Somehow, this is the first McKillip I have read, and with it I am well pleased. The collection is made up of a huge breadth of settings in time, placeSomehow, this is the first McKillip I have read, and with it I am well pleased. The collection is made up of a huge breadth of settings in time, place, and genre, but there is a unifying factor: all are clearly narrow-focus cross-sectional samples of the varied lives of the fascinating inhabitants of extraordinarily rich worlds. Each of these stories expresses a doorstop novel's worth of worldbuilding in a couple dozen pages, tops.
Exception: Xmas Cruise, which of itself is great, but which feels misplaced in this anthology.
Then McKillip stole my heart with the afterword, a transcript of the Guest of Honor speech she gave at WisCon 28 in 2004. I'm fully on board with reading more of her work....more
3.5 rounded up because I'm a sucker for girls with knives, what can I say.
I wish, I seriously wish that I had fallen for this series - the characters3.5 rounded up because I'm a sucker for girls with knives, what can I say.
I wish, I seriously wish that I had fallen for this series - the characters are so good and the worlds so interesting and the magic quite fascinating.
And yet. The pacing in all of the novels, but in this last especially, seems artificially imposed. Stakes are placed and raised and moved, the rules of the game change, the perspective shifts, someone says they have an idea before a jump-cut elsewhere. The story itself can't breathe through all these machinations, and any resulting tension in the writing is an emergent effect of the author's imposition of section breaks and flashbacks and bold text, rather than of the plot.
When we're talking a plot of the scale on which Schwab is working, that's a hell of a lot of misdirection. A truly terrifying premise ends up feeling claustrophobic and predictable -what's the big bad's next step? Well, that's obvious. How do our heroes react? Well, as they have already, by solemnly saying that everything has changed now and it cannot go on. And then it goes on.
Also, basic science stuff. Invoking "entropy" in worlds that have no need to understand thermodynamics (and, in "our" London, a world where thermo wouldn't be formalized for another n years, where n is the year of the formulation of that one essential law linking entropy to thermal energy minus the year of George III of England's death*) is sloppy; forcing periodic table element iron (or mild steel because it's probably mild steel) into the "elemental" "spectrum" of earth and fire is sloppy; I don't even know what that bit about Newton's third law of motion was trying to say; dehydrated veins constrict and become invisible beneath the skin. Stuff that - my standards may be stiff because science research editing is my job - should have snagged an editor's mind as straining, stuff that could be rephrased but isn't so it just hangs out being wrong... Yes, I'm nitpicking. I consider it a duty.
*Looked it up. Carnot proposed "entropy" as a term in the 1860s; entropy's relationship with energy was formalized by Boltzmann in 1877 (he spent the rest of his life defending his theory in ever-mounting despair and committed suicide in the early 20th century). George III died in 1820. So entropy is several decades out even for the universe that cares about thermo.
Experientially, also, the concept that our puritanical duty-bound redheaded angst machine has picked up sufficient mad skills in his years at the palace and on short jaunts to visit neighboring royalty to get a lady off on her first -- look, there's no way. There is absolutely no way. I love sweet K, but that scene felt like it was airlifted in from a completely different universe. With different characters.
NOW LET ME ACTUALLY TALK UP THE POSITIVES: Angsty mage/royal boyfriends. Kell and Luc hating each other forever and ever, SO THERE. Rhy as myth. Kings and queens as myth. The view, finally, of the Maresh family as such. Hints at the lives of magically gifted non-nobility. Cool pirate stuff. Evil pirate stuff. Floating emporium of weird stuff on the sea. Luc taking an hour to run some numbers. Nasi in White London. Holland being justifiably smug at these upstart twentysomethings he's been saddled with. Lila hating horses. Lila having a sixth-favorite knife. Lila having all the favorite knives. Lila wearing a fragmented glass eye because why not. Lila charming a new eye out of the pirate queen. Lila simply deciding that rules are for other people. Lila's methods for acquiring ships. Lila. Uh, Lila again. Kell FINALLY GETTING A BREAK. Rhy finding it worthwhile.
There are handfuls of scenes I love and I adore the characters and I want to eat the scenery. I'm glad I bought this, regardless of my degree of satisfaction with its craftsmanship.
Because girls with knives, though. Girls with dozens and dozens of KNIVES....more