A Month of Books: March

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: This is my second attempt on Ancillary Justice. The first one, I hadn’t been in the right mood to enjoy it, and the shifting between timelines frustrated me more than it enticed me. Second attempt, and I devoured it in a few days. The world-building in this is spectacular, though there is a bit of a learning curve. You’re dropped in the middle of things and the story just goes, filling in the world-building as it becomes necessary and, even then, not all of it. Some things remain vague, some things go unexplained, and I personally delighted in having a world (well, worlds) that I could puzzle over. However, that “drop you in the middle” is honestly why my first attempt at this book didn’t go much beyond the first flashback. Which brings up the other potential hurdle: it’s told in a split-timeline structure with the past and the present trading off chapters between them. In some ways, it helped make the past (and betrayals of the past) more immediate; in others, I’m fairly certain that structure is the reason it took me almost a week to read to the point that the past timeline falls off and the narrative remains entirely in the present. Once it narrowed down to one timeline, the rest of the book zipped by (true, there’s also the investment element in there; by that point, I needed to know what happened next). Now, I’m not sure if I truly called the betrayal, or if I’d somehow absorbed knowledge of it when it’d been nominated, but I didn’t find the past storyline as compelling since I knew where it was going, though I didn’t see the why behind the betrayal. The eventual payoff is worth the wait, though.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: The scope narrows here, going from a massive quest for revenge across an empire to a single space station in orbit around a single planet, though with a much larger cast of characters than the first book. I will be entirely honest, this review isn’t much of a review because I read this one weeks ago and failed to write a review immediately upon finishing, and then COVID-19 happened and my perception of time has turned into dripping molasses, while simultaneously making everything that happened prior to two weeks ago feel like it happened last year. The thing I remember most clearly in this was how so many of the secondary characters on the ship go by title/rank rather than by name and yet, I could tell them apart so easily, the characterization of them was so strong. More and more, however, I do wonder if, perhaps, the guessing of the characters’ gender/sex might be the wrong approach; the more I read, the more I started to feel that the singular pronoun freed characters to act in stereotypical gendered ways without it being a reflection (or subversion) of gender, and the more I read, the more my mental image of the characters flowed. It was an intriguing experience, and though it took me two books to get used to it, I appreciate the approach.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: Ah, and the conclusion. One highlight was definitely Seivarden’s outrage over the suppurating cuticles oath. That, and how brilliant Station is and its way of leveraging Anaander in order to keep its citizens safe. Spoilers perhaps, but the end is a bit more open-ended than I’d prefer for a trilogy. The main conflict set up in Ancillary Justice doesn’t, precisely, get resolved. The civil war is still waging. Hypothetically, it might become more difficult for said civil war to continue quite the same way as it did before a certain event at the end of Ancillary Mercy, but it isn’t resolved. I was also a bit surprised that the concept of cloning ancillaries didn’t come up before the very end and it was…not so much dealt with as tabled for later discussion…except, this is the final book, so I suppose it’s up to us, the readers, to decide how that turns out?

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass: Oooooh, I’ve been waiting for this one for months! And then, when it arrived, I was in the middle of reading a trilogy, so set it aside to finish the Ancillary series first, ’cause I’m not blessed with one of those minds that does well with multiple immersive speculative novels being read at once. Much like the first book, A Conjuring of Assassins takes a little bit to get going, and there is some recap sections that if you’re reading the two back-to-back, might tempt one to skim, but once the mystery of Cinque is answered, the pace picks up and it’s spies and magic and grand con games in order to get closer to the Chimera’s target (the Assassins List). There is also more of a hint of the epic in this one. In the first book, there’s an unanswered mystery that could lend itself to epic fantasy, but here, it’s more overt, and the introduction of Teo (and Teo’s mystery) feels very much reminiscent (and pleasantly so) of the writer’s other epic fantasy series under the name Carol Berg (that hint of the epic, of the almost divine, of magic being otherworldly and beyond human understanding, of parallel worlds, of mind-speech). I look forward to seeing where things go in the next book, and what exactly is magic, and how does it tie in with the long-vanished gods? As a side note, it was both weird and unnerving to read a book so heavily based on Renaissance Italy while simultaneously watching news of the epidemic in Italy as it unfolded.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig: Confession: one trope that I absolutely adore is the one of the old and possibly world-weary immortal/near immortal with centuries of memory interacting with the modern (or near modern) world*–bonus points if there’s a love story (not necessarily romantic love; found family love or platonic love are under-explored with this trope, in my opinion). How to Stop Time somehow managed to slip by under my radar until now, and it’s an exemplar of the trope. I did find the major twist somewhat predictable, but didn’t mind it so much. The romance angle is a great deal more downplayed than what the back cover blurb promised (which was fine). It’s more a story of Tim engaging with the world, realizing that his pattern of isolation and being a recluse isn’t working for him anymore, and that his will to live is slowly, but surely, becoming walled in by fear (of discovery, of death, of change), stoked by Henrich, another alba (or very long lived individual). Much like Ancillary Justice, How to Stop Time uses a dual-timeline structure, though this one is aided by the time period being firmly set in Earth historical past. There is, as a note, far more “past” flashback chapters than “present,” and much of the present is quieter, more introspective. The final resolution of the book’s external conflict is a little ho-hum, but then, it wasn’t really about the external conflict, but the internal one. A small warning, but much of the book has a low-key hum of depression throughout, even though it ends on a rather hopeful note. I, personally, found this resonated with me, but others might find it triggering.


* As much as I claim to be a vampire-junky, it’s not the vampire that engages me, necessarily, but rather this trope of immortal/near immortal, and it just so happens that the most common subgenre containing it is the vampire one, which is why I don’t like all vampire stories, but a very particular subset.

A Month of Books: February

Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven: I will be honest, I was a bit conflicted about reading this book. I love Grace Draven’s other fantasy-romance series, but the Goodreads reviews on this one were sharply split between high stars and low stars, with few in between. After having read it, I’d say I’m still a bit conflicted, but I think I know why. It’s mostly a pacing thing. For the first 100 pages, events happen in a tight chronological order, which lends it a fast-paced, almost claustrophobic opener. The next 200-something pages, the pacing shifts; there’s long stretches that are covered with a short time-passing transition, and months go by rather quickly. Firstly, once you’re past the first 100 pages, it becomes clearly a Grace Draven novel, so if you’re reading and, like me, felt unsure about the beginning, stick with it. For me at least, this choice of pacing and presentation had a fascinating emotional impact. Because of that fast-paced, intense first 100 pages, for a long while after, I found myself braced for it to slip back into that style, and it took me time before I realized that…it wasn’t going to. Which seemed to echo Gilene’s emotional state as she slowly comes to trust Azarion. You brace, ready for the situation to get worse, so much worse…but over time, you come to trust that it won’t. Even when things escalate at the end, it’s a different kind of escalation than in the beginning, and it almost feels safely epic. I will, however, warn that there is a lot of allusions to rape, physical and mental abuse, and slavery, especially at the beginning. It’s a hell of a dark start for what will, eventually, become a rather sweet romance built on trust and friendship, so if this is a concern, then I recommend steering clear of Phoenix Unbound and pick up Radiance instead. That said, for all my initial uncertainty, I enjoyed it.

Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher: As always, T. Kingfisher’s fantasy-romance adventure tales are an absolute delight. This one came as a wonderful and unexpected surprise (I totally was going to read something else but…this was releasing in a week so…). While similar to Swordheart, the tone is more solemn, more somber, a bit more like Clockwork Boys (Paladin’s Grace, for more reason than one, felt a bit like a merging of Swordheart and Clockwork Boys, which, I might note, is certainly not a strike against it), though it has it’s moments of outrageous hilarity. Like Clockwork Boys, we have angsty guilt-ridden paladins yet, like Swordheart, they’re more militant types and, like Swordheart, the romance is pretty front-and-center (well, there’s also the poisoning thing. And the court-room drama. And the, er, heads—it’s a brilliant blend of a lot of different subgenres that work together, though on the surface, they shouldn’t). Like much of Kingfisher’s work, there’s this underlying note of darkness (in this case, someone is murdering people and, er, leaving only the decapitated head around—the answer to that little mystery is a bit disturbing). But Stephen is delightfully outraged that people are not taking this threat seriously! Honestly, this combination of weird and wondrous and tinged with a slight shadow of horror reminds me a lot of Doctor Who (both classic and reboot). Grace, with her sense of smell superpower (it isn’t really, she’s a perfumer so her sense of smell is a bit…keener than the rest of the world, but she also has training to identify smells), and Stephen, with his hobby of knitting,  fit so wonderfully together. And I still love the idea of solicitors sacrosanct and the White Rat, and I was thrilled to see Zale again.

Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher: I’m reading these all out of order. I started with Swordheart, moved on to Paladin’s Grace, and am now doubling back for what was originally the start (not quite of a series, but perhaps more of the world) but I just never quite managed to read it. So! Finally reading Clockwork Boys and I must ask myself why it has taken me so long. I am also going to review these two as one, since they’re very much structured as one novel broken in two, rather than two stand-alones (though, hypothetically, I suppose you could read The Wonder Engine without having read Clockwork Boys). I’m a bit torn on the end. While it’s ostensibly what I wanted, at the same time, I feel a little conflicted about how things resolved (and while I recognize that one character’s death was, emotionally, resonant, I feel I would’ve appreciated the twist being a little less sudden, particularly since I’d grown quite attached to that character). I also felt there were two rather large plot threads that didn’t get addressed all that much, and I’d have appreciated another touch or two, since everything else was bundled quite neatly (Boss Horsehead and the removal of the tattoos, namely; I would’ve really liked things to have come full-circle with a short epilogue addressing the tattoos, seeing that it isn’t explicitly stated that they’re, er, moot). The romance in these two, by the way, is not quite the same sort of fluffy of Swordpoint or Paladin’s Grace, and I appreciated that. The tone here is darker, and the two love interests are so clearly broken people, and certain events lead to a period of grieving which the narrative doesn’t shy from. There’s also so many bits that so brilliantly characterizes the characters in a line or two, making them both complicated and utterly fascinating. While the duology is probably not my favorite, it’s still a damn good read.

A Month of Books: November

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: Okay, I love this book. It is such a delicious, rich, flavorful book, and it touches on so many things that I, personally, find fascinating. Culture and cultural exchange across cultures. Language and how language changes. The idea of being in love with a culture not your own, and equally being afraid of that culture subsuming yours. The question of what it means to be human. The whole concept of memory and personality, and the effect each has on the other, plus the fascinating question of, if you have two sets of memories, one present and one past, are they the same person? Are they different? And where, when memories of two different people are combined into one brain, we become I and I become we? And what it would be like to experience memories that aren’t yours? (True, I’m biased, since that’s one of the major elements I’ve been exploring in my own novel, so it’s wonderful to see someone else tackling the same questions that I am, but with a different lens and perspective*). I am also excited to learn that this is only book 1, and that all those dangling plot threads at the end might be answered in the next installment (and it’s saying something that I didn’t even notice there were unanswered questions till I started writing this, the end was so satisfying). True, I will now have to wait until 2020 to read A Desolation Called Peace, but will mean that future-me will have the satisfaction of a good read.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Irreverently giggle-inducing, often gruesome, and occasionally downright weird. The combination of magic and space ships is both different and pleasantly jarring—those shouldn’t work together, and every so often, don’t seem to work together, BUT the mixture is unique and unexpected, and I felt that outweighed the odd hiccup. In a way, the plot’s structure reminded me of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with a cast of characters with dubious morals trapped on/in an inescapable location, being murdered one by one, the only suspects each other. And that end. All I will say about that end is “Hm. Now that is interesting.” However, just as a note, the beginning can be a bit tricky; there’s a lot of jargon and quite a few sentences that I needed to read a second time to get their meaning. But once they’re at Canaan House, I found things either smoothed out or I gelled with the writing style, and it became easier, and once a certain conversation happened late in the book, the relationship between the main characters sat better with me. It also has a tendency to leave things visually vague, which calls for the reader to do some imagination legwork. Unrelated to the actual content of the book, the hardcover with the black side-trim is absolutely gorgeous, a total work of art. It’s such a pretty book. Harrow the Ninth looks like it’ll be just as pretty (and maybe answer some of my blasted questions!).

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold: So. This year at Windycon, I was on a panel devoted entirely to discussing the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, in particular The Vorkosigan Saga (the theme this year was Space Opera), and I realized it’d been awhile since I’d reread the earlier books in the series, seeing that with this latest reread, I was for some unfathomable reason reading the books backwards. So I jumped back and realized…I’d conflated a lot of the events in The Warrior’s Apprentice with events in The Vor Game. Anyway, it’s interesting to go back to young Miles, and to see what’s being setup for later books.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold: Continuing my reread in preparation for the panel. Not much to say other than, still vastly enjoyable, four rereads later. Seriously, The Vorkosigan Saga is one of those where I can read and reread and not be bored, even though I know how everything turns out. Instead, I get to look forward to the parts I know are coming, and it’s with giddy anticipation that I read. The Vor Game is still a delightful romp, pre-Miles-as-professional-deep-cover-agent, so it’s just so much fun to see him mess up and save it, and somehow make it look like he was planning for that eventuality the entire time.

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold: Cetaganda can be a bit…odd, compared to the others. Tonally, in some ways, it’s almost more in line with the later books after Miles is medically forced to retire from his double life as Admiral Naismith. This one is, in a way, an early precursor to Miles Vorkosigan, the Imperial Auditor, since he gets to investigate and do his hero-ing under his own name. Only thing is, all his heroics end up swept under the rug of “so classified, the classification is classified” due to him…saving? what is, ostensibly, the enemy. However, the thing I so love, absolutely love, about this one is the humanizing of the Cetagandans. Up until this point, they were more of bogeymen wearing terrifying face paint; there’s a brief moment of screen-time for them in The Warrior’s Apprentice, but for the most part in the first few books, they’re either a threat in the past or faceless ships. It’s in Cetaganda that we get to see them as individuals…and they are simultaneously characterized as both incredibly alien and incredibly human.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 edited by Carmen Maria Machado (series editor: John Joseph Adams): This one was intriguing to analyze from the perspective of a writer writing and submitting short stories. While the majority of my reading tends to be novels, I do enjoy a good short story, particularly during my lunch break. Anyway, the majority of stories included in this year’s The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy leaned heavily into unusual/nontraditional story structures, often riffing on other forms not usually used for fiction (such as “Poor Unfortunate Fools” by Sylvia Park, which is told as an academic paper, “STET” by Sarah Gailey, which is told through editing notes and notations, and “Dead Air” by Nino Capri, which is an audio transcription), but had its fair share of traditional narratives as well (and an interesting use of second person right off the bat in “Pitcher Plant” by Adam-Troy Castro).

Godblind by Anna Stephens: Hrm. I’m conflicted on this one. On the one hand, I devoured this book in two days, and it’s not a small book. It was compelling and kept me turning pages. On the other, it didn’t feel quite…deep enough for what I was wanting. I like to be entirely immersed in my fantasy, and Godblind seemed more keen on fast pacing than immersion. Yes, it moves at a very quick clip; things start spiraling out of control for the main characters practically from the get-go and don’t let up. But that fast pace is at the expense of the world- and character-building (more so world than character). It also has a lot of viewpoint characters (ten, count them, ten!), which can give you a bit of whiplash when you go from one end of the country to the other in the space of three pages (though if I remember right, Mark Lawrence did something very similar with Red Sister, so it might just be a mark of the subgenre). These two things combined in such a way that the book didn’t—hm—have the chewiness I like in my fantasy. Still, if you’re a fan of fast-paced grimdark, Godblind is a good addition to the genre. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.


* I also have found a new comp title for when I start querying the new novel. Am pleased. Am very pleased.

A Month of Books: October

Immortal Born by Lynsay Sands: Ah, the newest edition to the ongoing romance saga. I’m conflicted on this one. The premise intrigued me and I’ve been looking forward to it for a few months now, but in execution it’s…not the strongest. For one thing, I didn’t find it all that funny, and usually, I’m cracking up reading these. Not one snicker. Secondly, there’s a lot of character cameos from previous books in here. To the point that it’s a bit of a name-soup (doesn’t help that it’s been well over a year, year and half since I read most of these, so I struggled to remember who was who and married to who (most of the time, I failed)). The romance was also weirdly weak (there’s almost no flirting, no banter, and little courtship–no one worked for this romance), and the plot…to a certain degree, felt a lot like the plot from book #21. I dunno. This one wasn’t one of my favorites.

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold: Speaking of favorites! Erm, I seem to be reading a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold these past few months. In my defense, I am scheduled on a panel in November discussing her work (primarily the Vorkosigan Saga, but the panel description seems flexible, so we’ll probably end up talking about her fantasy, too), so my excuse is that I’m brushing up on the ones I haven’t read as recently?* I’ve always felt The Hallowed Hunt was underappreciated by Goodreads readers, and I enjoyed it for all the differences others seemed to have disliked. Ingrey is prickly, and takes some time to get used to, and may, at first, seem to have a stunted emotionality (not true though! It’s just subtle). He’s less, on the whole, as sympathetic a character as the other two, but I really, really do like his insistence that for a wolf-ridden shaman warrior, he’s supposed to be normal. He wants nothing to do with all this uncanny nonsense!

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold: Oh, I’m reading these all out of order. Ah, well. Fourth reread of this one? I think? It’s interesting to view it as part of the series as a whole and to see where and how the world of the five gods evolved from here. We haven’t had much mention of death magic/miracles in the later books (it’s been awhile since I read the earlier Penric & Desdemona novellas, so maybe it’s in there and I’ve forgotten), but in The Curse of Chalion, it is CENTRAL. I’ve also found that the more times I reread this book, the clearer the scenes become, while simultaneously, I’m better able to see the structure of the novel as a whole. Now comes the question, do I continue on to The Paladin of Souls or continue my reread of the Vorkosigan Saga…

The Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold: Well, that answers that. So far, with every reread, there’s this one scene a little past the midway mark of the book that never fails to leave me misty-eyed. It isn’t a death scene, it isn’t a heart-breaking moment of grief but, rather, a moment of kindness and hope, and I still find it deeply moving, even when I know the scene is coming. This read-through, I noticed that, in a weird way, the romance is sort of a subversion of the guy-gets-the-girl trope, where Ista’s love interest is definitely divinely inclined to her, and he might be a little bit of a reward to entice her back to the material world, but it’s pretty clear they’re a reward for each other, in the end. Still. It was interesting to notice that this time around.

Penric’s Demon, Penric and the Shaman, Penric’s Fox, Penric’s Mission, Mira’s Last Dance, The Prisoner of Limnos, and The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold: Because of my earlier statement that death magic/miracles doesn’t come up as a central plot element in later books, I felt it necessary to reread all of the Penric and Desdemona novellas in order to back up that claim. For science. And the answer is…nope, doesn’t come up again as a major plot point, at least, not yet. The series is still, as far as I’m aware, still going. This seems to be the month for rereading. Probably because I’m so, so close to finishing the initial draft of this book I’ve been working on. I’ve been returning to old favorite reads rather than striking out with something new. They’re just…so wonderfully comfortable, you know? As a side thing, I dream of owning a print copy hardcover of Penric’s Demon. I wasn’t able to afford these till after it’d gone out of print, and now that it’s a collector’s item, I definitely can’t afford it. Which is unfortunate, seeing that I have the others.


* This is a lie. I would’ve re-read it regardless.

A Month of Books: September

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher: Another recommendation from someone (else) I know, and I have found a new favorite writer! It reminded me fondly of both The Paladin of Souls and the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold, mixed with the laugh-out-loud humor of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and the whimsy of Princess Bride (the movie more than the book), while being something entirely of itself. And, oh, was this hilarious. To the point that, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, I self-banned myself from reading this while at work. Because I have a very loud laugh and I work in a very small library. It’s got romance! And laughs! And swords! And property lawyers (who are heroes)! And some very disturbing things hanging out in trees…

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher: Because of Swordheart, I needed more by T. Kingfisher. I’m siding with the author and saying this is a kid’s book. Albeit, a somewhat dark kid’s book, but kids tend to like dark anyway (or, at least, I did when I was a kid, so…). Honestly, it’s a cute read. I’d been anticipating funny based off of Swordheart, and this is less laugh-out-loud funny, more wry, but the magic is wonderfully whimsical and I love the idea of an armadillo as a familiar.

All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy by Martha Wells: I’m on a novella-spree here it seems, this time, skittering over into sci-fi. I just love the inversion of the idea that if humans were to create sufficiently intelligent AI, that AI would undoubtedly kill us. In All Systems Red, said sufficiently intelligent AI…mostly just wants to be left alone to watch its entertainment dramas. Humans are strange and stressful and difficult to anticipate (and yet, as much as it insists it doesn’t care, SecBot/Murderbot…does; truly, it’s fascinating to pick apart how Wells wrote a character who, ostensibly, desires a bare minimum of human contact and whose only goals are to watch the next episode of its soaps, and yet, manages to make that character extremely compelling). Also, there’s an echo of horror in these (especially All Systems Red and Rogue Protocol, more adventure-thriller for Artificial Condition and Exit Strategy), that eerie kind that I associate more with the creepier Doctor Who episodes, which I very much enjoyed. All Systems Red is an easy novella to binge-read. What am I saying? They’re all easy to binge-read! Case in point, while dog-sitting, I devoured the other three books in the series in a day and a half and am hyped for Network Effect’s release in May of next year. Can’t wait, can’t wait! And, oh, Exit Strategy was an excellent conclusion, though I’m thrilled to learn there will be more.

Why Kill the Innocent by C. S. Harris: While typically I range toward the speculative in my reading tastes, I do so enjoy historical mysteries set pre-modern forensics era*, and this one is a series that I’ve been following for a few years now. The thing I so enjoy about this particular series is the author note at the end, where Harris discusses what parts of the novel were drawn from historical fact, what was supposition, what was entirely fiction, and what was amalgamations of real historical events or people crunched together. This fascinates me. The mystery was one of those where there are so few suspects I kept casting around for that someone that didn’t fit, and though I worked out who was behind it before Sebastian (mostly because of a single development where, if you thought about it, only one character would know that other character intimately enough to successfully frame him), I utterly failed to work out the “why” so it was still a satisfactory mystery.

Who Slays the Wicked by C. S. Harris: And because I’m on a historical mystery kick, book 14 of the series! I’m very behind on these. Anyway, this one is almost an opposite of the previous. With Why Kill the Innocent there was a dearth of suspects, in Who Slays the Wicked, they’re practically teeming. While I wish the red herring suspect wasn’t so obviously a red herring (that Sebastian insisted on suspected for no other reason than it served the plot), the final twist was ultimately satisfying and made a disturbing amount of sense. I’m pleased it went that route, and looking forward to the next one (Who Speaks for the Damned, April 2020).

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett: On a whim, I watched the BBC mini-series adaptation on Amazon, and had the sudden urge to compare/contrast the book to the show (because that’s how my mind works?). BUT I realized I hadn’t read the book in years so cue reread! I hadn’t realized just how subtle stuff is in this one, particularly the sections with Vetinari and the business meetings. I see why, for the show, they gave Adora Belle Dearheart more emotional beats, and transferred some of Moist’s a-hah! moments to other characters. I also see why some of the side-plots with the clacks towers were lessened or removed, so for a more in-depth viewing, definitely read the book (in some ways, it’s like Lord of the Rings; the adaptation alone works wonderfully, but reading the book adds a whole ‘nother layer of nuance). As for the end, the show is more cinematic and dramatic (which, of course) and the book, less so. But the book brings up character conflict right at the end that I hadn’t been expecting and, I think, forgot was there. Still. It’s Discworld, therefore, Sir Terry Pratchett, therefore, absolutely brilliant. Still one of my favorites.

Finder by Suzanne Palmer: More sci-fi! This time, with overtones of a western with an almost Macgyver-esque way of approaching problems (How do you disable space security drones? Answer: vibrating dildos, tennis balls, sticky candy, and foil. How do you fool a gangster into flying a spaceship in your path? Answer: a very fancy suit and a bundle of junk covered in lots of lights). Midway through, the story took a somewhat unexpected jink and there was an extended almost-side quest that didn’t, initially, seem to fit BUT it all comes together rather neatly in the end, and the final bit of trickery Fergus uses is brilliant. Trust that the middle does, in fact, link up with everything else is all I can say. I’m hoping there’s a book two (which it seems like there is; it’s labeled as book one), but Finder also stands alone fairly well. There’s a lot of unanswered questions at the end, which feels like setup for a series (a trilogy, at least).


*My theory for my favoring mysteries set pre-modern forensics is that it tends to be more about talking to people and putting together clues than necessarily putting together evidence. Also, I like reading fair-play mysteries more than mysterious thrillers, personally, because I like to try to work it out myself (I’m usually right about half the time but rarely work out the underlying motive before the characters do). I also love speculative mysteries, but those are a bit rarer to find (especially ones where the murder isn’t a stepping stone to a more traditionally epic plot).

A Month of Books: April

 

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: This was an absolute delight. Yet another book from about four, five years ago that I managed to somehow miss (and I have no excuse, I was at the Nebulas the year this book was nominated). The story is a fantastic inversion of the classic “scion to the throne becomes king/emperor and everyone lives happily ever after” trope, depicting the sudden ascension to the throne in a far more realistic (and challenging, and baffling) way. Poor Maia. I’d never really considered how much a loss of privacy being emperor would be. I adore the world-building, and I love that the elves/goblins’ ears flick and move with their emotions, and how Katherine Addison approached the whole informal/formal speech modes. There are, however, a massive cast of characters, many of which with similar sounding names, and due to me having read the e-book, it wasn’t easy to flip back and consult the cast list, though for the most part, my confusion was momentary and sorted itself out by the end of the paragraph. And I read somewhere there’s a sequel in the works, and it’s a mystery, and I love the combination of fantasy and mystery…

Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold: A reread, but mostly because the first time I read it, I’d woken up at four in the morning, discovered that she’d released a new novella, and proceeded to devour it in one sitting (so to speak). This time, I went slower and savored it. For me, it’s the epilogue, with the conversation between Barr and his father, that resonates the most. The rest of the story is classic Bujold, delivering everything I’ve come to want and anticipate in her work, and is delightful. The epilogue, though, has this one, brief section that touches on the concept that in bringing/creating a life, one also inevitably creates a death, and the phrasing of that idea… it left me mulling over it for days after.

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty: If you have not read The City of Brass, reeeeead it. And then come back here. Though I try not to have too much in the way of spoilers in these mini-reviews, this being book two of a series I adore, I can’t guarantee there won’t be a spoiler or two. This trilogy is one of those hard-to-define, cross-genre creations that’s superb in its combination and the execution of its elements and story (it’s a fantasy, historical fantasy, portal fantasy, with a hint of urban fantasy, combining it with Middle Eastern culture and history and tradition and it’s, gah! It’s amazing. Read The City of Brass, read The Kingdom of Copper, and join me in fan-girling over this author ’cause this is just  incredible stuff). More than that, Chakraborty routinely takes me by surprise. Whenever I think I see where the story is going, recognize the tropes and patterns in the storytelling, it jinks sideways and that fills me with such delight. I love the feeling of getting to the end of a book, and things are slotting together, but in a way that’s both inevitable yet, at the same time, completely unexpected, and I start cackling under my breath, and when I finally turn the last page, close the book, I drum my fists on the table demanding “More! More!” The Kingdom of Copper is precisely that sort of book, and I absolutely can’t wait to see how everything comes together in The Empire of Gold. Sadly, I must wait until January 2020, but part of me is grateful I didn’t read The Kingdom of Copper the moment it was delivered to my doorstep. Now, the wait is only… *does math* eight and half-ish months instead of a full year.

The Trouble With Vampires by Lynsay Sands: Ah, book 29. Isn’t that a lovely thing to be able to say? Book 29 of a series? Anyway, I do like that many of these have that mystery element. They usually catch me totally by surprise ’cause I’m too busy watching the romance to kick my analytical brain in gear and start looking at suspects. And, oh, I so love the humor in these. They make me snicker so much. I make a happy squee noise whenever I hear there’s a new one coming out soon, and the new installment fulfills all expectations with a nice mix of romance, humor, and mystery, though this one delivers a twist. The usual explanation-spiel about the history of immortals (often mistakenly called vampires), the lost city of Atlantis, and nanos gets truncated in this one, but a new possible threat from a group called the Brass Circle is introduced, so I’m curious to see where the next one goes. We’re running out of singles! By my count, there’s only Zanipolo from the Notte branch of the family and maybe the new girl introduced at the end, and after that…? Will the series jink like it did with that Enforcers trilogy? Or will the next book introduce more characters? Or *gasp* could it possibly be drawing to a close? (Noooooo! I need my vampires from Atlantis fix!)


Not as many books this month as I may have hoped; I got distracted by binge-watching the first four seasons of Grimm. It devoured a lot of my reading time.

A Month of Books: March

Stalking Darkness by Lynn Flewelling: Technically a reread, but it’s been almost ten years since I read the series originally, so things have kinda blurred. In some ways, it still holds up well. In others, it shows its age (published 1997!). Still, it’s fun, and very classic sword & sorcery. And I hadn’t realized it took two books for Alec and Seregil to kiss! In my memory, they were together much sooner, and I hadn’t realized how much of a slow-burn romance it was between the two. I also had a sort of perverse fun trying to spot the seams, since I know the first book (Luck in the Shadows) and the second (Stalking Darkness) were originally one long book that was split and reworked as two books, and sections were expanded in both.

Written in Red by Anne Bishop: How have I not read this series yet? How has it flown beneath my radar for so long? It’s on the shelves at the library I work at! Aaaah! I have been looking for an urban fantasy/high fantasy fusion, which has the feel/elements of an urban fantasy but with high fantasy pacing and world-building approach. This is… this fills a whole in my reading-life I didn’t know I had. That said, it’s not paced like your typical urban fantasy novel, which can be off-putting if you’re expecting the more thriller-esque approach that’s common. This is a slower story, with longer pauses and moments that linger on the everyday. I love, love, love how the shifters are portrayed, where behaviors that are associated with their animal forms bleed over into when they’re human (and occasionally vise-versa). They’re not, say, just humans that turn into wolves. Being a Wolf informs how they view the world in almost every aspect. It’s refreshing and different and lends itself to some moments of humor. BUT the monsters of this world are still monsters; their choice meat is human. Also, an alternate history where the supernatural isn’t just known to the world, it’s shaped the world.

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop: Squeezing this one in ’cause it’s still technically March and I finished it this morning. More of all the stuff I enjoyed in Written in Red, with more world-building and development, and after that conclusion, I’m curious to see where it goes next. Spoilers, but certain influential people have been robbed of their future-seeing victims, the Humans First and Last movement is gaining momentum and there’s an awful lot of discontent between the terre indigene and the humans, Simon is becoming more human, Meg is becoming more Wolf, and I’m very concerned for Monty’s daughter. Oh, and every time I think this series has revealed the ultimate antagonist, I’m surprised to find it isn’t, and I’m starting to suspect that each book’s end will set up the central antagonist of the next.

Prisoner of Midnight by Barbara Hambly: I’ve been waiting for this one for a few months. It does exactly what I want from a James Asher Vampire novel: mystery, spies, sleuthing in bank records, vampires, and WWI. The vampires in this one are definitely monstrous. They are no longer *quite* human, don’t pretend to be human, and are horrifyingly self-absorbed, selfish, and narcissistic, with little care for anyone but themselves (’cause that’s what makes a good vampire, seeing that  they have to murder someone every few nights to maintain their existence). There’s a mystery element in this one that I’d been expecting to come full circle and… didn’t, but I’m not sure if it was meant to be a red herring or a dropped plot point. The end… the end looks suspiciously like a series end. Totally did not see that coming, but I’m left wondering, where could this possibly go next? In some ways there’s closure but in others… we still have a little over a year till the end of WWI, and at least one character is still marooned on the Front.

The Devil You Know by P.N. Elrod: Also technically a reread, but after the unpleasant, scary vampires of Prisoner of Midnight, I wanted some fun, butt-kicking vamps instead (though there’s not much butt-kicking till the end). The contrast between Jack and Barrett is just so darn fun to read. This is one of those series with characters I could watch sitting in a room doing nothing except talk about the weather, and I’d still be entertained.