Books read: Wilson, King, Moyer

Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. Tor.com Publishing, 2015. Copy courtesy of Tor.com.

Read for review. It’s a very interesting little piece of sword-and-sorcery, albeit perhaps not entirely to my tastes.

Laurie R. King, Dreaming Spies. Allison & Busby, 2015.

This is more travelogue than mystery. Very good travelogue. Weak on the mystery.

Jaime Lee Moyer, Against A Brightening Sky. Tor, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Read for column. Third and last in Moyer’s trilogy, set in early 20th-century San Francisco. Moyer has a compelling touch with characterisation, but many elements of this volume sat ill with me – it’s a little too romantically inclined towards the aristocracy of pre- and post-Great War Europe, and inclines towards Evil Bolsheviks, while not feeling as rooted as I would prefer in the actual tenor of the era (although that may be mere European bias on my part: I don’t know much about America in the years immediately following the Great War).

Anyway. It’s entertaining.

Books in brief: King, Balogh, Lindsey, Asaro, Merciel, Zettel, Simone, Clulow, and Herrin

Laurie R. King, To Play The Fool and With Child. Picador, 2014 editions.

The second and third installment in King’s Kate Martinelli series. The interesting thing about these novels, I realised as I read her standalone books – discussed next paragraph – is how much more King is interested in character, in suffering, in relationships, than she is in the intellectual puzzle of whodunnit. Crime might be the frame, but it’s not the focus. Which makes these novels fairly powerful examinations of emotions and relationships and characters.

Laurie R. King, A Darker Place, Folly, and Keeping Watch. Various publishers, various years.

These are King’s standalone contemporary novels – though Folly and Keeping Watch are loosely connected – and it’s here where I noticed her concern with character rather than mystery most strongly. A Darker Place ends on an unfinished note, but it’s a study of one woman’s guilt and obsessions and drive, a drive that leads her into danger again and again; Folly is concerned with one woman’s struggle to rebuild her self and her life while struggling with a heavy burden of grief and mental illness – she’s a mother, a grandmother, an artist: her sickness places heavy burdens upon her relationships but doesn’t, ultimately, define her – while Keeping Watch is about how one man’s experiences in Vietnam (and his addiction to adrenaline) shaped his entire life. They are brilliant, fascinating novels, and well worth reading.

Mary Balogh, One Night For Love, A Summer To Remember, The Proposal, The Escape, and The Arrangement. Ebooks.

Formulaic historical romance. Diverting, but not really engrossing. Did not hit nearly enough of my narrative kinks.

Catherine Asaro, Undercity. Baen, 2014. Review ecopy courtesy of the publisher.

Read for review for Tor.com. My strongest feeling about this book is “meh.” It’s good enough, it does what it sets out to do, but it’s not stylish or innovative or particularly gripping. It has not enough flare and joie de vivre. I found it hard to say much about it in my review.

Sarah Zettel, Palace of Spies. Harcourt Brace & Co., 2013.

Read for inclusion in SWM column. An excellent and intelligent YA novel. Much recommended.

Liane Merciel, Dragon Age: Last Flight. Tor, 2014. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

By far the best written of the Dragon Age tie-ins to date: it manages to tell a full and complete story without feeling like someone’s write-up of their roleplaying campaign, and does it smoothly. Interesting characters, solid BOOM. Would read more in this setting by this author.

Gail Simone et al, Legends of Red Sonja. Dynamite, 2014.

I said of Gail Simone’s first Red Sonja volume that it reminded me in the best possible way of Xena: Warrior Princess. Legends, a compilation collecting efforts from Simone and a variety of other authors, including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Tamora Pierce, and Marjorie M. Liu, feels very much like it too – without Xena’s levels of whimsical ridiculousness, but still. I really enjoyed this, and recommend it very much.

Erin Lindsey, The Bloodbound. Ace, 2014.

Red for inclusion in SWM column. Meh. Tone and concerns remind me a little of Mercedes Lackey or Tamora Pierce, though without their particular brand of… didactic feminism is not quite the term I need, but it may be close. Armies, threats to nations, heroine bodyguarding king. Briefly diverting, but not exactly compellingly great.

nonfiction

Adam Clulow, The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter With Tokugawa Japan. Columbia University Press, 2014.

A fascinating and immensely readable account of how the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) was stymied in its attempts to treat the Tokugawa Bakufu like the other nations and kingdoms the VOC succeeded in dominating in South East Asia. The VOC ended up, in fact, using the rhetoric of a vassal of the shogun, and being called upon to perform the duties of a vassal. It’s far from my period, but it feels like solid research – although I’d have preferred more emphasis on how the Japanese conceived of the Dutch.

Judith Herrin, Margins and Metropolis: Authority Across The Byzantine Empire. Princeton University Press, 2013.

A collection of essays on various aspects of Byzantine authority from across Herrin’s long career. Interesting stuff.

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 in brief: Bear, King, Galenorn, Redwine

Yasmine Galenorn, Bone Magic and Harvest Hunting. Berkley, 2010.

Oh, the terribleness of these books. Such terribleness. Such angst. Such faerie/werewolf/magic/vampire/poly/queer sex. It’s kind of glorious, in an utterly terrible all-the-urban-fantasy-clich├ęs way.

C.J. Redwine, Defiance. Atom, 2012.

Can’t remember who told me I should read this. They weren’t exactly right. Bog-standard YA dystopia narrative, clearly drawing on John’s Apocalypse/millenarian reified symbols for its setting (not as imaginatively as Faith Hunter’s debut trilogy, alas), with a little too much illogical specialness thrown in. Not my sort of book, but probably appeals to the Divergent readership.

Elizabeth Bear, One-Eyed Jack. Prime, 2014.

An excellent urban fantasy set in 2002 Las Vegas, that plays with metafictionality while never breaking the fourth wall. Well recommended.

Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or, On the Segregation of the Queen. St. Martin’s Press, 1994. This edition Picador 2014.

Why did no one ever hit me over the head with the amazingness that is this book before? IT IS BRILLIANT GIVE ME ALL THE SEQUELS NOW.


In conclusion, Elizabeth Bear and Laurie R. King write damn good books.