the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘epic fantasy

Oh hi!  I haven’t forgotten about this blog, i swear! I fact, at least 3 times a week I say to myself “I really oughta write something for my  blog”, and then before I know a week has flown by. I keep saying “I’m going to get up early on Sunday and blog!” and then instead, I sleep. Life is funny like that. 

 

I’ve read a LOT, and I got a lot going on right now*,  so you get mini reviews!

 

And what a selection do I have for you! Epic fantasy, scifi short stories, and contemporary thrillers!

 

Have you seen this fricken gorgeous cover art on Rebecca Roanhorse’s novel Black Sun? Are you kinda bored with Euro-based epic fantasy, but want your politics, your intrigue, your religion, and your insurrection? This is the book for you!  Also! Excellent characters, fantastic world, paced perfectly, damn enjoyable read. I zipped through this book. I was a little worried at first, because the first chapter is brutal and kinda gross, but the rest of the book isn’t like. And? Is this epic fantasy with a female gaze? Yes, yes it is. And it was nice. Also Mesoamerican epic fantasy may be my new groove. Forget grog and stew, I’m more about chocolate and corn and squash!

Something I really liked about Black Sun was that people are constantly asking other people “yeah,  but what next?”.  I feel like a lot of epic fantasies suffer from this weirdness of a time vacuum, that the characters only exist for this specific story, and no one has a “what’s next” in their life, the characters aren’t even thinking about the rest of their lives, they should have taken that note from Samwise!  Anyway, I appreciated that characters in Black Sun are always thinking about the future, and pestering other people “yeah, but what are gonna do, after that?”.  It makes them all seem more like real people.

 

The issue I had with Black Sun isn’t a Roanhorse problem, this is a me problem. I 100% suck at keeping track of lots of characters. Black Sun doesn’t have tons and tons of point of view characters, but just enough that it was too much for me. Anyways, my OTP is Xiarapio. I was itching for their chapters because that plasma hot sexual tension between the two of them! And I feel bad for them, because they’ve got, well, other things going on, definitely not a good time to get into a relationship, but damn, those sparks!! 

A very good friend gifted me with a copy of Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, and like the jackass friend I am, I put it on my bookshelf and forgot about it.  Then someone mentioned it on twitter, and I was in the mood for a contemporary thriller, and BOY DID THAT BOOK DELIVER! I’m not even going to compare it to other thrillers for fear of giving stuff away.  Let’s see, what can I tell you?  Divorced Louise meets a nice guy, David, at a bar one evening. Next week she finds out he’s her new boss! (that sounds so cliché, I know, but stay with me, ok?)  They both know it’s wrong because he’s married, but he’s miserable in his marriage, and she misses the feeling of being wanted. Then she befriends David’s wife, Adele, who is sweet and lonely.  The story flip flops between Louise’s and Adele’s point of views, and how they are both trying to keep David from finding out they are friends. Louise is flustered by the entire thing, Adele is just a smidge manipulative, and David treats Louise like a queen but is super controlling with his wife Adele.  

 

What these two women are going through, and how Louise questions everything she does, and how Adele seems to over plan things, and what isn’t said, I couldn’t put this book down! I loved Louise’s inner monologue, she’s vibrant and complicated and loves her son and is frustrated her first marriage didn’t work out and she just wants to be loved. She’s torn between “my son is the only man I need in my life!” and wanting an adult relationship where she’s appreciated and loved. I loved that this book had Louise’s emotions and complexities front and center. 

 

The twist had me falling off my chair. 

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Imprinted (available January 2018) is the forthcoming novelette in Jim C. Hines’s Libriomancer series, and The Squirrel on the Train (November 2017, Subterannean Press) is Kevin Hearne’s latest Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries novella.  Two super fun and funny little stories!

 

Jim C. Hines concluded his Magic Ex Libris series with the fourth book in the series, Revisionary.  The magic of this series sounds rather basic at first – the world’s collective love for books, stories, and the items found therein allows Libriomancers to pull physical items out of books. Urban fantasy awesomeness and characters who will absolutely shred your heart ensue.  Because character relationships, people’s abilities, and the danger ramp up pretty quickly, this is a series that needs to be read in order.  But. . .  with an itty bitty spoiler (that really doesn’t spoil anything) you can read Imprinted even if you are not caught up on Magic Ex Libris.  That’s me, by the way. I’m the person who isn’t caught up on Magic Ex Libris.

 

Revisionary was supposed to have been the end of the series, right? Well, it wasn’t for Jeneta. She still has a story to tell!

 

Seventeen year old Librariomancer Jeneta Aboderin has a unique libriomantic ability, it’s an ability Isaac might never even thought of had he not met Jeneta. But her power brings risk with it. What if she isn’t strong enough to control her ability? What if she is able to control it, and ends up disrupting the foundations of libriomancy?

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the obelisk gate coverThe Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

published August 2016

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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Welcome to another not-a-review!   There is so much happening on so many levels Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate, and my brain is spinning all over the place that a simple “review” just wouldn’t do.  All of these thoughts in my head about Obelisk Gate, I need to get them out.  Be warned of spoilers ahead for Obelisk Gate, The Fifth Season, some other titles by Jemisin and others, and stream of consciousness babbling. Also ahead are predictions, wordplay thoughts, heartbreak, and things this book made me think about, places it took me.  Jemisin does so much more than just write a book, so I wanted to do more than just write a review.

 

I read The Fifth Season around the same time i was reading Cixin Liu’s The  Three Body Problem, and I found unexpected parallels between both books.  I had my guesses about what was really going on in The Fifth Season, and a handful of them were right. Maybe I came up with those guesses due to Jemisin’s sublime skill with  foreshadowing,  maybe it was because I was reading two extinction level event books at the same time and my brain was adding things up, who knows.

 

I read The Obelisk Gate alongside Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Children, and again, found unexpected parallels between the two novels. The “new children” in the Bear have something in common with young orogenes – they are blamed for the problems of the world, even problems entirely outside their control.   These are children who have been chased, hunted down, put in “schools”, all for their own good. Sometimes their parents fight for them, but just as often their parents say “good riddance”, and all these children want is to be accepted and loved for who they are.  Even more similarities is how those in power disagree on how the new children/orogenes should be educated, if they should be forced to live in a certain way, for everyone’s protection.  I’ve also just realized, that if presented just right, Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and the Greg Bear books could take place in the same storytelling universe, due to the evolution of, how best to say it, people doing things a little differently.

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So,  here’s the first of my “reading diary” blog posts.

 

I’m nearly half way through Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb.  If you’ve never read her, she’s awesome.  This trilogy is probably a good starting point for someone new to her work, as it’s sort of a stand alone series. A number of years ago I remember maybe Hobb talking about her own work, or someone else talking about her work, and they said she imagines the worse possible thing that could happen to her main character, and then she does it. and then does it over and over to that person.  And yep, that’s about what usually happens in Hobb books.   She’s a damn genius writer, so she gets you all emotionally invested in this character (even if you don’t like the character, you will still be invested. Because Robin Hobb), and then all those horrible things that happen to the character? because of your emotional investment, it feels like it’s happening to you. or, erm, maybe that’s just me.

 

So, in Ship of Magic, Althea is cheated out of her inheritance. Her douchebag brother-in-law, Kyle, persuades the rest of the family that only he can look after the family’s legacy.  He’s such a jackass whiny twat that I want to call him Kylo.  see all the horrible words I’ve already used to describe him?  Althea isn’t an angel either, she’s kinda whiny too . . .

 

Oh, but what could this inheritance possibly be that they are fighting over? A liveship. Like, the ship is made of a special kind of wood, and after a while, the ship wakes up.  It’s alive, and liveships are a totally normal thing in this area. And the ships talk. And they are awesome. There is one liveship that supposedly went mad, and it’s been beached. Althea talks to it sometimes. I bet it would be super therapeutic if that beached ship could swim again.  I totally want to pet that poor ship and bring it cookies.  and Kyle needs to die in a fire.  But, this is a Hobb, so he won’t.

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Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, by Bradley P. Beaulieu (UK Title is Twelve Kings)

published Sept 1 2015

where I got it: received review copies from the author & publisher

(Hey, did you know I recently interviewed Bradley P. Beaulieu? And that I’m hosting a give away of Twelve Kings of Sharakhai? Click here for more info!)

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If you like your fantasies complex and your worldbuilding done right, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is for you. With the sprawl of a doorstopper tome jammed into less than 600 pages, Twelves Kings offers an unexpected epic fantasy with compelling characters who at first blush seem like your standard cookie-cutter characters, but quickly let you know they are nothing of the sort.

Did the cover art get your attention? It sure got mine. This is one of those instances where the cover artist got the details right. That sprawling, overflowing, dusty metropolis with a towering seat of power designed to be intimidating and in your sight at all times? A young armed woman, dressed to blend in? If you like what you see in that cover art, you’re going to like what you find in the pages. Sharakhai is more than just a city, it’s a center of unimaginable power. Once upon a time, the leaders of twelve tribes made an unholy contract with the desert gods, granting themselves immortality and getting an army of undead protectors thrown in for good measure. No longer tribal leaders, but immortal Kings, the Kings rule with an iron first. Their take their blood sacrifices on holy nights, and forbid the populace from questioning anything. That cover art makes me want to cosplay Çeda.

Something that really drew me into Twelve Kings was the scale of the potential. Let me unpack that a little. Our story most certainly revolves around Çeda, but there is so much more happening around her that she’s not even aware of. Emre has a whole independent life away from her (and why shouldn’t he?), her mother practically erased their past, there are international politics that may or may not have anything to do with Çeda. The story is about her, but this world that Beaulieu has created is so much larger than just one young woman’s story.

And let’s talk about her story, a bit, shall we? At a very young age, Çeda learned to keep her mouth shut about what her mother did. She knew to tell no one about the Adichara petal harvests, never to breathe a word about how her mother put the petals under her tongue on sacred nights. Even speaking of the flowers could be a death sentence. It was rumored the King of Whispers heard all, and when her mother was killed for her transgressions, Çeda tried to start a new life. In Sharakhai, silence can often be your only weapon. Çeda’s mother knew that better than most.

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Twelve-Kings-of-Sharakhai-final-sm2

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Bradley Beaulieu, author of the Lays of Anuskaya (The Winds of Khalakovo, The Straits of Galahesh, and The Flames of Shadem Khoreh) is about to release a brand new epic fantasy novel called Twelve Kings in Sharakhai.  The first in a new trilogy, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai follows the story of Çeda, a young woman who flaunts the laws of immortal kings and finds herself drawn towards the secrets of her own origins. A sprawling, complex story in a vibrant and richly drawn world, the new novel hits bookstore shelves on Sept 1st. Click here for a preview.

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Brad was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the new series. Also, I’ve got not one, but two copies of this book to give away to two lucky readers! See the fine print at the bottom of this blog post for details.

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Let’s get to the interview!
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Little Red Reviewer: This is the second time you’ve written of ships that don’t sail on the water. In your Lays of Anuskaya trilogy, the multi-masted ships sail the winds. And in Twelve Kings, the ships sail the dunes of this desert land. It’s even possible to surf over the dunes. For this non-ocean environment, what  made you decide that ships with sails should be the primary method of long distance travel?

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Bradley Beaulieu: What made me decide on ships? Well, when it comes down to it, I just love ‘em. I’ve taken several sailing tours on tall ships on Lake Michigan, a few out of Milwaukee harbor and once out of Navy Pier in Chicago. I think it’s such a cool time in our history, the age of sail, being trapped in such a tight community for weeks or months at a time, then stopping in a new, unexplored land, then hopping back to go back to the place you know. I’ve got a very romantic view of it, I’ll admit.

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And, well, I also just wanted to weird the world up a bit. I wanted some unique aspects to the great desert in which Sharakhai sits. I wanted there to be a unique flavor to the commerce of the world, how people communicated over long distances, and so on. It’s essentially the same reason I did it in The Lays of Anuskaya, though the specific incarnations of ship travel, as you mentioned, are different. It’s been a lot of fun exploring this aspect of the world. (And I’ve yet to have a really rousing ship-to-ship battle, but believe me, that’s coming!)

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LRR: I love the world of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. This is a desert culture, so staying protected from the sands and winds is a big deal, as is ensuring water and food supplies, and the clothing and activities of the characters reflect this. The terminology has an Arabic feel, with characters wearing turbans, thawbs, and hijabs, and visiting the bazaar. Can you tell us about the research you did the ensure the terminology and contextual activities matched the world and culture you built within the novel?

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the 5th seasonThe Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

publishes Aug 4, 2015

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

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I’m going to be purposely, cruelly vague in this review for a few reasons. This  book is too ambitious for me to risk spoiling anything, and I like playing games with my blog readers. I like the idea that maybe, just maybe after you’ve read The Fifth Season you’ll come back to this review and chuckle at what I was vaguely pointing at.

 

I tried my best to avoid any spoilers in this review, but I know some of you won’t read much further so that the entire book be a surprise for you. So I better say early on in this review how much I loved The Fifth Season. I loved the world, the characters, most of all I loved how the story unfolded. Like the other Jemisin novels I’ve read, I loved every word, every page, every chapter. If you aren’t reading Jemisin, I have to ask you: why not? And why not start here? For those of you who have read quite a bit of Jemisin, I bet you’ll pick up on what’s going on, or at least have some educated guesses.

 

To paraphrase the press release, The Fifth Season takes place in a land known as The Stillness, a place in which extinction level events such as earthquakes, plagues,volcanoes, and floods occur every few generations. It’s a miracle anyone survived these events. Some people are born with the ability to control stone and earth. Known as Orogenes, they are seen as  dangerous but tameable savages and are taken from their families as children. Trained and educated in the capital, they are manipulated towards working against their own self interests.  Noncompliance is met with violence, or worse. And to be a rogue orogene with no training? Dangerous and unheard of! Who would allow such a creature to live in their village? Because of course it is the Orogenes who cause all these horrible events to happen. Everyone knows that.

 

(Did anyone else think about Three Body Problem while reading The Fifth Season? both books involve Extinction Level Events, yet the populace’s reaction to said events is completely different)

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king makerKing Maker, by Maurice Broaddus

published in 2010

where I got it: purchased

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I have a soft spot for mythology retellings, for folklore characters reimagined in modern times. How will the author handle changes in social mores and expectations?  How do you blend old myths and a new world, and make it work?  Maurice Broaddus’s debut novel King Maker is the story of King Arthur told in present day inner city Indianapolis. Blending the trappings of urban fiction and dark epic fantasy, Broaddus gives us characters and a world that I’ll bet most SF/F fans have rarely, if ever, come across.  The dialog includes a lot of urban street slang, and yet there is a Shakespearean flavor to the timber and rhythm of many of the conversations.

 

The characters from the Arthur story are all here, if changed and modernized: Luther White is Uther Pendragon; his son King James White (yes, King is his first name) is Arthur; King’s friend Lott Carey is Lancelot; the homeless and possibly crazy guy Merle is Merlin; Lady G is Guinevere; Dred is Mordred, and so on. You’ll even find the Green Knight, Percival, and some fae interference. Even the physical trappings are here:  Excalibur becomes a custom-made gun called the Caliburn, and the throne of Britain is reflected in the Breton Court neighborhood which serves as the epicenter of King’s domain. There is additional mythos blended in as well, including immortal spirits, and a set of unforgettable assassins.

 

Merle speaks in riddles and prophecies, and King puts up with him, because the old homeless guy is surely harmless. King doesn’t want to get sucked into the world of drug dealing, but with so few options to get out of the city, he may have no other choice. King knows he’s made some enemies, but he isn’t intimidated by the thugs on his street who try to hustle his neighbors. He protects the vulnerable people in his neighborhood, and generally tries to make his home a better place.  His fearlessness leads Merle to believe that the King has returned.

 

But instead of noble kings, knights in shining armor, princesses and magicians, the names you know from the King Arthur myth are transformed into poverty stricken inner city youths, drug dealers, teen mothers, prostitutes and homeless people. Broaddus doesn’t sugar coat or glorify anything, and neither do his characters. We’ve turned so many old stories into romantic tales of brotherly love and chivalry, but what parts of their stories never made it onto the parchment or into the songs and poems?  In King Maker, we’re given the idea of the noble and romantic Hero’s Journey right alongside destitution,  bleak street life, homelessness, drug deals gone wrong, and women who turn to prostitution because they have no other way to feed their family.  it’s brutal, it’s honest, it’s in your face at all times.

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the-awakened-kingdom-by-nk-jemisinThe Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin

published Dec 9 2014 as part of The Inheritance Trilogy Omnibus

where I got it: received eArc from the publisher (thanks Orbit!)

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For those of you who are new to N.K. Jemisin, her newest novella The Awakened Kingdom takes place after the events in The Inheritance Trilogy.  I highly suggest you read the trilogy before reading this bonus novella. Luckily, it all came out today in handy dandy omnibus format! (Oh, you’ve already read the trilogy, and are joining me in singing its praises? No problem, The Awakened Kingdom is available on it’s own as an e-book)

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In some ways, godlings are just like us.  Sometimes, they want the same exact things we want. They want the love and approval of their parents, they want to make friends, they feed bad when they mess up and people get hurt. The newest godling, Shill, is no different.  She desperately wants to see her parents happy. She assumes they made her to help them be happy.   Her naivety is utterly charming, and the novella begins with Shill not even knowing to how to tell a story properly.

 

Have you ever had a four year old tell you a story? They tell it out of order, lose track of what’s happening, explain things in detail that you already know all about, and don’t explain the things you would like to learn more about. There’s plenty of backtracking, of remember of details and forgetting of others. it’s completely adorable, and there’s a part of you that doesn’t even care about the actual story, you just want to spend more time with this little person who is so very excited to tell you about their day, because you hope some of their joyful innocence will rub off on you. When we first meet Shill, she’s a little like that. Don’t worry, she’s gets better.

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emperor of thorns 2Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (book 3 of the Broken Empire Trilogy)

published August 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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It’s no secret I was a huge fan of the first book.  Prince of Thorns was unlike anything I’d ever come across before. It was everything I was looking for in the departments of grimdark and horrible things happening to people. For a short time that book  polarized the fantasy fan community, with people either really loving it, or really hating it. Lawrence took risks that other authors simply would not take, and you’ve got to applaud him for that.

 

A year later, I kept finding reasons not to pick up King of Thorns. The first book in the series was so good, how could the second one possibly live up to my expectations? Long story short is I was lukewarm on King of Thorns.  I had a tough time wrapping my head around the disparate plot lines, and found the dream transitions to be confusing and awkward, but I enjoyed Katherine’s scenes and was moved by the loss of Gog. The dog scene? Didn’t hold a candle to what I went through losing Gog. Yes, I’m heartless, we’ve already established that,   I’m the kind of person who likes this kind of thing, remember?

 

A year later, I was again avoiding reading Emperor of Thorns. Which was it going to be? Mindblowing like Prince? Or middling like King? Or something else entirely?

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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.