California Bones (Daniel Blackland #1) by Greg Van Eekhout

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 2 to 5, 2017

Great ideas

  • osteomancy: magic derived from ingesting bones of ancient and mythology creatures (the powers these creatures give off are pretty amazing)
  • post-succession California: CA left the Union some years ago and then split into North and South, and now they’re constantly at war with each other and the Union
  • post-succession Los Angeles is an urban dystopic landscape that isn’t void of life or color
  • LA is still LA after all
  • Southern CA is under the reign of a megalomaniac who’s hoarding power and killing off other magic users
  • these killings are state sanctioned and done in waves
  • cannibalism
  • golems
  • travel by water: the Venice Canals play an important role in the story (I had no idea what these were, so had to look them up–very interesting water system)

So all great ideas, but the execution is just… all right.

I found the writing overall to be decent, but there were a few places where it was tedious and repetitive and oddly YA. Add to that some thin characters and a heist plot that’s wrapped up too quickly, and the whole thing felt incomplete. But this is the first of a trilogy, so that’s okay, I guess…

The heist was fun while it played out. Up to that point–more than half way through–I wasn’t really feeling the story or characters much, and the read was kind of a drag. Once the heist was put in motion though, things got interesting. Too bad they didn’t last long and were rushed toward a quick ending, in which several new elements were added to the story to be played out in the second book. So no satisfactory ending here.

When it comes down to the basics, my biggest issue with this book are the characters, individually and as a group. There’s a weird naivety to them that I found at odds with their experience and hardened criminal exteriors, and I never really got past that. There was always something about them that kept me from getting into the story

It’s very likely I will read the next book, but I’m gonna take a long break and come back to this series once all my residual annoyances clear.

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Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2) by Daniel O’Malley

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: November 21 to December 1, 2017

A rollicking good read. Not a 5-star book, but definitely one I’ll return to for a good laugh. While I didn’t like the first book as much, I found this one hard to put down from the very first moment.

Sometimes when you come across a book that fits your current mood, everything about it makes sense. I was desperately in need of a laugh when I picked up this book and went into it not expecting much, but as I started reading, humor and alt-history got to me. More on that below.

This series–well, just the 2 books so far–is hard to write about without giving to much away, but I’ve found that comparing it to the X-men makes it easier to explain.

So imagine the X-men:
– as a secret government network
– set in London
– protecting queen and country
– while dealing with cases from the X-files
– and paperwork (lots and lots of paperwork)
– oh and there are monsters of both the supernatural and natural persuasion trying to destroy the UK practically every other day

So imagine all of that not as a superhero drama but a comedy with a strong slapstick air, and you get these books. They’re a much-needed break from my daily grind. Their fictional diplomatic and bureaucratic difficulties are hilarious, yet believable, and for a few moments, I get to not think about… current events. And that’s all I’m looking for these days.

Some quotes and highlights:

Felicity preparing for a mission

“It’s my urine?” Felicity said incredulously.
“Don’t think of it as urine,” Pawn Odgers advised her. “Try to think of it as an olfactory disguise.”
Felicity tried and was not measurably comforted. “But where did you get my urine?” she asked.
“The Checquy has samples of everyone’s everything,” said Odgers cheerfully. “Remember, during your time at the Estate, they kept taking specimens of your every fluid and solid?”
“That was for scientific research!” exclaimed Felicity. “And it was years ago!”
“Would someone else’s fresh urine be better?”

the Checquy being the Checquy

If you gave birth to a child whose breath baked bread, it too belonged to the monarch.
Of course, the monarchy didn’t want these people (and creatures) hanging around the palace, being all unnatural and touching the furniture. Thus, the throne delegated this authority of guardianship to the Checquy, so, by royal writ, the Court of the Checquy held the right and the obligation to take into its custody any person on the British Isles who was possessed of supernatural abilities.

[…]

Naturally, he broke all the Estate records for the throwing sports (except for the javelin, because one girl in his class managed to fold space so that her javelin landed in China).

[…]

She had nine confirmed kills of people and two confirmed kills of creatures who, although they wore trousers, were not counted as people by the Checquy.

[…]

There is no way this conversation is not going to get horrible, thought Odette. No situation is improved by the presence of a gigantic anus.
At that moment, the gigantic anus in question trembled and, before anyone could react, unclenched.

[…]

“They sounded English,” remarked Bishop Alrich. “Tasted English too.” (Bishop Alrich is a vampire.)

[…]

“Louis can draw wasps to him.”
“Very cool,” said Odette. “Wait, so you can both do things with wasps? Are you two related?”
“Oh, no,” said Louis. “Sorry, she does the thing with insects. I can attract white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.”

Ernst being Ernst

“So, you clone things?”
“We can,” said Marcel. “We don’t, though, not usually. Of course, we grow bits of people, but we don’t make whole people.”
“Why not?” asked Eckhart.
“We prefer to have sex,” said Ernst, causing Pawn Clements to choke on her orange juice. “Plus, anyone who wants to clone himself is usually an asshole. You don’t want any more of those running around than absolutely necessary.”

“My fanny”

“So, darling,” he said to Odette, “are you my fanny?”
“I beg your pardon?” she said, completely at a loss.
“Not ‘my fanny,’ you tosser,” said one of the black guys. “Myfanwy.”
“Oh, whatever,” said the first guy. “Like that’s even a name.”

* * * * some spoilers below * * * *

Continue reading

Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: July 3 to August 24, 2017
Recommended for: anyone interested in perfumes

How could something as shapeless and evanescent as smell have a history and a culture?

[…]

For the moment, let’s just say that, like all other arts, perfume should engage our attention to a satisfying end, first creating an expectation and then satisfying it in a way different and better than you hoped.

[…]

Perfumes seem to come in various weights and sizes, to have different personalities, to wear different clothes, to worship different deities. Some perfumes are facile and some are complicated; some are representative, some abstract. Above all, some are better than others.

Shots fired. This book gets down to the point quickly, and the authors don’t mince words in their critiques.

As the title says, this is a large reference guide that contains a series of connected essays about perfumery. Before it gets into the reference part, you get history, science, methodology, etymology, explanation of the art and production of perfumery, chronology of hits and misses throughout the years, and a moment of silence for all the discontinued greats. Mostly though, what it is is a collection of reviews by two of the most trusted, respected, and valued reviewers in the industry.

The authors are husband and wife Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, and they are considered pillars of the community. This in itself is a huge deal because the perfume community is quite–what’s the word–snobby. Turin is a biophysicist and Sanchez is a journalist, and reviewing perfumes is their hobby. Their backgrounds lend a scientific basis to this book and each review of the perfumes sampled. Turns out, there’s actually a science to the scents you’re drawn to, but of course it’s not a hard science. More research is needed here.

What I find most interesting about this book is that it’s made me realize I don’t have expensive taste. As a matter of fact, I’ve never had expensive taste. My taste in perfumes, and perhaps in art in general, veer toward simple, clean, and generic. Most of the scents I like are maligned or dismissed by Turin and Sanchez as “simple,” “too clean,” “too generic,” “mass produced”, or “has been done before and done better.” This last one is my favorite, and it’s in reference to DKNY’s Be Delicious–you might remember it as that perfume bottle that looks like a green apple.

While Turin and Sanchez and I don’t have overlapping taste, we do seem to hate the same type of scents, like those “made” by pop stars and 15-minute celebrities. Those concoctions, literally and hilariously called “trash perfumes” in the book, are often sickly sweet, full of synthetics, but ironically don’t last past the hour. Not worth the money and an offense to anyone within smelling reach because the wearer tends to over spray (to make it last longer).

Reading some of these reviews, especially the overly harsh ones, is exactly like reading well-written negative reviews of books I love. There’s a strange sense of enjoyment in the critiques, but it’s not all cattiness and snobbery. Turin and Sanchez do deconstruct the perfumes themselves and analyze each note and layer individually, to determine why it works or doesn’t work. Since they write so well, are consistent, and are themselves critical of the whole perfume industry, I enjoyed this whole book from beginning to end and I learned a lot, especially from the negative reviews of scents I love.

But if you have never smelled a certain perfume before, such as those discontinued ones, it’s hard to imagine what they were like just from descriptions of the notes. No matter how exact Turin’s and Sanchez’s words are, you’ll never grasp what they say unless you’ve smelled that scent before. In that, our language and biology are extremely limiting.

Learning about perfumery is like learning a new language to me, and this book was a good place to start because it’s got everything. While the language of perfume is new and foreign, the ideas are familiar because it’s mostly a language of memory. Therefore, there’s no accounting for taste. Hah hah. I’m only sort of kidding. The scents you’re most drawn to are often connected to pleasant memories.

I’ve never been a fan of perfumes because of the way they smell–not a joke–but I’ve always been interested in their creation–recipes, concoctions, history, happy accidents, years of dedication to make one memorable lasting scent. The combination of essential oils and synthetic chemicals and their results are fascinating to me. I’m not a purist, so I do have an appreciation for the synthetics, mostly for their lasting power. A perfect combination would be mostly organics with some synthetics to make it last, but an ounce of something like that would be worth a cool thousand easily.

The scents I’m most drawn to are organics with fresh clean light fruity notes–“simple” and “generic,” according to the authors. When combined with tea, these notes smell amazing to me. But what smells amazing to you (in the bottle) is not necessarily going to smell as amazing once it’s on you (because of your body chemistry). So I haven’t tried any on myself yet.

While I don’t wear perfumes myself, I do like some on other people, especially when I smell a scent that “fits” the person wearing it. Strange concept, that–a scent that “fits” you. This goes back to taste with the addition of body chemistry. Finding a scent that hits both targets for you is an art in and of itself. The industry should consider putting more research into this, rather than pumping out a new scent every couple of months. If people understand what works or doesn’t work for their body chemistry, they’re more likely to try more perfumes and buy more in general. Just saying.

This book was fun and a nice escape from the world burning all around me. It allowed to go back in time to a time when the world wasn’t burning all around me–how many years ago was 2016?

Anyhow, perfumery will never be something I take seriously because, at its core, it’s still a frivolous luxury past time no matter how you dress it, but learning about the culture and community was a pleasant experience. I liken it to visiting a corner of the world that rarely get tourists. And now the knowledge will most likely take up space in my head rather than be applied in real life. And such is the burden of those who like to learn but not necessarily do.

A Rare Book of Cunning Device (Peter Grant, #5.6) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 28 to May 6, 2017

Funny, too short, and available only on audio, for now anyway, and it’s still going for free at Audible.

Nightingale is out of town again, and Peter gets called to the British Library about what appears at first to be a poltergeist problem. But after some investigating, it turns out to be a book running amok after dark and keeping the librarians up at night.

The book isn’t actually a book, but an ancient device of magical origins. It has moving parts and seems somewhat sentient, or at least aware of its surrounding. I’d love to learn more about it and see it featured in later books.

Peter brings Toby and Postmartin along to the library and learns from the librarians that the good professor has a reputation for stealing rare tomes. This comes as no surprise to me because I’ve always suspected that about him. Gatekeepers like the people of the Folly have always seemed like the kind to “confiscate” rare books and other objects of magical origins for safe keeping.

This short story reads like another sequence from the cutting room floor, not unlike The Home Crowd Advantage. I get the feeling these two should have been part of the main novels, but for whatever reason, they had to be cut during the editing process. But they were too good to delete permanently, so we get these little snippets to entertain us while we wait for #7.

The Book of Jhereg (Vlad Taltos, #1-3) by Steven Brust

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Jhereg: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Yendi: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Teckla: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: December 16, 2016 to April 30, 2017

Amazing books. Amazing journey. Very memorable characters. I love Vlad and this world of dragons and dragon people and their layered politics, and I can’t wait to get started on the second omnibus.

I have a thing about reading series in order, and it was with a lot of reluctance and much hand-wringing that I read this series out of chronological order. I had gotten almost the whole series in these omnibus editions that “organized” the books in publication order (i.e. definitely not chronological order), and figuring out where to start or jump in took up too much time. So I just started with the first book of the first omnibus, which was Jhereg, and soon found that the order was not that big a deal for this series, as many people have told me before.

The order in which you read doesn’t affect your enjoyment that much because each book could be read as a standalone–sort of, “technically.” I could explain further now that I’ve read the first three books, set in three different points of Vlad Taltos’ life and career, but the explanation is… gonna get complicated, more complicated.

Suffice it to say I really enjoyed all three books, maybe the third one a little less than the previous two, but that’s only because it contained too many real life implications that mirrored some of my own and reading about those things are never fun.

The writing is great, however, and I never felt it faltering once. This doesn’t mean much unless or until you take into account the series’ complete timeline and you see where each book falls (how years apart they are, how much happens in between). Only Then you would realize the depth and complexity of this world and how writing a series out of order like this is unbelievably difficult. Steven Brust did this all the while maintaining continuity and coherence AND not letting the overarching story line falter, not even once.

It’s amazing, and I’m nothing short of impressed.

* * * * *

Some thoughts on my first read of Jhereg:

Satisfyingly good. The kind of good that makes you anxious to get to the next book. The kind of good that makes you glad there are over ten books in the series. The kind of good that makes me not care about book orders. Maybe it’s a good thing these books are written out of order?–is a thing I never thought I’d say. But I have a good feeling about Steven Brust and I trust he’ll deliver.

It’s been awhile since high fantasy has been this good for me, and it’s been even longer since I liked a POV main character in high fantasy enough to know that I’ll like whatever trials and tribulations he’s put through. And I like Vlad Taltos. Thus far, he’s already shown himself to be a multifaceted character full of nuance, and I can only imagine he’ll get more complex with each book.

Plus, there are dragons everywhere.

Full review to come when I get through the entire series.

* * * * *

Trying to figure out the order of this series is giving me a serious case of involuntary twitching. So far from what I’ve gleaned on various forums and reviews, the publication order is completely different from the chronological order.

*more twitching*

But the order in which you read these books does not matter. At all. Because they were purposely written out of order.

*bangs head on desk*

Why.

(I have a thing for publication order)

* * * * *

Publication order goes like this:
Jhereg
Yendi
Teckla
Taltos
Phoenix
Athyra
Orca
Dragon
Issola
Dzur
Jhegaala
Iorich
Tiassa
Hawk

But chronological order goes like this:
Taltos
Dragon
Yendi
Jhereg
Teckla
Phoenix
Jhegaala
Athyra
Orca
Issola
Dzur
Iorich
Tiassa
Hawk

The only book I have is Jhereg, so I’m gonna start there.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: March 28 to April 3, 2017

Another winning tale by Patricia McKillip. This is only the second book I’ve read by her, but I’m convinced she can do no wrong. There’s something delightful and magical about the way she writes that pulls me into her stories, and I don’t surface until the last page is turned.

It doesn’t happen often to me, but once in awhile I come across a book and wish I was young again to enjoy it with an open, less burdened mind, and to enjoy it in the spirit it was written and, just for a moment, be its target audience again. This is one of those rare books in which the magic is real; I just can’t feel it anymore.

Even though I enjoy it now and really like the writing, it’s a cold, intellectual kind of enjoyment. Lovely prose, lovely story. I love the way it reads on the page and can methodically deconstruct all the things that I like about it and appreciate the parts as much as the whole story, but it doesn’t hit me right in the feels like The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Yet I’m certain I would have loved this book more when I was younger, when I would have been eager to be fully immersed in the mystique of the sea and its mysterious magical pull. I think, back then, I would have been able to hear it calling as clearly as Peri.

“Be happy now,” she whispered, aware of all the shining waves behind him reaching toward him, withdrawing, beckoning again. She added, feeling the pain again in her throat, “When I’m old–older than the old women who taught me to make the hexes–come for me then.”

“I will.”

“Promise me. That you will bring me black pearls and sing me into the sea when I am old.”

“I promise.”

[…]

“Your heart sang to the sea. I heard it, deep in my coral tower, and followed the singing. Humans say the sea sings to them and traps them, but sometimes it is the human song that traps the sea. Who knows where the land ends and the sea begins?”

“The land begins where time begins.”

[…]

“It’s an odd thing, happiness. Some people take happiness from gold. Or black pearls. And some of us, far more fortunate, take their happiness from periwinkles.”

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: March 25 to 28, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

This book gave me chills. Still does.

I went in knowing nothing about it. I mean, I did skim some of the reviews, so I knew it was highly rated and people seemed to love, but other than that, I had no idea what it’s about or what to expect, and I had never read Patricia McKillip before.

And that was the best way to approach because the writing blew me away. It is simply SO GOOD and has a beautiful fluidity to it that makes it so easy to fall into.

What impresses me most is that the prose is neither purple nor flowery; it’s just lovely to read. There’s a dreamy, poignant, lyrical quality to it, yet it’s so easy to read and so concise. There’s not an unnecessary scene or line or moment anywhere. Every word serves a purpose, and not once during the read did I feel like the story was wandering around aimlessly. Nothing is out of place, and so much happens in so few pages. And I just love that kind of writing–purposeful and minimalistic in execution.

So what is this book about?

Briefly: Sybel, a young powerful sorceress who knows nothing of the world below her mountain and wants nothing to do with it, is pushed into the affairs of two warring sides within a kingdom when a baby is brought to her to raise.

On one side, there’s an insecure king who fears being dethroned. On the other side, there’s family of nobles who would like to dethrone the king. Their animosity toward each other go way back. Both sides want Sybel and use her powers for their own, but only one seeks out a way to break and bind her to their will. What follows is an all consuming tale of near destruction.

Well… not exactly, but that was what it felt like during the read, like everything was coming apart at the seams, and I could not turn the page fast enough.

Sometimes, after a string of bland genre picks, I would forget what it’s like to read well written fantasy, but then something always comes along to remind me. McKillip was the perfect reminder.

“What, in years to come, will you have in your life but a silence that is meaningless, ancient names that are never spoken beyond these walls? Who will you laugh with, when Tam is grown? Who will you love? The Liralen? It is a dream. Beyond this mountain, there is a place for you among the living.”

[…]

“You can weave your life for so long–only so long, and then a thing in the world out of your control will tug at one vital thread and leave you patternless and subdued.”

[…]

“Be patient. It will soon be over.”
“Soon is such a long word,” she whispered.

The Emperor’s Edge (The Emperor’s Edge, #1) by Lindsay Buroker

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: March 15 to 24, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

A decent, light fantasy.

It was easy to read and kept the pages turning, and that was all I was looking for this week.

Since this is the author’s first book, there are various things in the story that aren’t as polished or fully developed as they could have been, like the “steampunk” setting and world building, but I found myself not too preoccupied with figuring them out or trying to make sense of the technology or politics while reading because the story was entertaining and it didn’t seem to take itself too seriously.

The main character, Corporeal Amaranthe Lokdon, is one of the few female enforcers (police) in an imperial city that only just recently allowed women into the force. Lokdon is a hard worker and fairly good at her job, but she continues to be ignored by her superiors and thus gets passed over for promotions. Meanwhile, her slacker partner gets noticed and promoted.

At the beginning of the book, Amaranthe is investigating an arson case when she catches the eye of the young emperor who quickly becomes attracted to her. Because of this attraction, she’s marked for death by Hollowcrest, the emperor’s right hand man, who just happens to be controlling the throne behind the scenes. Hollowcrest sets her on a mission to bait and kill the infamous Sicarius. When she unravels his plan, Hollowcrest has her captured, and that sets the rest of the plot in motion.

Amaranthe goes on the run and teams up with Sicarius, all the while coming up with a plan unmask Hollowcrest and save the emperor. She puts together a rag-tag team of misfits to help her carry out her plans. Sometimes annoying, other times endearing; nevertheless their interactions and misadventures in the city are amusing to read. I can see the potential for them becoming an interesting team later on.

Where he had found the outfit, she did not know, but everything from the boots to the gloves to the parka and fur cap fit reasonably well. And there were no grizzly bloodstains to suggest he had killed someone to get it. That was something, at least.

[…]

“Do you have…” A list? A pamphlet? A room full of naked men lined up like pastries on the shelf at Curt’s Bakery? “How does it work?”

[…]

“If we’re discovered, I’ll do everything I can to make time for you and the others to escape.”
“Sicarius too?” he asked with a hint of amusement.
“If Sicarius is discovered, I’ll have to try and make time for the enforcers to escape.”

[…]

“Any assassin who allows himself to be distracted by his word deserves a knife in the back. It’s not professional.”

With that said, I should mention there’s some suspension of disbelief required to enjoy this story. Like for instance, I still have a hard time figuring out

  1. why Hollowcrest wants Amaranthe dead almost immediately–there really is nothing threatening about her
  2. how Amaranthe isn’t recognized more often if her face is on wanted posters plastered all across the city
  3. how she’s gotten so lucky recruiting just enough men for her elaborate plan
  4. that “elaborate” plan…
  5. and why so many men

Anyhow.

Although this book doesn’t really give you a good sense of the scope of the story arc, the empire, or the world in general, it does lay the groundwork for something bigger with the promise of more depth and adventure to come. I’m hoping the next few books will provide that, and I’m willing to give this series a few books to find itself and get going.

The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant, #6) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: November 14 to December 19, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

The tag line on the cover says: Back in London, back in trouble which pretty much sums up this book. We’re back in London, and Peter Grant and friends are back in trouble. And it’s the same kind of trouble that’s been plaguing them since Moon Over Soho.

But finally, we stop chasing after ghosts and faceless mysteries and come face to face with the man behind the mask. And there really is a face behind that mask. This reveal was indeed a surprise, but whether or not it does anything for the series’ continuous arc will depend on how it plays out in later books.

This book picks up a month or two following the events in Foxglove Summer, and the trouble all started when one of the Thames sisters called in a favor from Peter. What started out as a simple, straightforward investigation into whether a teenage girl’s drug overdose was accidental or deliberate turned into a huge Falcon case, uncharacteristically complete with a huge revelation at the end. Not as big, imo, as the ending of Broken Homes, but it’s relatively seismic as far as revelations go in this series.

With that said, I must admit I’m mostly lukewarm toward this book in particular, and I’ve been mulling over it for a few months now, trying to figure out why that is. The writing isn’t that different from previous books.

“So when a bunch of fucking kids waltz into the building, the DPG wants to know how. And I get woken up in the middle of the fucking night,” said Seawoll. “And told to find out on pain of getting a bollocking. Me?” he said in outrage. “Getting a bollocking? And just when I thought things couldn’t descend further into the brown stuff–here you are.”

As a matter of fact, it’s very much in line with previous books in terms of quality, plotting, pacing, humor, adventures and misadventures. Peter and the rest of the gang are developing and progressing at their usual pace–I very much enjoyed every scene with Seawoll and Stephanopoulos.

“So he’s a French fairy tale,” said Seawoll and turned to look, thank god, at Nightingale instead of me. “Is he?”
“That’s a difficult question, Alexander,” said Nightingale.
“I know it’s a difficult question, Thomas,” said Seawoll slowly. “That’s why I’m fucking asking it.”
“Yes, but do you want to know the actual answer?” said Nightingale. “You’ve always proved reluctant in the past. Am I to understand that you’ve changed your attitude?”
“You can fucking understand what you bloody like,” said Seawoll. “But in this case I do bloody want to know because I don’t want to lose any more officers to things I don’t fucking understand.” He glanced at me and frowned. “Two is too many.”

[…]

Generally when you’re interviewing somebody and they seem remarkably calm about one crime, it’s because they’re relieved you haven’t found out about something else.

Plus, there are plenty of humorous moments scattered throughout the book, and Peter is still his usual funny, likable self. So it’s just like previous books.

Bollocks, I thought, or testiculi or possibly testiculos if we were using the accusative.

[…]

“What I’m saying here,” Seawoll had said, “is try to limit the amount of damage you do to none fucking whatsoever.”
I don’t know where I got this reputation for property damage, I really don’t–it’s totally unfair.

[…]

“I’m planning to blow up some phones for science.”

And yet…

Something’s missing. Something’s not quite there anymore. And I don’t know why.

Maybe the timing wasn’t quite right when I read it. Or maybe I’m just tired of chasing after faceless nemeses–both of ’em.

I’m all for more Peter and more (mis)adventures in London. But more faceless mysteries and/or conspiracies? Nah, that’s okay.

I could read back to back stories of Peter running around London solving all sorts of mysterious happenings, and they may even be unrelated to each other and the series’ arc, and that would be fine. Actually, I would love that. But more mysterious faceless happenings? Thanks, but no thanks.

However, I am looking forward to the next installment and being back in London and back in trouble because, honestly despite the gripe, this series is still one of best urban fantasies out there, and every single book is a blast.

Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: February 17 to 22, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I have never audiobook’d a whole series before, but I might have to for this one because Simon Vance is simply amazing. He should read all the books that way I could enjoy them all, even the ones I probably wouldn’t like–pretty sure he could make me like ’em. So 5 stars for him and 4 stars for the book itself because, honestly, I don’t know how far I’d get or how much I’d enjoy if I’d read these books on my own.

The writing is very descriptive, with long passages about early-19th Century culture and society of both Britain and China, and then there are more long passages about politics and intrigue. The previous book was mostly about Napoleon and his continued efforts to take over the rest of Europe; this book expands on that some more, but now there’s also China thrown into the mix as both Britain and France fight for the Celestial Emperor’s favor.

In middle of all of that, you have Temeraire and Laurence and their unbreakable bond. Or, well, what we thought was unbreakable. It was revealed at the end of the first book that Temeraire is a Celestial, the most prized breed of Chinese dragons, and here we learn that Celestials are companions only to Emperors and crown princes. Laurence is most definitely not royalty–he’s barely nobility–and so the Chinese disapprove of his bond with Temeraire, and they would very much like their dragon back. The British aren’t willing to comply with the request, but they see it as an opportunity to gain an alliance with the Emperor–and to one-up the French–and so they ship Temeraire, Laurence, and the rest of their crew halfway around the world.

Peking and Macao of the early-19th Century are a sight to behold for the British envoy and a whole new world full of wonder, for Temeraire especially who’s eager to learn of his birth country and discover his roots. The lives of dragons of the East are fascinating to him, and the more he learns about them, the more he’s pulled away from Laurence. Laurence, too, is fascinated by the treatment of dragons in Peking, and not just of the Imperials and Celestials, but of the smaller and less important breeds too. He’s surprised that they all can live among people so peacefully, and thus comes to understand why Temeraire is so taken in by what he sees. At the end of this book, Temeraire and Laurence are still in China.

I’m most impressed by how Naomi Novik inserted dragons into actual history, and with just a little adjustment, she’s inserted dragons into the tides of Chinese politics that will forever change the landscape of China for centuries to come. Colonialism is on its way, gradually at first but it’s coming nonetheless. I can’t help feeling a sense of dread, knowing what’s coming in just a few years, but since this story is told from the British perspective, there’s a sense of accomplishment and celebration in the writing, especially near the end, when the British envoy have permanently established themselves in China to open up more trading opportunities.

It will be interesting to see how much Novik sticks to or deviates from history in later books. I looked ahead and see some hints of Temeraire and Laurence traveling the Silk Road, visiting the Ottoman Empire, and making a stop in Russia. Lots to look forward to, and I can’t wait.