Tag: fantasy

Hello audiobook lovers, it’s time to announce my 3rd review for Luna Station Quarterly!  This one was truly rewarding.  Moon Called is the first book book in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series: urban fantasy centered around werewolves, shapeshifters, fae and vampires.  It’s adventurous, suspenseful and funny and as always, great to see a female character in the lead role.  AND – Lorelei King, who narrates all the books in the series, is fabulous.  Polished voice, vibrant personality, and she took time from her busy life to give me some wonderful answers to my interview questions.  Please go check out the review at Luna Station, and then go out and find yourself a great listen!

 

Read my other Broadcasts From the Far Side posts!

Photo “Moon” by OldakQuill – Self-photographed. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

book reviews

My audiobook review of NK Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is up over at Luna Station Quarterly!  If you’re looking for a new audiobook, Casaundra Freeman is an amazing narrator for this first volume in NK Jemisin’s fantasy trilogy.

My column, Broadcasts From the Far Side, is dedicated to reviewing audiobooks written and narrated by women.  Everyone could use a good audiobook – during your workout, your commute, even your chores.  Check out my list.  If you’ve listened to something spectacular recently, I would love to hear about it – let me know in the comments or friend me on goodreads.

Photo from Unsplash

book reviews

I took the Goodreads Reading Challenge this year and committed to reading 60 titles in 2014.  I surpassed my goal by 6 books!  Maybe a few more before December 31st!  Looking back on all that I read, I’m realizing these books are a chronicle of my life this past year.  ‘Scuse me while I reminisce.
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2014 started off heavy!  I was diggin’ on philosophy, evolution, atheism and HP Lovecraft.  What else am I supposed to read during winter in Colorado?  By far one of my favorite books this year was David Quammen’s Spillover – a hardcore and thoroughly researched work on zoonotic viruses.  Recently Quammen’s section on Ebola was published as a separate special edition.  Highly recommended.  Reading Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion made me feel intrigued, irritated, and enlightened all at once.  I agree with so much of what he says, but the dude can be a bit snide.   I balanced out all this deep thinking (or my sad attempts at deep thinking) with a long term battle to finish Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasy doorstopper Tigana.  Good grief I wanted to love this book, but it took me forever – I listened to the audiobook while hiking in Colorado and Wyoming.  That was perfect, since the novel is about a beloved homeland, and mine is the Rocky Mountains.
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I moved to Wyoming for the summer and went on a thriller fiction rebound binge.  I plowed through the entire Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  The books got progressively less impressive, but I had a good time.  And, okay, I couldn’t stay away from science and religion – I began my joyous discovery of Carl Sagan’s works, and will be reading more in 2015.  Then I realized that I wanted to immerse myself in all the scifi and fantasy I’ve been too busy to read during the last few years.   I jumped into The Expanse series and Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard books, and I listened to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series on my regular hikes up Josie’s Ridge.  I didn’t give up nonfiction though – I loved The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko’s jawdropping account of the fastest-ever run down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – in a wooden dory.  I still get chills.

Thinking about rivers, I traveled from Jackson, Wyoming to Shelton, Washington in late summer, following the Columbia along the way and listening to A Canticle for Leibowitz.  A true sci fi classic, I was riveted by this post-nuclear dystopian novel, even more powerful to experience while driving along the river south of the Hanford Site.  I don’t recommend doing a solo road trip through California and listening to T. Jefferson Parker’s serial killer fiction The Blue Hour – but I definitely recommend the book – harrowing and suspenseful.
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By far the last quarter has been the most fun reading I’ve done this year.  I drove from Arizona to Texas listening to Marisha Pessl’s bizarrely riveting novel Night Film.  I devoured Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft and the first book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, and I finally tackled Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, all of which did not disappoint – great examples of why I prefer speculative fiction to anything else: innovation, daring, otherworldliness.  And I read Shards of Time, the last book of Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series.  A bittersweet conclusion to a series that I love so much.

I also started reviewing books for this very blog, which led me to volunteer as a blogger for the women’s speculative fiction website Luna Station Quarterly.  My first audiobook review, of Melissa Scott’s wonderful Five-Twelfths of Heaven, will be online in January!

Booooooooks.  I love them so.  Find me on Goodreads!

Thanks to Unsplash for the great library photo.

 

book reviews

book reviews

As soon as I finished reading Chris Evans’ novel Of Bone and Thunder, I immediately went to Roger Ebert’s website and reread his review of Platoon.   Publishers Weekly characterizes Evans’ novel as “Apocalypse Now meets Lord of the Rings,” but I think the book’s themes channel Oliver Stone more than Coppola.  But don’t let me stray too far discussing American movies about Vietnam.  I bring up Ebert because he was a brilliant, compassionate observer – of both film and the human condition.  And I am a child of the 80’s, whose first glimpse into the horrors of the Vietnam War came not from history class, but from a Charlie Sheen flick.

Ebert’s Platoon review ends with a grave piece of advice:  Before you can make any vast, sweeping statements about Vietnam, you have to begin by understanding the bottom line, which is that a lot of people went over there and got killed, dead, and that is what the war meant for them.

Chris Evans understands, and he makes his statements with crossbowmen as infantrymen, dragons instead of Hueys, M.A.S.H. wizards and mage radio operators.  Red Shield is the platoon on the ground, fighting the Kingdom’s war against the Forest Collective, deep in the mountain jungles of Western Luitox.  The Forest Collective resemble elves or goblins,  are characterized as “disgruntled peasants” and given the derogatory nickname slyts by the troops.   The FC’s guerilla tactics are more than a match for Crossbowman Carnin “Carny” Qillibrin and his fellow soldiers, enduring wicked heat rash, relentless insects, haphazard training, and each other.

In the air, Flock Commander Vorly Astol captains his beloved dragon Carduus and learns to get along with a newly assigned RAT, Breeze, a mage from the Royal Academy of Thaumology who operates a communications crystal that’s totally new magic-tech and resembles a cross between an iPad and a magic mirror.  This device, and the fact that Breeze is a woman, irritate and terrify Vorly – at first.  Breeze’s skills, and the even stronger abilities of her fellow mage Jawn Rathim, will have great impact on the battles in the Valley of Bone and Thunder.

Let’s not ignore the dragons, though.  The rags, as they’re nicknamed, aren’t simply tossed into the story as a handy fantasy trope.  We see them from all perspectives – in the fearful troops’ last-minute training on how to avoid being eaten or crushed; from in the saddle as Jawn pukes his way through his first dragon landing, and through the respectful eyes of the dragonsmiths.  There’s a lot to be learned about dragon husbandry here, but I won’t spoil it.

The lexicon of slang in the novel is colorful and spot-on, and as can be expected in a military novel, not always politically correct.   Evans calls up all the war tropes and gives them new dimensions: the raw recruits (fawns), the racial tension (freed dwarf slaves are denigrated as mules); embedded journalists (criers).  He doesn’t leave out the delusions of battlefield glory; drug abuse; war propaganda; disinformation campaigns; the killing of women and children.

I kept asking myself while I read Of Bone and Thunder – is this book necessary?  Do we need another book that riffs on Vietnam, regardless of genre?  Science fiction and fantasy stories are fertile ground for social commentary.  Sometimes – not always – the focus is more on the glory of battle, though, rather than the reality that war is hell.  Props to Evans for focusing on the latter.  And yet – I had expectations for this novel, which in hindsight weren’t fair, but which still hover in my head.  I wanted a novel from both perspectives – the one portrayed and that of the Forest Collective.  I wanted a book that incorporated the struggles and suffering of The Other – TheEnemy – too.  I kind of expected Carny or Wraith to go full Natty Bumppo, but maybe that’s coming in the next books?  Maybe I’m the only one who hopes for that.

There’s a lot of death in this novel – like, Game of Thrones level body count.  Maybe that’s the takeaway – people get killed, dead, and that’s war.   We shouldn’t ever stop reminding ourselves of this.

I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley.

 

book reviews

It may not be fair to say that the sci fi, fantasy and horror genres aren’t taken seriously, no matter what the medium.  Well, actually it is fair to say that – but maybe the playing field is changing.  I’ve never been more aware of this than I am when I’m watching some of the brilliant speculative TV of the last five years.  Still, I wish the women who carry the shows would receive MORE recognition.  Here’s my list of seven incredible actresses who are so fantastic, they should have awards not simply bestowed upon them, but created in their honor.
Tatiana Maslany
What rock are you living under, that you haven’t seen this amazing and versatile actress portray multiple clones so well, you’ll forget she’s only one woman.
Jaime Murray
I loved Ms. Murray as HG Wells on Warehouse 13, but on Defiance, she is like no creature on earth – literally.  Her fierce portrayal of Stahma Tarr is breathtaking in its otherworldliness – frightening and poignant all at once.
Nicole Beharie
You can’t watch this show without falling for Lt. Abbie Mills – kickass cop with a troubled childhood ready to battle demons – I love her resilience and sly humor, and Beharie’s fantastically controlled facial expressions.
Carrie Coon
Nora Durst – wow, what a role, and Coon really chews it up.  Every scene she’s in is a revelation – pun intended.
Keeley Hawes
Keeley Hawes can do anything better than anybody, and with a stellar Brit accent.  It doesn’t get much better than watching Bolly Kecks square off against Gene Hunt.
Anna Silk and Ksenia Solo
These two ladies are so inseparable and so wonderful as BFF’s that I had to nominate them as a pair.  Sure, Lost Girl is thrilling and funny and all about the fey underground, but at its heart, the real story is the friendship between Kenzi and Bo.

grab bag

Part of the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge

Even though this is a woman-thang reading challenge, I seem to be on a bro-mance roMANce kick lately, witness my lovefest WOGF review of Luck in the Shadows from last month. This month it’s no different, though I didn’t intend to continue the trend. I got The Whitefire Crossing as a free Barnes & Noble download, thinking I’d probably never read it because I already have at least 90 books in my nook library. And yet – I started in on Courtney Schafer’s novel while on the treadmill at the gym, and I didn’t quit (I mean, I quit the treadmill after my usual 3 miles, puh-leeze, but I kept reading the book later at home).

Unlike Luck in the Shadows, there’s no gay love story here, but this is still a tale about the origins of a partnership and a friendship (this is the first book in a trilogy) that two men are both in desperate need of, whether they realize it or not. In the fantasy kingdom of Ninavel, Dev is an outrider, a sort of mountain guide-slash-smuggler between the two magical realms of Alathia and Ninavel, divided by the Whitefire mountain range. He takes a business deal to lead Kiran over the treacherous mountain passes to Alathia with a cargo convoy, assuming that Kiran is just a rich, inexperienced boy, when in actuality the boy is a blood mage with some serious issues, on the run from his scary mage-daddy Ruslan. Though Dev and Kiran come from very different backgrounds, both characters have backstories fraught with childhood abuse and tragedy, both have been influenced by magic, and both have hidden agendas, making them more alike than either of them know.

It was a big surprise to me that I wanted to finish this novel, because right away I was disconcerted by the way the author sets up the two main characters’ points of view.

Lemme break it down for ya: Dev and Kiran’s personalities are distinct, likable, and well-developed, but Schafer writes Dev’s chapters in the first person, and Kiran’s chapters are told from a third-person point of view. I can’t think of any other book where I’ve encountered this, but that doesn’t mean that this trick makes the book unique or better. No, it makes things really confusing, jarring, and disrupts the flow of what otherwise would be a smooth, captivating narrative. I kept thinking my nook was malfunctioning and I’d suddenly switched to a different ebook. I don’t know why an editor would have gone along with this dual-POV gimmick, but TAKE NOTE that I kept reading despite! That speaks a lot to how much I enjoyed the story.

The absolute best part of the book is the setting. One quick Google and you’ll find out that Courtney Schafer is a serious mountain girl with all kinds of badass rock climbing experience. I was impressed that she was able to bring in elements of wilderness skills and survival, as well as a reverence for mountains, and enhance the novel without sacrificing plot, world building, character development, or dialogue.

Most of the plot involves traveling over the mountains and avoiding spies, avalanches, and the evil mage-daddy’s Sauron-style I-will-find-you sorcerer-vision. Too many hyphens there? Too-bad.

There’s a suspenseful ending that of course involves a perceived betrayal, sex, a rescue, and lots of bloody knifey nasty magick (a few times I thought I was watching an episode of Supernatural….Castiel!!! oh wait…).

As a first novel, I could only lament that it didn’t undergo one final edit by someone more ruthless. There’s some incongruous, modern-sounding vocabulary that knocks the tone sideways (a character says “yeah, right” which seemed out of place to me; a thug is nicknamed ‘muscle guy’ – what, is he a bouncer at an LA nightclub? And also the word “pants.” That just bugs. In a sword and sorcery novel, really – pants? Why not breeches or trousers or even leggings?). Also, Dev uses the word fuck a LOT. Now, don’t get me wrong, I use the word fuck ALL the time, so I ain’t offended here. It’s more that the overuse struck me as a total copout by the author. And in most of the instances where the F-bomb is invoked, it was overkill. An S-bomb or even “Bollocks!” would have sufficed.

In closing, let’s talk about all these fantasy novels that go over the top in taking their gods’ and goddesses’ names in vain. Every other freakout, a character’s shouting “By Khalmet’s bloodsoaked hand!” Nightrunner series (it pains me to mock the series, but alas): “Bilairy’s Balls!!” I’m reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana right now, too, and it’s the same thing: “Oh, Triad, I am slain!!”

Hey, fantasy authors who DON’T fall into this sort of overkill, I applaud you – Alan Rickman just called to say, “By Grabthar’s Hammer, by the sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!!!”

 

book reviews

Part of the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge

Luck in the Shadows was published waaaay back in ye olde 1996, the first volume in the Nightrunner series.  The sixth and most recent book, Casket of Souls, came out in 2012.  I’ve spent the last two weeks gulping down these books in a delirious frenzy.  I’m just starting #5, and also starting to dread having to wait for book #7.

It’s not easy for me to find fantasy series that have the emotional depth of a Robin Hobb trilogy or the intrigue and suspense of the Game of Thrones epic.  Granted, Luck in the Shadows is not as sophisticated as either, but Flewelling progresses wonderfully through her next Nightrunner novels, in both her world-building and in the passionate portrayals of her characters.  There are some minor flaws that I think an editor should have smoothed over, such as clunky shifts in point of view, but for the most part, I didn’t care.

This isn’t merely an adventure novel about nobleman-spy-thief-faie Seregil of Rhiminee and his protege Alec of Kerry.  It’s not just a sword and sorcery tale.  Yes, we’ve got women warriors, wizards, court politics, and archery!  We’ve got secret passageways and dungeons, spells and disguises, minstrels and magic!  But Flewelling didn’t just load up a grab bag of fantasy tropes, shake it up and pop it.  Oh no.  There is story arc and character depth here that unfolds delicately and slowly in this first novel, and truly blooms in the next volumes.

Looking back over the book, it’s amazing how much happens.  Seregil and Alec meet as dungeon prisoners condemned to death.  After they escape, the wily and roguish Seregil takes young Alec under his wing and teaches him the ways of a nightrunner – which pretty much involves spying, housebreaking, singing in pubs and swordfighting, mostly for the greater purpose of aiding the wizards and royals of Skala.  But war is brewing between old enemies Skala and Plenimar, and of course the two men will be caught up in it, and when Seregil becomes the unwitting victim of an evil sorcerer’s dark magic, it’s up to the innocent but brave Alec to save him.

Maybe this all sounds mildly fun, but kind of trite and run-of-the-mill.  It could have been a letdown, were it not for the gleeful, derring-do action balanced with dark necromantic horrors – sort of like Robin Hood meets Lord of the Rings.

The real joy of the book – and the reason I love this series so much – is the relationship between Seregil and Alec.  Seregil is an absolute gem (yes, it’s him on the bookcover rocking that awesome mullet), and Flewelling’s skill in revealing his identity and his layers of complexity with wit, emotion, realistic dialogue and internal conflict is pure bittersweet delight, especially as she portrays the growing bond between him and Alec.  As much as Seregil loves the excitement of living as a master of many disguises – and the decadence of a good bath – his past and his future are fraught with perilous journeys and dangerous secrets.  Good thing Alec has the courage, curiosity and loyalty – as well as his own surprise backstory – to stick around.  I don’t think I’ve ever adored a fictional pair as much as these two.  Luck in the Shadows had me hooked, Stalking Darkness (numbah 2) broke my heart, and by book 3 (Traitor’s Moon), I was a goner.

book reviews