Darkbeast began as a short story in the anthology Fantastic Companions, edited by Julie Czerneda. Which now has me thinking how cool it would be to tr...moreDarkbeast began as a short story in the anthology Fantastic Companions, edited by Julie Czerneda. Which now has me thinking how cool it would be to try to do the same thing with my own story from that anthology… But that’s completely off topic, sorry. I blame this cold, which has turned my brain into overripe cauliflower today.
In Keyes’ story, the companions in question are darkbeasts, creatures given to each newborn by the gods to take the children’s negative feelings and impulses into themselves. For example, when our protagonist Keara disobeys her mother, she’s sent to her darkbeast Caw, a crow who takes Keara’s disobedience into himself. This arrangement lasts until the child’s 12th birthday, at which time the child is expected to kill his or her darkbeast as part of a religious ceremony marking their transition into adulthood.
But unlike most children, Keara loves her darkbeast. She loves their telepathic bond, the comfort and companionship Caw provides. So when the time comes to kill Caw, she refuses. She flees her village, the only home she’s known, and joins up with the Travelers (actors and storytellers who tour from one town to another.)
Caw tends to steal the spotlight. He’s fun, always demanding snacks and treats, and always accepting Keara and all of her faults. But keeping him alive violates one of the core laws of the priesthood, and if the Inquisitors catch Keara, both she and Caw will suffer.
This is a YA middle grade book, relatively short, quick-paced, and easy to read. But I found myself wishing it was longer, with a bit more exploration and discussion of the world, the gods, the religion, the magic… I wanted to know more about how and why things worked the way they did. The structure of the novel means we discover things along with Keara, and many of the revelations don’t show up until the very end of the book.
The book tends to raise questions obliquely, circling around the true roles of the darkbeasts, the place of the Inquisitors, and more. But those questions, while thematically central, are often a step removed from the plot. Keara makes friends and enemies among the Travelers, learns their ways, shares their urgency to create a new and daring performance. And in the midst of those conflicts and struggles, we see how the darkbeasts fit into the children’s lives, and the cost those children pay when they kill their darkbeasts and become adults.
Maybe it’s a matter of taste, but a part of me wishes the story had addressed some of those questions more directly. But it’s not until the end when we finally rip the curtain aside.Fantastic Companions(less)
The Apocalypse Ocean is the fourth book in Tobias Buckell‘s Xenowealth series.
The story behind this book is almost as interesting as the book itself....moreThe Apocalypse Ocean is the fourth book in Tobias Buckell‘s Xenowealth series.
The story behind this book is almost as interesting as the book itself. Buckell talks here about how he used Kickstarter to successfully reboot this series. I haven’t seen the ebook, but I can tell you the hardcover is gorgeous. More about that later, though…
The Apocalypse Ocean continues Buckell’s tradition of blending larger-than-life characters (Pepper and Nashara are back!) and … well, let’s call them “life-sized” characters for comparison. Tiago is a boy doing his best to survive on Placa del Fuego, an island where acidic, flammable rains are only the least of people’s troubles. Placa del Fuego is a dead zone, where little technology functions, and an alien known as the Doaq roams the streets at night, devouring all who oppose it. Tiago is a clever but low-level pickpocket, and his Fagin is Kay, a woman raised and engineered on a hellish alien world who’s determined to run Placa del Fuego for herself. Unfortunately, their island is about to be caught in the middle of a galactic conflict…
It’s been four and a half years since I read and reviewed Sly Mongoose, the previous book in the series, and I stumbled a few times as a result of my own forgetfulness about what had happened. The new book does stand on its own, but it will mean more if you’re familiar with the first three.
You can tell Buckell knows his world and his characters very well, and has spent a lot of time developing both. From the smallest details of the home Tiago shares to the sweeping history and conflicts of the wormhole network, he’s gone beyond surface flash to consider the implications and possibilities of his worldbuilding. The Doaq uses a horrifying but fascinating version of wormhole technology, for example.
All in all, it’s a strong, engaging adventure, one that leaves me hoping for a fifth book in this universe.
As an author myself, I was fascinated by the way this book came about. Buckell has always been near the forefront of publishing, following and analyzing the trends, and doing a good job of taking advantage of new possibilities. So I wasn’t surprised to see him try Kickstarter, nor was I surprised to see him succeed. Physically speaking, this hardcover is as good or even better quality than a lot of what I’ve seen from professional publishers. I did notice a few typos, but nothing that threw me out of the story. Buckell put a lot of work and care into this book, and it shows.(less)
Death Troopers was presented to me as “Star Wars with zombies.” And now you know everything you need to know to decide whether or not to read this one...moreDeath Troopers was presented to me as “Star Wars with zombies.” And now you know everything you need to know to decide whether or not to read this one.
It’s a fairly standard zombie story. The Imperial prison barge Purge encounters an abandoned Star Destroyer. They investigate, return to the Purge, and then a mysterious illness begins killing both the crew and the inmates. Will our handful of survivors manage to escape the uprising?
There are references to Darth Vader, but the only familiar characters were the “two smugglers” who had been conveniently isolated in solitary confinement, and thus didn’t get infected right away.
There were a few points where I struggled with suspension of disbelief. (Yeah, I know. Star Wars and zombies. But still…) The one that comes to mind was the behavior of the zombie-goop when the doctor (the only female character, I believe) was trying to prevent another character from becoming infected. I got stuck on, “Wait, how exactly is that supposed to work?”
There are moments of genuine horror — the wookiee scene in particular, and Chewbacca’s reaction. For the most part though, I didn’t feel like I was reading anything new. I was left asking myself, “Why was this a story that needed to be told in the Star Wars universe?”
Schreiber has written another zombie Star Wars book, Red Harvest, which introduces a Jedi and a Sith Lord into a zombie story. I suspect that one could do a better job of bringing the Star Wars universe and mythology into things. How does the force affect the walking dead, and vice versa? What’s the impact on the larger political struggles we’re familiar with?
I have absolutely nothing against trying to write something popular, and zombies have been hot for a while now. The fact that Shreiber wrote a second of these books suggests that Death Troopers sold well, and I’m always happy to see a fellow Michigan author succeed.
Personally though, I wanted to see something new, something that managed to feel like both Star Wars and zombies. For me, it accomplished the latter, but failed to do the former.
I mean, if you’re going to do this, you’ve got to include at least one zombie Ewok trudging along, groaning “Nuuuub… nuuuuubbbb.”(less)
I reviewed Myke Cole‘s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point, back in January of 2012. Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier is the sequel, and if you liked t...moreI reviewed Myke Cole‘s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point, back in January of 2012. Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier is the sequel, and if you liked the first book, I suspect you’ll like this one even more.
Book two picks up where the first one left off, but switches to the perspective of Colonel Alan Bookbinder, a military man more comfortable behind a desk than in actual combat. He’s a quiet, nervous, even timid man, but when he comes up latent (displaying magical abilities), all that changes. He’s drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps, and ends up on the FOB Frontier, another world filled with magic and goblins and more.
While “write what you know” is generally a silly rule, Cole shows how it can work, using his own military background to create a solid, believable military fantasy. One of my favorite parts of the book was watching Bookbinder learn to move through his fears and develop his own leadership abilities.
Oscar Britton, the p0rtamancer protagonist from book one, also gets some point of view time in the book. It can be odd switching perspectives after spending so much time with one character, but I think it worked here. It was important to see what he’s been doing since book one, and how those events have changed him.
I enjoyed meeting the naga, learning more about the creatures of the Source, and seeing how other nations are dealing with magic and this fantastic frontier. And I appreciate that Cole went back to address the potentially deadly mess Oscar Britton left behind in book one.
In some respects, this is very much a middle book. (The third book, Breach Zone, comes out in January of 2014.) While relatively self-contained, the larger story arc about how people with magical powers are treated and mistreated, as well as the secrets of the magical frontier — “the Source” — are left unresolved. Indeed, this book ups the stakes in a number of ways. Assuming book three is the last one, I expect quite the crescendo.
You can read an excerpt of the first book at Tor.com (http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/02/sh...). If you like the excerpt, you’ll probably like the first book. If you liked the first book, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the second.(less)
I wrote the introduction to the first Velveteen collection, Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots, so I was very happy to get my hands on book two....moreI wrote the introduction to the first Velveteen collection, Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots, so I was very happy to get my hands on book two. In this book, bunny-eared superheroine Velveteen, with the power to animate toys, continues her battle against the the forces of the Super Patriots, Inc.
I emailed Seanan after I finished reading the collection, telling her she was awesome, and that I was honored to be her friend. She wrote back to say thank you, but that she wasn’t sure what about her silly superhero stories had inspired such a response.
That’s a fair question, and it’s taken me a few days to try to put it into words. Because sure, there’s a fair amount of silliness going on in these stories. There’s a superhero who’s basically a Disney princess come to life. There are Velveteen’s green plastic army men shooting tiny plastic bullets at bad guys. There’s a whole story about getting trapped in a typical horror flick.
But despite the silliness, the characters are always treated with respect. They feel like real people, even when they’re flung into rather odd or absurd situations. Their struggles and their love and their pain are real, and you very quickly start to care about them all. I think that’s one of Seanan’s superpowers.
There’s more going on here, though. These stories, this book, felt … unfiltered in a way most books don’t. It felt like Seanan McGuire had written these stories purely for the fun and joy and love of it. Knowing her as a friend, I could see her shamelessly indulging her love of parallel universes and toys and twisted holidays and fairy tales and horror films and so much more, and it works. This collection is an invitation to join Seanan in celebrating everything she loves.
Now sure, if you don’t like the same things she does, then the stories may not work for you. No book works for everyone, after all. And not everyone has the same tolerance for the fun/silly factor in stories.
But I like it. I like the random-but-carefully-thought-out superpowers combined with the all-too-real corporate overlords of the Super Patriots, Inc. I like that she never forgets that all victories come with a cost. I like that the individual, mostly-standalone stories don’t feel repetitive. I like the character revelations we get in this book.
I liked the first collection, but by the end of this one, I felt like Seanan had accomplished something magical.
The Velveteen stories are also available online if you want to check them out before you buy. The first nine are listed on her website. All of them are tagged on her LiveJournal.
IN A WORLD where children are bound to magical darkbeasts, intelligent companion animals who are supposed to take their children’s sins and faults int...moreIN A WORLD where children are bound to magical darkbeasts, intelligent companion animals who are supposed to take their children’s sins and faults into themselves, Keara has defied tradition by refusing to ritually kill her darkbeast Caw. This makes her an outcast and a target for the Inquisitors.
We pick up where book one left off, with Keara, Goran, and Taggart on the run with their darkbeasts, searching for the darker community — others who have chosen to spare their darkbeasts and live in exile. But what they find is not what Keara had expected. She feels out of place and … empty. Day-to-day life in hiding isn’t what she had imagined it would be.
I like old Taggart’s response to Keara’s complaints about boredom and routine: “Most of life is routine. Routine is what keeps us fed, keeps us safe. Keeps us ready for those few, heart-stopping moments when we must fight for what we believe.” Let’s just say that as I approach my 13th year working for state government to support my family and my writing, that line resonated.
Without spoiling too much, Keara soon finds herself wishing for boredom. We get a story of betrayal and political intrigue and power struggles and relationship drama and more.
It’s a fun and enjoyable read. As with book one, I liked the characters — particularly Caw, with his unapologetic greed for treats and his unwavering parental love for Keara. It was nice to see more of the politics of the world, and the conflict between the Princeps and the Inquisitor Ducis.
I think the title left me expecting more actual rebellion. There’s a lot of interpersonal conflict and growth, and a fair amount of setup for book three, but don’t pick up the book looking for epic battles between darkers and Inquisitors, with armies of ravens and rats and snakes and spiders swarming over enemy soldiers. Which was disappointing, because I kind of wanted to see that. But given where we end things in this book, I imagine the larger scale conflicts are coming soon.
You’ll want to read Darkbeast first, but if you enjoyed that one, you should pick up the sequel and join me in impatiently waiting for Keyes to finish the third book in the trilogy.(less)
I needed something fun and relatively quick to read last week. Fortunately, I had a copy of Paolo Bacigalupi's Zombie Baseball Beatdown that I picked...moreI needed something fun and relatively quick to read last week. Fortunately, I had a copy of Paolo Bacigalupi's Zombie Baseball Beatdown that I picked up at Book Expo of America.
This is a middle grade book about baseball and the U. S. meat industry and racism and bullying and comic books and of course, the zombie apocalypse. It’s the first book I’ve read from Bacigalupi, and it’s rather different from his other work.
The bad news is that while the violence is rather cartoonish, it would still give my son nightmares, so I won’t be reading this one to him. The good news is ZOMBIE COWS!
There’s actually a lot going on in this book. Bacigalupi takes some no-holds-barred shots at the meatpacking industry in particular. The description of the cows crammed into the pens, or the way they’re butchered, is far more disturbing than the zombie scenes. While I’m fairly certain our meat processing corporations haven’t actually unleashed the zombie apocalypse, the rest of the details ring nauseatingly true.
The protagonist, Rabindranath, is great. He’s a math geek, and I loved the way Bacigalupi described things through his eyes, the way he looks at the other players on his baseball team and sees their stats like power meters from a video game, their strengths and weaknesses all laid out for him.
Of the three heroes, Rabi, Joe, and Miguel, only one of the three is white. Without getting too preachy, Bacigalupi examines what it’s like to be a kid in America who doesn’t look “American.” They send Joe out at one point because, being the blond, blue-eyed kid, he has the superpower of being unnoticed and invisible. The fact that Miguel’s family is undocumented also comes up, both the consequences and the pain and fear Miguel carries every day.
In the end though, everything comes back to zombies. Kids with bats and balls chasing zombies, then turning around and running like hell from other zombies. Trying to get help against the zombies, only to run up against police officers who don’t take them seriously and lawyers more concerned with making the problem go away.
I’m curious what a younger reader would think of the story, how much they’d pick up on the commentary vs. how much they’d just get into the zombie-smackdown.
I have an autographed copy of Alethea Kontis‘ book Enchanted. Why? Because I’m just that lucky, that’s why! The problem is that most of my pleasure re...moreI have an autographed copy of Alethea Kontis‘ book Enchanted. Why? Because I’m just that lucky, that’s why! The problem is that most of my pleasure reading has taken a back seat to research and work on the books I need to write, so I haven’t been able to actually read it. And then Alethea posted about the audio book of Enchanted being available, and I snatched it up. The timing was perfect, giving me something to listen to on the way to and from GenCon.
Here’s the official synopsis:
It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.
When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.
The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers?
There’s a lot I liked about this story. Kontis blends elements from many different fairy tales into a new story. You’ve got pieces from Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, The Princess and The Frog, and more. But Enchanted isn’t a fairy tale retelling. It’s its own story, one that could imaginably evolve into those familiar tales over generations.
Sunday Woodcutter and Prince Rumbold are the two main characters, both engaging and sympathetic, but the broader cast of characters was delightful as well. The Woodcutter sisters are great, each one strong and interesting, with her own voice and backstory. Trix, the Woodcutters’ changeling son, was just plain fun. Rumbold’s companions were equally engaging, and part of the book’s fun was simply watching these wonderful characters interact with one another.
The size of the cast meant I had a little trouble trying to keep track of everything on occasion, but it wasn’t a major problem. There were pieces of the story that felt like Kontis was trying a little too hard to make the different stories and backstories fit together. But again, this was just a minor bump, and nothing that threw me out of the story.
One of the best parts of the story is how well Kontis captures the feel of fairy tales, the dangers and the heroics and the characters who are simultaneously larger-than-life and also very human.
I also have to say that Katherine Kellgren did a marvelous job as the reader for the audio book.
Book two of the Woodcutter family’s story, Hero, comes out on October 1, and tells the story of Sunday’s axe-wielding sister Saturday. I’m looking forward to it. And it looks like a third book, Beloved, will be coming out in October of next year.
If you enjoy fairy tale mash-ups with wonderful female characters and action and romance and more, I definitely recommend you check this one out.(less)