Review & Giveaway: “Arcanum Unbounded” by Brandon Sanderson

Note: For instructions on how to enter the giveaway, see the bottom of this post.

arcanumunboundedIf you’ve been following my blog at all, you probably know that I’m a huge fan of pretty much everything Brandon Sanderson writes. I think it’s especially cool that many of his books are set on different planets in the same universe (the “Cosmere”), and that he plans to connect them all into an overarching story in the future. So when I found out that there was a Cosmere short fiction collection coming out, I was really excited to get it (even though I’ve already read many of the stories in it.)

First, I’ll talk about the book’s structure. I thought it would just be organized like a regular short story collection, but it actually has more. There are in-universe write ups (written by Khriss, the same woman who writes the Ars Arcanum at the end of all Brandon’s other books) about each planetary system featured in the book and how the magic there works. I’ve read a lot of Cosmere theories and interviews by Brandon about the Cosmere, and there’s quite a bit of information in these that has not been covered anywhere yet. Also, there are gorgeous illustrations for each story, and postscripts by Brandon about how the story came to be.

There’s one new novella in this book that has never been published before – Edgedancer, which is set in the world of the Stormlight Archive and features Lift, who we’ve met in an interlude in Words of Radiance. The Stormlight Archive is probably my favorite series by Brandon, so I was particularly excited to read this story, and of course it did not disappoint. It offers great moments of character growth, and it seems like it will be important to understand how a particular character’s attitude changes between Words of Radiance and the upcoming third book. Plus, Lift is a great character and I’d love to keep reading about her. Also, we see a few new things about Roshar, I wasn’t expecting more worldbuilding and answers from such a short story. My only complaint is that now I really, really cannot wait a year for the next book.

There were two other stories that were new to me, although they have been published previously in the Mistborn RPG books – The Eleventh Metal and Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania. They were fun stories, I enjoyed The Eleventh Metal a bit more because it featured Kelsier, and who doesn’t love Kelsier? Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania was a nice homage to pulp adventure, though.

I did reread all the stories I’d read previously as well. I absolutely love The Emperor’s Soul, I think it’s a really great standalone novella, and the fact that it’s set in the same world as Elantris and that it ties into the Cosmere just makes it better. The Hope of Elantris is a very simple story, but it’s cute, and it’s nice to see some of the backstory of what secondary characters were up to during the climax of Elantris. Mistborn: Secret History is pretty cool, I think it’s one of the first ones to actually delve directly into what’s going on with the Cosmere a little bit. I don’t want to say too much about it because even the protagonist’s name is a spoiler.

I guess White Sand will be new to a lot of readers, but it’s one of Brandon’s unpublished books that you can email him to get a copy of, and I’ve done that. It’s being published as a graphic novel series now, and the book excerpts both the graphic novel and the beginning of the unpublished book. I was afraid that the excerpt wouldn’t be satisfying enough by itself, but I think it manages to tell a good and complete story.

I first read Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell in George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’ anthology Dangerous Women, and I love it. Threnody is a fascinating world, and the characters are different from the ones Brandon usually writes – darker and more serious. Sixth of the Dusk also has a very un-Brandon-like protagonist (someone who has trouble articulating himself), and the world is in a very interesting period as it evolves into the industrial age, prodded along by spacefaring humans. I think both of these stories are the most atmospheric in the book and I’d love to hear more from their world and characters in the future.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this collection. I think most of the stories would work for someone unfamiliar with Brandon Sanderson’s other work and the Cosmere just as well – the only ones I’d be iffy about are Mistborn: Secret History, which is set during the original Mistborn trilogy and probably doesn’t have much impact without reading it, and The Hope of Elantris, which is likewise set during Elantris.

Tor Books is letting me give away two copies of Arcanum Unbounded! To enter, please email me at with subject “Arcanum Unbounded” and your name and mailing address (US/Canada only). This giveaway is open until Dec 1, 2016.

Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson (Cosmere, #0)
Tor Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“Dangerous Women” edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

076533206X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_I was really excited about this anthology! I love anthologies, I love kickass women, and the Martin-Dozois anthologies attract the best fantasy writers. I’ve read and liked one of their anthologies (Songs of Love and Death) before, but this one blew it out of the park!

Dangerous Women doesn’t just feature sci-fi/fantasy stories; there are a variety of genres represented. This makes the collection have an incredibly broad range. The eponymous dangerous women are all pretty different too – physically or magically powerful women, women who flourish despite their circumstances, femme fatales, vengeful ghosts, and more. Sometimes they drive the plot, sometimes they’re the protagonist, and sometimes they’re both.

I enjoyed some stories more than others, but unusually, I didn’t think any fell flat. Some were disturbing or implausible, but I think they still made good additions to the anthology. I’m not going to review every story, but I’ll talk a bit about some standouts.

The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass

This story takes place in the same universe as one of my favourites from Songs of Love and Death, and I was immediately pulled into this universe again. Unfortunately there aren’t any full-length books in this universe, but I’m hoping there will be soon! It involves an extraordinary story told in a bar, which if were true, would have incredible repercussions.

Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson

I don’t really like the title of the story, but the story itself was fantastic. It’s set in Sanderson’s Cosmere (although I don’t know what planet) and features a terrifying world and a resourceful woman who makes it a little safer. I’m probably biased by my indefatigable love for Sanderson, but I loved this story.

Bombshells by Jim Butcher

I’ve only read the first book of the Dresden Files, but this story made me really want to catch up with it (it also contains major spoilers for the direction of the series, but I didn’t mind that). It features Molly, Harry Dresden’s apprentice and some other Dresdenverse women on a mission. Molly gets some great character development, and there’s a lot of gratuitous ass-kicking. Some of it was a little cliched, but it was so much fun that I didn’t mind.

A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman and Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland

Both of these stories were historical fiction and featured women figuring out how to become dangerous in a male-dominated world. Other than that, they were fairly different – in the former, Constance, future Queen of Sicily, takes charge of her unhappy life and in the latter, a young Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile learns how to get her way. I found both fascinating, and I really need to read more historical fiction.

My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott

I don’t want to say very much about this heartbreaking story, but it examines the emotional consequences of knowing a truly dangerous woman. Or thinking you do.

Lies My Mother Told Me by Caroline Spector

This story is set in the shared Wild Cards universe, and involves a superhero that goes from having dangerous powers to being truly dangerous even without her powers. I found it very poignant.

I could keep going, but I’ll just say that I also loved Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie (I can’t wait to see more of Shy in his latest book, Red Country), The Girl in the Mirror by Lev Grossman, Name The Beast by Sam Sykes, and Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn (I haven’t read anything by Vaughn that I haven’t loved). The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin read like the dry medieval telling that it was meant to be, but was strangely fascinating.

The stories I wasn’t as thrilled about:

I Know How to Pick ‘Em by Lawrence Block

This is an extremely well-written story, but it left me feeling unclean just having read it (which seems intentional). It definitely adds to the diversity of the anthology, but I wish I hadn’t read it. It probably didn’t help that I was envisioning Tricia Helfer as the “dangerous woman” in the story.

Second Arabesque, Very Slowly by Nancy Krees

The idea behind this story was fascinating (discovering beauty in an ugly world), and I was somewhat touched by the ending, but I was distracted by finding the worldbuilding implausible – 99% of women are sterile, and civilisation totally breaks down. I can see how women’s place in society would change significantly, but I don’t think cities and technology would be completely destroyed. I didn’t even mind the world, but the cause of it seemed forced.

Pronouncing Doom by S.M. Stirling

I got the gist of this story, but was thoroughly confused by the world. American society is now heavily influenced by ancient Scottish/Irish tradition, and this all happens within a few years? I found out that this is set in the “Emberverse”, but I don’t think there’s enough of an introduction to this universe for people not already familiar with it.

That ended up being much longer than I anticipated. Summary: this is one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read. Buy it!

Dangerous Women by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
Tor Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“Cyberabad Days” by Ian McDonald

CyberabadDaysCyberabad Days is a book of short stories set in McDonald’s River of Gods universe – I’ve had an eye on it for a while, but finally had the opportunity to read it. I love speculative fiction and I’m from India (which really needs more sci-fi/fantasy representation), so these books are a natural fit for me.

First, a note about the world. As with River of Gods, this is the part of the book I have the most trouble with; otherwise McDonald’s writing and concepts are excellent. He captures the chaos and the contradictions of India very well, but there’s no core holding it all together. Every Indian I know has a strong sense of community – to their family, friends or other networks; there is none of this in McDonald’s India. Everyone is too eager to be individualistic, to be virtual – it’s a hard leap to make, considering quite a few of my high school classmates don’t even use e-mail. Maybe that’s just McDonald’s writing style (I haven’t read any of his other books); but in that case, India isn’t a good fit for it.

The way that India has evolved also feels somewhat off to me – it’s like McDonald has taken all the most “exotic” things in India and made those India’s defining features, even if they’re currently in decline – the soap operas, child marriages, female foeticide, the hijras, even royalty (which doesn’t really exist anymore). Some of the terms used would be archaic now (although I suppose it is possible that nostalgia would make a comeback). It’s not that any one of the things he describes is impossible, but the whole picture combined just doesn’t feel right. Also, I have no idea why this book is called Cyberabad Days – Cyberabad is an area of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh (my home state!), and neither state nor city is barely even mentioned in the book.

Don’t get me wrong, though – this is a very good book! I just feel obligated to talk about the world since I’m from there and feel oddly protective about it.

There are seven stories in this book, and they’re a nice mix of lengths and styles. The protagonists run the gamut from a poor village boy to a rich, genetically superior “Brahmin”, and the stories span decades.

Since there are only seven stories, I’ll write a bit about each:

Sanjeev and RobotwallahThis is the classic story of the kid that wants to be cool but then discovers that the cool kids really aren’t that cool. It’s classic because it’s satisfying no matter how many times it’s done, and that definitely holds true here. It was also interesting to learn more about how warfare in India has evolved, and how the villages have stayed pretty much the same.

Kyle Meets the River: The only one of the stories with a non-Indian protagonist – a young American boy that’s curious about the real India. This story was depressingly real, right down to the parenting decision made at the end. I also liked seeing how the relationship between the US and India had evolved.

The Dust Assassin: One of my two favourite stories, this features a young water heiress who has been told her entire life that she is a weapon to be used against their rivals. When she finally finds out what that means, it has tragic consequences. This story was almost told like a myth, and I loved the sheer romance of it.

An Eligible Boy: A story that explores the consequences of female foeticide leading to a very warped gender ratio. Jasbir, a young middle-class professional, is desperate to find himself a city wife, and of course, hilarity ensues. When he does snare a girl, he finds out that it isn’t quite because of his charms. Probably the weakest story, but that’s only because it doesn’t stand out in any way – it’s still pretty good.

The Little Goddess: The adventures of a former living goddess from Nepal, and her search to find meaning in the new world. I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the Kumaris of Nepal, so I really enjoyed this story. It’s told from the first person perspective, and that adds a lot of authenticity to the telling. What does a former vessel for the divine do, when the divine have left her and the AIs are now gods?

The Djinn’s Wife: A famous Awadhi Kathak dancer falls in love and marries her biggest fan – a Charati diplomat AI trying to make peace between their two nations.  However, the looming ratification of the Hamilton Acts (which ban high level AIs), and the sheer differences between the couple (think Laurie Jupiter and Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen) make it a hard time for the first human-AI marriage in history. I could’ve done without the framing story; I don’t think it added much, but otherwise, it was poignant.

Vishnu at the Cat Circus: This is the longest and most expansive story, and the only one that hasn’t been published elsewhere. The protagonist is a Brahmin (I was glad about this; they’re so often demonised by characters from other stories), and happens to be involved in (or know of) events throughout River of Gods as well as after. I don’t want to spoil much, since this was very plot-intensive. This is also a case where I could’ve done without the framing story, though.

Summary: Cyberabad Days makes a great companion book to River of Gods – we learn more about the history of India, what the events of River of Gods meant to the population that wasn’t involved in it, and how India and the world fared afterwards. (I wouldn’t recommend reading Cyberabad Days first, though, unless you’re not planning to read River of Gods).

Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald (River of Gods, #2)
Pyr, 2009 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“Songs of Love and Death” edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Songs of Love and Death coverI’ve been on a bit of a Robin Hobb kick lately, and I should admit that I mainly bought Songs of Love and Death so I could have one of her stories in print. However, it also includes stories from other authors I like – Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher, Jacqueline Carey and Peter S. Beagle, for example, and the chance to get to know a few new ones. I’m not really a fan of the romance genre, but the promise of sci-fi and fantasy and top notch authors was too hard to resist.

Overall, this was a pretty uneven collection. My favourites were the usual suspects – Gaiman’s The Thing About Cassandra was absolutely delightful and made me fall in love with his writing all over again, Hobb’s Blue Boots was typical and felt like being under a warm and comfortable blanket, just because I love her writing so much. I’ve only read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, but her story You, And You Alone was a great exploration of character of one of my favourite characters from that book, as well as a poignant love story. I’m not sure how it would stand by itself though, since the framing story is an important event from Kushiel’s Dart. I also quite liked Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden story, Love Hurts – I really need to read more Dresden files. Kaskia by Peter S. Beagke was also pretty darn good.

Now for new (to me) authors. My favourites were probably The Wayfarer’s Advice by Melinda M. Snodgrass (although I’m not sure if that counts as new-to-me, since she worked extensively on Star Trek: The Next Generation) – I thought it was a really well-crafted bittersweet story. I also liked Hurt Me by M.L.N. Hanover a lot, a woman moves into a haunted house but is strangely unafraid – I thought the resolution to this was pretty cool, even though it was a bit obvious. I liked the settings of Courting Trouble (I’m a sucker for space!) and After the Blood, but not the love stories.

Two stories that I thought were pretty bad – The Marrying Maid by Jo Beverly (woman goes from being afraid of being kidnapped and raped to being in true love in literally a few hours…), and The Demon Dancer (elderly woman transforms into hot babe and gets with the young Guardian she’s been mentoring…)

Anyway, a good buy, especially if you can get it used! Gaiman’s story is the standout, and if you’re following the Hobb/Carey/Butcher series’, they’re great backstory.

Songs of Love and Death by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
Gallery Books, 2010 | Buy the book

Four Kindle books by Ruth Nestvold

I’ve never really seen the need for a Kindle until now; I’ve always preferred the user experience of real books. However, I failed to consider that there might be good books out there that aren’t available in physical form. I really enjoyed Ruth Nestvold’s Yseult, and have been reading more of her work. I also liked White Planet by Ash Silverlock. Now I really want a Kindle, so I can read more stories like these on a device more suited to reading long things than my computer.

Anyway, this is a review of four Kindle books by Ruth Nestvold. None of them is as long or epic as Yseult; Looking Through Lace is a single story, and the other three are collections of short stories. Since they’re all pretty short (Yseult is longer than all of them combined), I figured I’d do a single post on them. Here are my reviews, in the order I read the books:

1. Dragon Time and Other Stories

This book contains four short stories: Dragon Time, Wooing Ai Kyarem, To Act the Witch, and Princes and Priscilla. Overall, I thought that it was a pretty strong collection. I was a bit surprised by the fact that all the stories had a strong element of romance to them, but that’s probably because I went into the author’s novel, Yseult expecting a lot more romance than there was, and that skewed my expectations.

I was pretty impressed with the range of settings described in Dragon Time and Other Stories. The titular story is set in a place like medieval Germany, Wooing Ai Kyarem is set in what seemed like Mongolia and Genghis-Khan inspired, and To Act the Witch is set in 17th century England. Nestvold was able to capture very different feels in all the stories, and I really enjoyed that.

I thought that To Act the Witch was the weakest of the stories; the events of the story were too big to be adequately conveyed in such a short story. It felt a bit rushed and not entirely believable. I still enjoyed it, though. Dragon Time was a fun story, although it was a bit too romantic for me. Wooing Ai Kyarem was one of my favourites; I liked Ai Kyarem and her determination a lot. Princes and Priscilla was my other favourite, I also loved Priscilla’s way of taking matters into her own hands, and the humour of the story.

2. If Tears Were Wishes And Other Short Stories

This book had three stories: Feather and Ring, Woman in Abaya with Onion, and If Tears Were Wishes. These are all set in the modern day and feature American women protagonists, but are set in different countries.

Feather and Ring follows Lindsay, a game designer whose marriage and career is falling apart. While visiting Taiwan, she meets a mysterious woman who just might be a goddess. This is a pretty simple and endearing story, and I liked it. I’m not quite sure if I understood the second story, Woman in Abaya with Onion, but I enjoyed it all the same. It follows Haley, a young woman that has a series of hallucinations of previous massacres in the places that she visits, even as she falls in love with a young Egyptian man. It was a bit more ominous than Nestvold’s usual style.

If Tears Were Wishes was probably my favourite of the three stories. It follows a pair of twins whose tears grant wishes. One of the twins, Brooke, is kidnapped to take advantage of her power, and the other, Crystal vows to find her. Things get pretty interesting since each of them has the power to grant wishes. I loved the ending, too.

3. Never Ever After: Three Short Stories

I’ll review the three stories in Never Ever After one-by-one.

A Serca Tale: In a lot of stories, heroes are portrayed as universally likeable. Every woman wants him, and every man wants to be him. But what if there’s a woman that doesn’t want him, but has been promised to him by people that assume she does? This story is set in an Eriu similar to that of Yseult, so I enjoyed the familiarity. I wish that the heroine hadn’t fled one man only to end up with another, but I suppose it’s the freedom of choice that matters. I did enjoy the story, though.

King Orfeigh: I really enjoyed this story, which tells of a king who has lost his wife to the faerie king, and has been trying to find her and win her back. It’s written in the second person, which I found kind of jarring at first, but got used to pretty quickly. The story is heartfelt and touching.

Happily Ever Awhile: This story explores Cinderella’s life after she marries her young Prince Charming and lives “happily ever after.” Being married to a prince has its drawbacks – he has to rule a kingdom, and lead its men to war if there is one. Ellie manages to find happiness, though. Happily Ever Awhileis a fun story, and manages to balance the fairy tale and the realistic quite well.

Overall, a great collection of stories!

4. Looking Through Lace

Looking Through Lace is the story of Toni, a xenolinguist who is assigned to work with a first contact team. She’s been relegated to doing grunt work until now, and is really excited for the opportunity to prove herself.

The alien world in Looking Through Lace is fascinating – although the inhabitants are descended from humans, they have a unique history and culture. The women speak an entirely different language among themselves that the men are not allowed to learn, and Toni is determined to figure out how and why that happened. However, she has a jealous senior colleague and the affections of an attractive native (who just happens to be in a group marriage) to contend with.

I enjoyed reading a science-fiction story by Nestvold; all the other work I’ve read by her has been fantasy. She keeps up the excellent worldbuilding and characters. I found the revelations concerning the history of the world very interesting. The antagonist xenolinguist seemed like a bit of a caricature, but the interesting alien world more than made up for it.

Dragon Time and Other Stories by Ruth Nestvold
Red Dragon Books, 2012 | Buy the book

If Tears Were Wishes And Other Short Stories by Ruth Nestvold
Red Dragon Books, 2012 | Buy the book

Never Ever After: Three Short Stories by Ruth Nestvold
Red Dragon Books, 2012 | Buy the book

Looking Through Lace by Ruth Nestvold (Looking through Lace, #1)
Red Dragon Books, 2011 | Buy the book

“Malgudi Days” by R. K. Narayan

Malgudi Days cover.I really should have read Malgudi Days a long time ago – I’m not sure why I never got around to it. R. K. Narayan is one of India’s most famous writers, and this is a collection of his short stories, set in and around the fictional south Indian town of Malgudi. Most of the stories are slice-of-life, set from the perspective of a variety of people, from poor beggars and food vendors to schoolboys to rich nonagenarians. Some of them are touching, some are humourous, some are ironic, and some just are. They work really well together to describe the various kinds of people that make up a small town in India.

R. K. Narayan’s style of writing is really simple and unpretentious, but every word he writes conveys so much. His characters are all really approachable, and they might even seem simple, but it is my opinion that it’s really hard to do simplicity well, and no one is better at it than Narayan.

Pretty much all of the stories are about a single minor incident that occurs in the protagonist’s life, and how they react to it. A retired security guard receives a letter in the mail and is driven almost insane by the thought of what it might contain. An old gardener has to say goodbye to the house he has worked in for decades. A man takes temporary responsibility for a lost child and dreams about the family he might have had.

One of the most amazing things about Narayan’s writing is how much sympathy he can arouse for almost any character in a couple of paragraphs. His stories are often about very different people, often flawed or annoying, but they’re inevitably lovable, no matter what stupid decisions they make. I often get unreasonably frustrated with characters that have lapses of judgement, so this is truly a remarkable feat.

The last thing that I wanted to mention was that I recognised one of the stories (“The Missing Mail”) from one of my English textbooks from school. I remember really liking the story back then, and was delighted to rediscover it.

This is book 7 of 25 of my Dec 11, 2011 book challenge.

Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan
Indian Thought Publications, 1943 | Buy the book