Tag Archives: fantasy

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.

The Song from Somewhere Else

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It will be out in Australia in December 2016; RRP $24.99 (hardback). Recommended ages 9-12.

Unknown.jpegUh, wow. This book is utterly beautiful and wonderful. Both the prose and the object itself.

The story: bullied girl one day gets rescued by the weird, despised kid. She goes back to his house where she hears haunting, enchanting music, so she goes back the next day. Things get weirder over the next couple of days – and worse, and better. There’s kind-of magic, and real friendship, and problems to overcome.

I smiled. I had tears. I audibly gasped.

This is one of those gentle, insistent, wonderful books that make me happy to be reading. It kinda reminded me of Patrick Rothfuss’ Slow Regard of Silent Things – there’s more plot here, but the sensibility somehow feels similar.

This is also one of those books where I think “by golly I hope I’m not one of those sorts of adults.” Harrold has captured Frank’s voice wonderfully, and an attitude towards adults – their jokes are embarrassing, they can’t or won’t help with bullies, they’re basically oblivious – that feels all too real.

Other things I love about Frank: she has regular cranky discussion with her stomach, which tells her to ignore interesting-if-maybe-dangerous things, points out that things are about to go badly, and occasionally ostentatiously ignores proceedings and reads a newspaper instead. Pure magic. Also, her name is Francesca Patel. One old lady makes some passing comment about “do they have tuna where you’re from?” but otherwise, that’s just her name and I have no idea what she or anyone in her family looks like.

Oh yes – she has a family. There was a slight undertone of Archer’s Goon here; not that the family gets involved, but that they’re present and loving. This is a really nice take on the ‘weird things are happening to the kid but the family has no idea’ trope, without the family seeming evil for their ignorance.

And the book itself? The version I have is a smallish hardback. The pictures, by Levi Pinfold, are gorgeous. Many of the pages have story-appropriate shadows about the edges, and the text largely stays away from them, which is really cute. The front cover gives you an idea of what the internal illustrations look like: as if they’re maybe done in pencil? I don’t know, I’m no artist, but they’re delicate and rely on shadow and light and they’re a wonderful complement to the text.

One slight warning: if you are distressed by descriptions of bullying then this may be just a bit too much for you. I have horrible memories of The Chocolate War and usually hate those sorts of books… and I found the treatment of Frank by the bullies quite nasty. But what makes it work here is that Frank, while definitely and understandably affected, isn’t completely ground down. She doesn’t pretend that everything is ok, and some days it affects her more than others, but she ends up coping. And my heart sang when, seeing one of the bullies having been attacked, she decides to help him: “This wasn’t about him, was it? It was about her and who she wanted to be. She wanted to be a better person. Better than him at least. And not because it was a competition, just because” (161). YES. Just because. I love it.

I have every intention of holding onto this book (… I don’t keep every book…) and putting it into the hands of any kid (and possibly adult) I can.

 

Imprudence 

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This is the second book about Prudence, daughter of Alexia Tarabotti and Conall Maccon of the Parasol Protectorate books. I’m pretty sure you’re only going to like these books (the first is Prudence) if ours already invested in the world and the characters.

This is a very silly book. There are silly amusing events, silly amusing misunderstandings, and very silly characters. I enjoyed it but… it is silly.

This book has a lot more about Alexia and Conall than the first Prudence book did – in fact the first third or so is explicitly about them and their relationship with Rue and what’s happening with them and the consequences for everyone. Then things proceed to be more about Rue and the crew of her ridiculous dirigible The Spotted Custard. The action is mostly well paced and the events follow one another smartly; there’s certainly no time for boredom.

As I said, I enjoyed this book but I would have liked it more if I had a better grasp of who Rue is. Perhaps I’m expecting her to be too much like her mother, which is a failing of other people as Rue has grown up and so I’m embarrassed to admit it. But I found her disconcerting because it feels like she vacillates between ‘I’d rather stay at home and have tea’ and ‘daring adventurer!!’ in a way that’s not particularly convincing. I wonder if this is partly because we see her as a toddler in the last Alexia book, and then in her first book she’s 20 – but there’s little filling-in-of-background, not that much explanation for how she came to be the sort of person she is (with the exception of being accepting of non-heterosexuality). So that was a detraction.

It’s a fun, bubbly read, with the sort of attention to dress and food detail that I’ve come to anticipate from Carriger. Not for the Carriger noob, but a nice light read for those fond enough of the world to want to revisit.

Galactic Suburbia 153

In which letters are written to Octavia Butler. Get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

What’s New on the Internet?

British Fantasy Awards: Letters to Tiptree won one!

No Award on Conflux & Asian Flavours in SFF fandom.

Octavia project: Octavia Estelle Butler was born on 22 June, 1947, and died in 2006. In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday in 2017, and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction, and African-American literature more generally, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans.
We are looking for letters addressed to Butler, which should be between 1000 and 1500 words. We are paying 5cpw up to $USD75 for letters, to be paid on publication. We are looking for World First Publication Rights in English, and exclusivity for the first twelve months of publication.

Submissions: octaviaproject@twelfthplanetpress.com

More Butler stuff: Radio Imagination

Tansy’s new releases: Bounty (the final Fablecroft book) & Unmagical Boy Story


CULTURE CONSUMED:

Alisa: Jamberry & business training.

Alex: Once Upon A Time season 2; the Patternmaster series, Octavia Butler; The Starry Rift, James Tiptree Jr; Goldenhand, Garth Nix.

Tansy: The Life & Times of Angel Evans, by Meredith Debonnaire; DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year; Revolutionary Art: Writing For Social Justice webinar series; Hex – How to Be a Fan on iView; Labyrinth Board Game Facebook page; Dracula’s Feast on Kickstarter.

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

Goldenhand

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen and Unwin, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $24.99.

Unknown.jpegThis BOOK! I’m so happy to have read this book! I’m so happy this book exists! (Spoilers for the other Old Kingdom books. Just go read them.)

I’ve been a fan of the Old Kingdom books for a long time. Not as long as they’ve existed – Sabriel came out about 20 years ago and I didn’t read it then – but long enough ago that when the prequel, Clariel, came out in 2014 I was a bit over the moon. So with Goldenhand being a direct sequel to Abhorsen, I’ve been pining for this book for a good while.

This is most definitely a sequel. I’m not sure how it would stand by itself – there’s not a lot of explanation of the whole necromancy by bells thing, nor of the Charter, and there’s a moment where Lirael is required to use her mirror and I was like wait, what? because it’s been a while since I read the other books. But really that’s all right because just READ ALL THE OTHERS ANYWAY.

Lirael is pining the loss of the Disreputable Dog, and trying to fit in with her newly discovered much older half-sister Sabriel and her family, and learning to be the Abhorsen. Something I loved about Lirael was how she always struggled to fit in as a Clayr, and I like that Nix hasn’t just made her magically (heh) well-adjusted. Meanwhile, of course, things aren’t entirely hunky dory in the rest of the kingdom: a nomad appears unexpectedly at the Greenwash Bridge, and even more unexpectedly proceeds to be attacked by other nomads and their awesomely freaky magical constructs. Cue mad flight down the river…

The book follows two tracks: Lirael, taking charge of Abhorsen business while Sabriel has a holiday (heh so cute), which means investigating a message about Nicholas Sayre and there being a magical creature on the wrong side of the Wall… and Ferin, the nomad messenger, whose endurance makes all the other characters look a bit weak and who just occasionally has a wicked sense of humour.

I love Ferin.

Nix’s writing is incredibly easy to read: it’s fast-paced, and it has lovely descriptions that allow you to imagine the place but not get bogged down in detail. I love the idea of the Charter and the additional development that the magic system gets here. In the interview with Nix that’s included in the book, he seems a bit bemused by how many people mention the gender balance in his books. But here’s the thing: when you’re reading about some guards being awesome in fighting and realise that any number of them are women, and that’s just so not a thing for this world, it still blows my mind. Multiple women in multiple sorts of roles: it can be done.

This is a wonderful addition to the Old Kingdom world and I’m so happy that it exists.