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horace_hamster
Darkglass Mountain series
Author: Sara Douglass
Publisher: Harper Voyager
The Serpent Bride (2007)
The Twisted Citadel (2008)
The Infinity Gate (2009)

Big epic ye-olde fantasy. Big, as in huge. Each book is 600+ pages. The author has endless imagination, her prose is good, and her main storylines are engaging. But....for me, it was overload. Way too many plotlines, many of which ended up going nowhere. Way too may POV characters, many of whom just died and were never mentioned again by anyone when they got past their use-by date in the plot. Way too many unnecessary scenes. Most of the characters are male. All of the characters are heterosexual. There are only a handful of female MCs. All of the baddies are redeemed by love; if they don't find love, they end up unredeemed. All of the MCs are complex, but in a way that renders them largely unlikeable. It ends with the reader knowing that there will be more books, as the Heroine and the Antagonist are both pregnant with the Hero's babies, and so it's obvious where this is going. The fact that I read all 2000 pages (no, not exaggerating) tells me that this author is doing something right, but for me it was all just too much, and I don't see myself looking for the sequels.
 
 
horace_hamster
16 March 2014 @ 10:23 am
Libriomancer
Author: Jim C Hines
Publisher: DAW (2012)

A fun romp of an urban fantasy. It's PG rated at most, yet it deals with very mature concepts re relationships and romances. The MC, Isaac, is a libriomancer -- someone whose magic lets them reach into books (fiction or nonfiction) and draw forth objects. He's a spec fic geek, so he tends towards ray guns, magic potions, and cloaks of invisibility. Mostly, he reads and catalogues books, to identify new novels that contain objects you wouldn't want anyone to ever pull out -- incurable diseases, indestructible rings of power, etc. But the mild-mannered librarian has to pull out more than a ray gun when he's attacked by vampires who want to destroy all the libriomancers. Fortunately, he's got an ass-kicking, motorbike-riding dryad to protect him.

It's engaging, exhilarating, imaginative, and refreshing. The dryad is overweight -- and that's just fine! She's way stronger and faster than him -- and that's just fine! She's got a lesbian lover -- and that's just fine! He's in love with her, which throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the works, but that just makes the book even more fun. So Isaac struggles with love, lust, and free will, along with the bad guys who want to kill him. There ending is upbeat and happy, but with a very unexpected twist. I must now run out and buy the sequel.
 
 
horace_hamster
13 March 2014 @ 08:18 pm
Authors often compare their books to others similar in tone, style, genre, or target market. They also compete, at least mentally. Is their book better, or worse, than others? Why do readers rave about Author X when X writes, well, crap? Should they finish the book they're writing if someone else has just released something similar? Why are sales and advances and marketing so unfair, so opaque, so frustratingly unpredictable?

I don't know the answers. What I do know is this: No single author on this planet can write enough books fast enough to satisfy my reading itch. Hell, ten of y'all put together can't write fast enough. Authors I read introduce me to new authors -- whether by blogging a review, or by Kobo's "you might also like", or by turning me on to a new genre.

I read Stacia Kane's first Downside book. I promptly ran out and bought all her other books, and waited with hysterical impatience for the rest of the Downside series; meanwhile, I bought her short stories in the same world, and also went looking for other urban fantasy books -- a genre I had thought I didn't like till Stacia changed my mind. That in turn introduced me to Kelly Meding and Lilith SaintCrow.

Christa McHugh offered the first book in her series for free on Kobo. I downloaded it along with a bunch of other free books. The others didn't grab me, but McHugh's sure did. I promptly bought all her other books -- three? Four? Can't remember.

I admire Jim Hines' blog, so I bought one of his fairy tale retellings. Loved it. Bought the other five or six or whatever, and have recently bought his Libriomancer novel.

Kelley York's "Hushed" was recommended to me. I bought it and loved it. While waiting for her next book, I browsed through her publisher's listings and bought a novel by Jane Kindred -- which I liked enough to buy the next two books in the series.

I got a deal on a trilogy by Paula Freeman. Kobo then told me -- correctly -- that I might also like Amanda Downum's books. And Aliette de Bodard. And Naomi Novik. And Sara Douglass. And Rachel Neumeier.

I follow Beth Bernobich and Cat Hellison on livejournal because they are interesting people. Interesting people write interesting books -- which hook me enough that I run out and buy the next book, and the next, and the next. Now I'm impatiently waiting for them to publish more books so I can buy them and read them.

And those are just the names off the top of my head whose books I've read on my Nook in the last year. There's probably at least another dozen I'm forgetting. Let's see, what have I bought in the last month and not read yet? Lois McMaster Bujold, Barbara Hambly, Guy Gavriel Kay....

Readers read a LOT of books. I go through 50 - 100 each year. So, go forth, forget about what other authors are doing, and WRITE FASTER, DAMMIT.
 
 
horace_hamster
11 March 2014 @ 10:24 am
River of Souls (Beth Bernobich)  
The River of Souls trilogy: Passion Play, Queen's Hunt, and Allegiance
Author: Beth Bernobich
Publisher: Tor (2010, 2012, 2013)

Renaissance-style fantasy with court intrigue, power plays, wars, magic, reincarnation, and, of course, passion. The main character, Therez, is a fifteen year old suddenly betrothed by her father, against her wishes, to an older man who she finds handsome and fascinating but also very frightening. She's right to be frightened -- he's controlling, vindictive, abusive, and would make a really rotten husband. So, with no time to plan or enlist help, she runs away and changes her name to Ilse. (Not an unusual start to a fantasy novel.) And, not surprisingly, Ilse runs into more trouble than she left. (What's worse than one controlling, misogynistic, abusive man? Thirty of them.) The trouble she lands in is a lot more horrible than most fantasy heroines experience. It's portrayed realistically, while refraining from being graphic and detailed enough to turn the reader off.

Ilse finally gets away and after a lot more false starts finds a home, a career, and a new life as secretary to Raul, a nobleman estranged from court. Raul, she gradually learns, is very politically active in a behind-the-scenes kind of way, trying to prevent his king from starting wars with the neighbouring countries, (in between carrying on a torrid affair with his male lover). Part of this involves trying to find some magic jewels that all the kings are searching for; the kings want the jewels' power, and Raul's 'shadow court' want to keep them out of warmongering hands. Ilse gets drawn in and becomes a major player. She and Raul also fall in love.

It's a complex story with a complex plot and lots of players. Sexualities are pleasantly mixed -- Ilse is bisexual; Raul is a bisexual castrato; one of their compatriots is a courtesan by profession, lesbian by nature. Most of the characters are non-white, another nice touch. While Ilse's age didn't work for me -- running away at fifteen and landing in trouble worked, but her wisdom, maturity, complexity, knowledge, skills, cleverness, sophistication, and complex relationship with Raul were that of a thirty or forty year old, not a seventeen year old -- I just mentally added twenty years to her age and happily carried on. It's a beautifully written, engaging, and addictive series; once I started reading, I couldn't stop till I'd finished all three books.
 
 
horace_hamster
17 February 2014 @ 12:49 pm
Hild: A Novel
Author: Nicola Griffith
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013)

I'm going to preface this review with a big caveat: I read this book when I was stoned on morphine/tramadol due to severe sciatica, so I may well not have given it a fair read, and I may not be remembering a lot of the details correctly.

This is a hefty historical novel, set around 600-ish AD Britain, and follows Hild, a prince's daughter who became a saint (and that's pretty much all that's known about the real Hild). The prose is, as expected, superb; the setting is, as expected, meticulously researched and vividly drawn. But I didn't like this book as much as I expected to. I wanted to love it, and I just didn't, even though I am an avid fan of historical fiction.

Hild's mother was most definitely a piece of work (in a love-to-hate-her kind of way), and I adored the basic concept -- Mum prophesied that her kid would be a seer to the king, so the kid has no choice but to become a seer (which means knowing everything while pretending she gets her information magically instead of how everyone else does). It's a terrific plot twist to base a story on. But I struggled with the vocabulary of the period and with the many characters who all had similar names, and I found the omniscient narrator took something away from the characterisation. I found the MC a little too perfect -- a five year old Mary Sue who is cunning enough to outsmart all the adults including the king. And I found the scope of the book disappointing -- it covers Hild's life from about age 3 only to about 15, when for political reasons she converts to the new Christian religion. Given it's size -- 500+ pages -- I thought the book would take her from go to whoa, not stop midway.

I would read the subsequent books, but I reckon I'll wait till the whole set is out and then read them all at once. I checked the author's blog, and re the next Hild book she says "Not anytime soon". So... I guess I'll put this one on the back burner and revisit it in a couple of years.
 
 
horace_hamster
When The Sea Is Rising Red
Author: Cat Hellison
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2012)

Though billed as a YA fantasy novel, Rising Red is sophisticated, dark, and complex. Hellison manages to create lyrical-but-invisible prose, quiet-but-vivid characters, an astonishing-yet-believable fantasy world, and a sad-but-happy ending. How she does it, I haven't yet figured out.

Felicita, as the daughter of a wealthy house, is useful to her family only as a marriage pawn. Her best friend commits suicide rather than enter a forced marriage. Felicita, whose own unwanted marriage is looming, runs away and reinvents herself in the poor part of town, joining a gang. But this novel isn't your trad fantasy, with an overt focus on sexism and classism and magic and coming-of-age, and little else to distinguish itself. No, here you get characters of several races; romances of the heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and asexual kind; themes of betrayal, murder, and vengeance. Fierce hatreds, bleak choices, inevitable consequences. All this, plus a girl whose hair leaks nightmares. This will go in to my to-be-read-again pile.
 
 
horace_hamster
13 February 2014 @ 09:17 am
The Raid
author: Lee Lynch
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books, 2012

The Raid is both an enjoyable piece of fiction and a historical testament. It’s the only novel I’ve ever read where I’ve been tempted to flip ahead and read the last pages so as to know how it ends. While Lynch is a skilled novelist and I trust her to create a proper ending, I also know she'll create a realistic ending, and this story seemed so very real that I found myself terrified the characters -- who were surely living, breathing, real people – simply might not be able to find happiness in such a homophobic world. Thankfully, though the lives and experiences depicted in The Raid had me alternately raging and bawling, the characters did triumph and I was able to sigh with satisfaction on the last page.

The layers and parallels in the story are so well interwoven that they are unnoticeable, yet they invest the story with an unusual richness and complexity. The narrator, Rockie Solomon, is nearly invisible for the first third or so of the story, as she simply shows the reader the words and actions of the regulars in a small gay bar in pre-Stonewall New York: the camp bar owner, Murphy and her endless stories, Deej the baby dyke trying to find her way. Rockie gradually changes from a passive observer to an active character in her own right, coming out of the closet to the reader both literally and figuratively as a business owner, a Jew, a lesbian, an older woman. Similarly, the other characters' pasts and futures, the town, and its culture are revealed, petal by unfurling petal.

Although quiet and reserved, Rockie is a woman whose passions run as deep as her strength. She stands up against homophobic townspeople, helps her fellow queers recover from the physical and emotional damage wrought by brutal police in the eponymous bar raid, and acts as mentor and, sometimes, first-time lover for women new to the lesbian life. What homophobia leaves undone, the patriarchy finishes – in the end, even the gay men abandon the lesbians. But Rockie, a character who encompasses determined women the world over, remains unbowed. And just as the Stonewall-era world slowly, inevitably accepted change, so too does Rockie as she finally allows herself to fall in love. It is an exquisite pleasure to watch Rockie, a woman in her fifties, embrace change and a new life even as she expresses shock at the fresh ideas and innocent optimism of the younger generation of lesbians.

I reckon that this will remain an under-read and under-appreciated book, due to its not-quite-contemporary/not-quite-historical setting, the characters' sexualities, and the small press imprint, and that's a real shame. We need to remember what the previous generations lived through and fought for, and a writer of Lynch's calibre deserves a wider audience.
 
 
horace_hamster
18 January 2014 @ 08:34 am
Today I rage against the dying of the light that was my sister Mary.

I rage against the US health care system, too. The one that does not have a national breast screening program. No, mammograms are reserved for the wealthy, for those with good full-time jobs that provide health care insurance. I rage against the system that rewards doctors for not referring their patients to specialists. I rage against the misogynistic society that encourages doctors to dismiss a woman's pain as "over reacting" or "all in your head".

And I rage against cancer, the betrayal of one's own body.

Mary's pain was ignored by her doctors and misdiagnosed for six months, despite her persistent complaints. Finally they agreed to do an MRI, and realised she had stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She passed away last night.

She was a bright, shining light in this world. She was the sun and moon to her husband. I rage against the dying of her light.
 
 
horace_hamster
22 September 2013 @ 07:03 am
Yesterday, I married my lovely, terrific, awesome wife. Legally. Like real people!

Thank you, New Zealand.
 
 
horace_hamster
18 April 2013 @ 07:30 am
Last night, the New Zealand Parliament passed a bill legalising same-sex marriage. Hurrah, another domino falls!

I suspect my country of origin will be one of the last dominos, but since NZ is now and will forever be my home, last night's victory is also my victory.
 
 
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