Category Archives: Books read

Rundown on each book I read

Sheep Might Fly (a fiction podcast) by Tansy Rayner Roberts – a review

Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2016This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2016 Reading Challenge. All my 2016 AWWC reviews can be found here.


Sheep Might Fly

I’ve been on a bit of a Tansy Rayner Roberts kick of late (for example see my recent review of Musketeer Space, and I’m currently reading her crime novel Drowned Vanilla). What got me onto this dash was listening to Roberts new podcast, Sheep Might Fly.

Sheep Might Fly is a fiction podcast, with Roberts alternating between “reprint” and original fiction. She seems to be taking longer short fiction works, and dividing it up into bite sized chunks which she is releasing on a weekly basis. Roberts narrates the stories herself.

This is another innovative form of releasing fiction into the world, from an author who is clearly experimenting with all the new world of publishing has to offer. Her serial release of Musketeer Space, use of Patreon and now this venture into audio delivery of fiction has been interesting to watch. Combined with her more traditionally published fiction, Roberts seems to have really embraced the “hybrid author” approach championed by writers like Chuck Wendig (amongst many others). I love seeing people branch out and try so many different things, it’s the only way we’re going to find out what works in the 21st century for publishing..

Roberts launched the podcast with a 10 part serial, Fake Geek Girl”, which was originally published in Review of Australian Fiction Volume 14, Issue 4. From the website:

Meet Fake Geek Girl, the band that plays nerdy songs at the university bar every Friday night, to a mixture of magical and non-magical students: lead singer Holly writes songs based on her twin sister Hebe’s love of geek culture though she doesn’t really understand it; drummer Sage is an explosive sorcerous genius obsessing over whether Holly’s about to quit the band to go mainstream; shy Juniper only just worked up the nerve to sing her own song in public and keeps a Jane Austen themed diary chronicling the lives and loves of her friends. When the mysterious, privileged Ferd joins their share house, everything starts to unravel…

 

Line by line, this story is trademark Roberts, with a playful wit and real focus on character development and relationships. In a remarkably short space of time, Roberts is able to provide enough world building elements to really whet a readers appetite. The characters are marvellously drawn, with Roberts switching voices deftly as she switches the point-of-view character. I loved listening to the piece week on week, but I must admit I only just felt like I was getting to know the characters and world when the story finished rather abruptly. The central mysteries of the story (will Holly leave the band? What’s up with the mysterious Ferd?) are wrapped up neatly, but I was left wanting more. I hope we see some expanded fiction set in this same world soon.

At the time of writing (early May 2016), Roberts has started on her second story, “Glass Slipper Scandal”. Again from the website:

Charming is a kingdom where fairy tales come true, which has been bad news for its troubled royal family, but good news for the gutter press that thrives on the scandals and gossip provided by their teenage Princes Gone Wild. Kai is a rookie reporter at the Charming Herald. Dennis is a new Royal Hound, charged with protecting the self-destructive princes from disaster. 

Disaster arrives in a pumpkin coach… The story of the century is wearing glass slippers… and Castle Charming will never be the same again.

I’m only four episodes in, but I’m liking the premise again for this one. I’ll be interested to see how long this story goes for – it could be wrapped up rather quickly, but again I see real potential for how the story could move forward and expand.

If you’ve read and enjoyed any of Roberts work, I’d highly recommend downloading Sheep Might Fly and giving it a go. Excellent bite sized morsels of fiction, delivered free of charge to your electronic device of choice. Can’t ask for more than that!


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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

 

Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts – a second review

Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2016This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2016 Reading Challenge. All my 2016 AWWC reviews can be found here.


musketeers_FINAL_small

Now a little while ago I did a review of Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts that was a bit of a cheat, in that Roberts was publishing the book at the rate of one chapter each week, and I was only about half way through. I was doing a bit of cleaning up on this site last week, and I realised I never went back and gave any final thoughts. You can read my original review here.

From Goodreads:

Musketeer Space is a (mostly) gender-swapped retelling of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas as a space opera.

The Three Musketeers is a messy, uneven, glorious romp of a novel, and with Musketeer Space the plan is for the story to remain essentially intact despite the addition of advanced technology, racial and sexual diversity, and a whole lot of women with swords.

When last we spoke of this book, I was on chapter 33 (around half way through the book) and going strong. So how about the rest of the book? Well, the wit remained sharp. The characters remained well rounded. The diversity remained broad. The adaptation to a space opera setting remained clever.

I was interested to see how Roberts would keep in line with the original text, when so much of the context was incredibly different. For the most part, the underlying construction and plot lines were remarkably consistent, and the use of a wide array of sexual orientations meant that relationships could be maintained even where some gender swapping from the original characters had taken place. But for all that drive for consistency, the novel remained fresh – a real feat all things considered.

Now, as a warning for the faint hearted, there is so much sauce in this book you could bottle it and hold a sausage sizzle. This very much fits in with the tone of the novel, and due to the afore-mentioned diversity of sexual orientation there is pretty much something for everyone as the plot rolls on.

And speaking of the plot, it is a very satisfying read from that point of view.  I found that part quite remarkable, given that Roberts was writing a few weeks ahead of publication and that introduced some real risk of inconsistency that come from an inability to go back and change an earlier chapter that was already written. The threads of the story came together very well, and I think most readers would be satisfied by the conclusion.

As I said in the previous review, if you’re a fan of Roberts’ work, you should get yourself a copy of Musketeer Space. Stretching my memory back, I don’t recall a lot of science fiction in Roberts’ body of work, but hopefully this will be the harbinger of much more to come.

Now, I got the book in eBook form for being a Patreon supporter, but a quick scan of the internet doesn’t seem to throw up anywhere where a new reader might source the book in that form. The original blog posts are still available and can be found here.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Monthly roundup culture consumed – March 2016

So, what did March have in store for me?

Books

I finished off The House of Shattered Wings by Alienate de Bodard, based in an alternate Earth in a Paris shattered by magical war. I don’t always love angel/demon stories, but this was a very engaging read, with compelling characters and an absolutely mesmerising setting. de Bodard’s writing is just exquisite, and if there are more in this series I’ll be reading them.

I also got through Charlie Jane Anders All the Birds in the Sky, which is a kind of a mashup of science fiction and fantasy set in an alternate Earth that has both science and magic, and is also on the edge of environmental collapse. I first heard about the book on a recent episode of the Coode St Podcast, and if you do read the book the podcast is very worth listening to.

That was about if for fiction last month. I’m in the process of changing jobs, and I did a lot of work-related reading at home (as well as some non-fiction like The First 90 Days).

TV

Not much new TV this month, although I did crash my way through the second series of Daredevil (the Netflix original series). Like the first season, the second season is very, very violent but I quite liked the character progression, even if the main character (Matt Murdock) was a bit of a dick. Excellent fight scenes and great acting. If you like superheroes, you’ll probably already be watching.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is starting to grow on me a bit, it is a bit grittier than some of the other shoes with characters having to make more interesting moral choices. I’m still not sure how you make the underlying conceit of the show last more than 1 season, but I’m sure they’ll find a way.

I gave up on the new series of Heroes. If it even comes on Foxtel/Netflix I might go back and watch the end of the season, but I’m not in any hurry.

Movies

Batman vs Superman was OK. Not great, but not completely terrible. Of course, my expectations had been set absurdly low from what little critical attention I hadn’t been able to avoid, but overall I didn’t mind it. Maybe 6.5 out of 10?

Of course, I can’t really get behind this representation of Clark Kent. Christopher Reeves did the whole bumbling reporter schtick, and was so good at playing hapless that you could kind of believe that no one guessed he was Superman. This Clark Kent is just as square jawed and heroic as Superman, so it beggars belief that no one sees through his disguise immediately. I would imagine that the conversation amongst the executive team at the Daily Planet would go something like this:

“Hey Mary, who’s the new guy?”

“Why Jane, that’s Superman with a pair of glasses on. And not even very convincing glasses at that. Sort of hipster glasses without the accompanying beard. I wonder why he is bothering? And why does everyone keep calling him Clark?”

Wonder Woman, especially as Diana Prince, was cool though, so that made up for my Clark Kent disappointment.

Coming Up

Captain America will be towards the end of April, which should be fun. Looking forward to a bit of Cap vs Tony Stark shenanigans. Not sure what novel to read next, will give some careful thought.

So, what do you all have on the go at the moment? Anything I should be reading/watching?

 

Editors note 12/4/2016: due to further failed experiments with auto-publish, this post is late. Apologies!

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody – a review

Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2016This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2016 Reading Challenge. All my 2016 AWWC reviews can be found here.


Obernewtyn

Obernewtyn is the first book in the Obernewtyn series by Australian author Isobelle Carmody. This is the first book by Carmody that I’ve read, so I went in without any expectations, good or bad.

From Goodreads:

In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. And for Elspeth Gordie, it is also dangerous. That’s because Elspeth has a secret: she is a Misfit, born with mysterious mental abilities that she must keep hidden under threat of death. And her worries only multiply when she is exiled to the mountain compound known as Obernewtyn, where—for all her talents—Elspeth may finally and truly be out of her depth. Then she learns she’s not the only one concealing secrets at Obernewtyn.

First, what I liked about the book. The setting was fantastic – far future post apocalypse world, but one where a great deal of order has been restored (no roving bands of blood thirsty mutants to be found). “The Great White” is described in almost mythical terms, leaving the reader to wonder how the world got from here to there.

The main character, Elspeth, is sympathetically drawn and brings the reader into the world in a very believable way. I enjoyed her growing exploration of her powers, and the slow reveal of the wider world around her as she progressed.

The writing is good at a sentence level, very engaging and easy to stick with. It was an easy read, and I had no trouble picking the book back up over the few days it took me to get through it.

The plot was interesting, but quite slow moving. In fact, it was probably the pacing that through me out of the book the most. I kept waiting for more to happen, which might be a sign that my mind has been ruined by too many action movies.

Another issue I noticed with the book was the lack of development of secondary characters. The view the reader gets is quite superficial, and given the main character can read minds, there really isn’t any excuse for that. Providing depth for secondary characters when you only have one primary viewpoint is something I struggle with in my own writing, so I sympathise. And the series has been very popular, so I assume we get to know more about the secondary characters in later books. But as a stand alone, this is something I found a bit distancing in my read.

Overall it was a solid read, and the start of a very popular series of young adult novels. Well worth checking out if you like a bit of young adult dystopia!

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Monthly roundup culture consumed – February 2016

So, what did I do with February?

Books

 

I started the Isobelle Carmody series The Obernewtyn Chronicle, making my way through the first book Obernewtyn. I’ll be reviewing the book for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, so I won’t say much here. I enjoyed the book, but didn’t love it. Will be interested to see where the series goes though.

Sorcerer to the Crown: Sorcerer Royal 1 by Zen Cho was an interesting read. Set in an alternate 1800s in Britain, the story focuses on a young African man who is the first black man to ascend to the position of Sorcerer Royal who finds himself championing the cause of equality for women and the poor to have equal access to magic. The book is witty and fun to read, with a great cast of characters. I admit I was expecting something more in the vein of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (and there are certainly some similarities), however the book was a lot more light hearted. An excellent read, well worth picking up.

I also read the final book in Brandon Sanderson’s young adult superhero series, Calamity. A good series if you like Sanderson’s work, with an interesting take on superheroes. If you were going to start, you’d start at the beginning of the series though – the book wouldn’t make much sense read by itself.

TV

I’ve kept going with the sci fi series Killjoys on Foxtel about space based bounty hunters. Very gritty, with some good acting and interesting concepts/storylines. I read somewhere that it is produced by the same people as made Orphan Black, and the writing does have a similar feel to it.

The new Sherlock feature length The Abominable Bride was as excellent as always, with the 19th century plot cleverly worked into the modern BBC series. It reminded me of how good the series is, it’s a real shame the episodes are so few and far between. Compulsory viewing if you’re a fan of the series, but well worth having a look if you’re only a casual viewer. You’ll just have to ignore the brief tangents into the modern day.

I watched the end of The Shannara Chronicles, but I’m not sure I’ll be going back for the second series. The production values were excellent, but the acting didn’t really improve over the series and the plot didn’t really hold me. In the last few episodes, quite a few characters died and I didn’t really care – not a good sign!

Supergirl is continuing well. While not my favourite superhero franchise, it is something I can watch with the kids which is excellent. I can see that a few of the sub-plots (love triangles etc) are going to start to bug me more and more as time goes on, but on the whole it is very watchable TV.

Movies

I actually got out to see a movie in February. Deadpool, the Marvel movie in the X-Men universe (not, as I thought going in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe), was, in a word, excellent. Great writing, funny as all hell, convincing acting and with an adult sensibility that many of the superhero movies miss. If you don’t like sex, violence or bad language, best give it a miss. If you like the idea of a slightly more grown up superhero movie, don’t miss it. I suspect that a lot of the humour comes from comparing it with other superhero movies. Given that, if you haven’t watched much of the recent onslaught of MCU, DC and X-Men movies, this might not be one you have to rush out and watch. Still, excellent!

Coming Up

I’ve started on The House of Shattered Wings by Alienate de Bodard, based in an alternate Earth in a Paris shattered by magical war. Good reading so far, will let you know how it went next month!

Batman vs Superman is locked in for the end of March – looking forward to seeing how DC go with creating competition for the MCU.

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti – a review

Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2016This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2016 Reading Challenge. All my 2016 AWWC reviews can be found here.


Zeroes

 

I am a big fan of Australian author Deborah Biancotti’s work. It particular, I really enjoyed a short collection of hers called Bad Power from a few years back (see my review here). Bad Power focused on the downside of having super powers, and ever since reading it I’ve been hoping for a novel set in the Bad Power universe. I’m still waiting for that novel, but let me tell you Zeroes by Deborah Biancotti, Scott Westerfeld and Margo Lanagan is the next best thing.

From Goodreads:

Don’t call them heroes.

But these six Californian teens have powers that set them apart. They can do stuff ordinary people can’t.

Take Ethan, a.k.a. Scam. He’s got a voice inside him that’ll say whatever you want to hear, whether it’s true or not. Which is handy, except when it isn’t—like when the voice starts gabbing in the middle of a bank robbery. The only people who can help are the other Zeroes, who aren’t exactly best friends these days.

Enter Nate, a.k.a. Bellwether, the group’s “glorious leader.” After Scam’s SOS, he pulls the scattered Zeroes back together. But when the rescue blows up in their faces, the Zeroes find themselves propelled into whirlwind encounters with ever more dangerous criminals. And at the heart of the chaos they find Kelsie, who can take a crowd in the palm of her hand and tame it or let it loose as she pleases.

Filled with high-stakes action and drama, Zeroes unites three powerhouse authors for the opening installment of a thrilling new series.

I’m not usually a big fan of young adult work. While there is some excellent quality writing in the young adult genre, I find that the themes and characters in the novels are directed (quite correctly) at a much younger market, and as a result they don’t tend to resonate as strongly with me. Zeroes, however, did manage to hook me in. The protagonists are all teenagers, all born in the year 2000 and all in possession of superpowers. But their powers have serious limitations and they screw things up as often as they fix them, and I found that did resonate with me. My own (fading) memories of youth are of uncertainty, inexperience and getting things wrong. I think one of the reasons why I don’t connect with young adult books very much is that there is too much competence amongst the young characters who have no real life experience.

The take on superpowers in Zeroes is very cool, and very 21st century. The bulk of the powers rely on networking effects, amplified impact when groups or crowds are involved. In the age of mobile phones and social media, this move away from the awesomely powerful individual makes a lot of sense and is remarkably engaging.

All of the characters are flawed, there are no pure heroes to be had here. Greed, narcism and one character who is worryingly sociopathic – a full range of negative emotions and motivations are on display. So, I was surprised to find myself feeling a real connection to this set of characters – as a reader I wanted them to overcome their limitations, wanted them to become better. And the authors skilfully guide the character development to a satisfying payoff. No-one qualifies for sainthood by the end of the book, but there is real growth across what is a large cast of characters.

I was interested to see whether a book written by three authors could achieve the right level of consistency for a novel. I was pleased to find that I couldn’t really see the seams in the writing, it did feel like a cohesive book. I have read and enjoyed works by Lanagan and Biancotti, and this book had echoes of both but was very much its own thing. As a writer, I’m interested in their writing process, I understand that they put a lot of emphasis on achieving that consistency.

The plot itself moves along at a good pace, and I thought the authors effectively ratcheted up the tension by creating increasingly high stakes situations and good interpersonal interactions between the characters.

This is a funny book – lots of humour from the characters and plenty of amusing situations. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a strong line in humour, but it was refreshing and served to counteract some of the teenage angst that is necessary in even a well written young adult novel.

There was a good focus on diversity in the novel, with a good gender balance amongst the protagonists and a mix of ethnicities and a disabled character. The novel isn’t preachy about diversity, but I’ve really been enjoying work that portrays a wide range of characters without making a big deal of it, and this book definitely fits that description.

Considering I originally picked up Zeroes partly to be a Biancotti completest, I had a very enjoyable experience reading this book. Highly recommended for young adult readers and people who like their superheroes flawed and very 21st century.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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Monthly roundup culture consumed – January 2016

So, what did I do with January?

Books

Surprisingly not a lot of reading. The only two books I finished during the month were The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was a interesting read. The Locke Lamora of the title is a thief and leader of The Gentlemen Bastards, a thieving band that uses mummery and deception to make their scores. After some initial origin story (which remains interwoven through the rest of the book), what follows is a twisted tale of deception and betrayal, populated with an array of characters that range from anti-heroes to outright villains. I enjoy the grimdark style of story, especially in books like this that maintain a better gender balance. I enjoyed the book and will probably get the next in the series eventually.

The Bands of Mourning is the next in the second era Mistborn novels by Brandon Sanderson. Set in a world that has started to mix technology with magic, the story combines elements of the American wild west, an almost steampunk vibe and fantasy. These books are very popular, and extremely readable.

TV

I’ve started to watch The Shannara Chronicles, based on the books by Terry Brooks. The show has high production values and is beautifully shot, however I’m struggling with the acting, which is very wooden (including actors who I’ve seen give much better performances in other shows). I like fantasy enough that I’m giving this more of a chance, but it isn’t looking hopeful.

The sci fi series Killjoys has just started on Foxtel. Space based bounty hunters. I like the production values, but I’ve only seen the one episode so far so I’ll save commentary until a bit further in.

I started the second season of From Dusk Til Dawn, a horror series based loosely on the movie of the same name. I like what they’ve done to expand the world of the vampires, and seeing the guy that played the foreign exchange student in That 70s Show as a bad-arse vampire has a certain amount of comic value.

My 7 year old has started to watch Teen Titans, a cartoon about five superheroes (Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven and Cyborg). The story lines are pretty wacky, but in a sign of my enduring immaturity, I’m finding Teen Titans as funny as my daughter does. If you’ve got kids and you want them to like superheroes then I certainly recommend checking them out.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve become somewhat addicted to superhero TV. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is the latest in the TV that brought us Arrow and The Flash. I’ve only watched the first two episodes, and it is OK so far. However, I must concede that I’m struggling to see how the central conceit can last for the next few episodes, let alone more than one season. I guess I’ll have to watch along to find out.

The latest season of Grimm caught us a bit by surprise, so we missed the first few episodes. I really like Grimm, they have been doing a great job building the world season by season. One of my concerns at the start, around the dearth of strong female characters, has been slowly addressed and while it is not a perfect show on that score, it has significantly improved. If you haven’t watched it though, I recommend starting from the beginning – jumping in on season 5 would be a little disorienting.

Movies

None! A few coming up in February, but my movie watching in January was severely limited.

Coming Up

During February I’ll be continuing to watch the TV shows above and work out which of the new shows I’ll continue with. I’m also planning to watch the new Sherlock feature length The Abominable Bride. I’ve started reading the Isobelle Carmody series The Obernewtyn Chronicles. I’m looking forward to Zoolander 2 and Deadpool at the movies.

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier – a review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2016 Reading Challenge. All my 2016 AWWC reviews can be found here.


Razorhurst

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier won the Aurealis Award for best horror novel in 2015 (I try to read the Aurealis and Ditmar award winning novels as a way of keeping in touch with the Australian SF scene).

I remain too lazy to recap storylines, so from the Goodreads blurb:

The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.

Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.

Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.

When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living . . .

One of the things that really struck me about Razorhurst was the authenticity of the writing. The novel is set in Sydney Australia in the 1930s, and the story has a verisimilitude that leaves the reader with the impression that Larbalestier undertook a hell of a lot of research.

Geographically the story is set very near to where I live, and it was amazing to peek into the world of Sydney just 80 odd years ago, and reflect on what an incredible century of progress there has been. The Sydney of the novel is a dark and gritty place, where the poor don’t stand much of a chance to make much of their life. I found it odd walking the streets of modern inner-Sydney and comparing it to the world of the book, seeing hipsters where there used to be beggars, and trendy cafes where there used to be slums.

The two point of view characters, Kelpie and Dymphna, start the novel seemingly worlds apart. Kelpie is a street urchin, slowly starving, stunted from malnutrition and barely getting by, plagued by the ghosts that haunt the streets. Dymphna is a beautiful young woman, one of the most sought after prostitutes in Sydney. The dynamic between the two creates the tension that drives the action. Without giving too much away, there were a few twists that highlight the differences and similarities between the two in startling and thought provoking ways. The choice of point of view characters and the time period allowed for some interesting exploration of issues of misogyny and empowerment.

The story rockets along at a good pace, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader very interested. The secondary characters are well fleshed out, and the dialogue sharp. The use of the supernatural elements of the story are kept on a short leash, and the story cleaves more towards historical fiction than speculative. This is not horror in the “bump in the night” style. The scary characters are not the ghosts, but rather the very-much-alive human beings that populate the seedy underbelly of Australia in the Great Depression.

Overall this is a highly readable historical fiction, with some subtle supernatural themes. Well worth checking out, especially if you are a resident of Sydney.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier – a review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2016 Reading Challenge. All my 2016 AWWC reviews can be found here.

 


Dreamer's Pool

Dreamer’s Pool is the first book in the Blackthorn and Grim series by New Zealand born author Juliet Marillier. This was the first book by Marillier that I have read. I picked it up because it won the Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel in 2015 (I try to read the Aurealis and Ditmar award winning novels as a way of keeping in touch with the Australian SF scene).

I must admit that I was a little put off by the cover, which conjured up images of a very romantic novel. And when read in the context of the cover, even the title of the novel seems a tad on the romantic side. While I have nothing against romance-heavy novels in the abstract, I must admit I find that I tend to procrastinate when faced with actually reading one. As a result, I put off starting Dreamer’s Pool for quite a few months.

Finally, I slapped myself in the face, gritted my teeth and sat down to read because it would be good for me. The novel-consuming version of eating my vegetables. My own writing has all the romance of a roadside diner on the Sydney to Canberra freeway (Australia’s most boring freeway), so I could stand a bit more exposure to good quality romantic writing. Besides, broadening my reading was part of the point of doing the AWWC, wasn’t it?

All that preparation. All that mental fortitude. All those good intentions. Wasted! Because Dreamer’s Pool isn’t a romantic novel at all. Well, I guess the story of the prince and his bride-to-be might be considered romantic. And I suppose the quest to resolve that situation is at the heart of the novel. And I guess it does turn around the triumph of true love over pragmatism. But I don’t care! Because the two main characters, Blackthorn and Grim, they are fantastic. No romance at all. Their story is one of two broken people and the power of friendship to kickstart a healing process.

I’m getting too lazy to recap storylines, so from the Goodreads blurb:

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

The story is much darker than this blurb would have you believe. Blackthorn is an excellent character, whose perspective serves to leech away any chance of a sappy interpretation of people’s motivations. She is on a course of vengeance, held back only by the threat of destruction by the mysterious fey who released her. This motivation stains every human interaction she engages in.

Grim is devoted to Blackthorn, but broken himself. Marillier draws Grim as perhaps the most sympathetic of all the characters, but there is an undercurrent of violence that adds an edge to all his interactions as well.

Prince Oran, the third point of view character, is very much the embodiment of a modern 21st century perspective embedded in a medieval setting. He loves and listens to his people. He takes an enlightened perspective on things. He is an innovator. He is drawn somewhat sympathetically as well, and the resolution of his dilemma is the mystery that the story turns on.

The writing is excellent, very engaging and all the qualities of a real page turner. The plot is relatively straight forward, with the reader guessing many of the twists well in advance of the characters. Much of the tension comes from Blackthorn’s need for vengeance and how it clouds her perspective on the problem in front of her.

All in all an excellent read. This review isn’t really for the legions of devoted Marillier fans. I’m aiming this at you, yes you in the corner. The person who doesn’t like romance and who almost didn’t read even this review once you saw the image of the cover above. Do yourself a favour, and read this book. It’s not award winning for nothing!

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


Creative Commons License

This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Monthly Roundup – August through December 2015

So, my monthly roundups haven’t been quite so monthly lately. I thought I’d get back into it with a quick canter through the latter part of 2015. This will, by necessity, not be comprehensive, however to give a sense of what I liked.

Books read

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson is a bit of a dissection of the generation ship trope in science fiction. It points out a flaw that I’ve often thought about in terms of terraforming other worlds (in fact, I touch on it in my flash fiction piece The Regersek Zone – see my bibliography if you’d like to have a read). Aurora is a bit hard going at times – it took me a few attempts to get into it. But well worth reading – I suspect it is going to be one of those books that define the 2015 reading year for science fiction.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin is set in the world of the Song of Ice and Fire series, but is a prequel of sorts. It tells the story of the knight Ser Duncan (Dunk) and his squire Egg. It was very enjoyable, but I suspect you need to need to be a fan of Game of Thrones to get the most out of it.

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marlier is another excellent book in her Blackthorn and Grim series. I’ll probably review it in totality for the Australian Women Writers’ reading challenge, but well worth a read if you like fantasy.

I’ll probably also review Zeroes by Scott Westerfield, Margo Managuan and Deborah Biancotti for the AWWC, but I’ll also encourage you to go out and buy the book now. Teenagers with super powers that walk a fine line between pathetic and awesome (a bit like the UK TV series Misfits if anyone saw that). I really enjoyed the book, looking forward to the rest of the series (for the writers in the audience, a great example of seamless writing from multiple authors).

Blonde Bombshell and Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages, both by UK writer Tom Holt, were both fun reads. Holt has a very amusing turn of phrase, and I enjoyed the books immensely as a result. They are not what I’d call page turners though – I took a break from both books for a few weeks without feeling compelled to return to the storyline.

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig was my pre-seeing-The-Force-Awakens reading. None of the main characters from the movie franchise, but a very enjoyable read, especially to be introduced to the murderous and mostly unhinged robot Mr Bones. I quite enjoy Wendig’s blog posts on writing – he makes the case for the hybrid writer (sometimes published mainstream, sometimes indie) quite convincingly. I especially liked his reaction to be asked to write a Star Wars novel, which was to basically geek out about it. The novel is set between the sixth and seventh movies, and was quite enjoyable.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie rounded out the Ancillary series. A great space opera covering issues of gender, colonialism, empire and identity. It was not as affecting as the first book (Ancillary Justice), however a solid end to a very enjoyable series. If you haven’t read any, start at the beginning.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher is the first book in a new series (The Cinder Spires series). This is very commercial fiction, page turning and a rollocking storyline. I really enjoyed it. The setting (Aether-punk?) had a fresh feeling, and there were relatable characters and a sense of a wider, more complex world that I’m sure will be explored in future books. I’ll be sticking with it.

Speaking of commercial fiction, its current king, Brandon Sanderson, released a new book in his Mistborn series, Shadows of Self. I’ve liked these last couple of forays into the Mistborn world. The sense of a secondary world fantasy “moving on” and developing technology is interesting, and not enough people bring in the tropes of a Western into their fantasy. Sanderson doesn’t need my signal boosting, but for what its worth it is a good read. If you haven’t read any of the Mistborn books, it might be worth going back to the beginning (although you could probably read this one on its own).

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi is a near future thriller about water shortages in southern America. The water knifes of the title are sought of secret agents tasked with either protecting or stealing water supplies for various states. A fascinating extrapolation on how environmental changes might impact the political landscape, as well as having fast paced action.

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier was the winner of Best Horror novel in the Aurealis Awards last year. Not normally my cup of tea, but the setting (based as it is very near my current living arrangements) and some damn fine writing made me glad the Aurealis judges pointed me in its direction. I’ll be writing a fuller review soon, but another book it is worth going out and grabbing.

Television

The Daredevil and Jessica Jones Netflix original series were probably the highlight of the last six months. I loved both series, grittier and darker as they were. Daredevil probably edged out Jessica Jones for me because of a stronger vein of dark humour that ran through it, but it was close run. If you like superhero TV these are both well worth watching, but don’t let your kids anywhere near them!

But on the subject of superhero TV you can let your kids near, The Flash and Supergirl are going strong. Both series seem pretty light weight after you’ve watched the Marvel Netflix original series, but it is still entertaining popcorn. Arrow is probably my favourite series in this linked up DC universe, but again I wouldn’t let my kids get close to it either.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has been good as well. Too much superhero TV!

It is not really speculative fiction, but I’ve also inhaled the cop-comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine recently. Laugh out loud funny.

Movies

Well, Star Wars: The Force Awakens of course. It flew by in a wave of nostalgia and action (lots of action – the action virtually never stops). I do have some thoughts, but I think I’ll hold back – it is still relatively early days and I appreciated people’s restraint in the few weeks it took me to see the film. I am thinking about going to see it again.

Spectre, the latest James Bond, was good but I must admit I kept waiting for a final twist that never really came. Still, everything you want in a James Bond film. Well worth seeing if you like the action/adventure space.

I also saw Mad Max: Fury Road which I really enjoyed. I can see the feminist angles to the movie which really added to the story. The special effects were great and the action unrelenting.

All the other movies I saw this year were aimed at my 7 year old, so I might not list them out.

Awards

Also, Ditmar nominations are open. For any overseas readers, the Ditmars are Australia’s speculative fiction awards that are via popular vote. Details are below – I’d like to encourage any eligible readers to get in and nominate some Australian work that they loved last year!

Ditmar Nominations Open

Nominations for the 2016 Australian SF (“Ditmar”) awards are now open and will remain open until one minute before midnight Brisbane time on Sunday, 31st of January, 2016 (ie. 11.59pm, GMT+10). Postal nominations must be postmarked no later than Friday, 29th of January, 2016.

The current rules, including Award categories can be found at:

http://wiki.sf.org.au/Ditmar_rules

You must include your name with any nomination. Nominations will be accepted only from natural persons active in fandom, or from full or supporting members of Contact 2016, the 2016 Australian National SF Convention. Where a nominator may not be known to the Ditmar subcommittee, the nominator should provide the name of someone known to the subcommittee who can vouch for the nominator’s eligibility. Convention attendance or membership of an SF club are among the criteria which qualify a person as “active in fandom”, but are not the only qualifying criteria. If in doubt, nominate and mention your qualifying criteria. If you received this email directly, you almost certainly qualify.

You may nominate as many times in as many Award categories as you like,although you may only nominate a particular person, work or achievementonce. The Ditmar subcommittee, which is organised under the auspices theStanding Committee of the Natcon Business Meeting, will rule on situations where eligibility is unclear. A partial and unofficial eligibility list, to which everyone is encouraged to add, can be found here:

http://wiki.sf.org.au/2016_Ditmar_eligibility_list

While online nominations are preferred, nominations can be made in anumber of ways:

1. online, via this form:

2. via email to ditmars@sf.org.au; or

3. by post to:

Ditmars 6 Florence Road NEDLANDS WA 6009 AUSTRALIA

Conclusion

Phew – that’s covered a lot of ground. As you can see my reading slowed significantly in the second half of the year. Work and family took me away from reading very much. So, what have you been reading/watching lately?