Many (Many) (Like 12) Months of Books

Well! It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, mostly due to grad school and work devouring the whole of my attention, but even while I was doing said grad school and work, I did manage to read quite a few books new to me (I try not to feature too many rereads on this, since I tend to reread when stressed, and I have been quite stressed). You may also see a certain trend of the kind of book I’ve been consuming lately. Mostly “cozy.” A lot of cozy.

This shall be a very long post. Please keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard: My favorite, favorite book discovery this year is, hands down, The Hands of the Emperor. It is THE most delightful, wholesome doorstopper of a book. It’s the Goblin Emperor but, like, leveled up, and a thousand-ish pages of heart-warming, with amazing characters, relationships, and people who are in government bureaucracy who are…actually and actively trying to make the world a better place in tiny increments. It’s also the only fantasy novel where you have radical communist communes and tax auditing right next to flying sky-trees that can be turned into sky-ships and the literal god of the sun incarnate, where magic and myth and mysticism are just as real as grant applications. It’s also about culture and family and work and trauma and healing from trauma and deep, deep friendships that exist in defiance of taboos and—oh, so many things. I admit, the beginning is a bit, all right, not sure where this is going, but the second Cliopher sees that summer mansion and makes his plan to invite his emperor on vacation, I was utterly hooked. And then I loved it so much, I read it twice! It’s a beautiful book. I absolutely cannot wait for At the Feet of the Sun*.

Petty Treasons by Victoria Goddard: A companion/prequel to The Hands of the Emperor that adds the delightful (and often aw-inducing) context from the emperor’s perspective. Highly recommended, but definitely to be read after reading THotE, otherwise, it’ll make only a marginal amount of sense, and it’s really designed as a supplement—the moments that made me gasp with recognition and realization wouldn’t quite have the same punch without seeing those same moments from Cliopher’s mildly unreliable point of view (he really does downplay things). But! I would say read this one before Return, if only to get used to this other narrative style.

The Return of Fitzroy Angursell by Victoria Goddard: AKA, The Return of Spoiler Spoiler. While technically it can be read alone, it has far more significance when read after THotE. Like THotE, this was an absolute delight, but for different reasons, and it’s wonderful to finally have a viewpoint character who is able to experience the magic, and I adore the idea of a wild mage being the reason narrative conveniences occur—because they’re wild mages, wild coincidence just happens, and that conceit is delightful. This one sort of has the feeling like a retired D&D group is coming together again, but they were adventurers in their twenties and thirties, and now they’re in their fifties and sixties, and have lives and careers and spouses and children, but want to have just one more adventure together. And they will, it just might take some time, because they’re still trying to fit each other into those thirty-year-out-of-date versions of themselves, and haven’t quite got a handle on who everyone has become. I also have theories for why this one is in first person.

The Redoubtable Pali Avramapul by Victoria Goddard: I devoured this one in a day, then went back and read it again. Ooooh, what Goddard does that is amazing is having the same scene told from two points of view, and realizing that, um, yeeeeeah, from another vantage, that had a totally different result. I look forward so much to Pali meeting Cliopher again, I really do. And whether or not she’s gonna murder him. But that’s neither here no there. Really, the character work in this series is extraordinary. These people could just sit in empty rooms and talk and I’d be riveted. And there are so many moments where, as a reader who has read the others, I knew why one character was doing something, or what they might’ve been thinking, and oh, the heart-wincing I endured as Pali…couldn’t pick up on the subtext. Also, Tor needs a hug. But. Um. Maybe with a lot of advanced warning…

The Assassins of Thasalon by Lois McMaster Bujold: Wow, it’s been a-while since I’ve done a Month of Books post. This one came out ages ago, but it would appear, I never featured it on this mini-series of blogs. Unlike the rest of the series, this one is novel-length! A short novel, but still a novel! It also ties together so many of the dangling threads laid out in the other novellas, and feels, half the time, like the end of the series (it isn’t though!). The other half of the time, there’s a bit of a recap on how demons and sorcerers and saints work, but as it centers on a very intriguing abuse of the demon-sorcerer system and the powers of a saint, the retread isn’t unwelcome though if, like me, you chose to reread the whole series in preparation for Assassins, you might find yourself skimming a little of the education-during-the-carriage-ride scenes, but I still enjoyed them. Also, there’s quite a few familiar faces, which are always a treat, and a few characters whose names we’ve heard but never met being onscreen.

Knot of Shadows by Lois McMaster Bujold: This one was the surprise gift. I totally thought Assassins was the end of the series, and then, ‘lo and behold, Knot of Shadows is released, which ties the Penric and Desdemona novellas to The Curse of Chalion in a way that it hadn’t before (Pen and Des are more obviously connected with The Paladin of Souls, for obvious, demonic reasons) and re-explores that central concept of death magic/the miracle of justice (along with a threat/concern introduced in TCoC which was a source of tension but not, er, something that came to pass). It also makes me cry. I’ve read it twice now. I still cry. As always, anything by Lois McMaster Bujold is gold.

Paladin’s Hope by T. Kingfisher: Another paladin book! This time, it’s a romance between a berserker paladin with night terrors and a coroner with the ability to touch a dead body and experience their death (there’s a reason he’s a strict vegetarian) as they work together to escape a trap-filled dungeon, and is just filled with those tiny references to RPG-related logic holes…like why would you have lethal traps in a place people walk around in? Unless, of course, it was never designed for people… Also, the developing tensions and relationships between humans and gnolls are fascinating to me, and I thoroughly enjoy how the world shifts and changes as the series(es) progress. Another absolute delightful installment of the series, and routinely laugh-out-loud funny.

The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison: So I appear to have a thing for protagonists that understate the situation a tad, and Celehar very much understates. But now he has a partner! Who is marginally more emotive than he is (though there’s this delightful moment where he has a moment of weakness and laughs and…everyone else is like, “…I’ve worked with you for years. You have never laughed.” “I’m a little stressed.”) The slow-burn relationship continues to be very slow-burn. It’s possible in a book or two, they might even hold hands! Maybe. But I am a sucker for the “shift from last names to personal names” trope. The mysteries weave together nicely, and I devoured the whole of it in a day. And that one development! It was both surprising but inevitable, and leaves me hungering for the next to see how this plays out. (Trying not to spoil!)

Sword Dance by A. J. Demas: I stumbled across these in a “Books Like” list as I was looking for cozies to scratch the itch left by The Hands of Emperor, and ended up falling in love with this series of very queer, classic era-Greece analogue fantasy that almost, almost reads like historical fiction except…not. There’s some nice echoes here of Swordspoint, but also locked-room historical mysteries (murder! in a villa! but the murder doesn’t happen till the 1/3 mark and the first third is setting the stage and letting you get to know the players and the suspects) and romance (and these two people who are awkward around each other work together to solve the mystery and end up falling in love!). This one hit so many of my personal “favorite tropes,” and I love that it’s so casually queer, with a romance between a bisexual man (Damiskos) and a genderfluid enby (Varazda).

Saffron Alley by A. J. Demas: Book 2! Varazda invites his lover to his home to meet his family–and his family, er, have a range of reactions. Like Sword Dance, there is a mystery element, though unlike the first book, there isn’t a, ah, body, so to speak. More delightful coziness of the two’s deepening relationship as Damiskos is vetted by Varazda’s family, and still so wonderfully casually queer (especially with the found-family and adoption aspects). Mostly, everything here is still just sweet and makes me smile. (Also, just as a note, for all of these books, there’s a massive content warning for slavery and trauma and questions of consent; A. J. Demas’ website lists the content warnings for each book, which is both helpful and considerate.)

Strong Wine by A. J. Demas: And the conclusion of the series. Book 3 alternates from Varazda’s and Dami’s viewpoints, and Varazda now gets to meet Damiskos’ family (who are…odd). Once more, it has that combination of murder mystery, romance, and historical fiction-textured secondary world fantasy which works so very well—but now with courtroom drama! And you have no idea how refreshing it is to have a character introduce his boyfriend (sometimes girlfriend) to his family, and they’re just like, “Oh, you usually don’t bring your lovers by to meet us,” and that’s it, that’s the extent of the drama. Although, I do have to warn, there are some unpleasant insults thrown Varazda’s away about his gender presentation (but by the book’s antagonists, so I feel like that’s a given?) Oh! And quiet autism rep, which is also refreshing (the parents are vile about it, but are the disapproved-of minority). I enjoyed these three so much, I read them twice.

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree: You may have noticed a trend to my reading lately, and that is cozy fantasy, and if you spend any time in cozy fantasy circles, you will hear of Legends & Lattes, and for good reason. It is the epitome of cozy. It also is full of RPG references (I mean, even the title is riffing off of Dungeons & Dragons) and coffee shop AU tropes, and is just, frankly, wholesome and pleasant to read. Yeah, sure, you kind of suspect the conflict and, like me, you might catch early on what’s going to happen to that coffee shop, but it’s the kind of comfortable predictability of a romcom; you know it’s coming, and that’s part of the pleasure of it.

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows: This one…I’m a little conflicted about, but I think the root of it is that I went in expecting one thing (political-leaning fantasy with rich world-building, assassination plots, and a slow-burn MLM arranged-marriage romance) but got something very different different (light world-building, political-leaning but in the background, an assassination plot that ran tangentially to the romance, but the two seemed a bit…disconnected? Not as enmeshed as I would have preferred). I was very committed to the first 30%, but the general feel started to shift around the 40% mark, and by the end, I wasn’t as invested as I would have liked. However, a friend of mine adored it (for many of the reasons I didn’t!). The hardcover edition, by the way, is gorgeous. I do recommend it for fans of Winter’s Orbit who are looking for that same MLM arranged-marriage, sweet slow-burn romance with a backdrop of politics and a central mystery, but fantasy rather than space opera. CW, though, there is an onscreen rape of a viewpoint character within the first 30 pages**.


* All right, yes, I can wait, and will wait as much as necessary, but the anticipation! Aaaaah! Also, I’ve been foisting this book and the rest of the series and parallel serieses on anyone foolish enough to get me on my new favorite topic. Consider it foisted on you.

** Honestly, what is it with MLM romances and rape? I can name half a dozen off the top of my head where this is either a plot point or a backstory element.

Prophecy’s Exile Updates!

So! After many, many weeks of first-pass revisions, Prophecy’s Exile finally had all its placeholders replaced with actual words! Bringing the wordcount up to *cough* 167,000. And so the first-pass reading and editing commenced and brought the wordcount down to (drumroll please!):

Exactly 160,500 words (excluding the header and contact info and such).

I swear, that was pure chance.

It is now ready to begin its rounds with beta-readers, and is in the hands of three so far. And, because I’m extra and I enjoy making maps, here’s the novel’s map!

So this is the island nation of Odiřa (which looks a bit like a jalapeño, no that wasn’t intentional), where the VAST majority of Prophecy’s Exile takes place (there’s a bit at the beginning in Remdar, but only two chapters out of twenty-six). Not all locations are named (yet), since Gev mostly sticks around in the middle-western region in the mountain foothills between Emarazet and the Umoreshca camp, with some detours. The second book, Prophecy’s Incarnate, will go more into the eastern coastal areas, so all those places will get actual names rather than just be…dots on the map. You can probably track Gev’s travels in this book purely by what places I have proper names for so far (well, mostly). Secretly, Exile is a homage to 90’s epic fantasy travelogues, while also poking fun (a lot) at 90’s epic fantasy travelogues.

I also realize all those islands should be named. Am I going to name all those islands? Maybe. Just…maybe.

And, for the sake of “it’s fun,” the blurb!

The Remdari Empire needs a spy, an ambassador, and an accomplished fraud. With the first choice dead and no one else on hand, what they get is Gev Hyromius Caerus, a 40-year-old quartermaster with more of a talent for the logistics of supply lines than hoaxing prophecies about killing literal gods. Gods of living flesh and probably mortal, but still gods.

Abducted from Remdar, deported to an ancestral homeland he’s never seen, and magically branded a criminal exile, Gev is pressed into service as an imperial agent—supposedly by clandestine order of the emperor of Remdar (a mistake, surely). His task: fake fulfilling a prophecy foretelling the return of a dead war hero who will kill the gods to teach them true divinity. At least, long enough to finagle an alliance with the xenophobic island nation of Odiřa. Succeed, and the exile brand will be removed and his old life reinstated. Problem is, though he might look the part, he knows next to nothing of Odiřa—its culture, its language, its people—and he has less than a year to accomplish his mission. 

Worse yet, that prophecy isn’t so apocryphal. It has a mind of its own, and it wants to be fulfilled.

Though I know it’s generally discouraged, I have, um, started writing book two, rather than start something brand new. Because I just am really, really enjoying this world, these characters, this story, and I want to stay in it a bit longer, especially since Exile, unlike my previous novels, is definitely designed as a book one and I’m itching for book two.

The short pitch for book two, by the by, is “Gev does side-quests.” And is, exactly, that.

-dun dun dun- The Query Trenches!

The first batch of queries for Dead God’s Bones have officially been submitted! The novel has embarked upon its journey to agents and I am now, once more, wading into the query trenches. The number of submissions this time around is, quite honestly, small, but I’m trying a new approach to querying. With In Blood, I tended to shotgun query (even when they were personalized, they weren’t, per say, strategic). In the end, I submitted 43 queries, had two partials and one full request, but ultimately shelved the book.*

With DGB, I’m going for strategic. I am also trying damn hard to not only choose agents to submit to with intention and careful consideration of who and what they represent and what I, personally, am looking for in an agent, but to actually express this in the query letter itself. The letters are, by extension, taking a great deal longer to write, but I feel a more confident in the submission. With IB, I always feared I was pestering. With DGB, I have done my homework and chosen these agents specifically, so I feel less like I’m wasting their time. What will the end result be? I have no idea, but the immediate effect is that I feel more centered. So there’s that.

Fly, novel! Fly to inboxes! Fly and be read! And maybe garner a request or two!

In other news, still plugging away at the new novel. At 110K or so, and things have, necessarily, slowed. Because I need proper nouns. Like names. And locations. And words in this conlang I’ve been putting off semi-constructing. So! For the past week or so, I’ve been poking at phonetics and grammar and working on making it have a consistent “sound” so I can mash consonants and vowels together in a way that has an internal rational behind it so I can finally name some things. So far, I have letters and phonemes. Rules for what can and can’t follow certain things and what syllable you stress. Most of this will not be in the book, but I need to know something of it, otherwise, it’ll all be a garbled mess.

As for drafting, I’ve gotten to the point where the book starts drawing in some horror elements. My main character, Gev, has a sixth finger growing out of the back of his hand and can’t touch anyone, else he’ll curse them with extra unwanted digits sprouting from unexpected places. Soon, he’s off to meet the wizard in the magic, floating rock-castle-thing for a consultation. Drama will occur. The finger will be addressed. And then it’s smooth-sailing to the end of the book.

Well.

Smooth-sailing for me. For Gev? Not so much.

Also, have a potato-Gev, courtesy of a joke with a coworker that led to some spudsy doodling.


* This was not due to rejections, but rather, a new understanding that, really, that book, as much as I love it, had little marketability and wasn’t up to snuff, not for publishing. So it has been shelved, but fondly.

Many, Many Months of Books: July-November

Well, it’s been a while. A long while. So long, in fact, that instead of the regular list of books, I’m instead doing a sort of book-collage, particularly since many of the books are technically rereads. Some I’ve featured on here before, some were books I read as a teenager and I decided to come back and read them again as an adult (which has been a rather interesting experience).

So without further ado, the collage:

That’s a lot of books. In short, most of these are rereads, and most of those are comfort-rereads. Covid has hit my TBR pile hard; though I have a teetering stack of books to read, all I’ve wanted to do instead is retread old, familiar ground. And that’s…perfectly fine.

I did want to highlight A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher and The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison as being utter delights that I desperately needed at the time of reading them. Personally, I feel Goodreads is being quite unfair to The Angel of the Crows by saying that it wasn’t “new” enough–I argue that I didn’t WANT new, I didn’t want things turned on their heads. I wanted a sweet retelling of classic Sherlock Holmes with a twist, and that is EXACTLY what I got. It promised what I wanted and followed through entirely and I appreciated the gift of it. I highly recommend it especially if you find yourself entirely overwhelmed by the constant threat of Covid and just want something sweet and familiar and comfortable, and love a good Sherlock Holmes retelling.

Lastly, it was interesting to reread Carol Berg’s Rai-Kirah trilogy, which I remember having read somewhere around 14-15 and being disappointed by the third book. 14-15-year-old me didn’t get it. 27-almost-28-year-old me did. In many ways, it hasn’t aged well (20 years is…20 years). In other ways, it was fascinating to read certain details (like not breathing on food and the one culture’s preoccupation with cleanliness and avoiding corruption) in this time of Covid and infection. Just…huh. But teenage me really didn’t understand the concept of merging identities and personalities, of multiple people contained within one, multiple worlds, and the central theme of “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Teenage me took it entirely at face-value and was thoroughly confuzzled by the third book (and bored to tears by the second). Adult me appreciates it, and adult writer me found myself endlessly occupied with analyzing the craft side. In many ways, it’s a rough precursor to Berg’s later work, and in that roughness, it’s easier to see the building blocks, the individual components, because the edges aren’t so seamless. And, hoo, the emotional rollercoaster of the third book. Just…damn.

Anyway. Next time around, this won’t be an overwhelming collage-block. Next time, A Month of Books shall return to its usual format.

Many Months of Books: April, May & June

I’ve lumped April, May, and June together in one post, partly because each month’s offerings were a little slim due to beta-reading, partly because I haven’t been able to dredge the motivation to write anything more complex than a daily To Do list in weeks.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: Another recommendation from a friend who’s reading tastes often fall in line with my own after I’d asked for the names of some speculative fiction with F/F romantic pairings that didn’t end in tragedy or break-ups (I wanted a HEA people!). Anyway, this novella’s prose is, frankly, gorgeous. The words, the sound of them, the sounds of them strung together, the richness of the metaphors, the similes, the poetry of the prose, all of it had me reading and re-reading lines to enjoy their impact more than once. The romance’s build-up is slow and the approach of two individuals falling in love through letters alone was both brilliant and ambitious and it worked so, so well. The characters themselves are fascinating, and both are products of their individual futures, most times relatably human but other times, almost alien in their perception of the world(s). I did lose track of potential timelines and upthread/downthread a bit, and by nature of the execution, the mental “image” as it were tends to be vague, but that had little impact whatsoever on my enjoyment and appreciation. The texture of it is more short story than novel (a bit like my experience with The Tea Master and the Detective), so the world-building tends to be more snippets and snatches to create atmosphere and immersion as opposed to explaining things (an approach which I enjoy, but I know that not everyone does). The story, the structure, the prose-style, the world-building, all ask for this to be a book read slowly and savored, and I managed that—until the last 40 pages, which I consumed like a vacuum hose.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie: I’ll admit, I wasn’t planning on reading this. It had been on my shelf for years, but I hadn’t gelled well with The Blade Itself when I read it years ago, and expected Half a King to be much the same. I was wrong. Half a King has echoes of the brutality of The Blade Itself but with characters I actively rooted for, and I enjoyed the central theme of the danger of oaths sworn. I enjoyed it so much, I read the book in a day, something I haven’t done since…er, undergrad (part of this might be due to me being furloughed). I caught two out of the three major twists: one from the start seeing that it was strikingly similar to a plot twist from a Disney movie, one on page 188 because of a seemingly small throw-away line, but the third took me by surprise, yet, I appreciated the subtle layering of hints. I also enjoyed that twist’s structure, the echo-/full-circle nature it lent to the narrative. It was intriguing to me to draw parallels between the myth and legend the characters have for the world, the little snippets that made me fairly convinced that it was a far flung post-apocalyptic earth (some of the elf architecture sounded a heck of a lot like concrete with steel rebar supports, there’s a reference that sounds a lot like radiation sickness, and there’s a bit about a green chip with gold lines made into a necklace that seemed…hmm), and the cyclical nature of Ragnarok, since much of this has a Vikings-esque texture to it.

The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold: More Pen and Des! Yee! I’ve been looking forward to this one since I read a teaser sample of the first third-ish, and then somehow managed to completely miss the release date until I happened to listen to an interview with Bujold conducted by Baen Books, where the release was mentioned. The novella is rather prescient, given that this was released during a real-world pandemic, and is dealing with a fictional one. In that aforementioned interview, Bujold explained that it wasn’t based on Covid 19, but on other historical pandemics (there’s a reference that looks a lot like the Bubonic Plague, plus a few others). Which makes sense, since in order for this to be released in May, the actual drafting would’ve had to occur before the beginning of Covid. Which just means the release of this story coincides with real-world events, which adds another layer to an already excellent tale. As always, highly recommended. Please read these because, truly, they are fantastic and, even when dealing with material as dark as a spreading pandemic, nevertheless uplifting, and I tend to devour them within a day. Also, the idea of a demon gaining its first personality impression from a dog, and how easily that demon is then to 1. train, 2. entertain with the same activity repeated over and over, and 3. communicate with made a great deal of sense. Also appreciated seeing what a more usual method of transferring a demon from one rider to the next, since Pen and Des’ was a bit unorthodox, and most of the demon-ridden sorcerers in The Paladin of Souls are not all that willing to have a demon in the first place.

A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite: This was an utterly delightful read. I’m a secret fan of regency romance, though incredibly picky since the time period and adherence to prescribed gender roles can be a bit “er, no thanks” for me, but this is the first regency F/F romance I’ve come across (though not by chance; it was recommended during a panel at the online Nebula Conference). Lucy and Catherine’s relationship, as Catherine learns she can embrace her attraction to women and Lucy heals from the heartbreak of her longtime lover marrying someone else, was sweet, passionate, and well-paced (though I quibble a little on what drives them apart for the traditional “lovers are driven apart” stage of a romance—the reunion and climax of the external plot was more engaging for me, though I recognize that without that step, the end wouldn’t have had the cohesion it did). I also loved the budding science field aspect, the combination of hopefulness and sense of discovery with the infuriating dark flip-side of the suppression of women scientists. It does end rather neatly and positively on that point, but this is a romance novel, and the expectation of an HEA precludes defeat. So while real-world history was often far grimmer, this parallel version fits the story it’s telling. And I see the author has another in this series coming out toward the end of July, so guess what one of my August reads will be?


May all of you stay safe and healthy and please, for the love of the all, wear a mask if you go out.