Invader is just as good as the first book in this trilogy (which I loved), and possibly even better, because it didn't have to spend a lot of time est...moreInvader is just as good as the first book in this trilogy (which I loved), and possibly even better, because it didn't have to spend a lot of time establishing the setting via characters we'll never see again while running rapidly through the necessary history. Now it's all Bren all the time, and I really do love being in that poor man's head. And in this book he gets to be much more active, for better and worse. Especially when he does active things that everyone yells at him about and he thinks he's fucked up, but it turns out he was right in that instance... There is a peculiar delight to seeing him try to navigate a society and mindset that he can't fully understand, despite having spent his entire life and professional career training to do exactly that. No one does aliens quite like Cherryh, and I find myself following Bren's thought patterns exactly: wanting to ascribe human emotions to these very human-seeming people, and then being abruptly reminded that they really aren't human at all.
It ends on a bit more of a cliffhanger than the first book, but I was warned of that, so I have the third book right here and hand. (And it's not a terrible cliffhanger, either; the really urgent primary plot thread is addressed, but it stops right there with you knowing that all the cascading, complicated political mess that's been ramping up will need to be dealt with next.) And I give the book bonus points for including a moment where the antagonists did something so clever that I was outright delighted, despite it being wretched and dangerous for the protagonists. I don't get to see that very often!(less)
This is the political fantasy book I've always wanted. An all-but-disowned and decidedly unwanted youngest son of the emperor suddenly becomes the emp...moreThis is the political fantasy book I've always wanted. An all-but-disowned and decidedly unwanted youngest son of the emperor suddenly becomes the emperor himself, because of an airship crash taking out his father and all his older brothers. And then he has to cope with downright byzantine politics and a formal court and massive responsibility--and massive power, but certainly not unfettered or uncomplicated power--all at once.
And part of what I love about this book so much is that it avoids the Hard Men Making Hard Choices failure state of a lot of complicated fantasy these days. There is no option where the protagonist can just go "Let's institute democracy!" or "Gosh, you committed a horrible crime, but I understand why, so I'll pardon you," so he damn well has to make a lot of hard choices with unpleasant consequences...but there's no valorization of those choices. Sometimes terrible choices are inevitable and unavoidable, and that can be recognized as something terrible, not as a sign that someone is manly enough to make those choices that make terrible things happen. It's gripping and complicated, and has this amazing sense of--well, I want say 'humanity', which is sort of funny given that there are technically no humans in the books. (Goblins, elves, one dwarf, and some referenced but never seen 'lion-girls'.) But a sense of how even when all the choices are painful, someone can still make good choices. Or find ways to recover from bad ones. Or find small, determined ways to change terrible circumstances, and make them less terrible. All this against a background of really entertainingly convoluted court politics that the protagonist is sufficiently inexperienced with that the reader can follow along as he learns how things work.
And as a minor side note, it does a really good job of making a language with different formality levels built into the grammar clear and easy to follow in English. Purely through pronoun choice, which I think was a really clever decision on the author's part; it's easy to "translate" and easy to follow when someone's speaking at a different formality level.
(Note: I read an ARC of this book, which I won in a contest.)(less)
I give this book a lot of credit for being ambitious, delightfully strange, and compelling enough to keep me reading until 2am. But it keeps trying to...moreI give this book a lot of credit for being ambitious, delightfully strange, and compelling enough to keep me reading until 2am. But it keeps trying to subvert the Good Is Beautiful, Evil Is Ugly paradigm, and then getting confused and unsubverting it. And the ending felt muddled and rushed.
I really enjoyed reading it, but that was despite the vast majority of the characters being two-dimensional jerks. Including one of the two protagonists. (And I never did figure out why the one sensible, interesting character decided to go OH WOW BOYS at one of the most annoying twits in the whole story, and this was being played up as a good thing.) Still. Many points given for effort; many of the YA fairytale rewrites I've seen haven't been half so clever about it all.(less)
A driven, compelling book, and good plausible historical fiction in its own way. For all that I often didn't enjoy what was happening, or the protagon...moreA driven, compelling book, and good plausible historical fiction in its own way. For all that I often didn't enjoy what was happening, or the protagonist's approach to events, I had a hard time putting it down. And this, for a story where I know how it ends.(less)
A compact, focused little story. It would be cliche to say it's "about growing up", but it is, in an honest and unpatronizing way. Also nice to see a...moreA compact, focused little story. It would be cliche to say it's "about growing up", but it is, in an honest and unpatronizing way. Also nice to see a variety of uncomfortable home experiences for kids where the story isn't about Dealing With A Difficult Home Life; the protagonists are affected by their families, but not defined by them. And there are some nicely creepy moments in there, too.(less)
I love many things about this book, especially its depiction of how family relationships do--or don't--work, between different sorts of people. But th...moreI love many things about this book, especially its depiction of how family relationships do--or don't--work, between different sorts of people. But the ending was so abrupt it felt like several of the most fascinating problems raised were being brushed aside with "Woo, true love fixes everything!" I hope the sequel does a hell of a lot more with some of those issues.(less)
While this series isn't really hitting the same razor-sharp emotional clarity as Breadcrumbs, I'm enjoying the personality authenticity of the protago...moreWhile this series isn't really hitting the same razor-sharp emotional clarity as Breadcrumbs, I'm enjoying the personality authenticity of the protagonist quite a lot, and these are fun adventure stories. And I really have to admire a take on "Kids having adventures plus (insert set of deities here)!" that leads to the kids concluding the deities need to be stopped. And not because they're suddenly rampaging out of control, but because gods who don't fix things for humanity are a lot worse than no gods at all.(less)