James Hetley's The Summer Country comes with some high praise in its review blurbs, breaking out names like Charles de Lint to sing its praises--which...moreJames Hetley's The Summer Country comes with some high praise in its review blurbs, breaking out names like Charles de Lint to sing its praises--which is, I must admit, impressive for a debut urban fantasy novel. With that kind of cred out of the gate, I had high hopes for a substantial and entertaining read. I am not, however, entirely convinced that I got it.
On the one hand, I must give Hetley props for a highly flawed and very human heroine, as well as a certain primal flavor to the Summer Country and its inhabitants, the Old Ones. On the other hand--and this may be the jaded palette of a reader of many, many fantasy novels talking, but still--I half-felt like the characters were never entirely real to me, and that several of the conflicts set up between them never quite properly paid off. For example, there's a subplot involving the heroine being angry at her sister for "stealing" the man she was trying to work up the courage the romance--while all the while, the man really liked the sister instead, and both he and the sister were aghast that Maureen had been "psychotic" about obsessing about him. Yet they never actually confront her about this. A similar lack of substance was displayed by the bad guys as well; all we are told about them is that the Old Ones as a rule have no conscience and that they are perfectly willing to mess with each other as well as mortals. All well and good, but without some rock-solid individual characteristics to back that up, most of the time Dougal and Sean and Fiona came across to me as evil just because "the Old Ones are like that", which wasn't satisfying.
And yet, I felt like I saw enough there that I'd like to check out the second book, so I'll give it a go. For this one, two and a half stars.(less)
Crown in Candlelight, an older work by Rosemary Hawley Jarman, was recommended to me some time ago--but I only recently got around to trying to actual...moreCrown in Candlelight, an older work by Rosemary Hawley Jarman, was recommended to me some time ago--but I only recently got around to trying to actually read it, once I realized I could score a copy from the local library. And even then it took me a while to get through, given that I initially got a hardback edition from the library, and those are always difficult for me to read and cart around. So I wound up laming out and having to check it out twice in order to have enough time to read it all. The second time through, I didn't even finish reading that copy since I just wasn't making the time.
But then I was able to get hold of a recent re-release of the book in paperback form, and that meant I was finally able to finish it. So the question is, was it worth it after all the effort to read the thing?
Yes and no. One of the main reasons it was so tough for me to get through was the language; Jarman's style here is very, very lush and very, very purple. This is a world where every action has an adverb, and every noun an entourage of adjectives. Even the seagulls have topaz eyes. After a regular diet of fairly straightforward and unadorned urban fantasy and SF, making my way through this was like trying to eat a seven-course meal of unfamiliar cuisine. In other words, tasty, but takes a long time to digest.
The book suffers for me as well with spending so much time on backstory. We meet our heroine, Katherine of Valois, daughter of the French king, when she's but a tiny child. Quite a few chapters are spent on her childhood and adolescence, but it can basically be distilled down to this: she's a gorgeous young thing, her father is batshit, and her mother is a scheming manipulator. And oh yeah, she's going to be married off to Henry V of England.
Our eventual hero Owen also gets quite a bit of backstory, albeit initially delivered through the point of view of Hywelis, a witch of Wales, who's in love with him and who risks her own power and standing with her noble father to help Owen go to war in support of King Henry. "You're destined for greatness," she tells Owen, and although she's madly in love with him, she's apparently resigned to the fact that she'll have to go a long time without ever laying eyes on Owen, much less having him back again.
Things don't really get interesting until the action shifts to France, and Owen's joined Henry's armies. He comes to the attention of the king, naturally, and winds up in his household as a bard and one of the servitors in charge of looking after the royal wardrobe. But the thing is, for most of this entire sequence, the interesting character is actually Henry, not Owen. And for a good chunk of the book, despite the fact that the cover blurb is all about the Katherine and Owen love story, we spend time first on the relationship between Henry and Katherine, and what happens when they get married. This for me was actually the most engaging part of the book. Henry as a character had far more depth and nuance than Owen, whose primary function in the story appears to be 'hang around, play music, look handsome, make a bunch of children with Katherine, and be angsty that he can't marry her.'
But eventually Henry dies, and the resultant politics and intrigue that spring up around who'll get to be the guardian and regent to his young son fill out the rest of the story. This is of course set against Katherine's illicit relationship with Owen, but for me that whole love story wound up being interesting only as part of the intrigue. Especially given that things end rather unhappily--and even though Hywelis makes another appearance at the very end, to pronounce how her prophecy about Owen will come true and he'll be the founder of the Tudor line, as a reader I was still left with a bit of a let-down feeling.
Overall not sorry I read it at all, even though it was tough to get through. This is definitely not a book you'll want to read if you're looking for a HEA historical romance. Three stars.(less)
Matt Ruff pulls off a Herculean task in Set This House in Order: telling a story that involves not one but two characters with MPD, and juggles the in...moreMatt Ruff pulls off a Herculean task in Set This House in Order: telling a story that involves not one but two characters with MPD, and juggles the interactions between not only the front-facing personalities of both, but many of the other personalities in their heads as well. And the amazing thing is, he does this while not only getting the general way a multiple's head works right, but also walking a delicate line between having the trauma suffered by the characters in their pasts inform the story and having it overwhelm it.
Andrew Gage is the front personality of a stable collective in Seattle, with a life that's more or less in order, when his boss at the software company where he works hires a second person with MPD, Penny Driver--hoping on the sly that the two of them will click and that Andrew can provide guidance for Penny, who is only partially aware of her MPD. The first stretch of the book is about exactly this, with Andrew bringing Penny to his therapist and helping her get a handle on her own condition. But as he does, other events make Andrew have to confront parts of his own past--which has been obscured even from the older personalities in his collective.
This book is at times tragic, at others poignantly humorous, and especially in the second half, painfully compelling. I'll say right out that it's difficult to follow if you're not paying active attention; the reader must keep track of when Andrew's and Penny's respective personalities are out and when they're not, and which of them is interacting with which. There are questions of physical gender that confuse the issue as well (and which are nevertheless still entirely appropriate to how a collective may actually work). And for readers with any history of trauma of their own, it is potentially triggery. But I'll also say that the potentially triggery material is delicately and deftly handled. The ending is appropriate, upbeat without being overly sentimental. Five stars.(less)
In a genre oversaturated with the creatures, it is very difficult to do anything truly unusual with vampires. Jeri Smith-Ready takes a decent shot at...moreIn a genre oversaturated with the creatures, it is very difficult to do anything truly unusual with vampires. Jeri Smith-Ready takes a decent shot at it, setting up a world where vampires are managed by a human agency that once hunted them. More intriguingly, they are mentally unable to break out the time period in which they'd been alive, leading to any number of tics and quirks as they have to force themselves to interact with the present. Six vampires have found the perfect way to do just that: by becoming night DJs at a radio station that lets them play the music of the periods of their former lives.
Problem is, the radio station is about to be bought out.
Into this comes Ciara, a con artist trying to go straight. Her idea to rebrand the radio station as WVMP and to tell the world that their DJs are "vampires" is genius--until older vampires bent on keeping their kind properly hidden go on the offensive against them.
It's a solid and entertaining scenario, never played too heavily nor too lightly. Ciara is likable as a heroine who's determined to use her (shady) talents for Good rather than Evil, and her relationship with the youngest of the station's vampires, Shane, is refreshingly understated as human/vampire love affairs go. The way they click over their mutual love of music is a nice touch, showing that they can like each other as people as well as lovers.
My only real disappointment with the book is that the Control, the agency that manages the vampires, didn't actually prove to be quite as shady as I half-suspected they would be, which might have added an interesting wrinkle to the overall plot. Still, though, a nice read. Four stars.(less)