Recently arrived review copies. Also, links.

Five! Five of them!

Five! Five of them! All at once!

Courtesy of Gollancz, we have here Edward Cox’s THE RELIC GUILD, Greg Bear’s WAR DOGS, Philip K. Dick’s HUMPTY-DUMPTY IN OAKLAND, Ellen Kushner’s THOMAS THE RHYMER, and John Gardner’s GRENDEL.

And have some links:

Practically Marzipan: Sarah Hall, THE WOLF BORDER.

SF Signal: Tansy Rayner Roberts: “Fantasy, Female Writers, and the Politics of Influence.”

Shakesville: The Evolution of Criticising A Male-Authored Comic As A Female Reviewer.

io9: Animated Data Visualisation of WWII Fatalities.

Carrie Fisher explains to a little boy what ‘bipolar’ means, at Indiana Comic Con 2015.

And here are some more Fury Road links.

Recently arrived review copies

Two here.

Two here.

From Skyhorse, Melissa E. Hurst’s THE EDGE OF FOREVER, and from Tor, Ilana C. Myer’s LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT.

One here.

One here.

From Tor, the final book in Jaime Lee Moyer’s debut series, AGAINST A BRIGHTENING SKY.

And three here.

And three here.

And from Titan, Abbie Bernstein’s THE ART OF MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Rhonda Mason’s THE EMPRESS GAME, and Robert Brockway’s THE UNNOTICEABLES.

Books in brief: more books I didn’t finish

Melinda Snodgrass, The Edge of Reason. Tor, 2014. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

I wanted to read this — and its two sequels, The Edge of Ruin and The Edge of Dawn — for Sleeps With Monsters. The prose is strong, the characterisation interesting (one of the main characters is a bisexual cop)… and halfway through I realised I had absolutely no tolerance for the worldbuilding. It turns out I have as little patience for “all religion is a front for the forces of evil!” as I have for “atheism is a tool of the devil!”

It sort of sticks in my teeth.

Alex Marshall, A Crown for Cold Silver. Orbit, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

I wanted to like this. I know a bunch of people who really enjoyed it. But I appear to have something of an ongoing argument with epic fantasy — I appear to need it not be grim, or to not have very many POV characters in order to enjoy it. I got to about page 100. And then I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t give a shit what happened to anyone mentioned in the text: I either sincerely disliked them, found them tedious, or both.

Like Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, I think this will be a good book — even an important one — for people who aren’t me. But at least this year, it’s really not my cup of tea.

Books in brief: David Weber, THE SWORD OF THE SOUTH

David Weber, The Sword of the South. Baen, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher. (Ebook.)

I confess myself astonished to read, after many years, a David Weber novel that isn’t largely composed of technological exposition, talking heads, and battlefield set-pieces. The Sword of the South is a strong throwback to Weber’s Oath of Swords, and opens a new chapter in the story of Bahzell Bahnakson, champion of the war-god of the Light.

Some seventy years have passed since War Maid’s Choice, and the forces of the Dark are moving once again. Arrayed against them, for now? There’s a mysterious red-haired man who’s lost his memory (but who might be a great warleader plucked out of time), a thousand-year-old wizard with uncanny knowledge, a cross-dressing assassin… and Bazhell. We’ve got a good old-fashioned sword and sorcery fetchquest here: go find and reclaim the Object of Power (a sword, natürlich) from the fortress of the Evil Wizard, who’s a pawn of the Even Eviller Wizards across the sea. (And for the first time in a while Weber’s written a villain who strikes one as understandable and even almost admirable in her self-honesty – although I might like her better because she doesn’t go chundering on about politics like most of his previous ones.)

I’ve got a giant soft spot for well-done sword and sorcery, and even though I think the most interesting characters in the whole book were shuffled off to the side very early, this is still a lot of fun. More smashing things! Fewer talking heads! Definitely better than I expected!

Sleeps With Monsters: How Do We Talk About Strong Female Characters?

Another column, live over at

I haven’t been active in the comments because my viva voce examination is on Monday, and I’ve been too busy working myself up into a dizzy fret. But I did read a comment (since removed by the mods) that contained yelling regarding Tom Doherty and Irene Gallo and that whole mess whereby a noxious little wannabe supervillain has been fanning the flames of “controversy” in order to try to cost Irene her job.

(If you haven’t heard about it already, I’m entirely disinclined to explain, because it all makes me desperately tired. We all have to work with people with whom we disagree on social issues — sometimes wildly; or sometimes people who’ve expressed opinions such that we don’t want to be alone in a room with them: someone losing their temper and making some less-than-perfectly-well-considered remarks on Facebook after weeks is minor bullshit — but if they’re good at their job and keep it out of their business interactions with us, we put on our adult hats and deal with it. I can’t not see a letter-writing campaign as garden-variety US culture-war harassment, in that light.)

So, on foot of that comment received, I have two things to say:

Point the first: I’ve never found it less than a pleasure — indeed, a privilege — to work for people like Irene Gallo and Bridget McGovern at, just as it’s always been a pleasure and a privilege to work with and for editors at Strange Horizons, or Vector, or elsewhere. I’d be happy to work with or for them anywhere.

Point the second: My opinions as expressed in my columns and reviews, whether at or elsewhere, are mine alone and may or may not reflect the opinions of whichever Editorial Personage commissioned or accepted them.

(In fact, I’ve never really been subject to anything I’d consider editorial pressure to amend that opinion, although on one or two occasions I’ve had it pointed out that this is an inflammatory opinion and maybe waiting until the flames have died down would be better for everyone. Once or twice, I think — I honestly couldn’t tell you which — I’ve had pieces killed. But that’s bound to happen eventually, especially if you’re a cranky and impatient opinionated bastard like me. And that’s what editors are for, to filter and nudge and sometimes to say ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR GOURD? A good editor is a treasure above rubies.)

So, yeah. There’s a thing. I’m going to go back to fretting over my viva now.

Books in brief: books I didn’t finish.

K.M. McKinley, The Iron Ship. Solaris, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

A very leisurely epic fantasy, with a very long prologue that devotes a great deal of its energy to setting and none at all to character. The style annoyed me, and I found myself asking plaintively, aloud, “Why should I care about any of this?”

Post-prologue wasn’t a great deal of improvement, but it had already lost me in the prologue, really.

Sue Tingey, Marked. Jo Fletcher Books, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

This one seems like it’s supposed to be dark/urban fantasy, complete with ghosts and angel-demon figures. But it’s got that debut-novel lack of narrative confidence, and there doesn’t seem to be any logic behind the main character’s decisions beyond authorial fiat. Mind you, I didn’t get very far – a couple of chapters and some skimming of the middle to see if it improved. (Sexy angel-demon figures?) Not At All my cup of tea, there.

Books in brief: Django Wexler’s THE MAD APPRENTICE

Django Wexler, The Mad Apprentice. Corgi, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

In addition to writing pretty decent epic fantasy, Wexler is also writing fun, engaging books for the 8-13 set. The Mad Apprentice is a sequel to last year’s really enjoyable The Forbidden Library. Alice, apprenticed to a Reader (an almost-immortal magician whose power comes in some peculiar way from books), is sent on a… I suppose it is a quest, along with the apprentices of her master’s allies. Their mission? To find and bring back an apprentice who seems to have killed his own master, and who is now hiding in that master’s stronghold. But the stronghold is a labyrinth, and within it Alice will discover several unpleasant truths.

And fight monsters.

It’s a lot of fun. Definitely worth the read.

C.T. Adams’ THE EXILE (Patreon Review)

The Exile by C.T. Adams Tor US, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

C.T. Adams is one-half of prolific urban-fantasy duo C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, who have also written in tandem as Cat Adams. The Exile is, apparently, C.T. Adams’ first solo novel, and an oddball of a novel it is: it opens looking like a fairly straight variant of urban fantasy, and gradually takes on more of the shape of a portal fantasy. The world on the other side of the portal is called “Faerie,” and — let’s be honest — it’s a spot on the bland and generic side.

Brianna Hai is a moderately successful shopowner in a North American city. She sells curios, magical and otherwise, with the assistance of her employee and friend David. She’s also the daughter of King Leu of Faerie and his late human lover. Brianna’s mother was exiled from Faerie for sealing the veil between the human and fae worlds so that the natives of Faerie can only cross with the help of a human. Brianna has no intentions of returning to her father’s court, where most of her siblings and half the court nobility would be happy to see her dead. But unbeknownst to her, there are forces mobilising in Faerie and the human world against her father, and King Leu has received a prophecy concerning his impending death. When enemies from Faerie raid Brianna’s apartment, she — accompanied by her friend and protector Pug, a gargoyle; David; and David’s cop brother Nick, who has only just learned of the existence of magic — pursues them back to her father’s realm, and ends up right in the middle of a court full of traitors and people who see her human friends as potential toys.

And in conclusion, all hell breaks loose and Faerie goes to war. The Exile is, it seems, only the first novel of a series.

If you don’t mind a certain amount of narrative carelessness, a multiplicity of point-of-view characters to a degree more usually seen in 700-page epic fantasies than in 320-page not-quite-urban-fantasies, and a jarring spot of racism/narrative validation of police violence, The Exile is an undemandingly readable piece of fiction. But should we settle for “undemandingly readable”? I cannot muster more enthusiasm: while the characterisation does succeed in reaching beyond mere bland types, the ways in which the narrative fails to take advantage of its potential undermines my enjoyment to no small extent. The reader has no sense of the conflict and the stakes for which the factions in Faerie are competing until too late — and how closely this conflict will affect Brianna likewise remains opaque until very late. And how this Faerie-driven conflict fits in with the potential threats to Brianna in the human world is hinted at, but never made clear. Nick comes into contact with her because his bosses suspect her of being the mastermind of some unspecified criminal enterprise, but this plot thread is dropped, only to be dragged back up again at the close of play, when Brianna’s position has undergone sufficient change of state that one imagines criminal charges will be the least of her worries.

As for Nick himself… well, what is the point of Nick? He’s one of the (many) point-of-view characters, and seems to be being set up as a romantic interest for Brianna. He’s the good cop who kills a black fourteen-year-old in a justified shooting,* and Exposition Man who needs all of Faerie explained to him. Nick is a combination of boring and annoying.

The more I think about The Exile, it strikes me, the less I like it. It can’t quite make up its mind what kind of book it wants to be — and for all its numerous point of view characters, it gives no space at all to the antagonists who become vitally important in the final 80 pages. The reader never sees who they really are or what they really want, and in consequence they’re a blank space filled up with cliché evil. They have no motivations beyond evil and ambition — none, at least, that the reader is permitted to see.

That’s a pity, because I wanted to be able to recommend this book. But I can’t.

*In a gratuitous section of the novel — what does that even add to the narrative except racism and police violence?

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