One of the previous reviewers described this as 'what Ann McCaffrey's Pern books want to be when they grow up'. I have to say that I agree. ACtW has...moreOne of the previous reviewers described this as 'what Ann McCaffrey's Pern books want to be when they grow up'. I have to say that I agree. ACtW has some of the same premise as Pern -- a half-secluded group of warriors that protect the farmers and lords from an implacable enemy thanks to psychic bonds with intelligent animals. Heck, it's pretty easy to compare the plot of ACtW with Dragonflight -- young person is picked up by warriors, bonds to the alpha female, makes a startling discovery, and then ends up saving the day using that discovery.
On the other hand, it actually takes some of the elements of Pern and examines them critically, while telling an entertaining story. Going to emphasize that -- there is some message and theme to this one, but it also helps that there is an interesting story that stands on it's own.
It also does a wonderful job of creating non-humans who don't behave like humans, but still come off as intelligent. The trellwolves in this story act like real wolves, albeit ones with a weird gender ratio (female trellwolves are rare, usually less than one a litter). There are also the trolls themselves, which we get a glimpse of, and the dark elves (svaralfar (sp?)) -- a lot closer to the original myths than D&D's drow.
There are a lack of (human) female characters, but part of that played into the examination of gender and sexuality. What female characters that did show up were interesting people (and I count wolves as people -- the wolves had personality, and were portrayed as something other than generic four-legged shadows of the men). Also having millions of characters with name-changes and many of them having the same name element in their names made it confusing. While I could grasp the main characters to Isolfr's story, a lot of the bit characters blurred together, since it seemed like half of them were Ulf-something.
Elizabeth Bear mentioned that she and Sarah Monette would love to do a sequel on her blog, and I'd love to see it. (less)
So, this book is actually two -- Athyra and Orca, republished as one, as both concern the character Savn, a Teckla boy Vlad runs into in Aythra and...moreSo, this book is actually two -- Athyra and Orca, republished as one, as both concern the character Savn, a Teckla boy Vlad runs into in Aythra and ends up with a debt to that he tries to repay in Orca. On my re-read, I mainly reread Orca.
Steven Brust and Terry Pratchett have one thing in common -- both can tell a good story about something I never thought would be entertaining. Pratchett has The Truth about Ahnk-Morphork's first newspaper starting up, Going Postal about the Ahnk Morpork's post office versus the clacks (a telegraph-like system), and most recently Making Money, about Moist, the lead character from Going Postal, getting to the bottom of the city's bank.
And, well, Brust has Orca. Vlad, Brust's lead character for the series, a (former) assassin on the run from the House of the Jhereg, his homeland's equivalent of the Mafia. However, most of the book is told by Kiera the Thief, a friend of Vlad's, to Cawti, Vlad's estranged wife. Kiera runs into Vlad when he's trying to save the house of a healer in exchange for healing for Savn. The two of them discover that it's not just the matter of her banker trying to make a quick buck by tricking a couple of renters, but the edge effects of a Serious Economic Crisis that the Empire is trying desperately to control.
(Note, given the climate of the country, this is why I decided to re-read Orca.)
As always for this series, Orca has a dose of mystery, a dose of action, and some good dialog. We also get to see Kiera and Vlad team up, which is awesome. Orca is also infamous in the fandom for causing the most spoiler warnings on the mailing list, thanks to two twists (one in the last chapter and one in the epilogue).
Speaking of, maybe I should re-read Making Money after this...(less)
Well, I enjoyed Making Money, but not as much as the first book featuring Moist, Going Postal. Part of it was the villainy -- sadly, Cosmo Lavish was...moreWell, I enjoyed Making Money, but not as much as the first book featuring Moist, Going Postal. Part of it was the villainy -- sadly, Cosmo Lavish was not as captivating an antagonist as Reacher Glint, and even the threat that Moist's background would come out didn't feel credible. On the other hand, I liked seeing the Fool's Guild again, and any book with an Igor gets a hand raised and two thumbs up. (less)
So, I will endeavor to review the final book in a series without spoiling the other three.
Frankly, I'd hold up The Sharing Knife series as how to do a...moreSo, I will endeavor to review the final book in a series without spoiling the other three.
Frankly, I'd hold up The Sharing Knife series as how to do a multi-book romance without plunging into unbelievable melodrama. The 'will they or won't they' is settled in the first book, leaving books 2-4 as a story of a young couple with a 'forbidden' relationship trying to carve a place in the world. Book 4 opens with Dag and Fawn in the south, where the problem of Lakewalkers and farmers is shown in high relief. The south hasn't had a malice attack in living memory, so Lakewalkers are forced to interact somewhat, but even then they don't have a solution that satisfies Dag. Dag is able to find a teacher for what he wants to do, though, and then strikes up north to return to the part of the country he grew up.
I continue to like how things are set up. Fawn continues to be 'the smart one' in the relationship, something that Bujold never says but does a wonderful job of showing. A lot of times in 'normal'/'paranormal' relationship fiction I get the sense that the normal person is just a kind of placeholder, and Fawn is nothing like that.
The book also does a good job of showing Dag-as-mage, in that some of what he does is reinvented because he didn't have access to a teacher, and some of what he does is innovative. I also like the interaction between him and his teacher, Arkady.
The one problem I had with this book is that Bujold introduces a cast of characters for the trip north -- a group of settlers that Dag offers to help guide, another wagon that they help in the mountains, and a Lakewalker patrol led by Dag's niece. A lot happens with those -- one set of siblings are half-Lakewalker and the sister has both a decent amount of groundsense and a bad case of Caught-Between-Two-Worlds, both of which the party addresses. There's also a romance between Dag's niece and his teacher. A lot of these don't get as much time as I'd like, and some of the characters (the male settlers, for instance), blur together. It's possible I'll resolve this on a reread, but it was disenheartening in a series so good about character relationships.
Overall, I do recommend this series as one of my favorite fantasies and romance-oriented fiction. I'd recommend the series to anyone who wants to see 'forbidden romance' done right, without either character abandoning his or her home culture but instead trying to forge a new path. (less)
I picked this up on a whim, knowing that Lilith Saintcrow was one of those authors that could be hit-or-miss about me. Uusually she's in the group of...moreI picked this up on a whim, knowing that Lilith Saintcrow was one of those authors that could be hit-or-miss about me. Uusually she's in the group of fantastic worldbuilding but the characters tend to make me want to slap them sometimes. I also occasionally have problems wiht her romance.
I have a weakness for sword and sorcery that is compounded by my insistence on interesting and varied female characters. (What can I say? For all it's flaws, I cut my teeth on Mercedes Lackey's Vows and Honor duology.) Consequently, I'll be a bit more daring about that than the fifty-million Urban Fantasy books I read.
I did like Kaia as a character. Her world sounded interesting, but I had some problems with immersion -- too many countries too quickly. I like that there actually seemed to be non-Europeans in her world, even discounting the G'mai. I like the fact she was competent, though I wished we could have more development of the other female characters (Kaia's innkeeper friend, for instance, or the G'mai woman that joins them in the second half of the book.)
There are some nitty-gritty things as well. The book also suffers from Fantasy Apostrophe Syndrome, mitigated by the fact that at least the apostrophe is signaled to mean something (the glottal stop). On the other hand, I still have problems pronouncing the names. That and the food and drink appears to be a case of 'call a rabbit a smeerp'. To some extent I can tolerate this, but when I start to remember all of this, it's a problem.
And about halfway through, the book switches from calling the female lead 'Kaia the Iron Flower' to 'Kaia Steelflower'. That and other changes make me wonder if Ms. Saintcrow wrote two novellas and stitched them together for this book. It could be that both are used by different sets of people, but I couldn't tell the difference.
With that, I segue into the plot. I enjoyed the first bits of the book, where Kaia and Redfist were being chased by someone unknown for reasons unknown, and the last bits of the book where the business about the God-Emperor from the back of the book comes in. The middle bits not so much, for something I've heard called 'the banality of pain'. Basically, Kaia believes she was abandoned by her people for being without magic* and not undergoing some kind of spiffy soulbond with a guy who was her True Love. When a G'mai dude shows up and starts following her around and telling her she's got magic, she goes into denial. For half the book.
* Okay, anyone older than 15 and/or who has read fantasy books for over a year knows how this plot will turn out. Me, I was hoping for an inversion...
Now, >TMI< I've suffered from a anxiety disorder &lgt;/TMI<, and have listened to friends who are depressed. Yeah, it does kind of sound like that -- the same thoughts keep circling around in your head over and over, no matter how many times you try to balance them. Fighting your way out of such thoughts are HARD. However, this might be a case of 'the terrible boredom of pain' (gratuitous Ursela LeGuin quote here) -- being psychologically hurt, doesn't make one angsty and deep, just hurting. Hard to portray without making me depressed though.
>spoilers< A nice touch was that Kaia's perception was shown as being flawed, rather than the Evil Relatives thing. But, it did make me question G'mai parenting practices if Kaia's extended family couldn't find a way to bring her out of her depression or even figure out what was wrong with her, even if her magic was hindering communications. At the least, they had ten years to bring in an expert to get through to her. >/spoilers<
So, I'd have to say I recommend this for people who can tolerate a bit of Angst in their books. I'll be looking for the next book in the series, but I'll probably wait until it comes in trade paperback, or pick it up used. (less)
I'd say the best reason to read this is for its characters. The protagonist is Seyonne, a man who was once a magical-warrior prodigy and the shining s...moreI'd say the best reason to read this is for its characters. The protagonist is Seyonne, a man who was once a magical-warrior prodigy and the shining star of his demon-hunting people before they got their butts kicked and he was captured on the battlefield, stripped of his magic, and sold into slavery for sixteen long years. Seyonne thinks that he's pretty much crushed all hope of being anything more than a slave and is just trying to survive as many days as he can, though he has a bare few points of pride left -- which is how he ends up on the auction block at the start of the book.
Aleksander is the prince of the Empire that conquered Seyonne's people, and a mix of the most spoiled palace brat someone could come across and a damned clever, talented and adept person. He's the one who ends up buying Seyonne.
Aleksander and Seyonne's relationship is interesting and complicated as Seyonne's limited senses pick up both that there are demons in the court and that Aleksander has some inner nobility that Seyonne could sense even beneath Zander's casual cruelty. Both of these start to stir Seyonne to bring out things he thought dead and buried, and this begins to influence Aleksander (and, for that matter, so does Seyonne's statement that he's known enough pain in his life that nothing Aleksander can do to him will make him frightened of him.)
The book also has interesting female characters in the Lady Lydia, Aleksander's betrothed, and Caitrin, Seyonne's teacher's granddaughter. (We also see Seyonne's old fiancee, Ysanne, but don't get that much sense of her outside of Seyonne's point of view.) That's always a plus, though Lydia gets more development in the sequel and we also get more of a cast. Sorry, female characters doing interesting things is an important qualification for me. Unfortunately, the two of them and the other women don't get much screentime.
Transforamtion is the start of a trilogy, but also stands alone, which is nice for re-reads. (less)
**spoiler alert** This is one of those books that I probably would have liked better if I hadn't gotten an idea about what I was reading halfway throu...more**spoiler alert** This is one of those books that I probably would have liked better if I hadn't gotten an idea about what I was reading halfway through, and then the narrative changed on me.
So, in the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, divine creatures, kirin, are able to mystically sense the best person for ruler-ship and that person then becomes immortal and Heaven's chosen ruler of the kingdom. If the king is good at his (or her) job, the kingdom prospers. If the king is actually callous and cruel, the kingdom suffers, demons start showing up, and eventually the kirin gets sick and the king loses his or her immortality and dies, as the Mandate of Heaven passes from him/her, and the kirin (or a new one, if the kirin dies) has to choose a new king.
This story follows Rokuta the kirin of En and Shoryu, the king of En. Both lived in Japan for periods of their lives -- Rokuta was abandoned as a child when wars meant that his foster parents couldn't feed him, and Shoryu used to be a warlord's son whose people were slaughtered by a rival. The story stars out with Shoryu attempting to patch up the kingdom after the previous king went crazy and started killing people (and insisting that his underlings impose his draconian polices or he'd kill them). The regent son-of-the-governor of one of the provinces, Atsuyu, is trying to get the king to delegate power to him to fix the levees before the fall floods, but Shoryu is still trying to clear house of all the previous administration's corruption. So Atsuyu kidnaps Rokuta and tries to use him to blackmail Shoryu into giving him power.
Now, here was when I think that this is the possibility of having a protagonist and antagonist who are both right and decent people but stuck on opposite sides and cannot easily reconcile. Sadly, as Rokuta investigates, Atsuyu loses most of his virtuous appeal as a governor, which shows why he didn't attempt to seek out an actual appointed position. Turns out, he just wanted power, while Shoryu wanted a kingdom to make peoples' lives better, so it ended up being a more straightforward story, with a bit of cleverness in Shoryu's use of his limited resources.
One thing I liked was Shoryu mentioning how powerful the idea of a Divinely-Appointed King was -- that the people wanted to believe in that he was a good king because the Owl King left them next to nothing, and that could be used as a weapon as much as his army to keep everyone from gathering their own armies and marching on the capital. On the other hand, as Rokuta is quick to remember, even a good ruler can go bad -- the Owl King was divinely appointed.
Don't get me wrong, it was a good book and I enjoyed it. I just got stuck on an idea of something else, which cast a shadow over the rest of the book.(less)
I will say this -- my favorite aspects of Vows and Honor duology/trilogy/whatever is that the main relationship is between two women and is platonic*....moreI will say this -- my favorite aspects of Vows and Honor duology/trilogy/whatever is that the main relationship is between two women and is platonic*. The Oathbound is about two women, Kethry, who used to be a noble of a poverty-stricken house, but after her brother practically sold her into marriage, she took up the path of the mage, and Tarma, a swordswoman from a Nomadic Horse Clan, who became a servant of her peoples' Goddess in order to get revenge on her clan's murder. The two became partners helping Tarma avenge her clan and kin after that, with Kethry volunteering to help Tarma restore her clan.
Most of the book seems to be reconstructed out of short stories -- some of the short stories were shown in their original form in Oathblood. You can kind of tell in that a lot of Tarma and Kethry's adventures are self-contained but inter-related. I can see why Lackey chose those works to make a book out of. It works very well for the book**.
For me, this book is kind of like my mother's Turkey Soup. There's nothing terribly special or amazing about it, but it's comfort food and has enough meat to be filling. Swords and Sorcery is one of my favorite styles of fantasy***, but I don't know if this is an artifact of the books I choose to read, but it usually seems to be a male/female pair that quickly descends into a romance. (Not that male/female pairs and UST can't be well done -- I am a fan of Lina and Gourry in Hajime Kanzaka's Slayers series and one could even say that Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy from Jim Butcher's Dresden Files are a modern update -- one where the warrior was female and the wizard was male.)
* Okay, a non-platonic lesbian relationship in a book would also be cool.
** Given I once blogged about converting books to anime, it kind of makes me want an anime series about Tarma and Kethry. Because that would be awesome, and unlike some anime I've seen, it would convert well.
*** Need to read some of the original works in the genre. I'll add it to my List. (less)
I'm very fond of fairy-tale-based books, but they have to be more than a straight re-telling. Since, let's face it, I know how the story comes out. Pl...moreI'm very fond of fairy-tale-based books, but they have to be more than a straight re-telling. Since, let's face it, I know how the story comes out. Plus, I like a little subversiveness. The Stepsister Scheme does that, plus goes into what happens after 'they lived happily ever after'. Danielle is essentially a cinderella case -- she lived with her stepmother and stepsisters, with only rats and birds for friends, until she sneaks away to attend a ball, clad in a magical dress that was a gift from her dead mother, then was rescued by the prince she met there. The story picks up well after the honeymoon, when one of her stepsisters tries to kill Danielle and reveals that her prince was kidnapped. Danielle's mother in law offers the services of two of her agents -- who happen to be Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.
The stories have a lot of the pre-Disney echos -- the business about the stepmother telling her daughters to cut off bits of their feet to try to fit the glass slippers, for example -- and some innovations (see: what the seven dwarves really are). Not to mention darker implications -- while the worst thing that happens to Danielle is just having her stepsisters out for blood since Danielle's bird friends blinded their mother, Snow and Talia didn't make it out as well. (Talia especially.) The special abilities of each woman for the action story are also set by the tales -- Dani gets a glass sword as her mother's last gift and has animal friendship to the max, Snow learned mirror-based magic from her mother's books and has an affinity for ice (not to mention snowflake-shaped shurikens), and Talia turned fairy-gifted grace into a deadly fighting style and uses a whip that looks like a spindle when wound up.
The story also has a good action pace, and a lot of female friendship elements. (And the acknowledgment that not everyone is white and straight -- for instance, Talia is noted to be beautiful thanks to fairy magic, but when Danielle blurts out that she doesn't look like Snow, Talia points out that her home kingdom has a slightly different standard for beauty. Would have been nice for the cover artist to note this.) (less)
I was a bit nervous about reading this book, since PTerry (the author) had mentioned starting to be off his game a bit since his diagnosis with Alzhei...moreI was a bit nervous about reading this book, since PTerry (the author) had mentioned starting to be off his game a bit since his diagnosis with Alzheimer's (boo!). On the other hand, I found it refreshing.
It's a bit like [[book: Moving Pictures]] or [[book: Soul Music]] in that a phenomenon is sweeping the city of Ahnk-Morpork, or rather, has been, and both the movers and shakers (the wizards) and the little people (in this case, the various folks that keep the university running) are affected.
But the story isn't just a sports story. We also get more fantasy satire, the commentary about social classes and the fashion industry, and cameos from previous Disc characters -- Brother Oats was mentioned, Lady Margolotta makes an appearance, and we even get Rincewind out of his comfy retirement. (He gets to stay within the city bounds, this time, and in the realm of minor character.)
Plus, as I mentioned, it's nice to see the city from a new POV, that of the new characters. I like Ahnk Morpork, and as much as I like Moist and Co. and the Watch and the Wizards and Vetinari, I like seeing new things as well.
One nitpick is that the US hardcover version seems to confuse football with football -- the game mostly seems to be what America calls soccer, but the copy-writers seem to think of it like football. (Granted, the street version probably could be compared as a combination of a fight and any game whose point is 'get the ball over to one side'.) (less)
**spoiler alert** So, in an effort to branch out, I've been trying to read new authors. Plus, this gives me things to tell my mother when she asks wha...more**spoiler alert** So, in an effort to branch out, I've been trying to read new authors. Plus, this gives me things to tell my mother when she asks what I want for Christmas (sequels!). A couple of weeks ago, I read The Charmed Sphere by Catherine Asaro. I was a bit wary, as I always am with new authors. But it did have pretty, pretty cover art.
So the basic premise is that protagonist Chime was found to be a powerful mage and asked to study at the capital (and hopefully marry the heir to the throne, since it was customary for the consort to be a mage). Of course, there are all kinds of problems -- the original heir is dead, his son is missing, and the cousin who is the current heir is seen as a flake. Plus, the neighboring kingdom -- which has had a sort of uneasy peace with the kingdom -- is up to no good, they might have a mage themselves, and people keep trying to kill Chime and Mueller (the cousin).
Anyway, I had some problems with the magic system while thinking it could have been neat. The magic was based on shapes and colors -- mages had to focus through regular polygons or polyhedra and each kind of spell had colors -- for instance red spells called light and heat, green spells let the user sense emotions, orange and yellow spells soothed physical and emotional pain, and indigo and blue spells healed physical and emotional wounds. You could also reverse the spells to do the opposite -- cause harm and agitation -- but considering most powerful mages were wired into others' emotions, it wasn't a good idea at all. The shape aspect came in because mages need to focus through shapes, and the higher level mages could use different shapes for more power (triangle, square, regular pentagon... up to circle, then regular tetrahedron through sphere).
So, first problem. I somehow suspect the author needs to think a bit more about geometry. So, she specifies that regular/perfect shapes work, and imperfect shapes disrupt concentration (except for Mueller). For polygons, I assume that means regular ones. For polyhedra, I'd assume it meant the five Platonic solids (regular tetrahedron, cub/hexahedron, regular octahedron, regular dodecahedron, regular iscosahedron) , except one mage uses a square pyramid, and another uses a 18-sided shape. So maybe it's just 'shapes made of regular polygons', which seems a bit odd to me, since those don't really approach a sphere as the sides get infinite and are much less regular. (The Platonic and Archemedian solids do, but that limits you to 4, 6, 8, 12, 14, 20, 26, 32, 38, 62 and 92 faces -- I don't think anyone got higher than 20 without going to a sphere.) For that matter, you get 'box', 'cube' and 'hexahedron' all being used in the book, with no real reason as to why the difference in terminology.
So, second problem. The book suffers a bit from Planet of the Hats syndrome. So there's shape magic. It's common in the royal family and shape mages are revered, with them often wearing crystal polyhedra marking their rank and serving as a magic focus -- the more faces and the higher-frequency the color, the more powerful the mage. The royal family decorates with mosaics, which makes sense, since they are mages and the constant use of shapes will mean they always have a focus at hand. The nobility and middle class folks copy this, because royalty are trendsetters. The non-magic folks use shapes as rank like the mages (and boy howdy did I get sick of shape-title in ranks). The army is trained to march in formation so the mages can supplement them -- and here things got a bit silly, since each unit does a separate shape, and it's mentioned that losses causes problems in keeping the formation supported via magic, especially since you can't transfer guys from other units out. Here is where I'd like to see some concession to actual military tactics -- do something like the hoplites or Roman legions where you put all your dudes in lines with shields as a wall (you can get hexagons if you stagger the lines). That way, everyone knows whats what, the army can fill in holes, tactics match the formation, and you can use your archers or cavalry to keep the enemy from trying to get around your army. Jeez, no wonder the kingdom gets nearly taken over,
Third problem has to do with the Planet of the Hats syndrome. I can buy mages shaping things... except later we find out that: -- There are, on average, only a couple green to indigo mages born per generation, plus the Royal Family. And the Royal Family doesn't seem to be spreading the blood around by having younger siblings and marrying them off to nobility. -- No one bothers to train the red to yellow mages, despite the fact they are much more common, and the spells are still useful. Sure, they can't heal, but they can block pain and fear, and still use the army formation as a focus. -- Somehow, having under a dozen mages makes up for the fact the Angry Despotic Kingdom to the north has a competent and larger army, and this kingdom... doesn't. Also Angry Despotic Kingdom doesn't have mages -- the mage they employ turns out to be a refuge from the Protagonist Kingdom.
It feels like the book tries to have its cake and eat it too. Magic is special and elite, but it also influences everything. Generally, that doesn't work.
(It does get pluses for showing that, despite a pretty ordered magic system, all the four mages we meet have unique talents and work in different ways.)
Also, the plot. It avoided a few of the cliches (Oh, look, the heroine meets the prince in disguise while she's upset about being pressured to marry the prince. How long can the author string this out... oh, good, she finds out right away and we don't get stupid melodrama), but it felt like the author was pretty much bouncing from plot point to plot point without giving time for things to develop. I think she could have gotten two books out of this if things were developed better -- the relationship between Mueller and Chime, the location of the missing heir and discovery that he was a bit crazy, and then the war (okay, battle) with Angry Despot Kingdom.
I also liked the protagonist, but the author really needed to lay off the 'she is so pure and good that the antagonist puts conquering the kingdom on the line to get her'. And here I'm going to go into ending spoilers...
Okay, so Angry Despot King and Crazy Mage try to conquer Protagonist Kingdom. They are stopped by Our Heroes, who decide... hey, let's give Angry Despot Kingdom to Mueller and Chime, while the Missing Heir and his wife rule Protagonist Kingdom. Which was like... did Angry Despot King get hit by the Idiot stick and not leave some guys back home? And are they okay with this? And are the people, even if they were taxed horribly, okay with being taken over by the kingdom to the south? And did Angry Despot King's wife and son -- only mentioned under the 'he had a treaty marriage but was so bad that his wife went home' -- okay with this? Not to mention the neighbors, who might be a tad upset by Protagonist Kingdom taking over Angry Despot Kingdom, even if the ADK attacked first.
It was kind of a fairy-tale ending tacked on so that it would be happy, but the author didn't sell it to me.
Yeah, this was an interesting world, and I didn't mind the characters, but the plot was an Idiot Plot. I might read the next one, but it's definitely going on the 'buy used or get as gift' list. And it might improve with practice -- a lot of first-in-series books can be shaky. (less)
This was very enjoyable, though it helped going in knowing that: 1. This is not much like John Scalzi's previous work and 2. This was going to be dark....moreThis was very enjoyable, though it helped going in knowing that: 1. This is not much like John Scalzi's previous work and 2. This was going to be dark.
Still, it was nice to see that an author can have those kind of tone shifts and still be good -- Scalzi goes from comedy (The Android's Dream) to light action/drama (but hopeful) (Old Man's War and sequels), to something that is very dark drama (this) and keeps the quality worldbuilding and characters.
So, the book itself is a novella, so it is short. It takes place in a setting where space travel and the trappings of advanced technology exist, but are done by the power of gods -- either praying to your patron god to perform a miracle for you, or the capture of other gods by your patron god (and then threatening them to do what you want). (Hence the title -- you have starships powered by captive gods.)
The main character, Ean Tephe, is a captain of a warship belonging to the most powerful faction, and is called on for a Secret Mission by the heads of his church. Of course, all isn't as it appears, and his bosses didn't tell him everything. It was a tricky story on several levels -- the politics of the human leaders of Bishop's Call and that of the gods themselves.
I would like to see more in this world (either past or future), though I don't know if I can reread this book -- darker stuff tends to bring me down, as much as the 'oh, neat' factor exists. (less)
One thing West does well is urban settings. I originally twigged to her writing the Chronicles of Elantra series, which is about a police detective* i...moreOne thing West does well is urban settings. I originally twigged to her writing the Chronicles of Elantra series, which is about a police detective* in a fantasy city. I have a taste for urban second-world fantasy, since normally it seems like you need to go to our-world fantasy to get cities. Anyway, this is another 'book in a series'. The first book introduces us to Rath, a self-exiled minor noble who makes his living exploring the 'Undercity', buried ruins below the city of Averalaan, and Jewel (or Jay), an orphan with the gift of prophecy and the desire to recuse other kids like her.
City of Night picks up with the Undercity becoming more and more dangerous. Rath is both trying to investigate things for the city's mages, and trying to keep Jewel safe. Jewel and her Den (the orphans she has taken in), on the other hand, are interested in having enough to eat and to pay their rent, and the Undercity holds plenty of ancient crap they can sell (rather than have to resort to thievery, thuggery or prostitution), despite the danger. Jewel also is having visions of Horrible and Epic Things Happening.
I found this to be a very tense, gripping novel as Rath both tries to shelter Jewel while realizing that she won't let herself be sheltered, and the danger of the undercity (which would seriously make a good movie/TV show). It seems a reasonable reaction, considering the events of the climax of the previous book. The backcover copy did spoil a bit for me, since it mentions something that happens in the last third of the book**).
* Or roughly. The Officers of the Law are divided into three groups -- the Swords, who keep order; the Hawks, who investigate crimes; and the Wolves, who track down those the Empire declares guilty. The main character is a Hawk.
** Though this is a prequel novel arc, so I'm not sure I have grounds to complain. (less)
This is book five in Stross's Merchant Princes series, which features tech reporter Miriam Beckstein, who discovered she's actually a noble member of...moreThis is book five in Stross's Merchant Princes series, which features tech reporter Miriam Beckstein, who discovered she's actually a noble member of a family with the ability to cross between parallel Earths and who subsidize their extravagant lifestyle (and bring high tech toys, guns and medicine to their native world for themselves and to bribe the other nobles) by running contraband on our Earth.
It's hard to write a review about book five in a series, especially since I get the impression that the Merchant Princes series isn't terribly stand-alone right now. For example, I'm not sure whether this book actually has a stand-alone plot, besides advancing the arc from book 4. I enjoyed it, but I couldn't tell you want the actual book-specific conflict was. Sure, Miriam and the progressive faction of her family was stuck between the conservative faction of the family and the US government (who had twigged to world-walking druglords and was not happy). But little is resolved, and the book is left at a cliffhanger, just like the last one was. I suppose the closest thing to a real conflict is Miriam's decision about whether to stay in the Clan and keep at the reform movement, or say 'fuck all of this, I'm going back to Boston'.
As the US government got involved in the last book, you also get more political commentary. It's post 9/11 and the president and VP aren't named except by codenames, but there's anvil-sized hints dropped about who they are. (Seriously, the president 'BOYWONDER' is the son of the president-before-last, and considered a dim bulb, and the VP 'WARBUCKS' is a former oilman who wasn't expected to re-enter politics... and creepy, even offscreen, and quite willing to use this for his advantage.) Considering the secret government black ops, this isn't terribly flattering for Bush 'n Cheney. OTOH, I think Stross makes it clear that even 'our' Earth is an alternate Earth (well, besides that our government didn't discover world-walking in the mid Naughties... or did they?). At one point, he mentions Joe Lieberman as the head of the minority caucus of the Senate, and says that Saddam Hussein was deposed by his cousin prior to the US invading Iraq.
Given how this book ends, it is decidedly not our Earth. That's all I'm saying about that. (less)
The other project Hiromu Arakawa has going. A Chinese-based fantasy about a brother-sister pair that learns that the brother, Taitou, holds the power...moreThe other project Hiromu Arakawa has going. A Chinese-based fantasy about a brother-sister pair that learns that the brother, Taitou, holds the power of one of the Big Dipper's stars. When someone steals the sword that only Taitou can draw, he goes to get it back.
I probably wouldn't have picked this up if it wasn't for the fact I read Fullmetal Alchemist, and despite my love for Asian-themed fantasy, I probably won't stick with it. Nothing against the story, just nothing pinged me hard enough to keep reading. I might watch the anime once it comes out in the states, since good fight scenes can and will charm me. (less)
Here's something interesting for me. Michelle Sagara-West has three series set in the same world -- the Hunter duology, the Sun Sword series, and the...moreHere's something interesting for me. Michelle Sagara-West has three series set in the same world -- the Hunter duology, the Sun Sword series, and the House War series, which is ongoing. I just finished the third (and newest) book in the House War series, House Name.
So, some background. The overall world is centered on the city of Averalaan, though House War is the only series that focuses on it alone*. The gods existed in the world, but most removed themselves -- with the most notable exceptions being the Lord of the Hells, who refused, and got sealed into Hell to keep him from causing trouble. Of course, then he and his followers are trying to break out -- he gets a piece of his power out in the Hunter duology, and the Sun Sword series chronicles his attempts to gain more power.
Anyway, in the Hunter duology, a seer character is introduced -- Jewel -- who sought refuge from demons within Terafin, one of Averallan's noble houses, thanks to the rare talent of precognition and an old friendship with the Terafin (the current head of the house's) brother**. In the Sun Sword series, she plays a role, riding with the armies heading south to deal with a mix of political unrest and demonic scheming. However, one of the subplots in that series is scheming against the Terafin, with Jewel and her own people involved because Jewel is considered a favorite to become the next Terafin. As a result, at some point, Jewel was called away from the plot of the Sun Sword books to attend to manners in House Terafin. Lest the plot of the book get even more tangled, Sagara-West decides to leave Jewel's story to continue the Sun Sword series and pick up Jewel in her own series.
... which ends up getting three prequels. Of which, book 2's climax is the same as the opening of the second Hunter book, Hunter's Death, and House Name and Hunter's Death are set concurrently and feature the same plot (the business with the Lord of the Hells trying to break into the world). Insert joke here about epic fantasy authors writing the same novel ten times to get ten novels.
But what worked for me was that Sagara-West realized 'shit, the backstory I need to tell for Jewel's present requires not only 'how Jewel met her people' but retelling a novel that exists with her POV, when she wasn't even at the climactic final battle, because she's a seer with some street fighting skills and would die against demons (and I wrote that she stayed home before)'. And then figured out a way to deal with the plot that made it work when we-the-readers might know what was going on from her previous work, or not (since the Hunter duology is old and hard to find).
What worked for me as a reader who had read the Hunter duology was the emotional plot going on during the struggle. Jewel was very much not the major character there, even as a POV character. The emotional plot was focused on the characters coming in from the first book in the duology, while Jewel and her den existed mostly as a source of information to show what was going on. Here, the plot is not just on 'shit, demons under the city', but that Jewel had lead her den to relative safety in Averalaan's upper crust, and even has a job that might win her the House Name of Terafin, guaranteeing her safety and that of her people. For someone who pretty much lived either as 'poor unskilled laborers'/'grave robbers'/'sometimes pickpockets', that's a Big Deal.
But it would mean swearing herself to loyalty other than 'my people'. Which is the emotional conflict for most of Jewel's den here -- Jewel both wants the House Name to protect her den and worries about the change in her status. This also seems to be a theme for Arann, Finch, Teller and Angel, who also get screentime -- 'who are we loyal to, and can we sustain our identity as Jewel's Den when starting to be other things as well'.
One downside is that Jester and, to an extent, Carver both get short shrift in the book. Hell, the Terafin even calls out that Jester hasn't done much in the book when granting House Names to Jewel's people. A bit annoying, since I feel like I have a better sense of who the others are than Jester.
Both the emotional themes and the idea that there are many stories surrounding the events of (fake) history and you either have plot kudzu where no one can tell whether the subplots are advancing under the sheer number of them, or you take Sagara-West's tactic and just end up saying 'look for what happens next to Jewel in a later series'. Given that Sagara-West already noted that the final book of the Sun Sword series had to be split in two because it was running long***, including Jewel's plot -- especially trying to have it keep pace with the Dominion plot -- might have been a nightmare.
And, actually, this works for me. Because real history is messy. I mean, if this was real events chronicling how Valedan took the throne of the Dominion after his father and half-brother were killed, you'd have to include 'the seer Jewel ATerafin, who rode with the Voyani for a period', and maybe tell how she came to do so, but when she went home to deal with House Terafin's succession, trying to tell that story in a history wouldn't work. So you just note that she left, and go on.
This whole thing makes me wonder how, now that we're out of prequel territory for the House War series, how Sagara-West will handle the Sun Sword information giving the background of 'how House Terafin, years after Jewel ATerafin joined, started a war over its succession'. The Sun Sword series gave more emotional space to Jewel on her journey, so it might be difficult to work blind. It might end up that the next book picks up where Jewel left the screen in the Sun Sword series and just runs in parallel that way.
* The Hunter duology spends most of the fist book in the kingdoms to the west, and the Sun Sword has a lot of the actions in the Dominion to the south. ** The ten noble houses in Averalaan aren't hereditary though being born upper-class makes it far more likely you'll win admission to a house and/or hold a position more advanced than 'cleaned the toilets for five years, so can use the house name, but is still a servant'. *** Seems to be a common thread for epic fantasy authors. (less)
Mistborn is definitely in the 'find the sequel' category, in addition to the 'keep it'. So, there you go.
So, the basic premise is that we have a desp...moreMistborn is definitely in the 'find the sequel' category, in addition to the 'keep it'. So, there you go.
So, the basic premise is that we have a despot immortal mage-king who has been ruling the known world for a millennium. Rebellions have formed in the past, but even most rebels seem to assume Failure Is the Only Option, and the scheming nobles generally assume even they can't take out the Lord Ruler.
So, instead of armies marching to battle the Lord Ruler's forces, let's have a caper book. Kelsier, a thief and bastard son of a noble, with the reputation of breaking out of the Lord Ruler's unbreakable Mine o' Doom, and a Mistborn (mage) whose abilities awoke there, decides that he's going to take a job to take over the capital city. In addition to his trained Mistings (single-'element' mages) and various friends in the city's underworld, he discovers Vin, a young girl with the same Mistborn gift, but untrained. So, while Kelsier is trying to juggle all the pieces of his plan, Vin is both in training as a Mistborn and set to infiltrate the nobility as a young country noble presumably sent to the city to meet a nice boy and get hitched. And, of course, she has trouble reconciling her image of the nobility as distant people who can and will beat and kill any peasant they want, with the young nobles who run the gamut between bastards and decent people. It doesn't hurt that she meets Elend, the heir to a Great House who is troubled by the status quo, but knows shit-all about how anything operates outside of the nobility.
Anyway, now that the plot is done, let's talk what I liked and disliked. The book was recced to me as having an interesting magic system. The major one of the Final Empire is that of Allomancy, where mages (Mistings or Mistborn) can 'burn' metals in their stomachs to create specified effects. For example, iron lets you sense metal and push it away from you, while allomantic steel (a specific iron alloy) lets you sense metal and pull it towards you. I agree this is moderately interesting, though of course, my science mind wanted to know why Vin in the beginning could use metal ions in the drinking water, but most Allomancers used metallic sources rather than salts. (I guess easier to mix the alloys, but if you had all eight metals in your stomach, would the acid in your stomach break down the alloys? Yeah, yeah, I know... magic.)
But, I liked the element of the caper, and some thought was brought into formatting the revolution rather than 'the peasants will just rise up without thought to their lives and families'. Apparently recruiting is hard when as long as anyone can remember, the same guy has been on the throne, the priests all say that he's an aspect of God, and your ancestors have been doing the same back-breaking scutwork. Not impossible -- it's implied that there's always some runaways and rebels and occasionally armies are sent out to knock down their numbers, just like the Lord Ruler encourages the nobles to occasionally fight amongst themselves to knock out the ambitious ones and decrease their influence.
I also liked that there's plenty of hints about how the Lord Ruler came to power, the reason why everything is a volcanic hellhole with ash raining out of the sky and mists that come out at night, and exactly what the Lord Ruler uses the mystical metal atium for, besides that it gives Mistborn badass abilities. Nice setup for sequels.
Vin is also an interesting protagonist to me. I was less enamored of Kelsier, mostly because he kept secrets in the narration. But it brings up two points:
There are maybe four female characters of import in the book. One is Vin. The second is Mare, Kelsier's wife and former partner in crime who is essentially a Woman in the Refrigerator to give Kelsier motivation to do something other than be the Greatest Thief Ever. The third is Shan, a noblewoman who seems to hate Vin mostly because Shan used to be engaged to Elend, and now Elend is favoring Vin, and is neck deep in politics herself. Finally, Lady Kliss, a young noblewoman with the reputation of being the court gossip. None of these characters have any kind of relationship, other than Shan and Vin's mutual dislike. It's a bit of what I'm calling the Princess Leia problem... in Star Wars, you have Leia, who is a badass, and that's it for major female characters. In contrast to the number of male heroes and villains that show up. Heck, you see it in the Prequel trilogy as well, where Padmé is the only notable female presence. It's like the author has the 'add a woman' to the cast, checks it off, and then never thinks that maybe a lot of the characters could be either male or female, so why not make some female? It's not enough to turn me off Mistborn, but it's annoying, since even ignoring the Vin-Elend-Shan angle, one could easily have had one of Kelsier's crew be a woman.
The second is a bit of POV creep. In the first half of the book, we get Vin and Kelsier's POVs. Later, we add Elend's, which is fine -- he's shaping up to be an interesting character, though I might have liked seeing him before. Near the end, however, we get two scenes where the POV character is new, and then never gets the POV spotlight again. One is Kel's friend, Dockson -- which makes sense, I guess, if you need a rebel POV when you can't use Kel. The other is an Inquisitor, and most of what we get is Evil Villain Glee and the presence of a scene that we were told would happen previously. Then Vin comes in, and we jump to her POV, making it just seem like Sanderson was all 'oops, got to drop some information here', so quickly hands it off. It's a bit of a pet peeve with me, since I'm Miss Organized.
But, overall, it's not a bad book. The plot and characters kept me interested, despite the flaws. I'd just like to see more female characters, since the ones that are there are interesting. (less)
So, this is a Firefly/Serenity comic. About Book. That answers all the mysteries of his backstory. And... well, that's it. Seriously, it's like Joss W...moreSo, this is a Firefly/Serenity comic. About Book. That answers all the mysteries of his backstory. And... well, that's it. Seriously, it's like Joss Whedon, reflecting that he'll never get to give us all the details about Book's Mysterious Past, decided to just write them down in one book.
The basic structure of the book is we see Book on Haven, the planet he ends up on on the movie (and, god help me, I'm trying not to spoil that for all of you who aren't Firefly fans, even if it feels like Everyone Knows all the spoilers), and reflecting on his life. We get successive flashes backward -- the first one showing him on Serenity, then him leaving the abbey right before the first episode, then we start going into the details we don't know.
It's an interesting structure, since the overall story is 'how did Book get the way he is today?', so it's almost like it traces the stream of 'and where did that come from?' until Book's childhood. And I do think it worked well.
But one of the annoying things I found about this was that it was just too damn short. Because Whedon had to condense all his notes into one story, we pretty much get a collection of scenes, rather than going into depth into any one moment of Book's life. So it comes off as a bit superficial. I'd have rather something that felt more novel (or TV episode) length, rather than what we got.
You can read the above paragraph as 'Bitter Firefly fan is still upset over the cancelation of her show'. Also, I didn't like the artist chosen, but... eh.
But, anyway, it's definitely a comic that really only works if you're invested in Book as a character, which pretty much means 'Firefly fans only'. And maybe I'd wait until they come out with a softcover version. (less)