The Jaran books don't really fit in any one genre. Technically, you could call them sci-fi: the protagonist of book one, Tess, travels from planet Ear...moreThe Jaran books don't really fit in any one genre. Technically, you could call them sci-fi: the protagonist of book one, Tess, travels from planet Earth to Rhui several centuries in the future. There are spaceships, holograms, advanced healing, and all kinds of incredible (but very believable) gadgets - not to mention aliens in the form of the Chapalli, the race who now rules over humanity (if not benevolently, then somewhat absent-mindedly - they don't seem very interested in humans on the whole). But the majority of the series takes place on Rhui, an interdicted planet with a technology level of Earth's medieval period. In that way, much of the story will be, on the surface at least, pretty comfortable ground for readers of secondary world fantasy, even if there is no magic.
In very, VERY simplified terms, the overall plot of the series is this: Tess, the sister to the only human duke in the Chapalli hierarchy, ends up Rhui and becomes involved in the campaign of one Ilya Bhaktiian to lead the eponymous Jaran (a nomadic, tribal people) to conquer the known lands of Rhui. The series covers this campaign (or campaigns), while also showing the journeys of several characters away from Rhui, including those who leave Rhui and are introduced to the wider universe and modern technology. Tess' brother Charles, the duke, is leading a campaign of his own, one intended to free humanity from the Chapalli yoke, and several characters cross over from Ilya's campaign to Charles', and vice versa.
But that's an incredibly simplified look at these books. I really don't know how to write a review that could possibly encompass how amazing this series really is. The worldbuilding is jaw-dropping - every culture, from Earth's humans to those of each culture encountered on Rhui, is exquisitely detailed, and Elliott uses each one to explore and play with ideas of sexuality, morality and religion, and the roles and differences between genders. The Jaran are the exception on Rhui for being strongly matriarchal, and yet the power held by each gender feels very balanced - unlike in other Rhui cultures, which will be more familiar to the reader as having women playing a far more submissive role. Among the Jaran, men and women each hold power and responsibilities, each have their own roles, but neither is inherently dominated; although at first glance it seems that women control everything, it's gradually revealed that the two genders are very equal. It's one of the most fascinating things about the books, seeing how Elliott takes ideas or tasks we would call feminine or masculine, and flipping them around (because of course, why would another world develop exactly the same way Earth did?) Embroidery is a man's task, for example, while women are the only ones to learn archery; women (officially) have no choice in marriage but may take lovers as they please. The concept of modesty is one that gets explored too; among the Jaran, men are modest, but not meek. And all of this is got across to the reader without info-dumping; gradually, beautifully, naturally.
Then there are the characters. I don't want to go into too much detail so as not to spoil anything, but even the most minor of characters are very fleshed-out and believable; no cardboard-cutouts in sight. No one is flawless; one of the scenes I most appreciated was one in which Tess grew bored, listening to a young woman wax on about her lover. Moments like that make the stories very believable; it's easy to identify with everyone, just because they're all so real. Elliott also gets mega points for including gay, lesbian and bisexual characters, which happens all too rarely in spec-fic; but as with most of the 'issues' that come up across the course of the series, Elliott never makes a big deal of it, including such things naturally in her stories so that it never feels forced, but nonetheless makes the reader think and consider. I particularly liked how the various questions and issues around rape were handled in book 4, and one of the most enjoyable themes was seeing 'modern' philosophy and morality clash with the 'medieval' morals of the various people in Rhui, especially the Jaran - not only through Tess, but when a group of human actors arrives from Earth to perform on Rhui.
It's a series that makes you think, and that anyone with a love or appreciation of good worldbuilding will adore, but it's also an entertaining, addictive read. The omnibus edition is some 2200 pages, and I devoured it in a week: I found it impossible to put down. Contrasted to a book like Mercedes&Mallory's Crown of Vengeance, which also contained a very believable war campaign, Elliott manages to write a very long period of conquest - some 12 years - without ever making it dull. Crown of Vengeance was very realistic but so dry, at times, that it was a struggle to read: the Jaran books fly by, perhaps because the focus is more on the people involved than on describing field manoeuvres. That doesn't mean Elliott never writes battle scenes or that the reality of war is in any way hidden or glorified: it isn't, and Elliott makes it very clear that wars can only ever be morally grey at best. This is beautifully shown in book 2 when the actors, and other modern 'emissaries' come to Rhui to contact Tess and study the Jaran. Although they take care to hide their true origins, still their beliefs and point of view comes into sharp conflict with that of the Jaran. And that's yet another way in which Elliott shines: in thinking through how humanity is likely to have evolved and changed in 200 years. Everything from the technology to humanity's views on homosexuality and violence is just beautifully thought out; I adored getting glimpses of Earth, not just the Earth humans in other settings but Earth's own culture, which differs from our modern one in significant but believable ways.
I could go on for hours, but I should probably wrap it up. Suffice to say, Elliott is a writer on par with Bujold, and I can't wait to go out and grab everything else she's ever written!(less)
There are enough people raving about this book all over the net that I don't think I have to add my two cents: there's absolutely no denying that Red...moreThere are enough people raving about this book all over the net that I don't think I have to add my two cents: there's absolutely no denying that Red Rising is an unbelievably fantastic book, and I make no bones about the fact that I'm already dying for the sequel!
One thing did bother me, though: centuries after 2014, and being gay is still a slur? It was a bit of a jolt, because in every other respect the world-building is unparalleled (I loved the slang!) but that really didn't make sense to me.
I really can't deny RR any stars, though. It was that good.(less)
W-what did I just read? What is this INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL THING?
Full disclosure: I have read Enchanted Ivy, Drink Slay Love, and Vessel before Conju...moreW-what did I just read? What is this INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL THING?
Full disclosure: I have read Enchanted Ivy, Drink Slay Love, and Vessel before Conjured. I was already fully aware that Durst's mind is an amazingly original place; each of her books just DELIGHTS in breaking my expectations and defying the cliches. But while I enjoyed each of the other books tremendously (and I really do mean that - dryads! Were-unicorns! PoCs being possessed by gods!) none of them hit me quite as hard as Conjured.
Which has gone straight to the top of my favorites pile.
If I can be a little bit blunt, Conjured feels as though Durst has finally gotten into her stride. While each of her other books were very good, this one is brilliant. The language, the imagery, the magic, the characters - I could not put it down and resented extremely anyone who tried to interrupt my reading! I was dying to find out why Eve kept losing her memories, and what the secret was behind her magic. Durst kept me glued to the page with her typical layering of stories (nothing is ever as simple as it seems, or as you expect - despite the truly wonderful magic, Durst has a talent for making her stories very real and realistic). It could easily be the first book in a series, if she so desired - but the epilogue wraps the story up beautifully, so that I will be quite content for it to remain stand-alone (and that's another thing: Conjured is a stand-alone! A beautiful stand-alone! A rare and precious jewel when you can't swing a cat these days without hitting two hundred never-ending series'!)
Just - absolutely gorgeous, beautiful, and I can't WAIT to get my hands on Durst's next book!!!(less)
Oh, wow. This is so gorgeous! I don't even know where to start!
Tides manages to be perfectly on the line between dreamy and beautifully realistic. It'...moreOh, wow. This is so gorgeous! I don't even know where to start!
Tides manages to be perfectly on the line between dreamy and beautifully realistic. It's more than the subject matter - the incredible selkies! - it's the way Cornwell uses language; poetic and ever so slightly magical. I would have devoured this book for the writing alone! But there was so much more to keep me occupied.
Like the characters. Oh good lord, the cast! I'm so glad Cornwell switched between the POVs of a good handful of the cast - I can think of a dozen books where the authors don't manage to pull it off, but here it works beautifully. I loved getting a closer look at each of the fabulous characters. Noah, the young man about to go off to college, staying with his grandmother for a summer internship; Lo, his (adopted Chinese) sister, struggling with her body; Mara, the strong, adventurous selkie girl; Ronan, another selkie who is eager to leave the pod to find the rest of his family; and Maebh, the Elder of the selkie pod, in love with Noah and Lo's grandmother.
(Why yes, there IS a positive lesbian relationship in this book! And it's lovely and sweet and REAL, and I heartily approve!)
For such a short book, the characters manage to develop quite a bit. By the end of the story Noah has been reminded of what really matters (not, to be fair, that he was some horrible career-obsessed-to-the-exclusion-of-all-else kind of person to start with), Lo has come into her strength (and a gorgeous strength it is), Mara has what she's always wanted, as does Ronan, and Maebh has put her fears away. I still think it's incredible that Cornwell manages to get as much plot and development into Tides as she does - without anything feeling rushed. It's wonderful!
Especially wonderful are the female characters. I have to say this: there aren't many strong girls in fantasy. (In YA anywhere, perhaps). I don't mean 'strong' in the sense of kicking ass (although Mara is very much able to beat Noah, and anybody else, into the ground if necessary!) but strong as in sure of themselves, and confident, and just - very real. Lo, for example. Lo struggles with bulimia, and her shame over her weight at the start of the book is something that I, and probably many teenagers (and even, sadly, adults) can identify with. But with the help of her family, and friends, and most of all HERSELF, she comes closer and closer to triumphing over her illness, and seems to have done so by the end of the book. Mara, as I already said, is strong in the traditional sense as well as a very feminine one: I loved that she wasn't afraid to dress up and be typically girly, while also being very able to handle physical confrontation and her sister's kidnapper. Gem (Noah and Lo's grandmother) and Maebh, too, are fully developed, with their own story within and before the book (I'd love to see a prequel all about them!)
Cornwell definitely has a gift for creating characters that jump right off the page.
I can't possibly encapsulate everything I loved about this book (BECAUSE I LOVED EVERYTHING!) but one more thing I have to say: I am a huge fan of worldbuilding. Nothing makes me swoon like all the tiny details that tell me an author has really thought about their secondary world, or their magical race, or whatever. YA is particularly bad at worldbuilding, as a genre, and I'm often disappointed. Not so here. Tides at no point overwhelms or infodumps the reader with information about the selkies; instead, here and there, we have a little gem of detail skilfully woven into the narrative, such as the bit about selkie naming traditions, and little snippets of selkie culture. This, more than anything else to me, says that Cornwell is someone to watch - rest assured, I'll be snapping up everything else she chooses to write!
Can't recc this enough. Gone straight to my favourites shelf!(less)