Reviewed over at Tor.com. Spoiler: I loved the fuck out of it.
Kameron Hurley’s THE EMPIRE ASCENDANT, courtesy of Angry Robot Books.
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If what follows is slightly more incoherent than is good for it, it is because it was written when I’d lost 2.5kg due to illness in five days. (I’m still recovering.) This is meant to explain, not excuse.
Alyc Helms, The Dragons of Heaven. Angry Robot Books, 2015. Copy courtesy of Angry Robot Books.
This is not actually a proper review, because I did not finish the book. As I mentioned in a post on Patreon a while ago, I was finding The Dragons of Heaven tedious and unappealing fare. This is not to say it is a bad book: in a different season, with different pressures on me, and if I were not ill, I might find it entertaining enough (at least entertaining enough to finish). Then again, I might not.
The Dragons of Heaven is, in this copy, 376 pages long. I have read 130 of them, and find that sufficient to declare it really Not For Me.
I didn’t realise, when I cracked its spine, that The Dragons of Heaven involved superhero narratives married to what feels like a classic urban fantasy tone. The voice, too, feels like the voice of an urban fantasy narrator: edging up on hard-boiled and noir-ish, but not quite, and taking itself a little too seriously for me to really take it seriously. But then, I’ve never quite been able to get the appeal of superhero narratives — and superhero stories in which a young woman (and street magician) from San Francisco goes to China in search of the Chinese dragon who trained her grandfather in the powers that led to him taking on a superhero persona, hoping to find training in turn, are an even harder sell.
*loses train of thought*
*finds it again*
Okay. Right. Missy Masters is the granddaughter of superhero Mr. Mystic. He disappeared — dead or missing. She decided to follow in his footsteps and use the powers she’s inherited to be a superhero herself.
The chapters alternate between past and present: present Missy has taken on her grandfather’s superhero persona and has got herself involved in an ongoing conflict with the local branch of organised Chinese crime, headed up by a bloke called Lao Chan. Which also involves magic. Or superpowers. Or both. Then she interrupts Lao Chan in the middle of a ritual involve the “guardians” of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Shortly after this, some kind of mystical barrier goes up around a) China b) lots of Chinatowns across the world, and Missy figures out these barriers are related to the ritual she interrupted. She has to go to China and figure out how to take the barrier back down, before something terrible happens.
Past Missy is a bit of a wannabe superhero. One night she gets in over her head, intervening in a conflict between a rather better-trained superhero and …someone with excellent training who isn’t a hero. She ends up hurt, and having thoroughly screwed up, decides she needs training. So, off to China, to search for the dragon who trained her grandfather. Along the way, she’s travelling with a tour group who end up trapped by a monster in a teahouse. (I’m not entirely sure what was the point of teahouse monster fight, or tour group people.) And then she encounters the dragon, who seems to be in the form of a young, pretty man. And I’m afraid I rather felt my hackles go up. Oh, yes, I spy a love interest! says I to myself. One who’s probably going to come with all sorts of familial and cultural complications, but I don’t see why a dragon would give any uninvited visitor the time of day, to be honest.
I don’t know if I spied a love interest correctly or not. Flicking ahead to the final pages certainly seems to imply some romantic connection between Missy and the dragon bloke. Who seems to have some kind of family connection to the figure behind the organised crime folks. Or something.
But to be honest, the reason I don’t want to read on? Is that I feel absolutely no emotional connection with the characters. Missy falls flat. In 130 pages, there’s not another significant character who comes across as really interesting. The past-present back and forth of the interwoven chapters? They don’t support each other with tension and thematic argument, not in any way that comes across to me. They confuse and drag: there are too many characters, and not enough connection. I can’t feel any reason to care, because it all seems like meaningless rushing about.
Charitably, this might be more to do with me than with the book: illness and pressure does odd things to my brain. On the other hand, it could just be that I really don’t care about any of these people and their rushing-about.
So I wrote an email chasing some of these (because I am supposed to review some of them for deadlines) only to find them arriving the next day. EMBARRASS ME POST WHY DON’T YOU.
That’s Cassandra Rose Clarke’s OUR LADY OF THE ICE (Saga Press), Laura Anne Gilman’s SILVER ON THE ROAD (Saga Press), Kai Ashante Wilson’s SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS (Tor.com Publishing), and Carrie Vaughn’s KITTY SAVES THE WORLD (Tor Books).
And this is Stephanie Saulter’s REGENERATION (Jo Fletcher Books) and Jay Posey’s DAWNBREAKER (Angry Robot). Although I don’t know why anyone would send me the third book in a trilogy where I haven’t ever seen the first two… still, it has a pretty cover?
Courtesy of Gollancz: Bradley Beaulieu’s TWELVE KINGS and ALiette de Bodard’s HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS. Courtesy of Angry Robot Books, Ishbelle Bee’s THE SINGULAR AND EXTRAORDINARY TALE OF MIRROR AND GOLIATH. Courtesy of DAW Books, Seanan McGuire’s A RED-ROSE CHAIN. Courtesy of Henry Holt, Leigh Bardugo’s SIX OF CROWS. Courtesy of Tor Books, Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear’s AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES.
Note to self: do not photograph books with reddish covers against the reddish rug. This is bad strategy.
Courtesy of DAW Books (which reminds me that I must get in touch with the nice person at DAW Books who has been sending me things to thank them, and perhaps make one or two more specific requests), Jacey Bedford’s CROSSWAYS and Phyllis Ames’ FROZEN IN AMBER.
Courtesy of Angry Robot Books, Alyc Helms’ THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN, Danielle L. Jensen’s HIDDEN HUNTRESS, Ishbelle Bee’s THE CURIOUS TALE OF THE BUTTERFLY GIRL, and Susan Murray’s THE WATERBORNE BLADE and WATERBORNE EXILE.
From the book I was reading last night for review. It is too perfect not to share.
The kiss echoed through his body like thunder, overpowering his weakening mind. He stroked her and she responded, shivering and clinging to him as if her life depended on it. A light moan escaped her lips as his hands found the right spots, evoking a response that surged through, forcing out the last bits of reason. All that remained was raw senses, taking over all possible control.Kyth didn’t remember when he suddenly felt that, instead of the shirt, he was touching her bare skin, smooth and firm under his hands, and so hot it burned his fingers. He wasn’t sure how the cloth that separated them disappeared, their contact so sensational that for a blissfully long moment it seemed too overwhelming to bear. He could no longer tell up from down, but it seemed that instead of standing they were lying on a heap of clothes, the rough boards of the deck underneath soft and smooth like the finest bed. His entire being focused on their contact, deeper than one could experience in a lifetime.
He was so strong he could lift mountains. If he let his strength loose, he would crush her with his passion. He tried to hold back, but her arms grasped him with the force that left no way for gentleness anymore. His body moved of its own accord, driven by a force more primitive, more powerful than the conscious mind.
She opened up and yielded to him so completely that he could no longer tell them apart. Each of his senses echoed in her, as they moved against each other, infinitely close, and yet urging for even more closeness. He gave her all his incredible strength, filling her like a vessel so that she could in turn give him the strength of her own. Their bodies, their senses became one, raising them both to heights of passion too big for one person to hold. There couldn’t possibly be anything more in the world Kyth could want, and if he were to die right now, he would die the happiest man that ever lived. He was never going to be afraid of anything anymore. He was invincible. He was immortal.
He was complete.
– from Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina, Angry Robot Books, February 2014.