Monday, October 2, 2017

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1)Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read this book twice, several years apart, and both times I was completely absorbed by the world created by Miéville. It's a dark, twisted, and complex world, inhabited by a myriad of races, human and otherwise. The book is part steampunk, part horror, part science fiction, and part just plain weird - but it all works together to create a narrative that draws the reader on. The sheer creativity on display here is breathtaking. Nothing seems trite or overdone, everything feels original - from the creatures who make art by spitting, to the cactus race, to the absolutely horrific nightmare-inducing slake moths. This is not a light read, not a book to cheer you up. It's overarching effect is one of oppression, coupled with a visceral fear. I have been reading for 57 years, and reading SF/Fantasy for probably 50 years, and this is one of the most creative, inventive works I've ever read. I cannot recommend this highly enough! What are you waiting for - go read it!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Fire Study

Fire Study (Study, #3)Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars
Book 3 in the series. It picks up right where book two left off. You definitely want to read the first two before reading this one. Fans of the first two novels will be very happy with this book.

In this book, Yelena faces her toughest adversary, yet. Not only are the rogue magicians practicing blood magic, they are in league with a spirit (demon?) from the fire realm - the underworld. He is attacking Yelena through fires, and she is unable to protect herself. In addition, the Council of Sitia and the First Magician continue to be suspicious, and outright hostile to Yelena. She has to find a way to conquer the fire spirit, and to combat the increasingly powerful evil magicians. As usual, she manages to do so, but not without many dire encounters that she barely escapes. She has more lives than a cat!

And that brings up one of my complaints - Yelena doesn't seem to change much, despite all she's gone through. Yes, she does grow as a magician, but as a person she remains foolishly headstrong and stubborn. I got a little tired of Yelena rushing headlong into situations, only to have her miraculously rescued, or for her to get out of some situation - yet again - by the skin of her teeth. It got pretty repetitious after three books.

And - my biggest complaint - once again the author is using Earth terms and phrases in a completely made up fantasy world! At one point, when Yelena was reading someone's mind, she sees in his memories that he was "sodomized." Uh, that term comes from the ancient Biblical city of Sodom, and the myth about men raping other men there. On EARTH. In THIS WORLD. There is no way that in the world of Sitia/Ixia that they also just happened to have an ancient city called Sodom, that also just happened to have a myth about male rape. This is just lazy, lazy world building. Additionally, the author uses the term "voila" - the FRENCH term for "ta-da!" But, it gets worse. She can't even spell it correctly; she spelled it "wal-ah." For an author who has an MFA, this is completely inexcusable!!! Lazy world-building PLUS bad spelling!!!

It's a darn good thing that the author is otherwise a pretty good storyteller. Pacing is always good, the story has a good mix of tension and light humor, with just a splash of romance. But any fan of REAL fantasy, who has read the likes of Patrick Rothfuss or George R. R. Martin will be just as irritated as I am with the poor world-building. Readers who just want a fun, diverting semi-fantasy, semi-romance read will not be disappointed.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Magic Study

Magic Study (Study #2)Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book two in the "Study" series continues where book one (Poison Study) left off, with Yelena heading to the Magician's Keep in the southern province of Sitia, where she will not only receive training in her magic skills, but she meets her long-lost family. We learn a lot about the different clans in Sitia, some living in the jungle as with Yelena's family, some living on the plains, etc. We also learn that even though the Master Magician, Irys, supports Yelena's training, not all of the other 3 Masters do. Nor does her brother, Leif.

Nevertheless, Yelena begins training, only to be caught up in the hunt for a magical serial killer, preying on young women. Yelena's headstrong nature continually causes her problems with Irys, and the council of Sitia, and it also places her in danger more than once. But, of course, our intrepid heroine always survives. Nevertheless, I appreciated that each time Yelena branched out on her own and got in trouble, there were consequences for her. This helped to mediate the 100% success rate she has.

Naturally, being a romance-tinged fantasy, Yelena's lover, Valek, manages to secrete himself in a delegation from Ixia, and they have many secretive trysts. Not only are they trying to find the serial killer, but the purported heir to the deposed king of Ixia falls for Yelena, which complicates his desires to mount a military campaign against the current Ixian ruler.

All in all, the story moved along well, and the author again does a good job with secondary characters. I thoroughly enjoyed how Yelena was able to communicate with horses, and how her own horse becomes a player in the story. The simple-mindedness of the equine characters seemed fitting, and added a bit of levity to the book.

However - and this is a big however - the author made some really boneheaded errors in other areas, which jarred me out of the fantasy world, and interfered with my overall enjoyment of the book. The problem is the author's use of Earth terms for items that should have Ixian/Sitian names. For example, in one case, a character describes a jacket as having a "mandarin" collar. Uh, "mandarin" refers to Mandarin CHINA, of the real world, Earth. Another example is when Yelena's father, who is an herbalist, discovers a plant extract that causes paralysis - he calls it Curare, which is a real paralyzing poison from plants found in Central/South America. Why in the world would he call it Curare?? In another case, the name of one of the horses is "Rusalka" which is a Slavic name for a water sprite! These are just a few of the times that the author's laziness was a detriment to the verisimilitude of the fantasy world. There really is no excuse for such shoddy world-building.

In all other respects, this is still a fun book. Not deep, nothing too mind-blowing. Just light-hearted escapism, that can be enjoyed as long as you don't look to closely at the details.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Poison Study

Poison Study (Study #1)Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

This is the first book in a fantasy series (now up to 6 books) that also has a bit of romance in it. The story follows Yelena, a young woman who was orphaned and who is scheduled to be executed for murder. She gets a stunning reprieve from death if she agrees to become the food taster for the "commander" - a military dictator of the nation of Ixia. She agrees, and begins her training in poisons under the tutelage of Valek, the Commander's chief assassin. Obviously, romance results, but it doesn't feel too forced, and doesn't come too early in the book. The sex scenes are not graphic at all (very G rated), but they are described with some pretty cliche romance notions. The writing is otherwise pretty solid, as is the world-building.

With any first book of a series, we have a lot of history to go through, but the author handles it well, and it flows organically with the plot. We learn that the Commander took over from a corrupt king, and has established a benevolent dictatorship (people are all cared for and employed, but movement is restricted.) The commander has banished all magicians from Ixia, and one of Valek's jobs is to kill any who are found still practicing. This becomes problematic when Yelena discovers she has magical abilities. She has to decide if she can trust Valek in this, and with other things. I thought their slow-building relationship was quite well done.

The action moves along at a good pace, and the characters are well-done - even the secondary ones. This adds some good color to the novel, and keeps the story interesting. All in all, it was a very enjoyable read, and anyone who loves fantasy should enjoy this one.