Nov. 16th, 2009 11:02 pm
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I read a few over the cabin trip, and in lieu of proper reviews, I'm putting up a list, largerly for myself.

Kristine Smith: Law of Survival

Reread the third installment in the story about Jani Killian. These books are a bit fluff, a bit Mary Sue, a bit "I'm different" angst, but I like them a lot. Also, while fairly standard sci-fi universe in many ways, the document examiner profession of Ms. Killian is pretty neat -- the idea being that with digital technology being what it is, the only way to have actually verifiable authentic records is to put them on paper -- fancy paper, with all kinds of anti-forgery devices, giving rise to people specifically specializing in figuring out what is real and what isn't. Sort of a mix between a librarian and a film noir detective.

Robert Reed: Marrow

British science fiction. It takes place on a ship larger than planets, among humans and other races that have achieved practical immortality in the vein of Iain Banks' Culture setting. Hence the main characters can spend thousands of years doing stuff -- and all of this makes the book different, but very hard for me to really connect with.

Sharon Shinn: Fortune and Fate

And there I had thought that I finished Shinn's Twelve Houses saga, to stumble upon a new installment in a bookstore in Franklin, NC. The main character of this book is oddly enough not one of the original party, but Wen, a knight, one of the minor recurring characters of previous books. She's an interesting person, and the book is generally well crafted and a pleasure to read, but it's a lot simpler than the others, and it's quite slow and predictable. I liked it, but it's clearly the weakest of the series.

Tanya Huff: The Heart of Valor

Completing the quadfecta of strong female leads (not intentional, I swear!) Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr returns. As usual, she goes for a little harmless mission that goes south in a hurry and she together with a civilian and a group of marine recruits gets to fight for survival. I like Huff in general, but the space marine novels tend to be incredibly formulaic. If you like military sci-fi on a smaller scale, they're good, though.
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
This is a novel in Sharon Shinn's Thirteen Houses / Gillengaria series. I've rather enjoyed the series until this point, and have to admit that I am sorry to see it winding towards what appears to be an end.

I used to rant about my dislike of serializations, so this may come across as a bit hypocritical. It's not that I have a problem with multiple books in the same world, or even with the same characters. What I have a problem with are works that cannot stand on their own, and Ms. Shinn has been quite good at avoiding this trap. There have been overarching developments in the previous books, and now they finally come to life and start to shake things in a dramatic fashion. Yet the impending war and plotting of nobles was always merely a backdrop for books that concentrated on an individual or two of the group of friends that are at the center of this series, and the undercurrents weren't really that important on their own; consequently each work really does tell of an adventure with a proper beginning, middle and end within its covers.

The setting is an idealized feudal medieval society with scattered, limited magic that comes to some people innately. There is friction between those who have powers and those who do not, and obviously romance and plots to seize the crown and all that. The main characters, regardless of their background, end up quickly in a rather cozy position of power, and are thoroughly positive and decent people, to the extent that allegations of Mary Sue syndrome are well founded. Not only that, but in the vein of the Sharon Lee and Steve Miller in their Liaden series, the main characters really never get into the kind of horrible situations that would make the reader squirm in discomfort or pain. And yet, I don't care. The characters are just too nice, and since by this book you know them rather well you really do care about them, and all the things they stand for and are willing to sacrifice their lives for. It's an idealistic fairy tale with noble knights, unexpectedly spunky princesses, evil villains and villainesses, and it's just overall brilliant escapist entertainment.

This volume concentrates on Cammon, a street urchin with the ability to read people's emotions and occasionally even minds. Starting in earlier novels and culminating here, the personality of someone who is incapable of acting according to social norms and mores regarding status and such because he sees people for who they really are, and hears what they really think, is done really well. The idea that someone who senses people beyond what they willing present and acts in his own version of the world is, I think, fairly neat. I'd almost argue that all of all the six (or seven) central characters, Cammon ends up being to most multifaceted and well done, even if he lacks any spectacular power or personality.

I'm not entirely sure what genre one would say these books are, any more than Shinn's Samaria series. They're very similar in feel in that there is a bit of romance, and the emotional lives and social interactions are paramount over the analytical, logical plot progression -- I suppose one could argue that they're clearly written by a woman, but at the same token they are distinctly not romance based at all. Also, the people act logically and the characters never become frustrating the way that so many female characters in television and books these days do, substituting random behavior for somehow "female" behavior.

While I wish the plot was a bit bolder and the world perhaps a bit more edgy, the series is generally quite well written, and at least to me, immensely enjoyable.

A strong four out of five.


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