K's Reading 2017
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Ringing in the New Year with my Spoiler-tagged review of A College of Magics:
Normally I begin my yearly reading journal with a list of "resolution books." However, I always find that my actual year's reading diverges sharply from my original intentions. New books appear to claim my attention, or old-but-interesting books pop up on used bookstore shelves, or my book selections change to accommodate my changing moods. So this year I want to keep my resolutions/predictions as modest as possible.
First off, my "sure things," books I will DEFINITELY read in the year 2017:
The Bands of Mourning, which I intend to start this very day, since A College of Magics is off my plate;
After the Crown, which I intend to start once I've finished The Girl With Ghost Eyes;
Crooked Kingdom, which will most likely follow Beyond Ragnarok;
The Cursed Towers, the third book in the Witches of Eileanan series;
Prince of Demons, the second book in the Renshai Trilogy (assuming Beyond Ragnarok doesn't do something to crush my spirit before I get to the end);
Den of Wolves, the third of Juliet Marillier's Blackthorn & Grim books;
Black Wolves, because I want to read Kate Elliott again but I'm not quite ready for Shadow Gate yet;
Jeweled Fire, which should come out in paperback this year;
The fifth book of Django Wexler's Shadow Campaigns series, although the fact that this doesn't have a title yet makes me suspect we may not see it until 2018;
Stiletto, which I've heard is a worthy successor to The Rook;
Memories of Ash, Intisar Khanani's follow-up to Sunbolt, which I've purchased for my Kindle.
I should have plenty of time to beef up that list as the year progresses, but this should do for a start. I still have good intentions regarding Feist/Wurts's Servant of the Empire and West's The Uncrowned King.
I know I have left some of last year's goals unmet, among them, sampling some new authors. I spoke of wanting to try my first Carol Berg, and I mean to do so, either with Son of Avonar or Song of the Beast. I want to try Adrian Tchaikovsky; I just picked up Guns of the Dawn, which may tide me over just a bit while I wait for Wexler's next book. I want to try J.V. Jones, either The Barbed Coil or A Cavern of Black Ice (both of which I already have on my shelf). I want to try Michael J. Sullivan, partly because I like the way he responds to his fans on Goodreads and Reddit, and I've heard good things about his 2016 epic fantasy, The Age of Myth. I want to try Susan Dexter, with either The Wind-Witch or The Ring of Allaire. Then there is Ken Liu, whose work is highly regarded, but whose The Grace of Kings is a bit too "all dudes, (almost) all the time" to hold any real appeal for me. Apparently the sequel, The Wall of Storms, concerns a different generation of characters and can be read and understood without previous acquaintance with the original. I've heard this sequel is much, much stronger on the female-character front. I may give it a try.
Beyond this, I will see what comes up.
Happy new year and good reading! Your list of books sounds great. ^_^
Happy New Year and I'll do my best to avoid the BBs, so I'll mostly be lurking.
Hello, everyone! Happy New Year!
I link the following blog post here, as I write about last year's reading. I figured it was relevant.
Happy New Year.
I read on Sharon Shinn's Facebook that her publisher decided not to release a paperback for Jeweled Fire. They thought that if people were going to buy a book at a cheaper price point than a hardcover, they would just buy the e-book. :(
I liked both of the Susan Dexter books you mention, but I'm struggling a bit with The Wizard's Shadow at the moment.
11: Thanks for the heads-up on Jeweled Fire! That means I either pay full price for the hard-back or buy it used via Amazon. I certainly want to throw support Shinn's way.
The Dexter book for which I read some reviews and information and decided "probably good, but not for me" is The Prince of Ill Luck.
You're welcome. If I had a more modern ebook reader, I would buy the ebook, but I have an old Sony Reader, so I'm not sure what I will do about Jeweled Fire, although I did borrow it from the library and enjoyed reading it.
The good thing about The Warhorse of Esdragon series is that you don't have to read them in order and you can entirely skip the first book and you would still understand what's going on. I don't remember hating the only female character in the book, but I'm a bit hazy on the details for The Prince of Ill Luck because I had my daughter in 2015, so everything I read that year is kind of half-remembered. I do remember loving The Wind-Witch though. And her other trilogy has at least two major female characters, plus one of my favorite fictional cats of all time. ;-) One of my big problems with The Wizard's Shadow is that there has only been one named female character so far and she was a) awful and b) only present in a flashback. I hope more women are present later in the book.
>1 kceccato: Happy Reading for the New Year!
Best of luck with that list. :o)
>11 Quaisior: That really sucks about Jewelled Fire, for those of us that collect series in paperback. I hate having some volumes of a series in print and some in e, nearly as much as I dislike a mix of paper and hardcover.
15: I too prefer consistency of format. If I read one volume in Kindle, I prefer to read the rest of the series the same way. I would have preferred Jeweled Fire in paperback because that's the way I have the first two volumes, but I can deal with hardback -- as long as it's PRINT. I remember that after I first read The Thousand Names, I wanted to get my hands on a copy of The Shadow Throne immediately. I'd heard it was already out in paperback, but my closest big bookstore only had the hardback, so that's what I bought. When the next two volumes in the series came out, I didn't even bother to wait. I had a similar experience with the Second Mistborn Trilogy, after The Alloy of Law got me all excited. I believe Shadows of Self came out in paperback exactly one week after I gave in and bought the hardback.
My 2017 reading year is off to a good start!
I'm over a hundred pages into The Bands of Mourning, and so far I'm delighted with it. A good Sanderson book is a swift read for me, and I'm a bit afraid I'll finish this book before I actually want to, particularly since Oathbringer -- another "sure thing" that I should have included on my list above -- won't be out for another couple of seasons. My favorite parts so far: Steris having more to do (she really does have her own keen brand of intelligence), and Wax acknowledging within the first fifty pages that while he may not be in love with her (
My least favorite part: I'm troubled by the treatment of Marasi so far -- not by the author, but by the other characters. The way she keeps getting jerked around, it's no wonder the poor woman has self-esteem issues. I want to slap Wax and the kandra, in particular, for their disrespect of her. My friends who have read the book, would you Spoil it for me this far: Does she eventually get a Crowning Moment of Awesome? Because she could really use one -- plus an actual friend (right now, Wax ain't it, because real friends don't make you feel worse about yourself than you already do). Please, somebody be nice to this girl.
I've also started a new read on Kindle: Intisar Khanani's Memories of Ash. I haven't gotten very far with it yet, but I'm pleased that it's a full-length novel rather than a novella, because I want more of Hitomi, Brigid, their story, and their world. Normally I dislike present-tense narratives, but Khanani's prose style is so lovely that here I fully forgive it.
This actually seems to be the story I was looking for when I picked up A College of Magics: a female mage learning about and gathering her power. I'm especially thrilled to see this narrative from Khanani. Thorn had many virtues, and I did end up giving it four stars on Goodreads, but it bothered me from beginning to end that only evil women (Thorn's nasty mother, the Evil Adversary) practiced magic, while the good women like Thorn herself weren't every curious about it. Positive power was in the hands of men. "Wicked is women's magic," yet again, as if we haven't seen much more than enough of that. In choosing a female mage for her sympathetic protagonist, Khanani undoes that damage with Sunbolt and now with Memories of Ash. However long it takes me to finish -- since for some reason, it always takes me longer to finish a book on Kindle, no matter how good it is -- I will enjoy the time I spend with it.
>13 Quaisior: >15 Sakerfalcon: >16 kceccato: The other bad part about Jeweled Fire not getting a paperback release is that the ebook edition will remain at hardcover equivalent instead of dropping :( At $13.99 it's currently $1 more expensive than Unquiet Land even though it's a year older....
>16 kceccato: I'm glad to hear you're enjoying Memories of Ash! It's definitely on my TBR this year, although I think I will reread Sunbolt first to refresh my memory since it's short and it's been a while...
16> I'm a reader who bounced off The Grace of Kings because of the all dudes thing. It's interesting to hear that the sequel can stand alone and has more women. Maybe I'll give it a shot.
I can't remember if Marasi gets a moment of awesome, but
I enjoyed Memories of Ash a lot when a read it a couple of months back.
>19 kceccato: That sounds really good. I'll keep a look out for it.
19> If you're looking for historical urban fantasy, you might like Iron Cast. It's a YA novel set in 1919 Boston and focuses on the friendship between two girls.
Here is a review (Spoilered) of Mercedes Lackey's Phoenix and Ashes, the audiobook of which I've recently listened to. Sometimes you have to include Spoilers in order to clarify what you like about a story.
My review of Beyond Ragnarok, by contrast, is Spoiler free.
My husband and I took a vacation for his birthday over the MLK Holiday weekend, and I decided Wagers' After the Crown would make ideal plane reading. Now I'm over halfway through with it, not because the flights were so long (less than two hours, actually) but because this book reads like a March breeze. So much is going on, and it's going on so FAST. I've noticed that Hail's circle of allies has expanded in this volume, and I appreciate the increased presence of women among them. Kisah has a bit more to do, and the addition of Gita and Iza into the ranks of Hail's BodyGuards is most welcome. Stasia isn't quite the dimwit she seemed in the first book; she actually has some useful skills I didn't expect. I also like newcomer Alice. I may be enjoying this sequel more than I did the original. I will say, however, that while the original could, in a very tight pinch, be read as a stand-alone, this one absolutely can't be. If you haven't read the first book, you would not understand a word of it. The strength of relationships in this volume is built on the foundation of the previous one.
I'm very sad that the third book has no title yet. That means we'll have to wait for it. (Sigh)
After finishing Beyond Ragnarok, I decided it was time to try another new author. My choice: Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Tiger and the Wolf. I'm forty pages in, and I'm fascinated by the world Tchaikovsky has built. The female protagonist is very much a loner at this point, and I'm afraid she will end up being a Smurfette. But I'm intrigued to see how she will develop. I expect I'll follow it up with Guns of the Dawn later this year.
I can't really say much about The Bands of Mourning right now, except that I'm anxious about the characters -- a good thing. When I've finished it, I will have plenty to say. I've already decided that The Crooked Kingdom will follow it. Memories of Ash, my Kindle read, is moving along quite nicely. I enjoyed Thorn but with serious reservations, and since none of the problems I had with that book are present in this one, I can just sit back and enjoy Khanani's delightful prose.
I can already tell that this year I'm going to struggle with keeping that one spot on my rotation reserved for something non-fantasy. There's just sooooo much fantasy I want to read right now!
>23 kceccato: I too was pleased at the increase in female characters in After the crown. And I'm with you waiting expectantly for the next book.
I will look forward to seeing what you think of The tiger and the wolf, as I just bought it in the kindle sale. I liked the first War of the Apt book by Tchaikovsky, but wasn't intrigued enough to continue the series.
Here at last is my review of The Bands of Mourning:
This book and its two immediate predecessors make me want to go back and revisit the first trilogy. Of those I've only read Mistborn: The Final Empire. While I enjoyed it, and appreciated it that
One thing I still wish Sanderson would do for me, though -- give me an honest-to-God female friendship, or at least a close and loving connection between two female relatives. The male heroes in Sanderson's work always find at least one strong, solid male friend whom they can always count on. Raoden of Elantris has Galladon. Kaladin has Bridge Four. Adolin has his brother Renarin. And, of course, Wax has Wayne. (I don't remember a bromance in Warbreaker, but then I've been trying to forget that book.) Why, in all the Cosmere, is there not one single relationship between women that can compare with these? Sarene and Vin are both Smurfettes. The best that can be said of sisters Siri/Vivenna and Marasi/Steris is that they manage to coexist somewhat peacefully. As for Shallan of the Stormlight Archive, she will either betray a so-called "friend" (
Elsewhere, I've read further in The Tiger and the Wolf. Tchaikovsky has created a very fascinating and detailed world of shapeshifter societies. (Everyone is Other, to some degree, in this book.) I'm keen to see more of that world and how the story unfolds within it. But I'm noting a regrettable lack of anything resembling humor. Even the starkest, most grim of stories benefit from just a bit of humorous leavening. After only fifty pages I can see the way humor is worked into Crooked Kingdom -- which replaces The Bands of Mourning in my rotation -- despite the grim situation in which the characters are caught. The Tiger and the Wolf has nothing like this. I'm also troubled by the heroine's total emotional isolation, the absence of friendship. Other female characters have appeared, but none of them have been sympathetic. Yep, Maniye's going to be a Smurfette.
Still enjoying Memories of Ash. The descriptions of magic and magic-use in this book are almost as vividly detailed as they are in Uprooted. I also love that I'm 45% into the book and the love interest has yet to show up, and the bulk of the action has involved Hitomi
Uh oh. You didn't like Warbreaker? That's still on Mount Toobey for me.
I hear you about the female friendships, though. :o/ It's not just Sanderson, either.
Here's my (relatively) Spoiler-free review for After the Crown:
I did like it and I'm eager for the next book, but I wonder if Wagers didn't try to cram just a tad too much into this one. At times it was difficult to keep track of who was who and who was doing what. Still, fun.
I'm not quite ready to replace it with a non-fantasy, though. I'm indulging in the comfort food that is The Cursed Towers. Once I finish the next book, I'll fill it in with something non-fantasy and thus maintain the integrity of my rotation.
26: Indeed, the dearth of female friendships in fantasy (especially as compared to male friendships) is hardly unique to Sanderson. I only mention it because depicting a sincere female friendship is one of the few things he does NOT do, that I wish he did, especially since bonds between men feature so heavily in all his work. Fantasy and science fiction writers in general need to do a better job of depicting women interacting with each other in helpful, positive ways.
My review of Memories of Ash, slightly Spoilery:
Have we had any word on when the next book in this series is likely to appear? It CAN'T end like that. Hitomi still has a lot more to do. I recommend this for readers who would like to know how magic might look and feel.
Making my way through Crooked Kingdom at a decent pace. I can't say I like it better than Six of Crows, but I appreciate the way it builds on the groundwork laid by the earlier novel. Nina is still my favorite, and while she doesn't interact with Inej as extensively as she did in Book 1, the scenes they do share make their friendship clear. But this time around I'm getting to know and like Jesper and especially Wylan far more than I did in Book 1. The two books together give Barduro the chance to give ALL the characters the thorough fleshing-out they deserve.
As for The Cursed Towers, it's as gorgeous as I expected it to be. I was wrong to think of the Witches of Eileanan books as "popcorn reads" in comparison with Forsyth's later and ostensibly more sophisticated works Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl. The latter two books are outstanding, to be sure, but I perceive now that I was selling the Witches books short. Yes, I can understand why some readers may lose patience with the Scots-inflected dialogue, but the writing is vivid and lyrical, the world complex and full of fascinating magics, and the plot involving. The series has everything a non-grimdark high fantasy ought to have... yet it's sadly unknown and underappreciated. I regret having read the Rhiannon's Ride series first. I may need to revisit that trilogy at a later date, once I'll have read the books in the proper order.
The Tiger and the Wolf... I'm of two minds. On the one hand, it's quite well-written. The world and the culture are the stars of this show, as we're introduced to an intriguing variety of shape-shifter tribes and societies. A reader can feel herself moving through this world, with its cold, harsh landscapes. Yet this coldness extends, at least thus far, to the novel's emotional tone. I've just reached three hundred pages, and so far, not one character truly loves another. Relationships in general are marked by hostility and distrust. (Interestingly, the closest thing I've seen yet to something that looks like a friendship is between the evil villain and his even more evil henchman!) I sympathize with the main protagonist, Maniye, who has both a Tiger and Wolf soul at war inside her; I'm interested to see how she'll overcome the next obstacle. But she is such an emotionally isolated character, loving and loved by no one, that it's hard for me to take her to my heart. Also, the humor that makes a book like Crooked Kingdom such a joy to read is missing from this one.
I'm interested enough in the world and its customs that I will likely read the next in the series, and I'm still curious to sample Tchaikovsky's take on flintlock fantasy in Guns of the Dawn. But after this I think I'm going to be in the mood for some Terry Pratchett. Looking through my collection, I find I haven't read Witches Abroad yet. I need to correct this oversight.
I found this interesting discussion thread on Reddit Fantasy (where I still lurk, but haven't joined in yet):
The original poster wonders which is the most satisfyingly feminist approach to world-building in fantasy: a world in which gender roles are unequal and strictly enforced and female characters must go to great lengths to defy or overturn those prescriptions, or a world in which gender equality is assumed and male and female characters play a variety of roles at a variety of levels. I read this and think with all my heart, "Go with Option 2. Please, please go with Option 2." Not that stories that follow Option 1 can't be insightful or worth reading, but Option 1 has been done. And done. And done and done and done and done and done. As I read the discussion I'm pleased to see that a good many other readers seem as weary of it as I am. If I never see another "Planet of the Taliban" episode on any science fiction show, ever, ever again -- that is, an episode where our heroes, who live in a mostly gender-egalitarian society, must temporarily make their way in a society that subjugates women -- I will be a happy woman indeed.
Nearly all Reddit Fantasy discussion threads offer at least one or two viewpoints that make me roll my eyes. Here the OP gets that out of the way quickly, by suggesting that Patrick Rothfuss's The Kingkiller Chronicles have a reputation for being feminist. Really?? In what universe?? However, the posters bring up a number of salient points that should be obvious by now but for some reason a lot of fantasy writers have trouble accepting -- my favorite being that the absence of gender prejudice/subjugation from a society does NOT necessarily make that society a conflict-free Utopia. There are other forms of injustice, other ways to create conflict. And if male characters constantly engage in struggles that have nothing to do with their gender, isn't it time we saw more female characters doing the same?
I would happily read more "Gender Is No Object" fantasy novels, if only I could find them. I created a list on Goodreads, hoping I would be pointed toward more books of this kind. Here's how it turned out:
The only books on the list are the ones I put there myself, because, well, I'm the only voter. Is it really THAT hard to find otherworld societies in fantasy in which being a woman doesn't suck? I can't help feeling sad. Go with Option 2, Reddit Fantasy OP. We have plenty of Option 1 already. We need more Option 2s.
So, while I'm being slightly negative, some updates on my current reads:
The Tiger and the Wolf -- I continue to be intrigued by the setting. At last, some genuine friendship seems to be building between the heroine and the old man she rescued at the beginning, so the book is a little less emotionally cold. But so far, at p. 399, every single interaction between the heroine and another female character has been hostile. Every single one. Women are natural enemies, apparently. It remains to be seen whether I'll give the book three or four stars. The writing itself is solid.
The Cursed Towers -- still loving this one, but unfortunately one of my fantasy pet peeves has reared its head: when the evil villains have a more gender-egalitarian society than our pure-in-heart heroes. When the bad guys accept the idea of female soldiers and even have female military commanders, but the good guys, the ones we're supposed to like and root for, are disgusted by the very idea of women fighting. This has been an annoyance in a number of books I've otherwise enjoyed, from John Gwynne's Malice to Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive, and it's a thing in Forsyth's series. A villainous army has female commanders, but on the hero's side, the sole warrior woman is disrespected and even scorned by the menfolk, and a girl who wants to learn archery is told by the boys in her group that she'd never have any need for that skill because she's just a "stupid lassie" who will do nothing with her life but marry a lord and bear his children. Don't get me wrong, these books include some very powerful female characters on the side of Good. But this aspect irritates me a little.
Crooked Kingdom: the only thing bothering me about this one is that I'm getting close to the end. Sigh.
32> I'm adding some books to your list. Actually, the book I'm reading right now would count. Island of the Exiles by Erica Cameron is a YA fantasy set in a harsh desert island. So far there's not any sign of sexism, and we've seen both men and women in all manner of professions. There's also a number of nonbinary characters, so I'm guessing the author wants to get away from gender essentialism. The heroine also has magical powers (she can set and sustain wards), which I remember you looking for at some point.
How do you feel about books with multiple cultures, where some are patriarchal and some are egalitarian? I'm thinking of Michelle West's Sun Sword books specifically, although what I read of Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire trilogy could also count.
>33 pwaites: Good question. I was having a similar issue: with the current description of the group, I don't think An accident of stars fits, since it has one society that is not free of strict gender roles. The Vekshi have sole female queens. So how does that work? Did you put it in because the inequality is in only part of the world, or because it favors women?
34> I put it in because the society the book spends the most time with (can't remember the name of it) is egalitarian as far as I remember. It's the one they initially land in, with all the complicated marriage ties.
>35 pwaites: Kena? Yes, that one is egalitarian. I really like their marriage structure! But then, if that one is allowed, then we can also put in The hidden city and such. Actually, maybe that one counts anyway, since I don't think we ever venture into the Dominion.
P.S. I guess you don't mean urban fantasy with your description, right kceccato?
33: Thank you! I'm always pleased to know more of those are out there.
I still need to read Book 2 of The Sun Sword. I think what's been holding me back is that I remember how depressing I found the Dominion chapters of The Broken Crown -- a society so patriarchal that any love a man feels for a woman is deemed weakness. As wonderfully written as the book is, I found those chapters hard to get through. I have all the books and have every intention of reading them. But something else always seems to distract me.
The "House War" series, which I believe is set entirely in the Empire, might qualify more. I have The Hidden City on my shelf, but I've found the other books hard to track down.
34: Matriarchies wouldn't count, because there again, gender is foregrounded as an obstacle, only this time it's the male characters who have to overcome it. Although I love to read about sympathetically depicted female authority figures, I've found few stories about matriarchies worth warming to, because in most of them, female leadership is depicted as oppressive, with one of two aims in mind -- 1) to make male readers uncomfortable by "showing them how it feels," or 2) to drive home an anti-feminist point ("see what happens when you put women in charge?"). Behind the Throne and After the Crown are exceptions to the rule. One of the reasons I'm fond of those books is that it presents most of the female authority figures as reasonable, yet still manages to make it clear that the system should change. That's a nifty trick.
36: Nope, no urban fantasy. I'm interested in stories where the world is built "from scratch," influenced by the real world but not directly depicting it.
37> The second book contains hardly any scenes in the Dominion Maybe one or two tops? It's almost entirely sent in the Empire, if that effects your decision at all.
>37 kceccato: What pwaites says, plus the first 3 house wars book take place before the sun sword series, and they are exclusively in Averalaan.
I also added books, and since you did mention alternate histories, I added Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series.
I am wondering about your choice of excluding urban fantasies. Do you feel there is a difference between urban and second-world fantasies when it comes to egalitarianism?
39: The first is purely emotional -- I enjoy second-world fantasy more. I will occasionally enjoy a work of urban fantasy (e.g. The Rook) but the genre in general does nothing for me. (I do have a few UFs on my To-Read list, but they would go into the "challenge" spot on my rotation.)
The second is because when a fantasy writer creates a world, he or she has the option of creating various forms of conflict, injustice, etc. This writer can choose to make gender an obstacle and create a world where just living as a woman is a waking nightmare, or he/she can choose to create a more gender-equitable system and give the characters, male and female, different battles to fight. The Urban Fantasy writer doesn't have the same options. If the setting is 21st-century Atlanta with vampires or shape-shifters thrown in, then the gender roles and attitudes are going to be just what we'd expect to find in 21st-century Atlanta.
>32 kceccato: That is an interesting list, and one I'm sure I'll be looking at for recommendations. Did you include Fire logic and its sequels? They are definitely set in a "Gender is no object" world. And also Point of hopes and its sequels. They take place in a world where one's destiny is based on a person's horoscope, regardless of their gender.
ETA I just checked and I see that Fire logic is indeed present and correct!
My Spoileriffic review of Crooked Kingdom:
Highly recommended for those who like their romance plots actually tolerable, with a bonus for those who would enjoy a sympathetic portrayal of two young men in love.
I find my interest in The Tiger and the Wolf growing as I reach the last hundred pages. The book just might earn four stars after all, even though I'm still highly put out with every interaction between our heroine and other female characters being hostile, and that heroine being the ONLY female character with a working heart. Granted, most of the male characters are unsavory types as well, but I count four among them who have a glancing acquaintance with decency, while so far none of the women other than Maniye have the smallest kind bone in their bodies. I do have hope that in the last hundred pages, this may change; it wouldn't be the first book I've read to redeem itself close to the end. If it changes, four stars. If it doesn't, three.
In the meantime, I've started Witches Abroad, featuring those splendid icons of female solidarity, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick.
Also among my current reads: Patrick Weekes' The Prophecy Con, which I've started on Kindle. It's taking me some time to catch up with the rather large set of main characters, but so far I'm enjoying it. This series is nothing deep -- just fun.
My Goodreads review of The Cursed Towers; it is Spoiler-tagged but doesn't include anything too specific.
My review of Witches Abroad, also Spoiler-tagged, but again, nothing too specific.
I finished these books close to back-to-back, and now I have two new reads on my list. For Try-New-Authors, I have Michael J. Sullivan's Age of Myth. His "Riyria Revelations" are his best-known works, but what I've read on Goodreads and elsewhere inclines me to believe that this series is an exercise in one of my pet peeves, "Be Patient and Wait" -- in that, yes, it does include some awesome women, but no, they don't actually start being awesome until the second of the series' two-book omnibuses. In the first omnibus, they're in Distressed Damsel mode. I'm not a Be-Patient-and-Wait kind of gal. I don't want to wait till the second volume for the female characters to start being worth a darn, thank you very much.
But I'd heard Sullivan's work made a good antidote to Grimdark, so I've chosen to give Age of Myth a go, since the women in this series get to be important and capable from the first book. So far, I'd call it enjoyable. I don't find much thought-provoking complexity or breathtaking prose, but the book promises to be fun. I like what I've seen of the characters so far.
I've also started Kate Elliott's Black Wolves. I had not realized how closely this book is connected to Elliott's ealier Crossroads Trilogy, which I will finish one day even though I had serious problems with the first book. Still, I think I can follow it. The bad news is that nothing seems to have changed much in this world since the end of Spirit Gate. It still sucks like hell to be a woman, unless you're fortunate enough to be chosen by an eagle and can serve as a reeve, and then at least you have a shot at some actual authority and respect. (The only female reeve of consequence in Spirit Gate was
My non-fantasy spot is currently being held by Geraldine Brooks' Caleb's Crossing, a very well-written look into a historical period I haven't read much about before, mid-17th century New England. Sheesh, if I thought it would be horrible luck to live as a woman in the world of Kate Elliott's Crossroads or Martin's Westeros, it's got nothing on this. It's not so much rape or other gendered violence (though this is present) as it is the way this society and the powerful though often well-intentioned men within it systematically grind down the minds of women like the protagonist, shrinking their intellectual capacity day by day by day. The protagonist struggles against this shrinking, but there's only so much she can do. Nevertheless, her battle is compelling, and the prose is gorgeous. It will make you glad to be alive in the 21st century.
Issue of the Day: Why is inclusiveness a threat?
Nothing in the universe, not the coolest trailer ever put together, would ever persuade me to see another Transformers movie directed by Michael Bay. I did see the first movie (and I couldn't tell you WHY, even if I were under torture), and while it did actually feature a female character I liked -- the computer scientist -- the way what Kameron Hurley calls the "pervy camera" pored over every inch of Megan Fox's scantily clad body made it very clear to me I wasn't the audience Bay wanted or cared about. The trailer for the second movie confirmed it, as it made sure to show Fox doing nothing but prancing around in butt-hugging cut-off jeans while her boyfriend was away at college, and of course the computer scientist I liked was not going to come back. Bay has a very clear world view, and women have a very clear place in it: to be ogled and to be rescued. A competent and useful woman in a Michael Bay film is about as common as a snake in Ireland. Nonetheless, for some reason God alone knows, he's trying to convince us that his newest Transformers movie, The Last Knight, is going to be different in this regard, as the new trailer shows a female character actually kicking butt.
For my own part, I'm quite convinced that Bay's world view has not really changed an iota, and the whole "girl power" thing he's trying to sell us in the latest trailer is merely an illusion, a set-up for a bait-and-switch in which she'll prove to be a Faux Action Girl, helpless when crunch time comes. What baffles me is that he's even bothering with the illusion, since it's been proven his movies will make money no matter how many critics pan them, so he hardly needs to bother with the potential audience that would actually want to see an action movie featuring a female character with agency (most of that audience already being wise enough to avoid Michael Bay films). Why doesn't he just stick to the proven formula of pandering to his young, male base?
Apparently that base is outraged by the new trailer, which is really the point of what I want to tackle. The outcry: "Here's yet another action movie with a GIRL in it! A girl who looks to be doing stuff! Feminism is ruining Hollywood!" It's hard for me to fathom that some folks actually think like this, but they do. It's the same nonsense that came up when "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" turned out to have a female lead. A female lead? Wasn't The Force Awakens enough? Feminism is ruining the franchise! (Gag.) People who think like this have clearly swallowed the fallacy that making women more heroic in certain movies automatically equates to making men less so. Giving something to this character means taking it away from that character. If women are strong in a movie, men will be weak -- as if strength, power, and agency were finite, with only a set amount to go around.
My feeling is that any strength that is dependent on another's weakness isn't strength at all. Women don't have to be reduced to distressed damsels in order for men to be heroes. I've seen three good movies so far in 2017. The first was "The LEGO Batman Movie," tremendous fun. The second was "Logan," harrowing and powerful. The third was "Kong: Skull Island," a much better time at the movies than I ever expected it to be. Each one of those movies features a female character with agency. In each of them, male and female characters get to be heroic alongside one another. And each of them is a box-office hit. The evidence is there: inclusiveness doesn't have to come at the expense of entertainment and fun. Why, then, do some fans persist in regarding inclusiveness as some kind of threat? Why can't we just enjoy watching characters being awesome, whatever those characters' gender?
It's too early to say what this year in movies will be like, but I have an impression or two here and there. "Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi" will most likely be wonderful, but "Wonder Woman" is probably going to suck, as much as I wish it wouldn't, because the evidence is strong that the DC Cinematic Universe simply does not know how to make an enjoyable film. So that's good news and bad news. Sadly, in the area of the animated feature, one of my favorite genres, the news is mostly bad. 2017 looks to be a reverse of 2016, and not in a good way. Of all the genre's upcoming releases, only two have female leads. One is a movie about a ballerina, called "Leap." The other is a My Little Pony movie. All the rest are boy-centric. (Every commercial for "Boss Baby" makes me want to gouge my eyes out.) Doesn't look much like "feminism is ruining Hollywood" to me. In general, movies with male leads will still outnumber those with female leads, and in a fair number of them, ladies won't even get the privilege of being sidekicks. Yet one Michael Bay movie with an almost-certainly-misleading "girl power" trailer counts as a threat.
I just shake my head and think, "Hey, dudes, CHIPS is coming out soon! What more do you want?"
Thankfully, in the area of print fiction, inclusiveness isn't that hard to come by. True, I do have to look under the radar at times to find the books with the best mix of male and female characters, since the popular Recommendations Lists are dominated by stories by and about men (the subject of a blog I'll post here soon). But I don't see my TBR shrinking anytime soon. Plan for when I finish Age of Myth: start City of Stairs. Plan for when I finish Black Wolves: start a series by Glenda Larke, beginning with Heart of the Mirage (a series I'd never heard of before a Goodreads browse turned it up). Not sure yet what my next Kindle read will be, once I finish The Prophecy Con, but I don't doubt it will be both entertaining AND inclusive.
My newest blog, addressing the dominance of male-led titles on "Best Of" lists:
My last two posts were a bit heavy on the negative. Today I thought I'd share some good news.
First, Black Wolves. It may be set in the same world as the Crossroads Trilogy and even feature
My struggles with Spirit Gate made up a big part of the early posts in my 2016 LT reading journal. To recap: while I ended up giving Spirit Gate three stars on Goodreads since I appreciated the intricate world-building and the female characters, I had difficulty with it for two reasons. First, I found the prose heavy going, which surprised me since I'd found Elliott's Spiritwalker Trilogy difficult to put down. Second, and more serious, I felt a deep and powerful loathing for every single male character in the book. From what I can recall, even the tertiary male characters were loathsome to me, a complete lack of respect for women being the flaw they all had in common. The worst was the hatred I felt for the men I suspected were meant to be the "heroes" -- Reeve Joss (a playboy in the Charlie Sheen mold who supposedly "loved" his long-dead lover -- yeah, right) and Shai (who pimps out a slave woman to an entire regiment and sees nothing wrong with it) and Keshad (who plans to sell two young girls as slaves to get money to rescue his sister, and again sees nothing wrong with it). I'm really supposed to LIKE these guys? Uh uh. Ain't gonna happen. I've been very slow to touch Shadow Gate because of this flaw.
In Black Wolves, neither of the earlier book's flaws are present, and the virtues are even more virtuous. While I plodded through Spirit Gate, I'm sailing through Black Wolves. Some flawed but decent men appear as important characters, not only Commander Kellas (whom you'd think was the protagonist from the book's description, but this is actually an ensemble book) but the honorable reeve Reyad and the loving adoptive father of one of the book's main heroines. The greatest virtue of the earlier book, the female characters, is turned up to eleven here. I've seen three major female POV characters so far, and there are lots of secondary and tertiary women, and they're a varied lot of individuals, too. The "overcoming sexism" theme of which I'm more than a little weary is present here, I'm afraid, but with an interesting wrinkle. We see tension between two religious cultures, one polytheistic and gender-egalitarian (at least somewhat), and the other monotheistic and sexist, with rigid gender roles and strict segregation between men and women. The dominance of the latter culture is growing, much to the dismay of the main female POV character (a woman in her late sixties, and a leader among the reeves) -- but the main force behind that growing prevalence is also a woman, who has turned the younger of her two sons into a religious zealot and a ravening misogynist. Who will win the fight for the soul of this nation? I can't wait to see, but sadly I have heard nothing about a release date for the second book in this series. I'm not all that interested in Elliott's YA series and I wish she would concentrate on this one instead.
Another interesting wrinkle: I despised Reeve Joss for his love-'em-and-leave-'em lifestyle, which led me to believe his lost lover is special to him only because she's dead and struck me as symptomatic of a disregard for women in general. Yet it turns out that this kind of casual attitude towards sex is not uncommon among the reeves, and not unique to the men. The female lead of Black Wolves, Dannarah, has had several flings, and her second-in-command, Tarnit, is a pretty randy gal. While this doesn't exactly make me like Joss better, it puts a slightly different spin on his behavior. (I wonder if I might be ready to read Shadow Gate now, while I'm waiting on the next Black Wolves book.) Also, there's a wonderful bit where Dannarah's sister throws her lack of children in her face, as if to be childless is the worst thing that can happen to a woman and the greatest insult. Dannarah responds by not being upset in the slightest and letting her sister know that she never wanted children and has never regretted not having them. How often do we see THAT? This non-maternal reader almost cheered aloud! Representation at last!
My second fantasy print read, Age of Myth, is also bringing me a good bit of joy. It's a bit lighter than Black Wolves, a more old-fashioned entry into the fantasy genre with its conflict between elves (called Fhrey) and men (called Rhunes). But as my fondness for Forsyth's Witches of Eileanan series might suggest, I love me some old-fashioned fantasy creatures and tropes, as long as there's a dash of something new-fashioned in the mix. Characters I like will move me to engage with the world; the presence of active and capable heroines will nearly always win me over, unless the plot and the prose are unquestionably horrid.
Critic Liz Bourke wrote a scathing review of Michael J. Sullivan's first Riryia omnibus, Theft of Swords, taking it to task for its backward, stereotypical depictions of women. If this review is accurate (I haven't read, and might not read, that book), then Sullivan has grown tremendously as a writer in the intervening years, at least when it comes to female characters. The world he builds is not without its sexist elements, but the writing itself, at least to me, is far from sexist. The female characters actually strike me as far more developed than the male, as if Sullivan is more interested in them. The mature chieftain's widow Persephone, growing into a leadership role, and the mystic Suri, who can communicate with trees and travels with a (female) wolf, are engaging heroines, and they're backed up by a cast of varied female supporting characters. As with Black Wolves, when reading this you really see that women make up half the world. We can never have too many books that deliver a solid one-two punch to the Smurfette Principle.
To those looking for active heroines, I can recommend both books. Unless something dreadful happens, they'll both earn solid four-star reviews on Goodreads.
I have finished Age of Myth, and feel a twinge of regret that I still have to wait a couple of months before I can read the sequel. I've posted a Goodreads review, but since I've given up Goodreads for Lent and can only visit the site on Sundays, I can't link it here just yet. I have, however, written a blog that expresses my feelings about the book and goes into a bit more detail than the review. I have been careful not to Spoil too much.
I've chosen to follow it up with City of Stairs, and I'm about 70 pages in. If I were looking for something entirely different from the book in my rotation it replaced, here it is. While it's a second-world fantasy, it's far from a traditional-style epic. It includes references to cars and other pieces of contemporary technology, reminding me distinctly of Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence. I am enjoying it so far, however. I'm intrigued by the situations, and the characters are an interesting mix.
Only one complaint: what is up with the number of present-tense narratives in fantasy these days? I can appreciate multiple narrative styles as long as the writing is good. I like first-person narratives, and I like multiple-POV narratives. But present-tense narratives have to win me over. I did enjoy Memories of Ash immensely and I don't doubt I will enjoy this one too. I just wonder why we're seeing so much of it lately.
In my non-fantasy slot I'm reading some nonfiction, Victoria's Daughters, my choice inspired by my interest in the PBS Masterpiece Theatre "Victoria" miniseries
Part of my interest in Chambers springs from its positive portrayal of an f/f romance -- or at least that's what I heard; I hope I have not been misinformed in this regard. I'm interested in reading more fantasy with queer plots and subplots over the next couple of years. I confess that my preference in such plots and subplots has always been f/f. I've enjoyed those aspects of Wexler's Shadow Campaigns; Andrea K. Host's Pyramids of London also has elements of this; Fires of the Faithful is one of the best, and probably the one among my previous reads in which the f/f romance is most central to the plot. I have not read Laurie J. Marks' Fire Logic yet, but it's high on my radar.
But m/m has been more difficult for me, although I've enjoyed a few reads with m/m subplots -- Hobb's Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven, Anthony's Beyond the Pale, Canavan's Black Magician Trilogy, and Barduro's Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. The absence of an important sympathetic female presence is a deal-breaker for me. When I pick up an f/f book, I know that interesting heroines are on the menu. With m/m books that is by no means certain. My explorations on various review sites suggest that quite a few fantasy novels in which an m/m plot is central either 1) omit women from the narrative altogether; 2) relegate them only to small, marginal roles; or 3) depict them only as villains. I'm not having any of that. What I find puzzling, and a little disheartening, is that a lot of the m/m fantasy romances that treat their female characters this way are written by women! The Havemercy series by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett is reportedly one of the worst. Not only are women left out of the narrative, but Jones and Bennett fill the mouth of one of their gay protagonists with misogynist gibes -- as if it's not enough to leave us out; we have to be insulted in absentia! I guess internalized misogyny really is a thing. And drawing a link between homosexuality and hatred/mistrust of the opposite gender is a distinctly unhelpful stereotype, IMO. (I've never met a gay man who hated women. The few out-and-out misogynists I've met have been straight guys.)
I'm not fond of the notion that if men don't relate to women, or women to men, as objects of romance or sex, then they can't be important in each other's lives at all. What I'd like to find are good stories with queer plots and subplots in which characters of different genders interact as friends and allies. When I read Crooked Kingdom, I was pleased with the added development given to Jesper and Wylan's romance, which was more of a minor point in Six of Crows. But my heart would warm every time Jesper and Inej would share a scene, as Barduro made it clear this was a friendship of long standing, valued by both parties. More like THIS, please!
I've already gotten some suggestions to look into: Tremontaine, Ariah, The Fire's Stone, Amberlough, and The Deathsniffer's Assistant stand out. I would welcome other such recommendations.
>48 kceccato: Have you read Heather Rose Jones' Alpennia series (starting with Daughter of Mystery)? These are Ruritanian fantasy with f/f romance put out by a lesbian publisher so they are often overlooked, but they are more genre fantasy in style than just romance (the author comes from a genre fantasy background and was published in MZB's Sword and Sorceress anthologies).
I think you would really like them- there are scholarly and scientist and swordswoman and musician heroines, and a ton of community and friendship between women (the heroines of earlier books continue to play parts in later books).
>48 kceccato: Present-tense narratives seem to be prominent in most genres at the moment, from what I can tell. It's not a style I like and it puts me off reading a book if I see it's written that way. When I do enjoy a present-tense book it's in spite of the style, not because of it. But it seems to have become a common trend over the last few years and I'd have missed some good books if I'd stuck to my original intention of boycotting everything with a present-tense narrative. Glad you are enjoying City of stairs so far, anyway!
>49 sandstone78: Those books sounds wonderful!
49: Thank you for the recommendation! I follow Jones on Twitter and her work sounds delightful.
>42 kceccato: I waited until I was done with Crooked Kingdom myself to read your review on Goodreads. I agree completely with your complaint about you-know-what. I was a bit taken aback myself, but I'm guessing Bardugo felt she couldn't leave every character with their heart's desire at the end. :o/
And I agree with you last paragraph in post #48.
My review of The Prophecy Con:
Spoilers are an issue, though I tried to stay unspecific. I will say that I was very disappointed in Weekes' choice to end this book on a cliffhanger, and one wildly out of character with the nature of the book as a whole. I was actually enjoying it more than The Palace Job; I got a sense that the stakes were higher. But that previous book has the advantage of being readable as a standalone. This one... well, I got mad and deducted a star.
Nonetheless, I will read the third book in the fullness of time, as the series as a whole has enough virtues to make it worth my while. Weekes creates a world in which men and women work side by side in a variety of roles; there's close to 50/50 gender parity here. Sure, romantic pairings happen, but we also see men and women as allies and friends. While I lost quite a bit of patience with one of the main female characters, the book's female lead is smart, capable, and badass, plus she's an authority figure. This is one comic fantasy series that does quite well by its women.
Which brings me to my issue of the day: I would like to read more comic fantasy with well-written and proactive female characters. Terry Pratchett is the gold standard for such things, as at least 70% of his books have at least one well-written and proactive female character in them somewhere. Pratchett shows us one vital thing that some comic writers seem to have trouble remembering: COMPETENCE CAN BE FUNNY. Characters can make mistakes, but they don't have to behave like complete idiots to make a reader laugh. No one would dare question the competence of Granny Weatherwax, and she's a very funny character. Nanny Ogg may not seem as competent on the surface; she's the kind many would make the mistake of underestimating. But she, too, knows what she's doing. Neither of these characters ever finds herself the butt of sexual-stereotype humor.
I'd like to read more of this ilk, but a lot of the comic fantasy and sci-fi I've run across on Goodreads doesn't exactly entice me to draw closer to it. Douglas Adams, of course, wrote classics in this genre, but in a browse through TV Tropes I stumbled across a statement he once made, to the effect that he "didn't understand women" and that's why he didn't put many of them in his stories. The whole "don't understand women" thing is a huge alarm bell for me, since any attempt to understand "women" as a vast plural is doomed to failure and it baffles me that otherwise intelligent people have a hard time figuring this out. People are always best understood one at a time.
Christopher Moore is another one I'm leery of. I read a description of a scene from Fluke that put me off:
Tom Holt has one big mark against him in my mind: he is also K.J. Parker, and as far as I've been able to discover, Parker has never once written a female character who was not an abominable apology for a human being. Granted, his men aren't exactly sterling examples of moral rectitude, but they're the protagonists, so we're asked to identify and perhaps even excuse them, while women remain a dangerous and evil Other. I can't imagine that his comic writing would be much more sympathetic to women in general than his super-serious writing has been.
These are the big names I've found, and sadly, they're all men. I haven't yet found any top female names in the comic fantasy subgenre. Lisa Shearin might qualify, as the one work I've read by her does strike a light-hearted tone. But even she lost major points with me thanks to her almost religious adherence to the Smurfette Principle -- an adherence to which she clings in her other work.
Are there ANY more good comic fantasy novels which feature female characters who are both competent and funny? I made this Goodreads list:
Yet so far it includes only works by Pratchett and Weekes. I would dearly love to expand it.
>54 kceccato: If I recall, the one Tom Holt book I read (Snow White and the Seven Samurai) was neither very funny nor very good to its female characters. Sadly, that's also about as far as my memory stretches. It pretty much convinced me that I never want to read another of his books again.
Maybe The Wanderers by Cheryl Mahoney might be worth looking at? It's not comic fantasy in the same vein as Pratchett, but it is quite a light-hearted fractured fairytale story with a number of funny moments and, imo, an active and likeable heroine. Well, deuteragonist, really. It's YA and two of the antagonists are female too, but it might be worth looking to see if it'll fit what you're looking for?
55: In terms of comic fantasy, some writers follow the example of Terry Pratchett; others follow the example of Piers Anthony. Holt, Christopher Moore, Robert Aspirin, and quite a few others belong to the Anthony school -- dedicated to the Male Gaze and lacking in female characters who don't exist primarily for the male protagonists to ogle. Jasper Fforde, by contrast, is more in line with the Pratchett example, though his best-known work is urban/contemporary fantasy rather than the second-world fantasy Pratchett does so well. In Fforde, heroines can be competent and funny.
An interesting example is A. Lee Martinez, whose work I've been sniffing around. In some of his early work, Gil's All Fright Diner and In the Company of Ogres, Martinez is firmly in Anthony mode, very Male-Gazey. (Reviews have mentioned his depiction of Loretta, the overweight owner of Gil's All Fright Diner, as particularly atrocious -- she has some gumption, but she's also a fat-shamed "Abhorrent Admirer" of one of the male protags. Fat men can find love; fat women can't. Sad.) However, his later works are reportedly much more woman-friendly, even featuring female protags, e.g. Too Many Curses and his most recent work whose precise title escapes me, something like "The Adventures of Constance Verity." Somewhere along the way, he made a choice to switch schools from Anthony to Pratchett. I always love to see writers actually learning from their mistakes instead of doubling down on them.
Still enjoying City of Stairs. My favorite aspect, aside from Shara Komayd's general awesomeness and her strong friendship with Sigrud, is that the opposing sides are distinctly gray, neither wholly right nor wholly wrong. It makes for a more interesting conflict, and makes me less sure of the outcome I really want to see. All I know is I want Shara, Sigrud, and Mulaghesh to be okay.
Finished Victoria's Daughters, and that means I will soon be starting The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Good times ahead.
I've started listening to my audiobook of Brandon Sanderson's Arcanum Unbounded. I'm a good ways into the first selection, The Emperor's Soul, and for the most part, I love it. Shai may be Sanderson's best heroine yet. She's certainly among the most complicated, an outlaw with her own peculiar ethical code, and her moral dilemma is compelling. I'm drawn, as always, to the creative aspect of the heroine's character. I regret that her story is so brief, as I would like to spend more time with her.
However, if Sanderson's virtues are on display in this novella, so are his faults. I love Sanderson, and only those we love can truly disappoint us. I can't help being disappointed that the only important female character other than Shai is one hundred percent Evil -- one more piece of evidence to show that one of my favorite authors is absolutely incapable of conceiving of any relationship between two female characters that is not marred by envy, suspicion, and/or betrayal. We see such loyalty between male characters throughout his work, but no woman is ever loyal to another woman. Ever. It seems like such a conspicuous blind spot, that a writer who can give us such memorable and active heroines can't show two female characters caring about one another. Please do better, Mr. Sanderson. I'm rooting for you.
Close to the end of Black Wolves. Still enjoying it. This one will get a solid four stars.
>56 kceccato: The Emperor's Soul is the only thing I've read so far by Sanderson. Overall I liked it, but I thought the magic system was frustratingly inconsistent (can't remember the specifics offhand) and I was disappointed in the ending-
My Goodreads review of City of Stairs. It's Spoiler-tagged because I wanted to refer to the climax, but for those who haven't read it and wish to remain un-Spoiled, I'll say: if you like smart, competent heroines, strong friendships between male and female characters, intriguing cultural conflict, and stirring, well-crafted prose, this book is for you.
City of Blades will be something to look forward to. I'm still a bit on the fence about City of Miracles, but since I've gotten to know Sigrud I may read it after all. I'm interested in the Dreylings. Dare I hope that I might see some Dreyling women?
I've started Glenda Larke's Heart of the Mirage. While I have quite a few new and recent releases on my To-Read list (Anthony Ryan's The Waking Fire and Mark Lawrence's Red Sister are near the top), I want to devote some time this year to reading female-authored epic fantasies that have fallen out of print and haven't gotten the attention they deserve. This is part of that project. The sequel to Beyond Ragnarok and the second volume of Michelle West's Sun Sword series would also qualify. The latter, in particular, is criminally overlooked.
I'm fifty pages into Larke's book and am engaged. It's a first-person narrative and the female protag is a bit of an anti-heroine, a bit like an older Malta Vestrit (The Liveship Traders). I look forward to seeing how she'll evolve on her journey.
>49 sandstone78: Going on my wishlist as well.
>58 kceccato: I really liked City of stairs as well. One thing that is bugging me (I'm taking the opportunity to gripe here) is the comment of Brent Weeks at the front. This is one of the few books that has an abundance of cool female characters, and which is the one character he chooses to rave about? Right, the one cool male character. And yes, Sigrud is cool, but still.
59> That bugs me too. And reviews that give the impression Sigrud is the protagonist because they rave about him and don't even mention Shara.
>60 pwaites: >61 Sakerfalcon: Glad to hear I am not the only one. Maybe it's just the one remark (I don't know Brent Weeks or his writing), but it stands out to me. I didn't know about the reviews, but that sounds pretty stupid. Quite frankly, Sigrud is cool, but I don't think he was any cooler than Shara. I thought she was quite impressive in that scene in the beginning, where she fires that guy. She is confident and resourceful throughout.
59: Well, it's Brent Weeks. Of course he's going to praise the male lead. If what I've read in reviews of his work is accurate, female characters aren't exactly a top priority with him.
Haven't posted in a while. Been a very busy month, and I haven't read nearly as much or as quickly as I would like. A few updates:
Heart of the Mirage: About halfway through. It's a first-person narrative and it has an earthy style, not gritty or snarky like urban fantasy but not light or lyrical either -- as befits the main character. I'm ambivalent about her at the moment. She does have a basic intelligence and courage I admire, and I appreciate her growing awareness of the evils she once took for granted. But she's also yet another "strong female character" who turns into mush when a love interest appears on the scene. I'm invested in it and will finish it. I also have the sequels and will read those as well, even though Ligea is demoted to a supporting role. But I won't rush headlong into the next book.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: This one just gets better and better. Over halfway through. Love the wonderful mix of characters aboard the Wayfarer; Sissix is definitely my favorite. I also love the strong bond of friendship between Kizzy and Jenks, and the fact that they need each other (he wonders what he'd do without her), yet neither one of them has any interest in taking their relationship "to the next level." I have only one quibble. I think the reason Sissix is my favorite is that I have something resembling an idea of what she looks like; at least I have a clearer picture of her than I do of any of the other women in the cast. Rosemary is appealing, but even though I have been picturing her as blonde I honestly don't know what color her hair is, or what color her eyes are, or how tall or short she is, how fat or thin. I know Kizzy is a woman of color, but for much of the book I'd been imagining her as African-American, and then I found out, or was reminded, that her last name is "Shao." Then we have Ashby and Corbin. I have NO idea what either man looks like. I know some readers appreciate such sparseness of physical description, but I prefer a bit of physical detail.
I've also been reading Shannon Hale's Enna Burning, since I was reminded recently of how much I enjoyed The Goose Girl. This one isn't doing it for me. I'll give it a star rating on Goodreads (three), but I'm DNFing. It's well written in terms of prose; Hale has a very engaging writing style. But I've reached a point where the dreaded love triangle, the "All Girls Want Bad Boys" motif, has reared its head. It's painfully obvious to any reader that this bad boy is, in fact, BAD, and to see the otherwise intelligent heroine so deluded puts me out of patience. Maybe I would manage to push my way to the end, if I just didn't have so many other books I'm hungry to try.
I still love The Goose Girl, but I prefer it as a stand-alone rather than as the opening to a series. I don't have much interest in moving on to the next book, River Secrets, either, since I find Razo, with his "Enna-girl" shtick, a bit more irritating than endearing. But I'm not giving up on Hale. She has a new novel starring a favorite comic-book heroine, Squirrel Girl, that I'm dying to read.
How was the second mistborn series? I enjoyed the first but haven't started on the second. Does it equal the first?
65: The first series has a more "classic" fantasy feel. From the second I get a steampunk Western vibe. I like the characters better in Series 2; there's more emphasis on friendship, and we have more than just one significant female character. Marasi and Steris are both brainier and more bookish than Vin, and I love their resourcefulness. But neither has Vin's raw power.
I suppose it would depend on what you really want to see in the story. I'd go for it. I quite liked Series 2.
Hard to believe the year is already half over. So much that I still want to do.
At long last, I have new Goodreads reviews to post. First, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet:
A delightful space opera that hits most of my pleasure receptors. I especially loved Kizzy's monologue about "brothers," when her BFF Jenks desperately needed cheering up.
Second, Heart of the Mirage:
It's a well-written book and I would not want to discourage anyone from reading it, but with each passing year I have less patience with books in which every interaction between a female protagonist and other female characters is hostile. I'm very weary indeed with girl-on-girl hate.
I've started Mark Lawrence's Red Sister, even though I've been so confident for a long time that I would never read a book by this author. The praise blurb from Tamora Pierce on the cover got my attention, and so far I haven't found my leap of faith to be a mistake. The prose is strong and engrossing, and so far ALL the important characters are female. A comfort read it's not. A reader realizes that immediately, as the book begins with
I've also been listening to Sanderson's Arcanum Unbounded on audiobook, and have reached the last novella, "Edgedancer." Of course I can't comment on that one yet, but I can give my impressions of the others:
"The Emperor's Soul" -- my favorite, because Shai is, bar none, the biggest badass of all Sanderson's female characters. I find her even more badass than Vin, because while Vin was a powerful fighter I often found myself impatient with her lack of curiosity which might have (with some education) ripened into intellect. Shai actually has a strong imagination and more creativity than she gives herself credit for. I wish I could have spent more time in her company. Her relationship with Arbiter Galtona is quite moving.
"Shadows for Silence in the Forest of Hell" -- tied for the top spot. Did I really say Shai is a more badass heroine than Silence? Well, Shai's badassery has more pyrotechnics than Silence's; Silence lacks Shai's arcane powers. But she is a marvelously tough and unique protagonist. Again, it's a shame I have to content myself with a short story about her when I really want more of her. I want to see how she looks after her
"Sixth of the Dusk" -- another fascinating world, a culture clash between two characters, each of whom is sympathetic in his/her own way. My favorite of the male-protagonist stories, because it had an important female co-lead even though she wasn't the POV.
"The Hope of Elantris" -- not the most intricate or beautifully written of the short stories, but I enjoyed it. My biggest issue with the climax of Elantris was
"Mistborn: A Secret History": Maybe I shouldn't have listened to this one, since I hadn't read The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages yet... Still, I found Kelsier's afterlife journey a compelling one, and his knockabout relationship with the "god" Preservation was fun to hear.
"Allomancer Jack" -- okay, I guess. At least I can see what Sanderson was aiming for with this parody. But it doesn't have what I generally hope to find in a Sanderson book/story.
"The Eleventh Metal" -- disappointed that this one had only two female characters, both of them bit players who show up near the end of the story and don't even get names.
"White Sand" -- my least favorite in the collection, for a simple though possibly shallow reason: THERE ARE NO WOMEN. At all. Not even in walk-on parts. I know that this is only an excerpt, and that the whole story and the graphic novel based on it do include at least one sympathetic female presence. But knowing that wasn't enough to take the bad taste out of my mouth as I listened to this excerpt. The magic masters are all men, and their pupils are all boys, very obviously. The magic of this world is apparently forbidden to women; either that or the women of this world just lack the talent. How would we ever find out, since no girl or woman is around to challenge the rules?
I'm curious about the graphic novel, but this excerpt just made me sad.
"Edgedancer" is off to a good start. I'm looking forward to finding out what Lyft is up to. One aspect already disappoints me, though. I've met two other female characters so far. One is an antagonist (the watch captain), and the other is an out-and-out villain (the black-hearted head of the orphanage). Lyft, like Shai in "The Emperor's Soul," will apparently find only enemies, no friends, in the women she meets.
67> I agree with most of your assessments of the Sanderson novellas and short stories. Emperor's Soul is possibly my favorite work by him. I also really enjoyed Shadows for Silence, Sixth of Dusk, and Edgedancer (Lyft is so wonderful).
I skipped the "White Sand" excerpt. I intend to get the graphic novel from the library at some point, although I've generally heard it's not Sanderson's best work.
>67 kceccato: >68 pwaites: Emperor's Soul is the only Sanderson I've read, I enjoyed it until the ending where
I have Elantris to read eventually though after picking it up on a daily deal a while back.
This Spoiler-tagged review contains my final thoughts on Arcanum Unbounded:
I'm planning to expand this into a blog post soon. That's how much I liked the way things turned out.
I've started a couple of new books worth mentioning. The first is Allison Goodman's The Dark Days Club. The set-up has some warning signs that would normally tell me to avoid this book, namely the brooding, dangerous hero of whom everyone thinks the worst but who is sure to turn out to be the heroine's love interest because "All Girls Want Bad Boys." Yet after reading some positive commentary on Tor.com, I decided to give it a chance. It's a historical Regency fantasy, much like The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, but at the moment, I prefer it to Beckett's novel. In Beckett, female lead Ivy is very much Not Like Other Girls, and we never see her interact with other female characters in any friendly or supportive way. This isn't the case with Goodman's heroine, Lady Helen. In the first fifty pages, we see her determined to remain loyal to an old friend who's been tainted by scandal, and to lend her what help she can; we also see her interact with her lady's maid in a friendly and sympathetic way. When she learns that another female servant has disappeared, she doesn't automatically think the worst of her; instead, she thinks the girl may need her help. Plus, she has a female bestie, and the affection between them seems genuine, as opposed to the disdainful "hanging-out-with-you-makes-me-feel-better-about-myself" tolerance between heroine Alexia and her brain-dead "friend" Ivy in Carriger's Soulless. So I have hopes for this book. I look forward to seeing how Lady Helen will learn about and harness her powers.
The second one is another attempt to dip into 19th century British fiction, Wilkie Collins' Man and Wife. After my struggles with Far From the Madding Crowd last year, I've been quite relieved to find Collins' prose as engaging and readable as ever. Nothing wrong at all with the style. So I haven't altogether lost my taste for the fiction of that period. All the same, I'm not as enthusiastic as I wish I were. Collins' female characters are frequently intriguing and complex, especially Marian of The Woman in White and Magdalen of No Name and the narrator (I forget her name) in The Law and the Lady. Yet so far, I can't find any reason to like Anne, the heroine of this novel. She's been a hysterical mess, and while I can understand she has her reasons for being so, if she doesn't start to display some positive traits soon I may have to give up on her.
I'd love to read a blog post from you on Arcanum Unbounded! The three stories you picked out in your review were my favorites too. I'd love to see more of Shai, Lyft, and Silence.
I'm also interested in seeing your thoughts on The Dark Days Club. Soulless didn't work for me, but this one sounds more promising.
My own thread is a bit neglected at the moment, but I finished a book I think you might enjoy -- Hunger Makes the Wolf. It's got two female protagonists who are best friends and adopted sisters, both strong in their own way. Hob is a character in the Action Girl mold, but Mags's strength comes from her wit and determination, not a weapon.
I've let quite a lot of time go by since my last post here. I have no excuse other than that I'm trying to keep forward momentum going on a creative project I've been trying to write for the past two years. I think it's finally in its right incarnation.
My short, circumspect, positive review of Red Sister:
My slightly longer, Spoilery review of The Dark Days Club:
I was a little disappointed with some of the standard-issue YA elements in the book, but the writing style charmed me, and on the whole I enjoyed it. It's not a complete story, and I strongly suspect that some of the things I dislike about it are the growing pains on the way to a much better Book 2. It has a solid female friendship near its center, and if I'm reading things right, their bond is likely to get stronger.
I finally gave up on Man and Wife as lesser Wilkie Collins. It wasn't just the heroine I found bland. I didn't care very much for any of the characters, except the crotchety old bachelor. And this was a long book; I didn't want to spend that much time in their company. So I switched to a much shorter work for my dip into 19th century British fiction: Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey. Ever since I read and loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I've felt that Anne hasn't really gotten the attention she deserved. Agnes Grey, as it turns out, is her apprenticeship. It's a none too cheerful portrait of the travails of a typical governess, who works for two families in the course of the novel and finds that in both cases, the parents have spoiled their children beyond all common decency. I found that interesting, but the romantic plot and the dialogue are too stolid for my tastes. All in all, the book gave little indication of the heights to which Anne would rise in her later masterpiece.
My short, non-threatening review:
At least I finished it.
I'm back at work, and I'm having to prepare for an online world literature class I'm down to teach this Fall Quarter. So I'm having to re-read some fascinating but heavy work. After re-reading Antigone and Medea, I knew just what I needed in my life: Shannon and Dean Hale's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World. Utterly light and fluffy, and utterly fun.
Also on my current rotation:
King of Sword and Sky. I'd read the first two books in C.L. Wilson's series and decided it might be fun to return to it. It's pure fantasy-romance, but it has a lovely aura and some interesting world-building. I like the male and female leads. I'm not even halfway through it, and the female lead has already gotten a Crowning Moment of Awesome, and it looks like there will be more to come. Not challenging, not thought-provoking, just entertaining.
Under Heaven, which begs the question, "Why do I read Guy Gavriel Kay?" The first seventy pages answered me clearly enough: he's a darn good writer. His prose is stirring. Even when his work is problematic, it's still compelling and readable. I look forward to galloping deeper into this adventure. One reservation stands out, though. The alternate-China he builds is deeply patriarchal, sexist bordering on misogynist. When I read about worlds like that, I like to see them through the eyes of a female character who will challenge the status quo, either overtly or covertly. Here, the major POV is a well-born young man. That's not bothering me so much as that the minor POVs, the perspectives into which the narrative briefly slips before returning to the main character, have also been men, every single one. I have a feeling I'm never going to get to know what Wei Song, the kick-butt female character who has just shown up, is thinking.
My Kindle read is Patricia McKillip's "Kingfisher" (which I write this way because for some reason the touchstones have gotten glitchy). How to get me to read more contemporary fantasy? Get McKillip to write it. McKillip enlists her gorgeously lyrical prose to tell a 21st century neo-Arthurian tale. I don't know how much I'm going to like the plot -- Arthurian fiction isn't exactly known for positive portrayals of women, and in this one, the main female character seems to have taken a fade -- but I'm relishing the writing. If only other fantasy novels with contemporary settings could be half this beautiful.
I see it's been nearly a month since I posted last.
My Spoiler-tagged Goodreads review of Kingfisher:
It's a beautifully written book, as McKillip's work generally is, and it offers proof that good contemporary/urban fantasy can be written in a style more lyrical than gritty. I liked many of the characters. But unrequited-love plots don't do much for me, particularly when I like the rejected lover sooooo much more than the one the man prefers. This happened TWICE in McKillip's book, to two different women who deserved much better than the jerks who let them down. All the same, I'd welcome a return trip if McKillip wanted to revisit this world and some of its characters.
My Spoiler-tagged Goodreads review of King of Sword and Sky:
Once again, the prose is lovely, and on the whole I was engaged by the story and liked both the hero and heroine. But here again, I had some issues. The worst, for me, is the whole idea of one-gender superbeings, a mutation of superiority that naturally occurs only in males. In this series we do have one female superbeing,
I'm still slogging through Under Heaven. Kay's strong prose is always worth reading, but I'm just about ready for the end.
Quite often I see remarks like this in Goodreads reviews: "This book is great, if you can overlook the horrible treatment of women," or "I enjoyed this book so much I managed to overlook that the female characters were all one-dimensional." The word "overlook" keeps coming up. I don't disapprove of these reviewers. Rather, I envy them their ability to overlook. Because I can't. I spent the first two decades of my life overlooking this sort of thing, and I just can't do it anymore. I may miss any number of otherwise brilliant works because I can't get past horrible characterization of women.
Women in Kay's work range from the capable and interesting (The Lions of Al-Rassan, Children of Earth and Sky) to flat and passive, or potentially brilliant but under-utilized (e.g. Lisseut in A Song for Arbonne). In this work, two of the significant female characters, Wei Song and Spring Rain, I might describe as falling into the first category. But Kay's narrative hits us over the head with women's inferior position in society, again and again and again and again and again and again. We have a living illustration of female powerlessness in the form of Li-Mei, the male protagonist's sister, a character utterly at the mercy of Fate. She may be observant; she may think about what she sees around her; but she can't DO anything. Always acted upon, never acting. Again, Kay may be aiming for his version of "realism" here, but every time I hit a section from this character's POV, I catch my teeth grinding in frustration.
I already know what I'm going to start when I've finished this one: Servant of the Empire. Renewing my acquaintance with Mara of the Acoma may be just what I need.
I've also started Michael J. Sullivan's Age of Swords, following my good experience with Age of Myth earlier this year.
>73 kceccato: I'd forgotten that about the Tairen Soul series, how disappointing. The gender essentialism otherwise (women are pure healers, men are tortured warriors) started to grate after a while too. I don't think I ever did finish the last book, but that was more because most of it felt like set up for another series instead of the conclusion of this one.
Agreed on the topic of overlooking poor treatment of women in stories. I wish fewer editors would, never mind reviewers! Uniformly bad or flat women is more a flaw in craft than an authorial preference in my opinion.
74: I've been browsing Goodreads' "Best Fantasy of the 80s" list (an exercise in masochism to some degree) and I keep noticing how many novels on the list -- from R.A. Salvatore's "Drizzt" novels to Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar saga to Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds -- are praised to the skies as being brilliant in every aspect EXCEPT for the treatment of female characters. If these writers are gifted enough to succeed in all those other areas, why can't they get this one thing right? It mystifies me. The worst is that I get the impression we're supposed to be okay with it. We're supposed to overlook.
I should mention that I have also started Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic in audiobook. I'm only near the beginning of the second disc. I find the concept of multiple Londons fascinating, and the main character interests me, so I might just manage to like it for the most part, even though it includes a couple of elements I distinctly dislike -- first, another race of super-beings both rare and (as far as we know) male; and second, a teaming of a male lead who is absolutely full to the brim with magic and a female lead who, coming from the magic-less "Gray London," has none at all. (I still haven't met her yet.) Even very gifted writers can't seem to resist the "magical guy/ mundane girl" trope. I understand Schwab employs it in her new series, starting with This Savage Song, as well.
Grumpy-old-lady rant, out.
Work has been keeping me busy. While I've been reading, and enjoying most of what I read, my progress has been slower than I would like.
All the same, I managed to struggle through to the end of Under Heaven. My Spoiler-tagged review is here:
Despite my disappointment, I'm still interested in reading River of Stars. My disappointment in Under Heaven had nothing to do with the quality of Kay's prose; that's still top notch. But the female lead, the hero's ill-used sister, came across less as a character with an individualized personality and more as a living embodiment of women's powerlessness in that society. I kept waiting for her to find her strength, but I waited in vain. She's the plaything of fate from first to last, and everything important that happens to her happens "because of her brother," a phrase repeated ad nauseum. The female characters with smaller roles, by contrast, did manage on occasion to accomplish things. I found myself increasingly annoyed that they were given less page time than the distressed damsel, and I ended up so tired of Shen Li-Mei that I found myself racing through the last hundred pages or so to the point of skimming, just to get to the end so I could start something else.
Yet in River of Stars, as I understand it, the main female character isn't meant to be a stand-in for the Typical Kitan Noblewoman. She's allowed to be extraordinary. All the same, I won't be picking that one up for a little while yet.
I also finished the audiobook of A Darker Shade of Magic, which I found in equal measure delightful and frustrating. This review is heavily Spoiler-tagged, since I could not talk about my frustrations without touching on Spoilers:
Another recent finish: Sherwood Smith's Lhind the Thief on Kindle. Nothing especially soul-shaking, but a pleasant and engaging read with a nonhuman female protagonist. Just what I need sometimes.
Now I'm into Barbara Hambly's The Time of the Dark, which I chose as my follow up to Under Heaven. I like it so far; Hambly's prose is to my taste. Though one of the characters, an evil female Bishop, has me interested in finding some good fantasy novels in which "women of the cloth" are portrayed sympathetically (especially since my current Work in Progress contains such a character). I believe N.K. Jemisin's The Shadowed Sun might suit me, since the Dreamblood Duology is already on my shelf.
Then there's Daniel O'Malley's Stiletto, my non-second world fantasy read. Funny, gruesome, exciting, disturbing. Here, as in its predecessor, female characters take center stage. I like Felicity, and I like Odette. Too bad they hate each other's guts.
My newest Kindle read is Ken Liu's The Wall of Storms, which I was assured I could read and enjoy without having read its dude-heavy predecessor The Grace of Kings. Only 10% in, and I'm taken with it. One of its characters, Zomi, might just become a favorite of mine.
Whoa! So far behind, and I don't have a single excuse to offer.
Beware Spoilers, as usual. It's darn near impossible for me to write a review without Spoilers in it, since they have so much to do with whether or not I like a book.
The Shadowed Sun:
The High King's Tomb:
Wrapt in Crystal:
The Tethered Mage:
In Other News:
First, the frustrating -- I've run into a wall, so to speak, with The Wall of Storms. I have every intention of finishing it, but my reading of it has slowed down, thanks to a turn in the direction of the plot that has ended up keeping the characters I care most about off the page for waaaay too long. Maybe I'll finish it before the new year. I still hope for a satisfying resolution.
Second, the joyous -- Oathbringer is finally out! I'm not reading it quite as fast as I would like; I'm only about halfway in. But then, taking my time with it means I'll be with it for longer. After all, new Stormlight Archive books only come out approximately every four years.
I've started The Bear and the Nightingale. I chose it because it's different enough from Oathbringer, and because fairy-tale retellings featuring a mystical, lyrical style are my special strawberry jam. I'm always on the lookout for new writers/books with the same spirit as Patricia McKillip or Juliet Marillier. If any of you, my friends, have favorites of this kind, recommend away!
In audiobooks, I've been revisiting Lois McMaster Bujold's World of the Five Gods. I'm sorry that so far, in this world, only one of the books (Paladin of Souls) has a female protagonist; I'd give my right arm for a story centering on a female Divine, preferably an artist of the Bastard's Order. But having finished my revisit of The Curse of Chalion and just begun Paladin of Souls, I'm remembering why I loved the books in the first place. The pseudo-Spanish setting has a wondrous, sparse beauty about it, and I find the gods and the religion endlessly fascinating. Lupe dy Cazaril has to be one of my favorite male protagonists in all of fantasy, but on my revisit, Umegat captured my heart. Would that we could see him again.
Still looking for more fantasy novels featuring sympathetic female clerics. The Shadowed Sun was just what I hoped for; Wrapt in Crystal, however, disappointed me.
It's good to see you back here! Glad to see you've been reading some good books and that even the disappointing one wasn't truly terrible. I too loved The bear and the nightingale and I'm looking forward to the sequel. I shared your feelings about the end of The shadowed sun
Here's a blog post which sums up my reading year in review -- not much in-depth assessment, but lots of titles and prizes given.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.