Monday
Jun102019

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

This is another cute kids book I read with my daughter, and it's a lot of fun and super well-written right up until it falls flat on its face with a gimmicky cliffhanger ending. The author tries to hang a lantern on the ending, but it's still a cheap gimmick that takes away from an otherwise excellent book.

So, this first book sees no-nonsense Sebastian thrown into absolute nonsense when a pig in a teeny hat enters his life. His begrudging involvement with The Explorers Society introduces him to Evie who has some very big problems, including some terrible men trying to kill her.

Sebastian has just discovered the first clues to unravelling the mystery of all the trouble Evie is in. The two become fast friends as they search their home city for exiled members of the Society who can help them out of the trouble they're in, and maybe rescue Evie's grandfather, who is her only surviving relative. They might even save the world.

The story is full of danger and whimsy and friendship with a heartfelt, well-written style that is fast-paced and zany. I enjoyed it and my daughter loved it. The only failing mark is the cliffhanger, which is just so out of place and also so unnecessary. This book is excellent and leaves enough questions unanswered to propel readers into the next book. I really wish the author had trusted the story and not ended with a gimmick.

Friday
Jun072019

Dreadnought

This book was a fantastic start to Pride Month, with a queer trans MC and written by a trans author. It takes place on an alternate Earth where comic book type superheroes are real.

It follows the story of Danny, who hasn't come out to her parents (or anyone else) yet but is transformed into a female body after she inherits the mantle of Dreadnought. Dreadnought is perhaps the greatest superhero of all time, and Danny is left to confront her newfound powers, new body, and newly being out.

Unfortunately, Danny is surrounded by awful bigots and what starts out as a sassy, lighthearted adventure gets a bit grimdark in a hurry. I loved this book and had a hard time putting it down, but the bigotry was hard to deal with. The quick pivot from fun sarcastic to dark sarcastic and lots of pain wasn't something I expected. Danny is constantly being malignantly misgendered and deadnamed by just about everyone she knows. One of the superheroes is even a TERF, which is exceptionally awful.

A lot of trans readers will probably find this book validating. A lot of cis people will find it illuminating. Personally, I've got several trans friends and I have watched them go through these things so this book had nothing new for me in that regard. It just made the bigotry harder to read.

But overall this is a great book. Danny does find some allies and friends in fellow superheroes, and I love the dynamics between her and Calamity and Doc Impossible. These are characters who genuinely care about Danny and want to see her reach her full potential. Watching Danny discover her powers is fun and fascinating. It helps cancel out the bigotry.

If you like superheroes and action and breaking the sound barrier and big set pieces with crazy explosions, then this is the book for you, unless you can't deal with the deadnaming and misgendering.

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.