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Two solo books, one N-ology - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Two solo books, one N-ology
A Ghost in the Machine (by Caroline Graham)
This is either a cozy (a sub-genre of mystery) or a satire of cozies, depending on which blurb quotes you believe. It has the requisite cast of a dozen beautifully drawn dysfunctional characters (a proper cozy gives everyone enough unpleasant tendencies to be a murderer) -- but the book is pretty much just about them and their antics, and very little about the actual mystery. Though it's a "Chief Inspector Barnaby" mystery, the inspector himself doesn't come on for real until about page 275, and there's not a whole lot of detecting. On the other hand, some of the blurbs say the book is more like Dickens than Christie, and I guess Dickens didn't obsess about the detecting most of the time, either. I deduct half a star for the Afterword, which is something of a traditional "what happened to everyone else later?" chapter, but which wraps up a point of the mystery, and also introduces a completely new and out-of-genre plot. Three stars.
Forests of the Night (by S. Andrew Swann)
This is the first of the Moreau Trilogy, which is sort of cyberpunk with uplifted animals (the "moreaus"). More bio than cyber, but the feel is the gritty dark future dystopia. The atmosphere is pretty good, it's a decent mystery/thriller with noir flavor. And it's very amusing that the main character, an uplifted tiger, is a "morey". But it just didn't grab me very hard, probably because cyberpunk/dystopia never does. Paranoia and greed are some of the less compelling emotions for me, and they tend to permeate the genre. The book contains the whole trilogy, but I only read the first one. Three stars - really nothing wrong with it, just not so much my genre.
The Sun Sword trilogy: The Broken Crown, The Uncrowned King, the Shining Court (by Michelle West)
I read the first book of this trilogy once before, when it first came out. And then I went to look for the other books Michelle West had written, confident that they would cover the previous adventures of some of the characters that appeared in the book. As it turned out, I was mistaken. Still, that is the thing that strikes me most about this series, especially the first book. Nearly every character, even the ones who appear only briefly, are written with the weight and backstory of main characters in a book of their own. There are a couple of characters who appear for maybe twenty pages (in a 700-page book), and carry with them something like the Darkest Road subplot from Fionavar. They come on, announce their tragic plot, embellesh it a little, and then go off on their Darkest Road, not to be even mentioned again for hundreds and hundreds of pages. It's an incredible feat of concentrated world-building and character-building, as if the author spent a decade constructing the setting and characters (or maybe running RPGs in it!) and eventually started the story well after the characters had lives of their own.

There are two main places in the book - the Dominion, somewhat Arabian-Nightsesque, and the Empire, more standard-medieval-fantasy (though for me, they are very much 'al Jabar and Avan). But to reduce them to such short summaries is to do an injustice to the previously mentioned astounding world-building. I very much appreciate the subtle politics and casual cruelty of the Dominion, like a mention in passing of a minor battle of wills between one man and the first wife of his harem, in which the husband demonstrates that he is not to be casually interrupted in his study by having the slave his wife has sent to him, executed. It's just a sentence or two, not particularly emphasized - this is not anything to be particularly remarked upon in the Dominion, it is just how such messages are politely conveyed. The harem dynamics and internal politics are exquisite. The betrayals are painful and chilling. Much of the angst does have the exaggerated Guy Gavriel Kay feel of "This is, o, the most piercing angst imaginable, unendurable and yet it must be endured or all is lost", but then, I like that, myself. There are really perfect moments of shining glory, also Kay-like.

These are not necessarily the books for everyone. They are not fast-moving, though I wouldn't call them dull either. There's a lot of people talking to each other with important things implied rather than stated - if it were any more in that direction, it'd be Cherryh and I wouldn't be able to understand what they meant. So no skimming here - it took me a couple of weeks per book, which is a lot for me. I don't like the character of Evayne, who seems to be too much of an inexplicable deus ex machina (especially without a previous set of books to justify the role). And I am never quite sure that I understand the parts of the plot that I am supposed to understand, let alone the parts that are still supposed to be mysteries.

As of the end of the third book, I discover that these are not, in fact, a trilogy. They are a six-book series, and Amazon is now sending me the second set of three. I am never going to finish these things. So I'm just publishing this set of reviews now, so that jdbakermn and marcusmarcusrc don't think I've forgotten about them entirely. I am going to give the series four stars, though it does have its six-star moments and two-star areas of complete confusion.

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Comments
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: November 29th, 2005 12:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oo, may I borrow the not-quite-trilogy, if it's borrowable? :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 29th, 2005 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yup, I'l bring them to the run tonight. I will be interested to see what someone else thinks about them, since I have such conflicted feelings.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 29th, 2005 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
(though you may not have the same fondness for 'al Jabaran harems that I do)
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: November 29th, 2005 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I still have yet to come up with any sort of rule of thumb at all for translating between how you feel about a book and how I will feel about it. Though reading a book after reading someone else's review is always a bit strange. :)

Possibly I like a different combination of things, including many of the same actual things, than you do. :) It's my current working theory, but I haven't been able to hypothesize/articulate what the things might be, so it's not very useful as rules of thumb go. :)
mijven From: mijven Date: November 29th, 2005 02:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Six books... six? Maybe I'll settle with the uplift one then, to get me in the mood for our next campaign. (After all, Sweetie's will be ending this Saturday and someone else is already planning future campaigns - to start no doubt by 2007. ;)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 29th, 2005 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can send you the uplift one! :)
(ooh, and after I was bad and made justom take the Gumshoe book back again "because the pile of books to mijven already went")

mijven From: mijven Date: November 29th, 2005 05:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Did I miss a delivery? Or is this a more recent sending? (I keep having mail held here, which is playing some havoc with our local carriers. ;)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 29th, 2005 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought chenoameg brought you, um, the Strunk and White, and maybe something else, when she visited?

(Or maybe she just claimed to, and kept them all to herself! Perfidious!)
mijven From: mijven Date: November 29th, 2005 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, I guess I misattributed them to her somehow. Before they got packed away and lost, along apparently with all the size 5 clothes that the mouse ought to now be fitting into. (I ran out and bought him a couple of cheapy sweatpants last night, because I was too ashamed to send him off to school today with the tops of his socks showing. ;)

Somehow my brain believes other parents pay more attention to obviously outgrown clothes over the same set of pants worn during a two week period.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 29th, 2005 05:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Now I'm started looking at my socks. I know I can see the tops of them sometimes. Hmm. Maybe when my legs are crossed? :)

(I don't notice anyone *else's* socks. And I thought growing kids always look like they just gained two inches and their clothes haven't caught up.)
jdbakermn From: jdbakermn Date: November 30th, 2005 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)

Sunsword Trilogy

I'll have to look carefully at those in the bookstore. I have this horrible habit of skimming while I read. I don't usually notice it, but occasionally there is an author who says important things once, and buries the important thing inside of a paragraph of description or a paragraph of apparently useless dialog. Then I get lost and end up reading every page about three times before I finally understand what happened. It takes me forever to finish those books and it's pretty frustrating.
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