jump to navigation

Books for joy, part 2 March 19, 2017

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, fangirl, reviews.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Normally when I review multiple books in the one blog post, I try to group things that have some thematic similarities, or at least some common thread running through them which makes discussing them jointly appropriate. However, the three books reviewed here — a YA romance with a fairytale twist, a gentle coming-of-age story about vocation, subsistence, and the quiet beauty of simple, everyday work, and a dystopian tale of revolution and oppression — have little in common beyond the simple fact that they brought me joy.

Cover-Rose and Dagger

The Rose and the Dagger, Renée Ahdieh’s sequel to her 1001 Nights retelling, The Wrath and the Dawn, is a wonderful mix of evocative, folkloric storytelling and the tense buildup to a rebellion. The first book saw the brave teenage girl Shahrzad walk into a palace full of danger and secrets, and willingly marry a ruler whose every wife was murdered after one night of marriage. Shahrzad was able to stave off death with her quick wits and judicious telling of stories, and got to the heart of the mystery that was causing the deaths of all the women who came before her. In The Rose and the Dagger, she’s left the palace, hiding out in the desert with her family, childhood sweetheart, and the burgeoning rebellion against her husband’s rule. There are lots of fabulous touches: flying carpets, dragons, and a soul-sucking book of magic that quite literally possesses its user, but most satisfying for me were the strong friendships between female characters with very different personalities, and a conclusion to the rebellion, simmering political tensions and supernatural threats which was delivered by a mixture of chutzpah, alliance between multiple women, and the pooling of very different kinds of strengths.

Enjoyment of this series is going to depend on your ability to deal with the fact that it is a YA romance retelling of the 1001 Nights played fairly straight. The central romance is between Shahrzad and her murderous husband Khalid, and although Ahdieh gives a fairly convincing reason for Khalid’s murder of a series of teenage girls and women (it’s not the reason in the original tale), it may not be enough to get beyond some readers’ ‘cool motive, still murder’ reaction to this.

Cover-Sorrow's Knot

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow is a much calmer, quieter affair. This book was recommended and lent to me by Ana, who described it as being very evocative of Ursula Le Guin’s Annals of the Western Shore series. This is a very apt comparison: one of the most striking elements of Le Guin’s writing is her ability to imbue the simple, ordinary work of everyday life with a sense of power and profundity, and Sorrow’s Knot certainly possesses this quality. Although Bow’s work is set in a secondary world, she has drawn on the histories and cultures of a variety of Native peoples of North America to create a matriarchal society which places great importance on vocation, and the interdependent nature of everyone’s life’s work. No one calling is placed above another — storytellers, hunters, healers and gatherers are all seen as vital and necessary — but binders, who repel and contain the dead by knotting cords, are in great demand. This is a world in which the dead rest uneasily next to the living, and are always threatening to break through and overwhelm the fragile stability of the waking world. The protagonist, Otter, is the daughter of a binder, and always thought she’d follow her mother’s footsteps, binding the dead to keep them at bay, and serving as the last line of defence for her community, but with things carrying on much as they had done for living memory. However, simmering tensions and longstanding problems with how her community have handled their relationship with the past, and with the dead have finally bubbled over, and Otter and her friends find themselves clashing with a leadership whose desire to preserve the status quo has put everyone at risk. Otter and her friends must undertake a dangerous journey into exile — a journey which also takes them back to the source of all their stories and leads them to question the central assumptions that underpin their society.

I keep coming back to the word ‘quiet’ to describe Sorrow’s Knot, because it takes a subtler, more roundabout route to make its many points than many bellowing, blustering stories of dystopia and rebellion. That’s not to say I dislike the bellowing: the other two books reviewed here certainly could be described as such, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. It’s just that there can be a certain kind of pleasure in a book that drops its themes like stones into still water, and lets them reverberate out like ripples, quietly and indirectly, but nonetheless powerfully.

Cover - Song Rising

The Song Rising, the third in Samantha Shannon’s dystopian Bone Season series, is a much louder book. It picks up a few seconds from the cliffhanger where its predecessor, The Mime Order, left off, and takes the reader on a journey at breakneck speed through the underworld of Shannon’s imagined London, and onward to an almost post-apocalyptic Manchester and Edinburgh. Shannon’s dystopian series — which now consists of three of a projected seven books — imagines a world where a totalitarian government suppresses any instances of paranormal ability with brutal efficiency, and where this government is merely the puppet of the Rephaim, a supernatural race of immortal giants. Its protagonist, Paige Mahoney, has survived a Rephaite-run penal colony for humans with supernatural abilities (known as voyants, short for clairvoyants), and come out on top of the power struggles to control the Unnatural Assembly, the semi-criminal syndicate of voyants living under the noses of the authorities in London. The previous syndicate leadership was content to look the other way when it came to government brutality: as long as they could survive undetected and eke out a living through supernatural crime, protection rackets and grey marketeering, they were content to accept the injustices of a totalitarian regime that viewed them as an unnatural cancer deserving death on sight. Paige, however, understands that this state of affairs may not last forever: the government has been working on technology to scan for and identify voyants, so their days of hiding in plain sight are numbered. For her, revolution is the only option. However, she soon comes to realise that marshalling the various voyant factions and rebel Rephaite allies with their own agenda towards a common, revolutionary goal, and managing the inevitable clashes of personality that ensue isn’t as easy as making inspiring speeches about hope and rebellion. There’s a lot of hiding in dank sewer tunnels under London, tolerating unsettling allies, and bargaining, sacrifice and compromise for the cause.

The two elements that initially drew me to this series of books were its wonderfully evocative dystopian London (and many digressions into less travelled corners of London’s history and geography), and its nuanced exploration of relationships between mortal and immortal characters. Both are very much present in The Song Rising, although the book’s detours into Manchester and Edinburgh represent a welcome expansion of Shannon’s alternative version of our world. Likewise, the evolution of Paige’s relationship with the Rephaite, Warden, is handled with care and complexity. But it’s the book’s description of a burgeoning rebellion that makes the greatest impression. Samantha Shannon’s pointed dedication of the novel to ‘the silenced’ is utterly appropriate. In these dangerous and frightening political times, The Song Rising gives the dispossessed a voice.

Advertisements

I link(post) you to the bones October 9, 2015

Posted by dolorosa12 in linkpost.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This week has been absolutely excellent for people saying brilliant, eloquent, important things.

To journey is to be human. To migrate is to be human. Human migration forged the world. Human migration will forge the future, writes Ishtiyak Shukri in ‘Losing London’. This was the post of the week for me, and affected me deeply.

We already have the table of contents, but now we have the cover of Athena Andreadis’s To Shape The Dark anthology, illustrated beautifully by Eleni Tsami.

I really loved this interview of Aliette de Bodard by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz: I’ve come to realize that “appealing to everybody” is a codeword for bland, unobjectionable stuff; or at the very least for something that doesn’t challenge the reader; and, just as I like to be challenged when I read, I would in turn like to do that to my readers!

Speaking of Aliette de Bodard’s writing, she’s put ‘In Morningstar’s Shadow’, the prequel short story to The House of Shattered Wings, up online for free. I read it last weekend and loved it.

I liked this essay by Marianne de Pierres on Australian myths in contemporary SF, but I’ve been worrying away at some of its conclusions for reasons I can’t quite articulate. Certainly I appreciate the recognition of Australian writing’s emphasis on the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, but I worry about her characterisation of the Australian landscape as universally barren, inhospitable and predatory. Let’s just say it is not so to all inhabitants of Australia, and is not represented as such in the stories of all Australians, although it is a really significant theme in Australian literature.

Sophie Masson wrote on authors in a changing publishing landscape. I smiled a little ruefully at this quote:

When my last adult novel, Forest of Dreams, came out in 2001, I was commissioned to write a piece for a newspaper on the historical background of the novel (a paid piece), and reviews of the book appeared in several print publications, despite its being genre fiction. When The Koldun Code, also genre fiction, came out in 2014, I had to write several guest posts for blogs, do interviews for online publications (all unpaid) and reviews only appeared online.

I did not review this book, but I did interview Masson and review several of her YA works for print publications, where I was paid for my work. Now I retweet links to her articles and review things exclusively online for free. Oh, how times have changed!

Authors who are parents have been posting about the experience. There are too many posts to include here, but you can find links to all of them at the #ParentingCreating hashtag.

The latest of Kari Sperring’s ‘Matrilines’ columns, on Evangeline Walton, is up. I’ve been finding these columns both illuminating – in terms of introducing me to many authors whose work sounds right up my alley – and disheartening, in that almost all of them were entirely new to me, instead of well-known figures in the SF canon.

I found this post by Samantha Shannon on judging a literary award to be a very interesting read.

In a departure from these posts’ usual content, I have a music recommendation: CHVRCHES’ new album Every Open Eye. It stops my heart, in the best possible way.

Why can I not conquer linkpost? June 5, 2015

Posted by dolorosa12 in linkpost.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The links this week are a bit of a mixed bag, partly because I’ve been somewhat distracted, and as a result this post is a bit shorter than usual.

Tade Thompson made some important points about literature and diversity, storified by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. I see Tade’s thoughts as another part in the conversation I linked to last week.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz had some further thoughts on the matter.

Zen Cho posted ‘Ten Things I Believe About Writing’. There’s also a great interview with her up at Kitaab:

I write stories as a way of answering questions.

Another post by Rochita talks about language, identity, and the process behind writing her latest published story, ‘ Bagi: Ada ti Istorya’:

While thinking of language recovery, I found myself thinking too about what lies buried in language. What narratives had I chosen to erase when I chose to leave behind that language? What narratives could be pulled out of a text or a few lines or a word? What memory–what emotion would rise up from the use of a language that has lain dormant for so long.

More on language and storytelling: Samantha Shannon interviewed her Dutch translator, Janet Limonard.

I loved this new, bilingual Ghostwords post.

Kate Elliott had lots of thoughts about Mad Max: Fury Road, and Charles Tan storified them.

This review of Mad Max: Fury Road by Julianne Ross really resonated with me:

But where Fury Road really surprises is in its genuine respect for the five women Furiosa is trying to save. They are beautiful, generous and kind — deliberately feminine traits that have allowed them to survive as long as they have, and which the movie refuses to treat as a burden or incidental.

This Mad Max fanvid by Tumblr user jocarthage is simply breathtaking.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Raining on the linkpost parade March 27, 2015

Posted by dolorosa12 in linkpost.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Today’s linkpost is a little early, and contains poetry, translation, and a literary treasure hunt of sorts.

This is a great interview of Zen Cho and Stephanie Feldman by Sofia Samatar.

Ted Hodgkinson interviewed Daniel Hahn and Fahmida Riaz about literary translation.

Samantha Shannon answers readers’ questions. (Beware Mime Order spoilers.)

The Book Smugglers announced their new slate of short stories, which should be great.

Zen Cho has set up a directory of Malaysian SFF writers and projects.

A new issue of Through the Gate is out. I particularly liked the poem ‘Juli’ by M Sereno, which I found heart-shattering and powerful.

I love the Where Ghostwords Dwell project. The site is dedicated to discarded text, forgotten words and the memory of dead manuscripts, and each entry embeds links hinting at its origin, or pointing the reader forwards towards further connections. It’s part Russian doll, part literary treasure hunt, and I love it.

I leave you with every argument about Buffy on the internet from 1998 to now. This is one blog post where you’re going to want to read every single comment, and it makes me ridiculously happy.

Linkpost lifts us up where we belong February 27, 2015

Posted by dolorosa12 in linkpost.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This week’s linkpost is up a bit early, and contains many fabulous things.

I’m a huge fan of Sophia McDougall’s review of Birdman: over at Strange Horizons. In it, she compares the film to Boris Johnson. It’s an apt comparison.

Here’s a great interview with Samantha Shannon. ‘Cities are made of narrative’ indeed.

Aliette de Bodard’s description of her subconscious as a library is a fabulous metaphor, and one that I might steal myself!

There’s a great set of guest posts over at Ladybusiness on ‘What books are on your auto-recommend list?’ (For the record, mine are the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, the Pagan Chronicles series by Catherine Jinks, Space Demons, Skymaze, Shinkei and Galax Arena by Gillian Rubinstein, Parkland, Earthsong, Fire Dancer and The Beast of Heaven by Victor Kelleher, the Romanitas trilogy by Sophia McDougall and the Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott.)

Episode 4 of Fangirl Happy Hour is up. This week Ana and Renay are talking Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, Jupiter Ascending and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I’m not quite as critical of S.H.I.E.L.D. as they are, while I think there’s room for difference of opinion about the feminism of Jupiter Ascending, but as always, I appreciate their thoughts.

The first few guest posts about representation and diversity are up on Jim C. Hines’ blog.

Shannon Hale talks about gender segregation at readings she’s done at schools. It’s heartbreaking.

I thoroughly enjoyed this article by Robert Macfarlane about language and landscape. Beautiful stuff.

I really liked the recent BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. This interview by Julia Raeside of Claire Foy, who played Anne Boleyn, goes a long way towards explaining why.

For reasons that will soon become apparent, although I can’t provide a link to it, the #readingAuthorName hashtag on Twitter has been a powerful and positive movement. It works like this: think of an author whose works moved you and shaped you into the person you are. Tweet about it. Add the hashtag #readingAuthorName (obviously replacing AuthorName for the author’s actual name). Feel happy.

Dreamtrails paved with bones November 15, 2013

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, fangirl, reviews.
Tags: , , , , ,
4 comments

I write fairly frequently about the fact that reading habits change over time, and that I feel things differently as an adult (by which I mean from about the age of 25 onwards) to how I did as a child. I seem to keep coming back to this issue again and again in my writing, worrying away at it. Because when I say I feel things differently, I suspect I mean that I feel things less. It’s as if every book, every show, every song is an attempt to regain a sort of childlike or adolescent intensity. And when I feel it, I am loquaciously grateful.

I sit here, having just finished Samantha Shannon’s debut novel The Bone Season and I am quite literally exhausted with feeling. My mouth is dry, my breathing is shallow and my heart hurts with how much I loved the book. I am astonished by it. It is as if Shannon made a list of everything I personally want in a story and then went away and wrote it for me. As you can imagine, therefore, this review will not even attempt to be objective. I will, however, attempt to explain why The Bone Season hit me in the id quite so hard.

It’s getting to the point where I should have a tag or list named ‘the rubbish I will put up with in order to get stories about humans interacting with angels, demons, or other terrifying supernatural beings’. It will be a long list. I should have a second list, named ‘Things I wish authors of stories about angels, demons and other terrifying supernatural beings would include in their stories’. It would include: a realistic dystopian setting, an extensive criminal underclass which resists passively, a heroine who hates The Oppressive System but also possesses a healthy degree of fear for it that prevents her from fighting it directly, a heroine who has a support network and preferably other female friends, and a recognition that rebellions are likely to be messy and will involve moral greyness.

In other words, the second list would describe The Bone Season. From here on, assume spoilers.

The book is the story of nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney, who lives in an alternate version of our own world in which humans possess a variety of paranormal abilities, all of which have been outlawed by an oppressive totalitarian government. The only legal way to exist as a ‘voyant’ (short for ‘clairvoyant’) is to do the government’s dirty work and hunt other voyants, a deal which provides security at the expense of longevity. However, as would be realistic in such a setting, an extensive underground network of criminal voyant gangs has sprung up, each operating in its own patch and forming a dual function as a grey market in less than ethical commerce and a community in which fugitive voyants can attain a sense of family and acceptance. Unbeknownst to her father, who works for the government as a scientist, Paige leads a double life in one of the gangs, based in Seven Dials in London. (And can I just go off on a slightly gushing tangent and say that another reason why I adore this book so much is that all the cool people hang out in my favourite parts of London, namely Soho and Covent Garden?)

The inevitable eventually happens, and Paige is captured. Rather than being executed, as she feared, she’s brought to Sheol I, a vast, secret penal community built over the ruins of Oxford. There, Paige learns the truth about her powers and her world. She and the other voyants captured are assigned to Rephaim, extraordinarily powerful supernatural beings who reveal that the totalitarian government under which the voyants have been suffering is the puppet of the Rephaim, and that the voyants have been recruited as foot soldiers in a terrible, otherworldly battle. In Sheol I, voyants are safe to reveal their identities and hone their clairvoyant powers under the tutelage of their assigned Rephaite guard. The only catch? The voyants are prisoners, and completely at the mercy of their Rephaim captors in a profoundly unbalanced arrangement. They are expected to become ruthless soldiers, betraying their fellow voyants if necessary, and treated with utter contempt by the Rephaim, even though the latter rely on them for their existence (the Rephaim feed of the auras of voyant humans). Paige is assigned to a captor called Arcturus, whom she addresses as ‘Warden’ (as this is his position in the Rephaim hierarchy), and who begins to train her in using her abilities. He is a confusing and enigmatic force in her life, both terrifying her and on occasion betraying extraordinary vulnerability and secrets in her presence.

One thing that I really appreciate about The Bone Season is the fact that Paige is understandably wary about her safety, both in London and in Sheol I. She is not reckless, but instead makes all sorts of compromises and sacrifices in order to carve out a space for herself in two extremely dangerous situations. Far too often in stories of this kind, the heroine is overly principled and uncompromising. Paige remains an appealing, but realistically terrified individual. She is very slow to trust Warden, and makes him earn her empathy through openness, genuine and concrete support and the recognition that she possesses power and agency in her own right.

By the same token, I really dislike dystopian novels in which the heroine is completely without a support network and all other characters (especially other female characters) are indistinguishable minor jealous antagonists. Shannon avoids this pitfall admirably in The Bone Season. Paige already has her friends in the criminal voyant underworld, who, while looking out for their own interest, seem to genuinely like her and care about her and provide a space where she is accepted and valued for her abilities. Once she gets to Sheol I, she finds friends and allies among its human and Rephaite inhabitants, all of whom are three-dimensional characters in their own right. And there is no love triangle!

But the best thing about The Bone Season? It’s the first of a seven-book series.