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Sixteen Books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Sixteen Books
Ancillary Sword (by Ann Leckie)
The second in the series. This one is more linear - no flashbacks - and Breq is Fleet Captain (which is essentially ship captain with more rank, not linked to multiple ships), but still a solo ancillary at heart. For a while in the book, it seemed like nothing very dramatic was happening, but I didn't mind - I could read about these people talking to each other and disagreeing in interesting ways and obsessing about dishes and humming and trying to slowly push justice like shovelling water uphill, for days without requiring that very much happen. But things do, eventually, happen. I love Breq as a protagonist, and she's unusual in ways that I have a hard time putting my finger on. (Not the "I don't know whether she's male or female but it doesn't matter" part). She's a do-gooder, but without any internal or external monologuing talking about it, so it's very... understated. I think what I said for Ancillary Justice goes for Sword too: "In addition to being about guns and things blowing up, it's about the dynamic relationships between people, and following orders, and ideals, and classism, and a lot of other thoughtful topics." Five stars, for a rare second book in a trilogy that I liked better than the first.

Cinder (by Marissa Meyer)
A Cinderella (and Snow White) retelling, with science fiction paint. Cinder is a cyborg (thus worthless caste) with, among other things, an artificial foot. Going to the ball (or not) is a big subplot, but she does not leave her foot behind when fleeing for the prince to find her. I find that I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for fairy tales much more than for science fiction. Why is Snow White's evil queen evil? Who knows, it doesn't matter, it's just a point of fact. But the evil Lunar Queen grates on me - there's a bit where she fakes being taunted by a servant so that she can claim her right to beat the servant to death for taunting her - partly because Evil, and partly to try to... rattle the prince that she's trying to force to marry her? I think there was some sort of political psychological reason, but I have forgotten it. Anyway, it seems that I am happy to accept one-dimensional characters from fairy tales, but they bug me elsewhere, and there is a lot of one-dimensionality here (though the second step-sister is not just terrible, so there's more of a dimension there.) Also, the Big Surprise was pretty much obvious from the beginning. I was probably not the target audience for this one.

Seraphina and Shadow Scale (by Rachel Hartman)
An interesting pair of books, featuring a half-dragon in a world with a very uneasy truce between humans and the a-lot-like-Vulcans rational unemotional (but lured into emotion by humans!) dragons. I liked the first book quite a lot; the writing is very pretty, the love plot is nicely done, the dragons are interesting to slowly learn about, the music subplot is nice. It's a YA/teen book, so the politics are simplified and the peril never seems that high, but that's par for the course. Shadow Scale gets props for not just being more of the same - there's a lot of travelogue going on, so we get to see some more varied world-building, but it also felt a little more repetitive, as the confrontation with the villain has a lot of rounds. Four stars for the first book, and three and a half for the second. (Oh, also, it was funny to read this just after Cinder, because "hide your half-dragon/cyborg nature from the prince who you have a hopeless crush on, because if he knows what you really are, he'll despise you, so you have to keep your obvious non-human features carefully covered up" was very similar.)

A Key, an Egg, and an Unfortunate Remark (by Harry Connolly)
I really liked the premise of an urban fantasy with an older pacifist female protagonist, and how she protects her city without any overt butt-kicking. (The bits with the vampires were probably my favorites). She also has a lot of Butterfly shticks - she'll do things because she has a feeling that they're the right thing to do, without knowing why. (For example, breaking the taillight of a car they walk past - appalling her nephew - it turns out later that this proves to be a good idea because they can recognize a car that tries to hit them as having been surveilling them earlier.) A few flaws - I never quite got what was up with the parties, there were enough characters that I sometimes got muddled, and I was grievously disappointed in the dragon towards the end, which was basically a stompy Godzilla. Dragons should be cooler than that. But still worth reading. Four stars.

The One Kingdom (by Sean Russell)
I really liked the Initiate Brother books, but I did not care much for this one (first in a trilogy). It's about a group of friends going downriver, fleeing some soldiers who keep mysteriously trying to kill them. There's a lot of weirdness on the river. There are a lot of near-misses with the soldiers. The river travel is lyrical and dreamlike, but just not enough happened. Two stars, alas.

Butcher Bird (by Richard Kadrey)
This had a Neverwhere quality to it - a guy gets sucked into the urban fantasy and can't get home again, plus angels and demons and strangenesses living with us unseen - but with a lot more biker tattoos and swears and drinking. I liked the camaraderie aspects, and I liked the spider mecha, and the hellscape, and a lot of things, but I mostly floated on the surface rather than being dragged into it. Interesting but not awesome, I guess? Three and a half stars.

Winter's Reach (by Craig Schaefer)
Book One of a "Cycle", so who knows how many books? None of the rest of them are out. There's a lot of Game of Thrones to it - it shifts between viewpoint characters, everyone is flawed but true to their own goals, there's betrayal and politicking and lying about what side you're on. No big ice Wall, though - the setting is specifically Italian(-ish), with a papal succession and a conflict between Church and Empire and so on. But, the thing that made me think most about Game of Thrones is - there are two archetypes of death that a named character can have. One is the Good Death - saving someone, making a last doomed stand, buying something worthwhile with your life. Fionavar is probably the extreme example of this. In Thrones, on the other hand, named characters die because they made a mistake. It's still dramatic, but it's not noble. Winter's Reach is very much the second kind - and nicely dramatically so - though it hasn't gone as far as killing Ned. It doesn't necessarily break astonishing new ground, but the characters are interesting and reasonably nuanced and enjoyable to follow (or to hate), and I did get sucked in. Four and a half stars. (Oooh, Amazon says I can loan this (e-)book to anyone I choose. Does anyone want to borrow it?)

The Buried Giant (by Kazuo Ishiguro)
Well, I kind of expected this one to be out of my comfort zone - the author of The Remains of the Day writes a fantasy novel that reads like a half-recalled dream, or maybe a story read while half-asleep. I feel like it will haunt me for a while, but I'm not sure that I liked it very much?

Nice Dragons Finish Last (by Rachel Aaaron)
This was interesting to read in comparison to the Seraphina pair - another premise with dragons shapeshifted to hang out with people, where the main character is a dragon who is much less fierce and arrogant than the average. Seraphina dragons are kind of Vulcans, while NDFL are, amusingly, much more like Romulans - violent and opportunistic and arrogant. In both cases, the premise of the book is more or less "Dragons are better off when they become more like humans". Which was always the Star Trek lesson, too - Kirk's eulogy for Spock says "Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human". At the time, I read a review that was disappointed in that, and it resonated with me a lot - yes, Spock is awesome, but that's really saying that the things that you liked best about him were the ways in which he was like everyone else, not the ways in which he was unique. It's saying you can't ever really love the Other, and that the Other can't ever be *better* than us. (Which is one of the John W Campbell hallmarks, still going strong). Er, where was I? Was there a book review in here? Right. I really like the setting - a kind of dystopian Shadowrun post-magic-return deal, where the Algonquin Great Lakes Spirit has flooded and conquered Detroit. And the plot was fun, and the characters engaging. The ending had some odd quirks, especially with the exit of one character stage left, into a plot that will presumably happen in a sequel, but in general it worked out pretty well. Three and a half stars?

Boundary Crossed (by Melissa F Olson)
Vampires and werewolves and witches, but unremarkable. It's already kind of faded before I get around to writing this.
The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, books 1-5 (by Annie Bellet)
Bellet came to my attention for being one of the people on the Puppies Hugo slate, who withdrew her story in a remarkably eloquent blog post. So I bought one of her books, in what I thought was a finished series but was mistaken (oops), and then finished reading the rest in quick succession. I've been on painkillers this week, plus work stress, so something light and quick was what I wanted, and they fit that well. They're short, and reasonably simple, with nicely varied characters, and the main character is the exact species of SF/gaming nerd that I am (and I suspect that Bellet is), so it's very reference-full (amusingly, the one thing that broke my suspension of disbelief is that a character named Joyce Summers goes by without comment). The hook for the first novel that grabbed me within the kindle-preview limit is basically "Shapeshifter daughter goes into pawn shop, sees stuffed fox which has just been pawned, and says OMG THAT IS MY MOTHER". That was interesting and creepy and made me want to know what happens next. As it turned out, the mystery was resolved more or less simply - in their investigation, the PCs are confronted by a villain, who then makes it double-clear he is the villain by fleeing into his evil villain lair, so there were not a lot of clues needed, but I did say that these are short books. They feel like an episode of a TV show in scope: introduce conflict, run about for a bit, failed attempt to resolve conflict, victorious attempt to defeat conflict. Anyway, these are fun popcorn stories - though the ending of the last is on an annoying cliff-hanger, which I was not at all expecting, since the previous books had all been little one-episode arcs (and, as I said, I had thought it was a finished series). Three stars.

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Comments
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: April 26th, 2015 03:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cranky from pain?

Re: the Campbell trope, I remember a short story, I think it was a Vernor Vinge but could be mistaken, where the humans were the old, slow species, with overwhelming technological superiority, and the aliens were the quick, smart, ambitious ones with resourcefulness and gumption to make up for being way behind. It was a fascinating reversal and I quite liked the way the humans (who were the viewpoint species) were half-heartedly trying to keep the aliens from acquiring too much tech too fast, while being sort of resigned to the idea that fairly soon we'd just be outmaneuvered enough times that they would zoom right past us. The aliens got very frustrated with how slow we talked and how long we lived (I think they lived two or three Terran years at the most) and how we kept getting all philosophical instead of TAKING ACTION.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 26th, 2015 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that's Original Sin from the description. The mention also makes me want to re-read A Fire Upon The Deep for the Tines.

(And yeah, cranky this morning because the Advil hadn't kicked in yet. :) )
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: April 27th, 2015 12:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I adored A Fire Upon The Deep and A Deepness in the Sky and will happily proselytize for them, and loan them if you like. (I have The Children of the Sky but have not read it yet, which really must change soon.)
nuclearpolymer From: nuclearpolymer Date: April 26th, 2015 08:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I feel like the reason it's easier to suspend disbelief for a fairy tale is that they are usually told quickly, like flash fiction almost. If one was done in novel length, it might get hard to stay with the one dimensional characters. I guess that was the whole strength of "Wicked" & the rest...that they turned the fairy tale characters into much more complex characters.
lillibet From: lillibet Date: April 27th, 2015 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)
You could lend me Winter's Reach.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: May 13th, 2015 01:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Whoops, spaced on this until I was tidying up my mailbox. Sent! :)
lillibet From: lillibet Date: May 13th, 2015 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Got it! Thanks!
marcusmarcusrc From: marcusmarcusrc Date: April 27th, 2015 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. I liked Seraphina enough that I would have expected it to be closer to 5 stars... on the other hand, 3.5 for Shadowscale feels about right. The travelogue nature didn't grip me.

(now the question is whether I put the Leckie & Schaefer on my to-read list now, or wait until they are closer to being done as a series)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 27th, 2015 11:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
The two Ancillary books are stand-alone enough that I think you could read them now without being unhappy about it not being finished yet. The Schaefer, maybe not.

(I think Seraphina took some damage from the plot that reminded me so much of Cinder, which I didn't like as much; I might have loved it more without that?
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