Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker is a zombie steampunk novel.  Yes, zombies and steampunk together in one neatly packaged book.  As both zombies and steampunk are burgeoning subgenres at the moment, Boneshaker’s release in September was met with much appreciation.  It has since been nominate for several awards, including the Nebula.

The book is set in Seattle during the Civil War.  Now, most steampunk is alternative history, and Priest has taken advantage of that to drag the war into its fifteenth year.  So, take what you know of American and world history to 1860, and then throw everything pas that out the window.  I was happy to see that the main reason for the extension of the Civil War was the involvement of Great Britain, sideing with the CSA, and enabling the CSA to break the USA’s blockade on southern ports.  This history aficionado in me is satisfied.
The premise of the book is during the Alaskan (Yukon) gold rush, Russia held a competition for engineers to build a drill that could move through permafrost and ice.  The winner of the contest, one Dr. Leviticus Blue, lived in Seattle.  To prove the drill worked, he turned it on and dug a tunnel through downtown Seattle, and opening a vain of blue gas to pour into the city.  The blue gas, while heavy and slow moving, turns people into zombies (or rotters, as they are called in the book).  In terror, and without support from the national government due to the war, the people of Seattle evacuate the main part of the city and build a huge stone wall around it too contain the heavy gas.  Fifteen years later, Dr. Blue’s widow and son are living in the Outskirts, just barely eking out an existence in an already harsh environment made more precarious by other survivor’s prejudice against them.  Briar and her son Ezekiel use her maiden name Wilkes in a vain attempt to pursue a normal life.  In frustration, Zeke returns to the walled off city in attempt to find evidence to clear his father’s name.  Briar soon chases after, intent on getting her son out alive.

The book is highly a highly entertaining adventure yarn that keeps moving right up to the end.  My one real complaint about the book is that there isn’t a heavy dose of character development: the book simply moves to fast for the main characters to do anything but hang on for dear life.  Other than that, I found it to be well written on all levels, including plot development and twists.  Well worth the read.

Also worth mentioning is the release of a related book, Clementine, on May 30, 2010.  According to the back panel blurb, we shall see at least one minor character from Boneshaker step up into a starring role in it.

The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

The Girl with Glass Feet, Ali Shaw’s debut novel, is a wonderful modern day fairy tale.  Set on the fictional archipelago of St Hauda's Land, the story centers around Ida Maclaird and Midas Crook.   While on summer holiday in the islands, Ida has a chance encounter with a man named Henry Fuwa, who mentions in passing glass people buried the bog on the island.  After she returns home, she notices that her toes are turning into glass.  That winter, she returns to the island in search of Henry, who is the only person who may be able to tell her what is happening to her.  Instead, she finds a reclusive photographer named Midas, who becomes her companion for the rest of the book.

As with most debut novels, there are a few issues of flow.  There are a lot of flashback scenes/chapters, some of which feature Midas’ father who has the same name.  Midas’ growth as a character is about dealing with his memories of his father and separating himself from those memories, so it makes sense that part of the time the reader should be guessing which Midas Shaw is talking about, but it did make for some confusing moments.  There are also some questions about the world that never really get answered.  For example, Shaw tells us that glass people are not a new phenomenon on the islands, as he tells us of two other named instances as well as an anonymous third.  There’s also a creature that turns everything it looks at white, and Henry Fuwa keeps a heard of moth-bulls.  There’s a lot of fantastic/mystical/mythical elements to this landscape, yet the islanders themselves don’t see it.  No visiting mainlander has ever sat down and asked just what is going on here, as Shaw has given us the impression that St Hauda’s Land may very well be a place in our own world, perhaps somewhere off the coast of one of the British Isles.  And while you might expect islanders not to explain their world to themselves, Ida is a mainlander who returns to the island in search of answers.  Neither she, nor the reader, gets many.

Over all I did enjoy this book.  I enjoyed the dreamy quality of it, as well as the characters and their growth throughout the book.  While not your typical fantasy novel, fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffengger while almost certainly enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Shalador's Lady by Anne Bishop
A Dark Jewels Novel

This is the eighth book in the Dark Jewels Universe, which debuted with Daughter of the Blood.  The books are set in an original, fantastical universe where some people have magic (the Blood) and other’s do not (the landen).  All of the books focus on the ruling class, the Blood.  Shalador’s Lady is the second book with the protagonist Lady Cassidy, who was introduced in Shadow Queen.  At the open of the book, Lady Cassidy is the ruling Territory Queen of Dena Nehele, with a full court.  However, Prince Theran Grayhaven, the Warlord Prince who instigated Lady Cassidy’s move to Dena Nehele, isn’t happy with the bargain he made.  The book is about Lady Cassidy’s growth as a ruler, and Theran’s attempts to remove her and find someone more to his liking.

Let me start off by saying that I did in fact enjoy this book.  I make it a point to only blog about books I did enjoy, so if you see something listed here, it’s because I don’t see it as a complete waste of money.  I started this book last night, and read it straight through.  That being said, the book has some major issues.
First of all, this book is likely the lightest, fluffiest book in the entire series.  The tone of the book is a lot closer to Bishop’s Tir Alainn trilogy than it is to any of the other Dark Jewels books.  What initially captured my attention, and caused me to pass along the original trilogy, was Bishop’s dark sensuality.  Everything had a hidden horror about it, and a sense of desperation.  This book utterly lacks all of the above.  Now, I read a lot of books that aren’t like this, so it wasn’t exactly a problem, but I did feel somewhat disappointed because I expected something else.

Next: plot holes you could drive a semi through.  Old characters march through in vignettes that have nothing to do with the main plot, and don’t fit together to make a subplot.  It’s like Bishop wants to write about her original characters, but she can’t bear to torture their lives further.  So every once in a while, for no real reason, we see the SaDiablo family (and a few others) peek in and say hi for the sake of saying hi, I’m still here, life’s good, how are you?  On top of that, the main plot doesn’t feel at all plausible.  I know, I’m talking about a fantasy novel here, but the characters had so many options, so many ways to gather information, use said information, and they don’t.  They don’t explore their situation, they simply react to it.  Motivations are impressionistic brushstrokes on the page, and it feels like Bishop thought that this was a good story arc and then didn’t take the time to ask the hard questions and make it solid.  It’s just there for the characters to hang off of and look pretty.  There’s also that I felt this plot could have been thickened, fleshed out, and used to create two solid books.  The bones are there, the dedication to it is not.

To top that off, the characters, while enjoyable, are not well developed.  While Bishop had her initial three lengthy books to develop the SaDiablo family, she’s tried to fit the same amount of character building and growth into two much shorter books for Lady Cassidy, and one for two other main characters.  And, let’s not forget that a decent proportion of the shorter books has been given over to the SaDiablo family, who we already know.  So not only are the main characters of Shalador’s Lady competing with the SaDiablo family in my mind, they have to do it right there on the page and the SaDiablo family wins.  Except the book isn’t about them, it’s about the other guys.  By the end of the book I was fighting mild bemusement at the changes in character interactions, because I didn’t feel that Bishop had substantiated them.  Most of the growth was happening back stage.  This is a prime example of ‘show, don’t tell’ because the telling wasn’t enough to support everything else.

Again, I should end this by re-iterating that I did enjoy the book.  Bishop still knows how to string words together in a highly pleasing manner.  I just wish she’d remember how to write a novel, and not just tell a story.  There is a difference.  If you have read the Dark Jewel’s Trilogy and other supporting books, you’ll likely enjoy this book for what it is.  If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and read the original Trilogy first.  You’ll be much less lost, and they’re better reads anyway.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Checking In

So, I've been taking a small break lately to relax from working two jobs these past few months and writing on top of that.  This weekend I'm taking a mini vacation with two friends, so my normal influx of words after weekends will not be happening this weekend.

In other news, I'm just about done with Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, a steampunk zombie extravaganza that's up for a whole slew of SF/F awards this year, including the Nebula for best novel of 2009.  So far, it's excellent, and I do recommend it.  A more detailed review coming soon.

Also on the reading list is A Young Man Without Magic by Lawrence Watt-Evens and Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon.  I should get moving on some of this reading, as I have 7 more holds placed at the library, some of which should be arriving soon.  So look for a slew of new reviews soon!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: Roadkill

Roadkill by Rob Thurman
A Cal Leandros Novel

This is the fifth book of the Cal Leandors series, which started with Nightwish.  The books are written from Cal's perspective, and follow him and his brother through their adventures in paranormal New York.  Cal is half human, half monster, but his brother Niko is fully human.  Other characters who make regular appearances are Robin Goodfellow, a puck, and Delilah, a werewolf.

The premise for this book is that Cal and Niko, now running a preternatural private investigation company, are contacted by a gypsy clan to track down a stolen artifact that contains the Plague of the World.  In other words, should the thief open the coffin the Plague is sealed into, the world will end very messily.  So Niko does some research, and he and Cal call up some old friends and everyone goes on a road trip of bloody proportions.

Overall, the book is well written, and Cal’s commentary is as entertaining as always.  However, I really feel like this book is taking place between major story arcs, because while it has the same characters and some of the same themes of previous books, it just doesn’t feel as connected as the previous books were.  The usual ultimate bad guys who haunted the previous four books, the Auphe, are gone and Rob Thurman has chosen not to resurrect them again.  While I can appreciate letting bad guys die with finality and not keep returning a la a Marvel comic book, it has taken away from this book.  I want a replacement arc that will pull me the reader into successive novels, and I didn’t find one here.  Instead, this fills like a mid-season episode for no other purpose than drawing things out and offering character development.

I liked the book, and if you’ve already read the other books, you’ll probably like this one as well.  But this is not the book that’s going to make you want to read everything else Rob Thurman has ever written.

Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder

One of the wonderful things about working at the library, is I occasionally find things that are new and exciting, that I for some reason hadn't heard about before.  This is one of those things, innocently mis-shelved in the New Books section, right where I'd see it on my way out.  Even though I have a ton of other books lying around waiting to be read, I picked this up and stuck my nose in it.

I've read a small sampling of Jane Yolen's work (her website reports that her 300th (yes, three hundredth) book will be published this fall), and I've enjoyed all of it.  I've never read anything by Midori Snyder before.

The premise of the book is that the fey realm does indeed exist, and is ruled by the Seelie and UnSeelie Courts, otherwise following the standard Celtic mythos.  Having sex with humans is taboo for the fey, so when word gets out that the Queen has not only taken a human lover, but had a child with said lover, shit hits the fan, so to speak.  The Queen banishes two sisters, Meteora and Serana to the modern human world, separates them, and strips them off their magic, in retaliation for Meteora letting the secret slip.

In the human world, Meteora is taken in by Baba Yaga while Serana is picked up by social services. In their misadventures, they meet an interesting cast of people, from immigrant shop keepers to exiled changelings.  Among these are Sparrow and Robin, two very lost young people.

This is a fun book, very well written with fun, relatable characters.  There's also a lot of cultural critique on the fey, instead of glorifying them or excusing their action because they're fey and not human, which I found refreshing.  There's a clear path of character development in the sister, which was also very nice to see.  The action is very fast paced, and wraps up very quickly.  I was somewhat disappointed with just how fast this book flew by, and the fact that it is a stand alone.  I would have like to spend a little more time figuring out the villains, and I felt that the plot could easily have been expanded into multiple books.  Overall though, and I excellent book I'd recommend.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Look!  The making of a book cover!  This one is all photo manip, but still fun to watch.

In other news, I'm exhausted.  What with the only two-or-more-days off in a row I've had since mid-January being when I was sick (and recently, very sick), I'm a little burnt out.  No end in sight yet, though!  I've been doing bits and spurts of writing here and there, but nothing too solid and official looking.  Mostly I'm playing with Chapter Two (formerly One), and with some climax scenese no one will see for quite a while.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Now, I love Google all to bits (hense why most of my internet use is done with Google software), but if we're going to re-write copyright law, then we need to do so in a way that makes sense.  Simply throwing it out the window doesn't make sense (and won't get past Disney, in any case.)