In which I catch up to a lot of books. You’ve been warned (yeah. The snakelet got mobile and my spare time got a lot… busier).
–The Very Best of Kate Elliott: an extensive collection of Elliott’s short fiction as well as four illuminating essays, this is utterly wonderful. They’re all very strong stories, focusing on people (mostly women) dealing with war, magic and various other conflicts. The clear highlight for me was “Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine”, which has the best woman protagonist *ever*, and manage to make a number of pointed remarks about the invisibility of older women and working-class people, but they’re all worth a read.
–Glorious Angels, Justina Robson: “glorious” is about the right word for this. Set on a planet colonised by humans a long time ago, and where an intriguing mix of science and magic dominates, this focuses on the Empire, a loose confederation of cities ruled by Empresses who control their subjects through pheromones. But the Empire is enmeshed in a deadly war; and trouble might soon come from within… There’s so much in this–tremendously inventive world building done matter-of-factly, a kickass family (Tralane and her two daughters are just awesome), and mysterious and deadly beings in the shape of the Karoo, creatures who absorb each other to gain knowledge. And an ending that is both satisfying and immensely frustrating (aka I want to know what happens next!).
– The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson (ARC from publisher): if you’re not in the mood for brutal and depressing, this is probably not the book for you. It’s been a long while since I read something that was pure tragedy–you know exactly what this book is building up to, and yet you still turn the pages and hope against all hope that there will be a happy ending. (also, the focus on economics and war is really interesting, even though I wasn’t 100% sold on some of the politics). I did find myself wanting to argue with it, at length, after I’d finished it; but I suspect you’re meant to do so.
–Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear: I’d read Range of Ghosts, the first volume of the Eternal Sky a while back, when it first came out, but I hadn’t had a chance to check it out until now. Set in a fantasy version of the Silk Road (featuring analogues of Persia, Mongolia and China among others–more as loose inspirations than the actual historical setting), this is a breathtaking epic fantasy with very strong set pieces (and horses! OMG Bansh and her foal), political intrigue and realistic characters (while I love Temur, my favourite is Samarkar, the wizard who was once a princess, and her relationship with Edene, Temur’s fiancée). The ending is heartbreaking and wonderful.
–The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (ARC from publisher): epic fantasy using Ancient China as its foundation. A cross between the Iliad, Three Kingdoms and Lord of the Rings. But it’s also very adult and very modern in its handling of power–who gets it, who is worthy to handle it and how you cling to it. And very very cynical and dark in some ways (the violence is always drily factual, but I’d argue that makes it even more horrific)
It does some amazing things with narration–and one of these is showing how everyone has a story–this might be the tale of Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu, but everyone in the cast ends up feeling very, very human and yet larger than life. It’s a neat trick. Again, I love the cultural foundations of this–scholars and filial duty! Confucius (well, Kong Fiji)! Kites and fireworks as weapons.
I do have one reservation, though, and it’s the same issue I have with Three Kingdoms. Because this is a universe where men do the fighting (and women, with notable exceptions, don’t), and because this is a story of war, women end up being relegated somewhat to the back burner. The story is very aware of it, and aware of how women try to gain power (and there’s subversion going on, more or less subtle), but I still ended up… a bit frustrated? There’s awesome women fighters, and some court intrigues in the last third. (and it looks like book 2 is going to be more about the building of peace and rivalries at court, therefore will remedy this)
NB: the fact that this last one has a longer review doesn’t mean I loved it more than the others! Just that I typed this one when I had a little more time than now, when the snakelet wasn’t mobile yet…