Mirasol used to be a simple beekeeper; then she was unexpectedly chosen to be Chalice, part of the mystical Circle which governs Willowlands. She feelMirasol used to be a simple beekeeper; then she was unexpectedly chosen to be Chalice, part of the mystical Circle which governs Willowlands. She feels very unready for her role, and it's even worse when the new Master arrives, and together they must face a dangerous threat to their land.
As with Dragonhaven, the balance between interiority and action feels off, but not as badly, or maybe it's just that I liked the main character more. I did like how McKinley starts the narrative in medias res, with Mirasol greeting the new Master, and slowly reveals how things have come to be as they are. As always with McKinley, the connection to nature is an excellent feature; I especially liked Mirasol's bees.
On the whole, I wouldn't rank this as high as favorite McKinleys, but it's an improvement on Dragonhaven....more
I read Farthing when it came out and thought it was brilliant. On rereading it, I still think so, and Ha'penny is just as good. Farthing's plot was aI read Farthing when it came out and thought it was brilliant. On rereading it, I still think so, and Ha'penny is just as good. Farthing's plot was a country-house mystery; I would call Ha'penny more of a suspense thriller, and full of suspense it is, right up to the explosive ending.
It follows on quite shortly after Farthing: Inspector Carmichael has just come off the Farthing case and has been assigned to a bombing which killed leading actress Lauria Gilmore. Viola Lark has been chosen to act Hamlet in a gender-switching production of the play, in which Gilmore had also been cast until her untimely death. As Carmichael investigates the bombing and ponders retirement from the police force, Viola is drawn into a plot to kill Hitler at the opening night of the play, along with Prime Minister Mark Normanby, the lead figure in the increasingly fascistic government.
As in Farthing, Walton alternates voices chapter by chapter, between Viola's first person and Carmichael's third, and both are equally absorbing; I especially liked the reflections of Viola's mental state in her role as Hamlet, as she wavers about her involvement in the plot and treads the edge of sanity. As England slides further and further into fascism, Walton's alternate history, always convincing, becomes more and more frightening. I can hardly wait until Half a Crown to see how she resolves it.
(Also, as someone very interested in the Mitford sisters, I really liked Walton's use of them as a basis for Viola and her sisters. They're not exact analogues by any means, but there are clear parallels. Also also, now I really want to see this production of Hamlet.) ...more
I found this a very satisfying conclusion to the Small Change trilogy (earlier books Farthing and Ha'penny), set in an alternate timeline wherein EnglI found this a very satisfying conclusion to the Small Change trilogy (earlier books Farthing and Ha'penny), set in an alternate timeline wherein England made peace with Hitler and slid slowly into fascism itself. Now it's 1960, and former Inspector Carmichael is now the head of the Gestapo-like Watch (after having been blackmailed into compliance), while his ward Elvira Royston prepares to make her debut with the traditional presentation to the Queen.
Some have called the book's ending unduly optimistic, but I thought it worked very well. Yes, it's hopeful, but the hope only comes about after much grief and loss suffered by the characters, so it feels believable and earned. Plus, I really liked the unexpected way Walton chose to carry out the ending. ...more
This is certainly the darkest Pratchett I've read...but also one of the best. It takes place not in Discworld, but in a world not too unlike our own,This is certainly the darkest Pratchett I've read...but also one of the best. It takes place not in Discworld, but in a world not too unlike our own, where England rules over a large Empire, including most of the Great Pelagic Ocean, where Mau lives on a small island with his family and the other people of the Nation. After a catastrophic tidal wave sweeps his village, only Mau is left...until the arrival of Daphne, sole survivor of an English ship and daughter to the heir to the English throne. Together, they must pick up the pieces of Mau's island, learn to reconcile their very different cultures, and figure out what they truly believe in the face of death, disaster, and discovery.
Pratchett goes deep into his characters' hearts to grapple with difficult questions, but he never lets his story get weighed down by them; there are always hope and humor, and also pigs and parrots (lest we forget this is Pratchett). I think that Pratchett's young adult novels have been some of his best work, and Nation is no exception....more
Rilka lives in a small village, where it isn't safe to go out after dark lest the beguilers lure you away, and where odd creatures called chuffies absRilka lives in a small village, where it isn't safe to go out after dark lest the beguilers lure you away, and where odd creatures called chuffies absorb human emotions, ridding the villagers of their negative feelings. Rilka has always been a misfit, and when she decides to try to catch a beguiler, she becomes an outcast. Though she does discover an astonishing truth about her world, her journey is mostly a coming-of-age tale, showing how she grows and changes as she copes with her difficult path.
I figured out the central mystery before Rilka did, but not far enough ahead that I got impatient, fortunately. The pacing is generally good and suspenseful, though I thought Rilka was overly given to long self-analysis in a way that didn't always blend well with the narrative. Also, the ending felt rushed; the implications of what Rilka reveals to the rest of the villagers aren't fully addressed, and given the importance of her discovery, I'd have liked to see that explored more. Still, Rilka is a well-developed, interesting character, and I liked the small-scale (what lies beyond the village?) but convincing worldbuilding. ...more
Scalzi retells the events of The Last Colony from the perspective of Zoe Boutin Perry, who is John and Jane Perry's adopted daughter and near-goddessScalzi retells the events of The Last Colony from the perspective of Zoe Boutin Perry, who is John and Jane Perry's adopted daughter and near-goddess to the alien Obin (who were given consciousness by Zoe's real father). Since much of The Last Colony, especially the ending (which was on the deus ex machina side), depends on Zoe's actions and choices, it seems reasonable to retell from her perspective.
Scalzi does a reasonably good job telling a complementary story without repeating too much, though I think I'm glad I read The Last Colony last year -- otherwise, it might indeed have been too repetitive and predictable. Zoe's voice and her teenage friends are well done, believably precocious, yet adolescently impulsive. I still don't buy the ending, which is just too easy, but I buy it a little more with the extra explanation than I did in The Last Colony. I do wonder if the two books would have been better as one more cohesive one, with alternating POVs from John and Zoe. ...more
In Dick's alternate 1962, Germany and Japan won World War II and have occupied the United States jointly, with the Germans controlling the East CoastIn Dick's alternate 1962, Germany and Japan won World War II and have occupied the United States jointly, with the Germans controlling the East Coast and the Japanese the West. The eponymous "man in the high castle", author Hawthorne Abendsen, has written a seditious book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, describing what would have happened if the Allies had won the war, and Dick brilliantly uses this as well as the I Ching to illuminate and crystallize his characters' thoughts and feelings about their reality. He follows various characters through various conflicts, and though there isn't a lot of action, and nothing is really resolved at the end, that's not the point: it's really about the inner lives of the novel's people, and their individual responses to their world. ...more
I liked this a lot. The plot was less convoluted than usual, which is nice; I thought the setting, a small oceanside town, was nicely done; and I realI liked this a lot. The plot was less convoluted than usual, which is nice; I thought the setting, a small oceanside town, was nicely done; and I really liked the main romance (okay, maybe because it's between two appealingly bookish people). I thought McKillip handled nicely the interweaving of the stories, between present-day Sealey Head and the mysterious world inside Aislinn House. I did think she made the main characters a little passive at the end, just sitting there waiting to find out what would happen in the other world, which dimmed my enjoyment of the ending. But I'll definitely buy it in paperback, which I don't always do with McKillip....more
Nepenthe is an orphan girl who was raised by the librarians of the kingdom of Raine; she lives in the great library below the palace and translates diNepenthe is an orphan girl who was raised by the librarians of the kingdom of Raine; she lives in the great library below the palace and translates difficult texts in unknown languages. When a mage gives her a text written in an alphabet of thorns, a chain of events begins that affects not only Nepenthe, but the entire kingdom.
I always enjoy McKillip's elegant, lyrical writing, but I sometimes find her plots a little difficult to follow. For a change, Alphabet of Thorn boasts a fairly straightforward plot (with bonus library) and the writing is just as beautiful as usual, making this one of my favorite McKillips in a while. ...more
This sat on my to-read shelf for a while, and it shouldn't have, because it's one of the best young adult novels I've read in a while. It's set in ZimThis sat on my to-read shelf for a while, and it shouldn't have, because it's one of the best young adult novels I've read in a while. It's set in Zimbabwe in 2194, where the three children of the powerful General Matsika are forbidden to leave their home for fear of kidnapping. Longing to experience the outside world, the three children figure out how to get out...and disappear. Their parents call in an unusual set of detectives, three people whose unusual physical characteristics have been produced by exposure to nuclear waste. They are the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, and they pursue the children from the crowded marketplace through the toxic waste dump called Dead Man's Vlei to the seemingly safe suburbs and the Mile-High MacIlwaine Hotel.
Farmer mixes African folklore and tradition with a futuristic environment to create something simply fantastic. The children, brought up in restricted safety, learn about the old culture of Zimbabwe and the new culture; I particularly liked how they see the English residents as strange outsiders. The pacing is excellent, as Farmer cuts back and forth between the kids and the detectives, keeping the tension and the interest level high in both threads until they finally meet in the book's climax. And I really loved the characters, who are portrayed both sympathetically and wittily; the bizarrely talented detectives particularly could easily be over the top, but they're just as human as anyone in the book....more
In Katsa's world, a few people have exceptional talents, called Graces. Gracelings are marked by different-colored eyes, and they are set apart from nIn Katsa's world, a few people have exceptional talents, called Graces. Gracelings are marked by different-colored eyes, and they are set apart from normal people, feared and often outcast. Katsa's particular Grace is fighting, which she discovered at an early age when she accidentally killed someone she thought was threatening her. Since then, her uncle, King Randa, has used her as a weapon, until Katsa meets another Graced fighter, Prince Po, and finally rebels against her uncle's rule. With Po, she sets out to solve a mystery and rid the kingdoms of a mysterious enemy with a dangerous Grace of his own.
This is an impressive first novel. There are some weaknesses -- the naming is uninspired (especially of the kingdoms: Wester, Estill, Nander, Sunder, and the Middluns?), the middle of the book is a little slow, and the origins of the villain are insufficiently explained for my tastes. But the worldbuilding and the characterization more than make up for small infelicities. The concept of Graces is intriguing, and I like how Cashore balances their talents by making it hard for them to get along in society. Katsa particularly could easily have been a super-powerful, beautiful-eyed Mary Sue, but instead, she struggles with her gifts, working out significant challenges. I loved Po too, but I was happy that he remained a supporting character, leaving Katsa very much in charge of her own fate and story....more
Princess Xenodice belongs to the royal family of Crete. Her parents are King Minos and Queen Pasiphae, her older sister is Ariadne, and her younger brPrincess Xenodice belongs to the royal family of Crete. Her parents are King Minos and Queen Pasiphae, her older sister is Ariadne, and her younger brother Asterius, half-man and half-bull, lives in the center of the Labyrinth, where Xenodice visits him often. She also loves to visit the inventor Daedalus and his dreamy son Icarus, whom she loves. When the Athenian Theseus arrives as part of that year's tribute, Ariadne falls in love with him, and Xenodice must figure out how to navigate the maze of loyalties and protect her family.
My big cavil is that I found the tone too distant. Since it's in the first person, I wanted gentle Xenodice to show more emotion at times when shattering things are happening to her and her family. Still, Kindl does a lovely job weaving together myth, history, and archaeological discoveries to produce a convincing version of Cretan society. I particularly liked how she believably makes it matriarchal, with Pasiphae the real ruler, and how she turns on its head the usual Theseus as hero vs. the Minotaur as savage beast conception....more
This forms sort of a loose trilogy, apparently, with All the Bells on Earth, which I haven't yet read, and The Last Coin, which I read and enjoyed sevThis forms sort of a loose trilogy, apparently, with All the Bells on Earth, which I haven't yet read, and The Last Coin, which I read and enjoyed several months ago. Here, the various characters are on a quest for the Grail, which takes an odd, yet powerful form. I liked the misty north coast California setting, and I always like Blaylock's quirky characters, but I did think the plot took too long to get going....more
Sophie lives in an alternate Scotland around 1935, in a world where Napoleon won at Waterloo, and Scotland and the Scandinavian countries have establiSophie lives in an alternate Scotland around 1935, in a world where Napoleon won at Waterloo, and Scotland and the Scandinavian countries have established a new Hanseatic League to resist being forcibly joined to the rest of Europe. Terrorist bombings are increasing, and the Scottish minister of public safety is calling for war. Spiritualism is very real, and consultations with the dead through mediums are common.
In these turbulent times, Sophie wants nothing more than to go to university and study science after leaving her girls' boarding school. Instead, she fears she'll be forced to join IRYLNS, a governmental agency which trains young women as personal assistants to male government officials, and perhaps does more than simply train them, as Sophie finds out when she visits with her aunt. And when a medium at her aunt's house delivers a frightening prophecy to her and then is murdered, Sophie and her friend Mikael must unpick a tangled web of lies, violence, and political intrigue.
I liked Davidson's taking-off point for her alternate history and the idea of the New Hanseatic League, and I thought she created a believable political world. She's rather too prone to drop famous names into the narrative, arbitrarily changing their professions and lives -- for example, there's a reference to "the theology of Count Tolstoy, the novels of Richard Wagner, the verse of Albert Einstein, or the operas of James Joyce" -- which I found distracting at first and then just annoying. I can see how this might be hard to resist, but I would much rather have read more about how the political history of the world had developed.
I quite liked clever, scientifically-minded Sophie herself, and I liked her complex relationship with her aunt (and how her aunt, who feels that emotion is bad, tries to deal with her love for Sophie) and with her friends at school. The understated romance is handled nicely, and also Sophie's schoolgirl crush on her chemistry teacher, with its attendant awkwardness and misery.
Davidson does a good job in adding detail and complexity to the plot slowly, so that Sophie's race to solve the mysteries becomes more and more tense. I wish I had known in advance that a sequel is in the works, as I found the ending overly abrupt. Still, I'll definitely be reading the sequel....more
Charlotte Miller and her sister Rosie have problems. Their father has just died, leaving their family mill in deep debt. Their long-lost uncle has arrCharlotte Miller and her sister Rosie have problems. Their father has just died, leaving their family mill in deep debt. Their long-lost uncle has arrived and is pushing them to sell. But their small community relies on the mill for its residents' livelihoods, and Charlotte isn't willing to give up her life and her friends' lives so easily. When Jack Spinner shows up and promises a way out, Charlotte makes a bargain with him to save the mill, but she gets far more than she bargained for and must figure out the mysterious connections of the past, between Jack Spinner, her mill, and her family. The book starts out in a solid, historical-feeling kind of way; only slowly does Bunce introduce the fantastic elements and thus the real impetus of the plot. It's a little too slow in the beginning, yet it builds up to real tension by the end.
Charlotte is an intelligent and dedicated heroine, and I appreciated that, but I have to admit that by the end, I was a little impatient with her unwillingness to share her burdens and her increasing knowledge of the situation with anyone. This dimmed the charm of the main romance for me: I couldn't quite believe in how quickly it started and how it could have been maintained in the face of Charlotte's pigheadedness. I rather preferred the secondary romance, a very understated one between Charlotte's sister Rosie and one of the millworkers, and I'd have liked to see more of that.
By now, I'm sure you've figured out which fairy tale this is a retelling of. I love fairy tale retellings and have read a lot of them, and I thought this was a very good one, adding a lot of depth to the tale of "Rumpelstiltskin". I especially liked the setting, which is based on Bunce's research into English and American wool mills in the late 1700s, on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, which provides some conflict in the plot, as Charlotte must face competition from mills with more efficient, automated systems. Bunce creates a tightly knit neighborhood around the mill, showing how one business can nurture an entire community.
Barring the small issues with pacing and characterization I've noted, I really enjoyed A Curse Dark as Gold and will be looking for more from Bunce....more
Jule Devereaux has been trapped for the night inside the WhirlyFunRide in the gigantic Castertown MegaMall, after she quarreled with her aunt and thenJule Devereaux has been trapped for the night inside the WhirlyFunRide in the gigantic Castertown MegaMall, after she quarreled with her aunt and then her aunt disappeared, just as her parents did years ago. As Jule is about to find out, the mall is much more than it seems, and during the night, it is ruled by gangs of children, abandoned children and runaways who live in secret places in the mall. Or perhaps the children don't really rule here: perhaps the true ruler is the sinister billionaire Amos Zozz, who runs Castertown and the mall and has his own secret plans.
The setting is intriguing, and I liked the complex interactions of the different groups within the mall: the children's gangs, Jule the newbie, Zozz the great and powerful and his daughter Isabella, the corporate Zozzco employees, and the mysterious outsider Lance. The social commentary, about the dangers of capitalism and the ethical treatment of people, is a little unsubtle, and Zozz himself was so over the edge that I found him unbelievable. Yet the plot is sufficiently tense and fast-paced that I was absorbed to the end. I'd be interested to know if there's to be a sequel, since some plot threads are left hanging....more