Review of The Mirror Empire: The Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley (August 26, 2014, Angry Robot)
Your humble reviewers apologize for not posting this with their young adult appropriate fantasy column shortly after it was released. We wrote and edited the review but in the midst of the fall craziness it didn’t get posted in the column. The book has been nominated for a Gemmell award, and that made us go back to see where our review went. We loved the book, and knew we had reviewed it, but unfortunately had forgotten to share it with everyone else!
This book is set in a fantasy world where not only are there many different cultures and languages, but also alternate versions of the world where there are duplicates of almost everyone. People can only cross between parallel worlds if there is no version of them in that world, so this leads to intrigue and murder across the worlds as power groups try to go across to get more power, larger armies and more magic users. Some worlds have lost many magic users because of large scale genocide events in the past, so they try to get replacements from neighboring worlds. Magic is controlled by the satellites of the planet, with different magic users able to control things when a certain satellite is visible. A satellite with a very long and unstable period is coming into range so its powerful magic users will be getting strong and every time this happens, invasions occur in many worlds.
Lilia was raised as a drudge in the Temple of Oma (the satellite with the very long and unstable period). She has memories of her and her mother being attacked, then her being sent to her mother’s friend who took her to the temple. As a drudge she has access to all the books and strategy games that the students have and she takes advantage of them. She remembers her mother placing a sign on her hand, but she can’t see the sign now. When she is a teen, she asks a friend to research what the sign means. This leads to a mystery that isn’t solved until late in the book. Her friend Roh is a good fighter and good mage but not so good at the books. This makes them a good team, but unfortunately she is forced to leave the temple in order to save him.
When she leaves the temple riding a bear and in the company of a mage, her agenda is of course not that of the person with her. She travels around the world, gets injured, makes friends and enemies, learns to be a healer and learns more about her own magic. She is trying to follow the promise she made to her mother that she would return to her, but this involves many battles and travel through a portal into another world several times. The people she meets up with at the end have their own strands of plot through the book and these strands are woven together well, with all of the characters learning the true nature of their world at different points before the final scenes.
The magic system and parallel world setup make this a very interesting setting. It has rich and complex characters from many cultures, even the same cultures from parallel worlds are different. We are really looking forward to more books from Kameron Hurley, hopefully in this same universe. This is an amazing novel.
Review of War of Shadows: Book Three of the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga by Gail Z. Martin (Orbit, April 21, 2015)
Blaine and his friends continue the battle to save Donderath from Reese and Pollard and the crazy mage Vigus Quintrel. Blaine’s ex, Carensa, gives us a viewpoint of what Quintrel is doing. She has realized her mentor is bonkers, but fears for her life since he keeps killing mages (whose ghosts actually turn out to be helpful, too).
One event in this book which was a nice change from battles was the wedding of Blaine and Kestel Falke. It takes place at Glenreith and Blaine’s annoying brother Carr does what he can to disrupt things and pull the newlyweds away from the festivities. The Madness seems to have left Carr with a desire to take increasingly bigger risks until he is killed, so while Niklas gives him some scouting jobs, most of his time is spent on very risky missions he doesn’t have orders to do.
There are increasingly violent storms across Donderath as the natural weather patterns reestablish themselves after years of manipulation by mages. Not quite as bad as the weather in Edgeland, but all the rain and snow causes flooding and much damage to already damaged buildings. They have to balance using soldiers for defense with using them to rebuild falling buildings. The damage to buildings and fields means that food is scarce. Blaine and his allies encourage people to plant crops and round up livestock that is running wild, but Pollard and Quintrel don’t do this: they just steal the common people’s food for themselves.
There are many battles in this volume, all well-written and having some magic-based surprises. Poor Blaine is the anchor of the world’s magic and it wears him down and gives him headaches when he is near magic. His mages are able to help him some with artifacts they find, but it is basically a race to see whether he can last until his mages figure out how to create more lords of the blood, so the anchoring goes between thirteen. Quintrel wants to be able to control the anchors, so of course he does everything in his power to keep Blaine from his task. Read the rest of this entry »
On Thursday, April 23, 2015, Motorco will screen three seasons of the immensely popular lesbian sci-fi original series Frequency, which features cast, crew, and settings from the Triangle area. Fans will be treated to scenes and storylines from the first three seasons, including unreleased episodes from the current season (three) and exclusive content from the upcoming fourth season. The event will be emceed by Tracey and Matthew Coppedge of The Lowdown Show. Produced by KV Works, Frequency boasts over four and a half million views on YouTube worldwide and was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles Web Series Festival and Miami Web Fest. The series is written by Durham’s Piper Kessler, produced by Monique Velasquez, and stars Meredith Sause (“Foodie”) and Lisa Gagnon (“Disengaged”), along with Tony Hughes, Kat Froelich, and Jenn Evans.
The (free, $5 suggested donation) screening begins at 6:42, although doors open at 6. Q&A, series trivia, and general good times are expected. Cast and crew will be on hand to meet and greet, including Kessler, who here writes about “The Hardest Part” of putting this all together.
By Piper Kessler:
When folks tell you the hardest thing they’ve ever done rarely does it fall under what is truly difficult. I’m sure people would think producing an original sci-fi series with lesbian main characters in a state not known for it’s love of “the gays” is a hard undertaking. Nah. I’ve lived in North Carolina all my life. I’ve heard, well, they’re the good kind of Lesbian, Gay, Black, Mexican… Yep, fill in the blank with an other of your choosing. Hard times are given to strangers, not the odd uncle, sister and beer drinking buddy. Cause my buddy? Well, he’s different. Read the rest of this entry »
The Exploding Spaceship Release Day Edition! Reviews of The Grace of Kings, The Rebirths of Tao, and SuperpositionPosted: 7 April, 2015
Review of The Grace of Kings: Book One of the Dandelion Dynasty by Ken Liu (Saga Press, April 7, 2015)
Just when Your Humble Reviewers were getting tired of avoiding many fantasy novels because they all sounded like something we had already read, along came Ken Liu’s first novel to blow that idea away. As a reader of some of his short fiction, we had high hopes for his novel simply because we suspected it would be well-written and based in a Chinese-influenced setting. The setting of the Dandelion Dynasty was far richer and more real than any fantasy setting we have read in years (we read approximately 75 books a year so that is quite a few).
Kuni Gara and Mata Zyndu are both complex male characters who, as brothers and enemies, illustrate the complexity of society’s norms for different occupations (in this case soldier and thief/conman) and how going beyond the expected can cause the entire world to change. Also we see that the other people in their lives can change the course of history by a single act or conversation. The setting is based on historical China during the Han Dynasty, so women usually have traditional roles, but some break out to do something non-traditional with the support of the more-open minded Kuni. Note that the names in the book follow English norm for order, not Chinese so Gara is Kuni’s surname.
The story moves very quickly and because a time reference and location are given for each chapter, it is easy to know which main character you are following in that chapter. There are battle scenes, some of which are presented large-scale and others which are told from a single character viewpoint. All these are done with well-described geography so map lovers and tabletop war gamers will rejoice over the text and beautiful map. It would be easy to recreate some of them using miniatures, so we are sure it won’t be long before someone shows us how on the internet!
We loved the airships, kites, and mechanical cruben (something like a giant koi) in the book. We have several Chinese kites in our home, so a Chinese setting wouldn’t feel right without kites! Also I liked Liu’s choice of “eating sticks” instead of chopsticks (which even translated isn’t actually what they are called in Chinese). It gave insight into Liu’s writer’s brain, like he imagined it in Chinese and wrote it in English, translating names of objects and phrases as they should be, not as they were by foreigners visiting China several hundred years ago. Read the rest of this entry »
The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Recent Urban Fantasy Good Reads: Pocket Apocalyse by Seanan McGuire and Demon Child by Kylie ChanPosted: 6 April, 2015
Review of Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire (DAW, March 3, 2015) This is the fourth novel in the InCryptid series about the Price family of cryptozoologists and their adventures saving humans and cryptids (monsters to some) from each other. In this volume Alex’s girlfriend Shelby must go home to Australia to deal with a werewolf infestation and Alex goes with her as an expert (having dealt with them before, which no one else in Australia has). Of course the boyfriend accompanying as science know-it-all from America doesn’t get a very good reception, so Alex ends up battling the locals and the werewolves. There are some good hand-to-hand combat scenes as well as some gun action. This results in characters getting seriously banged up in this volume. The werewolves are hiding in plain sight so there are several betrayals and complicated plot twists when people switch sides. The universe McGuire has imagined contains several interesting species (more are evident in Verity’s volumes, Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special), many of which are hunted by the Covenant of Saint George. This means they have a love/hate relationship with humans and their society. The Prices generally judge people by actions and not species, but getting other humans to do this is difficult. Alex and Verity don’t really interact with each other except in flashbacks so it would be great to see them and their partners all together in one book. Alex has traveled outside the US with a native guide but it would be interesting to see other parts of the InCryptid world, perhaps with a cryptid guide. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, March 2015: remembering Terry Pratchett, covering The Kitschies, and new books from Kazuo Ishiguro, Tom McCarthy, Antonia Honeywell, Paul McAuley, and not Adam RobertsPosted: 31 March, 2015
From the Other Side, March 2015
By Paul Kincaid
[Editor’s Note: From the Other Side is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]
So the embuggeration won. We always knew it would, but even so … The first thing Terry Pratchett ever said to me was “Sorry.” I’d been organising the programme for a science fiction convention, and a publisher I’d never heard of contacted me to ask if we could invite one of his brand new authors as a guest. We didn’t know the author and our budget for guests was already allocated; so I said no. Terry Pratchett turned up anyway, and sought me out to apologise. If he’d known what his publisher was trying to do, he’d have stopped him. If we’d known what Terry Pratchett was going to become, we’d have said yes.
The last time I talked to him was probably at the 1999 Worldcon in Melbourne. Late one night my wife and I were crossing the lobby when Terry hailed us. He was conventioned out, needed a break, could we sit and talk? Of course, we found a nice quiet corner of the lobby and sat and talked for maybe half an hour about nothing in particular, shared anecdotes, memories, that sort of thing. Then a fan noticed him and began to hover and Terry became the professional once more. One of the things all the obituaries agree on: he was a very nice man. He never forgot how much he owed to his readers and fans, and he never failed to give them full measure. It was always a pleasure to spend time with him. He died, it is reported, with a cat curled up asleep beside him. That seems right.
And after that, the normal business of March seems somewhat lacking. Read the rest of this entry »