haeceity: (Blank)
haeceity ([personal profile] haeceity) wrote2015-04-14 08:11 pm

Quarterly Book Round Up

I'm bending my rules a bit to include the entire Fionavar Tapestry because otherwise I'd be reviewing book 1 now and 2 and 3 in July. As always, I try to keep spoilers vague but sometimes I really hate a spoiler and feel the need to share.

Stealing Magic by Tanya Huff: This is a collection of short stories centering around two characters: Magdalene the World's Most Powerful and Laziest Wizard and Terazin the World's Greatest Thief. I really love both of these characters. Even when the stories aren't that interesting, these women are worth reading about. The book splits each character's stories into a separate section and orders them by when they happen in-universe and not their chronological publication order. Magadalene's stories are generally lighthearted while Terazin's have more of an edge. I'm not sure this was the best way to display them. More specifically, my thoughts on the individual stories are:

The Last Lesson: (published 1989) This story introduces us to Magdalene, her powers, her inherent laziness, and her magical training. Magdalene has powers most wizards only dream about and she largely uses them only when she feels it’s worth the effort. The best kind of powerful wizard from the perspective of most people. This story covers how she traps a demon in a mirror, accidentally kills her mentor, and her discovery that she likes sex. Since she’s 15, that connection between the last two made me uncomfortable but overall it’s fairly enjoyable.

Be It Ever So Humble: (published 1991) Magdalene finds the village that evidently becomes her base of operations for centuries to come. It’s a fairly nice tale that seems a little pat on the morality of interfering with other people’s lives. It boils down to two rules: if she feels like it and if they want her interference. Mostly, she’d rather sit out in the sun in her garden and eat fruit. Her ongoing friendship with Death starts here.

Mirror, Mirror On The Lam: (published 1997) This one is my favorite. Garan, a thief, steals the demon in the mirror on commission while Magdalene is out taking care of other business. When she comes home she discovers that she needs to exert herself to get it back which makes her cranky. The relationship between Garan and Magdalene is unusual in some ways. There’s the gender reversal aspect where she’s the extremely long lived (about 200 by now) person and he’s the mayfly. They have chemistry and there’s no maudlin dwelling on the fact that he’;s going to get old and die long before she does. They team up to deal with the demon and have lots of sex. Then he starts flirting by stealing more of her stuff so she comes and visits him and they have more sex. There’s no forced One True Love, no angst. And in the middle of the story there’s a good scene that reminds me of The Life of Brian and why wizards shouldn't teleport into unknown locales.

Third Time Lucky: (published 1986) This one is my second favorite. Magdalene is much older and has lived in her coastal cottage for a very, very long time. A king summons her away across an ocean on the advice of his court wizard. Her relationship with the captain of her escort is handled more seriously than her relationship with Garan but it comes to much the same thing. Her connection with the court wizard probably isn’t unexpected but I enjoyed it. If Legend of the Seeker had done an episode where Darken Rahl confronted Zedd on his part in Darken’s conception, this story is exactly how I would want it to go.

”I WAS BORN IN THE BELLY OF THE MOUNTAIN AND SPEWED FORTH WITH FIRE AND MOLTEN ROCK!”

Magdalene sighed. "The time before this you were ripped from the loins of the North Wind. The time before that,” her brows wrinkled, “I don’t remember the time before that but it was equally ridiculous I’m sure.”


And Who Is Joah?: (published 1987) Joah, daughter of a fantasy analogue of a sheikh, has decided she wants to be a wizard. So the logical course of action is to convince the most powerful wizard in the world to train her. After finding the most powerful wizard in the world naked in her garden eating fruit, Joah is unimpressed but still determined to be a wizard. From there it gets a little flat and the ending is obvious. The demon culture is a little interesting but not in focus enough to be worth reading the story for.

Nothing Up Her Sleeve: (published 1993) A Council of Wizards has formed and decided Magdalene is too irresponsible to be trusted out in the wide world with her powers intact. The results are a little boring but definitely a good reason for why wizards shouldn't be more active. She tried to warn them.

We Two May Meet: (published 2002) This one is substantially different in tone from the rest. It's about survivor's guilt and self-loathing. The author has said it's in reaction to 9/11. It's a bit on the nose but it works.

Swan's Braid: (published 1996) Terazin's stories take place in the same world as Magdalene's but I didn't see crossover between them. This one introduces Terazin, a thief who wants to be the best and acknowledged as the best. She recently had a big scare on a solo heist that's prompted her to join the Thieves' Guild. Her first trial is to enter the Thieves' Guild headquarters undetected. She passes that with flying colors. Then they assign her to steal the life-braid of mercenary captain Swan. The difficulty is that Terazin fell in love with Swan from a distance and can't bring herself to humiliate her. The ending is again a bit obvious but the story is fun.

In Mysterious Ways: (published 1997) Terazin steals a holy artifact. The results reminded me of Discworld in a good way.

The Lions of al'Kalamir: (published 1999) Swan calls Terazin in to settle a dispute. Swan's mercenary company was hired to fit in a civil war between two brothers. Now that one brother is defeated, the winner needs the ceremonial regalia of kingship to secure his position. It's in a locked vault in a maze that only the his father and his father's vizier knew how to access. There are some good twists and turns as the story progresses and Terazin proves that while she can be fooled, she's a very smart person. She also feels no obligation to be nice to people who dupe her.

Sometimes, Just Because: (published 2003) Terazin takes on her biggest job yet, stealing from a wizard's tower. World building isn't the strong point of this series but this story does a beautiful job with it. This is my favorite Terazin story and third favorite in the collection. I don't want to spoil it because it really, really works.

The Waterborn by Greg Keyes: This is one of Keyes's earlier novels and it shows. The writing clunks in some places and some themes get hit harder than really works for the overall story. This is the first book in a duology and not intended to stand alone. The world building is fascinating.

Spirits and gods do inhabit everything that can be said to have a soul unto itself, except near The River. The story starts with Hezhi, a princess of Nhol (fantasy Egypt), searching for her beloved cousin after he's been taken by the priests of The River. It then shows the other protagonist, a herder named Perkar, undergoing the rite of manhood in his family: have sex with the goddess of the local stream. The two only meet near the end. The path to there on Hezhi's side is filled with intrigue between the royal family and the priests, the truth of her heritage, and her really wonderful friendship with the palace librarian. As she nears the coming of her womanhood, she deals with suitors she doesn't want and a young man she does. I thought the way Keyes handled Yezh coming on to Hezhi when she didn't want him very well. Especially the reaction her nurse had to the incident. No one blames Hezhi, those who love her understand why she's angry, and her nurse doesn't try to tell her that her feelings are wrong. The nurse just says that it's different when a woman wants it. It doesn't go all the way to rape and it doesn't need to. The fact that Yezh tried past her very clear no is enough.

Perkar isn't a very interesting character though he has the more dynamic plot. After his rite is completed, Perkar falls in love with the stream goddess. This isn't a good thing. His passion is so all consuming he can't get an erection for any of the women of his tribe. As his tribe bases the value of it's men (piraku) on battles won, children fathered, and cattle owned and cattle are generally owned as a gift through marriage, this presents his family with a problem. Other families are having problems with sons because there are too many of them for each to have his own cattle farm. So the chieftain of their tribe arranges a quest for himself and some other tribesmen to go to the mountain god Balat to request more land. Perkar joins this quest because of his love. Every day the river consumes her moment by moment as she flows into him. Perkar wants to kill the river god. Perkar joins a cast of characters who are far more interesting than he is and everything goes horribly wrong. He ends up floating down the river to Nhol, pulled by Hezhi's wish for a hero to save her.

The mountain god and his aspects are one of my favorite parts and ft very well with my understanding of folklore. IF you can deal with the prose, this is a good book.

The Blackgod by Greg Keyes: I'll start this off by saying my copy is missing all but the final 4 of the last 28 pages. I have a pretty good idea of the ending and it's satisfying. The book has the same intermittent trouble with clunky prose and the characters remain generally fantastic.

The world building on how magic works in this world goes into more detail. Unlike many books in a polytheistic universe, there is no separation between gods and magic. They're the same thing. Shamans do their magic by bonding with local spirits of various strengths. The secret of Hezhi's bloodline and the lack of gods near the river is bound up in that.

I don't want to spoil too much because this is really good. My favorite part is his handling of the trickster god. Keyes hits the right mix of capricious cruelty, lack of foresight, and attempts to cover up what he's done with an ability to plan and long, long patience.

Red as Blood by Tanith Lee: A collection of fairy tales retold in macabre ways stewed in Tanith Lee's brand of deliberate weirdness. The results are uneven and frequently more weird weird than bad weird or good weird. Most of them go for style rather than actually trying to say anything. A more precise break down (full of spoilers):

Paid Piper: The Pied Piper retold with the Piper being a god who attempts to free a town of materialism. When the townsfolk insist on keeping their petty concerns, he casts a curse of infertility on them.

Red as Blood: Snow White is a vampire like her mother before her. Her stepmother calls on the power of Lucifer in his guise as brother to Jesus to save the soul of the vampire. He does this through time travel.

Thorns: A man who is technically a prince despite his family being killed in a coup visits a valley full of people who haven't used a sharp implement in over a hundred years. He awakens the princess but she remains lost in a dream.

When The Clock Strikes: The first one with enough substance for me to have an opinion. Cinderella's mother was a witch and related to the recently deposed monarch. Since her mother's execution for witchcraft she's been carrying on her mother's work driving the usurper and his family to madness. Pretty cool actually.

The Golden Rope: A retelling of Rapunzel where the witch is keeping the girl to be a sacrifice to Lucifer. There's some lovely anti-Middle Eastern sentiments spread through it and generally I was left asking, WTF. I'm not a fan of highly sexualized descriptions of the bodies of teenage girls. This was the same caring, sorrowful Lucifer as in the Snow White story and somehow that just made the part where he took the virgin sacrifice and spirited her off to a happy after life even weirder.

The Princess and Her Future: The Princess and the Frog told as a horror story. It's pretty good. Not great but it delivers an actual plot that isn't just for weirdness points.

Wolfland: Werewolves! Inevitably this reminds me of Company of Wolves which did this idea better. Still, I really enjoyed this one. This is what I was hoping for when I got the book.

Black as Ink: Swan Lake. Comparatively speaking, it's not even that odd. I have no idea what about this idea got the story written and published. It's a bit bland after the last seven.

Beauty: The most horrifying by far and probably not intentionally as far as I can tell. Spoilers for a decently plotted and executed story ahead:

There's a species of aliens whose birth rates have dropped to nothing. The only solution is to incubate their young in other species. The children are born looking like the host species but never quite fit in. They come to Earth and offer technological advancements. Some of the aliens stay in mansions secluded from everyone else because, the rumor goes, they are too ugly for humans to look at and behave rationally. Every so often they send flowers to members of the human community. Unknown to the humans, these flowers are tuned to the genetic code of the cuckoo aliens among the humans. They've been waiting until women have miscarriages and implanting the alien babies in the hospital without informing the human family. Some families protest but in the end, the person called goes to the alien. All of the humans called this way eventually cut contact with their human families without explanation. What makes it even more awful is that the alien who sends the flower is genetically predestined to be the soulmate of the person the flower is sent to. To bring the story back around to the Eros and Psyche side of things, the "beast" is actually angelically gorgeous. Also, a lot like a lion. I first heard about this story from someone praising it on a board I used to frequent and I am seriously wondering about her right now. She really liked lion motifs.

The Waters of Sorrow: An excellent story about rusalki and what makes them. Again, this is the type of story I was hoping for.

The Hounds of Ash: And Other Tales of Fool Wolf by Greg Keyes: A collection of short stories set in the same world as Waterborn. I realized after I started reading that I read a Fool Wolf short story not included in this collection awhile back. I liked these. Fool Wolf is a likable main character and his plots are interesting enough to make me care what happens.

Wakes The Narrow Forest: This introduces the character of Fool Wolf. He's a member of Waterborn verse's fantasy Mongols. When he was ten, his father attempted to make him the most powerful shaman by coaxing a powerful spirit in. It worked. She's powerful. She's a cat with all of the casual bloodlust and cruelty that implies. Not a good spirit for a shaman. This story also visits the home of the giants. Fool Wolf loses control of his spirit to stay alive. It ends badly for every woman in the valley. She will brook no rivals. A good enough story for an introduction but not very good on its own.

The Skin Witch: After the events of the books, things have been disorganized in fantasy Egypt. A man has been taking over through his political marriage to Hezhi's sister. She hires Fool Wolf to kill her husband. It's not that simple and the story is really a noir detective type with She'deng as the femme fatale. It works really well.

The Fallen God: It's more or less Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. It introduces the Opal of Nah who's a good foil for Fool Wolf. There are magic swords with minds of their own, one of my weaknesses.

The Python King's Treasure: Back to the noir. Fool Wolf is on the run after another caper gone south when he adopts another man's identity. Turns out the man committed suicide to escape the task Fool Wolf has to do. He fails in the task itself and comes out ahead one girlfriend who laughs when she makes starving men vomit. The twist is pretty good and Keyes's style is very much improved.

The Hounds of Ash Part 1: The Sleeping Tide: The Opal of Nah returns as Fool Wolf's nemesis. Both of them are under compulsion to visit a temple at a coastal city. Naturally, this does not end well for the city. Again, watching Fool Wolf's cunning and tendency to cut and run play off against Uzhdon's attempts to make up for his lack of brainpower with can do attitude under the guise of valor is entertaining. This time, Fool Wolf's girlfriend Inah adds a third side, changing the dynamic. It's a lot of fun.

The Hounds of Ash Part 2: The Opal of Nah: Fool Wolf catches back up to Inah and Uzhdon in Uzhdon's homeland. There's a surprise appearance by some characters from previous stories. Fool Wolf remains ahead by brains alone. It turns out not everyone in Uzhdon's homeland is as straightforward as he is.

The Hounds of Ash: The trilogy ends in keeping with the noir vibe most of Fool Wolf's stories have. Friends are enemies. Enemies are friends. No one gets what they want. Most of the events of the last five stories are skillfully tied together.

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire: I don't want to go into too much detail because I have a longer meta piece planned for this. This is fantastic. There are finally answers. There are reasons why certain patterns keep popping up. It really is all about family disputes between mothers, daughters, and sisters. With a side of Tam Lin. It's brilliant.

Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede: I read the fifth one in this series back when I hit high school because it was one of the few Wrede books the library had. I've been working on tracking down the others in the series and I finally found the first one. It wasn't worth the effort. The prose is really, really terrible. There are far too many proper nouns for the length of the story. Everyone talks in this hokey faux ye olde accent. The romance is between characters who spend about a week or two together over the course of roughly three months. Not recommended.

Caught In Crystal by Patricia C. Wrede: This is the fourth book in the same series. It takes place several centuries before Shadow Magic and focuses on an entirely different part of the world. IT hovers halfway between being aimed at 813 year olds with a touch of stuff for adults. The main character is a woman who is about 36 years old and a widowed mother of two. The kids remain present for the whole story and are very important to the plot but Kayl is the lead character and her thoughts and fears are the only ones the audience is shown. The plot is that Magic Seekers are looking into a ruin Kayl and her company of women warriors investigated fifteen years before. It's where she met her husband and lost friends. The story covers her first foray in a series flashbacks interspersed with present action. After all that effort I was disappointed that the only explanation for the monster in the tower was, "We'll probably never know." That was my only real complaint. The rest is pretty solid if not anything to rave about.

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay: The first book of two. I love the style in which these books are written. There is a beautiful attention to fine detail and the way the web of history spins things in different directions, people moving toward and away from one another. At the same time, I frequently wanted the story to hurry up and get where it was going.

This is a fantasy version of Europe in roughly the sixth century. Fantasy Rome is controlled by the fantasy Visigoths, the fantasy Byzantine Empire is in a cultural heyday, and the fantasy Baltic woods are full of dangerous pagans. It confronts the slavery practiced in this time period openly and without excuse or attempts to downplay it. The role and fate of women is also handled very openly. It tackles multiple strata of society from Emperors to merchants to slaves. He doesn't shy away from the bad things about otherwise likable characters or the admirable things in otherwise unlikable characters. It gives the book a good balance. Provided you have the patience to read about the rabbit crossing the field in fits and starts as clouds go by overhead.

Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay: The Sarantine Mosaic concludes beautifully. By the end, I don't like Crispin who is more or less the main character, but I don't really need to. This book includes more from fantasy Persia and I like the way Kay approached writing polygamy and the way wives are distributed in a culture like the one shown. And how a king may give a grand gift that no one involved wants.

Kay researched the details on the way medicine was practiced in the analogous time and place. The attention to detail is stunning. He also provides details of other professions like court eunuchs and mosaicists and Imperial couriers. It comes together and drifts apart.

The Future Falls by Tanya Huff: This isn't a bad book exactly. It's simply extremely disappointing and not at all what I thought I was signing on for when I read the first one.

Part of it is that Enchantment Emporium had me shipping Charlie/Allie pretty hard. Charlie is the irresponsible wandering musician and Allie is the ultra-responsible obsessive caregiver. I thought they gave each other some much needed balance. The story about when they were teenagers and Charlie got lost but was able to find her way back by listening for the music that is Allie? That's the kind of stuff that gets me shipping people. It's not that the ship is being broken up in this book, but it's being twisted into something that isn't what I was expecting. Allie's living with Graham full time and they're having babies. Fine. Charlie's wandering the world following her music. Great. They each have their loves but they still love each other. The book keeps highlighting how impermanent their relationship is and how eventually Charlie is going to leave Allie and not come back. I'm not into obsessive love so that in itself doesn't bother me. It's the way they're handling it.

Allie is trying to give Charlie space but sometimes she needs someone to talk to and she wants it to be Charlie. Like when she's pregnant again and freaking out about how she'll never have daughters (Gales aren't human, this isn't normal). And Charlie blows her off or describes it as "Allie thinks she's given me enough time to be Wild." She's coming to a new understanding of Allie's grandmother whom Allie hates for very good reasons related to the first book. And instead of having an honest conversation, Charlie tries to deny she's going to see Catherine and when Allie doesn't buy it she tells Allie that her problems with her grandmother are her own and then leaves. That's behavior that I have a hard time seeing as anything other than cruel. Being Wild means Charlie needs to leave, I get that. Charlie needs something more like human boundaries from the family, I definitely get that. But there comes a point where she needs to tell Allie what she needs instead of just flaking out on her. There's no resolution on that. When it comes down to it, I like Charlie as a character but I don't find her very compelling as a main character. I find Allie's strengths and weaknesses more interesting. Allie's place in this plot is as a baby maker. Gross.

Another thing happening is that this book ships Charlie with Jack. I like Jack as a quasi-nephew for Charlie. Charlie is 30 and Jack is 17. Maybe because I'm getting close to thirty, but that isn't appealing. To make matters worse, he's an absolute adolescent twit about it. The Gale family has a rule that sexual/romantic partners need to be within seven years of one another's age for practical reasons relating to how Gale magic works. Charlie intends to follow this rule no matter how *insert melodramatic song reference.* (One of my less favorite pieces of Charlie POV is her soundtrack.) Jack doesn't believe she's serious about it because their hearts are meant to be as one. We get Jack POV as he considers whether Charlie is trying not to take responsibility and leave it up to Jack to -ahem- force the issue. This is not the way to get me to ship people.

Combine that with the fact that the action of the plot doesn't get rolling until more than halfway through and I don't like this novel at all. I think Huff had writer's block and/or a novella idea she'd sold as a novel. The ending is my kind of weird but the lead up wasn't worth it.

The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay: I like this trilogy as a whole. The story is intricately woven and clearly took a lot of effort. It ties in so much Arthuriana with Celtic mythology and Norse. The characters cover a wide range of types and goals. I'm not that fond of his elves which makes me sad because normally elves and dragons are my favorites. I am also not at all in favor of the magical rape baby plotline. I understand it and its proud tradition but it irritates me beyond words. Especially when the mother plays the "we can't lay his father's evils on him" card. More specifically:

The Summer Tree: My favorite thing about this book is Paul's plotline. The dynamics between the royal family are interesting too. The book introduces the characters and setting and so it's a little slow getting off the ground. There's a major betrayal that seems like barely a blip when it happens. Jaelle is handled very well. Where she could be a shrill straw feminist, she's shown to be a frightened young woman doing the best she can with what she has available.

The Wandering Fire: My favorite thing in this one is the way Kevin's arc both mirrors Paul's and doesn't. My least favorite thing is that when Kim alters the fabric of what the giants are without their permission, she uses Jennifer's rape without Jennifer's permission. She uses her magic to show them what the Ultimate Evil villain did to her best friend and watches with them as self-flagellation. In my opinion, that's nothing but disgusting. Maybe Jennifer didn't want Kim to see. We have no way of knowing. Apparently, Jennifer's opinion doesn't matter. On the upside, Arthur is awakened and brought to fight. The Wild Hunt is awakened. The purpose of the High Priestess of Dana becomes clear. The plot related stuff I like. Everything to do with Jennifer makes me angry.

The Darkest Road: Everything comes together and apart. I don't want to spoil this because which deaths happen isn't entirely predictable and I enjoyed that. The dwarves are finally given their role, families are reunited, families are torn apart. The world settles into a new pattern. Definitely worth reading.
meridian_rose: pen on letter background  with text  saying 'writer' (writer)

[personal profile] meridian_rose 2015-04-18 05:56 pm (UTC)(link)
A very comprehensive roundup!
Red as Blood sounds like something I'd have been interested in, but from the provided review, not so much.
Ugh. Why is magical rape baby even a thing? :(

[identity profile] vorquellyn.livejournal.com 2015-04-19 07:57 am (UTC)(link)
I think you'd like Magdalene from Stealing Magic a lot. I understand your reservations about Toby Daye but I think if you start at book 7 (which is a good entry point) you'd like the series. You might like the gods/magic system of Waterborn. Otherwise, I don't think these are your speed.

Yeah, Red as Blood was disappointing. I was hoping for something a little weird, really macabre, and subversive. It was advertised as a "what if these heroines were actually the villains." These seem to mostly be from earlier in Lee's career from before she figured out the difference between subversive and "whee! look what I can do!" The Beauty one is pretty staggering in terms of lack of informed consent and while there was a lot of suspense, it came across as largely handwaving the ickier elements with "they're better than humans, so human rules don't apply." Which I've always found odd and offputting in SFF. The point of having a different species is to have another POV. Forgiving all of their immoral behavior because of that POV just seems like cheating. Of course this Beauty is okay with this Beast calling her away from her home knowing they're predestined to be soulmates while she still thinks she's human. Why wouldn't anyone be okay with that? *shudder*

Magical rape baby is a thing I think we should leave behind. What makes it worse in these books is that they're actually really good and do several clever things. The person who starts down the path of "I am calling everything to war because if we lose, we lose every world in the multiverse" turns away from that path and there are consequences for not pursuing that. It's surprisingly friendly to poly and not in a harem way. It knocks off Tolkien without being completely obnoxious about it. And it's really lazy about the magical rape baby. About the only thing it does there that feels unusual is the biological mother doesn't raise the baby, they meet once, and she is not gentle or comforting about the decision between her and the father. Everything else about it is by the numbers. And it's frustrating in the middle of some really cool ideas.