Monday, April 01, 2019

What I'm Reading Now

Ann Leckie, The Raven Tower

Ann Leckie wrote the award-winning and deservedly famous Imperial Radch Trilogy. This is a stand-alone book, told in what appears at first to be the second person (spoilers: it's actually from the point of view of a god).

The god is one of many in this fantasy world, in which the gods are able to act in the world, but only in limited ways -- acting uses their strength, which can be renewed through offerings and sacrifices and apparently other less clear ways. And they cause actions by speaking, and what they say becomes truth, so that they must be careful what they say, since if they say something that's impossible, their strength can be sucked away, in an attempt to make the thing true.

The god of Strength and Patience, who is speaking this story, is relating what they think is the story of Eolo, the aid to the heir to the Lease of the Raven (another god). The heir, Mawat, is a sulky, brilliant, and bad-tempered young man. He has been summoned back from the wars because his father is dying, and arrives to find his uncle on the Bench (the throne, more or less).

Ah, Hamlet, we are thinking. And yes, Leckie has Hamlet as her starting point. But what a brilliant version of Fantasy Hamlet this is.

Eolo, a trans man, is more active than Shakespeare's Horatio, and a great deal more interesting as a character. Tikaz, the Ophelia figure, is so much more interesting and active than Ophelia. And using a god as our narrator is a brilliant move.

The god takes us back and forth through history, weaving the past into the present so that we understand not just this story, but how this story came to be, this world's panoramic history.

I'm not a big fan of fantasy, as all y'all know, but this one's worth the read.

Jenna Glass, The Women's War

This is a science fiction novel which combines the intrigue of British court history with magic with the Handmaid's Tale with a Romance novel. The basic plot is that, in a Handmaid's style world, an oppressed but brilliant woman casts a spell putting women's fertility more or less in their control -- women no longer conceive children unless they sincerely want a child. Some side effects appear, including one giving women who have been raped the ability to do death magic.

For all its derivative nature, this novel is pretty good. That's probably due to the character development -- Glass is quite good at switching point of view while keeping us on board, so that we'll get an understanding of a situation from one character's point of view, and then another understanding of the situation from another character's point of view. This not only helps develop the characters, it gives us a deeper understanding of the political situation in this fantasy universe.

Also Glass avoids demonizing even her villains -- we may not like what they're doing, but we understand entirely why they do it. Their motives as not "BWAHAHA I'M EVIL," but legitimate (if flawed) motives.

The main characters, all women, are also very well done. I particularly enjoyed Ellin, a character based loosely on Queen Elizabeth I. The novel is about 900 pages long, but I was never bored once.

Elizabeth Klehfoth, All These Beautiful Strangers

If you like stories set in prep schools for obscenely rich and somewhat sociopathic adolescents, this book's for you.

The plot here concerns an adolescent, Charlie Calloway, whose mother has disappeared, and the mystery around that death. What happened to the mother? Is she dead? Did Charlie's father kill her? Did she run away?

There's also, as we soon learn, another murder in the back story of all these people. Charlie is the prime detective sorting out both murder mysteries, as well as another mystery involving her school.

Given that Charlie, like her father and most of the people around here, is deeply damaged, to the point of being a sociopath, it's hard to really care much about what happens to her, or her mother, or anyone in the book.

If you like stories about prep schools, this one might be for you. The mystery is pretty good, and the writing is nice enough.

Mary Adkins, When You Read This

I'm a sucker for epistolary novels, or anything like epistolary novels, so this book was an automatic read. It consists of emails and letters and blog posts written by (1) a woman who has died of lung cancer before the book begins (2) the woman's angry, high-achieving older sister and (3) the woman's business partner and her best friend (4) an intern working for the business, which is a PR firm.

This book is a lot of fun, despite the grim subject matter, but it's also somehow very lightweight? You would think a book about someone dying of cancer and everyone else mourning that person would be a serious book. This one never really gets beyond the surface.

An entertaining read, but don't expect it to teach you anything.

Seanan McGuire, In an Absent Dream

McGuire has been doing a series of novellas about portal fantasies, or rather about the children who go through these portals, their particular adventures, and what becomes of them afterwards. All of the children are students at the Wayward Children Boarding school, so what we're getting in these novellas is their individual back stories.

The most famous (infamous) portal fantasy is either C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, or Alice in Wonderland. The kid like Alice in Wonderland a lot. I read it, but didn't like it all that much. Neither of us liked any of C. S. Lewis's books.

My favorite portal book is Sarah Rees Brennan's In Other Lands.

McGuire, in this novella and her others, addresses some of the problems that might occur in the real world if children did vanish through portals into fantasy worlds and then return.

This, like her other books, is short and crisply written, and maybe a bit too brief. We're interested in the characters, but there's really not room for the story to develop fully. That said, I'll read as many of these as she'll publish, apparently.

This one is about Lundy, the character from Wayward Children Boarding School who is aging backwards -- growing one day younger every month (or year? I forget which) and the portal world she visited.

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