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Seven Books - Qualified Perceptions
Seven Books
Dragonsbane (by Barbara Hambly)
I always really like Barbara Hambly's characters. John is lovely, clever and sincere and human and loyal. Jenny manages to be both deeply real and alien to me, which is remarkable itself. I gather that this is the first of a series (though it stands alone pretty well) of which the rest is less fun reading, which makes me sad. Still, I loved this one quite a lot, though the fight with the giant bug at the end was kind of over the top. Three and a half stars.

The Woodcutter (by Kate Danley)
I really wanted to love this book, but it didn't quite make it for me. Kind of the opposite of Dragonsbane - nobody is real, everyone is an archtype. The Woodcutter, the Small One in the red cloak, the Gentleman, Titania and Oberon, Baba Yaga... okay, it's a mishmash, but it's a mishmash like the Dreaming, where all the stories live, and that part worked for me. I like the stories which self-consciously inhabit the world of stories. The joinings between bits of story felt clean and seamless - the Billy Goat Troll bridge over the river with the God and the Three Axes, and there's a bit of interaction because all of these stories are standing so close together. But where it fell flat was... it needed to be more poetic, and it just wasn't. The writing felt like it was striving for poetry and missing, and hitting awkward or pretentiously simple instead. This would have been brilliant if it had been written with poetry. Instead, it's just a little too clunky.
The pixie looked at the Woodcutter.
And the Woodcutter knew.
He knew.
The pixie's eyes became dark as night and they began to close.
The pixie fell so quietly as the whole world screamed.
There's something trying to be evocative there, the doom of the quiet fall, and I can almost hear it, but it's out of tune. Two and a half stars.

Between Two Thorns (by Emma Newman)
The author did this mad thing where she wrote a story a week and posted them as guest blogs - they're indexed here. I think the stories actually give a better sense of the world than the novel does, and the world is interesting and complicated. The novel was also interesting, but seems to assume that you know all the world-building from the stories, and it does not really wrap up the important plots at all. For example, the arranged marriage that the main character Does Not Want - the book ends the day before the wedding. Four stars for the stories, three for the book.

All Men of Genius (by Lev AC Rosen)
This is an adorable semi-reimagining of Twelfth Night, with most of the cast of Importance of Being Earnest (plus Ada Lovelace) trundling around as well. Violet Adams disguises herself as her brother to attend Illyria College, a school for scientists (in the steampunk definition of the word, involving clockwork automata, and grafting wings onto ferrets to let them fly), and hilarity ensues. It's a light fluffy comedy, but a reasonably charming one. Three and a half stars.

Pledge (The Guild Memoirs, book one) (by Kip Pettigrew)
Secret telepaths! Written by a friend-of-a-friend, and there's a nice little MIT fingerprint referencing Course 12. The basic premise is that human society has been controlled forever by these guilds of telepaths and coercers. The Guild justifies itself as the good guys because if there wasn't a Guild, untrained coercers would accidentally get a lot of people killed when they first start getting powers. Which, sure, sounds reasonable. But then because there's a Guild, they control all of society from behind the scenes, which is perhaps stretching that original justification. On the other hand, I guess I don't find it all that implausible that the secret psi society would take over, because it feels sure it will do a better job than the mundanes. Anyway, I managed to stay nicely ambivalent about the Guild; benign and friendly oppression does inspire mixed feelings. It is pretty memoir-like, all about training and figuring out how things work - there's no arc villain. Still, I was pretty invested in knowing what happened next. My biggest complaint is that a spellchecker is not a sufficient substitute for copy editing by someone who knows how to spell - there were a lot of things like "controlling the the populous" or "southern bell" or someone shouting "Here! Here!" I'll give it four stars; let's say the minus half a star for the spelling errors cancels out the plus half a star for the warm fuzzies from having met the author. Hey, this is a Kindle book that I'm allowed to loan! That might be worth another quarter of a star!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (by Laini Taylor)
I really liked the Amazon preview of this book - interesting characters, interesting world, strange dark mysteries - Karou, girl raised by chimaera, who trade wishes for teeth, but who is she and why? The side characters, Karou's friends, chimaera/family, junky ex, are interesting too - maybe not deep, but vivdly sketched. And I have no idea how accurate the Prague setting is, but I give it a lot of credit for not being New York. But then once I bought the rest of the book, it switched pretty hard into Fated Love Plot, and everything else went on the back burner. Now, I don't object to love plots, but (Ysabel) I want more depth to my love plots than love at first sight because beauty and fate. As it turns out, the fate is more interesting than it seems and ties into the strange dark mysteries, but I had gotten kind of exasperated by the time that became more clear. Three stars. (Ends on a cliffhanger; book two is out and apparently also ends on a cliffhanger. Book three is not out)

The Immortal Circus (by A. R. Kahler)
I downloaded the preview for this book, then decided I wasn't quite into it enough to buy it. Then Amazon put it on sale for $2, which tempted me back into getting it. My first instinct was probably right, though. The prose is lush and the mysteries are mysterious. But I don't really find any of the characters very likeable, and the answers to the mysteries just leave more questions, and Mab, the Fairy Queen head of the circus, falls into the annoying character fallacy of "you don't have to be smart if you're terrifying". Two stars.

You (by Austin Grossman)
It's 1997, and you're working at Looking Glass - Technologies, Studios, it's hard to remember the difference now. You're only part-time, because you can't quite decide what you want to do with your life after your biology plan has crashed and burned, and you don't want to quit your other job at MIT IS&T - less exciting but less stressful, and it's the one that you end up going full time with a few years later when the company folds - but even part time can mean close to 80 hours when it's crunch mode. You write conversations, and a hundred different ways to say "I am mildly alarmed now", and you paste together motion capture animations in a 3D modeling engine that could have been marketed at a puzzle game in its own right. The nights are late, often later than the T runs, and sometimes you walk home at three or four in the morning from Alewife, under the dim Cambridge stars, marvelling at the polygon count and texture density of the real world. You fall into bed, and have odd dreams that, upon waking, feel like they might have been real. This book is one of those dreams.


8 comments or Leave a comment
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: April 22nd, 2013 10:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
<warm fuzzies> Dragonsbane was a favorite of mine when I was much younger, and has held up better than most. I vaguely recall reading another book or two by the same author and being disappointed; I should try that again, especially if there are sequels to Dragonsbane.

You has no star rating. Too weird?

Edited at 2013-04-22 10:21 pm (UTC)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 22nd, 2013 11:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Two Hambly books I read recently-ish are Sisters of the Raven and Circle of the Moon, and really liked them.

From commentary on Amazon, the sequels to Dragonsbane are much darker and more gruelling to read, so I would be a little wary.

And my reaction to You is hard to boil down to stars. It resonates really strongly with me, there are bits I loved, there are brilliant sad ot hilarious or both moments, it moves kind of slowly, and I had trouble suspending my disbelief. (Talking cheese, no problem. Sewing wings on a ferret so it can fly, no problem. Using the same engine core for fifteen years worth of video games, including the golf game, WHAT WHAT WHAT). I feel like my reaction is too me-specific to be worthwhile as a metric.

Edited at 2013-04-22 11:46 pm (UTC)
merastra From: merastra Date: April 23rd, 2013 02:55 am (UTC) (Link)
>> Sewing wings on a ferret so it can fly, no problem. Using the same engine core for fifteen years worth of video games, including the golf game, WHAT WHAT WHAT

Hee!! :-)

Btw, I love your writeup of You.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: April 23rd, 2013 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Their engine is really really good at generic physics, and they've been upgrading and refining it for years with models of everything from golf clubs to dragons? :)
lillibet From: lillibet Date: April 23rd, 2013 01:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Using the same engine core for fifteen years worth of video games, including the golf game, WHAT WHAT WHAT

I had this reaction to Buffy. Vampires, werewolves, secret potentially world-ending scenarios averted by a cheerleader...all good. A hospital allowing a nineteen year old psychiatric patient to be checked out into the care of her also underage girlfriend without notifying her parents or university? OH NO YOU DON'T.

Have you read Hambly's mysteries? I adore (love, love, love) her Benjamin January series and while I'm less excited by her Abigail Adams books, the Boston connection keeps me hooked.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 23rd, 2013 03:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think I picked up A Free Man of Color at your recommendation before, but it ended up in my infinite to-read pile that I have slowed to a crawl on when I mostly switched to using ebooks. I will have to go look for it again. :)

I am also reminded of tirinian and I watching the Fugitive. I think it's a good movie, but find the motive very frustrating - a biotech company CEO decides to market a fatal drug because Profit! Like nobody would notice when millions of people started dying from the side effects of their medication. Charles thinks it's a good movie but finds the main character's defense lawyer incomprehensibly incompetent.
ironrat From: ironrat Date: April 23rd, 2013 12:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Twelfth Night and Importance of Being Earnest!?! Quickly! To the Bat Cave! (Because the Bat Cave is where we order things from Amazon.)
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: April 23rd, 2013 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
OK, I thought YOU was just a funny self-referential joke, but now I find that it's a funny self-referential joke plus an actual book. Confusing! Wonderful!
8 comments or Leave a comment