the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

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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Traitor-Baru-498x750The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson

publishes on Sept 15, 2015

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

read an excerpt, here!

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A hundred pages in, and I knew The Traitor Baru Cormorant would be a game-changer.  I can tell you right now this is my favorite book of 2015. I don’t even have the words to explain how this story affected me and what it did to me.   If you have ever taken my advice in the past to read a book, this is the time to take it again. The Traitor Baru Cormorant? Read it.

 

In this hard-to-believe-it’s-a debut novel, Dickinson responds to every single epic fantasy trope with “it’s more complicated than that”, and then he shows you why those complications are needed, and that every fantasy you’ve ever read leading up until right now has been sorely deficient in exploring complications. Culture, ambition, politics, conquest, morals, colonization, loyalty, rebellion, romance. Shouldn’t they be more complicated than your standard fantasy novel make them out to be? Yes, yes they should. Because they are.

 

It is not words that Dickinson uses to weave Baru’s story, but scalpel sharp razor blades. As Baru says, it’s not what the Empire does to you, it’s what the Empire makes you do to yourself.  No one will make you read this book, just as no one made Baru do anything. No one will make you slowly carve out your own heart and hold it still beating in your hands, looking for yourself in it’s glistening reflection, just as no one forced Baru to do the things she did (she doesn’t cut her own heart out, by the way, or at least not exactly). She made her choices, as will you. As you turn the pages, as you take Baru and her life into your own, you will do it to yourself, you will let those razors that masquerade as words cut you deep, again and again. And just like Baru, you won’t notice the pain until it’s too late.

 

When the Empire of Masks came to Baru’s homeland of Taranoke, she was but a child. While she was attending the shiny new school opened by the empire, her family saw what was happening around them. As Baru learned all the types of punishable sins and another definition of family, her entire culture was becoming unsanitary, illegal, and unacceptable under the eye of the empire. Everything she loved, everything that made her who she was, could not exist under the new rules.  Authoritarian? Sure. But the empire brought literacy, trade, new medicines, technology and protection from pirates. To be under the Empire of Masks was to be safe and protected, but also to assimilate completely, to keep children from ever knowing the culture of their parents.

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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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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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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.