Flora Segunda, by Ysabeau S. Wilce

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I have to say, I rather enjoyed this book. It’s not without its oddities (failings in some cases), but dang. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to read so many other books that I’ve liked less, but I really liked this one.

It’s worth knowing that there’s some real weirdness to what’s going on in the setting, if you spend much time looking at it and trying to explain it in relation to our world. For example, I’m not sure why so many people are described as blond / red-haired, despite apparently being in close contact with a maybe-Aztec country. The geography is almost certainly what we think of as California, but the history certainly isn’t. The truth is, we aren’t told enough about the history of this setting (in this book) for me to be able to say much more. Maybe there’s a good reason for all of this.

All I know is that it felt weird reading about a bunch of people in a magical quasi-California, none of whom seemed to be non-white. It helped when I consciously separated everything from our own world, despite the similarities, but that can’t solve everything.

Setting that aside, I had a good time. Strange and distinct magic, jam-packed with events and adventure and obvious future plot hooks, fun characters, a believable recent history if you’re willing to accept the overall premise… it’s good stuff. Potentially complicated by other factors, but good stuff.

Also, it somehow straddles the weird space between middle grade and young adult in a way that I really appreciated. It’s more or less where I’d like Barium Deep to be, though not in exactly the same way.

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End of Semester Delays

My posting won’t go back to normal for the next two weeks, I think. I’m too distracted by the things I have to finish for my last two sets of classes.

On the up side, I have had a chance to look at lots of books recently, and I have a few to recommend.

Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is a fun story in an awesome fantasy setting. My only reservations revolve around how it follows a bunch of romance genre conventions in a way that I find a little less appealing. This isn’t because I have something against good romance work — I love Bujold’s romance stories — but because I don’t like the dynamic between the two romance leads as much as I like the rest of the story. And to be clear, most of the story isn’t very heavy on the romance. But it is definitely there.

Hmm, that sounds less like the recommendation I thought I was writing and more like a warning. It’s a fun book, and I *do* recommend it. It has an Eastern European setting with witches and magic and Baba Yaga type stuff! What more could you want? I rather enjoyed it.

And, on the picturebook front, I strongly encourage you to look at Water Is Water, published last year. It is gorgeous. It has so much detail and setting layered into each image. As a Vermonter, it gave me little nostalgic quivers. It’s worth reading.

The March North, by Graydon Saunders

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I’ve been telling my housemate Books to read this ever since I started the series back in March. They haven’t listened to me, much to their detriment. You have a chance to do better by yourself and read this book. And if you have any appreciation for feminism, transhumanism, powerfully egalitarian worlds, entirely in-character narration, and a series that finally recognizes just how screwed up a world with horrifyingly powerful wizards would be, then you totally should read it.

To give you a little perspective, I’ve now read all three books in the series so far. I started in March. I’ve been overly busy with school for the past two weeks, to the point of feeling like tearing out my hair, and I read the third book in only a few days during that time anyway. This is good stuff. The delivery is dense, and you may have to work to keep up every so often, but it’s quite exceptionally good.

I’ll admit, the first book might not be for everyone. If you can’t enjoy military fantasy, it might not be your cup of tea. The next few have their idiosyncrasies too: I didn’t expect to have so much fun reading about people moving huge piles of dirt. But those idiosyncrasies are a mostly transparent patina on top of stories about self-discovery, formulation of identity, and choice. You may find other themes buried in here that speak to you as well (I know I did). Regardless of any lack of physical similarity, the characters in these stories are deeply human, people who are wonderful to discover.

The March North, A Succession of Bad Days, and Safely You Deliver are for sale through Google Books.

Flash Fiction: Her Touch

I haven’t done one of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges in a while, so I thought I’d do one again and share the results.  But I think I got more than I bargained for.  This week’s challenge was another subgenre mashup (last time gave us Dreams of Drowning); this time I rolled “Grimdark Fantasy” crossed with “BDSM Erotica.”

I hadn’t expected that.

But I think I’ve succeeded at delivering on those things, maybe?  It certainly is BDSM erotica, and I think the trappings are sufficiently grimdark fantasy-esque to qualify.  You’ve been warned.

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Won’t Break Your Heart: Sorcery & Cecelia, by Wrede and Stevermer

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I hadn’t quite expected this to be so good.  In fact, I futzed around and failed to really start it for about four weeks (or maybe longer).  But there was some point, maybe around page 80, when I seem to have flipped a switch; suddenly all I wanted to do was finish the book.  It’s lovely and wonderful, and I would certainly recommend it to pretty much anyone who has any interest in epistolary novels, or female protagonists in post-Napoleonic Wars England, or magic, or even just fun stories.  To be clear, given how readily I’ve bounced off of other similar characters before, I had no idea how much fun they could be.

Sorcery & Cecelia (which I have learned, much to my delight, is part of a series) was written back in the 80’s as a Letter Game.  Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer decided to write letters to each other in the voice of their two respective characters, relating gossip and intrigue, and telling each other about the fabulous and exciting things which they were each getting up to.  When they’d finished their game, they looked at their collection of letters and realized that they’d basically already written a novel.  With some editing for details, continuity, and pacing, they found that they had a perfectly acceptable manuscript, and then managed to get it published.  I am exceedingly glad that they did.

Look, I don’t want to ruin any of the book for you by mentioning things.  Suffice it to say that the two main characters’ adventures and intrigues make excellent reading, and Kate and Cecilia are absolutely brilliant as heroines who must vanquish their antagonists, while carefully acting within the constraints imposed on them by society.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this book.  It’s really quite good.

p.s. Thank you to the visitor who recommended this to me one morning in Mama Dorr’s kitchen.  I wish I could remember your name to thank you properly, especially after the excellent conversation we had about epistolary stories and your research into the subject. [Edit: The visitor was Naomi, but I appear to have misattributed the recommendation!  It was still an awesome conversation, but Thomas may have been the original source.  I might manage to get to the bottom of this.  Maybe.]

World Building: Magic, Demons, Angels, and Devils

Back in November I wrote about a new RPG campaign that I had cooked up, a game that I’ll refer to as For The King! for lack of a better name.  If you are currently playing in or are going to play in my 5th edition D&D campaign, you might want to be careful with reading this post.  If not, feel free to read this early-concept campaign overview.  I’ll avoid saying things here that could be too spoiler-y, but I plan to explore the nature of magic, demons, devils, and other such inimical forces.  Your character might or might not have access to this information.

Based on the first few sessions that I ran for my brothers, I already know that the setting allows for angels and fallen angels, though the latter are more like Remnants from In Nomine, powerful supernatural beings from other planes who have had some part of their greater nature stripped from them by intent or by accident.

Angels and their derivatives are all essentially moderately self-willed fragments of the god they serve, and might be thought of as something like having a god let its fingernail clippings (or maybe severed finger?) go off and do its bidding in the world.  A bit like some kind of overpowered intelligent celestial dandruff, I suppose.  But I don’t know off the top of my head how to make demons and devils work, and I don’t just want to sign on to the metaphysics presented in the 5th ed. Monster Manual without some editorial input.  I’d much rather doodle in the margins and make their setting fluff more thoroughly my own.  So read on for sweet lore! Continue reading

The Wizard’s Dilemma, by Diane Duane

JacketWelp, this one took me a long time to finish.  I’m still not quite sure how that happened.  Part of it was that I started the book while I had far too many things on my plate and thus got distracted.  But part of it was that at a certain point in The Wizard’s Dilemma, I felt like I could see where all of the pieces were, where they needed to go, and had a pretty good idea of how they were going to get there… and I really wanted them to just be there already, instead of making me wait.  I suspect that this is the price I pay for reading so much.  Or perhaps for being impatient.

It turns out that I was right about most of those various story beats, but seeing what Diane Duane did with them was far more satisfying than what I’d imagined.  I probably should have seen that coming, given that I’ve read the earlier books in the series and know how good Duane is at her work.  Once I finally got over my block and moved into the last parts of the book, I didn’t want to put it down.  And then, of course, the climax made me cry.  Whatever the real reasons for my reading delays, I feel quite certain in saying that this was an excellent book, one worth reading, worth recommending, and one that leaves me wanting to read the next one in the series.  Just like the previous books in the series.  I probably could have seen that coming too.

So, why the heck did this book make me cry?
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Deep Wizardry, by Diane Duane

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Yes, that is a truly massive shark.  The cover of the version that I read had something to do with a whale, but I like this one better.  I thought I’d already reviewed this book, and it was only as I was sitting down to write my review of the next one in the series that I checked back through my previous posts and found that I was wrong.  So before I tell you my thoughts on High Wizardry, let me tell you how I felt about Deep Wizardry.

The quick and dirty version is as follows: Diane Duane is good at her job, and she knows how to write books about young children taking on incredible responsibilities and facing overwhelming decisions… Which is a decent description of growing up, when I think about it.  Of course, most of us aren’t given access to powerful magical forces except in a metaphorical sense.  Deep Wizardry, like So You Want To Be A Wizard, is quality children’s literature; I’ll even go further and say that it’s good enough to merit your attention and reflection too, child or not.

With the exception of the “I think I read most of this before” section, my review of Deep Wizardry really is very similar to my review of So You Want To Be A Wizard.  I’m still more than a little bit in awe of Duane, she still writes excellent YA adventure with exceptionally mature themes, and she still does an incredibly good job of not talking down to her audience.  What I hadn’t really appreciated before is just how well her chosen storyline and protagonists map onto the experience of going through puberty and becoming an adult.  Call me stupid, call me slow, but though I noticed it in the first book I took another book or two to finally decide that it was more than just a fortuitous construction of the moment.  This, of course, has simply left me more appreciative of Duane’s writing chops, and her choice of subject material.

As per usual, there’s more after the break.

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So You Want To Be A Wizard, by Diane Duane

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I’m more than a little bit in awe of Diane Duane.  It’s been a while since I read something of hers, and I’d forgotten how good she was at her chosen profession.  Though the genre is no longer quite so thinly populated as it was when this book first came out, I still think that Duane outdoes the young wizard competition.  When it comes to books about serious young people dealing with serious (if fantastical) problems, she’s totally on top of it.  Admittedly, I’m not the most experienced judge for this particular sub-genre, but Duane is worth reading if you like YA literature that doesn’t talk down to its readers.

So You Want To Be A Wizard follows two young newly-sworn-in wizards who are facing their very first duties, which include slowing down the entropic death of the universe and generally trying to make the world a better place.  You know, the usual.  As you might expect from a story with protagonists devoted to such expansive duties, they don’t have an easy time of things and quickly end up in way over their heads.  I admire the depth of the goals Duane sets in front of her characters, as it seems as though they never lack for things to do.  This also means that they’re facing things that are profoundly scary and difficult to deal with, which turns out to be the perfect recipe for excitement and wonderfully climactic scenes.

Without spoiling anything, I think I can safely say that this book is an excellent adventure with exceptionally mature themes for a YA story.  The themes are more cosmically oriented than those of many other YA books that I’ve seen recently, with an emphasis on the broad scope of a story that I normally associate with epics; I admire the way in which Duane manages to include an epic scope even as she keeps the story (and its narration) very personal.  It takes considerable skill to see that through, and Duane clearly has it.  If you enjoy epics, YA stories, modern fantasy, or anything similar, I expect that you’ll like this book.

Ok, so I have an odd story about my history with this book…

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