the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘magic

Penric and the Shaman (Penric and Desdemona #2) by Lois McMaster Bujold

published: Feb 2017

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

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Four years after the events of Penric’s Demon, Pen has settled into an insulated life in Martensbridge.  He’s grown in his maturity, and his relationship with Desdemona has somewhat settled down.  They’ve gotten used to each other, and settled into how their life together will function on a day to day basis. While Pen’s passion project is copying Learned Ruchia’s volumes on sorcery and magic so that it can be distributed to the other Temples, there is still plenty about magic and demons that he, and even Desdemona, don’t know.  There’s the magic that is taught in the schools and temples, magic education and knowledge that can be controlled.  And then there’s the hedge magic, magic learned by accident and never written down only passed around orally. There’s this neat undercurrent in these novellas about official scholars who want only the magic they teach (and control) to be seen as “good” magic, and anything outside these scholarly and proscribed is considered dangerous to the safety of all.

 

If while reading Penric’s Demon, you had hoped for more explanation about how the magic system worked, and what exactly demons are, you’ll be pleased to know that there is a fascinating conversation near the beginning of Penric and the Shaman where Pen takes the opportunity to explain the difference (now that he understands it himself!) between magic that descends from gods and demons and hedge shamanic magic, which is believed to be taken up from the earth and mortal animals. Penric’s Demon is the shortest and most focused of the novellas in this series, and I appreciate that Bujold waited until a little later in the series to explain how everything works, rather than bog down the opening novella with it.

 

The Princess-Archdivine tasks Pen with travelling with Locator Oswyl to assist him with investigating a Shamanic murder. A less skilled writer could easily have taken this story down the road of standard police procedural starring two unlikely partners. Luckily, it was written by Bujold, so while yes, there is an investigation of sorts, and yes, Pen an Oswyl are absolute opposites and aren’t sure what to make of each other, there is nothing standard about this story and it doesn’t feel like a procedural.   It feels more a ghost story, and a story about knowing how and when to let go, actually.

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Penric’s Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold

published in May 2016

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

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Everyone has heard of Lois McMaster Bujold. Creator of the beloved and long running Vorkosigan space opera series, and creator of the World of the Five Gods fantasy series, among other series and stand alones. I imagine she has multiple mantles in her house to display the myriad awards she has won during her long career.
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When Subterranean Press sent me advanced reading copies of her new novellas that take place in her World of the Five Gods series, my first thought was how many additional novels will I have to read for these to make sense? New novels and stories in the Vorkosigan series make me nervous because I am so under read in that series that I miss more than half the jokes. So as more Penric novellas showed up on my doorstep, I got more and more nervous. But? The first one was scarecly 200 pages, and if I read 20 pages and nothing made sense, I could always put it down, right?
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So, the good news is that I had nothing to worry about, because Penric’s Demon is a pleasure to read, and requires zero knowledge whatsoever of the world.
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The better news is that there are now four novellas in this group (not exactly a series?), so if you like what you read in Penric’s Demon, there’s plenty more for you to enjoy.
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Ok, I lied. You need to know a smidgen about the World of the Five Gods for Penric’s Demon to make sense. You need to know it’s a medieval secondary fantasy world with a feudal government and sorcerers receive formal educations to best use their powers. Also, there are five gods. There. That’s all you need to know to go into these novellas and enjoy yourself.
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Penric, the son of a country baron of dwindling fortune, is nineteen and naive. On his way to his formal betrothal ceremony, he stops by the side of the road to help an ailing old woman. She doesn’t make it, and this is the end of Penric’s boring provincial life. She wasn’t just any old woman. Learned Ruchia of Martensbridge was a physician, high sorceress, and she was carrying an old demon. When she died, the demon had to go somewhere. It went into Penric.

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Cold Iron, by Stina Leicht

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

 

Cold Iron came out in 2015, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since.  Stina Leicht? Everything she writes is gold,  so why did I wait so long to read this one?

 

This is why I was nervous:

  • It is a fat book. It looks like it would take me forever to read, and through all of 2015 and 2016 I had very limited reading time. Did I want to commit to a book that was going to take me a month to read?
  • The cover art screams military fantasy.  Yes, I know I went through my Joe Abercrombie phase, but then I realized I was no longer interested in trails of dead bodies. I was no longer interested in stories that glorified battle and killing. The cover art shows a dude with a pistol, looking over a field of battle.   Was I going to like this book??

 

Every so often I reread my reviews of Stina Leicht’s Fey and Fallen books, and am reminded of how much I love her writing. Prose sharp as a knife, plotting so tight you’ll never escape, and good god the characters she develops.  I recently did a 5 books 50 pages, where I grabbed 5 books I’d been meaning to read, and only committed to reading the first 50 pages. If I liked what I was reading, I could continue, and if the book just didn’t do it for me, I was under zero obligation to read further.  My comments about Cold Iron after 50 pages were:

 

“Nels is broody, his personal bodyguard/spy/assassin Viktor is snarky AF, I want to join up with the Waterborne, and Leicht has already written the sequel.  As she always does, Leicht writes characters you immediately become invested in.  Cold Iron is some solid awesome.”

 

I was hooked in the opening chapter. Nine pages in, and I knew I’d be devouring this novel.  A ritual done after a death, swords that carry the memories of the dead.  I was happily hooked. And the book only got better from there.

 

Everything about this novel was so wonderful, that I don’t know even where to start.  The characters were fantastic, the pacing is spot on perfect, and I loved that Leicht built a fantasy world that exists in a changing world.

 

I loved the world of Cold Iron.  Leicht created a magic filled fantasy world, one where blood remembers and swords and knives carry memories, a world where water-weavers can control the weather and speak to creatures of the ocean deep.  And then she had a non-magical culture (humans!)  invade it with muskets and small pox.   Yep, small pox. And that’s not a spoiler, by the way.  The Eledorians are used to fighting with magic,  but how do you magic away a high mortality infectious disease to which no one has immunity?

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fix-steinmetzFix by Ferrett Steinmetz

published Sept 2016

where I got it: purchased new

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Fix is the final entry in Ferrett Steinmetz’s ‘Mancy trilogy.  If you’re just joining us, check out my reviews of the first two books, Flex and The Flux, and don’t read any further in this review because hey, spoilers for the first two books.   Fix takes place a few years after The Flux – Aliyah is a teenager, Paul and Imani are back together, Valentine and Robert are trying to make things work, and the whole family is living in hiding. But what are you gonna do with a bored and lonely teenager?  Take her to play some soccer, of course.  Take the world’s youngest and most talented videogamemancer to play youth soccer?? This is not going to end well.

Not only does the soccer game go poorer than anyone expected, Aliyah’s magic is exposed and now she’s on the radar of the Unimancers, the government hive mind of their captured ‘mancers.  Paul and Valentine are literally going to have to up their game to ensure Aliyah’s safety.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Ferrett Steinmetz at Conventions and attend his readings. My friends, if you ever find yourself in the same city as Ferrett, get yourself in the same room with him in the hopes you will hear him read his work. The man has an amazing voice.  At first it seems he’s reading slowly. But no, those are deliberate, planned pauses. Those are moments in which the words he is saying (and not just the sound, but the words and the meaning and the weight) sink in. He’s doing you a favor – giving you time to absorb and digest what you are hearing.  While I was reading Fix I heard Ferrett’s voice reading it to me.  Slower than I usually read, a kindly and sympathetic voice encouraged me to slow down to experience the full effect of getting kicked in the feels in nearly every chapter. Thanks Ferrett, for making my cry for like an hour while finishing this book!

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territoryTerritory by Emma Bull

published in 2007

where I got it: purchased used

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Territory is one of those books that I really enjoyed, but it’s hard to articulate why I enjoyed it. Reading this book was like climbing under a soft heavy blanket – everything just felt right. Emma Bull certainly isn’t the only author to ever write a weird west tale, to ever envision that Wyatt Earp had some kind of magic that protected him, his brothers and their interests, and Doc Holliday. But I think she’s the only one to do it quite like this, to pit Earp against someone like Jesse Fox.

 

I was never all that interested in Wyatt Earp. And maybe that’s why I liked Territory so much. In this novel Wyatt is, umm….   wallpaper? A room accessory?  He’s there, but he’s the lamp in the room that is used to so you can see other things. Earp is walking through the story, having convinced himself the universe revolves about him, but this isn’t a story about him.  Doc Holliday thinks he’s the star of this story as well . . . .

 

Territory revolves around the fictitious characters Jesse Fox and Mildred Benjamin.  Fox may introduce himself as a horse breaker, but his skill set lies elsewhere. He’s been drawn to the boom city of Tombstone by his Chinese friend Lung Chow.  Chow’s been trying to train Jesse in other arts for years, but Jesse’s stubbornness keeps getting in his way.   Mildred is a widow, she works as a typesetter with one of the local newspapers. A woman with her feet in two worlds  and her ear to the ground,  she finds herself drawn to a man as secretive as she is. I really loved Mildred and what she goes through, her thoughts about where she in her life and how she got there. Earp might be a lamp that allows you to see other things, but Mildred is where all the brightness in the story comes from.

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necessary evil coverNecessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

published in 2013

Where i got it: from a friend

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Necessary Evil is the final book in Tregillis’s Milkweed series, and this book takes place immediately after the gut punch cliffhanger ending of the second book in the series, The Coldest War. So, I really can’t talk in any detail about Necessary Evil without giving epic spoilers for the entire series.  #sorrynotsorry

 

Before I get to the spoilers, let’s go back in a time a little bit. Back in 2013, I read the first book in the series, Bitter Seeds.  It was one of the darkest books I’d ever read.  When I finished it, I thought to myself that this Tregillis guy is a damn awesome writer, but I don’t know if I can read anymore of his stuff.  A year went by. And suddenly, all I could think about was this series – what happened to the characters?  So I finally read the second book. And it was even darker and more soul wrenching than the first one. And when I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about how lonely Gretel is, that maybe she was a victim, that she’s a horrible human being and I hate her, but she is lonely and a victim.  I couldn’t stop thinking about how how Raybould Marsh got to this point in his life, where his wife barely talks to him and their son is, well . . .  not even going to go there because then I have to thinking about why his son is the way he is.   Like the earlier books in the series,  Necessary Evil was an utterly engrossing page turner.

I just now described Necessary Evil to my husband with “it’s about the psychology of redemption and every page is  like a punch to the nuts and you just want to die on every page”. He laughed, a little.

 

While I was reading Necessary Evil, a line from my review of Bitter Seeds kept popping back into my head:

 

“When the cost gets too high you are supposed to know it’s time to stop.”

 

 

 

Over the course of the series, Will and Marsh realized the cost was far too high for what they were getting from the Eidolons. But when you work for people to whom money is no object, how do you get them to stop spending?  By becoming the enemy.

 

And with that,  it’s epic spoiler time.

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Spells-of-Blood-and-KinSpells of Blood and Kin, by Claire Humphrey

published June 2016

where I got it: received review copy

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Spells of Blood and Kin was mentioned in my recent 5 Books, 50 pages blog post.  Of the books mentioned in that post, this was the only book that I had a tough time stopping reading at exactly 50 pages.   In fact,  by the time that blog post published, I was halfway through Spells of Blood and Kin,  and finished it 48 hours after picking it up.  I couldn’t put this book down, I didn’t want to put this book down,  I was late to work because all I wanted to do for 2 days was read this book.  If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, of stories that have weight and depth and sensuality and secrets and consequences, this is a book for you.

 

We all know those fantasy authors who write in a fashion to make their novels longer, because an epic story should have an epic number of pages, or something. Short story authors do the opposite – often self-editing their work towards making their prose more effective in fewer words. Claire Humphrey is a well published short story author, and you can see her short story composition skills on display in Spells of Blood and Kin.  What I mean by that is there is not a single unnecessary word or scene in this book.  Every scene, every conversation, and every paragraph is honed down to a sharp reflective edge, increasing the effect of the words, pushing the reader to engage with the story in a more intimate and imaginative fashion.  That was a lot of fancy talk to say Humphrey is a damn good writer. Spells of Blood and Kin opens with a surprising and unnerving sentence, dives right into the compelling intricacies of the plot, and runs from there. Like with most books, everyone is going to have a different reaction to this book, and much of my personal interaction with this book happened between the lines, in what Humphrey left unsaid.

 

So, what’s this story about?   Lissa’s grandmother Iadviga has just passed away.  In a stunned state of grief,  the funeral is planned, the church ladies bring piles of food to the house, and Lissa starts going through her grandmother’s things. Not only is Lissa inheriting the house and the debt, she is also inheriting her Baba’s responsibilities among the traditional Russian families in a community surrounded by the cosmopolitan  bustle of Toronto.  On the night of Iadviga’s death, the spell she had been weaving and reweaving for over 30 years collapsed.

 

For her Baba’s funeral, Lissa was allowed to enter the church building, but not allowed to be in the sanctuary. Because while the church will tolerate the community’s need for witchy women,  magic practitioners are not allowed on consecrated ground.  With one hand the community shuns Lissa and her family, while placing orders for magic eggs with the other hand.

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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.