We’re in the slow, cold part of the winter now. Christmas and my birthday have both passed, so now I’m ready for spring, although I wouldn’t mind a bit of snow accumulation first (on a weekend, so I don’t have anywhere to go or anything to do but look at how pretty snow is). Unfortunately, months to go before spring and sunshine yet, but on the bright side, I can spend these months reading. I’ve started 2015 with three books I loved and one book I didn’t. My thoughts below.
The Farseer Trilogy, Robin Hobb
I’m lumping these all together because I can’t split them particularly well in my head. This trilogy is the beginning of the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of Prince-in-Waiting Chivalry Farseer of the Six Duchies and fated to be the Catalyst that changes the course of his country’s history. These books are set in a fantasy medieval world and mostly consist of Fitz growing to manhood in a very uncertain, dangerous situation, after his father’s abdication and death and his country’s coasts threatened by war with soulless raiders. He is trained as an assassin for his king, a dangerous and controversial role amongst people who would be all too happy to see him dead.
I loved reading these books again. I read them first in high school and honestly am not quite sure when, as I mentioned last week. I am so pleased that I loved them again, even though I remembered virtually nothing about them. I got so attached to Fitz all over again, even though Robin Hobb is very, very hard on him – harder than I’d thought she would be, as part of the ending of the trilogy was different than I thought I’d remembered. That was a strange experience, but I think I might have actually mixed this up in my head with the Tawny Man trilogy that picks up Fitz’s story a few years later. I knew that the author wasn’t done with Fitz quite yet, so I wasn’t disappointed with the ending, which isn’t exactly a satisfying wrap-up in some ways. I’m instead pleased that there’s more to come.
I loved Fitz himself, but I also so loved the women surrounding him; Kettricken, Molly, and Patience, each of whom represents something completely different to him. Kettricken I think is my favorite in this trilogy (how did I manage to forget Kettricken?), with her inner strength and natural generosity but all too human failings of jealousy and gullibility. Hobb’s characterization has always set her books apart for me and I love how well she shows us so many types of people. I read reviews of these books after I’d finished – not something I normally do much, but I was curious – and I was surprised to see people complaining that the books were slow. I never got bored and I loved every page, just like I did when I was younger. The world that Hobb creates is so fascinating to me. I like different, unusual settings, but in all honesty I just love the traditional pseudo-medieval world she’s portraying, with the edge of mysterious magic that’s now very lost to history.
I was so pleased I chose to start 2015 off with this re-read and I know I’m going to be reading the rest of Hobb’s books set in this world this year for sure now. If there was any doubt, I’ve already started Ship of Magic, the first of the Liveship Traders series, which I actually recall as my favorite of all of her trilogies. I am so excited to reread these (Althea!), but I’m also looking forward to getting back to Fitz. I know I have plenty of books waiting for me, but these are all I want to read at the moment. Best of all, there are some at the end I haven’t read yet, not least my beautiful, signed edition of Fool’s Assassin.
Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
One of my generally ongoing goals is to read my older books. I have a lot of books from 2008 and 2009 in particular when I went a little crazy about charity shops and bought a lot of books I’d heard of or had recommended for very low prices. I don’t really frequent charity shops for books any more; I tend to instead donate my books to them and donate money to causes I care about, while spending my money in physical bookshops to do my little bit to keep them going. But in any case, Arlington Park is one of these books and I thought it would be a quick and easy one to tick off the list before I let myself read more Robin Hobb.
Unfortunately, I can’t really say I enjoyed it. The book takes place over a single day set in the upper middle class suburb of Arlington Park, told by a rotating group of women who are extremely dissatisfied with their lives. The women are generally well-off housewives with young children, who feel out of control. One, Juliet, feels that her life and potential has been sucked out of her by her husband and children; another keeps a meticulously tidy house to ward off death and views her children as obstacles; a third, Christine, has spent most of her life escaping her lower-class childhood and seems to insist she’s “solving the world’s problems” in the midst of shopping and casual disregard for her children.
This book I felt had edges of something powerful, as there is certainly a case for discontent in the boundaries of a woman’s life when it’s ruled by other people, but it bothered me. It goes too far and it’s too easy to look at these women and think, first world problems. Things happen to them, rather than any of them taking control, and the women who did try to seize the agency in their lives were still universally unhappy. This is namely Maisie who chose to leave London and is now busily unhappily unmoored in Arlington Park. Everyone and everything is at a distance to these women. I think the author was trying to get across that material and surface wealth – having a good looking, working husband and children, a nice big house, lots of free time – doesn’t equal happiness, but I just wanted them to take control of their lives. Christine I felt was the one who epitomised the whole sentiment of the book; she is the one who says she’s solving the world’s problems, but all she’s doing is complaining about her own, feeling afraid of people “below” her because she doesn’t want to be one of those people, and virtually ignoring her children in the meantime. All of these women complain, but I wanted them to do what I would do (or at least what I feel I would do); get a babysitter and go to work, or volunteer, or do something different to stop the endless round of complaining about children and husbands. Maybe I missed the point. Have you read this? Did I?
Anyway, not particularly recommended. This is one that will be going back to a charity shop (albeit five years later).
How have you started off your reading year?
Kit loves being a Blackhart. She’s finally living with her cousins and learning about her heritage and her amazing magical skills. She’s completed her first solo mission and she’s ready to take on whatever the world has to throw at her. She starts finding out in no short order when her cousins are away fighting monsters and Kit is left alone in a suddenly not-so-safe Blackhart Manor. Complete with a prince, Thorn, in tow, who shows up in the forest needing serious help, it’s up to Kit to find her cousins, figure out what’s going on, and make sure neither of them gets killed.
Like probably lots of other people, I have had Liz de Jager on my radar since she ran a book blog. I’ve been looking forward to this from the day the book deal was signed and it didn’t disappoint. Banished is a fantastic YA adventure peopled with some interesting, kickass characters. It seemed to me like a mesh between some of the darker urban fantasy that I like with a more classic fantasy story (goblins, elves, etc.) and it was a blend that I really enjoyed.
The heroine, Kit, is also a great character. She already knows about her heritage, so we can skip all of the various ways in which characters learn that they are different and special. She’s already aware that she’s different and special and, instead of being freaked out by it, she loves it and embraces it. Her full magical potential hasn’t been explored yet, but she’s on her way. She has a supportive family and even though she’s left on her own in this instance, she isn’t permanently and she knows that she has support. I liked Thorn, too, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about the other characters.
Great book, easy to read, bring on Vowed!
Cassidy Kincaide is the owner of Trifles & Folly, a gift shop full of magical antiques and rare items. Some of them are inert, some give off happy feelings, and others have negative memories. A few of the items are even haunted. Most of those – and anything too negative – is not available for the public to buy, but Cassidy hears that a local B&B has started having hauntings after buying a few of her items. Plus, she’s just found a pair of opera glasses that was inert and has now turned dangerous. Cassidy’s ability to read items means that she’s really the only one who can find out what’s turning once-neutral antiques into malicious haunting presences.
I’d never read anything by Gail Z. Martin before; I’m always interested in trying a new author and particularly a new urban fantasy series, so I was happy to get this particular book offered for review. While I wouldn’t put it up there with some of my favorite urban fantasy series, it was a solid offering.
In concept similar to The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff, which I didn’t end up writing about, in actual fact Deadly Curiosities is significantly different in story. I was really intrigued by the idea of magical items that could more or less take on a life of their own. They don’t change reality so much as actually haunt people and cause them to feel certain things. Cassidy’s special magical talent enables her to tap into those histories and find out what actually happened; witnessing what’s making those objects have the effect they do. She can tap into any item, so those with a positive or protective influence can also be used as weapons against ghosts or other hauntings. It’s an intriguing idea and worked well within the context of the story, allowing us to skip around in history without losing the main narrative.
Some of the events that happened were downright scary, too; I think the one that would have terrified me most is a ghost haunting the B&B owner, only for her to be protected by another ghost. Not sure I could have lived through that myself!
The book does suffer a little bit from being the first in a series; it always takes time to set up a world and characters and sometimes I felt that the ones here were a little bit shallow or simple. The author doesn’t really do info-dumping, but at times the plot takes a twist or turn to describe some other aspect of the world, rather than getting straight to the conclusion. I am sure these problems will be solved in coming books, especially as the author is given an opportunity to sink into the world a little bit more. I’m particularly interested in learning more about Sorren, the vampire with whom Cassidy works; there was just enough detail to make me interested in learning more.
Overall, I didn’t fall in love with Deadly Curiosities, but I liked it, and I’m certainly intrigued enough to have a look around for other books by Gail Z. Martin.
I received this book for free for review consideration. All external book links are affiliate links.
The Emperor has been murdered, dead far before he planned to be. His heir, Kaden, is far away, learning to be a monk, not yet ready to take on the mantle of imperial rule. His second son, Valyn, is still in training to become one of the empire’s most deadly fighters. Only his daughter Adare is in the capital. Though her father has granted her the position of Minister of Finance, she still isn’t as powerful as either of her brothers could be, and must navigate the tricky waters of court politics while trying to bring her father’s murderer to justice. Meanwhile the lives of Kaden and Valyn are in danger and both brothers must confront their own problems before they can even begin to start on the empire’s.
This book, which is an ARC, makes the claim on the back that “fantasy has never been more popular”. While I’ve been a fan of fantasy for most of my life, I think I’d agree with its assertion. Game of Thrones has taken over the imagination of many people and, although I like the books a lot less than I once did, I like that it’s becoming less of a stigma to enjoy fantasy and science fiction. The Emperor’s Blades isn’t quite up to the standards of the masters who have gotten us this far, like Robin Hobb or George R.R. Martin, but is certainly a big step in the right direction for its author.
The narrative is balanced between the three children, although they are all mostly grown. I think Kaden and Valyn were given more page time than Adare, but I personally found Adare’s part of the story most interesting. She’s the one who actually has to figure out what is going on, while her brothers are more impacted by related events. And her part of the story had the one moment where I think my mouth actually gaped open in surprise, although both boys have interesting stories, too.
For me the book started off slowly. I no longer read much epic fantasy and I’ve found that this sometimes means I am a little slower on the uptake as I try to learn who each character is, what their backstory is, and how it all relates together. It really picks up in the second half though because all three characters start sensing that something is going on. Neither of the boys know their father is dead for a good portion of the beginning of the story, but both sense that something is wrong in the way that others behave and how events fall out. Once those events and conspiracies start to come together, everything ties in and gets much more exciting.
The magic system in the book is particularly interesting as well. Magic has a very strong stigma against it and those who practice it are called leaches, because they must leach their power from something in their environment. The magic itself is slippery and mainly seems to involve changing the environment just slightly, enough to throw enemies off balance but only sometimes to cause big, cataclysmic events. It’s an intriguing enough concept but wasn’t developed enough for me.
I did think the book was lacking in some areas. Like I mentioned above, I didn’t think Adare had enough page time; there is far more potential around exploring her story and I hope that Staveley lets her shine in the rest of the series. I also felt that the world-building was a bit weak and confusing; most of it seems to come about through telling, especially one particularly long diatribe to Kaden, because the main characters stay more or less in the same relatively boring places throughout the entire book. The capital, where Adare is located, had the most potential, but was again not really explored. Amazing world-building really adds an extra dimension onto a fantasy novel and it was missing here.
In any case, I did feel The Emperor’s Blades was a solid debut and, if the next volumes address some of the lacks in this one, has a lot of potential for a great series. I’ll be giving the next one a try.
All external links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.
I had a high and lofty goal of writing about everything I read this year, even if only a sentence, at the beginning of the year. I’ve failed at that, but here are a few thoughts on books I have read and think are worth talking about this year so far.
Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress by Marissa Meyer
I loved these books. I went on a work trip to London and had to stay overnight back in February and I managed to read Cinder and Scarlet back-to-back on the evening (in between a trip to Forbidden Planet and a curry for dinner). I didn’t sleep much, needless to say, but I loved them. I got completely and totally absorbed in Cinder’s world. By a small stretch of time I managed to wait to read Cress - about a month – but my resistance wore down absurdly quickly and I devoured that one, too, although so far I think Cinder is my favorite. And now I have to wait all the way until 2015 for Winter, which seems pretty unendurable whenever I think about it!
It’s difficult to pin down why I loved them so very much. I really liked the way they reflected fairy tales, how they’re burdened by expectations and each girl has to make her own way, and because each book has a great romance going on (although I think Cress’s is probably the weakest) without being just about that romance. There is so much packed into each book, so much emotion and story. I even like how they reflect a wider scope of the world within fantasy and each girl comes from a different place and different walk of life. I so hope Winter is just as good as the first three books in this series.
Germania, Simon Winder
I didn’t really love Germania, but I appreciated it a lot, and it reminded me of why Germany is so interesting. Winder basically goes off on a long, rambling, nostalgic and affectionate rant about Germany and takes his readers along for the ride. So while it isn’t an organized history of much of anything, it has a whole lot of charm. Just the subject of Germany is complicated now, still, in the shadow of both World Wars. They fundamentally changed the way that Germany was perceived by the rest of the world, especially Europe, and Germany’s reputation hasn’t recovered in the way. Anecdotally, I’ve never met anyone obsessed with German culture, like people so frequently are with France or Italy, and German friends I have had do say that there is still shame pervading Germany because of what happened. But Germany was regarded completely differently before those wars in ways that it’s now difficult to imagine.
Winder agrees with this interpretation. Germany is kind of disregarded now, certainly compared to its European neighbors, but it’s an enchanting country with a bizarre history, so fractured into tiny little pieces that still hold on to their own eclectic pasts. I felt a fragment of this when I went to Munich almost two years ago; I had never really heard of any of the people or places around Munich, but there are royal palaces and paintings and little bits of history all over the place. I wanted to know more, but it feels like learning more about Germany is unravelling a massive swath of history that has the potential to be overwhelming. I’ve picked up little bits and pieces, like in Vanished Kingdoms and Noble Endeavours and I have Christopher Clark’s history of Prussia for when I get some time, but this book in part reminded me how much I don’t know and how much I’d like to find out. It also made me really, really want to visit Germany again. I haven’t been anywhere else where history smacked me in the face quite so vividly in so many different ways. That history is complicated and has a traumatic relationship with the rest of the world, but it’s important to remember the good right along with the bad.
Anyway, if you are at all interested in Germany, I would recommend picking this up. Like I’ve said, it isn’t a straight history and didn’t really satisfy my cravings to know more, but if anything it made those cravings much stronger.
A Dance with Dragons: Dreams and Dust, George R.R. Martin
I’ve been re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire for months mostly so I could get to book five finally (and so I could know what was going to happen on the show, as I’d forgotten a lot). Unfortunately, I remember A Feast for Crows as a disappointment, and I was pretty bummed that I didn’t much like this first installment of A Dance with Dragons, either. In the UK, they split it into these two books, and the first half just didn’t grab me although I slogged through. I guess I’d forgotten in my head how sexist, brutal, and depressing Martin’s world is. I was primarily disturbed by the excessive and unnecessary sexism, in this particular book; it just felt relentless and I didn’t enjoy the experience of reading the book as much as I thought I would. Plus, I think at this point, the series is just too long. A new minor character seems to pop up every other page, distracting me from the characters who are actually interesting to read about, but everything just gets worse for them too, with no actual break. It’s too dark, too long, too frustrating to read. I used to like this a whole lot more than I do now and discovering that has been disappointing. I haven’t been in a rush to pick up the second half and I’m not sure when I will.
Flora 717 is a worker bee, designed to be a silent sanitation worker who simply picks up after her betters. But Flora can talk in a way that her sisters can’t, so despite the fact that she is an ugly, large brown bee, completely unlike her black-and-yellow striped siblings, she experiences life outside that of the other floras. She spends time feeding the baby bees and even goes foraging. But after a few days pass, and Flora meets the queen, she realizes she has a secret, and she can no longer follow the bees’ mantra: Accept. Obey. Serve. Instead, she has to think for herself and fight for what’s forbidden at all costs.
This is an utterly unusual book. I picked it up as a review copy from Amazon Vine and, typically for me, didn’t actually read the description in any great detail. I just saw “The Hunger Games meets The Handmaid’s Tale” in the description and thought that this would be a book well worth my time, should that actually hold true. And, as it turned out, a book called The Bees is genuinely about bees. Funny, that – I mention it because it colored my experience of the book, especially at the beginning, and because it highlights that this is unusual. The back of the book itself actually also mentions Watership Down, which is probably a more apt comparison, at least as far as non-human subjects go. I can kind of see why they’ve compared it to those books, but it’s not really like them at all, and I can see how someone who was misdirected, who might be like me and not very fond of reading book descriptions, might not actually end up liking the book much.
Anyway, I digress. This was extremely engaging and extremely unusual. Laline Paull has taken the lifecycle of bees, something is generally taught in school and ignored afterwards, and turned it into a compelling story about differing from and defying the norm. Flora isn’t meant to be what she is. Other bees tell her that she’s too big, that she’s too ugly, that they dislike the privilege she appears to have been given, just due to the fact that she has talents outside her social class. They look down on her and every day she fights to be herself and to keep her own secrets from the world. She fights harder than the other bees because she’s different and because she feels she has to earn her privilege, which really made me root for her.
I’ll admit that I know next to nothing about bees, so I have genuinely no idea how “right” the author gets the way things actually work, but given that the bees tend to use dustpans and brushes and curtsey to each other, I don’t think she’s going for realism. It seems more to be a story about sticking to your own principles and doing what you feel is right, no matter who looks down on you or disdains you for it. But at the same time, by humanising these bees, she does highlight how little they fit in the modern world, and how little we understand or know about them.
The Bees‘s cover also says it’s “An extraordinary feat of imagination” and I think I’d agree with that. I certainly never thought about what it would be like in a beehive, but I appreciated the perspective and I liked the story. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something different.
All external links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.
Promise of Blood is “flintlock fantasy” or, an epic fantasy set in a world with guns as well as magic, roughly equivalent to the 18th century (ish) in our world, a new-to-me genre. In this particular series, Field Marshal Tamas, the leader of the Powder Mages, who gain strength from gunpowder, has just overthrown Manhouch, the king, an exceptionally corrupt individual, and is now working to set up his own government against many who would prefer he not do just that. Some of those are in his inner circle, so Tamas enlists the help of Adamat, a private investigator, to find out exactly what’s going on, and his son Taniel “Two-shot” to protect his fledgling state from power-hungry neighbors.
The book felt to me very similar to those I’ve read about the French Revolution, except with a less redeemable monarchy and nobility. The fact that there are old-fashioned guns involved undoubtedly helped, as it seems to further the prospective era of the fantasy along in my head from the typical medieval-esque settings. The people are unhappy and the people are hungry; in the case, though, Tamas does genuinely want to help them. It made for a nice change and provided a different atmosphere than what I was used to. I’ve never read a book in this particular branch of fantasy before, as I generally start being less interested in history when guns get introduced, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I really liked the magic system. The Powder Mages don’t exist in isolation; there are also the Privileged, who work a different kind of magic entirely, and act in a sort of opposition to the Powder Mages. When first starting the book everything seemed very confusing, but it sorts itself out quickly and by the end of this first volume I felt very familiar with how everything was meant to work and who was who. I’d say it’s a similar learning curve to most books of this sort. If you’re starting a new epic fantasy series, you’re going to have to learn the ropes before you can enjoy the story, and this is one that drops its readers straight into the thick of it.
Undoubtedly this book benefited from the fact that I’ve spent the last few months craving fantasy (just like certain sets of historical fiction now suffer from over-reading). I really, really wanted to read a proper epic fantasy and this certainly started me off in that direction. It’s also fast-paced, with consequences that are wide and political but characters that are very human, aspects of books that I love. Probably its only fault is that virtually all of the characters and central players in it are men. Women are rarely featured in positions of power, with a few exceptions, in the particular society McClellan has created, although the foreign Ka-poel, Taniel’s bodyguard, is an excellent example of how women can subvert that. I think Ka-poel is the most interesting character in the book, simply because she’s mysterious and completely underrated by most of the other characters. I’m really looking forward to seeing where McClellan takes her.
Aside from that particular gripe, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the world and the magic system and I felt I really got to know the characters. I’m invested in what happens next and I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, The Crimson Campaign, out next month.
All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.
Continuing with my new determination to write at least a little bit about all the books I’ve been reading …
Deadshifted, Cassie Alexander
This is the fourth book in the Edie Spence series. I’ve not reviewed any of these books previously on the blog, but this is a series I’ve been enjoying. Edie is a smart nurse who was thrust into the world of paranormal healthcare to save her brother. By this fourth book, she’s met her current boyfriend after a particular failure and she’s left the hospital where the first couple of books take place. She’s on vacation – a well-deserved cruise with Asher, her boyfriend. But things are never really simple for Edie, and they run into someone that Asher used to know in his previous life as an active, not-quite-conscientious shapeshifter. Although I’ve missed the familiar setting of the hospital, this book really threw Edie in the deep end (literally). She’s had to deal with so much and, although the summary of the already-pre-ordered fifth book spoiled the ending somewhat, I was still shocked. Definitely continuing with these.
We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo
I wanted to do a full review of this one, but given how seldom I actually get myself to write full reviews, I thought it was better to get my thoughts down as soon as I could. This book was amazing – it forced me to think about so many issues outside my normal day-to-day existence and reminded me forcefully that there is a reason I want to expand my reading horizons. Darling grows up in Robert Mugabe-era Zimbabwe, now desperately poor and starving in a shantytown called Paradise, though previously her family was moderately prosperous. Though her life in Zimbabwe is a challenging one, to say the least, and she and her friends dream of escape, when she actually does manage to leave her home country she has to confront a huge range of new experiences. One of the most striking parts for me was when Darling can’t understand why her employer’s daughter is depressed and has anorexia. She – as someone who has spent much of her childhood starving – simply can’t understand why a pretty, thin white girl would actively starve herself. Their worlds are too different. And some of the passages about leaving home and trying to decide who you are without your home were unbelievably striking. So worth reading.
Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman
When Piper graduates from college, she still hasn’t decided what she wants to do with her life. And she craves adventure. So, as she describes in this memoir, she gets involved with the older Nora, a sophisticated woman who clearly has a large amount of cash to throw around, and finds herself involved with the drug trade. She wises up after a short period of time and runs back into the arms of her family, landing a good job, a loving boyfriend, and a life she thinks is secure. But it isn’t, and ten years after her crime, Piper finds herself in Danbury, a women’s prison.
Her journey through the prison system was fascinating reading, although I suspect it was easier for her than the other women in a number of ways. She freely acknowledges that her shorter tenure and her frequent visitors were huge factors in helping her cope, but that doesn’t change the essential fact of prison. By far the most shocking part was towards the end, when Piper enters the program meant to prepare inmates for the real world again. Instead of useful advice, like how to rent an apartment or find a job with a criminal offense against your name, the inmates are advised on topics like what to wear; they weren’t even advised on how to use the internet when some of them had never encountered it or a computer in their lives. It’s fairly obvious why some of them simply fall back into the drug trade, which is disastrous. I learned a lot I didn’t know and am glad I read this – I’ve never seen the TV show, so can’t comment on how it compares there.
The Iron Witch, Karen Mahoney
This book demonstrated, quite vividly, that some YA just isn’t for me. In this particular book, Donna is a teenager who was scarred during her youth in an attack which also cost her her parents. Her father was killed defending her and her mother has been mentally unstable ever since, sometimes unable to recognize Donna. She’s raised by her aunt, but has spent her entire life being considered a freak due to the iron scars that twine their way up her arms. Now the wood elves who ruined her life so thoroughly when she was a child have returned, and only she, her best friend Navin, and the mysterious half-fey Xan have a shot at saving themselves.
My attitude towards this book was decidedly “meh”. It’s even complete with a love triangle. I actually kept expecting Xan – the mysteriously sexy object of Donna’s insta-love, as opposed to her nice guy best friend – to turn out to be evil, simply because it all seemed ridiculous to me, but instead all the gooey eyes and instant connection were actually sincere. I was disappointed, similar to how I felt about Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Won’t be reading the rest of the books.
I purchased all of these books.
So far I’ve managed to read 6 books in 2014, greatly aided by the fact that I was off work until the 6th (how I wish I could have another break just like that one now …). I really want to at least record a few thoughts for what I’m reading this year and draw a line under most of last year’s reads, except for a couple of review books, so here goes.
Ironskin, Tina Connolly
This is a fantastical re-telling of Jane Eyre, one of my favourite books, and while I wanted to read it, I put it off for a little while because I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the fact that it is blatantly the same story. I’ve avoided a lot of joke re-tellings and sequels to classics because I love the originals too much to want those worlds changed. But this – this is a serious effort at creating something that pays homage to a classic but doesn’t take away from the original. I needn’t have worried. Connolly’s story can stand on its own two feet. While it’s clear that the basic story is the same, and many of the characters’ personalities match, Connolly’s magic usage, and the very real symbolism of the iron skin / iron mask Jane wears, adds something else to the story. I really liked the fantasy element and the way that the iron’s usage develops and I’m intrigued particularly to see where Connolly goes next in the sequel, now that she no longer has Charlotte Bronte’s brilliance to guide her.
Demon Angel, Meljean Brook
As I mentioned in my Long-Awaited Reads post, I’ve had this book for ages and had no real reason for *not* reading it. I didn’t love the only other book I read by Meljean Brook, so I think I was worried I wouldn’t like it. I’m pleased to say that I finally did get to it and I even liked it. A lot.
I wasn’t really that enthused by it at the beginning. The book takes us throughout centuries of history, in which the two characters get to know each other and we learn more about the background of the world, but once the story got to modern-day California everything changed. We moved into the permanent part of the story rather than the bit that felt like background. I think the book definitely suffers from first-book-in-a-series syndrome; there is almost too much world-building and not enough characters at the start. By the time the story kicks off, though, I began to actually feel for these two characters and the way they felt about each other. It’s longer than a typical paranormal romance (or any romance for that matter) but after that slightly rough start, I never felt like it was too long. Instead I felt anxious for Hugh and Lilith because I so badly wanted them to be together but wasn’t quite sure how it would happen.
I am definitely going to continue with this series.
Clean Sweep, Ilona Andrews
I think I’m destined to love literally everything by this husband-wife writing team. This little novel was no exception at all. I didn’t read Clean Sweep in free installments, as it was initially promoted on the website. I decided to wait until it was all available as an ebook, because I’m essentially impatient and didn’t mind paying the small amount for the privilege of reading convenience. I was immediately drawn to Dina the Innkeeper’s story and the bizarre way that Andrews set up the world. It’s short, so it’s easy to read quickly, and it’s a great example of the writing style these two produce. They’re also fantastic at building relationships between characters – and characterization in general I suppose – even within the confines of a short novel. Highly recommended, as usual, and I’m looking forward to further installments.
The Countess Conspiracy, Courtney Milan
Courtney Milan knows how to pull *all* the heartstrings. In this, her latest novel in the Brothers Sinister series, Violet, Countess of Cambury, is a female scientist in a nineteenth-century England without female scientists. But, rather than keep her work quiet, she enlists her long-time best friend Sebastian Malheur as scientist. He becomes her public face. But after years of living a lie, he can’t take it any more – and slowly, gradually, neither can she.
I love romances where the main characters have known each other for ages. I don’t know why, they just work really well for me. This worked really well, too. I don’t think I loved it as hard as I loved some of her earlier romances, maybe because it’s not as different as the others, but I got really wrapped up in this story and I adored Sebastian and Violet. The main characters from the other books in the series appear, too, a little bonus for those of us who have read them all. Courtney Milan will continue to be an auto-buy author for me.
I’ve read a couple of other books this year – Life after Life by Kate Atkinson and Edward III and the Triumph of England by Richard Barber – but I’d like to try and actually give them full reviews. We’ll see how that goes!
Has your 2014 started well on the reading front?
Guy Gavriel Kay has been one of my very favorite fantasy authors for years. When I first started reading his books, they seemed to fly under the radar for most other fantasy fans, and a new book by him was always a treasure. They’re never very heavy on the fantasy, but usually have a huge amount of historical influence with just a touch of mysticism. I really love this mix, because the historical backgrounds are immensely appealing to me while Kay’s ventures into fantasy allow him to create stories that resonate and have meaning. Though River of Stars is one such book, it won’t sit amongst my favorites of his works.
Set hundreds of years after Under Heaven, River of Stars is based loosely on the period of wars that separated the Northern Song dynasty from the Southern (thank you Wikipedia as this period was completely new to me). We follow two main characters through the outcome of the wars; Lin Shan, a female poet who stands out against her contemporaries, and Ren Daiyan, a general who rises to greatness.
This book is truly a book about myth-making and how ordinary people who commit a few great deeds, or who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they think is best, pass into legend. There is a story, of course, and it’s a good one, but Kay’s writing is incredibly introspective and he spends a considerable amount of time examining what’s happened to events in their retelling. This is so extensive that the ending of the book itself isn’t concrete, letting readers make what they choose of the myths (or not). The downside of this is that he frequently foreshadows, blatantly, what’s going to happen next – the text is so self-referential that there isn’t space for surprises or suspense.
Kay’s writing is always beautiful but in this far more than any of his other books I noticed how very slow it is. Characters spend small eternities thinking and considering what has happened to them and what they might choose to do next – how their seemingly small decisions can have major impacts. It takes a very long time for the two protagonists to meet, even longer for what seems inevitable to actually occur. It’s been a long while since I read The Lions of al-Rassan or Tigana but I definitely don’t remember feeling bogged down in the same way. Every word is well-placed, but I never felt called back to this book.
Would I still recommend River of Stars? Probably. It’s a beautifully written book, very evocative of this period in China despite its slight separation as a fantasy, and very thoughtful. It’s just worth preparing for it to be a slower read.
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