“The Galaxy Game” by Karen Lord

thegalaxygameI was really excited to get a review copy of The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord; I absolutely loved both of Lord’s prior novels – I reviewed Redemption in Indigo pretty recently, and The Best of All Possible Worlds is one of my favourite books of the last few years (and shares a world and some characters with The Galaxy Game). Unfortunately, I ended up being pretty disappointed with the book.

The main protagonist is Rafi, the nephew of The Best of All Possible Worlds, Grace Delarua, who has been forced to attend an oppressive school for the psionically gifted. He escapes with the help of one of his friends, and is thrown unprepared into a galaxy that is undergoing considerable turmoil. We also follow his two friends, Ntenman and Serendipity as they find their own way.

So, there were a bunch of problems with this book:

  • Rafi: Rafi should have been interesting – he’s scared of his psionic abilities because of the way his father abused his own, and he has a difficult relationship with his mother who’s scared of being manipulated by him. He’s doing exciting things – he’s exploring a new planet, and training for a galaxy-famous sport. Unfortunately, he just comes off as a child who’s mostly passive but occasionally reactionary (he even admits as much in the book) – the only thing he does actively is run away from his school. In the end, when he finds a place in society, it seems to be mainly because everyone else told him what to do.
  • The other viewpoint characters: I’m not really sure why Ntenman and Serendipity were protagonists – sure, we did watch them “grow up” a bit too, but their arcs were as dissatisfying as Rafi’s. This book was only 320 pages, and it didn’t have enough room for us to get to know these characters and invest in them. Ntenman’s voice was pretty charming, and I at least looked forward to his dry humour, but Serendipity seemed completely flat. Also, we get viewpoints from Delarua, Dllenahkh and the headmaster of the Lyceum (there might be more that I’m forgetting), and there’s even a framing story that takes place fifteen or so years later. This makes the book seem pretty fragmented, especially given…
  • The plot, or lack thereof: Okay, there is nominally a plot – the protagonists come of age in a time of great galactic turmoil, which they are marginally involved in. Emphasis on the “marginally”. As I said earlier, a lot of the stuff that happens is just Rafi reacting to what other people tell him to do, and most of the time, he just does it. So yes, a lot of stuff happens, but we’re just left with burning curiosity about what’s actually going on. For example, a planet gets attacked by a rival faction, but we have very little context for it, so it’s not very impactful, except for a generic “war is bad” way. And there are many factions, each with their own agenda, but we know very little. But the plot isn’t even about the galactic conflict, per se, but about developing a new transportation technique… that somehow involves a sport that Rafi is uniquely qualified to play, but it’s actually about Rafi and his friends growing up, but there’s also the plot of the framing story…
  • Characters from the previous books: Okay, I loved Delarua and Dllenahkh and the assorted supporting characters in The Best of All Possible Worlds, but they should not have been in this book this much unless it was at least twice the size. Pretty much everyone shows up, and we learn all about their problems, and how they’re resolved (Freyda and Lanuri’s marriage, Lian’s worry over the missing Queturah), and they add to the mess of plots already in the book.

If I were to describe the flaws of The Galaxy Game in one word, it would be “unfocused”. Both of Lord’s previous books were pretty intimate – they were mostly focused on one or two people and the consequences to their own life, and she’s very good at that type of narrative. She seems to be trying to do that in this book, focusing somewhat on Rafi and his friends’ coming of age, but it doesn’t really work that well because there’s so much going on in the grander scale. There was a lot going on in the grander scale in The Best of All Possible Worlds too, with the destruction of Sadira, but that was much more personal because of Dllenahkh.

I know that it seems like I hated this book, but I didn’t; I just had really high expectations from Lord’s previous work. The Galaxy Game has beautiful prose and fascinating ideas. It would have been great as either a 600 page book or a novella with a lot of the subplots cut out. I’m still anticipating Lord’s next book eagerly, though – I hope it is a return to her previous form.

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord
Del Rey, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

viciousVicious follows Victor and Eli, who were best friends in college until their experiments to gain superpowers went horribly right. With Victor no longer in prison, neither of them will rest until the other has been utterly destroyed.

This is one of those books that’s almost a screenplay – I could see the movie playing in my head. It has short chapters (sometimes only a couple of pages) and is fast-paced, but it still focuses a lot on character by alternating flashbacks with the present-day story. The build-up to the final confrontation is extremely well-done – it almost gets too excruciating to wait any longer, and then everything happens very quickly.

Victor and Eli are fascinating characters, they both have something missing inside them, and that’s what drew them to each other in the first place. They learn to cope with that hole inside them in very different ways, although both are definitely supervillain material. Their sidekicks – Serena, Sydney, and Mitch, are complex in their own right – Serena’s crippling isolation with her power of persuasion is particularly poignant.

There was a lot of talk of gaining superpowers leaving people with a moral/spiritual hole inside themselves.  It reminded me a little of Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart universe, where superpowers also make you entirely selfish, so there are no superheroes – only supervillains. But most of this was perpetuated by Victor, Eli, and Serena, who all seemed to be pretty screwed up people even before they gained powers. Sydney certainly didn’t seem to have anything missing (and Serena even remarks on that at one point), and neither did any of the other superpowered people we met. I guess the ambiguity might make what Eli’s doing a bit more sympathetic, except he’s acting without any evidence, so it doesn’t.

I did like the fact that Victor wasn’t exactly a good person, but I wished that the book had pushed the envelope a bit farther – by the end, we know exactly who we’re rooting for – Victor might be a sociopath, but he’s remarkably well-attuned to society. It’s still a great book, though, in the Watchmen style of “who we think of as superheroes are usually badly-adjusted and obsessive people”. Someone please go make a movie out of it now.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Tor Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Mini-review: “Redemption in Indigo” by Karen Lord

redemptioninindigoRedemption in Indigo is a short novel inspired by African folklore. Paama has left her foolish and gluttonous husband, Ansige, and refuses to return to him. When he tries to win her back and instead makes a complete fool of himself, the djombi (spirits/gods) are so impressed with the way she handles the situation that they give her a gift of great power. But the djombi that it was taken from, the Indigo Lord wants it back, and badly.

I love the narrative style of this book – it takes the folktale inspiration and runs with it, it’s just like a storyteller was sitting in the room with you and telling you a story. We meander back and forth in time and point of view, and the narrator is quite opinionated at times. Paama is a terrific heroine, she’s calm, kind, and intuitively knows that the best thing to do with power is not use it. She’s also pragmatic – when the djombi threatens her family and asks her to give him the stick, she immediately hands it over. Of course, things aren’t that simple, since she actually has to believe that he’s the better person to wield it, and that’s the titular “redemption” of the story.

On the surface this story seems really simple, but there are a lot of layers and side plots – Anansi’s troubles with tricking people (yes, Anansi’s in this book!), Paama’s self-centered sister and her search for an eligible husband, the extremely competent House of Sisters that help Paama out. There’s not a lot of time spent of these, but they’re full of heart and the author’s deft characterization makes the characters seem like people you know pretty well.

Redemption in Indigo is very different from the other Karen Lord book I’ve read, The Best of All Possible Worlds, but it’s just as warm and well-told.

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
Small Beer Press, 2010 | Buy the book

The Belgariad by David Eddings


The Belgariad is a five book series, and one of the classics of fantasy. I’ve had a copy of the first book, Pawn of Prophecy sitting around for a couple of years after I found it for really cheap at a Half-Price Books, but I just got around to reading it last month, and quickly tore through the rest of the series.

The plot of the Belgariad is pretty stereotypical – an oblivious farmboy is actually the Chosen One of a prophecy and has to go on a quest with a band of flawed heroes and a wise and greying old wizard to retrieve a magical item. The characters and self-awareness really make it a great read, though. I found out afterwards that the series is so entrenched in fantasy tropes on purpose, and the whole thing stemmed from a challenge to write a really cliched series that was also engaging. Here’s Eddings talking about it:

The story itself is fairly elemental – Good vs. Evil, Nice Guys vs. Nasty Guys (or Them vs. Us). It has the usual Quest, the Magic (or Holy) Thingamajig, the Mighty Sorcerer, the Innocent Hero, and the Not Quite So Innocent Heroine — along with a widely varied group of Mighty Warriors with assorted character faults. It wanders around for five books until it finally climaxes with the traditional duel between “Our Hero” and the “Bad Guy.” (Would it spoil anything for you if I tell you that our side wins?)

There are certainly some flaws with the series – the dialogue is very blithe, and everyone just gets straight to the heart of the matter. It’s refreshing in a way, but it sometimes makes it hard to engage with the characters. Also, I wasn’t really a fan of the racial stereotyping – everyone from a particular race acts exactly according to the characteristics of their race – Thulls are stupid, Sendars are practical, Drasnians are sneaky, Tolnedrans are avaricious, Arends are dense. It’s still a good series, though, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel series, the Mallorean and the companion books, Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on each of the books individually – SPOILERS ENSUE.

Pawn of Prophecy

This is pretty much what you’d expect – sinister figures come looking for farmboy Garion just as the all-powerful Orb of Aldur is stolen, and he must go on a quest to retrieve it with his protector, Aunt Pol (who is not-so-secretly Polgara the Sorceress), her father (the aforementioned Wise Wizard) Belgarath, Silk and Barak, nobles of their respective empires, and the regular guy, Durnik. We go through a couple of different countries, where it’s revealed that the long-awaited prophecy is coming to fruition, and Garion is (obliviously) the center of it all. This novel is mainly setup and worldbuilding, the quest gets started and we start to get to know the characters.

Queen of Sorcery

Our Heroes are still on their quest to retrieve the Orb of Aldur – they’re not in any terrible hurry since they keep stopping by the center of government in every country they pass to warn them to muster their armies up for the coming fulfillment of prophecy. The quest also picks up Ce’Nedra, Garion’s intended bride (although neither of them know it) and there’s some awful snake queen with insatiable sexual appetite stuff that’s a cliche I would have been happy to do without. Also, Garion goes through two of the more important Hero phases – whining/sulking/fighting against his destiny, and the development of his obligatory magical powers.

Ce’Nedra is pretty intolerable in this book – she’s very spoilt, I couldn’t believe that she was actually supposed to be the main love interest.

Magician’s Gambit

The first half of the book is pretty similar to the rest of the first two – we tour more countries and pick up more quest members. The story is entirely driven by prophecy, and the series’ self-awareness is taken to a whole new level as we discover that the prophecy is sentient and controls Garion’s actions sometimes. In the second half of the book we finally enter enemy territory and the Orb is recovered. It’s a bit frustrating that Garion still thinks that he’s some unimportant ward of Polgara’s, and everything’s going to go back to the way it was, but Polgara and Silk are awesome characters, so that’s okay. Ce’Nedra continues to be whiny and awful, though.

Castle of Wizardry

The fellowship escapes with the Orb of Aldur, and Garion is finally told that he is the long-lost descendant of the Rivan King, although not until he’s actually in Riva. There’s a nice scene where Polgara, Garion and Ce’Nedra go back to the farm where Garion grew up, and he realizes that he really doesn’t belong there anymore. Of course, then he’s made the Rivan King, and he is thrust straight back into confusion as he becomes the ruler of a place he knows absolutely nothing about, and he does the only sensible thing – runs away (with Silk and Belgarath). Unfortunately, he’s not actually escaping his responsibilities, though – he’s hastening the fated meeting between himself and the evil god Torak, so that he can save as many innocent lives as possible.

One good thing about Garion’s departure is that Ce’Nedra grows up a bit. She’s pretty hilarious when she realizes that she has to marry him, but just as she’s coming to terms with it, he’s gone to an uncertain future. She pulls together and maneuvers herself into a position of authority and rallies the kingdoms together.

Enchanters’ End Game

This also goes pretty much as you’d predict from the last book of the series – Garion and Torak meet and fight, but really its a duel of Prophecies taking over their bodies. The two opposing hordes meet in several battles, and lives are lost and people are irreparably injured on both sides. Everything ends happily, though, and almost everyone gets paired up – even Polgara, in one of the more touching / hilarious sequences. Silk just gets paired up with a business venture though, which is great.

Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #1)
Del Rey, 1982 | Buy the book

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #2)
Del Rey, 1982 | Buy the book

Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #3)
Del Rey, 1983 | Buy the book

Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #4)
Del Rey, 1984 | Buy the book

Enchanters’ End Game by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #5)
Del Rey, 1984 | Buy the book

“Karen Memory” by Elizabeth Bear

KarenMemoryI was excited to get a copy of Karen Memory because I enjoyed Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy – it had an epic scope, a great unconventional setting and subverted a whole bunch of stereotypes of women in fantasy. Karen Memory is pretty different in both setting and tone (steampunk adventure featuring a lesbian prostitute protagonist), but it was still superb.

Karen Memery is a “seamstress” at Madam Damnable’s upscale brothel Hôtel Mon Cherie in the burgeoning Rapid City. When Madam Damnable offers sanctuary to a girl escaping from the harsh conditions of Peter Bantle’s rather lower-scale establishment, he swears retribution and Karen gets swept up into the adventure of her life, involving a legendary lawman, a serial killer, a plot against the United States and more.

Karen’s first-person narration really sells this book – she’s down to earth, but has a sharp wit, plain-spoken but charismatic, and most importantly, is full of heart.  She’s had a tough life, and she doesn’t run away from that, but neither does she doesn’t let that stop her from being optimistic. It’s apparent that she’s no lady, but she’s definitely someone you’d want as a friend.

All the supporting characters feel like people you’d want to know too. Of course there’s Priya, the indentured girl rescued from Bantle and Karen’s love interest – she’s whip-smart and has a core of steel, despite being abused. She’s a full, three-dimensional person that is treated as such and isn’t really exoticized at all despite being from India, which is pretty amazing (I’ve met people in real life who have the best intentions but feel like they have to treat me differently because I’m from India, so I really mean that it’s amazing). There’s the kind but determined U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, who was a real person, and Tomoatooah, his badass Numu posseman, and Merry Lee the also-badass woman that rescued indentured slaves. And all the other girls at the Hôtel Mon Cherie have their own distinct personalities without any reference to what they do for a living (something that is carried over from the Eternal Sky trilogy and sorely missing from fantasy – a cast of mainly women that all defy stereotypes) – in fact, there’s very little sex in this book, and none actually described. Here’s Elizabeth Bear talking about how she sees that:

And the thing is, for Karen and her colleagues, prostitution is a job. It’s how they make a living, not how they identify themselves. The protagonists of most urban fantasy novels seem to work waiting tables or as private investigators, if they’re not starving artists. Either their job is the adventure, or it’s something that provides a gateway to the adventure, but we’re never supposed to care too much about the job qua job itself!

So Karen’s job gives her an entry into her adventure—but it certainly doesn’t define her. And to me, the adventure is the interesting thing. She’s not having adventures or being a good person in spite of being a prostitute. She’s a prostitute, and she also gets to have adventures.

The protagonist and the characters are the most charming things about Karen Memory, but it’s also a damn good adventure story. The pacing is excellent, and the stakes keep getting higher – what starts off as a simple mission to rescue Priya’s sister turns into helping Marshal Reeves find his killer, which turns into an attempt to stop Peter Bantle’s political ambition, and that leads into even more trouble. Karen grows as a character, learning to move on from her father’s death, discovering talents she didn’t know she had, and falling in love.

I’m not super well-read in the steampunk genre, but I’ve learned to be wary of stories that are all about the gadgets. The steampunk elements in this book, though prevalent and integral to the plot, are just everyday items in the world Karen lives in. Gadget fans won’t be disappointed either – there’s the mandatory airship trip and a cool submersible, as well as some very useful household and medical devices – but they are just supplements to the plot and characters.

I really need to go back and read Elizabeth Bear’s earlier work – between this and Eternal Sky, she’s shown she has incredible range.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“City of Stairs” by Robert Jackson Bennett

cityofstairsCity of Stairs was the other fantasy from 2014 that I’ve been hearing universal praise for (the first was The Goblin Emperor, which I loved), so I was pretty excited to read it too. Some reviews described it as “epic fantasy” (it’s not what I think of as epic), so I was expecting a wholly different style of book, but once I was able to get into it, I ended up liking it.

The book is set in Bulikov, the titular City of Stairs, which was once the seat of a great empire with the active help of its gods. Now the gods are dead, and Bulikov has been colonized by its former Saypuri slaves, who remember every detail of their slavery all too well. When one of Saypur’s foremost scholars is murdered in Bulikov, Shara, a highly skilled spy steps in to investigate, and finds that the gods may not be as dead as everyone thinks they are.

In some aspects, this book reminded me of The City & The City by China Miéville – but that’s probably just the surface level similarities of the plot being propelled by a murder investigation in a weird/unique city. Bulikov is certainly weird; there are miracles in evidence everywhere, such as the sunrise showing through the impossibly high city walls; the city is covered with ruins and half-structures (and stairs!) from when the laws of physics reasserted themselves over the reality the gods shaped; the people that live there aren’t allowed to know anything about their past or their erstwhile Divinities, but their colonial overlords can study them all they want.

The worldbuilding in this book is excellent, it’s just as atmospheric as the book’s title suggests. I liked that the cultures of the Continent and Saypur seemed to be inspired by Russia and India, since we don’t see a lot of that with fantasy. Colonialism and oppression are strong themes, and they’re not treated simplistically; we get realistic foreign policy and consequences thereof. The Divinities are masterfully crafted – they’re just unfathomable enough to be awe-inspiring, but are still relatable. I particularly liked the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter, which were usually only obliquely related to the plot, but really developed the world.

The main thing that knocked City of Stairs down a couple of notches was that some of the characters weren’t that great. Shara wasn’t a very compelling protagonist (although, she is the first protagonist I’ve encountered that actually looks like me – she’s described as a small brown woman with enormously thick eyeglasses) because she doesn’t have enough to lose. She cares about some things – history, for example, but I never got a sense of who she was and why she does what what does. There are terrific stories about people that are stuck in a rut regaining purpose (Paladin of Souls, for one), but I didn’t really care about Shara enough to root for her and her course of action at the very end seemed to come out of the blue. Her flashbacks were a lot more interesting because it shows her at a time when she’s more vibrant and someone I’d actually invest in.

Also, Sigrud, Shara’s sidekick, seemed to have no personality, and his arc over the book just fell totally flat for me. I know the author can write better characters (unlike China Miéville, for example, whose characters are always cold, and his books are all about the worlds/ideas), because there are some in this book – Shara’s irrepressible and conflicted college boyfriend and current Bulikov businessman/politician, Vohannes, and the tough-as-nails ex-military city governor, Mulaghesh.

Plot-wise, I was a bit skeptical of the whole “murder investigation” thing (I’m not a big fan of police procedurals), but luckily, the other mysteries of Bulikov soon overshadow it. There’s plenty of action, and everything comes to a satisfying conclusion. City of Stairs is a good book overall, and it’s certainly a fresh perspective on fantasy.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (The Divine Cities, #1)
Broadway Books, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison

thegoblinemperorI’ve been hearing nothing but praise for The Goblin Emperor since it came out last year – most reviews used the words “optimistic” and “endearing”. I like well-done grimdark (like the First Law series) but I love both court-intrigue and hero-driven fantasy, so I really had to read this.

We follow Maia, the youngest son of the recently deceased emperor, from the moment that he receives the news that his father and brothers are dead and he is now the emperor of the Elflands. Maia is the half-goblin son of the emperor’s least favoured wife, and has grown up in isolation, with no resources and no knowledge of the court and its politics. He’s surrounded by people that either want to take advantage of his naivete or don’t want him around at all, and he has to figure things out very quickly, or he’s going to either end up dead or a puppet.

Maia is one of the best protagonists that I’ve encountered in a while – he’s smart (even if he isn’t knowledgeable), kind, and determined to do the best job he can – I know that sounds like a lot of generic fantasy protagonists, but Maia seems more like a real person, you can actually observe his mind at work. For example, in The Wheel of Time, Rand is ostensibly smart because he ends up making a bunch of decisions about how people should run their kingdoms and they’re good ones – don’t tax the people too much, encourage science, etc. – but you never see the process by which he makes them, and so you just have to take for granted that he’s smart. But in The Goblin Emperor, you observe the process by which Maia figures out when he needs to make a decision and when he needs more information (and when he’s just completely overwhelmed and asks for help) and you come to the conclusion that he’s pretty smart. His kindness is simlar – Maia is kind in a lot of subtle ways and he’s always empathetic towards people, even those that try to kill him. His determination to do a good job is endearing – he doesn’t do it for some noble ideals of serving his country, he just doesn’t think of himself and his wishes as important, so of course he does a good job. There’s a particularly funny scene where someone suggests that he abdicate and join a monastery, and he actually wants to do it because it would be so much easier.

I was worried that Maia would be plunged into a implausible world where he couldn’t trust anyone and everyone would be out to get what they could from him, but most of the characters just wanted to do their job and do it well. There are plenty of people that liked the old emperor and don’t really appreciate the fact that he’s in power now, but very few of them want to do something about it. That’s not to say that there aren’t plots to be foiled,  but they’re less prevalent that I had feared. The Goblin Emperor is a much subtler book than than that.

I don’t want to give off the impression that this book is all rainbows and sunshine with no complexity, though – there are a whole variety of people and situations. One of the more notable ones is Maia’s relationship with his cousin and abusive guardian Setheris – it is fraught with terror, even after their power dynamic changes drastically. The experience of growing up abused and ignored informs his decisions heavily, though, he is able to recognize the people that just seem to want power and attention and deal with them appropriately. There are a bunch of other situations where there’s a lot more than meets the eye (the whole arc with Min Vechin, the friendship between Maia and his personal guards, his grandfather’s visit) and it all comes together beautifully because of the author’s superb characterization.

The only (very minor) complaint I have with this book is that the names / places / people have a lot of similar sounding names and it was really hard to get them straight – I’m usually really good at that, so it was doubly frustrating. It helped me empathize with Maia’s predicament since I was also somewhat overwhelmed, so maybe that’s why? There’s a guide at the end of the book that explains the naming scheme (no spoilers), and that was very helpful – I only wish I had found it earlier.

I’m sure this will be one of the best books I read this year, and I read it in February! I’m looking forward to reading some of the author’s other works (Katherine Addison is a psueodonym for Sarah Monette).

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Tor Books, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“Valour and Vanity” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Valour-and-VanityJane and Vincent are back in the fourth Glamourist Histories book, Valour and Vanity.  Lord Byron has invited them to visit him in Venice, and they’re looking forward to the opportunity to work with the famed glassmakers of Murano to develop their method of storing glamour inside glass. However, things go horribly wrong as they’re attacked by Barbary pirates on the way and lose all their possessions.

This series keeps getting better! The blurb for this book advertises a heist, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler, even though it happened later in the book than I thought it would. I was somewhat skeptical about the circumstances that would lead to the Vincents needing to perform a heist, but Kowal makes it pretty believable that they have no other choice (especially given Vincent’s well-established stubborn streak). I’m a sucker for heists, though, so I probably didn’t need that much convincing.

I’m not really in a paragraph mood today, so I’m going to finish off this review with bullet points.

  • The heist itself was very well executed (Kowal thanks Scott Lynch in the credits, and he’s basically the fantasy heist god, so there’s that). The hidden plan-within-a-plan was pulled off very smoothly, especially given that we see the whole thing from Jane’s point of view and know that there’s a hidden plan.
  • I’ve always loved Venice as a setting – I loved it when I visited, and watching my husband play through the Assassin’s Creed games also makes me feel like have a certain familiarity with it. Murano isn’t Venice, but it’s close, and Kowal captures the feel of it really well, even though we see it at a low point in its history.
  • I loved the supporting characters! The nuns, Signor Zancani, and especially Lord Byron! It’s so cool that Lord Byron is a character, and he’s every bit as rascally as I would expect, but also every bit as brilliant. And it makes so much sense that he would be friends with the Vincents.
  • I learn so much about history from these books. I didn’t know anything about the kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, and the troubles faced by the glassmakers of Murano.
  • Jane and Vincent go through some pretty hard times in this book. While I don’t exactly enjoy it when they go through yet another harrowing experience, they grow a lot from it. In Glamour in Glass, Jane was shocked by French sensibilities, in Without A Summer, she recognized her own prejudice about Catholics. In this book, she learns what it’s like to be poor, and to fall from nobility – there’s a particularly poignant moment where she makes a single impulse purchase.

The next book, Of Noble Family is going to be the last Glamourist Histories book, and it comes out in April. I have an ARC, though, so expect a review soon. I’m sure it will be just as good as the rest!

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamourist Histories, #4)
Tor Books, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“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.