Book review

Book Reviews – Martha Wells’ City of Bones, Martin Swinford’s The Path of Swords

Khat, a member of a humanoid race created by the Ancients to survive in the Waste, and Sagai, his human partner, are relic dealers working on the edge of society, trying to stay one step ahead of the Trade Inspectors and to support Sagai’s family. When Khat is hired to find relics believed to be part of one of the Ancients’ arcane engines, they are both reluctant to become involved. But the request comes from the Warders, powerful mages who serve Charisat’s Elector.

Khat soon discovers that the deadly politics of Charisat’s upper tiers aren’t the only danger. The relics the Warders want are the key to an Ancient magic of unknown power, and, as all the inhabitants of Charisat know, no one understands the Ancients’ magic.

I enjoyed Martha Wells’ Murderbot diaries very much, so I thought I’d try something of hers that was a bit longer. I’m kind of underwhelmed, to be honest. The fantasy world she creates is believable and well thought through, but not that different to any other sword-and-sandal setting. I can’t say that I really connected emotionally with any of the characters. I’m normally all over the wonder of ancient relics that connect together to do something mysterious and supernatural, but somehow I just didn’t feel the wonder here. I didn’t stop reading, but I read on with a certain resentment, thinking, “Can something interesting happen now?” and somehow I still felt that even when the world of the story was on the brink of being invaded by not-ghosts-really-but-might-as-well-be.

I think there was possibly too much politics on the upper tiers – which was exactly the same court politics we see everywhere – and not enough xenoarcheology for me. And Charisat seemed like an unpleasant place to live, which made it a slightly unpleasant place to visit. Not really for me.

“Luan ap Garioch, second son of the house of Artran, this is the day of choosing. How do you choose?”

On the last day of the summer of his fourteenth year, Luan takes the first step on The Path of Swords. He has been told that the path will be hard. He knows that it will lead him into danger. The reality is beyond all his imagining.

Described as “Wonderfully imagined” and “skilfully crafted”, The Path of Swords is the first novella in the Song of Amhar fantasy series. Set in an alternate Iron Age where the world of the spirit is always close by, the series follows the adventures of Luan, a boy training to become one of the Klaideem, elite warriors who dedicate their life to the service of the kingdom.

I’m sorry to be brutally honest, but the truth is that after having read a bunch of indie books, I no longer expect indie books to be as good as pro-published ones. So The Path Of Swords was a pleasant surprise. From the first sentence I could tell that I was in the hands of an accomplished author with a confident, smooth style and an ability to build a solid, believable world. I appreciated the way a lot of the world felt Celtic influenced but without being a slavish historical copy, and I really enjoyed spending time with characters who felt well rounded to the point of even having a subtle humour. A pleasant surprise.

Book review

Just read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin

hundredthousandkingdoms

I don’t quite know what to make of it, to be honest. I’m a big fan of worldbuilding, and I set out in this novel with great enthusiasm. I loved the fact that the city of Sky was described as being ‘like an altarskirt rose’ and then they went on to describe what an altarskirt rose was and how many of the failed blooms are disturbingly horrific. I liked the unexpectedness of that, and I see – now that I’ve reached the end – that it was a presage of pretty much everything to come.

Short summary (contains spoilers) – young woman journeys to the capital city of her world in order to find out who killed her mother. When she arrives, she is named one of the three heirs of the kingdom. Only one of the three can eventually inherit and live. So here she is in this dissolute courtly setting, a naive ‘barbarian’ among worldly and cruel aristocrats who are so cruel and so powerful they have even made the gods their slaves. Our heroine befriends the gods, finds out their stories and basically ends up engineering a new age in which they are freed.

Put like that, I should have really liked it, but ugh… I didn’t. I didn’t massively dislike it either, but I was bored.

I don’t know. The ‘cruel aristocrats who amuse themselves by torture’ has been somewhat overdone. If I had a god for a friend, there are so many things I would see or do–planets to visit, lava to swim in, flight to experience, continents to shape etc, etc. It seemed a huge waste of power to use them either to have sex with or to kill one’s enemies.

I’m sure I would have liked the book more if I had fallen in love with Nahadoth, the Nightlord, as the heroine did. I believe I was supposed to. Much of the book revolves around ‘I wish I could have sex with him, but I can’t because it would kill me, oh well I’m going to do it anyway.’ And I think as an asexual person, the appeal of that plot thread is just lost on me.

The emotional entanglements between the three highest gods, who were siblings who both loved and hated each other were also kind of tedious to me. I didn’t honestly like any of them, and because of that it didn’t matter to me what happened to them. I also didn’t really like the protagonist or anyone else. (Other than Sieh, and he’s a strange case. I have a weakness for Trickster gods, but although Sieh was supposed to be a trickster, he was actually the most straightforward of all the characters. I found it very relieving that there was one person capable of the human emotions of affection and friendliness in the book, even if that person was one of the few inhumans.)

I don’t know, I don’t know. I have a strong feeling that this might be wonderful for somebody else. But it’s just not my own cup of tea.

Book review

Just finished the Expanse books. What now?

The title says everything! I settled in to read The Expanse novels, thinking I was set with reading matter for a long time, and now I’ve reached the end of them. I’d gladly read the next novel in the series, but it doesn’t seem to exist yet.

Persepolis_Rising

Interestingly, I’m not at all tempted to read any of the novellas. I like a good long book more than I like the Expanse universe. The same thing applied when I reached the end of the Rivers of London series. There were a number of novellas I could have moved on to there, but I chose not to. Something to bear in mind for what I decide to write, myself, though I suppose I should check to see if that’s a universal thing before I make the decision not to write any more novellas at all.

At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. As you can tell from my Cygnus Five novels, people creating new civilizations in the ruins left behind by ancient aliens is absolutely my thing. I wonder if the author got a course, along the way, in inclusivity, because I think it’s admirable that while the books started off with Holden as the classic sci-fi ‘man stands alone against the universe’ kind of hero, and Naomi was there more or less entirely as a love interest, they gradually evolved into something much more interesting and varied. You’ve got to admire it when you can feel the author going on a hero’s journey as you read along! At the end of book one I would have had some unflattering things to say about Miller’s creepy stalkerish behaviour toward Julie, and Holden’s white-man’s-burden tendencies. But at the end of book seven I can thoroughly recommend the series to everyone, women and queer readers too.

I’m enjoying the TV series as well, to the extent that I’m wondering about buying the box set. Have you heard the theme tune? It’s gorgeous! Sadly UK Netflix only carries series one and two, and that’s just not enough now that I’ve finished reading book 7. The dissociation between who the characters are on TV and who the characters in my head are by now is just too great.

I’ve been on a real hard SF/military SF streak recently, so I think it’s time to read some fantasy now. Anyone got any recommendations?