starlady: (shiny)
Yes, it's the anniversary of another trip that I have made around the sun. Here's to more of the same, but better, next year. :D

What I've Read
Ms. Marvel Vol 1, G. Willow Wilson et al - I finally got Comixology and I am hopeful that it will result in increases of the numbers of comics I actually am able to read. I loved this, but you're not surprised. What I will say is that I spotted that Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure joke, and I laughed, and what really warmed my heart above and beyond the story itself was how goddamn Jersey it all is, the actual Jersey that doesn't often make it into media. ♥

The Tropic of Serpents and Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan - These books are so great. They operate in a familiar mode (lady Victorian naturalist/adventurer) but do everything completely opposite, except what they don't, and I really enjoy Brennan's ability to pack a lot of complex undercurrents into rather pulp-y yarns, and the way that Isabella is so willing to attempt to conform to the norms of the cultures among which she sojourns, because dragons.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge - Hardinge's newest, and with this I'm now back to having read all but one of her books. I liked it a lot! [personal profile] skygiants said a thing that I agree with a lot, which is that Hardinge's protagonists are perpetually encountering women who they think are standing in their way but instead are much more complex, and that goes double for Faith. The book actually makes a great pair with the Brennan novels since they are both about the same thing (women and natural science) but are totally different. Anyway, it was great, though still not my favorite Hardinge; that will always be Fly By Night, with an honorable mention for Gullstruck Island, which I still think is her most ambitious. But this one was great too. I would read oodles of fic about the badass lesbian couple on the island, IJS.

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer - The final volume in the Southern Reach trilogy; I devoured it in less than a day and I loved it. I think I'm nearly alone in liking how Control is a sarcastic failboat, qualities which are not on display in this final book, but I did want to say that I appreciated VanderMeer's not having every character in the story be a straight white guy, because that could easily have happened, but instead the cast of the final book is a brown career spy, a black lesbian government agent, a part-Asian scientist, a gay white man, and a white woman psychologist. I think the Southern Reach trilogy is great; it's an attempt to deal with climate change and the horrors it's unleashed and revealed, it's a way of grappling with the latest realizations in ecology and biology, namely that humans aren't special; it's some of the most interesting and critically engaged SF I've read in a long time.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace - I blew through this book quite rapidly too, it's post apocalyptic YA scifi with a female protagonist, the eponymous Archivist Wasp, who makes a deal to journey to the underworld in the company of a ghost who's looking for his fallen comrade. It turns out the ghost and his comrade were genetically engineered super-soldiers before the world ended, and that everything Wasp thought she knew is wrong, and you're only as trapped in the past as you let yourself be. In a weird way, this reminded me powerfully of Sabriel crossed with…a really high-tech SF book about genetically engineered super-soldiers, who have got such style, I cannot even tell you. Anyway it was great and I have no idea where a sequel would go but I am so there.

Silver Spoon vol 9 by Arakawa Hiromu - Still great.

What I'm Reading
Silver Spoon vol 10 by Arakawa Hiromu - Still great.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone - I don't think I'm quite as into this book as some other people have been, but I'm enjoying it a lot all the same. I really like Gladstone's determined mixing of magic and modernity, as well as how inventive he is.

What I'll Read Next
Probably some of Tanith Lee's Secret Books of Paradys, and also Michelle West's Oracle!!!
starlady: An octopus solving a Rubik's cube.  (original of the species)
Brennan, Marie. A Natural History of Dragons. New York: Tor Books, 2013.

ARC provided by the author, who is a friend of mine, on the condition that I would review it. Here it is! (Though, given how well it's been selling, I highly doubt that most people will need my remarks to make the decision whether to buy the book.)

A Natural History of Dragons is the first volume in the memoirs of Isabella, Lady Trent, the celebrated, pioneering (and female) dragon naturalist of a very cod-Britain where the dominant religion is based, for example, on Judaism. [personal profile] rushthatspeaks praised Brennan not doing the usual things in their review of Brennan's second-to-last book, A Star Shall Fall, and in thinking about it, I'm struck again by how much that applies, as praise, to this book as well. Most fantasy novels with feisty heroines whose souls rebel against the social constraints placed upon their gender make a point of their resistance to marriage; Isabella (although not without frank discussion of the soul-killing boredom it entails) submits to her mother's ideas of propriety after a rambunctious girlhood, and gets married within the first few chapters. Even more unusually for a female fantasy protagonist, she quickly gets pregnant--and has a miscarriage. It's after that, when Isabella is still grieving, that she persuades her tolerant husband Jakob that they should join the expedition of a prominent aristocratic naturalist to cod-Romania. The rest, as they say, is history.

A good chunk of the pleasure of this book is the richness of the setting and its details, particularly about the physiology of dragons; another is Isabella's very tart narrative voice (made even better that she's writing her memoirs in her august old age), and the gentle subversion of not a few tropes of this kind of travel writing, particularly as it was practiced historically. Brennan does more unexpected things with the plot and the denouement--since I went to see her at her reading at Borderlands Books, I can confirm that the series as a whole has an overarching plot of which only fragments are discernible in this book. But what's here is a lot of fun.

As a bonus, the book has ten absolutely beautiful interior illustrations by Todd Lockwood, who also did the gorgeous cover. People who say that traditional publishing has nothing to offer authors don't really realize how much a committed publisher can bring to the table, I say.
starlady: (compass)
Brennan, Marie. With Fate Conspire. New York: Tor Books, 2011. 

Disclaimer: the author is a friend of mine.

The final volume of the Onyx Court books shifts a lot of things radically. Whereas the struggle in previous books was to establish, and then to preserve, the Onyx Hall and its monarch(y), we learn quite quickly that in 1884 the Queen is vanished and the Onyx Hall is highly endangered by the construction of the Underground, specifically the Inner Circle. And though our previous protagonists have been fairy knights, queens, and divers humans of rank and breeding, our primary viewpoint characters in here are a skriker from Yorkshire and a London-born Irish serving-maid. Even the Prince of the Stone is a Cockney chimney-sweep by birth. Brennan talked a bit about her thought processes behind these reversals at the Big Idea

I enjoyed the previous books in the series, and I enjoyed this one a lot too, though I wanted to spend more time with the engine of the eventual denouement than we did and I found myself thinking about [personal profile] snarp's critique of Midnight Never Come, namely an alleged lack of bad consequences to characters for their actions. I don't, honestly, tend to think about things like that quite as much when I'm reading, since I rarely read for plot because I find most of them highly predictable (note, however, that in my own writing this is something I wrestle with), but I did find myself wondering, as I turned to the final of the book's three parts, whether things were a little too foreshadowed. (Or forelit, as the Ada Lovelace epigraph has it.) I'm not sure that they actually were, and again, this isn't something that bothers me too much; as before, I really enjoyed the integration of history and fantasy, as well as the presence of trains, because I love trains in fantasy books. I also really did like the concepts of the final denouement, and I also genuinely liked the two main characters, who do have a good deal of personality and grit. There was also a lot more interesting fairy science in this book, though as I said above, I wouldn't have minded even more of it.

Victorians + fairies could have been handled horribly, or stereotypically, and I really actually appreciated Brennan's choice to take the story to the sewers, gutters, workhouses and back alleys of the East End and Whitechapel, with a vengeance. I would read another London fairy book, but as it stands With Fate Conspire brings the series to a very thoughtful and very satisfying conclusion.
starlady: (compass)
Happy Birthday, [personal profile] oliviacirce!

Brennan, Marie. A Star Shall Fall. New York: Tor Books, 2010.

Disclaimer: The author is a friend of mine.

I liked the first of the Onyx Court books, Midnight Never Come, well enough, but I think the second, In Ashes Lie, and this third book in particular are even much better. A Star Shall Fall is also, quietly, a terribly clever book, and not in the sense of preciousness but in the sense that there are a lot of really cool ideas deployed in the book, so much so that one almost doesn't notice how interesting each of them are individually. But they're there, and they're pretty awesome; the Calendar Room in particular is wonderful--and terrible.

A star shall fall into ye well. )

The book's title actually comes from Sir Isaac Newton's alchemical notes, which is fitting for a book that, for all that it's set in the Georgian period, feels oddly backward-looking in some ways: one of the many clever ideas in the book is its taking classical theories of natural philosophy as the basis for fairy science, and no one, perhaps, was a better alchemist than Newton. The juxtaposition makes for a compelling contrast, and a compelling story. I'm very much looking forward to With Fate Conspire later this year.
starlady: (rebellion/lies)
Happy New Year (Rabbit or Cat) to all those who celebrate!


(I fail at greetings in other languages.)

Brennan, Marie. In Ashes Lie. New York: Orbit, 2009.

Disclaimer: The author is a friend of mine. 

I was originally going to read some other books before I read the sequel to Midnight Never Come, but I had this one on my bookshelf and it called to me and I couldn't resist.

If the Elizabethan period is one of the most overdone in fantasy, the Jacobean period and the War of the Three Kingdoms is one of the most overlooked--I can think of only one other book, Neal Stephenson's excellent Quicksilver, that is set in this time period, and while Brennan's book starts in 1639 and ends in 1666, Stephenson's starts not long before that and goes much farther forward in time. This genre oversight is a real shame, because what used to be called the English Civil War or the Puritan Revolution is a fascinating welter of simultaneous things happening at once, as near to the total breakdown of the foundations of a society as many societies have ever come without collapsing entirely, and the divided loyalties and excruciatingly detailed and fought positions that were endemic in the period make for great human--or faerie--drama.

Prodigies and marvels )

Anyway. It's fitting that Ware's successor as Prince of the Stone, Dr. Jack Ellin, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and I look forward to reading the next book, A Star Shall Fall, which deals with the appearance of Halley's comet in 1736. In the meantime, the story "Two Pretenders" is an Onyx Court story set before the Onyx Court began, and I quite enjoyed that one, too.
starlady: Queen Susan of Narnia, called the Gentle and the Queen of Spring (gentle queen how now)
Brennan, Marie. Midnight Never Come. New York: Orbit, 2008.

Disclaimer: I am personally acquainted with the author. But I would have liked this book regardless.

I distinctly remember, when this book came out, reading the back in Barnes & Noble, thinking, "Enh, another Elizabethan fairy book…" and putting it back down. With the large caveat that I have avowedly not sought to read many fairy books, my initial disinterest was more or less totally ill-founded. I wound up buying the book because I was going to Sirens 2010, at which Brennan was one of the Guests of Honor, and after about five minutes' conversation with her it becomes crystal clear that she has more than done her research, which pays off in spades in the book itself: Brennan never info-dumps, but she brings the period to convincing life, and as a bonus, this book doesn't feature Christopher Marlowe or Will Shakespeare, not even in cameos. But I'm going about this widdershins once again--Brennan's attention to detail in research shines in the details which bring the book to life, and the writing and characters are wonderfully vivid and lucid at the same time.

The story is told from the points of view of Lune, a faerie in the court of Invidiana, who reigns in the Onyx Court below London and mirrors Queen Elizabeth above, and of one Michael Deven, who has just been granted a position as one of Elizabeth's Gentlemen Pensioners. The story starts just after the defeat of the Armada and ends slightly less than two years later, in the course of which Lune and Deven come to realize that their respective courts are linked far more closely than they knew, and that if they wish to survive they must rely on each other to unravel plots within plots, with momentous consequences for both realms. I liked both Michael and Lune a lot, as well as the brownie sisters who are their best allies, and I liked the portrayal of Elizabeth as well, acknowledging her flaws but also unhesitant in defending her achievements. Brennan's fairies are explicitly and specifically English, and the regionalism works well in context; I also found myself questioning the way I viewed English history, particularly in light of the fact that the next book, In Ashes Lie, takes place just after the War of the Three Kingdoms--did the precedent that Elizabeth feared to set in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots redound, not on her as she feared, but on the head of the son of her heir and Mary's? It seems plausible; certainly it has the seductive quality of a well-told tale, as does this novel. I'm looking forward to the next three.

For those interested, there is also an Onyx Court novella, "And Blow Them at the Moon," set in 1605.


starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)

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