the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

 

Yep,  The Scar by China Mieville is still in my top five list.  Top Five Favorite Books, EVER. Yes, this book is that fucking amazing!

 

You know, sometimes you don’t read a book for years, and then you go back to it, and it’s not as good as you remember, and you wonder why you squeed so much over it in the first place, because yeah it’s a good book, but it ain’t great?

 

Yeah, so, The Scar was the opposite of that.  I saw a ton more this time. I know the plot, I know what happens, I know the big reveals, I even know some of the tiny intimate scenes that really don’t matter. I know all of that stuff, I’ve seen it five or six times already. This read tho, this time I was able to see everything else.

 

I saw the creation of physical scars in the plot. I saw how those scars change people – sometimes it is a reminder of pain, sometimes a reminder of rebirth and positive change.

I saw every time Bellis was used. I saw that sometimes she knew when she was being used. I saw what that did to her.

I saw Tanner gain his freedom, and then gain it again.

I saw how language can give a culture freedom, and can also be used as a prison.

I saw what people are willing to do to get what they want.

I saw the mistakes I’d made in my previous reads of this book.

I saw that while I only wanted to look at Doul through splayed fingers, that I could listen to him with no fear. I found that I desperately wanted to be his audience.

 

Welcome to a spoilerific discussion of China Mieville’s The Scar. This book came out in 2002, so not only do I not feel bad about giving minor spoilers, I’m confident enough in my vaguebook abilities that if you’ve never read this book, none of this post will make any sense to you.  And hey, if it makes you interested in reading The Scar or any other China Mieville? bonus!

 

Johannes confides in Bellis that Armada attacked the Terpsichoria because he, a famous scientist, was aboard, and they wanted his knowledge.  Getting Johannes was just one step in the plans of The Lovers, we don’t even see their plans before Bellis and Johannes get to Armada.  What did they do before? Did The Lovers know, or have an inkling that they’d need a High Kettai speaker? Could they have been on the look out for the woman who wrote High Kettai grammar books? Could they have orchestrated what happened in New Crobuzon to get her on a ship, with Johannes being just a bonus? And used Johannes to lure her to their side?

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I recently reread China Mieville’s Iron Council, which came out in 2004 and was the third of his loosely related Bas-Lag books.  If you’re not familiar with this new-weird sci-fantasy series, you can read the three books – Perdido Street Station (2000),  The Scar (2002), and Iron Council (2004), in any order. These books take place in the same world, but follow different characters often in different parts of the world. Embassytown (2011) is most certainly not a Bas-Lag book, but in my mind it has the same feel.

 

Anyway, after finished Iron Council, of course I had to reread The Scar!  Mieville’s The Scar has long been one of my all time favorite science fiction (fantasy? other? i have no idea what this book is, except that I love it!) books, so it has been a joy to be reading this book over the last week or so.

 

With Iron Council so fresh in my mind, I can’t help but compare the two.  I’m also coming to these books with far more life experience and understanding of the  short term and long term consequences of governmental and societal decisions.  Upon reread they have completely different books. Better books with far more layers than I expected.    It’s been fun thinking about what Iron Council and The Scar have in common, but worrisome at the same time.  If they have this much in common, does that mean Mieville was telling the same story twice?

 

If you’ve not read much Mieville or any Bas-Lag books, this blog post will made no sense to you. #SorryNotSorry.

 

here’s what I mean:

Both books deal with the hubris of bending nature to our will in the name of progress – Iron Council had an unspoken thing about how easy it is to destroy nature and the homes of the people who already live there, all in the name of building a railroad. Even when the railroad is independent, there are descriptions of how the ground must be torn up and scarred for them to pass over it.  In The Scar, no spoilers, but the rulers of Armada have the hubris to assume all and any sea creatures can be exploited.

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The Queen Underneath, by Stacey Filak

Release Date:  May 8th 2018

Where I got it: Received review copy from the author (Thanks!)

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You know, I never expected to laugh that much at a brothel scene. Quite the happy surprise!

 

When Gemma’s adoptive mother and mentor Melnora dies, Gemma will become Queen of the Under.  When Prince Tollan’s father dies, Tollan will become King of Above. Neither Gemma nor Tollan are ready to lose their parents, but we don’t always get what we want, do we?

 

A sort-of retelling of Sleeping Beauty,  The Queen Underneath showcases fully developed characters who leap off the page, snarky dialog, vibrant world building, tons of show don’t tell, and inspiring adult relationships.  Some really great sex scenes, too!

 

In author Stacey Filak’s debut novel, Gemma is the heir apparent of the Underworld, the world of thieves and prostitutes, of daytime drinking, picking locks,  and freedom. Gemma has everything she could ever want – the earned respect of her followers, best friends in the right places, and she’s just waiting for the right time to tell her lover Devery that she’s pregnant.  Until Melnora took sick, Gemma was on her way to having it all.

 

Tollan is the crown prince of Above. He thinks he understands what “doing the right thing” means, and he prefers to stay blissfully ignorant of his family’s history and the true powers of the mage women who live at the castle. Things were going halfway decent for him until his father took ill and Tollan was accused of murder by his own brother.

 

With the Queen of Under and the King of Above on death’s door, it’s up to Gemma and Tollan to figure out what’s going on, and who wants all the royals dead. Well, mostly up to Gemma, since Tollan doesn’t have much experience outside the palace.  With the townspeople under a magic sleeping spell, and thorns erupting out of the ground, Gemma doesn’t even yet know who her enemy is, let alone how to stop the civil war on her doorstep. The plot does start out fairly simple, and with every chapter complexities and subtleties are revealed, drawing the reader in further and further.  Tightly plotted, buckets of fun, and sexy as hell, The Queen Underneath is an compelling story of of adventure, family bonds, political intrigue, wit, and revenge.  And if you don’t finish this book  loving Elam, I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.

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It’s been a weird year.

 

It’s been a year of comfort reads, more so than in years past. I reread some favorites, and they were still amazing.

 

It’s been a year of ignoring hype, a year of  #selfcare, a year of finding stability.  I probably DNF’d more books this year than I actually finished.  DNF’ing is a form of selfcare that I highly recommend.

 

I lost a job that I hated, and three months later  I landed in a dream job that I love.

 

I read Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and discovered the Alzabo Soup podcast. It has made my commute to work much more enjoyable!

 

It was a year of ignoring other people’s expectations, and selfishly focusing on my own wants. I learned what the word “sanctuary” really means.

 

I am happily addicted to the computer game Stardew Valley. It is therapeutic.

 

It’s been a good year.

 

In no particular order, here are my favorite books I read this year, with a link to the reviews I wrote.

 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

 

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

 

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

 

Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

 

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

 

The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust and Skyler White

 

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

 

 

 

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 Emerald Circus, by Jane Yolen

Available Nov 17th 2017

Where I got it: Received advanced reading copy from the publisher (Thanks Tachyon!)

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Are kids still reading fairy tales and older stories? I wonder.  What need do the ten year olds of today have for Alice in Wonderland when they can play video games instead?  What use is a Hans Christian Andersen story book when you can watch a Disney movie instead?  I think a lot of younger readers who get their hands on Jane Yolen’s The Emerald Circus  will find themselves yearning to learn more about Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, The Once and Future King, Charles Perrault, J.M. Barrie, Edgar Allan Poe, and more. My favorite kind of fiction is the kind that makes me want to read non-fiction.

 

The Emerald Circus showcases Yolen’s  range of talents in re-imagining classic stories and fairy tales,  and how being exposed to classics such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Arthurian legends, and the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allen Poe shaped the lifelong joy she finds in storytelling through prose and poetry.  If you are a fan of poetry, the story notes and poems section at the end will be your favorite area, as the vast majority of the poems showcased are new to this volume.  Long time fans of Yolen’s work will see many familiar friends in the Table of Contents, as a number of these stories were previously published in other anthologies over the years.   The gem of the table of contents most certainly is “Sister Emily’s Lightship”,  which means a whole new generation of readers will get to enjoy this famous award winning short story.

 

The collection opens and closes with the very strong Hans Christian Andersen origin story “Andersen’s Witch”, and the Nebula award winning short story “Sister Emily’s Lightship”.  “Andersen’s Witch” is an excellent set up for the rest of the collection, as the story takes place when Hans is but a child – poverty stricken, lonely, and unsure of his future.  He makes a deal that affects the rest of his life,  and he doesn’t realize the price of that deal until he lies on his deathbed.   I loved how ambiguous this story is – did these things really happen? Did Hans imagine them? Does it matter?  This beautifully told story gave me wonderful flashbacks of being a kid and reading The Snow Queen out of a massive (or it seemed massive at the time!) Andersen fairy tales book I had as a kid. The illustrations in that book got my attention, and the stories kept me coming back to it.

 

“Sister Emily’s Lightship” is the big draw for this collection, and although it appears last in the table of contents I’m sure most people will read it first.  Described by Yolen as “Emily Dickinson meets a Martian”, the story is told in a very different style than the other entries in this collection. Could an interaction with an alien have triggered Emily’s withdrawal from society?  What need would she have of salons and social calling, when she’s seen what the Earth looks like from space? How could local society possibly compete with her inner life that is so full of fireworks and supernovae?   These two stories make excellent bookends, as they have an odd mirroring of each other – the main character’s experience with something alien helps them to create unparalleled works of literature, but at the same time pushes them both towards a life of perceived  loneliness and reclusiveness.

 

And in between those two short stories any reader will find plenty more to enjoy:

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Wisp of a Thing – a Tufa Novel, by Alex Bledsoe

published in 2013

where I got it: gift from a friend

 

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If you enjoyed Alex Bledsoe’s first Tufa novel, The Hum and the Shiver you’ll be happy to hear that, Wisp of a Thing is more of that. Not more of the same (not by a long shot), but more magical realism, more mists in the mountains hiding secrets that aren’t there for you to find – secrets that will reveal themselves in their own sweet time and in turns tease you, ignore you, or use you, along the way. The Tufa know what and who they are, and they know who us mortals are. Masters of staying hidden, the Tufa people usually have no interest in letting strangers in on their secrets.

Rob Quillen is learning about hiding. A finalist on a televised talent show, his girlfriend was killed in a plane crash on her way to see him compete in the finals. Drowning in grief, Rob just wants to hide from the world for a while. And where else to hide than the Great Smoky Mountains? Rob has the Tufa look about him, which may be why another singer told him of the Tufa music of Cloud County, Tennessee, and that if Rob found the right Tufa song, his broken heart would mend. Did this other singer think Rob a lost Tufa?

Upon arriving in the rustic village of Needsville, Rob discovers the most amazing music he’s ever heard. He hears it and enjoys it, but he sure doesn’t understand what’s just below the music, or what just the right circumstances allow him to see. It’s funny, because Rob thinks the universe revolves around him. It’s kinda cute and endearing how he thinks all this is about him. Rob is about to have the most surprising week of his life.

You know how the right piece of music can pull you right in? Maybe you’re having a bad day, maybe you’re restless and distracted, and then you listen to the soaring brassy themes of some John Williams music or the railroad track rumble and sizzle of distorted guitar in a rock song, or whatever kind of music floats your boat, and suddenly you feel centered and grounded? Alex Bledsoe’s writing is a bit like that too. His prose pulls you right in, pulls you right into a forgotten mountain town, pulls you right into secret histories, family feuds, and the forests and mists that hide it all.

Then it makes sense there would be music in this book, right? Oh yes, there is music! Wisp of a Thing is full of songs and verses, and these are words that have power. And people who have power tend to like to keep it, which means words have been hidden and buried. And the best person to find something that’s been buried is someone who is nearly a ghost herself.

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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.
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