3.5ish stars for this Nebula-nominated SF/fantasy novelette. Persephone Aim is sorting through her dead grandmother's memorabilia and possessions, whi3.5ish stars for this Nebula-nominated SF/fantasy novelette. Persephone Aim is sorting through her dead grandmother's memorabilia and possessions, which is worse than it sounds because Grandmother was a hoarder. There are a few valuables left behind from Grandmother's illustrious career as a stage magician, but most of it is junk or worse. But things get interesting when Persephone finds an odd metal hand, marked with swastikas and lightning bolts, and then a mechanical leg.
Meanwhile some government agents are asking if they can "help" sort all of Grandmother's things, and Persephone's own mother has come into town and is starting to act all aggressive about Grandmother's possessions ...
I started "Carpe Glitter" with high hopes but ended feeling a little let down. The beginning and even the middle were great, but it ended with an underwhelming rush. I think it was supposed to be scarier than it was. It felt like the last part needed more details, more events, just ... MORE.
If you're interested in scary + hoarding relatives, I'd suggest The Twisted Ones over this one.
3.5 stars, tentatively rounding up. This sequel to the award-winning fantasy Gideon the Ninth is incredibly ambitious, very wordy, and highly confusin3.5 stars, tentatively rounding up. This sequel to the award-winning fantasy Gideon the Ninth is incredibly ambitious, very wordy, and highly confusing for about 3/4 of the book. It follows Harrowhark, Gideon’s frenemy, as she goes through the slower-than-usual process of becoming one of the God-Emperor’s Lyctors. Mixing second and third person POVs (not to mention several chapters of first person POV toward the end), Harrow navigates a complex web of conspiracies and not knowing for certain who is on her side and who wants her dead.
It’s both fascinating and frustrating, and it often made my brain hurt. If you loved Gideon the Ninth I’d definitely recommend it; if you weren’t a big fan, I’d probably give it a pass.
Full review to come! Thanks so much to Tor for the ARC!...more
4.5 stars. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with my co-reviewer and GR friend Kelly's enthusiastic review):
This lushly-told nov4.5 stars. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with my co-reviewer and GR friend Kelly's enthusiastic review):
This lushly-told novella, a Locus award nominee, is set in an alternative, fantastical version of our world, with strong 1920s vibes to it. There are hidden portals to different realms below our world where magic rules, along with goblins and demons. Desdemona, the goodhearted but initially spoiled and thoughtless daughter of an immensely wealthy coal magnate, overhears her father making a bargain with a goblin or “Kobold” from one of the kingdoms below, for oil to be found on a piece of land he owns. In return, her father will pay a “tithe” of men to the Kobold king, who will be taken to the Kobold’s kingdom for the rest of their lives, to be slaves or whatever the king chooses. Worse yet, her heartless father plans a mining disaster to kill the men not taken by the Kobolds, to hide the disappearance of the others.
Jolted into action, Desdemona figures out a way to get to the kingdoms below to try to retrieve these men. She grabs her cross-dressing (and perhaps more than that … ) friend Chaz to join her on her adventure, opens a portal to the kingdoms below, and promptly gets separated from Chaz.
It’s a wild quest, dark yet hopeful, and filled with danger and mystery, shapeshifting (including gender), and fascinating beasts and creatures of every kind. The world-building is comprehensive, giving the indelible impression that there is much more in these worlds to explore, and many more tales to come. In fact, this is the third novella Cooney has written in this world; she’s currently withdrawn the first two from publication and is reworking them, with the intention of republishing them in autumn 2021. However, Desdemona and the Deep easily stands on its own … though I’m anxious to read the first two works when they become available again.
Cooney’s writing is truly lovely and engaging, with dark undertones throughout.
Objects rocketed overhead and splatted down … Mostly they were soft, rotted things like the faceted fruit of the orchard, jewels melting to slime; a spotted salmon wheezing dire prophecies as it drowned in air; wailing mandrake rootlings, bleeding from mouths and eyes; small winged bodies, limp and broken; more, so much more, all dead or dying, evidence of the Valwode failing, of the senescing dream.
Both Desdemona and Chaz find themselves profoundly changed in the course of their quest. Cooney melds modern sensibilities (gender identity and sexual orientation) with traditional folktale concepts. At one point, a goblin guide named Farklewhit comments to Desdemona: “Now, a Tattercoats is a species of the Nine-Tails genus, from the Thousandfurs family” — evoking and combining two related fairy tales in one character.
There were a few unconventional and even grotesque elements that pulled me out of the story temporarily (for example, Desdemona’s arousal by the rank smell of Farklewhit’s wooly body), but those may be a matter of taste, and I can’t say they didn’t fit with the ambiance of this tale.
I highly recommend Desdemona and the Deep to readers who like evocative, queer fantasy....more
A village girl, Suss, has the unusual power of shapeshifting into a wolf. Suss loves her time as a wolf, in large part because her severe chronic pain completely disappears in that form and she’s free to run and explore and feel truly alive. But she feels guilty because of her dead mother’s scolding, and she doesn’t want to lose her connections to her best friend and neighbors. More, there’s the problem of valuable livestock in her village being killed by a canine predator, and Suss worries that she’s losing touch because she has no memory of doing this in her wolf form.
As with much current speculative fiction, diversity is a prominent feature in this story, but it’s an unusual one — Suss’s unexplained chronic pain — and it’s well-integrated and even integral to the plot. Sarah Gailey’s writing is engaging: the reader understands Suss’s physical pain and stress, and it feels like these villagers are real people.
Nan is the oldest person either of us have ever known. She tells people that she’s three hundred years old, and I believe her, if only because I don’t know for sure that spite can’t pickle a person into immortality. She’s tall and hale with broad shoulders and all of her original teeth, a fact she’ll tell anyone who will listen.
The central conflict in Away with the Wolves felt like it was resolved a bit too quickly and neatly, but I still enjoyed this warmhearted story and the way it stresses the importance of friendship and interpersonal connections — whether you’re a human or a wolf. Or both....more
Kiki’s Delivery Service, a 1985 children’s fantasy novel first published in JaOn sale July 7! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Kiki’s Delivery Service, a 1985 children’s fantasy novel first published in Japanese as Majo no Takkyūbin (or “Witch’s Express Home Delivery”), is best known outside of Japan as the basis for a 1989 Studio Ghibli anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, the book won several prizes in Japan and Kadono has published five sequels over the years (unfortunately none of the sequels are currently available in English translations). Kiki’s Delivery Service was first published in English in 2003, but a new translation is now available.
Twelve-year-old Kiki lives in a small town with her mother Kokiri, a witch, and her human father Okino. Her coming-of-age day is nearing, and tradition requires young witches like Kiki to strike out on their own and find a town or village that doesn’t have a witch and needs their magical services. Witches’ powers have been growing weaker over the years, though, and Kiki’s only magical abilities are flying on a broom (at which she’s quite adept, in fact) and being able to speak with her black cat Jiji.
Once Kiki decides to leave she does so quickly, soon landing in the seaside town of Koriko. Initially downhearted because of the dismissive attitudes in this large town, Kiki cheers up when she meets a friendly and very pregnant baker who gives her a place to stay and an idea: she can go into business as a delivery girl. Her delivery service leads to a series of adventures, a few new friendships, and a growing feeling that Kiki has found a place and people that she cares about.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a warmhearted and whimsical children’s story, told in eleven fairly easy-to-read chapters. It differs from the Miyazaki film in many of its plot points, and it’s much more episodic and understated in its approach. Kiki deals with the typical difficulties of growing up and gradually gaining self-confidence and independence. Her adventures tend not to be dramatic, life-and-death difficulties. It’s the more mundane, ordinary issues that mostly concern her: a worried mother; a thief who swipes her broom; a group of musicians whose instruments were left on the train; a boy who may or may not like her. Jiji’s sarcastic comments add a little humor and spice to the underlying sweetness.
The magical elements in Kiki’s Delivery Service are low-key and pure white witchcraft — there’s no real evil or meanness at all in this book. People may be annoying but fundamentally they’re all goodhearted. It’s about ordinary people going about their lives, sometimes frustrating each other, but more often connecting with and helping one another. In a foreword to the novel, Kadono comments, “[Kiki] is a witch, but she’s also a perfectly ordinary girl. She has the same worries, disappointments, and joys as anyone else … And as I continued writing Kiki’s story, I realized that magic is something everyone possesses. Even if you can’t fly through the air like Kiki, you have your own unique power that is equally important.”
And as Kiki herself realizes:
"Of course, with my new business I’m usually delivering things in a hurry, so I need to fly. But sometimes it’s good to walk. When you walk, you end up talking to all sorts of different people even if you don’t want to, you know? … And when people see a witch close up, they realize that we don’t all have pointy noses and gaping mouths. We can discuss things and maybe come to understand each other."
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a charming tale with a timeless feel, giving readers an enjoyable and authentic glimpse of Japanese culture. I recommend it for fans of children’s fantasy.
Initial post: I just picked this up on NetGalley! It's a brand new translation of the Japanese children’s novel that inspired the Miyazaki anime film. Sounds fun!...more
This review is for a short story in this issue, "A Country Called Winter," which is a lovely fairy tale retelling, based on (view spoiler)["The Snow QThis review is for a short story in this issue, "A Country Called Winter," which is a lovely fairy tale retelling, based on (view spoiler)["The Snow Queen," where Gerda tries to find her friend Kay who's been taken by the Snow Queen to her icy land (hide spoiler)]. It's free online here at Lightspeed magazine, and is a Locus award nominee.
This has a very different take on the characters, subverting the original story - none of them, except maybe the wealthy and handsome European undergrad Kay, is what I might have expected. Gerda is an edgy TA who teaches a literature class and is a member of a band called "Robber Girl," lol. Vera, who narrates the story, is studying for her masters when she meets and falls in love with Kay.
But that's only part of the tale: there's a whole separate part of the plot dealing with Vera's background - she and her mother immigrated to the US from a country called, in English, "Winter" - and how her lost past begins to pull her in a direction she never expected. It's not the most amazing story in the world but I found it really delightful. I'd love to know what happens next, though. (And I'm rooting for the ice troll prince.)
Also I just saw that there's a Ken Liu short story in this issue that I've never seen before, and now I know what I'm reading next!...more
Why did Dad take so long on his errand to go grab a bottle of milk for the breakfast cereal? [image] Well, he'll tell you.
The answer is convoluted and hWhy did Dad take so long on his errand to go grab a bottle of milk for the breakfast cereal? [image] Well, he'll tell you.
The answer is convoluted and hilarious, involving a stegosaurus professor in a hot air balloon with a time machine, aliens, pirates, volcanos, ocean piranhas, vampires wumpires, and much, much more. [image]
His two kids are pretty dubious but willing to go along with it for the most part ("Hang on. Piranhas are a freshwater fish. What are they doing in the sea?"). And occasionally they have requests for ponies or "handsome, misunderstood wumpires" to be in the story.
It's a fun children's or early middle-grade story, and the illustrations absolutely make it. This would be a great read-aloud book for kids who like wildly imaginative adventures. [image]
It's a new time period, a new country (Veribold), and a new set of characters to meet in Ally of the Crown, set in between Melissa McShane's other CroIt's a new time period, a new country (Veribold), and a new set of characters to meet in Ally of the Crown, set in between Melissa McShane's other Crown of Tremontane books. It's a fun mix of fantasy adventure and romance: Fiona has firestarter type of magical powers that can be more trouble than use; starting fires while dreaming is the worst danger, but there's also the problem that magical powers are viewed with so much suspicion because of abuses by mages in the past, that many people will kill magic-wielding people on sight, even hunting them down.
Fiona is recently divorced and at loose ends, so when she's sort of accidentally kidnapped by a mysterious man named Sebastian and his manservant, she decides to help them recover some documents from a blackmailer. Unfortunately the blackmailer lives in the country of Veribold, where foreigners are kept under a close eye, and the blackmailer is a powerful politician. So Sebastian has concocted a rather complicated and unlikely plan to access the blackmailer's office, and Fiona is the linchpin of that plan.
I wasn't entirely convinced with the speed and intensity of the romance, but the main characters are likeable (especially Sebastian, though he gets off on the wrong foot with Fiona). Sebastian's powerful mother and the woman who's the blackmailer were interesting characters in their own right, but we didn't really get to see enough of them.
3.75 stars. Full review to come. I received a review copy of this book from the author. Thank you! ...more
In this recent novella sequel to Shakespeare's The Tempest, Prospero's daughter Miranda travels back to Milan with him and finds life a lot more unpleIn this recent novella sequel to Shakespeare's The Tempest, Prospero's daughter Miranda travels back to Milan with him and finds life a lot more unpleasant than she expected. Everyone treats her like some kind of monster, she's confined to her rooms and only allowed out with a heavy veil, her fiance Ferdinand has disappeared, and her father is distant and uninterested in her welfare. The only bright spot in Miranda's life is one of the maids, Dorothea. Maybe she can help Miranda figure out what's gone wrong?
It's a warmhearted and well-intentioned novella that puts a very different twist on Shakespeare's story, with distinctly modern social views and occasionally veering into preachiness. It got a little too clunky for me and the plot didn't always flow smoothly or make total sense, but it had its moments. If a queer, feminist fantasy take on Renaissance Italy sounds like your cuppa tea, I'd recommend it.
Available for free right now as part of a set of four Tor LGBTQ+ novellas, with Tor's ebook of the month club....more
Ellie Watson is a whimsical, spirited Nebraska girl who tends to make spur-of-the-moment choices, until the fateful day when she writes a letter an English pen pal and suddenly realizes that she wants to be sensible and put the stamp in the typical place, rather than off in some other corner of the envelope. Her family and friends are bemused (and her parents and principal satisfied) by the change in Ellie, as she does her chores, pays attention in school, and otherwise acts like a well-behaved child.
Then one December day she hears the radio broadcast announcing that King Edward VIII has abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson … and Ellie recognizes the handiwork of her whimsy. And in fact, her whimsy has absconded to Europe inside of the envelope Ellie sent to her pen pal, and is now jaunting about Europe. Ellie is determined to do something about it, but what?
This charming short story by Amor Towles, author of A Gentleman in Moscow, has a whimsical approach that befits its subject. The whimsy isn’t just a floating sparkle but somehow morphs into a clean-shaven man who can shake your hand and introduce himself, and when he starts hanging out with an older gentleman’s wanderlust, there’s no telling what will happen. Ellie’s determination is admirable, and the whimsy’s influence on Edward VIII’s history-changing decision was a nice touch. It’s a light, joyful and appealing tale with a subtle message.
Thanks for the recommend to Kevin and Kimber!...more
Centaurs, unicorns, selkies, fauns ... horse-loving Teenage Me would’ve loved this book.
Ten-year-old Regan has great parents (YAY), adores horses and Centaurs, unicorns, selkies, fauns ... horse-loving Teenage Me would’ve loved this book.
Ten-year-old Regan has great parents (YAY), adores horses and rides them regularly, and has a close school friend named Lauren, who's a toxic queen bee type, but Regan hangs on to Lauren, even after Lauren turns against their other best friend ... not realizing, or maybe just not wanting to admit to herself, that Lauren could turn against her equally as quickly and terribly. When Regan finds out some upsetting news, she makes the mistake of confiding in Lauren.
Things go wrong fast, Regan runs away from school - and finds herself in the woods, faced with a magical doorway that leads to the Hooflands. In the Hooflands, everyone has hooves of some kind, and humans are exotic creatures that show up once in a blue moon, and are expected to heroically save the Hooflands from some terrible trouble and then disappear. Destiny? or perhaps not.
This entry in the Wayward Children series doesn't have any links to Eleanor's Home for Wayward Children or the characters in the other books, at least not yet. It has some great moments, but lacked some of the impact for me that the best books in this series have, and I really wanted more of an epilogue ... in both worlds. Well worth reading for any fan of the series, though!
Initial post: YES! Approved for the ARC of the latest Wayward Children book on NetGalley ... and immediately started reading it, because I have no self-control whatsoever with some series....more
A fun short fantasy by Sherwood Smith, free online at https://www.patreon.com/posts/new-dec.... The goddess Hera, angry about the male gods' use — or A fun short fantasy by Sherwood Smith, free online at https://www.patreon.com/posts/new-dec.... The goddess Hera, angry about the male gods' use — or misuse — of their powers, has taken away those powers (I'd love to know how that happened) and grants them to three older women in our day, to the consternation of those ladies. They’re really not at all certain what to do with their new (and difficult to control) gifts, or whether they should try to help each other or just go their separate ways.
It's humorous with some serious undertones. The three women are interesting and very diverse types; in fact, the main character is somewhat disabled from a stroke. And how often do you have older women as the main characters in a story?
ETA: My college-age daughter read this a couple of days ago, and I quote: “It’s not worth the time.” She has good taste in books, so I’m going to go wETA: My college-age daughter read this a couple of days ago, and I quote: “It’s not worth the time.” She has good taste in books, so I’m going to go with that.
Initial post: Me two days ago: I wonder if Stephenie Meyer is working on writing anything new? It’d be interesting to see a Host sequel ... I’d even read a Renesmee novel.
Stephenie Meyer: You thought Midnight Sun had been permanently shelved? Hah, suckers!...more
Kind of an "awww" sort of fantasy short story, plus books!! I love stories about books! And also stories about (view spoiler)[portals to magical worldKind of an "awww" sort of fantasy short story, plus books!! I love stories about books! And also stories about (view spoiler)[portals to magical worlds (hide spoiler)]. Free to read online on Tor.com.
Meigan builds a "Little Free Library" from a kit, decorates it, sets it up in her front yard, and puts a bunch of her old books in it for people to trade and share. All goes well until someone empties out the LFL completely. Meigan's a little miffed, but shrugs it off and leaves a note to them to next time please take just one or two books. The unknown person apologizes and starts leaving her quirky presents in the LFL in exchange for more books. And then things start getting really odd.
This story is heartwarming and charming but also bittersweet. It has one of those open-ended conclusions where you really wonder what will happen next, but it's not clear if Naomi Kritzer has a follow-up story in mind or that's just the way the story ends (the latter is where I tend to think she's going to land). In any case it's interesting to think about what could happen. I have a few thoughts ......more
2.5 stars - just okay. A spaceship lands on a new world, but the captain and crew find to their dismay that the planet is already inhabited. They're s2.5 stars - just okay. A spaceship lands on a new world, but the captain and crew find to their dismay that the planet is already inhabited. They're stuck - the ship hasn't got enough fuel to go anywhere else. So the ship's navigator takes off to explore this world and see if there's an empty place they can fit in and be hidden to the rest of the world's inhabitants, while the ship shrinks down to the size of a rock, and the crew goes into some kind of sleep and awaits the navigator's return.
It's a murky story plot-wise, though there are some lovely descriptions of strange and creative ways of mapping that the people on this world use. That’s the best part of this story, frankly. I'm extremely unclear on what the point was. Life goes on and you do your best?...more
This review is just for the Hugo and Nebula award-nominated short story “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde. It's free to read online here at Uncanny This review is just for the Hugo and Nebula award-nominated short story “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde. It's free to read online here at Uncanny Magazine. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
“Weatherman” means something very different in Sila’s town. Some years ago, eerie magical storms began striking the town, attacking people, destroying homes, and wreaking all sorts of havoc. Sila, who narrates this story, lists several different types of storms for the reader. ("A Glare: a storm of silence and retribution, with no forgiveness, a terror of it, that takes over a whole community until the person causing it is removed.") Eventually the townsfolk learn that some people have the gift of shouting down storms and turning them away. Naming the storms also helps. ("A Searcloud: heated air so thick it blinds as it wraps charred arms around those it catches, then billows in the lungs, scorching words from their sounds, memories from their bearers.") The problem is that these people, called weathermen, eventually transform into mist or lightning or other types of weather themselves.
Sila’s family already has lost some of its members as weathermen who changed and disappeared, and Sila’s mother is determined to prevent Sila and her sisters from becoming weathermen. But Sila feels that this is a destiny calling to her, and begins to secretly create her own lists of storms, and naming them. ("A Leaving: that rush when everything swoops up in dust and agitation and what’s left is scoured. Prepare to bolt your doors so you don’t lose what wants to be lost.")
"A Catalog of Storms" is strong on evocative imagery, if short on plot and logic. No real explanation is ever given for why all these mystical storms started attacking the town and why the people who fight them as weathermen turn into weather themselves. The tale works best on the metaphorical level, exploring the drive many children have to break away from their families and find their own paths, their mixed emotions at leaving, the difficulty parents may have in letting go, and the heartache and love felt by family members who are left behind....more
Subterranean Press is reissuing Connie Willis’s moody and bleak 1991 novella Jack, which w4.5 stars! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Subterranean Press is reissuing Connie Willis’s moody and bleak 1991 novella Jack, which was a finalist for the Nebula and Hugo awards and has appeared in several anthologies over the years. It’s set during the London Blitz in WWII, one of Willis’ favorite settings for her works, including the time-travel novels Blackout and All Clear and the Nebula and Hugo award-winning novelette "Fire Watch". Once again, there’s something peculiar going on during the Blitz … but this time it’s not just time travelers visiting from the future.
Jack Harker is part of a squad of air raid wardens, charged with helping to put out the fires caused by German incendiary bombs and digging survivors out of the rubble left by explosive bombs. Their group is joined by a new part-timer, Jack Settle, who proves to be unusually good at finding live people who are trapped under the rubble. But Jack Harker can’t help but think there’s something suspicious about the new Jack. He never shares the group’s food, even when it’s a special treat; he works during the night and disappears at dawn.
Jack has a sense of mystery about it, although Willis doesn’t try especially hard to hide the answer. On rereading Jack for the first time in many years, I noticed all of the hints that Willis strews around like so many breadcrumbs. References to churches, the “walking dead” (exhaustion caused by lack of sleep, poor nutrition and anxiety), allusions to places and even characters’ names (seriously, take a hard look at the names!): all combine to create an increasing sense of anxiety and dread, compounded by the Nazis’ constant bombing.
But in the final analysis it’s not the particular mystery of “who or what is Jack Settle?” that Willis focuses on, but how the events in this novella affect Jack Harker and those around him. The name “Jack” isn’t all he shares with the man of whom he is so distrustful. And there are many ways for people to be monstrous, as well as human. The ending is gut-wrenching. It’s a finely crafted novella.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thanks!...more
In the American Civil War era, as soon as she hears that the man of the house has died in the war, Sully, a 15-year-old slave, slits the throats of the five women who own her and have mistreated her. That’s not really so surprising, but what happens to Sully next is.
The murder of a family by a girl so tender and young ripped a devilishly wide tunnel between the fields of existence, for it was not the way of things, and the etherworld thrived on the impermissible.
Sully’s anger cuts a path between these two planes of existence, and the spirit of a teenage girl who died long ago rides that path into Sully’s womb and is immediately born in flesh (conveniently and temporarily shrinking down to baby-size for the birthing process). The new girl, Ziza, and Sully get along well, but there are four more lives Sully took that still require balancing, additional revenants who will need more food than their farm can produce, and a nearby town full of people who are bound to come checking on the farm sooner or later.
Sully’s seething anger toward her former owners is understandable. It’s not the initial murders that take me aback here, but the ongoing bloodthirstiness of the tale, which makes for an odd combination with the romance and the hopefulness of the ending. “Blood is Another Word for Hunger” offers some disturbing metaphors for our own day and time. It’s a disquieting tale: a cry of anger and wanting retribution and more from a world that’s never felt fair....more
I had hazy memories of reading the title story of this collection, “Story of Your Life,” when it won Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
I had hazy memories of reading the title story of this collection, “Story of Your Life,” when it won the Nebula and was nominated for the Hugo in 1999, and have been wanting to reread it for ages. I finally got my hands on it again as part of this collection, and reread “Story of Your Life” first. It didn’t disappoint… in fact, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Chiang combines linguistics, psychology, and sociology with alien first contact and loving vignettes about a mother’s relationship with her daughter. It blew my mind how well he did it. That novella was a clear five-star read for me (and now I really want to see the film Arrival).
So I dove into the rest of this collection, which was, for the most part, a slight letdown. Chiang is still brilliant — his ideas sometimes fly a little over my head — but the actual storytelling frequently falters, with a few of the stories striking me more as focused on exploring a particular idea (in a thin fictional setting) than on telling a compelling story.
Here’s the list of stories in this collection, along with my ratings and comments:
5 stars for “Tower of Babylon”: This novelette, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, retells the events of building the Biblical tower of Babel. A group of miners takes the months-long climb to the top of the tower so that they can cut through the “vault of Heaven,” which is a ceiling over the earth that the builders of the tower have reached. The twist is that, in this world, all of the beliefs about our cosmos that held sway thousands of years ago are actually real, including a flat earth. The normal rules of physics and what we know about our universe don’t apply. It’s not as mind-blowing as “Story of Your Life,” but came pretty close. I enjoyed it immensely.
4 stars for “Understand”: An introspective novelette and another Hugo Award winner, about a self-absorbed artistic man who is given a spinal injection of “hormone K” when he’s left brain-dead in the aftermath of an accident. It not only revives his brain but rebuilds his neurons in a far better way, giving him superhuman levels of intelligence. It felt rather remote and slow-paced until the rousing ending. Though that ending was fascinating, I couldn’t quite buy into the justification for the final conflict.
3 stars for “Division by Zero”: This story is an exploration of suicidal tendencies that can strike when a person’s worldview is completely upended. It’s told from a mathematician’s point of view, who discovers a proof that mathematics is inconsistent and illogical. The math elements whooshed over my head and, perhaps partly because of that lack of understanding, the rest of the story wasn’t compelling.
5 stars for “Story of Your Life,” as discussed above. It’s interesting that I loved this so much more the second time I read it. Maybe the ideas needed some time to seep into my brain.
5 stars for “Seventy-Two Letters”: In this Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning novella, Victorian steampunk is crossed with Jewish “golem” mythology, which is treated as serious science here. Chiang’s approach here is similar to that in “Tower of Babylon,” in that the way science (here, biology) works in this world is far different than in the real world. It can a while to really wrap your brain around that, and I’m not sure my brain ever entirely got there. “Seventy-Two Letters” contains several interesting ideas — especially when eugenics pops up its nasty head — but I got a little lost in the weeds.
3 stars for “The Evolution of Human Science”: This is a 3-page short-short in the form of a science journal article, discussing and analyzing what has happened to normal human scientific research now that there are “metahumans” (another subset of super-intelligent humans among us) whose scientific research and knowledge are unimaginable leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of humanity’s. The tone is highly analytical, as befits a scientific article; the subtext seems to be that normal humans are in a pathetic place now but trying to make the best of it.
5 stars for “Hell is the Absence of God”: Yet another “what if the world really worked in a different way that some people believe in” type of literary exploration (Chiang seems taken with this approach). In this disturbing novelette, yet another Hugo and Nebula winner, Chiang assumes the reality of old-style Judeo-Christian beliefs. Heaven and hell, as traditionally envisioned, are indisputably real. Powerful angels periodically appear, wreaking havoc and physical destruction whenever they do. Hell also puts in regular appearances: the ground becomes temporarily transparent every so often, and you can “see Hell as if you were looking through a hole in the ground.” But there’s very little spiritual comfort to be found in this world, along with physical blindness that’s a clear symbol of spiritual blindness. In the end we are faced with a God who is inconsistent, unfair and indifferent. It’s a well-crafted story, but personally I found the hostility to religion distasteful.
5 stars for “Liking What You See: A Documentary”: What happens when scientists figure out a way to sidestep “lookism,” turning off people’s ability in our brains to evaluate the physical attractiveness of others? It’s another piece of fiction that struck me as more of a thought experiment, built around a particular idea. Chiang goes down some less-expected paths, but here again I found the style of his story-telling to be overly analytical and remote....more
Ilona Andrews is having a “Plague Sale”: this collection of the first three books in the Innkeeper Chronicles series is on sale for 99 cents for all tIlona Andrews is having a “Plague Sale”: this collection of the first three books in the Innkeeper Chronicles series is on sale for 99 cents for all three! Great fun for urban fantasy fans. Proceeds will be donated to CDP Covid-19 Response Fund....more
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a surprisingly warmhearted fa3.5 stars. Now on sale! Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a surprisingly warmhearted fantasy novella set in a war-torn Asian country. It’s a queer take on wuxia, a time-honored genre of Chinese fiction based on heroes skilled in the martial arts, frequently in superhuman, fantastical ways (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or even Kung Fu Panda).
One day, in a small coffeehouse, a customer angrily accuses his waitress of using jampi witchcraft on him. The quarrel degenerates, a handsome bandit intervenes, dishes fly, daggers are pulled. In the aftermath, the waitress, Guet Imm, gets fired from her job and tracks down the bandit’s gang in their camp outside of town, and somehow convinces the bandits’ leader to let her join their group, promising help with cooking and cleaning. Guet Imm is a former nun with a shaved head from a burnt-out tokong. She’s not much of a cook … in fact, she can’t cook at all, nor will she sleep with the men (it would require a cleansing sacrifice to her goddess, in the form of chopping off their dicks). She does, however, manage to “part the men from their filthy clothes and launder them, in the teeth of the men’s appalled resistance.”
After a somewhat rocky start, Guet Imm becomes friends with one of the bandits, Tet Sang, who is the right-hand man of the handsome leader of the bandits. But trouble is brewing, and it has to do with something secret that the roving bandits are planning to sell, as well as personal secrets that some of the characters are keeping.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is set in the pre-industrial era, in a period called the Protectorate, in an mythical Asian country that, according to Cho’s website, “draws on both the semi-mythic China of wuxia and the Malaya of the Emergency.” Zen Cho, a Chinese Malaysian author, frequently uses Malay names and words in this novella, like tokong (a Malay temple), jampi (incantation or spell) and pahala (reward). Though the setting is a mix of cultures, it feels cohesive and organic to the plot.
The story focuses on Guet Imm and Tet Sang. While Tet Sang may be concealing the bigger secrets, Guet Imm is, I think, the heart of the tale. She combines wide-eyed earnestness with a sarcastic sense of humor, and a serene and profound faith in her deity with a canny understanding of human nature. Cho’s dryly humorous prose lends itself well to the affectionate bickering between the characters.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a pleasant read, more understated and tranquil than one might expect from a story about a group of bandits and stolen treasure that’s set in the midst of political turmoil. It’s more about interpersonal relationships and finding oneself and one’s family, than heart-pounding adventure and martial arts fighting, although there’s some of that as well. Zen Cho knows both wuxia traditions and Asian history and culture, and that shines through. I’d recommend it if you’re a fan of either wuxia or queer fantasy.
The Angel of the Crows is Sherlock Holmes fanfic … if Sherlock were an outcast angelOn sale June 23! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
The Angel of the Crows is Sherlock Holmes fanfic … if Sherlock were an outcast angel called Crow, Dr. Watson (here named Dr. Doyle) had a paranormal affliction caused by an injury given him by an Afghani fallen angel, and Victorian England were filled with vampires, werewolves and other paranormal beings. In fact, Katherine Addison states in an author’s note at the end that The Angel of the Crows originated as Sherlock wingfic, a type of fanfic in which one or more characters have wings. It’s an idea with potential, but Katherine Addison squanders that potential by spending (I estimate) some eighty percent of the novel simply retelling several of Sherlock Holmes’ most famous adventures with a supernatural twist.
It begins immediately with the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, in which Holmes and Watson (Crow and Doyle) first meet and become flatmates, and works its way through four more adventures that will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s read many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. The least well-known one is “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” and that one would only be called obscure by non-Holmes fan. The framing device for all of this is the search for Jack the Ripper: his murders are happening right while everything else is going on. Crow and Dr. Doyle can’t help but be interested, and interest leads to involvement.
It’s a reasonably interesting novel, even if you’re familiar with the source material, and Addison clearly did quite a bit of research into the Sherlock Holmes canon and Victorian-era crime, with a focus on the Jack the Ripper cases. But I found myself earnestly wishing that Addison had written a more original novel. In The Angel of the Crows, proper angels are tied to a habitation, like a cathedral or even an inn; Fallen angels cause disasters on the level of bombs; Nameless angels have lost their individual identity and their will along with their habitation. Crow is none of these, unique among angels. All this is explained as part of the background and world-building, but Addison never delves deeply into this aspect of the story or unlocks the potential of conflict with Fallen angels. Focusing more on these original ideas would have made for a more compelling novel.
The first adventure of Crow and Doyle, based on A Study in Scarlet, took up the whole first fifth of this novel, and was such a straight retelling of the original (at least, the London-based half of the original) that my jaw was literally dropping by the end of it. The Angel of the Crows does get progressively more creative as it goes along, as Addison includes more twists to the plots of the original Holmes stories. Occasionally an unexpected connection would make me laugh, like this one:
“Introductions!” the vampire said briskly. “My name is Moriarty.”
“Doyle,” I said and, having observed the vampire’s long, curved nails, did not offer to shake hands.
I appreciated Addison’s spin on The Hound of the Baskervilles plot, and she also gave most of the racist, sexist and other outdated parts of Doyle’s stories a much more modern spin. Even gender identity come into play, which would probably make old Arthur roll in his grave. I found myself gradually getting more invested in the story as I got deeper into it.
Still, for readers who are familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories that Addison wove into this novel, much of the element of mystery and surprise will be lost. Addison should have done much more to transform and subvert the original Holmes stories. I found myself looking forward to the interim chapters about Jack the Ripper, since those events were less familiar to me. Coming from the author who wrote the inventive book The Goblin Emperor, The Angel of the Crows was a bit of letdown.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thanks!...more
Here's another great Kindle sale: $2.99 as of June 23, 2020. This one won't be every reader's cuppa tea - read the reviews and decide for yourself - bHere's another great Kindle sale: $2.99 as of June 23, 2020. This one won't be every reader's cuppa tea - read the reviews and decide for yourself - but those who like it tend to REALLY like it.
4.5 stars, rounding up. This is one of those books that gets better the more I think about it! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Necromancers and their sword-fighting cavaliers star in Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir’s radically original debut novel, which has been nominated for the 2019 Nebula Award. This science fantasy novel, steeped in an atmosphere of decay and decrepitude, is a mix of space opera and a gruesome treasure hunt that takes place in a spooky, crumbling castle. At the same time, it’s set in an interstellar empire consisting of nine planets, each one ruled by a different House of necromancers.
Eighteen-year-old Gideon Nav is trying to escape her forced servitude in the particularly moribund Ninth House, where she’s surrounded by living skeletons and corpses and near-dead nobles and nuns who pray on knucklebones. Gideon’s escape plan involves sneaking off the entire Ninth planet in a space shuttle that she secretly ordered to come pick her up. Her flight is foiled at the last moment by Harrowhark, a young woman who is the powerful heir of the Ninth House, able to animate skeletons and corpses with a gesture … and Gideon’s lifelong enemy and nemesis. But Harrow offers Gideon a possible alternative way out of her miserable life.
The Emperor has summoned the heirs of the other eight Houses and their prime cavaliers (noble courtiers trained in rapier fighting) to come to the planet of the First House to compete to become the Emperor’s new Lyctors, semi-immortal elite necromancer knights. If Gideon will act as Harrow’s prime cavalier — the actual cavalier of the Ninth House being unable and unwilling to take on the obligation — Harrow promises that she will give Gideon her freedom afterwards. Gideon is an indentured servant, not a courtier, and she’s trained in fighting with a two-handed infantry sword, not a rapier, so it will be a massive challenge. Still, the emperor’s contest presents a life-changing opportunity for both Gideon and Harrow … if they survive.
Gideon the Ninth starts off a little slow but picks up steam steadily, becoming increasingly multi-layered and compelling as it propels the reader toward an intense, heart-pounding ending. The turning point for me was about a third of the way in, when it began to be clear how brilliantly Muir has woven science and future technology into a plot that initially seemed overwhelmingly fantasy. The worldbuilding is stellar, a gore-soaked, moldering edifice that’s eminently suited to the necromancy that is its center.
At the same time, it also became apparent that both the characters and the torturous challenges they were facing were far more complex than they at first appeared. The various ordeals that the necromancers and their cavaliers have to go through to earn certain keys actually have substantive significance. Gideon and Harrow have a complicated relationship built on mutual hatred and snarky insults, but there are guilty feelings and more hiding beneath the skull paint they put on their faces every day.
The secondary characters were so numerous – fifteen other heir/necromancers and cavaliers for the other seven competing Houses — that I was having difficulty keeping them all straight, though they each specialize in a different aspect of necromancy and there are several vividly drawn characters among them. (Protip: there’s an enormously helpful list of the Nine Houses and the characters that belong to each of the Houses at the beginning of the book, that I somehow managed to overlook until I was finished with the book.) This is the type of book where a second reading would be really enjoyable and illuminating, where you catch a lot of significant details and nuances that you overlooked on first read.
Gideon the Ninth combines unique worldbuilding, some fascinating twists and turns in the plot, intriguing and unique main characters, and an engaging writing style. I’m excited to dive into the sequel, Harrow the Ninth, which will be published in June 2020.
Initial post: This one just landed on my doorstep! Actually I asked the publicist for it since (a) it's a Nebula nominee, and (b) they'd already sent me the sequel, Harrow the Ninth (unasked for), and I've got this general rule about not reading sequels if I haven't read the first book. So here we go!
Content notes: quite a few F-bombs, lots of gore. The main character is lesbian, but there are no explicit sex scenes....more
Apparently the market for breathless YA romances with sexy vampires isn't fully saturated yet, becausFinal review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Apparently the market for breathless YA romances with sexy vampires isn't fully saturated yet, because Crave, a new paranormal romance thriller by Tracy Wolff that cheerfully admits to being inspired by Twilight — check out the blatant knock-off cover — offers readers a slightly updated take on the genre.
When her parents are killed in an automobile accident, high-school-aged Grace reluctantly leaves San Diego and travels to the remote, icy interior of Alaska, where her uncle Finn is headmaster of an exclusive boarding school, Katmere Academy. Grace’s cousin Macy, who picks her up in Healy for a ninety-minute snowmobile ride to the luxurious, castle-like prep school, is anxious to help Grace fit in. The problem is, almost all of the other students at Katmere seem to be hostile to Grace — especially Jaxon Vega, the hot, dangerous-looking guy who is the first person Grace meets upon her arrival. Grace is (at least at first) determined not to let herself fall for Jaxon, although there’s something in his eyes that makes her think he’s as lost as she is. Their relationship runs hot and cold, but there's something or someone at Katmere Academy that seems to want Grace dead, and she may need all the friends she can find.
Crave promises to deliver an updated version of Twilight, but other than a stronger erotic element and the addition of plenty of F-bombs, it doesn’t really deliver on that pledge. Heroine-wise, Grace is a slight improvement over Bella, but not markedly so. She makes far too many impulsive, rash decisions. Crave’s Alaska setting isn’t drawn in any detail, other than that it's freezing cold there. Though it's set in an inaccessible prep boarding school, shades of Hogwarts, I don't recall any particular mention of any classes or teachers. The focus is on the social scene at Katmere, the romantic tension between Grace and Jaxon, and the mystery about who wants to kill Grace, and why.
Grace and the book take an inordinate amount of time to get clear about the paranormal nature of Katmere’s students, although the book's cover and blurb spill the secret up front. There's some interest for readers in finding out what type of powers each of the different cliques at Katmere have (hint: it’s not just vampires and werewolves). The romance stays in PG-13 territory, though the erotic bloodsucking scene was somewhat of an eyebrow-raiser. Crave’s mystery element adds some intrigue to the romance-driven plot, but readers should know that the book ends on a major cliff-hanger. Add to the above issues a first-person, present-tense narration, something that's difficult to pull off well even in much better novels.
Twilight was a guilty pleasure at the time I read it, sending me scrambling for the next book in the series. Crave wasn't nearly as much fun for me. Crave is a book I'd recommend only to readers who are still enthusiastic about paranormal romances and Twilight-type plots, and who are on board with adult language and steamier romance.
Initial post: Receives ARC of book. (Nice publicity package BTW!) Scratches head. “Is another Twilight knock-off really what we need?” Reads book: = Twilight with more smoldering gazes and making out, more F-bombs, colder weather, a slight upgrade to Bella (not as much as I hoped), and erotic bloodsucking. And bonus! told in first person present tense. Another bonus! Cliffhanger ending....more
3.75 stars? Maybe? The reviews for The Starless Sea are all over the map, and honestly my feelings are too. It’s gorgeously written and mythic and obs3.75 stars? Maybe? The reviews for The Starless Sea are all over the map, and honestly my feelings are too. It’s gorgeously written and mythic and obscure and frustrating at the same time. If you love poetic writing, symbolism and beautiful imagery (and I do!), and don't mind rather thin characters and meandering plots, give it a shot.
Review to come, after I unpack all my thoughts and feelings....more