[reading] What have you read recently? (continued)

I liked how balanced Philippa Gregory was about Richard III, albeit the addition of witches.
 
Some more historical:

The Genevieve Planché series, by Nancy Bilyeau

The Blue
An OK historical, although it came across as rather modern in sensibilities. I also found the science a bit on the shaky side - aluminium was not discovered until 1825, I suspect the author actually meant alum or alumina which were known since antiquity.

Light but a reasonable holiday read.

The Fugitive Colours
Sequel to The Blue. Again, a reasonable historical read, and to my mind, better than the first.

Light but enjoyable.

Subject Alpha, by Helen Ingle

A surprisingly slow-feeling technothriller with psionics. I think the impression of slowness was down to the third-party point of view, which made the book read more like a script with stage directions rather than a story. I would have preferred a story more in first-party point of view style.

In terms of the story, although it’s not something I would normally go for, it rattled along entertainingly enough, I have no quarrel with that. The writing was reasonable (apart from the style choice), with no real howlers that I noticed. The world-building is modern-day dystopian, with elements of the X-Files and Robo Cop. To some extent it reads a bit like a write-up of a RPG campaign, although I don’t think the plot would work!

An OK read, suitable for light reading over a weekend.
 
The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan
Nearly finished this and it was a total page - turner. GH is a well-respected GM and writer (Eyes of the Stone Thief etc.)
The premise is based on something JRRT alluded to - what if the Ring had been used and - what happened after. The Barad-Dur would have been occupied and looted for starters. What about the orcs? Were they all "just naughty boys?"
This is what this book examines. The Dark Lord was defeated 20 years ago. What happened to all of his dark and evil servants? What about the heroes what done him in? Why didn't the immortal Elves get too involved with the affairs of mortals?
And finally - why entrust the most powerful weapon in the land to the person who a) doesn't want it, and b) is really thick as two short planks?
By the way - this is not a comedy.
But it is gripping stuff
 
Well, finally finished ploughing my way through the Valdemar books in the Humble Bundle (which still has 6 days to run). I’m not going to comment on the individual books; that would be going too far.

My overall impressions are:
  • Strongly YA
  • Borderline twee in places
  • Heavy emphasis on coming of age stories in most of the books
  • Magic ponies!
  • Too good to be true
  • Fairly formulaic
  • Larry Dixon’s illustrations look like ghoulish smudges in epub and stylistically look very dated now.
So, the magic pony trope coupled with coming of age storylines makes a good half of the sub-series a bit of a slog to read, and along with the strong YA writing makes for a distinct thread of tweeness. I am also reminded of Worldcon masquerades in the costume descriptions for the next-thing-to-elves tribespeople.

In terms of the sub-series:

The Mage Wars Trilogy: OK. The first 2 were better than the third IMO.
The Last Herald Mage Trilogy: OK.
The Collegium Chronicles: Too much of a slog. A fantasy version of Harry Potter and could have happily been condensed into 2 or 3 books instead of 5.
The Herald Spy Trilogy: Directly following the Collegium Chronicles, they came across as more adult in feel.
The Family Spies Trilogy: Very twee. Focuses on the Herald Spy’s children’s coming of age.
Brightly Burning: a stand-alone. So-so; another coming of age, came across as Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
The Vows and Honour Trilogy: these are more like anthologies focussing on some non-Valdemarans. They are much more adult in feel, and probably the books I enjoyed most.
The Alberic Duology: Again, more adult in feel than the other books.
Take a Thief: another stand-alone, rather Oliver Twist in feel. Not too bad.
The Heralds of Valdemar Trilogy: what started this series off. Despite being obviously YA, they came across as more mature, probably because when they were first published YA wasn’t much of a thing.
By the Sword: a stand-alone and along with Vows and Honour and Alberic, one of better books.
The Mage Winds Trilogy: a curious mixture of a coming of age story and your typical fantasy quest against the big bad. This is where the elves with the serial numbers filed off start taking centre stage and I found them a right bunch of poncey gits.
The Mage Storms Trilogy: Oddly, despite the poncey not-elves this wasn’t bad, as we see the Eastern Empire.
Darien’s Tale trilogy: loads of poncey not-elves plus coming of age made these rather tedious.

Reading the whole series (apart from the recent books not in the bundle) did make it look like a franchise. I don’t think it started like that; over the years it’s expanded. I thought the first dozen or so to be published the best, then the next dozen weren’t as good. Then we got the Alberich Duology which were good, then we got the tedious slog of The Collegium Chronicles, Herald Spy and Family Spies (all linked). It remains to be seen whether I bother with The Founding of Valdemar Trilogy and the new trilogy; it depends if they get released in the UK market.

I’m considering whether to dip into the anthologies; they are mostly fairly decent fan-fic, along with some novellas written by Lackey. Unfortunately, they aren’t available as ebooks in the UK; Lackey did collect her Tamra and Kethry shorts in Oathblood (Vows and Honour 3), but so far not her other in canon shorts. This is actually something of an omission; events in these are referred to in later books with no way of reading them unless you have the paperbacks. The major piece of missing canon is the novella ‘Sun in Glory’ which has a lot of referencing in the Mage Winds Trilogy.

Overall: worth reading, but in general not worth paying full price for, especially for the later published books. So head off to Humble Bundle and get the whole deal for less than 50p/book (it was still worth it for me even though I effectively had 9 books from a Kindle Deal).
 
Well, finally finished ploughing my way through the Valdemar books in the Humble Bundle (which still has 6 days to run).

Another thing that jars in this series is what is effectively a Fated Mate trope. The Companions 'choose' their Heralds, and from what I can see there doesn't seem to be an opt-out for the Chosen. That's actually touched on in the first Alberich book - despite being rescued from certain death by his Companion, Alberich points out he wasn't given any choice. As a loyal citizen of Karse, he may have accepted his fate - he had witch powers and knew what the penalty was.

Given the young age of the Chosen (usually early teens, sometimes younger, rarely adult), this does open up a huge can of worms about informed consent. It's like the Companions are deliberately choosing someone who cannot refuse and who they can manipulate.

I'd like to see some exploration of this dichotomy - the Valdemarans are big on freedom, but Chosen don't seem to have the freedom to not choose.
 
A couple of LTER giveaways:

Kari Sperring: The Book of Gaheris
A well-crafted collection of Sperring’s Arthurian novellas focussing on Gaheris of Orkney and his relationship with his brothers and their interactions with the Pellinore family. Very much to my taste, the novellas focus on the psychology rather than the more familiar High Victorian melodrama. I am reminded of Phyllis Ann Karr’s Idylls of the Queen. This collection fills out the earlier novellas Rose Knot and Serpent Rose and adds additional material making more of a seamless story.

Kim Lakin: Sparks Flying
A varied anthology from Kim Lakin. This is more horror SF adjacent than fantasy, although there are a couple of historical fantasies and a Southern Gothic, most stories are SF or steampunk. The stories had interesting enough settings and weren’t too horrific in tone for my tastes despite some cinematic violence. The main issues were some fairly obvious spell checker errors which were a bit jarring. A decent enough read.
 
Various reviews since my last update:

The Chinese Time Machine by Ian Watson (LTER giveaway)
A rather fun SF anthology which includes the 4 Chinese Time Machine stories. These are something of a mash-up of The Time Machine and various fictional universes (Barsoom and Sherlock Holmes) or more actual events (kidnapping Fibonnaci to prevent the rise of European capitalism or preventing Napolean’s death on St Helena). Very tongue in cheek! The other stories range from downright bizarre to more straight SF. Rather fun and recommended!

The Purpose of Reality: Lunar by Steve Simpson
Poetry again. I’m not really enjoying it, so it’s DNF. It’s too abstract for my tastes and not doing anything for me.

Born of Elven Blood by Kevin J Anderson
Twee. Very YA, even though the heroine is supposedly 16, she felt and acted much younger. The writing too was very simplistic in style, I’ve said it was aimed at younger children not teenagers.

So-so, probably not worth bothering with unless it’s effectively a freebie (which it was for me - it was part of a bundle containing other books I wanted.

A Cast of Crows by Danielle Ackley-McPhail (LTER giveaway)
An anthology of steampunk stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. A reasonable read although I thought some stories were more about the aesthetic than the world-building. Having said that, I appreciate it’s difficult to do much in the way of world-building in a short story. As ever with multi-author anthologies, the selection is something of a mixed bag. At least with short stories one doesn’t like much, it’s easy to finish them without the read feeling like a chore. Probably a collection that appeals more to steampunk fans, but otherwise an OK read.

The Ship Whisperer (anthology containing the eponymous story) by Julie Nováková
An interesting SF anthology obtained as part of of the Kickstarter reward for the Life Beyond Us campaign. I hadn’t come across any of Nováková‘s fiction before, and enjoyed it very much. It would be interesting to see some longer fiction.

Recommended.

Magic Tides by Ilona Andrews
After leaving Atlanta, Kate Daniels settles with her husband and son in Wilmington, looking for a quiet life without the issues she faced in Atlanta. Alas, a quiet life just isn’t going to happen - trouble comes calling.

Fun.

Magic Claims by Ilona Andrews
Following on from the events of Magic Tides, retirement isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Kate and Curran have to step up to help their new community - and end up with Kate starting to fulfil her destiny as Roland’s daughter and heir.

Recommended.

Multi-Species Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures by Christoph Rupprecht
An anthology of climate-based fiction in the same mould as the 2 Solarpunk anthologies.

Lyrical and thought-provoking, these stories are set on Earth where climate change has altered life as we know it.

Recommended.

The Blackheart Blades by David Gullan (LTER giveaway)
Odd. A fantasy novella about a hopeless defence against overwhelming odds. Rather whimsical in tone, it comes across a bit like the offspring of Call My Bluff, Hell’s Kitchen, and The Song of Roland all filtered by Shakespeare. And it ends happily (mostly). I don’t think this will be to everyone’s taste. An OK read.

The Red Scholar's Wake by Aliette de Bodard
Rather fun. A love story set in the Xuya universe with themes of treachery, honour, duty and desire, written in Bodard’s lush prose. The only thing I found a bit jarring was the start of the love plot; that came across as a bit on the insta-lust trope.

Recommended.

Ithaca by Claire North (NetGalley eARC)
A rather slow retelling of Penelope on Ithaka waiting for the return of Odysseus. Nicely done, and largely told from the point of view of Hera, it weaves Penelope’s story with the Oresteia, and has a feminist perspective: what happens when women are left behind when their men do not return from war.

I felt it could have been a bit faster paced, and the internal monologue did slow things a lot; but having the point of view being a goddess meant that the scene could shift elsewhere without breaking immersion. Set at the end of the Bronze Age, Hera is much reduced from her position as Great Mother; she has lost agency to Zeus in parallel with the reduced position of women in general. Women with agency are deplored as not being womanly.

I did like this, although I found the pacing a bit slow.

House of Odysseus by Claire North (NetGalley eARC)
The sequel to Ithaca. Another retelling of Homeric myth from the perspective of Penelope, this time narrated by Aphrodite.

Orestes and Elektra return to Ithaka on pilgrimage. Menaleus of Sparta follows - Orestes is mad, and he has an eye on Mycaenae. Penelope has to deal with all this, keeping the status quo and preserving her good name and Odysseus’ kingdom.

Very much in the same style as Ithaka, but didn’t seem to lag as much, and read much faster.

Recommended.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (NetGalley eARC)
A SF story with barely a human in sight - only mentioned in passing. The last in the Galactic Commons series.

While at a transit point on a planetside domed habitat run by an alien and her child, 4 ships crewed by 4 other different alien species have a longer than expected layover when an orbital disaster takes out the communications network. This how tensions between the races work out without spilling into violence.

A good story but I found it something of a difficult read; I found it hard to keep the species straight when each chapter is told from a different PoV, and all get more-or-less equal billing. I think I would have preferred more of a single PoV, like CJ Cherryh’s Chanur series. The differences in psychology and physiology made it hard to get into the story with the frequent switches.

A good story let down by the structure.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Got this as part of the 2019 Hugo Awards packet. I ran out of time to read it for the voting, but have finally read it. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have rated it for an award.

It’s mid-series, and frankly it shows. I also found the world-building somewhat suspect; the local religions seem to be old-style Irish Catholicism with the serial numbers filed off with added dragons and draconoids. It’s also too much of a YA misery memoir; it’s supposed to be uplifting but frankly the ending doesn’t make up for the rest of the story.

Not something I want to continue with.

We Hunt The Flame by Hafsah Faizal (NetGalley eARC)
This was a good story - I think.

It was difficult to tell for sure because of the dreadful writing; it was actively painful to read: short chapters, even shorter sentences, overmuch repetition, far too much introspection to the point of pretentiousness, poor language choices (come on, you do not carry arrows in a sling!), too much untranslated Arabic throughout the text (not that I mind, it’s my cultural background although I haven’t spoken Arabic since I was a child). It’s almost as if it was a machine translation of short pieces loosely tacked together to form a vaguely coherent story or a bulleted list with the bullet points removed.

Stylistically, it read like a Janet and John story - not so much young adult as young child. The pacing was slow, and frankly it could do with a serious make-over by a professional editor.

I will not be in any hurry to read the sequel.

Sing Witch, Sing Death by Roberta Gellis
A fairly standard Regency romance set in Cornwall with Gothic overtones.

A rich West Indian planter’s heiress marries an impoverished Cornish aristocrat. The marriage is not happy and the aristocrat falls in love with his wife’s aristocratic companion. The plot involves the involvement of the local witch covens.

A little incoherent in places, it was a reasonable read with no obvious howlers. The only thing I would cavil at is witchcraft instead of smuggling, and there’s no obvious mention of the Napoleonic Wars.

An Insubstantial Pageant by Sheila Walsh
A title I had not previously found before it was released as an ebook. A Regency romance but not in the usual society setting in England.

Charlotte (Lottie) Weston is the daughter of an English diplomat stationed at a minor German principality. When her father dies unexpectedly, Prince Adolphus arranges for her to marry his Minister of State. Some years later he also dies and Lottie remains in Germany where she has become the companion to the young Crown Princess Sophia. As the society is restricted, they are sent to Vienna to attend the festivities around the Congress where Sophia is to make hef come-out.

Various twists occur; Lottie becomes engaged to an Englishman, Sophia is kidnapped by a scheming Bavarian duke, Prince Paul (Sophia’s uncle) finds he has a heart…

Light but amusing, and doesn’t follow the expected plot.

The Master of Liversedge by Alice Chetwynd Ley
A Regency romance set against the background of the Luddite riots featuring a governess and her pupil’s mill-owning half-brother.

OK, but not entirely my cup of tea.

A Fire Born of Exile by Aliette de Bodard (NetGalley eARC)
Unfortunately, it was only available as a PDF download, which meant the font settings on my Kobo required tweaking.

A novel set in Aliette de Bodard's Xuya Universe setting. It's billed as a Xuya romance, like The Red Scholar's Wake, and isn't linked to any of the other threads in the universe, which are more straight SF.

I found it mildly confusing as characters can have aliases or nicknames - at different stages in life or as part of the literati. Also, there is the Eastern tradition of referring to others by addressing respectfully them as relatives; this can be confusing where actual relatives are also present. I had encountered this phenomenon previously in Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee books, so wasn't phased by it, but it did mean I had to concentrate on the context of the conversation.

Apart from this, it was a rattling good story, better than The Red Scholar's Wake (where I disliked the insta-love trope). The main theme was vengeance against official actions - not necessarily corrupt actions, but overly legalistic actions.

Yes, there was a happy ending!

My Brother's Keeper by Tim Powers (NetGalley eARC)
I love Tim Powers, and was looking forward to this! Given the synopsis, I was half-expecting this to be part of the Romantic Poets and Nephilim sequence, but it seemed more of a stand-alone even though it shares the time-period and subject matter of the previous titles. When I started reading it, my initial reaction was that this would work as a Liminal (table-top roleplaying game) campaign!

It did suffer from a number of fairly obvious typos which I trust will be fixed prior to publication, but they were few enough not to distract from the story (apart from one which made a sentence look like gobbledegook). Unfortunately, this knocks a star off my rating, along with the PDF format (which doesn't always work well on an ereader).

Powers evokes the terrain and weather of the Yorkshire Moors very well, and I saw no obvious errors in the geography and geology (as a child, I used to holiday in what is now the Yorkshire Dales National Park and have a vague memory of my mother taking me to Haworth).

The story is a historical fantasy, retelling the lives of the Brontë siblings with supernatural explanations for their various illnesses and eccentricities. It is very well done, and is set in Haworth between Elizabeth Branwell's death and Emily Brontë's death (the book ends with the latter), although the main action is roughly 1843-1847. The main focus of the action is Emily Brontë, with the other siblings and their father as less in focus.

Recommended.
 
Various reviews since my last update:

The Chinese Time Machine by Ian Watson (LTER giveaway)
A rather fun SF anthology which includes the 4 Chinese Time Machine stories. These are something of a mash-up of The Time Machine and various fictional universes (Barsoom and Sherlock Holmes) or more actual events (kidnapping Fibonnaci to prevent the rise of European capitalism or preventing Napolean’s death on St Helena). Very tongue in cheek! The other stories range from downright bizarre to more straight SF. Rather fun and recommended!

The Purpose of Reality: Lunar by Steve Simpson
Poetry again. I’m not really enjoying it, so it’s DNF. It’s too abstract for my tastes and not doing anything for me.

Born of Elven Blood by Kevin J Anderson
Twee. Very YA, even though the heroine is supposedly 16, she felt and acted much younger. The writing too was very simplistic in style, I’ve said it was aimed at younger children not teenagers.

So-so, probably not worth bothering with unless it’s effectively a freebie (which it was for me - it was part of a bundle containing other books I wanted.

A Cast of Crows by Danielle Ackley-McPhail (LTER giveaway)
An anthology of steampunk stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. A reasonable read although I thought some stories were more about the aesthetic than the world-building. Having said that, I appreciate it’s difficult to do much in the way of world-building in a short story. As ever with multi-author anthologies, the selection is something of a mixed bag. At least with short stories one doesn’t like much, it’s easy to finish them without the read feeling like a chore. Probably a collection that appeals more to steampunk fans, but otherwise an OK read.

The Ship Whisperer (anthology containing the eponymous story) by Julie Nováková
An interesting SF anthology obtained as part of of the Kickstarter reward for the Life Beyond Us campaign. I hadn’t come across any of Nováková‘s fiction before, and enjoyed it very much. It would be interesting to see some longer fiction.

Recommended.

Magic Tides by Ilona Andrews
After leaving Atlanta, Kate Daniels settles with her husband and son in Wilmington, looking for a quiet life without the issues she faced in Atlanta. Alas, a quiet life just isn’t going to happen - trouble comes calling.

Fun.

Magic Claims by Ilona Andrews
Following on from the events of Magic Tides, retirement isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Kate and Curran have to step up to help their new community - and end up with Kate starting to fulfil her destiny as Roland’s daughter and heir.

Recommended.

Multi-Species Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures by Christoph Rupprecht
An anthology of climate-based fiction in the same mould as the 2 Solarpunk anthologies.

Lyrical and thought-provoking, these stories are set on Earth where climate change has altered life as we know it.

Recommended.

The Blackheart Blades by David Gullan (LTER giveaway)
Odd. A fantasy novella about a hopeless defence against overwhelming odds. Rather whimsical in tone, it comes across a bit like the offspring of Call My Bluff, Hell’s Kitchen, and The Song of Roland all filtered by Shakespeare. And it ends happily (mostly). I don’t think this will be to everyone’s taste. An OK read.

The Red Scholar's Wake by Aliette de Bodard
Rather fun. A love story set in the Xuya universe with themes of treachery, honour, duty and desire, written in Bodard’s lush prose. The only thing I found a bit jarring was the start of the love plot; that came across as a bit on the insta-lust trope.

Recommended.

Ithaca by Claire North (NetGalley eARC)
A rather slow retelling of Penelope on Ithaka waiting for the return of Odysseus. Nicely done, and largely told from the point of view of Hera, it weaves Penelope’s story with the Oresteia, and has a feminist perspective: what happens when women are left behind when their men do not return from war.

I felt it could have been a bit faster paced, and the internal monologue did slow things a lot; but having the point of view being a goddess meant that the scene could shift elsewhere without breaking immersion. Set at the end of the Bronze Age, Hera is much reduced from her position as Great Mother; she has lost agency to Zeus in parallel with the reduced position of women in general. Women with agency are deplored as not being womanly.

I did like this, although I found the pacing a bit slow.

House of Odysseus by Claire North (NetGalley eARC)
The sequel to Ithaca. Another retelling of Homeric myth from the perspective of Penelope, this time narrated by Aphrodite.

Orestes and Elektra return to Ithaka on pilgrimage. Menaleus of Sparta follows - Orestes is mad, and he has an eye on Mycaenae. Penelope has to deal with all this, keeping the status quo and preserving her good name and Odysseus’ kingdom.

Very much in the same style as Ithaka, but didn’t seem to lag as much, and read much faster.

Recommended.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (NetGalley eARC)
A SF story with barely a human in sight - only mentioned in passing. The last in the Galactic Commons series.

While at a transit point on a planetside domed habitat run by an alien and her child, 4 ships crewed by 4 other different alien species have a longer than expected layover when an orbital disaster takes out the communications network. This how tensions between the races work out without spilling into violence.

A good story but I found it something of a difficult read; I found it hard to keep the species straight when each chapter is told from a different PoV, and all get more-or-less equal billing. I think I would have preferred more of a single PoV, like CJ Cherryh’s Chanur series. The differences in psychology and physiology made it hard to get into the story with the frequent switches.

A good story let down by the structure.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Got this as part of the 2019 Hugo Awards packet. I ran out of time to read it for the voting, but have finally read it. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have rated it for an award.

It’s mid-series, and frankly it shows. I also found the world-building somewhat suspect; the local religions seem to be old-style Irish Catholicism with the serial numbers filed off with added dragons and draconoids. It’s also too much of a YA misery memoir; it’s supposed to be uplifting but frankly the ending doesn’t make up for the rest of the story.

Not something I want to continue with.

We Hunt The Flame by Hafsah Faizal (NetGalley eARC)
This was a good story - I think.

It was difficult to tell for sure because of the dreadful writing; it was actively painful to read: short chapters, even shorter sentences, overmuch repetition, far too much introspection to the point of pretentiousness, poor language choices (come on, you do not carry arrows in a sling!), too much untranslated Arabic throughout the text (not that I mind, it’s my cultural background although I haven’t spoken Arabic since I was a child). It’s almost as if it was a machine translation of short pieces loosely tacked together to form a vaguely coherent story or a bulleted list with the bullet points removed.

Stylistically, it read like a Janet and John story - not so much young adult as young child. The pacing was slow, and frankly it could do with a serious make-over by a professional editor.

I will not be in any hurry to read the sequel.

Sing Witch, Sing Death by Roberta Gellis
A fairly standard Regency romance set in Cornwall with Gothic overtones.

A rich West Indian planter’s heiress marries an impoverished Cornish aristocrat. The marriage is not happy and the aristocrat falls in love with his wife’s aristocratic companion. The plot involves the involvement of the local witch covens.

A little incoherent in places, it was a reasonable read with no obvious howlers. The only thing I would cavil at is witchcraft instead of smuggling, and there’s no obvious mention of the Napoleonic Wars.

An Insubstantial Pageant by Sheila Walsh
A title I had not previously found before it was released as an ebook. A Regency romance but not in the usual society setting in England.

Charlotte (Lottie) Weston is the daughter of an English diplomat stationed at a minor German principality. When her father dies unexpectedly, Prince Adolphus arranges for her to marry his Minister of State. Some years later he also dies and Lottie remains in Germany where she has become the companion to the young Crown Princess Sophia. As the society is restricted, they are sent to Vienna to attend the festivities around the Congress where Sophia is to make hef come-out.

Various twists occur; Lottie becomes engaged to an Englishman, Sophia is kidnapped by a scheming Bavarian duke, Prince Paul (Sophia’s uncle) finds he has a heart…

Light but amusing, and doesn’t follow the expected plot.

The Master of Liversedge by Alice Chetwynd Ley
A Regency romance set against the background of the Luddite riots featuring a governess and her pupil’s mill-owning half-brother.

OK, but not entirely my cup of tea.

A Fire Born of Exile by Aliette de Bodard (NetGalley eARC)
Unfortunately, it was only available as a PDF download, which meant the font settings on my Kobo required tweaking.

A novel set in Aliette de Bodard's Xuya Universe setting. It's billed as a Xuya romance, like The Red Scholar's Wake, and isn't linked to any of the other threads in the universe, which are more straight SF.

I found it mildly confusing as characters can have aliases or nicknames - at different stages in life or as part of the literati. Also, there is the Eastern tradition of referring to others by addressing respectfully them as relatives; this can be confusing where actual relatives are also present. I had encountered this phenomenon previously in Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee books, so wasn't phased by it, but it did mean I had to concentrate on the context of the conversation.

Apart from this, it was a rattling good story, better than The Red Scholar's Wake (where I disliked the insta-love trope). The main theme was vengeance against official actions - not necessarily corrupt actions, but overly legalistic actions.

Yes, there was a happy ending!

My Brother's Keeper by Tim Powers (NetGalley eARC)
I love Tim Powers, and was looking forward to this! Given the synopsis, I was half-expecting this to be part of the Romantic Poets and Nephilim sequence, but it seemed more of a stand-alone even though it shares the time-period and subject matter of the previous titles. When I started reading it, my initial reaction was that this would work as a Liminal (table-top roleplaying game) campaign!

It did suffer from a number of fairly obvious typos which I trust will be fixed prior to publication, but they were few enough not to distract from the story (apart from one which made a sentence look like gobbledegook). Unfortunately, this knocks a star off my rating, along with the PDF format (which doesn't always work well on an ereader).

Powers evokes the terrain and weather of the Yorkshire Moors very well, and I saw no obvious errors in the geography and geology (as a child, I used to holiday in what is now the Yorkshire Dales National Park and have a vague memory of my mother taking me to Haworth).

The story is a historical fantasy, retelling the lives of the Brontë siblings with supernatural explanations for their various illnesses and eccentricities. It is very well done, and is set in Haworth between Elizabeth Branwell's death and Emily Brontë's death (the book ends with the latter), although the main action is roughly 1843-1847. The main focus of the action is Emily Brontë, with the other siblings and their father as less in focus.

Recommended.
Thanks, some very helpful reviews there about what to try and what to avoid.
I really want to reconnect with current SF and that has helped.
 
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Thanks, some very helpful reviews there about what to try and what to avoid.
I really want to reconnect with current SF and that has helped.

Apologies for the Regency romances then! I’ve always liked Georgette Heyer (apart from her crime fiction), and I read them as a palate cleanser. Here it was because of the Faizal I’d been reading. I don’t read much in the way of hard SF (that’s more Paul’s line), I prefer lighter works.
 
So that's it. Totally up to date on Revelation Space from Alastair Reynolds. That was a great bit of summer reading and I now feel I know the full picture to date.

Not going to spoil anything but they are great non FTL space opera with exciting cultural, political and science ideas, good plots and adventures. Some science that made me stretch my brane cells (pun) and stuff I shall borrow for my Traveller games.

8.5/10
 
Secret Hours by Mick Herron is low beat pensive nostalgic and beautifully explains a whole lot of everything one needs to know. We had already been primed for it, and it's nicely done.

It's not the chaotic cluster effs of most Slow Horses books, but rather a slower pace more reminiscent of a Le Carré.

This was the BBC Sounds reading. It's abridged by about 80% so I shall read the novel itself when the price falls to my acceptable price point.

7/10
.
 
Secret Hours by Mick Herron is low beat pensive nostalgic and beautifully explains a whole lot of everything one needs to know. We had already been primed for it, and it's nicely done.

It's not the chaotic cluster effs of most Slow Horses books, but rather a slower pace more reminiscent of a Le Carré.

This was the BBC Sounds reading. It's abridged by about 80% so I shall read the novel itself when the price falls to my acceptable price point.

7/10

Yes, I enjoyed it also. I've reserved the book from the library.
 
Yes, I enjoyed it also. I've reserved the book from the library.
Thanks to the generosity of Dom, I am enjoying reading The Dune Encyclopedia this weekend. Beautiful book in that you can just pick random entries of interest and read several pages of lore in no particular order.

Obviously, my first visit was to Ibrahim Vaughn Holtzman and his notoriously dangerous Holtzman Effect that makes swordfights in the far future (10,000 years from now) more popular than "pew pew'.

Next was princess Irulan Atreides-Corrino, because she was a writer and historian, so my favorite non-combat character. Finding her was a challenge since I first sought her under Corrino, and then Atreides before I found her double-barreled name.
dune-encyclopedia.jpg
 
I am enjoying reading The Dune Encyclopedia this weekend. Beautiful book in that you can just pick random entries of interest and read several pages of lore in no particular order.

Have you read the bonkers stuff about scallops in the entry about Ornithopters yet? :)
 
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Just finished The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean. Really enjoyed this. Science fantasy set in present day UK, about secretive families of beings who survive by digesting the knowledge in books. Only every now and then one of them will give birth to a kid who eats living minds...

Also just read The Bogie Man: The (In) Complete Cases Files - graphic novel by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Robin Smith. I kickstartered this collected edition.

Just started The Best of John Wagner's Judge Dredd.
 
House of Open Wounds
Adrian Tchaikovsky
[complimentary pre release review copy from NetGalley]

The Butcher in Hell.
The Necromancer in Grey.

For atheists the Palleseen sure dabble in the darkest of occult to strive toward Perfection.

This is the second volume in Adrian Tchaikovsky's most recent fantasy series. It's one where an atheist empire strives to achieve Perfection and to bring everyone else with them, like it or not. After all, the Ends justify the Means, don't they?

This book and the book before are modern books. I don't mean modern as in mundane today. They are fantastical, dripping with magic and ghosts and gods. However they are modern in the sense that they are about rationalism, ideology, the intersection between ideology, totalitarianism, idealism and corruption. It's 19th Century Europe, the French Revolution takes on a wizardly ancien regime and inevitably becomes a proto Soviet state. In this sense Tchaikovsky is treading a similar Eastern European vibe as Sapowski does in his Witcher books, the decay of idealism into crushing military force weakened by internal corruption.

Now that does sound heavy, doesn't it?

It's not, Tchaikovsky writes beautifully with wit and humour not unremiscent of Pratchett or Gaiman and plots are as inventive and satisfying as either. You laugh at and with unsavoury characters who are both petty, human, awful and with which you have to admit one has a lot of empathy. For example the necromancer who hates the dead and just wants a good cup of tea.

The story is about the Palleseen army at war, an army and war rather like the Great War but also maybe the Great Patriotic War or Desert Storm. It's about the compromises that ideology makes in the face of the unutterable savagery of war; compromises that allow all that the state denounces to exist and be tolerated as long as it advances the cause.

In this bubble exist magisters, necromancers, demonologists, sonorists from all the cultures of this broad canvas Tchaikovsky has prepared for these sagas. Amongst them is Maric Jack, late of Ilmar, and the little dovecote he wears on his back.

This was a great read.

House of Open Wounds by Adrian Tchaikovsky https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/150254281-house-of-open-wounds
 
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Never read the Dune Encyclopedia, and never made it past the 2nd Dune book, but I read all the lore in the RPG and the more I read the less I wanted to know..

I think it turns out that developing a really rich and coherent setting is hard. The best example (and for me the only really successful one) is Tolkien. And I think his mastery of languages was key to this. Even then, there are lots of aspects where Middle-earth falls over as a setting. The economics of the place make no sense, nor the glacial timescale of events.

In gaming I think the best example is probably Traveller's Charted Space setting, even though I personally find it a bit dull and repetitive in how it has developed. Forgotten Realms and Glorantha may be fun for many but they really quite incoherent.

Are there other created settings in literature or elsewhere that rival Middle-earth for depth and richness?
 
Mark Smylie's The Known World. There's a lot of back story and history. Don't that it's there yet, but it certainly has the potential to rank with Middle Earth and Glorantha. There's less tweeness for a start; there aren't really any non-human marketing opportunities.

PC Hodgell's Rathillien. The Chronicles of the Kencyrath is one of the best low fantasy series around. Unfortunately, it's not as well known as it should be.

Jo Clayton's Diadem Universe. It's actually science fantasy space opera as there's cross-over between her fantasy setting and the SF setting. At one time I was toying with using it as a campaign world.

Andre Norton's Witch World. It is a bit contradictory in places, though, especially if you add in the fan fic collections.

CJ Cherryh's Alliance-Union universe. Lots of believable aliens impacting humaniti.
 
Been a while since my last update...

Apart from re-reads, the latest are:

The Fractured Dark, by Megan E O'Keefe (book 2 of Devoured Worlds)

I received the eARC from NetGalley in exchange for a review. It is book 2 in a series where I have not read book 1. The story is space opera, where people that can afford it can have a new body after their old one is killed, using an uploaded psyche, but they have to be careful that they don't exist simultaneously - that way lies madness. There is also an (alien?) infection that causes degradation of bodies and minds, and another (alien?) infection that may counteract it...

Did I enjoy this book? Not really, as it took me a while to get into it and I found the mosaic nature of the writing rather confusing. The story is told from different points in time based on the viewpoint of not quite the same person - which makes the protagonist come across as an unreliable narrator. The two infections also caused confusion as one has a cordyceps-like effect.

Was it well written? Yes, there was nothing to complain about, although I find mosaic/braided narratives a bit hard to follow.

Would I read more? Probably not, I'm not that wild about space opera these days, and this was enough of a chore to read without wanting more of the same.

Would I recommend it? Tricky... I think this may not be to everyone's taste, so I would have to know people's likes and dislikes first.

Legends and Lattes, by Travis Baldree

A bit on the twee side for my tastes, it was an OK read.

All Things Are Lights, by Robert Joseph Shea (who is Michael Shea's father).

A historical novel set at the time of the Cathar Crusade and the later Seventh Crusade. Not bad, but I thought the plot elements didn't quite mesh: Catharism, courtly love, troubadors, the Templars (yes, it touched on Sangreal territory), and a love story.

The Runaway Bride, by Sheila Walsh

One I hadn't come across in dead-tree days. A bit of a silly plot to my mind. A young Spanish girl visits England in the early days of the Penninsular War, and breaks loose from her restricted life. Unfortunately, her father insists she returns home to marry the man he has chosen for her...

Starling House, by Alex E Harrow

A free copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

I liked this. A Southern Gothic novel with overtones of the Cthulhu Mythos (as if written by Joyce Carol Oates), it was very much a page turner for me.

I had some reservations about the footnotes; I didn't really think they added much to the story. It might have been better to have the back story as chapter headers instead, especially where they conflicted with memories as related in the main story. The illustrations were nice, but again I felt didn't add sufficient to the story to justify the enlarged file size. I also thought there weren't enough pictures to be truly atmospheric (although there's a balance between illustrations and graphic novels); the MC Escher style worked well. The other thing is that on an e-ink screen, the contrast on greyscale is not very good, so the atmosphere of a greyscale picture can be lost, but I think the illustrations here had sufficient contrast to be workable.

Recommended.

The Shorter Parts of Valor, by Tanya Huff

A collection of short stories set in the Confederation universe. All bar one feature Torin Kerr, and range in time from prequels to the main sequence to later in the sequence. In general, they mostly aren't set in any fixed time-period.

All too short, but a fun read. Recommended.
 
Winter's Gifts, by Ben Aaronovitch

A fun read showcasing Agent Reynolds on her patch.

However, I found the novella format unsatisfying; it works with stories set in England because there is enough background on The Folly in other stories to fill in the background. Here, there is not enough background to make up for gaps - although it helps being an X-Files fan. We just don't know enough about the interaction between The Folly and colonial America; all we see are some tantalising hints of the various traditions - both First Nations and colonial, with hints of voudoun.

I felt the story could have done with being longer with more exposition. However, that could be problematic, falling foul of sensitivity readers, but may have created a better story, in that we could see the melting pot of different European traditions meeting Newtonian magic and First Nations magics.

Recommended.

Best of British Science Fiction 2022, edited by Donna Scott

A free book in exchange for an honest review.

An anthology of British SF. I found this multi-author collection a bit of a slog to read - not because of bad writing, it was because most stories I found not very appealing to my tastes. Finding a story which did appeal kept me going. Recommended, but with reservations. People who read mostly SF would find it appealing, people (like me) who read mostly fantasy probably won't.

Strange Attractors, by Jaine Fenn

A free book in exchange for an honest review.

An interesting single author anthology. I liked this collection - the stories were in the main interesting and thought-provoking, and held my attention to the extent I was sorry to have finished the book. Not all the stories were genres I would usually go for, but were still an enjoyable read. I liked the bittersweet nature of many stories. Recommended.

Spirits Abroad, by Zen Cho

An eARC from Netgalley.

I liked this anthology very much. It collects Cho's short fiction, which is Malaysian inspired fantasy, both historical and contemporary. The only thing I had a hard time with was the Malay language/dialect; it took a bit of getting used to the cadence and the Malay slang (a glossary might have helped; it seems other editions had this).

The stories themselves reminded me of Roald Dahl, bittersweet, often with a sting in the tail, but great fun. 2 stories I'd encountered before, If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Again, and The Terracotta Bride, but the other stories I'd not read before.

Recommended (although best read in a more traditional format - PDF doesn't play nicely with ereaders).

Grease Monkeys: The Heart and Soul of Dieselpunk, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

A free book in exchange for an honest review.

A collection of diesel-punk stories. I thought most of the earlier stories were fairly weak, being more concerned with the diesel-punk style rather than any actual substance. The later stories were far better. I particularly enjoyed Maria V Snyder's WWII story, and Bernie Mojzes' African-inspired story. Unfortunately, most of the other stories were far less memorable. As an anthology this worked, but I feel that it was fairly weak; it was probably better dipping into the stories every so often rather than trying to read in longer sessions. An OK read.

Written in Bone, and All That Remains: A Life in Death, by Professor Sue Black

An interesting couple of non-fiction reads. Very well done, and despite the morbid subject (not that this bothers me - I've been to the path museum at Barts which is far squishier), very interesting.

The Incryptid series, by Seanan McGuire

As with the Valdemar read earlier this year, I'm not going to list the individual titles given that I read the novels from the bundle along with the interpolated short stories (at least the ones I could get hold of which is most of them).

Fun, although I thought the last novel from the bundle a bit weak. A cross between survivalists, cryptozoology and ecology.
 
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