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Tag Archives: Fantasy
Years ago I read The Wizard Hunters, by Martha Wells, and waited expectantly for the rest of the series to come out, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods. So after reading her more recent work (the Murderbot series), I wondered how the older series compared. It’s still wonderful world building, character building, and plotting,
We meet Tremaine Valiarde at her home estate, trying to find a suitable manner of suicide. Her city, country, and world, are under attack by an unknown enemy they call the Gardier. They don’t even know where on their world these people come from. The sinister black dirigibles started attacking with bombs and were protected with a magic they couldn’t protect themselves from. Tremaine has been working in the war effort, risking her life in the ruins to save lives, and is so very tired. She’s been put on leave by her relief group. In Tremaine’s world, Ile Rien is her country, somewhat French in flavor, and set approximately the early 1900s—along with magic and wizards; there are telephones, electric lights, radios, motor cars, and guns.
Tremaine is recruited, with a magical childhood toy, the Damal Sphere, to assist in classified work on an unknown spell left by the foremost wizard of her country, and her godfather, Damal, and Nicholas Valiard, her father, after they disappeared shortly before the war. The sphere had been copied for use with the spell, but backfired tragically. The hope is that the original will make it work correctly. It does, of course, and transports them to a different world. Where wizards are called Sorcerers and are all homicidally mad. The natives of the closest nation are Syprians, and each city is built near a magical source they call a God, which protects them from sorcerers, and their creations, curslings. It is on a small island off the Syprian coast often used by sorcerers, that the group from Ile Rien find themselves shipwrecked. A Chosen of the God, Giliad, and his foster brother Illias, are trying to check the same island for the return of a sorcerer, which is their job, to find and kill sorcerers. Instead of traditional sorcerers, they find a Gardier base. Since the technology is beyond their own level, the assume most of it is “curse” driven, (spelled), when it’s actually guns, electric lights, and an air ship. But the Gardier have magic, too. The pair have never seen or heard of these people before. Syprians are well-traveled merchants, trade with other countries and groups in their world.
Tremaine is an interesting character to begin with, her father is much like a blend of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarity. Two of her guardians are wizards, and one, unknown to her until the events of the book, is one of the Queen’s guard. While she herself feels a bit split about her personality—she was known as a playwright before the war, and the way she can react to threats, is commented on by her new friend, Florian, a wizard in training. She tries to keep the more menacing side of her personality hidden, as well as the strange set of talents learned from her father and his friends. However, in the situations in the series, she certainly grows to accept them, as they come in handy.
Illias and Gilead, from the Syprian mainland are also an interesting pair of men. Their civilization is a matriarchy, so property is passed through the female line, although wars are fought by both sexes. As a Chosen of the God, Gilead can sense “curses”, but has more difficulty sensing the spells of the Ile Rien wizards. They both have a tragic backstory, where a sorcerer fooled them both, and cursed to death three female members of their family.
The Fall of Ile Rien series is much like potato chips—it’s hard to stop at just one.
The seaport of Bezim is the only place in the world of Notorious Sorcerer, where alchemy actually work., The other three planes of existence, which correspond to the other three alchemical elements Air (Aethyr), Fire (Empyreal), and Water (Aby), can be reached from there. Alchemists work their wonders, in industry, medicine, or purely for science, by mixing elements harvested from the other planes by petty alchemists like Siyon Velo. It’s a chancy business, but he’s already a risk taker, a member of a swashbuckling street gang (bravi), one of several gangs, who fight (only three quarters seriously), dual, run across rooftops (yes, really), mock attack parties, and are paid to protect parties. Neither alchemists nor bravi are strictly legal, but as long as no one splits the city in half, everyone gets along. Because once alchemy was taught at University, was respected, until a great working went terribly, horribly wrong, and the city was split, one side down by the harbor, the lower city where the docks and industry are, and part lifted up, where the Flower District, the Commercial District, the University, and the Avenues, (where the Avatani live.)
So. Of course, it all goes fine, until one of Siyon’s fellow bravi, Zagiri, gets caught in a youthful bit of foolishness gone disastrously wrong, and Siyon catches her from a deadly fall, not with alchemy, but, with, well, he doesn’t know how he did it. What he did do was upset an already perilously balanced peace. And the chase is off– over roofs, through allies, slowing down now and again, ending at her sister’s house. Anahid and her husband, who is an alchemist and member of the Summer Club, a registered alchemist. The story just gets more complicated from there. Alchemists try to put right what’s gone wrong, Siyon tries to prove himself as an alchemist, so many things go wrong, and many things go right. I can’t tell you how it all works out, there just isn’t space!
The point of view runs from Siyon Velo, petty alchemist; young Zagiri Savania fellow Little Bracken bravi, and 18 year old female member of the avatani (both a people and a highborn caste), Anahid Joddani, Zagiri’s older sister, who has walked through the traditional paths to adulthood, and regrets it; and Izmirlian Hisarani he’s gone on voyages of discovery, and brought back wondrous things, but he has no interest in trade, and now he wants to go further, which is why he needs an alchemist. All of them are trying to find their way through different paths to get to what they want. All of them grow through the experiences.
This is complex world building, combining politics, a fairly ordered magic system, and set caste system, and very well done characters, all thrown into a very precarious situation. No one really knows what to do to set the magical balance right. The policing arm of the government is heavily patrolling the streets and arresting all practitioners. And the characters are all second-guessing themselves.
Notorious Sorcerer, by Davinia Evans, The Burnished City, book 1, Orbit , subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, 2022, 978-0-316-39803-9. The sequel, Shadow Baron, The Burnished City, Book 2, is due out November 14, 2023. Sigh.
The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo, reflects an exotic world, made both strange and familiar, for being set in 1930 Malay, (now Malaysia), a world of many races, including the white “foreigners” (British colonials.) The title has been selected for the Elizabeth II Jubilee list of titles, 10 books for each year of her reign. The story combines murder mystery, a quest, a ghost realm, were-tigers, and Chinese numerology, and the mythology of Malay. Oh, and a love story.
Yangsze Choo mixes exposition and action well. Her characters are interesting, her narrative goes from a young Chinese orphan houseboy, in present tense; an educated 21-year-old young woman forced to apprentice to a dressmaker, instead of continuing school, in past tense; and an English surgeon, in present tense. I found it an interesting style point, which brought Ji Lin closer as a character.
The story starts with the houseboy, Ren, 11, who is taking care of his dying master, an old, English doctor. The man lost most of his little finger in a surgery, and wants Ren to find it and bury it with his body within 49 days, or his master’s spirit will wander, forever. The Dr. lived in Malay a long time, and was especially interested in were tiger mythology, especially after a man who identified as a were tiger, called him one, too. The Dr.’s fevered dreams are haunted with images that might be seen by a tiger hunting. Ren is disturbed by this. He has repetitive dreams of his dead twin brother, which might be more than just dreams. Ren journeys to work for Mr. Acton, an English surgeon at the hospital in another town, Batu Gajah, and on the trip from the train station, learns there have been dogs eaten by a big cat, most are guessing a leopard.
Ji Lin, 20, has taken a second job dancing with strangers to help pay off her mother’s mahjong debt—exacerbated by being taken over by a loan shark. Not one of the more acceptable jobs for a young woman, at the time, but high paying. The woman who runs the May Flower Dance hall keeps things above board, there are bouncers, and only men with tickets are allowed to approach “the dance instructors.” One day, a particularly predatory man chooses Ji Lin to dance the tango, and boasts about many things, but mostly about being lucky. So while being tortured by bad dancing, mashed toes, and wandering hands, his good luck charm falls into Ji Lin’s possession. It turns out to be the old doctor’s little finger in a small specimen jar. All Ji Lin knows, is that it’s gruesome, and wants to get rid of it properly.
The path of the finger in a specimen bottle is traced with sudden deaths, near misses, and fevers, until it is finally buried with the old doctor. Along the way, a child matures, a young woman becomes engaged in a broom closet, and a murderer is captured. To be truthful, it’s so much more complicated than that, which is the fun of reading The Night Tiger.
The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo, Flatiron Books, (Macmillan), ISBN 9781250175458, hardcover
Shards of Earth, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, is science fiction, by a British science fiction and fantasy master. The characters are engaging, human, (and intriguing when not human.) The idea of an alien which is moon sized that can travel faster than light, each a single being, called the Architects, is remarkable. That it’s an absolute killing machine pointed at all inhabited worlds pulls the fractured colonies of Earth and all the known aliens into war against it. The story is not about the war as much as about the final secret weapon that made victory possible. And what happens to that weapon after the war. This only makes sense in that the weapons that win the war are called Intermediaries (Ints), and are humans, medically and chemically modified to be able to mentally contact the Architects. Idris Telemmier is one of the few remaining original class of Intermediaries. He is a war hero. Due to his modifications, he hasn’t aged since the end of the war fifty years ago. Intermediaries can contact Architects, and they can pilot deep space craft through unspace, without having to sleep during the process.
Unspace, unlike some forms of faster than light travel, must be experienced by most sentient beings asleep. If they are awake, they are immediately isolated from other travelers on the ship in unspace. Not only of being alone, but also of being alone with a hostile, unspeakable being that they can’t see, only sense. Most ships travel old routes mechanically, with the pilot being the first to wake, but Intermediary pilots go through unspace awake. They can plot new paths to objects, making Idris especially valuable to his crew on the Vulture God, a salvage ship.
An old war acquaintance of his, Myrmidon Solace, is tasked with contacting Idris on the ship he currently pilots. Solace is from a genetically engineered, and vat grown race of human women warriors who live on their ships, and they are known as the Parthenon. They do not have Intermediaries. Hugh (Council of Human Interests), the governing body of the colonies controls the program, and licenses them. Hugh won’t license any to the Parthenon in the post war era.
Making Intermediaries is an uncertain business. Idris, being first generation, is even more unusual, since he hasn’t aged, and can’t sleep. He’s one of two or three surviving from that first generation. He’s content to work on the salvage ship. The trouble starts with a shore leave where a rich man decides to confiscate him, since later Ints are licensed and conditioned with a “leash” contract (making them more like property.). That doesn’t pertain to Idris. His crew, with Solace, manage to get him off planet, but the job they pick up next only multiplies their troubles—it’s a modern salvage that has the distinctive, destructive design of an Architect kill. Except the war ended fifty years ago, with the disappearance of the Architects, and no one has seen one since.
While some reviewers compare the story to Star Wars and Star Trek, there is a lot more here, and a far more patched up universe. The characters are interesting, the main ones are three-dimensional, and the world building is complex, with more than one political system. One of the characters is Oliana (Olli) Timo, a woman who’s colony found all human life precious, even a child with stunted arms, part of one leg and no sense of her own body—since the age of thee she had become a remote vehicle specialist. And easily one of the strongest, and most physically powerful characters in the story. Which is why she has a very big problem with Solace, a vat grown perfect human. There are more interesting points like these that made the entire story deeper than many of the “space opera” style stories. There’s a colonies’ wide “nationalist” movement to put “humans”, the original type from Earth, first, and that all other types are traitors. Which also has a violent arm. There’s a race no one’s seen, but has lost their planets to the Architects, called Locusts, who use planets to create world ships. There’s an alien mobster and a human aristocrat, who both want to own Idris. And there’s a spy/cop, who is just trying to figure it all out.
With complicated characters, great plotting, and constant action, this is one of the best books I’ve read lately, and I’ve just read the sequel, Eyes of the Void. I’m looking forward to Lords of Uncreation, due out in 2023.
Shards of Earth, The Final Architecture: Book One, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Orbitbooks.net, Hardback, 2022
British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) award winner for best novel, 2022.
I have an 11-year-old son that is going into middle school this fall, so when I picked up Imaginary by Lee Bacon this spring and saw that it was also about an 11-year-old starting middle school, I suggested we read it together. I mentioned to my son that I was going to write about the book for our Friday Reads series, and he kindly offered to just let me copy the review he wrote for school. It is summer after all, so I should be taking it easy, right?
“This story is about a kid named Zach who is going into middle school. Yeah, I know, like it’s middle school, it’s not that complicated… or is it? This book is in the perspective of his imaginary buddy, and not Zach’s.”
The imaginary buddy is Shovel, whom Zach invented when he was a small child. Shovel is basically a big ball of purple fur with arms and legs. Many kids have imaginary friends, but most outgrow those friends as they age. Zach does not. Shovel remains a constant in his life when so many other things change – his family, his home, his friendships, and his attitude. Shovel is our narrator and he is self-aware enough to know that his existence at this point in Zach’s life is both unusual and also necessary for some yet-unknown reason. He wants to help Zach but he is also afraid that Zach will forget about him, as all children eventually must.
“The setting of this story is the backyard of a kid named Zach.”
The first appearance of Shovel takes place in the backyard of Zach’s first house. The story also takes the duo to Zach’s new home on the other side of town, to the middle school, and deep into Zach’s imagination, where he and Shovel are heroes that fight dragons and trolls.
“In this book the main characters, or the characters you have to know about, are named Zach, Shovel, Anni, Ryan, and Principal Carter.”
Besides Zach and Shovel, we meet Zach’s first best friend, Ryan, who by middle school has joined the cool crowd. Anni is a new student and Zach’s chance to start fresh with someone that doesn’t know his past. Principal Carter, towering over the student body, is an unexpected ally who knows how to gently guide her charges’ emotional development. Zach’s mom also appears frequently in the story, as well as flashbacks to Zach’s dad.
“Overall, I think this book is a funny, good, and amazing book and deserves a five star rating. Most people think it is worth a 1 star (which is reasonable), but I think it is worth much more!”
I am pretty certain no one would give this book only 1 star, because it is truly funny, good, and amazing, and definitely worth 5 stars. It is also about grief, forgiveness, empathy, learning when to hang on and when to let go, and the importance of a good imagination…and good friends.
Lee, Bacon. Imaginary New York, New York : Abrams, 2021.
For our last spotlight of Asian American & Pacific Islander month, I thought I’d bring a brand new addition to our Book Club Collection; The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent currently living in California, and her most recent novel, The Night Tiger, is a NYT bestseller and a Reese’s Book Club pick.
The Ghost Bride takes place in 1890s Malaya (now Malaysia), where people of all backgrounds intermingled under British rule. The Chinese population work to hold onto their ancient traditions, especially those involving death. According to these traditions, unpleased spirits, or those who had no death rites performed, linger in our world and can cause trouble for the living. When their son dies, the wealthy and powerful Lim family look to Lin Lan to placate his soul by asking her to be Lim Tian’s bride in a rare ghost marriage. Unfortunately for Li Lan, ghosts are real, and she must travel through the Chinese afterlife to rid herself of her specter and this marriage.
Perfect for a YA or an adult book club, the Ghost Bride is a coming-of-age novel that melds a murder mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, and a bit of supernatural romance. Throughout the story, readers learn about ancient Chinese traditions, how influences of the West changed their society, and the never ending bureaucracy of the afterlife. With the aid of the Notes section, readers can learn even more about the history of ghost marriages, Chinese notions of the afterlife, and other historical notes of life in Chinese in Southeast Asia. It was also recently adapted into a Malaysian-language Netflix series which looks incredible, and I will absolutely have to binge the it this weekend.
If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here.
To see more of our Asian American/ Pacific Islander Book Club Kits, visit the link here.
Imagine yourself in lovely Victorian-era England with grand homes, elegant balls, and a large steam powered dirigible school floating by.
The Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger is an absolutely lovely young adult series that follows one Miss Sophronia Temminnick through her time at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Classes include “Fainting in a crowd to attract attention” and “Buying poison and planning dinner on a limited budget”.
Hold on! What?
As the books progress we’re taken out of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy into the greater world. In Scotland we’re introduced to Sophronias friend Sidhegs pack, her grandfather and uncles, all of whom are werewolves. And to London where the vampires are trying to undermine a plot they just know the Picklemen are trying to run against them.
STOP!!!! WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!?
I absolutely love this series! The fantasy elements are done in such a way as to seem completely plausible and familiar. This is neither a dystopian set of novels, which seem to be so popular these days, or a “princess in need of rescuing” story. These girls can take care of themselves thank you very much! Not a fan of YA? Most of Gail Carrigers other books all take place in this same lovely world but are decidedly not YA.
Oh! I almost forgot my favorite part – the mechanicals! Simple household type tasks are carried out by these steam and gear-powered robots. Sophronia happens upon one, which happens to look like a dachshund, early on in the series whom she eventually carries around like a purse. Isn’t that just the cutest thing?
I’ll be the first to admit that you can put the word “library” in any book title, and I’ll read it without hesitation. But I am sure glad I picked up The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander, because it was delightful. I read a handful of middle-grade books around this time each year, and this has been my favorite selection so far of 2020.
Trying to abscond from her nanny at the library and get some quality reading time in, Lenora stumbles into the “staff only” section. Recognizing her potential, the head librarian offers her a job as “Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian”, tasking her to use her wits and valor to serve her patrons. Lenora embarks on a series of adventures, some comical, some harrowing, in her quest to answer patron inquiries. If only my days on the reference desk were this exciting!
This book clocks in at 208 pages, so it’s a fairly quick read, making it ideal for read-alouds. The fast-pace and fun facts will keep middle grade readers engaged. I have a certain niece named Lenora that will be getting a copy soon for sure!
Alexander, Zeno. The Library of Ever. Imprint, 2019.
Great world buildings, eccentric characters, and a solid plot that keeps me guessing, will always catch my attention, and Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett has all of that and more. In so many ways it’s also unusual–set in a tropical seaport town, of a world that has seen an apocalypse wrought by an unusual type of magic called “scriving” by the surviving, thriving, inhabitants.
The merchant houses of Tevanne, rediscovered the art, and used the power of “scriving” to conquer other cities, create empire, and spy on each other. The tools they create are powerful, arrows that vibrate so hard as they go through the air that they disintegrate; rapiers that accelerate when put into motion, because they believe they’re going so much faster, and can go through tree trunks; and suites of armor that barely need inhabitants to kill. So of course, they create these items, and more, behind their own walls. Each merchant house is nearly a city-state with their own culture.
The people unlucky enough not to be born to the houses, or useful to them, live in the commons, the areas outside their walls. Like Sancia, a very good thief, who has a rare ability of being able to listen, and understand the scrivings on objects–floors, walls, and locks. A job comes her way through her fence to steal an item that’s just arrived in Tevanne. Which is when everything goes wrong, of course. The item is a very old, rare, scrived artifact, from the original practitioners of scriving, and talks, in a way. Its name is Clef. And he’s freaked out that she can hear him. She’s very freaked out that he can talk! And life just gets more complicated from there, with scions of merchant houses run amok, scrived humans (which shouldn’t exist), the already slightly crazy practitioners of a fractured art, and a lot of people doing impossible things such as shooting crossbow bolts at our heroes.
Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett, Crown, New York, ISBN 978-1-5247-6036-6
The Hugos are awarded for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. This year’s finalists for Best Novel are:
- Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
- Neptune’s Brood, by Charles Stross
- Parasite, by Mira Grant
- Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, by Larry Correia
- The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Finalists in other categories are available at the Hugo Awards Site. The Hugo Awards are voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon“), who are fans. The Awards will be presented at Loncon 3, on August 17, 2014.
The Hugo is one of the major U.S. awards for SF&F: the other is the Nebula, voted on, and presented by active members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in May. The 2013 Nebula Nominees for Best Novel are:
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
- Fire with Fire, by Charles E. Gannon
- Hild, by Nicola Griffith
- Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
- The Red: First Light, by Linda Nagata
- A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
- The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker.