Ancillary Sword

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch Book 2)
Susan Leckie, 2014

Premise: Sequel to Ancillary Justice. If you haven’t read Ancillary Justice yet… I don’t know what to do with you. Breq’s ploys in the first book have allowed her a certain amount of autonomy. Now she just wants to keep herself and her crew alive long enough to fulfill a debt.

I bought this book months ago and only got around to reading it now, just before the release of the third book.

I am an idiot for waiting.

Although, on the other hand, having some distance from the first novel allowed me to fall in love with the conventions of the series all over again. I love Breq’s perspective. She has lived a long time, she is not human, not really, and sees things in a subtly different way from the people around her. I love the way she questions history and draws connections that are uncomfortable or unthinkable for others.

And I still love the pronoun thing.

[In case anyone’s reading this who hasn’t read the first: because of the language/culture Breq is from, all people are “she”. All siblings are ‘sisters’.]

Gimmicky or not, it pushes my brain into this androgynous space where two somewhat-contradictory things seem simultaneously true:
Physical gender is completely immaterial to why or how a character does any action, including sexual or physical violence.
The characters seem female until proven otherwise, which gives the whole thing a all-female society feeling.

Both of these feelings mean that the character’s action can only ever reflect on them as individuals or occasionally on their culture. It makes me really think more about all the assumptions that are usually built into reading about character interaction. Character A threatens Character B. If A is male and B is female, that is a different scene, without any different language, than the other way around, because of centuries of cultural expectation. Or Character A expresses interest and curiosity about Character B. Whether the pair is male/female, female/male, male/male or female/female means a lot about what assumptions the reader is likely to make.

All of those crutches, assumptions and tropes are stripped away by this writing, and it’s delightful.

The plot of Ancillary Sword suffers a little from ‘second-book’ syndrome, in that not a lot happens on a large scale. However, I still thought it was a great story, and I want to know what comes next.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Free Country: A Tale of The Children's Crusade

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Free Country: A Tale of The Children's Crusade

Neil Gaiman, Toby Litt, Rachel Pollack, Alisa Kwitney, Jamie Delano, Chris Bachalo, Peter Gross, Peter Snejbjerg. et. al., 2015

New release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Once upon a time there was an idea for a Vertigo Comics crossover story, which took characters from a handful of titles (Sandman, Swamp Thing, Books of Magic, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Black Orchid) and gave young characters from these worlds a story together. Unfortunately, given budgets and timelines, the plot ended up a bit rushed. This edition features an all-new middle chapter, giving more characters on-panel time and clarifying the story. Acts One and Three originally released 1993-1994 as The Children’s Crusade 1 and 2.

Premise the Second: Children disappear. It happens. It has always happened. But what if they are all going to the same place? Who could possibly be able to find out?

This story is intriguing for the historical context of how it came about (see premise above), but happily also interesting for the story itself. The second chapter fits into the style and flow perfectly, and I can only see the patch because I’m looking for it.

Of the stories referenced here, I am most familiar with Sandman, followed by Swamp Thing and Animal Man, I think I read a little Books of Magic once, and I don’t really know anything about Black Orchid or what Doom Patrol was like in the 90’s. Luckily for the publishers of this collection, I think most readers are going to be in my situation, since it’s two Sandman characters that are the most prominent in the story.

If you read Season of Mists, you probably remember Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine. When we pick up with them here, they’ve set up a detective agency, but aren’t having much luck with clients, being ghosts and invisible to many people. When an entire village of British children disappears, the one girl who was out of town that day asks the boys for their help.

This reads similarly to parts of Sandman and other Vertigo books of the 90’s: it’s full of digressions, literary and mythological allusions, connected histories and stories told in parallel. The larger plot containing the history of Free Country and the characters who call it home is more interesting than most of the business with the characters from the various other Vertigo titles.

Most of said business is in the new middle chapter: I would have been quite lost on aspects of the story without it. Even as it is, I didn’t entirely follow some of what happened.

As a ‘crossover’ specifically, this volume is just okay. I’d hate to be a big fan of Doom Patrol who picked this up and then found that character relegated to not much more than a handful of citations. However, as a unique piece with slight ties to other stories, I found it a fascinating story.

It’s not going to be for everyone (specifically, it’s for fans of books published by Vertigo in the 90’s), but for anyone looking to scratch that itch, I think this is going to be a hit.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Demon Drums

Monday, September 21, 2015

Demon Drums
Carol Severance, originally published 1992, Kindle edition 2015

New eBook release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Iuti had seen enough blood. She retreated from battle and gave up everything for a chance at peace. But sometimes peace is too good to be true, and chance encounters can change the course of war.

I really liked this book. It has an uncommon setting, an uncommon protagonist and an uncommon story, and all of those things work extremely well.

The story starts after the main character has tried to leave behind a major war. The world is evocative of Micronesia, with multiple island nations and a closeness with the sea. Iuti’s tie with a powerful shark-spirit gave her power in battle, but exhausted her soul and finally drove her from her people.

I know that dealing with issues of PTSD is not as infrequent in fantasy as sometimes it seems, but this book also features a fully adult female protagonist in a world that is completely unlike most Euro-centric fantasy, making it a wonderful breath of fresh air. The world is brutal, and featured some descriptions that I found stomach-turning (particularly of the tribe that creates the eponymous Demon Drums). However, none of it felt out of place or gratuitous to me. I especially liked the way the magic and spirit of the very world reacted to death.

Iuti’s relationship with Tarawe, a girl with magical potential but no training, makes up the heart of the story, while the bulk of the plot is their journey back and forth among several lands, trying to survive. The author throws you in deep to this culture and expects you to keep up. I also liked how unique the magic was compared to a lot of fantasy writing.

Thanks to Open Road Media for bringing another gem from the backlist to Kindle.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass 1)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Maas, 2012

Premise: Celaena is an assassin, sentenced to die in a labor camp for her crimes. She has one chance to earn her freedom: Win a competition to work for the king she despises.

Hmmm. I’m quite torn on this book, honestly. I tore through it, read it extremely quickly, but after I was done, all that stayed with me were the bits I didn’t like.

The cover of the book says that fans of The Hunger Games will love this book, and I agree in that it’s very readable. The pace is breakneck from almost start to end. And yet, I found that to be a critique as well, as when I described the competition premise to a friend who immediately said: “So this got published because Hunger Games made lots of money, right?”

The setting and backstory had lots of intriguing hints which might be developed in later books, but the ending of this book I found unsatisfying. There seems to be an undercurrent of untapped magic in the society and the palace, mysteries abound around why magic was outlawed in this land and how it’s connected to a former ruler, and Celaena’s connection to a nearby conquered land is also left unexplained.

I enjoyed the action, and some of the romance, although the romance ends in an awkward forced state. There are two suitors, and it’s as though the author wrote most scenes to point in one direction, but ended up deciding the next book should go in another direction. I wish she’d drop the whole thing.

I liked Celaena’s friendship with a visiting royal from another land. The scenes between Princess Nehemia and Celaena were some of my favorites.

However, some of Celaena’s character traits drove me up the wall. She was trained as an assassin for most of her life, spent the last year in a labor camp. When she gets to the palace, the thing she’s most excited about is the library. And I could accept that, hey, she used to read as a kid and is excited about the chance to read more. What I cannot accept is a character who doesn’t seem at all embarrassed about staying up til all hours reading before a freaking life-or-death competition. That just makes her seem like an idiot.

I don’t know. I did enjoy most of the experience of reading this book, but it just fell apart for me at the end.

3 Stars - Still A Good Book

Hawkeye: Rio Bravo (Volume 4)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hawkeye: Rio Bravo (Volume 4)
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Chris Eliopoulos, Francesco Francavilla, 2015

Premise: Follows L.A. Woman. Clint digs down to an ever-deeper rock bottom but finds a place to stand there. Collects Hawkeye issues #12, 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21-22

This is the climax of Fraction’s run on Hawkeye, and I enjoyed it, although I didn’t find this volume as a whole as satisfying as I hoped I would. I might go back and read the issues in the order in which they were released, (which requires flipping back and forth between books 3 and 4) to see if that changes the overall pacing for the better.

There are really fantastic moments in this book. Gorgeous, perfect moments where a character makes a choice or makes a stand, or a bunch of plot pieces come together, or friendship and affection is more important than anger and resentment. The story as a whole just didn’t 100% gel for me. I kept having to go back and re-read sections to catch some foreshadowing I missed or clarify a sequence. It’s a testament to just how great the great parts are that I still really enjoyed reading this.

The art continues to be awesome. There are two issues (12 and 17) done by different artists, and in both cases there’s a story reason which drives the choice. Issues 12 and 13 take place over the same time-frame from different perspectives, which didn’t work quite as well for me here as a similar mechanic did in some earlier issues. Issue 17 is stuck at the beginning all alone as a sort of holiday outtake. I liked it okay, but having it there really set a weird tone for reading the collection.

This volume also contains the much-talked-about ‘deafness’ issue, which is as fascinating and moving as reported. Twisting the conventions of comics to portray hearing loss in a way that reportedly felt incredibly real to deaf fans and gave others a strong sense of that world was a remarkable accomplishment. It was subtle in execution at times, and I had to read the issue several times, but that is not a flaw here.

The action is really good and the dialogue solid. I just wish that the early issues in this volume had as much internal consistency and forward momentum as Kate’s interlocking plotline (see L.A. Woman). That might have made this an unbelievably good collection, instead of just solidly good with some really outstanding issues.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Hunter (Lackey 2015)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Mercedes Lackey, 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: The barriers between Earth and another, unknown place have grown thin, and humanity now lives in protected cities where they are safe from creatures of magic and myth. Joy is a Hunter, one of a small group of people born with the ability to manipulate magic and fight off incursions of dangerous critters from the Otherworld. She has been called to Apex city to train and work with other Hunters and meet her uncle, an important politician. But politics can turn deadly when a lot is at stake and Joy has to be very careful about who she trusts…

To be upfront: is this sometimes a little like The Hunger Games? Yes, yes it is. First-person, ridiculously badass young female character living in remote, hard-scrabble area brought to the ridiculously technologically-advanced and decadent big city to commit violence (in this case to fight monsters, not other teenagers) and becomes a celebrity but feels incredibly conflicted about that.

That’s roughly where the parallel ends, though. Joy finds just as many friends as rivals in Apex, and there’s just as much fantasy as dystopia in this genre-blend. Hunter also deals with celebrity culture in what I think is a more nuanced manner: both what it means to be ‘on display’ 24/7 and the pros and cons of notoriety.

All the Hunters are paired with Hounds - magical beings that have chosen to ally with humans in the fight with Otherworldly creatures - and they are a particularly intriguing part of the world. The magic is interesting, especially the combinations of Hunter-style-magic, sorcery and psionics as well as ‘mundane’ high-tech weapons.

There’s a romance (of course) but it was sweet and not too much of the plot. It was just present enough to always remind me that Joy is a teenager, and so boys are on the list of important things, right under protecting the city, protecting her friends, and figuring out what the powers that be don't’ want them to know. But even magical first-responders have a social life.

There were some amusing digs at fundamentalist Christianity, as many of them didn’t react well to a catastrophe that destroyed a good portion of the world and unleashed goblins, dragons, the deadly Folk and tons of other creatures formerly-of-myth against humanity. But there was also a main character who was Christian (a minority religion in this future), so the end message on that front was tolerance, like Lackey’s work has been since the beginning.

That said, there’s rightly no tolerance or compassion for anyone working against the health of the Hunters or the safety of the populace.

I enjoyed this book. It’s a bit fluffy; the story and emotions are all on the surface, but it was a lot of fun, and I will gladly read the heck out of the sequel, assuming one is forthcoming.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Quick Update: FREE BOOK

I'm not gone! I've just had a heck of a few months, and while I've been reading, it's mostly been re-reads of old favorites, or new books that I just didn't like enough to review.

But the drought ends later today with a new review.


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A Count of Five is a fantasy novel with a unique setting and a set a great characters. I haven't reviewed it because I also edited it, which seems more than a little like a conflict of interest.

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