Kingdom of Souls (4.5*)

Book: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

KoS (2)Yup, I know I said I was going to be doing intermittent TV reviews, but since I am a little behind due to getting distracted by LARP things (another hobby of mine) I wanted to get this one done for when the book officially comes out (which is today).

I picked up an ARC of this one from WorldCon, partly because of the utterly gorgeous snake cover (and accompanying snake badge) and partly because fantasy series based on African mythology are still far too rare and I really liked the sound of this one.

Inspired by West African mythology, it’s set in a fictional Kingdom called Tamaran, a young woman called Arrah comes from a magical family but possesses no magic herself. When children in her home city go missing she becomes desperate to find out who or what is responsible and trades years off of her life for the magic she needs to find out. This sets in motion a chain of events that will alter the course of her life.

I could say a lot more about the plot of the book, but anything else would be deeply spoilerific so I won’t do so. There was a lot about this book that I loved though, it has a very strong opening first half, though it does go into pretty dark places so that is definitely something for people to be aware of.

There’s a very Lirael (by Garth Nix) feel to the beginning, a young woman surrounded by her magical family but doesn’t have the same talent and longs for it. It’s a very suffocating feeling and it’s painted really vividly, the pain and longing it causes her is very real. The relationships she has with her parents are also very well done and quite a contrast between the warm, loving relationship with her father and the complicated mess she has with her mother.

Rena weaves a rich tapestry of characters in this world as well as a setting rich with details that really drew me into it, from the beginning with the festival of the clans, to the contrast of life in the city.

Some of the reviews I have read have criticised the pacing and it does get a little frayed towards the end, but I disagree with those who say the book should end after the unconvering of the main mystery, what happened after was a series of emotional gut punches, but I thought was still very good story. I had some slight issues with some of the stuff around the ending which is hard to go into without spoilers.

Honestly though, it was a fairly minor point as the story was excellent, especially for a debut novel and I really look forward to where it’s going from here! It’s going to be a tricky ending to follow on from, but I do believe from what I have seen so far that she can manage it.

 

The Player of Games (3*)

Book: The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

Games“It was not so difficult to understand the warped view the Azadians had of what they called “human nature” – the phrase they used whenever they had to justify something inhuman and unnatural”

And here’s where I feel like I am committing some sort of faux pax in Sci-Fi circles by failing to be particularly fond of the Culture novels which seem to be fairly generally beloved.

I have to admit that I went into this after having failed to get through one of his non Sci-Fi novels as a teenager so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. In the end I didn’t dislike the book as much as I thought I was going to from the start, but I also didn’t find anything particularly amazing in it either.

Perhaps I am reading this at the wrong sort of time, I have read a lot of books that deal with similar subject matter in a way I vastly preferred to this that were mostly written later on, it’s hard to say for sure though since I can only deal with it in the context of when I have read it, which is here in 2019.

The problem I have with it isn’t that the writing is bad, it certainly isn’t (otherwise this score would be a whole lot lower), it’s more that the main protagonist is an ass, I dislike the Culture and the Azadian people he ends up visiting are basically current human society if we had somewhat better tech and had gone to the stars, but also removed almost every good trait from us and were basically just a load of asshole with no visible redeeming features. I basically spent the whole thing wanting bad things to happen to everyone in it and that… was not massively enjoyable I have to say.

Now for sure, it did come across that the author also agrees that his main character is an asshole, but the problem was that I wasn’t really given anyone or anything to really care about for the whole story. This, combined with the fact that I ended up disliking both civilisations, left me cold. There is also a reveal at the end which came across in a smug, superior way and yes, this is meant to be because of who is narrating it, but it was just pouring oil on a fire to me. I do want to explore this more, but I need to get into spoiler territory so I shall do that further down.

Before I do that I did want to try and find some positive things to say, because I didn’t hate the story, it just disappointed and annoyed me in a number of places. I will say that The Culture is, in some ways, a fairly progressive setting for its time, so it is a shame that it is barely explored at all. I do like that the main character is mostly presented as an unlikeable asshole, too many authors would seem to love this sort of character unironically and he doesn’t.

There are also good themes and ideas in the book, which I did appreciate. Just for me I have seen them done elsewhere in ways more suiting to my taste. I will also admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Culture, but a genderfluid, sexuality fluid utopia written in the late 90s was not it (good surprise if you hadn’t guessed). I will say that I thought The Left Hand of Darkness did this sort of exploration of gender differences in a much better way and earlier. The fact that Gurgeh, a straight male (he is clearly shown as such in the books) was the protagonist of such a culture was honestly deeply disappointing.

“All reality is a game. Physics at its most fundamental, the very fabric of our universe, results directly from the interaction of certain fairly simple rules, and chance; the same description may be applied to the best, most elegant and both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying games. By being unknowable, by resulting from events which, at the sub-atomic level, cannot be fully predicted, the future remains malleable, and retains the possibility of change, the hope of coming to prevail; victory, to use an unfashionable word. In this, the future is a game; time is one of the rules.”

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The Boys (TV)

The Boys

The boys2Partly because if I am not careful I am going to run out of my backlog of books before I finish reading some new stuff, and partly because I have a few TV series I really want to review, I am going to be doing some alternating between TV and book reviews for at least some of this month.

To start with I am going to finally get round to doing a review of The Boys, which I watched all of not long after it came out and which I have some definite opinions about.

I do want to say that, like The Umbrella Academy, this is not a graphic novel series that I have actually read so I am basing my opinions almost entirely on what I have seen in the TV show, though I may include some details I have heard that are differences between the two in terms of characters.

There will likely be spoilers for the series in my discussion so once I have done a summary of the premise of the show, everything else will be put beneath a cut to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet and wants to.

The Boys takes place in a version of our planet where Superheroes are real and come under the auspices of a company called The Vought corporation which makes money off of what they do by marketing them and selling their services to cities and anyone else who needs it. The most famous group of superheroes are The Seven, led by Homelander, who is basically a Superman analog.

On the opposite side of this are a group called The Boys, who hate the superheroes for the things they get away with and the often nasty secrets they hide behind the scenes. The story follows Hughie, who gets involved with The Boys after his girlfriend is killed by one of The Seven. On the other side we see Starlight, the newest member of The Seven come to terms with the fact that her fellow heroes are not what she thinks they are. The two worlds collide and chaos and violence tends to follow.

The Boys3

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The Wolf in the Whale (4*)

Book: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

WolfI am going to continue to catch up on books that I have read further back and failed to review yet, so this is another of my normal book club books that we did a few months back and I haven’t written up.

The setting for this book definitely caught my interest, it’s set I think in Greenland, or if not there exactly certainly some area of Canada where the Inuit are from. The time period is around 1000AD and deals with both a clash of cultures between the Inuit and a group of Vikings in the area, but also between the clash of the old gods and the new Christian ones to some extent.

Our lead character is Omat, who is training to talk to the spirits of the land for their tribe, as well as being one of their warriors. The tribe are in difficult times and risk starvation unless they find better hunting or more people. Into this arena come both a group of new Inuit with somewhat different ideas as well as a group of Vikings. Both of which will change the course of Omat’s life.

Right, properly talking about this book is going to be pretty impossible without spoilers so I am going to put everything after this point under a cut. One of the things I am avoiding talking about is often spoilered on the back of the book, but just in case people haven’t seen that (I hadn’t and I felt much better off for it) I shall keep it under a cut for their sakes.

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The Goblin Emperor (4*)

Book: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

GoblinSorry for the delay in updating, was a bit wiped out between WorldCon and the shitty situation in the UK at the moment so it has taken me a while to find the energy to get back to this.

This book I did for a bookclub (not my usual one, a different one run by some friend of mine from Super Relaxed Fantasy Club) but it’s something that I have heard mentioned before and was interested in reading.

I have to say that overall I really enjoyed this one. It’s lovely to have a Fantasy book where the protagonist is not an action hero, it’s a very different book from that. But I am getting ahead of myself, I should probably actually give you an overview of the book first before I go any further.

The book follows Maia, the youngest and overlooked son of the Emperor who ends up inheriting his father’s title when his father and brothers all die in an airship crash and he is the next in line. Having never really been raised in court, not to mention his mother having been a goblin and not an elf, he has a lot of things to deal with in regards to working out how to be an Emperor and who to trust. Whilst doing that he also needs to deal with the fact that his father’s death may not have been an accident but instead a deliberate act of sabotage. Can he work out who his allies and enemies are before it’s too late?

The story basically gives us the tale of someone woefully underprepared for the role he is thrust into overnight. The character is not unintelligent, but he is very ignorant and aware of that. So we get to watch him grow and learn how this world works and how best he might operate in it, whilst having the setting unfolded around us. The world building itself is well done, though as the book centres on things in the Palace and we see nothing else except through reports from other characters, it does mean that there is depths that are not really touched in this book, but perhaps may be things we see in the future.

I loved how Maia is quite kind and thoughtful overall, even when others do not wish him to be so. It’s a core of his character that he clings to even in so cutthroat an environment. I generally approve of unusual male heroes and he really fits the bill and was done pretty well in my opinion.

Despite the tight focus of the story on Maia and his journey, we do get to know a number of the supporting characters quite well too, which is nice. It’s interesting that we only get to see them through his eyes, which can be problematic at times for seeing a great deal of depth, but even so there were definite standouts for me amongst them.

The setting has fairly stereotypical roles for women, but how those women were presented made all the difference to me. The writing showed plainly how amazing these women were, even one who was a villain you could see where her being able to make full use of her talents would have led her down a very different path. Highlights were a mention of a lesbian pirate Aunt (who I would give anything to see in a future book) and the Emperor’s intended, a competent young woman who should really be more of a knight.

For me the main downside was that the ending was perhaps a little abrupt and the tight first person narrative did cutdown our ability to see more deeply into the world and the other characters. It’s still an excellent book though and well worth a read in my opinion.