starlady: Korra looks out over Republic City (legend of korra)
What I'm Reading
Seanan McGuire, A Red-Rose Chain (2015) - The ninth and newest Toby Daye book. I'm enjoying it a lot so far, though at this point I feel like there isn't a lot to say about individual books except in terms of the overall series. At least, after the heavy revelations of The Winter Long, this book is less about heavy personal revelations and more about straight-up terrible things and Toby doing her hero thing, even in some very trying circumstances, viz. Portland.

What I've Read
Alaya Dawn Johnson, Wicked City (2012) - I said from the beginning that Zephyr Hollis was in denial about who she was, and I felt vindicated that Zephyr herself came to explicitly agree with that statement, but by the end of this book I was really irritated with her as a character; at some point in the middle, Zephyr's denial tips over into hypocrisy, and she treats her djinni boyfriend rather horribly throughout the course of the novel in a way that doesn't go unremarked in the text, but which does go unapologized for on Zephyr's part. The elements of the plot around Zephyr and Amir were engaging, and I would totally read a third book if Johnson wrote one based on the revelations in the last few pages, but Zephyr herself was just a bit too self-righteous, without the ethical chops to back it up, for me to enjoy this book as much as I did the first one.

Jeff VanderMeer, Shriek (2006) - I loved this book, if not uncritically, then quite a lot, and having come to VanderMeer's earlier work from the Southern Reach books, it's interesting to pick up the threads of thematic continuity that run back from those books into this one: the question of humans' place in an ecosystem, the idea of places as systems that exert a subtle influence, if not contamination, on their inhabitants; other ideas about decay. I appreciated the sibling dynamic of Duncan Shriek making marginal comments on his sister Janice's (posthumous? there's no way to know) manuscript, and I found myself disagreeing with Abigail Nussbaum's assessment that Janice is shriekingly ordinary but wholly ignorant of that fact and therefore boring. To my mind, Duncan, Janice, and Mary are all bad historians and unreliable narrators, but each in recognizably different ways. The mismatch between their approaches to their own stories is what makes the book go, along with some truly inventive worldbuilding and imagery. I need to read Finch.

Catherynne Valente, The Folded World (2011) - Prester John number two, with the third book on hold perhaps indefinitely. I enjoyed this book; I enjoy Valente's writing, though I suspect that were she to write this book now it would be a tauter manuscript--but I like her language so much that I don't mind the meandering in the tale here, and the fact that it ends with the world smashed but the shape of its shattering wholly unclear. Brother Hiob and company are still decidedly 16thC, not 18th. I need to read Radiance, and the other Valente books I've piled up in the TBR stack.

C.S. Pacat, Kings Rising (2016) - YES I READ THE FINAL ONE FIRST, WHATEVER, IT'S HOW I ROLL. I suspect everyone here knows what this book is about, but as someone who was recced the series for about six solid years before I finally tipped over into reading it, I want to record for posterity the fact that I think Pacat is commenting quite shrewdly not only on tropes of mainstream media but also of fandom in some interesting ways, and that all her choices together push the book firmly into romance territory, which may not be immediately obvious when people start throwing around the term "slave fic." The book was amazing, I think I might be dead, I need to read the first two, and, let me be clear: all of you were right.

What I'll Read Next
Hopefully The Steerswoman and other books!
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: (Rick Roll'd!)
Books Read
Catherynne Valente, Six-Gun Snow White (2013) - I really like Valente's work, and I liked this a lot; it's a feminist retelling of Snow White with a half-Crow protagonist, rather like Maleficent in that the central relationship is between the protagonist and her evil stepmother. It was too thin at some points, but quite a good read.

CLAMP, Drug & Drop vol 2 - I'm liking this restart of Legal Drug much more than that of xxxHoLiC so far, although it turns out it's a massive crossover with an older CLAMP series, leading to the immortal question, "If angels don't have gender, is this series still BL?" It totally is BL; I am very much down for Kazahaya and Rikuou clutching each other while in the grip of strong emotions. Yes, please, I'd like some more.

Kumota Haruko, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu vol. 1 (2011) - The author is an up and coming BL writer, though I've just started this manga about an ex-con who wants to do Rakugo and I'm not sure whether it's BL yet. If not, there's always doujinshi.

Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria (2012) - Yes, still, I'm busy and exhausted, as good as it is. I was saying to [personal profile] jhameia it reminds me of The Secret Service, which I need to think more about why.

Book-Shaped Space for Acquisitions
Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vols. 4 & 5 (I got the special edition of 4 with the spoons!)
Suetsugu Yuki, Chihayafuru vol. 1
Vonda McIntyre, The Moon and the Sun
starlady: A girl bent over a sailboat on a lake (build your own ship)
Valente, Catherynne M. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2012.

I really enjoyed The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, as you may imagine from my several posts on the topic of the book when it was merely a serial internet fiction, and I was very happy to receive this, the sequel, for Christmas.

A year after her return, sans her shadow, September is more than ready to return to Fairyland and the friends she left behind there. As one might expect from dealing with Fairyland, however, when she does get back in she does so widdershins to her expectations, and soon she realizes that she has to undertake another quest, this one less glorious but equally necessary. For the shadows of Fairyland Below, led by Halloween, the Hollow Queen, September's shadow, are inexorably leeching the magic out of Fairyland Above, and September must put right her own mistake and save both worlds, with help of dubious vintage from the shadows of her friends El and Saturday.

This book wasn't as absolutely entrancing as the first, but it was quite enjoyable, and I particularly liked the way September is slowly but surely growing up, and the way the Heartless imagery from the first book is deployed, changed, to devastating effect in this volume. I particularly liked several spoilery developments near the end, having to do with evil and redemption and who you can trust, although the denouement was somewhat less than what I might have wanted, somehow. In any case, I am very much looking forward to the next of September's adventures in Fairyland. Valente described the ending of the first as a stab to the heart of Narnia, and there are certain ways in which these books are unabashedly critical of certain hoary tropes of children's portal fantasy, and I really love that.
starlady: "I can hear the sound of empires falling." (burning empires)
Valente, Catherynne M. The Habitation of the Blessed. San Francisco: Nightshade Books, 2010.

The Letter of Prester John has to be one of the most famous and influential hoaxes in history. Briefly, in the middle of the 12th century, the Emperor in Constantinople received a most singular letter from a man who claimed to be the priest-king of a fabulous realm in the East, which as all good Christians know is where the Apostle Doubting Thomas the Twin disappeared on his quest to convert people, greeting his fellow monarch and promising him riches while handily implying that he, Prester John, was a Nestorian. The letter was a fake from start to finish, but the legend of Prester John inspired Christian questors for centuries, until the world was girdled and there was no more empty space on the map, or belief that a mythical Christian realm could fill it.

This novel takes the opposite premise: what if the letter were true, what if the fabulous realm it described did in fact exist?

The novel is framed by the tale of Brother Hiob of Luzerne in 1699, whose missionary work in the Himalaya in 1699 brings him into contact with a tree guarded by a woman in yellow which bears book-fruit. Hiob is permitted to take three books, and struggles to recopy them before book-mould devours them. The first is the tale of John himself, a ragged, cowardly pilgrim unfortunately convinced that he is a good man and that Christianity is the one truth faith. The second is the tale of his future wife Hagia, a blemmye who is first a scribe and then a queen, and her life in the fantastic realm of Pentexore, where every three hundred years the immortal denizens of the realm put off their lives and relationships by a Lottery and don new ones as you or I might change shirts. The third takes place many centuries earlier and is the collected stories of the panoti Imtithal, royal nursemaid and sometime companion of Doubting Thomas himself. All three stories are connected in ways that would spoil the lovely, rich delights of this book and of Valente's prose.

This is either Hell, or Paradise )
starlady: A girl bent over a sailboat on a lake (build your own ship)
Valente, Catherynne M. This Is My Letter to the World: The Omikuji Project, Cycle One. Kinsenka Press, 2010.

This anthology collects the first two years of Valente's self-produced Omikuji Project, in which she sends subscribers, by email or by post, a short story written just for them every month. I was a member of the Project for a year that overlapped with the stories collected here, and as such I contributed a sentence to the member-written introduction, but I can't remember which one it was at this point, which seems fitting. The stories are opened by art by project members, and closed by an excerpt from the personal note Valente sends with each story.

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me… )

I think, having read a fair amount of Valente's conventionally published stories, that these hold their own against the more readily available ones, and that this collection is as good a place as any to start, whether on Valente or on her short fiction. It's available in paperback and as an e-book, and you can still join the Project at any time.
starlady: A girl bent over a sailboat on a lake (build your own ship)
Valente, Catherynne M. Deathless. New York: Tor Books, 2011.

With the proviso that I wouldn't know the story of Koschei the Deathless from a hole in the ground, this was an excellent, excellent book. [personal profile] rushthatspeaks's review of the book has the general outline of the traditional fairy tale, which as you might expect is very different from Valente's version.

For Valente's version takes place against the backdrop of the Russian Revolutions and the rise of the Soviet Union and its headlong rush to war with Germany, the war, after which no one will ever be the same. In Sankt Petersburg, which swiftly becomes Petrograd and then Leningrad, young Marya Morevna grows up watching her sisters be courted by birds turned into young men and knows that her day too will come. When it does, in the form of Koschei the Deathless, Marya is not abducted, but goes willingly, and it's a question of will--who will give theirs up to whom--between her and Koschei thereafter. Things go, if you squint, according to the old story, but also not: the real, not the calendar, twentieth century has begun.

Valente's been great at restoring agency to female characters in fairy tales since she started, but this book I think represents a step forward for her--she marries the bones of the fairy tale to the horrors of Soviet bureaucracy, and does so in a way that makes the house committee of the domovoi, of Baba Yaga going by Chairman Yaga, of rusalki determined to become perfect Leningraders, seem perfectly natural and perfectly chilling. I was reminded many times of William T. Vollman's Europe Central, in that both Vollman and Valente have managed to capture in perfect language the utter horror of the Soviet regime, but Valente is also exploding fairy tales, showing that what ends so many of them is in fact a midpoint at best, that death and life are inseparable, that life surrenders even as it declares that death shall have no dominion, that you've got to keep living even as you're dying. I've always loved Valente's prse, but there's something about the language in this book that seems to indicate a refinement of her voice, a reduction in words accompanied by an increase in their power, the lyrical and the pragmatic working together like an iron hand in a velvet glove.

It's also, somewhat quietly, a profoundly kinky book; which of them is to be master is very much a live issue in Marya and Koschei's marriage, and the games of power and pain they play are always something more than games, and Valente is able to bring that out well. In conclusion: brilliant and amazing, highly recommended.

P.S. Valente's newest book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, is out today, on the occasion of which I read, and enjoyed, her post on, which is relevant to both these books: Confessions of a Fairy-Tale Addict.
starlady: (sora)
Valente, Catherynne M. The Grass-Cutting Sword. New York: Prime Books, 2006.

I like Cat Valente's books a lot, and when I had a Powell's coupon a while back I happily added this one to the pile, since I intuited from the title--correctly--that it had something to do with the myths of Japan, the Kojiki legendarium.

I guess, in my reading, it's a week for mother complexes. The Grass-Cutting Sword tells two stories: that of Susanoo-no-mikoto, who begins the tale when he is cast down from the plain of Heaven by the sun his sister Ama-Terasu, who rules there and is displeased with him; he is her youngest brother. Susanoo-no-mikoto, the Storm-lord, lands in Izumo and finds himself turned mostly human; he also finds a peasant couple whose eight daughters have been devoured or taken in sequence by the great serpent that terrorizes the area. Susanoo-no-mikoto agrees to slay the serpent and regain their last daughter Kushinada and take her as his wife. But the serpent has its own identity, and its own hidden connection with Susanoo-no-mikoto via his mother Izanami, who died birthing her children by Izanagi, Susanoo-no-mikoto's hated father; it is in search of his beloved mother that Susanoo goes as well, even as Kushinada and her sisters also have their say.

Valente herself has talked about how often reviews of her books describe them as "dense" or "poetic" or as poetry in disguise, but what struck me about this book, particularly compared with some of her other works, is how light the prose is--surrealist, yes, but finely woven and light, like good silk. I honestly couldn't get through her most mythpunk book, The Orphan's Tales, perhaps because its structure is the story and I couldn't deal with the structure, but while this book doesn't have an entirely linear structure either, I found it much easier to follow. Equally importantly, the characters and their story are compelling, and the muscles Valente puts on the bones of the myth feel relevant and real. I liked it a lot.
starlady: (sora)
Item one: Jo Walton's list of neglected books in sff. Some if not all of these--such as Megan Whalen Turner, OMG!--are unjustly neglected. A good list, in any case.

Item two: the text of Cat Valente's GoH speech at ConFusion last weekend, which is pretty damn awesome, and I encourage all fans of sff to read it.

Which leads to item three…a book review! What else, really?

Valente, Catherynne. Under in the Mere. St. Paul, MN: Rabid Transit Press, 2009.

Thinking back over all the Arthuriana books I've read, to say nothing of the mostly crappy movies I've watched, I can't legitimately claim to not be a fan. That said, however, I've never read The Once and Future King or La Morte d'Arthur (nor watched Merlin), and my standards for Arthurian derivations are now pretty high, since it's so common in the genre. I think I can fairly say, though, that Valente's take on Camelot may be unique.

His name became like the sword in the stone: write Arthur on the skin of your hand and it means more than a boy so named, it means him, always him, forever.
Valente's singular insight--ably illustrated by James and Jeremy Owen--is the extent to which the continued tellings and retellings of the Arthurian mythos have leached the players involved of character; they have become archetypes, and as such they are well suited to being reanimated as archetypes by Valente's admittedly baroque prose. I'm quite sure Valente and this book aren't to everyone's taste, but the beauty of her language is stunning, as are the occasional deft insights into the nature of stories, and of this story, that she slips into the text. Nor is it entirely devoid of humor, which is a nice touch. Her other innovation is her connection of the land in which quests take place, the Otherworld, whence Camelot's enemies come and where they reside, with California. As they say, I'll buy that, partly because her evocation of California--mostly SoCal, okay, let's be fair--is so enthralling and perfect despite its fantastical description.

After I finished the book I realized that the legend's three central characters--Arthur, Merlin, and Gwenivere--did not get sections of their own, which is an interesting decision in light of the fact that even people I'd never heard of, such as Balin and Balan, get their own chapters. But we know them well enough through the other characters, and what else could they say, that their friends and enemies and lovers did not already know? If the people of Camelot are archetypes, its king and queen and wizard are legend.

P.S. [ profile] thewronghands talks a bit about parts of the book on which I cannot comment, particularly the floral symbolism, here.
starlady: A girl bent over a sailboat on a lake (build your own ship)
Valente, Catherryne M. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. New York: Feiwel & Friends (forthcoming).

It's not the first time I've posted about Cat Valente's works in general or about Circumnavigated in particular, but I now have the happy satisfaction of being able to say that the book is finished and that I have read all of it. Even better, CMV announced several weeks ago that the rights to Fairyland and its sequel have been acquired for a print publication, so those (like me) who love print books, as well as those who don't like reading fiction online, or who have never heard of this book, will have the chance to hold it in their hands. Yay!

Playmate of the moving seasons... )
starlady: (through the trapdoor)
I've been reading a lot, as usual. I even dreamed of a Redwall book that doesn't exist yesterday morning--it was about Queen Mariel, who had left her realm in the Northlands after the death of King Dankin and the death of their only child. I have a very clear image of the cover painting in my mind even now. I always did like Mariel and Dankin. But then the book turned metatextual and there were a couple of pages in the front that were flattened-out tissue packages. Not Brian Jacques' usual forte.

Seven for a Secret )
The Queen in Winter )

I also cherry-picked some stories out of the anthology The Starry Rift, edited by Jonathan Strahan.
Bullet points )
I finished Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente ([personal profile] catvalente) and loved it. The city on the skin )
I'm not yet completely finished Tamora Pierce ([ profile] tammypierce)'s Bloodhound, but I'm far enough along that I'm going to venture my comments anyway: essentially, I think this may be Pierce's best book yet. In depth )


starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)

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