Books unfinished: Lisa Goldstein, WEIGHING SHADOWS

Lisa Goldstein, Weighing Shadows. Night Shade Books, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Starts out very eighties in feel. Starts doing things that annoy me in time travel novels immediately. Also, Minoans. I know too much about the material culture to NOT NITPICK.

Also kinda pissed me off with its protag.

Anyone may die at any time.

One day in May 1974, my mother left work fifteen minutes early to go to a doctor’s appointment. It was a fortunate day to have had her doctor’s appointment, because that day was a day that carbombs went off across Dublin. Her route to the train station took her right through the blast area for one of them, and she missed them by fifteen minutes.

In Paris and Beirut after this weekend, there will be similar stories. And stories that do not have so happy an ending. And that is true across Syria and the conflict zone in Iraq, but we do not hear the civilian casualty counts from the airstrikes of the Syrian regime, Russia, the US, Turkey, France. We are insulated from that horror until explosions rip through the fabric of the city of Paris, and everywhere the English-language news is gleefully horrified at the opportunity to expound.

And racists everywhere seize the opportunity to blame people fleeing this exact sort of violence.

France has bombed Raqqa in Syria in retaliation. France is using the rhetoric of war and revenge. France is doing Daesh’s work for them, in part. Fundamentalist movements cannot be overcome through violence: it is their most fertile recruiting ground. The best revenge would be to react to this tragic event with humanity and tolerance, with love instead of hatred, openness instead of fear.

But that is not what we see.

I’m fairly disgusted with the world right now. Every time I hear the news all I can think is: how many more dead? How many more dead will be added to the tally of tens of thousands? How many more millions of refugees?

In moral cowardice, I avoid the news.

Books in brief: Alexander, Hunter, Stark

There is nothing I can do about the news. So I may as well talk about books.

Mardi Alexander, Spirits of the Dance. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Lesbian romance. Better than many of its ilk. Set in Australia, on a cattle ranch/in a small town, starring a leg-amputee ex-military officer and a young local with an abusive father. Lots of horses. Extended description of attempted (hetero) rape. (And when the barn goes on fire, I asked myself – homophobic foul play, or just Australian summer?) Somewhat off-balance in terms of pacing and structure, but nonetheless rather satisfying.

Cari Hunter, Cold to the Touch. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Crime novel set somewhere around about Sheffield, as best I can tell. Starring lesbians, because Bold Strokes Books. It’s a pretty solid crime novel: with this and her last novel, Hunter has taken a step up in terms of structure, pacing and tension. There is murder, winter, relationship drama, and occasionally kissing. It is a very enjoyable novel.

Nell Stark, The Princess and the Prix. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Lesbian princess romance is apparently a subgenre of its own now? Formula 1 driver meets Monagasque princess! Hijinks ensue! Batshit, and yet a ridiculous amount of (ridiculous) fun.

THE DROWNING EYES by Emily Foster: Patreon-supported review

The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4668-9193-7, 134pp, E-book, USD$2.99/CAN$2.99. January 2016. Cover art by Cynthia Sheppard.

The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster is one of Publishing’s January 2016 novella offerings. It caught my eye for its amazingly striking cover (seriously, look at how gorgeous that is, I mean, look at that thing), and then Carl Engle-Laird mentioned on Twitter that it had a) ships, b) raiders, c) magic, and d) queer women. I fairly leapt at the opportunity to read an ARC.

Dragon Ships are raiding up and down the islands. They have attacked the Windspeakers’ temple at Tash and taken an important icon. This icon is the centre of the Windspeakers’ abilities to cooperate, and to divert the vast amounts of damage that can be done by a young Windspeaker who hasn’t yet been connected to the icon, and through it, to the other Windspeakers. Shina is the only survivor from the attack at Tash, and she’s determined to stop the Dragon Ships and get the icon back.

Tazir’s the captain of a fishing boat that sometimes carries passengers. She’s seen her share of storms and dangers, but she’s got no respect for Windspeakers who go to the temples — why would you let anyone cut out your eyes and let them tell you what to do with your power? And she’s not too inclined to risk her ship or her neck for anyone. But when Shina shows up masquerading as a rich girl (with money to spend) and wants passage, she’s willing to take the money and not ask too many questions. At least not until Shina brings a storm up from her belly and sets it on the Dragon Ships.

Not once, but twice.

The Drowning Eyes is not, alas, greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, it has some pretty great parts. The prose is brisk, tending to elegant at times; the dialogue is vivid and engaging:

“Bad things happen every damn day of my life!” Tazir snapped. “But me and Kodin and the kid down there, we’re prepared when they fucking happen!”

“Oh, so you like Shina now?”

“Yeah,” Tazir said. “I have a tendency to like people who make themselves fucking useful.”

The characters, now. The characterisation here is good damn — or the characters are of a kind that I’m primed to empathise with. They’re compelling. I wanted to see more of Shina, young and desperate, somewhat sheltered, but firm in her determination to recover the idol — a determination only reaffirmed when one of her storms inflicts unintentional destruction. Tazir, irritable, mercenary, absolutely sure of herself — and not always right, as we see from her relationships with her mate, Kodin, and her quartermaster and lover, Chaqal. The worldbuilding is lightly-drawn but fascinating: Windspeakers who can alter the weather, an economy based around sea-transport between islands, the impression of a wider world just visible on the edges of the narrative. (And a BELIEVABLE SHIP: the technical sailorly details feel right.)

But the narrative itself is uneven, oddly balanced. Perhaps it’s that I haven’t read a lot at novella-length, but it feels as though some important things are elided or passed over too lightly. Smash a jar and swallow some storms! Cool, okay. Jump overboard to retrieve an icon somewhere on the bottom of three to ten fathoms of water! …And then — hey waitaminute — we next meet our characters in the final chapter, some years later. Shina is a Windspeaker, long returned to a temple: Tazir is older and crankier, split up with her lover and on the verge of being abandoned by her crew.

I don’t feel the story ends so much as stops: none of the characters have emotional arcs that resolve to my satisfaction. I don’t feel that glorious sensation of stand back, thematic argument being made here, when you might not recognise all the argument but you feel it’s there. When you feel it resonate.

I had higher expectations than perhaps I ought. The Drowning Eyes is a fun quick read, and I don’t regret reading it one whit. (And the cover is still one of the shiniest covers I’ve ever seen.) But it didn’t carry me off into raptures with its excellence — and that makes me more disappointed than the novella deserves.

Good read, though. Still recommend it.

This review comes to you thanks to the generous support of my Patreon backers.

BLACK WOLVES by Kate Elliott

Reviewed yesterday over at

It reconfigures the landscape of epic fantasy, because its emotional focus is not—despite initial impressions—on kingship and legitimacy, inheritance and royal restoration. So much of the epic fantasy field accepts the a priori legitimacy of monarchy—or the a priori legitimacy of power maintained through force—invests it with a kind of superstitious awe, that to find an epic fantasy novel willing to intelligently interrogate categories of power is a thing of joy.