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Seventeen books, again. That seems to be when I think "hmm, I haven't posted book reviews in ages" - Qualified Perceptions
Seventeen books, again. That seems to be when I think "hmm, I haven't posted book reviews in ages"
My current knitting project is complicated and requires a lot of referring to the pattern, so reading at the same time is contraindicated. :) So lots of audiobooks! Unfortunately, it's harder to highlight passages to quote or come back to, to talk about them in reviews. Also, I think I stopped reading a couple of books early enough that I didn't feel right giving them reviews, so this set may skew a little high. Or maybe not. I'm not sure I give many under-three-stars, so look at me grade inflating just like everyone else.

Nightwise* (by R. S. Belcher)
I listened to this as an audiobook, and dear God, was Bronson Pinchot showing off with the accents. Latham is a solidly antiheroic antihero, and I spent much of the book about thirty seconds short of deciding he was just too unlikeable (and also that, after a first sensible pass at "you are too likely to throw us under the bus to survive, get the hell out of my house", his friends are way too supportive of him). Honestly, he doesn't ever get very likeable, but he gets in one small redemption for a plot point that was making me seriously annoyed, and one large redemption that oddly had less of an effect on me than the small one. The world is complicated and the weird shit is creepy (and "Bronson Pinchot showing off" also kicked in for some long Latin and Japanese incantations, not that I would really be able to tell if it was accurately pronounced). The ending is very odd, now that I look back at it.
(Spoilers/triggers ahead!).
The plot is basically: Latham is asked by his dying best friend to go and kill the guy who raped and murdered his wife many years ago. He spends the book tracking the guy down and eventually succeeds in doing so, and also, at the very end, cures his friend from dying and brings his wife back from the dead so they can have a happy ending, with the last of the leftover power he paid a terrible price to get to accomplish the vengeance. So... that's good of him, and the happy ending is actually probably better than the vengeance as a long-term goal, but do you think maybe the friend would have liked that more in the first place than the vengeance, if he knew it was on the table? Or maybe before he was dying? And most of the cost was for the vengeance, so it could have been handled with less of a terrible price... Three stars.

Rip-Off (by various)
The conceit here is that different SF authors take famous first lines and write a short story based on that. As is usually the case with short story collections, it's a mixed bag. Robert Charles Wilson's Fireborn is nice; Mike Resnick's The Evening Line is dreadful (the genre is one in which there are Guys (bartenders, mages, bookies, drunks) and Dames (shrieking harridans or shrieking floozies)). It's tongue-in-cheek, but more in the spirit of 'look at me writing in an old-fashioned style, hah!' and less poking fun at it. I had already read Muse of Fire, but it's a good disturbing story. "Call me Ishmael" is in fact the perfect first line for a hard-boiled noir detective. I seem to have lost steam for name-checking the rest of them.

Throne of the Crescent Moon* (by Saladin Ahmed)
A swords-and-sorcery-and-zombies tale, sourced in Islamic culture instead of European; another nice difference from the default is that a lot of the characters are old and ready to retire; it's one last save-the-world for them. I... sympathize more with the old characters than the young ones than I used to. There is good and evil and shades of grey in between; the shades of grey are swashbuckly and stylized, as if encountering an actual fat man standing on a railroad track in the plot. That's not a complaint - it fit with the tone of the story, but it was different enough that I noticed it. (I listened to this one on audiobook, and it went along at quite a clip - the actor did a nicely frightening job with some of the villainous voices and the voice for the man-jackal was seriously jackally annoying. :) ) Four stars.

The Suicide Motor Club (by Christopher Buehlman)
Vampires (non-sparkly) in sports cars! And a nun! And a secret conspiracy dedicated to fighting the vampires, that does not know what they are doing nearly as well as they assert that they do - that last was a bit of a surprise. A fast action horror story more in the thriller/bloody camp than the creepy scary camp. I enjoyed it quite a lot as a summer popcorn book. Three and a half stars?

Too Like the Lightning (by Ada Palmer)
This book is written by a history professor, in deliberate homage to writings of the Enlightenment both in style and in topic. (Here is the author talking about the book on John Scalzi's blog...). It's very thinky. Very very thinky. Also full of action and politics and religion and anti-religion and flying cars and inexplicable miracles and horrific Hannibal-Lecter-esque bits and erotica written by someone who knows that the Marquis de Sade was writing political philosophy and cyber and nations grouped by philosophy rather than geography and some bits that felt like pretentious conceits, and and and. This is an "and and and" book, with about two to three times the idea density of most things I read.

About halfway through I had to send a description of it to dpolicar - one of the bits I quoted is after a scene in which (simplifying) the speaker has outed someone else as a Catholic (personal religion is for legal reasons completely private because of the dangers of religion as an organized force), after they are guilty of well-intentioned betrayal, but the outer knows that the outee will be happier if they confess their guilt as well as just being found guilty. Another character objects - you can't do that!

"But I misunderstand. By 'can't' you did not question the possibility of my words, you meant that I should not say such things, under local human law. You are correct. I erred. I thought only to diminish present pain. But I concede and recognize that the laws and master of this house are not wrong to rank duty over pity." His eyes drifted to Ockham. "I apologize, Member Saneer, for this mismatch in the radii of our consequentialism."
(No, they don't all talk like that. Just that character.) I don't understand yet how it all fits together - and it ends on something of a cliffhanger - but I can't wait to see the next book. Four and three quarters stars.

The Edge of Worlds (by Martha Wells)
The next Raksura book. Hey! This one ends on a cliffhanger too! :-< I still adore them, though.

This inspired me to read Death of the Necromancer (also by Martha Wells),
one of the few books I reread because I really really like them, as opposed to because book N of the series has come out and I have forgotten what happened in Book 3.

Fellside* (by M. R. Carey)
Did I forget to review The Girl With All the Gifts? I listened to it on audiobook, and as soon as Fellside came out, I got it as well. They aren't related, except inasmuch as they are slow and thoughtful and very unusual examples of their genre, powerfully character-based and somewhat unpredictable in plot. It is considered a spoiler to say what genre The Girl With All The Gifts is, so I won't. Fellside is a little more of a mishmosh - it's a little bit ghost story and a little bit Perry Mason and a whole lot of prison drama. I guessed a few of the plot twists, but was completely surprised by others; it took until about halfway through to really hook me (a combination of slowness and not very sympathetic characters), but by the end I didn't want to put it down. (Also, I really liked the narrator). Five stars for GWATG, four and a half for Fellside

Menagerie* (by Rachel Vincent)
Another audiobook. This was interesting but flawed - set in an America after "the Reaping", when non-humans (werewolves, mermaids, minotaurs, etc) all get cracked down on as a reaction to the horrific tragedy (nicely done horror, but inexplicable as an actual intentional policy carried out by (some) non-humans...). The book focuses on the non-humans in the cages of a traveling menagerie/exhibition. I... can't entirely disbelieve a violent disenfranchisement and enslavement, though I was less sure about whether going to the circus to view them afterwards would be considered fun. I did successfully predict the type of the two mystery paranormals, though I am really unclear on both the extra tweak and the backstory of the main character. In the end, though, the plot falls into the trap of having the good guys outnumber and outpower the bad guys in the immediate vicinity (if not in the overall society, which is a constraining issue). Three and a half stars.

Roses and Rot (by Kat Howard)
Partly a fairy story, and partly a story about having a life after a badly abusive childhood. Impossible choices and lovely writing and sadness and love. Four stars.
Once upon a time.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who was given a wish. One wish, just one, but it would grant her anything she wanted, the truest desire of her heart, the one she kept closest, locked away, barely taking it out to whisper its name.
"But," she was told, "you must be very, very careful what you wish for. Be certain you ask for precisely what you want, else you will be disappointed. Or worse."
The girl was the sort of girl who read books, and so she knew well the perils of wishing. Wish for the return of a beloved pet, now dead, and a rotting corpse walks into the yard to play fetch. Wish for everything you touch to turn to gold, and with a hug you've made your best friend a statue, and murdered her besides. Wish casually, and you waste whatever the possibility might have been.
So the girl was careful. She did not speak a wish, but waited and thought. Every time a desire formed itself in her head, she thought of how she might wish for it. Even then, she could imagine the wish turning in on itself, growing teeth. And so each time, she remained silent, and worked for what she wanted. Sometimes, what she would have wished for happened anyway, and she was glad, and clutched her wish close, like a secret, like a shield.
But one day she spoke. She spoke in haste, and without thinking, and she spoke in passion. She said, "I wish you could love me."
There is a cruelty in a wish that comes true. It is weighed, it is measured, it is absolute. No less than the words that invoked it, but no more, neither.
This is the first thing she learned: Just because someone can love you doesn't mean they will. This is the second: It is worse to know that someone can love you, and that they have chosen not to.
I wish, I wish, I wish.

Windswept and Like a Boss (by Adam Rakunas)
The main character is a union organizer, on a planet full of people that have escaped from megacorp indentitures. That in itself was somewhat interesting. I've read a lot of modern fiction with social justice hallmarks - diverse characters, understanding of consent, etc. But I think unions are something that have lost a lot of their political weight - they've become recast in the political narrative as institutions that protect bad teachers and bully money out of hapless local governments and plucky small businesses, and the idea that they're protecting people from things like being locked in a fire-prone sweatshop for twelve hours a day with no safety features on the heavy machinery, has receded into ancient history. So anyway, just the part where the union is a (flawed, human-riddled) force for power and justice, was an interesting premise, like old-fashioned liberal chivalry. The plots are fast-moving; occasionally a little confusing and possibly not always the most logical, but deinitely a fun ride. (And I want to try some of the Old Windswept rum that features so prominently.) Four stars.

Six of Crows* (by Leigh Bardugo)
I nearly stopped listening to this audibook in annoyance due to a dearth of sympathetic characters. Point one, admitting that you're an asshole does not excuse you from the sin of being an asshole, and point two, I felt that the "meet cute" between the guy from the genocidal Nazi-esque culture taking a cage full of captured prisoners back to his homeland to be "given a fair trial" (aka executed for their race), and the woman who escaped from the cage, was putting them on way too equal a moral footing when the woman kind of screwed over the guy in her final escape. So that was irritating me. But before I gave up entirely, I looked on the internet for clues as to whether it got better, and I discovered that there are really a lot of enthusiastic fans drawing cute romantic pictures of all the characters, and maybe a Jerusalem-born author is probably not actually as sympathetic to the Nazis as all that. So I kept listening, and things started to turn around, and I realized I had in fact badly misinterpreted the genre. It isn't a grim gritty story of asshole antiheroes, it's a romance of asshole antiheroes finally overcoming their antihero tendencies and hidden backstories. The leader of the team just spends a long time in establishing his antihero nature before starting to make steps in the overcoming direction. The story switches POV between the different members of the crew; the plot is a complicated heist, and the party splits up enough that telling the story from one side and then switching to an overlapping "what really happened there from the other point of view" works interestingly well. (The audiobook is recorded by a different voice actor for each POV, which always seems like a better idea in theory than I find in practice, because people's voices jump around so much as they are voiced by different people.) Finally, it ends on a SERIOUS cliffhanger; the sequel is out in September and I think it's just two books, so it might work better to wait. Hmm. I guess another four stars - it might have been four and a half without the cliffhanger.

The Queen's Poisoner (by Jeff Wheeler)
This is basically set in the Wars of the Roses with fantasy paint - the maybe-evil king has possibly disposed of his young nephews in order to take the throne, and there's a bunch of backstory with other claimaints to the throne that I kind of lost track of the same way I confuse all the Richards together. A lot of what the book plays with is the concept of trust, both interestingly and somewhat dubiously. Do we trust the king when he says the deaths of his nephews weren't his fault? I think so, because we overhear him talking in secret about it, and he sounds too betrayed over it. He takes the main character Owen, a kid of eight, as a hostage for his parents' behavior, and he doesn't treat his hostages all that well, but the parents were treacherous, as well as picking the wrong side. There's a lot about spies and who to trust and who to tell what and telling different people different things to see what leaks. That part is interesting. But some of the fixation on trust doesn't work quite right. You do not test whether you can trust someone by telling them a lie and seeing if they correct you, not unless you're one, sure they know the truth, and two, it's in their best interests to let you believe the lie. Also, if they know you know it's a lie, that kind of shoots their trust of you in the foot. Another bit - one of the other kids makes a full-bore persuasion attempt to get Owen to jump into the secret cistern with her. Is there a way out? She doesn't know, but she assumes so. They can probably get out the way the water gets out. THIS IS NOT A SENSIBLE PLAN. I mean, okay, cisterns are not quite the same as wells, but do they know that? Could a gate be locked? Or the ladder kept out of the water and lowered from above? But she convinces him, because he Trusts her. Not to be guessing right or know about cisterns or anything, but to be worthy of trust. There are more loyalty tests that are equally... orthagonal to the point. Three stars.

Border Line (by Mishell Baker)
The main character has Borderline Personality Disorder; most of the other motley crew of characters also have some form of mental illness. (Brief summary of the plot: the motley crew has to deal with a missing Fey as part of a Faerie-Earth swap program to inspire Hollywood directors and actors, muse-like. This is the second book in a short while I've read where Faerie is the source of human creativity. Weird.) A lot of people write about depression and anxiety; multiple personality disorder is popular in fiction. But I hadn't read about this before, certainly not in a protagonist, and that was novel. It sounds difficult, and the author did a good job of letting the character be both sympathetic and frustrating. There was a bit in the middle where she seemed to be less 'borderline', possibly in order to let her power through the plot, but possibly also for in-world reasons. I was never sure. There were a lot of other bits that I was never really sure about either, or plot points that vanished. One thing done really well, though, was luring the reader into going along with the wrong conclusions to be surprised when the conclusions were proved wrong. There were some nice surprises that way. Overall, as an urban fantasy mystery, it was better than many, and as an example of writing about people who aren't like me, it did a really good job. Three and three quarters stars.

Crooked (by Austin Grossman)
This is a mashup of Nixon with Cold War Spy Fiction with Lovecraft. On the positive side, it was written with the same fondness for only the tendency to only get a glimpse of the weirdness as it passes by, a shark fin above the water concealing who knows what icebergs below. And there's an understatedness to it that reminds me a bit of some creepypasta.
Not all military elements will be vulnerable to nuclear weaponry or associated effects such as radioactivity, kinetic shock, and firestorms. Potentially nuclear-resistant entities, domestic and foreign, should be accounted for in any postconflict planning scenarios. These include: (a) Corn Men (b) Entity code Raven Mother and attendant fragments/hybrids (c) Exofauna of Baikonur region (d) GRU command elements above the rank of colonel, who are reputed to be experimentally radiation-hardened by hybridization, grafting, and injection with tissue samples from various archaic and exoplanar fauna (e) Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (f) Unidentified Dyatlov Pass survivor (g) The British royal family (h) Little Hare, a Native American trickster god of the Southwestern United States.
This led to the digression of looking up Dyatlov Pass, which... more creepy. I think I would have liked it more if I had felt more solidly in on the plot; I was kind of confused by the ending, but not hooked enough to go back and get it straight.

The Necromancer's House (by Christopher Buehlman)
I'm quite liking this author, who appears earlier in this entry for the Suicide Motor Club. What both have in common is that they're somewhere in the vicinity of horror - the first book is more of a blood-spattered action thriller with vampires, and the latter is more of... a creepyish tension urban magic story with complicated magic? Both of them also have a nice knack of building a nice well-rounded character in a couple of paragraphs before having something dreadful happen to the character. It's something I think of Stephen King being good at - you get a sense of a distinct and interesting personality in the half a page before they get eaten by a monster. I really liked the complicated magic - it's not a magic system, the way you would find in a Sanderson book, it's a bunch of individual spells with character. The titular necromancer specializes in (among other things) selling the ability to communicate with the dead, by putting a "doorway" in a VHS tape recording of that person. Send him a home movie of your loved one (or a movie with a star you always wanted to talk to), and he'll let you talk to them - or maybe a simulation - for a few minutes. I also highlighted this paragraph, which kind of punched me in the feels.
But also for Anneke, who'll have to learn for herself how hard it is when the second parent goes. How real it gets when you're sweating down into the cardboard boxes bound for Goodwill and the Salvation Army. When the other parent isn't there to tell you stories from before you were born. When you go in the attic and the plastic tchotchkes crumble in your hand, and you sob like a bitch when you realize your mom saved a little bundle of report cards from third and fourth grade because they said something nice about her kid. About you. And that those cards waited in that peeling old folder for your adult hand to fish them out and throw them away because there's just nobody else in this world who'll ever give a damn about them again.
Five stars.


3 comments or Leave a comment
bluepapercup From: bluepapercup Date: September 3rd, 2016 04:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm so glad you liked Throne of the Crescent Moon! I read it last year and throughly enjoyed it. I too liked how it was mostly about the "old folks" and the consequences that magic and adventure bring, as well as the feeling that one is closer to death than not.

It's also just a rip roaring adventure. I think my high school self would have liked this book too.
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: September 3rd, 2016 02:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I dedicated an entire child-free weekend to Too Like the Lightning.

I do not regret it, but I am sorry that it was only half the story. That was a lot to put into my brain to have to do it again next year :-)
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 8th, 2016 09:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
<sniffles> Two of those quotes are serious tear-jerkers. I'm not sure if that makes me want to read the books more or less, but certainly with thought given to state of mind.
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