A new column over at Tor.com.
Barbara Ann Wright
PALADINS OF THE STORM LORD, by Barbara Ann Wright
Barbara Ann Wright, Paladins of the Storm Lord. Bold Strokes Books, 2016.
I was extremely disappointed in Wright’s last outing, Thrall: Beyond Gold and Glory. That novel was, to put it mildly, an incoherent Norse-inspired mess – although better at a sentence level than many f/f fantasy romances in existence. Her first novel, Pyramid Waltz, showed a great deal of promise, and I will confess to Some Hopes of her continuing career: but structurally the later novels of her first series (For Want of a Fiend, A Kingdom Lost, The Fiend Queen) really didn’t stand up well.
However, Paladins of the Storm Lord marks the beginning of a new series from Wright. This novel shows something of an improvement, both structurally and in terms of worldbuilding. It mixes elements from fantasy and science fiction into a planetary opera a bit reminiscent of Darkover (without the faux-medieval sexism), with small-town politics and fights and interspecies romance. It’s fun and fast and entertaining: promising, in the best SF-equivalent-of-sword-and-sorcery way.
I’m really hoping that she manages to actually structure the rest of this series so that the narrative pays off in satisfying ways.
Queer Romances I Have Read
…while being too sick to think. I may have forgotten one or two.
Erin Dutton, Officer Down. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. eARC courtesy of the publisher.
A perfectly cromulent contemporary lesbian romance between a cop and an emergency dispatcher. It has nothing in particular to recommend it, and nothing in particular to disrecommend it, either.
Tanai Walker, Rise of the Gorgon. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. eARC courtesy of the publisher.
Lesbian romance/spy thriller – with a plot that belongs in a comic-book, rather than a serious thriller. A journalist, a drug that turns people into zombies, mind control, and an assassin whose memory gets erased and reprogrammed in a manner reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s awful Dollhouse. Shaken, not stirred. It’s… well, laughably entertaining is a good way to describe it?
Amy Dunne, The Renegade. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. eARC courtesy of the publisher.
Post-viral-apocalypse lesbian romance. This? This is bad, structurally, logically, in terms of characterisation, in terms of worldbuilding, and the prose isn’t great either. Some rapetastic stuff about a post-apoc religious culty community, and a resolution that’s pulled out of thin air and makes the whole rest of the novel make no sense. (If religious culty community’s #2 guy is Sekritly On The Side Of Angels, why didn’t he poison/shoot/otherwise dispose of rapetastic murderous religious cult leader guy and take over long before? Or leave.)
Ann Aptaker, Tarnished Gold. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. eARC courtesy of the publisher.
At last. This is solidly decent work – the second book in a series about art smuggler Cantor Gold, where I haven’t read the first. It works on its own. Set in 1950s New York, it has a very noir tone: in fact, I’d say it is noir: murder, trouble from the law and the mob, a missing art masterpiece, a lot of beautiful women, some of them heartless. What makes it interesting – I’m not usually interested in American noir – is the fact that Gold is a lesbian.
Barbara Ann Wright, Thrall. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. eARC courtesy of the author.
A couple of years ago, I read Wright’s first novel, Pyramid Waltz, and I think I said it had promise. It definitely appealed to me. But she hasn’t lived up to that promise since. This is particularly noticeable with Thrall, a standalone novel in a new fantasy setting.
The prose is rough but serviceable, and the characterisation is appealing, but the worldbuilding lacks depth and detail – the world doesn’t feel properly lived in, doesn’t have the grit of telling detail – and structurally, the narrative feels weak and rushed. There are the bones of a good novel here, in a scattered, disassembled fashion, but they don’t hang together. And it doesn’t have enough meat.
Still, it does have normalised queer female relationships and interesting violence.
Several books recently read
Here are some books which I read in recent weeks.
Karina Sumner-Smith, Defiant. Talos, 2015. ARC courtesy of the publisher.
Read for review for Tor.com. Excellent sequel to a very good debut.
Kate Elliott, Court of Fives. Little Brown, 2015. ARC courtesy of the publisher.
A really excellent Young Adult fantasy novel. Will talk about it in a Sleeps With Monsters column, and also probably closer to the publication date if someone reminds me – it’s AMAZINGLY good fun, with interestingly crunchy bits. Also tombs. I am fond of tombs.
Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove, White Raven. Egmont UK, 2015.
Another excellent YA from Wein – not quite as heart-wrenching as her Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, but very good.
Stacey Lee, Under A Painted Sky. Putnam, 2015.
Historical YA debut. Two young women on the run for their lives in the 1849 American West. A lot of fun.
Sandra Barret, Blood of the Enemy. Ebook.
Fun fast not terrible space opera with queer women in.
Barbara Ann Wright, The Fiend Queen. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.
Conclusion to series. Structurally off-balance, but entertaining enough.
Julie Cannon, Because of You. Ebook.
Lesbian romance. Not particularly great.
Gun Brooke, Advance. Ebook.
Lesbian SFF romance. Space opera. Terrible worldbuilding. Prose not-so-great. Characterisation could use work. Somehow it still entertained me.
A.J. Quinn, Hostage Moon. Ebook.
Lesbian romance with serial killers in. Neither great nor terrible.
A.J. Quinn, Rules of Revenge. Ebook.
Lesbian romance with spies in. Neither great nor terrible.
Merry Shannon, Prayer of the Handmaiden. Ebook.
Lesbian SFF romance. Fantasy, variant of epic. Worldbuilding on the naive side. Prose okay. Characterisation pretty good. Entertaining.
Rae D. Magdon, The Second Sister. Ebook.
Lesbian SFF romance. Fantasy, sort of fairytale retelling (Cinderella). Could have used better worldbuilding and smoother prose. Still entertaining.
Rae D. Magdon, Wolf’s Eyes. Ebook.
Lesbian SFF romance. Fantasy, starts out looking like a fairytale retelling, develops werewolves, turns into a variant on epic. Could have used better worldbuilding, smoother prose, and some more thought in its structure. Still entertaining.
M.B. Panichi, Saving Morgan. Ebook.
Lesbian SFF romance. Near-future solar-system science fiction. Could have used a stronger structure, and the romance felt rushed, but it was fun.
M.B. Panichi, Running Toward Home. Ebook.
Sequel to Saving Morgan. Very uneven pacing and I’m not sure it has a plot so much as a collection of incidents, but I found myself entertained anyway.
Heather Rose Jones, The Mystic Marriage. Bella Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.
Wow. THIS BOOK. This book. FILLED WITH INTELLECTUAL LADIES OF QUEERNESS.
It’s not a romance, not structurally, though it appears to be being published as one: it’s a complicated novel of relationships, friendships, family, alchemy and intrigue. Jones has leveled up from Daughter of Mystery in terms of her skill with prose, narrative, and characterisation – and they were already pretty freaking good. The only point at which the novel weakens slightly is the climax: it is an effective climax-conclusion in emotional terms (although I really feel that one of the characters was a little short-changed), but in terms of concluding the current of intrigue underlying the novel, perhaps not so much.
I love it a lot. I am planning on writing a whole column about it.
Theresa Urbainczyk, Slave Revolts in Antiquity. Acumen, 2008.
A slight volume that nonetheless succeeds in providing a comprehensive – and enjoyably readable – overview of slave revolts in antiquity and their presentation in both the ancient sources and the historiography of slavery and antiquity. A useful addition to anyone interested in either slavery in antiquity or – particularly – the political situation during the late Roman Republic.
Books in brief: Bear, Elliott, Lin, Ross, Wells, Wright
Kate Elliott, Jaran, An Earthly Crown, and His Conquering Sword. Ebooks, Open Road Media, first published 1992-1993.
Read to cover in a later SWM column. It’s odd, sometimes, to come to a writer’s earlier work after their more mature stuff, and see the outlines of similar thematic concerns: much here is familiar, if in very different form, from the Crossroads trilogy. The through-line is more scattered, less developed, less well-defined – less, in all those respects that define a writer’s craft, mature – but these are still interesting novels, combining SFnal and fantastic sensibilities.
Ankaret Wells, Heavy Ice. Ebook, 2014, copy courtesy of the author.
Will be mentioned in future SWM column. A lot of fun, set in the same universe (but many generations later) as The Maker’s Mask and The Hawkwood War. As with my previous experience of Wells’ books, the first half is very good and then the conclusion rather less good at pulling all the narrative threads together than one might wish.
But still, very fun. I want to read more like this.
Barbara Ann Wright, A Kingdom Lost. Ebook, Bold Strokes Books, 2014. Copy courtesy of publisher.
Third in series, after Pyramid Waltz and For Want of a Fiend. Wright has not developed any further as a prose stylist, but her grasp of narrative and tension, already solid, has here improved. I am decidedly pro Epic Fantasy With Lesbians, so I was already inclined to look favourably upon this novel – unfortunately, Wright and her publishers have chosen to hang a cliffhanger right in the middle of the climactic fight/chase sequence, which is a bit Bad Show, Chaps in my books.
I’m still looking forward to the next installment, though.
Jeannie Lin, The Jade Temptress. Ebook, Harlequin, 2014.
Romance set in Tang dynasty China. Rather weaker, I think, than Lin’s previous books.
Deborah J. Ross, The Seven-Petaled Shield and Shanivar. DAW, 2013. Copies courtesy of the publisher.
Will be mentioned in future SWM column. I am a bit “meh” on these: they’re the first two novels in what seems like a not-particularly-imaginative epic fantasy series (trilogy?) but I can see how they might be more some other, less jaded reader’s cup of tea. However, I read three separate series in short order that featured clearly Mongol-inspired steppe nomads, and of these, Ross’s are the least convincing/interesting nomads. In some ways, reminiscent of a more consciously epic Mercedes Lackey – I think that is a good match for some of the sensibilities on display here.
Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky. Tor, 2014. Copy courtesy of the publisher.
Will be mentioned in future SWM column. WOW. Masterpiece conclusion to an amazing trilogy. Bear’s books have only been in front of the public for about ten years: this may not mark the height of her potential powers. But wow. If she improves on this, if fate spares her to us for long enough? Forty years down the line, we may be talking of Elizabeth Bear as we talk today of Ursula K. LeGuin.
Books in brief: Martha Wells, Karen Lord, Seanan McGuire, Ankaret Wells, Andrea K. Höst, Barbara Ann Wright
Martha Wells, Emilie and the Hollow World. Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry, 2013. Copy courtesy of the publishers.
A delightful YA novel from one of my favourite authors. Further details should follow at Tor.com.
Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds. Ballantine/Del Rey (US), Jo Fletcher (UK), 2013.
A novel interesting on multiple levels, combining literary and SFnal approaches to worldbuilding and relationships. Perhaps not entirely successful, but interesting. Review forthcoming in summer Ideomancer.
Martha Wells, City of Bones. Republished by the author.
An excellent book, with excellent world-building and characterisation, which I really enjoyed. Right up until the very last page, which had to go all emotionally-complicated and very true to character but was not what I wanted to read just then.
Barbara Ann Wright, For Want of a Fiend. Bold Strokes Books, 2013. Epub. Copy courtesy of the publisher.
Lesbian relationships as normative within a fantasy novel that, while a little rough around the edges, is not noticeably rougher than most of the midlist. I recommend this, and expect to be talking more about it on the Tor.com column.
Ankaret Wells, The Maker’s Mask and The Hawkwood War. Self-published; second book epub copy courtesy of the author.
A bit rocky getting started, but in general a delightful, well-characterised romp through weird and wacky tech and politics. It has a sense of humour. Oh, god, do you know how many stories don’t? Or substitute bitter snark and snappy one-liners? I will be speaking of this more later.
Andrea K. Höst, And All The Stars. Self-published. Epub.
A strongly enjoyable alien-invasion story, focused on a group of teenagers in Sydney. Well recommended.
Seanan McGuire, Midnight Blue-Light Special. DAW, 2013.
Another novel with a sense of humour. A lot of fun.
Seanan McGuire, An Artificial Knight, Late Eclipses, and One Salt Sea. DAW, various dates. Copies courtesy of the publishers.
McGuire’s Toby Daye novels make a lot more sense – and are a lot more fun – when you read them as second-world fantasies that just happen to take place in the same general area as a modern US city, and not as urban fantasy. I bounced off the second a while back, but the third is like popcorn. And so are the next two.
Popcorn. With hot butter and salt. I will be speaking more on them later, probably elseweb.