In a world where gems have power, and those who wield their power have power, the Jewel Lin and her lapidary Sima may be the last ones who have any chIn a world where gems have power, and those who wield their power have power, the Jewel Lin and her lapidary Sima may be the last ones who have any chance to maintain that power. If that is even possible. But the only way they will survive is together.
Fran Wilde packs a lot of worldbuilding into this novella—it could have been a novel; I may have followed it better in a less compact form—and I have no idea how much of a disadvantage I had for not having read anything else in this world, though all the basics seem to be present here. Mostly. I never quite grasped how the magical gems worked, as they seemed to correspond to abstract emotions and ideas, and none of them were swordfighters or shapeshifters. I also wasn't quite sure about the politics of the world. I was not sure about a lot of things; the prose style combined with my vacation brain did not make for effectively direct information transmission.
In addition, so much of the conflict is internal, with the occasional spurts of action, that I wasn't as engaged as I otherwise might have been. I was more interested in Sima than Lin, especially given the litany of vows a lapidary must pledge (and they wear representations of each one). Even though the Jewel comes first in the title, it's Her Lapidary's story. No, scratch that, there's an "and" there. It is about both of them, and it is about their relationship. The interplay between Lin and Sima is the greatest strength of the book, for sure. Even though I wasn't fully connected to the story, the ending is solid and powerful, with hints that there are definitely more stories to be told in this world....more
An Alphabet of Embers declares itself to be a collection of "unclassifiables," which is its greatest strength and biggest weakness, as it will appealAn Alphabet of Embers declares itself to be a collection of "unclassifiables," which is its greatest strength and biggest weakness, as it will appeal hugely to some readers and not reach other readers. Like me! I wasn't expecting to love the anthology, knowing my own tastes, but I was still curious to see what Rose Lemberg had put together.
Because all the stories in the book are between 500 and 1400 words, it's fine if a particular story isn't your bag; there's another one right around the corner. And whether or not you like the story, M. Sereno's art is always a winner. I usually look for narrative, but in a collection that blurs the line between fiction and prose poems, I did not often find it. Sometimes, as in Emily Stoddard's "Outfitting the Restless Heart, or How the Sky Was Made," I was swept up enough in the language and images that I didn't mind. But most of the time, I found the stories frankly impenetrable, either because I couldn't follow the story itself or because it was so cerebral/philosophical. This collection is full of quite challenging pieces, and I was not up to the challenge.
But I did find some gems! JY Yang's "Transfers to Connecting Flights" is probably my favorite in the collection, the story of a person who transfers people into other objects. The premise is awesome, and the final payoff is satisfying. Mari Ness's "Mistletoe and Copper, Water and Herbs" is an absolutely lovely fairy tale, and Zen Cho is reliably delightful with "Everything Under One Roof," though I didn't totally get everything that happened. Mina Li's "Dreaming Keys," about keys that transport a girl into dream worlds, is very sweet. Shweta Narayna's "The River's Children" takes genderfluidity to a literal level. I really liked most of Ian Muneshwar's "Telomerase" because of the unusual idea of "losing words," but I wasn't quite satisfied by the end. I didn't totally get everything in Emily Jiang's "The Binding of Ming-Tian," but I found it a harrowing tale of foot-binding and er-hu-playing. And Amal El-Mohtar's "Wing" is quite nice and pleasantly mysterious.
Even though An Alphabet of Embers wasn't my thing personally, I am glad to see such a diverse collection of voices speaking in non-traditional ways. The majority of stories feel like they belong here, and only here, and I commend Rose Lemberg for giving them a home....more
A Head Full of Ghosts was one of the buzziest horror novels of last year, one many of my friends had been raving about, and I am drawn to buzzy novelsA Head Full of Ghosts was one of the buzziest horror novels of last year, one many of my friends had been raving about, and I am drawn to buzzy novels my friends are raving about. And this quite a book, though I don't know that it will be for everyone.
Here is the basic setup, the wonderfully nested narrative that recalls House of Leaves: there is a family (white, middle-class, of course). Fourteen-year-old Marjorie starts acting very strange, like maybe possessed-by-a-demon strange. Her eight-year-old sister, Merry, doesn't know what to make of it. But her dad, yeah, he's going with possessed-by-a-demon. He invites priests to come as part of a reality show called The Possession, which becomes a cult hit, analyzed by critics and bloggers alike. Like blogger Karen Brisette, the Last Final Girl. Finally, finally, we get to the top layer, which is twenty-three-year-old Merry telling the story to a woman writing a book about the events.
The true story, she says. Except, of course, she was fucking eight. And the only replayable, "verifiable" record she has is the narrative created by the reality show. So she says straight out that sometimes she's unsure about her own memory, thanks to the trauma and thanks to fiction presenting itself as reality. But she's upfront about it, so as unreliable narrators go, she's...mostly reliable??
This book is meticulously crafted, and Paul Tremblay manipulates the audience's expectations with glee, not only with regards to what's true and what's not but also with the progression of the exorcism story itself. We're all familiar with exorcism stories (some of us more than others); even if you haven't seen The Exorcist, it's so prevalent in pop culture that you can see the references in A Head Full of Ghosts (and if you don't, Karen Brisette will helpfully point them out). The brilliance and frustration of what Tremblay does is take you through a familiar exorcism story and systematically deconstruct it through the lens of pop culture—is the demonic possession happening this way because that is how it really happens or is it only happening this way as a mirror of what everyone expects it to look like. Every step of the way, you want to wave your finger at him for taking you down the expected path, but, no, he's always two steps ahead of you, because he put you on that path deliberately, and it can fork at any moment.
While the demonic possession aspects of the book do provide some creepiness, it's the psychological horror that gets under your skin, the gnawing feeling that humans, of course, can be just as bad as demons, if not moreso, the uncertainty of what's real as you attempt to remember the traumatic events of fifteen years ago, the subtle and not-so-subtle gaslighting that occurs when a reality show takes control of your life so that you don't know who was responsible for things happening and people doing what they did. It's a fiendish mindfuck of a book with an ending that horrified me and then confused me, though it may have more punch for other readers who didn't have very different expectations for where the book was going to go. It is definitely a book that will have you immediately seeking out other people who read it so you can talk about it.
If you can read A Head Full of Ghosts in one sitting, do it. It's an unsettling page turner that will break your goddamn brain....more
In this action-packed novella that serves as a bridge between the original Tao trilogy and the upcoming The Rise of Io, Cameron Tan is called out of sIn this action-packed novella that serves as a bridge between the original Tao trilogy and the upcoming The Rise of Io, Cameron Tan is called out of school to get a fellow agent with important intel out of Greece. As you do. There's just one problem: he has far too much of a conscience to just leave his friends behind when he knows there's trouble a-brewin', and boy, is there trouble a-brewin'.
The Days of Tao is basically one long escape sequence, so it moves very swiftly (after a rather confusing opening sequence from the POV of another agent, which I realize now is a technique Wesley Chu has used previously in the series). Cameron is 21 now, and he's forced to be a leader, and he's...not very good at it, as his symbiotic alien pal Tao constantly reminds him. The banter between Cameron and Tao is the absolute highlight of the story, not only because Tao is a snarky motherfucker but also because their relationship drives Cameron's personal growth. Tao wants Cameron to be a better leader, and Cameron has to make some very tough decisions. There's intrigue, combat, betrayal, gyros, everything.
While it's not as awesome as the novels, the novella provides a nice fix for Tao fans and a potentially fun taste for newbies, if they're willing to be massively spoiled for the series....more
Persona was one of my favorite books of 2015, and even though I loved it as a stand-alone, I eagerly anticipated the sequel. Unfortunately, Icon isPersona was one of my favorite books of 2015, and even though I loved it as a stand-alone, I eagerly anticipated the sequel. Unfortunately, Icon is not what I hoped for.
The book begins with a killer first line: "Suyana wore sleeveless gowns so people could see where she'd been shot." It's a perfect way to reintroduce an awesome woman who gives no fucks, who consciously crafts her persona—hey-o—to manipulate public perception. Her current job is a fake relationship with the American Face, Ethan, the relationship she fucking got shot for. Genevieve Valentine is a master at describing body language and fashion, the physical extensions of ourselves that communicate so much, and in a world where political paparazzi (snaps) can shape the media narrative with the right photo, Suyana understands exactly how to tilt her head, to place her hand.
Daniel, her snap, has a fraught, complicated relationship with her. They bonded in stressful circumstances and had to learn to trust each other to survive; now Suyana seems to have shut him out. And now is not the best time, given that there appears to be someone trying to kill her.
Valentine's prose is enviably slick, but I had no idea what was going on most of the time in this book. I don't know how much of it was not remembering all the details and characters of the last book; it didn't seem to me that intimate knowledge of Persona was required to understand Icon, though it obviously helps. Whereas Persona was a taut thriller, Icon is more of a sea of paranoid tension, and I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters and who was on whose side and who hated whom and why is there a Martine and a Margot in the same book. Making matters worse, Suyana shuts the reader out as much as she shuts Daniel out; while we get her internal thoughts occasionally, they're usually about her relationship with Ethan and not the larger conspiracy brewing around her. I wanted the sequel to Persona to be Suyana Sapaki Fucks Shit Up. Instead, it's Suyana Sapaki Doesn't Really Do Much While Other People Are Very Concerned About Her. Towards the end, she gets some more agency, and it's possible that she's more in control of the situation than it's felt like for most of the book.
It's entirely possible I've just misread the book; it's very cerebral and secretive, and Valentine expects the reader to pick up on a lot of subtle implications along with the characters. Maybe I was just in the mood for more action. But regardless of my general confusion, of course, I couldn't stop reading because of the goddamn way Valentine writes. While Icon didn't give me what I wanted, I can see other readers being swept up in the political intrigue and lies and deception, especially those drawn to the complexities of a manufactured political relationship, which is one of the strongest aspects of the book....more
Sofie Wallis has been taught to be a "proper" black woman, but the Civil Rights Movement is no time to sit down and shut up. Ivan Friedman has been trSofie Wallis has been taught to be a "proper" black woman, but the Civil Rights Movement is no time to sit down and shut up. Ivan Friedman has been training to be a boxer, but non-violent protesting certainly has its appeal. In a turbulent time, these two will find a connection, despite their fathers' prejudices—Mr. Friedman doesn't want his white son dating a black woman, and Mr. Wallis doesn't want his Christian daughter dating a Jewish man. Alyssa Cole characterizes both of them well, diving deep into their histories and their presents, and the romance, in a way, feels almost secondary to the major question of whether they will get involved in the Civil Rights Movement. It's a time where both of them will have to figure out who they are as individuals, whether or not it means they'll be together. Overall, it's a vivid portrayal of an important period in our history, as well as a well-drawn cross-cultural romance....more
I read this utterly enchanting novella in one sitting. A Pakistani-American man named Salman becomes enthralled by the tales his grandfather tells ofI read this utterly enchanting novella in one sitting. A Pakistani-American man named Salman becomes enthralled by the tales his grandfather tells of the pauper princess and the eucalyptus jinn and seeks to uncover the mysteries, the reality behind the fantasy, the mysteries behind reality. There's so much at play here: the nature of jinn, interacting with one's own family history in an attempt to understand oneself, the generational culture clash, how one relates to one's culture as the child of immigrants. Usman T. Malik effectively transports us to Lahore past and present—as well as boring old America—and even...beyond. The last few pages really elevate the novella, bringing everything together beautifully....more