Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, DRAGON IN EXILE

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Dragon in Exile. Baen, 2015 (forthcoming).

I have lost track of how many volumes Lee and Miller’s Liaden series runs to now. They aren’t all consecutive, that’s for sure.

Dragon in Exile is the latest, taking place after Dragon Ship and Necessity’s Child but returning to focus primarily on (mis)adventures of the main branch of Clan Korval on the planet of Surebleak, rather than on the trials and tribulations of Theo Waitley – or the somewhat exoticised “space Roma” that play so large a part in Necessity’s Child.

This is very definitely a series novel: it cannot stand on its own. The cast is large and various, and difficult for me to keep track of – and I’ve read the whole series, albeit no volume more recently than six months ago. Several incidents take place, but none seem to be the focus of the novel: indeed, the book seems to be setting up the pieces for conflict further down the road.

If you like spending time with the characters – and to be honest, I really rather do – you’ll probably enjoy this book. But to me it feels rather slight and directionless, and not the exciting new space opera I was hoping for. More explosions next time out, maybe?

Books in brief: Bear, Clark, Scalzi, Lee, Dalrymple, Rediker

Elizabeth Bear, Karen Memory. Tor, 2015. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

This book. This book. I don’t even know how to talk about it. I need to read it again and again. It did everything right for me. It’s all my narrative kinks rolled up into one – including some I didn’t even know I had, and some things I would’ve thought I’d hate to see but they’re done so well – and wrapped up with a positive ending and it all just works.

Read it. Read it. READ IT I NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT WITH PEOPLE.

Except you can’t read it until next year. So I’m going to have to think about how to talk about it some more.

John Scalzi, Lock In. US: Tor, 2014; UK: Gollancz, 2014. Copy courtesy of Gollancz.

The last time I was writing up my books, I asked myself, “Have I forgotten something?” And it turns out that I had, because the night beforehand I’d read Lock In and it had not made enough impression to last. This is in many ways a very forgettable book: competent, but of the stuff of which airport paperbacks are made. A whodunnit with a couple of Sufficiently Advanced Technology elements. I really don’t have very much at all to say about it, and I’m damned if I can even remember the characters’ names.

Sharon Lee, Carousel Sea. Baen, 2015. e-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Third installment in small-town fantasy series. Will include in future SWM column. Interesting, soothing, pulls all its punches.

Elizabeth May, The Falconer. Gollancz, 2013.

Debut novel. Fairies. Violence. Scotland. Steampunk. It is crack and it is terrible and it is actually quite a bit of fun.

nonfiction

William Dalrymple, The Return of a King: the Battle for Afghanistan. Bloomsbury, 2013.

New history of the first British Afghan war, and one that makes liberal use of sources in the local languages. A fascinating read.

Marcus Rediker, The Amistad Rebellion: an Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom. Verso, 2013.

Rediker writes good history. This one is relatively short, for him, and very accessible: an account of the Amistad slave mutiny and the long struggle of the survivors to return to their West African homes. Solid, informative, compelling.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. Penguin, 2013.

A weighty (500+ pages excluding index, notes and bibliography, at 10pt-type) volume, but a deeply fascinating and extraordinarily well-written piece of history, that is astonishingly clear in its presentation of the complex factors and personalities on the European scene, and routes by which the decisions of the European powers ultimately narrowed down to war. A really excellent history book.