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Something like thirteen books - Qualified Perceptions
Something like thirteen books
Argh! I edited this to correct some typoes and the formatting has gone all wonky! Why is it putting in HTML spans with line heights?
The Rithmatist (by Brandon Sanderson)
I like Sanderson a lot, but I didn't feel like this (a YA novel - about chalk-drawing mages) was one of his stronger works. He loves world-building his magic system, but I was a little more dubious about this one. It almost felt like this magic system was "Hey, geometrical proofs are cool!" and there was a whole theme about Stay In School, Kids! There's some messing around with biases - I kept thinking of it as the anti-mudblood prejudice in Harry Potter- though it somehow tries to get the rithmatists to be both Extra Cool and Oppressed Minority. (That's not quite as crazy as it seems when it's essentially the dedicated soldier class). I'll probably pick up the rest of the series as it comes out, but I needn't shake people by the collar and demand that they read it. Three and a half stars.
The False Prince and The Runaway King (by Jennifer Nielsen)
A YA trilogy about fantasy politics; books 1 and 2 are out. I liked the first one reasonably well - the main character (unreliable narrator, and well done) is snarky and rebellious, and a combination of clever and foolhardy that seemed like a solidly defined character. The Big Twist was kind of obvious, but well done, and the combination of alliance-building and betrayals was nice. Maybe not brilliant, and it has that YA oversimplification, but worthwhile. But somehow book 2 just set me off the wrong way from the beginning. Things like someone saying "I've paid for my crimes against you" when they mean that they've been imprisoned for two weeks so far, after being convicted of treason and regicide. The "pirates", who were an offscreen menace in the first book, show up, and appear to be... a sufficiently powerful force to be able to conquer a country, hidden all the while within the borders of another country? I'm happy with pirates as bad guys, but they aren't usually cast as serious land invaders. And, look, minister, don't publically mock the new king at the funeral of his parents. It's just bad form. Anyway, I think a lot of the noodleheadedness at the beginning of Book 2 is to set up the situation where the king has to infiltrate the pirates all by himself, which is a little implausible and requires some pushing, so if you can get through that, it might be worth it afterwards. But I just got exasperated and decided to read someone else. So for myself, I think book 1 is a find standalone. :) Three stars for The False Prince.
The Titanic Murders (by Max Allan Collins)
I think this was one of those books that Amazon sent me email offering for $2; I'm happy with it for that price. It's the first in a series of "disaster murder mysteries" - the conceit is a standard murder mystery, set somewhere that is about to be destroyed, and learned of later. The conceit is kind of neat; integrating a new plot into a pretty heavily-researched event, with all the figures who were really there, and keeping it plausible. The execution is perfectly fine - about half Tour of the Famous Incident and half mystery, as solved by Jacques Futrelle, an early mystery novelist who went down with the Titanic. Fun, but I don't know that I'll pick up any more. Three and a half stars.
The Lyra Novels (by Patricia Wrede)
This set of books is an interesting concept to read all at once - five novels set all approximately in the same time frame (some are more like prequels), in the same fantasy world, but with no overlapping characters. They're all about the Shadow-Born getting somewhat unbound - I think it was her RPG setting, and it reads like one, and I mean that not at all as a criticism. It reads like there's a world and each story is taking place in a little corner but the GM knows how it all ties together. The first book is a sort of classic wandering-with-the-artifact, there's an escape-while-wounded-from-oppression story, there's a Temptation of Boromir story... they vary pretty widely, which was nice. Another interesting note - the first of the books, Shadow Magic, was rewritten by Wrede before its re-release. It was one of her earliest books, and she polished it up quite a bit. The first chapter, she shows you before and after - what she changed, what she tightened, what she made more interesting. I found that part fascinating, because the improvements were so clear, and it was from "this is fine" to "this is good". Sadly, she didn't sustain the high level of polish all the way through the rewrite, which is probably not something I would have noticed if it hadn't been pointed out so clearly in the first chapter. Anyway, it's an interesting set, possibly more interesting as a set and with the rewrite chapter, than any single of the books alone. I'd give it three and a half stars, but an extra half a start for the craftsmanship notes.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (by Neil Gaiman)
Short but lovely. This is over on the Stardust side (though scarier), not the American Gods side , and with echoes of Coraline. I loved it, but eulogies always make me cry (it isn't a eulogy, but it has the flavor of one). Five stars.
Abbadon's Gate (by James S. A. Corey)
This is the third and final book of the Expanse trilogy. It's more about people than monsters (a bit in contrast to the previous books), and it's a worthy ending. It reminded me a bit of Battlestar Galactica politics.
Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special (by Seanan McGuire)
These are fun. Urban fantasy with a hit of romance and a mildly Dan Brown flavored religious conspiracy, and the best Mice As Supporting Characters Ever. Hmm, what's a quick summary? There's a religious conspiracy dedicated to wiping out all the creatures that weren't on the Ark (i.e. all the weird shit ones). A hundred and fifty or so years ago, one of the conspiracy discovered that the great cholera epidemic in England was due to having wiped out the unicorns, and decided to protect the weird ecosystem instead. Now it's modern day, and one of her descendants is in New York City pursuing the family business on the side while trying to become a professional ballroom dancer. I had some minor quibbles with what might be a somewhat light power level of the bad guys, but it's not a big complaint for fast-paced entertainment. Four stars because of the mice.
City of Dark Magic (by Magnus Flyte)
I gave up on this about halfway through. It's an annoying muddle. First, I still am not really sure what it's about. Maybe time-traveling visions, maybe CIA v. KGB spies, maybe Beethoven... actually, the part where the CIA and KGB are involved for no good reason makes me think of an Assassin game, except that not all that much happens except for sex. The main character has (in my opinion) incredibly poor judgement, what with the anonymous sex with her co-workers and the consuming unknown drugs because she's curious about what her professor took that gave him a bad trip and killed him. So I found her kind of unsympathetic. Plus there are all these little jarring points. Our main character spots a pickpocket in Prague, and "in two seconds, she tackled the thief, grabbed the wallet, and handed it back to the startled woman." First, I think if it's the only thing that actually happens all chapter, it deserves more than half a sentence. Second, her leet crimefighting skills come from growing up in Southie, where pickpocketing is "routine". (What?) Anyway, two stars for the first half of the book.
Lord of the White Hell (two parts) (by Ginn Hale)
A sexy gay fantasy-romance with curses and a mildly steampunkish boarding school for lords. I didn't love it a lot, but I found bits of it interesting, and I wanted to see how it turned out well enough to buy both parts. Kind of a lukewarm review, but I have no real complaints either. Three stars?
Solace and Grief (by Foz Meadows)
I previewed and then bought this after being very impressed by the "Old Men Yelling At Clouds" furious rant about sexism in SFWA. (I seem to have a strange compulsion to read blog posts about train wrecks). It is an awesome rant. And I like Meadows' writing style in general - she can certainly turn a phrase ("Actually having an option on how to spend her leisure time was a novelty all by itself, with boredom not only off the map, but torn out of the atlas and wedged firmly under a wonky table leg."), and catch my interest. I found the plot interesting - it felt a bit like a role-playing game with a "group of people discovers they have powers and arc plot" premise, and it goes in a lot of directions I didn't expect. There's a lovely little speech about embracing the wonder in your life ("...I live in the world, and damned if I'm going to spend one more day pretending it's only shades of grey, or just black and white. Oil burns and crystal breaks, but they both bleed rainbows.") Two quibbles: First, it doesn't really wrap up, it gets ready for a sequel, which was disappointing. Second, there were a couple of places where I felt like the physics of my world and the physics of the book world just didn't measure up. Like the very small cat chasing, killing and eating (most of) the swan. A swan? I'm pretty sure a swan could beat me up. Grownup swans have almost no predators. Or the bit where the characters are jumping in an unknown hole, and drop something in. They count seconds - one, two, three, fou- and then it hits. So they lower themselves over the edge and jump down. One of them lands hard, and complains that his knees hurt. This is like jumping down from the Green Building after lowering yourself over the edge first. Your precautions will not help you very much in avoiding dying. Now, in both cases, the characters (yes, the cat too) could have superpowers which came into play, but it's not written like they were being used (like the knees hurting). And the hole they're jumping into turns out to be a big underground pipe, so it's probably not actually meant to be a hundred yards in diameter. Anyway, these are odd little complaints, but overall it's an interesting odd book. Three and a half stars.  (Oh, I also want to note that I learned several new Australian words.)


11 comments or Leave a comment
mathhobbit From: mathhobbit Date: July 26th, 2013 09:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gay boys or gay girls? ;)

Also, thanks for the pointer to the McGuire novel. I discovered this author through a reply to one of my LJ posts, but hadn't explored any of his(?) other series.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 26th, 2013 09:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gay boys or gay girls? ;)
Gay boys. I don't think it passes the Bechdel test.

Also, thanks for the pointer to the McGuire novel. I discovered this author through a reply to one of my LJ posts, but hadn't explored any of his(?) other series.
Her, I believe. She is also the source of my most surreal livejournal post ever and I am now reminded that she is also Mira Grant, who writes the Feed books which are great fun if you like zombie apocalypsen.
readsalot From: readsalot Date: July 27th, 2013 12:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Seanan is definitely a her, I've seen her at conventions. (Pause for commercial break: she'll be the Guest of Honor at next February's Boskone.) I've been reading her October Daye series, about a half-faerie detective, and they're very engaging; the one problem with them is that the plots are very intricate, and she doesn't spend the first 10 pages of any book recapping all of the previous ones, so you have to either keep detailed notes or go back and reread the previous books before you start a new one. Or be puzzled when you try to remember why it's significant that character X is in possession of object Y.
visage From: visage Date: July 27th, 2013 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Do her non-Feed books suffer from the "antagonists are ridiculously evil" failure mode as well?
readsalot From: readsalot Date: July 27th, 2013 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Many of the antagonists that I've seen are ridiculously evil, yes. Rosemary and Rue, the first October Daye book, starts out with the protagonist having recently recovered from having been a fish for something like 10 years; I think I'd say that turning someone into a fish and leaving them vaguely near a pond and not putting any kind of limit on the spell would be evil. (This is not much of a spoiler, as the introduction is all about how having been a fish for all that time pretty much ruined her life.)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: August 2nd, 2013 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
The bad guys in her other books aren't as ridiculously over the top as the Feed villains, IMO. The October Daye stuff I don't remember as well, but "The Sidhe are cruel to humans (and each other)" doesn't bug me as much. In these new two books, the first one has sort of generically evil (and maybe a little stupid) bad guys, but they're really only at the "kill some people as necessary to advance our plot" level of evil; the second one has morally self-righteous crusaders, while the good guy is on the side of "Even apex predators that eat people have their place in the ecosystem!" so there's a lot more room for sympathy with the villains.
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: July 26th, 2013 10:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Those are all electrons, aren't they? (and therefore not borrowable if I wish to read on dead trees)

I didn't realize that Wrede had rewritten Shadow Magic. Intriguing..
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 26th, 2013 10:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Alas, yes, all electrons.
ironrat From: ironrat Date: July 26th, 2013 11:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I want to like Sanderson. I listen to his Writing Excuses podcast, and I tried Elantris, but I just couldn't get into it. There's something about the language that irks me...
countertorque From: countertorque Date: July 27th, 2013 08:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Are you sure Abbadon's Gate is the end? I was hoping there would be more.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 27th, 2013 11:13 am (UTC) (Link)
You're right, it probably isn't done. I jumped to that conclusions because trilogy, but everything seems to describe it as "series", and because there wasn't a first chapter of the next book in the back.
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