Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Read July 2018
Recommended for fans of Pollyanna, sloppy stories
★    ★   

Here’s the part where you think I’m going to eat my words. But I don’t think I have to: think of it as being able to love Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back, but not Return of the Jedi. In fact, it’s nearly exactly like that.

In this book, Chambers seems to think people are basically this:

description

random hippie commune

 

Or, as in my analogy:

description

happy Ewok village, livin’ the simple life

 

But they aren’t. People are basically beings with a variety of upbringings, chemical soups, and experiences. Which often suck. Except in this book, where they don’t suck. Sure, humans might be tired, or selfish, or cranky, or scared. But they’ll feel guilty, or talk it out at the end of the day, or Do The Right Thing (TM), and basically respect each other’s right to be people. Chambers has forgotten that out in the world, there is this:

 

description

creepy molester and criminal boss

 

Or this:

description

Beings willing to capture your ass for money and sell you to the highest bidder

 

But hey! I’m usually an At-Least-You-Have-a-Glass-of-Water kind of person, so I could have gotten on board with a book that tended to forget about the more dysfunctional among us, if only the narrative hadn’t been so disjointed. We followed a bunch of different people doing a bunch of different things. I get the agenda: show the microcosm of experience through the individual and let it gestalt into a whole picture of how a civilization coped with diaspora. Except it doesn’t, not at all.

The story begins with a woman, Tessa, and her small child, Aya, and ends on Aya’s scream. It then switches point of view to Isabel the Archivist as she films the scene at a horrible space accident. It switches again to that of Eyas, a professional undertaker, a ceremonial and practical position, as she and her colleagues try to comprehend how they will process forty-three thousand bodies on the fragile eco-system of the space station. We jump to young Kip and his dad as they witness the arrival of the alien Aeluons who will help, then jump again to the human Sawyer, on his home installation, witnessing a group of Exodans mourning the disaster. The space accident frames our introduction to these people, but in an odd way, has very little influence on the story. I rather missed the fallout (ha!) when I realized Chambers had moved on to another story.

I really could have gotten behind the stories of these people. Not Kip, because his is the story of the adolescent-on-the-verge-of-adulthood, and I don’t care very much about that story, and Chambers brings exactly nothing new to it to keep me interested. And honestly, not so much Tessa, because Tessa’s the core of most women’s lit-fic where a woman is just raising her family the best she can while her partner is far, far away. My interest in Sawyer’s story was limited by his devastating naivete, kind of like Luke when he first goes to the space station, only Sawyer doesn’t have anyone watching out for him, so it’s pretty obvious he’s going to Fall In With Bad People. But Eyas’ involvement in ritualized death and organic reclamation is vaguely interesting, as is Isabel’s general work, along with her guest, the alien ethnologist. 

Which, now that I count, amounts to two stories that were really interesting and a couple that were vaguely interesting, and one that was annoying. The book might have still worked for me if it was told a bit more like the first one, a series of episodes, or of vinettes that gave insight into each character, but the chapters frequently ended on a sort of emotional or plot cliffhanger. It was a poor choice, because it disrupted the character build and ruined the plot build. Frequently, the ‘resolution’ would be finding out the aftermath of how something was managed, not the actual scene where it played out. Contributing further to the sense of disjointedness, Chambers also resorts to a device from the first book, and gives a sort of alien journalist-historical entry perspective at the beginning of each of the seven sections.

Ultimately, I could have gotten behind a rose-colored-glasses look at a human exodus from Earth, had it been better told, or with more interesting characters. For the most part, these were too small to tell such a big story, trying too hard to wrap the breadcrumbs of everyday life into world events. I lost interest about halfway through and resorted to skimming. I thought I’d keep it around and try giving it a more serious go, but someone else in the library system wants it, and frankly, they’re welcome to it.

I might try it again, but only in the way that I try custard every few years, to see if it is still as uninteresting as the last time I tried it. And the same way I watch Return of the Jedi, which is to say, hardly at all, and only if I’m feeling particularly completionist (I just quit after Han is freed, naturally.)

 

 

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Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of Murderbot, AIs
★    ★   ★    ★    

“Or Miki was a bot who had never been abused or lied to or treated with anything but indulgent kindness. It really thought its humans were its friends, because that’s how they treated it.
I signaled Miki I would be withdrawing for one minute. I needed to have an emotion in private.”

Murderbot returns for a third and autumnal installment. ‘Bot is a little more experienced, but honestly is making some familiar mistakes. As we all do, really, but I guess I expect more from a heartless killing machine. In this installment, ‘Bot is heading to a “terraforming” installation abandoned by the corporation GrayCris, hoping to find data for the fight between GrayCris and Dr. Mensah. Unfortunately, it means integrating itself into an exploration team that already includes an A.I.:

“When I called it a pet robot, I honestly thought I was exaggerating. This was going to be even more annoying than I had anticipated, and I had anticipated a pretty high level of annoyance, maybe as high as 85 percent. Now I was looking at 90 percent, possibly 95 percent.”

I enjoyed it, but I don’t know that it covered much new ground. The situation gave Murderbot insight into another kind of AI-human relationships, but plotting felt fairly familiar. I’m still not convinced of ‘Bot’s logic circuits, but do think ‘Bot is a much better A.I. than other characterizations (thinking of Sea of Rust here). I also felt questions raised about the amount of  processing ‘Bot was doing at certain points.

However, Wells always manages to tap me in the feels along with engaging the brain-pan. She’s good like that. I’m glad she’s finally getting some long-overdue popular recognition (as opposed to her early Hugo-Neb nominated works), because I’d like to see her financially secure enough to keep dreaming up worlds.

If you like ‘Bot and bots, you may also enjoy A Closed and Common Orbit (it really does stand alone), another A.I. book. If you think you enjoy Wells, I highly encourage you to give her other books a try, except she’s a tricky one, and many of her books are very, very different from one another from the vaguely neo-Edwardian England Necromancer to the matriarchal fantasy world of the Raksura. Find one that appeals and go with that.

 

 

 

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Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Read September 2018
Recommended for 
★     ★    ★    

 

It’s quite, so very, very twee.

The good stuff: it is very charming. There’s a sweet romance. There are men bicycling. There are feisty ladies. And I wasn’t inclined to either fall asleep or throw the book once.

There’s a very Edwardian England feel about it, all waistcoats, dressing for dinner, carriages, and well-bred women chaperoned when with the opposite sex.  The story surrounds a man who has essentially escaped his family to live under an assumed name as a doctor. His family had wanted him to be a human battery for his sister’s powerful Storm magic, and his escape included enlisting in the ongoing war was preferable to staying at home.

“Small courses came one after another, calling for salad forks, a fish knife, red and white wineglasses. I fell into the smiling countenance I’d learned as a young man, but Grace was smooth as a still pond. My tempestuous sister had grown into a woman who steered a conversation where it pleased her, and it pleased her to bless Beauregard Veterans’ with her approval and our family’s money. Would it please her to leave me where I was, doing what good I could for the world?”

The other stuff: The least grumpy and most real of my complaints surround pacing: there was almost no suspense for the majority of this story. I enjoyed reading when I had time, but once I set it down (duty calls, after all), there would be no drive to pick it back up. I had a feeling all along I knew were it would end, so I didn’t feel particularly moved to continue. In fact, I started and finished an Agatha Christie during the same time frame.

Plot surrounds the emotionally disengaged mystery of the poisoned man, presented in the first chapter; the appearance of Tristan, also from chapter one; the vague mystery of the clouds above soldier’s heads, again, chapter one. Progress on these things is incremental. It is literally at 59% when a major plot point happens that suddenly catapults the story into actual action. The ending includes a (mild spoiler) double cross (which was expected), an explanation to a mystery that our incurious, milquetoast doctor didn’t know existed, and which will literally change the world. Along with the answers to all the other questions, which turns out to have huge implications that we didn’t really understand because no one explained this semi-magical nation to us. These mysteries all wrap in the last 50 pages, which is rather unforgivable considering how huge they are. It is also unbelievable out of tone with the with the rest of the novel. It’s like looking at a room full of Monet haystacks, and turning the corner into a Francisco Goya retrospective. Mental whiplash.

I’ll also throw out there that Doctor Miles Singer (aka Sir Christopher Miles Hensley) is absolutely the most clueless doctor in the history of doctor detecting. Although he’s apparently been a psychiatrist for thirteen years, he’s just absolutely baffled by these mysterious clouds above some of the returning soldiers’ heads and he can’t seem to make a connection between that and their illness. Initially, I put all of this down to world-building, ie., me not yet understanding some complexity. But since he (spoiler) partially solves the problem on an individual level halfway through the book, then solves it on a permanent basis while being chased by guards, that excuse didn’t work. Also, he and his friend Tristan, literally take days to discover the grocer that delivered food to a murdered man and work out how he might have been poisoned. Is this useful? Not particularly. But, yay for answers?

I eye-rolled a tad at the Prince-In-Disguise-Perfect Man, but since we’re talking twee, and since it’s super-sweet instead of dopey or sugar-overload, I’ll allow it. Yes, Tristan is perfect. Yes, it’s insta-love. Be aware.

What does all this result in? Honestly, for a first novel, it’s well done. Not on par with Hounded, by Kevin Hearne, but better than Jim Butcher’s first Dresden novel. Maybe along the lines of Greta Helsing in Strange Practice. Probably, part of the problem is me and genre incompatibility, and the only reason I didn’t call it quits was the medical mystery premise. Had Miles been, I don’t know, an accountant, solving the mystery of where missing funds were, or a legal secretary, or some such, I probably would have successfully avoided it. There was a short time where I was particularly intrigued, wondering if we were going to actually go into post-traumatic stress disorder–which I wondered if Miles had, being so determined to stay flat–but really, Polk’s treatment of it is nothing more than surface level at best. So, your mileage may vary. If you like twee, insta-love and doctors riding around on bicycles in tweed coats, this may work for you. I like my fiction a little edgier, and the bits inserted into the end definitely don’t count.

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Third Girl by Agatha Christie

Read September 2018
Recommended for fans of Christie
★     ★    ★    ★  

Imagine, if you will, being a famous female mystery author. You’ve been publishing for over forty-five years, and you’ve become more than a bit tired of your fans’ favorite detective, the egg-headed Hercule Poirot. What’s a person to do? Try a mystery where there’s no murder, only a confused, drugged twenty-something who is sure she’s committed one. Poirot, of course, has his suspicions early on:

“She is not one who can cope with difficulties. She is not one of those who can see before hand the dangers that must come. She is one of whom others will look round and say, ‘We want a victim. That one will do.'”

I enjoyed this one very much, and intend on acquiring a paper copy. It is quintessential Christie, and while somewhat rooted in the time period (those dirty, sexually ambiguous youth of the 60s is a frequent topic of conversation among the more mature), at least it wasn’t offensively so. Poirot is present from page one, and mystery writer and friend Mrs. Oliver appears not long after. I can’t help but feel as if Christie was having a bit of meta fun in this one, playing off her detective and alter ego against each other. Poirot has just finished a literary magnum opus and feels he needs a new challenge (!). When Mrs. Oliver happens to be involved in this non-mystery, she leaps in, certain ‘real’ detectives ‘do’ things. There’s also the usual commentary about authors and being famous. See what I mean by meta?

“‘Who told this girl about you, Monsieur Poirot?’
‘No one, so far as I know. Naturally, she had heard about me, no doubt.’
Mrs. Oliver thought that ‘naturally’ was not the word at all. What was natural was that Poirot himself was sure that everyone had always heard of him. Actually large numbers of people would only look at you blankly if the name of Hercule Poirot was mentioned, especially the younger generation.”

It’s definitely a slow progression, seeing how there isn’t precisely a known murder. It has the feel of a character study, a more full one than some of her early books. Reminds me perhaps, just a bit, of Crooked House, although the people here are far less eccentric. Many feel quite real, and quite of their time period. There’s more than a little indirect commentary when Poirot uses the pretense of an old war connection to meet with the elderly Sir Roderick. They engage in their remembrances, and after Poirot leaves, Sir Roderick confides to his assistant that he can’t remember who the man is at all, but humored Poirot out of the war connection. It’s a story built on those kind of moments. The build is definitely a ‘think, think,’ kind of story, not at all an action one.

For me, it was a four star read, but I read Christie for very different reasons than most. I’ve been reading her works for over three decades now, and I’m almost positive I’ve read all of the Poirot and Marple more than a few times. Still, I was never methodical about it, so I’m always kind of hoping to run into one I might have missed. Because of that, most the stories never reach the type of suspense a brand-new mystery does–not that they aren’t good, or enjoyable as one watches the intricate puzzle pieces click into place–but I don’t need to finish them. As I’ve aged, I’ve noted that Christie often relies on a cultural characterization of ‘madness’ that is more than a bit outdated. However, on reflection, I realize it’s more often a red herring, like something her readers expect her to address but she then subverts. I mostly read Christie because she’s really a marvelously intricate character writer who does so much with a few choice words. It’s a pleasure for the little grey cells.

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Spares by Michael Marshall Smith. Not spare. Quite full, actually.

Read September 2018
Recommended for fans of sci fi and detectives
★     ★    ★    ★    1/2

Calling Spares a ‘hard-boiled detective’ story is like calling Ben&Jerry’s Wavy Gravy ‘chocolate swirl ice cream.’ Sure. I guess, if you ignore philosophy, organics, ingredients, and taste.

I mean, there lead is an ex-cop, ex-soldier; pretty standard; just replace the bottle of Scotch with a foil-wrapped pouch of Rapt. Usually.

“Then on an afterthought I reached behind me and took down a bottle of Jack Daniels. Actually, it wasn’t an afterthought. It had been a first thought and an in-between thought. I’d been trying to make it an ex-thought, but something inside me gave up.”

The damsel-in-distress is actually six-and-a-half clones escaped from a body Farm, but they’re as innocent and beautiful as the day is long. And the corrupt, dirty big city is a former two-hundred story flying MegaMall that landed in New Richmond, Virginia, and instead of districts or burroughs, we have floors–above 100 is the most rarified air. But the mob scene is pretty standard, as is the drug trade and the street whores, so who knows? Maybe its just like Sam Spade. Practically the same thing.

 

Except I just never know where Marshall Smith is going to take his stories, and that’s a thing of beauty. As a side note, though Marshall Smith often seems to fall into ‘sci-fi,’ he’s about as sci-fi as Philip K. Dick. He’s more interested in dreaming up concepts for plotting and social commentary, not for actual future-civilization possibility. I admit, I myself stuttered at the clone farm, but you know, it is a bit like a drug trip. You just surrender control and see where the conductor takes you.

The lead, Jack Randall, is a deeply troubled character, a classic Failed Knight. He’s a complex character, often stumbling when you wish he would rise, and often making the choices that keep him running in place. He shows an awareness of his flawsSome readers may not find him a likable character. But I found him a deeply human, albeit damaged one, with a sense of humor that appealed. I laughed as he questioned a hipster artist.

“Socializing,” I said. “Who did she hang out with?”
“Her friends, of course,” Golson said, clearly baffled. I checked my mental question gun, and found I only had about two patience bullets left. After that, it was going to be live ammunition.
“Okay. You, who the fuck else?” I asked.
“Well, Mandy and Val and Zaz and Ness and Del and Jo and Kate.”
My last patience bullet. “Remember any guys’ names?”

It gets a little strange when the situation requires going into the Gap, a surreal place and the site of the conflict/war that so damaged Randall when he was younger. I felt strongly the echoes of Platoon here, and all the ‘realistic’ Vietnam movies of the 1980s (the book was written in 1996). I won’t say anything more, but that reading requires a tolerance for getting weird. Think Annihilation, with more plot and better self-analysis.

“I believe The Gap is made up of all of the places where no one is, of all the sights no one sees. It comes from silence, and lack, and the deleted and unread; it is the gap between what you want and what you have, between love and affection, between hope and truth. It’s the place where crooked cues come from, and it’s the answer to a question: Does a tree exist when there’s no one there to perceive it?”

This was his second published novel, and you can see the genesis of some of the ideas he likes to play with. A talking refrigerator and the abilities of cats both make an appearance, albeit peripheral. Optioned by Dreamworks, this seems to be languishing in development, which is probably fine. I’m old-fashioned that way.

Overall, very good. I even had a tear in my eye when I finished, which may or may not have been hormones, but is more likely for an intriguing story that went from a noir mystery to a journey of redemption. There’s certainly problems, and as a reader, I’m left thinking about different aspects that were perhaps resolved in untidy ways, but that’s life, isn’t it?

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Blindsight by Peter Watts

Read September 2018
Recommended for fans of hard sci-fi
★     ★    ★    ★    1/2

This is a very dense book, packed with ideas. Although Watts mentions he’s a biologist by training, you wouldn’t know it, between all the astronomical events, the neurological side effects of radiation and methane exposure, and the philosophy of consciousness. It also is not an easy book. I ended up waiting to finish it on a vacation day, where the book and I could spend as much time as we needed. In this way, it reminded me a great deal of Miéville’s Embassytown.

The narrative is fragmented into pieces, alternating between a linear description of a sort of first-contact event, and fragments of Siri Keeton’s life, primarily from his youth and from his only romantic relationship. This is a future Earth where most people have been genetically engineered before birth. As they age, more and more people are choosing to join Heaven, a type of virtual reality for their consciousness, allowing their bodies to be stored elsewhere once they commit. Siri was an epileptic, and had half his brain removed to prevent further seizures. It left him with a curious sense of distance, which he developed into a skill, becoming a professional Synthesist. When an alien invention surveys Earth, a group of people are sent to the most likely place the aliens are lurking. Siri is part of that team as a professional observer.

It’s a complicated story, and while Watts does eventually provide many of the explanations (details on Heaven, details on vampires), it a faceted kind of story; you have to hold all these images in your mind and hope that they’ll coalesce at some point. They mostly do, although there’s a few spots when I think Watts has a few too many pieces to make into a coherent pattern. I was hoping for some sense of ‘ah-ha,’ but am instead left with a sense of both stretchy-ness and ‘hmm.’

I will say that the first contact bits turned out to be absolutely fascinating, as well as the ideas of magnetic atmosphere and methane gases causing issues. His discussions on game theory and first contact are depressing as hell.

Of the Goodreads reviews, I would point you towards mark monday’s, who addresses the philosophical angle Watts seemed to be heading toward. Lightreads also has an uncharacteristically long, but characteristically brilliant, review that includes a nice note of what the reader is in for, as well as a long segment of Watt’s writing. I happen to agree with Lightreads, that I’m guessing it would read best if one is conversant with some of the -ologies in the book. Off the top of my head, linguistics, astronomy, philosophy, evolution, neurology, biology, and physics all play parts in the story.

I particularly enjoyed Watt’s general insights and elaborations at the end of the story. In a way, they are mini-essays that are the foundation of the book, including ‘Sleight of Mind’ (hacking the brain), ‘Are We There Yet’ (the space travel insight), alien anatomy and physiology, and ‘Sentience/Intelligence,’ all of which are heavily footnoted, usually with articles or journals. I laughed at footnote #130: “This validates me, and I wish it happened more often. ¹³°

130: I am by nature insecure. I blame bad parenting.”

 

 

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Blood Challenge by Eileen Wilks

Read September 2018
Recommended for fans of kick-ass women, myths, shapeshifters
★     ★    ★    ★  

Another surprisingly solid entry in the Lily Yu series. I say ‘surprising,’ not because Wilks a bad writer–she’s definitely not–but because my expectations for UF series have been so consistently lowered that I’ve abandoned almost all (Kate Daniels is the exception, natch).

My library system didn’t have Blood Challenge, which lead to the purchase of a dead tree copy. Now my indecision is do I help them complete their collection? Or save it for myself? There’s a solid degree of re-readability to this series; as I mentioned, Wilks has a nice sophistication in writing style, with a balance between world-building, action plotting, and romance.

Oh yes; I said it. The ‘R’ word. It’s here and it’s really, really, sweet. From the established couple dynamics between Lily and Rule, to the new discovery of a relationship between an old favorite and a brand new one. If it just seems too… annoying that the magic of the insta-bond Chosen comes up again, rest assured that Wilks has a reason.

I’ll be honest: the main plot felt almost exactly like one of the earlier books–I will spoil which one–(spoiler–one) with substitutions of side characters. But I’ll totally forgive that because it still works.

This book also brings out the idea of an overarching, multi-book plot, with a powerful enemy working against the Lupi. As I mentioned in my review of Magic Triumphs review (Kate Daniels), there’s some good and bad in that, when it comes to series. One consideration is that the mythology of the world has enlarged with each book, with more pieces put into place in each installment. This book in particular makes it clear that there’s a purpose between these seemingly dramatic but individual developments such as Rule’s assuming two mantles.

Overall, an interesting and enjoyable series that’s a bit like a favorite comforter. I’m not really moved to wrap up in it and never leave the couch, but there’s a comforting element of reliability when I’m in the mood.

 

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Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson

Read September 2018
Recommended for fans of FBI, vamps
★     1/2   

Cross The X-Files with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you’ll about have it.

I kind of liked Olson’s book, Midnight Curse, so when a fellow reader mentioned this as one of her favorite books of the year, I was tempted, then further interested by the description of ‘gritty,’ which would, I felt, potentially cancel out some of the silliness in Midnight Curse. While this was not silly, it was also not that interesting.

I can totally see it as a pilot for a new television series starring a pair of hunky young best friends and FBI agents, and an attractive, willowy, curvy (both descriptors are used) vampire woman who acts as their ‘consultant’ on a recent spate of kidnappings and killings, presumably done by vampires. It’s surprisingly generic storyline: substitute ‘serial killer’ for ‘vampire’ (there’s even a scene that overtly references Hannibal Lector) and it would flow as readily.

World-building is straightforward, although vamps are for some reason called ‘shades.’ It’s a time where the public is aware of them, vaguely, yet somehow doesn’t care all that much. The government is vaguely working on defining as to whether or not they are ‘human’ and thus citizens (apparently this process is limited because they don’t have a dead vamp to autopsy). They are super-human fast, can live centuries, and their eyes turn red with blood-lust. 

Plot points include the creepy serial killer vampire who is a prisoner and indirect ‘consultant,’ the mandatory speech by the Head Bad Guy in which he reveals his bizarro plans for world domination, and obligatory attraction between leads (sadly, not the two FBI BFFs).

Oh, and let’s not forget the predominantly white, male cast.C haracterization falls along the lines of television-episode generic, with one or two characteristics standing in for personhood. Interestingly, there’s a lot of description given to a Chinese woman who is their tech consultant, and an African American guy who is in charge of the vamp prisoner, but very little description given to Alex, the male lead. So Olson fails the awareness test by only bothering to make sex/description a point when people are different

I think what makes it ‘gritty’ is that there’s a very high body count of good guys, bad guys, and innocents, and people feel bad about it at the end. But there’s no shades of grey here, or moral ambiguity, or dusty Western wind, or whatever makes something ‘gritty.’ It’s straightforward and clean as a crew cut.

So the last chapter has a mild cliff-hanger, and the epilogue has a major one. This seems to be a novella length book, capitalizing on the recent spate of Tor-published books made for quick reads, à la Murderbot and The Dispatcher. This, while competently written, doesn’t really bring any new ideas to the table, but if you are a vampire fan, or fan of the FBI investigation set-up, you could do worse.

 

The day-after update: not for me. Definitely not for me. 

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Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

Read September 2018
Recommended for fans of kick-ass women, myths, shapeshifters
★     ★    ★     ★  

The last book in a ten-book series. By all means, don’t start here. However, I do recommend reading this series if you enjoy ass-kicking sword-fighters, unusual but accessible world-building, and well-rounded characters. The cast also includes vampires–with quite a different take–shapeshifters, and a wide variety of myths.

Still, I’m not sad the Kate Daniels series is ending. It’s odd to me, in a way, that we look for overarching plots in our entertainment, as if the story needs to make sense from one book to the next, and each installment moving towards a grand finale. Though I do it as well, it is odd, because that isn’t life at all: there is not one overarching mission, some enemy to vanquish before heading into the sunset, some gold ring to obtain before retirement to a village. So Kate and Curran will head into the sunset, and readers will certainly hear more about them through many of the formerly peripheral characters.

What’s good here? As always, the Andrews know how to write a plot and keep the momentum going. Sometimes it’s almost as if there is too much going on, but you definitely won’t be bored. As always, there is a fascinating mix of mythology, but more importantly for the end of the series, most of the important members players at least get a chance to stop by. We get the usual one or two butt-kicking scenes, and an obligatory sex scene or two. Well, probably love scene. The issues with the series-long villain are nicely resolved, and there was an angle to it that was both unexpected and welcome. I did like the role of Kate’s aunt.

Parts of this book feel a little underwritten, a far cry from the days of books two and three where more details about the world were shared. I think Andrews have adopted that style on purpose, but I admit I miss some of the depth. The world seems to be more magic than tech these days. Kate and Curran have settled into their relationship, so there’s less of that drama, although there’s still the ‘I want to keep you safe,’ and ‘no, I want to keep you safe’ arguments. Their little tyke is growing, and I was kind of disappointed to see Kate become an anxious mom rushing him off to Dolittle all the time, while Curran was a relaxed dad.

Overall, satisfied, with a solid wrap-up and an intriguing ending. Read in a day, as always. It’s not really the kind of book you want to set down, and it’s generally an undemanding read. A series not to be missed for those who enjoy fantasy and interesting, tough women fighting for a cause.

 

 

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The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark

Read September 2018
Recommended for fans of N’Orleans, orphans
★     ★    ★     ★  

Fabuleux. If you have a thing for thieving street orphans  or the power of New Orleans, I highly recommend giving it a read.

Creeper is a street orphan in the polyglot city of New Orleans. She loves her city but also has dreams of traveling the world. While she’s casing out the passengers arriving by recent airship, her hiding space is usurped by a gang of men. They’re talking treason, smuggling someone from Haiti and bringing an awful weapon into the neutral zone that is New Orleans.

“Les Grand Murs were built by Dutchmen to protect against the storms that come every year. Not the regular hurricanes neither, but them tempêtes noires that turn the skies into night for a whole week. I was born in one of the big ones some thirteen years back in 1871. The walls held in the Big Miss but the rain and winds almost drowned the city anyway, filling it up like a bowl…She said I was Oya’s child–the goddess of storms, life, death, and rebirth, who came over with her great-grandmaman from Lafrik, and who runs strong in our blood.”

Though dialect writing often annoys me, once I accustomed myself to the made-up words and the accents, I was able to immerse myself in the story. One of the weaknesses, however, is that some of the information about the political situation of New Orleans doesn’t feel as well-integrated as I would like. Though Clark tries to avoid info-dumping, the end result is a more confused situation. The world is obviously well-thought out, with a great deal of thought into the politics of 17th and 18th century colonialism and empire-building, but it mostly ended up being so much filler for me. That’s me and history, however.

There’s a fairly wide cast of characters for a novella, although the emphasis is on the right ones. I thought the main characters of Creeper and Captain Ann-Marie are well-developed, and I’ll add Clark (who I thought was a woman) to the short list of Men Who Write Women as People. There’s a couple of little jabs in here about the value of education. A pair of nuns provide a little comic relief as well as the semi-divine mechanism for solving the situation.

There’s some of the smallest seeds of similarity with River of Teeth (time period, a different version of the Mississippi Delta, non-normative sexualities), but this is exponentially better. Every criticism I had there was improved here. Cross Foundryside with River of Teeth, and perhaps the tiniest bit of Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. I’ll definitely be looking for more by Clark.

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