the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘magic

california bonesCalifornia Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

Published 2014

where I got it: borrowed ARC from My Bookish Ways

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Writing a magic system readers will resonate with is a tricky thing. Some readers like them to work like, well, magic, with hands twirling or fingers snapping, other readers need something a little more meaty. I’m a meaty girl, and I go crazy for a magic system that’s complicated, expensive*, and intimately connected to the physical body of the magician. I want there to be some chemistry, some science to the whole thing. For lack of a better term, I want the magic to feel plausible.  That said, it took less than one chapter for me to completely buy into and fall in love with the magic system in Greg Van Eekhout’s California Bones.

 

*And by expensive, I don’t mean money. I mean if you screw it up, you’re probably going to die. So don’t screw it up.

 

This is a magic system that is based on ingesting the bones, tissues, and fossils of the thing whose properties you want to use.  And where else to find the fossils of ancient magical creatures, like mammoths, griffins, mastodons, eocorns, krakens and basilisks but southern California’s La Brea Tar Pits? Ingest the ancient residues of these creatures, and take into yourself the powers of long life, fire, invisibility and other powers.

 

This is the magic of ancient bones. This is osteomancy.  And excuse my language, but it is fucking brilliant.

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the-kingdom-of-gods-by-nk-jemisinThe Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin (Inheritance trilogy, book 3)

published in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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This is the third book in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.  It’s straight up fantasy, but it’s the kind of fantasy that’s tough to categorize, which means it’s the kind of fantasy I really like.  You can’t go into this novel blind, you really do need to read the first two books in the series.  Each book in the series is told from a different characters point of view. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is Yeine’s story, her journey from mortal heir to goddess. The Broken Kingdoms is Oree’s story, a blind artist who becomes the mother of a demon.  This final book is Sieh’s story, that of a godling who refused to grow up.

 

And why should he “grow up”? Sieh is the godling of childhood, after all. He’s the godling of tricks and white lies, spying, and coming home to loving parents. Above all, Sieh craves loves from his parents. He’ll never admit it, but he’s also the godling of not understanding the consequences of his actions. Not unlike your average ten year old.

 

The gods have been free of the enslavement of the Arameri family for generations, yet Sieh still finds himself drawn to their palace. This is where he grew up, where hidden caches of toys are mingled with horrible memories. These days, the palace is nearly empty. Sieh meets two young mortal siblings, Shahar and Dekarta, who are lost in the underpalace. He helps them, and befriends them.  The kids of course, want to be “friends forever”, like all eight year olds promise to their friends, but to Sieh, this smells of the enslavement of old. “Friends forever” means something different when you are Sieh. But he can’t blame these kids for the sins of their ancestors. What they want from him is completely innocent, right?   They seal their agreement with blood, and in a flash, the world ends.

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clarkesworld4Folks, this is it. With this post I’ve let you know about all the original fiction Clarkesworld published during their fourth year. They just celebrated seven years, by the way. Pretty awesome, right?

just joining us? catch up with parts one, two, three, four and five.

This “go through their entire year” project was fun. You interested in me doing something like this again? I only did one year out of seven, but I feel like a bit of a completest anyway.

These final stories involve memory theft, magic candies, murderous whirlwinds, a vengeful astronaut, and a tragic military science fiction story. Let’s dive in!

Between Two Dragons, by Yoon Ha Lee – The nation of Cho has tried to stay neutral. On one side is the war like Yamat rattles it’s sabers, and makes plans to invade Feng-Huang, located on the far side of Cho. Avoiding violence from one side all but forces them to betray the other neighbor. And the famous Admiral Yen Shemar will remember none of it. Knowing the fate that awaits him after the war, he opts to face it on his own terms, and pays a visit to a woman who can erase his memories and in the process change his personality. This was the part of the story that struck me the hardest. The person being “re-written” doesn’t remember the procedure, doesn’t understand why their mother or child or sister looks at them funny afterwards because they no longer love their favorite foods, or claim to have never seen the film or read the book or poet that they used to always quote from. Your loved one becomes a stranger. At work recently, I overhear two people comparing their closed head injury recoveries. What they both agreed on was that the injury changed their personality. they could remember who they were before, but their personality changed afterwards. Is being “rewritten” a little like that, except you can’t remember who you were before? It was uncanny, to overhear that conversation shortly after reading this story. Between Two Dragons is a military science fiction story, but it doesn’t read like you’d expect a military scifi story to read.  It reads like a list of fears, of regrets. It’s not told in chronological order either, as if the characters are writing down fleeting memories before they can be forcefully taken.

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Codex Born, by Jim Hines (Magic ex Libris #2)

published in 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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Picking up shortly after the end of Libriomancer (review here), Isaac Vainio is back up at the Copper River library. As time allows,he’s been working with Jeneta, a poetry loving teenager who has learned to pull poetic metaphors out of e-readers, and together, they are trying to figure out why her kind of Libriomancy even works. Lena’s oak tree stands tall in Isaac’s backyard, and he’s working hard to get used to the fact that his girlfriend has another girlfriend (it’s complicated).  When you are a libriomancer doing research for the Porters, there’s no such thing as a normal summer.

Did you get a kick out of Libriomancer? Codex Born is better.

The plot gets started very quickly, when dead wendigos are found, the local werewolf clan can’t agree on who has jurisdiction,  and strange metal bugs are attacking Lena’s tree. The marks left on her tree match the marks left on the wendigo corpses, and there’s only one person who could have made these metal creatures: Victor Harrison. IT Guy for The Porters, tinkerer extraordinaire, also dead. With the help of a very creepy vampire, Isaac, Lena, and a few other Libriomancers put on the case learn that Victor’s father, August, has used his late son’s inventions to hack into the Porter’s databases and awoken an old and nearly forgotten type of Libriomancy. Not even Gutenberg’s soul-powered automatons have a chance in this fight.

sounds pretty awesome, right?

What if I told you the kick ass plot is the least kick-ass part of this book?

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Black Fire smallThe Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen

published June 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the author

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On a filthy and horrifying Riverboat, young Erzelle has learned to stay hidden. So long as she plays her harp during dinner and stays small, there’s a chance she might stay alive.  Every night the guests arrive, and every night a mutated ghoul from the holds below becomes dinner. Erzelle will never forget her first night on the Riverboat, when it was her parents on that silver platter, their heads still alive.

One evening, a beautiful human woman is a dinner guest. Erzelle fears the woman will become dinner, but instead she joines Erzelle on stage to accompany her with a magical pipe that glows with runes. By dawn, the guests have been run off or slaughtered, Erzelle has been freed from bondage, and the beautiful woman, Olyssa, has realized her lost sister is nowhere to be found on the Riverboat.

Thus begins Mike Allen’s debut novel, The Black Fire Concerto. Exploding with magic, music, and violence, this short novel has the magical feel of an old school suspenseful fantasy adventure as filtered through the eyes of H.R. Giger.

Olyssa takes the orphaned Erzelle under her wing, and the two travel the wasted Earth searching for Olyssa’s sister. Along the way, she teaches Erzelle a concerto for harp and pipe and the child unwittingly becomes the sorcereress’s apprentice. Erzelle came to the Riverboat as a small child, she knows very little of the outside world, and all she saw on board were ghouls and horrors.  She and Olyssa escape a Temple of Grey Ones, befriend the vulpine Reneer, and through visions of an Antlered Man, Erzelle becomes dangerously involved in Olyssa’s family heritage.

Where did the Grey Ones come from? What’s their connection with the Vulpine community nearby? Who is the antlered man who Erzelle keeping seeing in her minds eye? She can’t possibly understand what he’s asking of her. The gift he gives her will save her life as it slowly kills her.

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War for the OaksWar for the Oaks, by Emma Bull

published in 1987

where I got it: library

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I wish I’d read War For The Oaks years ago. I wish this had been the book that had introduced me to Urban Fantasy. People, this is what Urban Fantasy can be. This is what it should be. Lyrical and funny, shadowy and mysterious, War For The Oaks grabbed me on page one and never let go. I kept trying to read bits and pieces of it out-loud to my other half, who kept telling me to quit that, because he wanted to read it next.

The novel opens with last show of Eddi McCandry’s band. Her boyfriend Stuart is a mess, the band isn’t playing what the bar patrons want to hear, a both a band break-up and a romantic one follow in quick succession. Good thing on both fronts, or Eddi would never get the chance to start an even better band with her best friend Carla.

When a Phouka shows up in her life and announces he is her new bodyguard against the Unseelie, Eddi tells him to get lost and threatens to call the cops. She might be recently unemployed, but she’s not crazy. It’s funny, because we’ve all read urban fantasies, we’d all know a pooka or a Sidhe when we see one (or at least like to think we would), but Eddi doesn’t. She’s never read an urban fantasy novel before, and she doesn’t know how these stories go.

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Epic: Legends of Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams

published November 2012

where I got it: Received ARC from the publisher

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Epic Fantasy requires the story to be bigger, the dragons be faster, the warriors be stronger, and everything generally be more. And Epic: Legends of Fantasy offers up just that – more mythos,  higher stakes, more of simply everything.

Many of the entries are part of the author’s larger work, taking place in an epic fantasy world that the author has already written hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages about. Randomly, the stories I read first happened to be part of larger works, and at first, the lack of stand alone works bothered me, but I quickly came to appreciate it, and to learn the collection had plenty of stand alone stories as well. An anthology like this is a brilliant method of introducing readers to these larger fantasy worlds created by famous authors such as Robin Hobb, George R R Martin, Michael Moorcock, Melanie Rawn, Tad Williams, and many others, and serves as an excellent introduction to the writings of newer authors  as well.

Some works were fairly new, but others were older than I am. the Moorcock for example was originally written in 1961. A pure classic sword and sorcery, complete with sexualized and helpless female, it might be offensive to today’s readers, but I’m happy Adams included it, as what’s the point of talking about Epic Fantasy if we’re not going to touch on the journey the genre has taken?

Clocking in at over 600 pages, Epic: Legends of Fantasy is itself a bit of a doorstopper.  We eat clunksters like this for breakfast, so I was surprised at how long it took me to plow through it. ahh, but spending 600+ pages in one fantasy world is one thing. Try spending that quantity of pages in over a dozen fantasy worlds. More often than not, my brain needed a little break in between.   This isn’t the kind of anthology to gorge on, this is the kind you savor, over many winter evenings.

Here’s my thoughts a handful of the entries:

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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.