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Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

BORN TO THE BLADE: “Fault Lines”

This week I enter the field of combat with the second episode of BORN TO THE BLADE: “Fault Lines”!

BORN TO THE BLADE horizontal banner

If you haven’t already checked out the pilot episode, “Arrivals,” that’s free to read or listen to. In “Fault Lines,” Michiko deals with the fallout from the Golden Lord, someone new comes to Twaa-Fei, Penelope has some momentous news, and Bellona seeks to drive a wedge between Quloo and Rumika in advance of the Gauntlet.

Last week I discussed collaboration at Book View Cafe, because 2017 really was the year of me jumping into it feet-first, between my work for Legend of the Five Rings and Born to the Blade. I also have a piece up at All Things Urban Fantasy on “post-cynical optimism,” which was our mission statement for this series: telling a story in which people face hard choices and sometimes bad things happen, but things like honor and friendship and trust are more than traps for the guillble. Our lead writer Michael Underwood wrote about fight scenes (of which we have more than a few) at Barnes and Noble. And if you’d like to check out some reviews, Primm Life has covered “Fault Lines,” and Paul Weimer at Skiffy and Fanty has reviewed the whole serial.

You can find “Fault Lines” (as well as “Arrivals”) here!


medium-sized version of the cover for WITHIN THE SANCTUARY OF WINGS

At long last, the series is complete.

This story has been living in my head for . . . about a decade, I think. I know I wrote the first third of A Natural History of Dragons in 2007 or thereabouts, before stalling out on the plot and setting it aside. I came back to it in late 2010, sold it in 2011, the first book came out in 2013, and now, my friends, the end of the story is in your hands. (Or will be, as soon as you run out and buy it.)

I’m going to be launching a new blog series, along the lines of John Scalzi’s THE BIG IDEA or Mary Robinette Kowal’s MY FAVORITE BIT, called SPARK OF LIFE: a place for authors to talk about those moments where the story seems to take on a life of its own, with a character doing something unexpected or the world unfolding a bit of depth you didn’t plan for. For me that mostly tends to happen in the depths of the tale, when I’ve built up enough momentum and detail for such things to spring forth. But in the case of this series, it happened less than a page in, because the spark of life?

That was Isabella.

Countless reviews have talked about how the narrator is one of the strongest features of the story. I’m here to tell you that, like Athena from the head of Zeus, she sprang out more or less fully-formed. The foreword got added a bit later, so it was in those opening paragraphs of Chapter One, where Isabella talks about finding a sparkling in the garden and it falling to dust in her hands, that she came to instant and vivid life. Part of the reason that initial crack stalled out in 2007 — or rather, the reason it got so far before stalling — was because I was having so much fun just following along in her wake, exploring her world and listening to her talk. The narrative voice has consistently been one of the greatest joys of writing this series. I have an upcoming article where I talk about how sad it is for me to be done with the story, because it feels like a good friend has moved away and I won’t get to see her regularly anymore. That’s how much she’s lived in my head, these past years.

Stay tuned on future Tuesdays for a glimpse at how other authors’ stories came to life. And stay tuned in upcoming days for some more behind-the-scenes stuff about my own characters!


In the meanwhile, the book is out, and so are the reviews. Here’s a spoiler-free one from BiblioSanctum, and two reviews on one page at Fantasy Literature; here is a SPOILER-TASTIC one at (Do NOT click unless you’ve read the book or are fine with having the big discovery of the entire series laid out in full. I’m serious.) (And while I’m at it, the same goes for that Gizmodo article that shows all the interior art for the book, because spoilers can come in visual form, too. Love ya, Gizmodo, but oof. warned; you didn’t.)

Back in the land of no spoilers, you can read about my absolute favorite bit of Within the Sanctuary of Wings on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. It’s . . . a wee bit topical, these days. And I’m on the Functional Nerds podcast, talking about all kinds of things that aren’t this book, because they like to give authors a chance to branch out and natter on about roleplaying games and things like that.

And finally, I’m currently running a giveaway on Twitter. Name your favorite female scientist in any field (there, or in comments here), and get a chance to win a signed book of your choice from my stash of author copies. It’s already a stiff competition; we’ve had dozens of women named. (If you were wondering why my Twitter stream has turned into a sea of retweeted names, that’s why.) You have until tomorrow!

the unexpected queerness of Google Translate

Every so often a review for one of my books pops up in a foreign language. Of course, being a nosy author, I want to know what it says — so if it isn’t in a language I read fluently*, I hop over to Google Translate and pop in the address to get a look at it.

Of course machine translation isn’t great. </Scandianvian> Despite our best efforts to date, “vaguely comprehensible” is often the best we can do, because it turns out that language comprehension depends heavily on a million contextual cues that are really difficult to program for. But for my purposes that’s fine; mostly all I want to know is whether they liked the book or not. What amuses me, though, is the unexpected gender-queerness that sometimes greets me as I read.

“Isabella begins his life as a young wife”

Not every language handles personal pronouns the way English does. A lot of them (Spanish, for example) don’t always differentiate gender in the third person singular; the possessive in particular is often gender-neutral. So Google Translate, missing the contextual cues, proudly declares that Isabella is a man, railing against the restrictions he suffers as a woman. Or sometimes she’s a neuter “it” instead. Meanwhile, in other languages, all kinds of things that would be “it” in English frolick along as boys and girls, because their pronouns are gendered in the language of the review.

So for all the (many, many) flaws of machine translation . . . sometimes it amuses me. *^_^*


*Which is pretty much just English. Neither my Spanish nor my Japanese is good enough for me to really feel like wading through the hard way, especially when I’m pretty sure even machine translation does a better job of it than I will.

THE WINNER’S CRIME, by Marie Rutkoski

Review copy provided by the publisher.

I read the first book in this series last year, and quite enjoyed it. There’s a dearth of secondary-world YA fantasy out there right now, and I always like a good Ruritanian setting, where there’s interesting worldbuilding but no overt magic. And I very much appreciate a romance where, although it’s a strong element of the plot, it isn’t the driving force; there are things in the world the protagonists care about as much as — possibly more than — each other.

In this case, what they care about is politics. Kestrel is the daughter of a prestigious Valorian general, who grew up in the occupied country of Herran. Arin is a young Herrani man, raised in slavery, and up to his eyeballs in a conspiracy to rebel against Valorian rule. I don’t want to spoil The Winner’s Curse, but I will say the political situation there changes pretty radically at end of the book, in ways that leave both characters in even more precarious positions than they were before — which is saying quite a bit.

This book involves them teetering in those precarious positions. Kestrel is definitely the worse off for most of the book; she’s stuck in a Valorian snake pit, politically speaking, with very few resources she can rely on. As somebody who likes a tasty bit of intrigue, I quite enjoyed that. I think I would have liked to see Arin grappling more with his own responsibilities, but I recognize that under the circumstances, that would have meant running him and Kestrel in separate plot strands, without the two of them interacting much at all. The necessity of keeping the leads something like together means that Arin has less traction initially; his big difficulties don’t come until later, when his plot goes off separately from Kestrel. As such, his part of the story doesn’t carry quite the same weight as hers does.

Unsurprisingly, this feels very much like a middle volume. Matters changed drastically at the end of the last book; at the end of this one, it’s more that you can see the buckets of fecal matter lined up in front of the fan, ready to be flung in the third and last volume. But it doesn’t feel predictable: I know something will blow up, and I can see certain aspects of how, but I don’t know what the ultimate fallout will be.

This is because Rutkoski has done a good job so far of creating problems with no easy solutions. Even if you could kick Valoria out of Herran and be sure they would never retaliate or come back . . . Herran’s in a mess, and will take generations to fully rebuild. And that only fixes Herran, not the rest of the continent that Valoria is trying to conquer. Overthrow the empire? Maybe — but how are you going to manage that? And what kind of terrible hardships will that create for the ordinary Valorian citizens, who are not to blame for the imperialistic tendencies of their leaders?

Nowhere is this ambiguity more clear than in Kestrel and Arin’s relationship. Fundamentally, they have both done things the other would — and should — disapprove of. They’ve had to make political choices in situations where there’s no good choice, just “what will cause the fewest people to die?” When they have failures to communicate, I tolerate it much better than usual, because storming off without listening to somebody’s explanation is more understandable when the thing they’re trying to explain is why they caused a massive famine. I’m still left with the questions I had at the end of the first book, which are: does Rutkoski intend the two of them to live happily ever after? And if so, how the hell are they going to manage that?

It does feel a bit weaker to me than the first book, I think because there’s a stretch of it where Arin has very little to do. Had his interactions with Kestrel been tightened up, and the extra space used to develop another sub-plot for him, the book as a whole would have hit more strongly than it did. As it stands, though, it’s still enjoyable, and much more ethically complex than YA usually gets credit for. I’m very much looking forward to the third volume.

The Winner’s Crime is on sale as of <checks watch> yesterday. (I should have posted this sooner, but got hammered down by a sudden cold.) Many thanks to the publisher for providing the review copy.

Stories, stories, everywhere

A number of these things have been piling up:

  • “Daughter of Necessity” is live at today! Some of you heard me read this at FOGcon this past spring; well, now it’s out in the world. With fabulous art by Ashley MacKenzie — seriously, it is gorgeous and amazingly appropriate to the story and not a spoiler. Which is a remarkable balance to strike.
  • I just got my contributor copies for Zombies: More Recent Dead, which includes a reprint of “What Still Abides.” (Shhhh, don’t tell Paula Guran that I used to refer to that as my Anglo-Saxon vampire story. It’s as much a zombie story as it is a vampire story, which is to say it isn’t really either, but you can read it both ways depending on the angle you tilt your head at.)
  • The anthology made from the first four issues of Mythic Delirium‘s online reboot won’t be out until November, but it’s gotten a starred review from Publishers Weekly, with a specific shout-out to my story “The Wives of Paris.”

(Now I feel like there ought to be five things. But at the rate I do (or don’t do) short fiction-related stuff these days, that would mean delaying even longer, which is silly.)

post roundup

Things I’ve been saying in different places ’round the interwebz . . . .

“Seeing the Invisible” — this month’s post at SFNovelists is a review of Invisible, the ebook collection Jim Hines put together of guest posts and additional essays on the topic of representation. Proceeds from sales go to charity.

“The Gospel of Combat” — an excerpt from Writing Fight Scenes, which will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog. You can comment there for a chance to get a free copy of the ebook, though!

Interview at My Bookish Ways — in which I talk about a variety of things.

“The Dreaded Label ‘Mary Sue'” — guest post at Far Beyond Reality, talking about female characters who don’t apologize for their awesomeness.

Five Things Make a Post That Is Not About Supernatural

1) The funny thing about having a release date early in the month is that it sneaks up on you. After all, we’re still in February. That means The Tropic of Serpents won’t be out for a while yet, right? Wrong — it’s out next Tuesday, i.e. March 4th. (For those of you in the U.S. and Canada, at least. UK folks, your street date is the 20th of June. After that, Tor and Titan should be publishing more or less simultaneously, so you won’t have the added wait.)

Kirkus, by the way, not only gave Tropic a starred review; they listed it as one of their Best Bets for March. They even used the cover art as the top image for the post, which is yet another sign that Todd Lockwood and Irene Gallo are awesome.

2) If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll have a chance to hear me read from The Tropic of Serpents at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 9th, at Borderlands Books. It’s my intent to also publicly announce the title for the third book there, as an added treat for my hometown peeps. 😉

3) Also for Bay Area types, I’m going to be at FOGcon weekend after next. I unfortunately had to back out of one of my panels because of a karate belt test on Friday night, but I’ll still be doing several things that weekend:

  • Friday, 3-4:15 p.m. Narnia, Hogwarts, and Oz, Oh My!
    What are our favorite secret worlds? What do we love about them? Why is a secret world so useful for storytelling? What can we learn from the ways used to access these places? What about worlds which exclude some people from accessing them, such as adults or non-magical people–are these worlds problematic or necessary? Or somewhere between the two?
    M: Tim Susman. Marie Brennan, Valerie Estelle Frankel, Naamen Gobert Tilahun
  • Saturday, 10:30-11:45 Secret History and Alternate History; their similarities, differences, and how to write them
    Tim Powers, in books like Declare and The Drawing of the Dark, has brought us into the realm of secret history — the events that really took place around known historical facts. Harry Turtledove, Philip K. Dick, and many others have brought us into the realm of alternate history — the what-if-things-had-been-different. (Indeed, one could argue that Mary Gentle’s Ash is secret alternate history!) What about these works fascinates us, and how do we put them together?
    M: Bradford Lyau. Marie Brennan, Tim Powers, Tim Susman
  • Saturday, 4:30-5:45 Reading
    Marie Brennan, Alyc Helms, Michael R. Underwood

4) In non-Tropic-related news, I participated in the Book of Apex blog tour over at Books Without Any Pictures. There’s a review of my story “Waiting for Beauty,” a brief interview, and a guest post wherein I talk about how writing historical fiction helped me become better at worldbuilding in general.

5) And Now For Something Completely Different: I really love both of these art sets, one of Disney princess in historically accurate costumes (the last image is the best!), and one of celebrities cosplaying as Disney characters.

The news, it comes fast and thick

The Kirkus review is online now. I expect some portion of this is going to end up on a book cover eventually:

This, the second of Isabella’s retrospective memoirs, is as uncompromisingly honest and forthright as the first, narrated in Brennan’s usual crisp, vivid style, with a heroine at once admirable, formidable and captivating. Reader, lose no time in making Isabella’s acquaintance.

(Though my actual favorite part of it is the bit where they say “And during her adventures in the Green Hell—the book’s finest section—Isabella will find sociology as important as natural history…” Because yes: the anthropological side of things is indeed just as important as the biological side. Dragons cannot be separated from the way human beings view and interact with them.)

Two shiny bits of news regarding A Natural History of Dragons, to go along with the run-up to Serpents: it’s made both Booklist‘s Notable Books Reading List, and the American Library Association’s 2014 Reading List (via their Reference and User Services Association arm). I’m in company with V.E. Schwab’s Vicious in both those places, which makes me think I really ought to check that one out.

Also, this slipped out during the holiday season, and I only just noticed it now: the audiobook of Deeds of Men is on sale. (I’ve gone from no audiobooks to three of ’em in the space of a few months. Heh.)

I think that’s it for now . . . .

Countdown to Dragons

It’s four weeks and counting until the street date for The Tropic of Serpents. The talk is starting . . . .

1) Excerpt from the book on

2) Liz Bourke’s review on (which I believe wins the prize for being first out of the gate)

3) Publishers Weekly liked it

4) So did Kirkus, but I don’t think that one will go live for a few days. (Holy crap, that’s three books in a row of mine that they’ve liked. I think it may be a miracle.)

5) Brief interview with the UK site Female First, on A Natural History of Dragons

6) I’ve sent pronunciations to the narrator for the audiobook of TToS. I’m delighted to say that Kate Reading is continuing with the series, and this one will be out a lot closer to the print date than the last one was.

7) Speaking of the UK, it occurs to me that ANHoD will be out there very soon! I actually don’t know the precise street date, but I think it’s in the next two weeks. (Again, #2 should follow in quicker succession, I think.)

I think that’s all for now. But as we get closer to the street date, things will be picking up rather rapidly, I imagine!