Throne of Glass #5: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 2 February, 2019

This book could be summed up as “You get a fey prince! And you get a fey prince! Everybody gets a fey prince!”

Nearly every important character gets matched up, and most of them get to bone. A lot. And the boning is.. eeeeeeh. It’s all about territorial marking and angry sex and wrecking beaches because the characters lose control of their powers while orgasming, and it really isn’t my thing at all.

Given that the sex scenes did nothing for me, getting through so many of them was a bit of a slog. Especially in a series that seems to have saved it up only to dump all of the sex out in one go.

I don’t know how much of the series Maas planned out when writing Throne of Glass, but this book has a whole bunch of Big Revelations. A lot of them work, and those are quite satisfying when they answer some mystery that’s been sitting in the background since the very beginning. Some, though, do feel like clunky retcon. There’s also more use of the “Aelin was secretly solving all the problems without telling anyone and while acting as though the problems were not being solved at all” plot device which is dangerous, to say the least. Sometimes, it results in a triumphant showing of her hands, as in the ending to Queen of Shadows. Sometimes, though, it reads like Maas wrote herself into a corner, and gave Aelin the deus ex machina trump card to get out of it.

Elide continues to be my favourite character. She’s so outgunned by everyone on Team Aelin, and yet she continues to hold her own. I even quite like her relationship with Lorcan. I’m not a huge fan of how Maas writes romance, but theirs works for me the best. And while she and Manon don’t get a lot of time together, their relationship continues to be one of my favourite aspects of the story.

Manon is still fantastic, and I even really like her with Dorian – as long as they aren’t having sex. As soon as they have sex, it’s all gross and angry and talking about what they could do with chains, and it just doesn’t seem to fit a relationship that is otherwise founded on mutual mercy.

A whole bunch of characters show up for the first time with obvious histories, which I assume were covered in the prequels. Having not read the prequels, I still never felt lost. The sudden influx of allies didn’t feel cheap, either, since there have been enough hints of Aelin’s past for these pre-existing relationships to be plausible.

There are still some repetition issues – everyone keeps either purring their statements, or saying them “too quietly” – but it’s still never as bad as it got in Heir of Fire.

More books in the Throne of Glass series:

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Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

Read: 5 January, 2019

Rather than Urban Fantasy, it might make more sense to call this Urban Mythology. The world of Dreams Underfoot is one where the city is a living ecosystem of magical creatures.

I had read that ‘Nathan Burgoine was inspired by Charles de Lint, and I can absolutely see the connection. Both tell stories of urban magic and found family, and of people that have historically been outsiders coming together to form a new community within a city environment. Both also make magic of art.

There is rape and child abuse in Dreams Underfoot, which is something I really don’t enjoy. However, I did like that de Lint usually used these stories in the victims own character arc, with her being the protagonist of her own story, rather than using it to motivate someone else. Not only that, but victimhood is one part of these characters, not a backstory used in place of a personality. One story, that doesn’t end particularly well, has five (and then six) victims coming together to support each other, to create art, and to help others in similar situations. It’s an exploration of victimhood that does a lot more justice to its characters than I normally see, and I appreciate that.

Throne of Glass #4: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 15 December, 2018

I’ve passed the series halfway mark and the books just keep getting longer! But while Heir of Fire felt unearned – the characters staying in a holding pattern through much of the book’s length – Queen of Shadows justifies its pages. 

Things I liked:
-Manon’s discovery of her inner humanity was interesting and heartfelt. While her interactions with Abraxos were the saving grace of HoF, it was her relationship with Elide that really made her narrative in QoS.

-Speaking of Elide, she’s just great. She’s a complex character, and her journey is an interesting one.

-Aelin gets some really badass moments in this book. Like, reallybadass.

-Aelin’s scheming. We get to hear a lot about how she’s such a great assassin in the previous books, but her rescue of Aedion was the first time I actually bought into the hype. Especially later on, when we find out the additional layers of that plan. 

-I’ve been a huge fan of Chaol’s devotion to Dorian. Intimate male friendships do not get enough love. In fact, I’d throw in friendships in general, because Aelin and Lysandra is a great relationship, too.

-Lysandra. Just, Lysandra. Even without powers, she’s badass and amazing. With powers, she’s magnificent. 

-The twist ending.

Things I didn’t like:
-Nesryn seems like she has potential as a character, but also feels like she was only added as a consolation prize for Chaol. I hope more gets done with her as the series continues, but this book certainly lets her down. 

-The way Chaol acts toward Aelin is annoying. I get what Maas was going for, and his reaction does make sense – especially when he questions the wisdom of a mageocracy. However, because we spend so little time with him, and spend so much time with Aelin, he just comes off as unreasonable and whiny. I’m not surprised that so many people were really angry with how this book treated him.

-The number of endings. QoS totally pulls a Lord of the Rings by giving us a fantastic ending, a nice fade-to-black, and then kicking right up again with another chapter. And another. And another. Each of these endings was great, but there were just too many of them, and my body just can’t process that many climatic tension releases in a row. It’s overwhelming, and it ends up lessening the impact of what should have been excellent triumphant moments. 

I’d put Rowan in a medium category. I’m really not a fan of that feral, aggressive, possessive masculinity. I do like the way Aelin keeps it in check, but not that she has to. 

Overall, I’d say this is my favourite entry in the series so far. It had the most plot, as well as the most interesting plot, and I’m getting pretty invested in how this will all turn out.

More books in the Throne of Glass series:

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Legacy of Orisha #1: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Read: 1 December, 2018

Over the basic structure of your standard YA (chosen one goes on a quest to defeat the tyrant who killed her mother, finds love and friendship on the way), Adeyemi builds a fantastic story. The storytelling reminded me quite a bit of Avatar: The Last Airbender. In a good way. In a “this captured the spirit that I loved about the show, without coming off as trying too hard to be like it” sort of way.

The worldbuilding is refreshing, drawing from African history rather than European. Between this and the compelling characters, the story was able to sustain my interest fairly consistently, despite being rather on the long side.

There’s the central romance we’ve all come to expect from YA, but I was surprised by the depth and care given to Zélie and Amari’s platonic friendship. They have the same “hate at first sight” dynamic that romance often gets, as well as a very organic building of mutual respect and, eventually, intimacy. While I’m as disappointed as the next person about the lack of queer content, I do appreciate it when friendships receive serious attention in YA.

Irresistible Forces edited by Catherine Asaro

Read: 19 November, 2018

Like many others, I got this because I needed “Winterfair Gifts” – to come so far with Miles and then miss his wedding?? Of the other authors, only Catherine Asaro is on my radar (I’ve had her Skolian Empire books recommended to me, though I haven’t read them yet), so I was walking into this rather blind.

As I would have predicted, “Winterfair Gifts” was fabulous. It was absolutely everything I didn’t know I wanted. The rest, however, really weren’t up to that same quality. That’s not really fair, as I came into “Winterfair Gifts” with so much backstory that Bujold had the luxury of economy. All the other authors, however, had to build their worlds for me from scratch.

None of the stories were bad, by any means, but they also weren’t amazing. For the most part, I just didn’t find them particularly memorable. There were some good ideas, some bits I enjoyed, but I haven’t been moved to seek out any of the authors.

The book is worth getting just to have “Winterfair Gifts” on my shelf, and I am glad that I got to read some stories that aren’t in my usual wheelhouse. But if you buy this book, it’ll almost certainly be for Bujold’s story.

“Winterfair Gifts” by Lois McMaster Bujold

I knew coming in that this was going to be the story of Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding, but that’s it. I was prepared to revel some more in their relationship, with maybe a bit of plot on the side, but this delivered so much more.

I didn’t expect the POV shift. The protagonist of this story isn’t Miles, but rather his armsman, Roic (of bug butter fame). Having gotten to know Aral in Cordelia’s books, I enjoyed shifting to Miles’s perspective and getting to see how Aral appears from the outside. Now, we get to see Miles through Roic’s eyes.

The main highlight of the story, for me, was getting to spend more time with Taura. In particular, getting to see her in a social environment. I also loved the glimpse we get of Ekaterin, and how strong she is, as well as how perfect she is for Miles. She’s reminding me a lot of Cordelia, while also being her own separate self.

“The Alchemical Marriage” by Mary Jo Putney

Coming right after “Winterfair Gifts”, this story really didn’t have a chance. For one thing, it has to make me care about the lovers and their relationship in just a handful of pages, whereas I was already cheering in Taura’s corner before I ever started “Winterfair Gifts.” It almost seems cruel to put Bujold’s story first in this collection!

Trying to look at “The Alchemical Marriage” in isolation, it’s fine. It’s not my genre, so I’m less practiced at overlooking the genre’s conventions. Besides that, Macrae’s growly wildness struck me as a silly affectation (particularly since I don’t have much patience for that brand of masculinity).

I wasn’t particularly sold on the relationship, either. The lovers seem to have an attraction to each other, but it’s not really explored. We’re told that they are plumbing each other’s depths and vulnerabilities so that they can exchange magic more completely, but I didn’t get a sense of what that would mean to the characters. Isabel seems to struggle with sharing some parts of herself, but we are never told what those parts are and, in the end, she gives them up rather easily.

When the lovers do finally bone, it’s a matter of convenience – they have to bone to save England, you see! But then, suddenly, Macrae shows up at Isabel’s house all a-bluster, assaulting her servants and threatening her parents, because now they obviously have to get married. Isabel seems to think that Macrae’s approach is a performance to compensate for his own vulnerabilities, but is it? Really?

While perhaps more predictable, I would have liked more about the sharing of vulnerabilities. It’s mentioned how lonely Isabel was, as the only real magic user in her family. That should have been more central, I think. As it was, I got the feeling that the author was going for an exploration of the male/female dichotomy, but defined those terms too casually (like having Macrae be gruff), and then failed to make a compelling case for why these two essentialities should go well together.

I did like the insertion of magic into a historical event, though. That was fun.

“Stained Glass Heart” by Catherine Asaro

I found this one quite good. It was a little heavy-handed, but I did like the gender switching on the political marriage to a much older person plot, and I found that I quite liked the two main characters.

There was too much going on for a short piece, though. For example, having the main character’s whole family be empaths, including both of his parents. Having them be empaths at all was unnecessary to the story, and then it raises so many questions – such as why they are all empaths and why no one else is, even though his mother and father are from entirely different planets. The role of dance was a bit hamfisted as well. I liked that the main character had something “different” about him, and that he had a real dream that he had to give up if he wanted to stay with the girl he loved, but it was introduced a little late in the story. Also, given how many times the reader is told that “men don’t dance”, I feel like it should have been a more important part of the story before it becomes a plot issue.

All that aside, I liked the two main characters, and I liked that I could actually see why they liked each other. Giving Vyrl a shameful passion and having Lily happily accept it as part of who he is was a nice touch.

“Skin Deep” by Deb Stover

This one does pretty well with an absurd concept: A deceased husband is brought back to earth in a new body so that he can help his widow bone the man who had been his rival for her affections when they were first courting. Oh, also? There are male strippers, drug traffickers, and some sort of mob organisation complete with cops on the take. And all of that is crammed into a short story.

The story does well not to take itself too seriously, but it just doesn’t have much for substance. It’s competently written, but I’m sure I’ll forget all about it in a day or two. Except, maybe, for its cheesy early 90s set up.

“The Trouble with Heroes” by Jo Beverley

Not a bad story, but I felt that it was an awkward combination of too heavy handed while not having thought through what it was trying to say. There’s something there about soldiers being changed by war and coming back to a population that honours their heroism while also being afraid of what they’ve become. That’s all well and good, but then there’s the stuff about magic and controlling people’s minds, and it lost me.

It’s well written, and there are bits of the worldbuilding that have potential, but the story just didn’t work for me as a whole.

“Shadows in the Wood” by Jennifer Roberson

Nothing to write home about, but I did actually enjoy this one. I grew up on stories like Robin Hood and King Arthur, and seeing them combined was just good fun. I also liked the bits about old magic and the importance of blood and sacrifice, as well as giving the story to Marian.

The Witcher #2: Sword of Destiny by Andrej Sapkowski

Read: 7 November, 2018

As with The Last Wish, this is a collection of loosely connected short stories. There’s a strong theme of parenthood, with both Yennefer and Geralt grappling with their infertility, and with Geralt circling his destiny with Ciri. There’s also a scene where he comes across his birth mother, and faces the pain he feels that he was given over to the witchers rather than aborted. It’s an interesting situation, and it shows just how much he resents having been made a witcher – even while fitting the role so well. In terms of the destiny discussion, it’s also interesting to note that his mother – a sorceress – should have been infertile.

There is a scene where Geralt comes to the monument of the second battle of Sodden Hill and comes to believe that Yennefer (along with Triss Marigold and Coral) has been killed. It was rather moving to see the depth of his (misplaced) grief.

Yennefer shows up a lot, but she doesn’t get much actual interaction with Geralt. Any time they talk, they are either having sex or lamenting that they can’t be together and doomed to break up every time they try. We are shown Geralt’s own feelings for her, both at Sodden Hill and in his almost battle with his rival, Istredd. But while we’re told again and again that he loves her, we aren’t given much of a reason for it. If I remember correctly, this comes out a bit more in Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt, when the two of them form a sort of nuclear family with Ciri.

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Moonstruck, Vol. 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis (illustrated by Shae Beagle)

Read: 16 October, 2018

I really love the artwork! The colours really pop, and every character has a very unique style that made it easy to keep track of who was who. I also liked the two different art styles to show what was part of the main story, and what was part of the in-world book.

My only complaint is with the pacing. It starts off nice and slow as we get to meet our characters and see their rapport. Then the mystery starts, and we see a little of how Chet, the character who is mainly affected by the mystery, copes (or not) with what has happened.

All’s good for that first 2/3rds. After that, however, the story seems like it’s rushing to a finish line. There were times when I thought I might have accidentally skipped a page because things were happening so fast. Who are the baddies? Why are they doing what they are doing? There’s a bit in there about trying to rid the world of magic, which would fit with the central theme (the main character, Julie, is embarrassed of being a werewolf and wishes she were a plain human), but that’s just one line. It’s a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it moment that doesn’t do much more than simply nod to the central theme to remind us that it still exists.

The whole final conflict (starting with tracking down the ghost to find out where the final conflict would take place) could have been at least twice as long, and given Julie’s choice to stop the baddie some actual weight.

Aside from that, I did really like this. The characters are interesting, I love all the inclusion, and the art style is perfect for the story being told.

Brave Chef Brianna by Sam Sykes (illustrated by Selina Espiritu)

Read: 9 October, 2018

I really don’t know how to feel about this one. I absolutely love the artwork, first of all. It’s colourful and expressive, and all the characters felt recognisably unique (granted, this is a little easier when so many of the characters are monsters…).

I also liked the representation of anxiety. It’s shown graphically as a little black cloud that appears when Brianna is feeling overwhelmed. As her anxiety attack ramps up, the little cloud grows until it eventually obscures everything around Brianna.

Lastly, I just liked the representation of food service work and restaurant ownership. As hopping as the restaurant is, it still ends up at a slight loss (which is celebrated as a victory). The specificity of that environment added a nice touch to the story.

Unfortunately, a lot of the story just didn’t sit well for me. For one thing, a central plot point is that Brianna is adding illegal ingredients to her food and then serving it to customers without letting them know. She does this knowing that it is against monster tradition to eat flour or sugar. This is on par with serving pork to Muslims while letting them assume that it’s chicken. Not cool.

The other issue is that the big baddie of the story, Madame Cron, is coded as a WoC. She serves traditional, functional monster food, which loses out to Brianna’s imported human food. I’m not reading this SJW stuff into it, by the way – Cron is explicitly shown as having had a history of being oppressed by humans, and having been an activist in her past. And now, the message of the story is that she needs to let go of all that resentment because monster racism is over, and she needs to just let her neighbourhood get gentrified by the nice blonde woman with her non-ethnic cooking that everyone loves.

It would have been one thing if Brianna learned a valuable lesson about respecting Monster traditions, but the lesson is all Madame Cron’s (who is seen taking down a “no humans allowed” sign from her restaurant in her last panel). I just don’t know what to make of all that, but it doesn’t sit well with me.

Of Echoes Born by ‘Nathan Burgoine

Read: 7 October, 2018

This collection absolutely blew me away. I tend to struggle a lot with short stories – by the time I’ve found my footing with the characters and the setting, it’s already all over. Things happen to characters and I just don’t really feel what I know I’m supposed to be feeling because they are still strangers.

But Of Echoes Born was more like Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. The characters were so strong that I got an immediate sense of them. Burgoine will give me a whole love story in a handful of pages and I will feel it – I will feel that attraction the characters have for each other, I will understand their little inside jokes, I will totally buy into the love that they share.

Which, of course, just made my heart so much easier to break – which Burgoine did, again and again throughout the book. It never felt gratuitous or manipulative, though. Burgoine breaks, but he also heals, and nearly every story feels redemptive.

I really love that characters and locations come back through the stories, giving the collection a feeling of community. I’m pretty sure I also recognised at least one character from Triad Blood, though it’s been a while.

I  also love the way that art is used in these stories – and not just one type of art, but everything from painting to clothing design.

There & Then

I’m not a terribly huge fan of rape being used as a plot point, and I do think that this story could have worked without it. That said, I did really enjoy the story. I loved the magic system, and the way that the story taught me to feel for characters just based on what colours were named. I also enjoyed the origin story aspect of having the character discover what his powers mean and what he can choose to do with them.

Time and Tide

There’s a romance trope where a character comes home and is forced to confront a love from the past. I didn’t like this story as much as others in the collection, mostly because the magic and the art didn’t blend into the story the way they do in the other stories.

Pentimento

This isn’t a story where the characters happen to be gay, but a story where the homosexuality is the story. There’s the enforced closet, all the relationships that were never given a chance out of fear, and the complicated relationship between generations. But instead of being a sad, dark story – which it got very close to being – this is a story about magic art that heals history. I felt so uplifted when I got to the end, which was a wonderful feeling after a story that had, up until then, been so dark.

A Little Village Magic

Pentimento moved me, Village Magic outright had me blubbering. There’s the surface story about budding magical powers and a romantic relationship, but the backdrop is the restoration of a defaced LGBTQ+ monument. I love the message of found family.

The Psychometry of Snow

A twist on the ‘going home’ romance story, but again with the addition of magic. I liked this one a lot more than “Time and Tide”, if only because the magic system worked a bit better for me. I felt like “Time and Tide” needed too much exposition, which bogged the story down a bit, whereas the magic in “Psychometry” was pretty easy to grasp and then we had time to get on with things.

The Finish

This one was intense. Right from the beginning, we know that something will go terribly wrong, and that anticipation just gets ramped up with the time skipping and the frantic sex. The payoff was upsetting, of course, but it worked.

Here Be Dragons

Another one that had me crying. This might be a book written by a young(-ish?) author, but the sensitivity and feeling of what mental loss does to a couple is all there.

Struck

This one is a kinda funny story with a creepily laughable character, but then it sneaks in this delightfully heartfelt story about finding love and I really enjoyed it.

Heart

Burgoine is fantastic at evoking deep emotions in the limited format of a short story. I really fell for Miah and Aiden, and I bought them as a couple. Within a handful of pages, I cared enough for them to be really struck by their loss.

Negative Space

This could have been just another urban fantasy story about solving crime through magic. But Burgoine focuses all the attention on the main character, André, instead. So what we get instead is a story about suffering turned outward to help others.

Elsewhen

The main “character” in this one is Ottawa, as the protagonist helps spirits “cross over”. It was neat to see some of the city’s history. Mostly, though, this is another story about the queer community, and all those relationships that were stifled by bigotry. Like “Pentimento”, Burgoine doesn’t just wallow in the sadness of it, but rather redeems his lovers. It’s beautiful, and sweet, and sad, and it’s healing in a way.

Here & Now

A book end story, we come back to Christian (now Ian) and Dawn from “There & Then”. There’s enough here for the story to stand on its own, but it works beautifully as a sequel – answering questions that had been raised in “There & Then”, and finishing off the arcs for each character. I particularly loved that, while Ian was healing for Christian in “There & Then”, that very same interaction is shown to be healing for Ian, too. Both versions of himself needed help, and they were there for each other. Which is just such a wonderful metaphor.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Read: 1 September, 2018

I’d be really interested to find out how Pratchett and Gaiman collaborated on this book, because the narrative is a perfect meshing of their two styles. I recognised so much that was distinctively Pratchett or distinctively Gaiman, but all blended together to make a fantastic amalgam style with both footnote humour and mythic humour.

Some of the jokes haven’t aged too well, particularly where gender is concerned. The book also has a very ’90s/Fern Gully sort of environmental message that dates it rather unmistakably.

Other than that, though, this was wonderful.