Some things I’ve read recently

I may have been idle as far as writing is concerned lately, but I still had the time (or shall we call it urges of escapism? :p ) to read some good books, so here are some of them:

Richard Morgan – The Steel Remains (and yes, I really need to update my sidebar): As much as I love Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs books, I really enjoyed this first book of what’s supposedly a fantasy trilogy. His characterization of Ringil is great and I can’t wait for the next installment of this series 🙂

Jim Butcher – The Dresden Files: I’ve read books one through seven so far and I’m planning to get through eight to ten as soon as I can. I really liked the series. They are pretty much your standard light urban-fantasy entertainment at first, but I really enjoyed the stuff that happened in book three and on from there when the story gains more depth and becomes less predictable and more complex. It only takes a day or two to get through one book so the series is definitely fast-paced and full of awesome characters (I love Thomas and Bob ^^)

Charlaine Harris – Southern Vampire Mysteries: Yay for more campy vampire books for me! No, seriously these actually aren’t so bad. Sure Harris needs some severe work on her dialogue sometimes (really people, I hate it when you pack tremendous amounts of exposition into dialogue form…don’t do it), but I like this not-so-conventional vampire story, since it isn’t your usual “vampire hunter kicks ass” kind of book. Fun, light reads.

Kim Harrison – Rachel Morgan series: Okay, I’ve read the first book, then started the second and still can’t get into it. I like some of her ideas (yay for Jenks!), but for some reason I just can’t get into her writing. So far I’m thoroughly underwhelmed. Maybe it’ll come to me some day :p

Steffi von Wolff – Die Knebel von Mavelon: This one is probably one of the most hilarious medieval satires I’ve read in a while (well it’s not that I’m reading satires very often, but this one was fun and I just needed something to laugh) In the main roles: Lilian who likes to experiment with herbs and accidentally invents birth control and thus is supposed to be burned as a witch, Betram her best friend and executioner who has a problem, because he really can’t see blood and all that killing business really grosses him out, also Martin Luther, Robin Hood and other hysterical creatures. I don’t think this one is available in English, so it’s one of the few German books that I’ve read this year.

Neil Gaiman – American Gods: Yes, I finally got to read it! Success! Really, this book has been hanging out on the ‘to be read’ shelf for way too long. And what can I say? It was awesome and I really enjoyed it. Loved Wednesday to bits 🙂

Elizabeth Bear – Carnival: So for some reason I always have a little bit of an “I’m not quite sure if I actually get it” problem with SF novels, which usually leads to me taking a while to actually get into a book. This one was no exception here, but it was awesome and I’m glad I finally picked it up. The basic premise is a strictly matriarchal and in itself very sexist society on a planet called New Amazonia and how they treat outsiders, especially male outsiders. Elizabeth Bear is full of awesome and interesting approaches to gender in SFF. I definitely recommend this one 🙂

I had a bit of an urban fantasy/vampire novel bash lately, but hey, sometimes even I just need some light entertainment :p Some are better than others and I’ve made it through 78 books so far this year. We’ll see if I manage to hit my goal of 100 books this year. I’d easily hit it if I cheat and count in all the stuff that I’ve read for university, but hey 😉 We’ll see.

Next on my list are Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen which was incredibly hard to hunt down btw since it is ONLY available though amazon.com which is probably due to the just really tiny publisher. Anyway, it sounds pretty awesome and I’ll let you know what I think (I’m going to wait with this one till my flight to Germany in a week – always need some good books on a 15 hour flight :p)

Cheers!

~Nym

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Elizabeth Bear – The Stratford Man (Ink&Steel and Hell&Earth)

Kit Marley, playwright and spy in the service of Queen Elizabeth, has been murdered. His true gift to Her Majesty was his way with words, crafting plays infused with a su btle magic that maintained her rule. He performed this task on behalf of the Prometheus Club, a secret society of nobles engaged in battle against sorcerers determined to destroy England. Assuming Marley’s role is William Shakespeare— but he is unable to create the magic needed to hold the Queen’s enemies at bay.

Resurrected by enchantment in Faerie, Marley is England’s only hope. But before he can assist Will in the art of magic, he must uncover the traitor among the Prometheans responsible for his death…

After Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths, Elizabeth Bear’s duology featuring an alternative version of the Shakespeare and Marlowe we know from history definitely the best thing I’ve read this year. Imagine Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe in an Elizabethan setting paired with faires and then add to that the appearance of Morgan Le Fey and her son as well as recurring references to both Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s plays. Honestly this made me do two things: a) want to re-read my favorite Shakespeare works (mostly the tragedies) and b) switch classes for the coming semester from British Modern Literature to Renaissance. That really doesn’t happen all too often, but those books totally motivated me to study the Elizabethan era closer.

In her extended author’s note at the end of Hell and Earth, Elizabeth Bear calls this duology a ‘disservice to history’, but honestly I couldn’t imagine re-vamping Shakespeare and Marlowe in any better way. She works with some popular theories concerning the two poets’ lives and portrays her characters in a way that make them very realistic and complex. She states that the Marlowe-Shakespeare relationship she creates in The Stratford Man is almost entirely fictional, but then again it really does make you wonder “What if?” and I think that’s been the intention of the book.

The other thing that really intrigued me about those books what its realism and how accurately Bear worked with the historical context such as society and political background. Of course the work is fictional in the end, but she manages to have to write about homosexuality, politics and the entire concept of the Prometheus Club very ‘in context’, which makes the story rounder and the fantasy elements fit into the concept without jarring.

These two books are definitely not quick reads for entertainment only. It took me about two to three days to get through each, not because of the size, but because of the content that’s very heavy on history and politics and last but not least on the language. Bear doesn’t use 100% accurate Elizabethan language in her dialogue (no ‘here sitteth’ etc. no worries), but it’s more or less the speech characters would have used at that time.

Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth are chronologically set before the other two Promethean Age books Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water. I’m just starting Blood and Iron, but had no problems getting into the story and the whole concept of the Prometheus Club, even though the Stratford Man duology came out after the two aforementioned books. It’s definitely a good starting point if you haven’t read any of Bear’s books yet. Definitely go for it 😀

P.S.: This so made Kit Marlowe my favorite hystorical fantasy crossover character of all time 😀 I can’t wait to read more!

Just because I had to see if it really is that bad…

…I just feel like I lost half a million brain cells.

I mean, really. A friend who writes urban fantasy books featuring vampires and demons has been ranting against Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books and how bad they are for a while.  Due to that, the hype about the fourth book coming out and the fact that I’m apparently a disgusting masochist who likes to read bad books for the sole reason of being able to point her finger at it and laugh later (as well as feel incredibly good about her own writing, because it’s infinitesimally better than that) – I picked it up from my mom in law.

First off, let me say I spent a couple hours utterly wasted being entertained just by how bad it really was. I mean okay, I’d probably have liked the books back when I was twelve and all obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Co. but now I admit that even Laurell K. Hamilton writes better (and more original) than what I’ve seen in Twilight.

Honestly, there’s nothing whatsoever original about the plot. Girl protagonist (who’s named Bella of all the cheesy names in the chick-lit-verse!) starts out in new High School and meets incredibly good-looking, cover-boy who keeps to himself with his ‘siblings’ who are all of utterly remarkable beauty (just a little less remarkable than oh-so-staggering male protagonist). Did I mention that those ‘kids’ live with this mysterious doctor in some secluded mansion that reminded me of a violent crossover of X-Men meet Giles, the librarian from Buffy?

Anyway. So there’s this absolutely beautiful, bedazzling guy with eyes that mysteriously change color in their enthralling intensity. Did I mention that the guy’s reeeeeeaaally pretty? I mean REALLY PRETTY? Just thought it’s important to remind you not to miss that particular attribute that utterly defines his personality because it’s not that Meyer points our his incredible stunning and absolutely breathtaking looks like on every page or so. Yes. Edward’s really pretty.

Oh and he’s sort of different too. Like he doesn’t eat any food and him and his brothers and sisters stay away from school without anyone saying anything when the ordinary students have their blood type determined in biology. Oh and they don’t like sunlight either. I wonder whyyyyyy. I mean, could it be that they are vampires? No, really?

Anyway. Boy meets girl or the other way around, whatever and of course deep, complex and utterly superficial love ensues. I mean really, isn’t bedazzlement on the girl’s side and ‘she smells like the yummiest food I’ve ever smelled’ on the guy’s side the PERFECT reason for an everlasting love affair.

Yeah okay, so the boyfriend is kinda scary and dangerous sometimes, but remember his angelic and godlike beauty! No wonder that girl protagonist is all accepting and nonchalant about the scary details paired with the very likely possibility of her getting her throat ripped out in case bf can’t control himself any longer. It makes perfect sense. Really.

Totally logical that she’s so blind with lovey-doveyness and cheesy prose that Bella runs right into eeeeevil villain’s arms, lured by a trap that’s so obviously just a bluff that it makes you throw the book across the room (not that you won’t have done that by then. On multiple occasions). Also it’s totally awesome how vampy-boyfriend saves the day and girly protagonist decides that she wants to be just like him to be together forever and ever. Hey, the thing about being a monster and stuff really is just a side-effect right? I mean after all boyfriend and his happy family of cute and sparkly vamps don’t kill any humans but drink animal blood. Can’t be so bad can it?

I mean what is that against being forever and ever with Edward of the sparkly-eyes?

No shit.

Oh no! Now I used the ugly s-word! I’m sure I shall burn in Hell forevermore. Not even the godlike creature of the crooked grin and alabaster skin can save me now!

Alright, alright. I’m done. Can I go and be sick now about the fact that someone can sell millions of books without even a hint of originality? Sorry, but I utterly fail to comprehend the hype around those books. And yes, this is going to become one of those books that I’ll eventually pick up used and put it into my bookshelf next to Terry Goodkind and Mercedes Lackey and that I’ll open whenever I feel down about my writing 😉

Isn’t it weird how you’re compelling to read those bad books, knowing they’re bad books only to be able to point your finger and laugh later? Yeah, let’s hear it for alternative forms of personal satisfaction 🙂

I feel better now.

Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear – A Companion to Wolves

Rising fantasy stars Monette (Mélusine) and Bear (Whiskey & Water) subvert the telepathic animal companion subgenre so thoroughly that it may never be the same. The inhabitants of a cold and perilous world grounded in Norse/Germanic mythology depend upon the brutally violent wolfcarls, men who bond telepathicallywith huge fighting trellwolves, to protect them from monstrous trolls and wyverns from further north. When the northern threat suddenly intensifies, Isolfr, a young wolfcarl, and his wolf-sister, Viradechtis, a Queen wolf destined to rule her own pack, are thrust into key roles in their civilization’s desperate fight to survive.

Looking at the amazon synopsis of A Companion to Wolves, I can pretty much admit that the primary reason for me to pick up this book was my recently-found love and adoration for Sarah Monette’s work. I didn’t really have too high expectations when I started to read this book, because I’m personally not a great fan of collaborations and then was waiting for the next Labyrinthine book, pretty sure that this one wouldn’t be as heavy on the LGBT side as Monette’s other works.

Well, damn. I was wrong.

And luckily so. In retrospect I think that A Companion to Wolves has been one of the best books I’ve read this year and has quickly become one of my all-time favorites. With a little more than 300 pages this is a short, but plot- and character-packed standalone (though I really wouldn’t mind a sequel in general 😉 ) that pretty much stands our common animal-companion fantasy perception on its head.

The outcome of what Elizabeth Bear says on her website was originally planned as a satirical novella is a harsh and beautiful book about loyalty and honor and for everyone who knows Sarah Monette’s Labyrinthine books certainly will recognize the intricacy with which the authors deal with sexuality and character relationships.

I daresay A Companion to Wolves probably isn’t for everyone as it’s very explicit in terms of content and generally brings up some issues that will probably put off anyone who expects this book to be a light, entertaining read. It definitely raises some questions about issues more traditional fantasy just doesn’t deal with and that is exactly what makes this book so intriguing along with both authors’ talent in creating a fast-paced plot propelled by the compelling relationships of its characters – human and nonhuman alike.

Even though the book is definitely a standalone, whether Bear and Monette plan to work on a sequel remains to be seen. I’ll keep my eyes open, because the sad thing about short books like A Companion to Wolves is that they’re over much too soon and leave you wanting for more 😉

Kate Elliott – Kings Dragon

The Kingdom of Wendar is beset by civil war between brother and sister for the throne, by two hostile nonhuman races, by ghosts roaming the streets, and by enough other plots and counterplots to fuel the average Balkan war. Key to successfully resolving the overly fraught situation are Alain, a young prophet who needs to learn his parentage before he can act safely, and Liath, a lifelong fugitive sheltered by her father from worldly knowledge that she must acquire before she can act.

Okay, let me tell you this: excessive worldbuilding really isn’t one of my personal favorite things in fantasy. That might explain why it took me a while to warm up to Elliott’s style. Everything starts out as your standard epic fantasy archetype: We have a country at war with a mysterious, non-human race, while said country also is at the brink of a succession war on the inside. The main characters are stereotypes at first, but they soon turn into more. That and tons of religious background, but doubtlessly great worldbuilding make for a little bit of a slow start and it made me realize how long it’s been since I started reading The Wheel of Time & Co. since I’ve been a little ‘out’ of epic fantasy on the big scale.

Again, before I get all the Elliott fans ranting and raving at my utterly deluded judgement – this is just a personal thing. I’m not much of the worldbuilding type, but more of a plot- and character-oriented reader so what gets me hooked is an intriguing character and there my loves, I damn-well can’t complain!

I didn’t really care for Liath’s character much in the beginning, but by the time she meets certain other characters I loved her sections. Alain starts out as your typical ‘good, naive village boy’ character, but he undergoes some changes and gains some nifty abilities that make me want to read more. Oh and did I mention that I’m totally looking forward to getting to see more of Sanglant in the sequel, Prince of Dogs? Yeah, in the end I got hooked and intrigued and wanting for more – so guess where I’m stopping by to pick up at least the second one of this seven-volume series? You got it – Nym’s getting another book-fix today 😀

I guess I’m sort of finding my way back into epic fantasy, even though I have to admit I’m skipping some of the all too excessive worldbuilding to get things going.  Does that tell you anything about my writing style? You bet.

David Gemmell – Waylander

All of Waylander’s instincts had screamed at him to spurn the contract from Kaem the cruel, the killer of nations. But he had ignored them. He had made his kill. And even as he went to collect his gold, he knew that he had been betrayed.
Now the Dark Brotherhood and the hounds of chaos were hunting him, even as Kaem’s armies waged war on the Drenai lands, intent on killing every man, woman, and child. The Drenai soldiers were doomed to ultimate defeat, and chaos would soon reign.
Then a strange old man told Waylander that the only way to turn the tide of battle would be for Waylander himself to retrieve the legendary Armor of Bronze from its hiding place deep within a shadow-haunted land. He would be hunted. He was certain to fail. But he must try, the old man commanded–commanded in the name of his son, the king, who had been slain by an assassin…
Waylander was the most unlikely of heroes–for he was a traitor, the Slayer who had killed the king…

Wow, I actually liked this a great deal more than I thought on first impression. Yes, I seem to go through books like candy lately, one a day or so, especially if they’re fast-paced like this one was – which gets me to write a bunch of reviews lately, basically helping me to keep track of what I read and not forget to post a few lines here.

Anyway, I’ve been planning on getting into David Gemmell’s work for quite a while now, but somehow I wanted to start with something shorter that can be read as a standalone – I also have his Parmenion books (Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince), but for now I wanted something different so I picked up Waylander on a whim, after the manifold recommendations from two people whose opinion in books I’m holding in quite high esteem 😉 I certainly wasn’t disappointed, when I picked up Waylander this morning.

What begins as your stereotypical fantasy-setting – country on the brink of war, well actually quite in the thick of it, characters make a rather unlikely alliance and set out for a quest to retrieve magical(?) item of awesome – pulls you into a fast-moving fantasy tale, rich in plot and character-depth. Oh and let’s not forget sarcastic and utterly hilarious lines like Waylander talking to the ‘priest’ Dardalion:

“Your kind likes to suffer – it makes them holy.”

or:

“Go away, I want to die alone.”

Since I’m a newbie to Gemmell’s books, I daresay that Waylander, though part of the Drenai series, can very well be read as a standalone and serves as a great introduction in Gemell’s unique, often sarcastic and character- as well as dialog-driven style.

Waylander is one of those darker, but awesome fantasy books whose premise reminds me a little of Stephen King’s Gunslinger, while I’d say that Gemmell definitely portrays the loner Waylander in a less abstract and more comprehensible way. I remember a friend talking about his character being “kinda…uh…neutral?” and I guess that pretty much sums him up. Yes, we have our standard assassin here who ruthlessly kills for money and he doesn’t really have qualms about it until it’s already too late, but nevertheless he’s that sort of character that just keeps you reading, because you want to find out more about them.

As far as I know there are at least two more books in the Drenai series that feature Waylander and I’ll be sure to pick them up next time when I go to the bookstore, because I definitely want more of this now 🙂

Naomi Novik – His Majesty’s Dragon

In this delightful first novel, the opening salvo of a trilogy, Novik seamlessly blends fantasy into the history of the Napoleonic wars. Here be dragons, beasts that can speak and reason, bred for strength and speed and used for aerial support in battle. Each nation has its own breeds, but none are so jealously guarded as the mysterious dragons of China. Veteran Capt. Will Laurence of the British Navy is therefore taken aback after his crew captures an egg from a French ship and it hatches a Chinese dragon, which Laurence names Temeraire. When Temeraire bonds with the captain, the two leave the navy to sign on with His Majesty’s sadly understaffed Aerial Corps, which takes on the French in sprawling, detailed battles that Novik renders with admirable attention to 19th-century military tactics. Though the dragons they encounter are often more fully fleshed-out than the stereotypical human characters, the author’s palpable love for her subject and a story rich with international, interpersonal and internal struggles more than compensate.

Okay, so why does this book makes me think of Jane Austen meets Eragon? Well, I suggest you read this book and find out. But honestly, since I’m anything, but a fan of Eragon, I probably just insulted the book by comparing the two 😉

I haven’t read any books featuring dragons as main characters in a while and have been a bit more focused on the darker, grittier fantasy novels, but honestly, this one was fun. His Majesty’s Dragon is definitely one of those light, entertaining reads and Novik could definitely do a bit more in terms of in-depth-characterization, but overall I enjoyed it.

What initially intrigued me was her ‘what if?’-premise, introducing dragons and the Aerial Corps in connection with the Napoleon wars. It definitely is a fresh idea, deviating from the more traditional ideas of the Dragonriders of Pern or the Eragon series. This is where I really liked her approach of making Temeraire into a very human character who is quite different from your standard heroic and monstrous war-dragon etc.

Another thing that I liked was how Novik’s writing style does remind me a little bit of Jane Austen, especially as far as her dialog is concerned. Her characters definitely speak in style with the 19th century which makes the book and its characters so much more authentic and believable.

Despite the fact that the main character Will Laurence is quite obviously an adult, I’d definitely say that the border between adult fantasy and young adult fiction is a bit blurry here. The Temeraire series probably falls into the same category as Harry Potter et alia, being recommendable for a young adult as well as an adult audience. Right now I have the next three books, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War and Empire of Ivory sitting on my shelf to be read. His Majesty’s Dragon definitely is one of those first books that introduce you to a world and characters that only wait to be explored in further detail.