Books read, April 2015
I bounced off a lot of books this past month. Nearly as many as I read. But every time I think to myself, “maybe you’re being too harsh; maybe you should have given them more of a chance before you stopped,” I think of The Summer Prince and Three Parts Dead, and how I didn’t have to give those books a chance. They hooked me from the start, and didn’t let go. I need an exceedingly good reason to spend my time on books that don’t do that, when I know there are books out there that are so much better.
Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, Richard Parks. A collection of Parks’ “Lord Yamada” stories, about a demon hunter in Heian-era Japan. Because these are often structured as mysteries (the real challenge is for Yamada to figure out what’s going on with the supernatural problem, rather than finding a way to make it stop), they can be a bit repetitive; I recommend reading this in leisurely doses, rather than trying to mainline the whole thing in go. I especially liked the stories that diverged more from the formula — there’s one where Yamada doesn’t even really solve the problem, except insofar as he lectures the person who should be solving it until they come up with a clever solution. The weakest for me was probably the last tale; it read to me as setup for the novel I also have on my shelf, rather than a substantive conflict-and-resolution in its own right. But I picked these up because I wanted to read about yokai and ghosts in Heian Japan, and was pleased with what I got.
Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I retain enough trivia about seventeenth-century European history that the instant a certain nickname got used, I went “oh JESUS is that what’s going on,” long before the actual explanation arrived. Which was not a bug: I liked tumbling to it early, rather than feeling as if that spoiled the story. I’m not sure I’m going to continue with the series, though; I didn’t really warm to any of the characters, and am still in a mood where having the two most prominent female characters be a) not very prominent and b) a former hooker and a little girl described, with no irony I can discern, as having been born evil, did not sit very well with me. On the other hand, if you want more Dumas and have run out of Dumas to read, this may well scratch that itch for you.
Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman. Short story collection, read for review purposes. I’ll link to that when it goes live, and for now only say that I think it’s about on par with his previous collections: not every story worked for me, but enough did that I enjoyed reading it overall.
The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers. Another Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. Ye gods the bell-ringing detail in this . . . but it avoids being as tediously dreary as Five Red Herrings, so that’s good. I figured out how the guy had died a bit before the characters did, and felt like they were a little slow in not thinking of it sooner — and nrgggggh, how awful — so while this one was enjoyable, it’s certainly not at the top of my Sayers list.
Lifelode, Jo Walton. Lovely domestic fantasy set in a world where moving between east and west changes not just how magical the world is, but how rapidly time passes. The main character can see through time, kind of, which is (I presume) why the book is told entirely in present tense, with little to no signaling when it’s about to slip from one point in the timeline to another; once you get the hang of that, though, the effect is lovely. And I adore the way religion operates here — Hanethe’s experience with Agdisdis and so forth.
In the House of the Seven Librarians, Ellen Klages. Not sure if this is a novelette or a novella or what, but I read it in a stand-alone printing, so it goes on the list. Seven exceedingly peculiar librarians keep running a library after it’s shut down, and then find themselves raising a little girl when someone drops her through the return slot along with a book of fairy tales several decades overdue and a note apologizing for the lateness and offering up a firstborn child in repayment.
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson. This, as I mentioned above, is the book that made me decide that I’m right to drop things that don’t hook me fast enough. It’s probably the best YA book I’ve read recently — but it’s hard to describe why, because part of what makes it good is its complexity. The setting is four hundred years post-apocalypse, and the characters live in the stratified Brazilian city of Palmeres Tres; you could call it a dystopia, but that implies the society is straight-up bad, which undersells the reality. Johnson got her Golden Bough on with the worldbuilding: the city is ruled by a queen, who is chosen by a summer king elected by the people. But the summer king reigns at her side for only one year, at the end of which the queen sacrifices him in a public ceremony. In the story, the current summer king is a guy named Enki who hails from the lowest stratum of society, and the narrator, June, becomes obsessed with him, in ways that are only partly romantic. She’s an artist who likes to play with the idea of transgression; through her interactions with Enki, her work becomes more genuinely revolutionary. So the story is about art and politics, and life and death, and the tensions between age and youth and technological progress or the lack thereof. The whole way through, there is the inescapable awareness that Enki will be dead before long, and what his death will or will not mean. It’s full of beautiful detail, and I devoured it in record time.
ITLoD, Marie Brennan. Revisions. My own books don’t count.
Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone. This is one of those books that defies description. The tech level of the setting doesn’t pigeonhole neatly into any real historical period, and when it comes to describing the plot, I wind up kind of flailing my hands and saying something about necromantic lawyers trying to sort out claims on the essence of a recently deceased god. Except that if I describe it that way, it sounds like the type of thing I would put down very fast, and the opposite was true. Partly this is because the book is not infrequently funny: there are a lot of aspects that would make me call the book grimdark, if it weren’t for the fact that the narration keeps being hilarious. Plus the main characters are mostly good people, underneath their various character flaws — and the ones driving the largest percentage of the plot are women, too, so bonus points for that. Add in a wild assortment of interesting worldbuilding touches (yeah, it’s a theme with me), and I am looking forward to picking up the next one. In fact, if the series continues this good, I think I know what one of my Hugo novel nominations will be next year . . . .
Avatar: The Rift, vol. 3, Gene Luen Yang. Third and final volume of the trio I started in March. The conflict here is one that shows up again in The Legend of Korra, and I’m glad I read this, because I haven’t yet finished watching the show, and I’ll be curious to see how the two interlock.
Of Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal. Last of her Glamourist Histories. I devoured it in a single afternoon and evening, which will be more significant when I explain to you that this one is a brick — roughly twice the length of most of the other installments. Vincent and Jane go to Antigua to sort out issues with his father’s estate, and things get REALLY COMPLICATED when they arrive. But the story does not quite go in the expected directions, and is frequently more interesting for doing so. Also, the payoff of the repeated “I am not a china cup” line is possibly the best moment in the entire series. 😀
And on that note, I remind you that Mary and I will be touring together starting this week. I hope to see some of you there!