This is the first Barbara Hambly novel I have read, and on the strength of it I doubt it will be my last. Her characters are likable, her world well-f...moreThis is the first Barbara Hambly novel I have read, and on the strength of it I doubt it will be my last. Her characters are likable, her world well-fleshed out, and the plot builds tension well and set up a fairly good climax and denoument.
However, it felt like there was a lot of chaff mixed in with the wheat of this story. It was told using a rather self-conscious mix of present-day action and flashbacks that advanced the plot -- a device which, while I don't object to it as a rule, is hard to pull off well. The descriptive passages were heavy-handed, and while there were some excellent moments where a particular description hit me with immediacy and accuracy, most of the passages felt like they simply had to be waded through. I might have enjoyed the book more if there were no wonderful little moments of description, as then I would have felt free to simply skim all those passages; as it was, I felt the need to keep a sharp eye out for those bright flashes, and my enjoyment suffered as a result.
The ending wrapped things up a little too cleanly for my tastes -- Kyra's changed relationship with her parents struck me as simply far too easy a cop-out, as was the resolution of her romantic dilemma -- but the happy ending isn't totally unearned, and does leave a pleasant taste in my memory. So all in all, while not earth-shattering in any way, this is a good afternoon's read and a solid addition to the romantic fantasy cannon.(less)
This novel (and its predecessor) is very much like the painting Ilario wants so much to study: full of bright colors, sometimes surprisingly evocative...moreThis novel (and its predecessor) is very much like the painting Ilario wants so much to study: full of bright colors, sometimes surprisingly evocative, but ultimately two-dimensional.
Gentle's technique is not particularly spectacular. Her descriptions are prosaic, her characters are stock, and she uses that cheapest of all tricks to keep the reader reading: ending every chapter on a cliffhanger. But she has a surprising flair for naming things: the Penitence, the Empty Chair, Alexandria-in-Exile, and others struck me with glimpses into her alternate world that felt realer than all the description she inserted.
Gentle's publisher also did her story no real service in splitting the original novel into two parts. The Stone Golem picks up exactly where The Lion's Eye left off, and there is no catch-up for the reader. I spent the first third of the novel trying to remember who all these people were and what on earth they had done in the previous volume. I'm still not convinced I've remembered it all.
I wanted this novel to be better than it was. I root for any writer that tries to explore gender roles and alternate sexualities. But Gentle simply never got the tone right for me: while Ilario's hermaphroditism was front and center in the first volume, it is almost non-existent in the second, as all the characters are already comfortable with it. There is no sex in this volume, and there wasn't any sex in the first volume after the first chapter. *SPOILER ALERT* Ilario's relationship with his/her child could have been quite interesting, except that Onorata was shuffled off mid-way through this volume for a reason I could not wrap my head around at all. *END OF SPOILER* And then the climax of the novel degenerates into a round-table where all of the men in the novel explain to Ilario that he/she is lucky in being too much of a man to be able to be legally classified a woman -- a bit of proselytizing that would have been unnecessary if Gentle had done her job better with describing Ilario's shifting gender roles (and peoples' reaction to him/her in her different states) throughout the novel.
Still, there is much to enjoy about this novel as well. Gentle's depiction of how an artist sees the world was quite interesting (though there was more of that in the first volume than the second); I did like the characters and was engaged to root for them, even though I liked them better when they were offstage than when they were in front of me acting like idiots; and the plot moved along briskly if you enjoy political machinations instead of battle scenes. I confess to being a little appalled by the fact that the characters at every turn choose to withhold information from each other, then bring that information out at the most inopportune times for discussion, but by halfway through the novel I simply submitted to that piece of silliness and was forced to admire the fact that at least they didn't snipe at each other for it. There also was a fair amount of humor that got me past some of the more absurd passages.
Ultimately, I don't know that I can strongly recommend this novel, but it is less annoying than the first volume (where Ilario simply runs headlong into one disaster after another), does attempt to explore some important issues, has quite an interesting alternate history behind it, and isn't a tremendous chore to read.(less)
I wanted very much to like this novel. I root for authors that try to explore gender roles and sexuality, and those topics are front and center for Il...moreI wanted very much to like this novel. I root for authors that try to explore gender roles and sexuality, and those topics are front and center for Ilario, a true hermaphrodite. Gentle does some interesting things in trying to portray the different ways Ilario is treated when dressed as a man and when dressed as a woman, but she isn't entirely successful, and she makes it more difficult for herself by making Ilario annoying in this volume. He/she spends the entire novel running headlong into one disaster after another and being obnoxious. However, when not running into disaster, Gentle does allow Ilario to see the world with a well-realized painter's eye, and the world he/she sees and describes seems fascinating. There is a great deal of moderately skillfully drawn politicking, quite a few characters I liked a lot (though more when they were offstage than when they were front and center), and enough humor to keep me reading.(less)
This third Diana Tregarde novel is by far the weakest. It has the same weaknesses of the other two -- not terribly interesting characterization or plo...moreThis third Diana Tregarde novel is by far the weakest. It has the same weaknesses of the other two -- not terribly interesting characterization or plots, piss-poor mystery, and Diana being an idiot and not thinking of the obvious solution for at least a hundred pages. Unfortunately, it is also told predominantly from the POV of three teenagers (one of whom is the source of all the problems), all of whom think and act like imbecils throughout. I know that teenagers often look like they don't have a brain in their heads, but they do -- they just have a different set of priorities than adults do. And when the world comes crashing down on them, they DON'T pick fights with each other, they band together and act like sheep. The novels still read incredibly fast, but I was pissed off at it the whole time. If there were any more Tregarde novels, I don't think I would read them given where Lackey took the series in Jinx High.(less)
I'm reading the Diana Tregarde novels in chronological order, rather than publication order, so I came to this novel after Children of the Night. Give...moreI'm reading the Diana Tregarde novels in chronological order, rather than publication order, so I came to this novel after Children of the Night. Given that, it does feel like a stronger novel -- I was involved right away, rather than spending the first 1/3 wondering if I should bother. Part of that is that I was now used to Lackey's rather purple style, but part was also that there is far less of the stream-of-consciousness italics that so bogged down Children of the Night for me. Part of it is also that the other primary viewpoint character in this novel, Mark, is much more of an active participant rather than victim, as Dave was. Very importantly, there is a reason provided for Diana totally missing the obvious answer to all her of questions for a hundred pages while Lackey got the action going. The fact that an essential clue simply slipped Diana's mind in Children of the Night annoyed me to no end, and while it was just as annoying here, at least she forgot for a reason.
Incidentally, the names in these novels are starting to annoy me. Everyone has an extremely common one or two syllable name, and an obvious nickname. That makes it very hard to separate characters that are introduced at the same time: in Children of the Night I never got the band members sorted out, and in Burning Water I still can't remember which of the Mountainhawk brothers is which. (I also had to flip back through the book and find their name -- again -- to write this review, because it too simply blended into the prose without impressing itself on me.)
Another thing that threw me in both novels was that in both someone that one of the viewpoint characters is close friends with ends up dying -- but due to the circumstances of that death, none of the other characters seem to mind much. That simply struck me as false -- no matter how much a friend may have brought trouble down on him or herself, I can't imagine myself being as blase as these characters are.
Given all that, I did barrel through the novel in a single afternoon. It's lightweight, has some humor to it, and while I wouldn't exactly call these novels mysteries -- the audience always knows exactly what's happening -- they are serviceable supernatural thrillers.(less)
This is the first novel I've read by Mercedes Lackey, and it took me quite some time to get into it.
I was initially put off by the style -- very purpl...moreThis is the first novel I've read by Mercedes Lackey, and it took me quite some time to get into it.
I was initially put off by the style -- very purple, adjectives attached to every noun (sometimes multiple adjectives), half of each page written as Diana's stream-of-consciousness thoughts, which were equally frenetic when she was standing alone in a shop as when she was having a panic attack. And while it isn't Lackey's fault (her magical butt-kicking heroine predates most others) the whole set-up seemed too familiar by far. It should indeed appeal to Buffy fans, but don't expect it to take the now-familiar subgenre anywhere new.
Then I was put off by a number of items that cropped up that read like anachronisms, whether they are or not. For no reason I could discover, the novel is set in the early 70s, after the Watergate scandal broke but before Nixon resigned in '74. Yet there is a mention of Diana wanting a personal computer -- and I'm pretty sure personal computers weren't available until '75. There's a mention of feeling like being in a Stephen King novel -- but he didn't get published until '73, and I find it unlikely that his was a household name THAT immediately. I grant, the times are close enough that there may have been a week or two in '74 when a person might have thought all those things, but they just READ like anachronisms, whether they actually are or not.
But around 2/3 of the way through, after Diana joined forces with Andre, the plot picked up enough pace that I sped through the rest. Andre was my favorite character, though he doesn't break the ethical vampire mold in any way either, and though I cringed at the way the romance was handled, it was at least blessedly short.
So overall, I have to say I liked the book, but I am very borderline about whether or not to read another.(less)
I knew going into this that the Sword-Dancer books were light sword-and-sorcery reading. I was prepared for minimal world-building, cursory character...moreI knew going into this that the Sword-Dancer books were light sword-and-sorcery reading. I was prepared for minimal world-building, cursory character building, and purple prose. But what totally threw me at the start of the first book (Sword Dancer) was that Roberson seems to know absolutely nothing about how to survive in the desert. The entire novel is a trek through the desert, and yet the two main characters set off with a little dried meat in their bags and a couple of waterskins on a moment's notice. Apparently this is a desert where waterholes and oases are only a day or two apart, but Tiger spends a lot of time talking about how sometimes wells are fouled, and sandstorms come up in a moment, and there are all these dangerous animals that can lay you low, and no time at all preparing for any of those dangers. If a seasoned trekker is going off into a desert that dangerous, he rides a camel (by the way, where were the camels? it was definitely supposed to be the Arabian desert) if he's not in a major rush and he brings along at least one extra in case his animal goes lame and to carry extra supplies. He should have a small tent he can pitch around himself to provide some protection from a sandstorm. He should have a heck of a lot more water and food. It would have been one thing if the idiotic Northerner had tried to go into the desert with no preparation, but for the supposed world-wise Southerner to do it completely ruined my faith in the author's ability to handle her own world.
Del's character was also problematic for me at the very opening. She has supposedly spent five years training herself for this mission, but she is unwilling to wait a day (or an hour) to properly prepare herself for a dangerous journey through the desert? Those are incompatible world views. She should be patient after spending so much time breaking down cultural barriers in the north, and she exhibits no patience at all in the novel. With the decisions she made (or wanted to make) she should have died almost immediately having come nowhere near achieving her object for simple lack of foresight.
And because Roberson lost me so early on, I spent a great deal of time looking for other inconsistencies. For instance, the desert seems Arabian, and some of the tribes seem Bedouin, which fits, and several cultures seem Arabic, but heaven is called Valhail (and sounds quite a bit like Valhalla when it is mentioned) and all the terms related to sword fighting seem drawn from Japanese culture. I don't mind authors picking and choosing things they like from world cultures, but if they aren't cultures that naturally mingle in our world, the terms should be disguised quite a bit more so that an average reader doesn't detect the source material. That sort of thing I might have overlooked if Roberson had my trust, but since she handled her desert so poorly I wasn't willing to extend her any credit on those accounts.
I did make it through the entire first novel; it read quickly, and it was pretty much as I expected. But every time things were moving along decently well and Roberson was rebuilding my suspension of disbelief she would do something else that revealed her lack of control over her novel: the characters would do something inconsistent, or some aspect of the world would get lost that was set up earlier, or a passage of time would be handled badly. By the time the climax was reached, I still didn't like either of the main characters, I didn't buy their growth, and I didn't care at all whether they accomplished their goals. Given all that, I am undecided on whether or not to read the next novel. It is incredibly light, easy reading -- probably only an afternoon's worth -- and I already own it, but I still don't know if I want to bother.(less)
This was a hard book for me to read. It is undeniably brilliantly written, with characters that go down and down and a world that extends well belong...moreThis was a hard book for me to read. It is undeniably brilliantly written, with characters that go down and down and a world that extends well belong the edge of the page. It is true, there is no magic as so many people insist on having in their fantasy worlds, but the world we get glimpses of is certainly not this one, so there is nowhere else to market it but the fantasy shelves. That depth and realism is extremely rare, and definitely to be commended: every single character whose viewpoint we see (and the viewpoint shifts frequently and with no formatting flourishes like line or chapter breaks) is damaged, driven by wants and needs that we get mere glimpses of. It is really an incredible feat for an author to accomplish: every time the viewpoint shifts the reader can see how the person whose actions we are following is acting in the way he or she thinks is right or justified. Knowing what we know of what else is going on, we can see how the person is short-sighted, or is playing into someone else's hands, or is simply an idiot; but every single person has his or her reasons and, given his or her state of knowledge and desired goals, is justified.
This, unfortunately, is what made the book so extremely hard to read. Because it takes place among an aristocratic class that does nothing but play politics with their own and other peoples' lives, the only viewpoint that was restful, the only person whose goals and needs were simple and straightforward, the only person who acted consistently with what we normally consider honor in a fantasy novel, was the swordsman Richard St. Vier. His was the most common viewpoint, as it is his story being told, but it was not often enough to prevent the novel from feeling like a tragedy to me, rather than the comedy I was led to believe it was. This was partly aided by the fact that something I read online about it gave away what I think was actually supposed to be a twist in the middle of the story, but I think even without that spoiler I would still have been left feeling unsettled by this novel. It clashes with my view of the world. I made my philosophical choice years ago, and I chose to believe that the world is ultimately a decent place, where people occasionally have misunderstandings, but these misunderstandings can be ironed out if we give honest communication and empathy a try. I do not want to live in a world like the one Kushner so lovingly detailed, where every man is an island to himself and the only choice is who you want to be used by and how. There is too much power in this novel and not enough love, and even the love that is in it is based in mutual conquest rather than in mutual surrender. It is a dark novel, an ugly one, but one that will undoubtedly stay with me for a long time.(less)
There is a good story here. . . underneath very pedestrian storytelling -- which is rather ironic, for a novel about the power stories (and memories)...moreThere is a good story here. . . underneath very pedestrian storytelling -- which is rather ironic, for a novel about the power stories (and memories) have in our lives. It is a coming-of-age novel, but the characters surrounding Samad (the young boy) seem never to have grown up themselves, and from his introduction (when he is eight) Samad thinks and talks and acts exactly as mature as Teller (who is even older than Samad knows). It is a companion animal fantasy and succeeds in that regard, but as a result the har don't feel alien enough for the science fiction setting that is clear in the backdrop at all times and which becomes foreground in the last third of the novel. The central metaphor inherent in the harsel mode of reproduction is very satisfying as it weaves through the rest of the story, but its execution left quite a bit to be desired, and the novel got bogged down in the middle with paroxysms of grief. In short, it's a story in search of a writer: if Thomson was a better technician (something she conveniently makes Samad off-stage with a bit of hand-waving that felt far too much like wish-fulfillment) I believe I might have loved this book; as it is, I could see recommending it to a middle-schooler (whose parents don't mind frank discussion of sex) but not to an intelligent, well-read adult.(less)
This is a good book. The writing is fairly good, the world well researched and evocative, the action well paced, and the story resolves well emotional...moreThis is a good book. The writing is fairly good, the world well researched and evocative, the action well paced, and the story resolves well emotionally while leaving the larger plot open for the next two novels. Its main flaw is that it seems so terribly familiar. It is an imaginative chronicling of Bridei, son of Maelchon, who ruled the Picts in Scotland in the 11th century, but it could be any number of historical fantasy novels. There is the requisite young boy destined for greatness; his distant but devoted mentor; his boyhood companions, who fall by the wayside; and of course, there is a girl with mystic powers who falls deeply in love with him and who he has sworn to guard but who none of his guardians approves of. There are, of course, obstacles put in the boy's path -- politics and destiny intrude at inopportune times, and everyone goes about making long faces and refusing to listen to each other. Finally, difficulties melt away and the boy steps into the shining light of his destiny as was ordained.
This book did its job well -- I want to read the next one in the series. But I spent the entire time reading it thinking about how I had seen every character before (with the minor exception of Faolan, who I want more of but who would probably disappoint me if I got what I wanted), and how ridiculously simple resolution of everyone's problems would be if they simply sat down and talked to one another. That, I think, was the biggest failing of the book for me; I get so tired of novels where people -- supposedly GREAT people -- make the simple things in life so complicated by refusing to speak of them. It was the same difficulty I had with The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (which of course also featured a young boy destined for greatness), but I was able to rate that novel higher because it didn't have the added annoyance of doomed lovers thrown in.
I wish there was more fantasy written by authors who worked a little harder at developing their conflicts. Take Lois McMaster Bujold's dictum of simply throwing the worst thing possible at her characters and seeing how they do; you wouldn't find as many plots hinging on simple misunderstanding. Follow Patricia McKillip's example and make your characters fundamentally opposed to each other as they are in The Forgotten Beasts of Eld or Alphabet of Thorn, or if you don't want to do that, give them a real opponent -- not assassins that are always bested just in time and an election that is never really in doubt. In short, write about adults, not these perennial teenagers, and especially not precocious youngsters that are more staid and set in their ways than many an old man of eighty.(less)
Brilliantly evocative, the poetry of change-bell ringing winding throughout the novel in unexpected and delightful ways. The final solution was proper...moreBrilliantly evocative, the poetry of change-bell ringing winding throughout the novel in unexpected and delightful ways. The final solution was properly horrifying and unsuspected until quite late in the novel. My one little quibble is that the character of Deacon is so unreservedly black. . . I prefer even my villains to have a bit more grey in them. But beyond that, truly a mystery classic.(less)
Palimpsest is urban fantasy by two of the three most common meanings for the phrase. Half of it is set in a contemporary urban setting -- four, actual...morePalimpsest is urban fantasy by two of the three most common meanings for the phrase. Half of it is set in a contemporary urban setting -- four, actually, with Sei’s plot in Tokyo, November’s in San Francisco, Oleg’s in New York, and Ludovico’s in Rome – and half is set in and completely and utterly about the fantastical city of Palimpsest. Its structure is convoluted -- though still simpler than the labyrinthine structure of Valente’s previous work, the two-volumes of The Orphan’s Tales – and its prose is dreamlike, distantly beautiful and gossamer-light despite the weight of metaphor attendant on every phrase. It is a work of beautiful yearnings, and clearly I’ve been infected by it.
It’s not the sort of book that is suited for a wide audience – the prose is too poetic, the structure is too difficult, and the premise would earn it an NC-17 rating were this ever turned into a movie, even though most of the sex (and there is necessarily a lot of it) is practically fade-to-black. I didn’t love it, despite being in its target audience (and having read Valente before), but I did admire the heck out of it and in retrospect I think it may have moved me deeply at the end.
But that question mark is why the book ultimately frustrated me. There was a great deal that I loved about the book. I loved how well Valente drew the four real-world cities and (more importantly) the strange isolated little burrows the four main characters inhabited in those cities; I loved even more the peculiar but very much character-reflective neighborhoods each of them inhabited in Palimpsest. I loved the city of Palimpsest itself, and the dark beauty Valente imbued it with; and deep down I got how it would be addictive. I even really enjoyed the structure, though I tend to have a better-than-average instinctive grasp of patterns, so I never once got lost.
But ultimately, even though I loved Valente’s lyrical prose at the beginning of the novel, and even though I thought it absolutely the right sort of prose for a story of this sort, it distanced me from the muted tragedy inherent in the ending. One of the things I loved most about the previous Valente work I read (the two volumes of The Orphan’s Tales) was the way she wove joy and tragedy together in every page. She does the same thing in Palimpsest by the end, but I didn’t feel either emotion until I thought about the story afterwards, and I’m pretty sure that that disconnect was because of distance created by the prose.
As a flaw, that’s a pretty minor one – after all, I feel the emotion NOW – but it is a flaw, and I wish with all my heart that I could have loved Palimpsest more.(less)
This is a reprint of the Nebula-winning novella The Women of Nell Gwynne's combined with the short story "The Bohemian Astrobleme." Both stories cente...moreThis is a reprint of the Nebula-winning novella The Women of Nell Gwynne's combined with the short story "The Bohemian Astrobleme." Both stories center on Lady Beatrice, who works at Nell Gwynne's, which is the (fallen) ladies' auxiliary to the Gentlemen's Speculative Society, which is the precursor to the Company. Both stories are fun steampunk capers with Baker's trademark humor, so this edition makes for a pleasant afternoon's read. It should work for both Company novices and long-time fans.(less)
This is a melancholy book, both because of its subject matter and because it is likely the last Kage Baker book I will ever see published, given her d...moreThis is a melancholy book, both because of its subject matter and because it is likely the last Kage Baker book I will ever see published, given her death last January. The speculative fiction field is lessened by her loss, and this book is a reminder of exactly why.
I suspect I will be in the minority in holding this opinion. It's a slight book, both in length and in that it is one in which not a whole lot happens. The heavy-duty world-building went on in the previous two novels, and this one is essentially nothing more than a gentle coming-of-age travelogue and romance. It has a likeable young protagonist, some light adventure, some not-very-dark secrets, and a happy ending. All of that is usually enough for a young adult audience, which is why I think it will work best when aimed at that reading level.
But that's just the gloss, the stuff the publisher sees (based on the jacket description which, as always with Baker's novels, spoils some things better left unspoiled and gets other things completely wrong). At its core this novel is just as subversive as the two that came before in this gloriously zany fantasy world -- unlike 95% of fantasy written today, it is a novel about the commonplace events that make up the lives of the vast majority of people inhabiting any world, real or imagined. It very gently paints a portrait of the lower classes, the working (and non-working) poor, whose lives are counted so negligibly by the characters portrayed in most fantasy novels. It's about the everyday tragedies of a hard life, and the way small lives get swallowed up by large ones, and the difference that creates in perception.
There is a beautiful passage between Eliss and Krelan where they talk about the way they see the universe. Krelan, living amongst the nobility his entire life, waxes on about how ordered the world is, the strict hierarchies keeping everyone in balance, in their place. And Eliss, whose idea of luxury is eating at a Red House (an establishment Krelan thinks terribly declasse) breaks in to say "But there isn't any balance. That's just made up. A Diamondcut can end up dead in the river mud, and a demon can fall in love with a goddess. Things just happen. Sometimes they're even good things."
That viewpoint is exactly the viewpoint so often missing from fantasy worlds. This loosely related trilogy, no matter its outer trappings, has always been about the value in seeking happiness, in forming families, in striving to be true to individuals rather than principles, and in enjoying life today, because it is a fragile thing. And that message, when delivered in such a gently beguiling way, is one I hope resonates with everyone who reads it.(less)