This is a middle grade title about Tilda, a young princess who’s much more interested in writing her own book than she is in being a princess. Particu...moreThis is a middle grade title about Tilda, a young princess who’s much more interested in writing her own book than she is in being a princess. Particularly given how little her people seem to like her. Born with a deformed leg that requires her to use a cane to get around, she often finds herself the target of whispers and gossip and general nastiness. So when the bad guy sets out to steal her lands and title, Tilda considers it no real loss.
I haven’t done a lot of middle grade reading–something I need to remedy–but Handbook follows the pattern I’ve seen of focusing more on internal conflicts and development than external plot. An “adult” novel would generally focus more on the central conflict between Tilda and the would-be usurper. Whereas this novel jumps around a bit more, plotwise, in order to show us how Tilda grows and changes. The story includes a pair of would-be dragon slayers, Elysian horses, the Wild Hunt, evil magic, and perhaps my favorite bit character, Curschin the dragon.
I appreciated the way Haskell addressed Tilda’s handicap, neither shying away from the pain and complications it presented, nor trying to give us a feel-good Message about overcoming disability. My wife has been dealing with chronic pain for many years, and often requires a cane to get around, so Tilda’s struggle felt familiar. But this wasn’t a book about a disabled character; it was a book about a character who happened to have a disability.
There were a few points where I stumbled. The book doesn’t exactly take place in our world, but there are references to Plato and Christmas, things that were just discordant enough to bump me out of the story. There were also one or two plot points that seemed a little too convenient or unexplained. The story about the girl who wants desperately to be a writer could easily become self-indulgent, but Haskell manages it well, focusing on the character’s love and excitement and never slipping into “Writers are awesome!” or inside jokes/commentary.
Overall, this was a quick and enjoyable read, with a range of good, strong characters both male and female.
This was a fun, fast read. I zoomed through the book in a few nights, and enjoyed it. Angel reminds me in some ways of Jig the goblin. She’s society’s...moreThis was a fun, fast read. I zoomed through the book in a few nights, and enjoyed it. Angel reminds me in some ways of Jig the goblin. She’s society’s underdog, and she knows it, but when you’re seeing life through her eyes, you can’t help but sympathize and cheer her on. Many of the secondary characters were a lot of fun too, and more than they seemed at first glance.
Rowland’s background includes a job as a morgue assistant as well as working as a street cop and detective, all of which add a lot of realistic detail to Angel’s life and work. The plot moves along at a good pace, starting with Angel’s exploration of what it means to be dead, then shifting more into the mystery of the serial killer.
All that said, I found myself occasionally troubled. It would be easy for this book to fall into cliche and stereotype, the “Ha ha, look at the uneducated white trash trying to survive as a zombie” approach. Rowland avoids that trap for the most part, I think. Yet there are still times when Angel felt defined as White Trash as opposed to being an individual, if that makes sense. I’m having trouble pointing to a specific example, which is annoying.
It might just be the title, the way a derogatory label frames the entire story and series. Or maybe it was the sense of needing to be rescued from her life by various men.
It’s also possible that I’m overthinking it.
To be clear, I liked the book a lot, and will be reading the sequel.(less)
The opening line is, “The man who can see the future has a date with the woman who can see many possible futures.” I really like this setup, and the c...moreThe opening line is, “The man who can see the future has a date with the woman who can see many possible futures.” I really like this setup, and the conflict it creates between the man who sees a fixed, unavoidable future and the woman who believes she has free will to choose from various possibilities. I love how Anders presents the characters, both of whom have known for a long time that this relationship was coming and how it would go, but who still stumble through the same awkwardness as the rest of us. I loved the details, like the game Judy plays with her friend, picking random destinations and predicting what would happen if they packed up and went there that very day. Anders’ characters are so very human, and the conflict between them — is the future really fixed (Doug), or can you choose your future (Judy)? — is thoughtfully explored.
The answer Anders gives to that conflict is simultaneously tragic and scary and hopeful, and felt right for the story. This is the first story I’ve read by Anders, but it certainly won’t be the last.(less)
I’ll be honest, Valente’s skill with language and imagery made me question whether I was a good enough writer to review this one. (I decided to do it...moreI’ll be honest, Valente’s skill with language and imagery made me question whether I was a good enough writer to review this one. (I decided to do it anyway!) This is a wonderfully layered story. It’s retold fairy tales and romance and tragedy and poetry and the power of story/myth and post-singularity science fiction all woven together.
“Silently and Very Fast” deals in part with the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence. Elefsis is a program who started as the virtual keeper of a house, but grew into so much more thanks to the love and attention of a child, Ceno. It’s a relationship that can’t be forced into human terms. Ceno is Elefsis’ parent and lover and sibling and so much more. Thanks to the neural hardware, they’re literally a part of one another.
Over the years we see Elefsis grow and pass from one family member to another as the humans age and die. We learn how the world has evolved during this time, and the lengths they’ve gone to in order to protect Elefsis.
There were parts I didn’t understand at first. Only as I kept reading did some of those earlier scenes and stories slip so beautifully into place. I strongly recommend reading this one twice, because the parts become that much more gorgeous and powerful once you’ve seen the whole.(less)
TJ Gutierrez is a divorced former superhero with twin children. Her ex-husband is a villain named Singularity, who can manipulate gravity in nasty way...moreTJ Gutierrez is a divorced former superhero with twin children. Her ex-husband is a villain named Singularity, who can manipulate gravity in nasty ways. Our story begins when Singularity escapes from prison and starts hunting for TJ and the kids…
And then there’s Annmarie Smith, who helps save the world not with superpowers, but by looking after the children of superheroes while they’re fighting evil. She moves in to watch the twins while TJ does everything in her power to intercept and stop her ex-husband.
We’ve seen superhero stories look at family dynamics before (The Incredibles being a great example), but Diaz approaches it from a different angle. Her heroine is trying to build a new life and to protect her children from an overly powerful and potentially abusive father. Aspects of the story are almost painfully believable and realistic.
There’s also a romantic plotline, and while at times Annmarie seems a little too perfect, I liked her romance with Gutierrez, as well as her role in the world of superheroes. (Because how would a superhero ever be able to trust a regular babysitting service?)
The ending didn’t work as well for me. My biggest complaint was that it felt like Diaz pulled out a deus ex machina for the climax. But overall, it was a good read.(less)
The Kingdom of Gods is the third and final book in N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy.
I read and very much enjoyed the first two books, and reviewed...moreThe Kingdom of Gods is the third and final book in N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy.
I read and very much enjoyed the first two books, and reviewed The Broken Kingdoms here. Jemisin has chosen to focus on different characters in each book, though there are narrative threads and characters connecting all three. In the final book, we see the social consequences of the changes from the first two, as the ruling Arameri family begins to lose their absolute power over the world, a world that has some complaints over how they've been treated.
This one is narrated by the godling Sieh, who was one of my favorites from the earlier books. He's an unapologetic child, complete with playfulness, petulance, pranks, and more. In this book, he stumbles upon a pair of Arameri children, plays with them, debates killing them, and instead grants them friendship ... and that's where everything goes wrong.
Sieh begins to turn mortal. He ages. The further he gets from childhood, the more of his power he loses. He's forced to survive as a mortal, eventually finding a role as a messenger/spy in the developing conflict with the Arameri, a conflict which reveals a new kind of magic and new players from Sieh's own past ... which I can't really get into without spoiling things.
It's hard wrapping up a series, and Jemisin aimed high with this one, pulling together mythological plotlines and changes that affect the entire world she's built up. While I felt like there were rough patches in terms of plot and pacing, I prefer a book that aims high and occasionally stumbles to one that aims for mediocre and succeeds.
I think my biggest problem was lack of information. We don't find out what's really happening with Sieh until pretty much the last page. There were other aspects where it felt like the mystery stretched on too long as well, and it's harder to stay invested when I don't understand what's going on.
That said, I still enjoyed the book. I really like the eventual ending with Sieh, and I love that Jemisin allowed her world and her characters to change so much. I like Sieh's character, his so-human mischievous side as well as the divine side that's both curse and blessing. I very much appreciate Jemisin's matter-of-fact approach to Sieh's sexuality as well, and the relationship he develops throughout the book. And I like that she doesn't shy away from the darker side of war and politics, both on a global scale and a personal one.
Finally, the glossary in the back is AWESOME!!!, thanks to some creative annotations by Sieh.
I recommend everyone should at least read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first book in the trilogy. If you enjoyed that, you should definitely read the rest. Even if the final book isn't perfect (and what book is?), it's an impressive work of writing, and an ambitious end to an ambitious trilogy.(less)
Lord mentions that chapters two through four are loosely based on a Senegalese folk tale, and the entire book has that same feel. From the very first...moreLord mentions that chapters two through four are loosely based on a Senegalese folk tale, and the entire book has that same feel. From the very first page, Lord creates the illusion not of turning the pages, but of sitting back and listening to a master storyteller, one who has no compunctions about addressing the audience directly. It’s a voice that works perfectly for Paama’s story.
I loved this book, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time figuring out what to say about it, beyond the fact that Lord consistently made choices in her storytelling that I didn’t expect, but that felt right when I read them. None moreso than the way she ended things, which I can’t talk about without spoiling the whole darn book. Sigh.
I will say that if you’re looking for a traditional Western/American fantasy about an orphaned farmboy who vanquishes the evil overlord with a magic doohickamabob, this isn’t the book for you. Lord’s story challenges such tropes from page one, questioning everything from the nature of evil to the assumption that the only heroic choice is to fight and defeat your presumed foes.
One of my favorite moments in the book is when the djombi threatens to harm Paama’s family unless she returns the Chaos Stick … so she immediately hands it over. It’s instinctive. She doesn’t crave power, and she refuses to risk her loved ones over some ridiculous need to maintain face or appear defiant.
And of course, topping everything off, there’s a trickster spider character. How can I not love the trickster spider?
Let me put it this way. I read most of this one in the airport on the way to Kentucky, and I was happy my flight was delayed, because it meant I had more time to read.(less)
**spoiler alert** This is one of those really annoying books that made me go, “Dang it, why didn’t I think of that??!!” I started my career writing fa...more**spoiler alert** This is one of those really annoying books that made me go, “Dang it, why didn’t I think of that??!!” I started my career writing fantasy from the point of view of the underdog monsters. Scalzi has done something similar, writing science fiction from the perspective of the expendable crew members who die in various horrible but dramatically appropriate ways every week.
That created a problem for me as a reader, because I started thinking about how I would have written the story. By the time I actually started reading, the story in my head crashed pretty hard into the story Scalzi had written.
Like everything I’ve read from John Scalzi, this is a quick-paced book with plenty of action. smart-ass dialogue, and humor. Ensign Andrew Dahl is the newest crewmember on the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union. The rest of the crew, familiar with the redshirt phenomenon, have learned to avoid away missions at all costs. As Dahl realizes what’s happening - and his likely fate - he has to figure out why it’s happening (with the help of a mysterious yeti-haired recluse named Jenkins) and come up with a way to stop it.
Scalzi’s approach doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as it creates a neutrino tunnel through the fourth wall and reverses the polarity to blow it all to hell. Then at the end, he kicks a hole in the fifth wall for good measure. What Dahl discovers is that he and his fellow crewmembers are literally characters in a TV show. They even pull up old episodes of Star Trek for comparison, which gets rather meta, as some of the away missions seem rather similar to various bits from Star Trek.
Even worse, as Jenkins points out, it’s not just that they’re on a TV show; they’re on a badly written TV show. Having figured this out, their only hope is to go back in time and convince the writers to stop killing everyone.
As I read, I found myself thinking about “Visit to a Weird Planet,” a story by Jean Lorrah and Willard F. Hunt that has Kirk, Spock, and Bones transported back to Earth to meet the cast/producers of Star Trek. There were several follow-up tales by various authors.
As a matter of personal taste, this wasn’t the direction I wanted the book to go. I wanted an in-universe approach and explanation to the redshirt phenomenon. But that’s not a flaw of this book, and I can’t blame the author for not writing the story I wanted.
Once I get past that and accept that Scalzi was writing the story he wanted to tell, I think it works fairly well. You can tell he was having a lot of fun. I was particularly amused by the line “Jer is a dick,” a playful reference to a fairly well-known person in Michigan fandom. (I have no doubt that Jer laughed his ass off when he learned about this.) I saw the ending coming the moment we were told the producer’s son had been in an accident, though.
I think the best part of the book is what comes after the ending. There are three short, connected codas at the end, and while they’re good stories in and of themselves, I like that they address questions that could have so easily been left alone. The main story was fun, but the follow-up makes you stop and think about it a little more deeply.
As an author, I also appreciated is how the book addresses writing as a craft: the responsibilities of the writer, the obligation to write thoughtfully and well. The problem isn’t that characters die; it’s that they die for no real reason save the writer’s own laziness. The second coda brings this point home, but it’s there in the rest of the book as well.
I don’t think this is Scalzi’s best book, and I didn’t find it as laugh-out-loud funny as some reviewers, but it was an entertaining look at some of our favorite SF shows.(less)
The book is set in Atlanta in 2018, and worldwide Hell has begun to break loose. There’s a pre-postapocalyptic feel to the story … we’re not fully pos...moreThe book is set in Atlanta in 2018, and worldwide Hell has begun to break loose. There’s a pre-postapocalyptic feel to the story … we’re not fully postapocalyptic yet, but civilization is certainly going downhill. School is taught wherever they can find space, such as the back of an old grocery store. Commerce has moved away from big stores and back toward the street vendor model. And demons lurk in the shadows and the pitted ruins of the streets.
Enter Riley Blackthorne, 17-year-old daughter of Demon Trapper Paul Blackthorne, and well on her way to being a trapper herself. When her father is ambushed and murdered by demons, Riley must figure out how to survive on her own, paying bills and protecting her father’s body from the necromancers, not to mention dealing with her father’s former partner Beck, her abusive new master Harper, and a potential new boyfriend.
In many ways, this is a setup novel, laying the groundwork for the series and the conflicts to come. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger, but an awful lot is left unresolved, and I found myself wishing for a few more answers.
The worldbuilding was fascinating: the economy of the trappers, who sell their demons to middlemen who then transport them to the church for disposal. The high volume of holy water sales, and the way increased demon activity drives up the prices. The slow and uneven technological backslide (we still have working cellphone networks, but we’re using computer disks again). One of my favorite touches was a homeless man who carried around a Grade One demon (small, weak, and at times almost cute) to help him survive.
Riley was a believable 17-year-old. Stubborn, still seeing things a bit too black-or-white sometimes (especially with Beck), but smart, skilled, and determined to succeed … even when that determination crosses the line into foolishness. (At one point, she sets out to trap a Grade Three demon on her own. An understandable choice given her circumstances, but not a wise one.)
Overall, I wanted a little more story and a little less groundwork, but it was a fun read, set in a vividly decaying Atlanta with a flawed but sympathetic heroine.(less)
This is a novella-length work, and shares a world with another novella by Paolo Bacigalupi, a world in which magic is outlawed, as its use leads to th...moreThis is a novella-length work, and shares a world with another novella by Paolo Bacigalupi, a world in which magic is outlawed, as its use leads to the spread of deadly bramble. It’s a great setup, as is the premise of the story: Tana’s home is attacked by a neighboring power. Her husband and her father (an executioner) are killed, and her children taken. So she takes up her father’s axe and hood and sets out to save them, beginning a quest “that will change lives, cities, and even an entire land, forever. A quest that will create the legend of The Executioness.”
There were a few times the story felt a bit rushed, and I could easily see this being a novel-length work. But I liked it a lot (though the cover art, while beautifully done, is a bit eye-rolling with the exposed midriff and leg). I like the way Tana’s legend spreads, the way she uses that and learns to take advantage of the fact that women are so often ignored in these conflicts. And without spoiling things, I felt that the ending worked well.(less)
This is a YA novel which, in some respects, follows a very familiar storyline. Zahrah is different from the other kids. She’s picked on by her peers a...moreThis is a YA novel which, in some respects, follows a very familiar storyline. Zahrah is different from the other kids. She’s picked on by her peers at school. She’s shy, but destined for greatness. She has a popular friend named Dari who encourages her to be more daring and explore with him. When something happens to Dari, this provides Zahrah with the push she needs to overcome her timidness and set out on her own to try to save him…
Sound like something you’ve read before? Now try this.
Zahrah was born dada, with vines growing within her thick locks, vines that twined themselves to her hair while she was still in the womb. She lives on a planet colonized ages ago and developed with biological technology, a world rooted in African culture and folklore. Zahrah grew her own computer from a seed. Shots are given using insects, and the patient is swabbed with sugar water so the insect will bite and inject the medicine. And oh yes — Zahrah can fly.
I loved it. I loved the animals, the talking gorillas and the trickster frog and even the poor, confused war snake. I loved the details, from the mirror-adorned fashion to the glitchy electronic guidebook to the background history of the library to the underlying theme of rebellion against ignorance. I loved Papa Grip and his pink caftans, and the rhythm beetles who were drawn to the music.
There were times during her quest in the forbidden jungle when it felt like Zahrah was a little too lucky (such as her encounter the whip scorpion), when other animals and characters conveniently arrived to help her. I definitely noticed these points, but they didn’t throw me out of the book. It felt right for this kind of story, which blends the flavors of science fiction and folklore and fairy tale and makes it work.
Random side note: the day after I finished this book, I dreamed about flying. (I also dreamed my car fell into a lake, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the book.)
I’d recommend this one to pretty much anyone.(less)
Moon has an autistic son, which clearly informed her writing of this book. The Speed of Dark tells the story of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man living...moreMoon has an autistic son, which clearly informed her writing of this book. The Speed of Dark tells the story of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man living in a near future very similar to our own time. The back of the book blurb focuses on:
"…an experimental “cure” for his condition. Now Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that may change the way he views the world–and the very essence of who he is."
But the book is so much more. This isn’t an action or adventure novel, and the treatments and potential cure for autism is pretty much the only real SF element in the story.
The most powerful thing, to me, is the way Moon brings you into Lou’s perspective:
It is hard to drive safely in the hot afternoon, with the wrong music in my head. Light flashed off windshields, bumpers, trim; there are too many flashing lights. By the time I get home, my head hurts and I’m shaking. I take the pillows off my couch into the bedroom, closing all the shades tightly and then the door. I lie down, piling the pillow on top of me, then turn off the light.
This is something else I never tell Dr. Fornum about. She would make notes in my record about this…
As the father of a boy on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum, I spent a fair amount of time reminding myself that Lou’s experiences aren’t meant to be a universal representation of autism. Lou works with other autistics, doing pattern-analysis for a large corporation, and Moon does a very good job of showing Lou and the other characters as individuals. Autism is a significant part of who they are, but it doesn’t define them.
Moon shows many of the challenges Lou faces, both the internal and the external. A new supervisor wants to eliminate the “special accommodations” Lou and his unit receive at work. A man from Lou’s fencing group blames Lou for his problems, accusing people like him of stealing jobs from “normal” people. (Sound familiar? Much of this book could be set in today’s world.)
And then there’s the potential cure, the chance for Lou to be normal, whatever that means. Moon does a decent job of exploring the moral messiness and complexities of “curing” autism, though I would have liked to see more of this part. Should we cure someone who’s able to function? What about someone we define as low-functioning? How many of the challenges autistic people face are inherent to the condition, and how many of those challenges are externally created?
The Speed of Dark is a book that makes you think. Lou is a wonderful, sympathetic, beautiful protagonist. This isn’t a plot-oriented, action-packed book, but it’s one I definitely recommend reading.(less)
With Fate Conspire s the fourth and final (at least for now) book in Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court series. These are meticulously researched historical f...moreWith Fate Conspire s the fourth and final (at least for now) book in Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court series. These are meticulously researched historical fantasies set in London over various time periods. This one takes place in the late 1800s (the industrial revolution) as the spread of iron rail lines threatens to destroy the hidden Onyx Court of the fairies.
Brennan and I both wrapped up a fantasy series this year, and it’s fascinating to see some of the similar choices we made. Much as I did with Snow Queen, Brennan wrote a darker story, raising the stakes for all involved. We both wrote about a formerly good character twisted to dark purposes. In Brennan’s case, that’s Dead Rick, a wonderful character trapped in a horrible situation, his memories torn from him by– Well, I won’t spoil that bit, but I loved the technique used here.
Brennan and I are working on a discussion about ending our series and the choices we made. More on that later, assuming I get off my ass and finish my part. (This was supposed to be posted already. It was not, on account of the fact that I suck.)
So, back on topic. Oh yes, Dead Rick rocks, and the blending of magic and technology that Brennan began in earlier books has progressed to fascinating ends. I remain in awe of the way Brennan so seamlessly intertwines history and fantasy.
She also does a nice job of portraying a society in decline, a magical kingdom on the verge of disintegration. Lune, Queen of the Onyx Court, has vanished, devoting herself to holding the court together through the sheer strength of her will. I missed her character, and I think that loss is a major contributor to the darker tone of this book. Some fairies are searching for a way to escape, while others seek to find a way to heal the court, and the darker fae work to take advantage of the chaos.
In the human world, a girl named Eliza has devoted herself to finding her lost sweetheart, stolen by the fairies years ago. But it was Dead Rick and the plight of the fairies that really sucked me into the book. Their desperation, the urgency of their quest to save themselves and their home … it’s powerful stuff.
While I think you can read this book on its own, I’d definitely recommend reading them in order. And if you’re a fan of richly detailed and vivid historical settings, full of old-school fairy magic, then I’d definitely recommend reading them, period.(less)
Flesh and Fire is the Nebula-nominated first book in Laura Anne Gilman’s Vineart War Trilogy. Gilman dedicates the book to her agent Jennifer Jackson,...moreFlesh and Fire is the Nebula-nominated first book in Laura Anne Gilman’s Vineart War Trilogy. Gilman dedicates the book to her agent Jennifer Jackson, “whose casual suggestion ‘write me a food- or wine-based fantasy’ … triggered the idea that became these books.”
The idea of wine-based magic is very much the heart of this book, and it’s a nifty idea indeed. Even for someone like me, who doesn’t drink alcohol.
Our protagonist is a boy named Jerzy, a slave to the Vineart Malech, who senses Jerzy’s gifts and pulls him out of the fields to be trained in the ways of magic. Slowly, Jerzy learns the history of magic, the powers inherent in different vines and grapes, and the process for turning those grapes into spellwines. The tale of the apprentice wizard is a familiar one, but the worldbuilding and detail of the Vin Lands brings a freshness to Jerzy’s story.
As Jerzy’s training progresses, we learn about an external threat, a coming danger that threatens Vinearts and perhaps all of the Vin Lands. Jerzy and his master must protect themselves against attacks both human and magical, while trying to seek out the source of this growing danger.
Gilman makes some interesting choices with this book. Slavery is used deliberately, as it is believed to be the only way to bring out a potential Vineart’s talents. Like the grape, the young vineart grows strongest under stress. That aspect of the story and worldbuilding is unpleasant, but I trust Gilman is going somewhere with it in future books.
Jerzy’s life as a slave has definitely impacted him. He was sexually abused in the distant past, and that has left its scars. Once again, I’m not sure where she’s going with that part of his character, but it’s a thread I expect to come back in future books.
I enjoyed watching Gilman explore the rules and limitations of her vine-based magic, the possibilities and the implications.
If I had a complaint, it would be that at times the exploration of the idea seemed to push plot into the background, and I tend to be a plot-oriented reader. This is very much the introductory book of the trilogy. But as I enjoyed the idea and the world, that’s not a major complaint.
The ending also reflects the book’s “Part One” status. It’s not a cliffhanger, per se, but this is definitely just the start of the larger story.(less)