Book Review: Hopeless Maine by Tom and Nimue Brown (this review originally written for Pagan Dawn

Hopeless Maine by Tom and NImue Brown

Procession somber; pageant walked, shuffled, lurching to uncertainty.

This review first appeared in Pagan Dawn magazine.

Hopeless is an island that nobody can leave. Let that sink in; it’s a deeply layered bit of worldbuilding, and it’s reflective of the style of this book. Simple on the surface, yet with leviathans beneath.

On the surface, the story is of an orphan trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs: a common enough tale. Except the orphan is Salamandra, who’s not even sure what she is; she has magic, but she’s not witch material and the most likely option after that in Hopeless is monster. The strange and unfriendly world that she’s trying to navigate is full of mist and seabeasts and ghosts and ancient weirdness. She’s also quite happy to be an orphan, thanks.

With Hopeless, Maine Tom and Nimue Brown have created a world with a deep well of mythology, eerie and beautiful. It has a resonance similar to a fairytale or a legend (there is many a reference to spot). The artwork is exquisite – you could take any page, hang it on a wall and still find new things to look at weeks later – and the interplay between words and image and theme is incredible. I noticed that the book begins in plain black and white, fades into almost sepia with colour washes and bleeds into muted colour by the end. It gave me the impression of a fog gradually lifting.

There’s a sweet and biting sense of humour that runs through the entire book. There are invisible friends and demons and unhappy reverends and normal people trying to live their lives in truly extraordinary circumstances, and sometimes you can tell which is which. There is, against all logic, hope.

I could say a great deal about this book, but I do not have the space so what I will tell you is that I cried both times I read it and that I am planning to read it again. Because sometimes the world feels like a hopeless and inescapable place without sunlight, and how wonderful to see on page such an honest and imaginative tale of working through that. And one that made me laugh too!

I want to know more about every single character because they all seem to live very full lives beyond the pages. I want to puzzle over every odd end of myth that I picked up and laugh at the cooking classes. And I want more of Salamandra, persistently carving out a space for herself with charm and stubbornness.

Rating: read this book. Don’t make eye contact with the beasties.

Get more Hopeless on the blog here.

Book Review: Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb (book one of the Rain Wilds Chronicles)

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb art by Jackie Morris

Day the 2nd of the Plough Moon

This is the first book by Robin Hobb that I’ve ever read, and it was a treat! I am always a little suspicious of “high” fantasy (although we could be here all day trying to define exactly what counts), which is probably why it’s taken me so long to read anything by this author. However, I’m really enjoying her writing and she has a backlog of about thirty books! Hooray!

Now, as far as I can tell nearly all of Robin Hobb’s books are set in the same world, but they are handily grouped into quartets and trilogies so that it is possible to jump in as I have done. The advantage of this is that the world in this book felt very established. A lot of thought has clearly gone into the basics: geography, economy, politics and history. This is evident without being something that sidelines the plot: the world is just ticking over in the background, as worlds do. There are cities in the trees, political upheaval abroad, merchant towns and riverpeople, and they all merge and fit without having to try to be convincing. It’s also nice when fantasy writers have clearly thought about practicalities like, for instance, contraception. It makes me happy. And also, I like reading fantasy worlds that aren’t thinly-veiled Europe.

The point-of-view changes quite often, and was done in a way that was exciting rather than confusing. The characters themselves I found a bit tricky at times, but mostly I warmed to them. They’re all very much products of their world, which is again something that I like in fantasy. One of the point-of-view characters is actually a dragon, which was really fun! I did spend quite a bit of time yelling at some of the characters (cough Alise and Sedric cough), but only because I cared about them and I want them to be happy damnit! The cast was too big to mention everyone, so a quick favourites list: Thymara, a Rain Wilds girl who should have been killed at birth due to her scaly deformities, fiercely independent; Alise Kincarron, a scholar of dragons trapped in a loveless marriage; Rapskal, an endlessly cheerful Rain Wilds boy; Erik and Detozi, pigeon keepers of Bingtown and Cassarick respectively, who we only meet in letters; Tarman, a liveship; Sedric Meldar, something of a dandy…

The plot itself is rather slow moving, and it does not speed up. Indeed, this book finished just as I was really getting my teeth into it! That’s not to say that it was unenjoyable, just that it was steady and built over time. The writing is really lovely, and there are three more books in The Rain Wild Chronicles so I’m interested to see what Robin Hobb does with the foundation she’s built here.

Rating: Read this book, and imagine you are a great jeweled serpent gliding beneath the sea…

Book Review: Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

‘Five, five, five, five, five, five,’ I whispered.

Sequel to Binti: read that first!

I have previously expressed a desire to buy everything that Nnedi Okorafor has ever written; this desire is only getting stronger as I read more of her work. Binti did incredible things in ninety pages. Binti: Home does equally incredible things in one-hundred-and-sixty-two. It is a fantastic gem, packed full of imagination, sharp observation, creativity, and a rollercoaster of emotion. The world, skillfully set up in Binti, expands into more detail (and spaceship fish spaceship fish spaceship fish!)

Binti has been at Oomza University for a year now, and she is heading home accompanied by Okwu, who is part of a species that has been at war with parts of humanity for ages. Binti has changed, and as she travels she wonders who she is now, if she is the same, if she is still human, if she is still Himba.

Now, I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but maybe the question she should have been asking was whether she was ever who she thought she was… I loved every second of this sequel! It followed up, it answered questions that I had at the end of Binti, it developed and it went to unexpected places. It left me with a burning need to read the next in the series, and it again showcased Nnedi Okorafor’s skill at touching on big issues without sacrificing story. About the only problem I had was that the pronouns for Okwu seem to change randomly and I couldn’t quite tell if they were meant to or not. Sometimes they were ‘it’ sometimes ‘him’ and I think in the first book they were ‘she’ at one point, but the way it’s done it almost seems like a mistake rather than a deliberate choice. I got along fine, and headcanon that Okwu changes gender.

So, read this book. Wonder if you ever really know who you are…

Book Review: Ganymede by Cherie Priest

“Croggon Hainey sends his regards, but he isn’t up for hire,” Josephine Early declared grimly as she crumpled the telegram in her fist.

This is the third book in the Clockwork Century series, following Boneshaker and Dreadnought (although I think there’s a standalone called Clementine that technically fits between those two, but is designed to be a standalone – this series is a bit confusing that way). Ganymede, I thought, was a cracker. I love this series for its down-to-earth, usually women, protagonists, for the dry humour, and for the absolute fun of alternate history American Civil War with zombies and automatons.

Josephine Early is a mixed-race brothel owner in New Orleans, who spends a deal of time sneaking information in and out of the bayou where her brother (and many others) hides. It’s actually the first book in the series that uses the word ‘zombi’, as a random aside. The plot revolves around Ganymede, a ship supposedly capable of travelling underwater: who has it? Does anyone know how to use it? And can more be made… Josephine has some very strong opinions about all of those things!

Ganymede‘s plot is fast-paced in the same way as Boneshaker and Dreadnought, although there is rather more spying and intrigue and people on the same side lying to each other than in those two. I loved the complex relationships that were built between the characters, some of whom I know from previous books. I had a lot of fun trying to figure out what everyone’s motives were, and did a bit of yelping out loud at surprising moments. I really hope that we get more of Josephine Early, because she was an interesting character and no mistake!

Also SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER points for the massive notation at the end pointing out that her trans character was historically accurate, thank you very much, people didn’t suddenly start being trans in the seventies. END SPOILER END SPOILER END

Rating: read this book, beware flesh-eaters and submarines.

Review: Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam

This is the first story in the Gods and Monsters season from the Booksmugglers, and it is a wonderful offering. I’ve just finished reading it – a quietly beautiful story about the goddess Thrift, who makes a bargain with a thief in order to leave the temple where she waits with her bickering sisters.

The writing is deceptively simple, and the relationship between Thrift and the thief develops slowly. I enjoyed the attention to detail in Thrift’s point of view; the way she experienced things without being corporeal. And it was a pleasing journey, with a few surprises along the way. A lovely little tale; a bit sad and a bit happy. Recommended.

 

Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison TamPublished 6/13/2017 I am Thrift and I want to leave this place, and see the far ends of the universe, and never spend another moment in stasis ever again. Take my hand and bring me with you… On a lost planet in the depths of space, goddess-sisters Beauty, Glory and…

via Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam — The Book Smugglers

Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton

The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around.

Sometimes, there are books that stare straight into my heart and soul and reflect them back. For me, this was one of those. There is probably no such thing as a perfect book; Among Others, however, was exactly the right book at the right time, and that is not something to be underestimated. It rekindled my appreciation and love for libraries, it spoke a lot of my truths, and it allowed me to remember my sixteen and seventeen year old self with more compassion and understanding than I’ve ever managed. So, obviously, this review is enormously biased and I am well aware that this book may not be for everyone.

It’s 1979. Mor, who has lived her whole life in the Welsh Valleys surrounded by a varied and sprawling family, among fairies and wilderness and magic, has been forced to live with her (somewhat useless) English father whom she has never met and who promptly sends her to boarding school. Her twin sister is dead, her mother is mad and possibly evil, and she is alone. Among Others is written as a diary, as Mor turns to books and journalling, observing the world around her with sharp eyes and a certain dry humour while trying to make sense of what happened, what is happening, and how to move on. The fairy/magic aspect of the world is some of the most convincingly real that I have ever come across; odd and earthy and tied to the landscape, relating to the “real world” in strange ways. Mor is an unreliable narrator in the way that most grieving people are, and the story just… unfolds. Slow, unhurried, and yet still at times shocking, heartrending and heartwarming. If I was told tomorrow that I was only allowed one book for the rest of my life, it would be a close call between Among Others, Unquenchable Fire, and the dictionary (but which dictionary?!).

Rating: Read this book. Go to the library.

Hopeless Vendetta – my guest post

This is a link to my guest post on the Hopeless Vendetta blog – I had so much fun writing it, and now it’s illustrated and everything! If you haven’t read it, I really recommend the book that spawned it; Hopeless, Maine. It’s a beautiful, eerie and touching story set in a strange and eldritch world. The art is fantastic 🙂

Finding Hopeless, Maine Come in, dear traveller! I hear you are looking for directions. Yes ,yes, sit down. Now, you want to get to Hopeless, Maine. Are you sure? You’ve been warned about it, yes? The witches, the eldritch terrors, the night potatoes… Alright, alright, I can see that you are a stubborn and headstrong […]

via Finding Hopeless, Maine — The Hopeless Vendetta

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