Assassin's Gambit

Monday, April 29, 2019

Assassin's Gambit
Amy Raby, 2013

Premise: Vitala has been sent undercover to kill the young emperor and hopefully strike a blow for her conquered homeland. Of course, politics are more complicated than she's been told, and then there's the little problem of falling in love.

This book is one from a short list of books that I bought for a dollar (or less) at some point, looked at a few months ago when I was cleaning my bookshelf, and decided to give a chance to. It's the only one of those books so far that didn't get relocated to the donate box after just a few chapters, but that doesn't mean it isn't going there now.

It's not bad. It's a fantasy romance with some interesting magic and an interesting political situation for the leads. It moves pretty quickly past the assassin-falls-for-the-target premise into more nuanced arguments about how a few people in the right positions might actually untangle a hostile territory occupation without destroying either side.

Plus both leads have trauma, and possibly PTSD, which is interesting. Vitala from the harsh training she underwent, culminating in a combination sexual assault/murder, and the emperor from fighting in a recent conflict, where he lost many people and his leg. Their attempts to work with and help heal each other were my favorite part of the book. Unfortunately, first we had to get through plenty of stereotypical-romance miscommunications and misunderstandings on the topic.

Again, it's not bad for it's genre, but neither does it fully transcend its tropes. Mostly amusing, although I started skimming through the sex scenes because they just didn't work for me, and that's never a good look for a romance.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Forever Peace

Monday, April 22, 2019

Forever Peace
Joe Haldeman, 1997

Hugo winner - 1998

Premise: Julian is a physics professor by inclination and education, but he's also been drafted part-time to run a remote soldier robot. There's more to the plot, and the blurb on the back of the book discusses it, but it doesn't happen until half the book is done.

Hmmm. This is an odd one. I had a cheap paperback copy that I picked up at some point, but I took an ebook version out of the library because I thought I'd be more likely to read it that way. I only read about a third of it by the time my three-week loan timed out.

I just could not get into this book. I kept putting off reading it. I finally found my place in the paperback copy and read some more, then left it on my nightstand, untouched, for weeks before reading more. (Considering I've often been known to read a novel in an afternoon, this is a major sign.)

At some point when I was about halfway through I finally read the blurb on the back of the book and realized that the new character and plot elements that had recently come out of left field were actually leading to the point of the book.

It's got a lot of big ideas in the second half about violence, doomsday weapons, doomsday cults, and humanity. I did pick up the pace once the end was in sight, although that was more about finishing the dang thing than caring about the story.

The first half is all world-building and setup, largely about the mind-sharing that the people "jacked" into the soldier robots experience, and the psychological effects it has. All of this is interesting stuff, but I never found the characters compelling.

Independent of said characters, there's a lot of interesting stuff here, but I just didn't find it an enjoyable or interesting enough read.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Any Old Diamonds

Monday, April 15, 2019

Any Old Diamonds
K.J. Charles, 2019

Premise: Alec and his siblings barely make ends meet after being cut off by their noble father. When he reaches a breaking point, Alec decides to try to get some of their own back by helping a pair of accomplished thieves steal his stepmother’s diamonds. Falling for one of them wasn’t part of the plan.

I read a lot of K.J. Charles’ historical romances. Like, most of them. Most of them I don’t bother to review here. This one, however, was especially delightful.

Alec is full of contradictions: he’s the son of a noble house, but happy to seek work as a freelance illustrator, while he’s also understanding of his siblings who can’t take on “normal” jobs and have any hope of regaining their social standing in Victoria’s England. He makes a choice and is tormented by it. He doesn’t know who to trust or how to solve his problems.

Jerry is a great thief, and one of his skills is the ability to read people. At first he gets close to Alec to ensure that the job will go well, but soon he’s asking probing questions, willing to give up a chance at the treasure to make sure that Alec isn’t making a decision he’ll regret.

The process of getting to the point of the burglary is detailed and lengthy, but the book always pulses with a sense of foreboding that leads inescapably toward the big caper. And then... spoilers.

I know, it’s a romance, how can there be spoilers? But that’s the genius of this book. You think it’s going one way, and then everything turns to show another facet.

It’s a ton of fun, sweet and sexy (the role-playing Jerry encourages to help Alec get back into his father’s good graces long enough to swindle him does not hurt in this regard). The plot is stellar, and it exists in the same world as several of the author's other books, with some light background connections. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Blue Sword

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Blue Sword
Robin McKinley, 1982

Premise: Angharad “Harry” Crewe lives with relatives on the edge of the kingdom after her father’s death. She is drawn to the rugged frontier land, but doesn’t think much of the tribes who live outside her civilization until she is chosen by their leader’s second sight.

It’s so funny to read this book for this first time now. I know this (and the prequel, The Hero and the Crown) were seminal fantasy reads for so many people I know. YA before YA was a genre, these books feature brave female protagonists who stand against great evil.

This one also features an abduction that turns into a romance. It’s about as well-handled as the trope can be - the guy is drawn to her because of his innate magic and she is the destined recipient of a magical artifact (the blue sword of the title). Plus they gain each other’s respect as warriors before they admit any romantic attraction. Still, it bugged me a bit.

It skews toward the fairy tale end of the fantasy spectrum with the magic, visions, and unexplained destinies, but there’s a good amount of description of practical weapons training, riding, and camping that I would have loved as a teenager.

I still liked this book, there’s nothing really wrong with it, but the experience of reading it was just good, not great. I think I missed the window.

3 Stars - A Good Book

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, Book 1)

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, Book 1)
N. K. Jemisin, 2015

Hugo Winner - 2016

Premise: The world is ending. The empire which has been controlling the unstable earth has fallen. One woman reveals her forbidden power and leaves her home with only one goal: find the husband who murdered her son and rescue her daughter.

I should know better than to let months go by between finishing a book and writing a review, but sometimes life happens. Besides, what can I say about this book that hasn't been said? It's brilliant.

The triple-stranded narrative gives you multiple perspectives on the world and the society which are each fascinating, and it adds up to one heck of a story. The characters are complicated and intense. The magic and how it connects to the structure of the world is intriguing.

It's just really good.

There is a lot of tragedy in this story, but none of it felt gratuitous or exaggerated. It just felt tragic and true.

There's a reason Jemisin's work has been lauded so completely. This is a masterpiece.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book