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More books than you can shake a stick at - Qualified Perceptions
More books than you can shake a stick at
The Great Way trilogy: The Way into Chaos, The Way into Magic, The Way Into Darkness (by Harry Connolly)
This was apparently kickstarter-funded! Neat! If I had been a Kickstarter backer, I would have known what it was going to be, and not been so surprised by the plot twist at the end of chapter one. The theme, from the kickstarter, is:
One of the long-standing tropes of epic fantasy is the Fallen Empire: a nation that once ruled most of the known world but has since vanished, leaving only scattered ruins (and a common language for the characters to speak). Essentially: Rome. I thought it would be interesting to write about the fall of one of those fantasy empires, especially since it would give me the chance to show just how awful they could be.
As it was, I ended up thinking of it as "huh! it's a fantasy zombie apocalypse book!". Either way works. :) Anyway, I already recommed Harry Connolly, but I definitely recommend these. There are a lot of things going on - adventure quests, interesting cultures, interesting people following their cultural rules and sometimes growing out of them, interesting surprises (not just the first one). I blitzed through these, and since they were all published together, so can you! I'm docking half a star for some quibbles towards the end, but still four and a half stars. (Note - these are single-Kindle-loanable if someone wants to borrow them, though they are also cheap. :) )

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass (by Jim Butcher)
I think "The Cinder Spires" is the series title (this feels like the first of a trilogy, but who knows?), and "The Aeronaut's Windlass" is the book title. We did see lots of aeronauts, but I can't recall a windlass in particular. Also, I'm not sure about the "Cinder". Maybe that's the name of the planet? (Okay, I just ran a search. "cinder" only appears when there's an explosion with flying sparks, but I had forgotten that "windlass" is what they call the aeroships that just go up and down, and the PC ship gets insultingly called a windlass. So imagine the title as something like "The Sea Captain's Ferryboat".) Enough about the title - what about the book? I can't call the genre anything other than "Jim Butcher does Honor Harrington in Airships", but I mean no insult, and I like Butcher a lot more than Weber. The worldbuilding is interesting, and -- not at all like Dresden -- there are almost no infodumps, it just emerges by reference, often leaving things unexplained. (The warrior-born, for example. There are a couple of these people, extra-strong and cat-eyed, and called "half-soul" by the cats, and one is cousin of a human, so the suggestion is half human / half something else, but I don't think we ever see an example of the nonhuman parent side?) Anyway, that method of exposition worked well for me. A bit like The Great Way, there are multiple viewpoint characters and they include the Gruff Older Fighter Guy and the Pluckier Young Woman (actually two young women), so I kept getting flashbacks to the other books. But the cat is also a viewpoint character. :) In addition to "no infodumps", this also didn't have any of the male gaze tendency that occasionally bugged me about the Dresden Files; okay, it was just Dresden's point of view, not intrinsic to Butcher. (I don't remember Codex Alera well enough to compare). Oh, also, I really like the mad aether-wizards. Five stars, but unlike The Great Way, the series is not all out, and while this ends the immediate plot arc, the war has just started.

Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp (by Molly Tanzer)

The cover makes it look like a graphic novel, but it's not. (Or, at least, my version wasn't! If the physical book is full of illustrations, I will be sad.) Sort of urban-fantasy flavored, but set in San Francisco and Colorado in the 1860s. Lou Merriwether is half-Chinese, so marginalized in Chinatown and extra-marginalized out of it; she dresses and passes as male, and her job is to lay undead to rest (from ghosts to geung si). I liked the character, and the plot was fun if you just go along for the ride, but I found Lou's inability to make a coherent plan in the main investigation, darned frustrating. The setup for the main investigation feels a lot like a Call of Cthulhu adventure opening ("find out why all the Chinese laborers are going to Colorado to work and then COMPLETELY VANISHING"), so "careen around and keep switching cover stories" felt really ill-advised. Three and a half stars.

Silver on the Road (by Laura Anne Gilman)
The first of a series in fantasy-Western: "The Devil's West Book 1". Kind of the same genre as Vermilion, but with more demons and fewer ghosts. I found that the opening section, in which the main character leaves the place that she's been for forever, her home and her habits and her work, had a lot of resonance with me when I started reading it a few days after quitting my own job. So it's a little hard to review dispassionately. I really liked the opening and the main character's growth arc, and I really liked the "learn about the rules of the Road" travel, and the mad sorcerer, and the Creepy Encounters. I am a little iffy on the resolution of the cause-behind-the-plot, but it mostly worked. It's a little slow moving without ever stopping; the pace seemed right, like ambling along for miles on a horse, with the brim of a hat shading the sun. Four stars.

Illuminae (by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)
Part one of a trilogy, apparently. A YA SF book in epistolary form (with a bunch of graphic fanciness). It worked on my iPad, and would presumably be fine in physical form, but it wasn't suited for the Kindle. The voice rings true for me for high-school texting style, not that I really have *any* real idea, and the graphicness is sometimes irrelevant but occasionally powerful. There's one page where a bunch of people are spaced, with a starry black background with white names scattered out against the stars, which was very effective. It's a decent story; not very complicated, but with good tension and a well-done reveal. The graphic fanciness makes it an intriguing experiment that elevates beyond the simple space opera/thriller story. Four stars.

The Abyss Beyond Dreams (by Peter F Hamilton)
Part 1 of a two-parter. This starts as completely unrelated stories, which do manage to tie together, and well, by the end. One part Pern (with falling alien menace, but not dragons), one part French Revolution, one part time travel space opera, and half a part angst - I pretty much always like Hamilton reasonably well, no matter how much of a mess, but I found this one less of a mess than many. There is a subplot which has a whole pile of reference to Hamilton's Void Trilogy, which I haven't read, but you can mostly skip over that as setup. I guess this is another four stars? I seem to be in a rut here.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy (by Jenny Lawson)
These, especially the first, are hilarious, in a smart chatty non-fiction way. She came recommended (I think) by Joshilyn Jackson, and with much the same tone of voice as her "I Pinch" blog post, and Jerry had to put up with me reading paragraphs to him at the drop of a hat.
Call me Ishmael. I won't answer to it, because it's not my name, but it's much more agreeable than most of the things I've been called. "Call me 'that-weird-chick-who-says-"fuck"-a-lot'" is probably more accurate, but "Ishmael" seems classier, and it makes a way more respectable beginning than the sentence I'd originally written, which was about how I'd just run into my gynecologist at Starbucks and she totally looked right past me like she didn't even know me. And so I stood there wondering whether that's something she does on purpose to make her clients feel less uncomfortable, or whether she just genuinely didn't recognize me without my vagina. Either way, it's very disconcerting when people who've been inside your vagina don't acknowledge your existence. Also, I just want to clarify that I don't mean "without my vagina" like I didn't have it with me at the time. I just meant that I wasn't, you know, displaying it while I was at Starbucks. That's probably understood, but I thought I should clarify, since it's the first chapter and you don't know that much about me. So just to clarify, I always have my vagina with me. It's like my American Express card. (In that I don't leave home without it. Not that I use it to buy stuff with.)
Okay, so, either that makes you laugh uncontrollably, in which case this is the book for you, or you're thinking "okay, she says vagina maybe too many times for me to be entirely comfortable reading this in public" in which case it is not the book for you. I liked the first book better than the second; the first is about growing up and anecdotes about her insane childhood and mostly similarly insane life, while the second book is about being a blogger and struggling with depression and anxiety. So the second book is a little less funny, and also more meta; the first book is blog posts about life, and the second book is blog posts (in part) about being a blogger. It's not like "being a blogger" isn't just a subspecies of "being a person" but it still made things one level removed for me. They reminded me a lot of Hyperbole and a Half, both in the hysterically funny way and in the dealing-with-depression way. Five stars for the first book; four and a half for the second.

Boundary Lines (by Melissa Olson)
Hmm, while the previous book to this (Boundary Crossed) seems to have turned unmemorable pretty fast, I guess at the time I liked it well enough to put the second book on auto-purchase because I wanted to know how it turned out. So this is a recommendation for a perfectly reasonable witches / werewolves / vampires genre story.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant (by Seth Dickinson)
I really wanted to like this. I tried. It seems to be one of the more popular new releases recently, smart and emotionally captivating and different. But... I just couldn't manage it. It started well - Baru's homeland colonized/conquered by empire, Baru brilliant and white-hot with purpose to take down the conquerers, but realizing that she has to beat them at their own game of economics and not just stab them in the face. But the meat of the book is in essence a side quest as the Imperial Accountant for a small and rebellious country elsewhere. Her goal there is entirely to level up enough to get to the heart of the empire, and while the rebellion is interesting and if it were a game, would have a lot of interesting NPCs and economic mechanics to play with, the problem is that Baru just really doesn't care, except as it serves her long-term purposes. For the few bits that she does get emotionally invested in, those are tactical flaws and she tries to excise them. It ended up being unsatisfying as a motive for me, so then I had no emotional investment in the book either. It could well work for other people.

Frederica (by Georgette Heyer)
Another listen-for-fun audiobook. Pretty much everyone in the story is either amusing or likeable, and the bossy older guy is only kind of self-interested and spoiled, rather than mean. Light and fluffy and entirely charming.

Black Wolves (first in a trilogy by Kate Elliott)
This is a huge tome of a book (though it's hard to tell in ebook format), and possibly 10% more complicated than I could hold in my head, but it's awesome. Elliott is up there at the top as far as constructing three-dimensional characters with plausible but conflicting agendas (though there are some villains who are possibly less three-dimensional, they remind me of my least favorite Republicans, so they may not be unrealistic). There's an early bit, and then the story jumps forward forty years so that the complicated backstory has a good grounding. There's court politics (including terrifyingly powerful queens manipulating from the women's quarters) and empire and rebellion and grueling taxation and assassination and giant eagles who don't talk and not very much magic but just enough to surprise me every time it appeared and racial oppression and a whole lot of other things. I seem to have not read as much of Kate Elliot as I thought I had (I seem to have assigned all of Michelle Sagara West's books to her in my head), and I will have to fix that. (Possibly you will want to start with a finished series, but I did like this more than the Spiritwalker trilogy; I loved Jaran but was a little depressed by the later books in that series.) Four and a half stars.

The Shepherd's Crown (by Terry Pratchett)
This is the officially last book from Terry Pratchett; it wasn't quite finished when he died, and there is some commentary at the end that it wasn't as polished and filled out as it would have been. And yes, it does seem to skim along quickly (in particular I think it could have used another scene or two for Nightshade's development), but it's a Tiffany Aching book, and those are always shorter. Also... if Raising Steam was an epilogue for the Discworld, to send all the characters off on their continuing stories, The Shepherd's Crown is explicitly a goodbye. The second chapter is the very tidy, very matter-of-fact, death of Granny Weatherwax, and what follows, and it is impossible to not read Pratchett's death into it at the same time. The nominal plot is "the Elves think about returning now that the witch who drove them away before is gone", but the real plot is about Tiffany trying to hold down witch-of-the-Chalk and witch-of-Lancre at the same time, with lessons of being the best you that you can be being enough and not making other people's shoes define you.

The Fold (by Peter Cline)
This is very much like 14 - it starts calm and slowly increases the tension and the stakes until all hell breaks loose. It does start less calm than 14 did - "investigate mysterious issues in a classified physics lab" is a bit weirder to start with than "move into a new apartment", and it turns out later that the two books are quite related (the green cockroaches show up about halfway through, and there's a bit at the end that would be entirely mysterious without 14 as the background). So I'd suggest starting with 14 and if you like it, reading this one, though The Foldfeels feel a bit more sciencey and a little less magicky than 14, if that matters to you. Four stars.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (by Becky Chambers)
This is really charming. It's the semi-episodic adventures of a small motley crew on a spaceship, about half human and half alien. It's almost what you might expect from taking all the B plots of a set of Star Trek or Firefly episodes and stringing them together - there's not the daily A plot epic level of Peril Threatens To Destroy the Ship (or the Planet or the Galaxy) and the Crew must Stop it, it's more like Crewman X deals with a family issue and Crewman Y and Z are not getting along. Plus the occasional space pirate and such. My description makes it sound boring, but it really isn't - it gets to the heart of what makes these stories enjoyable for me, and just stays there. I really don't care about the David Weber-esque spacefleet battle descriptions and what weapons hit what shields. I care about the people, and what happens to them before and afer the battle. Role-playing runs have combats, but they're never the things I remember forever. Anyway. Five stars.

NPCs (by Drew Hayes)
This is a light fluffy story in the genre of Goblins orRedshirts - what if the NPCs had to become an adventuring party? Like Redshirts, I find it works better when it's inside the story-world (the mayor's daughter, who gets kidnapped by goblins once a month or so, has learned Goblic and become friends with the tribe) and gets a little weird when trying to justify the effect on the frame world. The characters are maybe one and a half dimensional; the twist of everyone moving one character class to the left is a nice one. The most annoying part, for me, was the (mostly-brief) frame-story RPG campaign; the players are a combination of every bad tendency every annoying player has ever had, and the GM doesn't have much to him other than "this campaign is going to be realistic so you have to track encumbrance and how much food you're carrying". Still, it was fun. Three and a half stars.

The Gospel of Loki (by Joanne M Harris)
Norse mythology from Loki's point of view. Nice snark, and it was nice to fill in the gaps (*) of what I've picked up essentially from osmosis, but (as Loki points out) there are no real surprises, you know how it turns out in the end. *: Hey, the Aesir and Vanir are two different groups? Aesir:Asgard::Vanir:Vanguard? No, apparently not. Wikipedia tells me it's Vanir:Vanaheim.)

The Exordium: Phoenix in Flight, Ruler of Naught, A Prison Unsought, The Rifter's Convenant, The Thrones of Kronos (by Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge).
First published in the early nineties, I had one copy of this series to read, and a second copy acquired piecemeal after it went out of print, to foist upon people and make them read. It was given a major rewrite in 2011-2015 and republished as e-books, so I ended up acquiring a third copy. It had been long enough that a lot was familiar and I couldn't point to things to say "that was different last time", but it would be an interesting exercise to go through and compare. Anyway, I really do love these books. High Space Opera, funny and noble and tragic; an interesting justification for the pretentious rich noble class and monarch trappings; a different justification for where there are space pirates; still some of my favorite angst. Also, I am deeply impressed by the author's vocabulary. I had to look up a lot of words. Five stars.

Calamity (by Brandon Sanderson)
A worth finish to the Reckoners trilogy (Steelheart and Firefight), but I think he didn't quite stick the landing. The action is good. The settings are fascinating and evocative (though the City of Salt seems like it would be such a pain to live in...). The terrible metaphors continue to be funny. But... the ending was just okay. Four stars.


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