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.