Paul McAuley has been on my “I really should read something by that guy some time” list for quite a while now, and now I finally got around to it. He’s been around for a while and apparently quite versatile, writing, among other things, alternative history and near future thrillers. The Quiet War (which was on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2009) is space opera – not so much the pulpy Golden Age variant of E.E. Smith but the contemporary variant that was started off by C.J. Cherryh with her Downbelow Station and that aims for more realism and psychological depth.
Just in case anyone has not noticed yet – I added two new widgets to the sidebar, one from Shelfari showing what I’m currently reading (thus preparing you for what to expect review-wise) and another one, somewhat farther down, from Librarything showing the books I’ve recently acquired.
This volume from Paizo’s Planet Library (which is a great and praiseworthy undertaking, although I’ll have to frown at the very sloppy copy editing for this volume which is full of typos) collects all of C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry stories. It fulfills all the usual conditions for a true classic: It is old (all the stories in here were published in the period from 1934 to 1939), it was innovative back in its day (presenting the first ever female Sword & Sorcery protagonist, and – although that was not common knowledge at the time – written by a woman, too), and it had a significant impact on what came afterwards (it was a huge influence on female fantasy authors in the 70′s and 80′s, like C.J. Cherryh, Tanith Lee etc.). The stories are also very good and remain compelling and readable to this day.
I was in the mood for a bit of light reading, and Molly Harper’s Jane Jameson series is about as fluffy as it gets, basically the literary equivalent to an almond meringue – absolutely no nutritional substance at all, but irresistibly delicious. (The novels do get one better over the pastries though, in that they are also very funny.)
There is a theory that humour is a product of the clash of the ideal with the real, and Molly Harper’s is a very nice illustration of that, as a signifcant portion of the profuse amount of giggles, chuckles and outright laughter reading Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men elicited from me happened when the ideal of vampirism or werewolfhood as featured in countless paranormal fantasies crashed into real life (do vampires need a special toothpaste? how exactly do werewolves mark their territory?).
Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men is not just a spoof on Paranormal Romances, though, but in addition is populated with a host of bizarre and generally hilarious characters (among them quite a few quite horrible relatives of the heroine and her friends – one might almost get worried about the author’s family relationships), as well as lots of witty banter and entertaining snark. For the most part, the book reads like a series of connected episodes rather than a novel with an overarching plot (what there is revolves mostly around the heroine’s best friend’s wedding to a werewolf), but I can’t say that I missed it – I was enjoying myself too much to even notice (and the few times I might have, I was far too busy chuckling to care).
If asked to give a list of exciting professions, most people would likely think of things like spy, model or personal assistant to Jason Momoa or Scarlet Johansson; it seems unlikely that elevator safety inspector would make many lists, with the possible exception of the occasional elevator safety inspector who really love their job – and readers of Colson Whitehead’s debut novel The Intuitionist.
And here’s another novella, this time from Larissa Ione’s Demonica series. Going by Eternity Embraced, I’d guess that Larissa Ione does not write a lot of short fiction, because this was structured rather clumsily. She still can still write high drama and sizzling sex, but the scenes here do not cohere into anything complete, Eternity Embraced reads like a fragment, like chapters torn out of a longer novel. It was still an entertaining read, but left me emotionally uninvolved with any of the characters; Larissa Ione does much better than this in her full-length novels.
This is a novella in Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series and has werewolf Elena Michaels as narrator and protagonist. There is a mystery plot here, and while that is very deftly handled and provides a thrilling finale, it’s really only a secondary thread – what Hidden mainly is about is Elena and Clay and their twins spending their Christmas holiday. And it’s quite wonderful.
It is basically fan service, though, and there is a good chance that if you have never read any of the series you will not be getting much out of Hidden. On the other hand, Kelley Armstrong is still great at characterisation, and so the twins are quite believable (though rather precocious) and the parent-children relationship are realistic on both the human and the wolf pack level. I have not read every single werewolf novel out there, but I doubt there is anyone who can pull off as plausible werewolves as Kelley Armstrong’s. Carrie Vaughn comes very close, but I don’t think she pulls off the integration of pack mentality into everyday life quite as convincingly, and this novella in particular is a splendid example of that particular aspect. It’s just a delight to observe Elena’s joy in her children as well as her continued worries about whether to tell them that their parents are werewolves, watch her relationship to Clay and their attempts to squeeze in the occasional sex when the kids are distracted, follow her her first, still often insecure steps as alpha-elect of the pack… There is quite a lot to delight in for such a slim volume, and part of the enjoyment comes without a doubt from having known the characters for so long and having accompanied them on many adventures, but it’s also due to Kelley Armstrong’s skill in making her creations appear so real and making us care for them.
As with all Subterranean Press releases I have seen so far, this is a beautifully designed and crafted hardcover book, although I have to say that this time the illustrations do not do much for me - they’re rather a bit too bright and cartoonish for my taste, which might work for a comic but not for book illustrations. But that’s just even more a matter of personal taste than what I usually write here, and your mileage may vary considerably.
I’m unlikely to be the first to wonder about this, but I’m starting to suspect that a not unsubstantial part of the enjoyment readers derive from long series of doorstopper Fantasy novels might lie in the mere fact of having made it through the massive of printed paper – maybe indeed not unlike mountain climbing (a pastime I do not indulge in, so just speculating here) a feat of endurance with its main reward the consciousness of having surmounted a huge obstacle.
I think most readers of Historical Romances get tired with the Regency period once in a while and start looking out for something a bit different – and His Treasure is about as different as it gets, being set in a time and a place that many Europeans and Americans would still deny to have a history at all, i.e. pro-colonial Nigeria.
There is a lot of music in The Wars of Light and Shadow – not only is the series’ main protagonist a preternaturally gifted masterbard, whose music is capable of working something very close to magic and is a recurring important plot element through all of the novels, not only does Janny Wurts make constant use of musical imagery and occasionally even structure (like at the end of Peril’s Gate where Elaira’s repeated “Cry, Mercy” serves as a kind of pedal point to Arithon’s ordeal) – but in a sense, the novels are music, in so far as they are very aware of the tonal quality of language, their sentences composed with an ear for prose rhythm and melody.
In addition, there are the larger-than-life characters with their tendency to grand, sweeping gestures, the high-strung feelings and the even more high-strung language – all of which combine to give the series an operatic feel. In its best moments, Janny Wurts’ prose grips the reader with the emotional impact and powerful intensity of an aria. The musical work it is most reminiscent of, though, (and which, although it is operatic does not strictly speaking have arias) due to its grand scope, the way it entwines the mythical with the intimate and its use of leitmotifs is Richard Wagners Ring des Nibelungen. The War of Light and Shadow is not (unlike Stephen Donaldson who tried tries for the science fiction genre with his Gap Cycle) an adaption of Wagner’s work, but it does seem to share some features with it – and considering how Janny Wurts not only wrote it, but also did the covers for some editions, there maybe even be some ambition towards a Gesamtkunstwerk (and one can’t help but wonder whether some of Arithon’s tunes have actually been set to music…).
After the focused perspective of Peril’s Gate, the view widens into a broad panorama again in Traitor’s Knot, we find out what it was Davien wanted from Arithon, and we get one of the rare instances of pure, unmitigated evil in the series. There is only a brief breathing pause at the start of the novel, then things start moving again, events retaining the momentum they have gathered in the previous volumes of this arc and leading into what promises to be a grand finale.