the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘magic

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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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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land of love and drowningThe Land of Love and Drowning, by Tiphanie Yanique

published in 2014

where i got it: purchased new

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A cross hatching of mythology and consequence, Land of Love and Drowning is a family drama on the surface. Scratch away just a few layers and you find a family whose legacy is based on shattering secrets, children who know they are capable of doing horrible things, and a culture forced to a precipice. On the Caribbean island of St. Thomas lives the Bradshaw family, and their unmaking will becoming their making.

 

The Danish West Indies have just become the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bradshaw family of St. Thomas is about to suffer two tragedies. Mrs. Bradshaw will give birth to a second daughter, and Mr. Bradshaw will drown when his ship goes down.  Raised in luxury, older daughter Eeona attended finishing school, and knows how to walk, talk and pour tea like a proper lady.  her beauty is known throughout the islands, and at first the suitors were quite literally lined up down the block. Hers is a beauty that can sink ships. The man she loves will never, and can never marry her, and when her father drowns, the suitors see a desperate fatherless daughter instead of the daughter of a shipping magnate.  Offered a chance to finally make her own living, Mrs. Bradshaw takes her fashionable wares to America, to get her own contracts. She comes home ill and dying. Within the year, the sisters are orphaned and destitute.  Eeona wants only what her father promised her, and baby Anette is too young to want anything at all.

 

Just as much as the story follows the family drama of the Bradshaw family, it follows the history of the island of St. Thomas of the Virgin Islands. In the early 1900s, the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John were literally sold to the United States, ceased to be the Danish West Indies and became the U.S. Virgin Islands. What could America bring to the islands, besides citizenship? How about Prohobition, a war, racism, sleazy movies, and capitalism, just to start.

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flex cover artFlex, by Ferrett Steinmetz

published March 3, 2015

where I got it: received eARC from the author (Thanks Ferrett!)

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I’m a tough customer with many Urban Fantasy titles. I tend to either really like the book, or be bored out of my mind by it, and I struggle with understanding why some UF books rock my world and why others don’t work for me. Luckily, Ferrett Steinmetz’s Flex falls firmly and undoubtedly in the first camp. He takes the “people learn how to do magic, will they use it for good or ill?” question and blows it right open, exposing the soft underbelly of a society that first resorts to fear and violence when faced with something they don’t understand.  And I fricken’ loved every word of it.  The magic is weird and soul-crushingly expensive, the characters are fantastic, the stakes are high, and the story is intimate. That my friends, is what I’m always looking for.

 

Allow me to set the stage: Insurance agent Paul Tsabo is still in shock over his recent divorce, still trying to make his new apartment look fun and friendly to his six year old daughter Aliyah. An ex-police officer, he lost a foot in the event that brought his police career to a screeching halt. It’s okay though, Paul actually loves doing paperwork and investigating insurance fraud.  The stingy insurance company he works for loves him too – he saves them a fortune in paying out claims. After all, if the injury or damage was caused by ‘mancy, it’s not covered by insurance. Paul can sniff out ‘mancy like the best of them, because after all, he is a ‘mancer. He loves the idea that his forms and paperwork can track anything that happens, or anything that someone wants to happen.

 

No one really understands how magic works, but everyone knows three things: Your ‘mancy is directly connected to what you love; physics and magic do not get along and the side effects of ‘mancy are often fatal; and if caught doing ‘mancy you are arrested, mind-wiped, and given a life time membership to the military hive mind. Very few people understand how ‘mancy works, and since it’s illegal to learn about it or discuss it, finding what knowledge does exist is even harder.

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california bonesCalifornia Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

Published 2014

where I got it: borrowed ARC from My Bookish Ways

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Writing a magic system readers will resonate with is a tricky thing. Some readers like them to work like, well, magic, with hands twirling or fingers snapping, other readers need something a little more meaty. I’m a meaty girl, and I go crazy for a magic system that’s complicated, expensive*, and intimately connected to the physical body of the magician. I want there to be some chemistry, some science to the whole thing. For lack of a better term, I want the magic to feel plausible.  That said, it took less than one chapter for me to completely buy into and fall in love with the magic system in Greg Van Eekhout’s California Bones.

 

*And by expensive, I don’t mean money. I mean if you screw it up, you’re probably going to die. So don’t screw it up.

 

This is a magic system that is based on ingesting the bones, tissues, and fossils of the thing whose properties you want to use.  And where else to find the fossils of ancient magical creatures, like mammoths, griffins, mastodons, eocorns, krakens and basilisks but southern California’s La Brea Tar Pits? Ingest the ancient residues of these creatures, and take into yourself the powers of long life, fire, invisibility and other powers.

 

This is the magic of ancient bones. This is osteomancy.  And excuse my language, but it is fucking brilliant.

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the-kingdom-of-gods-by-nk-jemisinThe Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin (Inheritance trilogy, book 3)

published in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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This is the third book in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.  It’s straight up fantasy, but it’s the kind of fantasy that’s tough to categorize, which means it’s the kind of fantasy I really like.  You can’t go into this novel blind, you really do need to read the first two books in the series.  Each book in the series is told from a different characters point of view. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is Yeine’s story, her journey from mortal heir to goddess. The Broken Kingdoms is Oree’s story, a blind artist who becomes the mother of a demon.  This final book is Sieh’s story, that of a godling who refused to grow up.

 

And why should he “grow up”? Sieh is the godling of childhood, after all. He’s the godling of tricks and white lies, spying, and coming home to loving parents. Above all, Sieh craves loves from his parents. He’ll never admit it, but he’s also the godling of not understanding the consequences of his actions. Not unlike your average ten year old.

 

The gods have been free of the enslavement of the Arameri family for generations, yet Sieh still finds himself drawn to their palace. This is where he grew up, where hidden caches of toys are mingled with horrible memories. These days, the palace is nearly empty. Sieh meets two young mortal siblings, Shahar and Dekarta, who are lost in the underpalace. He helps them, and befriends them.  The kids of course, want to be “friends forever”, like all eight year olds promise to their friends, but to Sieh, this smells of the enslavement of old. “Friends forever” means something different when you are Sieh. But he can’t blame these kids for the sins of their ancestors. What they want from him is completely innocent, right?   They seal their agreement with blood, and in a flash, the world ends.

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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.