Tag Archives: fantasy

The Tallow-Wife

36147725I can always rely on Angela Slatter to shatter my heart.

This wee volume was put together by Fablecroft for Conflux, the Canberra SF convention, this year. It’s a teaser for Slatter’s next volume of stories set in the world of Sourdough and Bitterworld Bible, basically. The main feature is the title story, with a couple other short bits included, and – to make it extra special – illustrations from Kathleen Jennings.

“The Tallow-Wife” is exactly the sort of story I have come to expect from Slatter, especially when it’s a story from this world. It’s a family story, it’s a gentle story, it’s a nasty story as only family stories can be. There’s hints and suggestions of machinations that aren’t spelled out, there’s layers of heartbreak and confusion, and it’s all presented in beautiful prose that sometimes bewilders me: how can such lovely words be telling a story that tears me up? It took me a good couple of weeks to read this – I read it in two sittings but after I put it down the first time I was super reluctant to pick it back up because I knew it would just hurt. And it did, but it was worth it, and I loved it for all the pain.

It must be noted that this is a lovely <i>object</i>, too. Hard cover, Jennings pictures; it’s a delight.

 

Beneath the Sugar Sky

BeneathSugarSky_hiThis novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost.

And I’m really sorry but it’s not available until 9 January, 2018. I’m sorry about that because it’s really really good.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel to Every Heart A Doorway ; this is Every Heart’s sequel, chronologically speaking. You could absolutely read this without reading the other two (although seriously, why would you not read Every Heart? It’s one of the best novellas I’ve read in… years); there are some spoilers for Every Heart in Beneath the Sugar Sky, because there’s passing reference to the events that occur, but they’re not enough to make this novella opaque.

For those just joining us: the premise is a question that’s obvious once it’s asked. What happens to those children who fall through doors into other lands when they come back to the mundane world? Some long to go back, some are traumatised terribly. Enter two schools to help out, one for each experience. Every Heart and now Beneath the Sugar Sky are focussed on the school for those children who want desperately to leave this world, because they just don’t fit; they crave a return to the world that wants them, that invited them. And so they attend Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children… and wait. And hope.

Cora is new to the school, and quickly gets accidentally sucked into a quest. There’s travel to other worlds, battling usurpers, making friends, and trying to cope in worlds that really don’t suit you (how does someone driven by Logic survive in a world driven by Nonsense?). The story itself is charming and fast-paced and a lot of fun; unexpected and upbeat and delightful.

But it’s the characters that are really wonderful, and Cora in particular. She is described as fat fairly early on – descriptively, not pejoratively – and the rest of the story has moments where she deals with (expected) responses to her size based on past experience, with her own attitudes towards her size, and most importantly pointed reminders that size in no way correlates to personality or worth or any other marker of value. She has moments of triumph and moments of failure; she is a valuable member of the group; and the other people in the group, sensible humans that they are, never make her feel like anything but.

I just love this world so much. I love the idea that the other worlds can be mapped against different ‘directions’ (Logic and Nonsense and so on), that there is a system to their connections. But mostly I love the characters that McGuire is creating here, and the way these adolescents grapple with not belonging. I am hoping for many more such stories.

A Long Day in Lychford

Another novella that I received from the publisher at no cost which I have been remiss in reviewing. Also, another novella where it’s definitely better to have read the previous stories, although not as necessary as for Sarah Gailey’s work.

Returning to Lychford, once again things are amiss with the boundaries between the worlds; this should come as no surprise (poor little village). This time, there are also significant fractures in the relationships of the three witches who must hold the place together. This, of course, leads to more problems – and the most interesting part of the story, as far as I’m concerned. The problems facing the town are definitely significant and I always enjoy the different ways Cornell dreams up to imperil the place. But these stories wouldn’t be nearly as intriguing if that relationship element were missing. All three of the women are outsiders in some way; that has played some role in the previous stories but perhaps most of all here, especially for Amber. The struggle to fit in, the question of whether that’s necessary, the actions of other people in all of that… . I liked that the tensions of how different people cope with things, and that different people experience different issues, weren’t ignored. I’m being a bit vague here but the revelation of the problems to be confronted isn’t something I want to spoil. 

The Lychford books fall into that category of stories where normal life goes on for most people while a few go to extraordinary lengths to keep it like that. Here, those few are a female priest, a wannabe Stevie Nicks, and a cranky old woman. I’m really enjoying that the location is a sleepy little village, and the way the three women interact. 

A Taste of Marrow

A belated review, as I read this at the start of a long holiday and I really didn’t feel like writing. Which isn’t fair to this novella, which is excellent, and I got from the publisher at no cost.

Firstly, it must be said that this is a direct sequel to River of Teeth. If you haven’t read that, and I highly recommend that you do, this isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense. It picks up a few months after that story ends (dramatically), and there are some spoilers for it ahead…

If you liked River of Teeth, and want more about those characters, this is what you need. Things aren’t all happy and joyful, but you proabbly didn’t expect that. It’s a story much more about the characters than the first one; that point is what the characters want and how they get it, rather than Houndstooth putting together a team as in the first. That said, there are still jobs needing to be done; they’re just secondary to and in service to the personal objectives of the various characters. 

There are still hippos. And danger. And banter, although a bit less than in the first I feel becuase things are a bit more dire. 

I’m pretty excited to see what else Sarah Gailey produces. 

The Eternal Kingdom

Unknown.jpegI received this as a review copy from the author, at no cost.

This is the third and last book in the Children trilogy (see here and here) by Ben Peek. It does not stand on its own because it is building on, drawing together, exploding, and generally messing with ideas and characters from the previous two books. If you enjoy epic fantasy with rather grim repercussions for its characters, detailed world building and surprising twists, then just stop reading now and go grab the earlier books. Seriously, it’s worth it; this is the sort of trilogy to read when you really want to get your teeth into a set of characters and be thrown completely into their lives. And look – the series is finished! So you don’t have to worry about being left in the lurch!

So, when we left the series last time the new god had just broken through properly and was causing some havoc. Where ‘some’ is ‘a significant amount’. And following through with our newly-named god, as she tries to claim paramount status in a world that’s not really sure if it wants her and what that would actually mean for the world, is the focus of the whole book. The looks different for different characters of course: Bueralan has his very personal struggles as well as being caught up in the politics of a new god, while Ayae isn’t particularly happy about being an intermediary between different groups and the other immortals are largely unknowable and definitely have their own agenda. And then there’s Heast, and the other characters we’ve come to appreciate over the earlier two books… the ones who aren’t dead yet, anyway. Well, mostly the ones who aren’t dead. Death has a somewhat… permeable… nature here.

I’m not going to lie, there are some unpleasant things that happen to characters throughout this  book, and I was never sure who was going to survive and who wasn’t. It’s a measure of the books, though, that I cared about that fact. And I did. I really did. When the Innocent, murdering sunuva that he is, appeared on any page I was worried (and he appears quite a lot in this book, so I spent a lot of time chewing my [metaphorical] nails). And the new god, who has definitely shown herself to be largely reprehensible… well, continues on that track but of course maybe she’s not all that bad and ARGH how do I figure out what to actually think? Curse you Peek and your morally grey characters and novels!

You will probably find that this series plays on your emotions. You may find yourself yelling at Peek (I’m sure he can handle it) and various characters (most of them deserve it). If you buy just the first one… well, I am not to blame if you have to go and buy the next two in short order.

Blue Moon Rising

Unknown.jpegI love this book a lot. I love the characters and the way Green plays with conventions – a prince riding a unicorn, a princess who is willing to fight, the brutal realities of being a second son in a royal house, some insightful passing comments about the danger of being too focussed on being a good warrior. I like the way betrayal and treason are explored, and how making compromises isn’t an inherently bad thing, and that peasants get a moment in the sun, and that not everything can get fixed but life goes on and can be fine. This was a comfort re-read and it absolutely worked and I am reassured that sometimes the suck fairy doesn’t visit.

Also I love the goblins.

But now I wonder about revisiting the entire Deathstalker series and that might get out of hand.

The Edge of Everything

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s being published in February 2017; RRP $16.99.

Unknown.jpegI have to say first off that I think the title is naff. It doesn’t tell you anything and it also doesn’t relate to anything in the story. So that’s my whinge.

The promo material for this book suggests 12+. I would say 14+, personally; I can’t think of a 12 year old I would deliberately give this. Some 12 year olds would take it for themselves and cope quite nicely, I suspect, but that’s a different issue.

Zoe’s father died a few months ago; her brother goes out in a snowstorm and she has to rescue him; she meets a stranger with tattoos and apparently some sort of extraordinary power. He has no name; she calls him X. He’s a bounty hunter; things of course do not go well for him or for Zoe and her family.

It’s not the most original-sounding narrative, but there are some remarkable aspects to the book. Slight spoiler: X is from what would be best described as hell, but the Lowlands are quite different from any other incarnation of hell that I’ve come across in fiction. It’s an intriguing vision of the place and of how it might be used. There’s no explanation of the Lowlands and how it operates; instead the focus of the narrative is on relationships, and the work of bounty hunters… it’s all about the vibe of the thing. And overall that worked. Certainly there are a myriad of unanswered questions about the mechanics, but they don’t really matter for the story itself.

The human world and especially Zoe’s family are beautifully realised. The different expressions of grief are portrayed sensitively and realistically. Jonah, Zoe’s brother, has ADHD; it’s just a fact of life and oh my goodness he’s a cute terror, as little brothers usually are. Mum is vegan and a bit nuts and fierce and has always struggled to hold the family together: I adored her so much. Zoe’s friends Val and Dallas are a delight (Val made a Tumblr of her girlfriend’s feet) and although I thought it was going to veer into dodgy love triangle territory Giles avoids that neatly. Dad… well, he was a struggler, and the way mum slowly revealed a bit more about what he was like to Zoe over the course of the book was heart-breaking and, again, intensely realistic.

Into this human world comes X, quite accidentally, and in some ways – although a third or more of the book is from his perspective – he’s the most opaque of all of them I think. Partly this is because he almost has no personality, thanks to how he has grown up; he really only starts to live after meeting Zoe. I was reminded of those suggestions of how Matt Smith’s Doctor ‘imprinted’ on young Amelia Pond, as I watched X and Zoe together. I was initially a bit squeaked by their budding romance because I thought he was much older than her; turns out he’s maybe 20 to her 16 (which is still a bit squick for me). The intensity of their attitude towards one another, especially his for her, was the main eye-rolly bit for me. It all seemed a bit too intense too fast.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that this is the start of a series. It felt to me like the sort of intense story and relationship that ought to be encapsulated in just one, say 450-page, book. I don’t know how it could have been resolved but I definitely would have preferred that.

Overall this is a well-paced and intense book that I read in the course of one day. I enjoyed most of the relationships and I was genuinely surprised by a couple of the revelations. I’m not sure whether I want the sequel because I’m afraid it will lose the intensity, but that’s a problem I’ll just have to deal with.

Snow White, Blood Red

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I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages. And I do mean years. Finally got it this year because I was reminded of it by someone when I read a very poor version of the Snow Queen.

Many of the stories are excellent, although it’s not quite the anthology I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting there to be discrepancy in whether the stories were pretty faithful or quite different versions; I found it a bit disconcerting to bounce from one to the other, and then have completely made up (that is, not based on commonly told fairy tales) stories in there as well. I’m not saying any of those three options is bad but it felt jarring to have them all mixed together. But I think that’s mostly my expectations.

Lisa Goldstein’s use of Hansen and Gretel motifs to tell a story about a woman’s relationship with her daughters was a delight and a really intriguing way to end the anthology. I loved Patricia A McKillip’s take on the snow queen and Esther M Freisner’s “Puss” was deeply troubling. Actually a lot of them were deeply troubling, but that was kind of the point both because original fairy tales just were troubling and because this anthology was always intended to be about both the fantasy and the horror aspects of the stories. Hence the title. There were a lot of really great stories in this anthology and I can see why it keeps getting talked about. I guess I finally need to read Angela Carter now

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

So yes, I’m very privileged. I got to read Every Heart a Doorway a long time before it came TB_DownAmong-070716.jpegout. And now I’ve had the chance to read the prequel a long time before it comes out, too. It’s out from Tor.com on 13 June 2017…

The blurb says

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first.

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tomboy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

… and the opening, which is set in the Real World, is about the most horrifying part of the whole thing. Parents who have children because they think it will make them look good, who force children into preconceived notions and potentially do a lot of damage: it’s just hideous. And the worst part is the way that McGuire writes about this from a very knowing, self-aware position: the narrator is pointing out what the parents are doing, making sure the reader knows how dreadful this is. And it works to heighten the horror rather than defuse it; this is not ‘telling instead of showing’, this is a sympathetic yet almost malicious commenter making sure you know exactly what’s happening.

Then the twins find themselves in a different world, and they get to make choices for about the first time ever and those choices have serious implications. And the way they’ve been brought up has consequences for the choices they make, and also doesn’t in the slightest prepare them for them.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that Every Heart a Doorway wasn’t a standalone story. And this is an absolutely standout addition to the world of portal fantasies that McGuire created there, with Other Worlds matching the people who find them and having an irrevocable impact on the inadvertent travellers. I love how McGuire takes bits of other stories and fairy tales and weaves them into her story in her very own way: you get the pleasure of recognition combined with the shock of difference and it’s a delight.

Apparently there will be a third book. I’ll just be over here, watching my inbox, waiting…

Agents of Dreamland

This novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It will be on sale on 28 Feb, 2017.

Unknown.jpegIf you’re looking for resolution and answers, do not come to Caitlin Kiernan.

If you’re looking for a linear narrative that moves smoothly through chronological time, do not come to Agents of Dreamland.

If you’re afraid of mushrooms or fungus, do not read this novella.

And if you’re concerned that beings Out There are coming to get us, and that people Down Here are trying to hide that fact… well, you might want to read this, but it won’t give you any reassurances one way or another.

There’s a Waco-syle whacko, and a glitch with New Horizons (which really happened!), and super-secret agents trying to figure out exactly what’s going on and how to save the world. Which may not be possible but I guess we’ll try anyway, and it may require copious amounts of coping alcohol.

Kiernan develops a vision of possible impending doom across the twentieth and twenty-first century, mostly through the experiences of two opaque secret agents and one ex-junkie. It’s not always an easy read but it’s definitely a gripping one. Definitely recommended.