the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Marie Brennan’ Category

I recently reviewed   Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents and concluded the review with this non-spoiler:

“Brennan has revealed that this series will be five books long, and that the first four books lead up to some Really Big Important Discovery. I’m sure it’ll be wonderful, whatever it is. But in a way, I couldn’t care less about the big dragon discovery. I’ve already gotten what to me is the most important discovery – that thanks to Isabella, Lady Trent, I’ve discovered I’m not alone”

and promised to explain it later. Well, now it’s later.

so lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much, I’ll sum up:

When I read A Natural History of Dragons, I felt like I was looking in a mirror.  Isabella did what she wanted, and followed her ambitions, and screw it if she was the only woman in the room.  I never cared about being the only girl in the class, or on the team, or in the meeting, or in the department, and she didn’t care either. Isabella was completely aware of society’s expectations, and she noticed people noticing her. She simply never let it affect her ambitions.

 

In The Tropic of Serpents, she’s a little older, a little wiser. And by a little older, I mean she’s still in her early 20s. The big change in her life is that she has a child. She still wants to follow her ambitions. She doesn’t understand why people expect her dreams to be put on hold because a perfect little boy entered her life. She’s rightfully insulted when people question her life choices when they would not question it if it was a man making that same choice:

“Little Jacob was not left orphaned, as so many had direly predicted.

Did I have the right to undertake such a risk? I can only give the same answer i gave then: that I have, and had, as much right as any widower in the same situation. Few question the widower’s decision, but everyone questions the widow’s”.

This series takes place in a pre-industrial Europe-esque fantasy world. I don’t live in a fantasy world,  I’m in my 30s, and I don’t have any kids.

And yet I have experienced exactly that same scene.

Time for more about my non-bloggery life than you ever wanted to know. grab a seat, because this rambles.

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tropic of serpentsThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

published March 4, 2014

where I got: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Tor!)

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This is the second book in Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series. As such, there may be some plot spoilers for the first book in the series, A Natural History of Dragons, which I reviewed here.   This is a case where you shouldn’t worry about plot spoilers, because while the plot of the first book is engaging and compelling, it’s nothing compared to the glorious characterization and detailed worldbuilding.

In her first adventure, I imagine the younger Isabella thought she was being so adventurous, so very daring, so avante-garde (see how I talk about her like sh’’s a real person?). She had no idea how safe she was playing it. She was traveling with her husband on an expedition where everyone assumed she was the dutiful wife who simply had a hobby of drawing. Their assumptions were quickly proven patently false, but it was those exactly assumptions that protected Isabella from the cruelties of her peers.

It’s been three years since Isabella Camherst’s trip to Vystrana. Not yet Lady Trent, she is but a widow with a young son. With few friends, yet class and money on her side, she’s able to continue funding research into the preservation of dragonbone. In this pre-industrial world, there is some sly foreshadowing that preserved dragonbone would make the ultimate material for aeroplanes and other flying machines. With her patron’s granddaughter Natalie at her side, Isabella is nearly as happy as can be.

But she’d be much happier if she could study dragons up close. For the most part, the dragons won’t come to her, so she’s got to go to them. With Lord Hilford’s blessing and funding, a new expedition to the tropical jungles of Eriga is planned. It’s so helpful that there’s a Scirling fort at the bay, so Isabella and her fellows will have at least some compatriots to speak their own language with. But this is far more military force that could possibly be needed to protect some trade goods. Brennan not so subtly  embroils Isabella in the politics of the Scirling colonial intrusion into Eriga. She thinks that her Naturalist and Scholar status insulates her from the politics.

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time. If you’ve been paying attention, nothing on this list will be a surprise to you.  If you happened to stumble by because you like “year end” lists,  these are my top ten speculative fiction books I read this year.  Looking for a good read? go find one of these.

Some of them are old.

Some of them are new.

Some of them were borrowed.

None of them are blue.

;)

I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  In no particular order:

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (1999) – the second in The Company series, this novel is told from Joseph’s point of view (and yes, Mendoza is still really, really pissed off at him). Joseph gets to do one of his favorite things – pretend to be a God. But this time, he’s got to get even the skeptics to believe his act.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (2013) – No surprise this one made it to my best of the year list, as this is one of my favorite fantasy series.  It’s true, I ranted a little about a character who really annoyed me, but holy shit, that ending??  holy shit!  Also, I do just happen to have a Cinnamon colored dress/jacket combo and a four cornered grey hat in the making.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013 )- Secret societies, multiple personalities, sublime prose, metaphysics, unexpected romance, characters that rip each other to shreds.  What more could you possibly want? I got meddled with, my switches got hit, and I never wanted it to end.  Just go read it already. Everything about this book was spot-on perfection for me.

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990) – only the best Culture novel of the best space opera series in existence.  Not the easiest book in the world to read, but the subtlety, and the reveal at the end, and oh god I knew something was so horribly wrong as soon as he said he was going to cut his hair. . .

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Clockwork Phoenix 4, Edited by Mike Allen

Available July 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the editor (thanks Mike!!)

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What kind of stories will you find in Clockwork Phoenix 4? Only those are that are magical, imaginative, heartwrenching, just plain bizarre, forward-looking, backward-looking, biological, romantic, hopeful, darkly funny and openly frightening. All the words that describe the best speculative fiction you’ve ever read apply. In fact, if this isn’t the epitome of speculative fiction, I don’t know what is.

Mike recently did an interview with me over at BSBB, and I asked him about the job of an editor. Among other things, he described it as being similar to being the director of a play. Did you recently see a play or a movie that was more than the sum of its parts? How about a musical that was only 2 hours long, but seemed to have weeks of song in it? That’s what Clockwork Phoenix feels like, like time has been frozen, allowing Allen to cram far more beautiful strange things than the laws of physics should permit in less than 300 pages. Allen is a dude who really, really knows how to direct.

I used to always read anthologies in the order the stories were presented. I started liking anthologies much better after I decided I’d read the stories in any damn order I wanted (usually starting with the shortest). I know Mike Allen put these stories in this particular order, for a particular reason, and by reading them out of order it’s like I’m going through his carefully curated museum backwards. To be even more contrary, the order I’ve reviewed a handful of stories in isn’t the order they were presented in either.

I’ve not read much from most of the authors in this collection, so I greatly appreciated the “Pinions” section in the back, where each other offers a short bio, and more importantly a little snippet about how their story came to be. It was very nice to read that Corrine Duyvis is an arachnophobe.

Here are my thoughts on a handful of selected entries. This is just the smallest taste of what awaits you within these pages. Where available, click on the author’s name to visit their website.

The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – The Old Woman has hired someone to transcribe her story, but since he keeps getting things wrong she interrupts and tells him what he aught to be writing down. Their interaction is hilarious, but her story starts out sadly. The Old Woman is very lonely, and wants a family. She goes into the city to find orphans who might want to be adopted, and instead finds another population that is in more dire need of being wanted. It’s a little jarring how the story goes from a fantasy-feel to a matter-of-fact feel, but in the end it all works out.

Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – what happens when two story cliches meet each other? Beach Bum is the mysterious guy the female protagonist always meets in the story, maybe to fall in love with, maybe to learn something from, maybe to be hurt by, maybe just to watch. Drowned Girl is the dead girl the investigator always finds, the mystery to be solved, the child to be saved. And who knows? Maybe Beach Bum and Drowned Girl can help each other out and learn from each other. It couldn’t hurt to chat with another cliché, could it?

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SAM_2597A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan

published Feb 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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In early 2012 I found my favorite book of 2012. I figured it was a fluke, as how can you read something and know nothing else could compare? it’s only March of 2013, and yet again, I can tell you without a doubt, Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons is one of my top reads of this year.

Not into fantasy? Don’t think a book with a dragon on the cover is for you? I don’t care. Read this book.  Like its main character, it transcends expectations.

Marie  Brennan has written a book I’ve been waiting a very long time to read.  All this talk about strong female main characters? Women who fight for what they want, who are strong yet impulsive, intelligent, vocal, protective towards their loved ones? Brennan gave me all of that and took it one step further. She gave Isabella Camherst the most important personality trait of all: she made Isabella completely realistic.

How to describe Isabella? A naive and sometimes thoughtless (not out of malice, simply out of ignorance and impulsiveness) woman who sees nothing odd about being only woman in the room,  and who can’t possibly understand the unintended consequences of not caring about societies expectations for her gender.  forgive the presumptuousness, but it’s as if Brennan spied on me when I was nineteen years old and wrote a book about my imaginary alter ego.  Dragons were never my forte, but I do recall many a college course where I was the only female, being secretly jealous of other women my age who made looking and acting feminine so easy, while at the same time knowing their lifestyle wasn’t for me.  I feel like this book was written just for me.  Like Isabella, I often felt confused and trapped by societies expectations.

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Ok, one new book, and everything else is older, but it’s all new-new stuff for. And so very pretty!

prettiest first:

I know they say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, but I have been drooling over this book since I first saw the cover art a few months ago. I’ve read a few Marie Brennan short stories and enjoyed them, and I don’t even know even know what this one is about, I just knew I had to have it. Teh blurb, in case you are interested:

A Natural History of Dragons -

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light ofmodern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiousity, of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Wowza!!  When do I get to reward myself with reading this??  I’ll make you a deal: after I review Iain Bank’s Use of Weapons, and finish Athyra by Steven Brust, Seeds of Earth by Michael Cobley, and King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, I’ll reward myself with this  beautiful book!

ok, on to some other new-to-me goodies:

Husband got me addicted to Fritz Leiber a few months ago, and we’d picked up the first book and the last book in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, so it was nice to find all the middle ones in the same printing.  You don’t need to read these in any particular order (book “one” was actually written last), but there is a sort-of chronological order to the lives of the characters.

and speaking of “you don’t need to read them in chronological order because they weren’t written that way”, I’m slowly filling the gaps in my Steven Brust collection. The problem is that I forget what I’ve purchased, so sometimes I end up with duplicates.  I can tell in the first couple pages of a book if I”ve read it before, and at the store I was pretty sure I was missing Athyra, so I grabbed it. I started reading it last night, this one was a good choice, as I”ve read the one that comes right after like 3 times, so it’ll be nice to see how that situation came about.

The Swords Against Tomorrow collection is a little volume of sword and sorcery and sword and planet tales, including a yes, you guessed it, a Fritz Leiber Lankhmar tale, yay!

I couldn’t resist the Rising Stars novel by Arthur Byron Cover. You probably recognize the name J. Michael Straczynski from Babylon 5, but he also wrote a wonder trilogy of graphic novels called Rising Stars. A little like X-Men, but no exactly. I hope I can find more novels in this series, as I LOVED the graphic novels!

For the most part, all this new stuff is rather slim, which means I can cram it into the remaining nooks and crannies in my bookshelves.

Clockwork Phoenix (anthology) Volume 3, edited by Mike Allen

published in 2010

where I got it: gift from a friend (and she got it autographed for me!!)

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This is Mike Allen’s third volume of beautiful and strange short fiction. In previous volumes, he showcased new works by authors such as Mary Robinette Kowal, Saladin Ahmed, Catherynne M. Valente,  and Tanith Lee. And volume three continues in this vein, offering an intriguing collection of short fiction by well known authors such as John C. Wright, Cat Rambo, Gemma Files and Marie Brennan, along with works by lesser known folks that I am thrilled to have gotten to know a little better.  The theme to these anthologies is “tales of beauty and strangeness”, and Allen has certainly chosen works that match that description.  Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, we can look forward to a fourth volume of beauty and strangeness, the surreal and the fantastic.

Anthologies tend to run hot and cold for me. It’s like buying an album (did I just date myself?). You buy the album for one song, and hope the rest of it doesn’t suck. I’m the same way with anthologies. Out of the fifteen  short stories, maybe 3 of them were just okay for me. And the rest? The rest were pure winners.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on a handful of my favorite short stories in the collection:

Murder in Metachronopolis, by John C. Wright – one of the longer works, and purposely presented in an unusual way. Jake Frontino has been brought to the city outside of time, Metachronopolis, the city of the Masters of Time, to work for them as a Private Investigator. They’ve sent him through time on missions to stop terrible things before they happen – to kill the mothers of dictators, to foil marriages and stop meetings from taking place. The Masters of Time supposedly have no enemies, but Jake has met those enemies, been party to their plans for a coup. The story is written in numbered portions, so the reader immediately knows we are not getting the story in chronological order, we are not getting “the truth” in the right order. And you know what I did the moment I finished this story? I read it again, flipping the pages back and forth so that with the help of the section numbers I could read it in chronological order, in the order that things happened to Jake. And it was a completely different story. I love it when that happens, when I can experience the same story in a completely new light.
The Gospel of Nachash by Marie Brennan – This is a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden. I’m a sucker for any kind of old testament mythology, so this tale was right up my alley. Among its other twists, is the story of the Expulsion is told from the serpent’s point of view.  The serpent, Nachash, was also a creation of God, was also in the garden for a specific reason. Nachash and God’s Daughter watch Adam and Chava’s lives after the garden, and they witness the birth of Chava’s two sons. How will this tiny mortal family populate the earth, with no other women? God’s Daughter has a plan, and Nachash is at the center of it. But that’s not the twist, oh no, Brennan’s got an ever better trick up her sleeve.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.