Friday Feelings

The one thing I’ve noticed whilst looking back through my archive is that I’ve never really posted anything more personal, or personable. I’d like to start posting more than reviews, so consider this my first foray.

This week has been a bit weird, to be honest. I got the phone call last night to say that my grandma had died, and I’ve nowhere near processed that yet, so I’m going to find some solace in books and the beach this weekend.

Currently, as part of my final placement for medical school, I’m working on a tiny archipelago of islands off the North of Scotland. It’s pretty unusual to not feel as if you’re being blown off your feet…it’s also pretty unusual to leave the house in anything other than a waterproof jacket. It is, however, ridiculously beautiful. I went for a run today down by the beach and the water was so clear that you could see the seabed from the end of the pier, a rarity when it comes to Atlantic waters. The splendid isolation has meant that I’ve managed to get at lot of reading done, and, also, a lot of writing.

It’s pretty unlikely that any of you know about my writing, I tend to keep quiet about it around anyone other than my beta. That’s not because I don’t want to talk about it, I’m just at the stage of my manuscript where talking about it takes away from actual time that could be spent editing it. I will say a couple of things: it’s enormous, four POVs, sitting at about 180k words; it’s high fantasy, because who can help writing about mages, but also very character driven (and incredibly queer).  The one thing that I realised whilst writing it, is that I just can’t understand the mentality of writers who think that diversity is ‘forced’. If your eyes and heart are open to the world that you live in and the people in it, writing a book with characters of different races, genders, sexualities and health needs is never ‘forced’.

Currently Reading

  1. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

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I actually finished this book just before I started writing this post, but I’m still working out my thoughts for a formal review. One of the initial reasons I picked it up, apart from the plot which is an awesome mix of ghouls, blood magic and classical alchemy, is the rarity of non-eurocentric fantasy written by a POC author. I’ve read ‘fantasy Middle Eastern’ novels in the past written by people without Middle Eastern heritage which have just left a bad taste in my mouth. Saladin Ahmed is, by his own definition, Arab American and it was really awesome to read a fantasy that was respectful to the culture it drew upon. I’ll definitely by picking up other media written by him in the future!

2. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

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I’m on a bit of an epic fantasy binge at the moment. I’d had this book sitting on my kindle for a while, slightly daunted by the sheer size and density of it, but decided to pick it up on a whim after finishing ACOTAR last week. It’s very different to what I expected, much more political and keeping more of a distance from the characters than some of the YA books I’ve been reading recently. It tells the story of the displaced peoples of Lumatere, a land that has been magically sealed by a powerful curse, and their struggle to break the spell on their homeland. I can imagine that it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s beautiful and painful but very slow.

3. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Tor, whose short stories are my go to for cerebral sci-fi and fantasy, were giving away this novella for free earlier this week, and I’d heard great things about it even before that. I am not disappointed…at all. The novella deals with a school that has become the safe haven for children and young adults who have returned from faerie and found themselves increasingly lost and disillusioned in the ‘real world’. I haven’t read that much yet, but already I’ve fallen in love with the writing style and our protagonist.

Currently Watching

I’m one of those people that’s really rubbish at finishing TV series or sitting through movies, which is hilarious because I often read books in one sitting. Two series that have managed to keep my attention currently are ‘The Expanse’ (S1), which is giving me all the nostalgic Battlestar Galactica emotions, and ‘Attack on Titan’ (SNK, S1), which somehow I never ended up watching until now…yeah, I don’t understand either.

I’m also permanently watching ‘Critical Role’ between the new episodes and my current watch through from the beginning (I’m on episode 20). It always reminds me that I need to find a D&D group I can actually play in, rather than being perma-DM. It’s a sad fact that I’ve never played D&D as anything other than the Dungeon Master…I want to play as the Elf Ranger I’ve meticulously built a backstory for, oops.

Currently Playing

Sadly, my Xbox, with my copy of ‘Mass Effect: Andromeda’ and my beautiful alien girlfriend, is a good 1000 km away right now. Whilst away from home, I’ve been playing ‘Baldur’s Gate’ on my laptop, which I’ve been really enjoying. It’s a huge jump from the graphics of ME:A to the near pixel art of BG, but the story’s so good that I’ve barely noticed to be honest.

Coming Up

So, in the next month I’ve got some cool stuff coming up. Look out for an interview with a Elise Kova that I’ll be posting towards the end of the month, and another cover reveal that I’m very excited about.

There’s also be some reviews for much anticipated May releases and the answers to a  tag that I’ve been nominated to do.

As always, if you have any queries or suggestions for content you’d like to see more of, the blog contact form and my email are always open.

 

 

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Truthwitch (Susan Dennard)

4 stars

“I’ll always follow you, Safi, and you’ll always follow me. Threadsisters to the end.” 

I am not ashamed to admit that I picked up this book entirely because the cover is gorgeous. It was a pleasant and not-all-together-unexpected happenstance that I enjoyed the story as well.

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Character

Now, character is what this book does really well. Our central protagonist, Safiya, is a Truthwitch, a very rare type of witch who is instinctively able to tell truth from lie. Safi is a stubborn and feisty noblewoman from a family which has fallen on hard times, a perfect foil to her Threadsister, Iseult, a calm and very logical Threadwitch, widely mistrusted due her Nomatsi heritage. I liked the balance that the two girls gave eachother, Safi having to learn to not let emotions get in the way of her ability to tell truth, Iseult struggling not to be overwhelmed by her knowledge of humankind’s bonds and feelings, shown to her as a constant drifting miasma of coloured threads. I loved the concept of Threadsisters and brothers, a bond between characters that most closely correlates to platonic soulmate. It took me longer to warm to Safi’s character than Iseult’s, probably because I related more to Iseult’s quiet fire and determination, but even Safi went through a bit of a metamorphosis by the end of the book.

Events unfolding in book lead Safi and Iseult into the sights of Merik, a Prince of Nihar, and Aeduan, a much feared Bloodwitch who tracks by the scent of a person’s blood. I adored both characters. Merik is equally as hot headed as Safi, though, as a Windwitch, his rage comes with more risks. A young Prince second in line to the throne of a country on the brink of starvation, Merik crosses paths with the girls when desperately trying to broker a trade deal to keep his people alive. Immediately, Safi and Merik find the most superfluous of reasons to hate one another, and we all know how that ends…

Aeduan is equally a fascinating character,  somewhat an antagonist in this story, but only in the way that he is a mercenary on a contract. Hired to hunt Safi, who has been forced to flee from the City for reasons I will not divulge, he is utterly driven, unwilling to let anything get between him and his quarry. A lot of questions are raised in this book about the nature of just exactly who Aeduan is, but not a lot are answered…I am very interested to learn more about him in later books. Also, I ship our Threadwitch and our Bloodwitch with a fury

Story

One of the things I quickly realised whilst reading ‘Truthwitch’ is that I tend to favour fantasy with a slower pace. This book starts quick, only slows a little and then powers up for the finale. The book opens with a heist…well, an attempt at a heist that only really ends up exposing Safi and her secret powers to the mercy of our money hungry Bloodwitch. Truthwitches are rare and their powers, for reasons of business and government, are considered incredibly lucrative. Safi has tried her hardest throughout her life to keep her powers a secret from those that could twist her to their use and now her fragile shield has come shattering down.

From this point on we enter a story where the world is in a tremulous 20 year pact of peace, which is soon due to reach its natural end. Past wars have left several countries in ruin, everyone is jostling and trying to buy themselves any advantage to keep themselves on top of the hierarchy when the peace crumbles. Witches are revered in some countries and considered criminals in others, but all live under a common threat, the fear of cleaving, where their powers corrupt almost instantly leaving them creatures of murderous instinct.

The witches in this world have powers that work upon one of a selection of elements: earth, air, water, fire, aether and void. It’s not particularly complicated, though some of the naming conventions don’t make it immediately obvious who can control what. Threadwitch, for example, is a type of Aetherwitch, whilst a Bloodwitch is considered to be a Voidwitch…which, let’s be honest, is probably because it sounds cool.

The plot is fast paced, there are multiple POVs (none which I found tiresome), we have sea battles, enchanted hurricanes and wild chases on horseback. It is really good fun.

My one big criticism of this book is that the actual physical worldbuilding is fairly weak. There were a couple of times I had to guess at what exactly Dennard was going for when she was describing the cities and palaces. I think that Venaza is supposed to be a Venetian simulacram, but that was pretty much all I had to go on when trying to build an image of it in my mind. It actually did dampen the reading experience for me; I love rich and decadent worldbuilding and in places I felt I might as well have been dumped in a white room for the lack of imagery. I have no doubt that Dennard had beautiful lush images of her world in mind, she just never really put it on paper.

Final thoughts?

This was a really fun book; witty and sharp, with no words wasted. We have witch battles, true friendship, hate-to-love, cool magic systems and an entire world only a misstep away from war.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, this book was really fun, I can’t wait to pick up book two.

Miranda and Caliban (Jacqueline Carey)

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4 stars

Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant.

There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love. 

“Thou art the shoals on which Caliban wilt dash his heart to pieces.” 

I will admit, it’s been a while since I read ‘The Tempest’, though I think you could probably never have read it and quite happily enjoy this book. ‘Miranda and Caliban’ is a retelling focusing on the younger years of the two protagonists, only entering the events of the play at the very end.

It was a beautifully crafted book, delicately written as Carey’s work always is, meandering through lush prose and rich fantasy. ‘The Tempest’ has often been lambasted for its dearth of female characters and this story seeks to address that, giving an important voice to a character who is used mainly as a tool in the original text. Likewise, in ‘The Tempest’ I always felt slightly uncomfortable that Caliban, an Algerian man, was written in a way that seemed to suggest he both abhorred and adored his own subjugation. In this retelling both Miranda and Caliban are shown as prisoners of Prospero, prisoners of societal prejudices even on an island cast out into the sea.

I can say straight out that this book will not be for everyone. It’s a cruel, hard book. Miranda and Caliban are kept under her father’s finger through physical punishment and emotional manipulation. She is both revered by her father and treated like dirt, on one hand taught the basics of his complicated magical arts, on the other forced to do menial tasks in kitchen work and cleaning. Prospero’s misogyny throughout the book left me with such a bad taste in my mouth, which I suppose shows the book is doing exactly what it intended to. Likewise, Caliban is subjected to horrific cruelty and unrelenting racism throughout. He adores Miranda, sees her as the sun in his otherwise grey, caged life, but he knows that he will never be allowed to be with her. It becomes so ingrained in him that, by the end, even he believes he is not good enough. Unfortunately, as this is a retelling, neither of our young protagonists gain their hearts desires.

This is a beautiful, lyrical book, filled with strange magic. I adored how Carey writes the capricious air spirit, Ariel, truly a creature of nature, beholden to no one other than themselves. I, personally, loved the heady, rich way that she writes, as if every paragraph is laden with heavy buds. I know that it won’t be to everyone’s taste. I can imagine that for some readers this book would be their idea of their worst nightmare, meandering, maudlin and unrelenting, but, for me, it was like being taken on an out of body experience.

So, if you enjoy reading a book for the feelings, for the journey and development as opposed to the plot, this is definitely a book for you. Even though it was sad, sometimes making me feel a little numb inside, it was so rich and immersive that I couldn’t blame it. It’s a book that makes you feel a lot of things, though not all of these sensations are so easy to pin down.

Many thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge for a copy in return for an honest review.

The beautiful cover is by Tran Nguyen.

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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (Kij Johnson)

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Professor Vellitt Boe teaches at the prestigious Ulthar Women’s College. When one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, Vellitt must retrieve her.

But the journey sends her on a quest across the Dreamlands and into her own mysterious past, where some secrets were never meant to surface.

4 stars

So, when I first picked up a copy of this book I, somehow, neglected to notice that it was based on the Lovecraft mythos (more, specifically, ‘The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath’) and, once I realised this, I spent a while torn between continuing as I was and reading up around the base concept. In the end I sort of did a bit of both.

I can happily say that this book is accessible to any and all, you don’t have to know anything about Lovecraft’s work to enjoy it. I’d read a little of Lovecraft’s work but found it very difficult to overlook the racism and sexism that is prevalent in it. Beautiful ideas utterly mired by disgusting prejudice. Johnson’s book almost reads as a commentary on that, a bit of a ‘what we could have had’ if the Lovecraft stories weren’t so hostile to women. Vellitt Boe acts as foil throughout the book, correcting some of the more troubling assumptions of the original books and gently critiquing the misogyny of Lovecraft’s male protagonists, namely Randolph Carter, the protagonist of the original ‘Dream-Quest’.

‘He loved who he was: Randolph Carter, master dreamer, adventurer. To him, she has been landscape, an articulate crag he could ascend, a face to put to this place. When were women ever anything but footnotes to men’s tales?’

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is the voice of the protagonist. Vellitt Boe is an elderly woman, a character who has settled down to a life of quiet academia after decades of adventure, before being pulled into it once more. It’s so rare to read about older women in fantasy, especially not elderly women who are the heroes of the story.

Even without focusing on the important social commentary aspects, this is a beautiful book. It is entirely possible to get lost in the Dreamlands with Vellitt Boe. It has all the haunting beauty of the Mythos’ original ideas, but written in a more accessible, less rambling manner. The author mentioned in the afterword that she can remember the first time she read ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ at the age of 10, and that, even though being troubled by the racism, the ideas of the Dreamlands had stuck with her. You can see the nostalgia in this book, that of Vellitt Boe travelling the roads she travelled as a young woman, and that of Johnson giving voice to the worlds she had adored and devoured as a child.

Whether it be the wild landscapes and creatures of the Dreamlands, or the well trodden paths of our own modern world,  Johnson finds beauty in both the extravagant and the mundane. Throughout the story you feel you are taking the journey with Vellitt, through places both bizarre and somehow familiar, and into the memories of a life fully lived.

Thank you very much to Macmillan-Tor/Forge for a copy in return for an honest review.

For those who are wondering, the beautiful cover art is by the wonderful Victo Ngai