Recently arrived review copies

Six of them! I think this is the second picture of the the Bardugo book.

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.

Books in brief: Lo, Palmatier, McGuire, Buckell, Carey Carey and Carey

Malinda Lo, Inheritance. Little, Brown & Co, 2013.

An excellent YA novel which I discussed very recently at Tor.com.

Joshua Palmatier, Shattering the Ley. DAW, 2014. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

A not particularly engrossing novel, a review of which I have submitted to Tor.com.

Seanan McGuire, The Winter Long. DAW, 2014. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

The next installment in McGuire’s ongoing Toby Daye series, in which Toby learns Awful Truths about her family history and has confrontations with villains old and new. Fun, but not as gripping as I was expecting.

Tobias Buckell, Hurricane Fever. Tor, 2014. E-ARC via Netgalley.

Buckell writes a tight, fast-paced near-future thriller. Hurricane Fever is tighter than Arctic Rising (although I liked Rising‘s protag more), and very hard to put down. The climax sneaks into James Bond territory – which is fun. I really enjoyed it, and I hope Buckell writes more in this vein.

Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey, The House of War and Witness. Gollancz, 2014. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey, The City of Silk and Steel. Gollancz, 2013.

The House of War and Witness was the kind of good that finally overcame my reluctance to read this book, which had languished on my shelves for a year while I debated with myself over whether or not I had the patience to read a novel that could have been as problematic as some of the promo for this one made it sound.

Well, folks: The City of Silk and Steel is not at all the book I feared it would be. It is, instead, a brilliant story, a story about stories, about justice and hope, friendship and love between women. It is graceful and accomplished and in many ways one of the kinder novels I’ve read in the SFF genre. It’s a marvelous book, and I can now recommend it highly.

Books in brief: Weekes, McGuire, Garcia, Gladstone

Patrick Weekes, Dragon Age: The Masked Empire. Tor, 2014. ARC from Tor.com.

Read for review at Tor.com.

Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road. DAW, 2014. ARC from Tor.com.

Read for review at Tor.com.

R.S.A. Garcia, Lex Talionis. Dragonwell Publishing, 2014. ARC via a friend who is a friend of the author.

This is an interesting debut effort that shows promise. The prose is good, and the characterisation is well-done. However, structurally the execution lacks coherence and the novel as a whole suffers from a case of and also the kitchen sink in terms of what kind of story it is trying to be. Some aspects of the formatting (whole sections are written in italics) make it harder to read than I would’ve preferred, which may have some impact on my opinion. In many respects setting itself up as the first novel in a series: it’s not satisfactorily complete in itself, in my view.

Warning: novel contains gang-rape. It is treated with a reasonable amount of sensitivity, but if that sort of thing puts you off your reading experience, be prepared to encounter it here.

On the other hand, Garcia shows promise, and this is an enjoyable novel if you can live with its structural problems. Thematically it is having an interesting argument about power and responsibility and politics, even if the structural issues mean this is not brought fully and coherently into view. Recommended, albeit with significant hand-wiggling and many caveats.

Max Gladstone, Two Serpents Rise. Tor, 2013.

Gladstone’s second novel is one that I found difficult to get into at first. In fact, it wasn’t until I read his third novel – and discovered that yes, he did certainly know what he was doing – that I went back and tried again. Oce past the hump (past page fifty or so) it turns into something tense and great: not quite as good by my lights as Three Parts Dead or Full Fathom Five, but still an excellent entry by a writer who’s shaping up to be one of the field’s best new voices.

Max Gladstone, Full Fathom Five. Tor, 2014. ARC from Tor.com.

Read for review at Tor.com. A novel I really enjoyed.

Books: Coates, Higgins, Kashina, McGuire, Vaughn

Anna Kashina, Blades of the Old Empire. Angry Robot Books, 2014.

WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN. Review forthcoming (I hope) at Tor.com.

Yeah. So that happened.

Deborah Coates, Strange Country. Tor, 2014.

Review copy from Tor. I hope I’ll get to talk about this in my column. It’s an interesting entry in Coates’ rural-contemporary fantasy-with-ghosts. I don’t like it as much as the excellent Wide Open or its immediate predecessor Deep Down, but it’s still a very solid book.

Seanan McGuire, Half-Off Ragnarok. DAW, 2014.

Review copy from DAW. I also want to talk about this in the column. It’s a great deal of fun, although not quite as entertaining, for me, as the Verity Price installments: it’s also interesting to see McGuire’s narrative pattern at work.

Peter Higgins, Truth and Fear. Orbit, 2014.

Review copy from Orbit. Review forthcoming from Ideomancer.com. Higgins has an excellent turn of with prose, and Truth and Fear pulls off its climax with rather more verve and, well, climax than its immediate predecessor, but it is more the second part of a novel-in-three-parts than a book that stands well on its own, and we have yet to see proof that Higgins can bring a narrative to an ultimately satisfactory conclusion.

Carrie Vaughn, After the Golden Age. Tor, 2011.

Copy courtesy of Tor.com. I want to talk about this, and its sequel, in the column too. It is a very interesting take on superhero stories, and one of the few superhero stories I’ve read that’s appealed to me on any bar the most superficial levels. It is doing interesting things with family and privilege, I think, although I’d like to think about it more.

Carrie Vaughn, Dreams of the Golden Age. Tor, 2014.

Copy courtesy of Tor.com. Sequel of sorts (the next generation) to the aforementioned After the Golden Age, and a little bit more straightforwardly a superhero story – and thus less appealing to me. Feels somewhat as though it might appeal to a YA agegroup, but on the other hand maybe not. Interesting and entertaining, on the whole.

Mira Grant, Parasite

This book has been preying on my mind since I finished it. For the most part I agree with Stefan at Far Beyond Reality: it’s a novel that falls apart in the middle, one whose interesting premise is marred by execution that is at best uneven and at worst seriously flawed. The similarities to Grant’s Feed are marked, especially in the way that crucial information is presented to the reader – but unlike Feed this infodumping never really feels smoothly integrated into the rest of the narrative. And the assumptions made about health and healthcare systems, globally, are fundamentally American: I’m not sure I see Parasite‘s miracle tapeworm passing muster on a global scale. Grant’s interest in zombie apocalypses here pushes the bounds of the believable: suspension of disbelief is often challenged.

In ways I cannot quite articulate, it reminds me of John Scalzi’s Redshirts: it’s not the same one-trick punchline, but something in the airport-blockbuster quality of the writing, the breezy confidence overlain over shallow characterisation, the lack of depth even as the prose carries one irresistibly along, annoys me in very similar ways. It will probably appeal to readers of Michael Crichton, and I expect Grant will certainly find a wide audience – but we can safely say that audience doesn’t really include me.

How many books have you read this year?

According to my records, I’ve hit 180. Not counting rereads. Yikes.

I know I owe a review of the wonderful giant glossy OUP book about Pompeii. I haven’t forgotten. I’ve just spent six weeks bouncing from one bout of illness to another, which has played merry hell with deadlines and progress of ALL KINDS.

It’s coming. Eventually. In the meanwhile I’ve been reading books that require a little less in the way of intellectual engagement, for the most part.

Glenda Larke, The Last Stormlord. Orbit, 2009.

Epic fantasy. Interesting world-building, but the characterisation is inconsistent or occasionally odd, and the narrative drive and tension are not driving enough to make up for it. It isn’t doing enough with the space it has, which makes it feel slack and rather aimless at times.

Jeannie Lin, The Dragon and the Pearl, The Lotus Palace, Butterfly Swords and My Fair Concubine. Ebooks, various recent years.

These are entertaining romances set mostly in Tang dynasty China. Fun, really good incluing technique – as necessary in historical work as the genres of the fantastic – and the romance did not make me want to stab anyone in the face. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Sophia Kell Hagin, Whatever Gods May Be and Shadows of Something Real. Ebooks, various recent years.

Near-future stories starring a lesbian main character. The first is a war story, and the second less easily categorised. They’re surprisingly good, with real confidence in the prose.

C.S. Friedman, In Conquest Born. DAW, 1986, 2001 reprint.

Science fiction. Empires. Psychics. Space battles. Disturbing, unpleasant; depiction of a culture where male-on-female rape is normal, practically a requirement; characters all on the antihero end of the spectrum. Not My Cup Of Tea At All.

Jacqueline Carey, Dark Currents and Autumn Bones. Roc, 2012 and 2013.

Delightful, entertaining, interesting urban fantasy set in a small American town. More like this, please.

Tamora Pierce, Battle Magic. Scholastic, 2013.

Once again Pierce delivers a grand adventure involving young people. Although her not-Tibet and not-China has me side-eyeing a bit: the strokes are a little too broad, and the war is a little too easily won.

Lesley Davis, Dark Wings Descending and Pale Wings Protecting. Ebooks, recent dates.

Bad lesbian romance, with a side-order of cops and angels and demons.

Mira Grant, Parasite. Orbit, 2013.

Seanan McGuire really likes mad science, biological apocalypses, conspiracies, and simple organisms. I mean, really really really likes.

I’m going to need some time to think about this novel, really. There is a shit-tonne of info-dumping (through various methods, but a lot through excerpts from news sources and autobiographies), and the voice doesn’t seem particularly distinct from the rest of McGuire’s oeuvre, Discount Armageddon and sequel aside. On the other hand, I rather like the soft apocalypse conceit.

It’s not mind-blowing. It’s rather like John Scalzi’s novels – moderately interesting concepts, middle-of-the-road execution – which clearly isn’t exactly a niche market. I would like it to excite me more than it does. But it’s also very… American? It nests itself within – or perhaps it nests within itself – so many assumptions about how the world works, and how central America is to the world, that it creates in me a sense of disconnect and alienation.

Anyway.

Gail Simone, New 52: Batgirl Vol. 1. DC, 2013.

So I am converted to the idea of comics as an interesting medium now. Also Gail Simone is awesome.

Greg Rucka, Private Wars and The Last Run. Bantam, 2005 and 2010.

Rucka writes the best spy thrillers. No, really. The best. And I’m not just saying that because I would kill to see his Queen and Country stuff made into a good television series.

Greg Rucka and various artists, Queen and Country, collected volumes one through three. Oni Press.

I am extra converted to the idea of comics as an interesting medium. Rucka’s facility with writing flawed, ethically compromised, yet immensely compelling characters is brilliantly on display. Fantastic work.

Books in brief: McGuire, Andrews, Gellis, Vali

Seanan McGuire, Ashes of Honor. DAW, 2012. Copy courtesy of DAW.

It’s a fun series, but HELL PEOPLE. I’m getting really really tired of “Irish” being shorthand for “sensitive to weird-ass made-up mythological shit.” (Also, I have never in my life heard of “Bess” being a nickname for Bridget. Really? ‘Cause I’ve always thought of Bess as a peculiarly English shorthand for Elizabeth.) Seriously. Any more of this “Irish” – ahem – bullshit is really going to ruin my generally happy feelings about this series.

Ilona Andrews, Magic Rises. Ace, 2013. ARC via Tor.com.

Review to appear on Tor.com. Perfectly cromulent series installment, no real surprises.

Roberta Gellis, The English Heiress, The Cornish Heiress and Siren Song. Ebooks.

Historic romance from an elder generation – although one would probably be more correct to call them romantic family sagas. Entertaining.

Ali Vali, The Devil Inside, The Devil Unleashed, and Deal With the Devil. Ebooks.

Lesbian mobsters. Yes, I will read almost anything.

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.