starlady: (bibliophile)
What I'm Reading
Wicked City by Alaya Dawn Johnson - The second Zephyr Hollis book and the last ADJ book I haven't read. She needs to write more! I just started this, so no comments yet other than that I stand by my observation about Zephyr being in denial about who she is.

Shriek by Jeff VanderMeer - I loved the Southern Reach, and this is more obviously weird fantasy than those books, which has its pluses and minuses, but I love it so far, particularly the fact that it focuses on a sibling relationship.

What I've Read
Whoops, I've built up quite a backlog. Here goes!

Charles Soule et al, She-Hulk vol. 2 - Apparently this was always meant to be as short as it was. Siiiiiggh I would read many more volumes of this kind of thing, the "how X thing or Y institution or Z non-superhero person is affected by a world of superheroes" thing is honestly more interesting to me than many superhero stories. A+, will totally seek out more Charles Soule comics in the future. Has anyone read Letter 44?

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Honor - The newest Kaylin book, and with this, I have read all but one of Michelle Sagara West's novels (except the Sundered books, which I honestly found unreadable). I enjoyed it very much, I continue to enjoy Kaylin's growth as a person and the exploits of her motley crew (found family ftw), and I am looking forward to the next book on multiple levels, not the least of which is: Aerians!

Diane Duane, Interim Errantry - This is "the Young Wizards volume 9.5," and since it's been a few years since I read A Wizard of Mars, I'd forgotten a little how much I love Duane's writing and the Young Wizards in general. The bit in the Halloween story where Dairine is a Jedi, for example--perfection. And all the characters I've loved for so long getting to do things that are slightly less "stereotypical plot diagram," particularly in the novella in the collection, Lifeboats, which I adored. (Also, how married are Tom and Carl in Lifeboats? Super married.) In many ways these three stories were like the best kind of fanfic, which expands a slice of the canon beyond what we get to see in the actual published works. I can't wait for Games Wizards Play.

Martha Wells, Razor's Edge - Martha Wells wrote the last novel in the old Star Wars expanded universe, and it's about Princess Leia, set between ANH and ESB. I liked it a lot (particularly semicompetent!Luke, lol), and you know, I love Star Wars. You can put that on my tombstone. I also love Martha Wells' writing, and I'm psyched to read more of her books. (Even her SGA tie-in novels, because in the year of our lord 2K16 I am not going to apologize for enjoying tie-in novels.)

Diana Wynne Jones, Dogsbody - More DWJ! More terrible parents and parental figures! More plucky heroines and brilliant writing! I feel like I understood this book, which is told from the perspective of a star who gets reborn as a dog, which probably means I'm missing things. The ending felt abrupt, but also completely neat and tidy; it was brilliant and painful and great.

Gillen/McKelvie, The Wicked & the Divine vols. 1 & 2 - My dear sibling introduced this to me with "This is what American Gods wanted to be," and I stand by that assessment. The art is beautiful, the story interesting, the concepts compelling, but I have to say the characters mostly left me cold. That said, I'll still keep reading, because I want to find out what happens after the Shocking Twist!™ at the end of the second volume.

Kelly Sue DeConnick et al., Bitch Planet vol. 1 - I feel like most people have probably heard of this comic by now, with its non-compliant women and its smart take on exploitation tropes and intersectionality. I liked it; like The Handmaid's Tale, it seems both a bit too plausible for comfort and also in many ways a story about what's happening now, as well as a near-future fantasy.

Noelle Stevenson et al., Lumberjanes vol. 1 - This was so great! As a Girl Scout, I got an extra kick out of the story of a bunch of young Lumberjanes at summer camp, I loved it, and I need to read more of it. (I also loved the little in-jokes of the palindromes in the cave, ngl, and also the camp chief's name and appearance. AUGH, it's so good!)

Becky Cloonan et all, Gotham Academy vol. 1 - I've liked Becky Cloonan's work for a while, and this was exactly the kind of story I like, as I said above, following as it does a group of misfit students at Gotham City's most prestigious private school and inventing some old history for the city, as well as featuring an independent take on its present. Also, important to note, the Batman in here isn't the full-on manpain Batman, which makes the whole thing more palatable--there's darkness, but there's also light, and most important of all, I love Olive and Maps and would read many more volumes about them.

Gillen/McKelvie, Phonogram vol. 1 - This feels like a dry run for The Wicked & the Divine, and given that it was about an obnoxious dude, I was mostly into it for the liner notes. Who knew so many people had so many feelings about Britpop.

Octavia Butler, Bloodchild (2nd ed.) - This is the late Octavia Butler's only (and entire) short fiction collection. Xenogenesis, fraught parent/child relationships, taboo subjects--Butler was great, and reading the back of the book talk about her in the present tense is still a wrench.

Gail Simone et al., Wonder Woman: The Circle - This volume collects Simone's first issues on Wonder Woman, telling the story of Diana's attempt to save her mother from the DC-equivalent of HYDRA Nazis invading Themiscyra, mostly. It was good! I like Diana and her friends and her sense of honor! I am still going to drink in the Batman vs Superman movie!

What I'll Read Next
Who knows. Hopefully a lot of it.
starlady: meralonne and kallandras in the wood (in a dark wood)
What I've Read
Max Gladstone, Three Parts Dead (2012) - There seems to be a surge of interest in Gladstone's books around these parts lately, and I am not immune to such things; I read and liked this book, a very self-consciously modern kind of fantasy following a semi-renegade magical lawyer (sort of? I'm not describing this well) named Tara Abernathy, who takes a job with a very high-profile Craft firm after being thrown out of her academy in the air and finding that sometimes you can't actually go home again. [personal profile] rachelmanija has better reviews of these books; I agree with her assessment that they kind of read like a cheerful, less socialist/Dickensian version of China Miéville's Bas Lag novels. I don't think I enjoyed this book quite as much as other people have seemed to, but Tara was a great protagonist and the worldbuilding was very interesting and pretty inventive, and Gladstone's prose is witty. I would happily read the other books in the Craft sequence, of which this is the first.

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Flame (2014) - And I am now caught up on the Elantra books until November! Kaylin returns to the city from the West March only to confront even more problems that have sprung up in her absence, chief among which is…finding a new place to live that will accept that she has a Dragon for a roommate. Naturally, complications arise in even this most mundane of tasks. One of the things I have really enjoyed in this series is seeing Kaylin put together a group of comrades and friends with diverse skills and equal capacity to stand by her in adversity, and for whatever reason, that aspect of the books felt like it was particularly strong in this one. More please! 

Michelle West, Oracle (2015) - West is at the top of her game, and this may be the best book in the series yet. I'm still amazed, after 20 years of information and events being doled out in a slow drip, at just how much shit happens in this book. I've also enjoyed the way that the format of The House War sequence overall has allowed different, and equally interesting, characters to come to the fore. Also, I fucking love Jester and Birgide. More please! 

NB: I'm trying this new thing where I'm going to post about comics separately because the tags were getting ridiculous.

What I'm Reading
In the interests of selling some stuff back at Book-Off I switched to reading Ôoku by Yoshinaga Fumi again; I'm still on volume 10. I think Hiraga Gennai is either a cross-dressing lesbian or a trans man, but it probably doesn't actually matter because a) anachronistic; b) queer sex and/or relationships are not really a thing in this series (though I should note, the first chapter of this volume did have a neutral depiction of a gay relationship which does not appear doomed!). Anyway, it's the early 1780s, and I expect things will turn pretty depressing (again) by the end of this volume and until the end; vol. 12 comes out on Friday.

What I'll Read Next
I got a bunch of great OOP books in Seattle--seriously, Seattle's used bookstore SFF selection is pretty great--and I also want to read the Steerswoman books this year, among many other things. We'll see.
starlady: Twitter quote: @magneto "come home" (my offer still stands)
What I'm Reading
Silver Spoon volume 1 by Arakawa-sensei, because I'm going to be hanging out at an agricultural institute in Tochigi in January and three years ago I was defeated by the agricultural kanji and then by graduate school. (I was trying to be A Good Student and draw all the kanji rather than just look them up by the readings, but you know what, life is short and I'll pick them up visually eventually anyway, screw that.) Anyway it's an Arakawa manga about a dude who goes to an agricultural high school because it's a boarding school and that's literally all I know yet, but it could be about watching paint dry and I would love it because Arakawa. She is my all-time favorite. And you know, that's the great thing about manga--it can make me read about so many different things and love them all. But yeah, I bought all 12 volumes at Book-Off (which is rebranding as Yafu Off? Or maybe just the one in Shibuya? I don't know at all) for ¥2500; I'll just sell back the volumes I own in the States once I've read them.

What I've Just Read
I literally just finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and it was brilliant. I saw her at a signing this spring and thanked her for writing a book that didn't pathologize fandom and fanfiction without having read it, but I really loved the book itself, and Cath, and Simon Snow, and her relationship to fandom and the people in her life and also to freshman year of college. In some ways, I saw a lot of me and my sister in Cath and Wren; we were nothing like that, except for how we were, and how we could have been. It's a really good book and I'm kicking myself for not buying the necklace when it was available. Highly recommended.

Libba Bray, The Diviners - I really liked it. I just really liked that Evie drank and swore and was scandalous and the narrative didn't punish her for any of that, and I thought Bray did a really good job of bringing history to life. I do have questions about the larger structure of the series and some of the worldbuilding that can't be answered at this point because it's only one book of four, but if and when the next one comes out, I'll be reading avidly.

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Sorrow - I'm now only one book behind on the Elantra Chronicles, and I still really like Kaylin. It feels like she's grown a lot over the last few books, and I'm looking forward to watching that growth continue. I ship her and Severn shamelessly.

Kumota Haruko, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu vol. 1 - I finally finished the first volume of the rakugo manga! I bought it on a whim because it's popular and because the author was the subject of an exhibit at the Yonezawa Manga Library in June. It's set in the 80s (and yes, when you think about it, the Bubble really was the Showa Genroku) and follows the career of an ex-con who becomes an apprentice rakugo raconteur when he gets out. I expect many doujinshi at Comiket devoted to the rakugo sensei and the sensei's dead rival, who may or may not be haunting the sensei as a ghost? I had a friend who did her Fulbright research on rakugo, so I know about two knuckles' worth of stuff about it, but even that was enough to know that it's a pretty sexist sphere, and I'm glad that Kumota puts that front and center in the person of the sensei's dead rival's daughter, who he's raised in his household and wants to be a rakugo raconteur but simply can't. I don't really care about the protagonist much yet (except, since the mangaka made her name in BL, and this is shelved in BL/Ladies at Book-Off, wondering whether he or any of the other male characters will suddenly appear in a BL scene), but that's pretty normal for me, and also not a dealbreaker by any means.

What I'm Reading Next
More Silver Spoon and rakugo, I dare say.

What I've Bought
…A lot of manga. Two more volumes of rakugo; all of Silver Spoon; the first of the Roman bath manga, vol. 10 of Ôoku, Billy Bat 1 (again; my copies of all of these are in the States); xxxHoLiC Rei 2. Also One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire, because somehow I never bought it in paper. Oh, and a copy of Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy for ¥200 at the little bookstore next to the conbini, because it is my policy to always buy books from The Women's Press.
starlady: (bibliophile)
We're back and better than ever! Or at least, I'm reading for fun again for the first time since before my exams.

Just finished
Rachel Hartman, Seraphina (2012)
I really liked this YA novel about a girl caught between two worlds in conflict (humans and dragons, natch) in a for once believably plausibly medieval world, with much greater gender equality and non-stigmatized homosexuality, even. I was reminded of Frances Hardinge's Fly By Night in that respect, actually, which is very high praise indeed. I could barely put the book down, given how much I loved Phina, and sympathized with her struggles, and I think the book is also making some fairly sophisticated arguments about embodiment and what it means for who we are. The dragons were great too, and I'm looking forward to the sequel very much.

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Peril (2012)
I really enjoy the Cast books, even though I'm perpetually falling behind--the newest, Cast in Flame, is about to be published, and I still haven't read the one in between them. I was also thinking to myself while reading it that I really wished two characters would sleep together, and thinking that it would never happen, when it was explicitly discussed in text a few pages later (and rejected; I like that Sagara's characters often know and enforce their own boundaries). So there is indeed character development going on, and for a book that's all about a journey from Point A to Point B, it was surprisingly gripping. Anyway. If you like Sagara West's central protagonist type, you should totally check out the Cast books, since they really are Kaylin's story.

Frances Hardinge, A Face Like Glass (2012)
I think this is Hardinge's best book yet, at least of the ones that I've read. (I only have three left to read! Noooo! I've been trying to pace myself.) Neverfell isn't as brave as Mosca, and that makes her equally interesting in a different way, and the worldbuilding was spectacular. I can't recommend Hardinge's books highly enough to everyone, and I also want to say that I think that her books are a great example of art being found everywhere, even in denigrated categories such as middle grade.

N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun (2012)
I really liked both these books, though I thought that The Killing Moon stood better on its own, particularly since The Shadowed Sun was rather heavy in its subject matter at times. Everyone should read these books! Pseudo-Egyptian epic fantasy with interesting magic and an interesting and varied cast of characters and…ninja priests of death! All that being said, while I liked Hanani a lot, I didn't like the denouement to her story, or the ending of the book in general; I wanted more of the politics related to the resolution, and less of the personal. I also think that…how do I say this. Jemisin is clearly in conversation with certain romance novel tropes at times, and I'm not personally a romance fan; I also feel that giving female protagonists in fantasy novels romance novel endings feels conservative, even if it's actually not for the characters themselves. I'd rather see Jemisin give queer characters the romance novel endings; that would feel more revolutionary for me, and more satisfying. Also there should be another whole book about Nijiri; I found him annoying initially, but by the end he was my favorite character by a long shot.

N.K. Jemisin, The Kingdom of Gods (2011)
On the other hand, I really liked this conclusion to the Inheritance trilogy; I liked the politics, the magic, the godhood and its problems; I liked Sieh and his trio with the Arameri siblings. I actually mostly just wish it had been longer, really; Jemisin really managed to draw the threads of everything else that had come before together in a very satisfying way.

Sherwood Smith, Revenant Eve (2012)
I hadn't read the previous two books in this Dobrenica trilogy, but that turned out to be mostly okay as it's a time travel tale in which the viewpoint character isn't actually the protagonist, which is interesting structurally, and the book itself was a fun romp through largely under-explored back alleys of the Napoleonic period in France. I quite enjoy Smith's books, and this was very enjoyable. Awesome ladies with swords and pistols! What more could you want, I ask you.

Sherwood Smith, Banner of the Damned (2012)
That said, I enjoy Smith's epic fantasy sequence even more, and this is the next one in the main continuity, set about 800 years after the Inda books. I really, really liked that the main character was asexual (this may be the first book I've read where that was explicitly acknowledged as a thing, actually), and I liked the way that you could see glimpses of history changing and being retold in the background, even as by the ending of the book it became an explicit issue. I'm also really impressed in general at the way that Smith can make just about anything suspenseful, even things that rightly shouldn't be; her pacing is always a marvel. I also think she's a master worldbuilder who doesn't get anywhere near enough credit. Also highly recommended.

Currently reading
Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Burning City
Because I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Love Is the Drug on Twitter and I want to try to clear out the backlog. Currently I'm not very far in and I'm still trying to remember who everyone is (I've been consulting the pre-synopsis literally). I'm still really sad that there's currently no plans to finish the third volume, even as I both enjoy the book and recognize that it's weaker than her more recent books. Anyway, she's awesome, you should read everything she's ever written.

Recently acquired
CLAMP, Gate 7 vol. 4 (I don't think I finished 3?)
CLAMP, Gouhou Drug - Drug & Drop vol. 1
CLAMP, xxxHoLiC Rou vol. 1
Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 10 (it was packaged with an ema from the shrine in the manga! I haven't even finished vol. 1)
Yoshimoto Banana, Kitchen
Short Stories in Japanese: New Penguin Parallel Text, ed. Michael Emmerich

Reading next
Probably Diana Wynne Jones or Kameron Hurley or Ann Leckie. Note to self: vote for the Hugos.
starlady: (sora)
Sagara, Michelle. Cast in Ruin. New York: Luna Books, 2011.

I always forget how much I enjoy Michelle Sagara's Cast novels until I read another one. Long-time readers will know that Michelle West, who also writes as Michelle Sagara, is one of my absolute all-time favorite authors, so this is somewhat unsurprising. But although this series doesn't offer the same pleasures as the epic fantasy novels that are the West books, it continues to be very pleasurable indeed.

Cast in Ruin is the seventh entry in the Chronicles of Elantra, a world that blends some aspects of semi-medieval fantasy settings with the police procedural show, if the police procedural show were constantly hijacked by increasingly eldritch incidents of magical and inter-species crisis. (Sagara has compared the books to the equivalents of episodes of Buffy.) Our protagonist is Private Kaylin Neya, who has magic that she doesn't understand, duties that she does, and responsibilities that she takes on with increasing knowledge and frequency. She is shadowed by her childhood friend Severn and increasingly calls on a growing cast of people of all species who have been her allies and friends before. In this book, which largely takes place in the fief outside of the imperial city and in the imperial palace, those are largely Dragons, along with some newer allies.

Sagara is a funny writer, although it's only in the last few West books that her characters have started being really sarcastic; the Elantra books have been funny from the beginning. Even though most of Sagara's books share similar themes (female protagonist learning to grow into her role, possibly the end of the world), the Elantra books have given her the space to play with some different kinds of things than the West books, in some ways, and I appreciate that. These books, being Luna Books, are also more explicit about romance than the West books (which, if you know the West books, means that they are approximately 25% as romantic as, say, the average Mercedes Lackey book, to mention an author who's also been published by Luna). I also really just like Kaylin, and I'm always interested to see where her stubbornness, coupled with her willingness to learn to bear the responsibilities she often shoulders without thinking, takes her next. In this case, since I fell off the schedule, I have Cast in Peril and Cast in Sorrow waiting for me in very short order, and I know that she'll be going outside the city, to the West March. I'm looking forward to it.
starlady: meralonne and kallandras in the wood (in a dark wood)
West, Michelle. Battle. New York: DAW Books, 2013.

Michelle West's books are awesome and everyone should read them. This book, the fifth in the House War sequence, picks up almost directly after the events of last year's Skirmish and I loved it just as much as I did the last one. Things continue to happen, Jewel and her den continue to be awesome in different ways, and there continues to be a lot of sarcasm and dark humor thrown around, which I appreciate because that is basically how I roll.

I said on Twitter that I was highly impressed with the way that Battle shows that West has been tieing characters, plots, and meaningful details together across 13 books and counting, because it's in Battle that we begin to see even more strands of the overarching story weaving together at last. I have been a fan of this overarching story since I first picked up The Broken Crown in 1997 and didn't fully understand what was going on but knew I loved it anyway, and it was a pleasure in this book not only to see that but also to get some rather large revelations about certain beloved characters, as well as to see other characters finally undertake tasks we've known they must one day undertake for six books or so.

I've recommended these books to basically everyone I know, and I continue to do so; I continue to think that West is basically writing epic fantasy the way it should be, and that the fact that she isn't better known is criminal. (Well, not criminal; a reflection of the sexism rife in SFF and society in general.) (That said, see the posts I've linked for more discussion of issues and themes than I have the brain cells for now.) This is not the book I would recommend people start with; given ongoing issues with the availability of The Sun Sword books in e-form (i.e., they are coming out, but slowly) it is probably best to start with The Hidden City, though in some ways that book is a poor reflection of the scope of the series. (In other ways, of course, it's foundational.) But if you can get your hands on a copy of The Broken Crown, starting there is not a bad idea either. In any case, more people ought to know these books, and the awesome characters (many of them female) and well-thought out cultures and politics that fill them.
starlady: (queen)
Sagara, Michelle. Silence. New York: DAW Books, 2012.

Michelle Sagara West is one of my favorite authors, and has been since the seventh grade; I've read almost everything she's ever written, and when I saw that she was doing a YA trilogy, I was quite happy. Although Silence could not be inaccurately described as a YA paranormal (with hints of romance), anyone who's read anything of West's should know that she doesn't really write stories that can comfortably fit in an elevator pitch.

Silence is the story of Emma, a teenage girl in Toronto whose father died years ago and whose boyfriend died just last summer, and who discovers that she can see, and speak with, the dead. It is also the story of her friends, including Michael, who is on the autism spectrum; it is also the story of the hunters who are sent to kill her and who instead find themselves joining in her crusade. It is a story about grief and love and friendship, and I enjoyed it very much.

There are some of West's familiar themes in here, but given that this book is set in the contemporary world, there's also quite a lot that's different, or differently portrayed, than her other writing, and I enjoyed Emma and her typical West protagonist "won't take no for an answer" attitude. I also enjoyed that her friend group could be straight out of Mean Girls, but isn't; West, when she did the Big Idea on Scalzi, talked some about this aspect of the book being inspired by her own autistic son's experiences with people at his school. It was refreshing to see Michael being treated as a full person not only by the narrative but also by the people around him, to say the least.

In sum, this was a very different take on what could have been some very well-worn YA tropes, and I'm very much looking forward to the next two books.
starlady: meralonne and kallandras in the wood (in a dark wood)
West, Michelle. Skirmish. New York: DAW Books, 2012.

I started raving to [personal profile] epershand and [personal profile] eruthros about how great Michelle West is, because I bought this book in their company, and both of them said, "You know, I've never tried Michelle West…" and I realized that clearly it is time for an update to my Michelle West's books are awesome and everyone should read them post of two years ago. So, here goes.

To quote from my earlier post:

I've said other places that most authors only have one or two themes in them. Michelle West's is unquestionably the end of the world, and what people will do either to stop it or to bring it about.

I'm going about this the wrong way, though. Michelle West is a Japanese Canadian author who also writes as Michelle Sagara and Michelle Sagara West. The Sagara books are The Chronicles of Elantra, which are also very good but are very different from the West books--if you like urban fantasy, definitely check Elantra out.

I don't really like "epic fantasy"--listing all the series I've bounced off, hard, that other people love would probably earn me a sporking, but thinking about it, I'd argue both that West's novels are epic fantasy, and that her books are qualitatively different from most conventional epic fantasy in their focus, which is first and foremost on the characters, and then on their cultures, and only finally on epic trappings such as battles and gods and games of thrones. Not that these things don't matter in her writing--there is a very large, truly epic plot going on in these books, and I love it to death--but the plot is revealed first and foremost through the characters' thoughts and feelings and emotional arcs.

So, yes. There are the trappings of epic fantasy in here--gods, demons, mages, seers, Bards--but they are never allowed to upstage the characters, and the end result is some very dense writing about fully imagined cultures populated by heartbreakingly human people (even when these people are demons, or gods, or the children of gods, or half-humans). The way West writes politics ought to bring many more well-known authors to tears, let alone cultures and its impacts on the people born into them.

Are these books perfect? No, they're not. [personal profile] oyceter's reviews of some of the earlier books talk about the ways that West's writing arguably plays into some very well-worn North-South tropes, and one of the consequences of having a lot of female characters in a more equal but not perfectly equal world is that sexual assault is not entirely unknown in these books.

But, I will defend until the end of my days the proposition that West's books are much, much better, from a politics perspective and from a social justice perspective, than just about any other epic fantasy out there, and I think more than anything else the persistence of some few problematic tropes in her writing shows just how much all of our imaginations are structured by a larger culture that is frankly oppressive. it's a tribute to West, I think, that she manages to get so far beyond the most egregious stereotypes--compare her work to Robert Jordan or George R. R. Martin's, and you'll see exactly what I mean.

The other thing, the thing that continually strikes me now that I'm reading these books as a grown-up and it doesn't seem totally natural anymore, is just how much female characters are at the heart of this story. In fact, I think with the exception of Valedan--and one character now who's only a boy, but whom I expect to play a much larger role in later books--every single central protagonist in these books (and there are twelve of them now, with more in the pipeline) is female: Jewel ATerafin, The Terafin, Kiriel di'Ashaf, Evayne (Evayne! ♥), Diora. Not only are these women central, they aren't the only women in the books, and their power is (for the most part, subject to cultural conditions) not at all determined by who they are married to--in fact, only one of them is married. And each of these characters, and of the male characters as well, are fully realized people with their own individual backgrounds, stories, and goals. It's a marvelous achievement on West's part, and I love her books for that now even more than I used to.

Skirmish, at long last for those of us who have faithfully been waiting since the end of The Sun Sword, advances the story of Jewel ATerafin and her den beyond the day of the Terafin's murder by demons in a session of the House Council. Not far beyond, mind you, but Jewel and company, just by virtue of being who they are, can pack a lot into a very short time, and by the end of it, the contours of their chosen battlefield are much clearer, and much more dangerous.

I don't think it's possible to read Skirmish without having some idea of what went on in books 3-6 of The Sun Sword. Obviously I would recommend reading The Sun Sword first (of which more anon), but for those who can't or won't get their hands on copies of those books before this one, West has actually written and posted a summary of the story so far in two parts on her blog: handy! And indeed, one of the things I liked best about this book was seeing the ways that Jewel's journey to the South, and what she saw and did there, has changed her in ways she's beginning to realize, and the ways in which the situation in Terafin and in Averalaan, having become increasingly grim, has affected those who stayed behind.

Also, and this is important, this book is funny. Looking at the cover, it's no spolier to say that three winged talking cats join Jewel for the duration, and they are sarcastic and unruly and hilarious, and so are Jewel and company in general and particularly in dealing with the cats. It's pretty dark humor, admittedly, but humor of any sort has been in short supply thus far, and it was a nice change for that reason. Also, I really appreciated filling out Duvari, to some extent, as a character rather than just as a caricature, and I really liked how it's becoming clear that, in light of the End of the World, Our Heroes may not be as united as we would like them to be: it's an open question whether the gods and the Empire will survive the End of Days, after all, and for some people the survival of the gods and the Empire are not the first priority. I look forward to that becoming more of a problem in later books, but I'm especially looking forward to the next book, War.

Reading order, print status, etc )

Speaking of chain bookstores, I should mention that West, who's Canadian-Japanese, is a current employee, and former manager, of Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto, Canada. The store is on Twitter as @[ profile] BakkaPhoenix and Chris, the current manager, is happy to hook international customers up with signed books. Not only is it an awesome way to get a signed book, but ordering directly from BP supports West twofold.
starlady: meralonne and kallandras in the wood (in a dark wood)
West, Michelle. House Name. New York: Daw Books, 2011.

Michelle West is and always will be one of my most favorite authors, though I hope she doesn't remain, as she has been up until this point, criminally underknown. That should change! Everyone should read her books! Or at least, you should read her books if you can stand epic fantasy about deeply human, deeply flawed characters (many of the most important ones women!) in a complex, intelligently drawn world struggling to prevent the End of the World!

I love these books. Length but no spoilers. )
Also, shameless self-promotion: I am one of the admins for [community profile] sagarawest, a comm for fans of all of Michelle's books. Come! Join! Post! Discuss!Rambling about possible reading orders )
starlady: Quorra fights CLU's black guard programs (for the users and for me)
Unrelated at the top: I still have a spare AO3 invitation looking for a good home. If you or anyone you know is looking to skip the queue (I hear it's ~14 days now), let me know!

Sagara, Michelle. Cast in Chaos. New York: Luna Books, 2010.

With the caveat that I don't really recall books three and four very well (four was the Leontine book, right?), I think this is my favorite Elantra book yet. It's not, however, probably a good place to jump in to the series; for that I would recommend the first, second, or fifth books (Cast in Secret, Courtlight, and Silence, respectively).

One of the Yuletide prompts I saw on the Chromatic Yuletide list was one asking for, essentially, case fic for this series, because in the books it's always almost the end of the world, even as the real end of the world looms in the background, rushing closer with each passing month, day, and chapter. But I'm getting ahead of myself: once again, Private Kaylin Neya of the Hawks of Elantra, the capital of the Eternal Dragon Emperor, finds herself in a position where only she and her companions can save their world of Elantra, this time from a threat that comes from beyond the world itself. To Sagara's credit, there are good reasons for this threat to be coming for Elantra, and she explains them within the text itself, just as there are good reasons that Kaylin and her companions (I love that image, and keep returning to it) are the ones who must deal with it.

Details, not spoilers ) The good thing about having read this book five months late is that now I only have about seven months until Cast in Ruin.
starlady: (compass)
West, Michelle. City of Night. New York: DAW Books, 2010.

I'm pretty sure this is the shortest Michelle West novel since the first, Hunter's Oath, which is too bad, because no matter how long her books are (even when they'e 800 pages) I always want more. But this book was more than awesome enough for me to forgive its shortness (and, by the way, it's actually 467 pages, so not really that short).

I said when I first wrote about these books that they are about, on one level, what people will do to prevent the end of the world. In this book a character (people who have read Hunter's Death will know who) deliberately sets himself up to be possessed by a demon so as to draw the demons in the city of Averalaan out into the open, which changed my interpretation of that character almost completely--from a fool to a hero. Given that City of Night depicts the events immediately before, and at the beginning of, Hunter's Death, I knew almost all the plot points in advance, but the pleasure here, aside from the story itself, is in the additional character and background detail we learn. In particular, Jewel's den-kin Angel is given more attention than ever before, and he is elevated to a fascinating character in his own right. But then, every person in this world has their own fascinating backstory.

So, all in all, an excellent book, and I want the next, House Name, ridiculously badly. Let me just throw out a few tidbits that won't make sense to people who haven't read the books: this one has Ariane! and ringless!Evayne! And more about Sigurne Mellifas! And Kallandras! And Meralonne!

I've still been thinking about possible reading order. I think there are three:

1) Publication order. The Sacred Hunt (2 books), The Sun Sword (6 books), The House War (5 books; in progress);
2) The Hidden City, City of Night,, The Sacred Hunt, The Sun Sword, the rest of The House War;
3) The Hidden City, Hunter's Oath, City of Night, Hunter's Death, The Sun Sword, the rest of The House War.
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
I was digging through my filing cabinets to answer a question for [personal profile] thistleingrey the other day (yes; I am one of those people who saves her school notebooks. I could probably get rid of the ones from middle school, though) and came across my eighth grade reading journal. It's hilarious on multiple levels, the most obvious being that the entries form a pattern: one will read, "Dear [teacher name redacted], I started [insert book name here] today…" and the next will begin, "Dear [teacher name redacted], I finished [insert book name here] today…" The other thing is that my reading journal consists almost entirely of plot summaries. And they're not even very good plot summaries! So, yes. As a reviewer, I have had a long apprenticeship in my craft (I'd rate myself at the journeywoman level now), but there has also been a definite learning curve.

So, for my own amusement and because it turns out I read some decent books in eighth grade, I've extracted the non-plot summary bits for some and am posting them here, with some contemporary commentary.

David Weber, On Basilisk Station )

Michelle West, The Uncrowned King )

Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass/Northern Lights )
starlady: Kazuhiko & Suu landing (fly)
In seventh grade, more years ago than I care to remember, I needed a book to occupy me for a week-long trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. I'd seen a really cool-looking book on the shelves of one of my local bookstores, and the day before I left I bought it.

It was The Broken Crown by Michelle West, and that has to be one of my best book-buying decisions of all time.

This was back in the Day before days when there was virtually no Internet, and it took me years to figure out that more books would be and were published and that the story told in TBC didn't start with that book. But we're living in the future now, and I can recommend the entire sequence of books to you just like this. And I do.

The Argument
I've said other places that most authors only have one or two themes in them. Michelle West's is unquestionably the end of the world, and what people will do either to stop it or to bring it about.

I'm going about this the wrong way, though. Michelle West is a Japanese Canadian author who also writes as Michelle Sagara and Michelle Sagara West. The Sagara books are The Chronicles of Elantra, which are also very good but are very different from the West books--if you like urban fantasy, definitely check Elantra out.

I don't really like "epic fantasy"--listing all the series I've bounced off, hard, that other people love would probably earn me a sporking, but thinking about it, I'd argue both that West's novels are epic fantasy, and that her books are qualitatively different from most conventional epic fantasy in their focus, which is first and foremost on the characters, and then on their cultures, and only finally on epic trappings such as battles and gods and games of thrones. Not that these things don't matter in her writing--there is a very large, truly epic plot going on in these books, and I love it to death--but the plot is revealed first and foremost through the characters' thoughts and feelings and emotional arcs.

So, yes. There are the trappings of epic fantasy in here--gods, demons, mages, seers, Bards--but they are never allowed to upstage the characters, and the end result is some very dense writing about fully imagined cultures populated by heartbreakingly human people (even when these people are demons, or gods, or the children of gods, or half-humans). The way West writes politics ought to bring many more well-known authors to tears, let alone cultures and its impacts on the people born into them.

At this point I should probably launch into talking about the books themselves. No spoilers beyond the dust jackets, I swear. In publication order, they are:

Amazing books are amazing. I kid you not. )
starlady: (dodge this)
I made this soup (the 1991 version) Monday night and it turned out great, though immediately after finishing it tasted like a salt lick and I was angry, because I spent 40 minutes peeling tomatoes for a salt lick? But no, after setting overnight it was delicious, and I'm definitely going to take the 2009 version, a sort of cod-Bloody Mary, for a whirl, though I don't even like Bloody Marys usually. Also, don't believe the tyranny of the food mill! I peeled, seeded, and chopped my tomatoes coarsely before throwing them in the food processor on the lowest setting for about 20 seconds, and they came out perfect--lumpy, but way smoother than a salsa, which is what I would have gotten with my knife and cutting board. Also I diced the celery in the food processor. I don't really have knife skills, but at my level, I can get by.

Michelle Sagara (aka Michelle West, aka Michelle Sagara West, aka [ profile] msagara) is one of my favorite authors, and the great thing about her Chronicles of Elantra series, from Luna Books, is that the titles come out once a year--so, unlike the books she writes as Michelle West, from DAW, every year brings a new book to devour. Of course I went out and bought Cast in Silence, the new book, as soon as my local Borders showed it "likely in store."

Cast in Silence )


starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)

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