I've read Elizabeth Hand before, and especially loved "Waking the Moon" (that book is 20 years old now, how did that happen?). But I've never read herI've read Elizabeth Hand before, and especially loved "Waking the Moon" (that book is 20 years old now, how did that happen?). But I've never read her mystery-thrillers. I decided to pick up this book because of an upcoming trip to Iceland, which is featured. It's the second in a series. I haven't read the first, but had no problem getting into this one.
I'm not sure anyone would want to visit the Iceland of Cass Neary's experience. For that matter, most of her world isn't exactly rainbows and fairies. The genius of this book is that it really updates noir and finds a true protagonist that fits into a dark world. Cass Neary is a washed-up photographer and drug addict. She's manipulative, dishonest, jaded, but her survival instincts have always managed to get her out of trouble so far. The detective-protagonist is kicked to the curb. Cass is a member of our underground, culturally, criminally on the edge.
Elizabeth Hand is a really visual, sensual writer. Cass is sent to evaluate a series of photos for authenticity, since her photography book of street addicts, published in the seventies before things went south for her, have garnered her sort of a cult following of those who like darkness in their art. The photos are by a Finnish photographer, so her somewhat mysterious employer sends her off to Finland. All the photos are of death. Cass never flinches from it, is appreciative of the beauty and artistry needed to record brutality. The author manages to paint a vivid picture that made me feel almost like I'd seen the photos myself. She captures the quality of light in the high North, the stark monochrome of Nordic architectural style. Although there's never a doubt that something really nasty is going on, Cass figures it's none of her business, and just focuses on artistic technique.
One thing follows another, and Cass ends up in the just post-economic crash Iceland. It's dark, it's grungy, it's full of people trying to figure out how to survive with all certainty gone. Cass has no problem making her way through this world because she's always been on the edge.
Because Cass is no hero- I'm not even sure she's an anti-hero- the author has to give her a motivation related either to self-preservation or fixation. Cass doesn't want to solve any mystery, doesn't care who wins. But she does very much care about staying alive, and that's her goal through this book. No nosy librarian, no boy-scout detective, Cass is pretty much purely self-interested. That's what I mean by modern noir. True dark protagonists don't have ethical motivations that won't let them rest. They can't rest because if they do, they could end up dead. Cass has a really interesting style of gathering information which takes advantage of her chamelion-like nature. Once she has a target, she just sort of fakes like she knows more than she does. Her target then gives information, assuming Cass already has it. Much more realistic than most mysteries, where just asking a question is enough to get an honest answer.
Elizabeth Hand has long had a fascination with the darker side of religion, especially per-Christian ones. That interest is a big part of the book, which deals with death metal related to Norse rock bands who take on pagan religion either as a stylistic trapping or as a true path to power.
And finally, there's a long-gone ex who comes back on the scene. He's dangerous, truly dangerous, there's no doubt. Cass says that she "honed her sense of damage" on him. Reading about their relationship, I could feel the ache in my heart that's never left, given to me by a guy who was bad for me, but who I couldn't bring myself to leave because of that feeling. Cass, however, has never asked herself what the healthy course of action might be, has never gotten to the point of kicking an addiction, so she has nothing holding her back.
So, lots going on in this book. A new take on noir with a really interesting main character who makes sense as a point of view from which to explore darkness. A meditation on art, on death, on loss, on leftover feelings. Damn, she's good. ...more
This novel has been nominated for a Goodreads Choice award, several different literary awards, starred by Publisher's Weekly, and I liked the sound ofThis novel has been nominated for a Goodreads Choice award, several different literary awards, starred by Publisher's Weekly, and I liked the sound of it, being partial to an element of magic in my fiction.
However, this book felt like it was trying to be Alice Hoffman writing Practical Magic or Sarah Addison Allen writing Garden Spells, only failing miserably. Both of the books I just mentioned know how to do the delicate balance of character, setting, magic, plot. They write interesting women who must make difficult choices and find their own strength.
The pacing on Ava Lavender was way off. The prologue is written in first person by Ava herself, but then we are treated to a history of her family tree that goes back to her great grandmother. Each generation of women is hurt by love, each abandoned somehow, each closes themselves off from loving again. These women are all beaten. They all have supernatural powers (they can disappear, they can read rooms and people, bake like angels) and yet these powers do them absolutely no good, although these women are beautiful and resourceful. After reading about three generations of sorrow and over one hundred pages, Ava herself finally makes another appearance. But by that time I was done with the story except for skimming.
This is the kind of book that manages to drolly describe how a young gay man is lured by his embarrassed lover to be shot in the face after the two of them are discovered and persecuted. Despite the breezy language, I found nothing droll about it. There's a weird dissonance, kind of like you might find in a French art film ( the background of the characters is French) and I almost felt like there was a mournful accordion playing in my head as I read. Everything is quirky and it serves to detach the reader, because the absurdity of the author's world keeps the reader from needing to experience the pain of the characters in the book.
There are linguistic efforts by the author that succeed, but it really seems like she's trying hard. The family name: Roux (homonym of Rue). Nathaniel Sorrows- really? That's a person's name? Characters act in surreal ways. A Native American (again, really?) girl steals loaf after loaf of bread from a bakery that no one goes to because they think the baker is a witch, then suddenly offers her skills and the bakery becomes an instant success.
And mostly, the book is about unrequited love. No one loves anyone back. No one gets a happy ending (until the very end?Maybe?). Mothers detach from their daughters to spare themselves emotional pain. So, is the book absurdist and funny? Meant to be magical realism? Does it even have a point that I want to get? The answers to all those questions are "no" for me. Overwrought, underbaked. ...more
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable, frothy romp through an alternate RegenI received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable, frothy romp through an alternate Regency-era England rife with magic. It reminded me strongly of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but this book moves much faster and I liked it much better.
Our two main characters include Zacharias Wythe, the adopted son of the Sorceror Royal and the new holder of that office now that his father has died. Zacharias is a freed slave, and experiences a lot of disdain and hostility due to his race. However, his conscientiousness and sense of loyalty to his father keep him in this difficult position.
Prunella Gentleman is half English and half Indian. She's been at a girls' school for magic for most of her life- her father left here there shortly before he committed suicide. Magic schools for girls in England primarily teach the girls how NOT to use magic, since magic is seen as too much for women to handle. Oh, unless they're working class women, who use household magics all the time. But that's different, they are not LADIES.
Prunella and Zacharias end up as allies after he comes to give a speech at her school. I don't really want to say much more because of spoilers, but let me say that the plot involves Fairyland, familiars, dragons, sultans, witches, wedding plans, and the fate of English magic.
The book goes to a surprisingly dark place at the end, but really, fairy tales used to be cautionary tales about how to keep your life and freedom if you were unfortunate enough to gain the attention of the Fair Folk, so the author was going back to the dark roots of fairy lore. What can I say? I laughed, I cared, I was quite entertained....more
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is a remarkable debut. The writing is still finding its way, and iI received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is a remarkable debut. The writing is still finding its way, and is a bit on the formal side for my taste, but the vision of this world is the most original I've read in quite a while.
We read about a world with two moons and a twin planet, causing massive tidal shifts. We get wonderful imagery like a castle built upon "floatstone" and attached by massive chains to a valley floor, so that when a huge tide comes in, the castle floats about the newly made bay, attached by chains so it doesn't float away.
The book is set in an age of industrialization. Magic and glimmerstone, silver and iron all must be mixed and used carefully to power trains and ships, with consequences like a nuclear meltdown if the formula is wrong.
The book focuses on one family, the Kressinds. Trassan, the engineer, is building an iron ship to race to the pole to be the first to explore an ancient city which may have wonderous magical artifacts. His brother Garten works in government bureaucracy and helps him get a permit which allows him to pass the Drowned King's waters. Ghosts exist in this world, and the Drowned King owns the souls of all the sailors who have perished at sea. Aarin is a Guider, a priest who lays unquiet souls to rest, and who also dabbles in necromancy. Guis (my least favorite, I'm never fond of playwright characters) should be the heir to the merchant family fortune, but is no longer in line, due to him being touched by magic and madness. He uses a small fairy, or Tyn, to keep the darkness at bay. And Katriona has married another merchant. Constrained by traditional feminine roles, she nonetheless wants to take a hand in running her husband's mills and ironworks, since she has perhaps the keenest head for business in the entire family. Rel, the soldier, has been sent off to the Black Sands, at the end of the civilized world due to some poor romantic choices. He is a cavalier who rides a raptor/dracon lizard, since horses don't exist on this world and dracons and giant dogs do their work. Something is awakening out in the sands, and monstrous creatures are beginning to stir.
So, there's more than enough for an immensely dense book with lots of interesting and original takes on magic, fairies, industrialization/steampunk, ghosts, and the age of exploration. Did I mention the Countess who's enthralled with understanding the movement of heavenly bodies because she thinks a cataclysm is approaching? The agitation of the mill workers for better conditions? Gods that are mostly gone, but have a small presence left on the earth? No? Well, there's even more that I'm leaving out. While the pace of the book is slow and the stories are fragmented between the characters, there's so much to explore in this world that I enjoyed taking my time and learning. I look forward to see what happens next!...more
**spoiler alert** It's almost impossible to categorize this book. Is it horror? Pre-apocalyptic? Urban fantasy? Yes to all the above, but we're still**spoiler alert** It's almost impossible to categorize this book. Is it horror? Pre-apocalyptic? Urban fantasy? Yes to all the above, but we're still not even close to describing it.
Caroline is the protagonist. When she was a little girl in the 70's, she and a few of the children in her neighborhood were chosen by Father as his apprentices. Each is given a portfolio, outside of which they are NOT to learn. Caroline's was language, and the other children learn of war, death, nature, healing, the near and far future, mathematics. While Caroline is adamant that magic doesn't exist, operationally it does since she and her compatriots learn skills that make them superhuman. Even death isn't necessarily the end for them, and this is unfortunate, for Father was a strict and merciless disciplinarian.
At the beginning of the book, though, Father is out of commission. While he was certainly not benevolent, he was also the force keeping some thoroughly nasty antediluvian powers from terrorizing the earth. Now, Father's children have to figure out how to hold on, since as soon as these inhuman entities catch wind of his absence, they'll come out and the world will never be the same.
Caroline specifically is playing a very long and complicated game which she can't even consciously admit to herself most of the time, since her fellow students can read minds.
The book veers back and forth between the everyday and the macabre. The juxtaposition of mundane life and cosmic horror is what makes it so compelling. Father was in the business of subduing monsters, but in order to prepare his apprentices for such adversaries he ends up making monsters of his own. Caroline is matter-of-fact about entities that would send most of us screaming into a really deep cave somewhere (not that running would help in the end). She's relateable, piteous and utterly terrifying. David, her nemesis, whose portfolio is war, is irreparably damaged and more deadly than you can imagine. Tension ratchets up to a cataclysmic battle, and by the end you're not sure who you want to win. I've never read anything quite like this book and I can't wait for the author to write another....more
**spoiler alert** Realllly close to five stars. The writing was excellent, with unusual and vivid description and bits that made me stop and think, ev**spoiler alert** Realllly close to five stars. The writing was excellent, with unusual and vivid description and bits that made me stop and think, even in the middle of a great action scene. Not five stars because the intensity of emotion honestly made me slightly uncomfortable, which probably says more about me than I would like.
The book's viewpoint character is Vashti Loren, a widow, a mother, a scientist, a commander, a politician,and a hunter. She is part of the Second Wave to settle Ubastis, a world with a small research colony which allows almost no immigrants. In this future, Earth has been wrecked, and the first colony worlds to which humans spread have also had their ecologies destroyed by unfettered settlement. Therefore, Ubastis's residents are trying to slow things down long enough to understand an alien ecology and to keep that ecology from being destroyed.
I said that Vashti was a hunter. Ubastis sports a lot of animal life, much of which looks a lot like Earth dinosaurs even though the evolutionary descent was entirely different and there is no cross-seeding as far as anyone can tell. Vashti hunts mega-fauna with off-world clients to make money for Ubastis, to get good PR, and also to take specimens for study. The world feels a bit like the African veldt, with the Big Tawny plains spreading far out to the arbora where a lot of animals live and hide.
Vashti is also a member of Patrol and Rescue, what passes for a ranger/police force on a colony that is forbidden a military. It was on a P&R patrol that her husband was killed four years ago. Vashti had met him as a teenager because he was her commander during the Second Wave settlement. Her husband has since been almost beatified as a heroic sacrifice for Ubastis, and she carries some of that status as his widow.
Ubastis is a mixture of Islam and Christianity. Its cities are described as creamy adobe-like buildings with calls to prayer, open markets, communal gardens and childcare, and people who cover themselves, but use brilliant materials for decoration and are both gorgeous and modest. In the 24th century, almost everyone has some sort of genetic modification that curbs aggression, increases attractiveness and intellect and physical fitness, and many people also have technical augmentation. Vashti, as a Natch, is seen as a bit different and maybe a bit dangerous.
There are many beautiful set pieces and intense action scenes. Meanwhile, you get glimpses of what's really going on behind the entertaining reading you're doing. The plot culminates in some very difficult choices that will have impact upon all of Ubastis, and possibly the entire galaxy.
I said something about emotional intensity. Vashti is still grieving the loss of her husband. A Beast (BioEngineered Assault Technician, in other words, a genetically modified super-soldier) was responsible for his death, and she is forced to deal with another Beast who was illicitly transported to Ubastis. Vashti longs to kill this new Beast, but she is also struggling with blaming herself for her husband's death. Her own death wish and desire for vengeance are what she struggles with throughout the book, and it's brutal. There are some nasty fight scenes and some stuff that feels uncomfortably close to violent porn. There's a weird little thread of romance wound throughout the book, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.
On the other hand, a lot of science fiction stays away from messy emotions and lionizes the controlled character who is all intellect, so it's good to see some messy emotions driving the plot. Vashti's pain makes her sympathetic, and it's nice to see a woman writing science fiction who isn't afraid to let the fact that we are emotional being shine through in her work. I'm very interested to see where this series goes....more
This is a brilliantly written first book. It was a selection for my mystery book club, but it is as much a pre-apocalyptic novel as any other genre.
OThis is a brilliantly written first book. It was a selection for my mystery book club, but it is as much a pre-apocalyptic novel as any other genre.
Our viewpoint character is named Palace. The earth has perhaps six months before an asteroid hits it, with consequences that are not precisely clear but are certain to be catastrophic. Palace is a detective, and he wants nothing more than to be a detective until the end comes. Suicides are way up (obviously) but then he comes across one that just doesn't ring true. Even though most of the police department is just marking time until impact, he can't let it go.
Palace asks people he meets what they are doing with their remaining time. The answers vary widely, but they also are asking the reader about how they are spending their own lives. If you had six months to live, what would you do? Would you stay at your job, go fulfill your deepest wishes, just end it all?
Since a lot of people aren't doing their jobs anymore, cell phone service is really spotty and a lot of technology isn't working. It's a smart way for an author to circumvent the problems of writing a mystery in an age when instantaneous communication and information are always at our fingertips, and makes the story feel almost old-fashioned.
Palace himself is an unreliable narrator. His own strained coping skills make it hard for him to process all the information he's given, and to an outsider, he could seem almost frighteningly focused on his mission.
The story ends by alluding to a darker side of the world than Palace has allowed himself to see. The mystery is well-constructed and the writing was great. I'm only giving it less than 5 stars because it's pretty damn depressing....more