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...

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
0 Stars
Rosewater - Tade Thompson
Rosewater - Tade Thompson

It feels almost miserly only giving Rosewater 3 stars but, while there was a lot I really liked about it, the fact that it's a) the first book of a trilogy and so doesn't really have an ending of its own, and b) that it jumps about between time periods and didn't quite work for me as a coherent narrative meant I ended up knocking at least one star off for just those two things. 

 

There's also a lot to like about the book as a whole, particularly that the author manages to take a protagonist (Kaaro) who is pretty unlikeable and make you care about what happens to him. Because, make no bones about it, there's a lot not to like about Kaaro as we work our way through his history and the surrounding world-building of the book. For much of the storyline, he's pretty immature and makes at least one decision (though he seems to have some insight as he gets older about this) with his penis rather than any other part of his body. Secondly, as someone who works for a shadowy secret agency and also has mental powers whose source we discover as the storyline moves along, he's actively involved in interrogations. 

 

Rosewater is set in a near-present day world where there has been alien contact on a number of occasions, the most recent being in Nigeria where something has fallen from the sky and built a dome that occasionally opens. When it opens, people are healed but not always in a way which is positive for them and also the recent dead are brought back to life, but as zombies. There's been previous contact with the same aliens and there's mention of London being devastated by a landing in Hyde Park and the US having chosen to shut itself off from the rest of the world as a result, but these are background details.

 

Kaaro discovers, as the book goes on, that not only do his powers actually come from a previous alien landing but that everyone else he knows with similar abilities is dying. He is, effectively, the last man standing for no apparent reason, like it or not. In fact, the entire world is changing as the alien influence begins to take over and human cells are literally replaced by alien ones in a larger and larger amount of people. The sequels are about resisting that change, with The Rosewater Insurrection being due out next year. Not sure if I'll read it, unless I can either get it from the library or free for review, as while I enjoyed reading Rosewater and it certainly kept me turning the pages, it didn't 100% work for me for the reasons mentioned at the start of this review. 

  

 

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
The Girl in the Tower - Katherine Arden
The Girl in the Tower - Katherine Arden

I don't pre-order a lot of books but for The Girl in the Tower, I was prepared to make an exception - I'd first read (and very much enjoyed) the previous book in the trilogy, The Bear and the Nightingale, last November and was keen to see if the author could manage to follow up such a great debut. I'm pleased to say that this book is, in my opinion, as good as its predecessor and it sets up the final volume of the series well. Fortunately that's due out in January next year and I hope the publishers keep to that timetable, as I'm keen to see how everything works out!

 

The Girl in the Tower follows pretty much immediately on from the events in the previous book, with Vasya taking her horse and heading off to travel the world after the untimely death of her father. The priest Konstantin, who has to carry a significant amount of blame for helping set in motion matters in relation to Vasya, has gone back to Moscow telling tales of witches. Vasya's older sister is there, a virtual prisoner as she awaits the birth of her third child in the claustrophobic terem, and Olga is horrified to hear what has happened in her much-missed home. 

 

Just as their brother Sasha is advocating for military action to protect the local villagers from bandits who are torching their homes and stealing some of their girl children, Vasya turns up with three of those children in tow. She has, of course, rescued them from the bandits and, dressed as a boy, puts Sasha in the position of having to lie to protect her reputation - after all, what virtuous woman would wear breeches and ride about the countryside unchaperoned? 

 

Eventually, however, everything unravels and the truth comes out. Not just the truth about Vasya being a girl but also what connects her to the Winter King and also some tantalising hints about Vasya's own heritage, as the main antagonist in The Girl in the Tower proves to have a link to Vasya's mother. Once again, it's a richly-described world inhabited by the creatures of Russian mythology and, for me at least, a real page-turner. It's going to be very interesting to see how the final book in the trilogy, The Winter of the Witch, turns out and I'm hoping for a positive ending for more than one character I've come to know along the way...

Review
2 Stars
Unholy Land - Lavie Tidhar
Unholy Land - Lavie Tidhar

Not really sure where to begin with my review for Unholy Land, which I picked up as an uncorrected proof on Netgalley - as a result, knowing little about the book and also missing the fact it was labelled as 'literary fiction' (a category which really does very little for me), I wondered if the things that didn't quite mesh together right at the beginning were just errors on the part of the author, only to discover later they were probably stylistic choices. 

 

Anyway, on to the plot. Initially, Unholy Land is alternate history - in this case, a history where instead of settling in Israel, Jews fleeing from Europe settled an area of central Africa and made for themselves a land called Palestina. For anyone who knows something of the current situation in the Middle East, there's something a little ironic about the fact that, as a result, the Jewish community in this scenario call themselves Palestinians. Anyway, our main character is a writer of pulp detective stories called Lior who is returning to Palestina after living in Germany, having recently suffered a terrible loss. 

 

However, as we discover throughout the book, there is more going on here than initially meets the eye and Lior himself begins to have trouble sorting out his own memories from what everyone else seems to think has happened. Landing in Palestina, where the inhabitants are busy building a massive wall to secure their ownership of the land, Lior finds himself involved in the murder of an old friend and that's just the beginning of the difficulties he faces.The spaces between the different realities are wearing thin. 

 

This isn't the easiest novel to read and half the time I'm pretty sure I had little idea exactly what was going on, not helped by the number of points of view that get used along the way. I was also a little thrown by how autobiographical it is - having read some of the author's comments before the story itself, I could see where his experience was cropping up as Lior's, though it's quite possible given the nature of the story that this was again a deliberate choice. It's just a little too much work to keep track of what's going on and I'm left feeling glad that I picked this up where and how I did, as it's not something I'll want to read again. 

 

 

I received this book as an uncorrected proof from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
3 Stars
Jade City - Fonda Lee
Jade City  - Fonda Lee

Lately my experience with books that other people love seems to be not the greatest - I continue to search for books that will knock my socks off and make me want to come back to them, only to be denied. I know it's probably more about me than it is about the books themselves, but still...

 

Anyway, Jade City looked like a reasonable candidate for sock removing purposes, but for one reason or another failed to quite do the business. It looked like a reasonable candidate, having picked up a Nebula nomination along the way, however the solid and clever world-building proved just a little too mentally chewy for my liking. 

 

The basic premise of Jade City is that it's set in the country of Kekon, which has just come out of a period of war where the jade-enhanced guerrillas who are now involved in two powerful gangs kicked out their foreign overlords. In this scenario, the possession of jade gives some people various powers and drives others crazy, with yet another group being immune to its effects either way. Ownership of this particular kind of jade, only produced in Kekon, means power and there's an added twist in the tale in that a drug has now been produced allowing those who otherwise wouldn't have been able to use jade to do so, including foreigners. 

 

The main element of the story focusses on a particular family whose previous generations had been freedom fighters and who are now a powerful gang running part of the city. Lan is the gang's Pillar, in charge but still in the shadow of his formerly-powerful grandfather, while his brother Hilo is the Horn, a more hot-headed enforcer of his brother's decisions (and often his own). This is all shaping up to be a bit of a sausage fest with the main female characters being the head of the rival gang, Hilo's girlfriend and then a third member of the family, their sister Shae. Years earlier, Shae had set aside her jade and run off elsewhere with a foreigner, only to return years later, full of foreign ideas and education but initially determined not to get involved with either her family or the use of jade again. 

 

There's also a sub-plot involving a young thug who desperately wants jade for himself, despite the fact it will likely drive him crazy, as his paths cross with the family and he's eventually semi-responsible for the death of one of them. I hadn't realised till partway through that this is also the first book of a series and clearly this individual is going to continue to be a pain in everyone's arse in at least the next volume if not longer. 

 

It's clear that the writer has put a lot of work into the world-building for Jade City but for me, at least, there's a fine line between knowing your world and needing to tell the reader a bit too much about it. On more than one occasion, I found myself skimming past explanations of stuff that could have been more deftly handled than with a couple of paragraphs of info-dumping and that definitely affected how I rated this book. 

 

So, once again, I find myself understanding why other people might have loved this book but saying the literary equivalent of: it's not you, it's me. 

 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review
3 Stars
Summer in Orcus - T. Kingfisher
Summer in Orcus - T. Kingfisher

I started reading Summer in Orcus when it was being posted by the writer as a serial, but fell behind and stopped, so I was pleased to see it get nominated for the YA not-a-Hugo and then turn up in the voter's packet. I wish I could have given it more than 3 stars but it didn't knock my socks off, so 3 it is...

 

For those people who care about labels, Summer in Orcus is a portal fantasy, which is something that used to be much more common when I started reading fantasy than it is now. In this case, matters start when Summer gets an unexpected visit from Baba Yaga after the house with chicken feet takes a liking to her, and gets sent on a quest to find her heart's desire. The world she travels into is Orcus, a place plagued by the destruction of magic, and Summer soon finds herself travelling in the company of others to try and stop this destruction at its source. 

 

In this particular scenario, Summer is travelling with animals who can talk - including one who is the subject of a particularly appalling pun - and any book which includes both a talking weasel and a talking hoopoo (my favourite birds!) is automatically going to get some interest from me. It's a solidly written story but I can't help feeling like it's going through the motions at times though I can't quite put my finger on where.

 

This is another of those YA books that I would have adored as a teenager myself but I was just left feeling sad for Summer - she's had this adventure but her world remains unchanged, a world where she is coping with her mother's unstable mental health, and all she has are memories of a place where things were different. Anyway, it's also a standalone story, though there are teasers at the end about the possibility of a return for Summer to the other side of the portal as an adult, so that I'm sure will be excellent news for anyone looking for something which isn't the first of a multi-part series...

Review
3 Stars
The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi
The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

Another book off the Hugo pile, this one a bit reluctantly added to my TBR list because I've read most of the nominations for Best Novel and thought I ought to at least try this one out, even if my heart (and vote) belongs to others. 

 

Anyway, the basic premise of The Collapsing Empire is that humanity has expanded off Earth and built a bunch of places it can survive, mostly off-world habitats, which it has discovered are linked together by a thing called the Flow. This allows faster-than-light travel but it still takes ages for anyone or anything to travel from one end of the Interdependency to another. Humanity is also subject to a semi-feudal system with an emperox on top and guilds with monopolies, with one of those guilds pushing for more influence by both playing both sides against the middle in a distant civil war and trying to get one of its heirs married into the imperial family. 

 

The problem is, as the title of the book suggests, the Flow is collapsing and soon the different places where humanity is existing will start to become unconnected, as one of our protagonists is sent off to tell the current emperox. The research his family have been doing is semi-secret, so a botched version of it has been used by the guild who are messing everyone about because they think things are just shifting and their newly-acquired planet will become the centre of things. 

 

The main problem I had with The Collapsing Empire, while I usually quite enjoy a bit of space opera, is that I found myself not giving a crap about most of the characters - the one relationship I was interested in, that of the new emperox and her republican assistant gets abruptly severed just as it was about to get interesting. The villains twirl their moustaches with little sense of real menace, while the 'heroes' are either two-dimensional caricatures or just bland. Swearing a lot and being sexually voracious are no replacements for characterisation. 

 

As a result, I'm left with a book that some people will probably love to bits and where I might pick up the sequel (The Consuming Fire, out in October 2018) if I come across it at the library, but I probably won't.

Review
3 Stars
Midnight Blue-Light Special - Seanan McGuire
Midnight Blue-Light Special - Seanan McGuire

Since I have the series now (courtesy of the Hugo voter packet), I thought I'd push on and read at least this one and the next one (Half-Off Ragnarok) before I make a decision about whether to finish the series...

 

This book carries on in the aftermath of Discount Armageddon, with the dust having just about settled from the events described there - the bar where Verity has been working has now been turned into a modern-day freakshow to exploit the gullible and Verity herself is just about coming to terms with the fact that her dance career has stalled completely. She's also still shagging Dominic, who's been sent by the Covenant to see if New York needs purging of its cryptid populace, despite the fact that his character is still pretty much cardboard with a pretty face. 

 

Anyway, in this book, the Covenant decide to check up on Dominic's apparently half-arsed survey of the city and send along a bunch of more efficient operatives to see what's actually going on. This leads to a lot of time for Verity going round and warning the local cryptid populace that Bad Things Are Coming, while also angsting about her boyfriend and which side he'll choose when the chips are down. It also leads to her spending a chunk of the book either unconscious or naked and being tortured for information by moustache-twirling Covenant lackies, so if the latter is an issue for you then you might want to pass on by. 

 

So, I'm going to read Half-Off Ragnarok, as it introduces Verity's brother - we'll see if I find that less annoying and then I'll make a decision on the rest of the series...

Review
3 Stars
Discount Armageddon - Seanan McGuire
Discount Armageddon - Seanan McGuire

I first read Discount Armageddon a couple of years ago, when I was in a bit of an urban fantasy phase and started a bunch of series - I carried on with a couple of series, at least for a while, but this wasn't one of them. Not because I didn't enjoy it, since I gave it 4 stars at the time, but for no particular reason at all, so in some ways I'm glad that the series being nominated for the Hugo has made me pick it up again (with some assistance from Netgalley). 

 

The basic premise, like much urban fantasy, is that all of those monsters etc. are real and they live alongside humanity, though in the case of this series since we're mostly working from the perspective of someone who's trying to understand them (rather than kill them), the term 'cryptid' is most used. Our protagonist in this book and the next in the series is Verity Price, part of a family who parted ways a couple of centuries earlier with an organisation called the Covenant who think that the only good cryptid is a dead cryptid.

 

Alongside a shitty job working as a waitress in a mostly-cryptid strip joint, Verity is also a wannabe dancer and takes part in competitions (and a reality TV show) under an assumed name. In hindsight, I think it was this aspect of the character that I didn't care for as much this time around. When a representative of the Covenant who just happens to be tall, dark and handsome turns up in New York, Verity unsurprisingly ends up having sex with him while also dealing with a plot to wake a dragon buried under the city's streets. 

 

All in all, Discount Armageddon does what it needs to do - a lot of world-building for following books in the series, introductions of the main characters and cryptid types, and it can't be faulted for that. On a re-read, I found Verity a little more annoying than previously and the insta-romance a bit obvious, not that this has stopped me moving on to the next book in the series (Midnight Blue-Light Special) since I have it to hand...

Review
3 Stars
A Skinful of Shadows - Frances Hardinge
A Skinful of Shadows - Frances Hardinge

Another Hugo ballot book, this time something from the YA list, and again something I probably wouldn't have ended up reading otherwise - that's one good thing about these kind of awards, I guess, that you might come across stuff that's outside your usual stomping grounds...

 

A Skinful of Shadows is set in the run-up to and early days of the Civil War, the UK one. We first meet our protagonist, Makepeace, in the sternly-Puritan environment where she is living with her mother. Life is tough, to say the least, and the threat of outright war is still in the future while Makepeace tries to deal with the way her mother is attempting to toughen her up by making her stay in the local graveyard overnight. It's not until after the death of her mother in a riot some months later and an unwanted claim being made on her by her father's family that Makepeace discovers just what ghosts have to do with her own ancestry. 

 

Once she has found her place in her family's home, even though that place is working in the kitchen since she's one of the former lord's illegitimate children, Makepeace discovers the truth about the family to whom she's related. The current crop of lords are literally being bred to exist as containers for the ghosts of their ancestors, with Makepeace and her half-brother James being convenient substitutes if the process doesn't work. Once she's realised just what fate awaits her, Makepeace begins to plot her escape although it takes a while for her plans to actually work out. 

 

A Skinful of Shadows is an interesting book and probably one I would have absolutely loved as a teenager, with a clear attention to detail in terms of the ongoing history and the lives people lived in that period. Makepeace doesn't quite work as well as a character for me and I can't quite put my finger on why that is, which is irritating, hence my rating at 3 stars rather than 4. 

Review
5 Stars
Revenant Gun - Yoon Ha Lee
Revenant Gun - Yoon Ha Lee

Although my pre-ordered copy of Revenant Gun arrived a while back, I took the time to re-read the previous books (Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem) before tackling this one - it's a bad habit where series are concerned, as it cuts down on time available to read new stuff, but at least I know the quality is guaranteed!

 

As before, it helps immensely if you've read the previous books because Revenant Gun is all about the fall-out from Cheris and Jedao's actions as they try to replace the hexarchate with... something. In this book we discover that there are actually two somethings in competition to be that replacement, a Protectorate run by General Kel Inesser that seems to be trying to restore the previous order and the Compact, which is going in a completely different direction. The latter is run by the unlikely combination of Kel Brezan, former crashhawk turned unwilling politician, and the one remaining hexarch, Shuos Mikodez, since Cheris hasn't stuck around to get dragged into the day-to-day details of replacing the system she helped overthrow. 

 

 

Anyway, at the start of Revenant Gun, we discover that Mikodez is not the only hexarch in town after all - his nemesis Kujen is still around and wants to turn back the clock and reinstate the hexarchate. His main weapon for this is a version of Jedao he's created with a scattering of the general's memories, who he then puts in charge of a new Kel fleet - even when Jedao starts to demonstrate he's got a mind of his own, Kujen doesn't really seem to get the danger he's in but functional immortality will do that, I guess. 

 

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the storyline our two replacement states form an unwieldy alliance and Cheris is also off scheming to try and kill Kujen, so much of Revenant Gun is played as a three-hander and you need to pay attention to keep all the storylines straight. At one point, Cheris and Jedao run into each other again and it doesn't go well - for Jedao, anyway - although it does reveal a significant plot point about who this version of Jedao actually is. 

 

All in all, Revenant Gun is another great read and I definitely had a couple of moments where I went 'what the hell?' as something was revealed or things worked themselves out. Much like the previous volume, a lot of plot depends on the idea of the Kel formation instinct - something that forces Kel to obey their superior officers no matter what, unless they're crashhawks like Brezan - and the uses (and abuses of that) with tragic results for some at the end of the day. Anyway, no surprises that I loved this book and look forward to seeing what comes next from this author!

Review
3 Stars
The Oddling Prince - Nancy Springer
The Oddling Prince - Nancy Springer

Back when I started reading SFF, longer ago than I care to remember, there really weren't that many writers to choose from in that genre represented in my local small-town library. However, Nancy Springer was one of those writers and I remember going through her Book of the Isle series avidly. As a result, I suppose I was borne away by a wave of nostalgia when I saw her name pop up on Netgalley with a new book - apologies to Ms Springer, I didn't realise she was still writing! Although she's subsequently written a number of Arthurian books, which are my absolute Kryptonite to be perfectly honest, the blurb for this sounded promising so I asked and duly received. 

 

The basic premise of The Oddling Prince is that it's set in a vague post-Roman period bit of Scotland where our main character Aric is the only son of a king who (we later discover) fought his way to the throne by killing his older brothers. At the time the story starts, Aric and his father have gone out hunting and his father has been kidnapped by fae and spent a number of years with the Queen of Elfland, only to return exactly as he disappeared so nobody remembers it. He has, however, in that time away been busy doing problematic things with the Queen and produced a son called Albaric who is the spitting image of Aric, just prettier. 

 

One thing I liked about this book was that it dealt with the dubious consent around the whole 'whisked away by the fae and made to fall in love with the Queen by magic' trope, which often gets hand-waved over when it's a guy who's on the receiving end of it. On the other hand, because of the time differential nobody on this side gets to think about the fact the king has been away at all and also it pretty much never gets mentioned again. So, for example, when the king is acting like a jackass towards his new-found son, nobody goes 'hey, maybe being raped by the Queen of Elfland has had an effect on the king!', which felt like a missed opportunity.

 

Anyway, beyond this, The Oddling Prince is a book where a lot of words are expended to support a fairly meagre plot. Aric and Albaric become besties, there's an ongoing threat to the kingdom from a moustache-twirling duke, while Aric turns out to be the heavily-foreshadowed White King who is going to magically make life better for everyone. All in all, this book felt very much like the books I was reading from this author back in the 1980's and I was a little disappointed by that. Another throwback were the comments about how pretty Albaric was and how people would think he was gay, questioning the relationship between the brothers as a result - though those are coming from the king (exclusively, I think) and he's not the most reliable character throughout, those kind of comments made me feel like I was reading something from the 80's and not in a good way. 

 

 

I received an ebook copy of this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
3 Stars
Down Among the Sticks and Bones - Seanan McGuire
Down Among the Sticks and Bones - Seanan McGuire

Another novella for the Hugo ballot, which I probably wouldn't have read otherwise since I liked the previous book in this series (Every Heart a Doorway) in which the main characters in this book played a minor role, but wasn't completely blown away by it.

 

The basic premise of the universe in which these stories are set is the idea of a Door which people can travel through, in this case one which takes twin sisters Jacqueline and Jillian from their constricted life in our world through to one where they can be more themselves. Here, their lives are dictated by the idea held by their parents of who they ought to be, independent of who they actually are as individuals (and helped/not hindered by some extremely poor parenting choices all around). 

 

The particular Door used by the twins leads to a world where a vampire and a mad scientist take turns to raise whoever comes through it, at least until they are given a choice to return to their own world (or not). The appearance of twins messes with this arrangement and instead the girls are given the choice of who they will live with, both going against the roles their parents had proscribed for them, eventually with tragic results.

 

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a well-written novella with lots of attention paid to details, however it left me a little cold and I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe it's that it has a certain number of points it wants to hit and does so in clinical succession, with no room for any other possible direction the plot could go. This novella will probably be just the ticket for plenty of readers but, alas, I am not one of them and will equally probably not be reading anything else in this universe. 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
Children of Blood and Bone - Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone: The OrÏsha Legacy (Children of OrÏsha) - Tomi Adeyemi

I feel like I keep doing reviews that recognise that I am not the intended audience for the book in question and Children of Blood and Bone is another of those books...

 

There's a lot to like about it, given that it has some extremely good world-building and a top-notch premise: it's set in a world where the current ruler has managed to find a way to destroy the magic that was wielded against his family, killing the majority of the previously powerful maji and leaving their children as outcasts. This is helped by the fact said children, like the one on the cover of the book, have white hair and are therefore a very recognisable new underclass. While all sorts of unfair treatment and outright persecution comes their way, the lack of magic (which used to manifest at 13) means there's not a great deal anyone can do about it. 

 

Of course, that's the point at which a possible way to restore magic comes into the story, sending our protagonists on a quest to pick up the artefacts they need and get to a magical island at a particular time for a ritual to take place. And this is where, while there's plenty to like about Children of Blood and Bone, for me the book starts to turn into fairly standard YA fare - it's written in first person, which is a hard sell for me at the best of times, and we have the feisty heroine and the prince she doesn't want to like but ends up having feelings for (and fairly airbrushed sex with) because they have a mystical link which means they don't have to actually communicate with one another. 

 

This is the first of a proposed trilogy and at least there's a small spark of possibility around a more interesting plot-line both with the prince and his (much better written, in my opinion) sister - she undergoes much more character development during the life of the book and, at the end of it, she's managed to acquire magic too. That seemed to be the one thing that didn't quite get explained, how first the prince and later his sister get this ability without the obvious markers of it in the first place. Maybe I missed that among all the yearning looks going between all four main characters? 

Review
3 Stars
In Other Lands - Sarah Rees Brennan
In Other Lands - Sarah Rees Brennan

Another book for the Hugo reading list, in this case one which crops up on the new Best YA novel list, so I'm probably not the target audience for this one... I feel a bit miserly giving In Other Lands 3 stars rather than 4, since it's not the worst thing I've ever read and it kept me turning the pages to the end, but there were also some things that annoyed me. Those made my decision for me, as another book that was enjoyable enough but I know I'll never read it again. 

 

Our main protagonist (Elliot) gets taken on a school trip supposedly to a field in Devon, with said school trip actually being a sneaky recruitment tool to weed out those children who can see the existence of another land beyond England. Elliot is one of those and, since he doesn't really have much to keep him with his distant and borderline alcoholic father and lack of friends due to his acerbic personality, he decides to take up the offer to cross over.

 

Once there, Elliot makes friends with someone who is a similar outsider - in this case, a female elf warrior called Serene - and also reluctantly forms a bit of a relationship with the camp's goldenour boy, Luke Sunborn. Jokes about the elf way of doing things, which basically takes Victorian gender roles and turns them on their head, get significantly over-used while Elliot discovers all about the world he's now living in and his friends do stuff he's not interested in. 

 

Anyway, despite promising all sorts of interesting stuff about harpies and mermaids and trolls, what In Other Lands is really about is teenage relationships of all kinds and its attendant angst. Which was a real shame, in my opinion, because there was so much here that all got subsumed to serve those relationships and, at the end of it all, Elliot is just a little self-absorbed arse whose behaviour gets rewarded anyway, whether good or bad. There are no consequences for him and he gets the prize at the end of the book anyway, even though he hasn't really changed (and more annoyingly, while he also thinks he has). Could have been so much better. 

Review
4 Stars
River of Teeth - Sarah Gailey
River of Teeth - Sarah Gailey

It's that time of year again, when I'm reading my way through the Hugo nominations in preparation for voting, and this is one of the books that is up for Best Novella even though I'm not completely convinced that it actually fits the bill as either SF or Fantasy. The most you can say about River of Teeth is that it's alternate history, of which more shortly, though it still hits more genre buttons than some things that have been nominated in recent years...

 

Anyway, onto the plot - the basic premise is that, back in the mid-1800's, there was a plan to import hippos to the US which understandably failed to come to anything. In River of Teeth, that plan went full steam ahead and there was also work done to dam up part of the Mississippi when some of those hippos escaped and went feral. In case you weren't aware, hippos are very aggressive and dangerous animals and definitely not something you want to be messing with, though here they also serve a major role as replacements for horses in a part of the world that is significantly swampy. 

 

Anyway, our story starts with our protagonist getting commissioned to 'deal with' the feral hippos and to do so he comes up with an ambitious plan, involving the need to recruit himself a group of miscreants and blow stuff up. Naturally, since this is essentially a western, there's a suitably oily villain who is a) responsible for crushing our protagonists' dreams previously and b) has a devious scheme of his own. Hijinks ensue. 

 

River of Teeth is entertaining enough, with well-drawn characters that made me keep turning the page, but I'm not sure it entertained me enough to either vote for it in the Hugos or continue to read further in this series (since there's at least one sequel, Taste of Marrow). 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
5 Stars
A Seditious Affar - KJ Charles
A Seditious Affair - K.J. Charles

Yes, I am one of those readers who picks up stuff when it's on sale and then doesn't get around to reading it till later, so while I'd previously read and enjoyed other books by KJ Charles (though I see I've only reviewed one of them here, which I need to rectify), A Seditious Affair has been sitting on my ebook reader for a while before I got to it this week. Don't be put off by the fact that it's the middle book of a series because, while knowing the other character's stories would probably fill in some finer points, you don't actually need to know the other players to enjoy this story. 

 

The basic premise is that it's almost the end of the Regency period and the current government is lurching from crisis to crisis, not helped by brutally putting down any kind of opposition - this is the time of the Peterloo massacre, a time when radical thinkers of all varieties were putting out publications by the ton. You don't have to know the history of the period to enjoy A Seditious Affair but it does add a little extra to the story if you do, for example when Cato Street gets a mention, you might know its significance.

 

One of those radical thinkers, a self-avowed atheist called Silas Mason, is one of our protagonists here and a year before the book starts had let himself be talked into a regular engagement with a man looking for something in particular. Our other protagonist, Dominic Frey, is far more well-heeled than Mason and works for the Home Office - his day job is hunting down seditionists, while at night (or at least on Wednesday nights) he enjoys being verbally humiliated and then sexed up by a man whose name he doesn't know. 

 

Naturally, while they've managed to remain ignorant of each others' identities for a year, the wheels fall off that particular wagon as their worlds collide explosively. Both are subsequently left to figure out how to make sure Mason doesn't end up with a prison sentence (if he's lucky) for sedition and Frey doesn't have to sacrifice his principles, against a backdrop of growing feelings between them and the ongoing fact that they are committing illegal acts together on a weekly basis. This is definitely one of those scenarios where I was left wondering how the author was going to sort it all out!

 

Anyway, everything gets resolved (even though there's always a feeling that it might not be a permanent reprieve) and in the meantime there's a lot of hot sex. I don't think I've read anything by KJ Charles I haven't at least enjoyed and, while I'm not convinced I like any of the supporting characters in this book sufficiently to read their own exploits, I may yet be convinced to change my mind...