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 »
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 »
In honor of International Women’s Day we bring you some thoughts on our favorite women science fiction writers and a review of a recent release from one of our favorites, Brenda Cooper. Her first books are space adventures set on a lost ship which finally arrives at its destination, and she has a new series set in the same universe.
Review of Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper (Pyr, March 3, 2015)
This is the first volume in a series called The Glittering Edge which is set in the same universe as The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep but a generation after the arrival of the starship Creative Fire.
Nona was the first person from the Creative Fire to be born on the Deep and be given the cocktails of life. She’s had to watch everyone from the spaceship grow old and die, including her parents Onor and Marcelle.
With the help of her parents’ legacy and Satyana, a wealthy family friend, Nona embarks on a trip to Lym to fulfill her father’s wish that she walk on a planet, something he had always wished to do. Nona gets a ranger guide named Charlie to take her places on Lym. Neither young adult was really what the other expected based on their opinions of people from Lym or the Deep. They find they have much more in common than either would have thought. Their romance is slow, careful and full of fumbles and when they are separated because of their jobs both are not happy alone. Read the rest of this entry »
Review of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Tor hardcover, February 3, 2015)
Karen is a teenager in Rapid City who works in a brothel. She’s bright and inquisitive, qualities which lead her into trouble but also allow her to learn some information that is useful to Madam Damnable, her boss. Rapid City feels like a strange steampunk San Francisco mixed with Seattle. The city is so textured and vibrant that it is itself a character in the book.
Many types of characters populate this novel, including a wide variety of ethnicities and sexualities, including Karen herself. Madam Damnable does not allow anyone to be mistreated or looked down upon and Karen follows her example. However, the setting is Victorian in flavor so the views of society and the law often conflict with the views held in the brothel.
The story structure is that of a mystery with both private detective and law enforcement characters present in the forms of Karen (the detective) and Marshall Reeves (the law enforcer). The marshall has a Native American sidekick, and so reminded Your Humble Reviewers of a more sophisticated Lone Ranger and Tonto. As with all good detective stories there is some romance in there as well. Because Karen is so young, it is really her first relationship. Her fumbling about trying to figure out how to approach Priya, a boyish young Hindu woman is quite adorable and very believable. Teenagers in love can be so sweet that adults want to smack some sense into them! It takes the girls a bit to sort out their relationship and having the confusion of a brothel fire just added to the messed up nature of teenage romance.
The clothes are described in detail and we liked that the men and boyish women got cool descriptions of their clothes too, not just the gowns. Also we liked how Bear demonstrated that class was depicted by the clothes and that this could be manipulated to make people see what you wanted them to.
The steam mech sewing machine was quite cool and used for several functions beyond sewing great gowns. The use of airships and submarines added interesting transportation complexities to the plot. The technology has a steampunk-style fantasy logic, so the odd things that some of it does are acceptable. The fantasy element is clear enough from the beginning that Angela’s engineer’s brain got the message to ignore realistic rules, that it was more like Star Wars tech rules, so that we didn’t get pulled out of the story.
Overall, it is a very interesting and quick read, one which kept Your Humble Reviewers up far too late finishing it. The book has a very sexy cover illustration, but it would have been nice to see Priya and that amazing sewing machine as well. This setting and cast of characters have great potential so please write quickly, Liz Bear, so we can read more soon!
Adult content note: While the setting is a brothel and some sex and violence are mentioned, none to speak of is on camera so it is a good read for more mature teens and adults. There are victims of violence against women depicted but sexual details are not dwelt upon and the result of the violence is not detailed. The situations dwell more on the characters’ reactions to someone who could do such horrible things. This would make a good family read for Mom with teenage girls in order to bring up some normally uncomfortable topics.
Review of Paradigms Lost by Ryk E. Spoor (Baen, Nov 15, 2014)
This is an urban fantasy set in an alternate 1999-2001. This is a vastly expanded and revised volume which contains the contents of the story entitled “Digital Knight”. Jason Wood is an expert in information searches, image processing and enhancement, pattern matching and data forensics. Some of his contracts are with law enforcement.
A dead contact on his doorstep sends Jason and his girlfriend Sylvie into an adventure involving people who don’t appear on film, werewolves (including an entire town full of them), court appearances relating to werewolf prostitution, and parties which lead to murder. This story is formatted as a murder mystery but actually Jason ends up investigating multiple crimes which are all linked together by werewolf involvement.
As the existence of werewolves being public knowledge is relatively new, the laws written with only humans in mind have not been adapted to include how they apply to werewolves. As some werewolves kill humans in order to gain power, and they are very difficult to kill or arrest, a new approach is needed. Read the rest of this entry »