starlady: (bibliophile)
What I'm Reading 
I'm separately slogging through Queens' Play, the second Lymond book, and have just started the third Jaran book by Kate Elliott, An Earthly Crown. I am enjoying the Jaran books so far but they are quite…long…and I am less engrossed in them than in any other Kate Elliott book I have ever read. Otoh, I did, after finishing the first one, finally obtain a Kate Elliott backlist bingo. I am also engrossed in Lymond, but I don't know what is going to take the last 125 pages of this book and the plot seems to have temporarily becalmed, which is saying something for a book in which Lymond mostly drinks and fucks his way through the French court in disguise (the latter of which is, of course, offscreen). I have at least managed to internalize that whenever a character is doing something and I don't understand why, it's because they want to fuck Lymond. I hope, but doubt, that the upcoming TV series will make some of this rather unsubtle subtext visible onscreen.

What I've Just Read
Well, Jaran 1 and 2 and Lymond 1. Jaran 1 and 2: good, long, I have no idea how Gwyn Jones gets from Point A in book 2 to where he winds up at the beginning of the Highroad trilogy, which at least does not have the problem of not much happening for long stretches of time. Lymond 1: every man in Scotland is an idiot except Lymond, and Will Scott at the critical moment. I felt like I was being beaten over the head by Scottish history for most of it, but in an enjoyable way. I have been texting [personal profile] oliviacirce about the books, because she told me to, and at some point I will probably transcribe our conversations with her permission, because they are at least hilarious.

What I'll Read Next

You guessed it…Jaran 4. I would also say Lymond 3, but apparently it's best not to break between books 3-6 and my copy of 4 is the wrong edition, so I may hold off until I can solve that problem. Also I have a pile of comics that I need to read before ECCC.
starlady: Toby from the West Wing with a sign that says, "Obama is the President."  (go vote bitches)
What I'm Reading
A.S. King, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future - A Sirens book, and while I'm enjoying it so far, it's very much that sort of contemporary YA voice which I can take or leave, and in this book in particular the narrative voice is thin enough that it's easy to lose a sense of the protagonist as a corporeal being. I was comparing the book to Court of Fives in my mind and actually forgot that Court of Fives is in first-person, not third, because of how much better Elliott is at conveying sensory details through the narration.

C.S. Pacat, Captive Prince - So I started reading the first book finally and on the very first page I had to stop for like 15 minutes because things on the very first page of the first book are matched beautifully on the very last page of the last book, I can't, that sort of shit is just irresistible to me. Anyway, it's amazing.

What I've Read
Seanan McGuire, A Red-Rose Chain - All caught up on Toby! Toby's adventures are only getting more serious! I continue to love these books and I can't really deal with the idea that it's going to be 15 years or so until we get the last of them.

Nova Ren Suma, The Walls Around Us - Another Sirens book, contemporary YA, first person, with a stronger voice than Glory O'Brien, and it very much earns the "Orange is the New Black Swan" description, but even in a very taut story there's a lot of there there. I liked it a lot.

Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows - Sirens again, and I liked this one quite a lot. It's Ocean's Eleven, but only six people, and it's a YA, so they're all extremely damaged teenagers, and it's set in and around a fantastical alt-Amsterdam that is much more interesting than actual Amsterdam. I gather that this book takes place in the same world as Bardugo's Grisha trilogy, which I have been universally assured is not worth reading, but this book was great and I can't wait for the follow-up, of which there is only one, due later this year.

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season - Another stunning Jemisin book, another insta-Hugo nomination. I thought the book was amazing, both in terms of craft and in terms of concepts, and I really liked it, but I did think that Foz Meadows' very spoilery post on the book had some good points, and in general, I continue to think that all my quibbles with Jemisin's character arcs would be solved if she just gave the queer characters romance endings. At this point, though, it seems like that really isn't her project, which is unfortunate.

Kate Elliott, The Labyrinth Gate - Elliott's first book, published nearly 30 years ago, and you know? It totally holds up. The first chapter has some slightly awkward dialogue, but after that it's a fun, interesting romp through an interesting alt-Regency that is almost outright matriarchal, through the eyes of a pair of our-world protagonists who bring their own talents to the political struggles of the world they find themselves in. Badass old ladies! People of color! Thinky thoughts about political and social development! Awesome matriarchal tarot! You should read this book.

Caitlin R. Kiernan, The Dry Salvages - (Note, after Eliot, rhymes with 'assuages') I found an ARC of this novella in my stack when I unpacked my boxes of books, and frankly…I was totally underwhelmed. The narrator, Audrey, is an old woman narrating her part in an ill-fated exoplanetary expedition in post-climate change Paris, but the story makes Prometheus look like a genius work of fiction by comparison. There's not enough payoff in the vague 'I want to be spooky' hints, and all of Audrey's colleagues are assholes. Hell, Eliot is a better version of the book than the book is. I'm selling it at HPB.

What I'll Read Next
I don't know, but I do know that the lack of movement in my stacks of physical books is driving me batty. MUST READ.
starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
What I'm Reading
River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh - This is the sequel to Sea of Poppies, which I read and loved years back. The third book, Flood of Fire, came out this month and I got to hear Ghosh speak on the book, which was really cool! (Also the book is purple and he signed my copy!) Since I still hadn't read the second one, I got started on that. It's great, although with fewer female characters than the first book--necessarily, since large chunks of the action take place in and around the foreign enclave outside Canton, where women were barred--and with somewhat less of the variety of Englishes of the first as well. I told Ghosh that these novels are what history should be in my view, and I stand by that.

What I've Read
Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock (2008) - I don't think I can actually improve on [personal profile] skygiants' post on the book, but I quite enjoyed the way Melina Marchetta calmly flipped everything upside down by the end. It's very dark, I'm not sure the population numbers quite add up relative to the economic setup she's describing, but the book was pretty great.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland (2015) - I liked this better than The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland, and it didn't have the structural problems of that book, and Thomas the changeling is actually a pretty charming protagonist. But really all it did was make me want to read The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, which is coming out next year, even more.

Zen Cho, Sorceror to the Crown (2015) - AUGH, it was great, and I did not see the ending coming even though in retrospect I felt like I should have! Prunella and Zacharias were great, but really the lamiae stole the show in my book, and I cannot wait for the next one.

Rainbow Rowell, Carry On (2015) - I loved Fangirl, and I devoured this book in exactly one day. It's making a lot of intelligent comments on the Harry Potter books, of course, but it's more than enjoyable in its own right. Simon is a tragedy and a hot mess, just like Baz says, and the perspectives of Baz and Penny on him were great, but also Baz and Penny were just great, too. The book is also something of a commentary on Harry Potter fic, of course, and in that respect I thought Agatha was particularly interesting, as well as the Mage. (Man, fuck that dude.) All in all, I loved it, and I would read many more Simon Snow books.

Kate Elliott, Court of Fives (2015) - Another great book from Kate Elliott, one that (because YA) moves along pretty darn swiftly too. I loved it, and unusually for an Elliott book I was 200% behind the love interest from the beginning. I cannot wait for the next one.

starlady: roy in the sunset at graveside (no rest for the wicked)
What I've Read
Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings - This book, my friends. This fucking book. It wasn't a DNF for me, but I did have to nope out for five days after one of two named female characters in the book to that point was introduced and then killed in a very sexist way after two pages just before the 50% mark. People have said that this book is innovative in terms of the epic fantasy genre. Well, kind of. If what you are looking for in epic fantasy is a return to the pre-modern writing styles of epic poetry, heroic sagas, and historical chronicles--spiced with just enough modern things like characterization to keep it interesting--then this is for you. But if, like me, you have struggled through epic writing in five languages as well as countless others in translation, you may be damn tired of all this already. If, like me, you have learned classical Chinese, you may be struck how this book reads exactly like Sima Qian's work, among many others. Without qualifiers, you may also be offended by the sexism of the book's structure as well as its content, in which the idea that women can play a crucial role in societal production beyond the invisible, denigrated women's work (to say nothing of women's relationships with each other, of any kind at all) of which Liu, or at least his narrative, has precisely zero consciousness from beginning to end. "Liu is playing a long game with the women!" Yeah, and the idea that you can take women out of this or any kind of story about a society in general and "play a long game" with them is fucking offensive.

Liu described this book as "silkpunk" a long while back, and because of that I was expecting things that are vastly different than what I got, such as…female characters who do things. (I exaggerate, but not by much.) It is punk, as I was discussing with [personal profile] seekingferret a while back, in that it's one of the most heterogeneous writing styles I've ever encountered. Someone else compared the book to Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy in terms of both authors' willingness to roll with verbal anachronisms, but having read both and knowing just as much about the 17th and early 18thC as anyone but a professional historian specializing in the period can--and ditto for Chinese history--I am here to tell you that Stephenson renders a much more credible facsimile of the speech of his chosen time period. Liu just doesn't care. People fight "mano a mano," he quotes Milton's "On His Blindness" (!) and various famous Chinese poems verbatim, there are "kids" running around--Ken Liu don't give a shit. This punk spirit of throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the mix extends to the landscape of the setting and the bits of Chinese history on which he is drawing; at times it's a clear mixture of the Spring and Autumn periods, the Qin dynasty, the Han dynasty, the Three Kingdoms period, and the Song dynasty, as well as being its own thing. The thing is, the book is completely readable despite or because of all this heterogeneity. But if I'm going to invest this much of my life into reading a book of epic fantasy, I'd much rather read a book by someone who knows that half the human race exists and goes about its own business even if men don't care about them. I could name names here, but this isn't a zero sum game, and the point is that Ken Liu has not won a fan in me with this book. (I want to be clear that despite the relentless violence, again right out of classical Chinese texts, this is a much less grim and depressing book than The Mirror Empire, and between the two, both of which I disliked in different ways, I'd be hard-pressed to pick, but I'd probably take this one. It has fewer onscreen rapes than TME, for one thing.) So, that happened. And as far as I can tell, there's not actually that much revolutionary here.

Genevieve Valentine, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
- I started reading this book in the middle of The Grace of Kings because it featured not one but twelve named female characters, in that it's a retelling of the story of the twelve dancing princesses set in Jazz Age New York City from the princesses' point of view. And in fact, there are more than twelve named female characters! Shocking! What ludicrous delusion is this! In all honesty and not just in comparison with Ken Liu, however, this is an excellent, engrossing novel. The twelve Hamilton sisters, led by the eldest Jo, are kept shut in by their father and their only freedom is sneaking out to speakeasies to dance all night. The book is excellent and engrossing, and even though it's told from Jo's perspective, Valentine manages to make all of the sisters individuals in a believable way. And though the girls literally only know their bedrooms and their regular hangout, the Kingfisher Club, there's more than enough drama inherent in what they do to survive, and how they find their freedom, to fuel the narrative. It was great.

Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 8 - This one took a while because it's when some of the heavier stuff starts happening, and I feel bad for the characters. I continue to love this manga, and I did want to mention that one of things I appreciate about it is Hachiken's strained relationship with his parents and with his older brother, who is basically a self-interested flake (as well he might be at 20, to be honest, but he's a huge contrast to his younger brother). Anyway I need to read the next two volumes so I can read the new ones.

Kate Elliott, The Very Best of Kate Elliott - This anthology collects all of Kate Elliott's short fiction and a few of her essays, and I liked it very much. Some of them are set in the universe(s) of her novels, but only the Crossroads story was really intensely spoilery, I thought. And as much as I liked the stories that tied in with those larger universes, I thought the stand-alones such as "In the Queen's Garden" were some of the most effective pieces in the collection in terms of showing off Elliott's strengths as a writer. In any event, I loved it.

Laurie J. Marks, Water Logic - I think I liked this book the least of the three books, but that's partly because I am half air and half fire and find water logic totally incomprehensible. (I don't much understand earth logic either, but by earth logic, action is understanding, so reading that book on some level brings you to the understanding of its logic.) And to say I liked it the least is merely to say that it was not quite as transcendent as Earth Logic, which I think is my favorite (not least because it is secretly a Twelfth Night book), or Fire Logic, which of course is amazing. I will say that I also thought that what happens to Clement in Water Logic was actually harder to read than much of the injuries that Zanja endures at various points in the narrative. Other bits are equally tragic. I was also interested that it was in this book that Zanja's difference came back to the fore, and I don't actually think it's coincidental that this book is about the legacy of colonialism in much more overt ways. I fear that Air Logic will be a difficult and merciless book, just as air logic is. And finally on a more meta note, I'm disappointed in myself that it took me this long to realize how New England--and really specifically western Massachusetts, honestly--these books are, or Shaftal is. But once you see it, you realize it's everywhere.

What I'm Reading
This is kind of a hard question. I'm at the point of having just started a few different books but am not definitively in the middle of any of them except for Silver Spoon vol. 9. I've been busy. And jet lagged. Very jet lagged.

What I'll Read Next
I just got Comixology finally, and Ms. Marvel vol 1 is in my future! :D
starlady: (run)
What I'm Reading
I started reading Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes on the plane somewhere over Malaysia last night, and it's excellent so far. The author is an Anglo-Jewish potter who is a scion of a very rich Jewish banking clan, sort of les petits Rothschilds, who inherits the netsuke collection of his great-uncle from his great-uncle's lifelong Japanese partner Jiro and who sets out to trace it to its source, returning always to the netsuke themselves, to the thingness of them, in a way that centers the tactile and the experiential, which is not something I've seen a lot in these kinds of books. de Waal is trying to give the netsuke the same close, conscious attention that their creators did, and so far (despite one deplorable factual oversight on the part of the copyeditor) it's brilliant. De Waal, who's spent several years in Japan and probably speaks the language better than I do, is also quite good at evoking Japan in several different periods. He knows his ground well. Bonus: I'm definitely going to the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, which is near me and featured in the book, after I get back.

What I've Just Read
Laurie J. Marks, Fire Logic - I devoured this in one sitting on the plane last night, and loved it. Really interesting magic, a conflict that is both profound but also subtly thought through, really memorable characters, most of them queer, quite a lot of philosophy served up right, in the form of characters and their actions--it's great, and I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the books.

Kate Elliott, the Highroad trilogy (A Passage of Stars, Revolution's Shore, The Price of Ransom) - So I'm trying to work my way through Kate Elliott's backlist because she's a Guest of Honor at Sirens this year (you should join us!) and I love her books to death; I picked these instead of the Jaran novels because, quite frankly, Open Road Media's e-book covers are much better than the ancient 90s covers of the Jaran books, only to find that Highroad and Jaran are in the same universe and Highroad takes place after Jaran, with some of the same characters, even. Well, not a big deal. The Highroad books follow one Lilyaka Ransome off her dull mining planet out to a place among the stars, chasing after her kidnapped mentor, and into the center of a revolution against a corrupt galactic government, and out the other side. I would recommend these books to just about everybody, and particularly to people who like Ankaret Wells' Requite books; though not quite as exuberant in their worldbuilding, there's plenty of rich and strange stuff here, alien people and laser swords and hand-to-hand combat, queer characters, Jewish characters, and a cast that is mostly POC, including the protagonist. I also note that Elliott was doing interesting things with the trilogy structure even 25 years ago, though not the same interesting variations that she did with the Spiritwalker books, because that would be boring. Highly recommended, and available quite readily, along with Elliott's other early novels. Also featuring a very sympathetic take on Trotsky--as for Lenin, well, getting to be the hinge of history is the point of Lenin, and the same happens in this take on him, too.

Justine Larbalestier, Razorhurst - After purchasing this at the end of October I finally sat down and read it (there's too many good books!) and I really liked it. It's the story of Dymphna Campbell and of Kelpie, two girls in the poor crime neighborhood of Razorhurst in Sydney, over the course of one day in 1932 that changes everything. Dymphna and Kelpie couldn't be more differerent, but they can both see ghosts, and they develop a certain mutual problem when they meet over Dymphna's latest boyfriend's corpse. There's a lot of fascinating Sydney and Australian history woven in here, but it's an equally good, bloody story that pulls no punches which really moves things along. I really like the way that Larbalestier plays with structure, and here she puts that to great effect as she moves between differing viewpoints.

Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 6 - I finally finished it. It's still great!

What I'll Read Next
Well, I brought Silver Spoon vols. 7 and 8 with me, as well as Ôoku 10 and 11, and hopefully I'll get through at least some of them, but I'm also champing at the bit to read Laurie J. Marks' next two books, and…many other things. I got Saga book one from the Image Humble Bundle, and that seems the kind of thing I can definitely polish off on a plane ride. I also really want to read Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy after reading his hilarious, whacky, weird story of writing the trilogy in The Atlantic.
starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
Wednesday is generally when you get the cheapest and emptiest flights (relatively speaking) and it's become my go-to travel day for that reason. But for once I am in California again, so it's time to talk about books.

Books Read
Kate Elliott, Shadow Gate (2008) and Traitor's Gate (2009) - Further comments forthcoming, but suffice it to say, I loved the whole Crossroads trilogy, and I highly recommend them to everyone looking to read more epic fantasy that pays due attention to female characters and to women's experiences. Also: GIANT JUSTICE EAGLES IJS

Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox (2011) - I really enjoyed the other Oyeyemi book I read, White Is for Witching; I liked this one too, though (perhaps unsurprisingly since it's riffing on "Bluebeard") the themes of violence against women, against female characters, etc, felt a bit too close to reality. But in the end I really enjoyed the interplay between Daphne Fox, the titular Mr. Fox's wife, and Mary Foxe, his fourth wall-breaking muse; he doesn't deserve either of them, but that's how it goes. Oyeyemi is a wizard of prose, and I can't recommend her books enough.

Holly Black, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) - I was talking to a friend of mine who bought and started reading this book the same time I did but stopped a bit of the way in because of vampire fatigue. Well, I finished it on the BART this evening and I am here to tell you, there's no question of vampire fatigue when someone reinvents the form as well as Black does here--I'd forgotten how a well-written feeding scene can be better than any sex scene outside of top-shelf fanfic, and more interesting besides. The main character's tenacity and general clear-headedness are refreshing, and the worldbuilding is very interesting. I really enjoyed it.

Currently Reading
Brit Mandelo, We Wuz Pushed - This is an Aqueduct Conversations piece about Joanna Russ. I'm quite liking it so far. It was Mandelo's master's thesis and it's really good.

Wendy Walker, Knots (2006) - Another Aqueduct Conversations book. I love Walker's prose. I need to try to get this book for my own; I'm borrowing it from a friend.

The rakugo manga - yes, I know

Book-Shaped Acquisitions Space
Andrea K. Höst's book Stray is free on amazon.com. Höst was recommended to me quite enthusiastically by a fellow Michelle West fan at Worldcon, and I'd been planning to buy some of her books in paper when I go to Australia next month. I expect interesting things!

Reading Next
These things are very difficult to predict. We'll see!
starlady: (bibliophile)
Books Read
Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria (2013) - I was talking to [personal profile] jhameia about this book, and about how the writing reminded me a lot of The Secret Service, and she said, "It's so sad." Which it is. And it's also, to my mind, much less about reading than other people had led me to believe. It's about travel, and being a traveler in a strange land, and yes about the power of books but also about how books aren't everything and about how they can and can't save you. It's melancholy and gorgeously written and wonderful, you should read it.

Yangsze Choo, The Ghost Bride (2013) - I enjoyed this book about a young woman who receives an offer to marry a dead man in turn of the C20th Malaya, although I am sympathetic to those reviews who complained that Choo's prose is somewhat more telling than showing at times, and the conceit that the narrator's father educated her sometimes stretches a bit thin in the face of facts about Malaya that she supplies the reader. But the narrator and her personality, and the vivid country of the dead to which she journeys, are more than enough to carry the story through. I am ambivalent about the ultimate denouement, but only because I saw someone else on DW compare the choice the protagonist faces to Aeryn's at the end of The Blue Sword. All that having been said, I really liked the book and very much will read Choo's future books.

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013) - Being spoiled for the essential conceit of this book did not make it any less awesome in the reading; at times while I was on the train reading it I had to laugh out loud. I've never read any of Fowler's work before, but this was awesome, and well deserving of all success. The narrator and her perspective are a treasure.

Kate Elliott, Spirit Gate (2007) - I started reading this, the first in the Crossroads trilogy, because one of Elliott's forthcoming 2015 books is set in the same world many decades later. I did not regret it. There are GIANT JUSTICE EAGLES and also, with two notable exceptions, all of the men are at best incompetent and all the women are badass in different ways. The setting is also entirely Asian-inspired, and the entire cast POC. I'm already 1/4 of the way into the next book.

Zen Cho, Spirits Abroad (2014) - This book was published in Malaysia, and I arranged with the author to purchase a paper copy for Loncon. I read it on the plane to Turkey and loved every second of it; I've previously read and quite enjoyed Cho's romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, but her short stories are also a true delight, particularly "Prudence and the Dragon" and "The Four Generations of Chang E" and…all of them, really. Many of Cho's characters speak Manglish, and having attended a few of the author's events at Worldcon, it was interesting to note bits of her personal experience reconfigured and reused throughout her work. I very much hope that her novel is picked up and published soon! 

Currently Reading
Kate Elliott, Shadow Gate (2008) - Second in the Crossroads trilogy. Has more of [spoilers] but also more of a character who I honestly wished had been killed at the end of the last book. I think I get the point of his plotline, but he's still damn annoying.

The rakugo manga - still

Book-shaped space for acquisitions
Various, Kaleidoscope (2014) - I downloaded my ecopy of this anthology, which I supported in Kickstarter, and can't wait to read it.
Hagio Moto & Komatsu Sakyo, Away vol. 1 (2014) - new manga by Hagio Moto from a Komatsu Sakyo story!!!!!

Reading next
I acquired an excellent badge ribbon emblazoned with the phrase "All power corrupts, but we need electricity" at Worldcon, which makes me want to read the book it's from, namely Diana Wynne Jones' Archer's Goon. Also probably Michelle Sagara, since I'm behind on the Cast books. Also Kameron Hurley because she won Hugos. Also Seanan McGuire because I am WAY behind on her books. Also…you get the picture.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
[personal profile] wild_irises asked for "A book that stands out from the crowd of books you have read, whether or not you mentioned in the post for [personal profile] rachelmanija."

There is one book I read last year that I never got a chance to talk about that I do want to put in a plug for, namely, Kate Elliott's Cold Steel.

I've raved about the first two volumes in Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy before, and I was highly anticipating the third volume when it came out in June. Suffice it to say, I wasn't disappointed. The relationship between Cat and Bee remained at the heart of the story, and I really liked the way that Elliott used the device of the timeslip between the spirit world and our world to keep the story moving while not unrealistically portraying the development of an actual social revolution spreading across Europa. I also liked the way a lot of the plot developments/character relationships didn't conform to the stereotypical structure of a fantasy trilogy. My sister thought that there was too much description and character detail for her taste, but this is the sort of thing that I eat up with a spoon, and I loved it. I also loved the portrayal of the relationship between Cat and Camjiata (they maybe have my favorite kind of relationship in fiction); Camjiata remains probably my third-favorite character. (Sorry, I'm just not that into Andevai, though I can see why Cat is!) And I really liked the place where Elliott left his story, too. All in all, I thought Cold Steel was a worthy ending to the trilogy, and I also very much enjoyed The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal, as well as Julie Dillon's new art for the trilogy.

Also on the theme of books, [personal profile] nan asked about my favorite kind of steampunk. I enjoy all steampunk, because I enjoy creatively mucking around with the past and imagining different possible histories, but at the moment I'm eagerly anticipating Ken Liu's forthcoming silkpunk novel The Chrysanthemum and the Dandelion, to say nothing of the other two volumes in the trilogy that he's sold to Simon & Schuster!
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Elliott, Kate. Cold Fire. New York: Orbit Books, 2011.

After I finished Cold Magic I tore right into this book, which follows Cat and Bee as they struggle to stay one step ahead of the Cold Mages trying to possess them and, even worse, the Wild Hunt, which comes for people like Bee and dismembers them and leaves their heads in a well. Their journey takes them among radicals and trolls across the sea to the city of Expedition, which corresponds to the city of Santo Domingo in our Dominican Republic, much as Cat and Bee's beloved Adurnam corresponds to our Southampton. The correspondence is almost entirely irrelevant, however, since all of the intervening history is different.

Expedition is a free city founded by refugees from the Malian Empire and exists by treaty with and sufferance of the Taino Kingdom, which claims most of what we know as the Antilles. I've done a teeny bit of the research on this, too, and from what I can tell Elliott does a good job of inventing plausible alternate futures. (I'd like to ask her about the haplogenetic issue, just out of curiosity.) Expedition society is smartly and vividly painted - the food descriptions kept making me hungry - and the polyglot culture is fascinating. Cat washes ashore there with little more than the clothes on her back and her determination to save Bee from the Wild Hunt, having learned who her biological father is. No sooner does she walk ashore does she encounter her erstwhile husband Andevai, the cold mage, working as a carpenter.

La forza del destino )

The unstable element in all of this is the spirit world, of course, and Cat's sire (and what he does at the end of the book, OMG), and her awesome brother Rory, and what Bee is becoming. I can't wait for Cold Steel.
starlady: (a sad tale's best)
Elliott, Kate. Cold Magic. New York: Orbit Books, 2010.

While I don't quite consider these books "epic fantasy" according to my own idiosyncratic definition (those doorstop paperbacks, okay, those are just central for me), Elliott has written what may be the most successful epic fantasy sequence by a woman, The Crown of Stars books - but I have been given expert advice not to start there, and anyway "an Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage" sounded pretty darn awesome.

And it is PRETTY DARN AWESOME. You can read my review below, or read this awesome tumblr review. Hint: I suggest reading both.

I think Elliott has done some really cool, and really noteworthy, things with this book. First of all, this is a really alternate history, going all the way back to the 200s BCE (in terms of the Rome/Carthage conflict) and back even further, in that the intelligent descendants of troodons live in the Americas and have founded a city in the Antilles with assorted radicals, rabble-rousers, and free-thinkers. BRB SHEDDING TEARS OF JOY.

The plot of the book follows Cat Hassi Barahal, whose family's contractual obligation to the cold mages of Four Moons House throws her into the company of one of their most powerful and proudest scions, one Andevai. Cat soon learns that as well as saving her own skin, she must keep her beloved cousin Bee from the clutches of Four Moons as well. The important point about the plot is that it moves along at a lightning pace and is MADE OF AWESOME. The important point about Cat and Bee is that they are both MADE OF AWESOME, as you would expect from two daughters of a house of spies and mercenaries. And, among other things, I really loved their close relationship and how well they work together as well as how much they love each other. CAT AND BEE FOREVER.

In which I go on about history )

The final thing that I adore about this book is the way that it is unabashedly and obviously anti-monarchical and pro-science--shades of Philip Pullman indeed, but this is a rare enough political stance in fantasy that I treasure every instance of it. I've had discussions with several SFF writers about this, one of whom opined that monarchy is the predominant form of government throughout history and therefore monarchism in fantasy isn't a priori objectionable. I disagree, and for that reason I was really glad to see that printing presses and rifles and rights are important elements in the plot (shades of Fly By Night, actually, another of my favorite books). Bring on Cold Fire!

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