Review: The World Of Tomorrow Is Sadly Outdated by Leanna Renee Hieber

Review: The World Of Tomorrow Is Sadly Outdated by Leanna Renee HieberThe World of Tomorrow is Sadly Outdated on February 9, 2013
Pages: 52
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-half-stars
New York City: The Year is 1889. 
New York City: The year is 2089. 
In 1889 a group of bold pseudo-scientists discover the "temporal current" and begin to view the distant futures that await the Empire City. In the future, all life as we know it has crumbled, leaving New York City a ghost town with a populous scrabbling to survive underground. 
In the past it's up to an unlikely group of Victorian heroines and heroes to preserve something of their world to save their future generations. In the future it's up to an unlikely group of survivors to take a leap of faith; discovering what their ancestors left for them with no more guarantees than love and hope.

A new Leanna Renee Hieber book is a delicacy to be sipped. It took me so long to finish this relatively short novella. You have no idea. The time I spent reading this is in direct proportion to how much I loved it. I would read a couple of pages, usually only one of the rather short alternating points-of-view. Then I would put the book down (figuratively, as this is a digital release). Then I would chew over the scene thoughtfully, ruminating, absorbing the beautiful (as always) word choice. I would go off and read something else for a day or two, until the brass gears in my head had revolved sufficiently toward the soft ping that pulled me back into this world. Or worlds, I suppose. Even though both timelines in this novella are really one, even though this world is our world — our past and our future — they are so starkly different from each other that they may as well be completely different worlds.

And yet. (And yet.) One thread remains the same throughout. It is a bright, shining cord of striking strength and femininity. Two very different and far separate generations of daring, willful women (and yes, a few men, too) determined to save the world. Maybe not their own world, not exactly, but some semblance of a world. I finished this novella at exactly the correct time, because I needed this. I needed to grasp that silver thread and hold it fiercely in my hand, to cup it gently in my palm and whisper, “See? This is our future. Our present. Our past. These are the kinds of heroines who really lived, who are living, who will rise in days to come. These are the women we need so desperately. These are the women WE ARE.”

Imagine a world where not only *can* women save the world, but that they MUST. Buy this. Get it. Read it. Absorb it. And then go out and create that world. That is what Leanna is giving us here: a gentle pride of the past, a small hope for the future. It’s a precious gift. Don’t waste it.

four-half-stars

Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

This is the fifth book in the Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne. It will be released November 27th, 2012 from Del Rey.

The Blurb

After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.
 
Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists. [Goodreads]

The Review

The leap past twelve years of training is understandable. I’d wondered how Hearne was going to work around that. On the other hand, as a fan of the series, I find myself gnashing my teeth at twelve years worth of stories that have just been skipped past.  I’m holding out hope that we’ll get to see more of them later. Maybe in some more short stories? (Yeah, why don’t you get on that, Mr. Hearne?) 😉

I honestly can’t believe that we’re already five books into this series. I’ve devoured everything so quickly that the story doesn’t seem long enough to have taken five books. (I think Atticus, our poor abused hero, would disagree with this.) Part of that is also the fact that the volumes themselves have been released fairly rapidly. The story seems quick because I haven’t had to wait and wait (and wait) for subsequent tales to be released. (This is a good thing.)

I won’t go into the plot on this one, since it is the fifth installment. However, I will tell you that the pacing is frenzied and the writing keeps getting tighter. I love it when a writer seems to find their rhythm and things really start booking along. Atticus’ story manages to fit the genre mold while still remaining unexpected and fun. So many books have gotten formulaic and tired, but the world-building here is fresh and charming without being bizarre.

If you’re a fan of Hearne, I’m sure you’ll be picking up this volume. If you’re not already, but you’re a fan of Jim Butcher or urban fantasy in general, you should give this series a shot. Click here for my review of the first book.

Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

This book is the first in a series from debut author Jay Kristoff called The Lotus War. It will be released on September 18, 2012 from St. Martin’s Press in hard cover and digital. Buy it here.

The Blurb

A DYING LAND 
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever. 

AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger—a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her. 

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire. [Goodreads]

The Review

Do I really need to tell you anything besides “Psychic teenager and her freaking griffin  fighting Japanese steampunk empire”? No? I didn’t think so, but here’s the rest of my review anyway.

Airships. Griffins. Crazy hallucinogenic drugs made from lotus flowers. Evil dictator. Endless war. Vast expanses of wilderness. And one small girl just trying to stay alive. All of this plays out under the ominous blood-red sky — a sign of man’s destruction of his own world.

It’s really much too soon to be naming anyone as Brandon Sanderson’s successor, but if we needed to appoint one then Jay Kristoff would have my nomination. Stormdancer has some of the same mind-boggling world-building that one would expect from one of Sanderson’s door-stoppers (but in a much more bite-size format at only 366 pages for the hardcover).

I adore Yukiko. Everything from her stubborn refusal to forgive her father for her mother’s disappearance, to her defiance of emperor and rebels alike, to her teenage pining over a boy, to her brutal reprisals for betrayal: I love everything about her. Have you heard people talking lately about what a role model Katniss Everdeen (from The Hunger Games) is for teenage girls? Well, as much as I agree with them, I have to say – move over, Katniss, because Yukiko is going to kick your ass. The Girl on Fire is a sputtering candle flame next to the inferno that is this Girl with the Thunder Tiger.

Does it sound like I’m gushing? I think it sounds like I’m gushing… I seriously didn’t realize how much I loved this book until I sat down to write this review. But – I love it. Not to mention the cover is gorgeous. My bet is that Kristoff is going to be a guy to watch in the next few years, and I look forward to being proven right. (No, I have no doubt that I will be proven 100% correct in this and many other things.)

If I hadn’t also read Libriomancer, then Stormdancer would be my favorite book of the year. Please note, however, that though I compare this book to a YA novel, and while it has appeared on many a YA list over on Goodreads: this book is being published as an adult title. It does contain lots of violence and at least one instance of “sexeh time”. I doubt a teenager would have many issues reading this, but your mileage may vary.

I’m giving this 4 & 3/4 out of 5 stars, only because I want the sequel to have some room to grow.

[xrr rating=4.75/5 imageset=default]

 

Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

This is the second book in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series. It was released from Angry Robot on August 28th. Continuing the tradition of the first in the series, Blackbirds, this one also has a kick ass cover.

The Blurb

Miriam is trying. Really, she is.

But this whole “settling down thing” that Louis has going for her just isn’t working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around. Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis–who’s on the road half the time in his truck–is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does.

It just isn’t going well. Still, she’s keeping her psychic ability–to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them–in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she’s keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle.

Then comes one bad day that turns it all on her ear.

The Review

If I had a literary id, I think Miriam Black would be the personification of it. She’s a broken, vulgar-mouthed, anti-social, unapologetically selfish woman who seems to be developing this nasty habit of risking her life for the sake of other people’s. If we met in real life we’d either be instant friends or enemies for life. Maybe both. What is a certainty is that neither one of us should ever work retail again. I love Miriam because she’s just so damned fascinating. It’s like she can’t help herself but to make bad choices, and reading her is like watching a slow-motion train wreck made of blood and broken steel and sarcasm.

If you’ve read Blackbirds (and why haven’t you?) and you thought that story was a twisty mind-fuck of a tale, then you’re in for a real treat with Mockingbird. Just the title, that seemingly deceptive single word, contains layers of meaning that echo through the whole book. That’s some damned talent. So much talent, in fact, that it just makes the writer in me sick with jealousy. Sick, I tell you.

I was waxing poetic here about broken stained-glass and how this book’s complete picture is both unknowable and cutting. But you know what? Fuck that noise. This is a good damned book that’ll scare the daylights out of you, and if you like that kind of thing you should read it. Chuck Wendig is the only author I know of who can manage to be subtle with his message while beating you bloody in the face with the violent action of his story. Like I said: that’s some damned talent.

[xrr rating=3.75/5 imageset=default]

Review: Libriomancer by Jim C Hines

This is the first book in a new series called Magic Ex Libris from Jim C Hines. Jim is the man behind such hilarious and insightful gems as: Striking a Pose, Posing Like a Man, and the Baby Got Books parody. He’s also brought us some serious and thoughtful posts, such as his recent Sexual Harassment Policy. Libriomancer was published on August 7th from DAW.

My review of this book contains spoilers for the romantic resolution of the plot. I will try to white them out so that you can read the review without spoiling any part of the end, but you do continue to read at your own risk. The formatting probably will NOT transfer over to RSS feeds of this review, so if you’re reading via RSS and do not want to be spoiled, I suggest you not read past the “SPOILER WARNING” below. 

The Blurb

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg.  Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.

With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . .[Goodreads]

The Review

If you love me at all, you will find a way to read this book. You will go right now to Amazon, or one of your local (or not local) indies, or to your local library and get this book.

If you don’t love me (and why don’t you?), but you do love books and reading, then you still need to read this book. I know the cover’s kind of awful, but please ignore that. You can get it in hardcover and take the dust jacket off, or just buy it in digital format. That solves this book’s only real problem!

You see, Isaac Vainio has a love affair with books, with story. I’ll show you.

I fantasized about what I would do if I were to ever develop superpowers. … Some children outgrew such things as they grew up. My daydreams had simply grown more complex. … Imagine spending your whole life yearning for that kind of magic, only to discover it was real.

That’s from chapter 2 of the book, and I’ve taken the liberty of leaving out longer passages by way of those handy ellipses. If you read that quote and your heart seizes up with a wild longing… then you need to trust me and read this book.

Sure, this book isn’t perfect. What one is? Isaac is not a perfect hero. He’s stubborn and occasionally not very bright. The basic plot of “let’s defeat the evil vampires” has surely been overdone in recent times. Ah, but the execution! Hines gets bonus points for the invention of the term “Meyerii vampires”. (They sparkle.)

This book has dryads, vampires, space ray guns, a nervous fire spider, steampunk-y golem automatons, a specifically described “laser sword” from a very popular world in a galaxy far, far away, and a freaking BIBLIOGRAPHY in the back! It also has a guy that can pull things out of freaking books, guys. If that doesn’t make you excited to read it, then you haven’t been reading since childhood and therefore I pity you.

Here’s another quote directly from Isaac speaking that I highlighted to convince you:

“Even before I learned what I was, books were my escape from the world. This place… bookstores, libraries… they’re the closest thing I have to a church.”

I’ve got chills, guys, seriously.

In this next bit, I’m going to address some low-star reviews I’ve seen on Goodreads. This bit contains mild spoilers. 

In reading some of the reviews over at Goodreads, I’ve noticed that some people find the romance plot a big squicky. Isaac’s “sidekick” is a dryad (wood nymph) from a(n invented) book. She can’t fight her nature as written, and her nature is to be a willing sex slave to whichever person she’s “bonded” with. Her female psychologist partner has been kidnapped so she goes to Isaac for help. Funnily enough, it seems to me that most people (those who are perturbed at all) are bothered less by the notion that this is a thinking, feeling woman who, by her very nature, can not say no then they are by the somewhat unconventional resolution of the love-triangle.

What does it tell you about people that a bisexual element is more disturbing to them than the idea of a woman who has no choice – ever – but to submit to her partner’s will? I myself think that this reaction is exactly the reason that Hines included it.

SPOILER WARNING! Highlight to read text. 

To be fair, most of the reviewers seemed to have a problem with the resolution of this love triangle, and not necessarily the lesbian part of it. Which is: all parties involved reach an agreement to NOT resolve the triangle. Specifically, that Lena (the dryad) would continue to date BOTH Isaac and her psychologist girlfriend. Some people read into this resolution a potential for three-way sex. I, personally, don’t see that in the text. I see a bisexual woman who has chosen to date both a man and a woman, separately. It’s not the first time in history that someone has decided to date two people at the same time. It’s not even the first time a woman has done it. I don’t get what these people have a problem with, honestly. Is it homophobia or just prudishness? Neither? Both? I can’t really say. 

Do I personally think that this romantic decision can lead to a lot of heartache for all involved? Yep. My personal belief is that these things only end badly. But it’s a book, for the love of pages! Part of the greatness of books is that we can use these fictional worlds to explore things and themes that make us uncomfortable. I loved this book. I’m looking forward to reading more.

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Review: Dragon Justice by Laura Anne Gilman

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Dragon Justice by Laura Anne GilmanDragon Justice by Laura Anne Gilman
Published by LUNA on July 24th 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal, Romance, Urban
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-half-stars
In my time with PUPI, formally known as Private, Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations, I've seen a lot. Learned a lot. And not all of it's been good. But what we do—make people accountable for crimes committed with magic—is important work.Still. Even I need to take a break every now and again. Or so I've just been told (ordered).So hey, vacation. Maybe I'll finally figure out what's going on with the "special bond" between me and the boss man, Benjamin Venec. Venec seems to like that idea—he's invited me down to join him on a jaunt to Philly. But no sooner do I arrive in the City of Brotherly Love than we're called in to look at a dead body.And that's when life gets really complicated….

Dragon Justice is the 4th and final book in the Paranormal Scene Investigations series. It was released by Luna on July 24, 2012.

The Blurb

In my time with PUPI, formally known as Private, Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations, I’ve seen a lot. Learned a lot. And not all of it’s been good. But what we do—make people accountable for crimes committed with magic—is important work.

Still. Even I need to take a break every now and again. Or so I’ve just been told (ordered).

So hey, vacation. Maybe I’ll finally figure out what’s going on with the “special bond” between me and the boss man, Benjamin Venec. Venec seems to like that idea—he’s invited me down to join him on a jaunt to Philly. But no sooner do I arrive in the City of Brotherly Love than we’re called in to look at a dead body.

And that’s when life gets really complicated….

The Review

Bonnie and the other PUPIs have grown on me throughout this series. I wasn’t sure I liked this outgoing, outspoken, free spirit of a woman at first, but I’ve come to like her. She’s faced danger with bravery. She’s faced ambiguous moral situations and held fast to her own code. I may not have always understood the choices she made, but they always felt true to her character. Moreover, she made me respect her: her strength and her tenacity. And the fact that I can write about her here as if she were a real person and not just words on a page is a testimony to Gilman’s skill as an author.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Gilman’s work. She does good stuff, and this book (and series) is certainly worth the read. However, I finished Dragon Justice not triumphantly but instead vaguely disappointed. This is an adequate ending to a great series, but only adequate. The plot is solid and action-filled, don’t get me wrong. I devoured this book in less than two days, after all. I greatly enjoyed the return of the Wren as well. (I’d say that was my favorite part.)

The problem lies in the fact that it is the end of the series. This poor reader doesn’t feel like the plot threads were resolved at all. Sure, not every book has to have all the ends tied up neatly in pretty little bows. I like the idea that the characters and their lives will keep going on once the pages have all been turned. However, though we’re told how the main romance will be resolved, we don’t actually get to see it. I was convinced during my reading that a certain plot element was just a ruse, but it doesn’t seem to be so with the ending we receive here.That most of all just leaves me sad and rather disappointed.

If there were more – or just one more – book(s) in the series, then I’d say that Dragon Justice performs at a solid 4 (out of 5) stars. As it is, I think it goes out on a bit of a downer, with the barest hint of hope that our battered PUPIs will recover and go on. In my opinion, this installment lacks a significant something that would bring it from a solid and exciting entry in a series to a climactic and appropriate ending.

[xrr rating=3/5 imageset=default]

three-half-stars

Review: Cursed by Benedict Jacka

Cursed is the second book in the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. It was released on May 29th, 2012 from Ace Books. You can read my review of the first one here.

The Blurb

Since his second sight made him infamous for defeating powerful dark mages, Alex has been keeping his head down. But now he’s discovered the resurgence of a forbidden ritual. Someone is harvesting the life-force of magical creatures—destroying them in the process. And draining humans is next on the agenda. Hired to investigate, Alex realizes that not everyone on the Council wants him delving any deeper. Struggling to distinguish ally from enemy, he finds himself the target of those who would risk their own sanity for power… [Goodreads]

Have you read Benedict Jacka yet? THE Benedict Jacka? The author whose debut I waited MONTHS to read because Jim Butcher himself spoke well of it? Well, why not?? If recommendations from me AND from Jim Butcher don’t phase you… Well, then you’re reading the wrong blog, sweetie.

Cursed was another solid installment in this series. The stakes are higher, but the story isn’t a rehash of the debut, either. The tension is cranked up a notch but not in an “I’ve had twenty-three espressos and oh-em-gee but why is the world shaking like that?” kind of way. Whereas Fated was tense in a mortal peril, heart-thumping action kind of way, Cursed is a bit more subtle – but crueler, too. This is the tension of “I have led my friends into danger and my stupid mistakes are coming home to roost”. This is the teeth-grating nervousness and frustration of loved ones not listening to sound advice.

Frankly, I didn’t have time to love Cursed because it grabbed me by my knickers, slung me over its shoulder and carried me away before I had time to think about whether I loved it or not. A lot of urban fantasy heroes are all noir: tough as bullets and just as quick to anger and to action. Not Alex. Alex Verus is a more careful, a more deliberate kind of man. I imagine he would be just as careful and deliberate a lover, too — the kind of man who would spend days or months observing his lady carefully so that when the perfect moment arrived then the lightest touch in the proper place would send her boiling over the brink.

Let’s face it: being able to see possible futures would be pretty handy for that, too.

Good Dilemmas

I have three ebooks all pre-ordered and ready to download to my Nook first thing in the morning (if Barnes & Noble is on the ball, that is). I thought I’d take a moment to share them with you, because I’m super excited about all of them.

The first is a book I’ve been waiting a long time for:

In steam age America, men, monsters, machines and magic battle to claim the same scrap of earth and sky. In this chaos, one man fights to hold on to his humanity–and his honor. . .
Life on the frontier is full of deceit and danger, but bounty hunter Cedar Hunt is a man whose word is his bond. Cursed with becoming a beast every full moon, Cedar once believed his destiny was to be alone. But now, Cedar finds himself saddled with a group of refugees, including the brother he once thought lost.

Keeping his companions alive is proving to be no easy task, in part because of the promise he made to the unpredictable Madder brothers—three miners who know the secret mechanisms of the Strange. To fulfill his pledge, Cedar must hunt a powerful weapon known as the Holder—a search that takes him deep into the savage underbelly of the young country and high into the killing glim-field skies defended by desperate men and deadly ships.

But the battles he faces are just a glimmer of a growing war stirring the country. To keep his word Cedar must navigate betrayal, lies, and treacherous alliances, risking everything to save the lives of those he has come to hold dear… [Goodreads]

  • I adore Devon Monk’s writing, and have been waiting for this forever. This is the sequel to Dead Iron, which I review here. And don’t miss Devon’s blog tour, complete with free fiction and multiple giveaways for a free copy of the book, a Tin Swift magnet, and a hand-maid steampunk bookmark! 

Angel Crawford is finally starting to get used to life as a brain-eating zombie, but her problems are far from over. Her felony record is coming back to haunt her, more zombie hunters are popping up, and she’s beginning to wonder if her hunky cop-boyfriend is involved with the zombie mafia. Yeah, that’s right–the zombie mafia.
Throw in a secret lab and a lot of conspiracy, and Angel’s going to need all of her brainpower–and maybe a brain smoothie as well–in order to get through it without falling apart. [Goodreads]

  • This is the second book in Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series, which have the absolute most rockin’ cover art I have EVER SEEN on a zombie novel. If you like campy horror (think: Shaun of the Dead) then you absolutely must read this. I reviewed the first one over here.
  • The third and final book on my list is different from both of these. In fact, it’s a little bit of a departure from my normal reading habits – so much so that I’m wondering if I’ll end up loving or hating it. (I hope I don’t hate it.) Usually when I read fantasy, I stick to off-world fantasy. I have had mixed luck with historical fantasy. (Gail Carriger? GOOD. Other things? VERY, VERY BAD.) But I’ve heard so much about this book, and I’m so fond of this writer‘s non-fiction blogging over at Magical Words that I couldn’t help but pre-order it, from sheer wondering how all those plot elements ended up working out.  (Full disclosure: I read one of this author’s other, more traditional fantasy novels and, while I liked it, I still haven’t found the time to pick up the next book in the series. So many books, so little time!)

Boston, 1767: In D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, revolution is brewing as the British Crown imposes increasingly onerous taxes on the colonies, and intrigue swirls around firebrands like Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. But for Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who makes his living by conjuring spells that help him solve crimes, politics is for others…until he is asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent family.
Suddenly, he faces another conjurer of enormous power, someone unknown, who is part of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of power in the turbulent colony. His adversary has already killed—and not for his own gain, but in the service of his powerful masters, people for whom others are mere pawns in a game of politics and power. Ethan is in way over his head, and he knows it. Already a man with a dark past, he can ill afford to fail, lest his livelihood be forfeit. But he can’t stop now, for his magic has marked him, so he must fight the odds, even though he seems hopelessly overmatched, his doom seeming certain at the spectral hands of one he cannot even see. [Goodreads]

 

  •  Which means I have some very hard decisions to make tomorrow. Since I have to work, I can’t read them all. Which should I start with first? (Feel free to vote more than once or for more than one book!)

Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon is the debut novel from Saladin Ahmed, who has been a finalist for both the Nebula and Campbell awards. It was released February 7th, 2012 by DAW books.

The Blurb

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, Khalifs and killers, is on the brink of civil war. To make things worse, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. And it’s up to Doctor Adoulla Makhslood to solve them.

“The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” Adoulla just wants a quiet cup of tea. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, he is drawn back to the hunter’s path. Recruiting old companions and new, Adoulla races against time–and struggles against his own misgivings–to discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin. [On Goodreads]

The Review

Y’know. I had this whole 2,000 word review all typed up where I ranted about a review of this book that, essentially, called it misogynistic and shit writing. But I don’t feel like editing that crazy rage-fest.

So here’s what I’ll say instead: that review was wrong. So very, very wrong. I admit, there was one moment while reading this book where I had a fly-off-the-handle-feminist moment. Then, I took a step back, a deep breath, and realized that one stray thought by a character balanced against the incredible ass-kicking action of all the females in this book makes my initial knee-jerk invalid.

Does this novel fail the Bechdel test? Erm. Without double checking to be 100% sure, I’m gonna say – yeah, it does. Are there about a bajillion other fantasy novels out there that are also Bechdel fails but that are just as worthy of a read? Also yep.

So why read this one? Because it’s worthy in a different way. Ditch your European-grown fantasy roots and saddle up for something a little more “birthplace of civilization” flavored. Did I fall in love with this novel? I have to admit that, no, I didn’t. Did I enjoy it? Yep, quite thoroughly actually and I found it completely worth the time I invested in it.

There’s just one piece of my rage-fest rant that I have to relate here. One of the beefs the review I read had (and to which I am not going to link to here) was that one of the main female characters is a sort of were-lion and her powers are inaccessible to her during menses. So, of course, there was a bit of feminist rage about “OMG why does she have to be powerless three days out of the month simply because she’s a woman that’s so misogynistic!!!1!one” (paraphrasing, not a direct quote).

To which I say:

1) Traditional mythology, fable, and even other fantasy books all have tons of references  to a woman’s power being tied to her menstrual cycle. This is not new, and ranting simply because a MAN dared to use it as a plot device is, frankly, in my opinion very silly.

2) Why do we even have to look at it as “She’s being stripped of her power for being a woman!” at all? For one: her power is being limited, which can only be a good thing. She is still a bad-ass, shape-shifting lion who kicks ALL KIND OF ASS during all the crazy fight scenes. (Seriously – super exciting fight scenes!) Remember “absolute power corrupts absolutely”? How about, “unlimited power makes for a boring fucking character”? (Hm. Sounds like something Chuck Wendig would say, but I digress.) Her power is being limited in a way that not only makes sense within the confines of the world, but it’s being done in such a manner that she’s forced to look at the world not as an animal but as a human being and, yes, a woman. Which brings me to my next point…

3) Why is it okay for other fantasy writers (even men) to write werewolves as creatures who are tied to the same sort of lunar cycle but not in this case? Because this author came right out and tied it to menses instead of being coy about it? Honestly, I’d rather have it this way. At least it gives some sort of vaguely scientific reasoning – more so than “the moon made her turn into a monster!”.

Creating a strong feminine character doesn’t mean stripping her of everything that makes her a woman. In fact, that’s quite the opposite. I see the author here creating a character who, while being constrained by the fact that yes, she is actually female, works within those limitations to become that much more powerful. Which is how it works in real life, isn’t it?

Bottom line: do you want another cookie-cutter, leather-wearing, bed-hopping Bond knock-off with an X chromosome or would you like to maybe see an actual girl dealing with all the things a girl has to deal with? Which includes, for those unwilling to face it (both in fantasy reviews and in modern politics!), menstruation and thinking about child-bearing.

Argh. I swore I wouldn’t rant, and I did it anyway.

One of my favorite things about this book is that our heroes are mostly old people (there are a couple of young ones, a displaced youth and an apprentice, but they are rash and young and smartly idiotic in the way that only teenagers really can be). It’s refreshing to see a fantasy that ISN’T a coming-of-age story. Our hero, Adoulla, is around sixty and world-weary and feeling ready for his long-overdue  (at least in his opinion) dirt-nap when we meet him. There is a charm to the elderly in that they are fearless and unafraid of looking foolish (whether it is being overly sentimental about worldly possessions or absurdly proud of their own flatulence). This book captures that perfectly, and I hope to have 1/10th the sass at that age that any of these characters do.

Just read this book. Especially if you enjoy unique fantasy settings, such as N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or Brandon Sanderson’s A Way of Kings. It’s worth it, and it’s a fraction of the size of other door-stopper fantasies written by the likes of Rothfuss, Jordan, Sanderson, et al. You can read it in a weekend, form your own opinion, and wedge your mind open just the tiniest of fractions. It’ll be good for you. But don’t take it from me. Read the damned book already and stop taking advice from opinionated strangers on the internet!

 

Review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

This book will be released April 24th, 2012 from Angry Robot. It is the first in a new series from Chuck Wendig, the foul-mouthed penmonkey behind the website Terrible Minds.

The Blurb

Miriam Black knows when you will die. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try. [Goodreads]

The Review

Blackbirds is a hauntingly macabre book. It was so intense that I read it in two nights, which I spread over three days. I had to take a night off in the middle just to recover from all the violence. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is ugly and vicious and cruel, actually, and that fingernail’s edge of hope that Wendig gives us may not be enough for some readers.

The prose is visceral and brutally beautiful. Miriam is a wonderfully flawed character who moves through her life like a tidal wave. Her path rains destruction down on everyone around her, but she is helpless to stop it. Imagine knowing that the people kindest to you in your life are destined to die horribly and the more you try to stop it, the more inevitable that death is. Now imagine living with that for a few years.

Miriam’s story is a disturbing and fascinating look at the fatal romance of inevitability and finality. In fact, “fatal” is the perfect word for Miriam. She’s caught in the twin grips of fate and death. No. Not death, but dying. That’s an important distinction. Miriam’s “gift”  is not concerned with what comes after life, but only with those final, horrifying moments of leaving it. 

Wendig does dark and brutal very, very well. His Atlanta Burns novella, Shotgun Gravy was similar in tone. I now find myself perversely wishing that I could read a light-hearted Wendig story, just for contrast sake.

[xrr rating=4/5 imageset=default]