Top Ten Tuesday: Romantic Interests I Wasn’t Interested In

A Valentine’s Day freebie for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and Bookish.  I could have done romantic interests I did like, but that wouldn’t have given me a chance to complain as much! And so my topic is:

Romantic interests I wasn’t actually interested in.

As always, I’m sticking to the SFF universe… and my Top Ten Tuesday is turning into a top 5 due to time restraints.

fortune's pawnuprootedname of the wind

Continue reading Top Ten Tuesday: Romantic Interests I Wasn’t Interested In

Review: Uprooted (Naomi Novik)

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Fantasy / Standalone

“We were of the valley. Born in the valley, of families planted too deep to leave even when they knew their daughter might be taken; raised in the valley, drinking of whatever power also fed the Wood.”

The woods near Agnieska’s hometown are dark and sinister, corrupting people who are caught too close or too careless. The town’s only protection is the Dragon, a powerful wizard who lives nearby. As his price, he takes one young woman from the village every ten years. Everyone is sure the next girl he takes will be Agnieska’s beautiful and talented best friend, Kasia – but when the time comes, he chooses Agnieska instead, and she finds herself face to face with the power and mystery of both the Dragon and the malevolent woods.

There are so many good things about this book. It is beautifully and cleverly written. I enjoyed the name, and how “uprootedness” comes back again and again both metaphorically and literally through the book. I appreciated the system of magic, and particularly the anti-classist themes that were explored by it. The Dragon looks down on Agnieska’s magic because it is rural, primitive, and intuitive, only to find it is more powerful – magically and emotionally – than his own. And I am always really pleased by the depiction of a complicated but strong female friendship like the one between Kasia and Agnieska.

But ultimately Uprooted felt unsatisfying for me, in spite of all the good things I can say about it. One reason, sadly, is the hype burnout effect. Having fallen in love with her Temeraire series, and then seeing the pretty much unanimous praise for Uprooted, I had enormous expectations for this book. I undoubtedly would have appreciated it much more if I had read it without any knowledge of Novik’s work and without having read any reviews. I went in fully expecting to love it to pieces, and that’s a tough bar for any book.

The second reason is the somewhat indefinable question of resonance – that is, do the story or characters resonate with me in a meaningful way? For whatever reason, this is where the book fell flat for me. Nothing about the book’s thematic content, or the characters, or the plot moved me particularly, and I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why when so many other people have found them so compelling.

The best I can do is try to compare and contrast with a similar book I read recently which did resonate with me, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn. There are countless similarities between the two books: a young girl who is ‘uprooted’, a Dragon who is actually a human man; a vain, narcissistic but strangely appealing love interest, and the mysterious, sinister woods who the protagonist feels both connected to and threatened by. Both books kept me excited and entertained throughout, but it was A Creature of Moonlight that left me in tears at the end. Uprooted has stronger writing especially in the comparable sections with the young country protagonist adjusting to life at court, which was much more interesting, exciting, and nuanced in Uprooted. And yet I ended up connecting to the character much more in A Creature of Moonlight. I felt the book was so much about respecting the agency and choices of young women, and I related to it so forcefully. There were such obvious and tragic consequences for not respecting the decisions and values of young women in A Creature of Moonlight; the same consequences weren’t present for anyone in Upooted. And I’m especially referring to the Dragon, of course – I don’t feel like he ever has to face consequences for his condescending and disrespectful treatment of Agnieska.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with the book: the main relationships. I didn’t like the Dragon at all. I should clarify that I think he’s an interesting and well-written character – but an ass, and so I had no investment in Agnieska’s relationship with him. There is no chance I would pursue a romantic relationship with someone who had insulted my intelligence, habits, and appearance so casually for so long, and it was hard to watch Agnieska do this. Kasia, on the other hand, I liked a great deal, but I wanted more out of her relationship with Agnieska. I would rather have spent more time exploring her emotional state and connection to Agnieska (and less time with the Dragon).

So that was Uprooted for me; I’m glad I read it, I enjoyed it, but I  wish I had loved it the way I wanted to.

If you like _____________, I recommend checking out Uprooted:

  • Eastern European folklore
  • Atmospheric fairytales
  • Coming of age stories about young women
  • Strong female friendships
  • Standalone (completed) epic fantasy

If you dislike____________, you might want to avoid Uprooted:

  • Content including attempted rape/sexual assault

Top Ten Reads of 2015

I’m late on this! But I figured better late than never. 2015 has been a fantastic reading year for me.  There are some years where any one of these top ten would have my favourite book of the year, and there are plenty of books that didn’t make it on this list that were truly excellent.

A couple of notes. I’ve kept descriptions short, so check out the full reviews if you’d like to read about details of plot and premise; they are always spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.

And an admission: I cheated by way of including a trilogy as a single entry on this list, so there are 12 books, not 10. The trilogy in question is so ardently adored by me that it would have dominated the top five otherwise, which just seemed unfair when there were so many other great books.


 

goblin emperor10.  The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor is the story of a naïve, well-meaning young man suddenly thrust into a deadly world of court etiquette, political machinations, and social and racial tensions. This could describe a lot of books, but TGE is set aside by a genuinely lovable, well written protagonist and a warm, optimistic tone. If you want courtly intrigue and creative world building with a sympathetic hero, this is your book. Full review here.

iron night cover9.  Iron Night by M. L. Brennan.

M. L. Brennan’s Generation V was ever so much fun. It had all the campy appeal of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but for a nerdy, under-employed, post-liberal arts degree crowd instead of misfit high schoolers. Then Iron Night took everything about Generation V and made it even better. The characters become more complex, the plot more intense, the relationships more interesting, protagonist Fort the vegetarian vampire more hilarious. Fort’s struggles to balance his vampirism and family ties with his own pacifist inclinations make for a darkly comedic and highly entertaining read. Full review here.

honor's knight8.  Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

It’s hard to compare a book like Honor’s Knight, second in the Paradox trilogy and my favourite of the three, with others on this list. It’s a romantic action-packed space opera, and it isn’t exactly life-changing – but it does what it sets out to do perfectly. And by that I mean have a truly ridiculous amount of fun following the antics of a spacefaring crew trying to save the galaxy with powered armour suits and many, many guns. Full review here.

bone dolls twin7.  The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling

The first book in a dark, character-driven trilogy about a young girl disguised as a boy from birth to protect her from a femicidal uncle – and by disguised, I mean that she literally walks around in the skin of her dead brother after a blood magic ritual. Aside from the typical epic fantasy story arc it follows (a hidden queen fights to restore her throne and set things right), the series deals with her gender dysphoria, her confusion at the family secrets and betrayals, and the question of whether the ends justify the means. It’s creepy, dark, has a charming romance, a diverse and interesting cast, and was completely riveting from start to finish. Full review here.

three body problem6.  The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

This is Ken Liu’s English translation of the Chinese science fiction phenomenon that won the Hugo this year – very deservedly so, in my opinion. Despite some exposition dumps and awkward dialogue, this book is so wildly fascinating and imaginative that it easily makes the top ten. It is a fantastic read – and noteworthy because I actually had to stop reading it before bed for a while because it gave me weird nightmares about physics. True story. Full review here.

stange and norrell5.  Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Dark, twisted magic. Victorian era setting and spelling. Gentlemen and ladies exchanging polite witticisms. Endless (but also endlessly entertaining) footnotes. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is enormous, utterly unique, laugh out loud hilarious, terribly creepy and atmospheric, and wonderfully memorable.  Full review here.

dreamers pool4.  Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

A dark folklore and fairytale-inspired fantasy novel set in ancient Ireland and nearly impossible to put down. Dreamer’s Pool focuses on two grieving, flawed protagonists, both dealing with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to move on with their lives. The first novel I’ve read by Juliet Marillier, this blew me away with amazing characterization, a moving portrayal of platonic love, a masterfully crafted plot, beautiful writing, and a nuanced and compelling portrayal of trauma and it’s impact.  Full review here.

station eleven3.  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Set twenty years from now after the collapse of civilization, Station Eleven skyrockets near to the top of the books I’ve read this year based on the incredible artistry of the writing—this is the book on this list I would most recommend to someone who generally prefers literary fiction to spec fiction. The vision of post-apocalyptic life created by Emily St. John Mandel is so vividly tragic and eerily beautiful, and the storytelling haunted me long after finishing the book. Full review here.

left hand of darkness2.  The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This beautiful, wonderful book is so near and dear to my heart, and Ursula K. Le Guin is my queen. That is all.  Full review here.

 

ancillary justice cover1.  Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Is anyone surprised? (No. No one is surprised.)

Three very different and equally extraordinary books – rollicking revenge space opera Justice, political and social commentary Sword, and the hilarious and moving Mercy – create one phenomenal trilogy. I love everything about these books, from the ambiguous treatment of gender to the singing to the unrelenting fixation with tea. An evil expansionist space empire run by a clone! Themes of classism, colonialism, determinism, free will, the nature of sentience. Alien races about whom everything is actually completely alien, down to their very conception of identity. A protagonist who is an actual spaceship. The Imperial Radch trilogy is all the most awesome tropes of science fiction, brilliantly and originally executed.

Ann Leckie took an ambitious central concept – what would it be like to be a multi-bodied artificial intelligence? She made that character work as a first-person narrator, in spite of the enormous difficulties that presents. More than making her work, she made her relatable and compelling without ever sacrificing her distance, her alienness. And she followed up on every question and theme that came out of this (how is identity constructed? what defines personhood? who are we really?) to create three of the most exciting, thought-provoking, mind-bending books I’ve ever read, period.

Which makes them easily my most-loved reads of 2015.

Full review of Ancillary Justice here.
Full review of Ancillary Sword here.
Full review of Ancillary Mercy here.

Review: The Moon and the Sun (Vonda N. McIntyre)

Book Review: The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre
Historical Fantasy / Pocket / Standalone

The Moon and the Sun is a historical fantasy, or alternate history, about the discovery of a sea-monster by a 17th century scientist. At the behest of Louis VIX, who believes the monsters hold the secret to immortality, Yves de la Croix captures two sea-monsters for study. His sister Marie-Josèphe assists with his studies, but finds that the more she learns about the sea creatures, the less convinced she of their monstrosity she is. This Nebula Award winner from 1998 is an interesting mix of politics, science, art, and history, with obvious research and attention to detail behind it.

Continue reading Review: The Moon and the Sun (Vonda N. McIntyre)

Book Review: The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison)

Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Fantasy / Tor /  Standalone Novel

“‘In our inmost and secret heart, which you ask us to bare to you, we wish to banish them as we were banished, to a cold and lonely house, in the charge of a man who hated us. And we wish them trapped there as we were trapped.’ 
‘You consider that unjust, Serenity?’ 
‘We consider it cruel,’ Maia said. ‘And we do not think that cruelty is ever just.’ ”

The Emperor had four sons, and would have been happy to see any of them follow him on the throne – any, that is, apart from his youngest, neglected and maligned half-goblin son, Maia, who has been kept away from him since birth. A tragic twist of fate, however, leaves Maia inheriting the throne, alone and utterly uninformed about the intricacies of both palace life and the empire’s political situation. Maia struggles against alienation and his own awkwardness and obliviousness to try and make the best of the unexpected (and dangerous) situation.

The Goblin Emperor was a fun and refreshing change of pace for me in terms of epic fantasy. It’s a rarity: a feel-good book about courtly intrigue and political machinations. You put it down feeling, in spite of the manipulation, classism, racism, assassination attempts and general villainy, convinced that ultimately people are good-hearted and generous. It’s strange to think that could feel subversive, but in the current landscape of epic fantasy, it seems like a long time since I read a book as optimistic as this. Continue reading Book Review: The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison)

Top Ten New To Me Authors… and a life update

Books?? What are books????

Sorry for my long absence! My plans to manage my time have, for the most part, failed abysmally. I have been working seven days a week for the last month, balancing multiple jobs plus the heavy performing schedule that always comes with the Christmas season as someone doing a lot of music. I’ve gone bananas.  Even during my normally failproof reading time – while I’m in transit or waiting for the bus – I still can’t read, because I’m so tired I just start falling asleep immediately.

I have set some very moderate December goals. I’d like to do a paltry but hopefully achievable 2 reviews of books that I read throughout the year but didn’t get around to reviewing. I’d also like to do a recap, and some sort of top ten post from 2015, though those will likely come in early January.  In the meantime, I have a lot of reading – both of books and blogs – to catch up on, and I’m sorry to have missed so much.

All that said, I had some time this morning, and I was able to scrape together a Top Ten Tuesday (run, as always, by The Broke and the Bookish). One without much in the way of links, or pictures, though – sorry!  Virtually of the authors I read in 2015 were new to me… this year has been FULL of me going “Why haven’t I ever read (author) before?!?!?!?” These are just a few of them. Continue reading Top Ten New To Me Authors… and a life update

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic (V. E. Schwab)

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Tor / A Darker Shade of Magic #1

“I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

Kell is one of the Travelers—people who can use magic to travel between parallel universes. He lives in Red London, where magic is bountiful, the monarchs beneficent, and life generally good. His counterpart Holland lives in White London, under the thumb of a brutal brother and sister and in a corrupt and cruel land. Kell’s new partner in crime, the thief Lila, is from Grey London—our London, more or less, magic-less and dull. And no one speaks of Dark London, the dead city that was sealed away, and whose nearness is what corrupts White London.

The idea of the four Londons—the crucial concept behind the book—is an excellent one. I feel like there is a fantastic foundation here for future books, because we spent most of our time in Red London and Grey London, whereas White and Black London were the ones I was most interested in seeing. Both make me think of Fallen London, the the game which has some of the most detailed, thorough, and vibrant world-building I’ve ever experienced. I think having that comparison made me want more out of White London; I wanted a better sense of the class and power structure and details of day to day life. But like I said, there is a lot of groundwork laid here that I am intrigued to see built on.

Continue reading Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic (V. E. Schwab)

Book Review: Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie)

Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Orbit / #3 of 3, Imperial Radch

“The point is, there is not point. Choose your own.”

This review remains spoiler-free for all three books, apart from character mentions (so you’ll be aware of a couple of people who are still alive as of Ancillary Mercy).

As with Ancillary Justice, I’m struggling to write a review for Mercy that doesn’t for sound like incoherent gushing because I loved it so much. An example of how much: I picked it up today with the idea of flipping through to find a quote for the beginning of the review, and two hours later realized that I hadn’t moved and was halfway through rereading it. Most of this book is people just talking to each other, politicking and navigating personal relationships, and yet it is completely spellbinding and impossible to put down. Moments of suspense and action are combined with social commentary and a rich array of thematic material about how people (some of them AIs) negotiate sentience, decision-making, personhood, privilege, feelings, self-determination. And did I mention the protagonist being a singing spaceship?!? These books are amazing. Ann Leckie is amazing.

Continue reading Book Review: Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie)

Book Review: Broken Monsters (Lauren Beukes)

Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
HarperCollins – Standalone

“Everyone lives three versions of themselves; a public life, a private life and a secret life.”

Detective Gabi Versado is investigating a series of murders in the city of Detroit, murders that are more gruesome and creative than anything she has seen in her career. She searches for the killer slongside a host of other characters searching for their desires—fame, meaning, love, a fresh start.

Broken Monsters is a tense and creepy combination of supernatural horror and crime thriller, populated with complex, flawed characters and unforgettable murder scenes. The beginning is like the opening to an episode of NBC’s Hannibal*—aka, with a memorable, incredibly disturbing, but artistically rendered murder tableau. Turning death into art, and tapping into the strange fascination and appeal death can have, is a major theme of the book—both with our artistically inclined murderer leaving behind beautiful and horrifying bodies, and through the plotline of journalist Jonno, who hopes to turn images of the dying, recession-hit Detroit into art.

Also, each book I read by Beukes seems to be getting progressively more disturbing. I can’t wait for what’s next!!

Continue reading Book Review: Broken Monsters (Lauren Beukes)

Tough Traveling: Creative Cursing

It’s Thursday, so it’s Tough Traveling with Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn, exploring various fantastical tropes!  Today’s topic: CREATIVE CURSING

New lands, new languages, new things to cuss out.  Nobody in fantayland cusses in quite the same way though; each world has its own way to yell at the world.

Continue reading Tough Traveling: Creative Cursing

exploring women's voices in science fiction and fantasy