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: Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb (book two of the Rain Wilds Chronicles)

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb art by Jackie Kay

Day the 5th of the Prayer Moon

I previously reviewed Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, and I advise you to read that one first! There are some spoilers in this review.

Well, I said I wanted to see what Robin Hobb was going to do, and I have not been disappointed! Having warmed up to the characters during the first book, with this one I was able to dive right in. I was again struck by the richness of Robin Hobb’s worldbuilding. Her descriptive writing is skilled, nuanced and wonderful (I did have to do a bit of looking things up in the dictionary). Relationships and tensions that were laid out in the first book simmer, boil over, transform and deepen: Alise finally finds out that her husband (Hest Finbok, who is referred to in my head as idiot-man) was in fact having an affair with Sedric Melden, who was her best friend and Hest’s sort-of secretary…

What’s wonderful about this whole progression is that, although the feelings between Alise and Sedric are understandably complicated, they are able to salvage their friendship and somewhat bond over the fact that Hest has behaved manipulatively and awfully towards both of them. Watching these two characters heal from their treatment at the hands of idiot-man, and figure out how to do so while remaining friends, was wonderful. They also have both found lovers who treat them with the love and respect that they deserve, which lead to me yelling happily while I read.

Meanwhile, the dragons continue to be difficult, mysterious and joyful by turns. Thymara’s stubborn back wound persists, and Thymara persists in refusing to be part of the toxic machinations of Greft (idiot-man mark two). One of my favourite characters vanished really early on (swept away by a flood), which was rather upsetting. And everyone keeps heading up the river, slowly and laboriously and being changed by it…

Also, the letters between Detozi and Erek, the pigeonkeepers, start betraying something more than a professional relationship, and give us a glimpse into the havoc being caused by this expedition back in civilisation. A brilliantly engaging read.

Rating: read this book, curl up in the warmth and feel your wings grow and grow and grow…

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Book Review: A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

“It’s all right,” said Ruby, squeezing Saffron’s hand.

This is the sequel to An Accident of Stars, which you definitely need to read before reading this one. You can read my (very)short review of that book here.

A Tyranny of Queens is breathtaking. It takes everything that was built and set up in An Accident of Stars, and runs away with it in unexpected directions. I could probably write a great deal of essays about the world that Foz Meadows has created, about what has been done with gender and sex and religion and race, how they relate to where we are now. About polyamorous marriages and matriarchy and family. About how we treat victims.

And the wonderful thing is that all of those things above are in the book without making one feel as though one is reading a book that wants you to think certain things. They just exist, in the world, and the plot roars along like a steam engine on the boil, veering sharply enough that I thought, several times, it had gone off the rails and there was no possible way that this new development could make sense and then it did! The cast is, as in An Accident of Stars, fantastic. Primarily women, and primarily not white women, and with a big mix of ages and origins and wellness – how often do we get main characters with chronic illnesses? Facial scarring? Partial paralysis? Neurodiversity? The answer is not often enough – it’s hard to find even one, and in this book we get all of those things in a fantasy setting, as well as most of the fantasy settings (this is a portal fantasy, so we get more than one world) being extremely queer-friendly.

It is, of course, not perfect. But it’s damn good, and having only finished it a few hours ago I am still emotionally entangled with it all, and more than a bit breathless from the way it ended. I realise I’ve barely mentioned the characters or the plot; in this instance it’s really hard to do without MAHOUSIVE spoilers… So, yanno, go read it 🙂

Rating: Read this book, phone all your friends and make them read it…

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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…

The Grand Return, plus sketchdump

Hello! Today was going to be my day of coming back after being ill, chatting about the upcoming reviews and books I’ve been reading and stuff I’ve been writing and books that I’m looking forward to reading.

Instead, everything is insane. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2017/apr/18/corbyn-cressida-dick-met-police-a-gun-may-not-have-saved-pc-killed-in-westminster-terror-attack-says-new-met-chief-politics-live

So, I give to you this sketchdump of foolish fantasy stuff that I did while hanging out at my friends’ house being not-quite-ill anymore. Enjoy it, have a giggle, don’t take it too seriously. Maybe it will cheer you up a bit. Click on the images to view them big. The normal reviewing stuff will be back shortly.

Aside

Book Review: The Second Mango by Shira Glassman

The second Mango by shira glassman

Once upon a time, in a lush tropical land of agricultural riches and shining white buildings, there was a young queen who spent the night tied up in a tent, panicking.

Note: the visual above is not the cover, but as I couldn’t find an image for the cover my copy has, I’m using it as the closest thing.

I LOVE this book! It’s warm, a bit silly and full of goodness. There are some proofreading blips, and a few layout problems, but honestly I am forgiving those completely because this book this book this book! It’s basically the book I dreamed of reading when I was about eight and started realising that, in the fantasy books I enjoyed so much, there were an awful lot of women who needed rescuing (I found Tamora Pierce shortly after this). Although there are bits in this book that my eight-year-old self would have thought were gross and that would not have been appropriate at that age (read – sex happens).

Anyway, Queen Shulamit is a lesbian and also severely gluten intolerant. She goes on a quest to find love with Rivka and Rivka’s dragon-horse. Rivka is not the love interest; she is an epic mercenary and they become best friends. I just love it! There’s wonderful friendship, there’s silliness, there’s epic battling and positive queer representation and a fantasy world with Jewish roots and dragons and wizards. It’s so clear that the author really, really enjoyed herself when writing this, which lead to me really enjoying reading it. The characters were really clear, and I liked how their different strengths worked together.

It’s not the most polished book out there, but personally I thought it worked that way. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is absolutely mine.

Rating: read this book, dance with glee!

Something new…

I could of course try to explain why I haven’t posted a review in forever. That, however, has the potential to be long, boring, and sound like a list of excuses. So instead, I’m bringing you in on my new project; it’s a series of little comments and observations about being a female fantasy fan in the form of captioned drawings. All of them are about my relationship to the fantasy genre.

I’ve been planning it for ages and I’ve finally gotten around to reminding myself how photoshop works etcetera. I have a whole series planned, and I’m going to try to update fairly regularly (we’ll see how that goes!).

I’m calling it the FFF series (Female Fantasy Fan). Here is the first one.

Female Fantasy Fan-Less Bullshit

All art and text © Meredith Debonnaire, 2014. Please do not reproduce.

Do let me know what you think – I haven’t used photoshop in a while so practical feedback (the file is too big etc etc) is much appreciated!