varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
Me friend Tegan had recommended Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead for the quality of its prose, and being still under the spell of Patrick Rothfuss for the same reason, I gave it a try.

Three Parts Dead is the first book in a series carrying the same name. The books do not proceed chronologically or feature the same characters, but are set in the same world and do have linkages. I liked the first book; didn't love it, but liked it. The prose was nice, the pacing good, and the world is original. If anything, it reminds me of a more serious Ankh-Morpork. If I stop to think about the internal consistency of it too much, I begin to have doubts, but it works well enough to keep the story moving.

The plot itself is a whodunnit, and the characters in question are pretty interesting, even if they don't become entirely three-dimensional. Definitely worth the time and price, though did not make my top-shelf list. Three and a half stars out of five.

Where things get more interesting is with Two Serpents Rise. The events of this book take place before the first, and approach the world from a different angle. In many ways it really fleshes out the cosmology and theology of the world to a much greater degree, and not just by exposition, but by bringing up the inherent moral and ethical conflicts involved.

The plot is hard to pigeon-hole, perhaps calling it an adventure tale will suffice. I was not horribly impressed by the beginning of the novel. It started a bit timidly, but it kept building momentum and continued a good clip for the rest of the book. There were several turning points both in the story and emotion, so the traditional build-up to a climax and descend from there did not apply.

What appealed to me the most here was the relationship between the protagonist and his love interest. The relationship is mutating and complicated, much as reality. While the romantic moment tropes are well present, the entire story is a lot more interesting. Even so, though, the characters never quite came alive as deep people — some of this may be forgiven due to the way the primary relationship serves as an allegory to more fundamental events.

Two Serpents Rise earns four of my five stars, with the note that one of those is completely subjectively given.
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I don't actually remember how this book ended on my "to read" list, whether it was someone's suggestion, a Goodreads plug or Amazon's recommendation. Regardless, I read the book without having any idea who Brandon Sanderson is or what the book was about.

The way of Kings is an epic fantasy novel, the first part in a series that, according to Wikipedia, might be ten books long; no other books in the series are out yet. It stands reasonably well on its own, plot-wise, so the serialization shouldn't necessarily put you off. The first novel, at least, is quite long. I read it on a Kindle, and in this particular case a print version might be better; there are maps and drawings that did not reproduce well on the e-ink screen.

The book is a bit confusing at first; there's a time-shift, and a number of separate characters and threads are introduced. Some of them also keep switching to historical flashbacks for extra complexity. The world is pretty unique — broadly fantasy medieval, but the cultures, animals, geography, plants and indeed the entire cosmology are different from our world. This could be risky, but in the end I felt like Sanderson did a good job at making this alien world seem real, and stimulated my imagination in trying to envision the various things described.

The world, and plot, are deep and multi-layered. The first novel generally just introduces the reader to the tapestry, and few of the story threads are concluded or secrets revealed. For whatever it's worth, this didn't bother me as much as I would've expected. The characters remain a little artificial, but interesting. There's a main protagonist of sorts, and the story follows his trials and tribulations. There is a lot of death and misery, but unlike in Robin Hobb's books, there is a point to it, and the characters grow through the story. Still, in balance, it feels at times like a bit of an angst-fest, though of course the fate of the world hangs in balance. The story runs well, and I wasn't tempted to skim.

This all sounds somewhat non-committal, but I actually really liked the book. Whereas Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles are exquisitely crafted, down to every word, the Stormlight Archive is in too much of a hurry with too much to tell to spend that much attention on everything. And yet, when I speak of one I instinctively contrast it with the other. There's just something properly epic in The Way of Kings to elevate it to a level above your run of the mill fantasy novel. Sanderson has set himself some ambitious goals, and he delivers.

If you like your fantasy epic, if you love complex and unique new worlds and magic, if you enjoy the clash of armies and the fight between good and evil, I can easily recommend The Way of Kings. Personally, I'm going to rate it four out of five.

Oh. Turns out that this Sanderson fellow wrote the final book in the Wheel of Time series, except that his book ended up published in three volumes. That explained a lot.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I'll bundle The Pillars of the World, Shadows and Light, and The House of Gaian into a single review. The plot and storytelling was sufficiently consistent between all of them, and each subsequent book immediately picked of where the previous left off that they might as well be considered one long work.

The premise is an idyllic fantasy world that has fae crossing into the human world at their leisure, and generally behaving somewhat like arrogant brats. There are sprites and other little folk, and witches that are either appreciated or shunned, and of course humans.

An evil power is gathering and hunting the witches, and old linkages between all of the races have been forgotten, so now fae, witches and humans desperately need to relearn what their role in the greater weave is to counter the threat.

So far, so good. What I didn't like was that the evil was incredibly caricatured. There's a strong women's rights lesson to the story, but the threats are so overt that they detract from the point being made. Another major shortcoming is the plotting. Occasionally evil and conflict gets built up only to utterly deflate. Occasionally it actually leads to tension.

Overall, I was left with a feeling of quite a mess that didn't have a good dramatic flow; huge amounts of traveling between random places for what occasionally seemed like very contrived reasons, and at other times excessively plot-convenient proximity of people and events. The characters were witty, but didn't quite ever develop proper depth or sufficient differentiation from each other. The one exception and my clear favorite of the series met with a tragic end, for which I've tried to find a good plot justification but haven't, so I may have a bit of personal beef on that account.

The cosmology, on the other hand, was noteworthy. The origin of the fae or man is not explained satisfactorily, but their roles in the world, their realms and their connection to the witches is a very nice and consistent. The maturation of a couple of the primary characters was pretty well done, even if it didn't give them that much more depth as people.

The characters and prose were sufficient to make me read, if somewhat skimming at times, the entire trilogy, so for that I give it two and a half out of five.
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
The only thing more difficult than taking a good photo is finding a bag for your photo gear.

Fine, that's hyperbole, but I've long been looking for a bag that meets my needs. In particular the challenge is to find a bag for "adventure travel" or hardcore touristing; it needs to not only carry my camera gear, but also a jacket and other layers, lunch, water, maps, souvenirs etc.

Lowepro Primus AW vs. Clik Elite Obscura

The best backpack I had found was the Lowepro Primus AW (AW is Lowepro-ese for having a rain cover, All Weather). It has a great carry system with a proper hip belt, sternum strap and load lifters. It also has a relatively large non-camera compartment, and a tripod attachment. It has served me well on multiple trips to Japan and elsewhere, but a few annoyances remained: the built-in tripod carry system was entirely inadequate for a medium-sized tripod (Gitzo GT2541 with Benro B0 ballhead). Its non-camera compartment was still too small, in particular it was too small to handle an A4 / Letter sized object.
Read more... )

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind is an amazing fantasy novel. It is the opposite of most of the other fantasy I read these days, as it's obviously crafted with great time and care. It is the fantasy novel my more refined (and librarian) friends recommend to people wishing to discover new fantasy authors.

However, having started his trilogy with such a spectacular work, Mr. Rothfuss faces the task of living up to the expectations he's set.

To be brutally honest, he doesn't.

This doesn't mean that The Wise Man's Fear isn't a spectacular book, it is. It just isn't more spectacular than The Name of the Wind, and perhaps a bit less so since we know what to expect.

The tale continues, as expected, from where The Name of the Wind left off. As in the first book, the setting is a tavern where the protagonist, Kvothe, retells his life's story to a chronicler. Obviously things are afoot that tie into the history, but almost all of the writing pertains to the past, and the current time is advanced via brief interludes. Once more, Mr. Rothfuss uses this narrative device with perfect skill.

Unlike works from Patricia Briggs or Wen Spencer, The A Wise Man's Fear is not a book that kept me up past my bedtime because I just couldn't set it down. I have been wondering why this would be, and came up with a few hypotheses. Narratively, we know the end point to which the retold tale will lead; Kvothe in his tavern. There is little indication that the real-time thread of the narrative would reach a conclusion in this work either, so that motivation is also not present. Similarly, I suspected that Kvothe's biographical tale would only proceed another third of the way.

However, there are other aspects as well. I had a slight feeling of dread for Kvothe as I went along; I fully expected horrible calamities and unpleasant events to befall him any moment — to the extent that it detracted from my reading pleasure. Whether this ominous air was Mr. Rothfuss's intention or my own doing is unclear to me; perhaps others who have read it can chime in. On a more positive note, I was also unwilling to skim ahead or read it with less than proper attention, in fear of missing wonderful language or sayings.

Rothfuss continues with his world-building, introducing the fae archetype and the ascetic eastern warrior archetype, among others. I've always been fascinated by sidhe, fae and similar mythos, but even so I feel that Rothfuss has done an amazing job with both. While these are known archetypes, the re-imagining, both in prose, in plot and in world-building are top-notch.

The ancillary characters do not gain much in depth; Kvothe, Bast and Denna being ones that notably come alive. Trying to judge beyond that runs into the many-layered nature of the narrative; the description of the protagonist is one of a young man given by his older self, both of whom are clearly flawed and blind to certain aspects of themselves. Some darker plot elements are introduced, and Rothfuss earns another honorary mention on that account — something occurs in the book, and it is left for the attentive reader to speculate what it means and whether it's important — and if it is, it will appear later in the tale, without being telegraphed or explained. The same applies to some philosophical aspects, such as the notion of free will in the face of prophesies of omniscient beings.

The book ends on a cliff-hanger of sorts, but a tasteful one that does not artificially hold the plot hostage. It also winds down, narrative-wise, in a sort of epilogue that I found very pleasing.

Summarizing The Wise Man's Fear is hard. It contains many epic and memorable characters, lines, and ideas. It is tremendously well written. Is paced in a very deliberate manner. My brain is still thinking about the people and events in it, long after I've set it down. Perhaps it is like a fine spirit, to be enjoyed in a quiet setting with proper decorum and gravitas, rather than a beverage which allows for a good, raucous party.

Five out of Five. It's not the best possible book, but it is so far above most of the other things I read in the genre these days, that there's no point in splitting hairs.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I finished my Wen Spencer binge with a sci-fi novel of hers that I had laying around in paperback format.

Endless Blue is science fiction; it has space ships, clones, genetically altered super soldiers, aliens, shuttles and rail guns. It's not an amazing literary feat, following the more typical Spencer of very enjoyable prose and plot that moves along propelled by interesting protagonists.

The setting is thick with tropes, and few if any novel ideas are introduced. And again, Spencer manages to bring an interesting fresh angle at the material. The familiar criticisms are still there — as interesting as the character concepts for the protagonists are, they don't ever quite develop the depth I'd like. The plot is self-contained — the book begins and ends within its covers — but towards the end it seems like the author woke up from all the fun she was having writing and had to quickly start tying up loose ends. It also engages in Marty Stu/Mary Sue fantasy with its protagonists.

For all its hard sci-fi setting, Endless Blue is about the relationships between the characters and how they define themselves and each other, their actions when they've been yanked out of their comfort zone, and musings on equality and humanity as a whole. While cinematic, some touches of the world seem unnecessary for the plot. There are also occasional plot clues revealed only shortly before they're used, which annoys me a bit, having grown up with the proper British mystery novel tradition.

Deux ex machina is the novel's strength and Achilles' heel. The unlikeliness of some of the events and setting are explained by it. On the other hand, the divine hand is elevated to a central element of the setting and left mysterious, giving the work and its events a lot more depth. Just what was preordained, what was free will? What was human nature, and what was human nature being made into the image of something else?

The setting could easily support a multitude of further novels with different protagonists, and as a credit for her world building I still find myself trying to imagine the visuals and wondering about just how certain things would work and develop.

Much like a lot of Spencer's books, I feel that it shows great promise, but only wish it had been worked and finished with a lot more patience and care. Nonetheless, it was a book that was readable, made me think of deep, existential issues, and successfully convinced me that sleep could wait, and for that I'll award it four out of five stars.


Sep. 4th, 2013 09:03 pm
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
This is a slightly expanded and updated version of my original post on Blogspot

Over the last months as events in Syria have continued to spiral from bad to worse and show no sign of reversing course, I've been reflecting on what happened, and why.

The Arab Spring

After the revolution in Tunisia in 2010/2011, it looked like people's desire for self rule, and possibly even democracy, was going to transform the Middle East from a authoritarian, repressive region to something altogether new and better. It was a very inspirational narrative, one of hope and optimism for the future. It is not how things turned out, but I refuse to call those hopes wrong or even naive, because we must have hope. I am convinced humanity can do better.

Things have gone disastrously wrong. Instead of uniting under national identities and solidarity and self-rule we have sectarian violence, often fanned by outside interest, foreign fighters and weapons. Syria is the most extreme case, but Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and altogether depressingly too many other states suffer from the same malaise. After the genocides of Rwanda and the Balkans, both of which occurred in the context of a modern world, the same kind of strife continues in the Middle East, and we appear unable to stop it.

I cannot begin to explain the reasons behind the violence, although cold power games are not helping. Nor can I devise a magic solution.

Men, Women and Children

Someone, almost certainly Assad's troops, used nerve gas and killed over a thousand people; men, women and children. The United States, France and Great Britain have demanded or are planning military retaliation.

On a superficial level this makes sense: someone (Assad) does something revoltingly inhumane — commits a crime against humanity — and so the international community of civilized states will rain down punishment on the perpetrator.

Once one thinks about it, though, the situation becomes a lot more complicated. The fighting in Syria has already killed, by some accounts, over a hundred thousand people. One could well argue that the latest horror is but a footnote in the mass slaughter, and the current outrage is but a strange form of hypocrisy.

Why do chemical, biological and radiological weapons elicit such an immediate and strong reaction? Partially I suspect it's that an international norm has successfully been set against their use. Reacting to their use in this case would reinforce that norm, and that is a positive. These are weapons that work extraordinarily well against civilian populations, who have little protection from them. They are indiscriminate; if there are rebel fighters in a part of town, they will kill the rebels and everyone else. They are strange and frightening and alien, you may not see or smell them. They can produce particularly agonizing deaths and there is relatively little that can be done to save an affected person.

Chemical weapons should remain a normative taboo, and that norm should be strengthened. The problem is how. If Assad — or anyone else — finds them to be of great utility in clearing out entrenched urban rebels, troublesome civilian populations and creating terror among his enemies, the penalty for using them needs to be greater than the benefits. That can be difficult to achieve, though. Bombing urban areas, no matter how smart a munition, still results in civilian casualties and ruthless regimes can make sure they are maximized by co-siting humanitarian shelters with military targets. It is difficult to justify an action that kills civilians as just punishment for killing civilians. As Saddam Hussein's and Osama bin Laden's long escapades demonstrated, it is surprisingly difficult to truly impact a determined, well resourced opponent with bombs and missiles.

The Enemy of my Enemy...

There's also the larger context. Disturbingly, not all members of these "civilized states" are interested in punitive measures, let alone military ones. If major, well-established nation-states are not prepared to bolster some of the most non-controversial norms out there because they conflict with their national interests, what can we make of that? But yet, if there is no international consensus or legitimacy for a punitive action, attacking another sovereign state with military force is, no matter how you bake it and no matter the motives, a war of aggression.

That's a slippery slope. If the United States finds that it can unilaterally, or with a few of its allies, punish another state for unacceptable behavior with military strikes, ignoring sovereignty and the most basic principles of the United Nations, what is to stop China, for example, of using the same logic against Tibet? Or Russia against its former states? Doing this makes violation of sovereignty and unilateral military action more acceptable, and that's a change in norm that is clearly not good. A similar door has already been propped open with the dubious definitions of fight against terrorism and drone attacks, and we'll be dealing with the unpleasant things crawling in soon enough, I predict.

The United States attempted to forestall the use of chemical weapons in Syria by declaring it a red line — cynical reading would say this means that slaughter by any other means was acceptable. Ultimatums in diplomacy have a tendency to backfire. In this case, one has backed the United States into a corner. Not to act would mean weakness and lessen any subsequent threats and attempts to influence the behaviors of others by means of diplomacy. But acting will bring with it countless negatives as well. Even worse, there are actors, such as Russia and Iran which clearly benefit from the weakening of the United States, and therefore might have a motivation to encourage behavior or events that lead to such a no-win scenario. I'm not saying any of them did, but from a cold power calculation, it stands in their interest.

Aside from the self-inflicted policy issue, the United States finds itself in a familiar pickle. The international community has not shown the maturity or mechanisms needed to address the use of chemical weapons in Syria, any more than it intervened in the Balkans or Rwanda. As Congressman Gibson articulates in his radio interview, all realpolitik aside, there is a moral component to this. The United States, with or without its close allies, can launch a punitive attack. If they can think of one that does not involve significant civilian casualties, and if the international community fails to act, does it have a moral imperative to step into the void? Gibson argues that launching an act of war is not the correct course.

A Kinder, Gentler... What?

There are precious few non-military options left either. The regime is already an international pariah, and is fighting for its survival, so any additional sanctions would barely register. In any case, as long as some countries are not interested in playing along, and the regime can get the goods it wants or needs, such measures are moot. Summoning those responsible in front of international tribunals is logistically impossible during a war, and again there is a considerable lack of consensus for the legitimacy of such mechanisms. Threatening Assad's future comfort is unlikely to sway him from trying to survive by any and all means a war fought today.

How Did it Come to This?

Rolling the clock back even more makes one wonder what, if anything, could have been done to prevent events from progressing to this point. Maybe promoting democracy, self-rule, human rights, co-operation and discouraging authoritarian regimes would be the safest thing to do, no matter the immediate political costs, to forestall future disasters like this one? Aggressive use of diplomatic and economic power to engineer more interconnected and democratic countries and institutions is expensive, long-term, and often thankless, but a determined push could well have an effect in a generation or two.

Fear Thy Neighbor

A central piece of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which is often forgotten is this: to discourage countries that do not already possess nuclear weapons from acquiring them, the nuclear powers agree to disarm and guarantee the safety of the non-nuclear nations. The argument "you do not need powerful weapons, we will make sure you're safe from attack" works just the same for biological and chemical weapons. If countries do not have to fear existential threats, and if there are strong international norms against certain kinds of weaponry, it makes sense for them to not develop them.

Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite. States, whether enemies (Iran, North Korea etc.) or allies (yes, I mean Israel) do face existential threats. Based on history, they have little faith, rightly so, that the nuclear club or the international community would intervene on their behalf as was promised. Arming themselves remains the only logical option, and matching this arms race remains the only logical option to their adversaries.

Again, had the world been able to hold itself to the principles of the NPT, things might look different today.

Where Do We Go from Here?

I don't know. I'm afraid I agree with many pundits and analysts who predict that there's no stopping the carnage. Sectarian civil war will rage for years. We can care for the victims, we can protect the helpless, we can work to keep outside entities from pouring gas on the fire, we can try to do our damnedest to mediate and help diplomacy have a chance, and hope that it is enough to allow us to look ourselves in the mirror.

And we can think about these things, and pray to get the wisdom to learn from our past.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
Over the past weekend I put down Allen Steele's Coyote, since it didn't really seem to engage me, and picked up Wen Spencer, as the final part of her Elfhome series is now available via ebook. In particular, even when purchased from Amazon, Baen has made it available without DRM — kudos, Baen!

Blue Sky and Elfhome

The Elfhome series has two previous novels, Tinker and Wolf Who Rules, both of which I reviewed earlier. Actually, there's a $.99 short story Blue Sky that happens between books two and three; a character introduced in it appears repeatedly in Elfhome. Another short story, Wyvern, looks like it's taking place pre-series, but I haven't read it yet.

Blue Sky is an interesting attempt to show events from a totally different protagonist's viewpoint. Seeing the lead characters of the main series through another person's eyes is interesting, and I think a successful experiment. Beyond that, the story is short, makes no sense whatsoever if you're not familiar with the setting and is proficiently written. Three out of five stars.

Plot-wise Elfhome stands on its own, but no pretense is made to explain the rather unique mash-up of a setting; I'll follow suit and refer you back to my original reviews. Cover-wise, the 80s camp continues — as mini-spoilers I can point out that the main character's skin color is wrong, and the entire scene is pretty non-representative of anything happening in the book, so don't let it put you off.

Aside from Tinker, the protagonist through the first two books, a lot more page-time is given to some other characters. This clearly helps in deepening the setting and reducing the Mary Sue aspects of the story. I found it apparent that Ms. Spencer loves her characters and world, perhaps a bit too much. That being said, while generally you can expect good things to happen to good people, there are some rather gruesome scenes and settings and violence, probably solidly knocking Elfhome out of any kind of running for a YA category. The follow-up on the trauma from the events is pretty lacking, however.

The prose and pacing are good, for me this was one of those books that was going to get finished, sleep and food be damned. Whatever magic Ms. Spencer puts in her words still gripped me, even though the fractured perspective made for a less straightward plot. Elfhome wraps up some ends, but largely leaves the overarching conflict going, introduces some new inter-character complications, and certainly doesn't preclude sequels.

In short, Elfhome is not quite the same as the previous two books due to the shifting perspective, but it's better for it. If you liked the world and characters of the previous works in the series, you'll like this one. Subjective four out of five, because I really liked it.

Bitter Waters

Book three in the Ukiah Oregon series. Bitter Waters continues directly from where Tainted Trail left off. I'll avoid spoilers, just pointing out that the series starts as your standard detective/werewolf urban fantasy romp, and quickly goes off the rails. Bitter Waters reminds the reader of all the things that were left unfinished at the end if Tainted Trail and goes on its way, putting no less than the fate of the world on the table.

There's little point in picking up this book unless you've read the rest of the series. The writing is good, and the plot proceeds at a good clip. The protagonists and familiar characters are explored a bit more, but not enough for my liking. In essence, it's exactly what you'd expect. However, relatively little gets resolved, so you're pretty much looking to also pick up Dog Warrior.

Three and a half out of five; The book really kept my interest and never got boring.

Dog Warrior

The title is interesting, because it doesn't really describe the protagonist. With little warning, where I expected to pick up where Bitter Waters left off, we're introduced to a brand new protagonist and fairly major plot twist. Ukiah, Max, Indigo and the rest of the crew certainly feature prominently as well, but our new protagonist and some familiar supporting characters end up playing a much greater role in advancing the plot from the previous book.

Similarly to Elfhome the switch in perspective allows Ms. Spencer to show familiar characters from an outsider's view, which helps to explore their personalities and put events into context. Marty Stu is a valid criticism here as well, but Spencer has a lot if interesting ideas and won't slow down running around touching on them. Consequently, a lot of hooks for future events and character development are left laying around. While the plot arch that started in Bitter Waters largely concludes here, a lot of plot is left open for sequels.

A familiar three and a half out of five.

General Comments

All of the books would be a lot better with the TLC of a good editor. Generally, some things could probably be tightened up, some repetitive exposition could be culled, and factual errors could be fixed. While it never rose to the level of real annoyance, seeing gun bunnies run around with Heckler and Hochs seemed sloppy, and referring to an Asian person's elliptical fold apparently has taken genetic engineering to entirely new lengths. Self publishing and fanfiction are one thing, but when I'm paying full price for a real publisher's book, I expect better. At least one of the books also had some digital hash, with random bookmarks sprinkled about.

I don't know what it is about Ms. Spencer's books that makes me love them as much as I do. In many ways they strike me as stories written by someone in a hurry to go through their world, and leaving all these interesting themes and plot points unexplored, leaving their characters as more two-dimensional than strictly necessary. They clearly suffer from "nothing truly bad happens to the beloved protagonist" syndrome and arguably many of the characters remain very shallow. On the other hand, I find the books very attractive and eminently readable and I find myself frequently stopping and considering the morality of various aspects of the setting; whether some of the issues in fact were intentionally analogous to the real world, and what kind of a long-term effect some experience would leave on the character. Whatever it is, she's solidly in my list of authors to buy without hesitation.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
Ah, another dose of proper urban fantasy that turns out to be paranormal romance. I'm not sure who recommended this to me, but I got it as light reading for my Kindle.

To but it bluntly, it's yet another paranormal fantasy book. The setting is somewhat different in that it's set in a law firm, and the protagonist isn't a leather-wearing tough-as-nails PI/mechanic/biker but rather a young lawyer with no particular physical skills beyond equestrian experience. Consequently — and refreshingly! — the cover picture is a straight-on shot of a woman in a business casual suit, rather than a midriffy weapon-lugging over-the-shoulder looking stereotype. But, really, all things considered, it's exactly what you'd expect to get in the genre.

The unfortunate need to name-drop brands and demonstrate technical cluelessness does little to ease the gender or genre stereotypes. Still, the offenses were sufficiently minor and infrequent that they did not bother me for long. Still, I wish publishers had proper editors to fix these things.

Mind you, getting what you expect can be a positive. The book really is pretty good, certainly among the better ones in its genre. When it gets to sex, the prose doesn't hurry and is tasteful in its explicitness. Hints are dropped at multiple longer story arcs, but the main story is properly self-contained. The characters are reasonably interesting, and the world, while containing vampires, werewolves and elves, doesn't feel like a carbon copy of so many others.

In summary, there's little here that would make one wave the book around and rave, but I found myself really liking it quite a bit, and putting Ms. Bornikova on my "to read" list.

Three out of five, just for guilty pleasure.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
A sequel to The Quantum Thief, an original and imaginative mix of hard scifi and cyberpunk from a mathematician-cum-author from my alma mater and hometown. The entire story of a mathematician scoring a three book deal in his third language with a major publisher with only a draft of the first sounds so improbable that it in itself seems like science fiction. Either way, the first novel was pretty neat, and I felt an additional slight amount of patriotic and hometown obligation to get the next installment as well.

Unfortunately, The Fractal Prince has trouble rising above the bar that Mr. Rajaniemi set himself. It's no worse, certainly, but... the major ideas largely were already introduced, and the new car smell is gone. I'm still slightly ambivalent of the use of Finnish terms and names, and I'm not sure how much a non-Finnish speaking audience loses by not getting the full connotations. The prose is complicated and well crafted and the world continues to be so abstract and fantastic that you have to really pay attention to what's being described. The relationship between the protagonists doesn't seem to advance much in any direction.

I had commented about the "Britishness" of The Quantum Thief and the same applies here. The style and feel of this work is much more reminiscent of Banks, Stross etc. than any American or Eastern European author I've ever read. If you like the style, this is a bonus; if you don't, it's a strike against.

While more intimately tied into the setting than the first book, The Fractal Prince also does passably as a standalone work, plot-wise.

Overall, it's a continuation of an ambitious work, but one that doesn't quite reach its own goals.

Three out of five.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
When I read Butcher's first Dresden Files novel, I wasn't very impressed. I liked the short-lived TV show, and from the urging of my friends picked the series back up, ending up enjoying it quite a bit. So, with those books read I went to explore his fantasy series.

The setting is relatively original, an interesting mash-up of Roman, barbarian and feudal systems, with magic that is pretty exclusively based on controlling elementals of sorts. It's pretty obvious from the first few books that there's something deeper afoot and a hidden history underlying everything, but we get few concrete clues. As expected from his Dresden Files days, the pacing and prose is very proficient.

It takes a while, but eventually a core group of protagonists emerge. The characters are likable enough, some more than others, but never really get properly rounded. This likely has to do with the other primary shortcomings of the series: Butcher is using it as a major military geekfest. It reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfarmer's Daughter in that regard; the characters were just a means to an end and they and their relationships seem almost forgotten at times while pages upon pages are spent exploring military tactics.

So, once more I'm conflicted. I dropped the series, and don't intend to continue it. Yet there's nothing particularly wrong with it, not nearly in the same way as with Hobb's trilogies. It just doesn't manage to keep my interest. Two and a half out of five.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
The Liveship Traders trilogy is set in the same world as the Farseer trilogy, but a later time and different geography. It is a heavily maritime series with traders and pirates and all that. The titular liveships are sailing ships which have been imbued with life; their figureheads are alive, speaking and able to use their hands and representing the ship itself.

The concept, to me, sounds goofy at first blush, but Ms. Hobb pulls it off quite well. Much of what I said for the previous trilogy applies here as well. The maritime slant is interesting and well done, although in general a medieval maritime setting isn't a particularly kind one, and there's little that can be done to make it so. While the conflicts arising from the machinations of man would be plenty, here we encounter non-human entities as well. For a large part they do their things in parallel with the human story line without intersecting too directly.

One of the more interesting and mysterious characters from the Farseer trilogy carries over to this one, and I was hoping to find out more about said character. While featured in the books, virtually nothing of their origin and future is revealed. Instead, Ms. Hobb sets out to further develop an interesting ecology that was hinted at in the Farseer trilogy. Dragons and the ability to imbue inanimate objects with life become close to obsessive fetishes. Even so, the ideas are fascinating and interesting and solidly continue to build the world she started to explore in her previous trilogy. Moral issues are rife for exploration, ecological analogies come to mind, but aren't really followed up.

Unfortunately, as before, the characters we follow seem only tools to allow for exploring the world; their eventual fates remain just as, if not more, unsatisfactory as the protagonists in the Farseer trilogy. The moral and social issues raised and barely tackled and the rounding out of an interesting setting do not come even close to off-setting the disappointment felt as events unfold to their relative conclusion. The non-human story line for most of the series was boring. I found myself barely skimming over those pages, and I don't think I missed much of anything.

One out of five, with a consolation extra star for technical merit.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I had read the first book in this trilogy years ago on the recommendation of a friend, and found it a reasonably well written novel with an interesting concept. Being part of a series, it didn't really come to much of a conclusion plot-wise. When I had a chance to read the remaining novels, I used the opportunity to find out where the tale went.

Hobb's world is a pretty standard fantasy-medieval setting, one where there is no particular need for supernatural monsters, humans doing just peachy filling that role. The characters are interesting, unique, and have strengths and weaknesses. Conflict doesn't necessarily come from "evil" as much as conflicting interests or personalities; of course madness and paranoia and lust for power and wealth are always good motivations as well. Her prose is competent and pleasant to read, but never really rises to an amazing experience. Her plots are overarching and well crafted.

Now, for the bad (mild spoilers ahead): The realm and its heroes are threatened. Things get worse. And worse. And worse. Things are kindasorta maybe fixed. The end.

The books are long. You spend a lot of time with the characters, watching them lose loved ones, make mistakes, learn, sacrifice their dreams for the greater good. And in the end... I'm not necessarily insistent on a Hollywood-style happy, unrealistic ending every time, but I was left pretty distraught by the fates of the characters. A lot of the growth seemed for nothing, a lot of the side plots and adventures never saw fruition.

I'm conflicted; there are many good aspects to the trilogy, but in the end I was not happy with my experience, so I'll rate it two stars.


Jun. 11th, 2013 02:14 pm
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)

Kevin Hearne: Hexed, Hammered and Tricked

Following Hearne's Hounded, I went ahead and started to read the series.

Pretty much everything I said about Hounded in my review above holds; the events get more extreme, and we get a clear sense that the protagonist is messing around on the level of gods or demigods. Hexed and Hammered were all enjoyable reads. Tricked, however, isn't as good. The action is back to a more palatable level, but the plot felt disjointed, and in general the book seemed very half-hearted and lacking a good editor to tell Hearne what works and what doesn't. I'll likely pick up the next book to see how it goes — on paper, because the Kindle version costs more than a physical book shipped to me. Amazon blames this on the publisher.

Hexed and Hammered get three stars each, Tricked gets two.

Elizabeth Moon: Sheepfarmer's Daughter

Sheepfarmer's Daughter is the first book in the The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy, apparently also published under the same name as an omnibus. It's won the Compton Crook award, and apparently was Moon's first fantasy novel.

I've read Elizabeth Moon's science fiction / space opera before; good entertainment, but once the plot got on the rails, a lot of model citizens persevered due to being smart and pretty and decent and hard-working. No huge painful events transpired to hurt the reader's feelings. This makes for less gravitas, but it works for light entertainment reading where you know the heroes will be victorious and the villains will meet justice.

Moon has a background as a marine, and the faith in military organizations doing the right thing, and rewarding talent and work shone through in her previous books, and does again in The Sheepfarmer's Daughter. The plot is a familiar trope — a headstrong young girl doesn't want to get married to a pig-farmer, so runs away and joins an army. It shouldn't really be a spoiler then to say that because she's smart and pretty and hard-working, she does well, and the organization rewards talent and bravery. I wouldn't call it a bad case of Mary Sue because the character really ends up working her way from the bottom up, and at least in the first installment doesn't get all that far.

The significant shortcomings of the book are the plot and characters, or rather lack thereof. The characters, including the protagonist, remain incredibly flat. The plot is nowhere to be seen. The novel is almost a diary of two years of military service in a fantasy realm, with a hint of "let's defeat the evil duke" in the background. The climax and ending come at the very end, and left me with a "wait, that's it?"

By all accounts, then, it shouldn't be very good. And it isn't, but it's a lot better than it has any right to be. For players of Dungeons and Dragons this is a pretty neat depiction of the progress of a fighter from first level, as the character starts off knowing next to nothing, and slowly hints at magic, dwarves, elves and the like are encountered. The validation of a meritocratic utopia sound good, evil is conquered, and her prose is good enough to keep you reading page after page of the protagonist's life, even though the expected (melo)drama of a good plot is absent.

In some ways it begs to be compared to Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles. There's a similarly exhaustive, long tale of the rise of a commoner to epic glory over the period of three books. Yet, where Rothfuss's prose is truly amazing, and his plot twists are colorful, Moon takes the most simple and direct route. Moon is a can of Budweiser to Rothfuss's forty-year old single-malt — there's no contest. But perhaps occasionally a can of cold Bud is what you want.

It'm really conflicted on this; I'll settle for two and a half stars.

Philippa Ballantine: Digital Magic

I hadn't read Chasing the Bard that precedes Digital Magic, but this only goes to show that Digital Magic stands perfectly well on its own. I've generally liked Ballantine's books, and she is a competent writer with a knack for interesting protagonists.

Squarely in the genre of urban fantasy, with a nod to Agatha Christie and cyperpunk, the tale starts in a sleepy, small English hamlet in the near future. As the book progresses, it turns out everyone has secrets, and a seemingly separate New Zealand plot thread gets woven in. There are a few major characters, but not a single distinct protagonist; we follow the view points of a few people.

Digital Magic is charming. It stuffs altogether too much into the pot, and doesn't cook it for nearly long enough. But there's magic in it nonetheless, a secret ingredient, a good pinch of love. The plot doesn't stay coherent, and crumbs fall everywhere, but in the end it was worth eating and brought a smile on my face.

If you like urban fantasy, I recommend it. If you're not too hot on the genre, there's a lot less in it for you.

Three stars.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
After the NSA phone record collection news broke, there have been a number of justifications for it from the political establishment, professional pundits and the public. I find a lot of these justifications less than satisfactory and many outright unsettling.

We do not know what kind, if any, limits have been placed on the NSA/FBI in terms of their ability to share this information with other agencies. Information sharing has been an important part of the War on Terror. Consequently, unless relevant, I will refer to the actor that has been collecting data as "the government" rather than an individual agency.

But The Government Isn't Listening in on Your Conversations!

This, to me, is meaningless. The analogy here is that the government has been examining every piece of mail you (and everyone else) has sent and received, noting the date, weight, shape, addresses, sender/recipient names and so forth. They've filed all of this away to be tabulated and correlated and shared later. But they haven't opened and read your letters, so it's OK.

It Violates my Privacy

Unlike many other countries, the United States has never found it important to formalize a "right to privacy" so in many respects Americans do not have such a thing. In practice, it does exist. An expectation of some level of privacy is part of being human, it is not just a cultural construct. As such, even The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights includes the principle:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Furthermore, once the government has trawled everyone's calls, locations, and associations, they can simply get a National Security Letter and listen in all they want. To put it in other words, when President Obama says "Nobody is listening to your telephone calls" he really means that nobody is listening to ALL your telephone calls. The government is only listening in on the calls it wants to listen in on.

It Isn't Anonymous

Names or billing addresses weren't provided. This is irrelevant, because it's trivial for the government to attach that information to the records, in particular because of the inclusion of things like the IMSI or IMEI numbers and physical location.

If you were a Verizon customer we know, and if you were any other carrier's customer you can reasonably believe, that the government, in addition to everything else they know about you (which is a lot) now knows everyone you called; when you called them; where you were when you called them; where they were when you called them; how long the call lasted; whether you used a phone while driving; how fast you were driving.

This data tells a tremendous amount about you: who you socialize with, who you call, what kind of schedule you keep, where you work, what your hobbies are. Here are just some tidbits that come to mind:

  • You call / visit the "Save the Puppies!" meetings. Check.
  • You call / visit shooting ranges, you probably have guns. Check.
  • You called a psychiatrist specializing in relationship issues, and your wife seems to spend a lot of time with another man. Check.
  • You visit a particular church every Sunday, known for the colorful opinions of its pastor. Check.
  • You got a call from the office of an oncologist, then got a call from a nearby pharmacy's prescription fulfillment line. Check.

In short, until there's reason to suspect me, or the people I interact with of something, the government has no business keeping track of whom I interact with, where, how, or why. None.

Government Surveillance Terrorizes Citizens

Knowing that the government knows what it does will make people behave differently. Whistleblowers will be cowed. Members of some religions will feel nervous about calling each other or their place of worship, or having their phones on when they're there. Citizens considering civil disobedience against government overreach or injustice will — justifiably — fear that the government can find out who they are and come after them; and so they either won't participate in such activity, or will have to take extra precautions before they dare do so.

While ruling the European Data Retention Directive unconstitutional (BVerfGE 125), the German Constitutional Court found that knowing that one's communication metadata was available to the government would cause such a threatening atmosphere of being watched that it would impact many basic rights of individuals. It should be pointed out that in the European system the government doesn't actually get the data. Telecommunications carriers must store the data, and make it available to the government upon receiving a legal order to do so. There is also a time limit after which the data will be destroyed; this can not exceed 2 years.

In the American case, the government immediately has full access to all data, and it can keep it forever.

It's Legal / There is Judicial Oversight / Trust Us

This aspect scares me deeply. Just because you make it legal, doesn't make it right or constitutional. Furthermore, it should be glaringly obvious how a FISC procedure is a joke. If the local sheriff came to a judge and asked him to OK collecting every phone call record in his county because he thinks someone's cooking meth, the judge would laugh him out of court. Not only that, but the phone company could object to the subpoena, arguing that it is unconstitutionally broad. In essence, the government can ask the courts for the power to obtain private information, and the subjects or keepers of that information can contest the need or wording of such requests.

In the case of FISC, this doesn't happen. There is nobody to argue against the orders. The proceedings are secret. Practically everything about the process is secret. The recipients of FISC-approved measures get gag orders which completely rob them of their ability to contest the government's power. This isn't judicial oversight, this is an Orwellian parody of a justice system.

This extends to Congress. Some members have expressed outrage. Other members have expressed incredulity at the outrage, since they had been briefed. But if a politician is briefed about a secret program, and they must keep it secret, can they really do anything about it? They can't object, hold hearings, or do the things Congress is expected to do when it discovers practices that cause concern. Secret government oversight is just as much of a joke as secret courts with secret justice. The wider political establishment, the media, or the citizenry have absolutely no way of gauging whether the government is behaving properly or legally.

It's Saved Lives / Terrorists! / Think of the Children!

I am thinking of the children. The children who will grow up in an authoritarian society where the government knows everything about them, and the only things they know of the government is what the government wants them to know.

I certainly would hope this program has foiled attacks / uncovered crime! The likely fantastical amount of money spent on it damn well better have produced some results.

The question is: could the same results have been had without spying on every resident indiscriminately? I suspect if the surveillance had been limited to individuals of prior interest, the results would have been similar if not the same. But hey, it's all secret, so we can't refute the claim! We have to trust the government's word on the efficacy of the program. No thank you.

There's no escaping a macabre calculus, and everyone has to make this determination on their own. I will absolutely give up security in order to keep and maintain liberty that swings the balance of power from the government to the individual, but I can only speak for myself.

The Age of Privacy has Passed, Get Over It

I don't believe this to be the case, even if privacy has been under an unprecedented assault from both government and the private sector. Regardless, if the government insists on powers to watch everything we do, we must insist on the right to make sure the government isn't abusing those powers. As of right now, the privacy is blatantly skewed.

Some of the most infuriating moments from the past few months were the outrage when it was revealed that the Department of Justice had been monitoring Associated Press reporters, and the angry congressmen worried that the government's metadata vacuuming included their phones. As a citizen of a free democratic society I feel entitled to such basic privacy rights as well. Surely we don't live in a world where only special elites are allowed to conduct their affairs in private without government snooping?

The Government Only Looks for Terrorists / There Are Strong Internal Processes To Protect You

So they say. But we don't know, because it's secret.

I Don't Trust the Government

It's again somewhat irrelevant in any event. The government has decided to limit itself out of the goodness of its heart. There's nothing to keep them from changing the rules. In twenty years, McCarthy junior can go back in the records and find anyone who was involved with the Tea Party movement, or Occupy movement, or a labor activist. Maybe they'll sell the data to Google to patch a budget deficit. Or, to put it more bluntly: Today they aren't coming for me. They might not be coming for me tomorrow either. But by the time they are coming for me, there won't be anyone left to stop them.

What About Tomorrow?

I'm fairly sure the motives behind this program are noble, and there probably are internal safeguards. However, unless we know what the limits of power are, and unless we can make sure they're being observed, there will be mission creep. Indeed, even in the best of circumstances, once the data exists, it's hard to not use it. Telling people that we have the data to find paedophiles, say, but we can't use it won't go over well. We also don't know with whom this data may be shared, and for what purposes.


Oh, yeah. That. Because all the non-Americans on the planet are going to be thrilled about the implication that there are safeguards to keep Americans safe. That's going to be a major selling point for American companies overseas. "Give us all your data, we share it with the US Government so it can keep us safe."

I Have Nothing to Hide

Good for you. It's still none of the government's business. Or can I come walk into your house and rummage through your drawers and watch you go to the bathroom?

I do have things to hide. They're not necessarily illegal things. They may be medical issues. They may be embarrassing pictures. Maybe I'm a Brony and don't want my coworkers to know. Maybe I skipped out of Aikido practice to celebrate Donut day and don't want the rest of the Dojo to know. I want and I expect that unless I decide to make something public, or there's a clear public interest to find out, I can choose to keep my business private.

Let's be Pessimists

Instead of looking at all the good the government can do with surveillance powers, we should be looking at the worst case scenario. If the government was comprised of a bunch of corrupt religious fanatics, how much damage could they do with the powers and data we're allowing them to collect? That, to me, should be the baseline of the kinds of powers we should give the government.

Giving the government information about us that it didn't know before gives the government power. This power must be kept in check. Ultimately, privacy defines our personhood.

Let's get back to the children. A child is born. There's a record of it, and medical records. There may be DNA on file. The child goes to school, which may monitor and censor all Internet activity, and keep tabs of the students via RFID tags. College, more of the same. Workplace, more of the same. Stores track everything they buy, everywhere they go. Almost any urban place is covered by CCTV, some subset of which features facial recognition. Car license plates are automatically read and movements correlated. Every movement of the person is logged via cell phone location. This is already reality. The issue here is how much of this information the government, or any other single entity, should have access to, and how we can make sure that this kind of power isn't abused. The issue is how we make sure that we the people know what those who are watching us are doing. Right now we're being told that we can't know any of these things, because of national security.

Further Reading

UN Calls Electronic Surveillance A Threat To Democracy

The Dangers of Surveillance

On the Feasibility of User De-Anonymization from Shared Mobile Sensor Data

Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization

Privacy and Security Myths and Fallacies of 'Personally Identifiable Information

BVerfGE 125, 260 - Vorratsdatenspeicherung

...and you can Google for more. Although the government may make note what kind of things you're searching for. For your own protection.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
BBC America aired episode 4 of Orphan Black last night. I want to rave about the show, and by doing so, promptly ran into the realization that it's incredibly hard to pigeon-hole it. BBC America claims it's "science fiction" or "supernatural". There certainly is a science fiction aspect to it, although it takes a few episodes for it to appear, and by episode 4 it really is still all about people and situations.

Then again, BBC America also claims it's an "Original Series" and I'm having some trouble figuring out what that means, since it's an all-Canadian production that by all accounts BBC decided to buy rights to after the fact. Then again, so is SyFy's Continuum, so go figure.

Anyhow! The basic premise is that the main character discovers that she's just one in a series of clones, that there are other women that look just like her (but live completely different lives and have different personalities) and someone is intent on killing them. There is a strong aspect of police procedural in tone, but the plot is multi-layered, complicated, intelligent, and certainly not episodic. The characters are complex, and not clearly "good" or "bad." (Although arguably Helena is clearly crazy.)

It's a good show. It's really refreshing in that it expects something from the viewer, and it rewards the viewer in return. It has the same gimmick as Dollhouse, Fringe and countless other shows, where, the same actress ends up playing vastly different characters. However, Tatiana Maslany's performance is just amazing, and she puts all previous attempts at this to shame. Arguably, at least part of the attraction the show holds for me is to just watch all the different incarnations of her, from a street punk to a soccer mom to a Russian religious fanatic to an American grad student to a Toronto cop.

BBC America's Page
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
Several of my friends had recommended that I see what I think of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series. The basic premise is of a druid living in modern day America, interacting with other supernaturals in your typical urban fantasy genre. Having a Marty Stu male character running around, combined with the cover art, really didn't inspire me to buy the book for a good long while. What this tells me about my own hang-ups and the effects of cover art, despite my mockery of the typical leather-clad-tough-girl trope I'll leave aside from now.

In the end, I did buy the book (as an aside, Amazon's discontinuation of their 4-for-3 promotion hurts) and I'm glad I did. While in many ways it's your standard urban fantasy bordering on paranormal romance or harem fantasy, it's well done.

Hearne's characters so far remain pretty two-dimensional, some even appearing as caricatures, and clearly an immortal, handsome Irish druid who consorts with goddesses and wields powerful magic is wish-fulfillment at its fullest. However, the book doesn't take itself too seriously, and doesn't ask the reader to either; there's a clear drive towards entertainment and humor. Like a few of my other recent finds (Faith Hunter's Jane Yellowrock, for example) there's enough of a fresh take on the well-trodden genre to make a noteworthy new contribution. Aside from the Celtic mythos the book includes vampires, werewolves, Native American mythology and pretty much makes clear that any and all myths are fair game. The fleshing out of the Celtic deities is new to me, and even some of the more common elements have a freshly original tone to them.

The biggest draw for me, aside from the interesting setting, is Hearne's prose. It's no Name of the Wind, but it has great vocabulary, a variety of patterns of speech, and it flows well. In short, the book is a fun romp that still rewards the reader with intelligent language and history. While the personalities of the side characters aren't explored in depth, they all have their own motivations which may not be immediately apparent.

Overall, four out of five. Three for everything else, the extra for doing it well.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I saw some concept art for the Lackadaisy universe, and went ahead and placed an order for a signed copy of the comic book.

A fairly long while went by, until I was reminded that I never got the book. Apparently the production ran into issues with the printing. Eventually, late last year, the book showed up (with a free calendar as an apology for the delay.)

The book is a hard cover with fabric covers, embossed gold foil printing and a gorgeous satin full-color, double-sided, lacquered dust jacket. The pages are fairly heavy paper, and full color. In short, the book is gorgeous.

The setting is an idealized prohibition-era St. Louis, except all the people are anthropomorphic cats. This offers a lot of very nice visual opportunities. The plot revolves around the attempt of a speakeasy (the "Lackadaisy" from the title) to survive in the rather rough competition, a task not made easier by its slightly quirky cast of characters.

The character design is solid, and the dialogue is great. However, the plot itself doesn't feel quite confident and clear enough — and the book says "Volume 1" for a reason, as it ends in the middle of events, not really even on a cliff-hanger.

While the art is beautiful and the characters are well thought out, at times the end result seems a bit empty and clinical; the interplay between implied motion in the art and the progression of the story don't quite end up meshing, resulting in a series of still pictures, rather than the flowing sum that great comics can achieve.

If you like cats, or gangsters, or pretty things, absolutely worthwhile. I'll give it a subjective three and a half out of five; less than that for the content, and more than that for the amazing presentation.

varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
Neil Gaiman wrote a novella called Dream Hunters, and it was published as an illustrated work with Yoshitaka Amano. I have not read it yet, to my regret.

A decade later, Craig Russell collaborated with Gaiman to produce a graphic novel adaptation, and this is the book I was given to read, due to my current interest in the fox/trickster motif.

The book is a hardcover, the printing and paper are good, and it's clear this is a work of good production values, but that is of course all surface detail.

The story is Gaiman, and it's bittersweet, and wonderful. Gaiman's amazing, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

The art is great as well. The color palette was designed to reproduce Japanese wood block prints, and consequently is wonderfully elegant. Russell's art complements and suits Gaiman's story very well indeed, and results in a beautifully presented, beautiful story.

Four and a half out of five.
varjohaltia: (Delachiel)
Ashes of Honor is the latest installment in the October "Toby" Daye urban fantasy series from McGuire. The setting is present day San Francisco, except with a resident population of mythical creatures from Celtic and Asian folklore. So far, the setting has been devoid of vampires and werewolves.

The book doesn't immediately follow the events of the previous one, One Salt Sea, but rather picks up some months later. Nothing major happened in the period, but it's relevant for some of the relationship development. The plot is pretty standard for the series — a young changeling girl has vanished, and Toby needs to find her. Of course, Fae court plots and intrique end up making things much more complicated.

The novel was basically well written, McGuire continues to produce prose that easily carries you along for a fun ride. By now, the characters are familiar, and not too much effort is put into really developing them further, which is a bit of a mistake. No notable new lore is introduced either, although we learn few more bits about the Cait Sidhe and the Luidaeg.

Even worse, the novel feels uneven and rushed; the events are properly epic and amazing and all, but it still left me a little cold. The protagonist's behavior was a bit of an annoyance as well — I really liked the way McGuire addressed some of her character flaws, but she seems to have developed more to compensate. Finally, the witty one-liners and banter came across as artificial and forced, admittedly subjective, fine line.

There's very little exposition of the setting or characters, and consequently this isn't a book you should pick up to get into the series.

I'll certainly look forward to her next novel, but I'm hoping it's better than this one. Two and a half subjective stars; only because I've already been reading this series.

The book I got from Amazon was misprinted, and jumped from page 230 back to page 87 for a chunk of pages, so I'm missing about a chapter. If you get one, check it for misprints before gifting or putting it in your reading queue.


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