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Lord of All Things, by Andreas Eschbach


Title: Lord of All Things
Author: Andreas Eschbach
Translator: Samuel Willcocks
Publisher: Amazon Crossing
Format: Trade Paperback
Year: 2014
Pages: 647
Genre: Science Fantasy
Subgenre: Contemporary SFF
Full Disclosure: Received this copy free through the Amazon Vine program. Did not finish it.

Jacket Description
They are just children when they first meet: Charlotte, daughter of the French ambassador, and Hiroshi, a laundress's son. One day in the playground, Hiroshi declares that he has an idea that will change the world. An idea that will sweep away all differences between rich and poor.

When Hiroshi runs into Charlotte several years later, he is trying to build a brighter future through robotics. Determined to win Charlotte's love, he resurrects his childhood dream, convinced that he can eradicate world poverty by pushing the limits of technology beyond imagination. But as Hiroshi circles ever closer to realizing his vision, he discovers that his utopian dream may contain the seeds of a nightmare -- one that could obliterate life as we know it.

Crisscrossing the globe, from Tokyo to the hallowed halls of MIT to desolate Arctic islands and Buenos Aires and beyond -- far beyond -- Lord of All Things explores not only technology's dizzying potential, but also its formidable dangers.

My Review
I loved Andreas Eschbach’s previous novel, The Carpet Makers, currently his only other novel translated into English. It was very much an idea-driven science fiction novel, old-fashioned in a very good way, fitting nicely in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov. And the translation by Doryl Jensen was superb, the prose clear and spare and elegant in a way that made the eventual mystery reveal more powerful.

Unfortunately, I could not even finish Lord of All Things.

It is a much more modern novel. The Carpet Makers was episodic, each chapter essentially a short story of its own where the connection between them was simply that each story brought the narrative a little closer to the big reveal of the ending. Lord of All Things, on the other hand, is a continuous narrative, following Hiroshi Kato’s life from his childhood in Japan to his college years at MIT to what I assume will be his adult life as one of the world’s leading robotics experts.

The Carpet Makers’ strength was Eschbach’s (and Jensen’s) skill with building atmosphere, and with dispensing clues to the central mystery one by one at exactly the right pace to keep the dramatic tension rising. The strengths required by the story Lord of All Things seems to be telling are very different – this novel needs Hiroshi, at the very least, to be a compelling character, a character with charisma (for the reader, if not necessarily for the other characters around him). And with the number of words devoted to setting each scene it also really needs a writer with the gift of capturing a sense of place, the specific details that make it the French Ambassador’s compound in Tokyo or an MIT frat house instead of just a generic place where rich people live or place where college students get drunk.  And for me, Eschbach failed at both of these elements, failed so miserably that I could not stand to read more than 160 pages of the 647 page novel.

I found Hiroshi incredibly bland as a character, and I will admit to being additionally put-off by the way he is so much the sexless, emotionless East Asian male stereotype, interested only in science and working all hours of the day. (Even though he’s only half-Japanese, the text does nothing to establish his identity as truly biracial, other than the obligatory line about “Oh noes, Japanese people are so racist they shun me for being half-white!”) There is an attempt to lampshade this fact in an exchange between Hiroshi and his MIT roommate, but it does far more harm than good:

“Now you’re talking like an inscrutable Japanese.”
“And you’re talking like a hot-blooded Chicano.”

It’s an exchange that isn’t called for by the rest of the conversation preceding it, and hasn’t been established as simply the way Hiroshi and his roommate talk to each other previous to this, so it seems out of character. It hits my ear as entirely off, tone-deaf.

The settings seem off as well. I haven’t personally been to Japan, but I am of Japanese descent and my family has visited repeatedly, and nothing about Hiroshi’s experience felt like it was taking place in Japan to me. Similarly, I’ve only visited Boston once, but my best friend went to Harvard, and none of the scenes surrounding the college life in that town ring true with my first and secondhand experiences either of the Boston colleges or or American college life in general.

Everything, overall, felt somewhat old-fashioned. Offhand mentions of the internet site the novel fairly close to the present, but no one appears to have a cell phone and everyone’s attitudes seem stuck somewhere decades ago. The female characters might as well be called co-eds, not derogatorily, but just in the way that they are attending college but the life they seem to see for themselves after college is one of being wives, first and foremost. There is an incredibly racist and misogynistic caricature of a villain who’s a repeated POV character, but the ways that he is racist and misogynistic are heavy-handed and flat and, again, seem like something more out of the 1950s than the 2000s.

And where Jensen’s translation of The Carpet Makers was elegant, Willcocks’ translation of Lord of All Things feels clunky to me, each sentence plodding and slightly repetitive. A selection from the beginning of chapter 3:

He had an appointment. And he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from keeping it. Hiroshi went around the compound wall and slipped behind the tree with the gap in the spikes. He fetched the rope from its hiding place in the knotted hole where a branch had died, wriggled through the gap, and let himself down as quietly as he could. Then he went the same way he had gone on Tuesday. He didn’t run into anyone, and there wasn’t a single car parked on the stretch of tarmac he had to cross. That was probably because it was Sunday.

There isn’t enough variety in the sentence structure for the narrative to have any character of its own, and the pacing of it feels choppy. Additionally, there are scattered bits of British idioms in the dialogue that confused me until I flipped to the back and discovered the translator is an Englishman who’s spent most of his life in central Europe. Given that much of the novel is set in the U.S. and it’s being sold to an American audience, I think it would have made more sense to get an American translator.

There are hints that if I stick with this novel it might repay me by becoming more idea-focused; Hiroshi is determined to revolutionize the way people work, driven by his experience of growing up in working class poverty and the class bias of his paternal family, and the book jacket implies he will succeed in that attempt. I assume he will do that by building robots, but that there will be some rather significant down side that he fails to foresee. I cannot tell whether the book is ultimately going to be anti-technology, but it might very well be. I also cannot tell how Hiroshi’s friend Charlotte’s gift of magically knowing the history of objects through touch will fit in to that future. But ultimately, the book is simply too painful to read for me to push through in the hope that the payoff will be worth it.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★
  Intellectual Satisfaction: ★
  Emotional Satisfaction: ★
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Pass
Books I was reminded of:
Will I read more by this author? Maybe. I won't read any more that are translated by Samuel Willcocks, and the jacket description would have to indicate that the novel is more like The Carpet Makers than Lord of All Things.

Title: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
  Series: Vorkosigan Saga #15 (ish, depending on what you count and whether you're using chronological or publication order)
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Publisher: Baen
Format: Hardcover
Year: 2012
Pages: 422
Genre: Science Fiction
  Subgenre: SF Romance, Space Opera
Full Disclosure: I'm a Bujold fangirl going way back.

Jacket Description
Captain Ivan Vorpatril sometimes thinks that if not for his family, he might have no troubles at all. But he has the dubious fortune of the hyperactive Miles Vorkosigan as a cousin, which has too-often led to his getting dragged into one of Miles' schemes, with risk to life and limb -- and military career -- that Ivan doesn't consider entirely fair. Although much practice has made Ivan more adept at fending off his mother's less-than-subtle reminders that he should be getting married and continuing the Vorpatril lineage.

Fortunately, his current duty is on the planet Komarr as staff officer to Admiral Desplains, far from both his cousin and his mother back on their home world of Barrayar. It's an easy assignment and nobody is shooting at him. What could go wrong?

Plenty, it turns out, when Byerly Vorrutyer, an undercover agent for Imperial Security, shows up on his doorstep and asks him to make the acquaintance of a young woman, recently arrived on Komarr, who seems to be in danger. That Byerly is characteristically vague about the nature of the danger, not to mention the lady's name, should have been Ivan's first clue, but Ivan is no more able to turn aside from aiding a damsel in distress than he could resist trying to rescue a kitten from a tree.

It is but a short step down the road of good intentions to the tangle of Ivan's life, in trouble with the Komarran authorities, with his superiors, and with the lethal figures hunting the mysterious but lovely Tej and her exotic blue companion Rish -- a tangle to test the lengths to which Ivan will go as an inspired protector.

But though his predicament is complicated, at least Ivan doesn't have to worry about hassle from his family. Or so he believes. . .

My Review
The Vorkosigan Saga is one of my favorite series of books of all time. I've read them more times than I can count, and I frequently am reminded of lines or moments from them in both my own writing and in my day-to-day life. But recent Vorkosigan novels have been kind of. . . lightweight, and I got the impression that this one was going to continue that trend, which is why I am only reading it now, over a year after its release.

And it is lightweight. It's the "Ivan has some adventures not caused by Miles and finally settles down" book. Science fiction romances don't have to be lightweight -- Komarr wasn't, just to give another Vorkosigan Saga example -- but this one definitely is, because while there's plenty of plot happening there are very few consequences to the plot for Ivan, very little risk. (This was my major issue with Cryoburn as well.) There are consequences for Tej, the other major viewpoint character and Ivan's love interest, but they're never really sold as urgent and potentially catastrophic, and because she's new to the series we aren't grounded in her POV by previous books.

The whole book just feels. . . loose. Part of it is the viewpoint: norally Bujold writes in a tight third person POV, most often with just one viewpoint character, and while recent Vorkosigan novels have have multiple viewpoint characters (still in that tight third person) the switch in viewpoint character has always been signaled by line or chapter breaks. Here Bujold slides in and out of Ivan and Tej's heads at will, and sometimes dips into other characters' heads for a moment as well, though I wouldn't call it a true omniscient viewpoint.

And part of it is also the peculiar challenge of having Ivan as the protagonist -- Ivan is a very passive, reactive character, one who has spent his entire life trying to make as few waves as possible, to slip by under the radar. Tej is very similar. Neither of them has an ambition, nor do they have any burning desires; they just want to be left alone by larger events to pursue what small (mostly domestic) happinesses they can. Neither of them is particularly reflective either, and they aren't above lying to themselves (by omission at least). All of this ends up making both of them somewhat opaque as our viewpoint characters -- I knew, at every moment, what Cordelia or Miles (or even Leo Graf and Ethan Urquhart) wanted in a scene, but with Ivan and Tej I could never be sure what they wanted, or (possibly worse) I had the sneaking suspicion they didn't want anything at all.

This made the romance rather unsatisfying. It's clear from very early on that Ivan and Tej will be happy together -- their similarities make them very compatible -- but it's never clear what's special about that particular compatibility, what makes it different from their relationships with anyone else. This would have been fine -- really I would have loved it! -- if the resolution of the romantic plot was that their own inertia is what kept them together, and they lived happily ever after just because it was too much work to do otherwise; but Bujold kept trying to shoehorn in rather more sweeping conventionally romantic feelings instead, that seemed to sit badly with both characters.

(It also might have helped matters if Bujold had managed to write them any convincing sexual chemistry, but she really, really didn't. Both characters seemed far too prudish and uncomfortable in their desire for each other given their supposed sexual experience and broad-mindedness. Which was deeply surprising to me, because I thought Bujold managed that part of The Sharing Knife: Beguilement really well, and even Ekaterin's thwarted desires in Komarr were more visceral and engaging.)

Despite all of this, there was still much to like and admire about the book. The plotting, as always with Bujold, was fairly tight and well-paced; there were some absolutely delightful moments that were especially rewarding for long-time fans of the series (a thing happens with ImpSec headquarters that is just perfect); and there were a few moments of stunning emotional clarity, where events that had been percolating for books and decades suddenly got a new twist that was a sucker-punch to the gut. (Lady Alys has one that made me shiver.) I also do want to commend Bujold for finally writing a major character of color -- Tej, though completely divorced from our modern racial definitions because she's genetically engineered, is described as distinctly brown-skinned (white-washed on the cover of course), and though Bujold falls into the usual traps (her skin is repeatedly described using food comparisons, and she's "exotic") it's still better than she's managed before. (She makes Byerly a lot straighter, though, which disappointed me.)

And even though I don't think this is ever going to be one of my favorites (either in the series or in Bujold's larger body of work), I have to admit that I actually appreciate that she kept Ivan so true to character, that she let him continue doing everything possible to keep his head down and avoid being "given another job." That's an extraordinarily rare character trait in western fiction in general and western SFF in particular -- Ivan's wants are simple, his happy ending just a nice comfy home and the rest of the world leaving him alone, and he stays that way 'til the end.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★
  Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★★
  Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★
Read this for: The characters
Don't read this for: The world-building? The prose? I don't know, nothing stands out as exceptional but nothing stands out as awful either.
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Fail
Books I was reminded of: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Will I read more by this author? I will be buying Bujold's books until she dies.

Title: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
  Series: Fairyland #3
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Format: Advanced Reader's Copy
Year: 2013
Pages: 248
Genre: Fantasy, YA
  Subgenre: Portal Fantasy
Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of the ARC through the Amazon Vine program. I'm a Valente fangirl, as always.

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

My Review
I really, really liked The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. But much though I liked it, I could tell it was never going to be my favorite of Catherynne Valente's works, and after rereading it and then reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There I remained firm in that belief. Much though I adored Valente's world-building, much though I relished Valente's ever-muscular prose, much though I delighted in Valente's unexpected bits of poignancy, there was still a simplicity of outlook at the core of both books that kept me slightly at a distance. In both books, no matter how sympathetic Valente made the villains, September was still able to draw a very clear line: this is right and this wrong, and this is a thing I could never do, no matter how hurt I might be.

It is an outlook I understand in books aimed at children and teenagers but which, as an adult, I find. . . somehow inaccessible. It is not relaxing to me, as I assume it is for other people; instead I find it very slightly invalidating.

So while I expected to enjoy The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, I did not expect to be greatly moved by it. And at first I was, if anything, a little disappointed. This third novel felt rougher than the previous two, some of the world-building seemed slightly pro-forma, and for the first time in this series Valente's pacing for information reveals seemed slightly off -- I wondered where a character had disappeared to in a scene and was not given the answer for several paragraphs, making it feel as though Valente had forgotten him/her. Part of this may be because I read the ARC -- in one scene the narrator stated that a character had been left behind, but then the character was mentioned twice more afterwards, an obvious error that I assume will be fixed in the final copy. So some of the roughness in other scenes may be similarly amended.

But as the novel went on, I became increasingly convinced that at least part of the unevenness in tone was intentional. September is fourteen now, caught in that thorny place between childhood and adulthood, struggling to figure out who she is meant to be amongst all the conflicting messages she has been given by the world around her. She is aware of Saturday as a boy in a way she wasn't when they first met, and she has begun lying to herself.

And Fairyland. . . Fairyland has changed with her. Circumnavigated was about choice, about saying yes; Fell Beneath was about dealing with the consequences of one's choices; Soared Over, I think, is about how you respond when your choice is taken away, when your actions are irrelevant, when the world will do what it wants for good or ill and you have no power to change it. It's so much more complicated, suddenly, than I gave this series credit for, and that is both heartbreaking and deeply satisfying to me.

It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, which none of the previous books have, and the plot is somewhat meandering even accounting for what I think is deliberate messiness, but this book excited me the way the rest of the series did not, so I give it my strongest recommendation.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★★
  Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★★★
  Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★★
Read this for: The themes.
Don't read this for: The plot.
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Fail
Books I was reminded of: Just the rest of Valente's work.
Will I read more by this author? Of course!

The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker


Title: The Hotel Under the Sand
Author: Kage Baker
Illustrator: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
Publisher: Tachyon
Format: Trade Paperback
Year: 2009
Pages: 180
Genre: Fantasy, YA
  Subgenre: Low Fantasy
Full Disclosure: Nothing to report.

Nine-year-old Emma loses everything she has in a fearsome storm and finds herself alone in the wilderness of the Dunes—an area desolate since the mysterious disappearance of a resort known as the Grand Wenlocke. Finding a friend in Winston, the ghostly bellboy who wanders the Dunes, Emma learns that it has been more than 100 years since the hotel with an unsavory reputation vanished; but, unbeknownst to either of them, the long slumbering resort has just begun to stir. Allying herself with a motley crew of companions—the ghost bellboy, a kindhearted cook, a pirate with a heart of gold, and the imperious young heir to the Wenlocke fortune—Emma soon learns that things are not always as lost as they seem, especially if you have a brave heart and good friends.

My Review
YA -- and middle grade, which is technically where this book falls -- is not a genre I actively avoid, but not one I seek out either. I tend to find well-written YA/MG books charming but slight, ultimately forgettable. But I have been working my way through everything Kage Baker wrote, so I picked up this book on a hot afternoon, when I was in the mood to be delighted rather than challenged.

I was, indeed, delighted. If there is one common thread through Baker's work, through her fantasy in particular, it is a sense of warmth. She did not write epic plots, though sometimes the world was at stake; nor did she write secondary worlds detailed to the point of obsession, though her worlds were certainly unique and memorable. She wrote people, lovely, flawed, human people, struggling to find -- no, to make -- happiness for themselves in a world neither benign nor malevolent but simply indifferent. That warmth is present in spades in The Hotel Under the Sand, and it is exactly right for the age group this book is aimed at.

Unfortunately, I was still left feeling that the book was too lightweight for my tastes. I kept comparing it to Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making -- another middle grade book by one of my favorite authors, writing in the tradition of children's books from the 19th century -- and it kept coming up just a little short. For a story to be great, it needs the right balance of light and dark, both triumphs and tragedies, whether they are large or small. The Hotel Under the Sand doesn't have quite enough of the dark. It has a villain, but where Valente made her villain ultimately heartbreaking, Baker's villain is nothing but a caricature.

I can forgive the caricature in part because the book isn't really about its plot at all -- the plot is simply the scaffolding that the characters and the world hang on. But what the book is about is grief: it opens with Emma alone and bereaved and choosing to fight for her survival anyway, and it closes with Emma finally able to stop fighting for a moment and cry for what she has lost. Baker handled Emma's grief delicately, captures it in all the times Emma (and the narration) looks away, but she chose to keep what Emma was grieving for a mystery to the reader, and because of that I never quite connected as, for example, I did when reading the same sort of treatment in Patricia McKillip's The Changeling Sea. I grieved for Emma but never with Emma, and so the book remained insubstantial. Charming, but slight.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★
  Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★
  Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
Read this for: The atmosphere
Don't read this for: The themes
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Fail
Books I was reminded of: The Enchanted Castle, by E. Nesbit; The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente; The Changeling Sea, by Patricia A. McKillip.

Ship of Souls, by Zetta Elliott


Title: Ship of Souls
Author: Zetta Elliott
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Format: ARC
Year: 2012
Pages: 124
Genre: Fantasy, YA
  Subgenre: Urban Fantasy
Full Disclosure: I received this free through the Amazon Vine program.

Jacket Description
Set in New York City, Ship of Souls features a cast of three African-American teens: D, a math whiz; Hakeem, a Muslim basketball star; and Nyla, a beautiful military brat. When D's mother dies of breast cancer, he is taken in by Mrs. Martin, an elderly white woman. Grateful to have a home, D strives to please his foster mother and succeeds -- until Mercy arrives. Unable to compete with a needy, crack-addicted baby, D disappears into the nearby park and immerses himself in bird watching. At school, he unexpectedly makes friends with Nyla and Hakeem, but just when D thinks he has finally found a way to belong, an unexpected discovery in the park changes everything.

A mysterious bird leads D and his friends on a perilous journey that will take them from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, and into the very realm of the dead. Their courage and loyalty are tested every step of the way, but in the end, it is D who must find the strength to fulfill his destiny. Steeped in history and suspense, this inspiring urban fantasy provides an enriching experience that readers will find hard to forget.

My Review
This was a well-intentioned novel with a decently evocative sense of place that I found unfortunately too heavy-handed to be enjoyable to read.

The three main characters are the sort I wish there were more of in fantasy -- non-white characters who are centered in the narrative and who are clearly shaped by their race but not entirely defined by it. Unfortunately, they are never given the room to come to life. We are given the information encapsulated in the jacket description, and one or two offhand statements that begin the process of humanizing those descriptions (D giving up on dreams of college because his foster mother is unlikely to pay for it; Hakeem trying to figure out how to integrate his faith into his day-to-day life; Nyla's alternately manipulative and supportive relationship with her stepmother), but then the entire rest of the novel is spent developing one of the clunkiest love triangles I have ever had the displeasure of reading.

The setting was similarly disappointing -- there was just enough that piqued my interest for me to know that Elliott had a potentially fascinating world built up in her head, but somehow it never quite translated to the page.

But the element I found most cringe-worthy, that made the book nearly unreadable to me even at 124 pages, was the plot itself -- the magical bird with a glorious mission only D can complete. That was handled with all the grace of a Saturday morning superhero cartoon. Here is a representative sample of the bird's dialogue:

"It's a long story, and I don't have the strength to tell it all tonight. I can, however, share some of my history."
"You have endured much for one so young."
"You should rest now. You'll need your strength for the task we must undertake."
"When it is time, all will be revealed."

Just absolutely the worst sort of not at all informative, vaguely mystical claptrap that always seems to come out of the mouths of poorly realized magical mentors in programs aimed at five year olds. The dialogue was so trite, in fact, that I was kind of hoping that the bird would turn out to be evil, manipulating the vulnerable, newly orphaned and unsure D with the things little kids want to hear. But, unfortunately, the bird was played entirely straight.

The second half of the book was a series of action sequences that, while not tremendously thrilling, were always clear about who was doing what and why. But overall, this felt like a novel that would have been stronger with significantly more space for the non-fantastical aspects of character and world-building, and needed an entire rewrite of the fantasy plot to remove the cliched dynamics and dialogue.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★★
  Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★
  Emotional Satisfaction: ★★
Read this for: The themes
Don't read this for: The plot, the prose
Bechdel Test: Fail
Johnson Test: Pass
Books I was reminded of: The Hallowed Hunt, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: Point of Hopes
  Series: Astreiant #1
Authors: Melissa Scott & Lisa Barnett
Publisher: Tor
Format: Hardcover
Year: 1995
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy
  Subgenre: Fantasy Mystery, High Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Full Disclosure: Nothing to report.

Jacket Description
Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett's previous fantasy collaboration, The Armor of Light, is a cult classic. Now they return with Point of Hopes, a rich, exciting story with colorful, charming characters. In the convincing and wonderful fantasy world Scott and Barnett have created, astrologers and necromancers are the pundits and power brokers of the Kingdom and the police are known as pointsmen.

The royal city of Astreiant, the capital of the Kingdom of Chenedolle, is bracing itself for the influx of people, money, and trouble that invariably accompanies the Midsummer Fair. For Nicolas Rather, the wiry, street-smart pointsman with a strong sense of justice, the fair means more work: keeping the peace, preventing the pickpockets from getting too bold, and tracking down runaway youths and apprentices. But this year the number of missing children is far larger than usual; someone has been stealing them away without a trace and the populace is getting angry. At least the children are alive, Rathe knows, even though it adds to the mystery; the necromancers have not noticed any new ghosts of children.

To complicate matters, the citizens have another good reason to be anxious: theirs is a world ruled by the stars, and the heavens are now in a transition that heralds an upheaval in the Kingdom and possibly even the death of the reigning Queen. Contenders for the throne are jockeying for position, each claiming that her stars are the luckiest and most suited for the position.

Rathe suspects that the astrological portents and the missing children are linked, but has no idea how. With the unlikely help of Philip Eslingen, a handsome, out-of-work soldier, Rathe must find the children and stop whatever dark plans are being hatched before the city explodes into chaos.

My Review
This novel is incredibly satisfying, despite being fairly uneven technically. The characters are charismatic; the mystery, though fairly simple, maintains an excellent sense of tension due to the stakes; and the world is fascinating, lovingly detailed, and fairly unique among fantasy worlds. I stayed up all night to finish this, and immediately wanted to read the next in the series. (Sadly, neither of the two other Astreiant books are available in any of the library systems I have access to.)

It's actually a little surprising to me, how much I enjoyed this book, because there were several elements of its execution that normally irritate me. Scott & Barnett had inconsistent control over POV -- most of the book is told from a tight third-person viewpoint centered on either Rathe or Philip, but every once in a while they slipped into a third-person omniscient, or switched POV from Rathe to Philip mid-section. Now this isn't uncommon, particularly in fantasy from the 80s/90s, but it always bothers me. The prologue, which let the book pass the Bechdel test on the very first page, was in the POV of characters that did not appear again until a couple hundred pages in, which again isn't really uncommon in high fantasy novels, but again, usually gets under my skin.

And oh, the info-dumping! There are a LOT of passages that are just the characters thinking about how their world works, how peoples' stars affect their chances in life, what the various political factions think of each other, all things that people don't actually think to themselves in real life but which they do in fantasy novels because the authors have put in a lot of work into building their worlds and want the reader to see it. Normally this is a cardinal sin to me; I would much rather just be thrown into the world and forced to figure out what's going on for myself. But here I was willing to forgive it, because the world was legitimately fascinating. The entire social order is built around astrology, so everyone knows the time of their birth down to the hour or better, and their stars determine what careers will suit them, and they go to astrologers often to get readings for what their near-future might hold. There are masculine stars, which encourage people to wander, and feminine stars, which encourage people to settle, so for the most part women hold political power by virtue of being landowners while the militaries and trading companies are dominated by men, but plenty of men have feminine stars and plenty of women have masculine stars. Stars also determine when it's propitious to marry or have children, so same-sex relationships are common and same-sex partners can have legal standing entirely separate from marriage, which is (I think) heterosexual and focused exclusively on property.

This is what perplexed me most about Scott & Barnett. On the one hand, as I said, there were quite a few heavy-handed info-dumps about astrology and politics, and I was fine with them because they were interesting, but I still noticed them. But the world-building around gender and sexuality was just as interesting and different from the norm as the political and magical systems, and Scott & Barnett conveyed that information in my preferred fashion -- the characters simply used the terminology as was appropriate, and I was left to infer what it all meant on my own. I don't know if one author handled the politics/astrology and the other handled the gender/sexuality, and that was the cause of the difference, or if they left the gender/sexuality world-building mostly oblique so that it could fly under the radar of more conservative fantasy readers; but either way, though I did not mind the info-dumping, I wish the astrology/politics world-building had been handled as subtly as the gender/sexuality world-building was.

It was, of course, for the gender & sexuality world-building the I picked up the book -- I'm always looking for SFF that has alternate gender roles and more expansive ideas of sexuality than is typical. On the sexuality front this book satisfied completely; as I said, queer sexualities are incredibly common and entirely unremarkable in this world, and that is delightful. On the gender front my reaction was a bit more complicated. On the one hand, it's world where political power is mostly concentrated in female hands -- Chenedolle is ruled by a Queen, all the prospective heirs are female, most property owners are female, and property passes down to daughters. And this is one of the rare books that I placed on my GoodReads "A Passel of Women" shelf -- there are women everywhere in this world, as pointsmen (police officers), pickpockets, tavern keepers, and shady financiers. The preferred gender-neutral sentence construction is "she or he" instead of "he or she." The book passed the Bechdel Test despite having male leads.

But. There was a pattern that I noticed about halfway through the novel, and it's one that I do not like. Despite all the women in the book, somehow, the characters that actually moved the plot were all male. The two leads, of course; but also the butcher that reported the missing apprentice that got the action started; the drunk journeyman that was the main instigator in Philip's changes of fortune; the necromancer that helped Rathe put the pieces of the mystery together; the traders who provided a crucial piece of evidence; the shady businessman who was more involved than he knew.[Spoiler.]Even the villainess, introduced in the prologue, turned out to be a puppet for a male character.Now, it's possible that this was a deliberate choice by Scott & Barnett. After all, if feminine stars are about stability and masculine stars about change, then it is vaguely in keeping with the focus on astrology for the men to be astrologically more inclined to be the movers and shakers of plot. But really, I'm pretty sure that's a terrible bit of fanwanking on my part; I strongly suspect that despite women having equal or greater power in the world, the men have greater power in the plot because that's how insidious sexism is.

Still, despite all those little critiques, this book was simply fun. I did see where the mystery was headed in advance, but that didn't detract from the tension through the middle of the book because though I knew what was going on I did not know that everything would end well. The climax felt a little rushed, mostly because it wasn't until the climax that I was actually convinced that the astrology-based magic actually had power in the world rather than being superstition, but it was still emotionally satisfying. And despite my reservations about the narrative's gender equality, the world itself is exactly the sort of place I like to spend time, the sort of place I wish was more common in SFF -- one not enslaved to our too-narrow ideas of gender and sexuality, and with swashbuckling heroes and magic to boot. All in all I am very happy I read this, and will be seeking out more of the authors' work as soon as I can.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★
  Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★1/2
  Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
Read this for: The world-building
Don't read this for: The prose
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Fail*
Books I was reminded of: The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum; The Ladies of Mandrigyn, by Barbara Hambly; Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner.
Will I read more by this author? Yes.

*Brit Mandelo and Jo Walton both seem to think that the Chenedolleiste are brown-skinned, and that therefore most of the characters would count as characters of color; I am not convinced. It's true, they aren't the blonde-haired blue-eyed northerners, like Philip; but they aren't the dark-skinned, coarse-haired southerners either, and given that the world bears the most resemblance to Renaissance Italy, I think they read as simply Mediterranean "brown" and therefore white.

Title: The Best of All Possible Worlds
Author: Karen Lord
Publisher: Del Rey
Format: Ebook
Year: 2013
Pages: 233
Genre: Science Fiction
  Subgenre: SF Romance, Soft SF
Full Disclosure: I received this ebook free through NetGalley.

Jacket Description
Karen Lord’s debut novel, the multiple-award-winning Redemption in Indigo, announced the appearance of a major new talent—a strong, brilliantly innovative voice fusing Caribbean storytelling traditions and speculative fiction with subversive wit and incisive intellect. Compared by critics to such heavyweights as Nalo Hopkinson, China Miéville, and Ursula K. Le Guin, Lord does indeed belong in such select company—yet, like them, she boldly blazes her own trail.

Now Lord returns with a second novel that exceeds the promise of her first. The Best of All Possible Worlds is a stunning science fiction epic that is also a beautifully wrought, deeply moving love story.

A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.

Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race—and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—just may find in each other their own destinies . . . and a force that transcends all.

My Review
This novel is simultaneously deeply subversive and disappointingly conventional.

It obviously owes its premise and much of the feel of its world to Star Trek. It's set in a universe where the speed of light is no barrier, where there are quite a few practically-human species capable of star flight, whose planets interact the way countries here on Earth do (meaning there's immigration to and from, they form alliances and declare war, and there's trade) and all of them can interbreed. The Sadiri, the victims of the genocide, are definitely Vulcan-like; though they have not rejected emotion in favor of logic, they have epitomized restraint and morality to the rest of the galaxy, and they attribute their superiority in those fields to the way they have developed their telepathy through meditation and mental exercises.

Interestingly, though not particularly relevant to the story, this is a galaxy without Earth and humans-as-such; Earth is apparently under an interdiction, and the rest of the humanoid species have no contact with it other than the occasional snapping-up of doomed groups to be brought into the galactic fold for their useful genetic diversity.

The first sign that this is much more than just Star Trek-influenced cross-cultural-contact SF is the information, right off the bat at the start of chapter two, that Cygnians and Sadiri (who make up nearly the entirety of the cast of characters) possess "eyes, hair, and skin all somewhere on the spectrum of brown." There is one character, late in the book, that I would identify as white; he's so minor that I've forgotten his name, and what role he played.

The second sign is the nature of Cygnus Beta, the planet almost all of the action takes place on, and the home world of the protagonist. It is a planet of refugees, one of which the protagonist says "There isn't a group on Cygnus Beta who can't trace their family back to some world-shattering event. Landless, kinless, unwanted. . ." It is a poor planet, and one that the rest of the galaxy views as superstitious and backward. But it is not the violent, gang-ridden techno-poverty of the sort that is so often fetishized in cyberpunk, and it's not the picturesquely feudal and martial poverty of, for example, Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar; it's just the poverty of being a people whom circumstance and hostile action have rendered relatively resourceless.

The third sign is the breezy, confiding tone of Grace's narration. Lord's first novel, Redemption in Indigo, took that same tone; there, it was the obvious choice, a folktale fantasy narrated as it would be around a fire on a winter's night. But that tone, when transposed to a distinctly science fictional setting, becomes in itself somewhat revolutionary. Much of science fiction, particularly science fiction with pretensions at seriousness, adopts an objective tone, a distant faux-historical viewpoint that is meant to give it gravitas. That tone often hides as much as it highlights, encouraging the reader to look away from all the things that are missing (brown people, poor people, oppressed people). Grace's voice, warm and occasionally exasperated and always distinctly personal, makes this book feel real, aliens and telepaths notwithstanding.

That level of personal-ness is ultimately what I found so exciting about this novel. It is 100% science fiction, and the sort of science fiction I always find more satisfying, where the world is messy -- multiple types of telepaths, lots of different cultures and subcultures, the sense that the characters in the novel all have existences extending far into the past and the future, rather than existing purely for the sake of the plot. But it is also incredibly domestic -- ultimately, what the Sadiri need is to find a whole bunch of brides, because in the aftermath of the almost-genocide they were left with an incredibly male-skewed gender balance, and so the plot of the novel is taken up with a quest through Cygnus Beta looking for communities that have higher percentages of Sadiri bloodlines, so that the remaining Sadiri males can look for mates.

And that is where the novel becomes unfortunately conventional. Lord makes a point of how progressive Cygnus Beta is: there is a character of whom Grace says "Lian has chosen to live without reference to gender. This may or may not mean that Lian is asexual, though many of those who are registered as gender-neutral are indeed so. However, it doesn’t matter, because this has no bearing on our mission and is thus none of our business”; various comments indicate that bi/pansexuality is the norm; Grace jokes with her mother that the woman her mother is trying to seduce away from her husband actually wants Grace's mother to join in a triadic polyamorous relationship with the both of them. But there is absolutely none of that diversity of sexual and gender identity represented in the Sadiri and their plight: the Sadiri survivors are (almost) all men, and they are all going to be forced to enter into heterosexual monogamous relationships that are expected to be reproductively fruitful. And no one blinks an eye at that. It is a strange bit of cognitive dissonance, that Grace is so fully enmeshed in a non-heteronormative, non-monogamous society and yet is falling in love with a man from a society so much more rigid without even once questioning how willing his people are to abridge their right to self-determination.

(It is particularly galling, given that this is a science fictional setting, that Lord never addresses any potential technological fixes to the problem of a small, male-dominated survival group: no mention of genetic engineering, cloning, uterine replicators, anything beyond "get boy and girl to have sex, make babies".)

Still, aside from that conventional core, this novel is a delight. Grace's narration makes it a fast, enjoyable read. The quest plot takes the reader through quite a few very distinct subcultures on Cygnus Beta, the same way Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation explores the various sectors of Trantor. There are several call-backs to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, the Sadiri coming to Cygnus Beta intending to reshape it for their needs but ending up becoming rather more Cygnian than Sadiri in the process. There was also a significant reference to Jane Eyre, which seemed out of place. But most of all, I spent the novel thinking that Lord was doing much the same thing science fictionally as Lois McMaster Bujold was doing fantastically in her Sharing Knife quadrilogy -- they set up rigorous SFF worlds, and then they put those worlds at stake, positioned their cultures on the brink of extinction due to both external and internal forces; then they resolved the stories by having their characters settle down and make babies. This is, of course, an entirely fair resolution; if your culture is in danger of extinction, pretty much the only solution is to have children to carry it on. But it's a solution that sits oddly in the SFF canon.

A note on the cover: When I first saw this cover, my thoughts were pretty much "Hey! The person on the cover is non-white! Yay! But what's with the elephant?" I got to the end of the book and kind of wanted to *headdesk*. The elephant, surprisingly, was entirely relevant, was one of two symbols used heavily throughout (the other was a hummingbird, which made its way onto the British edition cover). But the woman on the cover, who I assume is Grace, has very definitely been white-washed.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
  Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
  Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
Read this for: The themes, the atmosphere
Don't read this for: The world-building
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Pass
Books I was reminded of: Embassytown, by China Mieville; Prelude to Foundation, by Isaac Asimov; The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury; Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga and Sharing Knife quadrilogy.
Will I read more by this author? Yes.

Moscow But Dreaming, by Ekaterina Sedia


Title: Moscow But Dreaming
Author: Ekaterina Sedia
Publisher: Prime Books
Format: Ebook
Year: 2012
Pages: 288
Genre: Fantasy
   Subgenre: Fairytale Fantasy, Magical Realism, Urban Fantasy
Challenge Information: WWEnd's Women of Genre Fiction Challenge
Full Disclosure: I received this ebook free through NetGalley.

Jacket Description
The first short story collection by award-winning author Ekaterina Sedia! One of the more resonant voices to emerge in recent years, this Russian-born author explores the edge between the mundane and fantastical in tales inspired by her homeland as well as worldwide folkloric traditions. With foreword by World Fantasy Award-winner Jeffrey Ford, Moscow But Dreaming showcases singular and lyrical writing that will appeal to fans of slipstream and magical realism, as well as those interested in the uncanny and Russian history.

My Review
Despite containing several stories I loved, this collection was a disappointment to me. Sedia is clearly a talented writer, but too many of the stories either took risks that didn't pay off or remained completely opaque to me, even after turning to Google to see if I was missing references. I was also confused by the inclusion of two distinctly non-Russian stories; one is a retelling of a Japanese folktale, the other is a pseudo-African folktale, and both seemed completely out of place in the collection and lacked the depth of history and mythology that Sedia brought to her Russian-set stories. And while Sedia has been lauded as a feminist writer, concerned with the place of women in the world and the power dynamics between women and men, these stories more often than not positioned their female characters as victims. Not agent-less victims, I will grant, and victimized more often by the patriarchal machinery of society as a whole rather than individual men, but still victims. Several of the stories also positioned fatness as grotesque and malignant, and there were hints of cultural appropriation, ableism, and classism that made me uncomfortable.

Still, when Sedia was writing in what appears to be her comfort zone, magical realist and fairy tale influenced stories set either in modern-day Russia or among Russian immigrants elsewhere in the world, she was quite impressive. "Citizen Komorova Finds Love," "Tin Cans," and "You Dream" were all incredibly evocative, packing both significant thematic and emotional punches into not very many pages. None of these three are happy stories -- actually none of the stories in the entire collection is happy -- but they resonate the way short fiction ought, illuminating little corners of much larger worlds.

Descriptions and reviews of the individual stories behind the cut.Collapse )

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★
   Intellectual Satisfaction:  ★★★
   Emotional Satisfaction:  ★★★
Read this for: The atmosphere
Don't read this for: The themes
Bechdel Test: 3 out of 21 stories pass
Johnson Test: 3 out of 21 stories pass
Books I was reminded of: Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales and Deathless; Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities; Shel Silverstine's The Giving Tree; Brandon Sanderson's Elantris.
Will I read more by this author? I'll give at least one of her novels a try.

Grail, by Elizabeth Bear


Title: Grail
   Series: Jacob's Ladder #3
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Year: 2011
Pages: 330
Genre: Science Fiction
   Subgenre: Generation Ship, Soft SF
Full Disclosure: Still an Elizabeth Bear fangirl. Plus I read this just about a year ago, and wrote this review from my notes.

Jacket Description
At last the generation ship Jacob's Ladder has arrived at its destination: the planet they have come to call Grail. But this habitable jewel just happens to be populated already: by humans who call their home Fortune. And they are wary of sharing Fortune -- especially with people who have genetically engineered themselves to such an extent that it is a matter of debate whether they are even human anymore. To make matters worse, a shocking murder aboard the Jacob's Ladder has alerted Captain Perceval and the Angel Nova that formidable enemies remain hidden somewhere among the crew.

On Grail -- or Fortune, rather -- Premier Danilaw views the approach of the Jacob's Ladder with dread. Behind the diplomatic niceties of first-contact protocol, he knows that the deadly game being played is likely to erupt into full-blown war -- even civil war. For as he strives to chart a peaceful and prosperous path forward for his people, internal threats emerge to take control by any means necessary.

My Review
Dust was an ambitious novel, drawing on a medley of influences ranging from medieval romantic ballads of chivalry to gothic horror novels to classic SF generation ships, all overlaid with a smattering of Judeo-Christian myths. Its sequel, Chill, was best read as a character study. Grail, the final novel in this trilogy, just might be my favorite. It is that rarest of all beasts: an anthropological and philosophical science fiction novel like few people have written in my lifetime.

I have to admit I do not remember the plot described on the back of the book. I remember that it was there -- I think it's mostly Benedick and Tristen investigating the murder, revisiting some of the places and people we met in Chill -- but this is absolutely not a tense murder mystery/thriller. I called this philosophical SF because it really is -- all the scenes that stand out in my memory are talky scenes, scenes between Perceval and the remaining Exalts, and between the political leaders on Fortune, and between Perceval and Danilaw, each speaking as representatives of their people. And all those conversations, ultimately, revolve around what makes people human, and what makes a good society. Because both the Jacob's Ladder and Fortune are the generations-later products of people attempting to build a utopia.

I won't spoil the details of either world; suffice it to say that we learn a lot more about what the people who set the Jacob's Ladder in motion were thinking, and we also discover that this series takes place in the same universe as Bear's stand-alone novel Carnival nd get to see how the universe reacted to the events of that book. What I loved about these two contrasting utopias is that Bear takes care to highlight both societies' strengths and weaknesses, the ways that their founders were still blinded by their own prejudices and the ways that they were ultimately successful despite that. And unlike in more didactic utopian SF novels, the characters are not simply products of their societies, not passive mouthpieces for the philosophies behind them; instead, they are all conscious actors, actively engaged with their society and doing their best to bend it into a shape more to their liking. I found it thrilling, on an intellectual level, to see how Bear managed pit the two societies at loggerheads at so many points without ever making either of them wrong.

And in many ways, they fundamentally do not work together, partly out of prejudice but partly because they have simply grown so far apart that it is hard for either group to consider the others fully human. It raises the stakes incredibly high, because the people of the Jacob's Ladder need to find a way to make a home on Fortune to survive at all, and with less than fifty pages until the end I could see no good resolution. So I understand why so many people, after reading this book, felt Bear used a deus ex machine. But, perhaps because I read it shortly after reading Laurie J. Marks' Water Logic, I am tempted to defend her choice. Water Logic is all about intuitive leaps, characters taking really disparate bits of information and, through some alchemy of genius, making something new and better out of them, so when the characters in Grail spent the entire novel talking about how they needed some leap like that I was primed to follow them. I will have to see, on rereading, what kind of hints Bear dropped; but I am pretty sure they will be there, unlike with Chill's resolution.

But even if they aren't, even if a reread convinces me that Bear did pull the ending out of thin air, I loved this book. For the talky bits, and for the complicated optimism at its core.

Overall Satisfaction:
   Intellectual Satisfaction:
   Emotional Satisfaction: ★1/2
Read this for: The themes
Don't read this for: The plot
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Pass*
Books I was reminded of: The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin; Water Logic, by Laurie J. Marks
Will I read more by this author? Only everything she's written.

*I am not 100% sure of this one, because my notes didn't note it. I distinctly remember tracking which characters on Fortune were described as dark-skinned versus light-skinned, and then looking for conversations between only dark-skinned characters. It took a while! But I'm pretty sure there was eventually one short conversation that did not revolve around either the light-skinned Fortune characters or the characters on the Jacob's Ladder.**

**The characters on the Jacob's Ladder don't count because they're blue. Blue skin does not count as non-white because (a) There are no blue people on Earth, and (b) The reason their skin is blue is because it's translucent, so their dominant color is that of their unoxygenated, nanite-infected blood, and that is a call-back to the term "blueblood" here on earth, a class- and race-based way of delineating *good* white people with their pale, pale skin that you could see the veins through (because they're rich and not out in the fields) from *bad* white people & non-white people whose veins are hidden by melanin (because they're exposed to the sun and/or not white).

Chill, by Elizabeth Bear


Title: Chill
   Series: Jacob's Ladder #2
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Year: 2010
Pages: 310
Genre: Science Fiction
   Subgenre: Space Opera, Generation Ship
Challenge Information: SF Challenge 2011 category "SF dealing with robots/artificial intelligence"
Full Disclosure: As I've mentioned before, I am an Elizabeth Bear fangirl. Also, I read this book and wrote most of this review almost a year ago.

Jacket Description
Sometimes, the greatest sin is survival.

The generation ship Jacob's Ladder has barely survived cataclysms from within and without. Now, riding the shock wave of a nova blast toward an uncertain destiny, the damaged ship -- the only world its inhabitants have ever known -- remains a war zone. Even as Perceval, the new captain, struggles to come to terms with the traumas of her recent past, the remnants of rebellion aboard the ship still threaten the crew's survival.

Yet as Perceval's relatives Tristen and Benedick play a deadly game of cat and mouse through a vast ship that is renewing itself in strange and dangerous ways, an even more insidious threat is building in a place no one ever thought to look. And this implacable enemy could change the face of the ship forever if a ragtag band of heroes cannot stop it.

My Review
WARNING: No spoilers for Chill, but plenty of spoilers for Dust.

Chill picks up almost directly after Dust ended, when the ship is reeling from the nova blast and the crew is reeling from all of the deaths, particularly Rien's sacrifice to bring the new angel -- an A.I. integrating all of the splinter A.I.s that developed when the ship broke down centuries before -- into existence. Perceval is now captain, but she is barely functional as she deals with her grief, and there is an enormous power vacuum that the remaining Exalts of Rule and Engine -- both those for and against Perceval's captaincy -- are scrambling to fill. And while the A.I.s have all been integrated into the new angel, it is bothered by enormous black spaces in its awareness of the ship, due either to damage or enemy machinations. 

And then a very dangerous prisoner escapes, so two teams -- one led by Tristen, the other by Benedick -- are sent in pursuit.

The plot is made up entirely by that pursuit, and I found that choice disappointing. The entire plot of Dust was Perceval and Rien fleeing through the fascinating landscape of the half-ruined ship; to have the entire plot of this one be another chase through a now-much-more-familiar landscape just seemed repetitive. There are a couple new and exciting set-pieces -- particularly a scene involving massive intelligent fungi doing something deliciously unexpected -- but ultimately I felt a bit let down by Bear's imagination. What stood out most about Dust for me was how gloriously imaginative the world-building was; with that thrill behind me this was just another SF action novel.

Or would have been, were it not for the characters.

If there was one flaw in Dust, it was that all of the characters were ciphers to me for 2/3 of the novel. Not so here. Dust and Chill ended up being mirror images of each other: the first all ideas and no character development; the second few (new) ideas but wonderful, complex characters with long histories and complicated relationships. The chase plot is really just window-dressing for internal, character-driven action, as the characters left standing after Dust figure out who they want to be in this new world.

Unfortunately, window-dressing or not the chase plot was still there, and it required a resolution, and that resolution was something of a deus-ex-machina. It also left a pretty significant plot thread dangling, as this is the middle book of a trilogy. But for these characters I would forgive a great deal more than that.

Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★
   Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★1/2
   Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
Read this for: The characters
Don't read this for: The ideas
Bechdel Test: Fail
Johnson Test: Fail
Books I was reminded of: Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space trilogy; The Tempering of Men by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette
Will I read more by this author? Of course!


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