I really love Elizabeth McCoy's work. I've been following and recommending her for a couple years, and Crucible is the strongest of her books since HeI really love Elizabeth McCoy's work. I've been following and recommending her for a couple years, and Crucible is the strongest of her books since Herb-Witch.
So there's a romance trope where either the heroine is captured by pirates and falls in love with the pirate captain, or is rescued with her virtue intact by a dashing and noble man. This is not that trope. For one thing, the princess is male. For another, he is more-or-less self-rescuing, but does end up in the company of some pretty awesome people and they have adventures. His virtue is sadly not intact, and that bothers him and affects him for the rest of the book. That seemed not-implausible to me.
His....traveling party, I guess, is composed of a girl he rescues, and a priest who rescues them both. Both the priest and the girl have some elements of his language, but neither is fluent, and it is frustrating for everyone (including this reader) that they are stuck at a pidgin level of communication that improves only slowly as they are together. In fact, this is one of the romance impediments. Instead of a "misunderstanding" based on people being dorks and not talking to each other, the characters literally misunderstand each other sometimes, because of language barriers. The thing that keeps this from sliding into the looming threat of Jar-Jar-Binksyness is that the internal thoughts of the speakers is clear and eloquent, so we know that they are thinking "like us", but they just cant communicate it fully.
This book is set on a different continent than the first three, and I think that's useful to make it a stand-alone. You could read this without needing any of the three books that came before it.
I'm going to be thinking on and chewing on this book for a while, I can tell. The prose is workmanlike but not notable, the plot, when reduced to its essentials reads like a roleplaying campaign, but the PEOPLE and the WORLDBUILDING are amazing and thought-provoking, and there are a lot of hints and branches that a curious reader can follow in contemplation.
Point for gender-nerds: If this book is not nominated for next year's Tiptree award, it will be a travesty, because it's the most interesting exploration of gender I've read in ages. It's a little hard to go into why without being spoilery, but suffice it to say that there are characters who change their assigned birth sex, and their assigned gender, and THEIR SOCIETAL GENDER, and all of this is happening in a faintly-renaissance world where gender ROLES are pretty firmly defined.
Read if: You have liked any of McCoy's previous books. You are longing for a book that would be hard to publish because of taboo subjects like menstruation and gender fluidity. You would love there to be a world where people try to take each other as presented.
Skip if: Off-screen rape is a hard stop for you. You can't handle reading broken "English" for an entire book.
Also read: Sherwood Smith's A Stranger to Command, for a lost prince and a magical girl that subvert all expectation....more
I have always enjoyed the way that Terry Pratchett books can be enjoyed on many levels. On the surface, they are... cute. There's no other way to descI have always enjoyed the way that Terry Pratchett books can be enjoyed on many levels. On the surface, they are... cute. There's no other way to describe it. But dig just a tiny bit deeper and there is a world of intelligent commentary -- not HIDDEN from the mid-grade reader, just not bludgeoning them with "morality" or "ethics".
Vernon has accomplished the same trick with Castle Hangnail. On the first-level, it's a story about a little witch, a little castle, a little list of tasks to be accomplished. Molly is short and maybe a little pudgy, with fuzzy brown hair and brown eyes and decided opinions about gardening, food, and not wanting to be the Good Twin. She wants to be a Wicked Witch, but not an EVIL Witch, and she has a kind streak a mile wide, which is not at all the same thing as being Nice, or even Good. I feel like it's a loving nod at who Granny Weatherwax might have started out as, without being tediously derivative. Molly is herself.
I just handed this book to my 12 year old, who squealed and said, "YAY NEW URSULA." I'll append his review, but so far he has forgotten he has an open bag of Cheezits by his hand -- too busy reading.
On another level, Molly has a lot of grown-up problems. She is battling to be recognized as competent at her job, because she doesn't look like what people expect. She has impostor syndrome, and is pretty sure she is not qualified, even though she is managing all her tasks competently. And then there is the abusive friendship she has been in, where someone older and more powerful than she is has made her feel weak and powerless, and somehow to blame for that. I'm not saying a 12 year old will say, "hey, I'm in an abusive friendship", but I hope that sometime in their lives they will think of Molly saying "no!" and firmly stopping someone from making her feel bad. That would be a beautiful outcome.
I loved Molly, of course, in her kindness and flailing and willingness to really work at a problem. I also loved the Majordomo who has his own relationship traumas and angers to overcome. The supporting cast was all lovely and warm and individual, even Dragon the Donkey and the non-speaking characters. It was very much a story about community and mutuality.
The writing was wry and funny without being inaccessible for moderate readers. The illustrations, as one expects, are charming and just faintly creepy. The book as a whole is just.... lovely, and it makes me happy to have read it and happy to give it to my kids.
Read if: You like spunky, practical heroines. You are not on a medical regimen that prevents giggling.
Skip if: You are allergic to girl power or the thought that 12 year olds can change small parts of the world.
Also read: The Tiffany Aching books in the Discworld series....more
When I heard Ken Liu talk about this book, I was enraptured. He discussed the Chinese epics he grew up with, and how they are thematically different tWhen I heard Ken Liu talk about this book, I was enraptured. He discussed the Chinese epics he grew up with, and how they are thematically different than Western epics. He talked about how he was determined to set this story in a world that was not fantasy-china, or fantasy-europe, but rather something else all together. And he laughed at himself for writing bits about tax-collection. The tax-collection was interesting! The evolution of leadership was interesting! The development of characters was interesting! Even the tragic conclusion was deftly handled. I was a little skeptical it would be possible to move easily from tight little short stories to the dozens of people and plots you need to move a story this size, but Liu handles it gracefully, and without his prose ever getting flabby. Keep your editor, Ken! Don't turn into Weber.
As much as the structure is grounded in a literary tradition different than mine, I brought a lot of my own culture and bias to it. In the prophetic woman embroidering, I saw the Greek Fates. In the growth of strength into monstrous flaws, I saw the outline of Greek tragedy. In the super-heroic character, I read Achilles, and in his wily, silver-tongued trickster companion, I read Odysseus, who even had a wife in waiting. None of that affected how the story played out, except that I appreciated the twists that did not go the way I expected.
The world-building is spectacular. I chortled out loud more than once. Battlekites! Smokebending! Campfire food that is not stew! Philosophy, art, dance, war machines, and trickery. So. Much. Trickery. Trust no one. Especially don't trust beggars, old ladies, or crows. Anyone who might be a god in disguise. You should also be a little skeptical about your future self, your right-hand person, and your lovers. Your horse is probably ok. Probably. But that doesn't mean you can't love them. Love and trust are not at all the same thing, after all. In other world-building news, it takes time to travel places, armies are bad for crops, and money is finite. I appreciated how that changes the dynamic of the story.
In drawbacks, there is about as much death as you would expect in an accurately-drawn depiction of war. Although less dysentery. Still, it seems like the technological base supports an understanding of proper military and civilian water hygiene. That still leaves a lot of death, a non-zero amount of which is suicide. Also, there are some amazing women characters, some of whom talk to each other, and many of whom play pivotal roles, but the men in their lives have to be convinced of their value to the cause, instead of granting it automatically. Accurate to the world as built, but still disheartening sometimes. On the other hand, Liu does some interesting things with women subverting combat tropes, so there's that.
Overall, I think it's going to get talked about a lot, and it should be, so you should go out and buy it.
Read if: You have ever liked epic, world-sweeping novels, you want to know about how the seeds of tragedy are rooted in heroism, you would really appreciate it if there were several types of women (and men). Also, there are battle kites. Just sayin'.
Skip if: Empires are never built clean. There is harm to children. There is harm to animals. None of it is described in gory detail, but you should know. Notably, I do not recall any forcible rape. It is certainly not a backstory for any of the significant female characters. There are some awful circumstances and people do get coerced into sex, but not onscreen.
Disclosure: I got an ARC of this book after I attended Writers With Drinks and Liu talked about the concepts behind the book....more
This was the most delightful airplane book ever. I have read one other book by Ankaret Wells, and I thought I might be getting generational palace intThis was the most delightful airplane book ever. I have read one other book by Ankaret Wells, and I thought I might be getting generational palace intrigue, but no, this was a well-defined and traditional-appearing romance, frothy as the skirts of its heroine.
There is a heroine, not just a romantic lead. After two unfortunate marriages, she is the very definition of a merry widow, but that doesn't mean that she is at all an easy woman. She flees into the night rather than submit her personhood to yet another exchange of sex and status. On the way she delays a war, makes allies of enemies, and wears some truly fantastic-sounding clothes.
I love that Wells is paying some really loving tribute to the trappings of a romance novel -- the clothes, the waltzing, the thrills, the chills, the maid with her own agenda and the terrible female relatives. There are all the traditional ingredients, but now with airships, demi-magic, and a really fascinating discussion of how an otherwise good man can misjudge how dangerous his male friend is to women. Like, I wanted to just howl when someone explained that sure, his friend was kind of a terrible rapist, but he'd been SUCH A GOOD FRIEND TO HIM. Yeah. Kadia wasn't impressed, either.
There were some really sticky bits of the story, they keep occurring to me as unanswered questions. I like a world that is not entirely tidy at the edges of the novel. What happens to the respectable relation? What does the wedding dress look like? Is there a war? There were also some nice bits about the black drop, as linked to magic. And I had never thought about the homophone involved in "engineer" and "genii".
Read if: You need 5 hours of delightful escapism, swashbuckling, and feisty equal-power romance.
Skip if: You're going to nitpick the semi-victoriana, you don't like giggling on planes, you dislike romantic heroes who screw up.
Also read: The Countess Conspiracy, by Courtney Milan....more
I was madly in love with Cho's The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. This is not that book. I love it in a different way. This is the best kind of assorted cI was madly in love with Cho's The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. This is not that book. I love it in a different way. This is the best kind of assorted chocolate kind of short story collection, where each one is a distinct flavor, and I never felt like I was getting repeats.
I've always been the kid who loved reading fairy tales, and this book is filled with all sorts of stories I hadn't met before (except the hopping ghost/vampire). The best part was that it wasn't abstract retellings of stories, but real, very human interactions with the supernatural that made me laugh and wince sympathetically. For me, the most resonant part was the way women use guilt as a generational control method. I've known far too many circumstances where that's the way it works for it to seem abstract. I also really identified with the student who had been skimming along adequately because she was smart, and then when she hit the point where she had to work and practice and she didn't have the skills for it.
I'm also really excited to hear that Cho has a full length novel coming out this fall. YAY.
Read if: You love human/fairy tales. You will sympathize with characters who get nagged by their moms and aunties. You are part of a diaspora.
I hated it. HAAAAATED. It's a personal response, and says nothing about the actual quality of the book, but the whole poThis book was nicely written.
I hated it. HAAAAATED. It's a personal response, and says nothing about the actual quality of the book, but the whole point of the story was revenge, and the pettiness of human hearts. Also, the dog dies.
The girl with the face of the moon (who remains a nearly-nameless girl throughout the whole book, despite the fact that she was a bare minimum of 36 by the bloody end) has a miserable peasanty life, with miserable parents. Wordlessly, she runs away with a guy who smells like bears. They are very happy building a life that smells like bears and they have a baby, and they love him, and if the book had been about that, I would have loved the heck out of it, as sort of a Japanese My Side of the Mountain.
Sadly, that does not generate sufficient drama.
See, there is also an evil inbred ninja in the picture. Because he's evil, that's why. He's very very evil. Also a rapist and kidnapper. And evil.
You can see where this is going.
There is a gorefest which I cannot recommend that ANY of my friends read. TGWTFOTM is left blinded and bent on vengeance. She spends the next six years acquiring DIFFERENT, GOOD ninja skills from a variety of places. While being bent on vengeance.
I could tell you more about it, but I hope you only read this if you have what I identify as a really masculine obsession with revenge and honor. I'm not against either of those themes, but it's a lot like Gladiator. Revenge and honor are interesting, but not sufficient to actually define a character. Nor is suffering.
Read if: You really wish there were a book version of Lone Wolf and Cub, only with less humor and more gobbets of flesh (yes, more). Also, at least Cub was a pretty happy kid. We cannot say that for the unnamed child in this book. Um, you might also appreciate some of the research that's gone into this, but really, there are better books for that.
Skip if: Really, I would just skip it. The dog and the child both get tortured. The woman doesn't even really get a name or internal life.
Read instead: Ôoku, a really excellent Japanese graphic novel....more
THIS! This the book I have wanted so many other books to be, a complicated discussion about the costs of colonialism wrapped up in a heady mix of poliTHIS! This the book I have wanted so many other books to be, a complicated discussion about the costs of colonialism wrapped up in a heady mix of politicking, magic, dead gods, and fanaticism.
I will note that the first chapter is deadly dull, and things only pick up after that, but it is well worth getting through it, I assure you.
Once you get past the courtroom drama and murder-investigation kickoff, you get a DELIGHTFUL political operative, who also happens to be a small, non-descript woman, and her hulking nordic sidekcick, who is a delight of brutality, knot-tying, and complicated theology. You will also get a dimensionally unstable city, a colonial administration, a colonial governor who wants nothing more than a quiet retirement where she can admire the landscape, and a pervading sense of tension. Oh, and naturally, political machinations, zealots, the foods of exile, a kraken, and some stellar writing. I am nominating this book for a Hugo.
On an absent god: "...if Orvos was ever here, then the greatest thing she ever gave us was the knowledge that we did not /need/ her to do good things. That good can be done at anytime, anywhere, to anyone, by anyone."
On government, as voiced by a morally ambiguous character: "States are not, in my opinion, compose of structures supporting privilege. Rather, they are composed of structule denying it - in other words, deciding who is not invited to the table."
On fighting a kraken-icemole hybrid: "The fat on his limbs is calcified now; he is milky white, crackling, a chandlers golem."
I am panting for the second book while feeling well-satisfied with the ending of this one. If there was no second book, it would be a sufficient ending. But I don't have to settle! The second one, City of Knives, should be out in Fall 2015.
Buy if: You like books about theodicy, fallible gods, or small fierce women. You enjoyed Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion books. You are willing to buy extra copies to press on your friends so they will understand how excited you are.
Skip if: You are looking for something stately or mannered or noble. This is far too nitty-gritty a book for that, without being Gritty.
Books that have some of the same things, but didn't quite hit my cravings as well: The Drowning City, by Amanda Downum Trickster's Choice, by Tamora Pierce A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
If you liked this book, also read: Max Gladstone's Craft series Bujold's Chalion series Robin LaFever's His Fair Assassin series ...more
It's really difficult for me to review short story anthologies, because I am TERRIBLE at stopping and letting one story rest and germinate a review inIt's really difficult for me to review short story anthologies, because I am TERRIBLE at stopping and letting one story rest and germinate a review in my head before I start the next one. It's like... did you know that many books have CHAPTER BREAKS, where average mortals STOP READING AND GO TO SLEEP? That is also not my strongest concept.
So instead the stories all end up happening in the same world for me, even when they obviously aren't. Oops. But happily, because this book had a folk-tale theme, at least it worked out ok for me. Maybe I'll do it like a middle school awards assembly?
Creepiest goes to The Wolf and the Woodsman, for a really excellent and bone-chilling depiction of stalking.
Never gets the award for Most Heartbreaking because there's no way out.
Boar and Apples wins for Most Satisfying. It has everything I didn't know I wanted, including a charming pun as a central premise.
Bluebeard's Wife gets Most Wistful, for depictions of just wanting a little respect and privacy.
Loathly was in the running for Most Wistful, but will have to settle for Most Misandrist. In a good way. Magic is terrible, kids.
As for the poetry, I think that poetry is arrows shot at a smaller mark than prose, but I really enjoyed Bait for the way it required reading through and then listening to. Poetry, man. It's wicked hard.
Vernon's writing style is wry, and detached, and observational. It keeps a lot of things from becoming overly sentimental. And once in a while she hits a turn of phrase that makes me wish more people could do what she does. ~He had apparently been a very evil man, but not actually a bad one.~
And sometimes it's so funny and true that you can't help but sort of huff out a laugh. ~(I wish I could do salamanders. I would read Clive Barker novels aloud and seed the streams with efts and hellbenders. I would fly to Mexico and read love poems in another language to restore the axolotl. Alas, it’s frogs and toads and nothing more. We make do.) ~ (Clive Barker WOULD produce salamanders. Then I had to think about what amphibians other writers would produce. Imagine the sad little mudskippers you'd get from reading Clive Cussler instead.)
~(The seamstress had always had a great desire to sew something with puffed sleeves, and the fact that Snow stared at them with great astonishment and mild indignation did nothing to diminish her moment of glory.) ~ AHAHAHAHA PUFFED SLEEVES.
Read if: You, too, grew up on retold fairy tales and Anne of Green Gables. And if you like people who keep their authorial wits about them instead of getting carried away.
Skip if: You are a nice earnest person who will not appreciate realizing that this whole beautiful story was probably born as a late-night pun.
Also read: Seas of Venus, for a MASTERFUL construction of an entire novella leading to a TERRIBLE pun. And, um, The Girls of the Kingfisher Club for another narrator not afraid to let you know she's there.
Oh! And Jane Yolen's Sleeping Ugly. You should certainly read that, too. Yup. ...more
SOME authors save the impossible slog toward a slightly-slower death for the middle of the series. Everyone understands the point of the Order of theSOME authors save the impossible slog toward a slightly-slower death for the middle of the series. Everyone understands the point of the Order of the Phoenix and The Empire Strikes Back. It has to get dark to make the triumph more delicious. Bold move, making the dark the first book. At 560 pages of unsympathetic leads, murderous plants, dynastic scheming, and child murder, Hurley gets tough with the reader right away.
I think this book has a lot of merit. The magic system is relatively fresh. The world has varied geography and languages and history and culture. There are some interesting commentaries on tribalism, mixed children, dehumanization, gender, and what makes effective leadership. There are some interesting omissions -- no horses! Almost no rape! (those are not equivalent in weight, but about equally common in genre) I really enjoyed the worldbuilding on a lot of levels, although I am not living anywhere with that many murderous trees. The arctic wastes for me!
All of that said, this book is unremittingly, unflinchingly bloody. Of our four main viewpoint characters, the body counts are: * Hundreds, plus at least one little kid * Thousands of refugees, hundreds of soldiers * Around ten, but he wishes it were so much more, bloody mayhem is way more fun than anything else in life. * Maybe only a couple, and this lack is what makes him a weak leader
So, last week I went on a twitter rant about how if your book has more than 500 pages, you really need to be justifying this with half-a-dozen viewpoints or a sweeping generational story?
Be careful what you wish for. By my rough count, this book had 8-10 viewpoint characters. Some of them die relatively quickly, but it's a LOT to keep track of. I thought maybe some of them could have been cut without affecting the entirety of the story.
One thing that is really going to help you if you read this book is understanding right up front it's about parallel worlds. I think Hurley wants you to pick that up as you go, but it makes the first quarter of the book massively confusing because sometimes you switch worlds and think you are just switching viewpoint characters, and BONUS POINTS for the characters in all the worlds all have the same name, but different circumstances. So, um, sorry if that's a spoiler, but I don't think it's a super major one.
Read if: You like books that acknowledge and depict the hell of war. You also liked the God's War books by Hurley. You are interested in how patterns of oppression mark patterns of dehumanization.
Skip if: You do not want to read a book with a cast of thousands of dead people. You like your palace politics small-scale. You are annoyed by stupidly stubborn characters driving the plot.
Read also: Glen Cook's Black Company books. ...more
You know how sometimes I distinguish between a historical romance, where characters act in period-appropriate ways, and a costume romance, where moderYou know how sometimes I distinguish between a historical romance, where characters act in period-appropriate ways, and a costume romance, where modern characters are dressed in historical costumes and situations? I thought about that a lot while I was reading this book.
Some of the girls are living in a historical story, where they are the product of their society and their times. Some of them are us, with our modern attitudes toward men and what we can do. And one of them is Jo, who is beautifully iconoclastic because she was raised by wolves, or a set of strict governesses, but the effect is the same, to make her hyper-aware of the rules and give not one shiny copper penny for them, except in terms of consequence. She is not ruled by shame, she is ruled by fear, and once she loses that fear, all gell breaks loose. I loved that so much.
I have always thought that any number of siblings over 2 is going to involve factionalism and clicques, as well as familial understanding and love. I liked that we got a chance to see how that played out. I was also really interested in how very much Jo was like her father, but then decided to turn that same tendency into something so much lovelier and more productive.
I am super impressed at Valentine's ability to take a fairy story and retain all the elements, but change them enough to make them her story, not jut a colored-in photocopy. I said, 10 years ago, that it was going to be interesting to watch the writers who were growing up on Datlow and Windling and what happened to their take on mytheopia once everyone calmed down a bit about telling fairy tales and stopped putting quite so many lakes of blood in them (on my reader now, Ursula Vernon's Toad Words and Other Stories, which I suspect will be interesting as a comparative point and also awesome). Valentine's New York is neither UBER GRITTY DARK nor a friendly woodland forest, but a real-feeling place with police raids, payoffs, handsy stevedores and Chinese bartenders.
I suggest people with super controlling parents in real life read this story with caution. Valentine does not pull punches on how very bad it can/could get if your parent is willing to retain control at any cost. I was honestly reading with my heart thudding because it was so plausible that everything would go wrong at several points in the story.
This book keeps lingering with me, like sparkles rubbed off after a night of clubbing will still be around the next Wednesday, just catching your eye a tiny bit.
Read if: You like gin joints, dancing, retold fairy tales, and problematized ever-afters.
Skip if: You don't like reading about people being caged up, you have problems with mental commitment as a control device.
Read also: Princess of the Midnight Ball, for another version of this story that is a little more castle-and-princess-magicy, but still has great dancing descriptions and a clear personality for each princess. Sold for Endless Rue, which it took me a while to realize was even a retold fairy tale....more
On the surface, this book is a love song to books wrapped in a coming-of-age-travel-story. Jevick is an overeducated misfit when he goes to Paris, erOn the surface, this book is a love song to books wrapped in a coming-of-age-travel-story. Jevick is an overeducated misfit when he goes to Paris, er Bain, to carry on the family business, but he is much more interested in the culture than the business. In the process of his cultural education, he comes down with a bad case of ghost. Travails ensue.
It's not that I don't love ornate imagery and fabulous language. It's that by 3/4 of the way through this book, I was longing for something to cut the greasy, heavy, oleaginous feeling of the adjectival piles that litter the story. It feels to me like it could be a much more emotionally engaging story if it weren't paced with two adjectives per noun. I'm sure that's a personal preference issue, because I know a lot of people who enjoyed the ornate filigree of the writing.
I think my favorite part is the end, when he takes all his frustrated passion and turns it around into something that improves the world. But I almost gave up halfway through because the pace was so hard for me.
Read if: You are looking for a Gentleman's Progress And Return Home story, if you love a good unrequitable love story or three, if you want to think about nameless spices that can kill on the wind and be bought in the market.
Skip if: You are an impatient reader, you are going to feel bad about having to use a dictionary to read a book. (For the first time in three or so years, I used my kindle dictionary. "Marmoreal -- made of or relating to marble.") ...more
I read this book all in one gulp. It was compelling from the opening sentence - "I was raised to marry a monster." to the tumultuous conclusion. The wI read this book all in one gulp. It was compelling from the opening sentence - "I was raised to marry a monster." to the tumultuous conclusion. The writing was mostly sharp, and sometimes darkly funny:
~My stomach roiled, but I smiled wider and gritted out cheerful nothings about how my marriage was an adventure, how I was so excited to fight the Gentle Lord, and by the spirit of our dead mother, I swore she would be avenged.~
Those aren't cheerful nothings that most of us get!
The story is an unusual mashup of Beauty and the Beast with a large dose of Greco-Roman mythology, and a non-zero amount of British folklore, which was a slightly unusual combination, but it ended up being the story equivalent of salted caramel - familiar and yet you keep wanting one more piece. I liked Nyx, I liked the beast. I liked the sister, who at first seemed like such a stapled-on Sexy Lamp*, and then it turns out that she wasn't, she was exactly the twin of our narrator. The world was lightly sketched, but rich and interesting in the bits we saw of it. The sky is the color of parchment. The magic system is congruent. Peasants are real people, as well as ladies. It takes time to travel places, it takes energy to do magic, there are no free lunches, and you should never, ever make a deal with the devil.
I thought the duology of Nice Guy/Bad Boy in Nyx's choices was going to be boring, and it wasn't. I thought that a story that I knew the plot of might bore me, and it didn't. I thought a gritty retelling of this story might involve rape, and it didn't. In short, Hodge succeeded in surprising me with how surprised I was.
Read if: You love fairytale mashups and dark-hearted heroines.
Skip if: You have developed an allergy to all overt fairytale retellings.
Also read: Robin McKinley's Beauty. Robin LaFever's Grave Mercy.
* If you can replace a female character with a sexy lamp that everyone wants without changing the story, then you have written that character poorly....more
G. Willow Wilson is not Umberto Eco. But she might grow up to be something very like him, and I mean that in the best possible way. I picked up this bG. Willow Wilson is not Umberto Eco. But she might grow up to be something very like him, and I mean that in the best possible way. I picked up this book because it won an award at WFC, and I agree with the selection committee. It is novel, interesting, complicated, philosophical, funny, and sticky.
Remarkably, for such a complicated book, there is a very clear and discernible plot. At no point do you worry that the characters will just continue to live lives of hopelessness or ennui. Instead, all these people are going places -- some of them not very good places, but they have motives and goals.
Alif is a hacker who gets his heart broken and so creates a program that identifies his beloved and erases him from her sight. He refers to it as pulling a hijab between them. But it turns out that in doing so, he has created something that he can use, but not understand why it works. And then she sends him the book of A Thousand And One Days, which is the Jinn version of A Thousand and One Nights. And state surveillance! The dark anti-hacker. Arab spring! Cyberpunk and sand dunes and quantum computing.
Have you ever tried describing what's going on in Foucault's Pendulum? And been reduced to uttering disjointed fragments like, "Pinball. Homunculus. Rosicrucians!"? That's how I feel trying to describe this book. Only, and this is an interesting contrast to, say, God's War, in that faith in this book is not an instrument of oppression (self and others), but a vast source of strength for believers.
I really appreciated the ... diversity in this book. There's a prince, there's an upper-class woman, there are lower class women. Our hacker is half-Arab, half-Indian. Wherever the City is, it felt real, the way the best worldbuilding makes you feel, like there are palaces AND slum, and migrant workers and class, oh holy mackerel, the class isssues. But none of that slows down the story or makes you feel Educated.
It will be interesting to see how the story ages. There is a lot that is relevant to recent, events, that may not age well.
Like all things, like civilization itself, the arrests began in Egypt. In the weeks leading up to the Revolution, the digital stratosphere became a war zone.
Anyone who has been reading my reviews for a while understands that I am a huge fan of in-character story-relevant philosophy. This book is full of amazing, brain-twisting observations.
“The convert will understand. How do they translate ºyw in your English interpretation?” “Atom,” said the convert. “You don’t find that strange, considering atoms were unknown in the sixth century?” The convert chewed her lip. “I never thought of that,” she said. “You’re right. There’s no way atom is the original meaning of that word.” “Ah.” Vikram held up two fingers in a sign of benediction. He looked, Alif thought, like some demonic caricature of a saint. “But it is. In the twentieth century, atom became the original meaning of ºyw, because an atom was the tiniest object known to man. Then man split the atom. Today, the original meaning might be hadron. But why stop there? Tomorrow, it might be quark. In a hundred years, some vanishingly small object so foreign to the human mind that only Adam remembers its name. Each of those will be the original meaning of ºyw.” Alif snorted. “That’s impossible. ºyw must refer to some fundamental thing. It’s attached to an object.” “Yes it is. The smallest indivisible particle. That is the meaning packaged in the word. No part of it lifts out—it does not mean smallest, nor indivisible, nor particle, but all those things at once. Thus, in man’s infancy, ºyw was a grain of sand. Then a mote of dust. Then a cell. Then a molecule. Then an atom. And so on. Man’s knowledge of the universe may grow, but ºyw does not change.” “That’s . . .” The convert trailed off, looking lost. “Miraculous. Indeed.”
Read if: You love The Virtuous Hacker, or technology/magic mashups, or reading about the possibilities of the meanings of words. And if you'd like to see veiled women being strong without losing their self-identification.
Skip if: You are looking for a book with certainty, or clear answers.
I was really blown away by the depth of characterization in this graphic novel. The story is fragmented, by its nature and the nature of the narrator,I was really blown away by the depth of characterization in this graphic novel. The story is fragmented, by its nature and the nature of the narrator, but that didn't really bother me.
The art added a lot to the nuance of the story, but I think my favorite part is the distinct voices and personalities of each character. Everyone who has been telling you that you should read this is probably correct.
Read if: You like love stories with philosophy in them, or the other way around.
Skip if: You are not going to be amused by an opening scene that involves a foul-mouthed soldier giving birth, or if you can't handle scenes of explicit violence and sex. But I think they feel... relevant to the stories and characters.
Also read: [book:God's War|9359818 , by Kameron Hurley. For another foul-mouthed female soldier....more
Wow. You know when you get in a hot tub and you think it might be a little too hot, but you ease yourself in and it's WONDERFUL? That's a bit how thisWow. You know when you get in a hot tub and you think it might be a little too hot, but you ease yourself in and it's WONDERFUL? That's a bit how this book felt. Or like when you gave up on pronouncing all the characters in any given Lloyd Alexander book correctly and get to just roll along with the story. What I'm saying is that as a Western reader, the immersive world of this book took me a bit to get into, but once I got there I was so very happy.
I like reading about other mythologies. I like reading about headstrong girls. I like enigmatic possible witches and riddles and people thinking about what clothes to wear and the comb they inherited from their mother. But most of all, I love character stories, where you feel with the person and what they want and need and when you lie down to sleep at night and wonder if they're going to be ok. This book has all of that.
Also, the ending feels like a response to The Blue Sword to me. I doubt it's intentional, but it's interesting.
Read if: You'd like to see some amazing cool historical real-world stuff combined with some really nifty mythological world-building.
Skip if: You want a travelogue of What Actually Happened.
Also read: Sarah Zettel's A Sorcerer's Treason for stories about awkward in-laws, lives in other worlds, and the difficulty of transitioning between them....more
A solid little short story with an amazingly poetic premise and some nicely-worked prose. It's hard to talk about a short story without giving half ofA solid little short story with an amazingly poetic premise and some nicely-worked prose. It's hard to talk about a short story without giving half of it away in a paragraph. I think this has some of the really brilliant language and imagery that I love about Nix, without some of the nihilism that I don't find as appealing. In the end, this is a story about environmental homeostasis, and I love that about it.
Read if: You love dragon mythos. You like a good hidden-secrets story. You wonder about the reasons behind secret societies.
Skip if: You are looking for emotional connection/satisfaction. This is very much a what-happened story.
This book ate a couple hours of my evening without me even noticing, which is high praise. Laura's story is especially compelling, and I thought her tThis book ate a couple hours of my evening without me even noticing, which is high praise. Laura's story is especially compelling, and I thought her toughness was hard-won and believable.
The Rapunzel-retelling was subtly done and did not start right away. This story is 3/4 historical fiction and 1/4 fairy tale, and the fairy tale doesn't really start until halfway through the book. I especially loved the subtlety of the prince-character.
I liked the contrasting mother-figures in this story. They all love their children, but react in different ways to the natural way children break rules as they grow up. Cressia never defines her plans or rules (as a parent, this overprotection-through-ignorance made me flinch.) Laura is attempting to live out her childhood in a better way through her own daughter, and not listening to what the kid wants. And Sibela says, "“And I did not raise a living son to cast him off at the first time of trouble.” Even the Traveller Nonna, and the companion-sister are mothers of sorts. This book is so full of mothers -- good and bad, present and absent, sympathetic and harsh. I think that may be the best thing about it -- women in so many different ways.
I would happily read more stories set in this world.
Read if: You would love your fairy-tale retellings with more history. You like a multi-generational story. You love period details.
Skip if: You are looking for another book featuring Robins' sassy Regency heroines. This is period-appropriate but less banter-y.
This book was equal parts delicious gaijin-in-Japan-whodunit, and madness-or-magic creepiness, and I thought the mix was really interesting. Nikki's mThis book was equal parts delicious gaijin-in-Japan-whodunit, and madness-or-magic creepiness, and I thought the mix was really interesting. Nikki's mental illness and her experiences are vastly different when viewed through a different cultural filter, and it makes you think about how many things we know are true are actually just our own culture talking.
Nikki is charmingly pop-culture, as is most of the book. She says that quoting laws to police officers is like their kryptonite. Toward the end of the book, there is a Lilo & Stitch quote which just killed me and was deeply appropriate.
This book was full of women, all types of women, doing all types of things. Very seldom do the women feel like victims, and even the one who is killed off screen is a person, with her own interests, and not just a girl to avenge. Nikki is working extremely hard to not be a victim of her mother's power and manipulation. She has a strong network of women helping her. I really liked that.
I didn't feel like it had the deep thematic structure of some of Spencer's books, like A Brother's Price or Endless Blue. It was more on the Ukiah Oregon end of her writing spectrum. But there were still some moments of genuine creepy horror, mostly in Nikki's relationship with her mother.
I bought this as an e-ARC, and as usual, there are some typos, probable about 10 or so of them. Other than that, it is obviously well-edited.
Read if: You are content to let a story carry you along at its own pace, and to not really overinvest in knowing what exactly is happening all the time. You have liked previous Wen Spencer books. You have a mental catalog of anime movies other people might like.
Skip if: You have mommy+mental health issues of your own. You are tired of OCD as the catch-all detective disease. You are not sure about spending a whole novel in Japan.
Stop. If you have not read Range of Ghosts, preferably in the last year, then you're really going to be confused for the first quarter of this book. IStop. If you have not read Range of Ghosts, preferably in the last year, then you're really going to be confused for the first quarter of this book. It does all sort out so that you don't have to have read the first on, but c'mon, it's great, you want to anyway.
Ok, that said: What an excellent second book. Unlike many middle books in a trilogy, this one is fast-paced, compelling, and full of character development. At no time did I feel like we were just marking time until the climax. It is just that there is too much story to fit in one or two books.
If the first book was about the formation of the Fellowship of the Oddballs, (warrior, wizard, priest, tiger), this one is about figuring out what you want to accomplish with your life besides pure survival. Temur has to decide not to be a refugee, but rather a king-in-exile. Edene becomes a ruler in her own right. Samarkar finds a direction to harness her power toward. It's a wild tapestry with a ton of threads to follow, but unlike a Tom Clancy book, everyone has their own motivations and voice, so it is much easier to keep clear what is going on. Being a middle book, of course, there is a lot of wrapping-up to be accomplished in the next book, but I will be right at the front of the virtual release line.
As usual for a book by Bear, the language is amazing and evocative. There is as description of the smell of water that made me thirsty. And the trenchant voice of the characters, such as Samarkar thinking, "She comforted herself that no matter how far she traveled, no matter how changed her role, she was still and always would be a scandal." There are worse things to aspire to than being a permanently scandalous woman. Or Hrahima saying, "I don't believe in God. She drops by once in a while and we argue about it."
Read if: You are looking for not-another-swords-and-Arthur fantasy. You like books about adults, who sometimes have to make decisions about least-bad options. You want a world-sweeping fantasy where travel is actually time-consuming and problematic.
Skip if: You can't read about plague, bugs, liches, or women in control of their sexuality.
Also read: This. Well, buy the first one, Range of Ghosts and read it. But you should buy this one now, to encourage the publisher....more
The past tense of "to tread" is "trod". This cranky note brought to you by aquatic humans who spend a lot of time staying still in currents. That saidThe past tense of "to tread" is "trod". This cranky note brought to you by aquatic humans who spend a lot of time staying still in currents. That said...
I enjoyed this book. It didn't blow me out of the proverbial water, but it was reasonably well-crafted and engaging, and I didn't check to see how much more book I had to get through.
You'll be shocked to lean that the rebellious princess is forced by her conscience to leave all she knows on the very eve of her adulthood, and venture out into the cruel wide world, armed only with a faithful technologically-able sidekick and the fighting lessons provided by her brothers.
I enjoyed the adventures and the different kinds of genetically modified humans Aluna encounters on her way. I can see this being an interesting trilogy if that's your scene.
Aluna is class-oblivious, as noted by her bestie, but I think it's easy enough to be oblivious if you are in the one percent.
Read if: You like a nice straightforward adventure story.
Skip if: You have too long a reading queue to read something unsurprising.
This tidy little short story is a prequel to Herb-Witch. In it, we meet a young Iathor, trying to figure out how to deal with the plague running looseThis tidy little short story is a prequel to Herb-Witch. In it, we meet a young Iathor, trying to figure out how to deal with the plague running loose in his city.
There are several moments where we see the man Iathor will become peeking through his inexperience and concern. For instance, the turning point of the story is when he listens to his bondsman and realizes something he hadn't noticed because he was too focused on tradition. There's also a great scene where he works on communicating with the Shadowmaster. "It is my understanding that my father has maintained lines of communication with the master of the shadows. This recipe I send should help immensely with the plague and may well cure it entirely. Plague is an enemy I think we all must fight, whether in darkness or sunlight. The bottle I send contains three equal doses of the possible cure; you may test it upon another before you trust your own health to it, and there should be enough left after a messenger takes a swig. –Master Iathor"
Sometimes prequels feel like they are out of time and this isn't really a younger version of the character, because the author has grown in their understanding of the character. This story avoids that pitfall and gives you an interesting insight at the same time.
Read if: You have read Herb-Witch, or you want a teaser for the larger books after it.
Skip if: You can't read about contagious coughing sicknesses.
Selkies really are the ultimate mail-order brides, aren't they?
There they are, in a strange land, trapped into a marriage, with only their domestic duSelkies really are the ultimate mail-order brides, aren't they?
There they are, in a strange land, trapped into a marriage, with only their domestic duties and their children to comfort them.
I hesitate to call this book a story -- it is not narrative in the classical sense, with a rising and falling pattern of action. Instead it is sequentially episodic. Here is where she teaches herself to be a witch. Here is where he makes a bad decision. Here is the perpetuation of the cycle. Nothing is resolved or changed between the beginning and the end of the book, except that a whole lot of people lead lives of frantic desperation.
Which is not to say the book is without merit. I enjoyed it, and found it compelling. "I had been ugly once; I must remember that, remember how to be ugly again now that I knew I was beautiful, remember how to be ordinary now that I’d seen the wonders inside me."
"power welled up in me like tears, and was held in check as tears must be held, for this business must be done right."
It could be read as a meditation on the cycles of abuse and poverty, or about the weird spaces that sex selection leaves, or a number of other things, but I think it's also true and valid that it is a tragedy of desire, and like all tragedies, it's not going to be easy to break out of it.
Read if: You like thoughtful, evocative books. You are ok with dire.
Skip if: You were really hoping for a plot. Women in servitude is going to crawl right up your nose.
In which Jane discovers that the thing on the other side of marriage is adulthood, which is evidently a surprise to her doting husband.
I love the openIn which Jane discovers that the thing on the other side of marriage is adulthood, which is evidently a surprise to her doting husband.
I love the opening scene, which involves Jane trying to navigate between ZOMG dinner-with-royalty manners and realizing that she made a technical error. There's something really appealing to Regency nerds in thinking about how the Prince Regent would have enjoyed and used glamor in his obsessive decorating. "But all that worry fell away upon entering the Polygon Ballroom, which glittered and dripped with diaphanous folds of glamour hung to create the illusion of a water folly filled with mermaids and sea-horses."
I also really enjoyed the nerdy technical parts of the physics of glamour, how to capture it, the resemblance to light, the problems of working with it. "The red glow of the glass absorbed Jane, and she found herself possessed of a sort of jealousy that the apprentice was making something physical and of service. As much as she loved glamour, the illusions had few practical applications."
And now the part that is tricky to do without undue spoiling. I thought this book was surprisingly mature. It was about how complicated it is to build a relationship together, and how important trust is, and how much stronger people are if they work together. And it's also about a hard, conflicted relationship with motherhood. I really appreciated that.
Read if: You loved the first one. You are interested in magic that works like physics. You would like your romance heroine with a good dash of cunning and derring-do.
Skip if: You have squicks around pregnancy. You are looking for more drawing-room manners stories. (there is some, but not as much as the first). Heroic sacrifice gets your back up.
Valente turns her craftsmanship to the story of Snow White and the setting of American West, and I tell you, it's gorgeous. The language is jaw-droppiValente turns her craftsmanship to the story of Snow White and the setting of American West, and I tell you, it's gorgeous. The language is jaw-dropping and painfully true sometimes.
"She forbade me to eat sweets or any good thing til I got thin as a dog and could hardly stand I was so damn hungry— there, now you’re beautiful, she said and I did not know if it was my dog-bones showing or my crawling in front of her begging for a miserable apple to stop my belly screaming that made me fair."
The other characters are sharp and two-dimensional, like shadow-puppets in Snow White's world. I thought that choice worked out well stylistically, but it gave you less to hang on to if you are the sort of person who connects to characters. Snow White herself is not so much a character as a set of actions and reactions, and I'm not sure I know how to describe the difference to you, but I know it's there.
That said, I really enjoyed this book, and Snow White, and the huntsman and the deer and the world, and all that. But I felt let down at the end. It was all entropy and glass coffin and it felt strangely abrupt. It's not bad, it's just not what I was craving from the story.
My favorite part of the book was when Snow White finds the town of women, Oh-Be-Joyful. It was run by crones and the best kind of witches, the kind with no magic but lots of experience. "Life’s still stupid but we got free of story out here under the beeches and the Big Dipper. We had enough of it, of things happening one after another and no end in sight. Of reversals and falling in love and tragic flaws and by God if I see another motif in my business I will shoot it dead. The stories that happen to people like us aren’t worth my back teeth. So if you want it you can have a nice life here. You can wake up next to Jackson til the end of days and the raising of the glorious dead. You can eat squirrel pancakes out of Ephie’s pan and watch the moon go up and down. It’s a kind of magic, but then most things are. But story is an eager fucking beaver and someday soon someone will come knocking for you and you’d better just say no thank you is all I’m saying. Whatever’s on the other side of that let me in will burn you hollow and lick the ash for the last of you. The worst thing in the world is having to go back to the dark you shook off.”
"If I see another motif in my business I will shoot it dead." I think I have been waiting for two decades for a character to say that.
So what I'm saying about this book is that it's beautiful, and I found the ending unsatisfying, but perhaps that was the point.
Read if: You love Valente's work. You have a hankerin' for interesting commentary on all sorts of myths.
Skip if: You are an impatient reader, you want to love people in your books.
I'm looking forward to reading the second of these books, but the first one is an intact story, which is always nice to know about the start of a seriI'm looking forward to reading the second of these books, but the first one is an intact story, which is always nice to know about the start of a series.
One of my surprises was that I assumed until page 25 or so that Jen was a female thief, not male. It made me go back and check a lot of my assumptions. There's nothing that mandates Gen being either male or female in anything except the fact that everyone washed together. Gen is quick, clever, well-educated, and all around a good spy and thief. We cheer with him.
The myth and magic of the world is interesting, and I enjoyed the storytelling interludes with mythology. Creation myths are always interesting to me.
The language and writing was brisk and evocative. "The sun beat down, and even the dust didn’t try to rise."
I am trying not to say too much about the plot because part of the charm is following Gen and forming your own theories as to what is happening.
Read if: You like thief stories, alternate semi-Greece, and cunning.
Skip if: You are the sort of person who can spot plot points coming a mile away and will be annoyed by them.
This is a pretty little story about a kid whose unique identifiers are Pluck and Annoying Perkiness. It's very much in the format of any fairytale, whThis is a pretty little story about a kid whose unique identifiers are Pluck and Annoying Perkiness. It's very much in the format of any fairytale, where bad things happen and then our hero is Plucky and Cunning, and all's well that ends well.
On the one hand, I think this story is great at being a mid-grade story. On the other hand, I have some possibly-unfair expectations that Neil Gaiman could make the story a little more interesting to adults. It's very one-level.
Read if: You are an actual 12 year old or somewhat younger.
Skip if: You are looking for subtle humor and big themes.