Review: Marked in Flesh (The Others, #4) by Anne Bishop

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: March 18 to 21, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

First of all, winter extinction is coming.

Secondly, this book gave me chills from start to finish.

“The HFL wants to talk about land reclamation? They have no idea what they started–and I have no idea who among us will still be here to see where it ends.”

Third, I would have finished it in one day if not for a water main bursting, neighbors losing their cats* during evacuation, and the IRS wanting to chat (not related to the other two but still time-consuming nonetheless). Needless to say timing was bad, and I wish I had waited for a better time to start this book because it was so hard to put down. Even during evacuation and the cats’ mad dash for freedom, I thought about maybe getting another chapter in.

So what made this book hard to put down?

If you’ve been following the series, you know. Whatever’s coming is gonna be bloody and it’s gonna be brutal.

For those who don’t know: this is a story about the inevitable thinning of a herd, and that herd is the human race. Events in previous books in which humans of the controversial HFL (Humans First and Last) movement clashed with the Others have led to this inevitable mass cleansing.

But before things get to that point, Simon and the rest of the Lakeside Courtyard, with the help of Meg and the other humans who side with the Others, must consider how much human the Others want to keep. It’s a haunting question that follows everyone throughout the book. Some handle it better than others, but ultimately the inevitable is out of their hands. They may have a say in how much human they want to keep, but the final judgment belongs to the Elders, Namid’s teeth and claws.

The prose is simple, yet its implications are deeply felt. Perhaps this book isn’t so much about the end of the world as it is about the end of a toxic way of life and the beginning of a better way to live.

We’re not here to take care of you humans,” he said. “We never were. We’re here to take care of the world.”

Simple truth.

Of course this book isn’t without the series’ signature people-eating jokes. A couple of my favorites:

“If the bison are a problem, we’ll just eat them sooner.”
“If we ate everything that was a problem–”
“–we’d all be fat.”

“I encouraged him to resign before he was fired.”
“Or eaten.”

Lastly, I just want to go on record to say that I’m invested in this series not because I want to see Simon and Meg get it on… unlike almost everyone who’s posted a review on the book page.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

ETA: Although not a fan of the Simon-Meg pairing, there’s one pairing I’d like to see happen, and that’s Tess and Nyx. Maybe these two should have a spin-off series where they roadtripping across Thaisia to solve crime and get into all sort of shenanigans.

*The cats are fine. They were found shortly after the streets stopped flooding.

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Review: Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1) by Kevin Hearne

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: March 28 to April 02, 2016
Recommended by: a lot of people
Recommended to:

Not quite 3 stars but rounded up for the dog

This is another urban fantasy miss for me, but I’m not disappointed. Kinda knew it would be so when I first saw it and the blurb reminded me of Harry Dresden.

There isn’t anything wrong with this book necessarily, just wrong for me. People who like UF might find it fun–fast-paced writing, lots of action, lots of funny moments, all lost on me though.

But I do like it in theory–Druid mythology, elemental magic, memorable dog sidekick, a cast of interesting creatures, multiple universes (or maybe dimensions of existence?). Though the execution–all that humor that was lost of me–cheapens it somehow, made it seem juvenile. The amount of snark alone borders on overkill even before the story got anywhere.

But the thing that bothers me the most, the one thing I couldn’t get past while I was reading, is the main character. Atticus is supposedly over 2000 years old, yet I don’t believe he’s a day over 20.

Age doesn’t necessarily equal wisdom, but perhaps some wisdom (or signs of intelligent life) would have made Atticus more believable as an immortal.

Review: The Pillars of the World (Tir Alainn #1) by Anne Bishop

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: March 05 to 10, 2016
Recommended by: The Vaginal Fantasy Group
Recommended to:

Anne Bishop is my blind spot, so for the time being this whole trilogy (Pillars of the World, Shadows and Light, The House of Gaian) gets a solid 4-star rating, but that might change later on once I let the story and the whirlwind ending settle down a bit.

Normally 4-star books are automatic recommendations from me for friends who share similar tastes, but not this time. I can’t say I’d rec this book, Pillars of the World, unless you plan on finishing the series because of the ending. It’s kind of agonizing and will probably make you want to pull out all your hair, but the third book makes up for your suffering because the bad guys get what they deserve and maybe more. It’s Anne Bishop’s signature style. It’s precisely why I like her writing and why she’s my blind spot.

This book in particular though had three things going against it from the very beginning:
– vague medieval setting
– young naive protagonist
– the fae (and their meddlesome nature)

I’m not too keen on these particular elements in genre fiction in general, so I went into the story not expecting much. And yet somehow Anne Bishop made all the things I hate interesting, and that’s despite using over trodden tropes and cliches that we’re all familiar with and tired of seeing time and time again. In her hands, these things become interesting somehow. I don’t know how she does it–really though, how does she do it?

If I were to take this story apart piece by piece and look at each individual piece, it would be contain the very things I take issue with in other high fantasy series. Terry Goodkind comes to mind at the moment. Pillars contains almost everything I hated about Wizard’s First Rule, particularly the copious amount of violence and torture. And yet–AND YET–that didn’t get in the way of the read and I was able to move past it and enjoy the story–well, “enjoy” is probably not the right word, but I did like it. Of course it bothered me and made reading about it in great detail uncomfortable, but I knew there was a purpose to it and its role in the story arc. Because that’s Anne Bishop’s signature style. Evil doers tend to get what they deserves in the end.

But just looking at all the things I take issue with, it’s quite baffling I’m giving this book a high rating (for now). Quite baffling, really. What’s even more baffling is I blew through the trilogy in a matter of days, and I enjoyed it immensely. Again, maybe not “enjoyed” exactly, although I did like it a lot.

Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 28 to February 28, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

He remembered the moment when his thoughts had inverted themselves—that shift from not being able to please everyone to not trying—and the way that change had enabled him to see past the maneuverings and histrionics of the representatives to the deeper structures of the problem.

Good story, great world, and memorable characters.

This is one of the few books I’ve read so far this year that’s going straight to my favorite list, and one of the very few high fantasy books I like despite it being mostly about court drama, courtly politics, and a dysfunctional ruling family. And it’s a testament to Katherine Addison’s (Sarah Monette’s) writing; she definitely knows how to make courtly life interesting, even for someone like me who hates fictional court politics–I don’t care much for actual court politics either but that’s another matter entirely.

That said, the beginning of the book was hard for me to get into, mainly because the language. It takes awhile to get into the rhythm of the writing and get used to various names and titles of the primary and secondary characters. Once you get it down, though, you won’t even notice it anymore.

The story opens with Maia, a discarded heir to the elven empire, out in the country living the simple life of a peasant. We find out right away that the emperor, the crown prince, and several of their close relatives, who were also in line for the throne, have died in a freak accident. This then elevates Maia to the throne, which he accepts albeit reluctantly, but first he must overcome a court full of nobles who despise him for his half goblin blood and being the Emperor’s unwanted son.

The setting is steampunk but believable steampunk, with believable magic and technology that’s reminiscent of the industrial revolution but set in a fantasy world, but not like that fantasy turn-of-the-century London or Wild West setting that we see so often in the “steampunk” sub-genre. The prose is lush and a joy to read without being melodramatic or maudlin, although it helps to have a main character who’s easy to root for. The writing as a whole definitely gets stronger, just as the world building gets more vivid, once Maia takes the throne and faces off his adversaries and overcomes various courtly obstacles.

However, the pacing is rather slow, especially near the beginning. The plot doesn’t really get going until Maia gets further entangled in the court drama. I almost abandoned the book twice before then, but I stuck with it because I liked Maia–he’s kind, rather naive and too trusting, but not stupid–and I knew where the story was heading and that there’d be a satisfying ending waiting for me. And the ending does not disappoint. I’m glad I stuck around because it was very fitting for the emperor Maia becomes and the long road he traveled to get there.

Overall, a good story that leaves you in a good mood. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s looking for fantasy but is fed up with grimdark.

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Reread: March 7, 2017 to March 11, 2017

Not quite 5 stars, but I’m rounding up for the deftness of the writing.

This isn’t fantasy in the traditional sense. It’s fantasy in the Guy Gavriel Kay sense, or what I come to think of as “very little magic” high fantasy, and I find myself preferring this kind of fantasy over the elaborate magic-system-based fantasies because there’s more focus on the characters, their individual stories, and the histories and current events of these made-up worlds, rather than a detailed or complex magical system.

Although there is a little mysticism in this story, there’s no magic and no magic system, and the mysticism happens mostly off scene. And although there are elves and goblins, they’re not magical creatures; they’re just two opposing groups of people within this world. There’s no grand adventure or quest or journey. All of the action is confined to the imperial court. And the main character isn’t a chosen one–he’s just the last one (in the line of succession).

The titular Goblin Emperor is Maia, a forgotten half-goblin son of the previous elvish emperor who died unexpectedly in an airship accident, along with his heir and other sons. Maia’s ascent to the throne is an unsettling surprise to everyone in the court and all across the elven lands; it’s even a surprise to himself. There’s always friction and tension within any court, but Maia’s presence heightens the levels at this court even more, to the point of a coup. The rest of the story is about one lone goblin boy not only surviving, but holding his own against an entire elvish court that makes no qualms about hating and resenting him for what he is–half-goblin and the one never meant for the throne.

Although I liked this book very much the first time through, I loved it this time around. All the little things that got in the way, that made the beginning a slog, a year ago fell away, and I was able to really get into the story and appreciate all its intricacies, nuances, and depths of storytelling. It was such a smooth read that I lost myself in this world nearly completely, and the experience was amazing.

I went with the audiobook this time around, and it made a world of difference. This was the rare instance in which the narrator made the story, instead of broke it, and my immense enjoyment was mostly because of the brilliant reading by Kyle McCarley.