Books in brief: Briggs, Rouaud, Griffith, Wecker, Reid

Patricia Briggs, Shifting Sands. Ace, 2014. ARC.

Read for review for Tor.com. A collection of short fiction set in Briggs’ urban fantasy world. Entertaining, but nothing particularly special.

Antoine Rouaud, The Path of Anger. Gollancz, 2013. Translated from the French by Tom Clegg. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Read for review for Ideomancer.com. Ambitious and not entirely successful epic-style fantasy novel. Lacks decent female characters. Mixed feelings overall. Jared Shurin has a good comprehensive review of it at Pornokitsch.

Nicola Griffith, Slow River. Gollancz, 2013 (1995).

An excellent meditative book about identity and growth and never being the same person you were before. Brilliant. Highly recommended.

Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni. Harper, 2013.

Read for the column. A fable about immigration and loneliness. Not without its problems, but overall a gorgeous, accomplished debut. Recommended.

Non-fiction

Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680, two vols. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1988-1993.

I believe I heard of these books when Kate Elliott mentioned them on Twitter: they are exactly what they say in the title, and very interesting the history of that time and place is, too. It does bring home to me how little I know about Southeast Asian history in general: I’ll be skimming the bibliography for available titles to add to my store of knowledge, I think.

Hugo Award Nominations 2014. Part IV.

I’m attending the 2014 Worldcon, and that means I get to nominate for the Hugo Awards. And, because I’m the kind of shy retiring flower who hesitates to share her opinions, I’m going to tell you all about my nominations!

But I’ll do it in more than one blogpost, because the Hugo Awards have a lot of categories. And one may nominate up to five items in each category.

First post here. Second post here.

Now, let’s talk about the final category: Best Novel.

The sheer size of the field means it’s impossible for any single person to read every novel published in it, much less every novel and a good proportion of the short work, and the related work, and grasp at least some of the art – rather like Jonathan McCalmont and Martin Lewis and Ian Sales, I’m pretty convinced the Hugo Award has too many categories. (But we run with the award we have, not the one we wish we had.)

So when it comes to the novels I read that were published in 2013, let’s not pretend it isn’t a more limited field than the field as a whole. And while I’m going to be picking the best of that, let’s not pretend that technically-best isn’t going to be playing up against favourite-things-best.

So, caveats aside, what novels did I find best of 2013?

Ann Leckie’s ANCILLARY JUSTICE tops the list. A debut novel, it is polished, powerful, doing interesting things with space opera, and kicked me in all the narrative squids.

Elizabeth Bear’s SHATTERED PILLARS comes second. It is an incredibly well-written book, and I really think its predecessor, Range of Ghosts, should have made more award lists last year.

Marie Brennan’s A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS is also on the list. I really like the world, the voice, and the narrative conceit of it, even if the pacing can be up-and-down.

Nicola Griffith’s HILD. I don’t care if it is fantasy, magical realism, or “merely” straight historical fiction. It is ON THIS LIST, because it belongs here.

I am torn over fifth place on the list. Nalo Hopkinson’s SISTER MINE? Roz Kaveney’s REFLECTIONS? Something else I haven’t got to read yet? Feel free to convince me in comments.

Nicola Griffith, Hild

What is there to say about Hild that Amal El-Mohtar hasn’t already said better?

Griffith herself says:

So history is a story. And story is a kind of magic. So is it possible for historical fiction to be anything other than fantasy?

When I set out to write Hild I had so many competing needs that thought the whole project might be impossible. Ranged against my need for bone-hard realism was my hope for the seventh-century landscape to be alive with a kind of wild magic—an sfnal sense of wonder without gods or monsters. I was set on writing a novel of character but on an epic canvas.

It is an astonishing book. And one filled with beauty and power. Griffith’s prose is spare, but her eye for line and rhythm, the perfect turn of a phrase, is hard to match. The world she depicts feels real, textured, nuanced: full of patterns, complicated relationships, violence, love, need. Hild herself is a fantastic character, and Griffith explores the loneliness to which her pattern-seeing, bright, sharp mind and adamantine will subjects her with grace, and power, and elegant brutality.

I began reading it at around ten o’clock of the evening, and did not – could not – stop until I was done, at four in the morning.

Read it. Read it. Read it.