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Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples – Saga Volume 3

Let the squeeing begin.

saga volume 3SAGA VOLUME 3
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Published by: Image Comics, March 2014
Paperback: 144 pages
Series: Saga #13-18
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: I’m positive, they were a fuckin’ couple.

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never–ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.
From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.
In volume 3, as new parents Marko and Alana travel to an alien world to visit their hero, the family’s pursuers finally close in on their targets.

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From gigantic troll scrotums to a family board game – there is nothing Saga cannot do. The characters have been well established in the first two volumes (collecting issues 1 through 12) and several plot lines have been set up, making our fannish expectations soar. That said, I can’t talk about this third collection without spoiling some events from the previous ones. Consider yourselves warned.

In volume 2, Brian K. Vaughan left us on a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger that came out of pretty much nowhere because just before it, we jumped ahead in time. Volume 3 catches up on how Alana, Marko, and his mother got to be in this latest crazy-dangerous situation. On their way to meet Alana’s hero, the writer D. Oswald Heist, the small family are still pursued by Prince IV, the assassin The Will, and Marko’s ex-girlfriend Gwendolyn. Add to that a couple of journalists too curious for their own good and you’ve got a nice idea of how important the young couple is for the world. Some want them destroyed, others want a bit of revenge, and the journalists just want a good story. This time, though, someone actually catches up to them.

saga gwendolyn

Volume 3 differs in tone from its predecessors. Alana and Marko – and of course Hazel and Marko’s mother – spend almost the entirety of this story at Heist’s residence where, for the first time really, they can think about what it means to be parents and to just have lost a parent themselves. They are still on the run, but not running. They are dealing with the aftermath of all that’s happened, but they get a little bit of rest. Not that you don’t get the blood and violence you’d expect, it simply isn’t as front and center as it was in the previous volumes. Instead, the story focuses on characters and world-building.

With the addition of the wonderful new character, the author Heist, we get a new perspective to the current situation. The war that brought Alana and Marko together has been a given since the series began, one the couple have been questioning since they fell in love, but through Heist, we are offered a point of view by someone who has been thinking long and hard about war and life, and come to the conclusion that a little kindness would go a long way. No wonder he lets the family crash at his place and ends up playing board games with them and reading Hazel wildly inappropriate stories.

The Will’s storyline continues to be interesting, although a bit chaotic. Now accompanied by Gwendolyn and the little slave girl they saved from sex planet (I still shudder at that), they land on a gorgeous planet to have the ship repaired. The Will’s story, almost a parallel to what Alana and Marko are going through, is much more introspective this time, rather than relying on breathtaking action and heartstopping moments of mortal danger. He is haunted by his ex-girlfriend – remember? The spider woman? Yeah… – and seems confused about Gwendolyn. Slave Girl, who finally gets a proper name, was part of my favorite scene so far. Who would have thought that Lying Cat, as cool as she is, can show kindness in such an unexpected place? This rather character-driven episode also shows us that Lying Cat isn’t just a gimmick, a cool creature to add to an already pretty dope world. Lying Cat has a past and Lying Cat has feelings. If I hadn’t already been a total fan, now would be the time that I’d lose my heart to Lying Cat.

Prince IV gets very little screen time – probably because we already got a chunk of his storyline in the last volume and are merely catching up on what the others did in the meantime. But his story did take an interesting spin that would lead us into spoiler territory. I can’t wait to find out what happens with him in the next volume. And I’m still waiting to find out more about his situation, his home, his super-pregnant wife, etc.

I mentioned that some new characters are introduced. Apart from Heist, whom I absolutely adore, Upsher and Doff, two journalists trying to get the scoop on Alana and Marko, help to add both depth and width to the world. Their visit to Alana’s step mother was hilarious, in that it was so utterly believable. Since this is secondary world fantasy/science fiction, you never know where the characters stand on real-world issues. But with these two new guys, who clearly look like a different species, with green-blue skin and webbed feet, we also learn that homosexual couples aren’t accepted in all of the world, and at least sneered at in the parts where they are. Their subplot at first seems like a vehicle for world building but this wouldn’t be Saga, if it didn’t come with a twist.

saga 3 alana

Upsher and Doff also help show off Fiona Staples’ a-ma-zing skills. So far, I have gushed about how she depicts emotion on the characters’ faces, but she does so much more than that. The colors create exactly the right mood for where the story is going, the characters’ clothing and hairstyle tell us about their personality. Marko grows a beard, Alana used to look like a goth, Gwendolyn is always dressed impaccably (she’d look hot in anything, I suspect). I still love how the artwork tells a story all its own and how little details help flesh out the world. This is how comic books should work, right? Art and text complementing each other, coming together to tell an awesome story.

Saga Volume 3 not pack the same punch as volumes 1 and 2 did, but it offers a unique view at the characters we have come to love. There are still monsters and strange creatures, there is a crazy mix of fantasy and science fiction, but it is the small moments of family bliss in a world dominated by war that make this series so special. I crack open the pages and fall into a story that – while brutal and unpredictable – invariably makes me smile.

 MY RATING: 8,5/10  -  Excellent!

divider1Sagasaga one to three

  1. Volume 1
  2. Volume 2
  3. Volume 3
7

Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon

Worlds Without End has seduced me to join four (!) different challenges this year. I don’t know what possessed me during a time where my job is more time-consuming than ever before. Nnedi Okorafor goes on a few of those lists, so I was all the happier when I received an ARC from the lovely people at Hodder. *dances*

lagoonLAGOON
by Nnedi Okorafor

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 10th April 2014
Paperback: 393 pages
Standalone
Review copy from the publisher
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: She slices through the water, imagining herself a deadly beam of black light.

Three strangers, each isolated by their own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the world-famous rapper. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach outside Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.
But when a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

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Nnedi Okorafor blew me utterly away with her beautiful Who Fears Death. With that in mind and this gorgeous Joey Hi-Fi cover in front of me, I was sure that great things would expect me in her newest novel. Hailed as an original and unusual first contact story, and as the author’s answer to the movie District 9, it paints the picture of a city during crisis.

The ostentatious protagonists – Adaora, Agu, and Anthony – were never really what the story is about. They meet on the beach just seconds before a meteor strikes (or so they believe) and an alien creature emerges from the sea. After that, chaos ensues throughout the entire city, violence rules the streets, religious zealots hunt witches and the alien “demons”, people frantically film the strange events on their phones or cameras, and the world goes completely bananas.

It is this human reaction to something new, something strange that we don’t immediately understand, that is the heart and soul of Lagoon. Every short chapter is almost a tiny short story that shows us Lagos through a myriad of people’s eyes. This may do wonders for world building and setting a scene, but the quick changes of view point disrupts the narrative in ways that make it hard to stay engaged. The moment one of the proper plot lines got interesting, it was dropped for a quick interlude. This made Lagoon a strenuous read when it should have been engaging.

Getting to spend so little time with the main characters – and leaving them during the most interesting moments of conflict – made it difficult for me to identify with them or care for them in any way. Their personalities never really rise much above what the blurb gives us. Adaora, a marine biologist… well yes, she likes the sea and knows about its inhabitants. She is also a decent person with two kids. I can’t give you anything else because I never had a chance to properly meet her. The same goes for Anthony, who gets to wear the “world-famous Ghanaian rapper” cap and nothing else. Agu, a soldier, stands out only in that he – like Adaora – is a decent human being who will defend people weaker than himself against violence.

The biggest copout of the novel are the actual aliens. I didn’t read this expecting a creature feature. I knew going in that Okorafor would paint a city and its people in all their facets. But, hey, if aliens land on the fucking planet, I’d at least like to know a little bit about them. But every. single. time. there is a scene that gets us close to the real wonders from “beyond the stars”, the scene ends and the characters conveniently don’t remember anything. I, as a reader, feel cheated. I put faith in the author to tell me a story worth reading and every time things got interesting – either with the humans in the city, or with the aliens – we fade to black and hop into a character’s head I neither know nor care about, and who will never show up again for the rest of the novel anyway.

lagoon cover

All of that said, these short chapters are beautifully written. I believe a lot of subplots could have been handled better. In the beginning of the novel, some time is invested in a religious group and their zealous leader, as well as an LGBT organization and their struggle to be themselves in a hostile environment. For the amount of set up and world building involved, these two plot lines were dropped rather unceremoniously. Nnedi Okorafor’s writing may be fantastic, but even if you describe utter chaos, structure is your friend.

A handful of moments make up for some of the novel’s failings (such as turning into a mermaid or gigantic spiders – I’ll always love reading about gigantic spiders) but all things considered, Lagoon didn’t deliver on anything I had hoped for. It may be sold as science fiction, because aliens and magic, but in reality, it is a fix-up novel that only grazes these alien life forms, and focuses more on the humans (and animals) in and around Lagos. Little vignettes, connected by the arrival of aliens off the coast that show humanity in all its ugly beauty.

As much as I loved Who Fears Death, I won’t pounce on the next Okorafor novel. I’ll wait and see what others have to say about it first. If I finish a book only because I feel I should (because it’s an ARC from the publisher) then it failed me as a reader. As it will be published in only one week, I will be on the lookout for reviews to see if I maybe just picked it up while in the wrong mood, or if other readers have the same misgivings.

MY RATING: 6/10  -  Okay

 

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Monthly Wrap-Up: March 2014

I’ve been home, nursing a cold for the last few days but, unfortunately, it seems to only get worse. Work has been crazy since January and I actually wish I could go back and help. But I’m not a pretty sight and I hear being able to breathe is considered helpful when trying to be productive. So yeah… I’ll probably be home a few more days. But seeing as my eyes hurt and my head is constantly trying to explode, I didn’t get much reading done either.
But almost all the books I read were wonderful. Because two of them were so outstanding, I put what would otherwise go in “The Best” list to “The Rest”. Just to show you how desperately you need these two favorites… I’m evil.

Books read: 6
Pages read: 1787
Series started:

  • The First Law Trilogy
  • Rat Queens
  • The Southern Reach Trilogy

Series continued:

  • Flavia de Luce

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THE BEST

Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor  9/10

goblin emperorThis was easily my favorite novel of the year so far and it has only grown in esteem since I finished it. It’s not an easy novel to get into. The names are complex, the political situation of this goblin kingdom difficult to understand, but damn, is it worth keeping at. I had never read anything by Sarah Monette (Addison is her pseudonym) but this book impressed me so much that I’m torn between wanting to re-read it and reading something else by the author.
I had the good luck of getting a review e-ARC from Tor (thanks again!) but my hardback copy is already pre-ordered. I can’t wait to own the book in all its glory.

Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch – Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery   8,5/10

rat queens sass and sorceryI have fallen head over heels in love with the Rat Queens. This pack of loud, sexual, beautiful, fighting women who hang out with trolls and goblins, are just too good to miss. A recommendation engine thought – because I love Saga – that I woule enjoy this comic too. Well, the fancy math worked this time. This is another one I pre-ordered in hard copy – that usually tells you I really love a book. Only the best and favoritest and prettiest of them get to grace my physical book shelves. I loved everything about this story with the little caveat that some characters could have been better defined. But I expect this to happen in the next volume(s) – so now send me my paper copy so I can re-read this and giggle like a crazy person again.

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THE WORST

One book I didn’t finish although I had very high hopes for it:

Rjurik Davidson – Unwrapped Sky

unwrapped skyMinotaurs, a sunken city in the sea, an assassin, politics… this had everything to completely suck me in. Yet here is another book I couldn’t finish. It suffered from many of the same symptoms as The Waking Engine by David Edison. But while Edison simply seemed to have added characters in order to show off his fancy world building, Davidson shifts perspective between three characters to keep things moving. However, every single chapter starts with pages of exposition, there is little dialogue and not nearly enough world building – especially if the events are supposed to have some emotional impact on the reader. We first have to understand how things work in this place…
The book isn’t without merit however, and I suspect that many people will like it a lot more than I did. I gave up after a third because if I have to force myself to read, there’s something wrong. And – having put the book away – I found I didn’t care what happened to the characters. None of them seemed in a particularly dangerous or interesting situation so if I never find out, no loss. And that’s the biggest flaw for me. If I dislike the characters, that’s good. If I love the characters, that’s great. If I nothing the characters, you’ve lost me.

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THE REST

Alan Bradley – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows  8/10

flavia4The last time I read a Flavia de Luce book was a little more than a year ago and it left me a bit disappointed. Not so this time. This Christmas-flavored murder mystery invites a film crew into the halls of Buckshaw. When murder happens, Flavia has to interrupt concocting a chemical plan to trap Father Christmas red-handed, and solve the mystery. This must have been my favorite Flavia book because of the way it focuses on the family and their strange and strained relationships. It always brings tears to my eyes when Flavia yearns for her dead mother and her sisters are cruel to her. But there are far more funny moments to make up for it. This definitely gives you the giggles.

Joe Abercrombie – The Blade Itself  7,5/10

blade itselfA lot has been said about grimdark and its Overlord, Mr. Abercrombie. Only a few of the horrible things I expected came to pass. Women don’t really get much room in this story, but considering how wonderfully characterised all the male bastards were, how much I cared about these despicable creatures, and how intrigued I was despite a rather meandering plot, I think Lord Grimdark did a lot more things right that he did wrong. And for a first novel, this was truly impressive. I already have the second book prepared for soonish reading.

Jeff Vandermeer – Annihilation  7,5/10

annihilationSee, this is where I feel strange. Two books with the same rating, yet they were so very, very different that it feels unfair to both of them. This was my first Vandermeer book – written by him, rather than edited, that is. And it delivered all the creepiness it promised. I got sucked into this story of an expedition into the mysterious Area X where four women try to figure out… something. You really don’t get a lot of information about anything in this story, but it is all the more fun to guess what could be behind the strange writing on the wall of a tower, why the lighthouse seems so important, and what the fuck is up with the psychologist. The ending fell short for me but I have high hopes for Authority and Acceptance (see, these books I pre-ordered because the covers are too stunning not to own them. Yes, yes I am shallow.)

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Coming up next month

The attentive visitor to my blog will have noticed that I have finally caved and am reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I have reached the 32% mark and I like it a lot better than Mistborn. It’s epic fantasy the way I would have loved it when I was younger and first discovered it. But I catch myself wanting to go back to the story so frequently that – if you add a Sanderson ending to it – I will probably end up loving the thing.

I also got an e-ARC from the kind people at Mad Norwegian Press. Catherynne M. Valente’s non-fiction essay collection Indistinguishable from Magic is longer than I expected so I’ve only read a quarter of it. But I love it so, so much! She may have left her poetic language at the door but I feel so understood by Valente when it comes to fantasy and wanting it to be real, it almost hurts.

And finally, once I’ve pushed through the last 50 pages, I’ll post my review of Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon. I had had such high hopes for this and while it does deliver on one front, it completely fails on the other. This is supposed to be Okorafor’s answer to District 9 and, as such, I understand what she’s doing. But the narrative is broken into so many little fragments, constantly switching between characters that only show up for a tiny chapter. It kills any pacing there might have been and makes it a slow read. Every time I try to understand a character or feel with them, I get jostled out of it. It’s a strangely dissatisfying experience and even though I want to commend her for her great ideas, the book has ultimately left me cold.

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Jeff Vandermeer – Annihilation

The Vandermeers (Jeff and Ann) are a name that everybody in SF knows. So far, I’ve only come in contact with the anthologies they edited. There are many of those and all of them fantastic. Assuming that someone who chooses other writers’ stories so well, must be at least a decent writer himself, I bought a couple of Jeff Vandermeer’s books. However, it wasn’t until now that I finally picked one up. The reason: I am shallow and totally love the covers for the Southern Reach trilogy. There you have it.

annihilationANNIHILATION
by Jeff Vandermeer

Published by: FSG Originals, February 2014
Ebook: 208 pages
Series: Southern Reach Trilogy #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

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A biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor make up expedition 12 into Area X. What sounds like the beginning of an elaborate joke is really a wonderfully creepy story with riddles upon riddles. If you like your stories resolved and your questions fully answered, then this is probably not for you. This is a book for people who enjoy not knowing or at least not knowing all they’d like to know to understand the puzzle. Area X is just there, we don’t know why or since when. We aren’t told what the expeditions are for – but the professions of the group members lead me to believe that the reasons are scientific in nature. Study this strange place and the creatures that inhabit it.

None of the four protagonists are ever named, they are simply known by their profession, which lends the already eerie narration another layer of distance. The first person narrator, the biologist, gives little personal information but manages to paint a picture of the surroundings without turning to clunky language. With the discovery of a “tower” that leads down into the earth rather than up at into the sky, the group start examining strange writing on the wall that seems to be composed of living matter. With this begins a journey into Area X as well as into the psyche of the biologist – who I’m sure is one of the more brilliant unreliable narrators out there. This would be a very different book, had it been told by any of the other expedition members.

AnnihilationAnimation_2Area X may be the real star of this book but its characters do come to life slowly. Despite narrating, the biologist’s personality is a mystery for the most time. It becomes clearer and clearer with little flashbacks into her childhood and her obsession with an uncared-for swimming pool-turned-frog-paradise. But it is the handful of memories of her husband and the time before the expedition that show different aspects of her and make her feel like a real, vivid person. I’d hazard anyone can relate to being passionate about something. I’m passionate about books, the biologist is and always has been passionate about life and how it works. She spent hours watching the frogs and fish and dragonflies living in and around her swimming pool as a child, I spent all my pocket money on fantasy books. It’s easy to identify with her in that respect, even though our passions may be widely different.
But showing aspects of her personality that don’t make her likable is the real sign of a three-dimensional character. The biologist is highly introvert and the crass opposite of her sociable husband. The way she thinks about him in general distanced her from me again. I could never think about my husband as clinically and scientifically as she does – passion is something she only has for her work.

The other characters get varying degrees of the same treatment, but this being a first person narrative, part of the enjoyment of this book is that, most of the time, we just don’t know who these people really are. The psychologist obviously exerts some power over the others – the group entered Area X under her hypnosis – and in a potentially hostile environment, being with a person like that would make me more than a little bit queasy.

The idea and plot reminded me, at first, very much of the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic, which starts on a similar premise. An area once visited by aliens that now holds all sorts of shenanigans, messing with physics and time, enough to give you nightmares. Area X isn’t exactly the same and neither is the plot. But if you like the one, you’ll probably like the other. But what makes Area X so intriguing is that we are left in the dark about pretty much all of it. How did it come to be? Was there a natural disaster? A human-made one? Did aliens come visit and leave their space junk and/or extraterrestrial fauna? Why did the previous 11 expeditions all end the way they did? It’s a mystery within mysteries and, trust me, it is enormous fun trying to figure even one of the out.

That said, part of the fun is hoping for a nice payoff at the end. There were several moments that made me gasp and sent my brain into crazy-speculation-mode, but the big bang I was hoping for didn’t arrive. Then again, I have high hopes for the second and third novel in the trilogy to shed some light on all the weirdness and I’m quite alright spinning my own theories until they come out later this year.

MY RATING: 7,5/10  -  Very good!

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The Southern Reach Trilogy

  • Annihilation
  • Authority
  • Acceptance

 

7

Alan Bradley – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

Flavia de Luce is a companion I don’t want to catch up to. She may not get me as excited as Harry Potter once did, but the upside of that is that I can restrain myself a little bit after every book. And trust me, knowing that there are two more books in this series waiting for me, is a great comfort. Let me never be Flavia-less.

flavia4I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS
by Alan Bradley

Published by: Random House, 2011
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: Flavia de Luce #4
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Tendrils of raw fog floated up from the ice like agonized spirits departing their bodies.

Precocious Flavia de Luce — an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving — is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. Amid a blizzard, the village gathers at Buckshaw to watch famed Phyllis Wyvern perform. After midnight, a body is found strangled by film. Flavia investigates.

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This is my favorite Flavia de Luce mystery so far. Despite work, which is still crazy and time-consuming and tiring, I managed to eat up this book in only a few days. It’s Christmas time in the village of Bishop’s Lacey and Flavia’s latest chemical plans involve catching Saint Nick red-handed. Her eleven-year-old mind may know deep down that there is no such thing as Father Christmas, but Flavia is also enough of a scientist to better make sure there is proof.

But then a film crew comes to Buckshaw – a desperate attempt by Flavia’s father to make some money to be able to keep the house. There will be a movie made at Buckshaw, and famous movie star Phyllis Wyvern will be the leading actress. With her this sparkling movie goddess brings, you guessed it, murder. The police is involved early on but again, it is Flavia who will solve the case and save the day.

I had almost forgotten how charming Flavia’s voice is. She is precocious and clever, yet deeply vulnerable when it comes to her cruel sisters. Jayne Entwistle, the audiobook narrator, brings her to life so perfectly, it’s like you’re there. But despite being funny and playing the grown-ups just right, Flavia is actually quite a tragic character. There hasn’t been a single volume in the series that doesn’t bring up Harriett, her dead mother. As with the books that came before, the family situation and dynamics interested me much more than the murder mystery. Flavia sees her laboratory as a sanctuary and makes do with what love she gets from Mrs. Buckett and Dogger. But it is very clear that she yearns for some affection from her father and some peace from her sisters.

Daphne and Ophelia, the older sisters in question, mostly seem like evil step sisters from a fairy tale. They love telling Flavia that she is an unwanted child, that random things are her fault, that Harriett didn’t want her in the first place. But there are those rare moments of de Luce truce, when they show that, despite their practical jokes and evil jibes, they do love their little sister – even if they only admit it unwillingly. Dogger, the man for odd jobs in the house, is still one of my favorite characters, and Aunt Felicity showed a surprising new side that made me grin for an entire afternoon. Should people stop being killed in their vicinity some day, the de Luce family would still never be boring.

With the arrival of the famous and beloved film star Phyllis Wyvern comes another treat for fans of the series. A performance of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet brings almost the entire village to Buckshaw. It’s been a while since I read the last book, but seeing old characters again was like meeting up with old friends. The word that keeps coming to mind is delighful. All their quirks combined in one place, it’s like an explosion of hilarity just waiting to happen.

Everything about this book was wonderful. Flavia is still one of the coolest, most bad-ass child characters I have ever read about, and I cannot wait to go adventuring with her again. What chemical concoction will she brew up next time to take revenge on her sisters? How will she help the police catch the next culprit (we know there will be another murder evenutally)? And will the family ever get over the death of their beloved mother? It almost doesn’t make a difference because as long as Flavia gets to tell her story, I know I’ll be well entertained.

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The Flavia de Luce Series:flavia series

14

Joe Abercrombie – The Blade Itself

“Late to the party” doesn’t really cover it this time, does it? I remember when everybody was reading and recommending the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. I went out and got the first volume. Then it sat there, on my shelf, sad and forgotten. Until I kept coming across interviews with the author on Sword and Laser, Tea and Jeopardy, and other places on the internet – that gave me the necessary kick in the butt to do it. I finally read the infamous Lord Grimdark’s first novel.

blade itselfTHE BLADE ITSELF
by Joe Abercrombie

Published by: Gollancz, 2006
Paperback: 517 pages
Series: The First Law #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Logen plunged thorugh the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet earth, the slush, the wet pine needles, breath rasping in his chest, blood thumping in his head.

The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.” Homer

Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body – not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers.
Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men.
And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior with a bloody past, is about to wake up in a hole in the snow with plans to settle a blood feud with Bethod, the new King of the Northmen, once and for all – ideally by running away from it. But as he’s discovering, old habits die really, really hard indeed…
…especially when Bayaz gets involved. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Glotka, Jezal and Logen a whole lot more difficult…

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His twitter handle is the name of an entire subgenre of fantasy: (Lord) grimdark! The definition, if I understand correctly, is dark fantasy where blood and violence are an everyday occurence, where things that can go wrong invariably will go wrong, where nobody is completely good but some people may indeed be completely evil. From what I have read on the internet, this seems to include a lot of female characters getting mistreated, assaulted, and raped. I expected gratuitous violence, just to show how few fucks the hero gives. But prejudice is a tricky thing. If your expectations can ruin a perfectly good book because it has been overly hyped, so can negative prejudice make you enjoy a book more – if only because it does not deliver all the bad things you came to expect. I believe this is what happened with The Blade Itself and me.

Someone described the characters to me in three (and-a-half) words: Everyone’s an asshole!
I was all the more surprised when I found myself caring for these people. Logen Ninefingers is obviously a brutal badass fighter who will kill you without so much as a shrug. But he has lost his wife and children, barely escaped death only to find out that his closest friends have also died. His resignation is understandable. It doesn’t exactly make him endearing but I was intrigued enough to want to see what he would do to pick himself up and create the semblance of a life.

The same goes for Inquisitor Glokta, an asshole by definition of his profession. He is a torturer who really, really doesn’t mind watching others suffer, even former friends. But he is also plagued by the pain in his crippled leg, and the fact that he can only eat broth due to an unfortunate loss of teeth made me at least pity him a little… Don’t get me wrong. I hated him. But I kind of loved to hate him, in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

Jezal, the third major character, is an arrogant, vain moron who only becomes a little likable when he falls in love with a girl. He’s still an asshole, though. Then there was this one character I suspected may be an actual good guy. Major West, Jezal’s friend and superior, has come to a small measure of glory from the lower classes. He does not look down upon those socially inferior to him (having been there himself), he respects other people and honestly wants to do good. But then I read on and… wait. Yes, yes. He is also an asshole.

It was all the more impressive how invested I became in these despicable people’s lives. The plot isn’t riveting and, for quite a while, I had no idea where it was going to go. Epic warfare? Magic wreaking havoc? A quest for vengeance? The Union has just come out of a war and already a new one is knocking on the door. Logen’s home in the Northlands is overrun with terrible creatures named Shanka who pose an additional threat to the people. Then the First of the Magi, Bayaz, shows up and he seems to have an agenda all his own. Between Jezal’s embarrassing attempts at romance, Glokta’s terrible job, and Logen’s resigned following-along-someone-else’s-quest, I couldn’t stop reading. And that’s what makes this a good book for me. Sure, there is violence and blood and not exactly a lot of female characters (all of whom are abused in one way or another, btw).

first law cover detail

The world building isn’t groundbreaking, but at least it doesn’t get in the way of the story by use of info dumps and bad exposition. What we have here is our average Medieval Europe setting with a hint of magic, but mostly warfare and politics. That said, the style and themes change drastically with the setting of each particular character. While Logen’s meanderings often tread in the path of danger and, thus, violent fights, Jezal and West’s storylines almost read like a fantasy of manners at times. These two live in the capital city where the nobility will judge every wrong step you take and make you pay for it dearly. I loved the social aspects of the world building, in all their gritty splendor.

But with that stereotypical epic fantasy world come its many failures. This is only book one in a trilogy but I very mouch doubt I will get to see LGBTQ characters, women who haven’t been through terrible abuse, men who aren’t assholes, or POC characters in the next two volumes. I’m not saying every book should have “one of everything” just for the sake of it, but if you write in a subgenre where the characters and their actions are supposed to reflect the reality of our world, then failing to include a major part of the population is a big issue. I’ve been reading fairly diversely this year, so I felt the absence of multi-layered female characters even more crassly.

I have little to say about the writing style. It is neither adventurous nor experimental, simply a window through which we see the story unfold. The fight scenes could have been shorter, but Abercrombie’s characters spring to life off the page and make you care, despite being horrible people. Plus, anyone who can pull off snarky dialogue that doesn’t sound idiotic gets a couple of brownie points. All in all, I would say, this is a very well written debut novel that leaves me with high hopes for what comes after. Joe Abercrombie strikes me as the kind of author who visibly develops as a writer with every book he writes. I can’t wait to find out for myself.

Despite my caveats, I still enjoyed the book and want to find out what happens next. This was neither as dark as I had worried (after American Psycho, nothing really is…) nor was it as bad as I feared. The mood for epic adventures has definitely struck me; and despiting disliking every single one of them, I kind of look forward to seeing what these characters are up to in the next book.

MY RATING: 7,5/10  – Very good.

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The First Law Trilogy:

first law trilogy

  • The Blade Itself
  • Before They Are Hanged
  • Last Argument of Kings
4

Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch – Rat Queens: Sass & Sorcery

See, 2014 is full of awesome. The only comic book series I’ve ever really gotten excited about was Saga (My pre-ordered volume 3 should arrive by the end of the month!). But do me a favor and read the description of this comic below. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Now you know why I needed to read this. And it was even more fun than expected.

rat queens sass and sorceryRAT QUEENS: SASS AND SORCERY
by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch

Published by: Image Comics, 1st April 2014
Ebook: 128 pages
Series: Rat Queens #1-5
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: …and what we face now is, alarmingly, one of Palisade’s greatest threats!

Who are the Rat Queens?
A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit. It’s also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief.
This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!

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Lord of the Rings on crack, indeed! Take your average band of mercenary heroes who kill monsters with swagger and style and always something witty to say, make them a diverse group of girls and add a fistful of humor. There you have it – a hilarious comic adventure that I, for my part, will be following closely.

Hanna, Violet, Dee, and Betty are the Rat Queens, a group of mercenaries usually out to hunt monsters for money. However, when they’re off the job, they enjoy drinking, swearing, brawling, and sex. They also curse like sailors and will kick your ass into next week if you dare speak an angry word at their friends. I fell in love with them immediately. And for so many reasons.

Hannah is dressed like a 50ies super heroine but with her necromantic powers, she can turn quite dark. She is also snarky, sarcastic, and fiercly protective of her band of heroines. Violet shaved off her dwarven beard and instead chose the life of a sword-fighting maiden of awesome. Betty, a Smidgen of many talents, was the fastest to steal my heart. Not only is she a lesbian who enjoys sex and lets people know it whenever she can, she also went full Sherlock in one scene, making further investigations unnecessary. Oh yeah, and she mixes a mean drink. Dee – one gorgeous woman, if you ask me – is terrified of social situations and still has to come to grips with her family’s weird belief in a Chthulu-like god.
They aren’t all equally developed characters but I suspect and hope that the writers simply saved up a bit for later issues. I can’t wait to find out more about each and every one of these girls.
rat queens introduction
But these girls’ personalities are just one slice of the pie. Look at them! I cannot express how much I love the way they are drawn. Hannah’s Rockabilly hairstyle rocks. Violet has the face of a fairy tale princess on the body of a well-muscled, normal woman. Betty looks like half child, half goblin (don’t think for one second she is as cute as she looks) and Dee is one beautiful girl with a dark dress sense. None of them look like anorexic models or unrealistically muscly super girls. They have butts, they have boobs, and their faces are all different. There is nothing I dislike more in comics than when characters look exactly the same, except for their hair and clothes. These girls have personality, inside and out.

If you’re worried that Dee is the only Person of Color in this story, you can stop worrying now. The writer and artist seem to have taken the cry for more diversity in SFF to heart. Sawyer, the captain of the guard and keeper of the peace and law in the city of Palisade (and a majorly good-looking man, if I may say so) has dark skin, as do other side characters. But skin color isn’t even a thing in this story. Neither, so it seems, is species. Violet will gladly seduce an orc if she feels like it and Betty certainly doesn’t keep her romantic adventures within the boundaries of her species. You get to see troll women and orc women (something I’ve never seen in any fantasy story featuring those creatures) and what’s more, you get to see them kick ass and be beautiful! Yes, a large woman with gigantic boobs and legs so muscled they look like tree trunks can be pretty.  Especially as she rips your goblin heart straight out of you.

rat queens betty aint no foolThe tone of the story is much lighter than my beloved Saga but this is also the Rat Queens’ strength. The humor is never cheap and it got more than a few chuckles out of me. There is situational humor, sarcastic remarks, highly original swear words (Fucktarts), and clever jokes galore. This hilarity isn’t merely conveyed through text, however. The art shines with it.

Strike that. The art shines, period. I can’t say anything about the style that will make you like it or dislike it. It is so incredibly subjective. But, like Saga, this one really worked for me. The colors are stunning and immediately give every new setting character. The book is also full of little details that aren’t important to the story, but help build the world without clunky exposition in the text. I’m still happy about that little dog with horns that I caught sitting in the corner of a page. I’m pretty sure there is more to discover and will report once I’ve re-read it.

I haven’t told you anything about the story yet – it’s really not necessairy. You take these four girls, put them together, and you got dynamite. But just to make your mouths water a bit more. There are hints of romance, dark secrets of the past, intrigues… also alcohol, drugs, street brawls, lots of blood, and some insanely quotable lines. You’ll find brightly colored pictures of pretty girls with cuts on their faces and battle scars all over their bodies, drinking and sword fighting and kicking copious amounts of ass.

I just pre-ordered the paperback copy. This needs to be on my shelf in all its glory.  Don’t make me for the next one too long. Pretty please? While I’m waiting, I’ll leave you with this glorious bit of fun (click to biggify):

rat queens secrets

MY RATING: 8,5/10  – Excellent!!

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Links of interest:
4

Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor

What a delightful surprise this was. I admit I was drawn in by the cover first. When I found out it was published by Tor and that the author’s name is a pseudonym of Sarah Monette, I knew I needed to read it. I’ve never read anything by Monette, but I have her entire Doctrine of Labyrinths series on my shelves somewhere. It was high time I started reading something or other she had written.

goblin emperorTHE GOBLIN EMPEROR
by Katherine Addison

Published by: Tor, 1st April 2014
Ebook: 448 pages
Standalone
Review copy from the publisher
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.

A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

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The Goblin Emperor is one of those books you slowly fall into.
It makes all the more sense because Maia, the protagonist-suddenly-turned-emperor, feels exactly the same. We (Maia and the readers, that is) arrive at court and are bombarded with strange sounding names, courtiers who have agendas we don’t understand, rules of propriety, and politics galore. It’s a hot mess and Maia is trying to navigate it to the best of his ability. But it means trusting people he doesn’t know. Without a single friend, without anyone to confide in, Maia’s loneliness is only understandable. What is so impressive is how well it comes across and how much I felt with Maia.

In a place where everybody wears politeness like an armor, it is nearly impossible to tell who is trustworthy and who merely seems to be. Equally, small gestures of kindness go a long way, and let me tell you, when someone shows kindness to Maia, it will bring tears to your eyes.The same goes for Maia’s small victories such as the sigil he chooses for himself, or his name as emperor – Edrehasivar VII – so very different from that of his father.

I could talk about Maia for ages because I completely fell in love with him as a character. His introspection, the way he always tries to do what’s best and remain a good person, makes him eternally endearing. He may feel like a toddler in a grown-up world but his empathy with all of his subjects makes him a much wiser ruler than his father was before him. Those characters who disagree with that assessment are the kind you love to hate.

Language plays a large part in this novel and it may be the one thing that could scare off readers. Maia’s situation is confusing enough but when you add names such as the Untheileneise’meire or Dach’osmer, it gets hard to follow as a reader. Rest assured, there is a glossary at the end, plus a very handy guide to pronunciation and use of titles. I, of course, didn’t see this until I finished the book (damn you, ebook!) but all the more credit should go to the author because of this. Without the help of the guide, I figured out the rules of the language myself. I started recognizing suffixes and distinguished titles from names. I completely guessed at the pronunciation. It is a sign of Katherine Addison’s skill that the language becomes natural after a while and even the longest words rolled off my tongue easily.

goblin king maia

So what about the plot, you ask. Well… a young man is now emperor, without most of the education he would need for the task. He finds out that his father’s death was not an accident but murder, and also needs to deal with the everyday life of ruling a country. That includes etiquette, arranging a suitable marriage for himself, dealing with disputes over land, and especially with the petition to build a new bridge over the Istandaärtha. That isn’t only a beautiful metaphor for what Maia is trying to do as emperor, but also a highly interesting part of the story: bridging and unbridgable river. But as his father’s murderers are still on the loose, Maia has to expect assassination attempts on his own life on a daily basis.

If I had to compare the writing to another author’s, I would have to go with Robin Hobb. She, too, writes novels that give the impression as if nothing much happens. But they draw you in and show you the protagonist’s inner life so closely, it’s impossible to put the book down. There are many kinds of suspense. It doesn’t always have to be airship battles and epic wars. A young man growing into himself and getting over his past can be just as thrilling as a bloody battle.

The Goblin Emperor is a quiet novel and an intricate character study. Its world-building is extraordinary, the prose is beautiful. The characters grew on my almost sneakily, and when I reached the end, I was struck by the emotional impact it had on me. Addison paints a vivid picture of the Untheileneise court without disrupting the story. If there is ever an illustrated edition of this book, I’ll be the first to grab it. Also, I’ll join Liz Bourke in begging for a sequel.

MY RATING: 9/10  – Close to perfection!

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5

Karl Schroeder – Lockstep

This is my first Karl Schroeder book. I have his Virga series somewhere, but it’s always nice to try out a new author with a standalone novel. Lockstep started out really well, then became a bit bland and ended up drifting off into cliché-land. Better luck next time, I guess.

lockstepLOCKSTEP
by Karl Schroeder

Published by: Tor, March  2014
Ebook: 352 pages
Standalone
My rating: 6/10
Review copy from the publisher

First sentence: Two bright moons chased each other across a butterscotch sky.

When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still — that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.
Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millenia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.
Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother,  whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.

divider1The Lockstep: Hibernate for 30 years, let the robots extract resources from the planet, wake up for a month and reap the fruit of your (bots’) labor. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I still haven’t read nearly as much science fiction as I’ve read fantasy, so my mind is easily blown by science fictional ideas. This one may not have been exactly overwhelming, but it was a great starting point for a story, especially with the protagonist – Toby McGonigal – accidentally hibernating on a ship for 14000 years and waking up to an entire new civilization that he doesn’t understand. So far so good.

The novel starts out really well. Being thrown into a world thousands of years removed from anything you know will break your head a little bit. As Toby is trying to get a grip on what the universe is like now, how the Lockstep works, and also how he happens to be one of the most famous people in the world, I was happily reading along, enjoying myself. Karl Schroeder says on his homepage that he wrote this book purely for fun, and that comes across during those first chapters.

The thoughts about time and how quickly you can be thrown out of your life if you don’t live in the Lockstep, kept me interested almost until the end. You get an entire planet whose hibernation period has been reset as a punishment – they hibernate at different times and ratios from other planets, making trade impossible, and ageing the people much faster than any relatives that may be hanging around other planets. It’s quite a bit to think about and by far the strongest part of the novel.

“I’ve been trying to catch up, but how do you catch up? It’s impossible. Now you’re asking me to rejig time for an entire world? How am I supposed to tell if that’s a good thing to do or an evil thing to do? Corva, if I can’t tell, then I’m not doing it. That’s all there is to it.

But let’s talk characters – you know how I feel about characters. It doesn’t take long until new characters are introduced rather haphazardly, some of the dropped again, leaving me to wonder why they were there in the first place. Kirstana, for example, a young girl with a slight crush on Toby (of course [insert eye roll here]) seems to exist merely to point out things in a world that’s completely alien to him. She has no agency, no personality, but great tour guide qualities. In fact, a lot of characters are used for exposition and not much else. Meh.

Corva, the only female character who is around for most of the novel, doesn’t fare much better. Yes, she does have a plan that doesn’t necessarily align with Toby’s own intentions, but she is as lifeless as the rest of the gang of stowaways who save Toby’s life at the beginning. Jay and Shylif each get one thing that could be defined as a character trait – if you define the term very, very broadly – but not a single character actually shows any depth. Hey, this guy makes things out of scrap material, he’s a maker. And this other one is on a vengeance trip because his heart was broken thirty years ago. Apparently, that’s all there is to these two as they never talk about or do anything that doesn’t fit with these “character traits”.

And that’s my biggest problem. Because, as the idea of the Lockstep is spun further, Toby discovers more and more truths about himself and his family. Now if I’d cared about Toby, these revelations could have touched me in some way. But seeing as Toby is as pale a character as the rest of them, they left me completely cold. And don’t even get me started on the “love story”. Of course, our one female character has to end up as a love interest. Karl Schroeder makes the same mistake most Hollywood movies make. Spending a week or so with a person of the opposite sex (and why does it always have to be heterosexual anyway?) does not automatically mean you have to end up feeling deep love for them. Hell, I spend a lot of time with all sorts of people and manage not to fall in love with them. It would have been really nice to have a female character who has a plan, who tags along with Toby, maybe ends up being friends with him, and then goes her own way – or even stays with him as a friend. But no, we get yet another forced and terribly executed romance.

In the end, things are resolved quickly and far too neatly. But by that time, I didn’t even care anymore. One more thing I’ve noticed – and I really don’t want to be one of those people who compare everything to Harry Potter – are the glaring parallels. Toby discovers a world that is completely new to him. He needs pretty much everything explained to him, then he finds out everybody knows him. Surprise, you’re famous! Seeing as he hibernated for a very long time, he expects all of his family to be dead. Surprise, the second: They’re not all dead! And just to round it off, he also happens to be one of the most powerful people in the world who can end all the Bad and Make Things Better.

This isn’t a terrible novel, but neither is it a very good one. I’d recommend it to people who want a light romp through space, a premise that is actually quite gripping, but a world peopled with cardboard characters. Because the idea appealed to me so much, I’ll be trying some other Karl Schroeder books. This one ended up being only okay.

MY RATING:  6/10  -  Okay

6

Books in the Queue – The Review Copy Edition

I don’t think I’ve ever received as many review copies as I have since January 2014. I did get occasional offers to read self-published works, or traditionally published books that just didn’t interest me much. But this year seems to be a great one – at least judging by the pile next to me and the ebooks on my Kobo.

Seeing as I’m really looking forward to most of these books and I want to keep up my end of the bargain (a free book for an honest review is more than fair, in my opinion), I intend to read all of these in time for publication day. For organizational purposes, and your TBR-note-taking pleasure, I made a list:

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Karl Schroeder – Lockstep

I finished reading this one last weekend and my review will be up tomorrow. I didn’t love it. I even hated some aspects of it. But overall, it was an okay read. Something light and fun for in between meatier novels, a story with bland, stereotypical characters, but a story with some great ideas.

lockstepWhen seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.
Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millennia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.
Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.
Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep is a grand innovation in hard SF space opera.

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APRIL 1st

Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor

Now this is such a pleasure to read. Sure, it’s chock full of names I won’t even try to pronounce, but it’s also got insane court intrigue, a young boy suddenly being the ruler of an entire empire, learning to grow up and put his past behind him. The language is lovely, the characters are multi-layered, the story got me hooked, and I have no idea where it’s going. I’m not even halfway through it, but I suspect this book will demand a rather glowing review. (And airships! Did I mention the airships?)

The youngest, half-goblin son goblin emperorof the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

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APRIL 10th

Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was announced. Okorafor’s Who Fears Death still gets at me after more than a year, her short stories in Kabu-Kabu were mostly wonderful, and I can’t wait to see what she does with this subject matter.

lagoonWhen a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.
At its heart a story about humanity at the crossroads between the past, present, and future, Lagoon touches on political and philosophical issues in the rich tradition of the very best science fiction, and ultimately asks us to consider the things that bind us together – and the things that make us human.

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APRIL 15th

Rjurik Davidson – Unwrapped Sky

Cover appeal, anyone? This book had me at minotaur. Not even the word minotaur, just the one on the cover. Apart from being gorgeous, it also sounds So Good. Magic, minotaurs, assassins.

unwrapped skyA hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city’s survival. Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic—or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy—now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world . . . or destroy it. Unwrapped Sky is a stunningly original debut by Rjurik Davidson, a young master of the New Weird.

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JANUARY 16th

Simon Ings – Wolves

This is already out but I’m still sitting on my review copy. I’ve been staring at the cover for weeks. It’s definitely on my read-very-soon list. Because it may look like fantasy, or even a fairy tale retelling, but it sounds like a crazy science-fiction ride.

wolvesAugmented Reality uses computing power to overlay a digital imagined reality over the real world. Whether it be adverts or imagined buildings and imagined people with Augmented Reality the world is no longer as it appears to you, it is as it is imagined by someone else. Ings takes the satire and mordant satirical view of J.G. Ballard and propels it into the 21st century.
Two friends are working at the cutting edge of this technology and when they are offered backing to take the idea and make it into the next global entertainment they realise that wolves hunt in this imagined world. And the wolves might be them.
A story about technology becomes a personal quest into a changed world and the pursuit of a secret from the past. A secret about a missing mother, a secret that could hide a murder. This is no dry analysis of how a technology might change us, it is a terrifying thriller, a picture of a dark tomorrow that is just around the corner.

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You’ll be seeing my opinions on all of these soon, although I am still catching up with some reading for this year’s Hugo nominations. Between April and whenever the nominees are announced I will have All The Time for new books. Because, see, if I read newer titles right when they come out, I won’t be in the same dilemma next year as I am now – not having read enough titles to make good decisions about what to nominate for a Hugo. Lesson one learned. On to the next one. :)