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4/5. So, um. I would not recommend this course of action to anyone else in the world, necessarily, but apparently being in the hospital with nothing to do -- except wait and think about chromosomes -- is the signal for my brain to crave dark fiction about twisted people manipulating one another and everyone else's chromosomes. (This is not to say I didn't appreciate the comfort-recs, which are much more relevant right now.) So, yeah. I ate up this book that I'd been trying for years to read with no success. And loved it, because it is brilliant.

It is totally brilliant. I kept wanting to make comparisons to Dune in my head, in terms of scope and sweep of future history-epic, the careful working-out of the history, the careful working-out of the SFian details (in Dune the ecology, in Cyteen the genetics), the tackling of Big Questions (in Dune the limits of prescience, in Cyteen what makes a person). Only Cyteen's Smart People are a a great deal less laughable than Dune's Smart People, and related to this, Ari Emory is about twenty million times a better and more effective villain than any of the Dune villains, even in the first third of Cyteen. Really, Cherryh just does people in general a lot better than Herbert.

It was like Cherryh took all the tropes of genetic-SF what-makes-a-person stories that I'd ever seen and then ran with it. Ran a marathon with it, that is. All four of the main characters — Ari, Justin, Grant, and Florian/Catlin (who count as one character) — explore a different facet of how our genetics and our environment interact, how our interior programming corresponds to who we are.

And (unlike Dune, which never does this) sometimes it gut-punches you. Sometimes it's clearly telegraphed, and sometimes it comes without warning, and sometimes you come up for air to realize that a punch has been sneaking up on you for hundreds of pages. For those of you who have read it, let me just say: Gehenna. My absolute favorite gut-punch is relatively early on, when we learn what happened to Florian/Catlin I. Pow. And then we switch POV to Ari II, and we learn why, and that's its own punch that comes out of nowhere. OW. (And this, of course, foreshadows the last half of the book. Brilliant.)

It is also Cherryh, which meant that I had much the same problems with it that I've had with all the other Cherryh novels I've ever (tried to) read. Sometimes there is a textbook history lesson. I have trouble with those. (In retrospect at least half my problems with my previous attempts at this book were because I got stalled in the prologue textbook lesson. Next time I read a Cherryh I'm totally skipping it.) Or POVs that are needed for a plot point but otherwise are really kind of not useful. (This time, I just skipped those. I should have figured out to do that years ago.) And Cherryh, unlike Bujold, doesn't do climaxes, or really endings in general. It eventually… ends, because she's done telling the story, but there's no single spear-point cathartic moment like there is in, oh, Curse of Chalion.

This is just one of those books where I want to buttonhole strangers in the streets and tell them about it. I don't necessarily want to tell them to read it; it's a pretty dense 700 pages with no clear ending, which is clearly not going to appeal to everyone. I just want to talk about it.
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3+/5 for the series. [personal profile] skygiants totally hooked me on these utterly charming books, beginning with A Bad Spell in Yurt, about Daimbert, a wizard who was not at the top of his class. Not even slightly. He gets a job as the royal wizard of a tiny kingdom, Yurt, and then proceeds to get embroiled in various plots.

These books are basically the antithesis of grimdark. I can think of maybe one human-ish character in all six books who isn't just plugging along trying to do his/her best (if sometimes misguidedly, and occasionally completely misguidedly), and that character isn't completely human. What often saves the day is Daimbert's tendency to bounce around making friends with everybody he meets, as well as a huge dollop of sacrifice and redemption running through the books and popping up at various points. …It will surprise no one that these books hit me straight in the id, and I found myself racing through all six of them at top speed.

They were all (with the exception of the last book) written in the 90's, so, you know, The Fabled East is a Thing starting in book 3, and the books tend to follow a slightly formulaic bent (although the plots themselves are always charming and amusing, with the exception of book 5, whose plot fell apart a little to me). But they're all so good-natured I can't really bring myself to care. I just wanted more Daimbert!

One of the really interesting bits about it is that Brittain just lifts the Catholic Church wholesale into the world, complete with theology, some hierarchy structure (there doesn't appear to be structure past the Bishop level), saints, and so on. I was a little freaked out by this at first, but on second thought I guess it's really not that different from transplanting, say, medieval-era blacksmithing, or animal husbandry, which people do all the time. Why not?

And then there is Daimbert's friendship with Joachim, the palace chaplain in Spell. Wizards and priests, in this world, are traditionally enemies, or at least rather wary of each other. In another book, this would have been the impetus for much angst and suspicion. In Spell, there's a bit of suspicion in the first book, but mostly it's Daimbert bouncing up and down and not taking "Well, actually I suspect you of dastardly deeds" for an answer when he wants to be friends, and continuing to be Super Awesome Friends throughout all the books. Their friendship is by far my absolute favorite thing about these books.

The first one is available for free here. The first five are available in e-book for $5 each; the sixth is available only in paperback.


Jul. 24th, 2013 01:49 pm
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So I was commanded to read some sequels, which were surprisingly not bad!

Dark Triumph (LaFevers), 3+/5, is the Assassin!Nuns! sequel to Grave Mercy, and is much much better than Mercy. The pacing is better, the characterization is better, the narrator (Sybella) is better (hilariously, Ismae, the narrator of Mercy, seen through Sybella's eyes, is a very sweet nice kid, even though she wants to act all tough in Mercy), the ubiquitous romance doesn't drag out quite as much. It's still not the Assassin!Nuns! book I wanted, but perhaps that's my fault for wanting something else; this one is a solid Stephenie-Meyer-esque YA that reminds me more of The Host than Twilight, while the first book was the other way around. Unfortunately, you kind of have to read the first book to read the second, and I am not really sure it's good enough that it's worth slogging through the first book. Maybe if you skim it, or read a plot synopsis. It also bothers me unduly because the style and the characters are so twenty-first century, while they're supposed to be fifteenth-century. I'm not asking for perfect congruence or anything, but rubbing my face in twenty-first century mores and style kind of irks me. It didn't bother me as much in the first book because I could pretend they were in generic fantasyland instead of solidly situated in 15th-C Brittany, but in this book there are enough references to England, France, etc. that it was harder to get away with it.

A Million Suns and Shades of Earth (Revis), 3+/5: I have to give these books credit, as soon as I finished Suns I wanted to go on to Shades. It's probably the best YA dystopia I've read for quite a while; on the other hand, as you know, that's not a huge bar. They are very readable books. The worldbuilding is pretty good for YA dystopia but has various gaping holes, and some of the plot (including the big plot twist near the end) is frankly kind of unbelievable, with characters shuffling hither and yon solely in support of the plot and not because they would actually do that. Shades also has this totally awesome line, spoken by the chief scientist on the mission (!):

"I talked to Frank, the geologist. He says there are minerals in the soil he's never seen before. We're talking about whole new elements to the periodic table!"

(And no, highly unstable radioactive soil is not a plot twist. Though that really would have been awesome.) Oh authors, why not get a science beta? Just one person who has actually taken chemistry in her life? Would it be so very hard?
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3+/5. I really, really liked this book, and at the same time there were parts about it that really bugged me, and these things are actually somewhat closely related.

It's about a family that comes here (is forced to come here) from another reality (the city of Lemabantunk), a reality that doesn't work quite the way this reality does. And so it's about making a new life and letting go and reaching out and one's children growing away from the roots of one's traditions and growing closer to the roots of one's traditions and… And this is a story I feel a special affinity for, because it's what my parents did. And this story I really, really liked. I very much like Palwick's lyrical writing style, I love the strangeness of the culture she imagines.

Embedded in this story is a critique of the US, and a warning not-really-dystopia near-future where current trends become, well, just a little more pronounced than they are now. The near-future extrapolation I also liked, although it doesn't hit my buttons the same way the immigrant story did.

The parts where these stories intersected, I… had issues with, and I think this has to do with the worldbuilding not quite being strong enough to support the critique. Mild spoilers. )

I mostly liked the ending, but I also had a couple of big issues with it.Spoilers for the ending. )

But, you know, I really liked the book despite these issues, and thought it was well worth reading, and it obviously made me think.
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4/5, with the huge caveat that there is a whole lot of nostalgia working in this book's favor, for me. It was one of the first Trek novels I ever read, and the first Ford I ever read, and the copy I have is the original old library copy I first read (which eventually turned up in the library book sale). Ford is, of course, an acquired taste, and one I can't necessarily recommend unless you're a huge fan of piecing together a complex, often-inadequately-signposted plot, lots of allusions (in this one there are at least three SFF book allusions, not to mention all the Trek allusions. Speaking of which, I assume he's talking about Forever War? Should I read that?), and having to reread to catch all the bits one missed the first time, and his insistence on breaking boundaries (his two Trek novels were a) a worldbuilding Klingon novel where the Enterprise crew show up in the prologue, the epilogue, and a cameo by kid!Spock and McCoy's diapers, and b) a musical). This is all, of course, complete catnip for me!

So, anyway. Here we go. As usual for a Ford book, the entire first two-thirds are character and worldbuilding setup for what happens in the last third; the last third is the plot-heavy bit but is heavily dependent on the character and worldbuilding of the first two thirds. Here is where I try to work out what's actually going on; this may be boring if you don't know the story, plus obviously massive spoilers. I think I actually understand most of the plot now, but there are fundamental bits I am still unsure of. )
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Note the first: I apparently always want to add an extra e to Sutcliff's name. Sigh.

Note the second: Oh, hey, by the way, rarewomen happened and ALSO DIDO FIC, including SF Dido!AU!(Here is where I squee about it — if you don't know the Aeneid, it's okay, you need only this post and this to read them — and here’s my reveal post and more nattering on about the Greek Myth SF AU (spoilers!).)

4/5. This book sat on my shelf for a month because I’ve only read Sutcliff’s Roman stuff (uh, two books) and I was kind of side-eyeing her taking on a Celtic subject. Um. Sometimes I’m kind of stupid. This was totally amazing: gorgeous prose and the research I expect from her and allllll my tropes as usual (loyalty, friendship, partnership, hard choices, etc.) and what the heck it’s a retelling of Y Goddodin. (I am thick. I did not realize this until Aneirin showed up.) WHAT. I think the last half of the book I kept on going !!!! Y Goddodin!!!!

I mean, I guess that if one looked at it rationally, one could come up with a lot of things that might be slightly obnoxious. There’s essentially no plot. The plot, such as it is, is, well, the plot of Y Goddodin, which is to say the plot of every Welsh poem ever. (Hint: The Welsh don’t make poetry about their awesome victories and how they totally crushed the other guy, dude. They just don’t. This is not a super-feel-good book.) The prose is sort of partially Welsh-reminiscent and partially Roman-Britain-reminiscent, which might bother someone who was a little more involved with the era than I.

But I don’t look at this book rationally :)
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I feel like I need to add in a percentage: how far I need to get into a book before I’m utterly hooked, which I think is a function of the writing and of how idficcy it is for me. For example, Sutcliffe and Card and Bujold all clock in at under 5%. These books…

Grave Mercy (LaFevers): 3/5, 75%. I actually quite liked this book when I was able to block out what it wanted to be versus what it actually was. What it wants to be is a historical worldbuilding fantasy alternate history of Brittany, something on the order of Kushiel’s Dart or Curse of Chalion, with assassin nuns. What it actually is, is something a little more like Twilight, with assassin nuns, and a little more politics. Which, y’know, is quite entertaining as long as you’re not looking for anything more. But man, I wish that I could have had the book about assassin nuns with Curse of Chalion-style careful worldbuilding.

Cinder (Meyer): 3+/5, 50%. I thought this book was hugely entertaining: Cinderella as a cyborg! In future!China! I mean, come on, really, how could you go wrong with this? It took a while to seriously get into — the storytelling is competent, and so is the cyberpunk!worldbuilding (which by its nature doesn’t have to be as detailed or careful as historical worldbuilding, or at least not in the same ways), but nothing super-special on either front (I’ve started the second book in the series and so far the storytelling seems to have improved), and the love story was frankly kind of unbelievable, but the cheerful outrageousness of the worldbuilding kept me entertained even before I got hooked.

The Silver Branch (Sutcliffe): 3+/5, 5%. I really, really liked this one while I was reading it, and a couple months later I could not tell you what it was about. Still, Sutcliffe is all kinds of awesome. I’m really glad — I’d started worrying that I’d lived past the age where I could be swallowed up in a book (see also the above), but Sutcliffe is consistently proving me wrong.
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So first: I am reading the Aeneid! Slowly, but I am totally doing it. I plan to post on three (or so) of the subbooks (there are twelve) per week, which will make me actually read it. So far, I quite like it, although it's definitely, umm, quite different from Les Miserables.

And now for something completely different... I have never read any Sutcliff, unless you count probably having read one of her Arthurian retellings (but if so, it was so long ago I'm actually not sure!) So [personal profile] sineala posted a review of Frontier Wolf that made me decide I had to read it! (Note: review has massive spoilers which I did not read; I just read the first part, which only has spoilers for Bujold's Memory and Diane Duane's Deep Wizardry, both of which I've already read.) But since it was in transit, I went to the library and got Eagle of the Ninth while I was waiting.

Reading this book was a very odd experience. It was as if someone took basically all my most-loved tropes ever (friendship-partnership, family, gruff relative with heart of gold, honor, sacrifice, setting what you love free, have I mentioned friendship? that instant when you connect with someone and know you're going to be friends) and wrapped it in language that both reminded me of all the books I loved as a child and all the books that have moved me since, and set it in Roman Britain, which also, you know, is one of Those Things in my life due to a misspent youth of reading Arthuriana...

That is to say, I adored this book and found myself getting all emotional every chapter or so and I am not sure I could even tell you why. D walked by near the end, when my face was all screwed up with intense emotion, and he said, "Sad book, eh?" and I said, "No... no... not exactly..."

"Really bad book?"

"No! It's really good! If it were really bad, I'd be laughing..."
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Rot and Ruin (Maberry) - 3+/5 - Well, the best zombie book I've ever read, for sure; and its worldbuilding is head and shoulders above the vast majority of the dystopian YA I am fed. It got a bit preachy at times, and a couple of the plot twists were telegraphed pretty heavily, and Benny is a bit much on the obnoxiousness. But I liked it! And it gets major points for sidestepping a lot of irritating things in the (small number of) other zombie books I've read.

A Severed Wasp (L'Engle, reread) - 4/5 - Another yuletide-reread. The best adult book L'Engle ever wrote, where she works out her thoughts on love and marriage and work, but always in the service of the story. I really, really like this one.

Little Brother (Doctorow) - 3+/5 - Doctorow is rather like Ayn Rand to me, in that I am not entirely sure he had a lot more to say in this book than he had in the last Doctorow I read (which I quite liked, don't get me wrong). The government is evil; don't give up your privacy rights. There, now you don't have to read it. Also I was highly entertained by Doctorow taking great pains (and here he is unlike Rand, who lived in a white world) to include Two Non-White Sidekicks. Who give Moving Speeches About Their POC-ness and then... disappear from the narrative. Clearly I have been hanging around social justice wank for too long...

Elementals (John Antony) - 3/5 - Antony's a quite good writer, and I was tickled to see that this YA dystopia is set in North Carolina, which never happens. I think though that this book was trying to do too much (dystopia AND magic powers! AND young boy who must discover his destiny AND threatening danger! AND love triangle AND family drama!), and as a result I spent most of it a little off-balance.
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4/5 (reread) - This was pre-yuletide reading, in the sense that someone's DYW prompt reminded me I wanted to read this again (it's actually been on my to-reread list for ages). Oh, this book. I think it's C.S. Lewis' best work, if only because from time to time he forgets that he's doing Christian apologetics and immerses himself in the story, and because I suspect it speaks to a deep and dark part of his own soul.

Because what I loved so much about it this time around (and what made me dislike it the first time I read it, as a teenager) is that -- I am Orual. All the pettiness and insecurity and jealousies and -- everything that Orual hates about herself -- Well. I like to think a lot of the edges of these things have been smoothed over by time and age and maturity and things like that. But there is a deep and dark part of me that recognizes Orual in a frighteningly immediate way.

(Also, speaking of yuletide, if you would like yuletide recs, I've posted them here. I am listening to Turandot right now, not a coincidence :) :) )

ETA: And here.
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2/5 to 5/5. So I read maybe half the stories in this book. The half I read, I quite liked. The half I didn't finish, I obviously found super-boring.

And the last story is by Elizabeth Wein. So, I said, you're not going to fool me again! I'm onto your tricks! I'm armed against death-and-destruction, torture, mental head-game torture, and torturous love-hate familial conflict, and any of those things will just make me scoff cynically! And I was prepared.

...The story made me all sniffly anyway. Darn it!
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This was one of the later L'Engles that I read -- I had the hardest time finding it as a child -- and as a result I had built it up in my head as The Book Where Vicky Meets Unicorns. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to find that there are no literal unicorns. This time around, I liked the book quite a bit better because I didn't have those expectations.

It was interesting to reread this. On one hand, L'Engle does the rapidly shifting POV and it sort of gives me whiplash. Did people do a lot more of this in the 80's? Because if I were reading a book like this now for the first time, I'd probably put it down and go away. I guess I've become a limited-3rd sort of person?

On the other hand, [ profile] nolly once pointed out to me how completely awesome the families in L'Engle are, and that was kind of borne out for me, and is triply as interesting to me now that I have a kid of my own. In a relevant point, I think the title is awesome, but I also think that in a lot of ways this is not really a YA book, or at least it wasn't a book I was ready to read as a teenager, when the title completely went over my head and just left me with a lingering sense of betrayal that Vicky didn't meet unicorns.

On the third hand (foot), every time I read L'Engle I am reminded that she just really loved science, especially physics, and really just had no clue about it. Here there's very little explicit science and therefore fewer opportunities to get it wrong, but I was rather amused by the idea of a medical doctor being the World Expert on... lasers.
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If I Lie (Jackson) - 3+/5 - So this book surprised me over and over again -- it very much exceeded my expectations. On first glance, what with the title and all, and the fairly familiar tone of the first-person teen girl narrator, I figured it was your typical high school book. Then it turned out it was a high school book With a Secret. Then I figured out the secret, which didn't take that long. Then I thought I was going to be bored through the whole book as the author ham-handedly built up to the Big Secret Reveal. Then, a couple of pages later, the author... revealed the secret. Almost casually. Then I thought the book would be about how she was triumphantly vindicated. And then it wasn't. It's about how people are complicated. And then I thought it would be about Teen True Love. And it wasn't. It was about how people can love and hurt each other at the same time.

The one thing that Irks me about this book is how one character decides something is "wrong" or "messed up" with another character because he doesn't ask for sex even after they have dated for two whole years. IN HIGH SCHOOL. Um... I've dated three people for more than two years, two of them atheists, and none of them asked me for sex in the first two years. So there. I mean, yeah, I understand that you're maybe trying to deal with one set of messed-up expectations? But doing this by switching to another set of messed-up expectations, uh, no?

Ready Player One (Cline) - 3+/5 - Someone on my reading list said something along the lines of "This is basically an excuse for the author to talk about his obsessions from the 80's," and that's... just about right, in a way that's surprisingly entertaining, but that is probably more entertaining for those of us who lived through the 80's. The writing, even laying aside the nonsensical premise, is curiously full of flaws -- infodumps, telling-not-showing for large chunks of the action, random deus ex machinas showing up from time to time, somewhat cardboard characters, the usual cardboard dystopia-world-building (no worse, I suppose, than your usual dystopia YA), some totally random rants against religion (what?) in the beginning that seem unrelated to the rest of the book -- and yet the enthusiasm for the random 80's video games and so on is so genuine that I often found myself charmed despite myself. For example, the climactic puzzle of the book is kind of... silly; the way it's presented doesn't make any sense -- but it uses a song that was such an integral part of my geeky childhood that although the absurdity of it totally registered with me, I was still smiling with glee that it had appeared at all. So... the rating here is me trying to assign one number to one aspect I'd rate very high and another I'd rate rather low.

The Fault in Our Stars (Green) - 3+/5 - So apparently there was this whole thing where copies were released early and Green was terrified that people would GET SPOILERS OH NOES. Which strikes me as kind of hilarious, because around a third of the way in I refused to read any further UNTIL I got spoilers. Since I was reading a kindle version, I looked online, but if I had been reading a print book I would have flipped right to the end (and the middle). Anyway. I frequently have this problem with Green's books where I feel slightly, I dunno, detached from the characters, and I felt a little this way about this book too, but I found it much more moving than An Abundance of Katherines. I liked it a lot, although I definitely was glad I'd looked up the spoilers.

Incarnate (Meadows) - 3/5. Eh. I suppose it's not the book's fault, not totally, that its central conceit (a fantasy, or possibly a SF-fantasy-feel, that people get reincarnated and remember their past lives -- although how this is physically possible is not entirely clear to me -- and that there is a romance between an 18-year-old and a 5000-year-old. REALLY. Hey, you just hit my squick issue! (It's rather more the book's fault that the 5000-year-old came across as, maybe, a thirty-year-old at oldest.)

Some books

Sep. 26th, 2012 09:08 pm
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...I still do read books sometimes. Really.

The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom (Wein): 3+/5. So obviously these were great books, very readable, and Telemakos is awesome, and AWWWW Telemakos-Athena sibling-partners-in-crime FOREVER is my OTP. Also OH TELEMAKOS, as I figured would happen. ...And what happened at the end? I felt like there was a lot of buildup to... not much at all? Half of it was glaringly obvious from practically the beginning of TEK (what Abreha meant by marking Telemakos), and half of it made no sense and/or was kind of anticlimactic (the whole archipelago subplot, so, it was all for nothing in the end, is that what you're telling me?).

Bad Boy (Myers): 3+/5. The YA author Walter Dean Myers talks about his experience growing up. If you like Myers' other work, you will probably like this too, and if not, probably not. It reads a little disjointedly, with many important parts of his character arc elided or completely absent. However, I'm rounding up instead of down because it did give me a perspective I hadn't had before, and that's worth something to me.

Bathsheba (Smith): 3-/5. Third in a series of the Wives of King David, and the one that was available at my local library. Some of my low rating is personal. For example, I disliked that Abigail died at the beginning of the book, which is obviously personal preference given that my headcanon has taken over my head... but in general I felt that the author shied away from doing anything that would require, oh, engaging with the material and the character interactions. Not recommended, although I understand the author did a lot of research, and you could certainly do worse for what seemed from my quick read like a fairly true-to-the-source-text, if superficial, retelling of what is a cracking good story in the source text.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (): 3+/5. A recommendation from my sister! The writing style and worldbuilding in this one was pretty awesome. It introduced and then sidestepped some of my major squicks, which, points! (However, there was the Love at First Sight thing, which is not a squick of mine, but is something that does turn me off a bit, and I thought the middle was a little slow because of it.) The ending cliffhanger was great. I can see the sequel either going with cliche or not, although given this book I'm hoping for not. We'll see. I'll pick up the sequel and let y'all know ;)
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I first read The Winter Prince yeeears ago because [ profile] sarahtales told me about it, and I loved it, and I crashed hard on Coalition of Lions.* (I blame sarahtales for not warning me!) But I really wanted to reread all the books in this series because Code Name Verity was so awesome, and I'm now going through all five of them. The first three:

The Winter Prince (reread) - 4/5. I had completely forgotten about this book before rereading it except for one detail which does not actually show up in this book at all.* And this book about Medraut (Mordred), King Arthur's son, is totally and completely awesome. Can we say intense?

* I will now do all of you a huge favor and tell you that there are NO SEQUELS to this book and under NO CONDITION should you read A Coalition of Lions right after reading this one. (Although you should read it, and the other books in the series too, because they're really good, just not right after this one.) Yes, it says it is a sequel. It is not. It takes place in an alternate universe that happens to be very similar to but IS NOT THIS ONE. DARN IT. THIS IS MY POSITION AND I'M STICKING TO IT.

A Coalition of Lions - 3+/5. This is not a reread, because the first time I tried, I gave up on it about two chapters through because OH MEDRAUT. Because, as I mentioned, NOT A SEQUEL to Winter Prince. Except, you know, that it has the same characters and backstory and stuff. And Goewin's the POV character, which is totally cool.

Anyway, the second time through I knew the punchline of the first chapter (hint: remember what actually happened in Arthurian myth?) and it allowed me to get through without dropping the book in despair. And it's a really good book! I JUST. OH MEDRAUT.

The Sunbird - 3+/5. This one's from the POV of Telemakos. OH TELEMAKOS. Are you sensing a theme?

Stay tuned for the other two books in the Telemakos series. I have a feeling that there will be more OH TELEMAKOS to come.
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Guys and Dolls (Damon Runyon): 3+/5. Not much to say about this. If you like Guys and Dolls, the musical, and you like O. Henry, you'll like these stories. I very much like all three. I'd counsel against reading them all at once, like I did, because they do get a little wearisome one right after another (much like O. Henry, which I overdosed on in middle school and have not really gone back to since).

After the Apocalypse (Maureen McHugh): 3- to 3+/5. I dunno. I really, really liked the other collection of McHugh that I read, and this one I just... didn't. I don't know whether I was the one to blame or not; I suspect partially I'm to blame, as I think I read this when I wasn't in the mood for depressing. And, wow, these stories are depressing. And also involving characters who just give up, which I am not, I guess, that interested in reading about.
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I wasn't intending to read this until the hardback came out, but then [personal profile] julianyap intervened. So.

So this review really boils down to SQUEE! This was an incredibly indulgent book -- and I don't care, I wanted it to be indulgent, and so (I suspect) did LMB. For this reason, it read a lot like extremely well-written fanfic, with a nice plot, from someone who really likes Ivan! Which I'm all for! (Interestingly, I just requested something almost exactly like this in a fic exchange, which amused me no end while reading it.)

It's most like Civil Campaign in feel -- not so surprisingly, as it's a slightly tongue-in-cheek romance (oh, come on, that's not a spoiler, is there anyone, anyone at all reading this book, that didn't know Ivan was going to get hooked up in this one?), but without either the Barrayan politicking or the Milesian tendency to get himself, um, hoist on his own petard. Because if there's anything that would be out of character for Ivan, it is getting himself hoist on his own petard. It's really kind of refreshing. Though I looooved the politicking of ACC and would have preferred more of that.

It isn't deep. It isn't serious. It isn't even super-plot-heavy (this disappointed D, actually; he was sort of hoping that there would be some sort of super-plot-twist at the end tying it up really nicely, but there wasn't). It doesn't tell us anything about life we didn't already know (as was true with Mirror Dance, Memory in spades, and even Civil Campaign). It's just a rollicking adventure with an old friend who gets some of the happiness we all always hoped he would get.

Some-of-these-are-spoilers, tried to make them mild, involving some of our old friends: )

A couple of things that mildly bothered me: Mild spoilers regarding Tej's identity ) So Tej didn't really ring true to me. I mean, as a character she was great! But as a character given her backstory... not so much.

Another thing: The Koudelkas are the only females in the Vorkosiverse I can think of who actually manage to have friends whom they don't meet through their husbands or father. Not-so-mild spoilers regarding friends/families )

In general things seemed a little, um, simplified? But I still loved it.
cahn: (Default)
3+/5. I... didn't dislike this as much as I was prepared to. Which, um, is better than it sounds? I did like it! It's got a bunch of things going for it -- a not-quite-your-typical-whitewashed-medieval-Europe-vaguely-Spanish-based society. The writing seems good -- less clunky, more polished, than a lot of first books I've been seeing lately. Elisa, the heroine, gets to win through bravery and interesting plotting, which is kind of nice. I also liked that religion is treated as a Thing, even with different sects, though I suppose I've been forever spoiled for in-depth religion world-building by The Curse of Chalion.

And yet... I don't know... a lot of things rubbed me just a little the wrong way, culminating in a feeling of restless annoyance. The big thing, I think, was the narrator Elisa's whininess. Oh, no one likes me. Oh, my sister hates me. Oh, I'm fat. (I'll get to that one in a moment.) I mean -- I'm all for family conflict and insecurities, I enjoy reading it, but I have to have more to work with than "So my sister's mean!" (which is basically all we're told about her, until we're then told that she isn't in fact mean -- I have no idea what their relationship entails, no idea of what lies between them). And I prefer not to get the anvils to the face. Like, in The Perilous Gard, Kate has a whole boatload of insecurity with respect to her sister, but she doesn't say so very much explicitly, and I don't think she ever thinks that Alicia is mean -- the issues come across more in the way the two of them are treated and the way she responds to things, not because she whines about it constantly, like Elisa does.

Okay, so, the fat thing. Elisa is fat, and therefore ugly, I guess, at the start of the book. I don't know, this rubbed me the wrong way too. In general I didn't really understand why she had to whine about it so very much. I mean, she's a Chosen One, she's always known she has to make a dynastic marriage, she is taking classes in lots of things (oh, another thing that annoyed me... apparently she's smart? Smarter than her sister, whom Elisa thinks is the smartest person Ever? But we aren't shown examples of this, or how this might have come to take place, or how this is a natural outgrowth of how she grew up, we're just told so, by fiat, when Elisa does smart things) -- doesn't she, like Kate, have other things to worry about? And then we find that walking miles in the desert handily gets rid of this "problem." I don't even... I mean, I knew about this before I read it, and I was prepared to dislike this more than I did; I appreciated that it was a fairly minor subplot (the main plot is about how Elisa makes interesting plans and is brave and so on), and I did like how it was making a point at the end about how people respond to looks, but I don't really see why it needed to be as big a part of her personality as it was, and that irked me.

I really, really wish that the ending had been different. Fairly major spoilers: )
cahn: (Default)

...ahem. Let me calm down a bit and issue my standard disclaimer, which is that I would probably read a laundry list if SRB wrote it, because she would contrive to make it hilarious. So. Keep that in mind. But still, this book is awesome, a little perfect gem of vampire satire meta that nevertheless is its own thought-out world and its own book. The first chapter ends,

"A vampire who wants to go to high school?" I said. "That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

Which turns out to be both a commentary on you-know-what and an important statement in the book in its own right. SO good.

I was wondering how the collaboration thing would work out, and the answer as far as I'm concerned is really well -- I haven't read any JL, but I'm going to have to now. I can see some of SRB's exuberance, and quite a lot of her meta, in the writing, but the sometimes over-distinctive style that occasionally got distracting in the Demon trilogy is smoothed over a little here, which makes the whole thing flow quite well.

I very much appreciated that some care was taken to think through how the vampires and humans would co-exist. YAY. I love the vampires, by the way, especially Camille. LOVE HER. I also have a sneaking fondness for Francis. I think it's awesome how the authors managed to paint them as Other and yet human in so many ways.

(Okay, now I feel like after all that squee I have to think of something non-squee-like to say about it, so: It's too short! No, really, that's my chief complaint, and not just because I wanted more. The plot is fairly straightforward -- I didn't twig to it, but probably only because I was too busy squeeing over all the WIN of the book-as-meta (which was intentional, I think; go team JL-and-SRB); the characters of Anna and Ty are just not fleshed out enough to make them worth my time, especially Ty, who appears to be The Character Who Is Diverse and Sometimes Snarky and who isn't fleshed out much more than that. I mean, points for that, and major MAJOR points for having the narrator be American-born Chinese, which is awesome, but I think I would have preferred either much less Ty or much more. I also never was completely sure about how emotions worked in vampires, although I think I see what they were getting at. And there are all kinds of hooks about family and friendship that I know they had more to say about, but couldn't within the confines of this particular book.

That being said, I don't want a sequel -- this book was wrapped up nicely. However, I would totally read anything these authors ever collaborated on again.)

The thing I possibly love most about this book is that, like all the best books, it isn't really about vampires (or, you know, wizards, or thieves, or crazy short admirals, or whatever). It's not even about romance, even though romances occupy a key part of the book. (I LOVE that it's not about romance, by the way. Whyyyyy must all, or most, YA be about romance?) It's not even, in the end, about satire. It's about friendship, and the choices we make, and about when we hate the choices our friends make, and about when we and our friends grow up to be different people, and what friendship still means when that happens.
cahn: (Default)
3/5. And this is a pity 3. So remember how I was talking about how really good writers try new things? Card used to do this, but now he has become ... the antithesis of this; apparently he now has nothing better to do than to write increasingly irrelevant (and what's worse, boring) fanfic about minor characters from a spinoff of his most popular work. It's frankly quite surprising to me that the same man who wrote the brilliantly disturbing Ender's Game and the incredibly moving, thoughtful, and subtle Folk of the Fringe, not to mention the layered Memory of Earth series, is putting out this kind of shallow garbage.

I mean, I was expecting the terrible dialogue where all the characters come across as OSC clones. That's par for the course. (Although even there, you don't find this kind of dialogue in Fringe.) But this tale of Bean in space with his genius mutant kids fails not only on a tired-tropes-are-we-still-talking-about-this-why level but also on a basic writing level, which is really surprising to me because I've always relied on him to at least get that right. Mild spoilers, but really, do you care? Mostly cut for rantiness: in which I make fun of various things, solve the characters' problem for them, and am angry at retconning. ) So, I mean, I think this was a book he needed to write, and that maybe he didn't think he had time to really do it justice, and I get that. I understand that things come to writers and they have to put them down. But I do not think this is a book you necessarily have to read, unless like me you are an OSC addict.

And even then, I swear to you, if he writes a book about Bean's grandchildren, I am not going to read it. Even I have my limits.


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