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
4 Stars
The Devourers - Indra Das
The Devourers - Indra Das

I have to confess, I'd been waiting for the price of this to drop a bit before I bought it, as everything I want to read (that the library can't supply me with) is apparently either not out in paperback till the distant future or horribly expensive. Is it just me or has the price of pre-release paperbacks gone up significantly?

 

Anyway, on to The Devourers, which I'd been wanting to read pretty much since I first heard about it. First published in India, the story is also set there, partly from the perspective of Alok - a professor of colonial history with a failed engagement in his past, Alok is approached by a mysterious stranger who has a bizarre story to tell and a series of diaries he wants to pay Alok to transcribe. 

 

The remainder of the book is written mostly from the perspective of one of our self-styled devourers of humanity, who calls himself Fenrir, and also from the point of view of Cyrah, the woman he has raped in an attempt to create new life. Fenrir and his kind, though they have control over their bodies in many ways, are unable to carry a baby to term and so (because he wants to be human, though he doesn't particularly understand what that means) he goes about it a different way. The act itself doesn't feel gratuitous and isn't described in detail but it still might mean this really isn't going to be the book for some some readers.

 

The Devourers takes a well-trodden path and visits it in a new way, though I'd have been interested in more about the rakshasa while this book mostly looks at the experiences of outsiders - Fenrir, his travel companions, and even Cyrah are all newcomers to India, while Cyrah's religion and social status as a woman alone sets her apart almost as much as the shapeshifters. Anyway, all in all an interesting book with some beautiful writing in it and something that makes me want to check out whatever comes next for the author...

Review
4 Stars
The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

I get the feeling that The Bear and the Nightingale is one of those books which will either really work for you as a story or it will be just okay, depending on how familiar you are with Russian folklore and/or history. 

 

In classic fairytale style, the story starts with a small girl and her new step-mother, but Vasya is not just any girl and neither is her step-mother - both of them can see the supernatural creatures surrounding them (the domovoi who lives in the oven, for example) but while Vasya builds relationships with them, her step-mother Anna believes they are demons.

 

Vasya's father is the boyar, a local landowner living far from Moscow, who subsequently is sent a priest and icon-maker who is just a little too popular in the capital. The arrival of Konstantin, just as Vasya is getting to marriageable age and her father hopes she will settle down a little, leads to all sorts of problems with the balance between mundane and supernatural. Vasya herself is eminently likeable, strong-willed despite opposition and willing to do whatever is necessary to keep the people who are important to her safe, even in the face of supernatural forces. 

 

The series continues in The Girl in the Tower, which is due out next month - I'll definitely be picking that one up at some point in the near future, as Vasya is such a great main character. 

Review
3 Stars
Living with Ghosts - Kari Sperring
Living With Ghosts - Kari Sperring

I'd previously read and enjoyed this author's other book (The Grass King's Concubine) so when this one was on offer I thought I'd pick it up - any excuse to buy stand-alone books, though this then sat on my bookshelf for a while before I got around to it...

 

Anyway, on with Living With Ghosts. First off, this is a book written from multiple points of view, so if that annoys you then this book probably won't work for you - one of our characters is a magician/assassin-turned-prostitute who's now living and working far from home having failed his final test. Sadly for Gracielis, the woman who trained him has turned up as part of the embassy from his home country and is now manipulating him while also plotting to overthrow the monarchy of his adopted home. 

 

The title of the book comes from the fact that, as part of his training, Gracielis is able to see ghosts and is haunted by the ghost of a soldier who was involved in a duel he witnessed 6 years earlier. The problem is, the other duellist is now showing up as a ghost and its his appearance that is used as a demonstration that things are going wrong in the city - eventually there's a zombie-creating plague but things resolve themselves in the end. 

 

I liked it but I also got 90% of the way in and didn't really feel much urgency to find out what happened in the end, which is rarely a good sign. It's also 480 pages of densely-written mass market paperback fantasy set in pseudo-Europe with characters who could have fixed half their issues (and reduced the size of the book by a good 100 pages, I reckon) if they'd just actually have a conversation. Seriously, 'I shouldn't bother her with this' and 'he doesn't love me, otherwise he'd talk to me' is endearing the first couple of times but wearing if repeated too often. 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
Provenance - Ann Leckie
Provenance - Ann Leckie

After the runaway success of the previous trilogy, Provenance almost feels like the difficult second album in book form - I enjoyed it, so while I'll definitely be buying the paperback when it comes out next year  in the UK (yes, what is up with that?), but I guess those books were a very tough act to follow!

 

Anyway, in case you're wondering, Provenance is set pretty much at the same time that (over in Radchaai space, far away but not quite that far), the Presger are making noises about their treaty and a certain space station AI has declared itself to be human. Those events are mentioned in passing, so this stand-alone novel doesn't need you to have read Ann Leckie's other books to enjoy this one.

 

Our main character is Ingray, who has decided that the only way she can impress her adoptive mother is to pull off something audacious - the weakest part of Ingray's motivation, given how she says she feels about this relationship and her own later acts - in this case rescuing someone from life imprisonment. This book is set on Hwae, in a society where 'vestiges' are important, usually things that are associated with famous people and events, and the someone in question supposedly stole a whole load of them from his family. Except that the person whose rescue she pays for turns out to be a) possibly not the person she was supposed to be rescuing, and b) not actually a thief. 

 

Ingray's plan does, however, involve her with the Geck - a mysterious water-based culture who communicate with the outside world via odd, spider-shaped mechs - as well as a plot to overthrow the government of Hwae by means of a murder involving someone who is staying with Ingray's mother. It all works out in the end, however, with Ingray managing to impress her mother as planned, thwart the takeover of the government and also prevent a major diplomatic incident along the way. 

 

I don't think there's ever going to be anything Ann Leckie writes that I don't enjoy, but it did feel like I'd read some of this before (for example, instead of zany alien translator, see zany alien ambassador via spider mech). I also felt a bit short-changed with Ingray, as I didn't really care about what happened to her in the same way I felt about Breq and the others in the previous books. If anything, it was the supporting characters of Tic and Garat that I wanted to know more about, Tic in particular (if you'll pardon the semi-pun!), and their experiences. Anyway, I still enjoyed Provenance and look forward to seeing what comes next: fantasy, I believe, rather than science fiction? *rubs hands*

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3.5 Stars
The Tensorate novellas - JY Yang
The Black Tides of Heaven - JY Yang The Red Threads of Fortune (The Tensorate Series) - JY Yang

It's not often I pre-order stuff but I made an exception for this pair of novellas, The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang. I've liked this writer's short fiction so I was interested to see what a slightly longer format would provide and wasn't disappointed, though I liked the first of the two novellas slightly more. The covers look great too, which makes the fact they're ebooks a little frustrating!

 

Both novellas are set in the world of the Tensorate, which is a place where people can manipulate energy to do all sorts of things (known as the Slack) and which is ruled by the mother of our two main characters. She's a distinctly ruthless individual, for example giving birth to Akeha and Mokoya in order to give them to the temple which had provided her with support during an attempted rebellion, in 'payment' for help received. After that, in The Black Tides of Heaven, she shows minimal interest in their welfare until Mokoya begins to demonstrate prophetic powers and the rest of this novella is the aftermath of that dynamic.

 

The Red Tides of Fortune is set a few years after the end of the previous novella, with Mokoya struggling to come to terms with the death of her daughter - despite her prophetic powers, she had been unable to see that incident coming and has now lost those powers, as well as being significantly physically affected by the same incident. Akeha and others have joined a would-be rebellion against The Way Things Are and Mokoya is also hunting a naga which threatens to destroy the city where her twin brother is currently living. 

 

Anyway, the world-building is something I liked very much about both these, including the use of gender terms - this is a world where people declare they are male or female when they feel certain about it, using they/them until that point. In the second novella, Mokoya spends some time trying to figure out her relationship with the power she thought she'd lost and also testing the boundaries of what she can do with the Slack. All in all, I enjoyed them and would very much like to read more set in this universe. 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
Keeper of the Dawn - Dianna Gunn
Keeper of the Dawn - Dianna Gunn

When I first picked this up at WorldCon, the blurb and the good-looking cover were enough to make me think it would be my kind of thing, despite being a) a novella, which can be frustrating at times, and b) Young Adult, with all the possibilities for angst and being TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) that can include.

 

Anyway, our protagonist Lai is a teenager who has been training all her life to follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother and become a priestess of the goddesses worshipped by her desert tribe. In order to achieve this, she has to go through various rituals, some martial in nature, and while she has significant chunks of thinking 'why can't everyone get to be a priestess?' that doesn't stop her from killing someone in her quest to get that position for herself. 

 

Unfortunately for Lai, the goddesses clearly have other plans for her and after she's unsuccessful, she runs off to a faraway country in order to turn her fighting skills into cash. While there, working for a particular insalubrious merchant, Lai hears rumours of another bunch of folks who worship the same goddesses her tribe did and decides to join them. This looks like a prime opportunity for her to find her place in the world, a.k.a. Plan B. 

 

In itself, the whole set-up of this novella is fairly robust but there are a couple of things that niggled with me: firstly, I didn't really care about any of the characters, including Lai, which makes the whole novella a bit of a hard sell. I think that if it had been a novel, I probably wouldn't have finished it. There's also a bit of a pacing issue towards the end: at one point Lai travels for months to get to where the eponymous Keepers of the Dawn are based, then has to go back home to fulfil a prophecy, only for her return journey to be summed up in a single sentence worrying about the reception she'll get from the girlfriend she left behind. 

 

So, in summary, a pleasant enough tale but not earth-shaking and one I'm fairly glad I picked up for free. 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
Revenger - Alastair Reynolds
Revenger - Alastair Reynolds

Another book read courtesy of my local library system and their 45p reservations - while I finished this book, it was very much skimmed towards the end and there's no chance I'll bother with the eventual sequel (due out in 2019, I think?). Partway through, I was wondering if Revenger was supposed to be YA because there's usually a clue about the age of the protagonists - in this case late teens - but couldn't see anything on the cover or blurb that implied this. So, if you're looking to avoid teenage angst or impulsive decision making then this might not be the book for you. 

 

The basic premise is that a bunch of civilisations have risen and fallen, leading to the known universe being speckled with what are called 'baubles' - essentially caches of historic weaponry, technology and valuable goods, usually protected so they can only be accessed in particular times for a limited period. As a result, some people make a living doing salvage and it's this lifestyle that our protagonists, two teenage sisters, get themselves into when their father bankrupts the family firm. In this economy, teenagers have a particular value because they can utilise the technology employed to communicate over long distances and their ability to do this dwindles as they get older.

 

Anyway, after a couple of missions, the sisters are separated - one is captured by a pirate and the other eventually rescued but then dragged home under duress, all the while vowing to escape and rescue her sister. I was already having some issues with the pacing up to this point, as well as the flatness of pretty much all of the characterisation - the main villain, for example, refers to herself in the third person and there's plenty of (metaphorical) moustache-twirling to accompany it. This is the point where, in order to remove a tracking bracelet, the protagonist has her arm cut off and, although the technology exists to just sever the arm and then replace it intact, chooses to have a prosthetic instead. Not because of any special abilities, since I was waiting for it to be a piece of foreshadowing, but because it's pretty. *headdesk*

 

Anyway, I'm sure this book is someone's cup of tea but it wasn't quite mine. Folks looking for space opera without any kind of romantic sub-plot will probably like this a lot, though there is a pretty high body count too.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
The Stone Sky - NK Jemisin
The Stone Sky - N.K. Jemisin

One of the things I like to do with series, though it definitely has an impact on how much I get to read overall, is re-read the previous volumes before I dive into the new one - as a result, I've spent the past couple of weeks reading all 3 of the Broken Earth books (The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate) and discovering all over again just how darn good they are!

 

When The Stone Sky starts, our main character, Essun, is living in a community that reluctantly accepts orogenes as members though this is still partly because she's used her power to make it clear she won't accept anything else. Meanwhile, her daughter Nassun has ironically developed a father-daughter relationship with Schaffa, who was the Guardian responsible for helping make Essun the powerful orogene she is. Essun wants to save the world and Nassun wants to destroy it, both working in what they see as the best interests of the people they love. 

 

In this particular book, we also get our first storyline involving the origin of the stone eaters; it was mostly this that lost a star for me when I've given both previous volumes 5. I found those parts dragged a little and although otherwise this series hangs very well together as a whole, the sudden focus on them felt a little awkward. So, in that way, I found The Stone Sky the least engaging of the three books, though it's still substantially better written and more original than much of what's being published in the fantasy genre. 

 

 

Will The Stone Sky do the treble and pick up the Best Novel Hugo, as its two previous volumes have? I really don't know, but it's still very much a possibility!

 

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!