Monday, May 18, 2015

Naomi Novik, 2015

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Agnieszka lives in a beautiful valley, with family, friends and neighbors. Yes, the nearby cursed Wood is a constant peril, and the wizard who protects the valley is incomprehensible and possibly dangerous, but she doesn't dream of any other life. Until. Of course, one finds her.

I had fairly high hopes going into this book, as I have enjoyed Novik’s work in the past. Happily, Uprooted not only met expectations, it blew past them: it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I loved the style, there’s just enough modern pace mixed with plenty of gorgeous fairy tale prose. I loved the characters, especially Agnieszka's caring and stubbornness, always acting on instinct. Her friendship with Kasia forms the backbone of much of the story, and that kind of great friendship always makes me happy to see.

The romance comes in second or third in importance, which I like, and it has enough of a slow burn and enough build to make it satisfying. The world is intriguing overall and the twists and turns off the plot kept me turning pages quickly.

Most of all I loved the magic - the way magic is described by different characters, perceived and manipulated in different ways. It is lovely, lyrical and draws from different traditions than many fantasy novels today. All the different wizards are interesting, even the ones we one see for a little while have complicated relationships to the world of magic.

Reading this was like coming back to a brand new world: there are enough echoes that you're never lost, but enough unique moments that it's never boring.

Plus the opening is freaking brilliant. I absolutely loved this book.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

The Snow Queen

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Snow Queen
Joan D. Vinge, 1980

Hugo Winner - 1981

Premise: Moon is a Summer, brought up among the clans of fishers and farmers who live along the warm seas of Tiamat. Arienrhod is the Snow Queen, leader of the Winters, who live in the technologically-advanced city of Carbuncle. The Change is coming, when by tradition the Summers will take over from Winters for 150 years. Both women want what is best for their people and their planet, but the struggle between them could save or destroy their world.

Wow. This book took me a while to read, but it was worth it. My copy is only 462 pages, but it felt much longer. The pace was slow, like the unfolding of a flower.

I really liked the tension between the science-fiction elements and the mythic elements. From the very start the book walks this interesting line. In the few pages of the prologue, the reader is introduced to the city of Carbuncle during the Festival, a masquerade that felt medieval to me in the descriptions of its significance and hedonism, and then the story turns immediately to the subject of offworlders and cloning techniques. The planet of Tiamat is eternally at a tipping point between superstition and technology because of its unique place in an interstellar community.

This book does a great job providing science-ish explanations for fantastic or seemingly magical elements without robbing them of their narrative power. There is a sort of mystic order among the Summers: sibyls, who can answer any question and have a series of taboos around them. The secret of the sibyls is what much of the plot hinges on, and I found the resolution both satisfying and intriguing.

I also really enjoyed the multifaceted nature of the narrative. All the characters were extremely well-rounded. They all had perfectly good reasons, from their perspective, for their actions. Arienrhod is the most obvious villain of the piece, but despite being corrupt and vicious, she is also shown to be vulnerable and desperate, fueling much of her cruelty. Jerusha Palathion, a local official of the interstellar authority, is an even more complicated example. She’s trying to do her job, and work towards justice, but that gets more and more complicated as she goes. Likewise, even the most good-hearted characters make choices that they question later.

I was left selfishly wishing for more resolution to the plot, but the bittersweet uncertainty of the ending follows perfectly from the story and the characters.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

List of Hugo Award Winners

Emerald City Comicon Pile Of Loot

Monday, March 30, 2015

This isn't a review, because I haven't written a review in weeks. I've been super busy with other things, but I wanted to share the AWESOME stuff I got this weekend at Emerald City Comicon.

In general, I had a great time, and I got to listen to both creators I know and love and creators I'm just getting interested in talk about their work! Woo!

(Are you reading The Wicked & The Divine yet? Get thee to a comic shop, stat!)

I got some neat freebies from the Dark Horse Booth, Yay, preview of the next Avatar comic!

And I brought my copy of Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice to get signed, and got a free print :)

(I am so excited for book two! Read my review of book one.)

But let's get to stuff I actually put down money for...

I bought this print from a very talented friend of mine, whose work is in general awesome:

Someone recommended this comic to me a while back, I read the first issue online, then decided to pick up the whole thing from the creators. They were running a special, so I also got to pick out a print:

Speaking of prints, I picked out this super-cute postcard:

Claire Hummel, the artist, is also known for her Historical Disney Princesses collection, and we chatted super-briefly about historical costuming. This is why going to cons is so fun. 

I picked up this little art book on a whim because fan art amuses me and I like to support artists:

And even though I have almost EVERY issue, I finally picked up this big book:

I loved this series. I sung its praises extensively back when I talked about comics every week. Like I said, I collected nearly every issue.

And now I also have this:

Totally worth it.

Red Sonja: Volume One: Queen of Plagues

Monday, March 2, 2015

Red Sonja: Volume One: Queen of Plagues
Gail Simone, Walter Geovani, 2014

Premise: Collects Red Sonja #1-6. Old debts come calling for the warrior woman Red Sonja when an urgent summons comes from a king and a city important to her past. Plague and war are barreling down on a peaceful people, can Sonja save the city from Dark Annisia?

This new series got a lot of love when it came out. And I see it. The writing is Gail at her best: snark and pacing finely tuned, grounded humor alongside epic storytelling. The art is beautiful.

And yet.

The damn chain-mail bikini.

I want to love this character. I want to be above the idea that this old design hampers her. I enjoy pinup art (sometimes). I love Power Girl.

And still I spent the first two issues cringing at the damn ugly, painful-looking thing. After which, Sonja gets some different costumes, first because she’s travelling in the snow, and later for a specific battle.

Other than that, I really did enjoy this book. I think that most of the supporting characters are well crafted. The art, as I said, is gorgeous; it’s brutal in keeping with the world, evocative of old fantasy illustration, while being sleek, modern and easy to follow.

My only other quibble came with the end of the plot. There’s a few too many character twists in a row, which felt to me like in some cases a waste of characters, and in others a fall-back to overused cliches that the story had previously sidestepped. It all kind of works, but it’s not completely satisfying.

I do want to read more of this series, and especially also the related anthology series Legends of Red Sonja, in which an assortment of popular female writers take on the character.

This introductory volume, I’ll give:

3 Stars - A Good Book

Ancillary Justice

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch Book 1)
Ann Leckie, 2013

Hugo Winner - 2014

Premise: A narrator on a mysterious mission finds a body in the snow, makes a spur-of-the-moment decision. Flashbacks to another life eventually illuminate all. Questions of perception, consciousness, humanity and morality on an interstellar scale. Gender-as-performance.

I loved this book, and I especially loved what it did to my mind as I read. The narrator, who goes by Breq, comes from a society that doesn’t use gender the same way other human cultures do. So she refers to every person she interacts with, as ‘she’. By the middle of the book, almost all the characters were occupying this androgynous place in my mind, where their relationships to the plot and to each other were almost uncolored by their physical gender.

It’s amazingly cool, and deserved the Hugo win for that alone.

Happily, there’s more! The plotting is clever and tense, all the characters are interesting even when we’re only seeing the narrator’s point-of-view. The tech and history is explained just enough for you to follow, not dwelt on, but I got the feeling that everything is thought out in the background.

I loved the world, the moral grey all the societies and characters dealt in. Breq is a compelling protagonist, all the more for her unconventional perceptions and emotions. She (small, chapter-two spoiler) had been part of the vast linked consciousness of a starship, and still isn’t human in a lot of meaningful ways. (end small spoiler)

I fully endorse this book for all science fiction fans and gender studies students.

5 stars - An Awesome Book

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell, Book 13)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell, Book 13)
Laurie R. King, 2015

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

Premise: Follows Garment of Shadows. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes meet acrobats, aristocrats and blackmailers while on route to Japan, and more mysteries await on that island.

I had seriously mixed feelings about this book. I’ve had sadly mixed feelings about the series since The God of the Hive, but I enjoyed the two books after it quite a bit. This one… I liked aspects of.

I had to read it twice, actually, because it really rubbed me wrong the first time. It’s not badly written, the story is fine, but the connection, the spark… for me it was just missing.

There are a bunch of new characters, friends and foes, although the main character is Haruki. When I say that, I’m not being poetic. This is her story, her plot, her character arc, even though it’s told completely from the perspective of Mary Russell. I think this is the disconnect I felt. I liked Haruki’s story, but felt distant from it, as Mary herself did, and Mary’s story isn’t particularly intense or meaningful.

There are quite a few good scenes for Holmes and Russell, primarily around maintaining various cover identities while travelling. I was seriously thrown at one point by how little time has passed over the entire series, though. I’ve gotten older, and Russell hasn’t.

It’s still an enjoyable read, and it’s still pleasant, funny, charming in places, but it wasn’t compelling the way Garment of Shadows and some of the earlier books were.

3 Stars - A Good Book.

Hawkeye: Little Hits (Volume 2), Hawkeye: L.A. Woman (Volume 3)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Hawkeye: Little Hits (Volume 2), Hawkeye: L.A. Woman (Volume 3)
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu, Javier Pulido, et. al.

Premise: Follows My Life as a Weapon. Clint and Kate continue to kick ass separately and together in between getting their asses kicked. Collects Hawkeye #6-11 and Hawkeye #14, 16, 18, 20 and Annual #1.

I know I’m bundling these reviews, but I need to talk about them both separately and together. Little Hits is a collection of single concept issues that are connected to what came before and what came after. Meanwhile L.A. Woman is one story, a story that is happening concurrently with a story that will be collected in the next volume (The missing Issues 12, 13, 15, etc.)

I like both, although I liked them quite differently.

The first two issues in Little Hits were both issues I bought when they came out. Issue 7 was rushed to print for a very good reason: it was written in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, about the hurricane, and all author’s royalties went to relief efforts. It follows two small, heartfelt stories about Clint and Kate during the storm itself, and it works great. Issue 6 (chronologically second in-world) is a Christmas issue. It jumps back and forth in time to paint a picture of what it’s like when Clint tries to take some time ‘off’ and actually have Christmas. The gang that Clint kept bumping into last volume are back with a new agenda.

Then Issues 8, 9 and 10 all interlock and overlap in interesting ways. The plot advances, retreats to provide a different angle, jumps to a new perspective. I really dig the style. Also, Issue 9 features awesome moments for all the ladies, but I particularly loved Black Widow. She was just perfect. Issue 11 is entirely from the dog’s perspective.

The story of the whole volume is fractured in this interesting way, but the style could turn some readers off, because you do have to pay attention, and it ends with a few cliffhangers.

At the end of Little Hits, it’s clear that Clint and Kate are going their separate ways for a while. L.A. Woman is Kate’s story. And it’s fantastic. The humor is snarky and wonderful, the plot ties back to previous events without being bogged down; I’m not sure it all made sense but it was a hell of a ride. Kate drives out to LA to make it on her own and promptly all the worst things that could happen, happen. But she pulls herself together and moves forward, and I just like her attempt at the hero-for-hire biz so darn much! The balancing act between her take-charge sass and attitude and how hard she’s actually trying to keep herself together becomes much clearer. In the last issue the plot circles around, finally coming to a head in a satisfying climax that leads straight into…. the volume that isn’t out yet. Nuts!

This whole series is highly recommended for anyone interested in stories that straddle the line between superheroics, indie-small-story-angst, and intriguing construction that asks to be read over and over.

Both 4 Stars - Very Good Books.