the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

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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speak easySpeak Easy, by Catherynne M. Valente

publishes August 31, 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Subterranean!)

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Speak Easy is a jazz age retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (a tale you’re familiar with if you’ve read Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at The Kingfisher Club).  Told in a series of vignettes that follow the residents of the hotel Artemesia, we watch as they each see something they want, and are lured to go after it. The final twist, however, involves a magic far older than the Brothers Grimm originally imagined.

The words that best describes this novella are sculptural and musical. The short chapters are titled with the room numbers in which the characters reside. It’s as if, with each vignette, with each character introduction and peek into their lives, Valente is carving the story, word by word and room by room out of a massive, hotel shaped slab of marble. It’s like those ancient temples that have been carved out of stone or into cliff faces. Someone had to carve out all those rooms. Just like Valente is carving out the rooms of the hotel residents. One of the first rooms we visit is the infamous 1550, home of Zelda Fair, Olive Bay, Opal Lunet and Oleander Coy. Four women who live by their own set of rules, share their apartment with a pelican, and keep their own secrets.  Although Speak Easy is an ensemble piece, Zelda quickly becomes the celestial body that other characters orbit.

I also mentioned the word musical,didn’t I? It’s the voice of the narrator. Confident, cheeky, and bordering on scat singing, the narrator is having a conversation with the reader, luring you in, teasing you with slang, entendres, and bawdy jokes. The narrator can tell you who in this hotel is sleeping with someone they aren’t married to, wouldn’t you like know what other juicy secrets she might be enticed to share?

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illusion paula volskyIllusion by Paula Volsky

published in 1992

where I got it: paperback swap

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If Robin Hobb wrote a mash-up of Les Miserables, Downton Abbey, and Memoirs of a Geisha, she might end up with something like Paula Volsky’s Illusion. Magic meets a society in turmoil, in which a bloody revolution is followed by chaos, all told from the point of view of a incredibly sheltered young woman.

 

Raised in wealth and privilege in the outer provinces, Eliste vo Derrivalle knows she’s above the common people. Because of course she is, she’s Exalted. A class above the wealthy and prosperous, the Exalted have a natural magic, and naturally, all other people exist to serve the Exalted. It’s not Eliste’s fault she’s been raised to believe this. Not only is it the culture in which she was raised, it is the culture of the entire Kingdom.

 

Shortly after the opening chapters, Eliste and her maid travel to the capital, where she is to live with her aunt and learn the finer qualities of being a noble lady. She’s been chosen to be a lady in waiting (of sorts) to the Queen. Being a lady in waiting is more along the lines of servitude, and accepting gifts and favors usually requires something in return. Eliste is so damn naive and in denial of what’s happening around her, that it is nearly tragically comic.

 

While Eliste is enjoying champagne and leftover pastries for lunch with the other ladies, a revolution is brewing. The second half of the novel takes a very dark turn, with a revolutionary leader whose fervor for a new world is only matched by his paranoia, and magical mechanical creatures that no one can control.

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Zachary Jernigan imaveZachary Jernigan’s debut novel No Return received plenty of outstanding press.  Reviewers compared it to the epic scale of Frank Herbert’s Dune and the surreal strangeness of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, describing it as daring, hypnotic, and raising the bar.  The sequel to No Return,  Shower of Stones, hits bookstore shelves on July 7th.  Zachary was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his work.

 

Little Red Reviewer: No Return has been described as genre-defying, hypnotic, and a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. What inspired you to write No Return? Was it a challenge to blend genres and to have wizards and astronauts in the same world?

Zachary Jernigan: First off, thank you so much for having me! It means the world to be interviewed by invested fans and critics of the genre.

In answer to your question, my inspiration has always been other people’s writing. Authors like Samuel Delany, Roger Zelanzy, and Cordwainer Smith, specifically, are points of reference. With No Return, I wanted to re-create for a reader the same sense of wonder and possibility that I experience reading work that deals in big, world-shattering themes without restricting itself to just science fiction or fantasy. I love cool-looking characters doing impossible things in crazy places, but I also like those narratives to be written well. Hopefully, I’m paying proper homage to my literary idols and not embarrassing myself.

And yes, it was definitely a challenge. I mean, writing is always a challenge for me, but world-building is particularly taxing — perhaps especially so when mixing genres so obviously. Keeping all that crazy stuff consistent, in my own head but also within the story, was kinda hellish. Fun, but still hellish.

Some writers love all that creation and it doesn’t stress them out. I love it, too, but accounting for everything stresses me out.

 

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voyage basilisk coverVoyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan

published March 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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Voyage of the Basilisk is the third book in Marie Brennan’s “Lady Trent” series. If you’re just joining us, I suggest skimming or skipping this review, as there are unavoidable spoilers. But do take a look at my reviews for the earlier books in the series!

For the last six years, Isabella Camherst has been second guessing some of her decisions in Eriga, allowing her townhouse to become a gathering place for the intelligentsia and curious, and raising her son Jake.  She pours over research and samples, trying to understand how to categorize the known species of dragons. There is quite a bit of talk of what makes something a dragon, or simply a reptile (if Pluto is a planet, why is this larger thing not a planet?). Is it the extraordinary breath? having wings? having a bird-like bone structure?  Are sea serpents not quite dragons since they don’t have wings, or even legs?  She’ll simply have to study them more!

Her plans come to fruition, and along with Jake and his governess, and fellow researcher Tom Wilker, she finds herself on the Royal Ship Basilisk, which is captained by Dione Aekinitos, known as the mad Captain.  Tiny quarters will be their home for at least the next year, but who cares? Isabella and Tom will have the chance to study sea serpents, fire lizards, and other species the most Anthiopians have only ever heard about second or third hand. Part of her funding has come from a local society, so part of her letters home include dispatches, essays, and researches to be published publicly.

Of course, things do not go as planned. She does see sea serpents. and fire lizards.  And meets a handsome and engaging archeologist. And has a secret marriage.  And there are politics and pirates and volcanoes. And references to Linear A, the Rosetta Stone, and how to translate untranslatable languages. And like in the first two books, there is much in the way of Isabelle the elder taking pains to “set the story straight”, and to make sure the reader knows that when she was traveling she had no way of knowing what people were saying or doing back home.

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american craftsmen coverAmerican Craftsmen, by Tom Doyle

published in 2014

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

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Is it possible to really enjoy a book, but to at the same time be incredibly frustrated with it? It’s completely possible, and doesn’t stop you from enjoying the hell out of something. And it’s the experience I had with Tom Doyle’s debut novel, American Craftsmen.

 

The book starts with a bang, and gets off to a fantastic start. US Army Captain Dale Morton has his mission switched at the last minute, and something goes terribly wrong, pushing him to contemplate leaving the military. But, he’s a Morton. He *can’t* leave the military. This is where I fell in love with the premise of the novel. Morton is a Craftsman. Passed down through the generations, his family has held magical powers since the creation of the United States. Through agreements with the government, the Craft families have always protected the land and the country.  Along with the other Craftsman families, Morton is part of a secret unit in the US Military.  Unlike other Craft families, Dale can never escape his own family’s past.

 

Dale was a great point of view character, he’s brave but vulnerable, someone willing take risks and bend the rules when circumstances allow.  And oh, didn’t I mention? He has daily chats with his late grandfather’s ghost, and the house they live in has a personality all it’s own. I loved house!

 

House protects the Mortons, and keeps the older ghosts trapped in the basement. A few generations ago, a branch of the family, known as the Left Hand branch, went bad. They allowed their magic to be corrupted by greed. Dale knows their power surges through him. He just has to keep it at bay and not fall into the trap of their promises.

 

You’re gonna love House. You’re also gonna love the Sanctuary and The Gideons.

 

Ok, that’s most of what I liked. Let me tell you what frustrated me.

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flights of fictionFlights of Fiction, edited by Gery Deer and Barbara Huiner Deer

published in 2013

where I got it: received a copy from Gery Deer (thanks Gery!)

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I’m one of those terrible people who ignores the table of contents in an anthology. I read the stories in whatever order I please. Yes, I know this negates all the hard work the editor has put into choosing a proper order for the stories, and yet. And yet I should I have read Flights of Fiction in order, or at least read the opening story first, and the closing story last. The opening story, “The Dead of Winter” is one helluva opener – dark, subtle and twisty, and the closing story, “Kayfabe”, balances a secret of magic with the inevitability of a life at its end. This anthology was put together by WOWA, the Western Ohio Writers Association. A humorous description of how the book came to exist is on the back cover:

 

“in 2008, a group of authors in Dayton, Ohio, got together for the sole purprose of ripping each other to shreds, leaving behind the mangled hopes of promising scribes who lay finally broken and decaying on the floor. After that, robbed of all dignity, they went out for coffee and decided to write a book.”

 

All of the stories take place in Ohio, but you don’t need to be from Ohio (or even be able to find it on a map) to enjoy this collection. Here are some thoughts on my favorite stories:

“The Dead of Winter” by Michael Martin – A near-perfect opener to set the tone of some of the darker tales, with an effective whisper of a first line:

 

“What I’m going to tell you only makes sense if you believe that I love my wife”.

 

A post-apocalyptic middle America isn’t a new playground by any means, but pay close attention to the man’s relationship and interaction with his wife. How he makes sure she’s protected, how he takes care of her as if she can’t take care of herself, her silence. Your observant mind is telling you one thing, but the man in the story, he’s telling you something very different. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for “it” to happen, what I didn’t realize until the closing sentence was that it had already happened, and he truly does love his wife. I fricken’ loved this story.

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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.