- The Spider's War (by Daniel Abraham)
This is the last of the Dagger and the Coin series, so
anyone who was waiting until it was a finished work no longer has an
excuse. Go and read it. Really. Now. I think the first
is still my favorite book of the series, and Cithrin's speaking for
Vanai brings me to tears every time I read it. (This is after Suddapal
has fallen, in book three. Vanai falls in book one.)
"Suddapal wasn't my city," she said. "That was Vanai. The Antean army took it... took it from me. And they took the people who raised me and loved me, if anybody did. There was a place by the canal by the bank house where there was a little boy who sold coffee with his father, and they... they took them too. They took everything there and they burned it."It's an epic fantasy that knows where all the cliches are and gently subverts them. The plot is a huge war, where the main character is a banker. There's an evil spider goddess that... well, you'll see. I sympathize with the villain every time I see the inside of his head - but it's not that the villain isn't evil. He is. He's terrible. He's just... a real person, and everyone is probably equally sympathetic from behind their own eyes. Plus, it's Spider versus Dragon, so I have to give it extra points for that. Six stars.
A sorrow she hadn't known was there opened in her, vast as oceans, and she hung her head for a moment and Yardem stepped toward her. She put out a hand to stop him, gritted her teeth, and raised her head.
"I haven't cried. I haven't mourned. I haven't let myself be angry for that loss. I never felt it because feeling it would have broken me. And now, with all of you here as witness, I am broken. I am broken, but I'm not dead. And I am not finished."
- Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (by Lois McMaster Bujold)
- I enjoyed it, but... I wish that a bit more had happened, and I wish that Cordelia had surprised me more. Three stars.
- Pyramids of London (by Andrea K Host)
- This is the first of I guess a five-book series; the rest are not out, but the plot comes to a good stopping point. A melange of steampunk, vampires, and gods, the setting feels full and rich and detailed (and not a mishmash the way it sounds). For all that there's a ton of world-building in the backstory, the author doesn't really pause to exposit it - she just throws things fast and furious and trusts you to keep up. Which I kind of mostly did, though I sometimes forgot all the details of the many characters and the many teams. The plot starts with the main character, Rian, following a lead to investigate her brother's death, into a ten-year contract with a British vampire. But before that starts, a sphinx statue breaks into her room and nearly kills her; in the battle that ensues, a much older vampire ends up somewhat crossly binding her, and she is summonsed to London (on the way she picks up her two nieces and a nephew, who insist on having their own adventures throughout the book), where she is installed as the Keeper of the Deep Grove of Cernnunos. (The Grove has plant-cats and horned snakes; the plant cats are chasing away the raven spies from the Order of the Oak). There's no real spoilers there, that's just the beginning, and I've left out a bunch of things. Fast and furious, I tell you! Anyway. Fun and interesting and a bit spooky in parts, and has a good diverse cast. Four stars.
- a grown-up kind of pretty and someone else's love story (by Joshilyn Jackson)
- I am slow to read these because I bought them in hardback just at the tail end of when I started reading all my books on Kindle. Eventually, I realized that I would read them sooner if I bought ebook versions, so here we go. A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is kind of what I expect from Jackson - an interesting cast, mostly female, strong and struggling, and then things start catching on fire. Someone Else's Love Story is slower and sweeter, and has a really evil stepmother but nobody quite catches on fire (though there is a very dramatic robbery near the beginning). Joshilyn Jackson and Georgette Heyer are pretty much the only non-SF/fantasy/mystery authors I consistently read; I would say "non-genre" except that Heyer pretty much defines a genre by herself, and Jackson may be "Southern" genre, if that is a thing. Anyway, I know I've recommended Jackson before; if you're still on the fence, I have some hardbacks I can foist on you to convince you! She has a perfect ability to hook me with characters who I could not imagine being but can't help caring about and having to know what happens to. Five stars.
- Raven Black, White Nights, Red Bones, Blue Lightning (by Anne Cleeves)
- Four books of the Shetland Island Mysteries. I'm not sure if they're technically thrillers or mysteries; they are slow moving and thoughtful, which is not a hallmark of the thriller, but they also (to my taste) cheat a little on the mystery - the clues are sometimes kept hidden, such that the detective knows something the reader doesn't, and the villains are sometimes grounded in not-quite-rationality. Neither of these is a real complaint - Sherlock Holmes kept some of the clues to himself, and I have to imagine that the ultra-rational character doesn't end up committing multiple murders in a murder mystery, because it will almost never work out well for them. I'm also not as fond of the detective as I would like to be - he is very well-drawn and human and understandable, but his inner voice is... a little neurotic. I imagine a lot of people would find him very sympathetic - he starts the series second-guessing himself a lot for what his ex-wife called "emotional incontinence," overly much empathy for everyone around him - which as negative characteristics go, seems like a rather admirable one. But when he moves into a happy new relationship, he continues to second-guess himself by putting words in the mouth of his girlfriend - oh, she would think he was sappy if he said thus and so, oh, she would mock him if he admitted that - when the actual evidence was that she would do nothing of the sort. This is totally plausible as a real human trait. It rings true as good characterization - but I still wanted to shake him. But anyway, the thing that I found most compelling about the books was the sense of place. Set in the Shetland Islands - Lerwick and Whalsay and Fair Isle and Scalloway and such - I was originally attracted to the books because of the knitting connection, but stayed because of the feeling of, just being somewhere else, somewhere windswept and culturally different and so very small. (Fair Isle is three square miles, population fifty-five, according to wikipedia.) And there is a festival called Up Helly Aa, which I did not realize was spelled that way until much after listening to the audiobook. Anyway, I enjoyed these, though I am unsure whether I want to listen to the next one, as I suspect I would want to shake a depressed Detective Perez even more than the usual one, and then I would feel guilty for it. Three and a half stars.
- The Cold Between (by Elizabeth Bonesteel)
- Something between space opera and military science fiction, with a high dose of interestingly plausible interpersonal drama. I liked the idealism and the politics and the escalating personal stakes. I was a little dubious about the morality of the decision that divides the good guys from the bad guys by the end, that being almost that absolute power corrupts absolutely - except that it's thermodynamic power rather than political power, and destroying access to cheap power because it will undoubtedly be turned to weapons and used by humanity to destroy itself seems... both very pessimistic, and kind of doomed to failure in the long term. Three and three quarters stars; I deduct a quarter of a star for my quibble about power, but otherwise it's a solid and well-characterized story.
- Between The World and Me (by Ta-Nehisi Coates)
- This hurt to read, but I can't argue against any of it, and making it about my pain is totally missing the point. But I read this, and I read the Case for Reparations again, and I'm trying to believe as much of it as I can.
- The Raven and the Reindeer (by T Kingfisher / Ursula Vernon)
- A retelling of the Snow Queen. The otters are adorable.
- Every Heart a Doorway (by Seanan McGuire)
- McGuire's books always have the conceit of Sorting Fiction in them; this one is about a boarding school for children who have come back (usually unwillingly) from Other Places like Narnia / Wonderland / Neverland / Oz. Also a murder mystery, but not a very complex one, or even a very well-motivated one. An interesting cast that I wish had had a better story to play in. Two and a half stars.
- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
A different take on immortality; you die, and then you start over
back at the beginning of your life. Other immortals are in their own
loops, so you can pass messages forward and back along the centuries
by talking to people that you overlap with. In some ways it's
about the branching causality you see in time travel plots, with all
the time travellers moving sideways through universes at the
(approximately) same rate.
"The world is ending," she said. "The message has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back down the generations from a thousand years forward in time. The world is ending and we cannot prevent it. So now it's up to you."Four and a half stars.