Book Review: Weaver’s Lament by Emma Newman

Weaver's Lament by Emma Newman Industrial Magic book two

Charlotte was certain she was going to die.

Book two of the Industrial Magic series

review of Brother’s RuinBook one of the Industrial Magic Series.

The further adventures of Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Gunn, secret mage, secret illustrator, and possibly a burgeoning socialist. Charlotte finds herself working undercover at a cotton mill in this book, at first to assist her brother who believes his apprenticeship is being sabotaged, but increasingly with her own agenda. I enjoy Emma Newman’s writing. There are hints dropped throughout this book about directions the series might take, all of which are very exciting (I have so many theories about the process that the mage organisation puts mages through to stop them going “wild”).

I love that Emma Newman has taken this Victorian world, powered it with magic, and is using it not only to tell fantastic stories but also to comment on social injustice. There are some revelations about work at the mill which were nothing short of genius. Charlie Gunn remains a wonderful main character, by turns naive and stubborn. My only complaint is that there is not enough book at all!

Rating: read this book, be kind to the ghosts.


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Black Panther film – some overexcited fanpersoning

Just to make it very clear, this is not a nuanced review. This is me being really excited and wanting to tell everyone about the excitement. I would not attempt a nuanced review of this film, because I know there are a lot of things I would miss or not fully understand due to my background.

So I went to see Black Panther this week, and HOLY SHIT!

Okoye Black Panther

It was so good. SO GOOD! I’m gonna have difficulty articulating, because it was just so exciting, but we’ll have a randomly ordered list okay? Great. SPOILERS!

Worldbuilding

WAKANDA

I’ve been hanging around in the MCU for a while, and it’s been fun and there’s lots to play with, but bloody hell Wakanda! Wakanda was really really exciting. It was visually exciting, and a lot of work had clearly gone into it. There’s this thread about the costume design, which is really interesting so GO READ IT. The costumes stood out in an awesome way, and I liked reading that thread and getting a better idea of where the inspiration came from. Then we’ve got this concept art by Till Nowak which took my breath away. And some stills from the film. It’s better in the film, with everything moving and alive and EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE so good!

The background of Wakanda was given to us as an animated story told by T’chaka EDIT 2/2/2018 I was wrong, it is N’jobu talking to his son  at the beginning of the film, and I really enjoyed that. Wakanda has managed, through isolation, to avoid colonisation. They are extremely technologically advanced, and the rest of the world thinks they are a deprived third-world nation. I feel like, as I’ve not watched Civil War, there was some context that was missing for me. But I was able to fill that in. They talk Xhosa on screen (subbed). The soundtrack is also perfect (and I have every intention of buying it), and the whole just comes together into this incredible, fully-realised, complicated awesome world. I would be more than happy if all Marvel films from now on were set in Wakanda please, with Thor films allowed as long as Taika Waititi is directing them. I was completely blown away.

Awesome women everywhere

So the story is about T’challa, played excellently by Chad Boseman, becoming king after his father dies, and it does amazing and interesting things with that which were amazing and made me cry. HOWEVER, the women stole the show for me. There were so many women! Marvel films usually have about two-point-five women per film, usually white, young, and skinny. Which is, yanno, boring. Black Panther had SO MANY WOMEN!!!! I recommend this article for some interesting thoughts about how in Black Panther the men are carrying the emotional struggles of the film and the women get to be intellectual and ideological.

Anyway, list of women:

Queen Ramonda

Queen RamondaQueen RamondaQueen Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett, is the late T’chaka’s wife, and the mother of T’challa and Shuri. She gets to be a strong presence throughout the film, and is generally fantastic and wonderful and is NOT a young woman, and is portrayed with incredible dignity. She hikes up a damn mountain in the snow to go bargain with the very isolationist Jabari tribe when T’challa is thought to be dead. This is about two (?) weeks after losing her husband; this woman is hardcore and wonderful.

Shuri

Shuri and Tchalla

Shuri and NAkia

T’challa’s little sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, is sixteen and a technology genius who could run circles around Tony Stark without even trying. She’s in charge of the tech development for ALL OF WAKANDA and she makes amazing things and names them after puns.  She interrupts T’challa’s crowning ceremony to tell him that her outfit is uncomfortable.She’s funny and smart and jokes around with her bro, and then also hikes up a freezing mountain to negotiate and then gets in on a battle with sonic gauntlets which she invented while talking a slightly useless CIA agent through how to use their jets. She is made of awesome. LOOK AT HER AWESOMENESS!

Okoye

Okoye

Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is a force of fucking nature. She’s the implacable general, in charge of the Dora Milaje (all women fighting force, roughly equivalent to secret service in nature I think). And damn, this woman! She is calm and collected and will kick the ever-loving shit out of anyone threatening the king. There is a car-chase where she SPEARS A CAR FROM ON TOP OF ANOTHER CAR! And she’s a great character who takes her job very seriously and still occasionally cracks a joke. And there are so rarely women characters like this, who get to have strength and loyalty as their tenets. She is fascinating in that she is loyal not to T’challa personally, but to the throne. Regardless of her personal feelings, she sees her job as serving the throne and sticks to it. And when it turns out that T’challa is alive and therefore the kingship challenge wasn’t settled, that is when she changes her mind.

Nakia

Nakia

I could not find a gif of her getting her fight on, but she is mighty competent! When we meet Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, she is trying to rescue a group of kidnapped Nigerian(?) girls. She is a Wardog, which is the Wakandan name for spies sent out into the rest of the world. She speaks multiple languages, can handle herself in a fight, is not afraid to disagree with T’challa about things (mainly Wakanda’s isolationism). She’s also his ex, but unlike in many films where that would be her entire personality she gets to branch out beyond that and be her own person. And she also, along with Shuri and Queen Ramonda, hikes up a damn freezing mountain to negotiate with the Jabari tribe after having got Shuri and Ramonda to safety, and then SNUCK BACK INTO THE DAMN PALACE AND NICKED SOME OF THE MAGIC SUPERHERO MAKING HEART HERB! Also she doesn’t shack up with T’challa, she goes and opens an embassy thing. And she has a really amazing dynamic with Okoye where they get to disagree but still respect each other.

All the Dora Milaje

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA they are so awesome! Also I like to imagine that at some point in the future Valkyrie/Scrapper 142 as played by Tessa Thompson will come across the Dora Milaje and that would be both amazing and bittersweet.

Dora Milaje

Killmonger and Dora Milaje

I don’t think I’ve missed anyone. Seriously, awesome women everywhere!

Plot and themes

I’m trying not to spoil everything, but you may want to skip this section! The plot was fascinating: they set you up with who you thought would be the main villain, and a really obvious story development. And then they did something else entirely and the film became not about Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who stole vibranium and was, to be fair, a pretty wonderful villain whenever he was onscreen, but about Erik Killmonger/N’jadaka, the forgotten cousin of T’challa left to grow up in Oaklands, California. It becomes about the rage of those left behind and taken away, about this man who is furious with the world (and has every right to be) trying to come home to a place that by right he should have belonged. And suddenly Wakanda has to deal with the fact that their isolationist policy, which protected them from colonisation and all that awful awful fuckery that Europe inflicted on the entire continent (and of course they needed to protect themselves) also left people behind and it’s coming back to haunt them. There’s an incredible emotional struggle between Killmonger/N’jadaka (Michael B Jordan) and T’challa, and their different beliefs and experiences that was genuinely painful.

I can’t actually begin to cover all the themes etc, because they are big and complicated and I don’t think I know enough to really get into them, but damnit WATCH THIS FILM! Also, the final fightscene between Killmonger and T’challa takes place in a literal underground railway. Just just just FEELINGS

Action Sequences

Killmonger and Tchalla

I loved the fighting in this film! It was all amazing and there were so many different types of combat that it stayed interesting! You had these one on one battles with swords and shields, a massive car-chase, multi-person brawls, and a fuck-off battle that had jets with laser guns, the Dora Milaje, two Black Panther superpowered dudes, sonic Nakia Black Panther postergauntlets, the weapons that Nakia was using which I don’t know the name of (tell me if you know – there’s a piccy), spears, besotho blankets that contained energy shields, and more than one wartrained rhinoceros. I repeat, WAR RHINOCEROS! It was great.

Other great stuff

  • M’baku, played by Winston Duke, was just brilliant. His character was a lot of fun.
  • All the shots of different bits of Wakanda.
  • Shuri being awesome.
  • The whole scene where T’challa is being crowned is visually stunning and fantastic, and the music was incredible.
  • Having non-American, non-European accents as the main accent in a film.
  • Have I mentioned Shuri?
  • “Coloniser” as an insult.
  • The amazing spiritual visions that both T’challa and N’jadaka/Killmonger had – they were so beautiful and packed with emotion.
  • WAR RHINOCEROS!
  • Everett Ross:(to T’challa) “Does she speak English?” Okoye: “When she wants to.”

About the only thing that would have made me like this more were if there were some queers (and again it seems as though at one stage there were going to be some because Okoye was going to have Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba, as her lover, but Marvel backed down. AGAIN). Other than that, GO GO GO GO SEE THIS FILM!


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Book review: Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman

brother's ruin by emma newman

Charlotte guided her brother to the right position on the pavement, ignoring the glares from other Londoners as they stopped the flow of people hurrying about their business.

I have just read this little book, and it was a delight. Very much the beginning of something (it’s okay, there are more books!), yet compelling in its own right. Brother’s Ruin is set in a Victorian London with magic, which seems to be the theme of several books I’ve bought recently. It is a well imagined world, with just the right amount of nitty-gritty detail.

The story follows Charlotte, or Charlie as she is nicknamed, a young woman of middling class with several secrets and a fiance whom I personally thought was a bit useless. The question is, can she actually keep any of her secrets secret?

There were lots of things that Brother’s Ruin did that were fun. I liked how industrial the magical colleges sounded, and the fact that the industrial revolution is effectively being powered by magic. I loved the trope inversion of Charlie’s brother being the one with non-specific ill health. Charlie herself was a loveable character. There was always this sense of a stubborn, naturally hotheaded person struggling in a system where she can’t be those things. It’s a fantastic read, and I’m looking forward to the second in the series.

Rating: read this book, dismantle the patriarchy!


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Book Review: A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan

A portable shelter kirsty logan book cover

I’m going to tell you a story.

This was a spiderweb of a book: a collection of short stories deftly threaded together. Ruth and Liska are expecting their first child, and have retreated to a tiny cottage on the north coast of Scotland. They have agreed to only tell their child truths, however both are telling it stories; Ruth in the day while Liska is at work, and Liska at night while Ruth sleeps. The collection is made of the stories they tell.

And what stories! Selkies and circuses and dragons and bicycles. The ordinary and the magical; the ordinary as magical, and vice-versa. Stories of love and loss and hard lessons and hope. Through these tales, we catch glimpses of the women doing the telling. Of who they are and where they’ve beena and how they see the world. It is wonderful and weird – reading it felt a little like catching a werewolf mid-change: scary, magical, and impossible to look away from. I found myself intrigued by the layers; the stories and the people behind them. I admire Kirsty Logan’s skill in telling us a big story by telling lots of little ones (though of course this is not a new technique). This book is a gem, and one which I think will stand-up well to re-reading.

Rating: read this book, and dive down into the salt.

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The Tearling Trilogy: a rambly and disorganised discussion

So, I recently finished reviewing this series. And it made me think a lot about stuff, so I wanted to do a very rambly discussion post. It’s gonna have spoilers, and may be a little bit incoherent if you’ve not read the books (I’ll try to make it understandable).

This series does a lot of things that I found really interesting. It also had its flaws (among other things, most of the cast are white, and although there are a few non-straight characters they have pretty small parts).

One of the things it did that made me go “yeeeees!” was that it created a realistic, brutal fantasy world in which things are kinda shit for women (“noooooooo!”) but it absolutely refused to sideline its female characters. And this for me was important. I get super sick of people building fantasy worlds with magic and dragons and freaking goblins and then being like “yeah but sexism is still totally a thing”. Aside from everything else, I think it speaks of a lack of imagination. So although the culture is rather similar to some kind of medieval Europe, including the church being not great, the main character is a woman. The main baddie is a woman. Some of the other baddies are women, and a lot of the important side-characters are women. This means that the patriarchal norms of the world get questioned and poked and prodded and challenged. And as a reader, you start thinking ‘well this is ridiculous’ when the most powerful woman in the country has to sneak about to get her hands on contraception.

It also had a culture based in medieval/feudalistic type reality, and did not flinch away from how awful that system was for most people. Which I tip my hat to, because again I get sick of fantasy where it’s assumed that having a monarchic system is going to be great – you’ve only got to read some history to figure out that no, for most people, that meant working your whole life for someone else who might take your entire livelihood away from you at any moment and nobody cared. I liked seeing that trope challenged.

And then there’s the long running theme of utopia and dystopia. This one will take a bit of background info, so beware the SPOILERS. The Tearling was founded by William Tear, who used magic sapphires to Cross time with a group of idealists trying to leave what is heavily implied to be a version of our world. The people who Crossed wanted to build, effectively, a Utopia. In the books they call it the Better World. And they try really hard, but they fail. William Tear failed to take into account human nature, and also, very importantly, history. None of the adults who Crossed could bear to talk about their history, about exactly what they escaped and what the price was. So the next generation grow up with no history, with no knowledge of the world that their parents fought so hard to escape from. And when things get hard in the Tearling, none of them know the dangers of handing over responsibility in return for safety…

Which leads to the Tearling in the present day: feudalistic, illiterate, with a barely functioning economy, a pretty awful monarchy that rarely cares about its people, a church that cares even less, and a monthly tithe to Mortmesne of slaves taken from its own population by lottery. Effectively, a dystopia. One that, somehow, Kelsea Glynn has to reforge. And she knows her damn history, which is pretty awesome. I really liked the way that it was made clear how important that can be, and that she was trying so hard to create something good with the odds stacked against her.

The ending SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS is really interesting in that Kelsea basically travels in time (and this is going to sound pretty deus ex machina when I describe it, but I promise it was actually foreshadowed really well) to the point in history when Jonathan Tear, William Tear’s son (one of them ooooooh) is assassinated. She does not stop the assassination, but kills the ringleader of the assassins leaving Katie (Jonathan’s bodyguard and lover) in a position to rebuild; originally, Katie fled. It’s actually an intensely terrifying sequence; one of the bits where the imagery has stuck in my mind and won’t leave.

And then Kelsea wakes up, in a new timeline, in the new version of the Tearling that she has created. And it is, if not a proper utopia, at least utopian.

Now originally I sorta felt cheated by this: even though it made absolute sense within the logic of the world, and it was made clear how much this was hurting Kelsea. Here she was in this incredible world that she had sacrificed everything for, and not only did nobody know what she had done, nobody knew full stop. Her memories are confused, none of her friends recall her. And it hurts and hurts and hurts. And part of me was going: “hang on, isn’t this a bit of a cop out? Almost like it all being a dream?”

And then I really thought about it. Why would it be more satisfying to have a harsher ending? Why, exactly, did I think I’d prefer something else? And I thought about how we’re trained to believe that utopia is impossible whereas dystopia is only ever just under the surface, so that even in a fantasy trilogy there was part of me that was reluctant to believe this ending. That was interesting, I thought, because I knew when I was reading it that utopia/dystopia was a massive theme of the entire trilogy, and although I always wanted Kelsea to succeed, somehow in winning as completely as she did I instinctively felt a bit disbelieving. Like, it’s not the time-travelling sapphires that tripped me up, it’s the ending well…So it gave me a lot to think about. Dystopian fiction is pretty popular, whereas trying to find anything utopian is a bit of a challenge. It’s like we simply can’t imagine it. It’s like how people can believe that there are dragons but not that women can have a functional role, or will read a fantasy novel a quarter of which is in a made-up language but throw a hissy fit if there’s some Spanish in there. We can believe that things can get worse, and we can believe that things can get better, but the best is somewhere hazy and beyond. And that, well, that’s interesting because if we can’t imagine something better, nobody’s going to try to build it are they?

Anyway, I have a hell of a lot more thoughts so please do come chat 🙂

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Book review catch-up: part one

Hello! Oddly enough, I am reading less than usual at the moment, but have managed nevertheless to get quite behind on reviews. How these two things have managed to occur at the same time, I’m not entirely sure :s So here is a slightly random group of catch-up reviews, for your delight and delectation. Another round of catch-ups will be published next week, and then some more normal reviews and ephemera.

Tooth and Claw

by Jo Walton

tooth and claw front cover jo walton

Bon Agornin writhed on his deathbed, his wings beating as if he could fly to his new life in his old body.

This was an odd read. It took me a little while to get into, and then suddenly it clicked that it was really quite funny. Because, essentially, this is a send up/tribute to Austen, with dragons. Yes, you heard me, dragons. Very proper, very polite dragons who are bound by tradition and propriety and an odd host of biological strangeness as well as cultural norms. It was unlike anything I’ve read before, and on those merits alone I’d recommend it. Not the most brilliant thing out there, certainly, but with charm and wit. And dragons who wear hats.

Rating: read this, and then visit your milliner.

The Bone Dragon

by Alexia Casale

the bone dragon alexia casale

I rise up, towards the surface.

I did not realise quite what this book was about when I picked it up. It is not fantasy, not really. I’d give this one quite strong trigger warnings for abusive family situations, which are in the past and now escaped, but impact hugely on the story and on the characters. It may be that it shook me as hard as it did because I was not expecting it, but I would warn anyway. If that’s something you can read, then this is a very good book indeed. Strong imagery, very well imagined characters, and a reality that’s just a little bit malleable. Our narrator is a teenage girl, who has just had an operation to remove a dead bit of bone from her ribs. She is one of the best unreliable narrators I’ve come across in a good while. It’s harrowing and brilliant and disturbing, all in one innocent looking book.

Rating: go out into the night, to the bleached moon, and face the things you fear.

The Murdstone Trilogy (a novel)

by Mal Peet

The Murdstone Trilogy Mal Peet

The sun sinks, leaving tatty furbelows of crimson cloud in the Dartmoor sky.

Hah! This book! I loved it – a hilariously mocking love-letter to fantasy, to authors, and the industry as a whole. Philip Murdstone is a writer who made a niche writing fiction about slightly odd boys finding their place in the world. But his work is not selling, and he lives in a cottage in Dartmoor and feels miserable about having no money. He also really quite fancies his agent, who persuades him that the only thing to do is to write a swords and sorcery style book. Which he has no idea how to even start.

Cue a visitation from a rather rude and grubby being from a different world, who will give him a story in return for finding an amulet. And, well, everything snowballs from there. Fantastically. As readers, we’re really kept guessing about what’s real, what’s not, and what the hell is going to happen next. Incisively observed characters, very funny descriptions and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that I really appreciated. You won’t get all the jokes unless you’ve actually read some swords and sorcery fantasy, but I think it would still be pretty entertaining regardless.

Rating: read this,  and perhaps refrain from making agreements with grubby beings from other worlds.

The Palace of Curiosities

by Rosie Garland

The Palace of curiosities by Rosie Garland

Before I am born, my mother goes to the circus.

A while ago, I started reading The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, and failed to finish it. Part of this is my personal difficulty with collections of short stories. This novel reminded me of many of the things I enjoyed in that collection – in fact I would have said that this novel is perhaps what I wanted The Bloody Chamber to be. It was weird, and definitely happening in the realm of fairytale. It was a love story, sort of, between monsters. The Palace of Curiosities had a sharp descriptive style that I liked, and alternated POV between two characters. I was completely immersed in this odd underworld of Victorian London, with the lion woman and the undying man. It was luscious and sensual and dark and odd, and I very much enjoyed it. In fact, my only complaint was that the last sentence was really awkward, and having enjoyed the rest of the book so much, I found that annoying. Still, this is something of a feast.

Rating: read this, and be wary of the circus…

And that’s all for now – until next time, keep well.

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Book Review: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

the invasion of the tearling erika johansen

The second Mort invasion had all the makings of a slaughter.

BEWARE SPOILERS!

This, you may have guessed, is the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling. And it is amazing! One of the main points about the fantasy world that has been created here is that, although it looks pretty typical human high fantasy at first glance, it is revealed throughout the first book that actually, these people are descended from fugitives from our world. Or our world some years forward with horribly believable dystopian trappings. A revolutionary called William Tear led the Crossing (what they were crossing is a reveal in this book, so I’m not telling).

This means that the Tearling (and presumably other kingdoms and queendoms) has this interesting juxtaposition of technologically being about able to make a basic cannon, but having historical records of x-ray machines. I love it. This book really deals with that part of the story, as Kelsea starts having visions of a woman who is somehow connected to the Crossing. At first, I was a little impatient with these flashbacks as I just wanted to know what was going to happen: Mortmesne is invading! We’re getting clues about who the Red Queen is! Please just tell me what’s happening! However, after a slightly awkward section I quickly became hooked, and it started becoming clear that the flashbacks were important and also forwarding the plot.

Kelsea herself I found challenging in this instalment, but nowhere near as challenging as a lot of teenage sovereigns in fantasy can be. And I think I was meant to find her challenging, and to question her judgement and her decisions. Other characters certainly did. I loved the intrigue, the back and forth between church and crown intensifying, the preparations for this totally hopeless invasion, Kelsea’s weird magical powers starting to make more sense…

The end was, well, I had a hunch about the ending. And I was half-right. And it was a massive cliffhanger (Kelsea you redeemed yourself bigtime) and I have been waiting on tenterhooks for the final book to come into the library (which it finally has). So, if you are interested in some slightly brutal, fast-paced, interestingly-built fantasy with WOMEN, I recommend this series.

And if you have read it, I would love to chat about it with you! I have so many feelings about this series!

Rating: read this book – do not make deals with the demon in the fire.

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