Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom

Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom

Mostly science fiction and fantasy, though the odd non-fiction book will crop up now and then...

Review
5 Stars
KJ Charles: Spectred Isle
Spectred Isle - KJ Charles

I was away on holiday when this dropped onto my ebook reader, as it had sounded like something that was right up my street and I'd pre-ordered it (not that common an occurence for me, given the amount I read!). What I didn't expect was to end up reading it in one sitting, doing the 'just one more chapter' thing and then needing to know how it finished. 

 

Spectred Isle is the first of a series, which is a torment in and of itself, set just after World War I and it's pretty much impossible to find a character in it who hasn't been affected by that conflict. Our main guys, Saul Lazenby and Randolph Glyde, had very different experiences but both suffered significant loss - Saul has lost his future career and good reputation because of a mistaken relationship, while Randolph's family has been destroyed, leaving him facing a future where he is literally the last of his line.

 

This is not quite our world, though, but one where a shadow war took place alongside the fighting in the trenches and Glyde and his family were active participants, tearing open barriers between our world and the 'other side'. Now, as a result, while Whitehall tries to pull magic practitioners into their bureaucracy, Glyde and his friends are left dealing with folklore and story come to horrible life. Saul, finding employment with an eccentric who has all sorts of odd ideas, keeps turning up in all the wrong places and then literally becomes part of what's going on. 

 

The only downside? Book 2 isn't out yet. This book definitely worked for me, really enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing how this series works out.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
The Bedlam Stacks
The Bedlam Stacks - Natasha Pulley

Set in the same universe as The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, this book is not a sequel although one of the main characters from the previous books makes a couple of quite lengthy appearances - while that book was set in London, The Bedlam Stacks takes place mostly in Peru, as our protagonist is part of a mission sent to try and steal cuttings from cinchona trees in order to help produce quinine for the East India Company. 

 

We first meet Merrick Tremayne when he's recovering from a serious injury at his family home in Cornwall, which is literally falling apart around his ears. Against his better judgement, he agrees to take part in an expedition to Peru and follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. With Merrick and his companions, we spend a lot of time travelling and eventually arrive at New Bedlam, in the company of its priest, the taciturn Raphael. The village itself is on the border of a mysterious forest, the shortest route to the cinchona but also both the village and the forest are guarded by the markayuq (who Merrick mistakenly believes are clockwork).

 

Anyway, matters come to a head, Merrick and Raphael end up travelling into the forest regardless and Merrick subsequently discovers there is much more going on in darkest Peru than just the cinchona. In a flashback sequence, we discover that Merrick's injury was deliberately engineered by a much-younger Keita in the hope that it would stop him going into the forest, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if the aftermath of all Merrick's actions comes back to have significant consequences in a future novel.

 

Unlike both of the main characters in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, I found it difficult to empathise with Merrick - he comes across as quite weak and frightened of social consequences a lot of the time, even when he is doing things he knows are morally reprehensible. Raphael is a more interesting character, facing his own immortality in many ways, but he still didn't quite work for me either. As a result, while I'd said in my previous review that I felt it was unlikely I'll re-read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, in hindsight I think I was wrong about that just on the basis of the relationship in it between Thaniel and Mori and it's probably The Bedlam Stacks I won't want to re-read.

 

I'm still looking forward to seeing what Natasha Pulley writes next, but it'd be nice to see her write about women too. Grace Carrow got fairly short shrift in the previous book and women are very much supporting characters here too, either devoted wife to Merrick's fellow explorer or helpful villager and that's just about it. 

!!! spoiler alert !!!
The Dreamblood books
The Killing Moon - N.K. Jemisin The Shadowed Sun - N.K. Jemisin

I've had these two sitting on my bookcase for a while and decided, while I'm waiting for The Stone Sky to come out next month, I'd finally get round to reading them both - I know from reading interviews with NK Jemisin that these two books were actually written before the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series, which was published first, and I think it shows in the overall structure and characterisation. 

 

Both books are set in the city of Gujaareh and its surrounding deserts, a city where dreams have power and are used as the basis for both killing and healing - our protagonist in The Killing Moon is a Gatherer, whose job it is to both help the terminally ill or injured to cross over to the next life as painlessly as possible, or to be an executioner of those found to be 'corrupt'. One of the main characters in The Shadowed Sun is a Sharer, whose job it is to use dreams to heal rather than kill, again within a very structured religious setting. 

 

The events of the two books take place ten years apart, with the focus of The Killing Moon being on an attempt by the ruler of the city to make himself immortal by the deaths of countless others. Our protagonist, Ehiru, realises too late that he has been used to put down political opponents of the prince (who also happens to be his half-brother) and that the system he has been working within is itself corrupt. His only choice, he feels, is to enlist the help of the Kisuati to overthrow the current system. 

 

In The Shadowed Sun, our focus is split between Hanani, who is the first woman to try and become a Sharer, and Wanahomen, son of the prince who was at the centre of things in the previous book. He has sought refuge with one of the desert tribes and discovers that his father was not the man he'd always believed him to be. His attempts to regain the throne are undertaken against a backdrop of a terrible plague, as well as general dissatisfaction with the way things are under Kisuati occupation. 

 

NK Jemisin is one of my favourite authors, so it's a shame to discover that she's written something I'm unlikely to want to read again. I liked The Killing Moon much better of the two, as there was much less of a redemption arc being pushed for Ehiru than there is in The Shadowed Sun for Wanahomen. The world-building in both books is excellent, though that should come as absolutely no surprise - this is not medieval-Europe-with-dragons, as is often the case with so much fantasy. 

 

It's a sign of how good a writer NK Jemisin is that she actually manages to almost redeem Wanahomen for me, given that quite early on he engineers a sexual assault on the other main character. I just couldn't get past that, even though Hanani apparently managed to do just that, which was even less believable for me given that (to save herself) she's forced to use her healing powers to kill. There's also an element of the magic healing penis too, as soon after Hanani is grieving for her mentor and decides this would be a really good time to get rid of that pesky virginity she's been hanging on to as a result of her religious vows.  

 

So, all in all, glad I've read them but doubt I'll re-read them. Maybe I'm setting the bar too high though and there was a sense of disappointment there for me too - NK Jemisin's other books are so good, so powerful and affecting, that these felt like they were part-finished in comparison. Not bad per se, although there were things I definitely didn't like about them, but just not quite as good as other things she's written...

The Earthsea novels
The Earthsea Quartet - Ursula K. Le Guin The Other Wind - Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea was one of the first fantasy books I read and I also have very strong memories of being terrified by the underground world portrayed in The Tombs of Atuan, sharing Ged's very real fears of being left to die in the darkness. I'd also read The Farthest Shore at some point in the past, probably back when it looked like this series was going to be a trilogy and the final two books (Tehanu and The Other Wind) were barely thought of. I've had the books pictured on my bookshelf for a number of years, so I thought it was time I actually read (or re-read) the entire series in one go, because I probably should have already done so!

 

Anyway, the series starts off with a fairly stereotypical tale of a boy from a small island who discovers he has unexpected powers, though he continues to have a cantankerous relationship with anyone who tells him what he should do with them, regardless of how right they prove to be in the long term. Ged uses his powers to call the spirits of the dead, only for one of them to attach itself to him and literally chase him across the face of Earthsea until he figures out how he can free himself. We next meet Ged again a few years later, on Atuan, but this time the focus is on another character and he plays more of a supporting role. Tenar is the central character here, her upbringing among the tombs and rituals of a nameless god who she comes to question even before Ged makes an appearance. In some ways these two first books are a mirror of each other, the main character coming to understand themselves better in a world where the opposite sex plays a minor role at best (more passing than minor in the first book). 

 

The third and fourth books are books about growing old and dealing with loss - Ged has lost his powers towards the end of The Farthest Shore and so refuses to become involved in the crowning of the king he's helped bring to power. In Tehanu, we catch up with Tenar who has just lost her husband, having chosen an 'ordinary' path of marriage and family rather than the magic she had been offered by Ged's arrangements for her care. She has also taken on the care of a child who has been badly abused, both physically and sexually, and then Ged arrives and he's a mess too. Finally, in The Other Wind, we see the culmination of a number of storylines, though I could have done with more scenes where Tenar and Ged were together. They have forged a strong relationship, that much is clear from the little we see of it, but I would have liked to have seen more. 

 

These are not perfect books, with the first and third ones in particular having a real dearth of female characters - from what I recall, the main female character in The Farthest Shore is a weaver who has lost her mind, which doesn't really do much for representation. While men play a more supporting role in The Tombs of Atuan, the two male characters who are 'on screen' the most are at least fully fleshed-out rather than bit-players. There's also an egregious example of deus ex machina in Tehanu to fix a difficult situation threatening Tenar and Ged which felt a little too convenient to be anything other than an answer to writing oneself into a corner.  

 

While they'll continue to have a place on my bookshelf, not to mention fond memories, and the writing is consistently lovely, I'm not really sure if I'll read them again. In some ways, now I too am significantly older than when I first read some of these books, it was the idea of Ged having to deal with losing his powers that resonated most with me; they are what makes him who he is and the people he knows mostly struggle with the fact he isn't the Archmage any more, possibly more than he does. 

How it all started, or getting into fantasy back when there wasn't much of it about

This week, having finished all the reading I needed to do for the Hugo, I decided it was time to re-read the Earthsea novels - I had the collected edition of the first four and also a copy of Other Winds, though I'm not sure if I've ever actually read past the first three. That started me thinking about the books I read when I was first getting into fantasy, some good and some downright terrible, and how well they've stood the test of time. 

 

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Leguin is one of the first books I remember reading in this genre, then The Tombs of Atuan (which, as I write this post, I started reading last night) scared the crap out of me. My version of the first book had the wonderful UK paperback artwork that you'll find partway down this page, even though I didn't really take on board at the time that it whitewashes Ged and his fellow wizards, not to mention that the scene depicted doesn't actually happen anywhere in the book. 

 

Another formative influence for me when it came to fantasy was the wonderful books of Alan Garner. If you've not had the chance to read them, don't hesitate - probably the best to start with are The Owl Service (which owes a heavy debt to the Mabinogion) and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. These were required reading at school though I wonder if he's as well known outside the UK?

 

It wasn't all good, however. I remember reading the Belgariad and the Thomas Covenant books (little realising at the time just how rapey the latter was), as well as having a brief period of being smitten with Anne McCaffrey's dragon books. Since I'd also gone through a period of reading any horsey books I could get my hands on, the dragon books probably weren't too much of a step on from that. 

 

And then there was Katherine Kurtz, another whose first trilogy at least I still have a copy of on my bookshelf. It had its weaknesses, that I won't deny at all, but that didn't stop me from loving the very idea of the Deryni, people with powers who looked just like everyone else, the same way I'd loved Zenna Henderson's stories of The People. 

 

There's also a few folks I read at the time who are much less well-known now, some not even in print any longer - mostly women, it has to be said. I have fond memories of stalking the local library shelves in desperate search for the latest book in Nancy Springer's Book of the Isle series, since we didn't have the internet back then to tell us what was coming out soon, not to mention series by Geraldine Harris and Elizabeth A. Lynn.

 

At WorldCon in London, I had the profound pleasure of buying a signed copy of In the Red Lord's Reach by Phyllis Eisenstein and the bookseller casually mentioning that he knew her and would tell her he'd sold it. I don't think he realised how delighted I was to discover she was still around and I asked him to pass on that she's not forgotten, not at all, and I'm pleased to see Wikipedia says she's still writing, even if publication issues have caused all sorts of difficulties with her longer works.

 

Anyway, that's my history when it comes to fantasy. I read some SF too, partly because my brother had a collection of Asimov, Brunner and others of that ilk, but they never really 'grabbed' me the way the books I've mentioned did. By the way, I'm really enjoying visiting Earthsea again... 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
5 Stars
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee

One of the books I've pre-ordered this year, Raven Stratagem is the sequel to last year's Ninefox Gambit, which I really enjoyed and hope will win this year's Hugo for Best Novel (it's got my vote, at least!). As with most series, this book will make much more sense if you've read the first one, particularly as the action continues pretty much straight from the events at the end of the previous book.

 

In short, our main character Kel Cheris, a mathematically-inclined infantry captain, has ended up as the host for the consciousness of a long-dead general who went a bit crazy and killed many of his soldiers. Since he (Jedao) is a tactical genius, the decision was made to use newly-invented technology to preserve his consciousness and bring it out when needed, the most recent occasion being to deal with a bunch of heretics on a space station. 

 

In the wake of that, which forms the bulk of the events of Ninefox Gambit, Cheris uses her status to take over a small fleet of ships and attempt to both deal with an invasion and set into motion Jedao's plan to overturn the whole system. The main driver for this is what is called 'formation instinct', the mental conditioning that the military faction use to ensure obedience to orders - some soldiers already have problems with this and therefore obey orders because they choose to, while most have no choice. Meanwhile there is also a lot of maneuvering going on in the other factions as the possibility of immortality is dangled in front of their respective leaders, so we also spend a lot of time with the Shuos leader and his various issues. 

 

In some ways, this feels like a more accessible book than Ninefox Gambit and more of a traditional space opera. By the end of it, in preparation for the next book in the series (which I understand is called Revenant Gun, a slightly ominous name since that technology is directly-related to Jedao), Cheris has put her plan into action and everyone is going to be dealing with the fall-out. Those who are still alive, of course! Enjoyed it very much, can't wait to see what happens next...

Review
5 Stars
City of Miracles - Robert Jackson Bennett
City of Miracles - Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Miracles is the final book in the trilogy that starts with City of Stairs and continues with City of Blades, though it's set 13 years after the previous book in the series. As I get older, I find myself appreciating books which have grown-up characters at their heart, not just some pre-ordained teenager's quest and City of Miracles continues to give me what I want - what I've described to people as 'grumpy olds doing stuff'. Sure, there are teenagers here too but they're the supporting cast rather than the centre of things in a lot of ways.

 

The books are set in a world where miracles were once commonplace and the first book takes place in the direct aftermath of a war which has led to the death of the majority of the Divinities which once provided those miracles. The second and third books are about various things trying to fill the void left by those Divinities, either with a warrior class which had previously served them returning unexpectedly or with the offspring of said Divinities trying to claw their way to power. 

 

The main character in City of Miracles is Sigrud, who also appears in the previous books, and who'd fled to self-imposed exile in the previous volume. As we meet him again, we discover he's been waiting for a sign he can return, which had never come, and now the person he'd expected to call him back has been killed. This assassination is all part of the plan of Nokov, who is attempting to gather power by killing other divine children and apparently Sigrud has to plan a significant plan in foiling his rise to power.

 

I really enjoyed City of Miracles, which rounded off the series very nicely, and I look forward to seeing more novel-length stuff from this author - I also plan to nominate the series for next year's Best Series Hugo.

Review
4 Stars
City of Strife - Claudie Arseneault
City of Strife: (An Isandor Novel) (City of Spires Book 1) - Claudie Arseneault

I have to admit, I got this book when it was on sale and I can't remember how I came to even look at it in the first place - probably someone on Twitter, which is where most of my unexpected book recs seem to come from nowadays...

 

Anyway, other than my annoyance at the end about the massive cliffhanger we're left with and a question about how soon the next book will be out, I enjoyed City of Strife much more than I initially thought I would. It starts out relatively slowly and with a lot of different characters introduced, so there was definitely a moment where I wavered over continuing or not. 

 

The main character in the book is Arathiel, who we first meet literally dragging himself out of the river as he returns to Isandor, the city of his birth which he left over a hundred years earlier. Bad things have happened to Arathiel in the interim, as a result of which he's been seriously affected - for example, he can't feel any kind of touch so it's very easy for him to be injured without realising it, while a lack of sensation also means that he can damage himself by eating food that's way too hot. Unwilling to get in touch with his (naturally noble and well-off) family, he finds refuge in the seedier part of Isandor in a shelter run by others who have reason to keep away from the better off families of the city. 

 

Alongside Arathiel and his new-found friends, we also have the major culture clash of two societies, as the newly-powerful Myrians have come to town and seem intent on doing whatever they like. One of the noble families of Isandor takes exception to how the Myrians treat even their own and attempts to rally support to kick them out of the city, a quest that becomes personal when a member of their family disappears in suspicious circumstances. 

 

Naturally, the two storylines end up crashing together and the afore-mentioned cliffhanger turns up, much to my frustration. So, I'm glad I carried on reading City of Strife and look forward to seeing how the story continues!

Review
4 Stars
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe - Kij Johnson
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe - Kij Johnson

I have to admit, though I'd seen recommendations for this book, I'd partly avoided it after having a not-great experience with a previous ebook by this author (formatting issues but also a story I couldn't get into) and then hearing there were elements of Lovecraft involved with it, since I've never read any and am extremely unlikely to in the future. However, as this novella has cropped up as part of this year's Hugo Awards, I thought I'd give it a go anyway and see how I got on. 

 

Our protagonist is a professor in a women's college who discovers that one of her most promising students has run off with a man and who sets off on a long quest to find her and bring her back. This is complicated somewhat by the fact that said student is apparently the granddaughter of a god and if the god wakes and she's gone, the land where Vellitt lives will probably be destroyed. In addition to this, most of the journey is happening in the dreamlands, since the missing student has fled to our world, the so-called 'waking world' with one of its usual residents. 

 

What I really liked about this story were two things in particular. Firstly, Vellitt is clearly no spring chicken and not only has a history with various people she either runs into or needs to help her, she has aches and pains because travelling is hard work. Secondly, less usual for a story of this length, is that it doesn't seem to just stop or really be part of a larger work that the writer hasn't bothered to finish. Both of those tendencies really annoy me in shorter fiction, which needs to be more self-contained in and of itself, I think.

My Hugo Awards reading list 2017

Just downloaded the Hugo Award voter packet - for anyone who doesn't know how this works, for the past few years it's been traditional for anyone who's a member of WorldCon to be able to access a voter packet for the awards which contains a slew of material designed to help people make an informed decision on what to vote for. Membership to WorldCon is still open for anyone who's interested in voting on this year's awards and also therefore getting a big wodge of SFF ebooks, though not everything is included as some publishers prefer to provide an excerpt. 

 

So, I thought I'd have a look at what's available this year and what I've already read, just to see what the likelihood is of getting through most/all of it before voting closes on July 15th.

 

Best novel: 6 nominees, of which I have already read 3. Two others I'm excusing myself from reading because they're second books in a series and I didn't like the first one. That just leaves me with Too Like the Lightning to read.

 

Best novella: 6 nominees, of which I've already read 3, so 3 to go.

 

Best novellette: 6 nominees, of which I'd already read 2 and I finished another one last night, so 3 left. 

 

Best short story: 6 nominees, I'd already read 2 and finished another last night, so again 3 left. 

 

Best related work: 6 nominees of which I'd already read absolutely none, because I don't really tend to pick this kind of thing up normally. A couple of the books look interesting, so I guess I'll be reading 3 or 4 of these?

 

Best series: this is a new award for this year, with eligibility based on a series with a minimum wordcount but also where something in that series was published in 2016. Again, 6 nominees of which I'd already read some or all of 4, so I feel I can make an informed decision about them. The exceptions for me are the October Daye books (with the publisher providing ebooks of 14 books!) and the Expanse series (where the publisher has gone the other way and provided just an excerpt of the first one). I guess I'll be trying out a couple of the former then, unless it really grabs me, in which case thanks in advance!

 

Campbell award: this is the not-a-Hugo for new writers, who are eligible for 2 years from their first professional sale. Too Like the Lightning is the supporting book for one of the writers nominated, so that's helpful. I plan to read at least one of the things submitted for each of the other 5 writers.

 

 

What's the damage? At the moment, it's looking like a minimum of 8 novels, 3 novellas, 3 novelettes, 3 short stories, and 3 or 4 non-fiction books. Given that there's bound to be stuff I won't want to finish in there as well, that seems eminently do-able in 2 months. 

Review
1 Stars
Immortal Quest - Alexandra MacKenzie

I can't remember who recommended this book to me, so I have no way of deciding who is ultimately to blame for this deeply mediocre experience, but I feel a little betrayed anyway. 

 

It's rare that I finish books that underwhelm me as much as this one did but there was a sense of wanting to know if it could get any worse and also making a list of the ways in which the (clearly non-British) author would demonstrate that they didn't really know how life in the UK works. Particularly when you decide to send your characters off to a castle on a small Scottish island and then treat it like living there works like a big city - given the location of the island, the nearest Chinese takeaway is a 60-mile round trip, so your chances of delivery are less than good to say the least. 

 

Anyway, clear lack of research aside (seriously, you would not 'stop off in Liverpool for lunch' if you're driving from Wales up to Scotland) part of the problem with this book is that I didn't actually care about either of the characters or their relationship. We get told a lot that one of the characters loves the other but it was massively unconvincing and I was extremely glad it only cost me £1.30 for the ebook. I still feel like I was overcharged and they ought to be paying me, I would even throw in a free list of all the things that demonstrated lack of local knowledge!

 

Anyway, it's not particularly clear when this book is set but a final word on the importance of doing your research if you want to write a book set in a foreign country: if your overall plot hinges heavily on people missing ferries, make sure the island in question wasn't connected to the mainland by a very large road bridge in 1995. 

The Fox Woman - Kij Johnson

Couldn't get into this one, alas, not helped by the numerous text errors - lots of the kind of spelling mistakes that don't get picked up by spellchecker, not to mention formatting errors. Very disappointing from a publisher like Tor!

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
The Drowning Eyes - Emily Foster
The Drowning Eyes - Emily Foster

I'm starting to wonder if I have a bit of a problem with novellas, in that many of them feel like they're not actually stand-alone stories but are part of a bigger whole that doesn't (ought to?) exist. The Drowning Eyes is a case in point for this, although I had some other problems with it too.

 

The basic premise of the universe in which this story is set is that certain people have the ability to be Windspeakers and control the weather, though this is understandably a power that can be easily abused. As a result, the way it is controlled by the system is the literal removal of the person's eyes and replacement with a set of stones which allow them to be more 'balanced' and also to be more powerful, as they can connect with others who have a similar power. This power is used not just to move ships about but also as a way of controlling the wider community, as punishment. We also discover that those who've been brought up to understand their powers from childhood basically accept this procedure as part of being a Windspeaker.

 

Of our main characters, Shina is a Windspeaker whose temple has been overrun before the procedure could take place and whose powerful icon was stolen. She is, she believes, the only survivor of the attack on the island and hires a ship to take her to another temple where she hopes for guidance on what to do next. Her control of the weather plays an important part in the story, firstly to get her where she needs to go and secondly, to get revenge on those who killed her fellow Windspeakers. 

 

All well and good until suddenly, two-thirds of the way through the narrative, the story cuts off and jumps forward in time. Maybe I missed it, but there doesn't seem to be any mention of whether or not Shina managed to get the icon back, when the last we saw of her was her literally throwing herself into the harbour in search of it. Likewise the ending is a bit unclear and leaves the entirety of <I>The Drowning Eyes</i> feeling for me as though it's parts of a larger novel rather than a complete story in and of itself. The writer clearly has the talent to produce something worth reading but this format leaves me wanting more than just the rest of the story. 

Books read (or not!) in December
The White City  - Simon Morden The Nameless City - Faith Erin Hicks Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game & the Race for Empire in Central Asia - Karl Ernest Meyer, Shareen Blair Brysac The House of Discarded Dreams by Ekaterina Sedia (2010-11-18) - Ekaterina Sedia The Desert of Souls - Howard Andrew Jones Kicking Off: How Women in Sport Are Changing the Game - Sarah Shephard A Taste of Honey - Kai Ashante Wilson The Bones of the Old Ones - Howard Andrew Jones Europe at Midnight - Dave Hutchinson Traitor's Blade - Sebastien de Castell

Books started: 12 (including the 2 I'm currently reading)

Books finished: 10

Books not finished: 0

 

Genre: This month sees the rare appearance of a couple of non-fiction books among the usual SFF - I've always been fascinated by Central Asia and so Tournament of Shadows had been on my bookcase for a while and also took a while to get through!

 

What progress on Mount TBR? Got rid of a couple and haven't added any, so I guess that's progress? 

 

Book of the month: To be perfectly honest, while I've enjoyed the books I've read this month (though the ongoing sluggishness of Booklikes makes me not want to review them and say why!), none of them really stand out. 

Books of the year, 2016 edition!

Yep, it's that time of year again and I'm looking back at the best things I've read this year - let's try and do this in categories, shall we?

 

Science fiction: We started the year off with Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, a first contact novel set in Nigeria, before what might be a real contender for next year's Best Novel Hugo, the wonderful Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. The other book which is a contender, though I know it's unlikely a middle book in a trilogy will pick up that prize, was the awesome The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin. Seriously, if you haven't read it (though you need to read The Fifth Season first, or else you won't understand most of what's going on or why it was a deserving winner of the Hugo for Best Novel), what are you waiting for?

 

Young Adult: It feels like this should be a category on its own, if only to recognise the excellence of A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab, another middle book of a trilogy which left me with yet another horrific cliffhanger ending. Pah. I think Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace gets to go in the YA category as well. Another great discovery has been Lila Bowen, whose book Wake of Vultures I loved last year and the sequel, Conspiracy ofprobably like nothing you've ever read before. And then there's also the excellent Updraft by Fran Wilde, which finally came out in paperback in the UK a couple of months ago.


Fantasy: No surprises for me in terms of the quality of City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett, a middle book that doesn't lag at all and which made an appearance around the same time as I was enjoying the first 'season' of serialised story Tremontaine (a prequel to Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, which is one of my favourite books). March saw the arrival of Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which subsequently went on to win the Nebula and World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Two books for Jen Williams in any list I make for best fantasy of this year, as she rounded off her Copper Cat trilogy with The Silver Tide and The Iron Ghost, both of which were excellent. 

 

Graphic novels: A stunning debut this year from Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which really surprised me with how funny and clever it was. Anyone who's been reading Saga for a while won't be surprised to see that series has carried on being both beautiful to look at and extremely thought-provoking. In terms of first books, I also need to mention The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, which I finally got my hands on this month and definitely recommend.

 

Fewer reviews towards the end of the year, mostly because of the instability of Booklikes, so we'll see how the new year finds us...

Review
3 Stars
The White City - Simon Morden
The White City  - Simon Morden

This is the follow-up to Down Station, which I reviewed earlier this year, again kindly supplied to me by my local library. Life got to me a bit, all the recent stupid political shenanigans in particular, so I was starting to wonder if I'd actually make my target for the reading challenge this year!

 

Anyway, the basic premise of The White City and its predecessor is that a bunch of folks from modern day London have found themselves in a mysterious place called Down where things don't work quite as they expect. For starters, there is magic and one of our group ends up being able to change into an enormous bird and light fires with her mind, and secondly the place is inhabited by people who have come from London in other times through portals like theirs. 

 

When we first return to Down, our main characters (Mary and Dalip) are engaged in a plan to try and create an overall map of the place and are both assisted and impeded by Crows, who always seems to have plans of his own. Both Mary and Dalip have made difficult decisions along the way, and fortunately there's significantly less this time around of Mary reminiscing about her childhood in care (which I'd thought could make a fine, but liver-threatening, drinking game in Down Station). 

 

This time around there's also dissension with the group who've come through with Mary and Dalip, with one of them blaming her for an unexpected death, which in turn leads to problems further down the line. Mary and Crows go in search of the eponymous White City, which Crows promises will answer all their questions, only to discover it occupied by those responsible for setting up the portals in the first place. There are definitely answers, but probably not the ones that anyone is looking for, and they set up for further books set in the same universe with a bit of a cliffhanger about what exactly is happening in Down. 

 

Anyway, I wasn't massively smitten with The White City, but it's not the worst thing I've ever read and it kept me interested so there's that. I'll probably check out any future books in this series, but I don't think I'd be buying them directly (rather than via my council tax).