the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘urban fantasy

2014 has been a pretty good year for me.  Personally, I’m damn impressed with how many of these books were actually published in 2014. As a bonus, there’s even a few novellas and short stories in here. In no particular order, here are my favorite reads of 2014!

Favorite Novels:

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City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (2014) – that this book is on my list should surprise no one. And if you haven’t read it yet, seriously, get with the program. This is one of those amazing books that defies genre categorization, it just *is*.  To give you a big picture without spoiling anything, it’s about watching your worldview dissolve before your eyes, and understanding that games can be played with many sets of rules. Also? it’s simply fucking amazing.

gemsigns

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (2014) – This is probably the most important book I read in 2014. Remember when Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother took high school government classes by storm? I wish the same for this book.  Gemsigns touches on enforced marginalization, building (and breaking down) cultures of racism and classism and fear, and religiously and politically promoted hatred, and handles it in a blunt and emotional way. Also? fucking awesome. And for what it’s worth, I cried at the end.

vandermeer annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer  (2014) –  I’ve been a Vandermeer fan for a long, long time (yet somehow I can still eat mushrooms). Annihilation was strange, surreal, and seemed to be magnetically attuned to me. The words in the tunnel rang for me like a tuning fork. And there was just something about characters who don’t have names. I am a jerk, however, because I own but haven’t yet read the third book in the series.

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alis-franklin-1Remember Neil Gaiman’s American Gods?  Give it a different kind of edge and then smash it up with a very contemporary urban fantasy that takes place in a IT department, and you’re on the right track for the premise of Alis Franklin’s debut novel Liesmith.  I’ve a weakness for mythology retellings/mythology in the modern world,  so she had me at “Norse”.  click here to read an excerpt of Liesmith, and when you’re back, I’ve got a guest post below from Alis on how she fell in love with Norse mythology, and specifically, Sigyn.

You can learn more about Alis Franklin at her website, and follow her on twitter where she is @lokabrenna.

 

Wicked Loki and Loyal Sigyn, Terrible and Victorious

by Alis Franklin

 

Ever since I was a kid, curled up behind a well-thumbed copy of the Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend one of the old Viking gods always fascinated me more than the others.

It wasn’t Thor, god of thunder, or Odin, god of wisdom. It wasn’t Hel, goddess of death, or Frigg, the prophetess who spoke no secrets. It wasn’t even Loki, thief and trickster, and my second favorite god, as far as these things went.

Instead, it was Sigyn.

Who? you might ask. I wouldn’t blame you.

Here’s the funny thing about Norse mythology; the Vikings didn’t write it down. They weren’t a particularly literate society so, bar a few inscriptions on rocks and swords, we really don’t know much about what they thought of their own culture. Instead, most of what we know about them—in particular their myths and legends—was recorded several hundred years after the official end of the Viking era.

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I do not think it is possible to cram any more cool bookish stuff into one day.  This past Saturday, I started my day at BookBug bookstore, for my friend Andy’s Type-In. Andy collects manual typewriters, at last count he has over twenty.  A Type-In is where a bunch of type writer aficionados bring their babies somewhere and show ‘em off. And then there’s me, walking around typing up postcards and asking “how do I do an exclamation point? I made a mistake! how do I backspace?”   I was a <sarcasm>genius</sarcasm> I forgot my really cool postcards at home. Luckily, Andy brought some, and his had cool Type-In logos and bookstore images on them!  I better tell my parents to watch their mail box.

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A couple of hours later, I drove five minutes down the road to Kazoo Books for the Jim C. Hines and Tobias Buckell book signing!  I wish I’d gotten a photo of the table covered in Toby and Jim’s books, it was a beautiful display (and pretty empty a few hours later).

2014-09-13 14.54.54

 

Jim and Toby have known each other since the beginning of their careers, it was wonderful to just listen to them talk about the challenges and pressures they faced as their careers took off, different types of projects they’ve worked on and are working on, adventures in bookstore signings,  how “being an author as a single guy” is pretty different from “being an author as a Dad”, among other things. There was lots of laughing and fist bumping happening.   It was a wonderful afternoon. Toby signed my copy of Hurricane Fever, and since I already have signed copies of Jim’s  books, I had him sign a paperback of Libriomancer for me to use as as a give away! He even put a sooper seekrit message in it!

Woohoo, Give Away!

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Scale-Bright - Benjanun SriduangkaewScale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

published August 2014

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

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Niall Alexander’s recently reviewed Scale-Bright on Tor, and  he suggested reading the accompanying and related short stories first. Benjanun Sriduangkaew recommends reading Scale-Bright first.  I followed both of their advices.  I read the short stories first, but I’ll review the novella first. Check back next week for a review of the short stories that are published along side and birthed Scale-Bright, because they are glorious all on their own, in a completely different way. Let me give you a little teaser right off the bat: if you like Catherynne Valente, you’re gonna love Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

 

Those familiar with Chinese mythology will recognize characters and words, will smile out of the corner of their mouths because they know what’s coming. Woefully ignorant (yet less so, now) of Chinese mythology, all these characters and words were new to me. Wikipedia answered my most basic questions about Houyi and Chang’e, but the words I didn’t know, words like banbuduo, mowhab and daihap, had to be figured out contextually. Those were the words that tasted the best.  For those readers who would prefer some background before diving in, Sriduangkaew wrote a great guest post over at SFSignal that is a cheat-sheet of sorts.

 

The stories she was raised with are real if not always told correctly, and the movies and plays only told the tiniest part, and Julienne, a mortal woman in Hong Kong, has been invited into mythology. Orphaned and then found by her aunt Chang’e and Chang’e’s wife Houyi, Julienne knows no one would believe her if she said her aunts were Immortals.  It’s a tenuous yet amusing dynamic between the three women – Julienne is a little embarrassed about what she sees as her personal failings, and her aunties are fiercely proud and protective of her.  They give her the tiniest of sacred protections, and she unknowlingly helps them navigate the concept of “family”.  There is more than the barest undercurrent that this is the first time in Julienne’s life that her sexuality has not been questioned or judged, that she’s being completely and unconditionally accepted for who she is.

 

Julienne knows she is on the edge of mythology, that her aunties are the women to whom these stories actually happened to, that to them they are not stories but history, that Houyi is still paying for the crime of shooting down the suns, that Chang’e is making up for all the time she lost when she was imprisoned on the Moon. But  I’ll talk much more about those two ladies later, as Scale-Bright is Julienne’s story.

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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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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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Bloodstone (Rebel Angels, book 2) by Gillian Philip

published November 2013

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

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Earlier this year the first book in the Rebel Angel series, Firebrand, really hit me hard. No, “hit me hard” isn’t quite right, “destroyed me where I stood” is closer to the mark.  Having survived that, I thought I had an idea of what to expect with Bloodstone, I knew to emotionally steel myself.

Seth’s MacGregor’s inner conflicts are tearing him apart, and one day it’s going to rip a hole in him so wide that another person could walk right through. What do you do when your family needs you to be someone you’re not? How do you tell someone a truth that might kill them?  How do you run from one, and face the other? Didn’t matter that I thought I was preparing myself. I was still completely floored from the first page to the last.

Seth  means to do the right thing. He wants to be as brave and mature as his older brother Conal, whom he idolizes. But Seth just isn’t that person, and he’s never going to be. He’s always going to prefer flirting to politics and fists to compromise.  Seth is no one’s hero, and he doesn’t want to be. Doesn’t matter, you’ll still love him.

The Rebel Angels series has everything I look for in a good story – compelling characters who act like real people, dialog that’s got some humor to it (when Jed finds out Seth is a fae, there is no end of Tinkerbell and other fairy jokes),  misunderstood promises and prophecies with unintentional and painful consequences. No “chosen ones” here, just people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, people who couldn’t fathom the consequences of their actions. There is a long conversation in here somewhere about free will.

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2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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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.