Entries in magic (56)

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.

Monday
Jan282019

Vultures

It's the final book in the Miriam Black series and it is a fantastic end to this series. Wendig totally nails the landing. If you're already a fan of the series, you won't be disappointed. If you've been waiting for the series to end before you start reading, now is the time and this series is worth it!

You can find my review of the first book, Blackbirds, and the previous one, The Raptor and the Wren. Chuck wraps up all the threads in a satisfying way that's true to the dark grit of this series. I have a 6-book hangover now.

The book is gritty, gory, hard-hitting and snarky. Everything you expect and love about the series.

Miriam doesn't have much time left to stop the Trespasser and save both Gabby and the baby. She meets a delightful ace/aro trans dude named Steve who is an absolute cinnamon bun and totally made the book. He's like that rug in The Big Lebowski. Ties the room together.

Steve and Gabby are Miriam's sidekicks while she tries to save them all, get rid of her powers, and stop a new serial killer.

And that's all I'm going to say spoiler free, because it's hard to talk about a book like this without spoilers. You don't like spoilers, stop reading now.

Anyway, at the end of the last book, Miriam is pregnant and sees that her baby is going to die. This book starts with her waddling miserably through the shitshow nightmare of pregnancy. It is a morbidly un-sentimental take on pregnancy and motherhood and is so much the way I felt through pregnancy that this book could have been written about me.

There are so many things to love in this book, but I love that pregnancy doesn't really slow Miriam down. That motherhood doesn't fundamentally change who she is. That, much like me, she ends up teaching her kid context (don't swear in school) rather than quit swearing. (haha, yes, there's a spoiler, the kid lives)

Wren's 5-second cameo was SO GOOD, though it did leave me a little baffled. I know there's a side novella about her out there somewhere that I'm probably going to need to read to be less baffled about how she ended up where she did and when she did. It felt a touch deus ex machina, but I also don't have all the info.

But anyway, as dark as this series is, the ending is a hopeful one. True to the series, but still full of hope. Get out there and read it!

Thursday
Jan102019

Echoes of Understorey

So at first, this book was a bit jarring because it wasn't about Unar, the MC of the first book in the trilogy. But it appears that the setting (and secondary characters) are the only real constant with these books. The final book looks like it will be about yet another character.

Which is fine, especially since the MC of this book, Imeris, who was just a baby in Crossroads of Canopy, is a much more compelling character than Unar ever was. Where Unar was arrogant and self-righteous, Imeris is a practical, humble badass.

Everything about this book is so much stronger than the first. And since it follows a new MC, you can read Echoes of Understorey without having read Crossroads of Canopy and probably not be confused at all. Unar makes an appearance, as do many of the side characters from her journey. The familiarity is nice. But Imeris is a much stronger character, not just in terms of her abilities, but in terms of the author's craft.

Anyway, Imeris is out with one goal in mind: to kill the body-snatching sorceress who was at the root of Unar's problems in book one. A lot of stuff gets in Imeris's way, most notably being swept up in a historic Hunt called by the rulers of Canopy.

Imeris is quite possibly the best warrior alive in her world, but she is humble about it and just wants to do her duty to rid her world of the sorceress and then maybe take up farming like Unar has. Unlike Unar, Imeris doesn't want to be a legend at all, though she doesn't shun her legendary status once she achieves it. She uses it for good.

Like with the first book ending with Unar on a new, vastly different adventure, Imeris finds herself on the cusp of something new and exciting. The next book will focus on her brother Leaper, but I hope to see some of Imeris in her new role.

Anyway, the setting is superb, the action is excellent and the characters are all wonderful and well-crafted. Highly recommend checking this out!