Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge.

Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti is one of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press (12 boutique collections of stories by Australian women writers). It is made up of five shorter stories, including:

  • Shades of Grey
  • Palming the Lady
  • Web of Lies
  • Bad Power
  • Cross That Bridge

This is the first work by Ms Biancotti that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. The five stories are set it the same world, a version of modern Australia where some people have highly unique and personalised powers (the exception being the short story Bad Power which is set in the same world but in an earlier time period).

I think the setting established in this collection would lend itself well to a longer story as well, and this collection did an excellent job at establishing a very interesting background if Ms Biancotti ever decided to go in that direction.

I loved the way the stories related. They were very cleverly crafted to fit in to one other well. Minor characters introduced in one story become dominant in another. I don’t think you’d get anywhere near as much impact/understanding if you read the stories out of order. The writing is fairly dark but with very balanced characters and each story contains an interesting exploration of aspects of human nature and how people react to the unknown.

Shades of Grey introduces the world and Samuel Rainer (“Esser”) Grey, a wealthy man used to getting his own way in life who finds that he is literally indestructible and isn’t impressed. It is an interesting exploration of a man who, through both his wealth and his power, finds himself living a consequence free life and the lengths he goes to in order to try and re-introduce consequences into it to feel more human. This is not a pleasant tale – Ms Biancotti takes Grey to a dark place. But as a result the story packed more of a punch.

Palming the Lady takes a minor character from the first story, Detective Enora Palmer and makes her the lead. In this story, she is investigating a complaint by a university student (Matthew Webb – somewhat unlikeable in this story which is unfortunate given our shared last name) about being stalked by a homeless woman. It turns out the homeless woman has a power as well. I liked the way the unnamed homeless woman was described, taking the reader from a superficial description of her appearance (mimicking most of our initial reactions to homeless people) to making her a very sympathetic, richly described character, all without telling us her name.

Web of Lies focuses on in on the Matthew Webb character. His father has just died, and it turns out that Webb has a power as well, one that his father has kept him medicated against for most of his life. The story is mostly told from Webb’s drug/alcohol/hangover addled perspective. With Webb’s disintegration we also see his mother’s emergence from her own prescription drug haze. The mother character is very interesting/chilling, and by the end of the story I found myself rethinking the entire family power dynamics.

Bad Power was very interesting. Told in first person and in a different (much earlier) time period, it tells the story of one of the first people in Australia to have emerging powers and the reaction of those around her. The style of story telling is very different, and to be honest it took me a couple of pages to work out what was going on (the connection between the first three stories is a lot clearer, this one you have to work at a bit). The story telling is strong and quite dark, but the ending is more surprising as a result. Having finished the book and looking back, I would say this is probably my favourite story of the lot although I might not have said that when I was in the middle of reading it. I think the shift in time and setting worked well to provide a contrast to the other stories.

Cross That Bridge is back to modern Australia, this time focusing on Detective Palmer’s new partner Detective Maxillius Ponti. Detective Ponti has a knack for finding lost children and uses it to track down Angie, a young girl who has used a power of her own to leave her suburban life behind. It is probably the most optimistic of the five stories, with Detective Ponti seeming comfortable with his power and using it for good. It nicely rounds out the collection.

The blurb for this book says “If you like Haven and Heroes, you’ll love Bad Power“. Having just watched season 1 of Haven, I can certainly see where the comparison is coming from – Detective Palmer reminded me a lot of Special Agent Audrey Parker and the view of powers as more of a curse than a blessing is a theme that runs through both shows. Bad Power is sufficiently different as to stand apart though – as much as I enjoyed Haven, Bad Power is a much more intelligent treatment of the subject.

This is an excellent collection, and I highly recommend it.

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 Unported License.

Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge.

I recently read Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts and liked it a lot. On the strength of that collection I decided to give Ms Roberts latest trilogy a try. Power and Majesty is book one of the Creature Court trilogy, a fantasy series set (going off the map at the front) in an alternate Earth, more specifically in an alternate Italy.

Teenagers Velody, Delphine and Rhian have come to the city of Aufleur (an alternate Rome?) to become an apprentice dressmaker, ribboner and florister respectively. One night Velody sees a young man (Garnet) fall from the sky and land in the street outside. He displays magical abilities and sees in her the ability to use the same magic. Freaking out, Velody agrees to give up her powers and give them to Garnet, then promptly loses her memory of the encounter.

12 years or so later, Garnet dies and Velody suddenly gets her power back. She enters the world of the Creature Court, where powered individuals fight attacks from the sky at night to keep the city safe (the normal citizenry are completely oblivious to both the danger and the Creature Court and indeed seem to spend their days celebrating an almost never ending series of festivals). The Court is a decadent place and the rest of the book describes Velody’s trials and tribulations as she attempts to navigate its somewhat murky waters.

The magic system is very interesting – practitioners are aligned to a particular animal and can split themselves into multiple instances of that animal (although I have to think that splitting your consciousness multiple ways to control your various animal vessels has got to at least involve a headache). The Creature Court is divided into a hierarchy depending on levels of power, with more powerful members having stronger abilities. I liked the way the magic was described and the complex web of interrelationships that make up the Court.

Sometimes the first book in a trilogy works well as a stand alone novel as well. This is not one of those books. It felt very much like the first in a series, and established the major characters without fully introducing the main antagonist (assuming you consider the danger from the sky as the main antagonist). If you considered this as a stand alone book, it would feel a little underdone. As a start of a trilogy it did a good job of whetting my appetite for the rest of the series.

I enjoyed the writing and the characters seemed well realised to me. The dialogue was great and the main characters seemed quite three dimensional. The minor characters were also excellent, with my personal favourite being the Sentinel Macready. The pacing was just about spot on and there was a good balance of violence, vicious politics and romantic elements (although I must say that the cover makes the book look like it is going to be mainly a romance and I wouldn’t describe it that way at all).

As someone with very little interest in the craft/fashion world there were aspects of Velody, Delphine and Rhian’s professional day jobs that were difficult to generate enthusiasm for. I suspect someone with a stronger interest would have got more out of those sections of the book.

The only bit of the story that bothered me a little was that there was a touch of the never-done-martial-arts-before-go-into-the-woods-for-a-week-and-become-a-kung-fu-master-accompanied-by-a-suitable-video-montage in how quickly Velody came into mastery of her powers. Given the painstaking time it took each of the three women to master the skills necessary for them to become successful in their chosen daytime professions, I thought there might be a little more of that ethos in mastering the magic as well. But that is a minor quibble, and at least it did serve to move the story along at a good pace.

(As an aside, I got this novel on the Kindle and there was some weirdness in how it rendered the text. The font size kept jumping around and for most of the book even the smallest font setting on the Kindle had very big text on the screen. But every now and then it would revert to normal for a few pages. I’ve read quite a few books on the Kindle, and this was the first time I’ve seen behaviour like this. Having said that, my Kindle is a couple of generations out of date – perhaps that had something to do with it).

Overall I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. Excellent fantasy generally, and if you particularly like dress making, ribboning and floristry then you’ll like it all the more!

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 Unported License.

Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

I’ve seen the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge mentioned in a few blogs recently. It seems like a very positive way of promoting more gender equity in literacy circles, so I’ve decided to give it a go.

I’ve chosen the purist (speculative fiction) genre challenge, and the Miles challenge level (i.e. read 6 books, review 3). In the back of my mind, I’m hoping I might get closer to the Franklin-fantastic challenge level, but I am aware that my day job and life generally can often get in the way of me reading as much as I’d like.

I’m not sure of exactly what my six books will be, but they will likely include:

  • Whichever books from the Twelve Planets series come my way in 2012, starting with Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti. I believe I should get at least 4 books through the Twelve Planets series.
  • I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood.
  • Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts (I really enjoyed Love and Romanpunk by the same author, so looking forward to reading some more of her work). If I like it, then I’ll probably read the second book in the series The Shattered City.
  • I’m not sure if this counts, but I’ll be reading the Above/Below double novella. Above is by Stephanie Campisi, which in my mind qualifies it. Below is by Ben Peek. Maybe that disqualifies it. We’ll see.

You can find all my reviews for the challenge here.

Some information from the challenge website follows.

Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge

Objective: This challenge hopes to help counteract the gender bias in reviewing and social media newsfeeds that has continued throughout 2011 by actively promoting the reading and reviewing of a wide range of contemporary Australian women’s writing.

Challenge period:  1 January 2012 –  31 December 2012

Goal: Read and review books written by Australian women writers – hard copies, ebooks and audiobooks, new, borrowed or stumbled upon by book-crossing.

Genre challenges: 
Purist: one genre only
Dabbler: more than one genre
Devoted eclectic: as many genres as you can find
Challenge levels:
Stella (read 3 and review at least 2 books)
Miles (read 6 and review at least 3* )
Franklin-fantastic (read 10 and review at least 4 books)*
* The higher levels should include at least one substantial length review