Limyaael

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12:55 pm: Reviews of a few of the books I finished recently


Ilona Andrews, Magic Bites

This is urban fantasy set in a future Atlanta where technology and magic come in “waves” that impact the functioning of cars, buildings, electricity, and many other aspects of daily life. Magic has been around for long enough that humans are adapting to it, as well as to the presence of other creatures like vampires—here, mindless undead beasts “piloted” by necromancers—and lycanthropes—here, victims of the Lycan-V virus and likely to become insane murderers unless they follow a very narrow code of behavior. Magic is slowly winning. The heroine is Kate Daniels, who, as per usual for this kind of book, goes into investigating the violent murder of her guardian with a host of secrets that are not fully explained, unusual combat techniques, and a dark family past.

There are several things I liked about this book. The worldbuilding is clever; it’s very different from the usual “the undead/fae are just starting to come out of hiding or are completely hidden” trope, and that alone earns it a lot of points. It’s also urban fantasy not set in New York City, another point-getter. The violence is brutal and not glossed-over, and there are plenty of different characters who compete for attention. The kickass heroine does have some limitations, and she actually has to stop and think about whether acting like a rabid lone wolf is worth the cost (that is, the consequences of people getting irritated with her). That’s an insight a lot of “normal” fantasy heroes could stand to have.

Also, this is a book that agrees with me that corpses that feed on human blood are not sexy.

I didn’t like the last quarter of the story much. Here a monologuing villain, there a randomly introduced new character that mainly seemed present to make sure the final battle wouldn’t be too tough for Our Heroes, over here the sudden eruption of the skeevy gender dynamics that I think they make you sign a charter to include in your urban fantasy…I’m not sure I’ll read more of the series. The last few pages, however, were enough to restore some of my interest.





Cindy Pon, Silver Phoenix

YA fantasy, set in an alternate world modeled on the Chinese empire. Ai Ling, who is proving impossible to betroth and also hearing people’s thoughts for some reason, is unhappy when her father leaves to go on a mission to the Palace, but is sure he will return soon. He doesn’t. She goes in search of him and runs into a half-foreign young man named Chen Yong, whose parents her father got in trouble for helping years ago. So they pursue their quest together, facing demons, people with one eye and four arms, and being lost forever in an alternate world.

I loved this. It has a setting that’s very unusual for Western fantasy and every character is of color except for the half-white Chen Yong, it makes the heroine the real center of the story and the performer of the quest instead of the young man she meets along the way (Chen Yong’s story is important, but definitely subordinate to Ai Ling’s), it has the heroine make mistakes, it keeps the romance properly subdued, and it has several passages of gorgeous description (I especially adored the dragon). The danger is properly scary. The ending threw my expectations off completely, although I suppose it’s possible to read that as sequel bait. Ai Ling is not as kickass as Kate Daniels, but she seemed much more real to me, despite living in an entirely different world.

It had flaws, of course. One of Ai Ling’s mistakes is so easily resolved that it felt a bit like a cheat; here’s the potential for a lot of conflict and soul-searching, and it goes away in a few pages. I detested the opening prologue, which shows Chen Yong being born, though mainly because I’ve read far too many fantasy prologues that center on the protagonist’s birth, apparently because authors think that the “Ooh! Babies!” impulse will attach you to someone who doesn’t have a name and hasn’t done anything yet. (This is one of the reasons I was so relieved to find out that Ai Ling and not Chen Yong was the main character). The major antagonist is introduced so late that he didn’t feel like as much of a threat to me as the characters took him as.

However, these are faults that didn’t destroy the book for me. I highly recommend it.





Caroline Stevermer, When the King Comes Home

This is a sort of alternate history; there are clear references to our own world, especially through evocations of Christianity and art, but the countries and cities that the story takes place in are imaginary. The main character is Hail Rosamer, who explains carefully in the first lines of the book that she has her name because her father was so happy to have a daughter after four sons, not because she is named after bad weather. Her family are wool merchants, but she travels to the capital city of Aravis to be apprenticed to an artist. The book is an account by Hail, when she’s much older and looking back over her life, of what happened when she became fascinated by the work of an artist named Maspero and got involved in the chaos surrounding the sudden reappearance of King Julian after two hundred years.

This book is an excellent example of how to write a first-person protagonist who comes off as something other than a smartass. Hail is not witty or charming or overwhelmed with angst. She annoys other characters considerably, constantly asks questions, gets obsessed with Maspero, stubbornly clings to her own course of action and then is sorry she did, and tends to see everything in terms of either art in general or Maspero in particular. But the flaws made her seem human to me—probably because I had no sense that the author expected me to love and adore Hail and credit her with every virtue. Not all of the other characters are equally vivid, but Good King Julian, his champion Istvan, and the various soldiers and artists who associate with Hail mostly are. Hail remains on the sidelines for most of the book, since she’s not a soldier and has no political power, but she’s involved in the events all the way from the beginning, and those events are interesting. Plus, I always enjoy a book about a protagonist who has an occupation that’s not mage, fighter, or thief.

Of course, Hail being an observer character has its own problems, in that sometimes the story feels strained as it includes her, and a few important events happen off-stage, away from her vision. The magical background, though required by the story, isn’t particularly detailed or original, which is probably also a result of Hail’s having little familiarity with it. If you don’t like Hail’s obsessions, you are going to find this book annoying as hell.

Luckily, this is one of those books that you would probably know you’d like or hate from reading the first few pages, so I recommend that you do that if you’re interested.



Current Mood: accomplished
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Comments

From:[info]saturnaliac
Date:December 5th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
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Excellent! I will check these books out at some point. Not this month, though - this month I told myself that I am not allowed to read anything except that which I already have on my bookshelves. x_x I've been needing to force myself and slow down when I read, because I'm finding that I can't remember much at the end to pull together something coherent to say.
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:December 6th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
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Hee! I know the feeling. I'm often reading several books at the same time, and sometimes I wonder when I finished one.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 5th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
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Silver Phoenix sounds interesting, especially since I've been looking for East Asian-based fantasy worlds and novels to read lately (too many medieval/classical era-based books start to get repetitive after a while, unless they're R.Scott Bakker or George RR Martin).

How is the prose? Does it flow well, have any annoying "tics" to it? That's usually something that will turn me off of reading a book - unless weird prose makes sense in terms of where it is presented in the book, it just drags me out of the story while reading it.

except for the half-white Chen Yong


Interesting. When you talk about how it is an alternate world modeled on the Chinese Empire, do you mean in the way that Guy Gavriel Kay does some of his fantasy (where the actual historical events and the story in general are pretty close), or how, say, Martin does it (where the War of the Roses and certain historical figures were inspirations, but there's no one-to-one correspondence)?
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:December 6th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
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I'm afraid I can't say much about the prose. I tend not to notice it much in general unless there are a lot of grammatical errors or several annoying tics (there are some authors I can't read because they do something like use a comma where I think a semicolon should be). There are several descriptive passages of great beauty, mostly concerning the divine beings and places.

I don't know enough about Chinese history to be sure; the food and the clothing and the writing and the character names are Chinese, and I think it's Martin-like more than Kay-like, but again, there may be history influencing the narrative that I don't know about. In general, the characters deal so much with magic and demons that I would imagine the correspondence is not very close.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 5th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)
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Hey Limyaael I've been reading your rants for about 3 or 4 years now, they've really helped me alot in the fantasy stories I've worked on, thanks alot for all your work!

I was wondering if you would be willing to critique a poem I wrote last week, and be harsh, I really want to be the best writer I can be and I know my friends probably aren't going to help me get there as well as a 3rd-party individal. If you're interested, email me at kickflip_on_the_highway@yahoo.com

Thanks, keep ranting!
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:December 6th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad they've helped!

I'm afraid I simply don't have time for reading and concrit much anymore, though I wish you good luck.
From:[info]missdanaidae.blogspot.com
Date:December 5th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC)
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I really enjoyed Silver Phoenix for the same reasons you did, especially that Ai ling gets to make mistakes. Cindy Pon has said that Ai Ling's biggest mistake will come up again in the sequel.
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:December 6th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
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I'm not surprised there's going to be a sequel!

That would be interesting, though given how the evidence of her mistake ends up going away, I'm not sure how that will work.
From:[info]vatchmebeebil
Date:December 6th, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)
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I'll look into those (assuming my library has them)

Speaking of smart-mouth characters how do you feel about smart-mouths who sometimes don't have a 'witty' response, meet people who are better smart-mouths than they are, and (almost always) get gobsmacked by the people they mouth off to?
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:December 6th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
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I hope you enjoy them!

I enjoy it when the characters' talking out of turn earns reasonable consequences.
From:[info]vatchmebeebil
Date:December 7th, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
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Me too

Which is why I love the Dresden Files so much

Dresden: "Something mouthy."

Ebil guy: *Proceeds to make Dresdens life a living hell*
From:[info]dsgood
Date:December 7th, 2009 04:43 am (UTC)
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I greaatly admire When the King Comes Home.
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:December 8th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
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I liked it a lot better than I thought I would. (The other book set in the same world, College of Magics, I never finished).
From:[info]sinande.livejournal.com
Date:December 7th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
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Silver Phoenix sounds like something I would love.

Which reminds me: have you read the Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott? Last book came out this September, I think. I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on it. It's another story with a non-European setting (where blonde, blue-eyed people are considered demons by everyone except themselves!), and I thought the world was beautifully done.
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:December 8th, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)
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I do hope you like it. When I realized it was YA, I was a bit wary, but it escapes a lot of the traps that books with teenage protagonists usually have. (Ai Ling angsts, but not a whole lot).

I tried to read the first book of Crossroads and didn't get along with the style. It had too many typical fantasy trappings for me, unfortunately.
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From:[info]looniewolf.livejournal.com
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:11 am (UTC)

Magic Bites (and Burns and Bleeds and does lots of things apparently)

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I must admit I'd like to see your reviews of more of the Magic series. One thing I particularly enjoy about this is that the United States doesn't promptly fall apart with the slow loss of technology, but remains a viable political entity (I've always found it annoying how quickly scifi and urban fantasy writers are to write off the United States as one political entity... as if they have no faith in us as a society). And having a female protagonist who sees her flaws and tries to work through them is refreshing.

Yeah, she does end up hooking up with another character but... oddly enough, it seems to work. It makes sense (especially as her shifters are not portrayed as just furry humans but rather as having a boatload of instincts that influence their behaviors and mannerisms).

It'll be interesting to see how Book 5 comes out, as apparently it needs an extensive rewrite according to her website. But Book 4 needed one as well - it seems Andrews has an editor who cares for her profession and who tries to ensure her writers put out the best works out there.

I kinda suspect you'd be similar if you went into editing. You seem to have a passion for having things written well. ^^

Rob H., Tangents Reviews
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