Category Archives: fantasy

Belated Thoughts on WorldCon

If there’s a phrase that encompasses my overall sense of self these days, I think it’s growing pains. I have a big-girl librarian degree now, but being a paraprofessional means I’m not technically using it. I’m happy enough in my current gig that I don’t have the frantic sense of needing to get to the next phase with a desperate hunger yet, but the occasional offhand comment about paras from peers further along the career track puts me right back in my place, whether the slight was intended or not. But this isn’t a post about imposter syndrome; it’s about finding other spaces to belong and grow.

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[Insert profound metaphor about growing where you’re planted here]


It’s a restless sort of place, this growing pains spot, and in the absence of the whole finish-the-MLIS life goal, I’m finally seeking out other ways to develop my skills and interests and hobbies. And I’ve realized there’s a synergy to some of them, a discovery I made watching a panel at WorldCon this year.

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Review: Gemini Cell

Military science fiction and fantasy aren’t generally my subgenres of choice, but I was intrigued enough by Myke Cole’s Gemini Cell to give it a chance. My following of the author on Twitter, combined with its inclusion on this list of unconventional love stories tipped my hand from the “eh, maybe someday” list to the “sure, I’ll read it now” list.

Cover art for Gemini Cell

Gemini Cell, Myke Cole

As the story opened with Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer trying to be a supportive husband to his wife Sarah but being pulled away to deal with terrorists, I had my doubts as to whether this would be my cuppa. And yet, I kept reading, devouring it in large chunks, a bit here before bed, a bit there before work, and before I knew it, I accidentally the whole thing, intrigued enough to place its forthcoming sequel on hold at the library as well. Military fiction may not be my thing, but a world with newly awoken magic and creepy reanimation of corpses into killing machines had my attention, particularly if said corpse retains enough humanity to ask questions and challenge his handlers when they withhold important information.

There’s plenty in here to keep the pages turning. I was intrigued by the dynamic between Jim and Ninip, the demon who shares his reanimated body, watching them struggle for control for their shared vessel. Ninip toes the lines well between appalling monster, spirit maddened by centuries of torment, and petulant warrior in a world that has changed since he last walked upon it. Jim too was a compelling character, a good guy in a world of terrorists and superiors with agendas not in his best interest. My only real criticism in characterization is the depiction of Jim’s wife, Sarah, who felt very much like a man’s depiction of an ideal woman (the emphasis on her being not like other women was particularly telling), but on the whole, I’m not going to complain too loudly about a character who tries to hold her own against terrorists with a canvas knife when terrorists target her home.

Of course, there’s also action aplenty, with an almost cinematic quality to some of the fights. It was a bit like reading an action movie, albeit one with more plot than many contemporary offerings. Intense fights, interesting visuals, and characters at the center of it all that you come to care about – it’s a good formula for a movie, and it works here as well too.

I have not read any of the other Shadow Ops books, but I was able to easily jump into this one without prior knowledge, and as mentioned, I plan on reading its sequel when it comes out. I’m not particularly versed in this subgenre to know how it stacks up to others, but as a reader new to it, I’m intrigued enough to give others a try now.

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That new book smell

I joke frequently that I use the library because there’s no way I could afford my reading habit, a statement that is mostly true, given a yearly reading rate spanning 50-100+ books. However, it’s perhaps less true than it once was. I’ve noticed, recently, a subtle indicator that we’re starting to get a more secure financial footing: the number of brand-new books purchased in this household is increasing.

Make no mistake–Half Price Books still gets plenty of money from us as we fill in author backlists and find new-to-us gems. But we can afford new books, and giving money to support the creative ventures of authors producing things we like is important in this bookish household.

Here are the most recent gems I’ve acquired:

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The Fifth Season, Truthwitch, and Winterwood

N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season – because I’ve always been a sucker for the end of the world, and friends I trust have raved about the world-building and touch of social issues. Jemison’s been on my to-read list since her Inheritance trilogy came out, so this seems as good a time as any to dive in without being two books behind. Plus, it’s recently been nominated for a Nebula award.

Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch – because in a YA landscape saturated with love triangles, I heard about a novel with female friendship at its core and want to see more of that. I also read highlights from the author’s Reddit AMA and was further intrigued, especially when she mentions some of her soundtrack inspirations, which I was familiar with and would love to see how someone else interprets them.

Jacey Bedford’s Winterwood – Confession: I was sold on this from the moment I saw its pirate cover art, and I didn’t need to read much further in the synopsis than “cross-dressing privateer captain” (pirates are my catnip, and woman-disguised-as-a-man is a favorite trope from my formative years of preferring adventuring shenanigans over romance in my reading). Throw in magic, and it’s sold to the lady in the black cardigan.

I love the worlds that fantasy can take me away to, bleak ones sometimes, awe-inspiring ones, beautiful ones, ones ripe with adventure and discovery–and I can’t wait to travel to these.

 

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Review: The Clockwork Dagger

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a steampunk romp. Sort of. I adore the subculture but often find the literature lackluster. I had high hopes for Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger but have come away from it with very mixed feelings.

Cover art for The Clockwork DaggerAll the requisite trappings are present here—a spunky heroine, airships, an alternate universe where scientific progress exists alongside older magic. Heroine Octavia is a medician, a Druidic doctor of sorts whose connection with The Lady (a healing goddess of sorts) is particularly strong. This leaves her the target of assassins, or Clockwork Daggers, as they are known, as she sets off to take a post in a city traumatized by plague and war. Her traveling companions include Mrs. Stout, a writer of lurid pulp tales with a few secrets of her own, and the enticing Alonzo Garrett, a hottie with one mechanical leg and an irresistible attraction to her.

Assassination attempts, first love, and in the backdrop, war—these should make for an appealing tale, and to some extent, they do. The most intriguing part of the story, to me, was the backdrop, by parts bustling industrial cities and in other parts of the world, post-apocalyptic wastelands. Octavia has tended to soldiers at the front and seen firsthand the horrors of war and what it does to people, which is a dynamic I haven’t seen a lot in steampunk. The different magic systems were also fascinating—while her own magic is of the healing variety, Octavia also encounters “infernals,” mages who can wield fire (naturally, they are among the ranks of the villains, a pity, since what little was revealed of them would have indicated some intriguing cultural attitudes had they not been filtered through Octavia’s biased lens).

Unfortunately, Octavia is the crux of my problems with this story. In my fanfiction days, she is what would have been called a Mary Sue—here is a gifted young woman who remains blissfully unaware that the power she wields is so spectacularly beyond what others of her rank can accomplish. Don’t get me wrong—I love a strong heroine. But by the end of the book, readers wonder if there is anything Octavia can’t do. Perhaps those are matters for another tale.

The Clockwork Dagger is clearly the setup for a series, and while this first volume didn’t overwhelm me, it is one I would follow for at least the worldbuilding.

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Review: The Riyria Chronicles

Fantasy has been one of my long-time favorite genres. Eh, probably my favorite one, actually. If I see a book with mysterious hooded figures wielding swords on the front, I generally will at least pick it up and read the synopsis. Such was the case with Theft of Swords, the first installment of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations, a completed fantasy series. It was rapidly followed by Rise of Empire and concluded with Heir of Novron. Each book is actually a compilation of two volumes within the series, originally published as ebooks and later picked up in print, and as I read them collected this way, I shall touch upon them accordingly.

Theft of Swords cover artTheft of Swords is very much a first book in its introduction to the cast of characters… and in its somewhat clunky presentation of exposition. But the snappy banter of protagonists Hadrian and Royce, a pair of mercenary thieves was enough to make me realize this series had something to it. The arc of this story, a framing for murder and subsequent quest to clear their names and free a captive wizard, is an action-packed one, and in spite of the length of the volume, my husband and I read the whole thing aloud, devouring pages as the pace picked up to its satisfying conclusion.

Rise of Empire brings a previously background plot point, the corruption of the Church of Novron to the forefront as war begins and many of the beloved characters face often painful and difficult character growth. One of the female characters, Arista, from the first book, goes through a particularly satisfying arc from spoiled princess to capably wielding her skills until—well, no spoilers here except to say that in mid-trilogy fashion, the tale ends on a note of “how are they all going to make it out of their respective hard places?”

The finale, Heir of Novron, wraps everything up fairly neatly, but also in a satisfying manner. I was at the point where I would come home from work and bury my nose in it for 200 pages at a stretch. By the end, readers care enough about the characters to want everything to turn out happily, and as fantasy is generally pretty good vs. evil, it works. I had predicted some of the twists, but not all of them, which I can respect. The final paragraph was a delightful nod to a folk story that had woven its way through the story (and by the way, it is incredibly frustrating to delight in a detail like that and not have anyone around to share that with. It can be explained, but not succinctly enough to convey why it is so satisfying), and it left me throwing my head back with a laugh at the cleverness.

Is this the most nuanced and heavily world-built of fantasy series out there? No, but that was kind of its charm—the trappings of fantasy with the adrenaline pace of a thriller. Some fantasy forces a reader to figure out what’s going on as the story unfolds, but the straightforward nature of the Riyria Revelations was just what I needed this year.

And I’m a sucker for snappy banter, especially dialogue that feels natural. Hadrian and Royce balance each other out well, a mercenary with a do-go streak and his cynical and dangerous counterpart, and to my delight, several well-developed female characters also form the principal cast, including a princess, a broken girl who would become empress, and a kitchen girl who went on to wield considerable influence in her own right. Occasionally, some of them were in peril, but no more frequently than their male protagonists. I lost count, but I’m pretty sure everyone, male and female, was in some form of captivity during the story, and some of them ended up rescuing themselves. It’s not a feminist text, but it had enough components to keep this feminist reader happy.

While I do love some of the dark, gritty fantasy out there, I really enjoyed the lighter tone of The Riyria Revelations and will probably re-read them sometime down the road when I need some good old-fashioned swashbuckling.

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