Currently Reading

Love and Freindship

The Jupiter Myth ended as it was always going to. This is the disadvantage of rereading books, mystery novels or otherwise: the usual narrative arc loses its impact completely. It did prompt me to look up Roman crossbows, which I hadn’t realised were a thing.

The next step in my continuous quest to pay as little as possible for reading material this year was Crossing Those Hills, the latest novella by Jon D Arthur, a person I follow on twitter who has been extraordinarily prolific lately and about whom I constantly feel guilty for not being able to support. In a strategy that I’ve seen elsewhere and highly approve of he is offering the first in his series free (and the sequels are not overly expensive either).

This particular series is set in a world which is post apocalyptic (at least, to our characters, who live in a bombed city, and who have to deal with monsters outside of it) and to others perfectly functional. It’s a nicely done dichotomy, even if confusing at first.

The book is written in first person, present tense, which also threw me; further I did something you should never really do which is read the first 20%, not read for a week due to a project (save for trashy romance novels of the kind that I don’t mention here), then finish the rest in a single sitting while waiting for some people to finish up a game of Terraforming Mars at boardgames night—this doesn’t help with remembering what’s going on, but I picked it up again quick.

I really liked the characters referred to as cupid and the envoy, who make great… paratagonists? I’m not sure how to describe them without giving too much away. Also—and this may seem odd—great traffic jam at the end. I really want to know how the story continues!

Unfortunately the terraformers weren’t done when I was, and I continued on to another book: the intentionally misspelled Love and Freindship by Jane Austen, which is one of a number of comedic short stories written by the teenaged Austen compiled on Project Gutenberg in a single volume with that title. It’s possibly not the best introduction to her work but I am definitely enjoying it. That being said I will have to read her other stuff to work out how much is serious and how much is a Parody of their Diction.

Currently Reading

The Jupiter Myth

Needless to say, Beauty finished with everyone living happily ever after. In fact the whole book, while delightful, seemed extremely low stakes—though of course, in comparison with Mistress of the Empire very little does.

After some consideration I picked up a novel which I had already read: The Jupiter Myth, by Lindsey Davis. Though unusually titled for its series, this is one of the Falco detective novels which proceeded the Albia series. In fact, it’s this book where Albia herself first appears as a street urchin in Londinium.

The 20 Falco novels, not including the first two, can generally be divided into “Home” and “Away” (domus et procul?) stories, where most of the action occurs either in the vicinity of Rome or in some far distant province of the Empire: here in Britannia, and as a Brit herself Davis nevertheless spends this book (and frankly all other books) humorously trashing the place.

Rereading a mystery novel seems a little silly, but I’ve found that what with the quality of the books beyond simply their detective elements—and the fact that my brain tends to resemble a sieve at times—makes rereading Davis’ novels as much of a treat as the first time. Both Falco and Albia have larger metaplots, which interconnect with each other: the events of The Jupiter Myth draw significantly on the books before and are in turn very important for those after.

Of course, I know how it’s going to turn out (except for the latest Albia book, which I still don’t have), but it’s still great.

Currently Reading

Beauty

I severely underestimated just how long it would take to finish Mistress of the Empire—not simply because it was long, but because it was so dense. Luckily it at least got over the depressing part that had stymied my first attempt.

I’m not sure what I think of my previous assertion that the series could have ended at the end of Servant. On the one hand Mistress probably has a more complete ending, and is the inevitable continuation of the events of the first two books; on the other hand the central conflict of the first two books ends in the same climactic scene in which Lady Mara is officially named the Good Servant, and her challenges and opponents are quite different. Significant amounts of plot and worldbuilding come to fruition in the third book, and yet it also stands alone. Part of that of course will be that I was only rereading the first two while reading the third for the first time; I will have to do a reread one of these days.

Not today, however: as I said, it’s long, it’s intricate, it’s probably the greatest fantasy politics series I’ve read. From some side reading it appears that there’s significant appetite for further books in the world of Kelewan (as opposed to the Midkemia books that already exist in the same universe). On the one hand I’m generally sympathetic to the feeling of wanting more of the book I just finished; on the other though I’m not quite sure where you could place other books in the timeline. Over the course of the trilogy Mara thoroughly exposes and in many ways dismantles the underlying skeleton of the world in which she lives and that people wish to revisit. Further, she does so in the larger part because of her own brilliance and willingness to examine how her society is structured than the externally derived events that impact the narrative. As such, any lead character from a prequel that could possibly bare comparison to Mara as a protagonist would almost have to precipitate the same changes as she does (which would cause timeline issues, and would probably be boring). Meanwhile a sequel would exist in a world where the Game is fundamentally changed, and this may not be what is wanted.

The main option as I see it would be to base a new series around around the fallout from the abolition of slavery in the empire, and with a broader cast of protagonists to the admittedly numerous list that exists by the end of Mistress. Neither this nor any other possibility seem likely, however, and frankly I’m fine with that.

Not only did it take some time to finish the series, it also took a few days for me to recover and start reading a new book. I considered Casey Plett’s A Safe Girl to Love, due to it being vaguely topical, but instead chose Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley, the author of Sunshine.

There is a slight problem, however: I’m not very familiar with the original, which makes comparisons and perhaps a full appreciation difficult. The broad premise I of course know from pure osmosis, but it’s only through a some research that I have been able to pick up on even fairly significant differences. Most notably, the titular character is in the original a beautiful and well-read young woman who is treated like a maid by her siblings; in this version Beauty’s sisters do their fair share of the work, while she is a (still bookish) tomboy who helps in her brother-in-law’s smithy and will accept beer as payment for pulling your wagon out of the mud with her horse. The much-criticised Stockholm-syndrome romance is still there, but to be fair I’ve read worse.

Currently Reading

Mistress of the Empire

I’ve had plenty of time for reading lately, just I haven’t been writing.

Wylding Hall finished with its core mystery unsolved—in fact, it finished pretty much as the blurb ends, with it’s mystery only just explained in full. That being said it was quite a good mystery in the end.

I’ll admit I spent most of The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson being confused as to what was going on. Perhaps I’m just oblivious to inter-character relationships that authors don’t immediately spell out. I was going to say that it ended all too soon, and that the book was much too short, but I went and checked and it was much longer than I thought. Confused or not, I was entranced to the end. Time flies, etc, etc.

This brings us to the Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts—or should it be the The Empire trilogy? Certainly I keep forgetting what has ‘the’ in it: the book titles (Daughter of the Empire; Servant of the Empire; Mistress of the Empire), the “Game of the Council” (that is, politics), and probably a few other things that I forget that I forget.

I have all three books in one ebook, which I bought a while ago now. I read them at the time, but crucially read other books in between—this ended up meaning that I couldn’t get into the third book properly after coming back to it. Naturally, then, on this quest to read books I already have or can get for cheap I started this series that I otherwise quite enjoyed.

…of the Empire is all about feudal fantasy politics, and predates A Game of Thrones (another series I have as an omnibus ebook as it happens, but I stopped reading because I wasn’t enjoying it) by about a decade. Notably however it has what I believe is supposed to be Korean, or at least East Asian, flavour to its culture. At the start of the series, where it comes to geopolitics, the “Empire of Tsuranni” of Kelewan are at war with the “Kingdom of the Isles” of Midkemia—a much more traditional fantasy setting which is the setting of some other books by Feist that are supposed to be occurring at the same time but which I have never read—via some kind of “rift.” The father and brother of Mara of the Acoma, who was intending to join a temple, have at the start of the first book just been killed in a battle arranged by one of their domestic political enemies and Mara is thrust into the role of Ruling Lady for a suddenly very weak noble house.

The result is a kind of exponential resource gathering that I quite like in a story (e.g. in Robinson Crusoe) as she rebuilds her strength, plus some very intricate politics which are always fun when done properly. Mara learns that she really enjoys the Game of the Council, and also that it is horrific and extremely unfair to innocent bystanders. I don’t normally go much further than that into plot, but here are some observations on reread:

  • My impression of Kentosani, as the Holy City where we begin the first novel but swiftly depart, was vastly different to the feel I got of it in the second book. Part is perhaps that it wasn’t very fleshed out at the time the first book was written, though I don’t know that, but I think more important is how the character approached them at the time: Mara was fleeing Kentosani in secret, fearing assassination; she returned with reluctance but in a much stronger position, the much more temporal nature of which allowed us to see (and at times run away from) a great deal more.
  • I keep confusing Kentosani with Katarosi, a character from Aspects of the Divinity (also definitely on my reread list, especially if the second novel comes out).
  • I also confuse Hokanu of the Shinzawai and Hoppara of the Xacatecas, second sons of a similar age who are both friendly with Mara.
  • I’m not sure where names like Xacatecas come from—they seem to be more Mesoamerican than Korean.
  • My memory of the order of events in Servant turned out to be completely scrambled, or rather the actual order was scrambled and I had remembered e.g. all the Kentosani scenes going together when they plainly did not. An easy thing to do in such a long and complicated book.
  • I can only that Desio got his moment to shine in the other series. For an unrepentant antagonist who died off-screen (so to speak) he got a huge amount of character development over the second book, and yet while his death was a significant turning point in the plot it had so very little to do with that development that it’s as if it never happened.
  • On first read the seemingly erratic switching of POV characters within chapters and even paragraphs bothered me a lot more than it does now.
  • The obvious thought is “how could you modify Crusader Kings II,” a popular videogame about medieval politics, “to model the Tsuranni Empire?” It would take some doing with regards to ruleset and flavour, though I think the greatest challenge would be the map—we’re given one at the very start, but it doesn’t even remotely show the Holy Roman Empire-level territorial complexity that exists and which would be needed for an accurate game map. On the other hand, Mara’s rise to power and the Great Game in general appear to have even less to do with actual map conquest than CKII does.
  • In stark contrast with Shadow and Claw from earlier, the second book actually wraps up a lot of its own plot, and both it and Daughter could easily mark the end of the story as told. In truth, this was part of why I found myself able to give up on the third book—I could pretend it didn’t exist, and didn’t need to read it to gain closure.

But no more excuses. I’ve made it to where I stopped last time, albeit over the span of several weeks, and am now ready to discover what on earth causes Mara to be labelled Mistress of the Empire.

Currently Reading

Wylding Hall

It’s been a little bit too long since I finished Sunshine to really remember enough (sometimes I have the memory of a metaphorical goldfish, which helps when I want to reread things), but I certainly do remember that I liked it. My only complaint though is that it spent a long time getting to the climax and recovering from it—both very well done—but the capital-e Event itself didn’t really seem long enough to live up to it. Changing that would of course lead to and even longer book, but believe me I wouldn’t have minded.

Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand, turns out to be much shorter, though as usual I am only about halfway through. This book—as the blurb pretty explicitly explains—is presented in a documentary style, in which the characters alternate explaining the events as they experienced it. With one of its members recently deceased the young musicians of the 1970s folk band Windhollow Faire are sent by their manager to summer at Wylding Hall to record a second album without distractions. At some point, after the point I am at however, another member mysteriously disappears within the manor and is never seen again.

My favourite part of the book so far is the contradictions between the perceptions and statements of the different characters, which include both band members and assorted hangers on that were present at Wylding Hall at some time or another—they differ at times wildly in what they knew or thought, both at the time and in the book’s present. The very explicit “unreliable narrator” really helps the realism and the feeling that you really are getting to the bottom of something. The only problem is that the something hasn’t really happened yet, and in contrast to the perhaps the over-revealing blurb the characters are quite reluctant to do more than just hint at what they are yet to describe.

Still, I’m definitely enjoying reading them do it!

In other news: some day Amazon will figure out when The Third Nero is coming out, or in fact that its called that and what its cover will be. Some day.

Currently Reading

Sunshine

I finished Shadow and Claw the other day. The protagonist didn’t describe any more executions in the part that I hadn’t read, which was frankly a relief. It was also quite definitely clear as it finished that it made up only the first two parts of a series, although I didn’t mind how it ended. There is a certain mystery element of books that I like, both explicit and implicit, and trying to solve this one was certainly engaging. I will definitely have to hunt down later volumes at some point. I don’t really do star reviews, generally giving things fours or fives if I like them, or not at all if I don’t, but while not perfect I did quite like it.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley is the first of the Women in Sci-fi and Fantasy Humble Bundle books that I have started. Strictly superficially it gains points for having ebook page numbers, but on the other hand its default font size is strangely small (obviously, this is easily dealt with).

The book description describes the titular protagonist being captured by vampires and imprisoned as taunting bait/food for another vampire, also imprisoned by the same gang. I had actually expected this part of the novel to go on much longer, but it seems like—to avoid many spoilers—much of the story happens after that nightmarish experience. The descriptions, tangents, and exposition are handled masterfully, although I sometimes wonder who Sunshine, writing in the first person, is expositing to—the relationship between narrator and audience was much more fleshed out in Shadow and Claw. Thanks to train adventures, by which I mean they were rather not running when I needed them to, I ended up reading quite a lot today, and I definitely am enjoying it.

In other news: Thanks, Amazon, I did know that Wolf Moon was out, but sadly your email did not include a special 90% off discount for patient fans so alas I will have to wait a fair bit longer.

Currently Reading

Currently Reading

For the last few days or so I have been reading Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe. It’s apparently an omnibus edition of the first two books in a series, which makes sense—I’m past the middle and into the Claw.

I put it in Science Fiction on my Kindle but keep forgetting that it’s not Fantasy. It’s got swords and torturers (or a sword and a torturer, in the second book), but the walls of the guild oubliette—which doesn’t particularly resemble the mechanic from Crusader Kings II—are made of metal and characters speak casually of humanity once exploring the stars but are presently relegated to a certain cold world around a dying star.

The book is very dark at times, what with the main character being, again, a torturer. There’s plenty else that I wont spoil, for that matter, but it isn’t all like that.

I am very fond of the writing style, especially after recently giving up on a book largely for that reason. It’s important! Especially when all I can think while I’m reading is “I could do this better,” which believe me is no complement. The digressions, and particularly the digressions accompanied by the narrator insisting that they’re completely irrelevant but you’re going to have to put up with them because it’s his account, are often the best parts. It flows; it’s enjoyable; I’m always reluctant to put it down when the train pulls into the station. My biggest caveat is really that I hope nobody is reading over my shoulder…

The book I would really rather be reading, however, is Ian McDonald’s Luna: Wolf Moon, the unfortunately titled (and also delayed) sequel to Luna: New Moon; “Game of Thrones in Space” according to some but “Hard Science Fiction Dune” to me. I say unfortunately titled because you would expect a completely different genre from what it actually is—at least for the most part! Alas, while it finally appears to be out I cannot afford it right now. Instead I’m stuck with humble bundles and ebook givaways, but the moral of the story is that those aren’t all bad.