- The Sentinel Mage (by Emily Gee)
- This was a Kindle Unlimited book, and is the first book in a trilogy. All three books are out, so it's a good quasi-free hook to the trilogy. It's a little unsatisfactory as a book on its own right, though. The trilogy premise is a three-part quest, and this accomplishes Part 1. But it's a little repetitive (multiple scenes of evading/fighting pursuing soldiers, multiple scenes of fighting undead), and in the main thread, the characters don't advance very much on what I assume will be their character growth paths. The other two threads have more character advancement, but they're sadder; there's the princess in a forced marriage, and the eight-year-old curse survivor who gets steadily more crushed by circumstance and finally joins the bad guys. Three stars.
- Random (by Alma Alexander)
- I'm slowly picking up Alexander's backlist, but this is a new one. She has a really strong talent for character and relationship (The Secrets of Jin-Shei is still maybe my favorite). This one is about were-creatures, except that it's utterly unlike any other urban fantasy with weres that I've read. There are no packs, no alphas, no battles between predators going on. It's nearly all world-building and flashback and nearly all takes place in a house (it could be a play!). For a plot with the most boring summary ever (two teenagers have their coming-of-age shapeshifts; one teenager reads a diary and blogs about it), I found it really enjoyable - I think because it's a well-done example of world-building through character narrative, without a lot of action cluttering things up - but nevertheless some nice plot twists. I think it's going to be a trilogy, but the rest aren't out yet (and there are suggestions that the second book will have more Things Happening.) Four stars. (Bah, the sequel is out in paperback but not Kindle.)
- Pocket Apocalypse (by Seanan McGuire)
- The next InCryptid book. I think there is some bleed through from Mira Grant here - there is a little less of a cryptid species catalogue (despite visiting Australia for the first time, where there are tons of different cryptids), while werewolvery is portrayed a lot like zombie infection. Still fun, but a little confusing. Also, there's only so much "my girlfriend's father is utterly hateful to me" I can take before I start classifying him as "my girlfriend's abusive father" instead of "the guy who thinks nobody is good enough for his little girl and that's sympathetic". Three and a half stars.
- Lovecraft's Monsters (edited by Ellen Datlow)
- A book of short stories that I enjoyed most of, which is unusual. And that I didn't care for the Neil Gaiman story, which was also the first story in the book, also both unusual.
- The Last Unicorn (by Peter S Beagle, narrated by Peter S Beagle)
I've read this before, and if you haven't, you should.
Molly Grue is a character that probably grows on you as you get older,
though I am by no means the first person to note that. There
are some stories which capture for me - there's probably a Norwegian
word for it or something, but the feeling of longing associated with
something beautiful going out of the world. The elves going to the
Grey Havens, at the end of Lord of the Rings, or the Summer
Country in Prydain. The Last Unicorn has it in spades,
not just at the ending, but woven through and through the book, and
listening to it hovers me close to tears (where admittedly I have
spent a lot of time recently). Also, the language. There's a poetry
to the language, a little bit formal and full of carefully honed
metaphors - I don't think I would want it for all of my books, any
more than I can speak in poetry in general conversation, but it's
beautiful in one-book doses. Five stars.
The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
- The Blood Ladders Trilogy (An Heir to Thorns and Steel, On Wings of Bone and Glass, By Vow and Royal Bloodshed) (by M.C.A. Hogarth)
- I grabbed this trilogy because they were inexpensive, and because I mistakenly thought I recognized the author's name from other books I'd enjoyed. It turns out I must have been confusing her with someone else, but they were still interesting, and unusual. The pacing pays no heed to anyone's preconceived notions - if the characters want to spend a third of the book arguing philosophy with each other, they're going to darn well going to argue philosophy and the plot can wait, in a way that felt a lot like Auria going off into "If you can detect beer with Death Tales, does that mean yeast has a soul?" or the Field of Experimentation in Conflux. The religious-sacrifice mechanics would probably work better for someone who already has a good internalized answer to why a benevolent God with miracle-powers doesn't fix more things; even without that, the attempts to minimax the sacrifice mechanic were fascinating. (One rule can be phrased in Conflux terms: immortal races can't roll Sacrifice dice, because they can't truly sacrifice anything meaningful. I don't think that's a priori true, but once they turn into the eternal-bored-ennui immortals, I'd believe it.) The relationships are warm and rich, and varied. The evil elven sparklevampires are pretty trigger-warningly horrific. Anyway, they were interestingly unusual, sometimes frustrating, sometimes puzzling, often sweet. Three and a half stars.
- The Fifth Season (by N. K. Jemisen)
- Jemisen is one of my must-buy authors at this point. This one is less of a romance, and more angry than some of her previous books; the plot marches along in three different timelines and the come-together unfolds nicely. The world-building is stellar, with the societies and the geology of the Broken Earth, the earth-moving orogenes and the Fulcrum and the creepy Guardians. But it is painful to read; it is a harsh world for everyone, particularly for the underclass that the book focuses on, and as a woman of color, Jemisen has lived that in a way that I can only imagine. The book is brutal and emotional and there was never a moment that I didn't want to know what happened next. Five stars.
- Exo (by Steven Gould)
- Book four of the Jumper series, and a more direct sequel to Impulse. This was kind of funny - the main plot of the book is "solo teleporter works on becoming a space program", and the villains (the same recurring villains as we've seen before) were almost an afterthought. They make a couple of appearances here and there, but it's really not about the clash with the villains, it's about the space program. Fun.
- Rewinder (by Brett Battles)
- A Kindle Unlimited book. A reasonably entertaining time travel story, with a nice moral question embedded in it about erasing your own timeline for a better one. (I suppose the "kill Hitler" premise does that, but somehow I seem to have glossed over the part where you end up wiping out everyone you know in the process.) Three and a half stars.
- Forgotten Suns (by Judith Tarr)
- Some books meander. Others go in a straight line. This one goes along in a straight line for a while, then banks smoothly in a completely different direction, and goes along that way for a while, and then does it again. It worked pretty well, but it was unexpected each time the plot decided it was on a new trajectory. The basic presmise is that a long-hibernating powerful psi/king wakes up in the future, and goes to find his lost people, in amongst a space opera empire setting. The characters are fun to watch, though the main character seemed maybe a little too awesome. Four stars.
- The Library at Mount Char (by Scott Hawkins)
Horror? Dark Fantasy? It was horrific, but never left me in a
state where I was jumping at shadows in real life, the way some horror
does. God is missing, and his abused apprentices have to
do... something. It starts strong and goes all the way up to eleven
or thirteen or so, and I really liked it, though be warned again about
the "horrific" part. (But also dryly funny.) Let me quote the
opening - either this will catch you and not let go (as it did me), or
it will put you off (in which case this is not the book for you).
Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78. Most of the librarians, Carolyn included, had come to think of this road as the Path of Tacos, so-called in honor of a Mexican joint they snuck out to sometimes. The guacamole, she remembered, is really good. Her stomach rumbled. Oak leaves, reddish-orange and delightfully crunchy, crackled underfoot as she walked. Her breath puffed white in the predawn air. The obsidian knife she had used to murder Detective Miner lay nestled in the small of her back, sharp and secret.
Five stars for me, but probably not for everyone.
- Circle of Enemies (by Harry Connolly)
- The next Twenty Palaces novel - I think these aren't selling well enough, or his publisher doesn't like them well enough, so it is the last one. A shame, because the arc plot is just starting to ramp up. This one is less of a monster-of-the-week and more of a conspiracy theory of evil; still a nice action fantasy/thriller with a high body count. Four stars, but it's not the ideal place to stop the story.
- Last First Snow (by Max Gladstone)
This is a prequel to Two Serpents Rise. We get to see a
younger, more alive and more idealistic Elayne Keverian, a younger
Temoc, a young Caleb - the King in Red might be younger, but it's hard
to tell. Because I knew approximately what the ending was going to
be, it was a different sort of reading experience, but then, for all
that Gladstone's books live in the same world with some of the same
characters, they're very different books, so that's good. The King
in Red is a terrible (skeletal) person, an urbane but bloodthirsty too-petty
tyrant, but fun to read.
He turned from her to Purcell. "As for you, Purcell. You will accept my hospitality tonight."Four and a half stars; darker than some of the other books, but good tragedy.
Purcell was sweating. "I'd really prefer to return to the hospital. Or to my family."
"Mr. Purcell. You are privy to a number of plans that cannot be announced until they become accomplished fact. This pyramid is large, and we have many apartments set aside for our guests. Some are more comfortable, and some less. I hope you will agree to stay in one of the more comfortable rooms."
"And if I ... refuse?" That word only made it past his lips over the extreme protest of his survival instinct. An interesting world we've made, Elayne thought, where bureaucrats risk death for technicalities.
"Well," the skeleton said, turning his head as if he'd never considered the possibility. "I suppose we'd have to house you in a less comfortable room."
- Cottage in the Woods (by Katherine Coville)
This was a recommendation from shumashi. A YA mashup
of fairy tales and nursery rhymes with something like Jane Eyre; the
narrator is the governess for the family of the Three Bears, which
should give you the gist, though there's also a lot of oppression
politics going on that makes the whole thing a lot darker (plus the
title makes me think Cabin in the Woods, which doesn't help the
creepy vibe). Three and
three quarter stars.
- Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible (by Ursula Vernon)
Okay, this is an illustrated children's book, but it's adorable.
Princess Harriet is cursed by an evil fairy that she will prick her
finger on a hamster wheel on her twelfth birthday and fall into an
eternal sleep; she rightly concludes that until she turns
twelve, she is invincible, and goes off adventuring. Yay!
- One Good Dragon Deserves Another (by Rachel Aaron)
- The sequel to Nice Dragons Finish Last. My review of that book seems to have gone off into a philosophical digression about Otherness, but this book picks up the dangling plot thread from the first book and finishes it all up pretty tidily. We get to see what the Mysterious Cat Ghost really is (and I was amused by the classification of spirits: spirits of the land, animal spirits, death spirits, and mortal spirits (which are "concepts"), which has a lot in common with the classification of spirits and demons in our Dragon run.). Three and three quarters stars.