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Five books - Qualified Perceptions
Five books
Gaudeamus (by John Barnes)
I don't really know what to make of books which put the author in as a character, but then make him not very likeable. Like The Princess Bride (which totally fooled me the first time I read it, into believing the frame story was non-fiction). Of course, I suppose I would dislike a book even more if it put the author in as a character and had them be amazing and save the day. Sort of like William Shatner's saying he should be a jerk in Free Enterprise, rather than being the idol deserving of worship. Beyond that... um, kind of like an adult-themed episode of the X-Files written by Spider Robinson. John Barnes is nothing if not varied. Three hastily-scrawled stars.

The Steel Remains (by Richard Morgan)
A gritty, brutal fantasy by a normally gritty, brutal noir-SF author. I fooled myself into thinking it would be like Morgan's other books, more stand-alone than it is - but it's fantasy, so it's the first in a trilogy, and while the book's arc mostly concludes, it's clearly the opening to the greater war. As always, I like that Morgan's characters have depth to both their sordity and their goodness (for the few who are more good than not); the debauched Emperor has flashes of loyalty, the (anti-)hero has flashes of likability. And, similarly, there are flashes of SF amidst the fantasy to throw everything into a slightly odd light. Maybe a little too much gritty brutal sex for my taste - as with movies, I wonder why violence is so much easier to accept than sex, but maybe for me it's that I have very little experience with actual violence, so it's harder to visceralize. One last bit - the fighter with the six knives, which all have their own names! I loved that touch. Named swords are common enough - named throwing knives were charming. Four gritty brutal stars.

The Drowning City (by Amanda Downum)
The book says "The Necromancer Chronicles" on it, but it's nicely stand-alone. An interesting, very morally grey, fantasy. First, there's the main character who's a necromancer - she can't heal, but can deaden pain. She can bind or destroy ghosts - but the ghosts are pretty terrible, so it's worth doing. Other characters find it creepy and possibly evil; maybe it is, but it's also useful. Then, there's the political situation - a conquered colony of an Empire, with the non-violent protesters against the empire, and the more violent terrorist faction of anti-Imperials, and the main character there to assist in kicking out the empire because that will make her country less of a target to them, and the imperials, and the collaborators, and the local governmentals, and the pro-empire anti-Emperor guy, and... there's a lot of sides. That makes for a lot of characters, and I had a hard time keeping track all the time, but it does make it seem like plausibly real politics. On the down side, it meant that a lot of the interpersonal dynamics got somewhat short shrift; when there's that many people, you don't see any given pair of them talking to each other very often. Three and a half intriguing ghost-haunted stars.

Brave Story (by Miyuki Miyabe)
This is the first Haika Soru book I've read (English translations of Japanese SF/fantasy), and it was possibly more interesting as a view into a slightly alien-to-me culture (cram schools, divorce being a Much Bigger Deal) than as a YA fantasy. It took over a hundred pages to really get to the fantasy part, and I was starting to flag; once it's in the fantasy world, it reminded me much more of a video game than a book, which was also interesting. Though, in contrast to most video games which present good/evil choices, there are some interesting moral ambiguities in addition to the more straightforward "the people oppressing the beastkin are the bad guys". And, since the main character is very familiar with video games, there are some funny bits. ("Can't I kill monsters to get money?" "No, are you crazy? Run away from monsters!") At times it felt like homework to keep reading, but I did want to see how it turned out, because it wasn't always obvious. Three stars.

The Spirit Lens (by Carol Berg)
I have very mixed feelings about this one. It's well-written, complex but not incomprehensible, and features some very interesting, well-portrayed and unusual characters. It really is mostly about the characters, and how they can be clever and use their foibles to their benefit, rather than only being clever by stepping out of character. (Like the extra-cranky mage who uses his magic to slam the inner doors open with an explosion to make a "grand entrance", so that people don't notice/wonder that he was there already...).

The beginning of the plot is "There has been an assassination attempt on the King, in which magic was used. Various clues implicate/frame the Queen. The King trusts his wife and knows she was not responsible, but there is pressure to arrest her. Anyway, her mages should be questioned. The Queen trusts her mages and knows they were not responsible, and refuses to have them questioned. Thus, the King puts the main character on the task of 'figure out who really did it.'" So, there's a mystery, but threaded through the whole book is the very strong theme of trusting people and *knowing* that they could not possibly be capable of [bad thing]. It's not just the standard "My goodness! Trusted person X was the bad guy all along, and we never suspected" - there are these whole hordes of character witnesses lining up for some of the accused bad guys. I found that oddly frustrating, because it meant that I shouldn't be taking anyone's opinions on anyone's character very seriously - so despite there being these very interesting characters, I had to keep them more at arm's length. This is probably a particular button for me - loyalty is one of the characteristics that recur in my RPG characters, and which I find most attractive in fictional characters, but in this particular narrative, loyalty is often misplaced or wrong. Three and a half stars; it would probably be more for someone not-me.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
ricedog From: ricedog Date: November 8th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

The Drowning City

I could've sworn I got this book because you reviewed it. Did you also not review Thunderer?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 8th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Drowning City

I also did not review Thunderer, yup. (I haven't read it, though the cover looks familiar, so maybe I have looked at it at a bookstore...)
algorithmancy From: algorithmancy Date: November 9th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wait, the framing story of Princess Bride is fiction? What else is fiction?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 10th, 2010 01:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I've been spending all evening imagining you looking around with alarm and distress. What else is fiction? "What else is fiction?" Lord of the Rings, fiction, check. Most television, check. Wikipedia, possibly. But not K&R, or the O'Reilly books, right? They wouldn't lie to you...

Edited at 2010-11-10 01:31 am (UTC)
4 comments or Leave a comment