Friday
May032019

Markswoman & Mahimata (The Asiana Duology)

I just finished the second book in this duology, Mahimata, but somehow failed to post a review of Markswoman, the first book, despite having finished over a year ago. I was in the midst of Hugo reading at that point and finishing multiple books in a week so it appears to have gotten lost in the chaos.

Which is unfortunate, because it was a fantastic book and I nominated for this year's Hugos (though the competition is super fierce this year and it didn't make the final ballot). So I'll just do my best to review both right now.

Markswoman
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world that is healing from past trauma, and where science and magic mingle in fascinating ways. This world is governed by the Orders, most of which are made up of women who are healers and scientists and, above all, assassins. With magical blades called kataris, they maintain peace in their lands, acting as law enforcement. And there is one Order made up of men, the Order of Khur, but they're isolated from and ignored by the other Orders.

The story follows Kyra Veer, a newly minted markswoman in her Order (the Order of Kali), as she navigates her new duties while yearning to seek revenge on the warlord who slaughtered her family and village. But her life is thrown into chaos when the Mahimata of Kali (their leader) dies suddenly, leaving Tamsyn, a woman Kyra loathes and fears, in command.

Grieving and afraid, Kyra flees her Order, taking her beloved mentor's katari with her. She finds a secret door (basically a teleport) in the mountains and takes it, ending up in the desert just outside the Order of Khur, where she is taken in by the men, shown courtesy and trained, and finds love, before making her way back to her Order for an epic showdown with Tamsyn.

I really loved this book, even if it started out a little slow for my liking. I preordered the second book as soon as I learned about it. It's review, below, will contain spoilers for this first book.

Mahimata
Kyra returns to her Order, victorious if broken, having beaten Tamsyn in a duel. Once home, she nearly-accidentally becomes the Mahimata of her Order, despite her inexperience and persisting injuries. And through it all, she yearns to be with Rustan, the marksman she fell in love with. But through her long recovery, the world beyond her Order's caves is growing darker as the warlord, Kai Tau, slaughters everyone in his path with kalashiks, a kind of magical gun.

As Kyra heals, she begins to make unconventional allies with other Orders as well as with the feared wyr-wolves that have long been considered a plague in the mountains. But Kyra learns they are far more than they seem. Allying with the wyr-wolves isn't the only way that Kyra bucks tradition and rankles members of her own Order as well as others.

Her adventures and allies lead her closer to the final confrontation with Kai Tau, but also reunite her with Rustan. And through it all, the world-building continues to unfold, showing this post-apocalyptic land to be an alternate future of Earth.

This was a fantastic finish to the story that began with Markswoman, and it left me both satisfied and wanting more. The love these characters have for each other is refreshing, as is the capacity for forgiveness. And I really liked the commentary on the disease of gun culture. Kai Tau's fate was both horrifying and fascinating.

I highly recommend picking up these books!

Tuesday
Apr162019

Novella!

So I haven't updated here in a while because I haven't finished reading anything in large part because I've been writing instead. It's Camp NaNoWriMo and I've been feverishly working on a new project.

I'm stoked to have finished the first draft of my first attempt at a novella. I'm happy with how it's turned out, even if it needs a proper title, some research and a lot more work before I'll start looking for beta readers. But it's sitting just under 30k words and it was a lot of fun to write.

I thought the process for writing a novella would be different from writing a full length novel, but it really wasn't. I studied the structure of All Systems Red as a starting point and built the plot of my novella from there. This novella differs from my novels in that it's got a simpler, straightforward plot, and no B-story or side quests. But unlike a short story, there's more room for the world-building, characters and setting to breathe.

As my reading time diminishes, I find myself opening up doorstoppers less and less and I've been reading novellas more. I might just do the same with my writing.

Anyway, some people have asked what the novella is about, so here's the rough draft of the query letter I've started for it:

What would you do to keep your children safe? Serri was a simple mage working as a government safety inspector until creeping fascism and an unhinged Empress brought war to her doorstep. Now she’s learning just how far she’ll go to prevent her powerful teen daughter S’ryja from being ground up by the war machine. Serri barely hesitates to seek the help of a rebel network, committing treason, and fleeing with her daughter.

But she must leave her wife and youngest child behind, and that soon becomes the least of her worries as the Empress’s forces close in on the rebels. With the royal guard on her heels and a hundred leagues of dangerous wilderness ahead of her, Serri must grapple with whether she’s made the right decision as she and her daughter run for their lives.

(Agents, call me)

Monday
Mar252019

The Light Brigade

This novel is far darker and more brutal than I usually read, but I always make a grimdark exception for Hurley because her books are always so amazing. And like with The Stars Are Legion, this one also ends on a hopeful note that made the viscera-soaked journey worth it.

This is the brutal, hard-hitting, anti-fascist, capitalism-eviscerating, hopeful time-travelling military SF this timeline needs. Inspired by Starship Troopers (film version), the book follows military grunt Dietz through basic training and the long, impossible journey through war.

In this bleak future, soldiers are busted down into particles of light and beamed off to war. But it does not always go right. Some soldiers come back with their body parts in the wrong place. Dietz keeps coming back to the wrong time with the wrong memories.

She has to struggle through memories and events that don't make sense, trying to keep a tenuous grip on sanity while navigating the dictator corporation she belongs to. This is an excellent sci-fi thriller/mystery mash up with some time travel for fun and I'm probably going to have to read it again just to keep everything straight.

If you're already a Hurley fan, this won't disappoint. If you haven't read any of her books yet, this is a fine place to start.

Thursday
Feb282019

The Family Plot

I used to primarily read horror when I was younger, but moved away from it as I discovered fantasy (mostly through King's Dark Tower series which is more weird epic fantasy than horror). I have continued to read things that fall under "spooky" but are primarily another genre, like dark thrillers and urban fantasy and... whatever Chuck Wendig's books are.

And I used to watch a lot of horror too. But in the recent past, I lost whatever shielding I had against the scares and no longer find it enjoyable. Back in the day, The Grudge creeped me out a bit, but I didn't lose any sleep. And then I recently watched Annihilation and that godsdamn screaming bear kept me awake for a literal week. And I wanted to watch the Haunting of Hill House but couldn't even look at stills from the show without getting creeped out.

And not in the good way. Not in the rollercoaster, this is scary but fun kind of way. I stopped being able to enjoy watching horror. But since reading and watching engage different parts of the brain, I decided to give reading horror another try.

I picked this particular book because I like Cherie Priest, she's got cute and hilarious dogs, and this sounded like everything I love about horror. But holy shit, it's scary! No nightmares, didn't keep me awake, but it got to the point I had to read the second half of the book during daylight hours. But it was SO GOOD.

So this is your basic haunted house story, with creepy as fuck ghosts. But it's about so much more than that. And I liked seeing the family dynamics play out, because I've been part of a family business and hell yes I know what that nonsense is like. The family politics. The bullshit. And I very do love old houses, just like the main character does. I live in a relatively old house, built in '39 with all the charm and surprises of an old house.

And I have been in a very old, moderately haunted house and experienced things I could not explain.

Anyway, this story was fun and spooky and endearing and terrifying. It's so atmospheric. When I think back to the things that actually happen, very few of them seem that scary out of context, particularly before the last third of the book. But the atmosphere? So spooky!

As much as this book freaked me out, I still loved every last bit of it. I read it in three days, which is about my top speed for novels. And it answered my question about whether I can still read horror. Haunted house fiction is about as scary as it gets for me, and I survived! Yay!

Highly recommend if you love ghosts and old houses.

Tuesday
Feb262019

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

This book has been pushed as something to fill the void left by the cancellation of Firefly, and in sense that's correct. It has a quirky, lovable cast living on a rundown junkheap of a ship being held together by duct tape and love. And honestly, I think that's where the comparisons end.

This is a great book, it just didn't fit my initial expectations after all the Star Wars and Firefly hype. Those comparisons fit for the characters but not so much the story itself. This book is a slow burn, which is fine, I just wasn't expecting it. Not a lot happens for like half the book, but the characters themselves interacting. But these characters are phenomenal.

Basically, the occupants of the spaceship Wayfarer are construction workers building wormholes in space. And they're a bunch of pacifists (which removes them by another step from Firefly and SW) from a wide array of species and backgrounds.

There's a lot of wonderful worldbuilding to go along with the wonderful characterization. And through the characters and the slow, meandering pace, there's a lot of exploration of moral causes that really shines a light on some of the goofy things that humans do (and should maybe stop doing).

The climax was a great bit of action that I appreciated.

But there were a lot of points where I felt like the conflict was shied away from. Where things could have been explored more deeply, especially deeper into specific character emotions during some key scenes, that were just left hanging or glossed over. And I was really disappointed that the truth about Rosemary's father didn't really amount to much.

And then there's the thing that Corbin does to Ohan that really pisses me off. The thing itself is horrifying, but the way it's just sort of swept under the rug and shrugged off really upset me. Regardless of how Ohan feels about it (and we never really know because this is another place where conflict and deeper exploration of character emotions is dropped), what Corbin did is 100% inexcusable. Just because we're shown Ohan learning to cope with the fallout doesn't mean Ohan is happy about it.

Anyway, there are more books in this world, but they don't look like they follow this specific cast and I'm really disappointed in that. This book felt like it was just getting started, but the next book is about a pair of side characters. Ditto the third one. This is the second time I've seen this kind of "trilogy" and I don't think I like this new trend.

I do still recommend reading this book. It's rich and wonderful.