the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

territoryTerritory by Emma Bull

published in 2007

where I got it: purchased used

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Territory is one of those books that I really enjoyed, but it’s hard to articulate why I enjoyed it. Reading this book was like climbing under a soft heavy blanket – everything just felt right. Emma Bull certainly isn’t the only author to ever write a weird west tale, to ever envision that Wyatt Earp had some kind of magic that protected him, his brothers and their interests, and Doc Holliday. But I think she’s the only one to do it quite like this, to pit Earp against someone like Jesse Fox.

 

I was never all that interested in Wyatt Earp. And maybe that’s why I liked Territory so much. In this novel Wyatt is, umm….   wallpaper? A room accessory?  He’s there, but he’s the lamp in the room that is used to so you can see other things. Earp is walking through the story, having convinced himself the universe revolves about him, but this isn’t a story about him.  Doc Holliday thinks he’s the star of this story as well . . . .

 

Territory revolves around the fictitious characters Jesse Fox and Mildred Benjamin.  Fox may introduce himself as a horse breaker, but his skill set lies elsewhere. He’s been drawn to the boom city of Tombstone by his Chinese friend Lung Chow.  Chow’s been trying to train Jesse in other arts for years, but Jesse’s stubbornness keeps getting in his way.   Mildred is a widow, she works as a typesetter with one of the local newspapers. A woman with her feet in two worlds  and her ear to the ground,  she finds herself drawn to a man as secretive as she is. I really loved Mildred and what she goes through, her thoughts about where she in her life and how she got there. Earp might be a lamp that allows you to see other things, but Mildred is where all the brightness in the story comes from.

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I owe ya’ll reviews for Kevin Hearne’s The Purloined Poodle (it was so adorkable! I loved it!) and Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Children (what a disappointment!).  While I was finishing those books up,  the mail man and the UPS guy have been pretty busy bringing me goodies nearly every day this week.  And of course I bought some stuff too.

Currently reading: Territory by Emma Bull

so, what looks good?

shawl-beaulieu

Everfair by Nisi Shawl has been getting a lot of buzz, and Of Sand and Malice Made is a beautiful small format hardcover (this photo doesn’t do either of these books justice, they both have gorgeous cover art!) of prequel stories that take place before his Twelve Kings in Sharakhai.

 

bujold-lansdale

These pretties from Subterranean Press are Penric the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Coco Butternut by Joe R. Lansdale.  I’ve got the first novella in the Bujold series, and yes, Coco is a Hap and Leonard story!

 

starlit-wood

I’m ridiculously excited about The Starlit Wood, and anthology of reimagined fairy tales. I seriously got shivers just looking at the table of contents. It’s like all my favorite authors and all their favorite friends got together to have a party full of awesome.  Retold fairy tales? YES PLEASE.  It’s gonna be tough to finish the Emma Bull with this sitting on the kitchen table . . .  and that’s saying something, since she’s a damn good writer.

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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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los nefilimLos Nefilim, by T. Frohock

published 2016

where I got it: purchased new

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Angels and Demons constantly play at war.  Someone has to keep them in check, because what happens in the unearthly realms is reflected in the earthly realms. When angels and demons go to war, humans pay the price. The Los Nefilim are beings of angelic descent who use their magic to keep angels and demons in check. Their magic is in part fueled by their angelic vocal chords, and each Nefilim must find their own unique melody.

 

You know how a lot of fantasy novels start out with a huge infodump of the political situation, how the magic works, who has the magic, and why? An introduction, or a prologue, or whatever?  Frohock does none of those things, or at least she doesn’t do them in the expected order, and it was so damn refreshing! The first novella, In Midnight’s Silence, is so light on the worldbuilding that at times I had a tough time figuring out who was who, and what was going on, and how all these characters were involved with one another.  But I enjoyed the characters and the writing style so much that I didn’t care that I felt a little lost. Los Nefilim is a slow and dark burn, and that slow but steady rise to intensity makes you want to know more and more about what’s going on.  There is a lot of darkness in this story,  but also some laugh out loud funny moments.  And when the reveals come, they are that much more satisfying.

 

Los Nefilim reads a little like Steven Brust’s The Book of Jhereg, where upon first read you may not be entirely sure what is going on, but the characters and what they are dealing with is so damn fun / awesome / dark / cool as hell that the pages just fly by, and eventually you get to those chapters that explain everything. So if you feel a little lost at the beginning of Los Nefilim, trust me, just keep reading.

 

When we first meet Diago and Miquel, they’ve already got plenty on their plate. Miquel has been part of Los Nefilim for a while, and although Diago has an ancient connection with their leader, Guillermo, he’s got a long way to go to prove himself as worthy. Miquel, Guillermo, and the other Los Nefilim are of purely angelic ancestry, and Diago was dual born – which means his magic can be used by either side. And that’s just a portion of the big picture, political stuff.  What made this book shine for me was the small, intimate things. The family stuff.  Diago learns he has a son.  A child conceived through psychological manipulation,  no one can blame young Rafael for the situation of his conception. Diago and Rafael adopt him from the orphanage he grew up in, and there are all these unexpectedly funny and endearing parenting scenes.  More than anything, Diago and Miquel want Rafael to have a normal childhood.  But when you fight demons and develop your own magic, is normal and safe ever possible?

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This is a most unusual book review, because I am not going to tell you the name of this book, the name of the author, or the year the book was written.  You don’t get any cover art either.  We all judge books by their covers and all that, so I’m curious what everyone’s thoughts will be if I tell you everything you need to know about the book except what you’d see on a bookstore shelf. A deliberate experiment, if you will. And don’t worry, I’ll reveal the author and cover art in a few days.  For those of you who recognize this book, or think you do, please, please don’t reveal the book’s title in the comments.

 

Are any of you familiar with the anime TV shows Sword Art Online or  Log Horizon? In these shows, gamers get transported into the world of their MMO video game, and have to survive. This book has a similar, if simplified premise. A bunch of college kids are in a table-top Role Playing Game club, with a professor as their game master.  I won’t get into the how’s or why’s, but the professor is able to transport the students to the fantasy role playing world, and the students have to survive. What’s really neat here is that while everyone comes through into the fantasy world as their characters (a cleric, or dwarf, or thief,  etc) and with the skills and attributes (strength, speed, dexterity, etc) from their character sheet, they also retain all their knowledge and morals from the real world. One woman depends on her real world travel experiences to help her haggle with traders, there’s even some “innovative” WWF style fighting moves that no one else in the arena had ever seen.

 

At it’s heart, this is a coming-of-age fantasy quest story . The goal is to find the gate between worlds, so they can get home to the real world. But, as we learn, not everyone wants to go home.  Sure, home has modern dentistry, and cars, and our parents, and health insurance. But one guy, if he goes home, the only thing waiting for him is his wheelchair and people pitying him. Here, in the fantasy world, he can walk. He can do all the things he can’t do at home. Another character, this is the first time in his life he’s respected for his knowledge and abilities. If he goes home, it’s back to being the guy everyone makes fun of.   It was neat, how some characters abandon their real world  first names right away to only go by their fantasy role play character names, and how others never take on their characters names because they don’t want to be these fantasy world characters, and how others have an internal conflict as to who they are because they have a compelling reason to be a little bit of both.  The author presents the character’s inner conflicts with subtlety. The author doesn’t shy away from tough subjects either. Like another very popular series, main characters die – usually in shockingly awful ways.

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I’ve been on a short stuff kick lately. Short stories, short novels, novellas.  There’s just something about knowing I can get through an entire story with a beginning, middle, and end in a weekend.  It’s not that I’m not reading fatty mcfat doorstopper novels, but these days they don’t hold as much allure  (except this one, of course).

 

Anyhoo, I recently zipped through these new novellas from Tim Powers and K.J. Parker. They were so quick to read in fact, that I was able to read them twice!  Downfall of the Gods by Parker came out from Subterranean Press in late March, and Down and Out in Purgatory will be available in late June from Subterranean Press.  If you’re a fan of either of these authors, watch for these titles!

Downfall_of_the_Gods_by_K_J_Parker

 

Let’s start with the Parker, because of the two, it was my favorite.  Imagine a parallel ancient Rome or Greece, where a pantheon of gods keeps the sun crossing the sky, keeps the crops growing, and occasionally visits Earth in human form for entertainment.  What I most enjoyed about this story is that it’s from a Goddess’s point of view, and how the myths and what the humans believe the immortals do isn’t exactly the truth. The Greek mythology I grew up learning humanizes, but still idealizes Gods and Goddesses.  The Goddess at the center of Downfall of the Gods has her own family issues, the aunts and uncles who hate her, the stupid things she says to her parents. She gets in trouble for forgetting things, she gets “grounded”, she’s bored out of her mind.  I loved her as a character, even if she was a bit of an emo teenager.

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CP5_front-200x300Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen

Available April 5, 2016

Where I got it: received review copy from the editor

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Some people describe anthologies as a journey.  I’ve been known to compare them to techno music. But  today, I’d like you to think about anthologies as restaurants – the stories are the dishes on the menu, and the editor is the restaurateur.   Some restaurants have great atmosphere, some restaurants you only like a few dishes on their menu, or maybe there is a great Sunday brunch, or maybe it’s just a super convenient location and the food is pretty darn good.  Think about restaurants you’ve returned to again and again. There was a reason, right?

 

Tom's_Bistro_outside

 

Some restaurateurs love attention for one particular dish their restaurant specializes in, or whatever. Maybe they are the King of Deep Fried Butter, or the Home of the Original Whiskey Waffles.  Maybe they did a Taco throwdown with Bobby Flay or something.

 

And then there is that secret restaurant.  The one all the locals know about. It doesn’t look like a fancy place,  but every dish you’ve had there has been amazing. Sometimes the flavors are complex, sometimes they are simple.  You go as often as you can, with the goal of trying every dish on the unique menu before the menu changes, because the chefs and owners are always trying something new and different, because the rules don’t apply here. There are no rules, there is no pretension, there is no ego, there  are no signs proclaiming fame or autographed photos of Food Network personalities.  But, omg, the food! It is perfection on a plate! And you feel better about yourself and your life and the world every time you go there.  Clockwork Phoenix is the name of this restaurant, and Mike Allen is the restaurateur.  One sublime dish after another, and yet I still have my favorites that I keep coming back to.

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FTC Stuff

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.