These are the second and third of the Isles of Glory trilogy, of which The Aware was the first (so desireearmfeldt could want to borrow them). These were clearly plotted as a trilogy, not a book and the sequels, and the arc comes to a good solid resolution. Larke plays with foreshadowing very cleverly; many authors will use it to make something dramatic that wouldn't otherwise be, or to - well, it always feels to me like gloating because the author knows the plot and the reader doesn't, and it can annoy me. Her foreshadowing is more like a game of three-card monte: here is the thing that is coming. Can you see how I will get there? I'll keep all the plot threads in plain sight, so you can't accuse me of cheating later, but still - can you see where the denouement is? She fools me several times, and I can only quibble slightly with the wording on one of them. Dunmagic is still a little over-the-top evil, but that's the only serious objection I have to the series at this point. Four and a half stars - I give the series a bonus half star because the cover of the second book gives the main character pants, and the third has a Cool Ship On Fire on it.
Ring of Swords (by Eleanor Arnason)
I really liked this. At one level, it's a thoughtful talky adventure about contact with aliens; at another level, it's a thought experiment about gender and sexuality. A little like Halfway Human, but much better written, so fireworks boy might like it, or like The Sparrow. I enjoy the aliens and the alien culture that infuses everything they do. I like the main characters. I really like the adaptation of Macbeth into hwarhath. There's a bit of the "women good men bad" that Sheri Tepper got so crazily into, but the hwarhath men's culture isn't about abuse and rape, it's about honor and protection. The women's culture is still (in the end) wiser, but only by a little. Anyhow, four and a half stars, though I think it could have stood to have a little more action. :)
Cowl (by Neal Asher)
ricedog and I seem to be taking turns investigating "a book of Neal Asher which isn't as good as The Skinner". This is the next of them. Part of it is a time-travel travellogue, with interesting dinosaurs (he still likes writing about creatures which can take Very Large Bites out of you, though the dinosaurs are small potatoes compared to the torbeast, which I mostly found inexplicable and Lovecraftian). Part of it is political double-crosses and triple-crosses, but for me the teams were nebulous and surreal enough that it was hard to track who was betraying who for why and how and what the heck was going on. And, just as a side rant, the apex of Darwinism is not actually about killing everything you can get your hands on while forgetting to reproduce. I don't think anything evolves towards killing its mother as it's born, except in forced cases like the head getting bigger faster than the birth canal does, and having enough medical tech to deal. Two stars.
Grasp the Stars (by Jennifer Wingert)
(This one has spoilers!) This is a first novel, and the rough edges show. It almost reads like a transcription of a three-day assassin game, bungled plots, mechanics, and all. And it's set on a space station, which is one of the perfect assassin settings - it really is trying to be Garments of Vengeance, come to think of it. Her world-building seems reasonably solid, though oddly underexplained in places (you can sense that there are bluesheets there, but the characters aren't reading much of them out loud for the benefit of the reader). But it's the treatment of the plots, especially, that makes it seem game-like. The first viewpoint character shows up, hunted and suffering from Mysterious Amnesia. She is protected by a forgotten friend, and then, due to her drug mechanic, is unconscious through the rest of Day One and Day Two. Guess she wasn't actually the main character after all. By the time she wakes up, she's woefully behind on her plot and it's turned into a SIK game. Or, it gets emphasized over and over, nobody is getting any sleep. Towards the end of Day Three, all the PCs get sick with a virus. It's not a plot virus, though. No mysterious plague - they just each had to open their packet saying "If you stay up all three days with no sleep" and get colds. Even the guy with the superboosted immune system - that was probably just a GM mistake. Or, there's this big angsty love plot that spends all game coming together, people opening memory packets at each other and realizing they're in love, spiraling in towards resolution. Then, an Evil NPC swoops in from offstage for exactly one scene, to offer one of the characters "Come back to Earth and open that hospital you've always wanted. Just leave all your friends and this inconvenient politics behind and don't look back." And he goes. Boom goes the love plot. Normally in a novel, he'd see through the offer - "Get the thing I've always wanted - but at the price of my soul!" Or, he'd go, but then turn around and ride back. "You didn't think I'd really leave, did you?" But no. He just goes. Only in games do the players derail the plot like that. The characters themselves were engaging, and had the author just given them a little less rein, it could have been a much better book. Two and a half stars.
The Silent Gondoliers (by S. Morgenstern)
Do not tell me there is no such person as S. Morgenstern. I cover my ears and do not hear you, la la la la la. This is a short fable, and William Goldman has not removed as many of the boring parts, but I can still love it. Mr. Tanner (by Harry Chapin) is one of my favorite songs; partly it has the utterly wrong moral of "If you cannot be a professional, there is no joy in being an amateur," but it also has a moral about keeping your dreams no matter what, and that music uplifts you. And then there is Salieri's angry lamentation in Amadeus: God gives him the desire to create music, and the capacity to hear perfection, but no ability to create it. The gondoliers of Venice were once the most perfect singers ever - and now they are silent. This is the story of why. Four twinkly stars.