- Maledicte (by Lane Robins)
- "A novel of love, betrayal, and vengeance," according to the cover. And murder. Lots of murder. It reminds me kind of of the escalating bloodshed of Macbeth - like potato chips, you can't stop with just one - though it doesn't follow the proper tragedy course of killing all the main characters by the end. I'm not usually fond of unsympathetic anti-heroes, but Maledicte and Janus are just so epically tragic villains that I can't look away. (Amusingly, I kept getting this book confused with Mirabile when I hadn't read either of them - and Mirabile ends up being a big character in Maledicte). I have a few quibbles - I think the setup chapter could have been clearer or longer or something, and often the court felt like it was no larger than the few named characters in it - but by the end I really couldn't put it down. Four poisoned stars.
- Lamentation (book one of the Psalms of Isaak, by Ken Scholes)
- This was an audiobook, and I will note that it had an odd gimmick of reading each viewpoint character with a different narrator. Which had some merit, but it also had the disad that there were a few characters who appeared in multiple narrations with very different voices - the old pope, in particular, is deep and resonant when he's the viewpoint character, is still pretty impressive when the kid is the viewpoint character, but is creaky and tired when the young king is the viewpoint. Okay, enough about the narration. It's an interesting book, but... not a lot happens in it. There aren't enough bad guys, and it's basically a whole lot of character development and interpersonal relationship, in reaction to the destruction of the greatest city on the map. It's contemplative, poetic, and angstful (though I think one of the ending angst-twists is kind of a cheat, more on the part of the characters than the author, if that makes any sense...). First in a five-book series; it stands alone mostly okay, but with one great big plot arrow pointing at the next book. Three stars.
- Rosemary and Rue (by Seanan McGuire)
- A while ago, in talking about Nightlife, I said "the first half of the book is kind of "Run around and interrogate a random aspect of Weird New York about what they know about the plot". This seems to be a trope of urban fantasy that I can't recall seeing in other genres - in this case, it's running around and interrogating mostly-allies in Weird San Francisco, and it's interspersed with attacks by different kinds of evil faerie (As a random aside, Comet has warped my viewpoint on different faerie races - after the Redcap attack, I had to think "Make sure to get the hat - it's 35 extra hit points!". And my Dragon instincts make me sure that kitsune make everything better, even if I'm not sure they fit with the rest of the genre.) I certainly enjoyed it - there were a lot of times that I wanted to thump the main character for doing the stubborn wrong thing, but the wrong things did mostly feel in character, and I was never bored. The angst is not too over the top, and the backstory is rich without making me feel like I missed the first book; most of the faerie capture the combination of arrogance, danger, and mysteriousness that they're supposed to have - plus humor ("I'm a Selkie. We drown people semi-professionally."). The setup hook of listening to an answering machine message that boils down to "I geas you to find out who is out to get me... what? who? [bang bang bang!]" is fun. The "run around and meet all the different allies", plus some obviously unresolved smaller mysteries do make it feel like the Start of a Series, which, I guess it is, but it's also a self-contained story. Three and a half stars, plus I got convinced that the author did that time travel thing on me.
- Kraken, by China Mieville (audiobook)
- Like rifmeister, I'm a pretty solid China Mieville fanboy. It may have been a mistake to choose audiobook for this one, as Mieville is really wordy here, and there's not the option to skim. In this case, there's a reason for the wordiness, as semantics is relevant, but that's kind of like saying there's a reason for Jar Jar Binks that you don't learn until Attack of the Clones. Okay, no, it's not nearly as bad as Jar Jar Binks, I'm sorry, nothing by Mieville deserves that. When things are happening - and a lot of stuff does happen - it's great. And the language is gorgeous. But there's a lot of discussion of cultoreligious philosophy, not just in dense piles of words, but often in what seemed to me to be dense piles of words that I had heard before, chapters ago - and then I really wanted to skip ahead. There were some bits I loved - the bit with the teleportation specialist, haunted by the ghosts of all the past selves he had murdered by disintegration - that was awesome. There were other bits that were inexplicable - what was the point of the "let's schedule two more apocalypses for tonight?" subplot? Did it go anywhere? Anyway, like rif, I'll agree that it wasn't Mieville's best, but still, pretty darn good. Four stars.
- Empire in Black and Gold, Dragonfly Falling, and Blood of the Mantis (by Adrian Tchaikovsky)
- I thought this was a trilogy when I started trying to acquire them, but I think now they are books 1-3 of the first of two quadrologies, of which the first five are written. Aside from that, though, these were great! The general premise is a fantasy world where different races ("kinden") of people have aspects taken from different insects (well, arthropods); they're divided by country and also by nature, and one of them (the Wasp-kinden) is trying to take over the world. The kinden are also divided into the non-Apt, who tend to be high-level named types - the amazing single combat fighters (Mantis), the charismatic manipulators (Spider), the mystics (Moth); and the Apt, who are less individually impressive, but they understand (steampunk/clockwork) tech (especially Beetle, but also, ominously, the Wasp). There's a ton of backstory that I won't expound upon, the insect-kinden is something that isn't elves/dwarves/orcs, but really, it's all about the characters.
The thing that I really want my fiction to have is a party. Well, okay, it doesn't have to be an adventuring party, but I want an ensemble. Multiple characters who can grow, and have specific relationships with each other that evolve and reflect each of their personal character development, and so on. I think this may be why I am never quite as satisfied with urban fantasy as I hope to be - the ones that aren't romances tend to have a main hero with peripheral relationships. Here, the characters aren't really a party (they split up early and never glom all back together again), but their threads do keep crossing, and they do really change. Some of them grow up, some of them grow twisted - and the bad guys have their own hopes and worries and frailties and redeeming sparks. I love the characters. The action is crisp - both individual fights and the larger military battles, and the writing has a really nice sparkle to it, without getting overblown. (Here's a sentence I bookmarked, when one person realizes that another has seen through his partly well-meaning deception: "The world seemed to die around him in that moment, like autumn arriving all in one day.").
A few things that make me wonder - there are a couple of characters that come in late, seem Very Significant, but don't seem to go as far as I would expect (maybe their arcs conclude in Book 4?). And I am a little unsure on whether having very scarce but apparently pure-blooded kinden (like the Thorn Bug) scattered around makes sense. Maybe they're all travelers from elsewhere where there are more - the one example where there is just one of him does get its own explanation. Book three had a little more of a MacGuffin focus than the first two, but made up for it with some nice spooky moments. Anyway, these are very much Laura Books, and they're on my "foist upon other people" list, with the caveat that I'm not sure how it finishes (though I have books 4 and 5 coming in the mail), and for those of you on Kindle, due to weird US/UK issues, book 4 is not on Kindle yet. Five stars.