

A Darker Shade of Magic is out February 24th 2015!

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Review – Poison Study

Posted January 12, 2015 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Poison Study by Maria V. SnyderPoison Study, Maria V. Snyder

It’s been a while since I first read these books — longer than I’d thought, even! I’m not entirely sure what tempted me to revisit, since I generally think of Snyder’s work as light entertainment. I’m not so keen on the romance elements, especially where they come across as kind of creepy (there’s an age and power dynamic between Valek and Yelena which is completely weighted toward Valek the entire time), and I didn’t think that much of the fantasy setting. But… I think I’ve actually changed my mind. The relationship is signalled better than I remembered, even though on Yelena’s side I’m still a little concerned about Stockholm Syndrome, and Valek’s not off the hook for being an assassin and playing mind games.

And the world is more interesting than I remembered, too: what I remembered as a fairly run of the mill dystopian post-revolution world was not so simple. Commander Ambrose has done horrifying things, particularly in the cause of getting into power, but there’s a flexibility there — for example, when a teacher brings a girl to him wanting her to be punished because she’s found a different (actually better) way of doing things than he’s taught her, and the Commander sends him away and gives the girl a job doing something she wants to do. The characters are better drawn than I remembered, with a lot of shades of grey.

The Commander is particularly interesting because he’s a transgendered character, and that’s dealt with pretty well: the character and narrator believe that he’s male, full stop. There are a couple of slip-ups where he treats his ‘female self’ as contemptible or is controlled because he sees that self as weak, but otherwise neither the characters nor the plot lean on gender stereotypes. He’s not male because he can do male-coded activities; he’s male because he just is, and he doesn’t see women as any less capable. Women can be soldiers as easily as men, in his world; it’s not about gender, but ability.

There were a lot of difficult topics explored here other than that, too — rape, coercion, conflicts between liking someone and betraying them, good people doing bad things, or people doing bad things to achieve a good result… Most of it is handled pretty well, without prurient detail. My main issue is the whole shortcut evil=rape=evil thing. It happens with a couple of different characters and it’s lazy, lazy stuff.

This really wasn’t quite the bubblegum I remembered; I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy attentively too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Winter Rose

Posted January 11, 2015 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Winter Rose by Patricia McKillipWinter Rose, Patricia A. McKillip

When I first read this, it was the first book I’d read by McKillip and I really didn’t appreciate it. I thought the words were lovely, but the substance was all over the place; everything had dream logic, and sometimes I couldn’t hold onto that logic and follow it through — or I’d come to totally wrong conclusions that I don’t think McKillip intended at all. But I expected this time to be different: I’ve come to really love McKillip’s work, in general, and to enjoy and follow the lyricism, the imagery, the logic of it that’s more to do with magic than orderly lines of reasoning. The quality that makes me feel like this is real magic, more so than anything Gandalf could ever do.

And yet. Nope. This book still makes very little sense to me. It’s The Snow Queen’ and ‘Goblin Market’ and Tam Lin, and I don’t know if it intends to be all three or if I’m just grasping at straws. It’s got the magic and mystery of McKillip’s other work and yet it never quite comes together for me in the same way. It’s beautifully written, and yet it never coalesces quite into sense for me.

I think I understood it better than I did the first time, and at least I went into it prepared to take my enjoyment from the beautiful words and the feeling of magic, but I find myself blinking when reading reviews where people think this is the most warm and human of McKillip’s novels, the least mythical and distanced. There are parts of it like that — Perrin’s love for Laurel, through everything; Rois and Laurel’s father’s uncomprehending love for his daughters… But mostly it was so lyrical that I couldn’t touch it.

I make it sound like I really disliked it, I think, but it’s more that I’m just not on the right wavelength. Clearly some people are, and I’m close enough that I can appreciate some of the beauty. I think there’s a really emotionally absorbing, satisfying story in there for some people, judging from reviews. Just… not for me! I was really disappointed that I still don’t ‘get’ it, despite my new appreciation of McKillip’s other work.

Rating: 3/5

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