Books read, uh, most of 2017?
Okay, so the last time I posted about what I’d been reading was in February, at which time I noted that I’d fallen out of the habit of book-blogging and wanted to get back into it. Welp, clearly I fell right back out again.
My log for 2017 is not complete, I know — I failed to log things in my file as well as write about them here. And it will be even less complete as I exclude various things like my own work (re-read for editing purposes), things I’ve read for review or critique, things I’ve blogged about already, and the pile of folkloric epics I’ve been reading for research (the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Mahabharata, the Popol Vuh, the Kalevala, the Táin Bó Cuailnge, and a very abbreviated rendition of Journey to the West). But it’s still a decent pile, so let’s get started.
Lace and Blade, ed. Deborah J. Ross. Read as a kind of research, because I was going to be submitting a story to the fourth installment in this anthology series. This is “romantic fantasy” in the Zorro/Scarlet Pimpernel/swashbuckling-and-intrigue sense of romance; there is also love, but not always. I still remain a less-than-ideal audience for anthologies, because my preference is to sink into a longer story, but I enjoyed several of the pieces in here.
Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch. Didn’t hang together as well as its predecessor, alas. The con Locke and Jean were running wound up basically being an afterthought, while the parts of the story that took place at sea didn’t feel integrated with the rest. It was still fun, but fun kind of in segments, rather than forming a powerful whole.
Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories, Ty Nolan. Collection by a Native American storyteller. It interleaves the legends themselves with anecdotes about situations in which he’s told those stories, reflections on the people and communities he tells them to, and even some recipes, which I think is a really interesting approach.
The Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch. Better-constructed than the second book in the series, and we finally — at long last — get to meet Sabetha. For a story in which we mostly see her through Locke’s pov, she was fairly successful in escaping the trap she’d been caught in before, which was being defined as the Object of Desire for Locke. She very clearly has her own desires and opinions about things, even when Locke himself is too caught up in his feelings to notice, and her own goals that she’s pursuing by her own means. (I can’t help but contrast her with Denna from The Name of the Wind.)
Legend, Marie Lu. First in a dystopian YA series, with a privileged young woman hunting down a young male rebel. Romance ensues, naturally, because it’s a dystopian YA series. 🙂 Fun reading, but didn’t hook me enough to continue on in the series; I tend to bounce off dystopias.
The Guns Above, Robyn Bennis. What I don’t bounce off of is stories about deathtrap experimental airships commanded in times of war by young woman promoted for political reasons in the hopes that they will fail. Bennis does a fantastic job with the airships, too, making them feel real . . . and really, really rickety. This is the first in a series, and I definitely want to read more.
Raven Strategem, Yoon Ha Lee. Sequel to Ninefox Gambit. The pov structure and plot setup here mean we lose the Cheris/Jedao banter we had in the first book, which is a pity; like many readers, I found that a major selling point. On the other hand, sticking with the previous approach would have meant that Lee couldn’t do what he does here, in terms of broadening our view of the hexarchate and showing the fallout from the previous book. I will trade bodysharing banter for that narrative depth, though I might feel a pang while I do it. 🙂
The Wrath & The Dawn, Renee Adieh. Arabian-flavored fantasy influenced by Scheherazade. I liked the setup of this one, but ultimately it didn’t compel me emotionally — and since a lot of the story’s heft and persuasiveness depends on you buying the personal reasons why the characters are doing things, it left me a little too detached. Things weren’t implausible so much as not as moving as I wanted them to be.
Darker Still, Leanna Renee Hieber. English-flavored YA influenced by The Portrait of Dorian Grey. Also not as emotionally compelling as I might have liked, but it was a quick, fun read.
Pompeii, Robert Harris. Okay, I read this and the previous two while in Okinawa, and would not have predicted that the vacation novel that would ultimately grab my heart was the one with a Roman aqueduct repairman as the main pov character. But man, Harris makes it work: he builds remarkable tension out of the fact that we the readers know the broken aqueduct the protagonist is investigating must have been damaged by the early warning signs from Vesuvius, but of course he has no clue. The plot he gets embroiled in wound up being a little melodramatic, but I’ll forgive that for the book’s really visceral descriptions of the eruption and how people responded to it.
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle. Re-read, picked up when I heard they were making a movie. I don’t remember imprinting on the book as a child, but it’s a pretty good one, and worthy of imprinting on.
The Coroner’s Lunch, Colin Cotterill. Recommended (repeatedly, every time she reads a new installment in the series) by Marissa Lingen. Laotian magical realist historical mystery, and fascinating for all the finely-observed details of Laotian life. When people sneer at the notion of diversity in fiction, I want to throw this kind of thing at them, because this same plot set in a white U.S. community — well, for starters it wouldn’t be this plot, because it couldn’t be; it’s too integrated with its setting. But even the parts of it that could be kept mostly the same would read very differently, and much more boringly, if they didn’t have the setting to make them fresh. This would just be Yet Another Urban Fantasy Mystery.
The Velvet Room, Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Another re-read, picked up when I went looking to see if my library had the Green Sky series in ebook (they didn’t, but they did have this one) — I was thinking of offering that series for Yuletide, but not without a re-read first. I remember The Velvet Room being one of my favorite Snyder books when I was a kid, because what voracious kid reader wouldn’t sympathize with a voracious kid reader protagonist? This time through, what struck me was all the attention to Dust Bowl-era details, and the fact that Synder doesn’t put the villains in the place you might expect. I don’t think it holds the magic for me now that it did before, but neither has the Suck Fairy visited it.
The Lotus Palace, Jeannie Lin. I tried to read Lin’s novel Butterfly Swords some years ago and bounced off it for a whole host of reasons, ranging from the “we just met and all we can think about every five seconds is how much we want to bang” model of attraction to the (in my eyes) utterly unnecessary European love interest in a story set in Tang Dynasty China to the fact that not only the hero but sometimes the heroine in her own narration rendered the name Ai Li as Ailey. Basically, it felt like the Tang Dynasty Chinese-ness of it had been watered down to make the story more palatable to white readers . . . with the result that this particular white reader, who was there for the Tang Dynasty Chinese-ness of it, was turned off completely. So I’m pleased to report that The Lotus Palace does not commit these acts; all the characters are Chinese (well, there’s one minor character who’s from Silla, i.e. Korea), and the leads wanting to have sex is actually a really complicated thing, because the heroine is a former prostitute and has trouble not reverting to that mode even when with the hero. (Bonus credit: though he tries to be considerate, their first encounter is not a miracle of therapy-through-sex; he actually fails to realize how badly he’s gone wrong, and it takes them some time to work through it.) The story also delves into a number of the class issues around aristocrats vs. the red-light district. If it handwaves those away a little too easily at the end, well, it is a romance novel. Though props for the answer not being “to hell with my family; I’ll marry whomever I like!”
The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo. I did not expect the structure of this one. It starts out with an impoverished young woman in late nineteenth-century Malaya being sought out as a “ghost bride” for the deceased son of a wealthy family, goes distinctly fantastical when the ghost of that son starts haunting her (and is decidedly unpleasant) . . . and then veers off for the bulk of the novel into an investigation into corruption in the bureaucracy of the afterlife. The investigation was not constructed quite as well as I might have wished, and it didn’t crank up the emotions on the romantic angle (not with the ghost, but with his still-living cousin and a mysterious supernatural figure) quite enough to satisfy my craving, but it was still interesting.
The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel J. Levitin. Didn’t actually read this whole book, because my ebook loan from the library was about to expire. Ironically, for a book titled The Organized Mind, I found it less well-organized than I had expected, and also not as filled with advice about life and brain hacks for counteracting the chaos of our physical and social environments. But it still had interesting things to say about how our brains function, and some suggested hacks.
Busman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy Sayers. Re-read, because I was in a mood for a story that looks at the effort that goes into making “happily ever after” work.
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett. This one reminded me strongly of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, in that it’s a modern-feeling secondary world fantasy setting after the overthrow and death of the gods. That’s where the resemblance ends; here technology is taking the place of the “miracles” (i.e. spells) that are rapidly losing their power, and the story is heavily focused on the colonial and revenge-colonial politics of Saypur, formerly an enslaved possession of the Continent, now being the Continent’s less-than-benevolent overlords. The story seems to be deeply ambivalent about the gods, in that many of them seem to have been bugfuck crazy . . . but they also held the world together and made many wonders possible. Which is why it sucked so much for the Holy Lands (now just called the Continent) when their patron gods died, because everything those gods had created for them just . . . went away. Apocalyptically. Who knew that they had been the reason nobody seemed to catch infectious diseases? Or that one of the gods had built huge sections of the central city, and when he died those bits vanished, taking hundreds of thousands of people with them? In places the story didn’t quite work for me; there were multiple things that were very obvious to me-the-reader, and it might have strengthened the story if the characters had guessed at them sooner rather than end-loading everything, plus I felt like the numinous element lost a lot of its punch at the climax. But I loved the bit that (hinting around the spoiler) happens after Shara gets past the salt circle and its guardian, and I’m interested enough to read on, even though I’m not sure where Bennett is going with the trilogy overall.
Last First Snow, Max Gladstone. Speaking of the Craft Sequence! This is my least favorite so far, alas. Previous books had done a really impresive job of wedding banal topics like accounting to the truly numinous feel of gods and the Craft, but this one didn’t have that synergy; the Craft was present, but for much of the book I felt like you could strip it out of the story and still have a perfectly good tale of community politics and conflict over redevelopment. It got back to that synergy eventually, but it took long enough that I was less hooked. And it also didn’t help that for the third quarter of the book, neither of the main protagonists was very actively involved in the plot (and in fact Temoc was very determinedly trying to hide from it). But I’m still a fan of the series, and will pick up Four Roads Cross, which is the next in publication order.
Seven Surrenders, Ada Palmer. Second of the Terra Ignota series, but kind of 1.5, because it’s really the second half of Too Like the Lightning. Which shows: there are piles upon piles of answers to things in this book, and I recommend reading it back-to-back with the first volume, because a lot of the stuff there looks less arbitrary once you have the rest of the context. Mind you, much of the context is deeply weird, and I think you have to bear in mind at all times that every bit of information you get is being filtered through character bias; when somebody speechifies authoritatively about a topic, that doesn’t mean they’re objectively correct. It is also still a series bursting at the seams with enough worldbuilding to fill five normal SF series, which is a good chunk of why it engages me so much.