Entries in magic (58)

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
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!

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)

Thursday
Feb212019

No Man of Woman Born

As I understand it from what the author, Ana Mardoll, has tweeted about this collection, it was a response to/inspired by Eowyn from LotR and her slaying of the Witch King who no man could kill. This is a collection of short stories full of similar tales with trans and non-binary people as the main characters.

The stories overall are delightful and the characters are often precious cinnamon buns too pure for this world. Some of them fall pretty flat, but some of them are incredible and I love them (so par for the course with most short story collections).

I loved a lot of these stories, some of them original and some of them giving a fun, queer twist to classics like Sleeping Beauty and The Sword in the Stone. It was great to see such a queerly diverse array of characters out living their best lives and saving the day.

I especially liked seeing the gender fluid character and another questioning his gender and where he fits on the binary. The stories gave me a greater understanding of just what gender fluid means. And it was also nice to see someone going through the process of questioning gender, even if he didn't quite get to any decisions (most of us never do anyway).

My only real problem with this collection is the writing itself. There's often too much telling and too much backstory, often delivered in the form of lengthy flashbacks that honestly got distracting and killed the momentum of many of the stories. But they're also really short, so it wasn't that hard to push through and get to the end. And the end of each story was absolutely worth it.

This is a great collection for allies looking for a deeper understanding, people who like fantasy and aren't squicky about queer content, and for anyone trans, non-binary or questioning who are tired of the Bury Your Gays trope and just need to see someone like them be the hero.