Monday
Oct072019

Gideon the Ninth

Okay so I picked up this book because of the hype online and because the cover is fucking gorgeous. Also, the front blurb about lesbian necromancers in space, and everyone insisting this book was whacky, helped pique my interest.

And I fucking loved this book! It was hard to get into because the world-building is totally batshit, but as the book continues, all these things that felt like random nonsense are not in fact random.

Anyway, Gideon, the titular character is some sort of indentured servant or something to the Ninth House, where Harrowhark is in charge. Harrow is a bone witch necromancer and Gideon is a plain vanilla mortal who has a filthy mouth and is VERY GOOD with swords. Gideon and Harrow end up in a giant gothic castle in space competing with other necromancers for immortality.

And then people start dying.

So it's science-fantasy space opera murder mystery?

Whatever. Gideon is magnificent and I love her. She reminds me very much of Chuck Wendig's Miriam Black. The sarcasm, juvenile puns, and cursing. All while trying not to show how much she actually gives a shit. It's very much my kind of dark humour.

The book is dark and in some places gory but it wasn't over the top for me. I really enjoyed uncovering the murder mystery and all the twists toward the end. If you find the book slow when you start, it will absolutely pick up once people start dying. Highly recommend giving this book a try.

And now I'm going to talk about spoilers because I have so many questions and I need the next book Right Now. (PS: the cover art for the next book, Harrow the Ninth, is equally as stunning as this book's cover art)

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So I don't really love Harrow that much though other reviewers seem to favour her over Gideon? I guess they're allowed to be wrong. But Harrow started to grow on me at the end and I'm really curious what her role as lyctor will be. I guess book 2 will be partly her training montage and maybe solving another mystery?

Whatever, what I really need is to know what happened to Gideon. I have SO MANY questions about Gideon, but the foremost one is WHERE DID SHE GO? I mean, Harrow has her soul so I'm not sure where that leaves Gids, but I don't believe she's actually dead. If nerve gas failed to kill her as a baby, I'm not convinced some metal spikes and Harrow eating her soul will do it either.

Who is Gideon? Where did she come from? Who was her mother? WHY DIDN'T SHE DIE AS AN INFANT? How did Cytherea know anything about Gideon?

And also, there were all those other missing characters along with Gideon. Camilla was still alive at the end, and so many others who should have been dead are implied to not be, and not just Gideon. What happened with that captain from the Second House? We didn't see her die, and then she's also among the missing at the end.

And while I get why Cytherea killed the Fifth House, I have no idea why she felt the need to murder the Fourth. Maybe I missed something?

And then there's the question of what's going to happen with Ianthe (and her sister!). She seemed really unstable at the end and not especially with it through the rest of the book. Wonder if she and Harrow will end up butting heads as lyctors.

But mostly I just need more Gideon.

Thursday
Sep122019

Good Omens

I kind of feel like the last person on earth to have read this book, and my view of it is definitely influenced by having watched the recent Amazon show first, but anyway. If you're not aware, this book is a satire about an angel and a demon teaming up to stop the antichrist from bringing about Armageddon. With amusing results.

To be honest, this doesn't feel like a collaboration. This feels very much like a Pratchett book. It could just be that I haven't read enough Gaiman to recognize his style, but the point remains. The structure and the POV and the sense of humour are all very Terry.

I liked the book well enough but thought the show was SO much better and I'm basically just going to spend the rest of this post comparing the two. My two biggest complaints about the book are the excessive number of characters (resulting in a focus away from Aziraphale and Crowley) and the amount of casual bigotry. I'm glad the show corrected for both.

Because I'm just assuming everyone has either watched the show and/or read the book, I'm just going to talk without concern for spoilers. So if you haven't read or watched yet, maybe look away? And if you read the book and didn't like it, maybe give the show a chance?

Anyway. There are two things I liked about the book more than the show. First, Death in the book was so much better, and of course that's a thing I'd notice because Terry's Death character is one of my all-time favourites. The other thing is at the end where the kids used homemade versions of the Four's weapons against them. I wish they'd kept that for the show, in addition to all the extras. I really thought the book was anticlimactic with Adam just giving his hands a little wave and suddenly Satan is gone. I like understated and subtle, sure, but that was TOO understated and subtle.

And maybe the show is a bit on the nose about things the book is subtle about, but a lot of the show's changes, like the addition of Beelzebub and Gabriel and the trials at the end, leave far more room to explore the book's themes on good and evil and the vast grey area that exists.

I liked that the show brought out more emotion in both Crowley and Aziraphale. If I hadn't watched the show first, I'm not sure the book would have convinced me how devastated Crowley was when Shadwell discorporated Aziraphale. In fact, I'm really not too sure how people managed to ship Crowley and Aziraphale before the show.

It was obvious that Crowley had some minimal fondness for Aziraphale, but Aziraphale didn't seem to have any fondness except for books and food (really though, I can relate). And if that was all a front because he was in denial about liking Crowley (as the show plays with quite well), it's mostly lost in the book. I think the biggest draw is the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale and I'm glad the show brought that to the forefront.

As with my complaints about Discworld's Death novels (stories about Death that don't have enough Death actually in them and gave too much "air time" to side characters and other plotlines), Good Omens the book focuses too much on other characters. I daresay the whole thing could have been done without the Shadwell/Madame Tracy storyline entirely. Shadwell is awful in the show and completely intolerable in the book, and not in a good way. There are plenty of other ways to have gotten Newt into Anathema's path and plenty of other ways to discorporate Aziraphale and have him possess someone.

I mean, wouldn't it have been an absurd delight if Aziraphale had managed to possess Crowley? Can you imagine the arguments!? Has someone written a fanfic about that? I need to read it.

Anyway, I liked Good Omens the book well enough. It was okay. But I think the show, in addition to some modern updating, took all the good things about the book (the themes and the relationships) and distilled them down to their best parts and then blew them up into something magnificent.

Speaking of fanfic, it's not something I write, but I DO take things like this that I love and make them my own. I've started drafting a book inspired by the show's version of Crowley/Aziraphale and playing with the odd couple theme in it. But genderbent and overtly queer. And set in the Dragon Whisperer universe. Wish me luck!

Thursday
Sep052019

The Lost Coast

I wish I had read this book a lot sooner (like the day after I finished Wanderers) because it was such a palate cleanser for basically everything and a real uplifting book to read. I binged through it in a couple of days. It's like the 90s film The Craft but with queer witches in California.

So, it's basically like the author wrote this book for teenage me and I think I love everything about it. The atmosphere, the characters, the unashamed queerness, THE TREES. I haven't been to Northern California where these particular redwoods are, but if you know anything about me, you know I'm obsessed with their cousins the giant sequoias.

The book follows a coven of witches as they admit a new member and try to discover what's afflicting one of their other members. It's told from first person POV of the newest witch, Danny, and then told through omniscient POV of the coven as a whole and also from the POV of the forest. I really liked how the coven perspectives got a little less hivemind and a little more individual and close perspective as the book goes on and you get to know more about the characters.

Danny, the MC, is a "dowser": a witch whose power is to find things. She's also a late bloomer when it comes to her bisexuality. So I have a LOT in common with Danny. My spouse figured out I was bi/pan before I did! And I've also been especially blessed at finding things. My daughter says it's my superpower.

Every witch in this coven has a different specialty, making it a great ensemble as they solve the mystery of their friend the water witch. They learn more about each other and their own powers while surrounded by this magic forest and the unknown threat of whatever is killing the people on the periphery of their lives.

Anyway, did I mention there's a magic forest and giant trees? I read this book based on that alone because I am that kind of tree-hugging hippie. But the book didn't disappoint for a second and the book was fantastic. The mom in me would have liked a little more between Danny and her mom right at the end there, even like one more line, but it's still a fantastic read and I want a whole series of these witches solving mysteries in the forest.

And just for fun here's a pic of a giant tree from my trip to California last summer. (This is the largest tree by volume in the world, General Sherman, and those little specks at the bottom where the fence is are people)

Tuesday
Jul092019

Wanderers

Okay, this book ate my life but I finally got it read and honestly the comparisons to Stephen King's The Stand are absolutely valid, but this is somehow more disturbing because of how fucking plausible it is. (Also I can't review a Wendig novel without f-bombs, so look away if that's not for you.) The story gets really dark and I don't have anxiety but this sure made me anxious. So make sure you're in a good headspace before you start reading.

Anyway, the book is hard to talk about without spoilers because plot twists start coming fast and furious not far into the story. So I'm going to talk briefly about what it's about, and recommend now that you read it if The Stand was your jam or you like pandemic apocalypse books. Especially if you're looking for a reasonably diverse cast. It could have been queerer, more disabled, and maybe a little browner, but it was still pretty good on that front.

So it starts with a spreading affliction that causes people to walk. Like they're sleepwalking. But they explode if you try to stop them. They become known as the flock and the people — their friends and loved ones — who stay with them are called shepherds. The story is told primarily through four POVs: a teenager whose younger sister is a walker, a disgraced scientist formerly with the CDC, a nearly-washed up rock star, and a far-right radio host. Benji the scientist and Shana the teen are the two main characters who reveal the bulk of the story.

The book was super compelling at first, waiting to see how these POVs would interact and come together, and also as the mystery of the sleepwaker affliction unfolded. That whole thing is incredibly haunting (and terrifying in its plausibility) and more and more keeps being revealed on that front right up until the end.

But then the book changes tone and things become bleak and grim around the midway point. It was hard for me to keep reading after that, and the end didn't leave me wholly satisfied, though it wasn't necessarily a bad ending.

That's about all I can say without spoilers. The following will be spoiler-laden so look away if that's not your thing.

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So my favourite character in the whole book was Arav. I don't know why but my head canon for him is basically Bobak Ferdowsi, and the character is just like this precious cinnamon bun. And I was SO MAD when he got sick, and when it became apparent he wasn't going to get better. I'm glad that he at least went down in a blaze of glory. And that specific blaze was fucking magnificent, especially since it was a tactic I was screaming at the characters to use for at least 3 chapters.

While I get why we never learn about Pete's fate, I fucking want to know.

Black Swan can go fuck itself.

The fact that no one tried to put the walkers on a treadmill is a truly missed opportunity.

I loved the little nods connecting this book to Wendig's other works, including the Miriam Black series. I like to think she road this out in Hawaii.

And I really didn't like that the Nazis basically won. I guess it's a warning for America (and the rest of the world should America fall all the way), but it also feels like it's too little too late. Ozark Stover is already out there somewhere. Dozens of Ozark Stovers are already out there. And that, I think, more than White Mask or the sleepwalkers or Black Swan's horrifying deception and actions, is the scariest part of the book.

The end doesn't really address what happens to the Nazis. I mean, sure, most of them die. But even if 1% of them live, as the book suggests, that's still too many. And did Marcy get to keep Ozark's tank? Because I need to see that.

I absolutely and utterly loathed Matt's character because, like Ozark, there are just so godsdamn many assholes like that out in the world. Not necessarily evil, but willfully blind. Complacent and complicit. I wanted him to die right up until the end. Because the only thing better than him dying was what he got. Though I was pleased that he was the one who put an end to Ozark.

And the description of the "yeti" thing from Pete's POV was exactly the bit of levity that book and that scene and that ending really fucking needed. Especially when it came on the heels of Arav's brilliant sacrifice.

Okay, and one last thing that REALLY pissed me off was the chapter where Benji goes to Vegas. That was an utter waste of time and story and (to me) a very obvious contrivance to set up the final showdown. It existed ONLY so Ozark would know where the flock was. And I did not buy that Benji would be so careless out in public after what happened on the bridge in California. I do not believe he would leave his gun like that. I literally threw the book at the end of that chapter. I nearly quit reading right fucking there.

Anyway, that's why the book made me angry and why I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would. I LOVED The Stand, and I actually like that Wendig's book doesn't go down the route of supernatural good vs evil nonsense. I like that absolutely all of the horrors were of humanity's own making. That's also what makes this scarier. Plausible. And that's probably why you should be in a good emotional/mental state before you read this book.

Oh, and if it's the sort of thing you need, no dogs were explicitly harmed in the book, but horses were. There is mention of child death though it happens offscreen. And basically the whole world dies (people).

Tuesday
Jul022019

Five Unicorn Flush

This is the second book in the Space Unicorn series and it definitely lives up to its predecessor, Space Unicorn Blues.

This book is zany and dark and fraught and hilarious. It's got the same diverse cast you love to hate and hate to love, with a few new additions and some definite surprises. It's very much like the first book, but with a little more heart.

Still plenty of jokes! And this time no one misgenders Ricky Tang, so that was rad. There's very little set within actual Reason Space and all its lack of reason or empathy. And the few scenes on the Reason ship are hilarious and subversive.

So the bala have their own happy planet now, except it's not so happy and they know the Reason will find them soon. They just have no idea how soon. And they don't have time to both set up their civilization and properly defend themselves, nor can they decide which to prioritize.

Jenny Perata is desperately trying to find the bala and her wife who is with them. But her search for a bit of unicorn horn to power her FTL ship takes her into the ugliest depths of space travel and yields some unexpected gains, including an alien parasite.

My only complaint about this book is that there's not more. And also that the copy I have doesn't appear to be edited. Possibly not at all, and definitely not copy edited. I've heard a couple of horror stories of managing editors sending the wrong file to the printer and not realizing until it was too late, and I suspect this is one of those. Which means the ebook and later printings should be fine.

But despite a lot of jarring formatting errors and spelling mistakes/typos, this book is still super awesome. I really hope there's another book on the way!