Tag Archives: Series

Review: The Queen of Crows

The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

Title: The Queen of Crows
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 9780765395979
Publisher: Tor
Twitter: @MykeCole
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb:   In this epic fantasy sequel, Heloise stands tall against overwhelming odds—crippling injuries, religious tyrants—and continues her journey from obscurity to greatness with the help of alchemically-empowered armor and an unbreakable spirit.
No longer just a shell-shocked girl, she is now a figure of revolution whose cause grows ever stronger. But the time for hiding underground is over. Heloise must face the tyrannical Order and win freedom for her people.

I’m just a woman who has been hard done, who has lost those who she loved.  I am angry, and I am tired, and I am through making deals.  (p. 245)

Let’s first acknowledge author Myke Cole’s feminism.  Heloise is a hero for all times, but it also important to note that Heloise is a young woman leading the battle against the totalitarian religious government.  In The Armored Saint, she literally had greatness thrust upon her.  In The Queen of Crows she begins to accept the leadership role she finds herself in and works to be the leader her people need her to be.

Cole does not make a big deal out of making his protagonist a young woman, and I’d like to say neither should his readers.  But it is a big deal because so much genre writing is overwhelming men fighting to save the day.  Cole shows us a woman who is up to the task of leadership and fighting against the dangers of the oppressive regime called the Order.

Brother Tone, on the other hand, not only wants to put the village in its place as devoted to the Order, he wants to put Heloise in her place as woman.  At every turn, he sneers and belittles her, and those who she has sworn to protect.

Heloise is imperfect.  Stubborn, insecure, paranoid, with a narrow world view.  At one point, she has gone through so much she refuses to leave her alchemy powered suit of armor for any reason.  The armor has become talisman, protecting her emotionally from all the horrors she’s survived in service to both her village and the bands of Kipti they  encounter.

The Kipti are led by the wisdom of women who have a few magical tricks in their toolbox to be used against the Order.  And while the Kipti are nomadic, and suspicious of people who want to settle into a village, they recognize the mutual enemy and combine resources.

Reluctantly recognizing Heloise as leader, the two bands of Kipti come to realize that she in her armor, who killed a devil in The Armored Saint, is the best hope for a victory against the Order.

Victory doesn’t come in The Queen of Crows.  It is an agonizing, brutal story which deals both with the realities of war and of going against a regime whose demand of loyalty to the Emperor grates against everything Heloise has come to question.

It is also a story of hope against tyranny as word spreads across the land that a Palantine, an Armored Saint has gone to war against the Order.  That a young woman is delivering all from the hell that is totalitarianism.

“You are Heloise the Armored Saint, who turns back the tide, who delivers the wretched from misfortune, who will save us all.”  (p. 250)

Heloise is no Joan d’Arc who believed in her God given leadership to support Charles VII, reclaiming France from England.  Heloise doubts herself, and her role in her war.  She is a reluctant leader, herself questioning her wisdom, her ability, even her gender to lead.  But as people gather to follow her, she knows she must and follows her instincts.

Heloise has her detractors.  They don’t much question a female leader as much as they question how this young, inexperienced villager could possibly lead them against the Order.  Further, these few wonder why they should be following her at all since it was at her hands the Order is now intent on putting down the unrest.

Both The Armored Saint and The Queen of Crows can be read through a feminist lens celebrating the young woman who questions the status quo and leads her followers against tyranny.  They can also be enjoyed as ripping good tales, which happen to have a leader who is a woman.

I am of the opinion that Myke Cole, and Heloise, should be recognized for deliberately making choices which demand more of genre, both readers and writers.

 

New to the Stacks: Hurley, Norton & Smith

God’s Way by Kameron Hurley
Longevity: The Wardens of Time by Caleb Smith
The Norton Anthology: Theory and Criticism

God’s War by Kameron Hurley ~read
Longevity:  The Wardens of Time by Caleb Smith ~ DNF
The Norton Anthology:  Theory and Criticism

Review: The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library Series by Genevieve Cogman

Title: The Invisible Library Series
The Invisible Library
The Masked City
The Burning Page
The Lost Plot
Author: Genevieve Cogman
Published: 2016 – 2017
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Twitter: @GenevieveCogman
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  LibraryMasked CityBurning PageLost Plot

Publisher’s BlurbIrene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. 

An evil book warbler called on my birthday and dropped sweet little nothings in my ear about a series featuring an interdimensional library and Librarians who time traveled to retrieve books in order to keep the balance of the universe in place.

Having just purged half my personal library and swearing no more series until I’d finished what I had on hand, I somewhat firmly told this book warbler I would have none of it.

And then he delivered the fatal blow, “it has dragons in it.”

That book warbler plays dirty he does.

“And at that moment the alligators burst into the room.”  (The Invisible Library, p. 148)

Best line in a book ever.  Ever.  If I wasn’t enjoying myself before, that line sealed the deal.  A line like that makes you sit up and take notice.

Irene is a Librarian with the Invisible Library and is sent to steal books from other timelines for the Library in order to maintain the balance of the universe.  She reminds me of a very bookish Mary Poppins with all sorts of tricks “up her sleeves.”  She gets stationed in an alternate steampunk Victorian London where she befriends the local esteemed private detective and the chief of police.

Kai is her assistant.  A student sent along to train with her.  He is gut-wrenchingly absolutely perfectly handsome in a somewhat otherworldly way.  He and Irene develop a nice friendship and professional working relationship.  But sometimes thoughts get in their heads …

And as it turns out, Kai in his non-human form, is a Chinese dragon.  Part of one of the noble ruler clans who very much disapprove of Kai’s involvement with the Library.

There are adventures, both in Irene’s home base London and other worlds, which involve various amounts of chaos between factions of the Fae.  And each adventure begins with being sent to retrieve a book and turns into solving a crime of some sort.

And, of course, there’s a big baddie named Alberich who was once a Librarian himself.  He’s gone rogue and threatens the Library itself.  Intent on killing Irene in the process, he also thinks he can outsmart her and Kai.  Despite his prodigious powers, and many close calls, he has yet to kill either of them.

Don’t expect deep philosophical debates on weighty issues within.  These are light hearted mysteries with absurdist tendencies.  What can you expect when you’re dealing with an interdimensional library, time traveling Librarians, disguised dragons and, the Fae who are out to wreak havoc as only they know how?

The evil book warbler was right, and these were a great summer read.  And the alligators?  That would be telling.

Review: Hugo Winner The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

TitleThe Fifth Season
AuthorN. K. Jemisin
Published: 2015
ISBN 13:  97803162229296
Publisher: Orbit Books
Twitter:   @nkjemisin
Publisher’s Blurb:
This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

There’s so much going on in this book.  It is dense and filled with dangerous adventure.  It’s also filled with bigotry, sexism and violence.  In many ways, it’s a difficult book to get through. Three story lines, three different women.  Or so we think. Each on their own adventure. Each with a different narrative point of view.

There’s Essun, whose son has been killed by her husband.  Her story starts with the discovery of her son’s body and carries us through as she searches for her daughter who’s been kidnapped by Essun’s husband.  Along the way she meets the mysterious Hoa and gregarious Tonkee who delights in taking samples of things as they go along in search of a community which will take them in after the ground has started shifting under their feet.

There’s Dayama, a young girl whose parents exile her to the barn until a Guardian can fetch her.  Exiled because she has a scary skill and people would rather her kind, the orogene, didn’t exist at all.  Dayama’s story begins when the Guardian arrives and takes her off to school, on horseback, to be trained. Daya is treated better by the Guardian, Schaffa, than she was by her community and family.  Yet his treatment comes with difficult lessons to learn, one of which is that because she is orogene, she will always be considered less than the rest of society. She will always be considered lowest of the low, unless someone needs her to use her skills for them.  Even then, she will be asked begrudgingly.

Third, there’s Syenite whose story begins when she is assigned to a ten-ring orogene named Alabaster on what seems to be a simple mission to unclog a shipping port so trade can go back to normal.  Syen is resentful and angry, and she takes it out on Alabaster, who returns her anger in kind. The first scene with Syen is almost literally her telling him that she’s there to fuck him (Jemisin does not sugar coat this).  Syen believes the only reason she is traveling with him is to breed. His ten-ring genes with her four-ring genes could produce a super orogene to be used at one of the satellite stations for the Fulcrum.

“Everything changes during a Season.” (p. 185)

The Fifth Season refers to an extended winter triggered by cataclysmic earthquakes or catastrophic weather events.  And one is on its way.

Then there comes a humdinger of a loop.  One which threw me completely out of the story and made me feel betrayed.  I had to put the book down and walk away for a long while. Truly, I didn’t understand why it happened, and it threw everything I thought I knew about this story into disarray.  I wasn’t sure I could go on. The book won a Hugo, what was I missing?

After I calmed down, I did some reading of other reactions to The Fifth Season.  What I read made me curious enough to go back and finish the book.  It was worth it.

In a way, all the characters congregating at Castrima, the community run by orogenes, which welcomes everyone seems too easy.  But there’s nothing easy about this book, you have to work for the payoff. Three women are actually the same woman, their stories set in three different times of her life.  The stories of hardship, impossible choices, and survival come to a head in Castrima. Alabaster has the last word, “… have you ever heard of something called a moon?”

Everyone important to this story has gathered in Castrima, and it has something to do with a moon.  What a great setup for book #2 The Stone Sky.

 

Review: Lady Astronaut Series

Lady Astronaut Series by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title:  The Lady Astronaut Series
The Lady Astronaut of Mars” – short story (free!)
The Calculating Stars
The Fated Sky
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Published: 2013 – 2018
ISBN 13:  9780765378385 & 9780765398949
Publisher: Tor
Twitter: @maryrobinette
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  Fated Sky

Publisher’s Blurb:   (Calculating Stars):  … with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

(Fated Sky):  Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Mary Robinette Kowal with yours truly
WorldCon 76 – 2018

I am not kidding even a little when I say these books jumped to the top of my list of favorites.  And getting to meet Mary Robinette Kowal was a highlight of my WorldCon experience.  She really is kind, patient and generous.

The Lady Astronaut series is entertaining, even while discussing important topics like sexism, racism and, climate change, just to name a few.

And her publisher Tor has announced there will be two more books in the series.

The Calculating Stars
This book literally starts off with a bang.  A cataclysmic event which takes out most of the east coast of the US, and precipitates a space race to move the world’s population to another planet.

It’s an alternate history of the US space program set in the late 1950s and grapples with the big question we find ourselves facing now, “How do we save ourselves?”

Elma is a mathematician who ferried planes around during World War II.  She is smart, capable and, stubborn.  Her only visible flaw is that she’s a woman in that time period.  She has to fight so much just to have her contributions to the space program noticed.  She’s fine  out of the public eye as a computer.  But that’s not what she wants for herself, or her friends who also fly.

Part of Elma’s story is her social anxiety.  In school she was shamed for being smart.  One of her coping mechanisms is to count prime numbers.  But doing that doesn’t keep her from throwing up before she makes public appearances.  So she does what any sensible person would do, she goes to the doctor for help.

Miltown prescription in hand, Elma is better able to handle her anxiety.  It has to be kept a secret though, because open knowledge would cause those the men in charge to view her as an hysterical female and drop her from the program.

It would have been just as easy to not write this about Elma.  It’s already nearly impossible for her to make any headway on equality in the space program.  Giving her protagonist social anxiety, Kowal shows just how determined Elma is to make equality a realty.

The things the women have to do to prove their worth are demeaning.  Something most women would identify with, no matter their generation or profession.  And all the women striving to be in the space program paste their best smiles on and go through the paces.  They know there’s a lot on the line for so many reasons.

By the end of The Calculating Stars Elma has earned her place in the program setting up the Moon as a way station to Mars.

The Fated Sky
There’s a colony on the moon now, and Elma rotates on and off, flying shuttles to Earth and helping prepare for the next big step, colonizing Mars.

It isn’t until the director realizes that the navigational computer isn’t reliable and too hard to program that a woman is considered for the crew.  Elma’s highly visible profile as the “Lady Astronaut” makes her the choice to go at the expense of someone else’s place.  And living in close quarters makes it harder on everyone involved.

Seven people on a space ship to Mars.  There’s a lot of tension.  Affairs are revealed, old wounds are picked at, and Elma does her best to roll with it.  We finally see what’s been festering between Stetson Parker and Elma York in both books.

We also get to see the astronauts try to work through the personal issues which could very well be the downfall of the mission to Mars.  The best thing about Elma is she’s always trying to understand, and learn, when her privileged white background gets in the way.

By the end of the book, landing on Mars has become not routine, but is well on its way.

Review: Wrinkle in Time Quartet

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Titles:
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Many Waters
AuthorMadeleine L’Engle
Published:  1962-1986
Publisher:   Farrar, Straus, Giroux
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  WrinkleWindSwiftlyWaters
Publisher’s Blurb: Madeleine L’Engle’s classic middle-grade series,  A Wrinkle In Time, follows the lives of Meg Murry, her youngest brother Charles Wallace Murry, their friend Calvin O’Keefe, and her twin brothers Sandy and Dennys Murry. Beginning with A Wrinkle In Time, each novel features the characters encountering other-worldly beings and evil forces they have to defeat in order to save the world. The characters travel through time and space and even into Charles Wallace’s body in this beloved series that blends science fiction and fantasy.

A  Wrinkle in Time
For a teenage girl, a misfit herself living in the midst of a tumultuous dysfunctional family, A Wrinkle in Time was a gift.  What I saw at the time was the love of the family for each other, that I was enough like Meg to make me feel a little less alone.  Over the years, I remembered Meg, and her glasses, and the Mrs. W’s who swooped in and took her on a quest to find her father.

Now, in 2018, on my second reading I notice how I’ve changed.  The book I remember hasn’t aged well but the portrayal of love, family, and a place for all misfits still resonates.

That longing to fit in never goes away.  But I’m a long way from the girl who sat on the floor in her closet and read, longing to fit in anywhere.   I no longer strive to fit in.  I love and accept who I am and often revel in the weird quirks I have which make others look at me quizzically.  It is not I who doesn’t fit in, it’s them.

Many Waters
Many Waters is a time travel fantasy story about the time just before the rains fall on Noah’s ark.  The title is a reference to the biblical verse Song of Solomon 8:7, “Many waters cannot quench love.”  It’s both a reference to God’s love for his people, and the love of the Murry twins and one of the characters have for each other.

Sandy and Dennys are described in A Wrinkle in Time as “ordinary.”  And they are, especially compared to the rest of the Murry family.  Extraordinary things happen to the twins in Many Waters, but their reactions are strangely ordinary.

While illicitly playing on their father’s computer, the boys wish to be in a place that’s warmer and less humid than their New England winter.  Zip, zap, zere, their wish is granted, and they appear in the desert in what is now Eastern Turkey.

Always logical and practical, despite the adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace, they try to reason their way out of their predicament.  Surrounded by short humans (a point L’Engle makes repeatedly) who are characters from the Bible, seraphim and nephilim and, magical unicorns, Sandy and Dennys behave as though none of this extraordinary.

No matter, I was able to provide the sense of wonder for them.  Many Waters isn’t a strong story, nor does it add to the quartet, but I found it fascinating.  The bible only says God told Noah to build an ark, and that while following this directive, Noah was ridiculed by his neighbors.

What L’Engle does here is flesh the story out and explores one possibility of the events which led to the Flood.  I could buy into all of it, except the unicorns.  Really?

Magical unicorns who transport people across the desert and through time?  In the Bible?  One would think that a suspension of disbelief which includes time travel, angels and God talking to humans, unicorns would be just another magical element to accept.  I couldn’t.  The unicorns felt like a forced explanation of how Sandy and Dennys got from their cozy home to the desert in another time and place.  And the emphasis on the boys being virgins … just, no.

There’s a theory in Literature Criticism I’m just learning about called Reader-Response, which basically posits that a reader brings all their experiences with them to the book, and those experiences are how the text gets interpreted.

This definitely applied to my reading of Many Waters, because all my reading of ancient religions played a part in my interpretation of the book.  I was able to overlook the many faults of the story and find wonder in this imagining of Noah’s world.  It probably would have worked better if L’Engle had just left the twins at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New to the Stacks: Hugo Winner

The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Karmeron Hurley
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin – Read (No review)
  • Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks – DNF
  • In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
  • The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley – Read
  • The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
    1. The Fifth Season – Read
    2. The Obelisk Gate
    3. The Stone Sky