content by

Liz Bourke

Literary Sword-and-Sorcery: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is, if you haven’t been paying attention, the very first novella to emerge from Publishing. As to be expected from the author of “The Devil in America,” it’s complex, powerfully written piece of work, with an ending whose ambiguity only adds to its curious impact.

I say novella—but let’s be honest, the ARC I have clocks in at 208 pages. We’re really talking something closer to a short novel. And Kai Ashante Wilson has packed those pages with the worldbuilding of a much longer work. The world of The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps feels big. It feels deep. It feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface: There’s as much depth of field here as there is in many trilogies, for all that the narration stays tightly focused on one character.

[Read more]

Sleeps With Monsters: Melanie Rawn Answers Five Questions

Today we’re joined by Melanie Rawn, who graciously agreed to answer a few small questions. Her most recent novel, Window Wall, came out earlier this year. Her earlier novels have been the subject of a reread series here by Judith Tarr, which I encourage you all to go and read.

If you haven’t read any of her work, there’s never been a better time to start. If you have?

Well then, you already know what a treat they are.

On to the questions!

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Falling in Love with Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp

This book. This book. In the past few years, there’ve been a handful of books I count it a privilege to have read—a handful of books with which I fell instantly and deeply in love. It’s a short list: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword; Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor; Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory. I might spot you one or two others, depending on the day, but these are the ones that hit me right on an emotional level, where pleasure in the quality of writing combines with a straight shot to my narrative hindbrain: this is our stuff! This is OUR THING!

Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp has added itself to that list. I didn’t expect it to: at a brief glance, it sounded a little too peculiar. But then I came across Amal El-Mohtar and Ana Grilo (of The Booksmugglers) discussing its merits on Twitter—and when people like that recommend a thing, I try to take notice.

[And wow, am I glad I did.]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Approachable Epic Fantasy: Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

Cold Iron is Stina Leicht’s third novel. With it, Leicht moves away from urban fantasy and towards epic in the new gunpowder fantasy mode. Cold Iron is the opening volley in The Malorum Gates series—and to judge from the amount of ground this novel covers, it’s a series that’s going to do a lot of epic in a relatively short space of time.

It is also a rather better, and strikingly less boring, book than its opening pages portend.

[Read more]

What Do You Reread For Comfort Or Escape?

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? The moneylenders, the knownothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979: 204).

I haven’t been reading very rapidly this year, and especially these last couple of months. So I thought I’d make a virtue of necessity, and talk about the books I read again and again, for comfort, and why; and the books that stay with me for years. The books that, for lack of a better word, sustain me.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Civics Class Has Never Been Better: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

Last First Snow is the fourth in Max Gladstone’s “Craft Sequence” novels. (In internal chronological order, it’s first: Gladstone has taken an unusual approach to numbering his novels. It’s not nearly as brain-bending as it sounds, because so far all the novels including this one stand alone perfectly well.) And it’s a great book.

It takes place some twenty years before Two Serpents Rise, and some four decades after the God Wars. In the city of Dresediel Lex, the King in Red and a consortium of investors have plans to redevelop an impoverished area of the city: the Skittersill, an area whose wards were laid down by gods, not practitioners of Craft. They are opposed in this by an alliance of locals and community leaders, of whom the most influential is Temoc: a former Eagle Knight and one of the last remaining priests of the old order, and a veteran of the God Wars who is now striving for a peaceful future for his people—including his wife and son. Before civic protest degenerates into civil unrest, Elayne Kevarian, associate in the Craft firm of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao—and retained by Dresediel Lex’s present powers-that-be to bring the Skittersill project to a workable conclusion—attempts to facilitate a negotiated solution to the stand-off between community and capital.

[Read more]

“Which self should she aspire to know?” Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

I can’t say I’ve ever heard a bad thing about any of Carolyn Ives Gilman’s work. Dark Orbit is the first of her novels that I’ve read, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. And to the promise of its first two lines:

“In the course of Saraswati Callicot’s vagabond career, she had been disassembled and brought back to life so many times, the idea of self-knowledge had become a bit of a joke. The question was, which self should she aspire to know?”

Dark Orbit is a striking work of science fiction, and knowledge—self-knowledge, and how the knowledge of other people can shape a person—is at its heart. It is sharp and glittering and rather more interested in the philosophy of its physics than it is in the science. It’s also a novel about First Contact and the limits of science’s ability to classify data that cannot be seen. And damn, is it one hell of a novel.

[Read more]

Sleeps With Monsters: Go Watch Sense8

I have just seen the first six episodes of Sense8. And I may be in love.

My constant refrain as I was watching it was how can this be so good? Because on the face of it this is a show I should’ve struggled to enjoy: it doesn’t have nearly as much murder and/or explosions as I normally enjoy in a television show. (Although it does have at least a little murder.) What it has, instead, is a long slow build of an interesting conspiracy, and characters worth the price of entry.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Shut Up And Take My Money: The Price of Valor by Django Wexler

2014’s The Shadow Throne, the second of a projected five volumes in Django Wexler’s gunpowder epic fantasy “The Shadow Campaigns,” set a very high bar for subsequent instalments to reach. While 2013’s The Thousand Names was a solid, engaging effort to tell a story reminiscent of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe in a fantasy milieu, The Shadow Throne kicked the series into much higher gear. It delighted me extremely, in part because I didn’t expect such a glorious step up from its predecessor—and that astonished marvel and, yes, relief, contributed in large part to my delight.

It would have been asking a bit much for The Price of Valor, the third and latest “Shadow Campaigns” novel to surpass The Shadow Throne by as much as The Shadow Throne overleapt The Thousand Names. That kind of rocket-propelled acceleration is something we’re lucky to see once a series. But The Price of Valor is a worthy successor: Wexler hasn’t let down the expectations he raised so high with The Shadow Throne. I’m very happy to say, for the second time in relation to this series, SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

[Minor spoilers included. Contents may settle during transit.]

You Had Me at “Gladiatorial Princesses”

I meant this post to have more than a single book in it. But it’s been a busy week, I’m behindhand in everything, and Rhonda Mason’s The Empress Game is a perfect example of an incredibly flawed book that nonetheless provides (or provides me, at least) a surprisingly satisfying reading experience.

I banged on a bit, last column, about being annoyed by the science fiction of nostalgia on display in Jane Lindskold’s Artemis Invaded and Margaret Fortune’s Nova. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: it turns out I’m not actually opposed to science fiction that harks back to the futures of yesteryear if it does other things that make me happy. Because Rhonda Mason’s science fiction debut—first in a projected trilogy—is unashamedly old-fashioned pulp space opera.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

A Fractured City: The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

Jo Walton’s The Just City came out only this January. A very odd, very engaging novel involving time-travelling philosophers from across millennia who are brought together by the goddess Athena to build a (doomed, time-limited) version of Plato’s “just city,” it forms in essence one long argument about consent, significance, volition and virtue—among other things.

The Philosopher Kings is The Just City‘s sequel, and oh, what an excellent continuation of the dialogue it is.

(Some spoilers ahead.)

[Read more]

Sleeps With Monsters: More Books, Anyone?

I understand why everyone is gone half-delirious over Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. I’m so very glad I read it: it is nothing like The Goblin Emperor in its characters, incidents, even in its narrative mode. And yet, nonetheless, it touches me in very similar ways, for Uprooted is a generous book, and a kind one. It holds out hope both to its characters and to its readers even in its moments of horror. And it does have moments of horror.

[More books?]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Fairy Diseases: Trailer Park Fae by Lilith Saintcrow

Trailer Park Fae is a faintly ridiculous book. “Faintly” is perhaps too mild a qualifier: I have rarely read a book that inspired me to so many disbelieving snorts.

If I may be permitted a comparison, however, the same was true for the film Jupiter Ascending. And like Jupiter Ascending, despite my baffled raised eyebrows and choking coughs of really? I found Trailer Park Fae to be reasonably enjoyable.

[Read more]

How Do We Talk About Strong Female Characters?

Let’s talk about “Strong female characters.” And “agency.”

It’s been a few months since Kate Elliott’s post here at about Writing Women Characters As Human Beings. It’s probably been a while since I’ve touched on the topic myself, even in passing. But recently a conversation on Twitter and a certain amount of time pondering the opening chapters of Jo Walton’s The Just City has got me pondering how we talk about strength in fictional narratives, especially as it relates to femaleness, but also in terms of a more diverse array of historically overlooked people.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Amanda Downum Answers Six Relatively Short Questions

Amanda Downum’s most recent novel, Dreams of Shreds and Tatters (out now from Solaris Books), is a book I unexpectedly loved. Downum has previously written an excellent trilogy, the Necromancer Chronicles, which I can also highly recommend.

Today she’s joined us to talk about unpronounceable cults, nightgaunts, and the difference between writing contemporary and second-world fantasy.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Mad Max: Fury Road

What a day. Oh what a lovely day.

My fellow contributor Leah Schnelbach has already had a lot to say about the sheer amazingness that is Mad Max: Fury Road. I am come, friends, to add my two cents in a paean of praise. Because I liked it. I really, really liked it. I cannot ever remember liking a film this much, to the extent where I went back to the cinema to see it twice more in the space of a week, and I still want to see it again. I have never fallen this hard, this fast for any film—any televisual work at all.

[Pick up what you can and run.]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters