Sleeps With Monsters: We’re Still Reading Over Here

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This week, I want to tell you—yet again!—about some excellent books I’ve been reading. Because I’m not at Nine Worlds, or going to Worldcon—or any other con for that matter—which means I have plenty of time to catch up on my reading.

(That last is a lie. There is NEVER ENOUGH TIME.)

Anyway. Books!

Ariah by BR Sanders is a minor astonishment. It came to my attention when Foz Meadows was shouting its praises across the internet. Although I find myself less enthusiastic than Foz about its merits (it would scarcely, after all, be possible to be more enthusiastic), nonetheless I do consider it a very enjoyable novel, with much to recommend it. It’s the story of the eponymous Ariah, a young elf born in the oppressive Qin empire, and his journey into adulthood, self-discovery, and self-acceptance. It’s a very quiet, personal story, though the backdrop is an ...

What Do These Books Have In Common?

Space Hostages UK cover, art by Andy Potts

This week I want to tell you about several books I really liked, one book that I found entertaining, and one that’s really disappointing. Let me tell you about books! Let me SHARE THE JOY!

*ahem* Too much caffeine. Right, moving on…

Have you heard about Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings? If you haven’t, you might have been hiding under a rock. Out almost simultaneously in the UK and the US, The House of Shattered Wings is a fantastically gripping novel, set in a Parisian landscape shattered by the Great War — but de Bodard’s Paris isn’t the Paris of our own history, although it is recognisably familiar. This is a Paris ruled by Fallen angels, where human and Fallen have organised into Houses that contend against each other for power and status. The House of Shattered Wings revolves around power, and secrets, and loyalties, and with ...

Falling in Love with Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp

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This book. This book. In the past few years, there’ve been a handful of books I count it a privilege to have read—a handful of books with which I fell instantly and deeply in love. It’s a short list: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword; Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor; Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory. I might spot you one or two others, depending on the day, but these are the ones that hit me right on an emotional level, where pleasure in the quality of writing combines with a straight shot to my narrative hindbrain: this is our stuff! This is OUR THING!

Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp has added itself to that list. I didn’t expect it to: at a brief glance, it sounded a little too peculiar. But then I came across Amal El-Mohtar and Ana Grilo (of The Booksmugglers) discussing its merits on Twitter—and ...

Read Chapter One from Archivist Wasp

Conversations Founded On False Assumptions

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“I don’t see gender.” Or colour. Or difference.

When you hear that, you know it’s the claim and the rallying-cry of someone who’s never had to see difference; never had difference unavoidably brought home to them. Never stood outside the charmed circle of the assumed default.

It’s a claim that came up again last week, when two authors gave separate versions of their favourite or recommended science fiction novels that were entirely white and entirely male. (Natalie Luhrs at Pretty Terrible has a response that’s well worth reading.)

Contrast these examples with the recent Strange Horizons column by Renay, and the spate of articles—like Tansy Rayner Roberts’ GOH speech from Continuum 11, republished at SF Signal—talking about how:

“this odd sort of conversation… keeps circling the internet, and it usually starts with a question. Where are all the women, in epic fantasy? Where are the female ...

Approachable Epic Fantasy: Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

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Cold Iron is Stina Leicht’s third novel. With it, Leicht moves away from urban fantasy and towards epic in the new gunpowder fantasy mode. Cold Iron is the opening volley in The Malorum Gates series—and to judge from the amount of ground this novel covers, it’s a series that’s going to do a lot of epic in a relatively short space of time.

It is also a rather better, and strikingly less boring, book than its opening pages portend.

Cold Iron opens with Nels, a kainen crown prince—the kainen are a race of people taller than the human norm, all possessed of varying degrees of magical powers, including the ability to magically force other people to do their will, simply by instructing them to—who initially comes across as self-absorbed, spoiled, whiny and ineffectual. Nels’ only distinguishing factor is his lack of the command magic that is especially characteristic of the ...

What Do You Reread For Comfort Or Escape?

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Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? The moneylenders, the knownothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979: 204).

I haven’t been reading very rapidly this year, and especially these last couple of months. So I thought I’d make a virtue of necessity, and talk about the books I read again and again, for comfort, and why; and the books that stay with me for years. The books that, for lack of a better word, sustain me.

It might be odd to talk ...

Civics Class Has Never Been Better: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

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Last First Snow is the fourth in Max Gladstone’s “Craft Sequence” novels. (In internal chronological order, it’s first: Gladstone has taken an unusual approach to numbering his novels. It’s not nearly as brain-bending as it sounds, because so far all the novels including this one stand alone perfectly well.) And it’s a great book.

It takes place some twenty years before Two Serpents Rise, and some four decades after the God Wars. In the city of Dresediel Lex, the King in Red and a consortium of investors have plans to redevelop an impoverished area of the city: the Skittersill, an area whose wards were laid down by gods, not practitioners of Craft. They are opposed in this by an alliance of locals and community leaders, of whom the most influential is Temoc: a former Eagle Knight and one of the last remaining priests of the old order, and ...