the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘poetic

Latchkey, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

publishes July 10th 2018

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thank you Mythic Delirium!)

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Reading the second book in a series first is like getting to have dessert first.  More than likely the worldbuilding is already done, the characters know what they are about, the author has a clearer idea of where the story is going and what should happen. You might feel a little lost, and your mileage will certainly vary.  But then when you do go back and read the first book, you’ll feel like a psychic, because you’ll know all sorts of details the characters don’t know!

 

Suffice to say, the first thing I did after I finished Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Latchkey was order the first book in the series, Archivist Wasp.

 

Latchkey is part post-apocalyptic, part mythology, part ghost story, and and all perspective shift, told through the lens of  Kornher-Stace’s mastery of prose and evocatively transportive language. This is the kind of sharp vibrant prose that would translate beautifully to an anime or a movie.  Highly recommended for fans of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, fans of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and anyone who enjoys a gorgeously told story about horrible things that should never have happened.

 

With metaphors that shouldn’t make sense but do, a poetry on the weight of stories that became legend that became religion, and a world where a hypervigilant 6th sense itch is the only thing that will save your life, nothing in Latchkey stays merely on the page. When Isabel was afraid, I was afraid. When she couldn’t breathe, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When she is about to drop dead of exhaustion, I felt tired and fatigued. She never lost hope, so I didn’t either.  When I say this was an exhausting read, I mean that as the highest form of praise.

 

Latchkey takes place a few years after the events of Korner-Stace’s 2015 award winning Archivist Wasp.  Isabel and the other ex-upstarts are still getting used to the fact that they won’t have to kill their friends to survive, that they won’t ever again have to live a life of violence and fear.  The old tradition of the archivists has come to an end, even if the PTSD is still at the surface.  Isabel and the other girls need to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. In the meantime, they’ll still care for the Catchkeep Shrine, still say the words of their goddess, still have hope that the townspeople of Sweetwater can come to trust them.

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the-narrator-ciscoThe Narrator, by Michael Cisco

published in 2010

where I got it: received free e-book, and then purchased a new print copy

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It’s the atmospheric beauty of Sofia Samatar’s A Stanger in Olondria, combined with the dense verbal wordplay and visual magic of China Mieville’s Embassytown,and gilded with the lyrical poetry of a Catherynne Valente,  Michael Cisco’s The Narrator is a very special book for a long list of reasons.

 

I don’t gravitate towards military fiction. I don’t even like military non-fiction.  Neither does Low, the protagonist of The Narrator. As he says on the first page of the novel:

 

“An army is a horror. It’s a horrible thing. They say you might change your mind about that when the country is invaded and your people are suffering wrong, but for me this is all just more horror, more army-horror.”

 

He’s a student, he shouldn’t ever have been drafted. But drafted he got, and off he went to a war he knew nothing about in a place he never wanted to go.  Why didn’t he just run, or hide, you ask? Because he fell under the view of a Edek, creatures who need a human handler to function in our societies. Once an Edek sees you, you will never be unseen.

 

This novel is solid prose poetry and literary experimentation.  That makes it sound uppity I know, but The Narrator is a surprisingly easy book to read for how dense it can feel. Every page is illuminated with metaphor and alliteration and grammar that shouldn’t work but it does and words that sent me to the dictionary, words like ambuloceti, velleity, clayx, and quiring.  Choose any page, any paragraph, and you’ll find a miniature work of art surrounded by a million other miniature works of art.

 

As a trained narrator,  Low’s profession is part biographer, part translator, part bard.  He speaks many languages, and knows the unique linguistic quirks of each. He has even been trained in the arcane arts of creating personal alphabets. He’s a scholar, not a soldier.  This forced journey he is on will make him, or unmake him. Or perhaps a bit of both.

 

On an almost Gene Wolfe Severian-esque journey to the muster site, Low finds himself on the death-worker side of the city and has a strange affair with a mysterious woman who has been accused of horrible crimes.  Once he joins up with his unit, they end up at a mental institution / prison to recruit what functioning adults are left who can be made into soldiers. And then, into the war zone and towards an island with a mysterious interior that outsiders never return from.  Every minute, Low wants to run. He wants no part of this war that makes no sense.  This is a story of Low’s misery, of his coming to be comfortable with the inevitable.

 

Jeff Vandermeer wrote the introduction to this edition of The Narrator, and it was through Vandermeer’s Shriek: An Afterword that I learned of the literary trick of describing the grotesque via the sublime while at the same time leaving seemingly important details purposely out away in the periphery.   As a lover of metaphors and adjectives that are not known for working together, Vandermeer was and Cisco is speaking my language. That is to say, if you like Vandermeer, you’ll really like Michael Cisco.

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bone swans cooneyBone Swans, stories by C.S.E. Cooney

published July 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Mythic Delirium Books!)

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Gene Wolfe wrote the introduction to Bone Swans, and describes her writing style simply as “pure Cooney”. He then offers a challenge to any reader of this collection: to define “pure Cooney”.

 

The tl;dr version of this review is my answer to Mr. Wolfe’s challenge:

 

Claire Cooney’s writing style is lyrical, playful, poetic, and gleeful. It reflects the pure joy she gets from the act of storytelling. You know that look on a child’s face when they’re telling you a new joke they’ve learned? they get this “boy are you gonna love this!” look on their face? You almost don’t want to hear the end of the joke, because you want that child to be that happy forever. that look on their face? That moment is what Cooney writes. You don’t want the story to end, because you don’t want that feeling of gleefulness to end. To sweeten the deal, she writes prose that begs to be read outloud, offers up word plays and alliterations, and her metaphors shamelessly flirt with the literal.  This is prose that would tap out it’s own rhythm if given a set of drums or a page of staff paper. The greatest trick Cooney ever played is convincing the world that storytelling like this is easy.

 

However, these are not gleeful or happy stories. Yes, they are poetic, playful, and witty and darkly humorous, but they are not happy. These are stories of revenge, human sacrifice, a side of fairy tales even darker than Grimm’s,  and the damn fucking creepiest version of an afterlife (if that’s even what it was) that I have ever seen. Cooney seems to return over and over to a theme of “you can’t escape what you are”.  How does someone who oozes joyfulness write this dark, disturbing violence?  Let me show you:

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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.
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