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