In Victorian England, petty thief Sue Trinder agrees to help con a naïve young woman out of her inheritance. But when Sue meets Maud Lilly, both her eIn Victorian England, petty thief Sue Trinder agrees to help con a naïve young woman out of her inheritance. But when Sue meets Maud Lilly, both her emotions and the con grow regrettably complex. To call Fingersmith compelling is an understatement. The Dickensian pastiche and pagecount run overlong, the dual narratives can be repetitive, the plot twists are downright manipulative, yet the pages fly by. I saw another reviewer refer to this as YA lit with substance, which is spot on: Fingersmith invites fevered emotional investment, but is nuanced and grim. The unromantic historical setting and the predicaments that the protagonists land are sometimes so stressful that I regretted reading it; still, the pages fly by. I continue to be impressed by Waters's skill and can't but recommend this book....more
Two strangers are drawn together by the death of a young woman to an apparent animal attack: Peter, Romani, outsider, and perhaps a werewolf, and RomaTwo strangers are drawn together by the death of a young woman to an apparent animal attack: Peter, Romani, outsider, and perhaps a werewolf, and Roman, heir to Hemlock Grove's medical empire and gifted with strange powers of his own. The Netflix adaptation is surprisingly faithful, so fans of the show will find this familiar. I prefer the show, but only by bare margin. All the best dynamics and lines come directly from the book, the McGreevy's voice is a delight, abrupt in pacing, florid in wording, perfect for the reluctant but intense desires of the cast. I found this absorbing, and while Hemlock Grove carries inherent caveats (for the representation of Romani people, and for its indulgent grotesquery) I recommend it....more
A mage rescues four youths--a former thief, an exiled Trader, an unwanted Merchant daughter, an a orphaned noble--and brings them to their new home, aA mage rescues four youths--a former thief, an exiled Trader, an unwanted Merchant daughter, an a orphaned noble--and brings them to their new home, a small cottage at a school of magic. The four protagonists, all experiencing near-identical rescue, adjustment, and tutelage, make for a repetitive narrative, none the least because this is written for a younger audience and so, while the prickly characters are realistically flawed, the emotions and plot are transparent. Nonetheless, Sandry's Book is lovely. The unique abilities of each character--from magical gardening to magical spinning--are engaging, and to watch the characters settle into their new home and build friendships is the most satisfying, if obvious, form of wish-fulfillment. This is a kind, endearing, magical book; I would have loved it as a younger reader, and still enjoy it now. I'll continue with the series....more
An anthology of twenty tales of vampire erotica. Or, at least, it's meant to be. Brite's arrangement is strong, but the quality of the selections leavAn anthology of twenty tales of vampire erotica. Or, at least, it's meant to be. Brite's arrangement is strong, but the quality of the selections leaves much to be desired. There are a cluster of decent stories from Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Christa Faust, Douglas Clegg, and Brian Hodge, and Gene Wolfe's "Queen of the Night," an oblique dreamscape of ghouls and fairy queens, was my favorite. But there's just as many mediocre stories, and three that I couldn't even bring myself to finish. Brite's introduces the vampire as taboo breaker, as "the mutant ... considered beautiful even as it is feared," but here dark sexuality often means child abuse, rape, and sex work, peppered with unappealing brute pornography--more grimdark than taboo breaking, distinctly tiresome and never erotic. The vampires fair better, but only barely: they're varied, but most stories are slave to their concepts, summaries of the vampiric figure with not much in the way of independent plot or characters. Give this a miss. I adore the intent, but the execution is a disappointment....more
Severin steps out from the shadow of her father, a director of gothic melodrama, to make a name for herself as a documentary director--culminating inSeverin steps out from the shadow of her father, a director of gothic melodrama, to make a name for herself as a documentary director--culminating in the doomed investigation of a colony that vanished on Venus. Radiance has precisely the flaws one would expect from a found manuscript-style story by an author with a distinctive, powerful style: one, everyone sounds the same, further confusing the intentionally disjointed narrative and destroying some immersion; two, the style runs away with itself, and both the noir and the Hollywood glam aspects grow over-indulgent. Otherwise, this is phenomenal. It's thoughtful, profound, and playful--I imagine that even the over-indulgent style is a delight if the aesthetic appeals. Those aspects on which success hinges work when they need to, especially in the end--a thematically-justified, satisfying deus ex machina. This isn't my favorite Valente, largely on account of aesthetics, but it has the qualities I expect from her work and I certainly enjoyed and recommend it. ...more
Her mother's dying request takes Mary Yellan to Jamaica Inn, located in bleak moorland and run by Mary's terrifying uncle. Jamaica Inn has a phenomenaHer mother's dying request takes Mary Yellan to Jamaica Inn, located in bleak moorland and run by Mary's terrifying uncle. Jamaica Inn has a phenomenal sense of place--it's a gothic nightmare, desolate and cruel; the winter moorlands are given particular loving attention. The characters and plot are less successful, succumbing too easily to type or to predictability, which, especially in the case of the Vicar, can stifle suspense. I love Rebecca, and this is no Rebecca--there's a comparable lack of both subtlety and beauty. But the voice and atmosphere are as strong, and make this a solid gothic indulgence....more
Isyllt, necromancer and spy, comes to Symir to finance a revolution--only to find herself and her companions ensnared by the city's complex politics.Isyllt, necromancer and spy, comes to Symir to finance a revolution--only to find herself and her companions ensnared by the city's complex politics. A welcome (and necessary) deviation from the norm, Symir isn't inspired by medieval Europe and the book is peopled in majority by strong, diverse women. Downum writes with intent; her worldbuilding is strong, and has an evocative sense of place; the politics are varied and confrontational. But The Drowning City lacks heart. Both plot and pacing are predictable, which strips intrigue from the politicking and even renders the landscape monotonous. There's too many PoV characters, each exploring certain cultures and motives but none kindling emotional investment. I'm biased, I find it hard to build investment in second world fantasy--but I had particular trouble with it here. While I admire Downum's intent, The Drowning City fails to rise above serviceable....more
1947, rural England: Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has risen to the position of a country doctor, is called to the aging Hundred Hall. There he f1947, rural England: Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has risen to the position of a country doctor, is called to the aging Hundred Hall. There he falls in with the family in their attempt to hold out against the changing times and some sinister force that may reside in Hundreds itself. The Little Stranger is near to flawless. Its gentle pace and surprising tension aren't always a perfect pair--at times, the book is achingly slow. But what a lovely mix of historical setting and gothic trapping. Hundreds has a rich sense of place, as evocative, even romantic, in its decline as its beauty. The supernatural dread that suffuses it is creative and ominous, and works in tandem with the post-War context; the end (while not as revelatory as I'd been lead to expect) has a quiet satisfaction. The Little Stranger is intentional, bittersweet, thoughtful--and still an utter delight, steeped in gothic tropes and truly transporting. I adored it. This is my first book by Sarah Waters, but it won't be my last.
When he travels to Italy in search of an acquaintance, petty con artist Tom Ripley stumbles into the con of a lifetime: another man's identity. This bWhen he travels to Italy in search of an acquaintance, petty con artist Tom Ripley stumbles into the con of a lifetime: another man's identity. This book has some singularly perfect moments--namely, the impromptu and keenly flawed murder that begins the con; but also the way Tom juggles his dual personas, and the final few pages. But its bulk is repetitive. Near all that can go wrong does go wrong with predictable pacing, creating a constant state of tension (and frustration at Tom's lack of foresight)--but Tom, neither compelling or sympathetic, fails to warrant investment, and so the tension has no payout and is merely unpleasant. The supporting cast is as dull as Tom finds them, so neither is there dramatic irony. I appreciate the intent, and love the moments in which that intent succeeds, but too much of The Talented Mr. Ripley fails to impress. ...more
When a drifter lands a temporary job at a roadside diner, he sparks a dangerous affair with the proprietor's wife. The Postman Always Rings Twice is sWhen a drifter lands a temporary job at a roadside diner, he sparks a dangerous affair with the proprietor's wife. The Postman Always Rings Twice is short, quick, and dense. This doesn't read like a first novel: the voice is strong, even quotable, without simplifying the impassioned emotions that fuel the narrative or skimping on dramatic irony. But the strong voice is a mixed blessing, because it creates a rough hardboiled tone which I suppose you either enjoy or don't (I didn't). Nonetheless, an inarguable success....more
The young federation of Ghavarim is threatened with political upheaval when court politics intrude on the uneasy balance between the undeveloped eastThe young federation of Ghavarim is threatened with political upheaval when court politics intrude on the uneasy balance between the undeveloped east and the growing, magic-fueled technology of the west. A Vanishing Glow takes place in a compelling world with convincing history and politics. It falls victim to some fantasy clichés, like excessive proper nouns (the biggest culprit may by the assassinations called "Endings"), but on the whole the strong sense of place will satisfy steampunk/flintlock fans. The human angle is less successful. The protagonists are interesting, and their dual plotlines are individually compelling. But Radcliff's characters are foolish--their motivations are simplistic and their constant mistakes are over-telegraphed and under-justified, and, while I admire the ruthless consequences, the effect is unconvincing. This doesn't ruin A Vanishing Glow, but it taints it; I never became truly invested, and don't recommend it. Bigger fans of these subgenres may still find this worth their time.
A new breed of human is evolving, the Wraeththu: enigmatic, stronger, smarter, far more beautiful--and their coming threatens Earth with upheaval. ToA new breed of human is evolving, the Wraeththu: enigmatic, stronger, smarter, far more beautiful--and their coming threatens Earth with upheaval. To say that I found The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit unsuccessful would be a vast understatement. I'm fond of travelogues, but this sort of narrative--with the same focus on journeying, but without much sense of purpose and with no sense of wonder, wearies me. The relationships have potential (particularly the one between the protagonist and his lover), and there's some in the worldbuilding as well, but this feels too much like glam rock slash fanfiction, given to repetitious angst, equally repetitious sex, and problematic gender representation. There's no momentum, only the pretense of depth, and, frankly, I'm just glad it's over....more
In the near future, Faces function as the public personas of nations: political celebrities groomed for public consumption. But Suyana, Face of the UnIn the near future, Faces function as the public personas of nations: political celebrities groomed for public consumption. But Suyana, Face of the United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation, is engaged in true politics, namely ecoterrorism. I'm unsure if Persona was a mediocre book or simply not the right one for me. I find interpersonal relationships such as these--where affect is micromanaged and scrutinized in service of covert goals--unpleasant and verging on unrealistic; Valentine's emphasis on microexpressions exacerbates this and makes for repetitive pacing. There's a lot of promise in the relationship between the protagonists and in the ecoterrorist plot (although I find the worldbuilding underwhelming), but Persona refuses to coalesce: interpersonal elements are hamfisted, complex politics are smothered, and the overall effect is tiresome. I imagine readers less annoyed by these particular quirks will have far better luck, but I don't recommend this book. ...more
Two strange high school students meet over their shared fascination with a local murderer. Goth as a light novel is even better than I expected, and ITwo strange high school students meet over their shared fascination with a local murderer. Goth as a light novel is even better than I expected, and I'm an enthusiastic fan of both the manga and the film. The light novel has more: the strongest atmosphere*, the finest detail, and the most clearly delineated character arcs for both protagonists; it filled in gaps that I didn't know were missing. It's not flawless--the machinations of the plot are often transparent, although the payoff of the solutions are enough to compensate; Morino's character growth has some oversights. But I remain entirely satisfied. All versions of this story are worth exploring, but if you can only have one then the light novel is the best. The English translation is strong (Cunningham's slightly moreso than Allen's), and I appreciate the afterword included my imprint.
* How to describe one of my favorite stories of all time? Goth is macabre, seductive, cold, intimate. It has a stark monochrome aesthetic with the contrast and bloom turned too high: surreal and beautiful, dark and monstrous. There's a surprisingly subtlety in the relationship between the protagonists, despite their inhuman coldness. Otsuichi has superb eye for detail, and so this atmosphere is at its strongest in the light novel--and I love it more than I can possibly describe....more
Kusanagi-Jones and Katherinessen come to New Amazonia on a complex ambassadorial/espionage mission, further fraught by their troubled personal historyKusanagi-Jones and Katherinessen come to New Amazonia on a complex ambassadorial/espionage mission, further fraught by their troubled personal history and the sights they have set on treason. Carnival shoves the reader into the middle of a vast world, focusing equally on high-concept worldbuilding and intricate interpersonal relationships. But not enough differentiates the protagonists: similar names, headhopping, and identical POVs, focus on microexpressions, and ulterior motives mean that it wasn't until the two-thirds mark that I could begin to tell them apart. (This may not be a problem for readers who are better with names.) But the sci-fi is great, creative, far-reaching, with the philosophical and social bent--which, always, ties into the lives of the characters--that makes Bear's work resonate for me. Carnival feels like a first novel, suffused with the promise of things to come but with an abundance of the author's weaknesses and common tropes. I don't particularly recommend it, especially as a starting place for Bear, but I liked it....more
Kawashima Masayuki believes he's put his troubled past behind him--until he becomes obsessed with stabbing his infant daughter with an ice pick, an obKawashima Masayuki believes he's put his troubled past behind him--until he becomes obsessed with stabbing his infant daughter with an ice pick, an obsession he can only elevate by murdering someone else instead. Piercing combines a dry, dark tone with a lack of restraint, and the combination works. It's short enough to suit the thematic transparency (but, unfortunately, also so short that the redundant aspects of the dual narratives are frustrating), and the wry gallows humor makes for an unromanticized but indulgent study of violence: creative, intentionally shocking, and put to good use in serving the themes. This is meant to be psychological horror rather than an accurate representation of child abuse, and lacks true complexity. But if the intent appeals, Piercing will satisfy. I recommend it, and plan to read more Murakami....more
When a sorcerer tries to poison Kate in London, she writes to her cousin in the country--and together they unravel a magical mystery. Sorcery & CeWhen a sorcerer tries to poison Kate in London, she writes to her cousin in the country--and together they unravel a magical mystery. Sorcery & Cecelia is more novelty than success. The letter game that spawned it is brilliant, and the authors's engagement and joy in their joint story is infectious. But that extemporaneous style lacks refinement, and makes for a predictable, even repetitive story. I still recommend this--it lacks complexity but has a wealth of charm and good intentions....more
A small family joins the crew of a large river barge. This was far and away my favorite of the Ermenwyr books--no small thing, as I enjoyed the entireA small family joins the crew of a large river barge. This was far and away my favorite of the Ermenwyr books--no small thing, as I enjoyed the entire series. The Bird of the River is a smaller, softer book. It benefits from but doesn't add to the worldbuilding that occurred in other novels (although it can be read as a standalone); instead, it explores the local effects of clashing and developing societies. The tone is less humorous and more bittersweet, to great effect. There's a plot, but it's only as important as the daily bustle aboard the Bird; what matters most is the growth of the superbly rendered protagonist as she builds a life of her own. This is a domestic, intimate, lovely book, and I admire the restraint of its scale. I recommend this entire series, but if you read just one, read this one. ...more
The diary of a serial killer set on creating a lobotomized love slave. Disappointing, as Dahmer retellings go. If there's one thing that Zombie does wThe diary of a serial killer set on creating a lobotomized love slave. Disappointing, as Dahmer retellings go. If there's one thing that Zombie does well, it's that the messy murders remove any idealization or justification. But the truth is, there's not much to begin with. Quentin's obsessions are more redundant than compelling, in a book which should be too short for repetition. The voice (and why is the narrative so stylized, complete with doodles, if he explicitly keeps no record?) grows wearisome, the end is abrupt, and the book is problematic but in no meaningful way--most especially that both protagonist and narrative elevate the murder of a white boy over many victims of color. I'm the ideal audience for Zombie, yet it left little impression on me and I don't recommend it....more
The story of the Yendri liberation from slavery, and their goddess's marriage to a demon lord. The House of the Stag has a slow start, one too epic, The story of the Yendri liberation from slavery, and their goddess's marriage to a demon lord. The House of the Stag has a slow start, one too epic, archetypal, and, frankly, predictable: it reads as parable more than a human story. But as the characters develop, the book improves. Baker has a knack for combining heavy-handed with surprisingly subtle. While less exuberant than Anvil, it benefits from that book's humor and varied worldbuilding; the politics are too clear-cut, but the interpersonal narratives have welcome nuance. The central cast has personality and charm, and (while I take issue with how Baker handles everything related to sexuality) the love story develops a quiet conviction. I preferred The Anvil of the World, but The House of the Stag lives up to expectations as a prequel--it's (anti)heroic enough to make history, but human enough to be a story worth telling.
A trio of interconnected novellas. The first is a fraught caravan journey, and a particularly vivid, humorous example of worldbuilding via travelogue.A trio of interconnected novellas. The first is a fraught caravan journey, and a particularly vivid, humorous example of worldbuilding via travelogue. The second is domestic, more successful for its colorful characters (many reoccurring) than for what it eventually reveals about their backstories. The third has a larger scale and stronger plot, and reads differently: it's not as fun as its predecessors, but has more weight and thus makes for a fitting conclusion. I tend to have no sense of humor as a reader, so I'm surprised by how much I liked this volume. Baker's voice, cast, and world are lively to excess, but there's intense variety in the worldbuilding, the cultures and their politics, the ethics, which introduces welcome subtlety and can't but be engaging. I doubt these books will leave a lasting impression, but this one was thoroughly enjoyable and I will continue the series....more
Investigator Peter Wimsey stumbles into the sleepy village of Fenchurch St. Paul three months before an unidentified body is discovered in someone elsInvestigator Peter Wimsey stumbles into the sleepy village of Fenchurch St. Paul three months before an unidentified body is discovered in someone else's grave. Nine Tailors is charming and engaging. It's not the sort of mystery which, Holmes-style, the reader can solve, but twists are smart and easy to follow. The characters are proactively engaged with the mystery, yet given comical voices--it's unexpectedly wry, consistently humorous, and dialog is a delight. Over this, Sayers lays deft metaphors (the intricate bell-ringing, the rising river waters) and a strong sense of place. Nine Tailors is the epitome of a cozy mystery, self-aware and smartly written. I just wish I liked this genre! I dislike humor and I prefer my mysteries in short form or visual media, so while I admire this book it failed to click for me. Nonetheless, it's a great way to try out the series....more
Awakening from apparent death with no memory of her past, one women sets out on a fraught journey of self-discovery. What she discovers is a bit triteAwakening from apparent death with no memory of her past, one women sets out on a fraught journey of self-discovery. What she discovers is a bit trite and has tinges of a deus ex machina, but it exhibits a level of intent which recasts her journey in a far more interesting light--so, despite its weaknesses, the end is satisfying. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is not. In the first three quarters, the protagonist meanders through a joyless* and repetitive world; in journey-centric plot it mimics a travelogue, but without the necessary sense of wonder. I dislike the sword and sorcery genre, so consider my opinion tainted--but to say I found The Birthgrave unsuccessful would be a vast understatement. I admire Tanith Lee, but her powerful gothic voice and good intentions can't save a book as tiresome as this one.
* There's numerous examples of institutionalized sexism--depressing, but perhaps necessary. But the protagonist's response to other female characters smacks of "not like other girls": she judges them by their social constraints, despite frequently being victim to same; in large part, it's only men that she sees as equals or allows to influence her. I found this to be the tipping point from unpleasant to distasteful. ...more
After her abduction, once-wealthy Lore is left with nothing but the questionable aid of a backstreet hacker named Spanner. Slow River is subtle at its After her abduction, once-wealthy Lore is left with nothing but the questionable aid of a backstreet hacker named Spanner. Slow River is subtle at its best, overwritten at its worst. The relationship between Lore and Spanner is a nuanced dialog about class, abuse, and trauma recovery; Lore is granted strong conflicting emotions about Spanner without erasing the problematic aspects of their relationship. But the book has a flow-sundering tripart narrative--each with a different tense/PoV--and hamfisted, repetitive themes. It's also set in a near future which is sometime secondary backdrop to the more interesting interpersonal aspects and sometimes involved ridiculously intricate explorations of theoretical sewage treatment. (I was reminded of Hugh Howey's Wool: the minute practical details are researched, convincing, strangely compelling, and yet inane upon reflection.) The sum is a strange little book, well-intended, sometimes heartbreaking in its subtlety, sometimes off-putting in its heavy-handedness. I don't particularly recommend it, but what I liked about it I truly loved.
(I was also struck by the similarity to Kelly Eskridge's Solitaire, and then discovered that the two are partners; I'm also not the first reviewer to make the connection. Of the two, I find Solitaire the more successful.)...more
On the island of the rasnan, select groups begin to harness the forbidden power of the mundab, the endless inhospitable sea that surrounds the vulneraOn the island of the rasnan, select groups begin to harness the forbidden power of the mundab, the endless inhospitable sea that surrounds the vulnerable island. Steampunk tends to be 80% aesthetic and 20% -punk, all the romanticization with little of the technology- and change-kindled anxieties. The Engine's Child isn't steampunk, but it's a fascinating counterpoint. It has similar themes, its own strong aesthetic--not Victorian, but seaside: ivory towers towering over endless waters, suffused with monsoon rains and flickering candles, a caste- and religion-bound society--but it makes anxiety its central focus. The mundab is simultaneously the outside world, the magical and technological powers that the society's ancestors fled, and the possibility of change. Phillips awakens it like a golem. She's the perfect author to meld theme and woldbuilding into a living, half-corporeal, monstrous machine.
But this is a prickly book. Both protagonists are unreliable and unkind, and Phillips has an intentionally stilted voice. She plays precise sensory description against conflicted and secretive emotions (set within a number of invented terms and honorifics), and the plot can get buried under that: it's not complex, just difficult to tease out, and as such somewhat underwhelming. This is an easy book to admire and a difficult book to love. As such I can't particularly recommend it, but I wish more writers would do what Phillips does here....more
Every time Nolan closes his eyes, he slips into another world, living the life of a girl named Amara who may be real. Otherbound is a first novel andEvery time Nolan closes his eyes, he slips into another world, living the life of a girl named Amara who may be real. Otherbound is a first novel and reads as one: surfeit with intent but rough around the edges. Nolan's narrative is unconvincing, with stiff dialog and a family that fails to come to life, but Amara's world and experiences are fascinating in their diversity. The plot gains momentum, but it does so without grace: the magic system develops rules inorganically and the machinations grows contrived. But for its weaknesses, Otherbound is always readable and I admire what it does well. It's a ruthless book without growing gratuitous, and the interpersonal relationships (especially Amara's) are in equal parts compelling and imbalanced--they become conversations about power dynamics and communication without overwhelming their emotional underpinnings, and they're nuanced and heartbreaking (as is the conclusion). And both worlds are full of people of color, both protagonists are disabled, and Amara has nonheteronormative relationships. I can't entirely overlook this novel's roughness, so I don't particularly recommend it--but I look forward to seeing future work from Duyvis....more
When Polly meets Thomas Lynn at a funeral, she sparks an odd relationship which will change her life. I adore books about books, and this turns out toWhen Polly meets Thomas Lynn at a funeral, she sparks an odd relationship which will change her life. I adore books about books, and this turns out to be one--pointedly, about using books not to rewrite or escape reality, but to create and understand it, with the reader's identity remaining paramount within their own life. Polly's story is sad and charming in equal turns, and makes full use of Jones's ability to live in liminal space, with the fantastic creeping and crashing in to normal life. It also has an undercurrent of the strange--Lynn as an adult, courting Polly's attentions as a ten year old girl--which is easy to dismiss for the sake of the narrative but which the book's ending brings to the forefront, forcing the reader to reinterpret all that has come before. The ending--not the climax but the very brief coda--is brave and bold and slightly flawed, because while it allows Jones to do much it does it inscrutably and swiftly. Most of Fire and Hemlock is made literal and explained; the ending is left to the reader to decipher, and that shouldn't be necessary in a book with an otherwise flawless balance of readability and thematic depth.
Otherwise: phenomenal. I've never clicked with Diana Wynne Jones--she has a vast and whimsical creativity which creates great setpieces and themes but leaves the plot piecemeal. Fire and Hemlock exhibits a level of intent I haven't found in her work before. It's still whimsical, liminal, a loving story about stories. It's also a nuanced and sympathetic examination of broken homes and self-made homes. And it's about the potential and perils of creating yourself around someone; about the need to acknowledge and function within reality. It's about being liberated by the very thing that breaks your heart. It is, simply, one of the better books I've ever encountered....more
18 Gaslamp stories, about the supernatural, otherworldly, and fantastic in or concerning Victorian England. Collections like these are worth reading f18 Gaslamp stories, about the supernatural, otherworldly, and fantastic in or concerning Victorian England. Collections like these are worth reading for Windling's introductions alone--they're lovingly crafted, insightful overviews from someone who's spent a lifetime studying fantasy fiction. Unfortunately, Queen Victoria's Book of Spells doesn't quite live up to that introduction: the intent is there, but the stories frequently fail to reflect contemporary fantasy elements (there's a remarkable lack of fairies!) and, while many touch on the industrial revolution, few use the fantastic both to express anxiety and seek escapism on account. Still, the overall quality is high and the collection is flawlessly edited. There's a good balance of grim historical accuracy (Schanoes's "Phosphorus," with its memorable descriptions of phossy jaw, was my collection favorite) lightened by fantasy of manners-touched frivolity (Kushner and Stevermer's epistolary "The Vital Importance of the Superficial" has a lovely voice); there's a few failures, but they're largely redeemed by their placement--like the irony of Blaylock's curmudgeonly "Smithfield" counterpointed by Hieber's much more complex "Charged." Datlow and Windling are practiced editors, and this is another successful collection--thematically strong, varied, above average in quality. Still, it only met and failed to exceed my expectations....more
Human/Oankali unification is proceeding apace until the unexpected occurs: a construct child matures into an ooloi. An ooloi point of view has been aHuman/Oankali unification is proceeding apace until the unexpected occurs: a construct child matures into an ooloi. An ooloi point of view has been a long time coming: they are the crux of the Human/Oankali relationship, a view into the need that justifies inexcusable exploitation. Butler excels as creating a character in equal parts sympathetic and discomforting, and the unique Human/Oankali relationships are at their most compelling in this book. The human element remains simplistic (to the point of mechanistic), but Lilith is a welcome exception: her lingering anger is nuanced and--even with the deceptively optimistic conclusion--never allows the reader to forget how unreliable the ooloi point of view is. Imago is my favorite of this series, disconcertingly seductive and keenly thoughtful; it's bittersweet to have, but also end on, such a strong book....more
With Human/Oankali settlements established on Earth, one construct child--born of a mix of both species--obtains a clear view of the resisters, human With Human/Oankali settlements established on Earth, one construct child--born of a mix of both species--obtains a clear view of the resisters, humans who refuse to be a part of the cross-species assimilation. Adulthood Rites feels like the least successful of the Xenogenesis series, which hardly means it's bad. Much is an issue of pacing: the first half is slow and meandering, the second half crowded with action. But it's also that the initial novelty of the premise has passed, and I've grown critical of the book's rules. Humans are defined by their hierarchical tendencies and their ability to develop cancer, and they're all heteronormative and gender essentialist, and the sum effect feels both simplistic and insufficient--if for no other reason than the fact that this could as easily and more accurately describe non-human animals: it fails to capture what makes humans unique, or explain the Oankali obsession with them.
Yet Adulthood Rites serves a valuable function. Lilith's story was about a human taking the alien's side, with caveats; Akin's story is about an alien taking the human's side, with caveats. It's an extended devil's advocate, yet capable of surprising sympathy. Butler excels at this--at interactions which are as rational and justified as they are insidious and harmful, which are all the more unsettling because they wield such conviction. This series is impressive--so even if Adulthood Rites is the weakest installment, it's still worth reading....more