Tag Archives: The Armored Saint

Review: 2018 Reading

Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Karmeron Hurley
The Calculating Stars signature
Binti by Nnedi Okarafor
River Queens by Alexander Watson
How Fiction Works by James Wood
The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

For the first time in so many years, I’m not in utter misery looking into the New Year.  2019 holds great promise and hope for me. As unexpected as that is to say, it comes as a great relief.  Books and lists are the great constant. The great coping mechanism of all time, making lists. It was like the sun shone only on me the day I realized I could combine the two and keep my sanity.

One blissful weekend in August when I was hanging out with other geeks and nerds who loved what I did my vague dissatisfaction was temporarily banished.  I went to panels about writing, met authors (and a real live astronaut), sat in lines with others and talked about writing. Frequently amused that wherever there was a line, we all had some kind of device out in order to read. My device was dead tree style.

Exhaustion was my companion the entire con, but gods I was happy.  Happy? How could that possibly be? When WorldCon 76 San Jose was over, the sticky film of vague unrest returned.  Barf, I thought (or words to that effect, anyway). Inklings filtered through my overtaxed, hyperalert brain.

When great ideas hit it can feel like a jolt of lightning, adrenaline flowing through my spine.  This idea was quieter. An author I met at WorldCon started posting about teaching writing. And so I asked, “do you have something for me?”  His probing questions finally got me to the bottom of my unrest. “I want to learn to read and write about books better.”

And that’s how I found a mentor, and made the last quarter of 2018  happy. Best decision of my life ever. It’s not just the reading and writing which have evolved.  Unexpected personal growth came at me like sunshine filtered through open doors. Even on the hardest of hard days when I think I can’t even get out of bed, and the writing is like carving bricks of granite with my bare hands, I know I’ll be good.  Discovering the weird joys of LitCrit have given me a new dimension of meaning.

It is nearly impossible to pick just a few great books from 2018, but here’s my attempt at defining the seminal books for me.

2018 Books by the Numbers:

  • 68 read
  • 20,382 pages
  • 26 unique publication years
  • 40 unique author names
    • 19 female authors
    • 23 male authors
    • 26 new to me authors
  • 98 books new to the stacks
    • 48 new to the stacks read
    • 7 new to the stacks Pearl Ruled

Favorite Reads

The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood, Margaret
Even more relevant today than when first published, Atwood’s description of a dystopian, Puritanical society with no agency for women chills.  My review focuses on the use of Scripture as justification.
The Armored Saint by Cole, Myke
The Queen of Crows by Cole, Myke
Heloise is the hero we need now.  Tight, intricate, suspenseful story about a young woman leading the uprising against the religious order in charge.  Book 3, The Killing Light, comes out in 2019.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Egan, Jennifer
Freakin’ brilliant.  We spent a month on it, I read it three times.  Don’t let the non-linear style throw you off. Egan tells a hell of a story.
American Gods by Gaiman, Neil
What happens when Old Gods realize they’re being squeezed out by the New Gods?  Just as fantastic on the second read.
My Journey in Creative Reading by Gallowglas, M. Todd
Don’t know how to review this book since he’s also my mentor.  Every bit is so good and resonated so deeply I knew I had the right guy.
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Hurley, Kameron
My love letter to Kameron who speaks the truth about being a woman so hard.  I continue to learn a lot from her about feminism and writing. GFR has earned a permanent place on my reference shelf.
The Calculating Stars by Kowal, Mary Robinette
The Fated Sky by Kowal, Mary Robinette
Speaking of feminism … Elma’s a wonderful example of all any human could be; blind spots and social anxiety and all.  Mary Robinette Kowal is as kind and generous as I had hoped. An hour with her and real live astronaut, Kjell Lindgren was more than I’d expected.  Excitedly waiting for two more Lady Astronaut books.
Beloved by Morrison, Toni
Because I am stubborn and refuse to read what “everyone” else is reading, it took an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad, and some serious prodding from a trusted friend to read Toni Morrison’s classic.  Best opening line ever, “124 was spiteful.”
Binti by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti: Home by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti:  The Night Masquerade by Okorafor, Nnedi
Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant story about a young African woman who breaks tribal taboos to go to university on another planet.  My review focuses on bigotry.
River Queens by Watson, Alexander
Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant as he tells the tale of refurbishing a wooden boat and sailing her from Texas to Ohio.  His is the most polished debut I’ve read and I’m forever grateful he asked me to review it.
How Fiction Works by Wood, James
Every writer, every critic, every anyone interested in reading and writing needs to read How Fiction Works.  My review focuses on why critical reviewers should know about craft in order to write better themselves.

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.

 

Review: The Armored Saint

The Armored Saint
by
Myke Cole

Title: The Armored Saint
Author:   Myke Cole
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 9780765395955
Publisher: Tor
Twitter:  @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb:  In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Her wounds sang out with every movement, but it was an old song to her now, sung so many times that she knew the words by heart.  She was good at hurting.  (p 186)

I blame Scalzi again.  He’s also one of the reasons I read Richard Kadrey, and have a never-ending wish-list culled from his Big Idea feature.

Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is more than just a coming of age story.  It’s about family, right and wrong, identity and, love.  Heloise may only be 16 but she is badass in so many ways, and has become a character I want to know better.

Set in a medieval village ruled by a heavy-handed religious government called the Order, The Armored Saint is the story of Heloise, a teenager who questions everything she’s been taught.  And you know how dictator governments hate that, especially in women.

Myke Cole wrote Heloise for me.  For the woman who questioned things and didn’t understand why she was treated so harshly.  Only Heloise is surrounded by those who love her, and while conflicted about her questioning, protect her from being hunted down and killed by the Order.

Wizardry is not allowed.  Period.  Wizardry opens the portals for demons to crawl through.  Anyone who’s different gets killed.  Including, and especially, the mentally ill.  The man, Churic, normally quiet and described as “simple,”  has a fit one day.  Frothing at the mouth, purple skinned, eye bugging fit.  Which is seized upon as evil by the Order.  And the neighboring village, Heloise’s village is called upon to Knit Churic’s village.

Knitting is an horrific ritual, forcing those from one village to kill their friends in a neighboring village.  But it is in the Knitting that Heloise feels the power of all those questions, and the shoddy answers rise.  Her rebelliousness leaps out, putting her own village in danger, especially her father.  But she can’t help herself, what’s been going on is wrong, and evil, and she won’t stand for it any longer.

She may be 16, and small in stature, but girl is fierce.  And I love that Myke Cole wrote her to be the conflicted, flawed, insecure, brave hero she is.  She resonates through my very being and, I imagine, everyone who has ever questioned the status quo and been shunted aside.  Heloise is for those of us who want to be brave, but aren’t sure how.  She leads the way by living her truth, confusing as that may be.  She does it out of love.  And Cole shows in this brutal story that it is love which wins.  Whether he intended to or not, that’s what I got.

Heloise’s village hides her from the Order, and she comes out swinging.  The neighbor who hides her builds war-engines for the  Emperor to be used by his most fanatical officers in the army.  They are giant man-shaped machines, powered by seethestone, driven by men to grind everyone in their path to so much pulp.  (And while seethestone has a perfectly acceptable scientific method for working behind it, it seems a lot like magic to me.)

It is Heloise, broken and battered, and unwilling to give up the fight for those who have died at the hands of the Order who uses a war-engine to its most brutal advantage.  She is doing it for those she loved who died brutally, for those who could die brutally, and for herself.  Because, this shit will no longer stand.

In just over 200 pages, Heloise drives us through a paradigm shift.  From submissive to the Order, to mad as hell and refusing to put up with anyone’s nonsense anymore, she stands for what she believes in.  Which, of course, is in direct opposition to what the Order orders her to believe in.

Battered and bruised, Heloise becomes the sainted one who will lead the rest into battle.  At least, that’s what her neighbors tell her.  “No,” she says, “I’m not the hero you’re looking for.  I’m not brave or strong or anything.  I’m broken and hurting, and scared by the brutality I’ve been witness to, and have committed.  You’ve got the wrong girl.”

The rest of the story comes in the next two books, and I am so looking forward to following Heloise on her quest, standing by her side as I continue to heal from my own brokenness and find ways to say, “This shit will not stand,” in my own life.

Thank you Myke Cole, for this book and the books to come.  And thank you for Heloise, the hero we all need in this time and place.

New to the Stacks: The Armored Saint, Binti, & The Inkblots

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
The Armored Saint by Myke Cole (Damn you John Scalzi)
The Inkblots by Damion Searls
I received a free copy of The Inkblots as part of the Blogging for Books program.
  • Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor – read
  • The Armored Saint by Myke Cole ~ read
  • The Inkblots by Damion Searls ~ read