Tag Archives: book review

Sort of a Book Review: Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara

Last night I finished Cast in Chaos, the sixth book in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series. I enjoyed it very much, but apparently my brain is having trouble with full sentences and paragraphs today, so to point form we go!

Cast in Chaos (Chronicles of Elantra, #6)

  • it occurs to me, in all the discussion the past couple years of covers and female characters in particular on covers, that maybe this one deserves a shout-out. She is wearing practical, not secondary-sexual-characteristic-enhancing clothing; her face is towards the “camera” and not obscured; and perhaps most importantly, her position and posture gives her an active role in the cover. Compare that with all the passive, dead or drowning or headless girls on most book covers… Yes, I do think this cover needs a shout out. Good job, whoever designed it. Thank you.
  • just when I think this series is getting a bit too long for me and I might be falling out of it, it does something to suck me right back in. The last 150-ish pages of this book… damn. In the best way.
  • fans of the series will definitely enjoy this installment. I especially loved getting to know the Arkon quite a bit better. And the development with Nightshade towards the beginning, though he sort of falls out of the book after that (I am guessing that thread will be picked back up in Cast in Ruin, book 7, and the continuation of this book).
  • I am pretty sure this book (this series) would really reward a re-reading. There is a lot of chewy, gritty, figuring out who you are, and how you engage with your world in a compassionate and honest way, and how you heal from your past stuff in there, hidden (or not so hidden) among the dragons and the magical portals and the talking elemental Water. This is why I love fantasy.
  • so yeah. Chronicles of Elantra (starts with Cast in Shadows). Highly recommended; read it if you haven’t.

Book Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

(Goodreads page)

Back cover blurb:

Temur is walking from a battlefield where he was left for dead. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s Khaganate, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. She has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of a wizard.

These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to war through deceit and sorcerous power.

My thoughts:

It took me a couple of chapters to get into this book. But after the first appearance of Samarkar, I was hooked. Over the course of the book I came to be equally invested in all the main characters, but she was the one that first grabbed me. Let me just describe her badass-ness for a quick second: heir to an empire until her younger half-brother is born and she gets married off; unhappy in her new home, she gets her brother to come kill her husband; widowed, she decides to give up her Princess status and study wizardry, is neutered in order to gain magical power though with no guarantee of success or even her survival (how the magic system works for them). And that’s all before the story starts.

Overall, my favourite things about this book were the characters (particularly the female characters) and the worldbuilding. The characters in this book prove, as if it needed proving, that you can have well-rounded casts of characters (though they are skewed towards the elite of their various cultures) in epic fantasy. Everyone is a real person, and everyone’s strengths are acknowledged, whether it’s standing on a saddle in the middle of battle to shoot arrows with deadly accuracy, or just grimly gritting your teeth and not complaining about the blisters on your feet, or your own discomfort on a long journey.

I found the worldbuilding fascinating. From an external-to-the-book perspective, it’s important in that there’s a ton of discussion about non-Western fantasy settings going around in the SFF community, but I’m more interested in an internal-to-the-book perspective. There are several different cultures interacting in this book – in fact, with only one exception I can think of, I think every main character spends a large portion of the narrative outside of their culture of origin. Each character has times when they feel more or less comfortable–the steppe-raised man is claustrophobic and nervous among the mountains and in cities/palaces; the mountain-fastness-raised woman is agoraphobic in the open steppe. There’s a lot of worldbuilding done in this book simply through what is and isn’t familiar to each character in terms of ways of living that we might take for granted (do we sleep on a soft or hard bed? Raised or floor level? With or without a pillow? etc.). That was really interesting to me; how the the world was painted through details of character interaction both with each other and with their environment.

Maybe that is an obvious point, and it’s only my own little minor revelation as to the ways it was accomplished that makes me think it’s worth pointing out. But either way, the worldbuilding in this book is excellent.

The only problem I had with this book is that I got lost a time or two. I mean, physically lost in the world. Range of Ghosts is very much an epic fantasy; there’s a lot of walking to Mordor, so to speak. At one point, I’m pretty sure in my head the characters were crossing an entirely different mountain range than the one they actually were crossing, so when they came out the other side I was so confused. And this despite referring several times to the helpful map in the front of the book (I normally don’t bother to reference the maps in books). In the book’s defence, I believe this is entirely due to my own geography fail, and no lack in the book itself…

I definitely recommend this to fantasy fans. I had heard a lot of good things about this book before I read it, and it lived up to them all.

Book Review: Heart Change by Robin D. Owens

Heart Change by Robin D. Owens

(Goodreads page)

Back cover blurb:

Signet D’Marigold’s lonely life is shaken when a prophet reveals that Signet is a catalyst for change… But to accept her new life–and the charge of noble child Avellana Hazel–will mean embracing a danger that might be fatal.

Cratag Maytree sold his sword and traveled across continents to find a place with his distant family. However, his settled life is disrupted when he is loaned out as a bodyguard for Signet and Avellana. Once again he feels like an outsider.

As Signet’s and Cratag’s attraction develops into love, her fear of abandonment and his concern about their different backgrounds diminish. Happiness seems within their grasp until fate makes them the target of a secret enemy they must defeat to survive…

My thoughts:

I bought Heart Change spontaneously last weekend, and on Sunday I read it cover to cover. Heart Change is the sixth Celta book I’ve read, and definitely one of my favourites from the series so far. (I haven’t read the series in order– I think each book stands on its own quite well, though there will be references to events and people from other books).

As always with Celta books, I loved the rich worldbuilding, and enjoyed seeing a bit more of how all the families interact and/or are interconnected. My favourite aspect of Heart Change, though, was the progression of Signet’s and Cratag’s relationship. So often in romances there is *such* a fast progression of the relationship that you wonder, sometimes, what chance the couple really has for a stable longterm relationship after the book ends. But here, Signet and Cratag knew of each other, had met briefly at public events, had been attracted to each other, all before the story starts. So when the events of the story force them into close quarters with each other, their relationship moving to the next level feels very natural. They “date”, and have their ups and downs, and I very much enjoyed watching this progression of their relationship.

Overall, highly recommended to fans of the Celta series and fans of romance/ fantasy romance.

Book Review: Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (link to Goodreads page)

Back cover copy:

Dexter is displeased. Like any self-respecting, totally decent, soundly homicidal guy, Dexter Morgan takes great pride in his work and is careful to remain anonymous. So he is, naturally, upset to discover that someone has identified him and–worst of all–is now turning his own methods against him. The situation soon becomes more complicated when a brutal cop-killer begins targeting Miami’s police detectives–leaving behind bodies that are battered beyond recognition–and stoking the department’s worst fears. As his colleagues grow more paranoid of the psychotic killer in their midst, Dexter’s position is increasingly perilous. He is running out of time to track down this copycat and deliver his usual special justice, before his dark hobby is revealed to the world.

My thoughts:

This is the 6th book in the Dexter series, and in my opinion one of the best so far. Aside from the first chapter, which I found overwritten and clunky, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will definitely keep reading the series. I think the main reason I have enjoyed books 5 and 6 of this series so much is the increasing role and pressure of Dexter’s family. His strengthening relationship with Cody and Astor, and all the new experiences Lily Anne brings to him, have really fleshed out his character and made him a much more 3D protagonist. I also really enjoy the progression of Deb’s character, and the way both Deb’s and Dexter’s growth has impacted their relationship as well.

Double Dexter was a very fast book, in the sense that three chapters from the end I found myself thinking there’s no way both major plot threads could be wrapped up in time. But they were, and you could probably claim it all fell very quickly into place a little *too* conveniently for Dexter, but meh, it worked for me.

I definitely recommend this book to fans of the series. I recommend the series to fans of crime books/thrillers/antihero books/serial killer protagonists (and I presume fans of the tv show Dexter, though I can’t say for sure since I actually don’t like the show), with the caveat that in my opinion books 3 and 4 are substantially weaker. 1 and 2 I liked, 3 and 4 I didn’t, 5 and 6 I like as much or more than 1-2.

I think the 7th book is coming out this summer, I’ll be looking forward to reading it.

Book Review: Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

(Goodreads page)

Back cover copy:

In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice introduced readers to the unique and intoxicating imagination of Catherynne M. Valente. Now she weaves a lyrically erotic spell of a place where the grotesque and the beautiful reside and the passport to our most secret fantasies begins with a stranger’s kiss.…

Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night.

To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.

My thoughts:

Objectively, I think this is a great book for a lot of reasons. Structurally it is very carefully constructed, the way the book is divided into parts and the parts into quartos, and the chapters alternate between this world and Palimpsest, and I found this construction interesting and effective. Prose-wise, it is beautifully written. Content-wise, it is important in that it represents a range of sexualities and sexual habits (and their possible repercussions) without judgement. (If I sound cagey there, it’s just that I’m trying to avoid spoilers, since the sex is a main plot device). I think if I had read this book as a teenager, that would have really struck me and stuck with me.

Subjectively, however, I didn’t fall in love with this book. I found it hard to connect with the characters, especially for the first half or so of the book, and although it did get better over the course of the book, I never felt truly attached to them. The most invested in a character I felt was to a secondary character, for about half a scene, where I did get that gut-punch sensation of yes, this, this is True (the scene with Lucia and Ludo in the tea house, when Lucia explains, for those who have read it). Also, in the chapters set in Palimpsest, I found the tone of certain sections quite pretentious (for a spoiler-y reason, so I won’t get into it), which was off-putting. And I guessed the twist/revelation regarding those sections earlier than it was revealed in the book, so that particular thread didn’t work for me.

I appreciated the Medieval encyclopaedic element, and manuscript element in general, since that is right up my particular nerd-alley, and I appreciated the themes that were throughout the book: locks, keys, ways into places, the power of words, the power of categorization, etc. But in the end there was something a bit too glossy or surreal about this book for me to really sink into and fall in love with.

It’s an interesting book, and there’s a lot that can be said about it. I’m glad I read it, and thank you to my friends who recommended it to me. Can anyone tell me whether Palimpsest is a good example of Catherynne Valente’s books as a whole? Is there another book of hers that I should try, or if this book wasn’t quite for me, does that mean her others won’t be either?

Book Review: Pandaemonium by Ben Macallan

pandaemonium coverPandaemonium by Ben Macallan

(link to Goodreads page)

Back cover blurb:

Desdaemona has done a thing so so terrible that she has to run away from the consequences. Again. Where better to look for shelter than with the boy she was running from before? But trouble follows. And if it’s not Jacey’s parents who sent the deadly crow-men, the Twa Corbies, in chase of her, then who is it? Deep under London, among the lost and rejected of two worlds, answers begin to emerge from Desi’s hidden past. Answers that send her north in a flight that turns to a hunt, with strange companions and stranger prey. Dangers lie ahead and behind; inconvenient passion lays traps for her just when she needs a clear head; at the last even Desi has to beg for help. From one who has more cause than most to want her dead…

My thoughts:

You know how there are books that you like, and you can analyze what worked for you and what didn’t, what you think was done particularly well and what you think was a weak spot? And then there are books that you love, and you know you love them because it’s a book about shape-shifting garter snakes set in 17th century Canada, and that is just your favourite type of book ever? (No, I don’t know where that example came from. Shape-shifting snakes sounds terrifying, now that I think about it.) But then there are those books where you just love it. And there’s no easy way to put your finger on why exactly you love it so much, but you really feel like you should rush out to the bookstore and buy whatever copies they have and then force all your friends to read it too. Yeah, those kind of books. Pandaemonium is one of those books for me. (Actually, I did buy Desdaemona, the first book, for a friend who did end up liking it. Win!)

If I had to try and pin down why I liked this book so much, I would probably go with the voice. Which is a hard thing to describe, so I’ll just quote one of my favourite bits. And it shouldn’t spoil anything, since it’s pretty much the cover of the book.

He lifts his eyeless skull of a head, and looks at me.

He doesn’t talk back. He’s a horse. But he rises, and only his head is bone; the rest of him is art. Art made actual. A pure impression of horse, a sketch cut out of light. In the dark, he shines; in daylight, just the same. It’s a different manner of light, or your eyes find him differently, or there simply aren’t the words in English. Or the ideas, in any language, in anybody’s head. The reality of him is… elsewhere.

I loved this book, and highly recommend it, except that it picks up almost exactly where the first book, Desdaemona, left off, so if you haven’t read Desdaemona you should read that first.