the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘intrigue

Mightier Than the Sword, by K.J. Parker

published June 30, 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)

 

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Recently out from Subterranean Press is K.J. Parker’s newest stand alone novella, Mightier than the Sword.  Parker fans will delight in the dry humor, banter, and plot twists of this fast paced story, while readers new to the Parker style may be left scratching their heads a bit yet at the same time itching to read the book again.  At 130 pages and mostly action and dialog, this novella can easily and happily be devoured in an afternoon.

 

Presented as a translation of a historical document from a nation that never existed, the environments presented here could be ancient Rome, could be early Britain, could be anywhere in between. The story may be fast paced, but it takes place  in a time when communication was as fast as the horse under the messenger and a two week journey in a wagon barely got you across the country.

 

Our unnamed narrator, the nephew of the Empress, is given a mission to discover just what the hell has been happening to the monasteries at the border of the country. Harried by pirates, burnt by raiders, no survivors, and hardly anything of worth has been stolen.  Is the empress trying to get one more heir killed? Is she trying to get him out of the capitol for some reason?  But off he goes on his errand, but not before proposing marriage to the woman he loves, after purchasing a house for them to live in and a doctor to save her life.

 

His rounds to the monasteries is also a convenient excuse to visit relatives he hasn’t seen since childhood.  Nobles who piss off the royal court can’t exactly be banished or excommunicated, so monasteries seem as good a prison for them as any other place – it’s cold,  boring, and out of the way. The abbots and abbesses tell our narrator who they think he can trust (no one), and what they think they know about who the raiders might be. Our narrator, wisely, pays close attention to what everyone says and  stays quiet about the knowledge he collects.  He has money to buy whatever he needs along the way, but more often than not, knowledge is of far greater value than coin.

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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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A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay

published in 1992

where I got it: mah bookshelf

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The real story begins when the romance ends.

Once upon a time, a man loved a woman, and she dearly loved him back. They met for a secret tryst to make a child.  Of course, her husband found out about her affair with her lover, and when the child was born, her angry husband tore the child from her arms. A few hours later, she was dead. Neither her lover nor her husband ever recovered.

Twenty three years later, our story, and the song for Arbonne, can begin.

Blaise has recently come to the southern country of Arbonne. Worse than being an ignorant northerner and a savage mercenary, Blaise hasn’t a clue about or an appreciation of music and poetry, the foundation of society in Arbonne. In Guy Gavriel Kay’s fictional France, Arbonne is country where troubadours and poets are valued beyond gold, where a young duchess rules a Court of Love, and where political marriages are solved with very, very discreet evening visitors.  In the country of Arbonne, music, love and the appreciation of beauty are everything.

Coming from a male dominated society where a man’s prowess is proved on the battlefield, Blaise spends his first few months in Arbonne recovering from culture shock.  Hired by a famous troubadour, Bertran de Talair, Blaise is soon caught up in webs upon webs of intrigue, fights started a generation ago, and a ruling family carrying a heavy burden. Even worse, it’s not long before Blaise’s identity is exposed: he’s the youngest son of a ruling priest of the war hungry northern country of Gorhaut.

In the year that he spends in Arbonne, Blaise will have to learn that this a land of subtlety and intrigue, and what one says is just as important as  what one stays silent on, and how one chooses to stay silent. He could be the best thing to happen to Arbonne, or he could destroy the country from the inside. Blaise’s story is only one facet of the complex story, and the more I tell you of the plot, the less of it you will experience through your own eyes, and that would be a crime.

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Sharps, by K.J. Parker

published July 2012, from Orbit Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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In the border country of Scheria, four talented fencers have been convinced (in many cases  blackmailed) into joining a new national fencing team. The team will travel into war-torn neighboring Permia on a mission of goodwill. it’s been years since the war, and perhaps now is the time to start a discussion between the two countries. If they can’t agree on trade policies or politics, perhaps they can agree to watch the sport everyone in Permia has been going crazy for – fencing.

The story focuses intimately around our four fencers: Suidas, the champion who drank his winnings away; Giraut, who is running from a date with the gallows; Addo, the useless youngest son of Scheria’s military hero; and Isuetz, the lone woman trying to escape an arranged marriage. And travelling with them are their fencing coach Phrantzes and Tzimisces, who is a fixer/political officer.  We know very little about everyone when the story starts, and by the time it ends, well, lets just say that everyone has secrets.

Ahh, the word fencing. It can mean so many things.  Parrying with swords. Selling stolen items. Foils and thefts aside, one can fence with words es well, luring someone into a false sense of security and then causing lethal pain without even drawing a blade.

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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.