the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

published May 2018

where I got it: purchased new

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I don’t know what I was expecting when I bought this book.  I’d heard good things about it, it got some buzz when it came out, and then it fell off my radar. I knew it was about a kid who attends an elite military academy, gets embroiled in a war, and has to risk everything.

 

when I read the back cover copy, my first thought was “is this a fantasy version of Ender’s Game?”   Hahahahah!!!!  yeah . . . . nope. More like Name of the Wind if written by Robin Hobb and then half way through Ian Tregillis took over in the vein of the Bitter Seeds books.

 

I meant to keep this review light and happy and talk about the plot and Rin’s adventures at school and how cute it is that she has no idea how to talk to boys she likes, and that she’s great at memorizing facts but shitty at martial arts.  I meant to write a super happy funtime book review.

 

That didn’t happen.

 

Good news first!  The Dragon Republic (book 2) is already out!  You can read books 1 and 2 back to back!

 

The Poppy War  does start out fairly light and happy – a war orphan, Rin, needs to escape her opium smuggling foster family before they marry her off, so she studies for the imperial exam and hopes for a scholarship.  Not only does she do well on the imperial exam, she has the highest score in her prefecture and gains a full scholarship to Nikan’s elite military academy Sinegard. Rin doesn’t care what she studies, she doesn’t care about dorm life, she just knows that school means she won’t have to marry a stranger and that she’ll get three meals a day, and that after graduation she won’t have to go home.

 

She’s by far the poorest most provincial kid at the school, and is relentlessly bullied by wealthier upper class students and a few teachers as well. But, like I said, none of them are forcing her to get married or get involved with opium smuggling, so she shrugs it off.  I thought it was so cute that Rin has no idea how to talk to boys she likes – she thinks they are cute, she ends up staring at them, but has zero idea how to talk to them. It was funny and adorable. And as dark as the end of this book gets, I was thankful for these cute light scenes at the beginning.

 

This is not one of those long, drawn out school chronicles, where each book is one year at school.  The Poppy War is ultra fast paced. Kuang deftly uses a few school scenes for worldbuilding, where the students are discussing world history, with the professor telling them what really happened.   Oh, and a whole shit-ton of other awesome stuff happens that I won’t spoil for you.

 

Before you know it, Rin’s first year of school is over and she’s pledged to study Lore under the school’s weirdest professor, Jiang. Doesn’t hurt that she easily recognized the hallucinogens in his garden.   He is saddened that her goal is to become a good soldier.

 

So, Jiang and Lore.  why would a military school offer classes on lore, mythology, and shamanism?  Why indeed.

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Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

publishes on Sept 17th 2019

where I got it: Received ARC, Thanks Tachyon!

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So, this book is going to get a lot, and I mean a LOT of hype in the next few months. Hype makes me nervous. It makes me worried that some slick salesperson is trying to separate me from my money. Here’s everything you need to know about Ivory Apples, and hype:

  1. the hype is well deserved. This book was everything I want storytelling to be
  2. Ignore the hype, go get the book
  3. My literature hot take is that Neil Gaiman hasn’t written anything half as good as Ivory Apples.

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This book is mythology given new life, it’s folklore happening in your backyard. Remember a few weekends ago, when I disappeared off the face of the earth, when I wasn’t online, when I wasn’t answering texts, tweets, or e-mails? It’s because I was immersed in this book and I didn’t want to come up for air until I’d finished it. To be honest, I wanted to stay immersed, I didn’t want to come up for air, ever. On page one I fell in love with the narrative voice, by page three I decided I wanted to be Maeve when I grew up, and by that afternoon I was halfway through the book.
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I’m gonna talk to you about mythology and folklore and storytelling and art for a minute, ok? We use mythology and folklore to explain things that we have no explanation for. Our favorite stories are the ones that give us hope that one day we too, can steal fire from the gods. That one day we too, might do something legendary, might go on our own hero’s journey. Storytelling is powerful, it enables us to do things we didn’t think possible. And the storytellers and the artists! They create magic out of thin air, and somehow make it look easy! Imagine if you could have just a piece of their gift. What wouldn’t you give to be as talented as your favorite writer, your favorite poet, your favorite musician, or your favorite artist?
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Anyway, Ivory Apples opens in the late 90s. The eldest of four sisters, Ivy is eleven years old when the story starts. All four girls are old enough to understand that they must always call their great-aunt by her not-real name, Maeve. They must never tell anyone her real name, what her phone number is, or where she lives. Their reclusive great-aunt Maeve is really Adela Madden, the author of the runaway hit novel Ivory Apples. She wrote the novel decades ago, and never wrote anything else. Maeve could care less about the royalty checks, she’s not interested in fan-mail or conventions held in her name, she’s not interested in talking about the book that made her famous. She’s mostly interested in staying hidden from the world, and lets a relative deal with the fan-mail and the banking.
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Ivy was such a wonderful character to follow! When we meet her she’s a care-free preteen, who bickers with her sisters and often forgets what adults have asked her to do. She’s too young to understand what she’s stumbled on, but knows she can’t tell anyone but Maeve, because no one else could possible understand. I won’t go into details, but I loved watching her learn about what was going on, and learn to live with what happens to her. Once you get to know her, maybe she’ll remind of someone in your life, maybe you’ll say to yourself “maybe what happened to Ivy happened to them”, and you’ll smile.

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This post is part of The Gossamer Blog Tour! and it wouldn’t be a blog tour without a giveaway, now would it?  In the almost ten years that I have been blogging, I have NEVER seen a give away like this before!   Click for details! (Are you outside the US? Gotcha covered!)

Earlier today I posted a guest post from Julie Czerneda, where she takes us inside her worldbuilding process, and talks about maps and distances and that sometimes the map is the territory.

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The Gossamer Mage by Julie Czerneda

Available August 6 2019

Where I got it: Received ARC (thanks DAW!)

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Where I got it:  received for review (thanks DAW!)

Go ahead, judge a book by its cover.  Especially this book. The golden ink on that cover, you would swear that it moves when you look away.  What happens to the words that are written with such ink, with the intentions that come with those words?  What indeed.

 

Julie Czerneda’s newest fantasy novel, The Gossamer Mage, takes us to the beautiful land of Tananen.  In the port city, in the rolling hills, in the villages, in the mage school up in the mountains, magic flows through Tananen.  Mages and Priestesses commit their lives to the Deathless Goddess, and through Her, through writing Her intentions, amazing magic happens.  While the townspeople and villagers love the magical medicines, technologies, machines, and trinkets, those intimately involved with Her magic know the terrible cost of what they do.  Travelers and traders have learned the hard way that magic only exists within the boundaries of Tananen, and that the Deathless Goddess is not welcoming to strangers. She protects Her secrets.

 

The Gossamer Mage is a quietly compelling, character driven, smartly written fantasy. If you crave characters that leap off the page, if you  prefer knowledge over swords, if you liked Fullmetal Alchemist (really! There’s a connection!), this is the book for you.

 

The first thing that hit me while reading The Gossamer Mage was how much I loved the way Czerneda did the world building.  I feel like if I took a drive, Tananen could be over the next hilltop and I’d know exactly where I was. Czerneda’s writing is incredibly immersive, but it never feels like she is burying the reader in exposition or infodumps.  As characters travel around Tananen, she takes the opportunity to show their experiences and observations as they explore their new locations, everything feels immersive and natural.

 

Magic in Tananen isn’t cheap.  Getting a magical trinket, or a made-horse from a mage won’t cost you very much. . .  but it costs the mage dearly.   Magic is done by writing the Goddess’s Intentions, and each  successfully written intention costs the mage at least a year off their lifespan.  The more bells sewn into a mage’s hair, the more intentions they have written, the less years they have left to live.  A 30 year old mage easily appears to be 85 years of age, or older. It is an honor for your child to show the talent that will take them to the mage school.  Mothers weep at the news, knowing they will outlive their child.

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Happy Friday!   My friends, I regret to tell you that I do not have a Five for Friday post today.  Allow me to make it up with not one but TWO blog posts AND a give away!

 

I am so excited for Julie Czerneda’s forthcoming fantasy novel The Gossamer Mage to come into the world. This booooooook!!!!!!!!!!   the characters! the magic!   the everything!!!   More on all that later today, stop by the blog after 2pm Eastern Time to read the review.  In the mean, I have an amazing guest post from Julie Czerneda, where she talks about how, when it comes to storytelling, the map is the territory.

 

You like maps? me too!  you’re gonna love this post!

 

This is an image heavy post, so please be patient if the images take a moment to load.  While you’re waiting,  head over to the giveaway page (outside the US? Click here for the International giveaway!)and get yourself entered for, are you ready for this?   A set of the Julie Czerneda Library: more than a dozen of her books, all signed.  I’ve been blogging nearly ten years and I have never seen a giveaway that comes close to this!

 

About Julie Czerneda:

What is magic? As imagined by Julie E. Czerneda, it’s wild and free, a force of nature and source of wonder. She first explored this theme in her Night’s Edge series, starting with the award-winning Turn of Light. In The Gossamer Mage, Julie goes further, envisioning magic not only as integral to landscape and history, but well aware what we’re doing with it. That tie between us and other, the profound changes we make by connecting, have always informed her work, be it fantasy or science fiction.

Mage is Julie’s twentieth novel published by DAW Books, and she couldn’t be more proud to belong to this esteemed publishing family. For more about Julie and her work, please visit czerneda.com.

photography credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

 

(Andrea’s note: Since she neglected to mention it, I will:  Both Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow won the  Aurora Award, and that’s only half of the Aurora Awards she has won! Also, I LOVE those glasses frames!)

 

About The Gossamer Mage (Available Aug 6th 2019 from DAW books)

 

From an Aurora Award-winning author comes a new fantasy epic in which one mage must stand against a Deathless Goddess who controls all magic.

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Only in Tananen do people worship a single deity: the Deathless Goddess. Only in this small, forbidden realm are there those haunted by words of no language known to woman or man. The words are Her Gift, and they summon magic.

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Mage scribes learn to write Her words as intentions: spells to make beasts or plants, designed to any purpose. If an intention is flawed, what the mage creates is a gossamer: a magical creature as wild and free as it is costly for the mage.

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For Her Gift comes at a steep price. Each successful intention ages a mage until they dare no more. But her magic demands to be used; the Deathless Goddess will take her fee, and mages will die.

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To end this terrible toll, the greatest mage in Tananen vows to find and destroy Her. He has yet to learn She is all that protects Tananen from what waits outside. And all that keeps magic alive.

Is that not the most gorgeous cover art you’ve ever seen?

 

Y’all ready for some discussion about maps, worldbuilding, storytelling, and discovery?  ME TOO. Everything from here on is all Julie!

 

 

The Fantasy Maps of Tananen

by Julie E. Czerneda

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I’m going to start with a confession. I don’t look at the maps in fantasy novels, being too interested in the words and the inner pictures they give me. After I’ve read the story, if I’ve loved it, I’ll take a peek because then the maps are an extra bit of happy. Oh, and midway through I’ll take a peek if I can’t get my inner picture of the geography, but in all honesty? In books like that, I’ve found the maps rarely help.
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I do, however, make maps for myself.

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Ten years ago I wouldn’t have known a novella if one bit me on the ass.

 

Five years ago,  novellas were those things in short story collections that I avoided, because I thought they were too long.

 

Novellas are weird little things – way way too long to be short story,  way way to short to be a novel. The author doesn’t have to worry about the space limitations of a short story, but they don’t have the space to tell a generation spanning sprawling epic, either.

 

if short stories are the Tiny Houses of the story telling world, and doorstopper novels are the McMansions,  then novellas sit in the goldilocks zone of just the right size. You know that house that’s just big enough for your family and your pets and all your stuff (and it’s got a great backyard!), but no so large that you have to “fill it up” with furniture, clutter, and other crap you don’t need?  That’s a novella.

 

Because there are space limitations, the author does have to make every word, every scene count, there’s no space for extraneous scenes that don’t push the story forward.  But because the author has more space than they would if they were writing say, a 5,000 word story,  there’s plenty of space for characterization,  great dialog, action, plenty of space (between 100 and 200 pages worth!) for the reader to get completely immersed in what is going on.

 

These last few years, Tor has been absolutely rocking the novella game.  Ten years ago I would have said “you want how much money for a 150 page book???”  and because of the excellent novellas that have been coming out recently, these days I’m more like “A book I can read in an afternoon? Shut up and take my money!”

 

Introduction over,  let’s talk about super fun science fiction and fantasy novellas that have come out these last few years.  This is no where close to an exhaustive list of all the wonderful novellas that have come out in the last few years, just a handful of my favorites. If you’re not sure about novellas,  here are some great ones to start with:

 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells – you haven’t read Murderbot yet?  Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Go to the bookstore and get yourself some Murderbot diaries novellas!  you can thank me later.  There are four novellas in this series, and if they aren’t yet available as an omnibus, I’m sure they will be soon.

 

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – Oh, you like brilliant mathematicians who have to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, and survive and alien attack, all so she can go the galactic university? yeah, things get kinda awkward when she does back home. Another must read, there are 3 novellas in this series, and it is available as an omnibus.

 

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson – if you like snark, strong narrative voices, and the best twist of the year, this is the novella for you!  yes, this is one of those stories where once you’ve read it once and you know what the twist is, what’s the point of reading it again?  That said, I’ve read this at least three times because it’s just that  entertaining.

 

If you enjoy the Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne, then you’ll love his novella series of Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, which starts with The Squirrel on the Train. told from Oberon’s point of view, these are hilarious and adorable cozy mysteries. But really, it’s about Oberon getting good snacks, and Atticus not getting the spotlight.

 

The Inconvenient God by Francesca Forrest – if you like mythology, and how people have a bad habit of changing myths and gods to match what they happen to need that year, this is the novella (or maybe a novelette?) for you.

 

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew –  a scifi retelling of The Snow Queen,  but with better characters than the original,  climate change,  aunties who play the long game, and ghost kilns which I am still scared of.  Sriduangkaew’s prose is gorgeous and poetic, transporting the reader to lush semi-tropical worlds,  virtual mazes, and iced over landscapes.

 

Time Was by Ian McDonald – time travel, romance, dusty bookstores, secret messages left across the world tucked into strange books that the bookseller isn’t allowed to sell. Excellent characters that leap off the page. Another novella I’ve read a few times now, just for the excuse of spending more time with these characters.

 

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett – do you have a strong stomach? You’ll need it, but it’s worth it for this hard hitting, harder to swallow story about staying armed, staying vigilant, and reality tv gone farther than it ever should.  More people need to read this vicious little cautionary tale, I need to talk about it with people!

 

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold – she writes fantasy too!  When a “demon” attaches itself to Penric, that boy is gonna have to grow up real, real fast. As it turns out, Penric was exactly the right person for Desdemona to bind herself to. Compelling, heartfelt, and humorous, the first novella reads as a stand alone, and if you like it, there’s a few more short reads in this series.

 

this list barely scratches the surface of all the novella wonderfulness out there!  what have been some of your fave novellas to read?  What recommendations do you have for folks who haven’t yet discovered the goldilocks land of novellas?

 

 

 

Welcome to  Five for Friday! The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?

 

Want to join in? Post a picture of 5 random books you own, with the tag #5ForFriday and get your friends talking.

 

 

This week we have two classics, to works of translated fiction and a surprise non-fiction book!

 

 

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (1967) – Would you look at that cover art!  and would you believe I’ve never read a Zelazny novel?  yeah, gotta fix that. Good thing this book is my local scifi book club’s pick for July.  Might be scifi, might be fantasy, might be a mix of both.  a mix of future planetary colonization and Hindu mythology.  I love scifi, I love mythology, so I am super excited to read this!

 

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles (2016) – This was recommended to me by Rachel Cordasco, so I had to give it a try!  Human scholar (the titular linguist?) travels to an alien world to meet the locals. there is a friendly nomadic group and a cave-dwelling group that are blind.  From what little info I can find about this book, it sounds like it might be a little bit Left Hand of Darkness, a little bit The Sparrow?

 

The Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (1946?) – this volume is all three novels together. This a classic, and at 1100 pages it looks intimidating.  Is this worth reading?  like, it looks fancy on my bookshelf, but if I’m never going to read it that real estate could be put to better use.

 

Koiminogatari by Nisioisin (2019) – Narrated by Kaiki Deishu!  If you’re familiar with the anime (or the books!) you’ll know Kaiki is the most brilliantly fucked up sympathetic villain  EVER!  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should that Nisioisin is a best selling author in Japan, and that if you’re new to this series you shouldn’t start with this book.  Unforunately, you need to start somewhere near the beginning, which means starting with either Bakemonogatari or Nisemonogatari.  The books are paced MUCH better than the anime, but the anime is super stylish!

 

Too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight by Dr. Sharon Heller (2003)  a non-fiction book in Five for Friday, what??   Sensory Defensive Disorder is an actual thing! it isn’t in my head,  I’m not making it up, i’m not doing these things for the purpose of being difficult.  i read the list of “common symptoms” of Sensory Defensive Disorder to my husband and he said I had every single one. I really can not wait for Sensory Defensive Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder to legit be on the autism spectrum.  although i do hate that it is called a “disorder”, it makes me feel broken and defective.  Cuz,  like, i don’t feel broken?  I just feel the way I’ve always felt?

 

 

 

 

 

For the first entry in this series, and more info on The Big Book of Classic Fantasy edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, click here.

 

This isn’t braggable progress through The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, but darn if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of this week’s stories!  This week I got to enjoy folklore, cautionary tales, and satire from 1819 to 1918.

When I was a little girl, my mom would tell me the story of Rip Van Winkle as a bedtime story.  I don’t remember if she ever read the story out of a storybook, but I know she didn’t need a book to tell us the story.  Washington Irving published “Rip Van Winkle” as a short story in 1819, and it has been part of New York folklore ever since. (Does anyone remember an animated movie of this? I can’t tell if I’m getting my cartoon memories mixed up with the old Legend of Sleepy Hollow animated movie??)   My parents grew up in New York, and Rip Van Winkle was the local story that everyone knew, and that everyone told to their children.  If you’re not familiar, it’s the story of a bumbling husband who shirks his obligations, and is one day walking through the woods with his dog and his hunting rifle.  He follows a strange man through the woods until the come upon the strangers friends, who are playing nine-pins. The sound of the pins is the sound of thunder. Rip drinks some of their beer, and on the way home he sits against a tree and falls asleep.  He wakes up and decades have passed. He was raised in the Catskill mountains as a loyal British subject, who the hell is General Washington, and where is his wife??? The story has a happy as possible an ending. I got shivers reading this, this, this was the story my mom told little me as a bedtime story! And now it is in this big book of classic fantasy?   I did not expect to have a personal connection with anything in this book, that is for sure!

 

Everyone has heard of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. Even if you’ve never read Frankenstein you surely have seen a movie version or at least have some concept of the story. I always knew that Shelley wrote other works, but never came across any. Until now!  Her short story, “Transformation”, first published in 1831, is considered an early example of “doppleganger” fiction. To be honest, the first half of this story was painfully boring, and I almost stopped reading. Businessman’s son gets everything he wants, is totally spoiled, flaunts his wealth. Dad dies, he inherits, and instead of buying a house for he and his betrothed to live in, he blows it all and makes a complete idiot of himself.  I was bored by this point, but good thing I kept reading, because the story got good! As he is walking along the beach having a pity party, he sees a shipwreck off in the distance, and who should float to shore, but a dwarf and chest of gold! The dwarf says “trade bodies with me for 3 days, and I’ll give you this chest of gold”. Figuring he has nothing left to lose, our hapless narrator agrees. Surprising no one, the dwarf in his body apologies to his betrothed, and is about to marry her, leaving our narrator in the dwarf’s body forever.  He attacks the dwarf who took his body, and this is where Shelley blew my mind. About to be mortally injured, the dwarf-in-his-body says

“Strike home! Destroy this body – you will still live many: may your life be long and merry!”.

If the narrator-in-dwarf’s-body kills his human body, he will never be able to return to his true body. What to do??? Boring start, fan-freaking-tastic ending.

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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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