At the time of writing, I’ve seen the first two hours of Marvel’s Agent Carter miniseries.
And I think I’m in love.
At the time of writing, I’ve seen the first two hours of Marvel’s Agent Carter miniseries.
And I think I’m in love.
This was supposed to be a post about Canadian author Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel Radiant. Between reading Radiant and settling down to write about it, though, I chanced to read two more books I’d really quite like to talk about: another debut, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library, and S.L. Huang’s second independently-published novel, Half Life.
Come for one! Stay for three!
2015 is starting to look like it’s well underway. And may it live up to the best of all our hopes!
When it comes to thinking about books, though, I haven’t quite caught up to the new year yet. I’ve spent the past little while, in fact, dwelling on the kinds of books I’ve read (and reread) in the last year, and considering the kinds of books I would give a wisdom tooth to see more of.
Last time I wrote one of these posts, I tried to be comprehensive, and talk about almost everything I knew about that was a) written by a woman, and b) forthcoming in the six months covered by the post’s title.
I learned something from that. I learned that it’s impossible to be comprehensive. So this time, I confess up front, I’m not even going to try. From me, you’re just going to hear about the books that I know about and find interesting—or am excited for. And one or two of them, I’m really excited for.
And I’ll trust you guys to fill in the gaps in my knowledge in the comments.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine, 2013) is the last finalist from last year’s Tiptree Award that I’m going to talk about in this column—and I’ve just squeaked it in under the 2014 wire, I think. (Shamefully, I doubt I’m going to get to read N.A. Sulway’s winning Rupetta before the next set of finalists are announced.)
It’s easy to see why The Summer Prince has received a significant amount of acclaim. This is a tight, compelling book with an awful lot of things to say about art, about politics, about principles and compromises, about the prices people have to pay to make a difference, and about power and inequality. At less than 300 pages long, it’s a very compact story: it’s also incredibly effective.
At the time of writing, I’ve read approximately 230 new-to-me books in the past calendar year. Twenty-seven, according to my records, were nonfiction, and maybe another half-dozen were ARCs for books that won’t be out until next year. Of what’s left, a little over eighty were novels written or co-written by women published prior to 2014, and something over fifty were novels written or co-written by people who identify themselves as women and published in 2014.
Recent weeks have seen me turn to reading novels that I personally categorise as “fluff.” There’s much to be said for books that do predictable things with verve and energy, and much to be said, too, for books that take an utterly ridiculous premise and turn it into a fun read.
Catharine Asaro is a science fiction writer best known for her Skolian Empire series, a loosely-connected set of books that mixed space opera and romance before SFF Romance became a subgenre in its own right. In Undercity, she returns to the Skolian Empire universe, to a new set of characters and a fresh set of circumstances.
Major Bhaajan used to be a Skolian military officer with the Imperial Space Command. Retired from active service, she’s become a private investigator, a fairly good one. When a mysterious client offers a lot of money for her services, she finds herself returning to Raylicon, the planet of her birth, where a cloistered young man of extremely good family has gone missing. The Majdas are the second most influential family in the empire, even though the empire’s ostensibly democratically ruled, and they’re old-fashioned to boot: they keep their men in seclusion, in the tradition of old Skolian matriarchy. The young man who’s just disappeared from their carefully-guarded household was in line to marry a member of the most influential family in the empire, and the Majdas are understandably eager to get him safely back home.
My impression of Toronto is a whirl of chilly weather, excellent people, amazing food, and books. So many books, so many of them my kind of books.
Admittedly, my view of Toronto as a city of books might just have a little to do with the fact I was there to attend the first INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair (hereafter referred to as the TIBF, because I distrust names in all caps with exclamation marks). The TIBF, in concert with Tourism Toronto, flew in seven bloggers to cover the event, leading some people to conclude the organisers had more money than sense: the amazing Book Smugglers, Jane of Dear Author, Kelly of Book Riot, a Canadian mother and daughter blogging team called Chapter By Chapter, and your humble correspondent.
Foxglove Summer is the fifth instalment in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, about a junior London copper who finds himself apprentice to the only wizard still active on the force.
Foxglove Summer doesn’t answer the question posed by the end of Broken Homes. It steps away from the whole issue of the Faceless Man and the ongoing arc for a bit of a procedural ramble in the countryside. Two eleven-year-old girls have gone missing in rural Herefordshire, near Leominster. Inspector Nightingale sends Peter out on a routine check to make sure that the ancient, retired former wizard who’s made his home nearby has nothing to do with it. Mere routine: but Peter can’t keep his nose out of other people’s business, and when he finds nothing immediately to raise his hackles, he volunteers his services to the local police forces instead of returning to London.
For Roger Just, the author of Women in Athenian Law and Life (Routledge, 1989), the Amazons represent an inversion of the established ancient Greek social order. They are paralleled with the centaurs in art: barbarous, warlike, and uncivilised; alike refusing to respect the laws of marriage and the norms of polis-based society, living beyond the limits of the Greek world. “But if the Centaurs are arrived at by combining man and beast, the Amazons are arrived at simply by postulating a society of women unruled by men.” (Just, 1989, 249.) When they meet with proper (Greek) men, they’re always defeated and either killed or domesticated by marriage—and so the Greek social order always re-establishes its primacy, as in the story of Herakles and the belt of the Amazon queen, in the marriage of Theseus and Antiope, the showdown between Achilles and Penthesilea, and the legendary Amazon invasion of Athens. “But meeting with proper men,” Lysias says of the Amazon women involved in this last, “they got for themselves psyches like their natural form.” That is to say, their hearts and spirits became womanly: weak.
It’s often held that the Amazons were wholly a product of the Greek imagination. Adrienne Mayor’s The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World (Princeton University Press, 2014) argues that this is not the case. Mayor’s thesis is that the Amazon stories of the Greek world, and the depictions of Amazons in art, reflect Greek contact with “Scythian” (a catch-all term, hence the quotation marks) horse nomads—a culture group from Central Asia whose way of life meant that both men and women could participate in hunting, skirmishing, and making war.
The Future Falls is the third novel by Tanya Huff in her “Gale family” contemporary fantasy series from DAW Books, after 2009’s The Enchantment Emporium and 2011’s The Wild Ways. The Enchantment Emporium focused on the character of Allie, one of the only Gales without sisters, while The Wild Ways spent more time with Charlie, musician and Wild Power, Allie’s cousin and sometime lover, and the teenage Dragon Prince Jack. The Future Falls continues in this vein, with Charlie and Jack carrying the weight of the narrative.
The Gale family are terrifyingly powerful. Ruled by the aunties, their influence on the world is mostly benign: unless you piss one of them off, they tend to only involve themselves in matters that directly affect the family. But when the aunties get involved in anything, the aunties take over—or at least try very hard to get their own way.
Every time I set out to write one of these book round-up posts, I feel simultaneously as though I should have read more books faster, and that I’m talking too much about too many books. Since I can’t resolve this mental contradiction, let’s just roll right on into the literature of the moment...
Although this time I’m going to diverge from talking about SFF novels not just once, but twice: there’s a lovely historical YA and a delightful piece of historical nonfiction that I think are perfectly relevant to our interests around here.
Empire of Dust is Jacey Bedford’s debut novel. When I consider how to describe it, the first word that comes to mind is “old-fashioned”: there is little to say this space opera novel could not have been published two decades ago, or even three, and it suffers by comparison to the flourishing inventiveness of Ann Leckie and Elizabeth Bear, James S.A. Corey and Alastair Reynolds.
Though it may be unfair to judge it by those standards.
This week, we’re joined by the very shiny Ann Leckie, author of the multiple-award-winning novel Ancillary Justice, and the just-released (and just as good) Ancillary Sword. Ann was good enough to put up with my fangirling in person at Loncon3, and agreed to answer a few questions for us here.
Read her books, people. They’re really good.
It has been nearly twenty years since the first publication of Australian author Garth Nix’s acclaimed Sabriel, the first of the “Old Kingdom” novels: more than ten since the publication of the well-received second pair, Lirael (2001) and Abhorsen (2003), which together form a tightly-connected duology. It’s hardly to be wondered at that Nix should chose to return to a world that has in the past been the site of such triumphantly entertaining stories.
The wonder is that Clariel is less a triumphant success than an interesting failure.
A Call To Duty is the latest novel in the universe of David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels. In some respects one could just as easily refer to it as the earliest: it’s set shortly after the founding of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, before the discovery of the Manticore Junction wormhole, at a period where its fledgling navy’s very existence is under threat from political manoeuvring and budget squabbles.
Our protagonist is Travis Uriah Long, who enlists in the Royal Manticorean Navy at the age of seventeen in search of structure. Travis believes in following the rules, but also has a strong sense of loyalty and an ability to think outside the box when the situation warrants. His rule-following tendencies bring him trouble when he runs up against slackness up the chain of command in his specialty training school after bootcamp; his ability to think outside the box brings him to the attention of his officers during a crisis—even if the captain never puts the idea into practice, and even denies him credit for it.
Gollancz brought Pevel to the attention of the Anglophone reading public with his Cardinal’s Blades (Les Lames du Cardinal) trilogy—Dumas-inspired novels of swashbuckling conspiracy, Parisian mud, and Spanish dragons. Now they’re following up with The Knight (Le Chevalier), a much more straightforward epic fantasy.
It’s not quite as fun.
S.M. Wheeler’s Sea Change, along with Bennett Madison’s September Girls, are not quite last two novels on the James Tiptree Jr. Award shortlist for 2013 that I haven’t yet discussed in this column. (I haven’t talked about Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince yet—nor N.A. Sulway’s winning Rupetta, for which paper copies are thin on the ground.)
Warning: Contains spoilers.
Jacqueline Carey is best known for her lush and sprawling epic fantasies, begun in 2001 with Kushiel’s Dart. But her most recent trilogy—of which Poison Fruit is the final instalment—takes place in a slightly more mundane setting, a small township in middle America.
The town of Pemkowet is one of the few locations home to an active underworld—a place claimed as home by a god from one of the lesser pantheons. For Pemkowet, that god is Hel, goddess of the Norse land of the dead, and Pemkowet profits by the association, for its tourist board advertises the presence of magical beings as a visitor attraction. (Fairies, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and all manner of other creatures make Pemkowet their home.)
Daisy Johanssen is Hel’s liaison with Pemkowet’s mortal authorities. She’s the daughter of a demon and an innocent mortal woman, and has no magical talents of her own—nor will she ever have, unless she claims her heritage from her father, an act which could bring about the end of the world.