Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1) by Zen Cho

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: January 21 to February 3, 2019

2.5 stars, rounding up because this is not a bad book, far from it actually. It’s just not right for me.

I don’t want to be unduly harsh, but I do have to be honest. So here goes.

It’s a complete surprise to me that, of all the books I struggled to read last month, this one was the hardest to get through. If this had not been a buddy read, I’m pretty sure it would have been my first DNF of the year.

Not because it’s a difficult read or there were issues with the writing or anything like that–everything about it is fine actually. It was a struggle to get through simply because I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and was bored for most of the read. So bored in fact that, when I had to take a trip right at the moment the climax happened, I didn’t even want to take the book out of town with me.

I think what it boils down to is that I felt the story, while having potential to be something great, was rather uninteresting for a historical fantasy about magic and colonialism. The most interesting thing about it is that it’s told from the perspectives of two characters who were most impacted by the British Empire’s colonial rule. This should have been the thing to reach out and pull me into the story, but that didn’t happen.

However, the subtle and blatant displays of classism and racism faced by the main characters, one a young man and former slave of African descent and the other a biracial orphaned young woman, were well done. This was the strength of the book; everything else, like the magic and the magical society and the fae and the dragons, was mostly filler.

Something like this book should have been right up my alley though since I loved other books that were written in the same vein, all released fairly recently:
The Ghost Bride
The Golem and the Jinni
A Natural History of Dragons
His Majesty’s Dragon
The Magpie Lord

Unfortunately, Sorcerer to the Crown didn’t strike a chord with me.

That aside, I must point out that there were quite a few nuanced, heartfelt moments in which slavery was touched upon by the main characters. This is the one that stands out the most to me and that I thought was very well portrayed.

A fine line appeared between Prunella’s eyebrows. “Did not Sir Stephen purchase your parents as well?”

“No,” said Zacharias. “Presumably he did not discern the same potential [for magic] in them.”

The statement brought up the old anger and confusion, followed by the accustomed guilt, that he should be so ungrateful as to resent the man who had rescued him from bondage. And yet he did resent Sir Stephen, even now.

“I don’t see why you feel obliged to him at all,” said Prunella. “What right had he to part you from your parents when you were so young?”

Her words seemed to echo Zacharias’s own thoughts, thoughts he had suppressed many a time, striving to feel the unclouded gratitude expected of him. What might his life have been, with a father and mother? It could not have cost Sir Stephen very much to purchase them as well—certainly not enough to strain his ample resources. How could his benevolence have extended so far as to move him to free Zacharias, but no further?

But it had been impossible to ask these questions of Sir Stephen or Lady Wythe, whose affection could not be doubted. That Zacharias’s own love for them was leavened with anger was best left unsaid; he tried not to know it himself.

“Very probably I would have been separated from my parents in any event,” he said. “What assurance can I feel that my parents were not in time separated from each other, against their will, and they powerless to prevent it?”

The answers to these questions were too painful to pursue to their conclusion, even in thought. They had only ever served to increase the complicated unhappiness that lay in wait whenever he thought of his parents.

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Some Thoughts on the Fyre Festival of the Publishing Industry

A delectable piece from The New Yorker about Dan Mallory, aka A. J. Finn and author of the best selling thriller The Woman in the Window, detailing his “alleged” manipulation of the publishing industry for the past several years.

TL;DR?

He wasn’t a savvy liar or talented con artist or anything like that. Just a conventionally attractive looking white man in his thirties who’s good at kissing ass and telling sob stories. And people fell for his act because they were kind and took him at his word, which made them easy marks.

(People on Twitter are referring to him as the Billy Macfarland of publishing and I can’t stop laughing.)

End TL;DR

That he was able to dupe a whole industry AND people let him get away with it is something the publishing world needs to reckon with.

So it seems he fit the profile: young, white, male, “Oxford-educated.” Nothing new there. People heard that about him, met with him, and fell all over themselves to help him out–at first, didn’t last though. Nothing new there either. But maybe, idk, take a good look at yourself and figure out what needs to fundamentally change in your industry to keep this from happening again. Or not and carry on as if nothing happened.

I read this long article–could have used an editor tbh–during my trip to New York and ignored the book I was currently reading, and it was totally worth it. It’s a hilarious, convoluted read that would totally be called out for being too unbelievable if it were fiction. Ah, banal irony.

Also, according to Mallory’s dad, his mom had Stage V breast cancer and she survived. Still living, as a matter of fact. It could be a typo or a misquote. Or it could be the dad is also a liar and the trait runs in the family. This would explain a lot actually.

Anyhow. Here are a few excerpts from the article that still crack me up:

I was recently told about two former publishing colleagues of Mallory’s who called him after he didn’t show up for a meeting. Mallory said that he was at home, taking care of someone’s dog. The meeting continued, as a conference call. Mallory now and then shouted, “No! Get down!” After hanging up, the two colleagues looked at each other. “There’s no dog, right?”
“No.”

[…]

He spoke with an English accent and said “brilliant,” “bloody,” and “Where’s the loo?”—as one colleague put it, he was “a grown man walking around with a fake accent that everyone knows is fake.” The habit lasted for years, and one can find a postman, not a mailman, in “The Woman in the Window.”

[…]

While [author Sophie Hannah] was writing “Closed Casket,” her private working title for the novel was “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Poirot’s About You.”

[…]

This is the setup for “Copycat,” a spirited 1995 thriller, set in San Francisco, starring Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter. It also describes “The Woman in the Window.”

So dude is a pathological liar and a hack. Figures.

I used to work with a skyscraper-full of people like this chap. He’s nothing special. A textbook case, actually. It just seems like he “blindsided” most of publishing, but the reality is they’d knowingly chosen to let him slide on his numerous infractions, a privilege of the young, white, and male.

All that is to say I’m passing on both the book and the author.

The Gospel of Loki (Loki #1) by Joanne Harris

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: January 13 to 19, 2019
Location: O’Hare International Airport

If this book were to have a tagline, it should be sympathy for the devil because this is Loki’s story and you can’t help but feel for him. Or at least I did. The story unfolds with snide first-person narration from Loki’s caustic point of view, beginning from the moment Odin pulled him from Chaos to the moment he might or might not have brought down Asgard. (Is that too spoilery? I can never tell, especially when it comes to reviewing retellings of well known mythology…)

Before I get into it, I just wanted to say that this book has the most hilarious dramatis personæ list I’ve ever seen. If you don’t mind spoilers or are well versed in Norse mythology, check it out at any online bookstore.

For a moment I was disoriented. Too many sensations, all of them new, enveloped my new Aspect. I could see colours; I could smell sulphur; I could feel the snow in the air and see the face of the man before me, cloaked in glam from head to foot. I could have chosen any form: that of an animal, or a bird, or just a simple trail of fire. But, as it happened, I’d assumed the form with which you may be familiar; that of a young man with red hair and a certain je ne sais quoi.

Normally, I don’t enjoy showy, performative fiction and I rarely enjoy snide, caustic POV characters or that style of narration, save for Discworld and the Samuel Johnson series. So it took me over half the book to get used to Loki’s voice, and it took a little more before I began to understand him, his burning rage, and his war path. Near the end, though, I was with him all the way–his reasons for bringing down Asgard made sense, and so shoot me, I approved of his savagery.

He left the hall with the dignified walk of a man with a serious case of piles and I knew I’d made an enemy. Some people would have laughed it off, but not Heimdall. From that day on till the End of the Worlds, nothing would ever make him forget that first humiliation. Not that I wanted to be friends. Friendship is overrated. Who needs friends when you can have the certitudes of hostility? You know where you stand with an enemy. You know he won’t betray you. It’s the ones who claim to be your friends that you need to beware of.

Not being familiar with Norse mythology or Marvel’s Thor franchise, I was able to read this book like any other fictional retelling with a modern spin. That is, I had very few preconceived notions and was able to get on with the writing just fine, in spite of not really liking the narration in the beginning. I have a feeling, if you know Norse mythology or are a fan of Loki (whether from the Thor movies or American Gods or somewhere else), the first third of this book would probably bore you with its account/rehashing of Asgard’s and Odin’s history and the creation of the nine worlds, all told in Loki’s particular style with many amusing asides where he shares what he really thinks of a certain god or goddess and their purpose in Asgard. What he really thinks of Thor are, by far, my favorite moments in the book.

There are races that hate each other on sight – mongoose and snake; cat and dog – and though I didn’t know much of the Worlds, I guessed that the straightforward, muscular type would be the natural enemy of the lithe and devious type who thinks with his head and not his fists.

One thing that gave me pause when I started reading was Loki’s knack for slipping in anachronisms. One moment he would be talking about journeying to the Land of the Dead, and the next he would make a comment about teenagers these days–“you know how they are…” Descriptions of peasant folk and their country farms, and then cars and three-piece suits and so shoot me and je ne sais quoi. I get that the purpose is to show Loki as an immortal who exists outside of our reality, but slipping modern inventions/speech into ancient settings will never not be jarring to me.

That aside, what I like best about Loki’s take on Norse mythology is his biting sense of humor and shameless dishonesty–“it’s the chaos in me.” I started out reading this book on my own, but had to switch to the audio when I went out of town for a few days, and it was a good thing I had to switch because the audio is a lot of fun. Allan Corduner is a talented narrator and, in my opinion, has a great handle on the character of Loki as presented in this book. He adds so much to the listening experience that I think I started to feel for Loki because of his voice and narration style. This is one of those rare instances where I think the audio narrator enhances the prose.

There were a few compensations to having corporeal Aspect. Food (jam tarts were my favourites); drink (mostly wine and mead); setting things on fire; sex (although I was still extremely confused by all the taboos surrounding this – no animals, no siblings, no men, no married women, no demons – frankly, it was amazing to me that anyone had sex at all, with so many rules against it).

[…]

Well, don’t blame me for being attractive. Demons are, for the most part. Besides, it wasn’t as if the competition was especially tough. Sweaty, hairy warlords with no polish and no address, whose idea of a good time was to kill a few giants, wrestle a snake and then eat an ox and six suckling pigs without even taking a shower first, whilst belching a popular folk song. Of course the ladies gave me the eye. A bad boy is always appealing, and I’d always had a silver tongue.

[…]

my charm, which ran more to witty conversation than merely hitting things, a welcome change in Testosterone Central.

[…]

So shoot me. Turns out I’m not naturally monogamous.

In his defense, Loki didn’t start out as a pain in the ass who’s sole purpose was to bring Asgard to its knees. Quite the contrary. When Odin first brought him to Asgard, Loki did his best to try to fit in with “the family,” but after several disastrous attempts, he just couldn’t–it was the chaos in him, forever setting him apart. Also, it didn’t help matters much when none of them wanted to reach out to him or willingly accepted him (and his chaotic ways) into the family. After many disputes and being treated like an outsider even though he’s saved (and disrupted) their lives plenty of times, he finally had enough of them, Odin included. So he stealthily set out to bring down all of Asgard for all the pain he suffered because of them, but little did he know that that was part of a prophecy all along.

Once Loki put his mind to planning and carrying out his revenge, the book became a quick read for me, and much to my surprise, there’s some conflicting complexity to Loki’s characterization later in the book. He became less like his flighty former self at the start of the book and more like what an embattled immortal should be. I really like this change in him–it made the read a lot more interesting–and I’m glad that the whole book isn’t about Loki being a witty, clever trickster outwitting everyone and everything.

This is my first time reading Joanne Harris and certainly not the last. Looking forward to the next book of Loki.

Because it all has to end, of course. Everything dies – even Worlds; even gods; even Your Humble Narrator. From the moment the Worlds came to life, Ragnarók, the End of All Things, was written into every living cell in runes more complex than any we know. Life and Death in one package – with Order and Chaos acting not as two forces in opposition but as a single cosmic force too vast for us to comprehend.

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2) by Max Gladstone

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: January 8 to 13, 2019

I tried reading this book twice before with no luck, only getting as far as 10% before setting it aside. This time would have been my final attempt if I couldn’t get any further than that. Good thing I was in the right mood and frame of mind to appreciate it for what it is: a composite of magical legalities involving water distribution and municipality, and a short meditation on sustainable living and reconciling tradition and modernity in an uneasy post-revolutionary world where the gods are dead (because they’ve been killed off).

Whew. When spelled out like that, the reason I couldn’t get into this book in the past is crystal clear. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy the satire or the weirdness.

Dresediel Lex sprawled below: fifteen thousand miles of roads gleaming with ghostlight and gas lamps. Between boulevards crouched the houses and shops and apartment buildings, bars and banks, theaters and factories and restaurants, where seventeen million people drank and loved and danced and worked and died.

The interesting thing about the world of the Craft Sequence is that it’s very much like our own reality, except almost everything about it, from laws to institutions to money to mundane everyday things like public transportation, has a weird magical bent. People there live like we do. The over-populated, desert city of Dresediel Lex is also run by corporations; it used to be run by gods, priests, and ceremonial human sacrifices. The legal system is a tangled mess. The water system is like that as well. There’s nightlife, there’s an art scene, and soul-sucking corporate jobs. Their police force is made up of cloaked, ghoul-like figures that ride barely-tamed flying serpentine creatures.

But since the story is told from the perspective of a young professional, the sights and scenes and thoughts permeating the prose are rather prosaic and pedestrian, which takes the joy and wonder out of the conglomerate, magical, world-building efforts on display.

We put a fence around history and hang a plaque and assume it’s over. Try to forget.

The post-revolution atmosphere in this Aztec-inspired city, on the other hand, is well portrayed in the book. I particularly like how everyday life is shown as normal and mundane with the general masses going about their daily business, and no one seems to be aware of the undercurrents of the side that lost the God Wars simmering beneath the surface. Just because the fight part of the revolution is over doesn’t mean the revolution is actually over.

Sixty years ago, the King in Red had shattered the sky over Dresediel Lex, and impaled gods on thorns of starlight. The last of his flesh had melted away decades past, leaving smooth bone and a constant grin. He was a good boss. But who could forget what he had been, and what remained?

[…]

“You live in a grim universe.”
“That’s risk management for you. Anything that can go wrong, will—with a set probability given certain assumptions. We tell you how to fix it, and what you should have done to keep it from happening in the first place. At times like these, I become a hindsight professional.”

The book opens up with the main character, Caleb, a risk management manager for the King in Red who currently runs the city, at a poker game. Then he is called to investigate a death at a water reserve, which kicks off the central mystery. For about 40% of the book, we follow him around the city while not much is happening. We do get to see the city up close and hear about all the things that make it tick though.

“Should I be worried that it takes demons to break you out of your funk?”
“Everyone likes to be needed,” he said.

It seems someone has poisoned the city’s water with demons, and Caleb is tasked with fixing this problem before the city runs out of water, the demons escape, and people take to the streets. During the investigation, Caleb runs into an attractive but elusive cliff runner, Mal. His instinct tells him she is somehow tied up in this thing, but his hormones persuade him to look the other way and not to dwell on the details.

Then the backup water source located outside the city is also sabotaged. The plot gets a lot more complicated, layered, and circular from here with the introduction of Caleb’s estranged father, a former priest of the old world who led multiple insurrections since the God Wars to overthrow the King in Red, and his role in this whole business. The King in Red is in the middle of acquiring a new water-related asset, Heartstone, and the deal is settled but still shaky. Curiously, Heartstone is run by another former priest of the old world order, not unlike Caleb’s father, and the old man just wants to watch the world burn. The titular two serpents do rise at the end of the book before being put back to rest. Then, in the middle of it all, there’s Mal the cliff runner who is also an associate at Heartstone.

Everything is tied up in a tangled web. By the time Caleb unravels this mystery piece by piece, it’s almost too late to save the city from itself.

Caleb almost refused on principle, but principle had no place on company time.

I realize now the reason I couldn’t get into this book in the past was because Caleb reminded me too much of myself back when I used to work for a similar soul-sucking corp. Didn’t know the meaning of “soul-sucking” until I left that job. So Caleb’s narration, the monotony of the work, the gradual grinding down of one’s self, sounds awfully familiar. The moment he chased after Mal, I got it and the book started making sense for me. He wasn’t chasing after her per se, but after a spark that made him feel something again.

For Caleb, it was Mal. For me, it was an elusive foreign account that was flirting with a possible merger. No one in my department could land it, but I thought I could because I’d needed it more than everyone else. And it was during this chase that I realized I hated the job. Hated the office culture, hated the environment that bred that kind of culture, hated the people I saw every day, hated the people I had to answer to. And I hated helping a Big 5 corp become even bigger. So I left and found a home-grown, grass-root startup that was just starting out. (Later on, it got too big too fast and had to sell out to a Big 5, but that’s another story for another day.)

Anyhow. I’d like to take a moment here to thank Max Gladstone for not killing off Teo, Caleb’s queer best friend who stuck with him through thick and thin, even when she was tied on the sacrificial alter moments before almost having her heart cut out. It’s the “little things” like this that make me have faith in an author, their writing, and where they’re taking their series. It’s what makes me want to stick around for another book, even though this one wasn’t quite an enjoyable read. I appreciate the work and creativity that went into making it entertaining though.

Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn

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Reading: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: August 29 to September 6, 2018
Location: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

Another surprising read of 2018. I expected to like this book, but didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and it was just what I needed to pull me out of my weird reading slump.

I bought this out-of-print book at a used bookstore because I liked the look of the cover and thought the brief summary on the back was interesting, but I had no idea what was inside. This was the best kind of surprise.

Can’t really say much about the plot or characters without giving too much away; I can only say that both are intertwined in an interestingly layered and nuanced way. In short, this book is about having faith and losing faith and finding your way back to what you lost. The brief summary on the back cover doesn’t do it justice, but I don’t know if there is a way to summarize this story and capture what it’s really about. I’ll work on it.

I had never read anything by Sharon Shinn before, only heard a lot about her over the years since I started reading genre fiction again. Now I look forward to reading everything she’s ever written.

The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister #1) by Courtney Milan

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: August 5 to 10, 2018

A well deserved 3.5 stars rating and perhaps one of the few books that surprised me this year. Looking forward to reading the rest of these books. Maybe not back-to-back because that would be too much, but in between longer reads.

“If Downton Abbey was a book series…” should be the hook for this series to reel potential readers in.

This book is a nice book in which the main characters are good people trying to do good things and be good people, all the while pushing against a social order that cements them into their “proper” place. They all have issues of their own and a dark, unsavory past looming over their lives and they each have to overcome those things before they can find their happily-ever-afters, and they do achieve that in the course of the book. The stakes are low: no one dies and there are no murders, kidnapping, wars, uprisings, mysteries, or supernatural things out to get anyone. The only danger here is loss of reputation and being shunned from society forever. Like I said, low stakes. But despite it all, I enjoyed the read. I even enjoyed the mostly boring parts of the plot in which nothing seemed to be happening. Most of all though, I enjoy the writing.

Incorporating sedition and the beginning of unions and setting the story in 1863 Leicester is an interesting touch. But since the story is told from a duke’s and genteel young woman’s points of view, we only get to see how the upper classes are almost affected by these things. This is not a critique, just an observation. The author, Courtney Milan, seems very aware of the social revolutions relevant to the time periods of her stories, and I like that she wrote them into the romance plot. It makes for a better, deeper, richer reading experience and it’s a constant reminder of the setting and time period.

I’m always weary of historical romances that feature huge ball gowns on the cover because it usually means the books are either really smutty in the classic bodice-ripper sense or really uptight in the classic Victorian sense, and so I was weary of this book long before starting it. I’m still weary of huge ball gowns on the cover, but no longer of Courtney Milan.

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga #1) by Fonda Lee

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: June 3 to 18, 2018

An excellent start to what will no doubt be an excellent series. I admit to not really feeling this book at the beginning, but it grew on me and gradually sunk its jaded hooks into me, and by the end, I was way deep in it. And this was the most fun I’ve had in awhile.

Readers familiar with The Godfather will recognize similarities between these two books–family, honor, tradition, revenge, war. Where this book diverges from crime family sagas that came before it is the inclusion of urban magic into the mix and setting the story during what looks to me like post-colonial Singapore, but the setting is ambiguous enough that any major city on an Island in Southeast Asia would fit. While still rooted in reality, with all the trappings of politics and urban warfare, the magic (of jade) adds an interesting brutality to an already brutal world, and Fonda Lee has done a great job bringing this vibrant world to life.

There’s just something about a bloody tale of vengeance that calls to me. But the thing is, I’m not normally a fan of blood and gore. It works for this story though. Fonda Lee has found the right mix of compelling storytelling and violence that takes this story to the next level. I found myself glued to the second half of the book and was deeply invested in the characters before I knew what was happening. I couldn’t NOT look away and had to stop my myself from flipping ahead to see if a certain character lived or died.

This was another great buddy read with Beth (her review), and what a ride it was.

Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: December 30, 2018 to January 7, 2019

A frustrating read that eventually came together in the end in a fairly spectacular way. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I’ve been fighting with this book for over a week now, and the euphoria of reaching the end to find answers waiting for me is temporarily blanketing most of my initial frustration. Whatever it is, I no longer resent the amount of work I had to put in to get to those answers, although your mileage may vary.

This novel is the very definition of “your mileage may vary” because it’s hard to gauge, and I cannot think of one person I know, either online or irl, whom I’m certain would like it. That wouldn’t stop me from recommending it though, if only so I’d get to see someone else go through what I did… hee hee.

So what is this book about? I’m actually still trying to figure that out myself, and I’ve only gotten some of the pieces to fit in a way that makes sense. But let’s give it a shot anyway.

The basic plot is this: after leading an unsuccessful mission, young, talented, and extremely loyal Captain Kel Cheris gets another chance to save her career.

In a way each battle was home: a wretched home, where small mistakes went unnoticed, but a home nonetheless. She didn’t know what it said about her that her duty suited her so well, but so long as it was her duty, it didn’t matter what she thought about it.

Cheris, along with a few of her peers, are recruited to a risky, high-profile assignment in which they each offer a new solution to a constant problem–a tricky faction rising up on one of the empire’s planets. Cheris has an outrageous idea and it gets chosen almost immediately; she is too young and naive to give this much thought. The idea is to resurrect a dead general who never lost a battle, but who was also known for going mad and massacring a rebellion along with his own troops, to help her put down the current rebellion. So the spirit of dead, psychotic General Shuos Jedao is brought back to life as a consciousness that only Cheris can interact with. (He’s called “undead” in the book’s blurb, and that’s just misleading, especially for people who read a lot of paranormal or urban fantasy…)

The rest of the book is about Cheris and Jedao dealing with rebel forces all the while butting heads, battling over tactics, playing mind games, making hard decisions, and ultimately bonding. Literally.

This is the first time in Cheris’ life leading an operation of this size and caliber with the empire’s backing, and there are plenty of tense moments and close calls for her throughout the book.

Jedao himself is an enigma full of contradictions, and through him, Cheris begins to doubt, and later on, to realize that maybe she is fighting for the wrong side.

We do get to learn what happened to Jedao all those years ago that led to the massacre. A short but poignant end to this part of the trilogy.

None of this will make much sense though because you’re thrown into the deep end in the very first scene and things only get more confusing from there. The writing is full of jargon and offers very few explanations, so you just have to roll with it. But with repeated exposure to these terms, you get used to them. Or not–your mileage may vary.

There’s a lot of talk about calendars and mathematical equations, which might lead you to think there’s some kind of system or logic behind the tech, but there’s really not. The tech here is akin to an elaborate magic system without all the elaborate explanations.

Calendars are important because they are. Math makes this universe go round because it does. Heretics are those who dare to defy the empire by creating their own calendars to live by. New calendars are believed to weaken the empire’s hold on power and unbalance of the universe somehow. Therefore the heretics must be put down immediately. No exceptions. No mercy. 

“I’m not complaining about the guns,” [Cheris] said, “but guns change minds, not hearts. And calendrical rot is a matter of hearts.”

“It depends on what you shoot,” Jedao said dryly.

Which leads right into my next point: there is a high body count, as you’d expect with military fiction. And like good Mil-SF, the writing shows the mental and emotional toll the amount of killing and the methods of mass killing take on the people with their boots on the ground. In contrast, you get to see and compare that to those back on their home worlds plotting ways in which to use the death toll to further their own political careers. Hundreds of years in the future, and yet not much has changed on this front.

It was important to acknowledge numbers, especially when the dead were dead by your doing.

A big part of my frustration with this book was sympathizing with the heretics/rebel forces while having to read the story from the point of view of the leader of an invading swarm. It pushed all the right buttons to get my heckles up, but I was too busy fighting the frustration to realize what was happening or that I was being played.

I have a feeling I will appreciate this book more once I get through the whole trilogy. It’s the kind of story that has the potential to stay with me for years to come, as I can already feel it knocking around in my head.

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) by Tana French

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: March 2 to 9, 2018

Tana French’s writing will always captivate me with its realism and the way it skirts the edge of reality and fantasy, but unfortunately, it only captivates me as long as I’m reading it. When I put it down for a moment and go do something else, I always find myself reluctant to return to it, as though coming back to the stark, too realistic world she’s created is too much like returning to a real life situation I never wanted to experience for myself. And therefore there’s no real enjoyment in reading her books. There’s appreciation for the deftness of the writing, but not much enjoyment. At least, I think that’s why I can’t make much headway with this series unless I really push it or force myself to sit down to read.

Another thing that I can’t get into is French’s reluctance to embrace the sci-fi/fantasy elements in her books. Adhering to mystery standards is fine, albeit boring, so why not introduce some otherworldly possibilities, yeah? Just my opinion. Mixing realism and genre or hinting at an otherworldliness at work in the story is all well and good and makes for a thrilling read, but at the end of the books in this series, the reasons given for the strangeness of these murder investigations are flimsily explained away, often with no satisfying answers given. Ironically, I think I would be more inclined to believe / buy into these books if they were indeed SF/F.

In the first book, it’s the decades-old cold case directly involving one of the lead detectives who was currently investigating a present-day missing persons case that had many eerie ties to the cold case from his past. The cold case was never solved in the course of the book and the current case became a murder investigation that then turned to ruins when the two lead detectives mucked it up by getting their real lives mixed up in their investigation. What a mess–oh man, the lawsuits that would have rained down upon their heads if this info had gone public–and not at all believable by the end of the book. The cold case had several eerie fantastical elements to it, as unsolved mysterious disappearances often do, but since it never got solved, you don’t get to know what happened in the end or why.

In this book, it’s a doppelganger situation, or more precisely, the murder of a doppelganger. Lots of time is spent on showing the physical similarities between Cassie and Lexie, yet no believable explanation is given for the most important thing about this case–the reason these two strangers look so much alike or how Cassie knows how to “channel” Lexie and becomes her the instant she infiltrates Lexie’s life. And no one in Lexie’s life, not even her closest friends whom she was living with, suspects a thing? Not possible. Perhaps if there was a sci-fi or fantastical reason given for all this likeness, I would’ve been more inclined to buy into the story. But of course there isn’t. Because Tana French doesn’t like to give you a plausible reason. Or closure.

So, while I do appreciate the cleverness of this series and Tana French’s writing, I will always find it hard to get the books… as strictly contemporary murder mysteries. But as urban fantasies? They could be excellent.

It’s been a couple of months since I read this book in a buddy read (with Orient and Sr3yas) and I still can’t seem to figure out how I feel about it or whether or not to read the next book in the series.

2019: Reading Challenge

I’ve been neglecting this blog for far too long in part because I haven’t been reviewing much of the books I read last year, which was a big mistake because 2018 was a great reading year. A terrible year otherwise, but a great year for genre fiction for me. Unfortunately, by not reviewing those books, I’ve forgotten about over half of them. So this year I’m going to try to do better and be more organized.

Mainly, I’m gonna try something new this year to see if I can 1) review every book I read (not just the really good ones or the really bad ones; everything in between as well) and 2) get more books off my short list, with particular focus on books I own.

Also gonna cut down on rereads and new releases, unless they’re part of a series I’m currently reading.

The “challenge” for this year is 48 books reviewed, not read–I usually read about that much in half a year.

So I have a list of 48 books planned for the year with 4 alternates waiting in the wing in case I get through the whole list earlier than planned, and the list looks something like this:

JANUARY
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (review)
Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone (review)
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris (review)
Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory (review)
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (review)

FEBRUARY
– Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
– Where Oblivion Lives by Teresa Frohock
– A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
– Athyra & Orca by Steven Brust (technically 2 books but 1 omnibus)
– The Minority Council by Kate Griffin

MARCH
– A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
– Wild Country by Anne Bishop
– Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells
– The Weavers of Saramyr by Chris Wooding

APRIL
– The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
– Lord of the Fading Lands by C. L. Wilson
– Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan (novella)
– Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff

MAY
– The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch (novella)
– Death by Dumping by Vivien Chen
– A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
– Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

JUNE
– A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman
– Agent of Change by Sharon Lee
– Heartstone by Elle Katharine White
– The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin

JULY
– Changeless by Gail Carriger
– Sky Raiders by Michelle Diener
– The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
– Song for the Basilisk by Patricia Mckillip

AUGUST
– Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott
– The Iron Khan by Liz Williams
– God Stalk by P. C. Hodgell
– Witch’s Blood by Ginn Hale

SEPTEMBER
– Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
– To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
– Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
– Petty Magic by Camille Deangelis

OCTOBER
– Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
– Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
– The Black Wolves of Boston by Wen Spencer
– Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

NOVEMBER
– A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
– Fledgling by Octavia Butler
– City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
– Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock

DECEMBER
– The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells
– The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston
– Melusine by Sarah Monette
– The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

ALTS
*First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
*The Wolf of Winter by Paula Volsky
*Witchmark by C. L. Polk
*[…something…] by Jennifer Fallon