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: December

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard: I would argue that this is less a novella and more of a long novelette. It is very short, and because of that shortness, it had more of the texture of a short story—of language, sparseness of description, precise but possibly a little linear plotting—than it did a novella, and I admit, I went into it expecting more of a novella approach. That said, the world is absolutely fascinating and I loved the concept of sentient ships (and their names!), especially the idea that since the central core of the ships are born of humans (it’s questionable if they are humanoid, since the description of a ship’s core is vague) they have human blood-relations. The Tea Master and the Detective utilizes the Sherlock Holmes and Watson archetype, with Sherlock as Long Chau, an incredibly drugged but brilliant deductionist (honestly, this interpretation of Sherlock Holmes is the most true to the original source material’s personality and presence I think I’ve seen yet) and Watson as The Shadow’s Child, a sentient ship who brews specially crafted teas to help humans acclimate to “deep spaces.” The cultural world-building is absolutely fascinating, but because of the novella’s short length, it’s much more a story of character and culture than it is about solving the mystery. My only quibble was the sparseness of description when it came to the ships. I had little idea what The Shadow’s Child‘s avatar looked like most of the time, and I’m still unsure if a ship’s core is a humanoid being grafted into the ship or a biological mass of brain and heart.

Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks: Oh! Look! Graphic novel! And an adorable little romance story about figuring out the person who’s your person is sometimes your best friend. It’s refreshing to read a story with a bi/pan character where their sexuality and dating history is not considered weird or something to make noise about! Meredith has dated most of her coworkers and it isn’t treated as either, 1. a joke or 2. something reprehensible. Plus! Josiah has never dated anyone, and again, that’s treated as totally valid and not the butt-end of a joke. It is also refreshing to read a graphic novel/comic where the female/fem characters have a wide array of body types! Admittedly, it’s still limited when it comes to heavier body shapes, but it’s better than it usually is. And the art is wonderfully expressive and cute and fits the feel of the story quite well.


And so, we get to half of the reason why I haven’t read all that much this month: TV. Oh, there’s just so much good TV being released. The other half is that I’m currently reading/editing a novel to get it ready for betas, thus, much of my reading brain-space is claimed already. Also, holidays.

First one up: Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2, which I have been waiting for the DVD release for months because I don’t have CBS All Access (this will become a point later).

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2: Definitely more ‘Trek than the first season. It’s doing it’s own thing, but has callbacks to the Original Series, and with that cliffhanger end, I’m starting to wonder if every season is an almost homage to each of the individual series within the great blanket of Star Trek. First season almost felt like a gritty Enterprise. Season 2 is more Original Series, and not just because of Captain Pike and Spock. Next season seems to be setting up an almost Voyager-esque season. We’ll see if my theory pans out.

My one, major quibble with this season was the events of episode 6: “The Sound of Thunder”, where the Discovery is summoned/led to Saru’s home planet. The setup was intriguing, and I was sure this was going to lead into a two-parter, but then the end happened and I was left feeling very blah. I mean, really? Discovery? You’re just going to leave? You basically set fire to this planet’s (very oppressive, highly morally questionable) society, culture, and political sphere, and then you just…leave and say, “Oh, they’ll sort it out.” Ah, no. I don’t care how much the Kelpiens believe in balance, the Ba’ul were fully prepared to launch a species-wide genocide after thousands of years of oppression and “culling” the Kelpien population for control. You don’t just leave. They are not going to sort this out. I’d be better with this if there was a mention of passing this particular thorny mess to the Star Fleet Diplomatic Corps. That would make sense, where Discovery backs out because they’re not trained for this. But…to leave in silence, then have the Kelpiens swoop in at the end using Ba’ul ships…seriously makes me question if Kaminar has two species any longer, or if the Kelpiens wiped out the Ba’ul and got their tech.

Now, my other quibble is with the series as a whole or, at least, how CBS is making it almost impossible not to pay for their All Access option. See, there’s a moment right at the end of the season that relies entirely on a previously established relationship between two characters…that wasn’t introduced in Discovery. Nope, this was actually in the Short Treks spin-off series, something I hadn’t even realized was a thing. Because I hadn’t known that this was going to be a semi-requirement in order to understand, I then spent an inordinate amount of time switching discs, looking for the episode I missed, then, when I couldn’t find it, assumed it was something I’d forgotten from season 1, so went back to my bingeing. It wasn’t until after watching the two-parter season finale that I found out that one character was introduced in a Short Treks episode, and that’s why I couldn’t find it. *grumble grumble grumble* I may, may, break down and get the All Access subscription when the third season releases, just so I can binge-watch Season 3 and all the Short Treks episodes I missed.

I sobbed at a character’s death. This is not unusual, I sob fairly easily at character deaths, particularly if that character then has a moving funeral (this one did). Favorite scene, by far, was Michael asking Spock if he really thinks the beard is working. *sigh* Highlight of the season.

The WitcherOh, I’ve been waiting for this for months. Months and months and months.

I liked the split focus between the three central characters. That said, I have the benefit of having read some of the books quite a few years ago, which might’ve been for the best. While I was familiar with who was important and why they were in the story, my memory has gone fuzzy on the details, so I wasn’t actively comparing the adaptation with the source material (which I think a few reviewers were, whether consciously or unconsciously). That said, the, er, multiple timeline structure is confusing as all hell, and I can only assume it’s even more confusing for those who have neither read the books or played the games (I’m more recent on the games; I binge-played The Witcher III about two years ago and did a story/craft analysis on it). For the first two episodes and much of the third, I was holding two possibilities in mind: either it’s a multi-timeline story where they didn’t mark the timelines as being separate OR they decided to make everything happen concurrently…which would’ve been odd, but it is an adaptation, so…

It wasn’t until the third episode where there’s some overlap with royals’ ages that I figured out it was the former not the latter, and things started making sense. So my one bit of advice for those who haven’t seen it and haven’t read the books, know that Geralt’s and Yennifer’s timelines are occurring decades before Ciri is even born. Geralt’s timeline is mostly the short stories (most of which can be found in The Last Wish), Yennifer’s is backstory that’s referenced (as far as I remember), and Ciri’s is a lead-up to the events of the first book. In a way, it embodied my frustrations when I read the novels (I clearly remember throwing the first book down with an exasperated cry of, “It’s just a PROLOGUE?”).

Which probably explains the tonal conflict and the occasional sudden shifts in emotional tone between episodes. Geralt’s timeline isn’t running as chronologically as Ciri’s, so there’s gaps and spaces of unspoken years between events (and it’s easy to miss when there’s been a time-skip). While I enjoyed this, I can see how this would definitely rub people wrong.

There were some choices with Yen’s backstory that I was a bit iffy on, but I realize that much of it is drawn from the books (it just hasn’t aged well, in my opinion), and there was a point where I was certain there was a blatant contradiction; they might end up addressing that in the next season, so *shrug*. I also question, if a viewer doesn’t know who Ciri is and who she becomes, whether or not her story would feel as vital/compelling as it does to someone who does know.

Much like with Carnival Row, I await season 2 to see where they take this. I also feel the strong urge to replay The Witcher III: Wild Hunt*.

Other shows binge-watched this month:

  • Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators, Season 2
  • Death in Paradise, Season 8

Shows that I anticipate binge-watching:

  • Murdoch Mysteries, Season 13**
  • Brokenwood Mysteries, Season 6**

* However! I did just fix Skyrim and I’m happily binge-playing that while working on edits, so…it might be awhile.
** Acorn TV is doing a slow-release schedule for both of these of one episode a week. Which curtails my binge-plans.