STARLESS by Jacqueline Carey

A new review over at Tor.com:

Khai’s complicated negotiation of his self-image and his feelings about Zariya also make Starless feel fresh. It’s not often that you come across an epic fantasy where the main character can be described as nonbinary—even if Khai keeps using masculine pronouns. Even less often does one read a novel where a main character—Zariya, in this case—must deal with physical disability and concomitant issues with both self-image and other people’s prejudices. The hope of a magical cure is held out to Zariya several times in the course of the novel, but while some of her symptoms are alleviated, she never stops needing crutches to walk.

Carey’s characters feel real and alive, and her world is lush and well-realised. This is an excellent novel. I recommend it.

Books in brief: Hay, Campbell, Carey, Levene, Wheeler, Bedford, Walton, King, Herrin

Mavis Doriel Hay, Death On The Cherwell and Murder Underground. British Library Crime Classics, reprinted 2014.

Had I read Murder Underground before Death On The Cherwell, and not the other way around, I would have been inclined to dismiss Hay’s scant handful of 1930s murder mysteries as tedious and possessed of little redeeming value. Yet for all the back-and-forth boredom of Murder Underground, Death On The Cherwell is a minor delight: it breathes the Oxford of its setting, and Hay here possesses more in the way of sympathy and humour for her characters. And yet neither are mysteries in the usual sense, being more concerned with the lives of the characters than the resolution of the murder. But that makes them interesting in a different fashion.

Jack Campbell, The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword. Ace, 2014. Copy via Tor.com.

Read for review for Tor.com. Very similar to all previous Campbell books.

Jacqueline Carey, Poison Fruit. Roc, 2014. Copy via Tor.com.

Read for review for Tor.com. Satisfactory conclusion to trilogy.

Rebecca Levene, Smiler’s Fair. Hodder, 2014. Copy courtesy of publisher.

Read for review for Strange Horizons. Three quarters of the book is prologue, and I’m none too satisfied with the rest, either.

S.M. Wheeler, Sea Change. Tor, 2013. Copy courtesy of publisher.

Read for column. Reminds me in many ways of The Last Unicorn, though its emotional beats affect me more.

Jacey Bedford, Empire of Dust. DAW, 2014. Galley copy courtesy of publisher.

Read for review. Strikingly old-fashioned space opera. Psionics. Telepathy. Women who take their husbands’ names on marriage as a matter of course. I had only just reread Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, mind you, so its failures of imagination were clearer by comparison. Perfectly readable adventure, nothing particular about it to make it stand out.

Jo Walton, The Just City. Tor, 2015. Copy courtesy of publisher.

Read for review for Vector. A peculiar book, and less self-indulgent than it seems at first glance – though Walton takes a rather more charitable view towards both Apollo and Sokrates than I ever would. It is immensely readable, and its major thematic arguments emerge slyly from the narrative (although it actually states up front on the first page what it is going to be). In many ways, this is a book about consent, and the abuses thereof: informed consent, consent after the fact, refusal of consent, the power to compel – cunning concealed under explicit arguments about justice and arete.

It is also, at times, rather like reading one of the more enjoyable Sokratic dialogues.

Appropriately so.

Laurie R. King, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, A Letter of Mary, The Moor, and A Grave Talent. 1993-1998 variously, Allison & Busby and Picador.

Excellent mystery novels. All of them.

Judith Herrin, Unrivaled Influence. Princeton University Press, 2013.

Collection of essays on women in the Byzantine empire from throughout Herrin’s (long) career. Very interesting.

Books arrived!

The world is full of books.

The world is full of books.

That’s Tina Connolly’s COPPERHEAD (Tor), Tanya Huff’s THE FUTURE FALLS (DAW), Jacqueline Carey’s POISON FRUIT (Ace), Steven Erikson’s FORGE OF DARKNESS (Tor), Jack Campbell’s THE LOST STARS: IMPERFECT SWORD (Ace), Jacey Bedford’s EMPIRE OF DUST (DAW) and Julie E. Czerneda’s A PLAY OF SHADOWS (Daw).

Sometimes the height of Mt. TBR gets a little daunting.

Books in brief: Carey, Dare, Rutkowski, Sapkowski, Taite

Marie Rutkoski, The Winner’s Curse, FSG, 2014.

Written about this one with Stefan Raets at Tor.com. A lot of fun, but flawed.


Carsen Taite, Beyond Innocence, Rush, Slingshot, and Battle Axe. Bold Strokes Books, ebooks, various years.

Lesbian romance. Not SFF, and I was deceived to the extent of the role played by mysteries. The latter two have more better mysteries, and are more enjoyable. Not particularly great quality, but not notably terrible either.

Tessa Dare, Romancing the Duke. Ebook, 2014.

Regency romance. Slight, but entertaining. Also, fandom jokes. Recommendation came via Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Jacqueline Carey, Santa Olivia. Grand Central, 2009.

I hear a lot of people referring to this as YA. It doesn’t feel like YA to me at all. But it is really good. All about oppression and life and comings of age in multiple directions. Also boxing. It is big on the boxing. Recommended.

Andrzej Sapkowski, Blood of Elves. Gollancz, 2008. Translated by Danusia Stok.

Interesting. I’m not sure I’d stick with the series if I hadn’t played the videogame. It seems fairly so-so, a little bit too clearly pulling from RPG roots. And not great at its female characters. On the other hand, it does have a certain something…

How many books have you read this year?

According to my records, I’ve hit 180. Not counting rereads. Yikes.

I know I owe a review of the wonderful giant glossy OUP book about Pompeii. I haven’t forgotten. I’ve just spent six weeks bouncing from one bout of illness to another, which has played merry hell with deadlines and progress of ALL KINDS.

It’s coming. Eventually. In the meanwhile I’ve been reading books that require a little less in the way of intellectual engagement, for the most part.

Glenda Larke, The Last Stormlord. Orbit, 2009.

Epic fantasy. Interesting world-building, but the characterisation is inconsistent or occasionally odd, and the narrative drive and tension are not driving enough to make up for it. It isn’t doing enough with the space it has, which makes it feel slack and rather aimless at times.

Jeannie Lin, The Dragon and the Pearl, The Lotus Palace, Butterfly Swords and My Fair Concubine. Ebooks, various recent years.

These are entertaining romances set mostly in Tang dynasty China. Fun, really good incluing technique – as necessary in historical work as the genres of the fantastic – and the romance did not make me want to stab anyone in the face. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Sophia Kell Hagin, Whatever Gods May Be and Shadows of Something Real. Ebooks, various recent years.

Near-future stories starring a lesbian main character. The first is a war story, and the second less easily categorised. They’re surprisingly good, with real confidence in the prose.

C.S. Friedman, In Conquest Born. DAW, 1986, 2001 reprint.

Science fiction. Empires. Psychics. Space battles. Disturbing, unpleasant; depiction of a culture where male-on-female rape is normal, practically a requirement; characters all on the antihero end of the spectrum. Not My Cup Of Tea At All.

Jacqueline Carey, Dark Currents and Autumn Bones. Roc, 2012 and 2013.

Delightful, entertaining, interesting urban fantasy set in a small American town. More like this, please.

Tamora Pierce, Battle Magic. Scholastic, 2013.

Once again Pierce delivers a grand adventure involving young people. Although her not-Tibet and not-China has me side-eyeing a bit: the strokes are a little too broad, and the war is a little too easily won.

Lesley Davis, Dark Wings Descending and Pale Wings Protecting. Ebooks, recent dates.

Bad lesbian romance, with a side-order of cops and angels and demons.

Mira Grant, Parasite. Orbit, 2013.

Seanan McGuire really likes mad science, biological apocalypses, conspiracies, and simple organisms. I mean, really really really likes.

I’m going to need some time to think about this novel, really. There is a shit-tonne of info-dumping (through various methods, but a lot through excerpts from news sources and autobiographies), and the voice doesn’t seem particularly distinct from the rest of McGuire’s oeuvre, Discount Armageddon and sequel aside. On the other hand, I rather like the soft apocalypse conceit.

It’s not mind-blowing. It’s rather like John Scalzi’s novels – moderately interesting concepts, middle-of-the-road execution – which clearly isn’t exactly a niche market. I would like it to excite me more than it does. But it’s also very… American? It nests itself within – or perhaps it nests within itself – so many assumptions about how the world works, and how central America is to the world, that it creates in me a sense of disconnect and alienation.

Anyway.

Gail Simone, New 52: Batgirl Vol. 1. DC, 2013.

So I am converted to the idea of comics as an interesting medium now. Also Gail Simone is awesome.

Greg Rucka, Private Wars and The Last Run. Bantam, 2005 and 2010.

Rucka writes the best spy thrillers. No, really. The best. And I’m not just saying that because I would kill to see his Queen and Country stuff made into a good television series.

Greg Rucka and various artists, Queen and Country, collected volumes one through three. Oni Press.

I am extra converted to the idea of comics as an interesting medium. Rucka’s facility with writing flawed, ethically compromised, yet immensely compelling characters is brilliantly on display. Fantastic work.

Linky runs in perpetuity on not sleeping

Border House Blog on the gender wage gap in gaming:

I’m reading through the latest digital edition of Game Developer Magazine which contains their annual survey. The salary numbers overall weren’t concerning to me, until I scrolled down and saw the differences between the male and female survey respondents. The next time someone tells me that men and women get paid equally for their talents in the game industry, I wanted something to link to them. This is just plain disgusting.

Fantasy Café, Women in SFF Month: Jacqueline Carey:

As of this writing, Martin, Jordan, and the granddaddy of them all, J.R.R. Tolkien, top the list of Amazon.com’s fantasy author rankings. A glance at the first fifty listings on the Popular Epic Fantasy bookshelf on GoodReads.com reveals forty-seven titles by thirteen male authors, ranging from long-established Big Names to more recent arrivals like Brent Weeks and Patrick Rothfuss. Exactly three books by female authors made the list: The first two titles in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy and my own Kushiel’s Dart.

Jo Walton at Tor.com, “Fantasy, Reading and Escapism”:

Reading is a culturally approved practice, it improves my mind and widens my cultural capital. But if I admit what I read — more fiction than non fiction, more genre books than classics, fantasy, science fiction, romance, military fiction, historical fiction, mysteries and YA — then I lose that approval and have to start justifying my choices. I also read a lot of Victorian fiction and biographies and random interesting non-fiction and some things published as literature… and I don’t hold any of them as better than any of the others.