Monthly Archives: October, 2011


Spoilers for the first two Obernewtyn books.

Ashling. The point at which Carmody’s editor said, let’s make it big! Sigh. 520-odd pages is large. Still, she is a page turner, so it didn’t take me that long to plough through it a second time.

The book opens with a halfblooded gypsy about to be burned at the stake by a Herder, which is nicely dramatic and also introduces the gypsies themselves, who have only been vaguely alluded to in the previous books. Here, beginning with Elspeth’s rescue of the gypsy woman (oh come on, that’s not a spoiler; as if she could ride past and let it happen!), gypsies and their place in the Land play a large, and intriguing, part. And so does Dragon, the mysterious child discovered in the Beforetime ruins who turned out to be an immensely powerful coercer.

The narrative continues to follow Elspeth and her somewhat torturous groping after her destiny as presented to her by the Agyllian birds, as well as the Misfits of Obernewtyn striving towards acceptance, or at least not open hatred, in the Land. For Elspeth this means travelling away from Obernewtyn for much of the book, meeting new people – gypsies and foreigners amongst them – and experiencing a wide variety of responses to herself and the things she has to say. For the Misfits it means confronting the unTalented rebels also present in the Land, and whether the Talented have a place with them or not.

The word ashling refers to a sort of dream, and dreams play a prominent role here, especially when Elspeth discovers the dreamtrails. This is a really interesting aspect of the world Carmody has created for her Talents, although not many can access them or understand how they work.

This is a third book in what has turned out to be a six-book series, and to some extent it suffers from classic middle book syndrome. It doesn’t really start anything, and it certainly doesn’t bring any real resolution (except in one matter). It definitely doesn’t stand alone, not least because there’s not much effort to explain Obernewtyn and the Misfits, because much more infodump would have made me very impatient. What it does do well, though, is character development. Elspeth is of course the focus – she’s telling the story, after all, and apparently the fate of the world actually does rest on her. But other characters do become more well-rounded. Dragon, the foundling who is gradually being civilised; Matthew, the impetuous and romantic farseeker, has a big role to play; Kella, the healer, whose feelings and attitudes are perhaps the most complex of the lot. And then there’s Brydda, the rebel, who plays Big Bluff Larrikin but whom Carmody rescues from buffoon by giving him gentleness and wisdom as well.

It’s not a perfect book; it’s definitely a bit slow going in some parts, and could have done with some better editing. Still, enjoyable.

Thief of Lives will steal your time

This is the delightfully-packaged third book in the Twelve Planets series, from Twelfth Planet Press. I should mention that I am friends with the editor/publisher, Alisa Krasnostein, and a passing acquaintance of the author, Lucy Sussex. But don’t worry; I would have no trouble saying I didn’t like it much, if that were the case…

The first story is, for me, the blazing outstanding story of the four. Called “Alchemy,” it is set in Babylon, a city as evocative, perhaps, as it is foreign. We are presented with a story told from two perspectives. The first is that of Tapputi, a perfumer from a long line of such. She is a mother, a widow, and a skilled artisan. She has also attracted the attention of Azubel, a spirit whose point of view we also read. Azubel has knowledge of the past and the possible paths of the future, with a particular passion for and understanding of what we would call chemistry. The stories of these two, over a long span of time (by human standards) has many strands, weaving in examinations of knowledge and the dangers thereof; juggling career and family; tradition and innovation and the pitfalls of each; and that essential conundrum, discerning good from evil when the world is grey, not black and white. Tapputi is finely, delicately drawn, the balance of concerns inherent being in being a widowed mother and artisan nicely indicated. She is both practical and romantic and, perhaps most wondrously, is actually based on a woman known to historians because her name and trade are recorded in cuneiform from the second millennium BC. This is a story that mixes fantasy and history in a glorious blend, and is one of my favourite stories for the year.

The second story in the collection is Krasnostein showing her readers that the Twelve Planets series is not going to follow the path set by the first two sets (Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk), because it neither follows “Alchemy” (sigh) nor falls into SF/fantasy. “The Fountain of Justice” was first published for the Ned Kelly Awards, given in Australia to crime authors, and is indeed a story of crime and policing set in Melbourne, Sussex’s home city. It wasn’t really my sort of thing – crime never really has been. We get the story predominantly from the point of view of Meg, a solicitor who works mainly for the Children’s Court, and with the juveniles accused there. It’s a convoluted story questioning issues of justice and truth, asking I think whether our legal system delivers justice and even whether it can/should. It is clever, but it didn’t ultimately work for me.

Thirdly, “The Subject of O” is again completely different, and perhaps on the face of it far simpler than the preceding two – although it would be a mistake to actually believe that. Petra, a probably twenty-something university student, is the focus, as a stupid comment from an acquaintance sends her memory over the past few weeks and months in which she has been thinking about, and learning about, women and orgasms. On one level it is quite a funny story about students and their conversations, and plays into the common theme that university students are all rather busy with sex and drugs. But the reality is that underneath is a genuine questioning of why discussion of women’s sexuality and experience of sex is more often than not hidden, or spoken of only hazily, or left to blokes leering and imagining them as God’s gift to womankind. It’s frank and honest, refreshingly spiked with wry humour. But don’t read it on public transport if you are the blushing type.

Finally, the collection is rounded out by the eponymous story, “Thief of Lives,” which itself contains a book of the same name (confused yet?). This is the most complicated story of the set, although fortunately almost everything is clarified by the end, making hindsight a wonderful thing. It’s set in Bristol, and told from the first person by someone who is not what they at first appear to be, and whose intentions in Bristol are far from straightforward. It’s impossible for me to give a good idea of the narrative, really, without spoiling it. Let me say that it toys with ideas like a cat with string: why (as the blurb puts it) do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game? How do writers get their ideas? Can writers and their writing have a concrete impact on those around them, especially when drawing on them for inspiration? It’s a little bit labyrinthine, which is echoed somewhat in the maze-like qualities of Bristol itself for our protagonist. It’s very, very clever, and the main character herself is a little bit hypnotic.

Also, isn’t it a totally lovely cover?

Galactic Suburbia 45

In which Alex and Tansy wax lyrical about Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (despite knowing next to nothing about it), welcome the new Apex overlord Lynne Thomas, celebrate the twin dawns of All Hallows Read and Nanowrimo, and embark upon an epic marathon of Culture Consumed. You can stream us at Galactic Suburbia or get us from iTunes.


Joss Whedon makes Much Ado About Nothing in secret
at first we knew next to nothing
then we knew something
and every new bit of something brings squeeage!

Harry Potter DVDs to disappear from the shelves after Christmas (and Tansy’s still not over the whole Disney revelation)

Lynne Thomas’ first issue of Apex comes out next week featuring an article by Tansy on The Australian Dark Weird.
As the new editor, Lynne talks about what she wants from authors at Outer Alliance

The lack of (paid) women reviewers (in the lit scene) continues to dismay and fascinate us in equal measure.

All Hallows Read is upon us
And if you’re going to gift a scary book to someone, why not make it Australian?

Nanowrimo is imminent!

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Tansy: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Alex: Life on Mars S2
Tansy: Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Alex: Obernewtyn, The Farseekers, and Ashling, by Isobelle Carmody
Tansy: Debris by Jo Anderton
Alex: God’s War, Kameron Hurley
Tansy: Marvel’s Ultimate Universe: Ultimate Spiderman, Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates
Alex: Shadow Unit
Tansy: Big Finish and Mary Shelley: Mary’s Story (for 99p) & The Silver Turk.

Please send feedback to us at, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Eyes like Stars

The premise: a theatre set in NoParticularTime, inhabited by every character of every play, who come on stage to perform when their scene is announced. Also inhabited by appropriate backstage personnel, and Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, an inappropriate foundling who loves the theatre (her home) with a passion and who is followed around by the Midsummer Night’s Dream fairies, who are as crude and rambunctious and loyal and awesome as (William) Shakespeare would have wanted. Also, two love interests. With this sort of set-up it would have been hard for me not to be completely in love. Happily, Mantchev does not disappoint.

Beatrice – sorry, Bertie – is a wonderful heroine, defiant and strong-willed, fiercely loyal and amusingly devious. She causes all sorts of mischief in and around the theatre – enough that eventually, she might have to leave, unless she can prove herself. This is a coming of age story, with Bertie discovering her gifts and talents and likes and dislikes, as well as dealing with how other people react to her and act on their own. She faces loss – new and old – and disappointment, confusion (especially about love) and revelation, and the glory of strong and true friendship. Basically, it’s all the good and bittersweet bits of the classic coming of age, in a marvellous and enchanting package.

I loved the Theatre Illuminata. I love the way the scene changes work, I love the irascible backstage types and their petty feuds. I was delighted by how Mantchev took mostly Shakespeare’s characters and used them on stage but also imagined them as people outside of their scenes (much like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern does, without the loopy philosophising and dialogue…). The characters from Hamlet were especially amusing, playing on and reflecting so many of the tensions that can easily be imagined from the play itself, and that might arise from the people playing those characters day in, day out. It’s just really clever. And then there’s the fairies: Cobweb, Mustardseed, Moth, and Peaseblossom. Pulling hair, mooning important people, eating all the cake… it’s all in a day’s work, really, and there better be cake after, too. Oh, and Ariel. I am not a huge fan of The Tempest, but I’ve read and seen it; I loved Dan Simmons’ play on Caliban in Ilium and Olympos… but I’ll never be able to see Ariel in the same light again. (Huh; this connects with Obernewtyn, by Isobelle Carmody, which I’ve also just read. Interesting.)

How much did I love this book? I’ve just ordered books 2 and 3. I HAVE to know what happens.


Slight spoiler: One thing bugged me. She’s all hung up about her mother, and wanting to find her mother, but she doesn’t seem worried about her father until right near the end. This is a girl who’s grown up around Shakespeare, where half the time it’s the mother who is missing, but the father is present. Surely, when she knows neither, she should be curious about both? Also, growing up around those stories, shouldn’t she be wanting to know the romantic story of how they met?

The Farseekers

Well, it’s better than Obernewtyn, for sure.

*Spoilers for Obernewtyn, the first book*

Continuing my re-read of the Obernewtyn chronicles, I devoured most of this one in a night. Interestingly, it’s set some time after Obernewtyn ends, and therefore we don’t get most of the fight against Alexi and Madame Vega, nor Rushton’s work at being made legal owner of the place. Possibly because Elspeth is out of it for a while thanks to the burns to her legs? Anyway, we open here rather abruptly to discover that Rushton is in charge, and the Misfits have formed themselves rather (too) neatly into Guilds according to their mind powers. This was one thing that bugged me about the book – they all seemed to have come into their powers rather quickly, and easily, whereas I had the impression from the first book that many of them were uncomfortable and certainly not that good at using them because of the fear of being discovered. Perhaps Carmody imagines that once released from that fear, most young people would flourish in experimentation… and when I put it like that, perhaps she is not far wrong.

Anyway, the bulk of Farseekers is not actually set at Obernewtyn, but in the lowlands, as Elspeth and some others set out on a joint mission to find a library and a strong Talent they’ve sensed. Of course, things do not go easily, and they encounter most of the villains foreshadowed in Obernewtyn – Council, Herders, and the Druid himself – in various ways and with various consequences that I shan’t spoil. It is a more convincing narrative than the first book; while there are still happy coincidences and useful chance-meetings, well, that’s really the stock in trade of a fantasy, in some ways; and here it’s done more smoothly and with less jarring “oh hai, yr conveniently who i need” moments.

Characters are more interesting and well developed in this second novel, too. Elspeth is a bit more complicated and nuanced, conflicted between the desire for safety and an impatience with staying put. The characters she goes travelling with show hints of personality and individuality; the most developed and interesting are the animals, and particularly the arrogant stallion Gahltha. He’s way cool. Rushton continues to be gruff and remote but still appealing (to me, anyway!). The new people our Misfits meet on their travels are probably the most interesting characters aside from Elspeth, and although one of them gets a bit preachy and info-dumpy that’s hardly his fault, and I liked him for his rash-yet-considered ways.

Finally, the world is built up just that bit more in this novel, mostly thanks to the travels of our heroes. We learn more about the current society – which is complex enough to be not all bad, but simple enough that the reader knows (well, this one did) that they really wouldn’t want to live there. There’s more about the Beforetimes, too, and I seem to remember that it took me until this book to be absolutely sure that Carmody was envisioning this as OUR world after some sort of human-caused apocalypse. Which is a bit embarrassing frankly. Anyway – more Beforetimes things, and stories too. This sort of idea isn’t unique, but I like how Carmody runs with it.

Obernewtyn, again

I first read this and the next three a number of years ago; I am re-reading them at the moment, in one hit (probably) because the sixth and final book is FINALLY! being published.

I remembered a fair bit about this story – bits and pieces of Elspeth’s story, like the cat, and Ariel, and aspects of life at Obernewtyn. I had forgotten – or didn’t notice the first time – that the quality is quite patchy. There are some bits that really ought to have been picked up by an editor, like the fact that Elspeth uses Ariel’s name without ever being told it (and with no indication that she had got it telepathically either). Some of the scenes are very rushed, and others are just oh-so-convenient. It reminded me, actually, of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone. I understand that bits of this were first written when Carmody was in high school, so perhaps this was her debut, which means I’ll give it some leeway. Because it really is a fascinating story, underneath it all. A world recovering from the Great White, which has poisoned significant portions of the land and caused various mutations; now-forbidden knowledge that perhaps humanity caused the Great White with very amazing weaponmachines; the society which has developed over hundreds of years initially to ensure survival and now, of course, ensuring that the social structure and power hierarchy is maintained. And in to the mix a secretive and fairly unpleasant religious group called the Herders (following the god Lud, which I presume is a corruption of Lord? and being Herders is a bastardising of the idea of priests as shepherds?), and then a group of Misfits with mental powers… and there’s a lot of potential for enthralling storytelling.

Elspeth, the main character and narrator, has her moments of awesomeness and her moments of not. She does develop nicely in terms of her sociability, over the course of the novel, and the conflict she feels over who to trust sometimes works and then at other times seems to melt away far too fast. Of the other characters, I always liked Rushton, the gruff farm overseer; the other Misfits Elspeth encounters are hardly developed at all, but have their flashes of brilliance.

If I were reading this for the first time today, I’m not sure I would continue reading it, which is a surprise to me and a sad one. I am going to keep reading, of course, because I know that the plot becomes ever more tricksy… and the incurable romantic in me remembers some of the emotional conniptions from the later books and desperately needs resolution.

Galactic Suburbia #44

In which we fight crime, rail against derailing and read a million books. You can get us from iTunes or stream from Galactic Suburbia.

I felt pretty off my game for this podcast, unfortunately; I think I burbled more than usual when talking about the books I read, and fear I even waded into incoherence. Tansy and Alisa are, as always, very interesting, though…


Our Sisters in Crime, Still Fighting

Ada Lovelace Day

Wonder Woman gets a father (yesthisisnews)

Alisa’s news: Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex now available as e-book

Tansy’s news: publishing date for Reign of Beasts and the Creature Court Fashion Challenge Contest

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alex: The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons; Yarn, Jon Armstrong; Thief of Lives, Lucy Sussex; Yellow Blue Tibia, Adam Roberts; The Word for World is Forest, Ursula le Guin; Eyes like Stars, Lisa Mantchev

Tansy: The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood; Thief of Lives, Lucy Sussex; Catwoman: Crooked Little Town, by Ed Brubaker; Fablecroft blog series On Indie Press wraps up; Sofanauts interviews Paul Cornell; Two Minute Timelord round-table about Season 6 Doctor Who

Alisa: Doctor Who. Shorts: The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted from The Great Book) – Nnedi Okorafor (Clarkesworld March); Younger Women – Karen Fowler (Subterranean Summer), Valley of the Girls – Kelly Link (Subterranean Summer)

Please send feedback to us at, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Disappointment with Star Wars

With the new series, that is; it’s not really possible for someone of my generation and temperament to be disappointed with the original. I’m far too blinkered.

Anyway, this is something that I have been thinking about for years – oh, ever since I originally saw the new trilogy, really. Now there are lots – lots – of things that annoyed me, and most of them have been discussed at length and with more elegance than I could manage. But the one thing that irks me every time (aside from Padme’s clothing…) is this:

Lucas introduces Owen and Boru.

He introduces Chewbacca.

He introduces the Hutts, and Bobba Fett.

But there is no Han Solo.

Seriously? No mention? No “oh look there’s a smuggler, he’s got his nephew Han with him learning the ropes”?

Bugs me a lot. Just saying.

Monster #2

This one is even funnier-looking! It was some random wool I bought as waste yarn but I thought I’d give it a go on this little dude, who is officially Coco the Canister Monster. It’s 8 ply wool, and she fits in my palm! I think the arms are overstuffed, but overall I’m pleased… especially since J figured out how to make her less Dogbert-like….

One completed monster

This is Harold. I made him. Well, J cut out the eyes and the mouth, but from my template.

His feet are big for his body, and he is certainly very gangly, but I’m pretty happy with him overall. Hopefully the young recipient will not be freaked out.