Cold Wind April 16, 2014 Cold Wind Nicola Griffith Old ways can outlast their usefulness. What Mario Scietto Says April 15, 2014 What Mario Scietto Says Emmy Laybourne An original Monument 14 story. Something Going Around April 9, 2014 Something Going Around Harry Turtledove A tale of love and parasites. The Devil in America April 2, 2014 The Devil in America Kai Ashante Wilson The gold in her pockets is burning a hole.
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Mari Ness
Showing posts by: mari ness click to see mari ness's profile
Thu
Dec 19 2013 3:00pm

Christopher Moore The Stupidest Angel

Tuck looked at the red-and-white pile on the ground at his feet and realized for the first time what it really was: a dead Santa.

The Stupidest Angel

Ok, I’m cheating just the tiniest bit here on the annual children’s Christmas book post. The Stupidest Angel is most definitely not a children’s story (warnings for adult situations, language, zombies who want to eat brains and then go to IKEA, and rather mean things said about Santa, squirrel porn and perfectly innocent elephant seals). It also can’t exactly be called a classic yet given that it was only published back in 2004. But, it is a Christmas book, and frankly I needed something that took a slightly more cynical take on the holiday season this year even if that meant zombies, so, Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel it is.

[When Santa dies RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU and also zombies show up.]

Thu
Dec 12 2013 3:00pm

Lloyd Alexander The Beggar QueenAs I noted, the end of Lloyd Alexander’s The Kestrel had left Our Heroes, or, really, at this point, anti-heroes, in a tense and unstable political situation. As The Beggar Queen begins, this situation has really not improved all that much.

Worse, Cabbarus, only a lingering threat in The Kestrel, has decided that it is time to return—this time with money and troops. Meanwhile, harvests are failing, people are shooting one another, and Mickle, the queen, is responding to all this by making plans to dredge a harbor, plans that Theo, the main protagonist, correctly points out will never get used. Not surprisingly, Theo’s main wish is to chuck it and just go on a picnic.

[Which is not going to be happening.]

Tue
Dec 10 2013 6:00pm

Georgette Heyer Charity GirlSomething—perhaps old age, perhaps the growing realization that she would never finish My Lord John, the book she hoped would be a masterpiece—kept Georgette Heyer in a somber mood as she began to write her second to last novel, Charity Girl.  It was a response to both fans and critics: for her fans, she has one last aristocratic hero, Viscount Desford, son and heir of the Earl of Wroxton, along with a ludicrously pompous villain, Mr. Wilfred Steane and a happy ending after the, er, what was that of Cousin Kate; for her critics, a realistic take on the restrictions faced by aristocratic women.

But even her happy ending and the bright and witty dialogue in parts of the book have an often wistful tone.  Charity Girl is the novel of an author revisiting the world she created, this time, not quite able to believe in all of it.

[Life as the indigent relative.]

Thu
Dec 5 2013 3:00pm

Lloyd Alexander The Kestrel

“Cabbarus forbade the truth,” Torrens answered. “I would forbid only lies.”

“To my knowledge,” said Keller, “no one in the history of the world has managed that.”

The Kestrel

In fantasy books written for children, the restoration of the rightful king usually brings about a happy ending. After all, order has been restored and the evil guys have generally been overthrown and, since these are children’s books, sent into exile instead of getting their heads cut off. Sometimes the main characters get medals or a party or at least the grateful thanks of the restored sovereigns—assuming the main characters aren’t, in fact, the restored sovereigns.

And then we have Lloyd Alexander’s The Kestrel, where the restoration of the rightful princess does no such thing.

[There’s death coming up, and sometimes, the wrong people die. Very spoilery.]

Wed
Dec 4 2013 10:00am
Original Story

Tor.com blogger, fantasy writer, and insatiable reader Mari Ness makes her Tor.com short fiction debut with a beautifully told tale of complicated and conflicted love, a translation and transformation of a very old story that is sure to be familiar to every fan of folklore and history.

This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by editor Liz Gorinsky.

[Read “In the Greenwood” by Mari Ness]

Tue
Nov 26 2013 5:00pm

Georgette Heyer Cousin KateAs she continued to churn out bestsellers and tried to fend off imitators, Georgette Heyer could not help but notice another romantic subgenre once again heading for bestseller lists: the Gothic. In some ways, Gothic romances had never exactly left the bestseller lists since Ann Radcliffe had first enthralled readers in the last years of the 18th century, but the genre had rarely garnered critical approval, perhaps explaining why Georgette Heyer, desperate for such approval, had avoided it. By 1968, however, desperate for a plot, still worried about finances, and noting the number of Gothic romances landing on the bestseller list, she finally tried her hand at a Gothic novel, Cousin Kate, after a nice luncheon at Buckingham Palace had at least given her the seal of royal, if not critical, approval.

As I’ve mentioned before in this series, we’ve all made mistakes.

[Unfortunately, I can’t discuss this book without discussing the ending, but since I’m also going to warn you away from ever reading it, I don’t feel too bad about spoilering you here.]

Thu
Nov 21 2013 3:00pm

Westmark Lloyd AlexanderEven as his novels focused on stories of princes or wannabe princes, princesses, and kings, Lloyd Alexander’s work had always had more than a touch of the democratic about it, with its gentle pokes against kings and the entire idea of the aristocracy. So it is perhaps not surprising that in the 1980s, after several light-hearted works, Alexander decided to take a deeper look at revolution, democracy, and kingship, in a new, more serious series, starting with Westmark, the first of the trilogy of the same name.

[Read More]

Thu
Nov 14 2013 5:00pm

The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha Lloyd AlexanderAs Lloyd Alexander carefully explains, it’s not that Lukas, also called Kasha, exactly lacks virtues. For instance, Lukas is frugal enough to let a single holiday last an entire year, which is a memorable sort of achievement. He is also skilled at avoiding job offers, even a very reasonable apprenticeship from Nicholas the carpenter, training that might even lead to becoming the town carpenter. This sort of avoidance ends up at the town square with a trained ape and a magician called Battisto, who with an inexplicable bit of magic sends Lukas off to explore the second of The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha, which, in pure Alexander style, turns out to be a frothy adventure.

[Another one of those books which I can’t describe or discuss without massively spoiling the ending, so, massive spoilers for the ending.]

Tue
Nov 12 2013 5:30pm

Georgette Heyer Black SheepMiss Abigail Wendover, the protagonist of Black Sheep, is under the very understandable impression that she is in a Georgette Heyer novel. After all, she is a sensible young woman in her twenties with a great deal of humor and a small independence, with an older sister, Miss Selina, with an impeccable taste for style and color, and a lovely and very wealthy young niece, Fanny, that the sisters are carefully shepherding through the excitements of Bath society. She has a few decidedly worthy suitors. She has wit and energy. She should be in a Heyer novel.

And yet, when she meets Her Hero, it is evident that something is dreadfully, shockingly wrong for a supposed Heyer novel. For the Hero is a shocking, shocking fellow indeed, who was not only cast out by his family, but, since then, has—hold onto something—worked to earn his money. Not inherited, or married, but worked. And, more shocking still, Mr. Miles Cavendish—are you still holding onto something?—Mr. Miles Cavendish doesn’t care about his clothes.

[And the shocks don’t end there! Well, shocks in the Georgette Heyer sort of shocking way.]

Thu
Nov 7 2013 4:00pm

The Cat Who Wised to be a Man Lloyd AlexanderWriter Lloyd Alexander had an affliction that many of us can sympathize with: he loved cats. So much so that he had frequently brought them into his books, sometimes talking, sometimes not, but always demanding attention, so much so that his generally carefully plotted and tight prose would suddenly digress to chat about cats.

It’s not surprising, therefore, to find out that his imagination wondered what would happen if a cat wanted to be a human, leading to The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man.

[The two cats who kindly allow me to live with them would like to object in the strongest possible meows to this entire premise.]

Tue
Nov 5 2013 6:00pm

Georgette Heyer FredericaTo most of us, the Marquis of Alverstoke would seem to have the ideal life. Oh, certainly, he dislikes most members of his family, who respond to that dislike by continually begging him for money, but apart from that small inconvenience, he is privileged, very wealthy, good looking, and—this is a Georgette Heyer novel—in possession of an excellent physique, a skilled tailor, and a most superior valet. Even his shoulders, you will be pleased to know, stand in no need of padding, and, as we learn, he has also received a most superior education, good enough that years later he can still translate Latin and Greek without difficulty. Whenever he expresses a wish, it is immediately gratified, and he has enjoyed several delightful if sometimes expensive dalliances with women of questionable or no virtue at all. As a result, he is bored, cynical, and (apart from the dalliances) very very single, and (apart from the friends) very alone. And, one suspects, somewhat miserable.

Enter Frederica.

[Also, a ten year old budding engineer and a Baluchistan hound]

Thu
Oct 24 2013 11:00am

Lloyd Alexander The Marvelous Misadventures of SebastianIt took author Lloyd Alexander two years to recover from the experience of writing The Chronicles of Prydain. For his next book, he avoided Welsh mythology completely and instead choose to explore German fairy tales, creating a tale of a young and adventuresome fiddler, the delightful little cat that adopts him, and the sesquipedalian princess they encounter.

(I totally looked that one word up, guys.)

The result, The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian, won Lloyd Alexander his first National Book Award for Children’s Books, just beating out E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, perhaps in part because the judges were bowled over by the book’s vocabulary, which managed to be both hilarious and violate virtually every one of E.B. White’s precepts for simple language. It was a very good year for animals in children’s books.

[Cursed fiddles and...a cat who rescues people? Ok, the second part definitely makes it fantasy. Very spoilery.]

Tue
Oct 22 2013 5:00pm

Georgette Heyer False ColoursGeorgette Heyer took pride in her a long, successful, and generally happy marriage. If, as her biographer hints, its early years were filled with financial stress, and in later years may have included a discreet affair or two on her husband’s side, they shared a strong partnership, and in later years were united in their pride and love for their only son, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a barrister.

But for all her own domestic happiness, Heyer witnessed multiple disastrous marriages, and in False Colours, takes the time to explore the long term effects of unwise pairings on children and even more distant relations.

[Read More]

Fri
Oct 18 2013 4:30pm

Lloyd Alexander Chronicles of Prydain The High KingIn The High King, Lloyd Alexander drew his five volume children’s fantasy to a magnificent end, bringing together nearly every character with a speaking part in previous books for a final confrontation between the Forces of Good and the Forces of Evil. Doom stalks over nearly page, and for the first time, as if to let us know that things are very very serious, Alexander starts killing off characters. Just the minor ones, but still, the death of characters from previous books—and characters decidedly on the good side—ups the stakes immediately for Taran and his companions, giving an added emotional depth. That depth is echoed in the language, which is less lighthearted, and more, for want of a better word, “mythic.”

[What exactly do we mean by “station in life” anyway?]

Thu
Oct 10 2013 3:30pm

Lloyd Alexander Chronicles of Prydain Taran WandererI have to admit: this time around I picked up Taran Wanderer with a sense of trepidation. Taran Wanderer is the first book of the The Chronicles of Prydain not to feature that practical chatterbox, Princess Eilonwy. Oh, Taran spends a lot of time thinking about her, and a talkative crow gives us a bit of an update on the aftermath of the last book, but that’s about it. As such, when I was a kid, it was hands down my least favorite Prydain book. This time around, I started it still nursing a vaguely irritated feeling from the last book in the series. Fortunately, in a few chapters, I was back in Prydain again, in one of the best books of the series.

[Who is Taran, and just how many jobs does he need to do to figure that out?]

Tue
Oct 8 2013 5:00pm

Georgette Heyer The NonesuchHaving found herself compared (unfavorably) for years with Jane Austen, in 1962 Georgette Heyer finally relented and followed her predecessor’s advice that “three to four families in a country village is the very thing to work on.” The resulting novel, focused on three to four families and a most superior governess living in northern England, also took more than a bit of inspiration from Austen’s plots.

The Nonesuch features two wealthy men who arrive at a country village, stirring up gossip and speculation (hi, Pride and Prejudice); a protagonist who finds herself rather prejudiced against one of them (hi, Pride and Prejudice again); and a wealthy and fairly obnoxious girl whom readers won’t much like (hi, Emma, with a touch of Isabella from Northanger Abbey) But for all that, The Nonesuch is very much its own novel, and an experiment for Heyer in just how far she could stretch the Regency world she had created, and use it to explore the devastating effects of conversation.

[Gossip, indulgence, and contrasting morals]

Thu
Sep 26 2013 5:00pm

Lloyd Alexander Chronicles of Prydain Castle of LlyrAs Lloyd Alexander’s The Castle of Llyr opens, Dallben has decided to send the young Eilonwy off for some princess training. This is all well before Disney Princesses when for an outrageous sum small girls can be transformed into princesses within an hour or two, meaning that this princess training requires that Eilonwy leave Dallben’s home for the Isle of Mona, where she will learn Princess Stuff from Queen Teleria.

Given that the last attempt to train Eilonwy went rather badly, and given the rest of Eilonwy’s history so far, I think she would be better off with some enchantress training or some adventurer training or some sword training, not to mention that it’s not clear why Dallben can’t give Eilonwy and Taran some mutual lessons in Royal manners. Or have Gwydion and Fflewddur give some nice lectures about Royal courts. Especially since Eilonwy, unlike other characters I could name, has always had decent enough manners and shown a certain grasp of correct behavior. However, Dallben notes that Eilonwy has—gasp—skinned knees, a torn robe and unshod feet right at the moment, which is not exactly princess-like, so it’s Off to Court she goes.

[If not without a few interruptions along the way.]

Wed
Sep 25 2013 2:00pm

Katherine Paterson Bridge to Terabithia So. Bridge to Terabithia.

Are we all ready to start sobbing now? Like, hard?

Bridge to Terabithia has the dubious distinction of being one of the most frequently banned and/or challenged books in the United States, supposedly because of its references to witchcraft and atheism and a lot of swearing. I have another theory: it’s just so completely tragic and heartbreaking.

Also, when you are ten, the title just shrieks of false advertising.

[Major spoilers—for the book, not the movie, which we are just going to pretend doesn’t exist.]

Tue
Sep 24 2013 5:00pm

Georgette Heyer The Unknown AjaxIt can’t be easy for a large, quarrelsome aristocratic family facing increasing financial ruin to find out that, thanks to an ill-fated boating expedition, their crumbling, mismanaged estate will eventually be owned by a cousin most of them have never met. It can only get worse when they hear that this cousin is the grandson of a weaver. GASP. (I will give you a second.) Oh, to be sure, he’s also the legitimate grandson of a baron—thus the whole estate deal—but to say his grandfather is not thrilled to leave the estate to someone he calls a “weaver’s brat” is a vast, vast understatement.

What none of them realize is that the heir in question, one Major Hugo Darracott, aka The Unknown Ajax, is hardly thrilled with his position either, perhaps because he realizes that he’s about to be used as a symbol of postwar British land management issues, which is kinda problematic when you’re in the early 19th century. And none of them yet know about Hugo’s besetting sin: a powerful sense of humor.

[Playing practical jokes on the entire family, who, to be fair, all seriously deserve it.]