“Without A Summer” by Mary Robinette Kowal

WithoutSummerWithout a Summer is the third book in the Glamourist Histories series, after Glamour in Glass. Jane and Vincent, recovered from their adventures in Belgium, have taken on a new commission in London. They bring Melody with them, hoping that being in London during the Season will help her find an eligible husband. London is exciting for all the wrong reasons, though – it is unseasonably cold, and the glamourist guild of coldmongers is being blamed. And to top it all off, Vincent’s abusive family seems to want to meddle in his business again.

This book goes back to the series’ Austen-esque roots, with all the fuss about finding Melody a husband, but it also keeps the political aspects from Glamour in Glass. The things that Jane experiences in this book is also very inspired by Emma (which is fairly apparent, but Kowal also acknowledges it in her afterword). Melody acquires much more depth in this book, partly because Jane starts seeing her beyond the role of “petulant younger sister”. I wouldn’t say that I was glad to meet Vincent’s family, because they’re such horrible people, but it was interesting to see them get fleshed out.

I was hoping that the Vincents would continue working on developing their work with capturing glamour, but they have quite enough to do in this book, so I can’t actually say that I’m disappointed. The next book, Valour and Vanity, involves Jane and Vincent in Murano (as well as a heist!) so I’m pretty excited about that.

Without A Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamourist Histories, #3)
Tor Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

The Watergivers series by Glenda Larke

The_Last_Stormlord Stormlord-Rising Stormlord's Exile

I was inspired by my recent read of The Forsaken Lands series (The Lascar’s Dagger and The Dagger’s Path) to read the Watergivers series by the same author (The Last Stormlord, Stormlord Rising, and Stormlord’s Exile). I read them too close together to give them individual reviews, so I’m going to review the series as a whole.

The Quatern is a desert where the only reason that people can survive is that some individuals have the ability to sense and control water. Unfortunately, the last Stormlord is dying, and there is no one strong enough to replace him, and the rainlords are at a loss. Shale, a poor village boy that happens to be water-sensitive, and Terelle, a courtesan in training with her own mysterious gifts, get caught up in the politics and mayhem that ensues.

The worldbuilding in this series was great – the four quarters were all pretty unique, with their own cultures and customs, and the water based magic system had a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the characters and the plot weren’t as successful.

First – the characters. I could see the outlines of the people that Larke was trying to portaray, but they never really become more than archetypes. The dialogue and the character’s thoughts were cliched at best, I didn’t get a sense of who they were and why they were doing what they were doing, and so I didn’t really care about what happened to any of them The relationships between the characters (especially romances) were pretty much narrated, we never see them actually develop. Also, there were a ridiculous number of bad guys, all with the nebulous motivation of “power”. Larke seems to have been going for a gritty feel, but it doesn’t quite work.

I should mention that some of these problems with characterization are present in the Forsaken Lands books as well, but they’re not as pronounced, and the plot isn’t as terrible, so they’re excusable. Back to the Watergivers series.

The plot – okay, so, other than the fact that the conflict is mainly motivated by villains wanting to control everything NOW, the plot also revolves around the fact that everyone’s lives in the Quartern depend on a couple of people controlling the weather. Some of the bad guys want to return to a time of “random rain”. I pretty much agreed with the bad guys – no one should be living anywhere where a couple of people that happen to born with certain talents to have to work constantly to ensure the survival of a whole country.  One, that isn’t fair to the water-sensitives, who don’t choose what they’re born with, and basically have their whole life planned out because they have magic. Two, that’s a horribly low bus factor for the whole country’s survival, and that’s just foolish. It’s not even like the whole world is a desert – in fact, all the borders seem to not be deserts.

I’d only recommend this series if you’re looking for some popcorn fantasy that you don’t really want to think about too much, but has a cool world.

The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #1)
Orbit Books, 2010 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Stormlord Rising by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #2)
Orbit Books, 2010 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Stormlord’s Exile by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #3)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“Glamour in Glass” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Glamour-in-GlassGlamour in Glass is the second book of the Glamourist Histories series, which begins with Shades of Milk and Honey. I had my first ever migraine when I read Shades of Milk and Honey, (it was before I realized that I just needed to go lie down in a dark room and reading made it worse)  so for a long time, I associated this series with pain. I’m glad I got over that and decided to continue reading it, because the books are great.

A little bit about the series: Shades of Milk and Honey was a romance straight out of Austen, except where one of a woman’s arts is “glamour” (magic). I love Austen, and Kowal does a great job of evoking her without copying her too much. The other books in the series feature the married Jane and Vincent, but each of them is a different genre.

In Glamour in Glass, the long war with Napoleon has ended, and the newly married Vincents go to Belgium for their honeymoon and to study glamour with one of Vincent’s old classmates. However, Napoleon escapes his exile in Elba, and seems to be heading straight for them. Their relaxed trip quickly gets swallowed up in political turmoil, and to make things worse, Vincent seems to be keeping secrets from Jane.

This book was more enjoyable than the first – since they are now married, Jane and Vincent are not confined by the bounds of propriety as much and talk a lot more. Jane has more interesting thoughts too, now that she is spending her days being creative and doing what she actually wants to do, rather than idling as was proper for a young lady of her time. It’s nice to see her have some culture shock too, as she realizes the ladies of France smoke, drink, and talk politics just like the gentlemen. She’s not used to thinking that she can do whatever she wants to, but she’s a quick learner as always, and she uses that in spades in the climax of the book.

I keep thinking that I really want Jane and Lady Isabella Trent from A Natural History of Dragons to team up and do something cool. Jane is a little more proper than Lady Isabella, but I’m sure they would get along great.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the next book, Without a Summer, which seems to involve the Vincents investigating weather changes and crop failures back in England.

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamourist Histories, #2)
Tor Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“Poison Fruit” by Jacqueline Carey

poisonfruitPoison Fruit is the last book in the Agent of Hel trilogy (my reviews of books 1 and 2 are here: Dark Currents and Autumn Bones). It’s been a couple more weeks since the traumatic events of Halloween, and Pemkowet is slowly recovering. However, as winter approaches, there’s a fresh set of troubles brewing – people are having deadly nightmares all over town, and the city is getting sued by disgruntled tourists who just happen to be represented by a hellspawn lawyer that seems to have done the unthinkable and claimed his demonic birthright.

I really like this series because it’s set in a Michigan small town, which doesn’t seem that different from an Ohio small town (where I live), and I recognize some of the archetypes of the people and the place. This book especially resonated with me because it’s set in winter, and it’s been snowy here pretty much since the beginning of January.

The last two books were mostly standalone adventures, but they were seeding a lot of plot threads that come into fruition (pun unintended) in this book. Daisy is pretty tough now, and has learned to deal with threats to Hel’s dominion, but she’s still terrified of the fact that she could release Armageddon if she gives into even a moment’s temptation (for good reason!) In Poison Fruit, the combination of a creature that feeds on nightmares and the prospect of a hellspawn that has done what she never can means that she is forced to confront it head-on, and she becomes even more badass because of it.

The characters that we love still remain incredible, we meet some new fun characters (Skrrzzzt!), and even some characters that we don’t love become somewhat awesome. I got a lot of what I wanted from the book – Daisy growing, more information about Lurine, seeing Sinclair fully assimilating into Pemkowet, more Oak King, and even the love triangle resolved in the way I wanted it to (although that was a no-brainer, there’s only one right answer there). It was heartwarming to see all of Pemkowet’s eldritch community band together in the face of an unprecedented threat, and the book’s ending was pretty much perfect.

This book itself wasn’t perfect though, there are a few parts I found mildly irritating. I know Stefan is supposed to be the epitome of a wish-fulfillment character, but come on! His courtship of Daisy was pretty ridiculous, and I felt like I never really got a sense of who he was as a person. I did like how it all came together at the end, though, and that complaint was acknowledged a little bit. Also the whole “supernatural creatures use technology” trope was both brilliant (the reason for the Night Hag’s visit) but also got a bit grating sometimes.

The most annoying thing, however, was that this was the end of the series. I really want to read more about Daisy and Pemkowet!

Poison Fruit by Jacqueline Carey (Agent of Hel, #3)
Roc, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“The Autumn Republic” by Brian McClellan

The Autumn Republic is the third book in the Powder Mage trilogy, following Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign. Since I didn’t review the first two books (although I did interview Brian McClellan), I’ll talk a little bit about the series before going on to the actual review.

Promise of Blood starts off with a coup – the corrupt and decadent king of Adro has been overthrown, and the man who engineered it, the brilliant field marshal Tamas, now finds himself with the much harder task of trying to rebuild his country. And to add to his problems, it seems that the monarchy held secrets that kept the country together, but everyone who knows them is dead.

Most fantasy books are about overturning the status quo in some way, so it’s a pleasure to read a series set in the messy aftermath, and it shines in other ways too. The intricate politics – factions vying for power to fill the newly vacant hole, neighbouring countries looking to invade during a time of weakness. The magic systems – this series has often been described “flintlock fantasy” (as opposed to “sword and sorcery”, I suppose?) but it doesn’t just have guns, it has a whole magic system built on gunpowder. The characters, of course – Tamas, who does the right thing no matter how much it costs him, his son Taniel, who has a lot of issues from Tamas’ perfection, the detective Adamat who hasn’t met a mystery he didn’t immediately investigate, and a lot more. And then there’s the overarching plot about how unwise it is to attract the attention of the gods.

autumnrepublicAnyway, onto The Autumn Republic, I’m never sure what to write about when I review sequels to books I already like a lot, because I expect that it’s going to be good, and then it is, and all that needs to be said is “Yes, it’s as good as you think it will be, and I can’t talk about anything specific that happens because spoilers.”

I was satisfied with how the series ended – all the plot threads are wrapped up nicely. Not everyone makes it out unscathed, but I didn’t expect them to – in fact, it went about how I predicted it would go. There are a lot of awesome scenes, and a few incredibly sad moments. The characters were pretty much how you’d expect them to be – I groaned/was delighted at Tamas’ nobility, was exasperated at Bo’s …Bo-ness, I guess, and sympathized with everything that continues to befall poor Adamat.

I’m pretty excited for the next trilogy – I’m not sure what it’s going to be about, but I definitely want to explore lands that haven’t been under the influence of the Nine Gods (that’s not a spoiler, it’s conjecture) and I’m looking forward to Vlora’s viewpoint – she’s placed in a pretty cool position at the end of this book.

The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan (Powder Mage, #3)
Orbit Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“The Martian” by Andy Weir

The_Martian_2014Everyone has been raving about The Martian by Andy Weir, and as a total sucker for any space exploration related story, I had to read it.

The Martian is about Mark Watney, a member of one of the first human Mars exploration teams. When the mission is aborted due to a dust storm, he has an accident and is presumed dead while the rest of the team evacuates. But Mark is not dead, and as the mission’s mechanical engineer, he’s uniquely qualified to survive in a place where his continued life depends on machines working.

When I started this book, I was a bit skeptical about all the praise it had been getting – how could one guy all alone on a planet be that interesting? Weir does an admirable job, though – Mark is determined, optimistic, has a great (and sometimes very immature) sense of humour, and he’s everything you dreamed you’d be when you dreamed of being an astronaut when you were younger (if you didn’t want to be an astronaut, what the hell?) He’s also the quintessential engineer, he doesn’t mope when there are problems unsolved. It’s brilliant to hear all the scientific issues he faces from his voice; his enthusiasm is infectious, and what could have been easily tedious instead becomes thrilling.

Mark isn’t the only character though, we also follow the action back on Earth, and Mark’s mission crew that are back on their way from Mars trying to live with the guilt of leaving a man behind. The point of view jumps around a lot, but I think that’s only fitting in a story about humanity banding together and trying to save one man. There are a couple of scenes on Mars that are told in an omniscient narrative style, and those do stick out a bit, but they’re rare.

So yes, I loved this book as much as everyone else. It seems like everything these days talks about humanity’s flaws, but this book makes me really proud to be a human.

Also… the pacing of the book was very much like that of a movie, and I really wanted it to see a movie version (Gravity and Apollo 13 are both really great movies of this type, although those take place over a few days at most). Apparently Ridley Scott feels the same way, because The Martian is coming out this November! And what a great cast, too – Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Peña – all people I like. I’m a bit puzzled by Chiwetel Ejiofor playing an Indian person, but he’s a great actor, so I’m not actually complaining.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Broadway Books, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

The Chalion series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favourite authors. I read the Vorkosigan saga last January and I can’t really find words to describe how much I enjoyed it (here are Jo Walton’s thoughts, though). I wanted to read her other books immediately, but I didn’t really want to ever run out of new Bujold books to read, so I ended up putting off reading the Chalion series until now. (I still have The Spirit Ring and The Sharing Knife series to read). I’m still not sure that I can find adequate words to describe why I loved these books, but I will try anyway.

curse of chalionThe Curse of Chalion follows Cazaril, a former soldier who just wants to settle into a quiet life after he returns from being a prisoner of war. However, he ends up finding a place as the secretary-tutor to the royal princess, and with it come all the expected dangers of court, and some unexpected supernatural dangers.

Cazaril is a delightful protagonist – he’s self-effacing yet witty, noble without being foolish and he sees the world as it is, but doesn’t want or expect it to be more. He’s no Mary Sue, though – he’s just a good person. The rest of the characters also leap off the page – Bujold’s skill at characterization is unsurpassed. The theology of the world is fascinating – five gods that actually listen to prayers and do what they can to help.

Paladin-of-SoulsPaladin of Souls follows Ista, a secondary character from The Curse of Chalion. Ista, the dowager queen of Chalion, has been freed from the terrible curse placed on her, but everyone around her still believes she needs to protected from herself. In order to relieve herself of her utter boredom, she sets out on a pilgrimage, but it turns out that the gods are not quite done with her.

This was probably my favourite of the Chalion books. Ista is an unusual fantasy protagonist – she is a middle-aged woman that is utterly indifferent towards her life and weighed down with guilt about her past. She does find some purpose and joy in her life, yes, but as usual with Bujold, the journey is much more important than the destination. The characters are spectacular, as always (the review of this book by Booklist that I found on Amazon says “Bujold couldn’t characterize badly if threatened with a firing squad”), and I was glad to see Ferda and Foix back. The theology gets further advanced with more detail into how demons work, but it all fits together nicely.

hallowed huntThe Hallowed Hunt is not set in the same time period (I believe it’s hundreds of years earlier), or even in Chalion. We follow Ingrey, a noble of the Weald, who has been entrusted to accompany the mad prince Boleso’s murderer, Lady Ijada, to the capital for trial and probable death. However, Ingrey discovers that he has far more in common with Ijada than he thought, and in fact, she might be the only person he can trust.

Ingrey is an entirely different protagonist from Cazaril and Ista – he does not have their uncertainty or wry sense of humour or ruminations on theology. He’s a soldier first, and this book’s presiding deity (if one exists) is the Son. The gods’ influence and limitations are explored further, and a new magic system is introduced within the same framework of souls/spirits, demons, and free will. I liked this book a lot, but not as much as the other two.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #1)
Harper Voyager, 2001 | Buy the book

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #2)
Harper Voyager, 2003 | Buy the book

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #3)
Harper Voyager, 2005 | Buy the book

“Autumn Bones” by Jacqueline Carey

autumnbonesDaisy Johanssen, Agent of Hel and unlikely daughter of a devil is back again in Autumn Bones. It’s been a few weeks since the events of Dark Currents, and Daisy’s life is at a level of normalcy that she’s never had before – she’s even dating the cute Pemkowet tour bus operator, Sinclair Palmer. But Sinclair isn’t as normal as he looks – he’s actually a Jamaican obeah sorcerer, and his family wants him back really badly – badly enough to release a vengeful spirit on Pemkowet, which as Hel’s liaison, it’s Daisy’s job to deal with.

Autumn Bones is lighter fare than the first book and it’s also a great Halloween story. Daisy continues to grow in her role as Hel’s liaison, and it’s nice to see all her friends band together to help her again. The undercurrent (no pun intended) of steaminess in Dark Currents turns into a lot more, and since it’s a Jacqueline Carey book, it’s really well done. It’s a shame that there are only three books planned in this series – this is one urban fantasy that I’d happily keep reading.

Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey (Agent of Hel, #2)
Roc, 2013 | Buy the book

“Firefight” by Brandon Sanderson

firefightShorter review again. I’m going to be doing lots of these so I can review a higher percentage of the books I read.

Steelheart wasn’t my favourite Sanderson book – not because it wasn’t good, but I don’t find superheroes or YA or endless action that compelling, especially given Sanderson’s skill for elaborate worldbuilding and cool magic systems. But he’s pretty much my favourite author, so I’ll read anything by him and like it. That being said, Firefight was pretty darn awesome.

David has achieved his goal of killing the Epic that murdered his father, but in the process, he’s also realized that Megan, the girl he’s kind of in love with, is actually Firefight, a High Epic with the same innate evil as every other Epic. David is never one to give up on the impossible, though, and armed with his infectious enthusiasm and groan-worthy metaphors, he sets out to rid Babilar (once New York City) of its ruling Epic, Regalia – while also searching for Firefight, who has already murdered one member of his team.

We get (some) answers to what’s going on with the Epics and their powers and weaknesses, and it all makes sense in the way that only Brandon Sanderson can do magic systems. The action is fantastic, and David’s eagerness and self-assurance are irresistible (and slightly horrifying, I was convinced he was going to get himself killed every other chapter). I know I pretty much end every book series review with “I want the next book”, but dammit, I want Calamity now, not Spring 2016!

Edited to add: Here’s a preview of Firefight on audio.

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson (The Reckoners, #2)
Delacorte Press, 2015 | Buy the book

“The Dagger’s Path” by Glenda Larke

daggers-path-coverI read The Dagger’s Path immediately after finishing the first book of this series, The Lascar’s Dagger. I enjoyed the first book, but this one really made me want to read other books by Glenda Larke.

I love fantasy books with non-traditional settings (Throne of the Crescent Moon, Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy), and this book includes a lot of that. The first book is set in a fairly standard European-inspired fantasy setting (albeit with a secondary character that’s most definitely not European), but in this book, the secondary character becomes one of the main protagonists, and we visit his home and see it through both foreign and native eyes. The Chendarwasi islands and the Spicerie are inspired by Indonesia and Malaysia, and there are quite a few literal references to their language and culture (I read in an interview that the author’s husband is Malay and his culture inspired this book).

I also liked the characters quite a bit. The three main protagonists are Saker, the rakish priest/spy who usually has the best of intentions but ends up in pickles regularly, Ardhi, the titular “lascar” who is atoning for the terrible consequences brought upon his people by his naivete, and Sorrel, the woman that accidentally murdered her abusive husband and is finding that she is an incredibly tough and resourceful person. The secondary characters also feel like people I’ve gotten to know pretty well, despite the shorter page time – Mathilda, the princess that will do anything to gain power in a world that refuses to recognise that women can be trusted to hold it, Ryce, the prince that struggles with feeling weak for doing the right thing, Gerelda, the unflappable lawyer and her charge Peregrine, who has a burden beyond his years, Fritillary Reeding, the tough religious head who is determined to keep darkness from claiming her lands, Lord Juster the flamboyant privateer who is pragmatic until someone threatens his beloved ship.

I was worried about some elements of the plot in The Lascar’s Dagger – the generic evil seemed a bit too derivative,  and some characters that we were supposed to like made some questionable decisions. After this book, though, I’m no longer worried – Larke uses the “generic evil” tropes rather cleverly, and the characters in question either realized that their decisions were suspect or fully committed to the dubious path. The book moved pretty quickly, and most of the outstanding questions from the first book were answered (something I always appreciate in a middle book of a trilogy), but of course, they raised a whole bunch of new ones.

The Dagger’s Path isn’t flawless – some of the characters flip-flop between attitudes too often (Sorrel’s emotions regarding Ardhi and Ardhi’s conviction regarding his ultimate fate, for example), everyone likes Saker way too much and too quickly, but it’s compelling and fun. This book isn’t even officially out, but I’d really like the third book now, please.

The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke (The Forsaken Lands, #2)
Orbit Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.