Daily Archives: August 17th, 2016

An Accident of Stars

This book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost.

Unknown.jpegThis is the first book of the Manifold World series. It’s a portal fantasy and a coming-of-age story, with an Australian schoolgirl following a woman who had helped her – and following her through a rift into another world.

Saffron’s life is a fairly normal one; it opens with a distinctly unpleasant experience with a boy at school harassing her, and a stranger supporting her as (sadly) almost no one else ever had. In going to thank the woman, her adventures start – and almost immediately they go bad, showing very early on that this is not going to be an easy experience for Saffron (although the language barrier is dealt with through a particularly convenient piece of magic). She eventually discovers that she’s wandered into a state whose politics are currently rather grim, and has fallen in with people who aren’t exactly the Most Popular Citizens. And then an escapee from the castle ends up finding them, and things get even more fraught, and adventures ensue.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is the sheer diversity of the characters. Most of the leads are female, with a couple of men. There’s a wide variety of sexual orientation, from bi to someone I think is aromantic. There’s a wide variety of skin colours – you know, like in the real world; a trans character; those who are religious and those who aren’t; the magical and the not; old and young; parents and not; and all the other personality quirks that individuals humans can have, from characters with sunny dispositions to those who consistently make you want to leave the room when they enter.

In terms of narrative, there is a lot going on in this book. There’s the experiences of Saffron, who has to deal with the strange world she’s in and the physical changes forced on her – how will she explain these when/if she gets home? (I was forcefully reminded of Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway.) There’s Gwen, the world-walker, trying to manage this new girl as well as her own allegiances and secrets. There are a lot of conflicting allegiances because there’s a huge amount of politicking going on: both of the states where most of the action takes place are in difficult positions regarding their leaders, with people trying either actively or passively to change the status quo. Sometimes, indeed, I felt like there was too much going on. I liked that Saffron is forced to deal with the politics of the world she’s entered, and that the places she’s in are not presented as the only states, and that politics can be confusing. But sometimes I felt like the political situation wasn’t explained clearly enough – or, actually, that the problems with the system or the way that people were using the system weren’t explained clearly enough for me to care to the level that I ought.

It’s a fast-paced story, problems rarely being dealt with before more crop up; there’s  magic that is difficult to use and requires training; there’s a bit of romance but not too much (for my tastes!). There’s a bit of traveling-around-the-place and camping but mostly it’s urban, and there’s a variety of perspectives used to present the narrative too.

I did enjoy reading it, although I’m not left desperately waiting for the next one. The book largely stands by itself – there’s a bit of cliffhanger at the end but in terms of the main narrative, it’s largely complete, which I appreciated.

You can get it from Fishpond.

Leviathan’s Blood

This is the sequel to The Godless, and will therefore have some spoilers for that first book. Like that one, this was sent to me by the author at no cost. Unknown.jpeg

Aaaaarrrrrgggghhh. The third book isn’t out until 2017.

The Godless basically ends with the siege of Mireea ending badly for our friends there, with additional problems like having killed a couple of very powerful men, while Buerelan’s friends are dead and the child-god is being distinctly creepy. So you just know that this second book is going to be completely full of happy, cheery adventures. Or not.

Peek’s pre-prologue is from a historian writing fifty years after the siege of Mireea, which I quite like as a conceit since it allows him to remind the audience of some of the major events with a bit of chronological distance that provides for the introspection and reflection of good historical writing. The prologue itself is deeply unsettling, since we’re introduced to someone who, sadly, doesn’t survive (sorry, but it is kind of obvious). And that’s because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time: on the coast, when Aela Ren – the Innocent, who was pretty much a myth and a rumour in the first book – comes to shore. Which bodes for the entire novel.

The Godless followed a few different perspectives; Leviathan’s Blood steps it up a notch by adding more perspectives as the web of the story becomes increasingly complex. A lot of the story occurs in Yeflam, whence the survivors of Mireea have decamped as refugees – and I can’t help but think that Peek’s presentation of their situation, being stuck on an island with little provision and viewed with deep suspicion by the people of Yeflam – reflects current experiences of refugees, especially in relation to Australia. Ayae is having to deal with being a refugee again but also being in a unique position as someone cursed, or blessed, with a god’s power – and therefore viewed very differently by the people of Yeflam, whose state is largely ruled by such people (the Keepers). She, however, largely feels loyalty to the Mireeans and their ruler – as well as to Zaifyr, who is also in a difficult position, since he’s arrived in Yeflam as a prisoner for the murder of two Keepers. Which he knew would land him in hot water, to say the least. Then you’ve got Captain Heast, who may be my very, very favourite character since he’s so much the put-upon, battle-scarred, trying-to-be-moral, old soldier (huh… so I have a type then: Sparrowhawk; Mal Reynolds; Han Solo). And then there’s Buerelan, who probably has the most difficult narrative throughout this book, since it begins in such a hard place – blood-brother dead and cursed by the child-god – and it just gets worse as he goes to Ooila, the home from which he has been exiled for a very long time and where he knows he won’t get a great reception.

This series is definitely one of those thats fits into the Rather Gloomy side of epic fantasy. That’s not a negative, but I probably wouldn’t be giving it to someone who hasn’t read any since they enjoyed David and Leigh Eddings as a teen! There’s a lot of difficulty for our heroes, and often our heroes aren’t actually very heroic. Instead, they’re fallible and frustrated and human; not always likeable but almost always compelling.

There were points at which I felt like the narrative dragged a little, when it feels like we’re getting a bit bogged down in the details of how the Mireeans will get out of their difficult situation with Yeflam or the internal politicking of Zaifyr and his completely dysfunctional family. Having said that, all of those details add up to a very rich world – one where life isn’t all adventures and near-misses, but where understanding realpolitik is genuinely life and death, and buying farms can be a risky manoeuvre, and who you spend time with might actually change your life.

And thus, dammit, begins the long wait for the final book.

You can get it from Fishpond.