Book Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Historical fantasy / Standalone

“I mean that two of any thing is a most uncomfortable number. One may do as he pleases. Six may get along well enough. But two must always struggle for mastery. Two must always watch each other. The eyes of all the world will be on two, uncertain which of them to follow.”

Hundreds of years have passed since the decline of English magic, which is believed to be gone now. Everything changes one day in the early 1800s when the secluded, antisocial Mr. Norrell shocks a group of scholars with a display of magic that catapults him to fame as the only magician in England. When he finds a protégé in the younger and more charming Jonathan Strange, the two form an uneasy friendship and mentorship. But their partnership is threatened by Strange’s interest in faerie magic, more dangerous and volatile than what Norrell purports to practice, and by the dark forces that the return of magic to England has unleashed…

I’m sure everyone has already heard a lot about this much-loved book set during Napoleonic Wars.  I will add my words of praise: this is a really wonderful and unique book. It’s like Jane Austen with dark magic, the characters often trading witty and barbed remarks through a veil of excessive politeness. It’s both laugh out loud funny and desperately creepy, sometimes almost simultaneously. And it’s incredibly quaint, with the occasional bit of old English spelling dropped in, all while being suffused with the darkness and eeriness of the book’s system of magic.

Continue reading Book Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

Tough Traveling: Flying Rides

Today is Thursday, so it’s Tough Traveling at Fantasy Review Barn, exploring the tropes of fantasyland… This week is: FLYING RIDES

Because honestly?  Horses just got boring.  (Thanks to author Anne Leonard for the suggestion).

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Book Review: Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik)

Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
Historical fantasy, #2 of 9 Temeraire

‘“You speak in ignorant disdain of the foremost nation of the world,” Yongxing said, growing angry himself, “like all your country-men, who show no respect for that which is superior, and insult our customs.”
“For which I might consider myself as owing you some apology, sir, if you yourself had not so often insulted myself and my own country, or shown respect for any customs other than your own,” Laurence said.’

This is the second book in Naomi Novik’s fantastical reimagining of the Napoleonic Wars… with dragons! After the events of His Majesty’s Dragon, Temeraire has been revealed to be a Celestial, a Chinese dragon that is supposed to be ridden by only the Emperor and his kin. His Captain Will Laurence being neither of these things, the Chinese have come to take him back. Temeraire, naturally, refuses to be parted from Laurence, and thus the two of them begin the long journey to Temeraire’s homeland.

I have to confess that I felt let down by this book. There were several problems that served to make it less interesting than its humourous, exciting predecessor: Continue reading Book Review: Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik)

Book Review: Vicious (V. E. Schwab)

Review: Vicious by V. E. Schwab
Science fantasy / Standalone

“If he’d had to judge based on the two of them, then ExtraOrdinaries were damaged, to say the least. But these words people threw around–humans, monsters, heroes, villains–to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics.”

The research of college roommates Eli and Victor leads them to believe that the rumours of people with superpowers—the ExtraOrdinaries—might be true, possibly precipitated by near-death experiences. On a disastrous evening, they succeed at replicating the events that lead to someone becoming ExtraOrdinary, but destroy their friendship in the process. After years in prison as a result of their stunts, Victor finally gets out and embarks on a quest for revenge against his one-time friend.

Vicious has had a lot of good press, and I’ve been excited to read it for a long time. It didn’t disappoint. The pacing is excellent, the plot exciting, and the characters imaginative. Schwab balances a sinister atmosphere with the fun and entertainment of a good superhero origin story… and it pulls off a dual timeline structure similar to the one I loved in Ancillary Justice, alternating between when Victor and Eli are college friends and when they are mortal enemies to gradually reveal what went wrong between them.

Superhero stories tend to have good guys and bad guys, or at the least good guys and misunderstood guys. Schwab posits that there are no good guys, not really: the Joseph Brodsky quote that opens Vicious (“Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between Bad and Good, but between Bad and Worse,”) sets the tone for the story. Victor and Eli are not heroes, nor are they tragically misunderstood villains. They are both complicated characters, self-centered and narcissistic, lacking in compassion, and manipulative.

Continue reading Book Review: Vicious (V. E. Schwab)

Tough Traveling: Middle-Aged Heroes

Today is Thursday, so it’s Tough Traveling at Fantasy Review Barn, exploring favourite fantastical tropes. This week is: MIDDLE-AGED HEROES.

This hero stuff is usually a young person’s game.  And, occasionally, a grizzled old veteran can get involved.  It is a true rarity for someone to join the good fight for Fantasyland living in that in between ground.

This was a challenging topic: there are plenty of wise older mentors and brave young heroes, but apparently it really is quite rare to have someone in-between.  Rare, but not impossible:

stange and norrellMr. Norrell (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke)

Strange is on the younger side, but Mr. Norrell is a stodgy, conservative, middle-aged man, comfortable with his station in life and more than a bit overzealous in hoarding information and defending his position as the only practical magician in England… until the appearance of Jonathan Strange gradually changes his view.

broken monstersGabi (Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes)

I am in the middle of reading crime thriller Broken Monsters, and there are a lot of point-of-view characters throughout the book—but one of my favourites, and the one who seems to be the closest thing to a main character, is Detective Gabriella Versado. She is raising a teenage daughter, doesn’t always understand social media and the internet, and is an experienced police officer—the very first scene of the book has her pulling a prank on a young rookie who is having trouble handling a murder scene.

his majesty's dragonLaurence (Temeraire series, Naomi Novik)

The older, more cautious, and very proper Captain Will Laurence ends up paired with the young firebrand of a dragon, Temeraire.

Lady Jessica (Dune, Frank Herbert)

Like I said on my mother’s day post, Jessica of House Atreides is the real hero of the Dune books, having set all of the events in motion with her rebellious streak and determination.  Her son’s rise to power can be attributed almost entirely to her planning and persistence.

The Bagginses (LOTR and The Hobbit, Tolkien)

One major complaint I have about the LOTR movies (which I really love, for the most part) is Frodo’s youthful, naive attitude, as opposed to the more mature and worldly Frodo of the books.  Setting aside Elijah Wood’s wide-eyed, teenage face, Frodo was in fact 50 by the time he set out with the Fellowship of the Ring, by far the oldest of the four hobbits.  And though I can’t remember his age exactly, I’m certain Bilbo was quite comfortably enjoying middle-aged life when Gandalf and the dwarves disrupted him in The Hobbit.

young frodo
Frodo Baggins: Not even close to 50 in the movies

Who did I miss this week? Who are your favourite older heroes?

Tough Traveling: Extreme Climates

Today on Tough Traveling with Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn: EXTREME CLIMATES

Perhaps the hansom prince lives in a castle surrounded by green countryside and sunny days.  The rest of the land is forced to deal with freezing cold, searing heat, and every other extreme climate mother nature can throw at you.

Here (belatedly, again, this week) are four of my favourite extreme climates from SFF.  And the Star Wars universe only accounts for 2 of them, which I think is pretty respectable give how many there are to choose from there.

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Tough Traveling: Otherworldly Creatures

Today… is not Thursday. I am late for Tough Traveling at Fantasy Review Barn this week, but here nonetheless! This week’s topic: OTHERWORLDLY CREATURES

Creatures not of our world or even our plane of existence, perhaps living in another dimension. Preferably, though not required, with tentacles.

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Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn (Rachel Bach)

Review: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Space Opera / #1 of 3, Paradox

“Did I pick safety or ambition? The slow and steady or the gamble? I smiled. Put like that, it wasn’t even a question.”

Mercenary Devi Morris is determined to become part of an elite fighting unit called the Devastators, and as soon as possible.  She takes a position on The Glorious Fool, a spaceship whose infamously high death rates have left it with the reputation of being cursed, after being told that surviving one year on the Fool is worth ten on a normal spacecraft in terms of experience.  But while on board, she begins to discover that The Glorious Fool is not the innocuous trading ship it appears to be, and its captain is harbouring a dangerous secret.

This book is solidly addictive space opera fun. It’s like if Pacific Rim and Firefly had a baby: an adventuring spaceship crew, combat between people in mechanized heavy armour, and a no-nonsense, gun-toting hero.  It’s the latter of these things which really sold me on this book.  Devi is close to how I imagine my version of Mass Effect protagonist Commander Shepard, and since I love playing the Mass Effect games more than most things in life, that is a really good thing.

Continue reading Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn (Rachel Bach)

What I’m Doing Wednesday (July 8, 2015)

Reading

I’ve succumbed and am rereading both The Left Hand of Darkness and Ancillary Justice.  Should give me some time to make headway in my backlog of reviews, hopefully!

Watching

Caught up on Agents of SHIELD, and finally watched the season finale last night.  Holy crap!! I know I said in the Father’s Day Tough Traveling that Cal was a scene stealer but…. holy crap. I can’t even with how fantastic he was in the finale. Amazing.

As I’ve said before, SHIELD is hit or miss for me and there are some things this season that were misses (in general, I have complaints about the handling of Ward, Thirteen, Ward and Thirteen together, Trip, and Simmons).  At first I was skeptical of introducing so many new characters at the beginning, but it turned out that each of them had an important role plot-wise to play in the season, and I fell in love with Bobbi and Hunter in particular.   Fitz coming to terms with his aphasia – and more importantly, the rest of the team coming to terms with it – was a really touching storyline.

And SO MANY badass fight scenes.  It remains one of my favourite things that when SHIELD wants to bring out the big guns, so to speak, it’s the women. Skye, May, and Bobbi remain the only agents to have held their own against an Inhuman in single combat, and it makes me happy inside.

Playing

Episode 3 of Life is Strange, which ended on exactly the kind of cliffhanger that is exactly why I don’t normally play episodic games until all the episodes are out. Damn you for convincing me to change my mind, Life is Strange. I’m never doing it again.

Top Ten Hyped books I’ve never read

I wanted to apologize for the unannounced silence – I went away with some friends, and of course I told myself that obviously I would keep blogging the whole time!  But instead I played board games and went wine tasting and to the beach and completely forgot anything blog-related.  It was, however, a lovely and rejuvenating time.

So I’ll kick things off with this week’s Top Ten Tuesday from the The Broke and the Bookish (sans photos this week, because I’m lazily getting back into the swing of things).

Top Ten Hyped Books I’ve Never Read 

  • The Martian by Andy Weir*
    • So many people whose opinions I really respect have loved this book.  I really should pick it up.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
    • I’m kind of wary of young adult dystopias these days because I’m sort of afraid they’re all going to be too Hunger Games for me, perhaps unfairly.
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
    • I often feel like the only person ever in fantasy/scifi book blogging to not have read it. I’m gonna do it someday guys, I really am.
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
    • Again, I think my slightly bias against YA fiction (and also forbidden love) is behind my not having read this yet. But fairy tale elements and so many good reviews mean I really, really should give it a try.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    • I couldn’t tell you a single thing about this book until someone mentioned it was a crime-thriller the other day. Now I’m reading Wikipedia, which says it is an example of ‘domestic noir’, which actually sounds kind of cool. Maybe I will read it??
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
    • Nahhhhhhhhh.
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling)
    • I have never read anything other than Harry Potter by JKR and I’m really hesitant to do it. HP was such a crucial and cherished part of my childhood and I am too nervous I will be disappointed in anything else she writes to try.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    • I should really want to read this because TIME TRAVEL. But it fell victim to being over-hyped, I think, and I don’t have a strong desire to read it. (But I probably will, someday!)
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
    • I own this book but lent it to my sister, who needed it for a university class (coolest class ever, right??) and have never really gotten around to it since. But I am absolutely going to read it before the Bryan Fullar television series comes out, because I have complete faith that everything he makes is amazing (and also, inevitably canceled #SaveHannibal)
  • A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
    • I have a terrible confession. I am about halfway through the last Wheel of Time book… and I have been for the last couple of years. I think the series went on too long for me and out-hyped itself, and with so many expectations on the final book, everything seemed a little flat to me. But I really, really should finish it someday, because reading 12 out of 13 books is a completionist’s nightmare.

What do you think – anything on this list that should definitely be put on the TBR pile?

*Autocorrect changed ‘Weir’ to ‘Weird’ and I didn’t catch it until several hours after posting this.  It’s fixed now but I thought I’d make a note of it for posterity. I’m very sorry Andy Weir… and autocorrect, you continue to be THE WORST.