Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Early November Reading Edition

There are always so many books, and always so little time. I think I’ve read one hundred and sixty unique titles so far this year, and I’m still falling behind on new and interesting things. Not so far behind, though, that I don’t want to tell you about three new books and a novella.

(One of which I didn’t like, but I want to talk about in the hopes that maybe someone can tell me of a book that does similar things but isn’t frustratingly made of plothole.)

I feel as though I’ve been waiting years to read a book like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (out from Baen in February 2016). It is Bujold’s best novel in her Barrayar continuity since A Civil Campaign, at least, and it marks a return to Bujold at her best—ambitious with form, experimental in the kind of story she wants to tell, deeply involved in the personal. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is a story involving Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Dowager Countess and Vicereine of Sergyar, after the death of her husband of forty years, and Oliver Jole, admiral of the Sergyar fleet, who was Aral’s lover. They were effectively a secret triad marriage, and now the pole that anchored both their worlds is gone.

This is a novel about people in their fifties and seventies deciding who they want to be and what they want to do for the rest of their lives—or at least the next couple of decades. It’s a very quiet, intimate novel: unusually for a Barrayar book, it has nothing that resembles a thriller plot; rather, it is an extended meditation on family, selfhood, choice, and possibility. It’s a novel about futures and legacies, about accumulated choices and the new choices that open up even after loss.

It is really quite remarkable.

Tanya Huff’s An Ancient Peace (out now from DAW in the US and Titan in the UK) is a lot less personal and intimate. But damn is it a hell of a lot of fun. It’s space opera—or at least I’d classify it as space opera—and it stars former Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr, the main character of Huff’s “Valour” series, after the war she spent her career (and after) fighting is over. But there’s still work for a former gunnery sergeant and a small team of ex-soldiers (and one or two civilians), even if most of them are suffering from some form of PTSD: stopping some grave robbers from unearthing the Very Dangerous Weapons of one of the elder alien species who have since given up violence. Things explode. There is snarky banter, and some commentary on trauma. It is satisfying and entertaining and just downright fun.

The problem with Emily Foster’s The Drowning Eyes (forthcoming as part of the Tor.com Publishing novella programme in January) is that it’s frustratingly short. It has great characters, but it feels more like the first third of a novel plus an epilogue instead of something complete in its own right. Sailors! Weather magic! Raiders! Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed what there is of it, but I rather wanted more.

This could be a flaw in me, though. I don’t read a lot of novellas. Perhaps they are often too short?

Gun Brooke’s Pathfinder (Bold Strokes Books, November 2015) is also frustrating, but in a far different way to The Drowning Eyes. Pathfinder is marketed as lesbian science fiction romance. While the prose is acceptable, the novel as a whole is basically made of plothole, poorly thought-through (or at least poorly explained) worldbuilding, and characters who make really illogical decisions based on feelings of loyalty and attraction that the narrative spends very little time establishing. I want to be enthusiastic about science fiction novels with a large cast of women, some of whom end up kissing other women, but Pathfinder rather fails the “this makes any sense” test. Does anyone know of novels in this line that aren’t made of wooden worldbuilding and plothole?

That’s what I’ve been reading. What’s good with you?

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. She has recently completed a doctoral dissertation in Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter.

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