Category Archives: Books read

Rundown on each book I read

Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.



Winter Be My Shield cover

Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier is the first book in the Children of the Black Sun trilogy. This was Spurrier’s debut novel and she has subsequently gone on to finish the trilogy.

This book has sat on my to be read shelf for a long time. I received it at an Aurealis Award ceremony a couple of years back, and it has sat staring accusingly at me from my bookshelf for all that time. And it is too bad that I waited so long to get into the book, because I really enjoyed it.

Spurrier has constructed a cohesive political and social system that sits on top of an interesting and imaginative form of magic. It took me a little bit of time to place the different countries and their relation to each other, but it clicked into place about a third of the way through the book. Something about the politics seemed fresh, I enjoyed the discovery process as we learnt more about the world.

The setting is well realised, the kind of biting cold that it is hard to imagine in Australia (or at least the parts of Australia that I’ve lived in).

It is not for the faint of heart though – the story is definitely on the grimdark end of the fantasy spectrum. There are some very cranky people that express their crankiness in some very direct ways. However the violence and grit never seem gratuitous, rather they add texture to the world.

The main characters were an interesting lot, and Spurrier explores interesting questions of diversity in her treatment of the recently physically disabled main character and the treatment of magic users in one of the societies in the world.

It is a good start to a series and I will be reading the rest.

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 Round Up – July 2014

Not a lot read through the month of July. I’m afraid family, work and writing are combining to chew up a lot of my free time. I recently discovered that some fine folk had ported the old D&D games Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II onto the iPad, and they have sucked away what little time I have left.

I did however finish Auxiliary Justice by Anne Leckie. I enjoyed the book – good solid space opera with an engaging protagonist and interesting concepts around ship consciousness when spread across multiple “individuals” and a society where gender is irrelevant to the point where the protagonist thinks of everyone as “she”. A lot has been written about Auxiliary Justice and I’ve decided that I can add precisely zero to the debate, so I’ll leave it there. Worth a read if you’re into space opera.

I also finished Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier, however I’m writing up a review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge so I won’t give away any thoughts here.

As reported earlier, I’m also reading the serial novel Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts. A lot of fun so far, and I’ve also been enjoying the ecosystem she has been creating around the novel. As at the time of writing I’ve finished chapter 9 and am a couple of chapters behind.

My six year old daughter and I watched Star Wars for the first time (episode four) and that has given me a bit of Star Wars nostalgia. I’ve dipped into and out of into the Star Wars novels since they first started coming out, and in honour of my daughter’s first step into the universe I’ve decided to dip into a sequence of Star Wars novels I have yet read – the Fate of the Jedi. The series kicks off with a novel called Outcast  by Aaron Allston. Previous forays into the Star Wars novel universe have met with mixed results, it’ll be interesting to see how this goes.

By the way, my daughter’s verdict on Star Wars? “It’s good. I particularly like Princess Leia’s hair.”

On the podcast side of things, I’ve been rapidly running through the back catalog of Tea and Jeopardy by Emma Newman. An interesting SF interview show out of the UK, that adds a little radio play style bit before and after the main interview, in which the interviewee is put into (and often escapes) a spot of mild peril. I’m really enjoying it, and there is a certain sense of continuity that is keeping me listening to the episodes in order. I’m almost caught up!

I thought I’d mention TV here as well, if there is anything of interest. Main genre TV watching for me at the moment is Continuum (the Canadian SF series about a time travelling cop from the future and the group of terrorists she’s chased back to our time). This season has been good – I’ve particularly liked the greying of the lines between “good guy” and “bad guy”.

I’ve also been watching the first few episodes of season 2 of Defiance, which has been suitably interesting. More on that in future months.

The Tomorrow People is heading towards the season (and series) finale. I think the show had some potential, but I can understand why it got axed – it wasn’t quite hitting that potential.

Looking forward to the launch of BBC First on Foxtel where they are giving us all 10 episodes of Musketeers, which looks very good from the previews.

I’ve recorded the first couple of episodes of The Strain as well, but I’m as yet undecided as to whether I’ll be watching.

That’s all for this month. What have you been reading/listening to/watching? Any suggestions?

Watermarks by Jason Nahrung (Cosmos magazine)

I don’t normally mention individual stories that I come across, but one of my favourite authors, Jason Nahrung, has a story in the latest edition of the Cosmos magazine (June/July 2014). The story is called Watermarks.

Cosmos is an Australian popular science magazine, where local speculative fiction luminary Cat Sparks edits the fiction. She usually chooses stories that are related to science in some way, and has a very discerning eye (so discerning that I wouldn’t even dare submit any of my work!). But that eye for quality means that you can always be guaranteed a good read with whatever short story she chooses.

And so it is the case with Watermarks, which represents a vignette of life in a future, drowned Brisbane. It is a story of unrequited love, of the slow erosion of society when faced with unparalleled but sedate disaster and of the importance of sunblock. I enjoyed it very much, and recommend picking up a copy of Cosmos at your local newsagent and giving it a read.

Monthly round up – June 2014

I took two novella length works for my plane reading when going down to the Continuum convention in Melbourne. Horn and Bleed by Peter M. Ball were published by Twelfth Planet Press a few years back. Both have the same main protagonist, who is a burnt out ex-cop with a strong connection into the world of the fae. I enjoyed both works, I liked the hard boiled main character, the story lines were entertaining and moved along at a good pace. I think both could have stood to be a little longer, but that is probably because I was enjoying them and didn’t want them to end quite so quickly!

I also read the latest Jim Butcher novel, Skin Game. What can I say, I like the series. Not much really to add to previous reviews – this one was a heist novel, moved along at a good pace and I liked the unexpected plot development towards the end involving a particular kind of sword. I think the novels are starting to overly rely on the intervention of the Christian God, with a little too much “let me explain away this giant coincidence that resolves the novel in a  very convenient way by invoking one religion’s God and his/her ineffable plan” for my liking. But hey, when you back your characters into the kinds of corners that Butcher tends to, you probably need an all powerful deity save the day.

Apart from that I’m still working on Ancillary Justice and Winter Be My Shield. I’m enjoying both books but not getting a lot of time to read.

On the TV front, I started watching the new series of Defiance which is being fast tracked from the US on Foxtel. I enjoy the show – feels like a well used universe and I like the interactions between the alien races (feels a bit like Farscape from that perspective). Will be interested to see where they take the season this year.

I’ve also been watching the new season of ArcherArcher: Vice. Ah, Archer. So problematic. So funny.

Continuum is a good Canadian sci-fi series, well worth checking out. I’ve also been watching the remake of The Tomorrow People, but mainly in solidarity from vague but fond memories of the series from my youth. I don’t necessarily recommend it.

That’s all for this month. Stay tuned.

Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.



The Traitor Queen cover

The Traitor Queen is the third book in the Traitor Spy trilogy. I reviewed the first book, The Ambassador’s Missionhere and the second book, The Rogue, here.

OK, so I’m starting to see the issue with reading all three books of a trilogy in a row and reviewing each separately – you end up with a lot of repetitive thoughts on the series as a whole. I think from now on if I’m going to read through a series consecutively I might do a single review for the whole series. Lesson learnt!

So, my feeling on The Traitor Queen don’t deviate much from my comments on the previous two books. Strong characters, good line-by-line writing, a little lacking on the plot/tension side of things, great world building and good attempt to integrate same sex relationships as a normal part of the world. If you’re interested in more thoughts on that front, I’d recommend my previous reviews (links at the top of this review).

In terms of a third book in a series, all the major plot points were closed off by the end. The final battle between the Traitors and the Sachakans happened, but was a little anti-climactic. I actually enjoyed the smaller scale drama of the roet/Thieves/Lillia storyline much better.

I quite enjoyed the sense that the Guild was having to adapt on many fronts at once – politically, technologically, internally. It gave a sense of change and time marching forward, which doesn’t always happen in a fantasy world.

Canavan has introduced several younger characters, and if she was to ever revisit this world again (which I don’t believe she has any plans to), I think leaping forward into the future and not focusing on any of the older characters at all would be the way to go. Anyi and Lillia would form a solid basis for a new series, especially if combined with dealing with the results of the world changes mentioned above.

Overall a solid series that I enjoyed reading.

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.

May 2014 – mini reviews

So, what have I been reading this month? As it turns out, not very much.

As mentioned in last month’s wrap up, I tackled King Rat by China Mieville – my first Mieville read and quite good. I can see why people love his use of language. There were times where it felt a little self consciously fancy, but generally speaking it was enviably crunchy in its ability to evoke emotion in a really visceral way. I enjoyed it very much.

Apart from that, I haven’t read very much at all. I started Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier (which will be a full review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge) and Auxiliary Justice by Ann Leckie (to see what all the fuss is about), but I haven’t finished either of them.

 

The Rogue by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.



The Rogue

The Rogue is the second book in the Traitor Spy trilogy. I reviewed the first book, The Ambassador’s Mission, here.

The story follows straight on from The Ambassador’s Mission. I found myself gravitating towards the “home” plot, involving Cery the thief, Sonea the Black Magician and some internal shenanigans in the Guild, rather than the one that followed a trail of international intrigue. Still, The Rogue expanded even more on the politics wider world and introduced some tantalising glimpses into other societies, which I found quite interesting. Canavan has created a complex and intriguing world and I’m sure there was a depth of world building that went on to create such a coherent narrative.

As with the first novel, the pacing was a little slow for me. At the end of the day I just wasn’t worried for the main characters. I suspect this was one of the reasons that I warmed to a sub-plot involving a new character tricked into learning black magic. As the character was new, I wasn’t as certain that they’d survive, and that added an extra dollop of tension, which I quite liked.

Great to see a normalisation of homosexual relationships, with the same attention given to the gay character’s love life as the straight ones.  Truth be told, there were points where I found all the relationships a little vexing (“you’re the Ambassador man, no good can come from sleeping with a senior official in another government!”) but then I’m becoming a cranky old man (who apparently dislikes other people’s happiness) faster than I’d like.

All in all a very solid middle novel to an enjoyable trilogy.

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.

April 2014 – mini reviews

So, what have I read in April?

Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archives) by Brandon Sanderson is a great popcorn read. I liked the first book in the Stormlight Archives, and I kept coming back to this second book. I don’t often get so caught up in a book. These are huge fat fantasy novels, but ones that I really like.

Inspired  by the previous read, I also grabbed one of Sanderson’s first books, Elantris. It was interesting to go back and read such an early work, Sanderson has certainly honed his craft over the years. However, some of the elements that makes his later work so addictive were there – the multiple points of view, a logically developed magic system. Mostly I found it interesting to think about the journey Sanderson has made as an author though.

Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan will be another one of my Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge reviews, so nothing about that here.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that I also read the latest Discworld novel Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. I love the Discworld series, and the latest is as good as ever. If you have been reading the books, you’ll read this one whether I recommend it or not. If you haven’t, there are better jumping on points earlier in the series. But definitely a good book for the fans.

I started on King Rat by China Mieville but haven’t finished yet. More on that in May.

And that’s the month that was April 2014!

The Ambassador’s Mission by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.


The Ambassador's Mission

My first review for the 2014 Australian Women Writers’ challenge. I’m very slow of the mark this year.

Years ago I read Canavan’s first trilogy set in this world – The Black Magician trilogy. I enjoyed it at the time, but hadn’t really followed up on any of Canavan’s other work. When looking for books for the 2014 Australian Women Writers challenge, the thought of continuing some adventures in the same world appealed.

Having been years since reading the first trilogy, it took me a while to re-orient myself in The Ambassador’s Mission. There was a bit of assumed knowledge in the first few chapters – assumed knowledge that I couldn’t quite bring to bear. It made the first part of the novel hard going – I couldn’t remember the rules of the world, exactly what black magic was (for instance), who the characters from the last trilogy were and their relationships with each other.

Once I got past that “entrance exam”, I remembered why I’d liked the first trilogy. Canavan has created an interesting world and this new book expanded that world significantly. The focus on different countries and cultures was very interesting.

Canavan makes interesting comments on same sex relationships and gendered power imbalances through some of her choices for her characters. The points are well made without being overwhelming and I think added to a more sophisticated feel for the book.

Having said all that, the plot is a little slow for my tastes and it didn’t feel like the characters were in enough “peril” (for want of a better word). I never strongly felt that there was a possibility that they would fail (or die), and without that I found it difficult to get as strongly engaged with the characters as I would have liked.

A great book and well worth the read, especially if you like a more sophisticated take on a secondary world fantasy.

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.

 

Catch up December 2013 – March 2014 – mini reviews

This post contains the first of my “reviews in brief” for books I’ve read. Normally this will be a monthly post, but this month I’ve got to catch up a few months in a row.

Over the summer break (that’s December for any northern hemisphere readers), my wife and I  took the kids to Bali and Western Australia, to visit my brother-in-law and his family for Christmas. Here is a chance to put a dent in the dreaded Kindle to-be-read pile I thought to myself as we set off.

I didn’t. I read Wild Card books instead.

Wild Cards is a anthology series that first came out in the 1980s. It deals with a world where an alien virus kills 90% of the people infected by it (Black Queens), hideously deforms 9% (Jokers), and transforms the lucky 1% into super powered Aces. I loved it at the time, it was a super hero style universe without the somewhat cheesy standard DC/Marvel super heroes that I’d become jaded with in my teen years. Hey, it was the pre-hipster era. Nobody told me you could watch things like Batman and The Incredible Hulk ironically.

I remembered the series recently when I was preparing to attend a George RR Martin interview at the Opera House and came across the first Wild Card book in one of my many boxes of books while looking for my copy of the first volume of Game of Thrones for Martin to sign.

On a whim I looked it up on Amazon to see if you could get copies for the Kindle. I’d never been able to find all the books in the series as a kid (pre-internet and all that).

And there it was, an eBook copy of the original with extra bonus stories. I downloaded it and was instantly transported into 1980′s me heaven. Fortunately it had not been visited by the suck fairy. I devoured it, and then spent the rest of the holidays reading all the books that had been re-released on Kindle. Including the original trilogy:

  • Wild Cards
  • Aces High
  • Jokers Wild

These first three books were very much anthologies, with significantly varied stories. I was amazed at how well a lot of the story telling had held up. These was some material that might be considered slightly problematic in terms of how women are portrayed, but it didn’t seem to grate too much (at least not with me). Super powers in the 80s.

There is a significant gap – it seems like quite a few of the books are yet to make it to eBook form (although from looking at future releases it seems like they are making their way through them over the next year or two). I skipped forward to  a much more recent stand alone book and subsequent trilogy, that was made up of straight novels with an ongoing plot.

  • Death Draws Five
  • Busted Flush
  • Inside Straight
  • Suicide Kings

I didn’t enjoy these four as much as the original books, but it was interesting jumping forward to the 2000s to see how the world had evolved. In particular, watching a world evolve to deal with people whose card might “turn” any time from puberty onwards, especially when they are under stress. I probably preferred the first stand alone novel (Death Draws Five) to the trilogy.

On top of these, I also read two stand alone books. Dueces Down  tells the story of people who get powers, but they are so weak that they don’t really count as Aces. The second book – Fort Freak – was a mosaic novel focusing on the police station that operates out of Jokertown – the Joker slum in New York City. Both were interesting reads, and while not as powerful as the original set of books, they still were very entertaining. So, 9 books later I’d finished my holiday and made virtually no dent in my existing reading pile.

The next four of the older books will be released over the next three months, and I suspect you’ll see them show up in a future monthly review.

I also read the first two books in the Traitor Spy trilogy by Trudi Canavan, however I’m planning a full review of those books for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge so I won’t say any more about them.

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is the sequel to The Long Earth, a story about the discovery of many, many unpopulated parallel versions of Earth and mankind’s colonisation of them. It was a good story, well told but lacked the wow factor of the first book, and the stakes didn’t seem very high. It seemed to be setting up for a third book in the series – perhaps that one will be more exciting!

There – we’re up to date.