Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout (2009)

February 23, 2011 at 9:35 pm (mythology, urban fantasy)

This novel gave me what I can only call a “seventies vibe.”   That is, something about the execution reminded me of speculative fiction novels from the 1970s, or possibly even the 1960s.  Which is odd, because I haven’t felt similarly about other urban fantasy novels (of which I have read some, not many).

At any rate, van Eekhout’s premise is that the Norse gods were and are real, and that Ragnarok thing?  About to happen.  Fimbulwinter (three years of just winter) is already in progress.   One of the main characters, Mist, was recruited to be a Valkyrie and is having second thoughts; the other is Hermod, a god still carrying around a load of guilt about his brother Baldur’s death.  The big plot, of course, is about whether the world’s going to end or not, or more specifically, whether Hermod and Mist can keep it from ending.

I enjoyed the read – it’s definitely a well-written book – but I don’t think it’s going to remain part of our permanent collection.  Fundamentally, it didn’t hold many surprises for me.  Perhaps I just know too much about Norse mythology already, or I’ve just read too many Norse-based books in the last few years.

Okay, I’ve read two others: Runemarks by Joanne Harris, and All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear.   And upon reflection, it might be difficult to find three books based on the same mythology that are more different.

Still, I reached the end of the book with a feeling of satisfaction that it wound up more or less as I expected.  I suppose from some perspectives that’s a good thing.  But while it’s a good book, don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have that whatever-it-is that sets it apart from other books.   Your mileage may vary, of course.

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The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner (2006)

February 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm (fantasy, LGBT)

I started writing this post back in July.  Wow.

For a person who really enjoyed Swordspoint, I sure took my time acquiring a copy of its sequel.  But it was certainly worth waiting for, both in terms of publication and purchase!

And also very hard to describe.  What historic epoch is this setting trying to echo?  Renaissance Italy, maybe.  Probably.  Except for the part where the names are more English.  Regardless:  A decadent society, dominated by a noble class, with a tradition of dueling by proxy that in the present book is beginning to fade.

Politics.  The Mad Duke Alec Tremontaine whose aims are, clearly, more ethically elevated than those of his peers – so of course he’s mad.  And naturally, he has enemies who seek to destroy him.

Katherine, the niece who’s more easily manipulable than she imagines – yet become less so as her story progresses, as being forced to adopt a masculine pastime (dueling with the sword) and garb (to her own cringing embarrassment, at first) leads to the unfolding of a will and personality that had been comprehensively repressed by a culture that consigns upper-class females to marriage or penury.   (Lower-class females, of course, are relegated to marriage and drudgery, or just to drudgery.)

It’s very hard to reduce a novel this complex to a simple review, particularly without spoiling most of what happens (I don’t like it when reviews do that).  I must say that I believe it’s noticeably different from Swordspoint, yet in some ways seems like a logical extension of it; not surprising considering that a good two decades passed between the writing of them.

I enjoyed it immensely … the baroque politics, the gradual and largely unremarked alteration of Katherine’s personality, the unsparing depiction of the varied deleterious effects of a glorified whoredom on the women of the so-called nobility, and even the tragic yet effective reason that Alec’s lover Richard St Vier doesn’t take over the story.

There are many more characters than the three mentioned here, each worth getting to know, in the vicarious way of fiction.  And of course, the world itself – of which the island of Riverside is only a small part – is very much worth seeing again.

And, once you’ve read this book (but NOT before, I warn you!), don’t neglect to go over to Tor.com and read the short story “The Man with the Knives,” which finally completes the tale of Alec and Richard.   (It was only published online this past December.)

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Borders Sale Acquisitions

February 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm (acquisitions, Book buying)

My local Borders is going out of business, so I ambled over there to take advantage of the 20% discount.  Yes, a measly 20%.  Maybe there’ll be deeper discounts later, but I wanted to get in before the stock was picked over.

Anyway, the fruit of my corpse-picking was as follows:

Game of Cages by Harry Connolly (sequel to the excellent Child of Fire);

The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar (I already own his Hebrewpunk);

Dog Days by Dan Levitt (I was looking for an urban fantasy with a male protagonist who wasn’t Harry Dresden);

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (well reviewed a few years ago);

Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman (high fantasy from one of my fave urban fantasy writers); and

Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot (what?  I’ve wanted a copy of this for ages).

And now, before I dive into any of them, I think I’ll finish up one of the several half-finished reviews lurking in this blog’s “drafts” section …

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