The Priory of the Orange Tree (4*)

Book: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

In darkness, we are naked. Our truest selves. Night is when fear comes to us at its fullest, when we have no way to fight it,” Ead continued. “It will do everything it can to seep inside you. Sometimes it may succeed – but never think that you are the night.

PrioryI have had this one on pre-order for the paperback as soon as I heard about it. The premise that was given to me when listening to Samantha talk about her book at an event was that it was a feminist, queer retelling of George and the Dragon and that utterly sold me on wanting to read it. (Also look at that cover, it is absolutely gorgeous).

The book follows multiple perspectives, the two main ones being Ead Duryan, a foreigner who is part of the Queen of Inysh’s court and secretly protects the Queen from those who would seek to harm her.

The other main character is Tané lives far across the sea and is training to be a dragonrider, though her own life is about to run into difficulties due to a chance meeting with a stranger to her shores.

Both they and their world face a great danger that is awakening and the world itself is quite divided on views and unless they can find a way to overcome that divide it could cost them everything.

This is a story that sucks you into quite strongly from the start, she packs a lot into this book and whilst it may be over 800 pages the pace doesn’t let up much from start to finish, making it quite the page turner so it turns out to be a much quicker read than you might assume from the size of it.

She does a fantastic job of creating a world you can lose yourself in, populated by a diverse cast of memorable characters who are a good mix of people you can root for and more complicated people you end up with complex feelings about. There’s one particular character who goes through quite a journey through the book, despite mostly being a secondary character (though still a viewpoint one) and my views of them changed a great deal over the arc (I won’t say who as I don’t want to accidentally spoiler anything).

I really liked that the cultures felt quite real and very different from each other, they are clearly heavily influenced by real world cultures, but there is enough difference to make them their own thing. She clearly seems to have put a lot of thought into them and they came across to me as being more nuanced than a lot of Fantasy authors doing fictional versions of real cultures tend to manage (obviously this has the caveat of these are not based on my culture and as such I am not the best judge of this).

Honestly my biggest complaint, and the reason it got 4 stars and not 5, was in my opinion this would have worked better as a trilogy rather than one very large book. The reason for this is that some story beats got resolved quite quickly in some ways, which meant that the book didn’t quite have the emotional depth I wanted from it (only slightly, it is still excellent and the love story is particularly good). I mean I enjoyed it so much I pretty much wanted more of it, so I like to think that’s a pretty ringing endorsement.

Wayward Children Series (5*)

Books: Down Among the Sticks and Bones; In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

As may be gathered from my previous reviews, I am a big fan of this series so this is me finally getting round to reading books 2 and 4 (I started with book 1: Every Heart a Doorway and then jumped to book 3: Beneath the Sugar Sky because of the Hugo nomination last year).

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

The thought that babies would become children, and children would become people, never occurred to them. The concept that perhaps biology was not destiny, and that not all little girls would be pretty princesses, and not all all little boys would be brave soldiers, also never occurred to them.

datsabIn the first book we meet Jack and Jill, sisters who both went through the same door together and who both left that world together. I won’t go too much into the details of what happened with them in the first book because of spoilers.

This book basically tells the story of how they grew up together and the circumstances that led them to living on the Moors and also why they ended up leaving (some of this is covered briefly in book 1, but this story goes into a lot more detail).

I really enjoyed that we got to see more of a world through one of the doors and the Moors are an excellent look at a world which is basically made of Hammer Horror tropes. The conflict between the Vampire and the Mad Scientist is pretty perfect in that regard. The world is put together brilliantly, creepy and with a logic all of its own.

One of the main themes of the book looks at the dangers of trying to mould children into who you want them to be instead of letting them be themselves. Also that shoving your children into very prescribed gender roles can be really dangerous to their development as people. Jack and Jill’s parents want to bring them up in a very particularly way, Jack (or Jacqueline) is brought up to be a very proper young woman who dresses and acts like a Princess, even when that role does not fit who she is inside. Jill on the other hand is more of a tomboy in her upbringing, meant to be the substitute for the son her parents didn’t have and so has very different expectations put on her as a result.

I love this sort of subversion and Seanan does is really, really well. It’s clear as you read that there are elements of the roles they have been shoved into that they do like, and others that constrict them in ways that result in them finding their door. Gender roles, especially when rigid, are a definite bugbear of mine. I was a tomboy growing up because the presentation of what girls were supposed to be was so different from what I felt myself to be that I couldn’t see myself in women. It took a long time and a lot of undoing of my internalised misogyny before I found a way to fit myself into my gender comfortably, more because I realised that there is no one way to be a woman and we get to choose who and what we are.

So this is an incredibly affirming story along those lines, not to mention the fact that it is also a queer story as well since Jack is a lesbian and I also love how that is shown as well, especially in a series that will appeal to young adult readers. This is the sort of book I wish I could have read as a teenager, I think it would have helped me a lot and I am sure it will be of great help to lots of people in helping them find who they are and who they want to be.

In an Absent Dream

She discovered the pure joy of reading for pleasure, and was rarely – if ever – seen without a book in her hand. Even in slumber, she was often to be found clutching a volume with one slender hand, her fingers wrapped right around its spine, as if she feared to wake into a world where all books had been forgotten and removed, and this book might become the last she had to linger over.

In_an_Absent_Dream_coverThe fourth book in the series is another backstory book, in this case it covers the story of Lundy, another character we met in the first book who helps run the school and for some reason is aging backwards.

I have to say that I had a instant connection to Lundy from so much of her early life resonating with me. I had some friends growing up, rather than none, but I moved every 4-5 years so I often felt like an outsider and friendships, especially close ones, are still something I can struggle with today.

There was a lot of hardship and darkness in my childhood between bullying that started pretty much immediately I went to school and then only got progressively worse and then the other abuse happened when I was 14. All of that meant that books were very much an escape to me, I could lose myself in other worlds for a time and it helped me get through all of it, so I understood that part of Lundy on a deeply personal level.

The way the Goblin Market is described and shown is also fantastic. It’s a concept that has been used a fair amount in fiction but I have never quite seen it done like this before. I don’t want to go into too much detail about why this portrayal is different because that would mean giving away some excellent twists that the book throws at you and I absolutely do not want to do that.

One thing I will say is that the Goblin Market gives people the choice as to whether they stay or not when they turn 18, but if they choose not to then they can never return to the Market. As such people tend to flit between the two worlds before they make their choice and that conflict, between which world does Lundy belong in, is a major component of the plot of the book.

It was also very interesting, especially since I am not aware of too many Portal fantasies playing that much with the conflict. The Narnia books sort of do, but given that they always seem to be able to return having lost no time, it seems to be a lot less of a problem than it is presented here where time spent in another world is time that passes in their birth world as well. So you cannot easily have both without any consequences or issues, which I really, really liked. I mean, it tears your heart out in many ways, but I do tend to love that sort of story so this was very much up my street.

I have also discovered that the next one in the series is now out so I have ordered it so there should be a review of that at some point in the near future.

The Raven Tower (5*)

Book: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

(In Vastai this is usually part of a petition for the God of the Silent to send one a good husband and a happy marriage. These three, however, were asking for the forest to preserve their friendship so long as they lived, and keep undesirable complications like husbands far from their doors.)

Raven TowerBit late getting this one up, though in my defence it’s because I have been ill with flu for the last week, rather than any particular failure of mine, so that’s something at least. I am mostly recovered now (other than a persistent cough) so back to review writing I go!

This is another book I was pretty excited to read, when I realised the paperback had come out I pretty much squealed in delight and ran to buy it (I should have pre-ordered it, but apparently I forgot to sort that out).

I fell in love with Ann Leckie’s writing, characters and world-building in the Ancillary series (I am currently finally getting around to reading the last one, I kept putting it off because I didn’t want it to end) so the fact that she had written a fantasy book definitely got my attention!

The book itself is written in the second person perspective, which is an unusual choice but Ann pulls it off with her usual talent. At first we don’t really see or perhaps entirely understand what is telling the story, it seems to be being told to the character of Eolo, a companion to Mawat, the Heir to the Lease. It’s made pretty clear early on that Eolo is a trans man, which made me pretty pleased to see, we definitely need more representation of trans people in SF&F.

Mawat has returned to take over the reins of Lease (a position that seems to be half King and half Priest) from his father who is due to make the required sacrifice of himself when the avatar of the Raven god of Vastai dies so that the sacrifice can power the rebirth of a new avatar and allow the god to continue his duties to the land.

The two of them return to find that Mawat’s uncle is now Lease and his father is nowhere to be found, vanished without a trace from a tower that there is supposed to be only way out of. Mawat and Eolo must now try and work out what happened and what is going on in the Kingdom.

We also slowly learn more about the gods and their origins through the tale of a god known as the Strength and Patience of the Hill, who tells us about the origins of Vastai as well until both stories eventually tie together in an absolutely beautiful way that left me really wanting to read more in this world because it’s done so wonderfully well.

There’s something very Shakespearean in part of the story. The events surrounding what happens with Mawat/Eolo in Vastai definitely contain elements of Hamlet if you look for them, though obviously it’s not exactly the same, nor done in the same way. This is a book with lots of different levels and meanings to it and I look forward to finding out more of them next time I read it.

I cannot comment much on how well the trans male character is done. From a cis perspective, he seemed to be handled sensitively and well, but I am not trans so I cannot claim to be an expert on the trans experience. I have heard much praise from my trans friends who have read it, so generally seems to be good overall.

The worldbuilding is very original, I have never seen a take on gods like the one that Ann Leckie presents here and she takes us on a masterful tour of how it all works very well. We learn the rules, what can and cannot be done and how the magic of the gods seems to work and how their interactions with humans also work. There are some gaps in our knowledge, even by the end, but that didn’t feel like a bad thing, I quite like having more questions than I had answers to by the end of a book unless those questions are fundamental issues that leave whole chunks of the plot unresolved in an infuriating way and that was not the case for me here.

But yes, I highly recommend this one, it’s brilliant. Also, if you haven’t read the Ancillary series starting with Ancillary Justice, I recommend those as well. Not sure what she has coming out next, but whatever it is you can guarantee I will be buying and reading it. She’s definitely made my list of must read authors.

Realm of Ash (5*)

Book: Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri

Right, time for me to kick off the reviews for this year, by reviewing the book I choose as the best new book I read last year… Yeah, I know I am behind, I didn’t get much of anything other than work done towards the end of last year. Still, things are calmer now so I am hoping to get back into this properly this year. Going to aim to have two blog posts going up a week, so let’s see how I get on!

RoAEver since I read Empire of Sand – 5*, Tasha’s debut novel, I have been pretty excited about the follow-up (they are both in the same universe and each follow a sister’s story, but they are mostly separate with the second having some spoilers for the events of the first one).

A second novel is often described as a tricky beast by many authors, you are expected to produce something better than the first one in a lot less time and that’s quite a bit of pressure to be under. So I was extremely pleased to find out that this book more than lived up to my expectations of it.

As I mentioned above, the plot follows the sister of the main character from the first book, she’s a young widow, the survivor of a massacre that took the life of her husband and she’s trying to deal with all that she has been through whilst finding how to cope with her changed circumstances and what they mean because of the restrictions of the society (widows are not permitted to marry again).

She finds herself working closely with the Emperor’s illegitimate son to try and find a way to break the curse on the Empire, to do so they must explore the Realm of Ash, uncovering secrets about both of their heritages on the way.

So without spoilering anything, a lot of what I loved about the book is how well it portrays a lot of things. The main character, Arwa, is a pent up ball of rage from all that has happened to her and it just made so much sense to me. Between having to pretend to be someone she wasn’t during her marriage, to being at a massacre and surviving it alone to now being trapped in a life of prayer when you are barely 20 and are not ever meant to have anything else other than that… I mean, the lack of choice and agency she has over her own life is certainly something that would turn me into a ball of rage.

It may not be a feeling that everyone who reads it has experienced, but there is a claustrophobic sense of being trapped. Not physically, but by societal expectations, by trying to fit yourself into who you are told you are supposed to be. It’s not an uncommon thing to experience when you present as female and it is absolutely horrible. That feeling came across really strongly to me, so strongly that at points the book makes it difficult for you to breathe. I don’t say this as criticism, I found the fact that the book conjured it to be really powerful.

There are other themes in the book it’s harder for me to talk about, because I am coming at them from a position of someone they are not going to affect. For example, Arwa is the product of two cultures, she’s been brought up and taught to supress the heritage she got from her mother, to regard it as bad, as inferior, and that plays an important part in her story as she has to come to terms with what she has been taught and what that means in her life now.

The Realm of Ash that the book is named for is also an amazing concept which she describes impeccably. It’s a way of travelling into people’s memories and the descriptions are beautiful, eerie and incredibly evocative. The whole thing is not particularly like anything I have come across before. I had thought the dance magic in the first book was amazing, this is even better. It also works wonderfully as a way to not only advance the plot, but also the character development of the two main characters and their blossoming romance (and don’t scream spoilers at me for mentioning the romance, it’s a fantasy romance novel and they are the main characters so I mean, it pretty much goes without saying).

Talking about the romance, I loved that as well. I am a big fan of slow burn romances, I get fed up with people who seem to fall in love at the drop of a hat despite knowing nothing at all about the other person. Honestly, if I haven’t stayed up till 3am bearing my soul to someone then they don’t really have much of a chance with me, so I struggle to relate to how it could be possible to love someone you don’t really know. I am sure physical attraction at first sight is a thing for some people, but I struggle to accept that it could honestly be love without a deeper understanding.

But I do love reading about that learning process as people get to know each other, find common ground and you can see where and how they fall for each other. This was done really well in this case and I love seeing the connections form, even through difficult circumstances and the whole thing melts your heart quite nicely.

I adore Tasha’s work and I am not sure what is coming next from her or when, but you better believe I will be buying it, reading it and hopefully recommending it to everyone I know!

2019 Round-up

Books 2019

Hi guys! Happy New Year for those it is the New Year for. I know, I know, I haven’t posted in an age. Been struggling to get myself in the right headspace and the end of the year really took it out of me for a few reasons I shan’t go into.

Anyway, going to do a bit of a round-up of things I read in 2019 and then hope to do much better on the blogging front this year. The round-up with be some stats breakdown on what I read before doing a top 5 books to finish.

I read a little over 60 things last year, but some were short stories. I have done my stats based on what my Goodreads has told me. Note that some of the stats in regards to the sexuality/disability status of authors will be wrong because many of them do not state such on their bios (which is entirely reasonable) but it means that I assume that the numbers for those may be higher than I know.

Genre 2019This chart shows a breakdown of the genres I have read over 2019. It’s a mostly even split between Fantasy and Science-Fiction with a sneaky Horror book creeping in there.

A few of the books I read could also be classed as literary fiction, but I personally prefer to stick them in a genre one as I am strongly of the opinion that literary does not have to mean they are worthier as a result.

 

Rating 2019Next we have my ratings, this uses the blog rating where possible but otherwise takes my Goodreads one (since I failed to write full reviews for everything I wrote, I shall try and do some catching up, we shall see how we go).

I read a lot of excellent books last year it must be said and this is shown by 4* being my most common rating, which a whole 15 managing to make it to 5! Seriously though, I read some damn good stuff.

Have a large TBR pile so we shall see how well these hold up this year in comparison!

Gender 2019Right, then a brief look at gender breakdown. I was very pleased to see that books written by women vastly outnumbered books written by men in my read list for the year. I am a bit disappointed that no non-binary or genderqueer people seem to be present,  but again, it may be that there are some but the information I could find on the web did not make that clear.

This year I shall definitely have at least one since I am currently reading a book by a non-binary author and I shall see what else I can hunt down to read too.

Ethnicity 2019I want to be clear in regards to this next one, mixed stands for mixed non-white ethnicity, I think some of the authors on my list may be mixed with white, but I am not entirely sure and again, not all of that information is easy to find online.

Whilst the majority of the authors I read last year are unsurprisingly white, I have managed to get a decent amount of others in there as well and honestly, it’s enriched my reading no end. I am going to continue this trend this year as well where I can manage it.

LGBTQIA 2019Now we get to the probably pretty inaccurate stats categories. I am pretty sure that this next one is under representing the stuff I have read, if there are not more queer authors amongst my read pile for last year I would be deeply, deeply surprised.

As a queer woman myself I actively seek out books with this representation in them and a lot more of the books I read had it than I could be sure of the authors sexualities. So I would imagine that the number is higher, I am going to continue to seek out queer authors of SF&F for this year and see if I can’t get this higher.

Disability 2019Last, but not least, disability. Again, this is really hard to be remotely sure of. Weirdly enough most people aren’t comfortable sharing this sort of thing in their bio so there are only a handful I am sure of and that’s because they have spoken fairly openly about it.

I am also disabled and representation on this front in fiction is still dire. Would definitely love to see more of it and see it done better, but there is still a long way to go for the moment.

Still, I shall be keeping my eyes open for anything with good representation in it and believe me, you will know when I find it!

Top Five Books

I am going to do this solely for books that came out in 2019 (in either hardback or paperback, since I don’t read hardbacks and I want to have some choice in what I choose)

  1. Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri (review soon) – Honestly given how much I loved her first book there was always a chance that the sequel wouldn’t quite live up to it. Instead, it surpassed it. The book made me cry, it was beautiful and lovely and ugh, just all the feelings. Read it (and Empire of Sand)!
  2. Atlas Alone by Emma Newman (hopefully also a review at some point) – I adore this series, Emma manages to blend near future Science-Fiction with explorations of trauma, mental health and the human condition in a breathtakingly amazing way. This book, featuring an asexual protagonist, went through my emotions like a hurricane and I loved every minute.
  3. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (yeah, yeah, still to review I know) – I adored the Ancillary series and was desperate to read this since I first heard she was doing fantasy and it definitely lived up to my expectations. Shakespearean in scope, perfection in execution, I adored it and found it almost impossible to put down in places.
  4. Rosewater: Insurrection by Tade Thomson – Probably a little weird to put the middle book in a trilogy on a top 5 list, but this one is actually my favourite of the three. The way the story twists and turns, never quite going in the direction you thought it would is done superbly and the trilogy as a whole is still the most unique and breathtaking alien invasion story I have ever read.
  5. Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky – I have no idea where he got the idea to basically write a Dungeons and Dragons style dungeon crawl as a Science-Fiction horror story but hot damn does it work to perfection. If you are thinking that this story is silly, not remotely, it’s creepy and powerful and I honestly fell in love with it pretty quickly.

Well, that’s pretty much it for the round-up. I hope to have my review of Tasha Suri’s Realm of Ash up over the weekend so please keep an eye out for that!

Girls of Paper and Fire (5*)

Book: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

GoPaFFirst off, apologies for the quiet. Work is pretty busy in the run up to Christmas and I have also been struggling to get into the right mindset to write these. Not sure how well I shall be doing on reviews since I am planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I shall at least endeavour to update you all on my progress with that.

I have been excitedly wanting to read this book since I heard about it. Natasha came to the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club and did a reading and from that and what she said about the book I knew I needed it in my life.

To start with, there are not nearly enough genre books written by people of colour and that also tends to mean that the ones that do get published are pretty outstanding and this one is no exception.

The premise also appealed, a love story between two women is still something we also don’t see enough and I am a sucker for fictional romance in many forms.  Not just that, but the nature of the setting being in a harem and dealing with sexual assault meant that it appealed on that front as well. Let me explain that one a bit better. I am a survivor of sexual abuse and to see that sort of story reclaimed by a female writer and including a love story between two survivors, that definitely appealed in a way that male written rape narratives generally do not.

The story follows the lives of women called Paper girls, who belong to the Paper caste and have been chosen to serve in the harem of the King for a year. We mostly follow Lei, who is a late addition to the girls and did not go through the contest to be there that the rest of them did. The relationships between the Paper girls and also others in the Court is well presented and the characters come across as having real depth to them. Even the King is shown to be a complicated person and no one is drawn in straight up black and white terms.

I do want to address something that never struck me as anything of an issue, but after having a conversation with a couple of women at a book event it seems to be a problem for others so I wanted to talk about it. I mentioned before that there are castes, one of which is Paper, who are all human. One of which is the Moon caste, who are fully demon (which in this setting means anthropomorphised animals) and Steel caste, who are part demon, part human.

When I was talking to the two women in question they asked me if I had an issue with the Moon and Steel caste characters being furries, or how did I imagine it in my head since they had sex with humans. The honest answer is, I suppose I have had a good bit of exposure to the idea of animal aspected demons from various Asian cultures so to be it didn’t really seem strange or odd and I certainly never got weirdly sexual about it, though that may be more to do with the fact that I am asexual than anything else.

My advice is, suspend your disbelief, don’t think too much about it and don’t make it all weird. All of the characters in the book are thinking, feeling people, whether they are human or not. If you do that I think you will get a lot more out of the story and not get too hung up on something that I am pretty sure is a difference in cultures.

Honestly this book was fantastic and the story really got to me, both in the power of the representation, the themes of the book in regards to prejudice, society being stratified by race, dealing with sexual abuse and rape. It doesn’t pull punches without being gratuitous. I highly recommend it.

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 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.

Continue reading

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.

Hugo Awards

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This years Retro Hugo (left) and Hugo (right) awards

I had not been to the Hugo Awards before (having never been to a WorldCon before). In fact I had only been to two award ceremonies before it (The British Fantasy Awards last year and the Arthur C Clarke Awards this year). I am glad I managed to get to go though as I had a pretty damn enjoyable evening and there are some things I want to talk about as a result.

One of the awards given out at the Hugos is something that is administered by the convention but is not a Hugo, which is the John W Campbell award for new writer. This year’s writer, Jeanette Ng, gave an amazing acceptance speech which has caused some controversy as a result.

You can watch it here and I do recommend that you do because it is quite something. There was a lot of cheering when she starting speaking and more at the end. But it has put some people’s noses out of joint as they feel she was lacking respect for the honour she was given. I say, fuck that. She has every right to use the platform she was given to speak about this issue. I love how diverse the genre is getting these days in terms of voices, but it was not always so. Go look at the award winners for all the previous years for the Campbell, or the Hugos (and other awards for the genre) and count how many of them are white men. John Scalzi wrote an excellent post in defence of Jeanette, which you can read here and it is well worth a look. I appreciate that he has used his platform to defend her.

For years getting anywhere in the genre if you were not a white man was nigh on impossible. John W Campbell would likely be horrified by the fact that Jeanette has been able to have a voice in the genre at all and she is absolutely right to call this sort of thing out. Even now, it’s not easy to get published if you are not male and harder still if you are not white. I have heard too many authors tell stories of being turned down, not because of the quality of their work but because they “already have one of those” meaning perhaps an Asian inspired fantasy, or an African one, as if after decades upon decades of fantasy rooted in our white, Western culture we can’t have too many books that don’t fit that mold.

Fuck that. Some of the best Science-fiction and Fantasy I have read in recent years has been written by people of colour and rooted in cultures that are not my own and I fucking love it. And looking at who won the Hugo Awards, I am not the only person who loves the diversity that we are getting. This isn’t to say I have stopped reading white men altogether, but they have to be more than mediocre to get my attention when there is so much other excellence around.

But as to the other winners, they were overwhelmingly women, many of whom were people of colour, all of whom deserved their place there. I was pleased that so many of my first choices won, though I do not begrudge the ones that weren’t from their win. Still it makes me really happy because the winners and nominees were chosen by fans. Fans overwhelming picked a short-list that was this diverse and included queer people in it. I watched Becky Chambers pick up her Hugo for best series wearing a suit (and looking fucking amazing as she did it). I watched the first deaf-blind person win a Hugo and also a fan archive set up to help diverse writing in fan-fiction win.

It was an incredible night for diversity, an incredible night that lifted up people who have long been ignored or passed over for others. It gave me hope for where the future of the genre is going and maybe, just maybe, the future of society as well.

And as for keeping politics out of the genre, politics have always been part of it, right from the start (and not always left-wing politics either). What people usually mean is they don’t want identity politics in it, they don’t like it that they see themselves less than they used to.

I want all of the voices. I want to read things written by queer people, by people of colour, by trans folk, by disabled people, by neurodiverse people. I want characters of all those voice too, written by people who either know personally what they are writing about or are willing to put the effort in to get things right.

As for the awards. Maybe we need to look at who we have named them after and if the person’s legacy is not one we want to support, perhaps renaming it would be a good idea. Where are the awards named after Octavia Butler, or even Mary Shelley? There’s a Bram Stoker award for horror, but nothing I could find for her.

Jeanette has challenged us to do better and I think we can do so, awards have been changed before now and they can be again. The genre is changing for the better and it would be good if the awards we give out could reflect that legacy too.