Tor sent me a copy of this to review. Also a copy of the followup, Two Serpents Rise.
I was intrigued by the promised mixture of genres...a secondary w...moreTor sent me a copy of this to review. Also a copy of the followup, Two Serpents Rise.
I was intrigued by the promised mixture of genres...a secondary world, steam-punk, urban/epic fantasy legal thriller.
Wow. Max Gladstone sets up an elaborate magical world based on a few simple rules that allow him to apply contract law to the ebb and flow of life. Into this world he introduces character after character, eventually elevating them to view points, until he has a chorus of motives and desires narrating the tale. The tale they tell is of a murder, politics and love.
The story, stripped of it's eyeball kicks, involves a city scarred by a recent world war trying to modernize while holding onto it's unique cultural heritage. I'm not a student enough of history to come up with a great parallel in our world, but the ideas are powerful. Some institutions remain powerful while others have become a perverted (yet still powerful) shell of their former selves. Imagine your police force and your department of water and power as ex-lovers with PTSD.
By personifying the municipal institutions as gods and having the legal system equate to the magic system in any other fantasy story, a modern police procedural/legal thriller is grafted deftly onto the tropes of fantasy.(less)
This is a story that fires on all cylinders. The magic system is tied to religious imagery. All the elements expected in a...moreFrom the review on my blog.
This is a story that fires on all cylinders. The magic system is tied to religious imagery. All the elements expected in a space opera have analogs in this system. Space ships, faster than light travel, communication at a distance, etc. Religion has replaced science and we’re shown repeatedly that the standard metaphors employed by this religion’s texts are NOT metaphors, but truth. It’s all delightfully twisted and wrapped around some interesting characters.
As the story progresses, it becomes less and less clear who we should be rooting for. Everyone is telling the truth as they see it … except when they’re lying. The religious intrigue feels like religious intrigue, the magic rituals feel like magic rituals, the first contact scenario feels like a first contact scenario. Nothing is what it seems.
Scalzi deftly writes what initially seems to be a transparent commentary on the excesses of religion but settles into a solid speculative fiction yarn. Scalzi doesn’t shy away from the horror and gore. He doesn’t shy away from a crazy dark ending. Awesome. The moral if there is one would go something like religion isn’t evil, but twisted people can use religion to do some insane evil.(less)
It’s hard not to compare this book to Norse Code. They came out around the same time and both draw heavily on Norse Mythology. Norse Code was definite...moreIt’s hard not to compare this book to Norse Code. They came out around the same time and both draw heavily on Norse Mythology. Norse Code was definitely more my type of book, a tangle of sub genres and dense with ideas. Black Blade Blues is literally a tale of a magical sword being used to slay a dragon. You don’t get much more core fantasy than that. Also, not that much of a spoiler if you happen to glance at the cover.
The strength of Black Blade Blues lies in its main character. Sarah Beauhall is many things before she becomes a dragon slayer. First, she’s distinctly working class, holding down 2 jobs to make ends meet. She’s a blacksmith by day and the pro master for a very indie movie theater in the evenings. She’s got a beautiful girlfriend and a ton of baggage from her very conservative upbringing. She’s also surrounded by people that seem to know more about the magical aspects of the world than she does.
As more and more magic enters the story, Sarah resists. Part of that magic is Norse Mythology and part of it is love and in both cases she resists. She drives herself more than a little emotionally ragged and makes plenty of bad choices. The first two thirds or so of the book follows this roller coaster and then the stakes are raised. The big battle at the end is gritty and epic despite it’s relatively small scale.
I stopped by the local comic book store to see if they had any of the Hugo nominated graphic novels. They did and I picked up Saga, Vol. 1 and Saucer...moreI stopped by the local comic book store to see if they had any of the Hugo nominated graphic novels. They did and I picked up Saga, Vol. 1 and Saucer Country Vol. 1: Run. I also grabbed this as it looked interesting. I have a nagging suspicion that someone recommended it on a podcast. In any case I'm glad I ended up with it.
Of the three, I'm most hooked by Mind the Gap. It has a very tight focus on small group of interesting characters. I liked this about Saga as well, but in that case it's a juxtaposition of a tight knit family against a galaxy spanning war. There's also a mystery at the core of Mind the Gap just as there is in Saucer Country. It's cool to see these elements mixed and matched in such dramatically different stories.
Mind the Gap alternates between a dream world occupied by coma victims and a very real feeling New York City. Our main character is stuck in the dream world and attempting to piece together the events that put her there. There's a doctor nurse couple also looking into things. Friends and family are all pulled into the story in various ways.
There's something comfortable about a story with a single dominating set piece - in this case, the hospital room where our coma victim lays. Action happens outside of the hospital and in the dream world, but everything always returns to the hospital room. It's sort of the bullpen from a police procedural or the living room out of a sitcom. It's a bit staged, but that ties nicely into the story as a number of the characters, including our coma victim are involved with the theater.
Some of my happiest memories involve working with the theater in various aspects. The process of building a physical manifestation of the setting so that it can be occupied by the characters in your favorite stories is magical. No other word for it. And it's that magic that manages to ooze from the pages here.(less)
"I"m bluffing, but I can look it up on Wikipedia later." -Bob
This is the 4th book in the Laundry series, and the only other one I've read is the first...more"I"m bluffing, but I can look it up on Wikipedia later." -Bob
This is the 4th book in the Laundry series, and the only other one I've read is the first one. In spite of that it held up quite nicely on its own. I love the existence of this series. It assumes a world in which the horrors Lovecraft described (and some other fantasy creatures) exist, yet are governed by the physical laws of the universe. Magic is a branch of applied mathematics. We view this world through the eyes of a low level government employee, who seems to be shedding more of the "low level" modifier on each outing.
Bob, computational demonologist extraordinaire, is thrown into a situation on foreign soil (from his perspective) with some pretty impressive partners in crime. Even though we have multiple point of view characters, the story is compiled by Bob and thus we get shifts from 1st to 3rd person (with occasional 2nd person warnings). It's a technique I thought was cool, then found annoying, but eventually accepted.
That sort of describes my take on the whole book. It was a hard one to flat out enjoy because of it's massive antagonism toward Christianity (and all religions for that matter.) The pace slowed to a crawl for a good chunk of the first third, however it moved along and a good clip after that point. This entry in the series seriously (for a certain definition of serious) explored the issues of living in a universe where the only supernatural forces are dark and scary. Having drawn the connection between math and magic, the worldwide technical infrastructure will eventually summon something apocalyptically scary and everyone in the know is trying to find a defense.
The super spy, Persephone, gives us a glimpse of what Bob is being trained to be. The bureaucratic fumbling over Bob's designation as middle management, handler, etc awkwardly fits the series but I found myself aching to see everyone in action at their full potential. Mostly I got what I wanted.
Bob's accelerated training is a big part of this and it'll be interesting to see how Stross handles the inevitable "hell on earth" he's forecasting. He does a great job with his central characters and the bits of insanity they encounter, but there's a distinct fog of war hovering over the rest of the world these stories are set in. This was a VERY fun read in spite of the road bumps and definitely makes me want to fill in my gaps in the series.
I picked up this book, because I was interested in how a writer might write a first person account of being able to see the future. The author did a g...moreI picked up this book, because I was interested in how a writer might write a first person account of being able to see the future. The author did a great job with that. He sets up a magical system where mages can use a single school of magic. They can end up doing fairly similar things, but there's particularly a distinction between active and passive skills. The book spends a lot of time showing how Alex's (he's the main character) ability to see the future stacks up against the battle mages that manipulate fire, earth or death magic.
Mage society in this book is a combination of imperial British class arrogance and mob family bravado. Inside of that society there are light and dark factions. Alex started out on the dark side of things but his conscious really got in the way. The end result is that he's an outcast from ALL aspects of mage society. He's a mostly likeable character made even more so in comparison to every other mage we encounter. He surrounds himself with a rather motley crew: a young lady cursed with luck, a severely ADD air spirit and an ancient seamstress.
The setting of the final act was a bit jarring after the adequately described London the rest of the book takes place in. In spite of the generic dungeon crawl plenty of action and peril led to a satisfying climax.
I noticed when looking up the author that he's also written a young adult (series?) book about ninjas. This novel had the continuous forward pace that's the hallmark of great YA fiction, with enough information about Alex's school of magic to shelve this as "hard fantasy." The connections between free will, probabilities and knowledge all flesh out Alex's skill. The other schools seemed a bit more "throw a chunk of X energy at what you want dead." I look forward to seeing the other schools fleshed out a bit, but based on the title of the next book "Cursed," I suspect it'll go into more depth about his cursed companion. I'll definitely be checking that out. (less)