the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘war

much thanks to Erewhon Books for providing an ARC!



The opening pages of On Fragile Waves includes a short visual poem.  


At first, I was worried, was the whole book going to be poetry of this style? Because while I respect poetry, I’m not so good at “getting it”.


Ah, but this particular visual poem!  As it tap-danced across the page, I “got it”! And in a way, I hoped the entire book would be like this.  


The entire book is, and isn’t, like those opening pages.   That opening poem gives sound and texture and context to a small family,  two parents who first have a daughter, and then a son, and then the relief that the war is finally over.  


The rest of the book is them realizing they were wrong, and that the only way to escape war is to escape Afghanistan.


You know how poetry can by design feel a bit detached, in a good way?  Because words or meter or space is in someway constrained, the poet only puts in what is most important.  Emotion gets put in over exposition, experience gets put in over worldbuilding. Gut punches get put in over grammar.  On Fragile Waves isn’t weighed down by the ornaments of expected story telling grammar, the open and close-quotes around dialog, the verbs that give rise to how the person spoke those words. Yes, they are ornaments that are designed to, among other things, add characterization and impact to dialog, and yes, without them the dialog can float like dreamy clouds.   The only punctuation in On Fragile Waves is the bare minimum necessary to get the story across.  


When I’ve come across stories with the bare minimum of punctuation, the bare minimum of worldbuilding, first of all I tend to really like it, and second I tend to wonder what were these characters going through that all they had was the bare minimum? Were they exhausted? Hungry? Terrified of being noticed?   Obviously, writing prose in this manner is nothing more than a deliberate choice the author makes, knowing they’ll just need to do other things to make sure it’s clear who is speaking, and to help the reader get to know the characters better. In a way, writing like this is like writing a huge prose poem – because of preset constraints, you have to remove things that aren’t necessary. 


I think readers will either love Yu’s style, or be very turned off by it. 


I loved it on the first page, and I was weeping by the end. I found Yu’s writing style, and the story that she told to be very, very effective.   There’s hardly any worldbuilding or visual descriptions in this book, yet I could see everything, I could hear the storms, I could see the fear on people’s faces.  There’s hardly any overt characterization, yet I knew Nour’s yearning to play with other kids, I heard everything their father wasn’t saying.  

On Fragile Waves is a masterwork of negative space,  of using only a few words to communicate everything.  When I find myself unable to express my feelings, I tend to complain that English is worthless, because words aren’t the language that works for what I want to communicate. I have so much in me, and using English means I have to crush all those things into boxy words that don’t mean what I’m trying to say, and so often, in the end, I end up saying nothing, and having people describe me as “quiet”.  In On Fragile Waves,  Yu showed me there is a way to say what I’m feeling, it is possible!  Huh.  sounds like I need to find all the authors that write with minimum punctuation, and read them. Looks like this writing style really, really speaks to me!


Most of the story is told by Firuzeh, who I think is around 8 years old at the beginning of the story, and maybe around 10 or 11 by the end. And what’s fascinating about telling most of the chapters from her point of view is that all the adults know what’s going on, and some of them speak quite plainly. And she has absolutely no idea what’s going on. Her younger brother, Nour understands even less.  Her lack of understanding is partly that her parents are trying to shield their children from the horrors of war, and partly because she’s only nine years old!

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Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

published in 2010

where I got it: purchased new












I’ve been avoiding this book for a while now. Alternate history is always fun, but I tend to shy away from War stories. When this book was chosen for my local book club, there was no getting around it.

The first few chapters were a little rough going for me, more because the time and place jumps around with little context than that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be reading this. A british boy is caught ripping plants out of a garden, another British child is hidden from his terrifying grandfather, and elsewhere two dark complected siblings survive a harrowing journey to an orphanage in Germany. Time jumps forward nineteen years, it’s 1939, and suddenly I wished I’d paid more attention in history class.

The young boy in the garden is Raybould Marsh. Mentored and then sponsored by John Stephenson, Marsh grows up to become a spy for Her Majesty. Sent to Spain in 1939 to meet an informant,  Marsh gets the clue that something strange is going on when the man bursts into flames, taking most of his evidence with him. The evidence that Stephenson’s team is able to reconstruct makes no sense, and to investigate it, project Milkweed is born.

The siblings are Klaus and Gretel, and the orphanage later becomes Reichsbehörde für die Erweiterung Germanischen Potenzials , the Authority for the Advancement of German Potential. For the glory of the Reich, Dr. von Westarp has spent twenty years trying to create supermen. The subject’s willpower, or willenskrafte, is augmented by battery power, allowing the person to fly, or set something on fire, or read minds, or disappear, or who yet knows what else. Klaus’s talent lies in dematerializing into an ethereal ghost capable of moving through walls and people, and Gretel’s talent lies in seeing the future. The surgical procedures are experimental and dangerous, and nobody talks about the rows and rows of child sized graves.

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The planet Umayma was colonized milennia ago, but it’s still an awful place to live. No amount of terraforming could cure the biological agents that crawl the land and poison the water, or downsize the mutant flesh eating bugs that are now used as weapons. Nowhere and nothing is safe on Umayma, and it’s people are still fighting the religious wars of eons past.

Nyxnissa isn’t all that different from the rest of the women she knows. She spent her best years at the war front with the men, came home in pieces, and later joined up with the government assassins. Then she made a very expensive mistake. one year in prison later, she’s still running from the government and makes ends meet as a streetwise bounty hunter.

Make no mistake, Umayma is not a pretty place, and God’s War is not a pretty book. Nyx still lives the life of a soldier, she drinks, she gambles, she tumbles into bed with whoever strikes her fancy, she gets into street brawls with people who don’t strike her fancy. But like I said, she’s not much different from the rest of the women she knows. There is language, and inferred and overt violence. Welcome to life in the country of Nasheen.

I’ve been reading a lot of what I tend to call “boy-books” lately. You know, books with very few female characters, books that wouldn’t even dream of the Bechdel test? Hurley takes my idea of a “boy book” and 100% flips it on it’s head. God’s War is an intense action packed high speed ride, and in Nasheen, men are seen as the weaker sex, if they are seen at all. In Nasheen, if you’re a man you’re either at the war front or there is something so wrong with you that even the military doesn’t want you. For the first 50 pages I had to keep reminding myself that most of these characters are women. I’m just not used to that. It was pretty damn cool.
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 Twelve, by Jasper Kent

Published in 2010

Where did I get it: Library, but plan to purchase a copy

I’ve been waiting a long time to read a book like this.  A book that puts the horror back in supernatural myths. Although it’s somewhat spoiled on the back of the book, I won’t even tell you which supernatural myth I’m talking about, just know that it’s one you are supposed to be afraid of.

To risk sounding cliche, Jasper Kent’s writing is just damn good.  Every sentence, every word moves the plot forward. There isn’t a slow moment in this book. Kent brings us to early 19th century Moscow, where the people are proud yet afraid of invasion.  Talk of republic is in the air, along with the early snows of autumn.

Don’t know anything about Russia, 1812 or Napoleon? Don’t worry,  the main character, Aleksei will walk you through everything you need to know.  My historical education is so lacking as to be embarassing, and not once did I feel lost. Twelve takes place during a war, and Aleksei and his friends are soldiers, but this is not a war book.  

As Napoleon’s Grande Armee marches towards Moscow, Dmitry offers to bring in some mercenaries to help with the effort. Aleksei, Dmitry, Maksim and their commanding officer Vadim aren’t on the front lines, per say, they are beyond the front lines.  Their mission is to cross enemy lines and cause disruptions and problems for the invaders. In modern jargon I’m sure the French would call them terrorists.

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Published in 1996, The Lions of Al-Rassan is not a new book, but it is easily the most moving book I have read this year. If the end of this book doesn’t bring you to tears or compel you to find your loved ones and hold them close, there may be something very wrong with you. That’s a fuzzy photo of my copy. See the bent cover? The stressed spine? I felt it was important to show the how loved this little book has been in my household.

The Peninsula of Al-Rassan isn’t that unusual. In every square, tavern and temple the poets, singers, and clerics tell anyone who will listen of the romance of the battlefield. Of how the gods smile on warriors, of the honor, glory, and spoils of war. But the two most famous warriors of Al-Rassan know better. They know that war provides none of these things. All war does is take.

I better say it early on, this is not a book about war. This is not an action story, it is not epic fight scene after epic fight scene. This is a book about what strained loyalties can force men and women to do. The war is just the backdrop, The Lions of Al-Rassan is a love story. Read the rest of this entry »

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FTC Stuff

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.