Centuries ago, the ancient vampire Don Simon Ysidro fell in love with a mortal woman. Entranced by the idea of eternal life, Lady Irene managed to get...moreCenturies ago, the ancient vampire Don Simon Ysidro fell in love with a mortal woman. Entranced by the idea of eternal life, Lady Irene managed to get turned into a vampire as well. It was only then that she discovered the truth of Ysidro's warnings--that upon becoming Undead, all interests and morals are overwhelmed by the seduction of killing human prey. She and Ysidro have had little contact since...until she hears a rumor that the war-mongering Kaiser has recruited a vampire. Ysidro enlists the help of James Asher, formerly of the Queen's Secret Service, to accompany him on his search for answers.
This is a beautiful book. Hambly's stories of the Ashers and Ysidro (which began in the equally superlative Those Who Hunt the Night) are always the very best that vampire fiction can be. Her grasp of history is sure and faultless. Her characterizations deep and multi-faceted. And her vampires are the creepiest, scariest, most seductive creatures of the night I've ever read. (less)
Jan is a human who desperately wants a child. Tiki is a peppy, punky fairy who's not particularly good at following rules. The fairy helps Jan have a...moreJan is a human who desperately wants a child. Tiki is a peppy, punky fairy who's not particularly good at following rules. The fairy helps Jan have a daughter, but that's only the beginning of the story. Tiki is the best godmother EVER--every year, the daughter gets an incredible magical gift. Even fifteen years later, I still remember some of them. But this extraordinary state of affairs can't continue undetected forever, and Jan and her daughter have to go to war with the fairy kingdom to save Tiki from the repressive Fairy Queen.
This is the book that taught me the word "rebel" and probably began my love of oddly colored hair.(less)
**spoiler alert** Several years ago, a boy and his tutor sprang another boy from jail, to be their thief in a quest for a holy gem. Now that thief is...more**spoiler alert** Several years ago, a boy and his tutor sprang another boy from jail, to be their thief in a quest for a holy gem. Now that thief is King of Attolia, and the other little boy has become King of Sounis. Only by trusting to their friendship with each other, and by being good men and wise kings, can they defeat the Mede's invasion.
I love the way characters are alternately revealed and concealed in these books. Gen is a spineless whiner when he meet him, revealed to be a courageous and sneaky genius, then revealed again to have a complete lack of confidence in some matters. Nothing I would have ever expected, but all completely clear in retrospect. The same with Attolia, who seemed old and cruel when I first read her, but gradually seemed younger and--well, still cruel in cases, but with good reason for her actions, and also possessed of a great sense of humor. Or Sophos, who never thinks of himself as kind or generous or brave, and yet reveals himself to be exactly those things with his every action. The characters alone would make me love these books, but they also have beautifully constructed plots and a truly unique, complex, and believable world.(less)
Young Mosca Mye and her dubiously loyal companion, the con man Eponymous Clent, have only just escaped Mandelion. There they'd averted one revolution...moreYoung Mosca Mye and her dubiously loyal companion, the con man Eponymous Clent, have only just escaped Mandelion. There they'd averted one revolution and caused another, and so consider it safer to be far away from the city and its new rulers before the dust settled. But wherever they travel is sure to be full of trouble, and so too is the town of Toll.
Mosca is a wonderful character: pig headed, quick-witted, with a talent for lies and an unfortunate tendency toward fairness. The world she inhabits is strange, flavored by seventeenth century Europe but not beholden to them. I love it all, from the twisty plot to the drily sarcastic narrative style. If you like Terry Pratchett or Locke Lamora, you'll probably like this.(less)
Cassel Sharpe was raised in the Curse Workers's world, where everyone is a con artist and every choice is a potential trap. His mother can emotionally...moreCassel Sharpe was raised in the Curse Workers's world, where everyone is a con artist and every choice is a potential trap. His mother can emotionally control him, his brother can manipulate his memories, his ex-girlfriend is now part of the mob and he himself has (view spoiler)[a power so rare that its nearly mythical. (hide spoiler)] He wants to get a high class education and win himself free of all the plots, but instead he keeps getting pulled deeper.
The world building remains awesome. There are workers and non-workers. Workers can enact magic with a touch, but experience blowback if they do. For example, emotion workers can manipulate other people's feelings, but in return their own emotions become unstable. Or there are death workers, who can kill someone with a touch, but in return a part of their body dies--a tooth if they're lucky, their heart if they're not. Even healing has blowback of its own: by healing others, one becomes sick oneself. Working magic is dangerous and not to be done lightly. But for all that, it's so powerful that it's still used. And because all the magic is touch-based, everyone wears gloves constantly, and seeing someone's ungloved hand is both incredibly intimate and a little scary.
Cassel, and all the supporting characters, are equally well-thought out, well-rounded creations. And the plot is as twisty as ever, though not quite so mind-blowing as the first two books. I really loved this series, but I think Black was smart to end (or at least pause) it here. (view spoiler)[Cassel quitting school, the FBI, and all pretences of normality in order to have a little time with Lila was an incredibly gutsy plot twist, the equivalent of having Harry Potter quit Hogwarts in, say, the fifth book. It was smart, it was unexpected, and it completely shook up the books' loose formula. In all three books, Cassel has to juggle school, curse working, and the law--after the last chapter, the juggling act is over. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Firethorn is just a peasant, but her passion for Sire Galen (and his for her) led her to become his mistress. After she endures terrible trials follow...moreFirethorn is just a peasant, but her passion for Sire Galen (and his for her) led her to become his mistress. After she endures terrible trials following the army and assisting Sire Galen, he grants her a tract of land. But rather than live in peace and comfort, Firethorn disobeys his orders and follows him once more. Her luck is against her--she is struck by lightning, and spends the rest of the book recovering from neurological damage while slowly losing her vision. The damage is particularly terrible for Firethorn, who has always prided herself on her quick wit, on knowing the uses of plants, and healing her fellow camp followers. Not only is Firethorn's speech and much of her memory taken from her, but she soon finds herself the captive of Sire Galen's enemy, in a foreign land.
This book is awesome. Micklem has clearly considered how her world works, from top to bottom. No society has a ready analog in our world; there are no feudal McEuropes or exotic Asias in her writing. Her characters are equally well-developed and thought out. Firethorn is a complicated woman, driven by desire, pride, and a certitude in gods and magic that is never completely born out by the text. (I love that Micklem never makes it clear whether magic exists or not.)
This is one of the more class and gender conscious books I've read in quite some time, without ever being heavy-handed or pedantic. It's a nuanced examination of the power social mores and norms have on us. I really hope Micklem chooses to write more in this series!(less)
Set in the same world as The Iron Dragon's Daughter. Will is a happy-go-lucky fairie peasant boy--until a draconic cyborg machine of death crash land...moreSet in the same world as The Iron Dragon's Daughter. Will is a happy-go-lucky fairie peasant boy--until a draconic cyborg machine of death crash lands in his village. The dragon chooses Will to be his mouthpiece and spy, which makes him grow up very fast and very dark. Eventually, Will escapes to the city, where he adventures first as a vigilante in the sewers and then as a conman in high society.
Unfortunately, this book doesn't hold together quite as well as The Iron Dragon's Daughter. It began as short stories, and the link between each set of adventures is a bit thin. Will himself doesn't really have a set personality. That said, however, Swanwick is not equalled in feypunk. There is no one else with his verve or craft. Even when he's a little off his game, he's still the best in town.(less)
I am wildly in love with this book. It is told through the eyes of Firethorn, a foundling mudchild who grows up under the kind but stern tutelage of a...moreI am wildly in love with this book. It is told through the eyes of Firethorn, a foundling mudchild who grows up under the kind but stern tutelage of a Dame of the Blood. Firethorn learns herblore and pride from the Dame, but after her mistress's death she is adrift. Too proud and grief-stricken to serve under the Dame's nephew (who rapes her, btw--this is not a cozy book), she runs away to the Kingswood. She lives there for a year, nearly starving poisoning herself on berries in the meantime. Finally, she crawls back to the mudpeople's village. A chance meeting with Sire Galen, a bold and handsome knight passing through, leads her to link her fortunes to his. She follows him to war. Their passion for each other is in constant battle with their prideful natures and the vast gulf between their stations. Micklem has written a remarkable book. It is not a romance, although love and lust play powerful roles in the plot and Firethorn's motivations. It is not accurate medieval history, although Micklem's detailed and nuanced world seems an alternate to our own. It is not even fantasy, because it is never clear if Firethorn's herbal remedies and incantations are magic, science, or coincidence. It is an often brutal, sometimes sweet, tale of a young woman surviving in a society that holds her unclean and unworthy. The battles, tourneys and love scenes are intense, but no more so than the roiling inner life of the main character. I could barely take my eyes off the pages, and in fact I ended up being half an hour late to work today because I needed to finish it. (less)
Whistle knows he's not like everyone else. His lungs give out after only a half hour underwater, and his tail is strangely divided. Finally, his mothe...moreWhistle knows he's not like everyone else. His lungs give out after only a half hour underwater, and his tail is strangely divided. Finally, his mother gives up on him and casts him out onto the land, where a scholar takes him in and tries to civilize him.
This could be an interesting tale (heh) of a fish out of water (heh) with a critique of colonialism and humanism running beneath it. But then we get the explanation of *why* Henry/Whistle is being raised, and to me, the explanation turns this book into something even greater.
In Great Waters is a cross between British history, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, but with mermaids. It sounds like crack, but Whitfield is an incredible writer. As in Benighted, fantastical creatures are used to people and complicate a world that is recognizable but a bit off. Issues of power and control, of who gets to make decisions, of what world-view is acknowledged, how history is created, of how norms are created/overturned/reaffirmed--all of it roils through her books. Physicality has a power here that few authors acknowledge, from the calloused hands of lycanthropes in Benighted to the curved backs and crutches of royalty here. These are the books I would give to anyone who doubts that fantasy can still have new things to say.(less)
Arthur has such terrible asthma that his main ambition in life is just getting a next breath, so when a magical key is pressed into his hand and he be...moreArthur has such terrible asthma that his main ambition in life is just getting a next breath, so when a magical key is pressed into his hand and he becomes imbued with extraordinary powers, he's more than a bit nonplussed. There's little time to ponder, however, and Arthur quickly learns how to use the key while being chased through his school by dog-faced men in suits. All too soon Arthur is lost in a magical realm where no one and nothing is as it seems. Through it all, Arthur never loses sight of his consideration and empathy.
This is a really fantastic fantasy book. There are some sincerely creepy and scary parts, and I was actively afraid for Arthur. The magic system is intricate and interesting, with a lovely Victorian flair to it. And Arthur himself is a wonderful, engaging main character, who immediately felt to me both realistic and likable.(less)
Matthew Swift was a sorcerer's apprentice, but he died.
Then he came back.
Now Matthew Swift is the Midnight Mayor, with responsibility for all of Londo...moreMatthew Swift was a sorcerer's apprentice, but he died.
Then he came back.
Now Matthew Swift is the Midnight Mayor, with responsibility for all of London. So when a mystical war threatens between the Neon Court (the fairy court, transformed by the modern age, who prize beauty over truth and style over freedom) and the Tribe (self-mutilating transhumanists whose magic derives only from themselves), he has to deal with it. And when a "chosen one" is prophecied, he has to find her, no matter how silly he thinks the concept. And when the sun goes out, and London is cut off from the rest of the world, it's up to Matthew Swift to find out why.
The magic system is breathtakingly inventive. Swift is a city sorcerer, meaning he draws his magics from the rules and legends of London. He draws acid from rain and coalesces it into an attack; he transforms a discarded plastic bag into a flying eagle; he traps monsters on street corners with the rules of the crosswalk. The magic surprises me every time. But there's logic to it, a certain internal consistency that holds it back from just doing whatever would be most convenient for the story.
The characters are pretty fab, too. Matthew, whose idea of diplomacy is to let someone beat him up for a while. Oda, a modern-day palidan. Penny, a sorceress so powerful that she nearly accidentally destroyed the city, who is nevertheless too scared of her aunt to let anyone bleed on her aunt's car. Dees, a financial planner who wears uncomfortable heels and transforms into a metal dragon if threatened.
But truthfully, this just isn't quite as incredibly excellent as the first two books in the series. Most of my disappointment is because Oda (view spoiler)[dies in the first chapter and spends the rest of the book as a vengeful revenant. Until she was gone, I hadn't realized how much I love the interplay between Oda and Matthew: him trying to get her to smile with increasingly witty quips, her monosyllabic put-downs...I missed it in this book! As unique as their characters are, Penny and Dees just can't fill the void. (hide spoiler)] My other problem is that, after all the desperate last stands and clever magic fueled by fairy-tale logic (all of which is stone-cold awesome), the last chapter is Matthew explaining the whole plot to someone. A disappointing end!
I think my standards were just too high for this book. Still, this remains the most entrancing, enthralling urban fantasy series I've ever read. It's both funny and grim, unpretentious but with a lot to say. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Kami and Jared have shared thoughts since they were born, but neither knows the other actually exists. They--and everyone else--assumes they have imag...moreKami and Jared have shared thoughts since they were born, but neither knows the other actually exists. They--and everyone else--assumes they have imaginary friends. They finally meet in the first book of the Lynburn Legacy, Unspoken, in which their childhood telepathy turns out to be just one facet of a much larger and darker magical web. This is a short story set before they meet, when Jared still assumes he's mad with only his imagination for company. Told from the point-of-view of a guidance counselor at his school, this made me like Jared a lot more (when he's in a book with Kami, her personality is so large it takes over) and worry about him too.(less)
The prequel (though best if read after) to the excellent The Anvil of the World. Gard is a foundling raised by the remnants of a pacifistic enslaved...moreThe prequel (though best if read after) to the excellent The Anvil of the World. Gard is a foundling raised by the remnants of a pacifistic enslaved race. When the race's Messiah comes to save them, Gard rejects his pacifism and is exiled. Dread mages trapped under a mountain for generations catch him, and he begins to realize he has gifts beyond those of his adopted people. Meanwhile, the Messiah and his successor are not having an easy time themselves. This is the second of Kage Baker's series, and possibly better than her first, the Company. Good, evil, compassion, nature v nurture--they are all in here, floating in a complex world with believable characters. (less)
Matthew Swift was one of many mediocre city sorcerers living in London until he was murdered. Then, of course, he was a dead mediocre city sorcerer.
An...moreMatthew Swift was one of many mediocre city sorcerers living in London until he was murdered. Then, of course, he was a dead mediocre city sorcerer.
And then he came back.
And with him came the blue electric angels, magical beings created by all the emotional energy and power we pour into the telephone lines. Matthew Swift, now a "we" instead of a "me", is charged with protecting the city of London. He's stopped the Death of Cities, he's stopped Blackout, he's stopped the Neon army (the modern version of fairy) from tearing London apart. But now, it seems someone doesn't trust him to do his job. London's hoodlums are getting murdered and brainwashed, and Matthew doesn't know why.
I absolutely loved this book, so rife with energy and emotion and great dialog. Buuut then there's a whole section near the end where Penny (Matthew's foul-mouthed apprentice) relays a story of what she's been up to lately, and it takes about 15 pages and it's told in the most self-consciously colloquial style, and in revenge I have to take one star off this book and merely give it a "it was great!" rating instead of "it was transcendently perfect!"(less)
I loved her first novel, Tithe, so very, very much. Valiant is a good follow-up, though it begins a little Poppy Z Brite-ish (descriptions of how cool...moreI loved her first novel, Tithe, so very, very much. Valiant is a good follow-up, though it begins a little Poppy Z Brite-ish (descriptions of how cool and freakish everyone looks, with their newfangled dyed hair and piercings, ooh la la, etc.). The love story is fine, but Val’s transformation from bookwormish lacrosse player to courageous, drug-addled warrior is fun to watch. (less)
A beautiful story of a young woman traveling along a river. Eliss is smart, observant, and hard-working, and if she were any less competent she and he...moreA beautiful story of a young woman traveling along a river. Eliss is smart, observant, and hard-working, and if she were any less competent she and her brother would probably be dead in a ditch somewhere. Instead, her tenacious dedication to survival means that her brother can explore the meaning of his mixed heritage and Eliss can slowly come to understand her own character and that of her lost mother.
This is set in the same fantasy world as The House of the Stag and Anvil of the World. Like those, issues of oppression and discrimination based on sex, race and class are ever-present but always lightly handled. Magic is threaded throughout, but never overwhelming--it's just a part of the characters' lives, not the solution to all their problems and certainly never a deus ex machina. The world building is top-notch here--the world is consistent and coherent, but never boring.
And some of that excellence is due to where Baker chose to focus her gaze. Instead of powerful people making decisions that bend the world, she chose to write about the lives of a ship's crew, who have little money and less power. This subversion of the usual fantasy storyline makes the dialog, personalities and character growth shine all the more because they're so unexpected. A song is written about Eliss's mother, and Eliss is at first furious, because it turns her mother's dingy life of poor choices into an epic tragedy. She's slightly reconciled to it when one of her mother's fellow divers mentions how grateful she is that finally, they have a song about a diver, no matter how truthful it is. Eventually, Eliss begins to come to terms with the idea that her mother was a silly woman who let her children down--but she was also a woman who'd suffered terrible personal tragedy.
I mentioned the dialog earlier, and I want to emphasize that it fantastic. It always feels natural and organic to the character, and it is dashed through with sparks of wit. By the end of this book, I felt like I knew each of the characters, that I'd shared bunk-space with them, that I'd eaten dinner beside them. I wish the book hadn't ended, because I miss them.(less)
In a single torturous chapter, young nobleman Tradain liMarchborg loses his family, wealth and freedom. He is sentenced to a lifetime in a hellish pri...moreIn a single torturous chapter, young nobleman Tradain liMarchborg loses his family, wealth and freedom. He is sentenced to a lifetime in a hellish prison. By chance, he escapes after growing up in the prison, and devotes the remainder of his life to revenge. This was a gripping book, but Tradain’s methods of vengeance are ridiculously intricate and convoluted.(less)
Absolutely fantastic short stories. Swanwick writes with a verve and imagination I have rarely seen in sf, and his fantasy is always fresh and fiesty....moreAbsolutely fantastic short stories. Swanwick writes with a verve and imagination I have rarely seen in sf, and his fantasy is always fresh and fiesty. The only story I didn't love was "The Skysailor's Tale," which meandered.(less)