There are always too many books and never enough time. It seems to be a rule of life—at least, my life. Today, let me take you on a whirlwind tour of some of the fun ones I’ve stuck my nose into lately, from epic fantasy to steampunk to science fiction... all of which have come out over the last couple of months or are due out in the very near future.
P.C. Hodgell is nowhere near as famous as she ought to be. The Sea of Time is the seventh novel in her God Stalker Chronicles, also known as The Chronicles of the Kencyrath. It’s a fantasy series that has been ongoing, through several publishers and breaks in publication history, since 1982, and I’ve loved it since I first encountered it with the fourth volume, To Ride a Rathorn, in 2007, a few years before Baen gave it a new lease of life.
The Sea of Time (Baen) is very much a middle book, a transitional novel out of the Tentir trilogy. It reprises several elements of God Stalk, but it is somewhat weaker, and its climax lacks the force its confrontation ought to have. That said, Hodgell still glories in the strangeness of her world, and The Sea of Time is still immensely entertaining, and full of Jame apologetically breaking things.
Glenda Larke’s The Lascar’s Dagger, from Orbit Books, begins a new series. Structurally, it’s a very traditional sort of epic fantasy. But its worldbuilding borrows from the beginning of the age of commerce, the 16th and 17th centuries’ Dutch and Portuguese trade in and exploitation of Southeast Asia. The priest and spy Saker is caught up in a magical threat to the entire world. Like much of Larke’s work, the pacing sags in the middle, but there’s enough of interest here to keep the attention to the end.
A friend of mine—who is also a friend of the author—drew my attention to Lex Talionis, a debut novel by R.S.A. Garcia, out of small press outfit Dragonwell Publishing. As a debut, Lex Talionis certainly shows promise. The prose is good, and the characterisation is well-done. However, structurally the execution lacks coherence, and the novel as a whole suffers from a case of and also the kitchen sink in terms of what kind of story it is trying to be. In many respects, too, it’s setting itself up as the first novel in a series: it’s not satisfactorily complete in itself, in my view. Some aspects of the formatting (whole sections are written in italics) make it harder to read than I would’ve preferred, which may have some impact on my opinion.
Warning: Lex Talionis contains gang-rape. It is treated with a reasonable amount of sensitivity, but if that sort of thing puts you off your reading experience, be prepared to encounter it here.
On the other hand, Garcia shows a certain flair, and this is an enjoyable novel if you can live with its structural problems. Thematically it’s having an interesting argument about power and responsibility and politics, even if the structural issues mean this is not brought fully and coherently into view. On the whole, to my surprise, I rather feel like recommending it—albeit with significant hand-wiggling and many caveats.
Elizabeth Moon’s Crown of Renewal (Orbit/Del Rey) is the final volume in her five-book Paladin’s Legacy series. Alas, Orbit UK’s lovely cover is somewhat misleading: as a final volume, it doesn’t exactly go out with a bang. The pacing is leisurely, and many of the scattered plot threads either fail to come together, or wrap themselves up with more of a sigh than a triumphant shout. If you like hanging out with Moon’s characters, and don’t mind that — with a handful of exceptions — nothing much seems to happen, you should have fun here.
Mirror Sight (Gollancz/DAW), Kristen Britain’s latest in her Green Rider series, is an odd duck of a book. Separated from her friends and comrades, Karigan G’ladheon is cast forward in time, to a point where her kingdom no longer exists. It’s not quite what I was expecting, and doesn’t really follow Britain’s previous form—but if you’ve been waiting on the further adventures of Karigan and co., the wait is at an end.
I could get very enthusiastic very quickly about Gaie Sebold’s Shanghai Sparrow (Solaris), with its deceptions and desperation, steampunk and faerie and the seedy underbelly of the Great Game. Eveline Duchen is a thief and a con-artist. When Holmforth, a British government apparatchik, forces her to co-operate with him in a bid to build a weapon with which to attack the Fey, she immediately starts looking for a way out—a search that becomes more urgent when she learns her mother, whom she long believed dead, is actually still alive. Fast-paced, with a strong voice and compelling characters, Shanghai Sparrow is marvellously entertaining—although at points it gets a touch dark. (It is interesting to note that all the (human) male characters in Shanghai Sparrow are liars and predators, and most of them are sexual predators, at that.)
Stephanie Saulter’s Binary (Jo Fletcher Books) makes for an engaging sequel to her debut, Gemsigns. Binary follows Gemsigns in being interested in community and change, but its focus on community is less obvious, and its allegory further from the foreground. Here, we’re closer to an old-fashioned thriller—but only to a degree. Saulter bids fair to become a very interesting novelist: Binary is a very enjoyable book, and I’m looking forward to the trilogy’s conclusion.