So, this is a pretty standard Nightside book. For those who don't know the series, the Nightside is a hidden city reachable through London, where if SSo, this is a pretty standard Nightside book. For those who don't know the series, the Nightside is a hidden city reachable through London, where if Simon Greene can come up with it, it can and will exist there, probably buying services that would be illegal anywhere else. Greene is very good in somehow combining noir sensibilities, where everything is gray and shady, with a world where everything can be true and things are a bit over the top. Somehow it works.
Anyway, this book was kind of meh for me. It almost was like Greene took two novellas and stuck them together to make a short book. TGtBatU wasn't any shorter than the average novel in the series, but the fact the first chapters had only a tangental relationship to the second half of the book, we got a chapter from another character's POV about how he accidentally freed Queen Mab from Hell years ago, and the narrative payout seems to have been deferred to the next book, it make the book feel shorter.
The first story was Our Hero, John Taylor, taking a job from an elf lord to get him out of the Nightside with a treaty that would end the war between Oberon and Titania's elves and Mab's. Of course the Powers that Be in the Nightside, as represented by Walker, would rather the elves stick to warring among themselves, so we get a good old fashioned 'running the gauntlet' scene. Given I had just finished The Man with the Golden Torc and that I remember at least one or two other scenes in theNightside series where John and a friend with a car have to brave Nightside traffic, I suspect Greene has a real thing for writing these.
There are two things I like here. The first is that Taylor's power -- the ability to find anything and occasionally remove it -- is shown to have a weakness, in that he eventually ends up running on fumes. Since the previous ones had been bought off through the narration, it's a nice reminder while this is an awesome power -- he can find abstract concepts, such as 'what is this thing's weakness', he can remove bullets from guns, fillings from mouths and the specific wavelength of moonlight that causes werewolves to change from the spectrum -- it doesn't make Taylor invincible.
The second might seem like a minor thing to most people. Taylor recruits the help of Ms. Fate, a crime-fighting superheroine who happens to be male in her mundane identity. Greene (or Greene-writing-Taylor) used the correct pronouns for her -- the only times Ms. Fate was referred to by masculine pronouns was when speaking of her mundane identity. While the idea of a man dressing up as a woman to fight crime is something easily mocked, the character got as much respect as any crime-fighter. (In other words, while comic-book tropes, especially female superhero tropes, might be silly, the character is treated as a real person.)
Anyway, part two was another case, interwoven with Taylor's conflict with Walker. Walker is retiring -- in the old-fashioned way, which is 'through a coffin' -- and wants Taylor to take over his job. As much as Taylor considers himself a force for good (mostly) in the Nightside and admits Walker has crazy amounts of power as the guy who turns policy into results, he doesn't particularly want to do what Walker does, which is keep order at any cost. Which was a nice narrative conflict, to go with the footwork as Taylor tracks down a missing friend with the friend's brother, but again, it felt short.
Overall, this is the kind of book you get because you enjoy the series, but it won't make any converts....more
This book hits a few loves with me. First off, the narration structure. The book is based around the legend of Prester John, a medieval European legenThis book hits a few loves with me. First off, the narration structure. The book is based around the legend of Prester John, a medieval European legend of a priest-king who ruled over a land of legend off somewhere in the east. In 1699, a group, lead by a Brother Hiob, sets out to find traces of his kingdom, and come across a hamlet with a strange woman, who tells them that Prester John is gone, and shows them to a tree with books for fruit, and tells the head of the expedition he can pick three. The narrative is interwoven from those three books and Hiob's comments as he fights the decay of the books -- which, being fruit, don't last long once picked -- to record them and send them back to Europe.
The three interwoven narratives are John's own accounts of his travels, a memoir of Hagia, one of the locals who eventually ends up as John's queen, and a book of stories, which do a lot to explain how the country of Pentexore came into being and fill in the history that Hagia knows and John never asks about. It's a really cool device for a story like this, which is based on medieval legends rather than modern fantasy, even if the peoples of Pentexore are just as fantastic as elves and dwarves and vampires and werewolves.
Which is another point in its favor. A friend of mine is a fan of reading ancient Greek and Roman accounts of the wider world (and completely made-up ones, such as Lucian of Samosata's True History) and telling me what happens, and a lot of the legends have similar qualities. It's a welcome change from the current staple of fantasy, and Valente draws some damn good stuff from legends (not just of Prester John, but Thomas the Apostle, Alexander the Great and Herodotus), but gives a modern fantasy author's worldbuilding spin on it.
Valente, in a guest column for John Scalzi's blog, described it as writing a first contact novel, in that John is taken from a world where he fundamentally knows that everyone believes the same basic thing and looks, roughly, like him, and thrown into a place -- alone -- without other humans and without the shared cultural references that everyone takes for granted. Which can be frustrating for the reader, since, from Hagia's point of view, we are already invested in her people and that really makes John seem like kind of an asshole for taking so long to fit this into his worldview. Then again, John is a medieval priest, who doesn't even have the reference a Western reader would have for things like aliens or elves -- in his world, there are men, beasts, angels and demons, and he's not sure what is what or how this fits in with God's plan.
I did really enjoy the book. Valente can turn a phrase like nothing else -- at least, based on reading Palimpsest and parts of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making -- and this is the kind of story that calls for it. Plus, I did really like a lot of the characters, and the old-school legends made the book feel young again. I'd like to see the sequels -- from the bridging story and Hagia's own reflections as she writes, we know Shit Went Down, but there is always a story in telling how. ...more
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 despMistborn 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. ...more
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 theHere'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. ...more
The other project Hiromu Arakawa has going. A Chinese-based fantasy about a brother-sister pair that learns that the brother, Taitou, holds the powerThe 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. ...more
This is book five in Stross's Merchant Princes series, which features tech reporter Miriam Beckstein, who discovered she's actually a noble member ofThis 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. ...more
The second book in McGuire's October Daye series. The main character, Toby Daye, is a changeling PI who also is a knight of the Duke of Shadowed HillsThe second book in McGuire's October Daye series. The main character, Toby Daye, is a changeling PI who also is a knight of the Duke of Shadowed Hills (a fae domain that occupies a good part of the Bay Area) -- incidentally, Toby is kind of famous for being the first changeling granted knighthood, since there's a strong stigma against those with human blood. Anyway, Toby's lord sends her to the nearby County of Tamed Lightning, located in scenic Silicon Valley to check on the Duke's niece, who is also the countess of the area (and head of a company that works on getting computer access to Faerie, among other things). Of course, things are suspicious once Toby gets there, and then she finds out something has been killing the employees, in a way that doesn't seem lethal, but both keeps the night-haunts (Faerie's undertakers, who exchange fae corpses for human-looking facsimiles) away and blocks out Toby's blood magic.
Okay, enough about the plot. It's a murder-mystery with a computerized twist. The mystery element worked for me in that I did figure out a few things faster than Toby did, but that there were enough red herrings and complicating factors that meant I was surprised at the reveal. The characters were interesting -- I especially liked April, who had been a dryad who Countess O'Leary had aided when her tree was chopped down, and who was now living in a virtual tree in a computer.
In a broader aspect, it raised another overarching concept for the series. One of the ideas introduced in Toby's first book is the importance of blood -- not only is fae rulership still heritable, but changelings also get to be the low end of the totem pole for being part-human and mortal. The book continues this theme, but also suggests that changelings tend to be the innovators and the ones who have the increased contact with humanity. It also goes with something I've seen a lot in urban fantasy fae books -- the idea of Faerie in decline, and a rivalry between the fact fae can have changeling children a lot easier than they can have fae children.
So, overall I liked this, and I will probably be keeping to Toby's world...more
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* iOne 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. ...more
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.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.
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. ...more
Okay, I really didn't like this book. I don't know if it was my taste or it was just bad, but I was skimming just to get through the darn thing so I wOkay, I really didn't like this book. I don't know if it was my taste or it was just bad, but I was skimming just to get through the darn thing so I wouldn't have to carry it on the plane with me -- I should have just left it in Florida in hopes my step-mother would enjoy it more, but I figured I could hock it online for something better*.
So, the premise. Simon is a psychometrist who joined the local Paranormal Investigations Division because it beat being a small time con-man. There's Odd Shit happening -- ghosts acting funny, a woman being murdered and showing up without any sort of idea why -- and the local Forces of Darkness are entering the government… legitimately.
Part of my problem is that the book never did explain why the 'cultists' were so bad until they started killing people, and even then, it just made them like the Mob. By which I mean, the Mob does some nasty stuff, but they aren't captial-E Evil. Heck, they even note that while they raise the undead, they make sure to keep them from eating humans unsupervised. By the time we start asserting that they are destroying souls of ghosts -- and there's no metaphysical background work to assert how the forces of Good know this -- I already have lost interest. It's almost like they could have used organized crime here, and I wouldn't have noticed. Like the author wanted a Good versus Evil conflict but didn't do the background work to make it seem realistic in New York City.
To be honest, I liked Jane -- a small-town woman who became a Office Worker for Evil, then switched sides after botching her first field mission -- a lot more than anyone else, and might have enjoyed the series more if she was the protagonist.
Overall, the book just felt shallow. I read a lot of urban fantasy, so maybe I'm burnt out, but it didn't feel like this added anything to the genre, or even 'different enough to entertain'.
* This is the same mentality to lead me to take home the romance novel Mom brought for the beach, and was going to leave in her hotel room… 18 months later, and it's sitting on top of my bookshelf, still waiting for someone to want it. I should just donate it to the library to sell or something. ...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 wha**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. ...more
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 AlzheiI 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'.) ...more
For a book that managed to hit a rough spot with me on the first page, I liked Rosemary and Rue.
The rough spot was in the pronunciation guide. The autFor a book that managed to hit a rough spot with me on the first page, I liked Rosemary and Rue.
The rough spot was in the pronunciation guide. The author (or someone) noted that kitsune* was pronounced kit-soon, when the closer pronunciation would be kee-tsoo-neh -- Japanese transliteration doesn't leave silent letters. For that matter, I wasn't too thrilled with the use of a kitsune character in a book about fairies, because it felt like an afterthought to have a Japanese fox-spirit in a book about mostly British/Irish-patterned fairies, using a lot of the same rules (i.e. no iron, magic dissolved by the dawn, etc.). (For that matter, why are the ancient fairy courts in the San Francisco area like the ones from English/Irish/Scottish legends, rather than using legends that were common in the Bay Area? I mean, some of the pure fairy characters were living there before the Spanish even showed up and named the place after Saint Francis. I could see some of the fae names being ones that are tied to the meaning, not the sound -- so Lily would be Yuri to a Japanese-speaker and Lirio to a Spanish-speaker.)
Ob. Disclaimer: Yes, I want non-European/Abrahamic folktales and mythology used in my fantasy. But when it feels like everything is built in a European (British/Irish) foundation and the rest of the world's beliefs are added in after the fact, it kind of makes me want to see the other way around, outside of East-Asian comics/animation.
Now that I've gotten my rant out of my system, let me just say that I did like the book. I have a weakness for fairies and one for urban fantasy, and the setting was interesting. So, we have an urban fantasy setting -- sandwiched within and in between the mundane world are the fair folk, who have gateways to their own kingdoms and the occasional tryst or marriage with mortals, sometimes leaving a changeling child. Changelings pretty much occupy the lowest rung of fairy society -- add in the fact that as soon as the magical glamours that all changelings are born with fade, they get told to choose whether to be a human or a fairy. The 'human' choice usually ends up with the kidlet dying and the fairy choice usually ends up with them sprinted off to the Summerlands until they can be trusted enough to throw up glamors. It is unsurprising that changelings end up kind of fucked up, and usually end up finding some kind of protector who may or may not be benevolent.
Toby Daye (her mother thought 'October Daye' was a cute name) had been doing pretty well for a changeling. She had a PI job, managed to become a changeling that earned a knighthood in a fairy court, and had a human husband and daughter (who didn't know Toby's ancestry or that some of her cases were for the fairy Duke she owed fealty towards, so life wasn't perfect). Then she gets turned into a koi and lost for fourteen years while trying to chase down the Duke's missing wife and daughter -- not a spoiler, since this happens in Chapter 1. Husband doesn't understand what happened, Toby can't face her old boss/liege-lord and life is hard when the mortal world declared you legally dead. So she's all 'fucking fairies, I'm gonna live a mortal life', which seems to involve finding a low-end job that lets her be nocturnal and not have to deal with the fact she doesn't look quite human unless she throws up a glamor.
The fairy world respects this choice and Toby is left alone to wallow in her own failure...
Of course not, since otherwise there wouldn't be a story. Toby is dragged, kicking and screaming, back into politics when a fairy noble is killed and she gets geased into finding the murderer. The plot is interesting, and Toby is an interesting character, trying to cope with the fact she crawled her way up from the gutter and, when things were finally going right, everything went crashing to pieces. She's a little less cracked by the end of the book -- well, kind of -- but the book leaves a lot of threads dangling for a sequel.
Also, for all my ragging on the book in the opening parts of this review, I like some of the elements -- rose goblins, for example, which are cat-sized creatures made of petals and thorns. I'd rather like hearing more about the non-humanoid branches of fairie -- we get the rose goblins and kelpie mentioned. Also, folks like the Selkie and the Cait Sidhe (humanoid-cat shapeshifter fairies that live half-feral in the streets of San Francisco). (Heck, that makes me kind of want to collect animal-spirit folktales and write something myself, but I digress...)
So, I think this is one for the 'pick up the sequel when it comes out' pile.
-- * Japanese for fox, but when used in English it has the connotations of fox-spirits.
ETA: I am told by a friend that the author uses the correct pronunciation of kitsune when speaking. Said friend suggested that the pronunciation guide was added by the publisher to deal with all the types of fairies. In which case, I apologize to the author, and want to roll my eyes at the publisher. ...more
A Spell for the Revolution is the second book in a series of American-Revolutionary-War historical fantasy. The series premise is that the witch huntsA Spell for the Revolution is the second book in a series of American-Revolutionary-War historical fantasy. The series premise is that the witch hunts of Salem actually did target some people with special abilities, who were forced underground. Nearly a hundred years later, witches still persist in secret. The protagonist, Proctor Brown, is a young man trying to balance his service in the local militia (which is rapidly heading towards armed rebellion against the British troops) and his engagement to a local merchant's daughter (who isn't too thrilled by the thought of armed rebellion). He's also able to see the future, something his mother helps to hide. Anyway, and there will be spoilers for the first book here...
Proctor is finally discovered by the local magic community and the network that helps them find training and safe haven -- like the network that would later help transport escaped slaves northward, it was mostly run by the Religious Society of Friends. Unfortunately, the Covenant, a group of European witches interested in making the revolution fail, notice Proctor and assume the Americans have recruited supernatural talent, so they target the safe haven. Proctor decides that he can't sit by and let people be killed, so he takes action, and discovers this conspiracy of the Covenant, who want to stop the Americans because they want to use the British Empire as a focus to Rule the World. Or something.
... Anyway, the sequel takes place in the fall of 1776, where Proctor and Deborah (the daughter of the safe house owners in the first book) are trying to keep their charges safe. When they find out the Covenant is going after an orphan boy with a talent*, Proctor and Deborah book it to Long Island. They encounter the Continental Army under Washington, and discover that the Covenant cursed them by shackling ghosts to any soldier in the field. Proctor and Deborah have to come up with a way to lift the curse before the weight of the ghosts causes a catastrophic defeat or the Covenant's agents kill them. (And also rescue their original target.)
Now, I was a bit leery of the books series, because well... I'm American. I know that, all other things being equal, I'll take an American side in a conflict -- in other words, it's easy for me to feel sympathy for the patriots in the Revolutionary War and harder for me to root for the British. Having Our Heroes be Patriots and the Bad Guys be Europeans (or a southern Loyalist slave owner in one case**) doesn't pose much moral complexity for me. (For that matter, it seems like most non-fantasy lit about the Revolutionary War that I read as a kid has Patriot protagonists.) Add in that the Bad Guys are Bad Guys -- helping a nation become a superpower so you can use it as a focus for your magic and control non-witches, drawing power off of the unwilling, enslaving spirits of the dead, raising demons. It's not even a case where both sides are equally underhanded. I might even tolerate it more if it was not!America and not!Britain, but painting a historical conflict in terms of Good and Evil bothers me. I'm contrasting something like the Temeraire series***, where nations don't appear to be any more good or evil than others. It could be worse -- it could be a current conflict.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the in the second book. While I realize some historical events and persons are going to show up, this felt a bit silly. So, General Washington was involved, because he's the leader of the army. And Thomas Paine, writer of revolutionary pamphlets, plays a role in the solution to the central conflict. And the Battle of Trenton and other conflicts fought in the NYC/New Jersey area during the summer and fall of 1776, and the fire in New York City. But the point where Proctor and Deborah ran into Nathan Hale on the road in Long Island, figure out he's a spy for the Americans†, and then later see his execution (and the whole 'I regret I have but one life to give for my country') thing, was where my disbelief snapped -- it just came across as the writer trying to make every event that happened in the area something that the protagonists saw. (I mean, I might have even bought it if Hale was only mentioned, or they didn't run into him on the way to the city -- but at that point, it just got a bit silly.)
So, I think both are going to PaperBackSwap and I won't bother reading the next one.
* In the previous book, a Covenant spy kept a slave around and drew off her talent. It was generally figured out that's why they were so powerful -- they were stealing from others.
** One thing with having many of the minor protagonists being Friends or friends of Friends means that you don't have to deal with the moral issue of slavery as much as you might otherwise have to. Or, for that matter, shitty treatment of women.
Temeraire features a British cast in the Napoleonic era where Napoleon is portrayed as an honorable enemy, France becomes more progressive on dragons' rights (copying China), and the British admiralty are willing to purposefully infect the dragons of Europe with a deadly disease if it ends the war. The human protagonist smuggles the cure to France because, to him, unleashing a biological weapon on conscript soldiers and noncombatants is WRONG, then returns to get imprisoned for treason. And then France invades England, and his superior officer/lover yells at him for risking his career when someone would have eventually leaked the cure. For that matter, even the protagonist (who is portrayed as semi-enlightened for his era), shows some racist and sexist attitudes, and it takes him a book and a half to realize that his dragon and best friend is essentially a slave conscript-soldier and the only place where he could live free was halfway around the world from Britain.
† Because he is apparently the worst spy ever. Seriously, they spend five minutes with him and see right through his cover story, without use of magic. How anyone expected him to check out troop movements in occupied territory is beyond me. Granted, historically Hale was caught, but writing his exposure as a spy because he was easy to read bothers me. ...more
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. PlI'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.) ...more
Okay, I was recced this book based on the fact it had a lesbian protagonist. (It was during the mess with Amazon where books with GLBT themes weren'tOkay, I was recced this book based on the fact it had a lesbian protagonist. (It was during the mess with Amazon where books with GLBT themes weren't showing up on searches.) I did read the author's short stories beforehand as a bit of a warning and was ambivalent -- interesting in trying them, but prepared to send it off to PaperbackSwap if I didn't like them.
One of the problems with this book is that I went in thinking it was what I consider an otherwordly fantasy when it was more of a very-stretched alt-history. The reason I say this is because of the religious elements. Hundreds of years before the series began, Italy (still made up of a number of kingdoms, like historical-Italy was), a new religion arose based on the magical ability to call fire and worshiping a pair of gods (the Lord and the Lady, though the Lord isn't mentioned much) and supplanting Christianity (called 'the Old Way' in the book). Unsurprisingly, one still gets the Inquisition, de facto rule of the Church, and punishment of heretics, regardless of whose name the religion is ruled by.
While I don't mind Christianity in alt-history/historical-fantasy (because... well, it existed), I tend to worry that any use of it (or other real-world religions -- anytime you mention a goddess with multiple elements to her, I get the same feeling) in fantasy taking place outside of our world is going to lead to at best a lack of creativity, and at worse proselytizing, which leads to me throwing the book against the wall. Especially when they are the minority and oppressed religion. (Let's face it -- fantasy fen root for the oppressed.)
On the other hand, Kritzer did a good job of both keeping the heroine questioning which is right, and in not portraying one religion as the Good one or the Right one. Plus, as an alt-history nerd, I liked the fact that the resurgence of Old Way was apparently modified by the new religion. For one, the magefire promoted by the in-power religion acts to reduce fertility, which changed the status of women in the society. The Old Way version of the New Testament gives Gesu only two major disciples, Tomas and Mara (plus Guidas/Judas), and states that God is aspected as 'the Mother, Her Son, and the Holy Light'. The priestess character hints that the 'Old Way' is a reconstruction of the actual Old way and that even she, a scholar, has no clue what it was really like.
The plot also handled the main character's change from music student to revolutionary quite well, including explaining why and how she got a leadership position, something that doesn't always work well in fantasy. It also had a bit of an environmental message -- the plot switches from the protagonist's mysterious new roommate, to her discovery that magefire is what caused the dead regions on the border with another country, to her becoming involved in both the Old Way and the reform movement.
(Also kudos on handling the 'magic messes up the environment' and 'one religion likes magic, one doesn't' angles. I'm always a bit leery of environmental fiction as well, but it can be done well -- see half of all Miyazaki movies, notably Princess Mononoke.)
Overall, I thought the book handled a number of cliche themes in a sensitive and thoughtful way. Which makes me happy. Plus, it had a good plot and a main character I liked. So I'll probably buy the sequel new. ...more