Overall Satisfaction: Intellectual Satisfaction: Emotional Satisfaction: Bechdel Test: Pass Johnson Test: Pass Will I read more by this author? Maybe. DOverall Satisfaction: ★ Intellectual Satisfaction: ★ Emotional Satisfaction: ★ Bechdel Test: Pass Johnson Test: Pass Will I read more by this author? Maybe. Definitely not with this translator.
I loved Andreas Eschbach’s previous novel, The Carpet Makers, currently his only other novel translated into English. It was very much an idea-driven science fiction novel, old-fashioned in a very good way, fitting nicely in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov. And the translation by Doryl Jensen was superb, the prose clear and spare and elegant in a way that made the eventual mystery reveal more powerful.
Unfortunately, I could not even finish Lord of All Things.
It is a much more modern novel. The Carpet Makers was episodic, each chapter essentially a short story of its own where the connection between them was simply that each story brought the narrative a little closer to the big reveal of the ending. Lord of All Things, on the other hand, is a continuous narrative, following Hiroshi Kato’s life from his childhood in Japan to his college years at MIT to what I assume will be his adult life as one of the world’s leading robotics experts.
The Carpet Makers’ strength was Eschbach’s (and Jensen’s) skill with building atmosphere, and with dispensing clues to the central mystery one by one at exactly the right pace to keep the dramatic tension rising. The strengths required by the story Lord of All Things seems to be telling are very different – this novel needs Hiroshi, at the very least, to be a compelling character, a character with charisma (for the reader, if not necessarily for the other characters around him). And with the number of words devoted to setting each scene it also really needs a writer with the gift of capturing a sense of place, the specific details that make it the French Ambassador’s compound in Tokyo or an MIT frat house instead of just a generic place where rich people live or place where college students get drunk. And for me, Eschbach failed at both of these elements, failed so miserably that I could not stand to read more than 160 pages of the 647 page novel.
This novel is incredibly satisfying, despite being fairly uneven technically. The characters are charismatic; the mystery, though fairly simple, maintThis novel is incredibly satisfying, despite being fairly uneven technically. The characters are charismatic; the mystery, though fairly simple, maintains an excellent sense of tension due to the stakes; and the world is fascinating, lovingly detailed, and fairly unique among fantasy worlds. I stayed up all night to finish this, and immediately wanted to read the next in the series. (Sadly, neither of the two other Astreiant books are available in any of the library systems I have access to.)
It's actually a little surprising to me, how much I enjoyed this book, because there were several elements of its execution that normally irritate me. Scott & Barnett had inconsistent control over POV -- most of the book is told from a tight third-person viewpoint centered on either Rathe or Philip, but every once in a while they slipped into a third-person omniscient, or switched POV from Rathe to Philip mid-section. Now this isn't uncommon, particularly in fantasy from the 80s/90s, but it always bothers me. The prologue, which let the book pass the Bechdel test on the very first page, was in the POV of characters that did not appear again until a couple hundred pages in, which again isn't really uncommon in high fantasy novels, but again, usually gets under my skin.
And oh, the info-dumping! There are a LOT of passages that are just the characters thinking about how their world works, how peoples' stars affect their chances in life, what the various political factions think of each other, all things that people don't actually think to themselves in real life but which they do in fantasy novels because the authors have put in a lot of work into building their worlds and want the reader to see it. Normally this is a cardinal sin to me; I would much rather just be thrown into the world and forced to figure out what's going on for myself. But here I was willing to forgive it, because the world was legitimately fascinating. The entire social order is built around astrology, so everyone knows the time of their birth down to the hour or better, and their stars determine what careers will suit them, and they go to astrologers often to get readings for what their near-future might hold. There are masculine stars, which encourage people to wander, and feminine stars, which encourage people to settle, so for the most part women hold political power by virtue of being landowners while the militaries and trading companies are dominated by men, but plenty of men have feminine stars and plenty of women have masculine stars. Stars also determine when it's propitious to marry or have children, so same-sex relationships are common and same-sex partners can have legal standing entirely separate from marriage, which is (I think) heterosexual and focused exclusively on property.
This is what perplexed me most about Scott & Barnett. On the one hand, as I said, there were quite a few heavy-handed info-dumps about astrology and politics, and I was fine with them because they were interesting, but I still noticed them. But the world-building around gender and sexuality was just as interesting and different from the norm as the political and magical systems, and Scott & Barnett conveyed that information in my preferred fashion -- the characters simply used the terminology as was appropriate, and I was left to infer what it all meant on my own. I don't know if one author handled the politics/astrology and the other handled the gender/sexuality, and that was the cause of the difference, or if they left the gender/sexuality world-building mostly oblique so that it could fly under the radar of more conservative fantasy readers; but either way, though I did not mind the info-dumping, I wish the astrology/politics world-building had been handled as subtly as the gender/sexuality world-building was.
It was, of course, for the gender & sexuality world-building the I picked up the book -- I'm always looking for SFF that has alternate gender roles and more expansive ideas of sexuality than is typical. On the sexuality front this book satisfied completely; as I said, queer sexualities are incredibly common and entirely unremarkable in this world, and that is delightful. On the gender front my reaction was a bit more complicated. On the one hand, it's world where political power is mostly concentrated in female hands -- Chenedolle is ruled by a Queen, all the prospective heirs are female, most property owners are female, and property passes down to daughters. And this is one of the rare books that I placed on my GoodReads "A Passel of Women" shelf -- there are women everywhere in this world, as pointsmen (police officers), pickpockets, tavern keepers, and shady financiers. The preferred gender-neutral sentence construction is "she or he" instead of "he or she." The book passed the Bechdel Test despite having male leads.
But. There was a pattern that I noticed about halfway through the novel, and it's one that I do not like. Despite all the women in the book, somehow, the characters that actually moved the plot were all male. The two leads, of course; but also the butcher that reported the missing apprentice that got the action started; the drunk journeyman that was the main instigator in Philip's changes of fortune; the necromancer that helped Rathe put the pieces of the mystery together; the traders who provided a crucial piece of evidence; the shady businessman who was more involved than he knew. Now, it's possible that this was a deliberate choice by Scott & Barnett. After all, if feminine stars are about stability and masculine stars about change, then it is vaguely in keeping with the focus on astrology for the men to be astrologically more inclined to be the movers and shakers of plot. But really, I'm pretty sure that's a terrible bit of fanwanking on my part; I strongly suspect that despite women having equal or greater power in the world, the men have greater power in the plot because that's how insidious sexism is.
Still, despite all those little critiques, this book was simply fun. I did see where the mystery was headed in advance, but that didn't detract from the tension through the middle of the book because though I knew what was going on I did not know that everything would end well. The climax felt a little rushed, mostly because it wasn't until the climax that I was actually convinced that the astrology-based magic actually had power in the world rather than being superstition, but it was still emotionally satisfying. And despite my reservations about the narrative's gender equality, the world itself is exactly the sort of place I like to spend time, the sort of place I wish was more common in SFF -- one not enslaved to our too-narrow ideas of gender and sexuality, and with swashbuckling heroes and magic to boot. All in all I am very happy I read this, and will be seeking out more of the authors' work as soon as I can....more
One Night for Love and A Summer to Remember are two of my favorite romance novels, so when I heard that Balogh was writing a romance for Gwendoline --One Night for Love and A Summer to Remember are two of my favorite romance novels, so when I heard that Balogh was writing a romance for Gwendoline -- a minor character in those two novels -- I was excited. Unfortunately, Gwen's romance disappoints. Balogh chose to make this the starting point for a new series, surrounding six people who call themselves the Survivors' Club because all were traumatized by the Napoleonic Wars. Unfortunately, that meant a significant chunk of this novel was spent setting the groundwork for the forthcoming five -- the hero of this novel is a member of the Club, but she spent so much time introducing the other five members of the Club that I felt the hero himself got short shrift. Gwen didn't get much development either, and the main obstacle to their romance -- his middle-class birth and subsequent dislike of the aristocracy -- never seemed very convincing to me. (Balogh handled the cross-class romance much better in her novella A Matter of Class.) And in addition to not-very-interesting leads given not enough screen time, Balogh also got rather didactic for my taste, all the characters breaking into monologues about the nature of trauma and recovery at the drop of a hat. All in all, one of Balogh's weaker works....more
I really enjoyed this volume, which serves as a sort of mosaic of science in England in the first two-thirds of the 19th century.
Snyder makes four menI really enjoyed this volume, which serves as a sort of mosaic of science in England in the first two-thirds of the 19th century.
Snyder makes four men -- William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones -- the center of her narrative, but does not trace their lives chronologically. Instead, after some brief biographical sketches that bring the reader to the point where the four men were together at Cambridge, she breaks her narrative up by their fields on interest, addressing in turn chemistry, computers, economics, astronomy, the tides, surveying, photography, cryptography, and evolution. She also addresses the development of the scientific method, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Great Britain's 1851 Great Exhibition, and the conflict (or lack thereof) between the scientists' religious beliefs and scientific discoveries. In keeping with their own view of how science works, ever time she turned to a new field she placed the Club's efforts in context, providing historical background on the field and some anecdotes about the scientists who previously influenced the Breakfast Club and those who were influenced by the Breakfast Club in turn.
That strategy is why I call the book a mosaic -- though Snyder keeps the lives and works of Whewell, Babbage, Herschel, and Jones central, the four men are merely entry points to the larger body of scientific exploration and codification in the 19th century England. Snyder does this admirably, capturing the excitement of the time period, when it seemed that all the secrets of the natural world were on the brink of being unlocked.
I do have some quibbles. The book is rather myopic, conflating the sciences of England with all science worldwide. The final chapter is quite heavy-handed, with Snyder suddenly devolving into a rant against the separation between science and the humanities (a separation she simply assumes that her readers will agree exists). But overall this book was a great deal of fun: accessible, informative, and vibrant in its depictions of the mood of the age and the characters of the men who drove it....more
I love that it's character-driven rather than plot-driven. Nothing particularly happens in this novel -- a girl goes toI love so much about this book.
I love that it's character-driven rather than plot-driven. Nothing particularly happens in this novel -- a girl goes to boarding school, is shunned, writes and reads a lot, and eventually finds a few friends; the "reckoning that could no longer be put off" takes place within the confines of the last few pages, and feels. . . on the whole, slightly unnecessary. Anyone who wants action should look elsewhere. This book takes place almost entirely within the confines of Mori's head, and I love that. I love that it's about grieving, and that it's about identity, and that it's about making the best of your seriously messed up family.
I love that it's about books, and that Mori engages with books, has forceful opinions about them that the reader is clearly allowed to disagree with. I haven't actually read most of the books Mori talks about (somehow I've read lots of stuff from the 60s and from the 80s on, but precious little from the 70s) but my background knowledge of the authors was enough that I didn't feel like I missed anything. Probably the only work any reader has to be familiar with is Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, because Mori uses the terms "karass" and "granfalloon" a lot before she explains them to an outsider -- but even those terms are fairly clear from the context.
I love the way the magic works. . . no flashes or puffs of smoke to let you know something has happened, just a sudden string of coincidences (going back long before you cast your spell) leading to the outcome you wanted. It's the sort of magic I think makes sense in a contemporary setting with our history, and it's the sort of magic I wish there was more of in fantasy, because it seems so much more magical than the magic-by-numbers currently popular. And yes, it IS magic: Mori thinks so, and the author says so, so I see no reason to question that fact.
But somehow. . . I did not quite love this book. Maybe it's because I wasn't particularly alienated as a teenager. Maybe it's because I wanted just a little bit more. . . magic, in Mori's voice, to carry through some of the boarding school drama. Or maybe this is one of those books that will hit me harder the further I get from it -- it certainly has that potential. I expected to love this book, and maybe that's why I didn't; very little can live up to the level of expectation produced by the knowledge that there's a new book by a favorite author that's getting tons of praise from other favorite authors. Whatever the case. . . I will absolutely recommend this to anyone who likes the stuff I laid out above. It's absolutely going on my keeper shelf, and I'm glad I bought it in hardcover. But it isn't quite a book that immediately carved out a place in my soul....more
This is a well-written, evocative book, full of period detail and fully-fleshed, complex characters. It is a historical mystery that succeeds in beingThis is a well-written, evocative book, full of period detail and fully-fleshed, complex characters. It is a historical mystery that succeeds in being both accessible to the modern reader and still hard to untangle. It has moments of humor, pathos, and heart-pounding suspense. It also stares unflinchingly into some very dark places, without letting that darkness overwhelm its story. It is a wonderful book, but not one to be read lightly, particularly if you prefer your reading to be full of sweetness and light. Benjamin January's world is full of everyday defeats and stolen bits of happiness -- and the fact that his world is our world makes every defeat that much more painful. But for the stout of heart this is a luminous piece of genre writing....more
This is a deeply impressive novel. It is exquisitely crafted: the pace is measured, but sure; the metaphors are used delicately; and the control overThis is a deeply impressive novel. It is exquisitely crafted: the pace is measured, but sure; the metaphors are used delicately; and the control over perspective (shifting between first person, tight third person, and loose present-tense third person for the three different timelines) is both absolute and absolutely necessary to the emotional arc being told. It is a novel to mull over, savor.
It is also an incredibly intense experience, or at least it was for me. I read it slowly partly so that I could admire Griffith's work, but mostly because reading it for more than half an hour at a time left me introspective and melancholy. There is a great deal of pain in the novel, and the carefully distanced prose makes it all the easier for the reader to fill in the blanks. For all the science fiction trappings (and they are many, from the cyberpunk-ish (but mostly irrelevant) identity hacking to the bioremediation science that furnishes much of the plot and much of the imagery) this story is about trauma, and surviving trauma, and then surviving your survival tactics. It's about ethics, and class, and identity, and monsters that come in human shape. It's vaguely dystopian without being political, and it's about corporate espionage while refusing to forget that corporations are anything but faceless.
I can't say I loved the book; it was far too emotionally hard for that. It left me unsettled and totally drained, and I don't know that I would ever read it again. But I will certainly be picking up everything else Griffith ever writes....more
I loved this book. It's set a couple decades after the events of Swordspoint and does feature a number of the same characters, but it can easily standI loved this book. It's set a couple decades after the events of Swordspoint and does feature a number of the same characters, but it can easily stand on its own. And unlike Swordspoint I was immediately emotionally invested in Katherine, because her world is more approachable to me than St. Vier's was, full of people mostly trying to do the right thing and build happy lives. Katherine is just your average girl from the landed class, raised to run a household and attract a husband. She knows nothing of politics and cares less; she has an eye for beauty and doesn't have an unconventional bone in her body. And in a classic fantasy of manners (or in fact any comedy of manners) twist she is sent off to the city to make her family's fortune and is immediately forced to break the most important conventions of her gender and her class.
What Kushner does absolutely brilliantly is take all the fantasy of manners tropes and subvert them, filling the book with page after page of witty, comedic banter and then hitting the reader with a line that cuts through to the real power dynamics in these sorts of stories -- the danger and the desperation inherent in the system we are so comfortable in in fantasy worlds. An example: one of the secondary characters is a pretty, vivacious girl Katherine's age going through her debut season, and she is being moody and demanding and in all ways a typical girl in this sort of story. Her brother, who wants to use the carriage, doesn't understand what's gotten into his normally sunny sister, and starts to pester her. Their mother immediately steps in and pulls him aside and asks to speak to him as an adult. This is what she says:
What happens to Artemesia this Season or the next will determine the course of her entire life from on. She is on display, everything about her: her clothes, her hair, her teeth, her laugh, her voice. . . Think of it as -- oh, I don't know, as a horse that has only one race to win. If she marries well, she will be comfortable and happy. If she makes a poor choice, or fails to attract a worthy man, the rest of her life will be a misery.
The game of courtship reduced to buying livestock, and even better is that even with this explanation the brother clearly doesn't understand exactly how little control of her own destiny his sister has, and how little margin for error there is.
But we the reader aren't allowed to forget this lesson, as Kushner weaves Artemesia's conventional life through Katherine's unconventional one, then brings the two girls together at an incredibly fraught Rogue's Ball that changes both their reputations in the City forever. From that point on the balance shifts decidedly from comedy to tragedy, though there are still little choices that Kushner makes that utterly delighted me -- for instance, Katherine and Artemesia both drawing on their reading of a Three Musketeers-esque novel to guide them through utterly unfamiliar waters. But as Kushner piles political complication on top of social complication on top of the problems inherent in talking about sex in a roughly Regency England era setting, we are forced to confront all of the ways that type of political system can leave people wide open to be victimized, and then can lead to society blaming the victims for their abusers acts.
All of which was so incredibly right, so perfectly suited to what I like and need to read, that I felt personally betrayed by the ending. In the last 20 pages Kushner took the novel back to its comedy of manners roots, waving a magic wand and making everything better, and then practically ended the story with "and they lived happily ever after." The ending of the novel made me scream in frustration, and I think I would actually recommend that people who respond the way I do to the 454 pages of the novel proper not even read the five pages of Coda....more
This was my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I found it truly delightful. I rarely read romances because I have no patience for swooning heroines andThis was my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I found it truly delightful. I rarely read romances because I have no patience for swooning heroines and brooding heroes, and though one of my favorite authors cites Heyer in general and this book in particular as an inspiration, it took me some time to pick it up.
I had no trouble with the amount of period detail, because it seemed no more overwhelming than reading any period piece (such as Jane Austen, who is mentioned a couple of times in the text); indeed, it was set out in a fairly accessible way, which it often is not when reading something written during that time period. I also had no trouble with the time spent on description, particularly of clothing -- Heyer uses her descriptive passages well, always making sure that they are accomplishing either some character-building or at the very least are humorous. (In many cases they were both.) I did find the characters drawn a trifle broadly for my taste -- each person, when introduced seemed so much a stereotype that I worried the plot would be wholly predictable.
However, once all the principal parties were introduced, Heyer was able to just set her characters at one another, and this was where she soared for me. I giggled throughout the novel, and actually found myself dog-earing pages with particularly witty dialogue so I could read them to my boyfriend later on. I found Jenny a heroine after my own heart, particularly because she would have laughed at anyone even attempting to call her one.
And that was why I loved the ending so very much. The novel has no ". . .and they lived happily ever after", and that makes it feel far realer than a romance has any right to be. There is no melodrama in this novel, no great stores of passion; it is simply two people finding contentment with each other, and discovering that if the choice is between passion and contentment, contentment is to be preferred. Truly, a novel after my own heart, and one I can heartily recommend....more