Unnatural Issue by Mercedes Lackey (2011)

June 28, 2011 at 9:07 am (fantasy, historical fantasy)

This is the seventh book (or the sixth, according to DAW’s count; the first was published by Baen in 1995) in Lackey’s “Elemental Masters” series, which I’ve been enjoying very much since we happened to pick up Phoenix and Ashes (the fourth one) last year.  One of the good things about them is that they don’t really have to be read in order, although they have some characters in common.

What they are is historical fantasy – set in the past (in this case, primarily early 20th century England), but with significant magical elements.  I’ve read enough fiction set in this period to believe that Lackey has done her research on it.  There were a lot of social changes going on at this time, not to mention effects of the Great War, and they’re included in the stories.  The magic, incidentally, is “elemental magic,” although there are also other abilities (such as perceiving and contacting ghosts, in one of the other books).

They are also, interestingly but not essentially, freely and loosely adapted from fairy tales.  Not being as well-read in fairy tales as I’d like, I didn’t recognize the one in Unnatural Issues (I looked into the question and learned it’s called “Donkeyskin”), but earlier volumes included Cinderella and Snow White.  It’s an amusing conceit and, I promise, doesn’t get in the way of the story at all.

In this volume, we have Susanne Whitestone, whose gentry father rejected her because her mother died of her birth; she’s been raised by the servants while her father stays locked up in his rooms, grieving.  Both of them are Earth Masters, Susanne taught by her fae friend Robin, while her father draws in on himself and turns the whole area around the house into a blighted emptiness.

Then Squire Whitestone gets the idea that he can learn and use necromancy to call back his wife – and deposit her in their daughter’s body.  Susanne learns part of his plan and flees, and the rest of the story deals with her efforts (and those of her friends new and old) to evade and then deal with her father.

Some other reviews have complained that unlike other Earth Masters, Susanne seems able to cope with living in London, and near the front in France; I think that living in her father’s blighted house helped her to cope, plus she had strong motivation.  The plot point that bothers me – which I hope will be corrected in the second printing and the paperback – is that at the start of Chapter 9, Susanne carefully destroys an object that somehow still exists at the end of Chapter 21 and is key to the book’s climax.  Indeed, it looks like the start of Chapter 9 was partly re-written to correct this, but not completely.

At any rate, I’ve enjoyed all these books for their well-crafted settings, and their interesting characters and plots, and they’re being added to our library as we find them, and even re-read.  And that’s really a pretty strong endorsement of them.

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Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (2011)

June 27, 2011 at 5:16 pm (science fiction)

Short version: Soulless interstellar corporation gets its rear end handed to it, with colorful ribbons wrapped ’round.  And fireworks.  I looooved this book.

Longer version: Scalzi got permission to re-write H. Beam Piper’s classic Little Fuzzy.  I haven’t read the original, so I can’t compare the two.   And realistically, it’s a fairly classic SF scenario: If species X is sentient, then Corporation Y loses access to Planet Z’s resources.   With this type of story, it’s all about how it’s carried off.

In this case, Scalzi carries it off with verve, courtroom drama, helpful coincidences, and a hefty dose of moral ambiguity.   Our Hero, Jack Holloway, is not really all that heroic, and there’s a supporting cast of decent folks to mix it up with the different grades of villain.  The style is the spare, economical, but frequently amusing mode of Scalzi’s Agent of the Stars rather than that of the somewhat more literarily ambitious Old Man’s War and sequels.

And it’s fun, and the big corporation gets its behind kicked around the block several times, which is the part I really enjoyed.  Not that I’m feeling vindictive in these unnecessarily disastrous economic and political times.

Well, okay, maybe a little.

Anyway: Read this book!

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Born of Shadows by Sherrilyn Kenyon (2011)

June 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm (negativity, science fiction, space opera)

I actually had my doubts about this book just from reading the jacket copy, but we’ve all read books whose jacket copy wasn’t a good fit with the actual contents.  Plus, I’ve seen this author’s name before, it was a library book, and I was in the mood to try something new.

And I’m glad I didn’t waste any of my own money on it.  I do enjoy a good space opera, but this isn’t one.

It features characters built out of quirks, stereotypes, and angst; a plot full of more coincidences than a Roadrunner cartoon; and worldbuilding containing even less logic or explanation than can be found in Star Wars.

And the actual writing is about as stylish and enjoyable as stereo instructions.  Or telegrams.  Seriously: “HE CAUGHT THE WAY HER VOICE SOFTENED AS SHE SPOKE ABOUT HER DAD STOP IT WAS OBVIOUS SHE LOVED THE MAN STOP QUOTE THAT WAS NICE OF HIM UNQUOTE STOP” (from randomly-selected page 239).

I did actually read the whole thing, mainly because I was curious about how the two main characters were going to wind up meeting, and then it had the avalanche-of-events appeal of an action movie, complete with witty banter and plot-based immortality.  Unfortunately it also has all the depth and subtlety of an action movie.

And this is a best-selling author with apparently over 50 novels published.  I have to wonder, are they all this rough, or is she just coasting at this point?

“SHE WANTED TO CRY FROM THE FIERCE EMOTIONS THAT SWELLED INSIDE HER STOP A PART OF HER WANTED TO DEVOUR HIM STOP ANOTHER PART JUST WANTED TO HOLD HIM UNTIL EVERYTHING WAS GOOD AGAIN STOP.”

Yeah, “STOP” sounds good.  Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

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