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[personal profile] justira
All the Birds in the Sky cover

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn't expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one's peers and families.

But now they're both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who's working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world's magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world's ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together--to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

Friends! What do you do when you deeply want to like a book and you just can't? Well, I suppose you take out all your feels in a review. Fair warning, this review discusses abuse, and, after a while and a marked cut, spoilers.

All the Birds in the Sky is a book about tropes, which is not surprising coming from the former editor in chief of io9. As the Tor.com review puts it, "it’s also a book about 'these sorts of stories' and genre fiction, though less directly." It's a blend of sci fi and fantasy tropes, and of tropes about the two coming together. Sci fi + fantasy is my stop — it's what I write myself, and I was very excited to see a mainstream book that mixed the genres. However, I ended up not really liking the execution. Patricia, a cis woman, represents magic/nature and is a witch. Laurence, a cis man, represents technology and science and is an engineering genius. Wired says that Charlie Jane Anders "worried a lot about playing into expectations", and in many ways I feel she was right to worry. The setup is not just classic, it's classical, drawing on the oldest associations of the masculine and the feminine in our culture. But as I said, this is a book about tropes — and about playing with them. The whole thing has a punchline that subverts many of the tropes that had been in play up to that point, but I'll discuss that after the spoiler cut. First, I want to talk about some things about the book that I liked!

Positive stuff! )

With slightly less enthusiasm I can also recommend the writing, which was by and large smooth with a surprisingly effective image or two scattered here and them like gems. I want to pull out a piece that worked for me and shows many of the themes of the book:
But maybe Laurence had been right and these devices were what made us unique, as humans. We made machines, the way spiders made silk. Staring at the red wasp-shaped chassis, she thought of how disgusted she had been with Laurence, not long ago. And maybe she shouldn't judge him — judging was a kind of Aggrandizement — and maybe this device was a culmination of everything she'd always admired about him from the start. And, yes, a sign that they'd both won out, over the Mr. Roses of the world.

"It's beautiful," she said.
p.151-152

In some places, it really works.

It's just that things get a bit tonally weird at various points, and this is where we transition to some talk about abuse and personal reactions.

Abuse and Personal Reactions )

Now, on to the spoilers!

Spoilers below )

Notes

  1. This is not to say I think the book overall reads like YA, because (a) it doesn't and (b) "this should be in the YA section" is often lobbed at women and is a form of gatekeeping, preventing women's stories from joining mainstream SFF adult literature and harking back to how women are seen as more juvenile and called by juvenile names. No thank you. (back to text)

  2. Not that there is anything wrong with heterosexuality and living the stereotype. I had a long talk with [personal profile] renay about this, and it's not that people who live like this have anything wrong with them or that Charlie Jane Anders is obligated to challenged gender norms at every turn on top of all the other risky work she's doing. There is something wrong with heteronormativity and gender norms, but nothing wrong with living agency-filled lives that embody the tropes. This post by bikiniarmorbattledamage outlines the difference between agency and sexism. The thing is, these are all fictional characters created by Charlie Jane Anders, and all the choices they make are ones she wrote for them. (back to text)




Supplementary Material
Renay on All the Birds in the Sky in her Lets Get Literate Column
Renay on All the Birds in the Sky in our Favorite Media of January 2016 roundup


Other Reviews
The Book Smugglers; see especially Ana's discussion of how this book busts down male privilege
Tor.com
SF Reviews
Locus
Journal Sentinel
The Amazon Book Review, with Interview with Charlie Jane Anders
SF Bluestocking
Civilian Reader
Wired
SF Signal
Page to Stage
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[personal profile] helloladies


For hundreds of years the Guardians have ruled the world of the Hundred, but these powerful gods no longer exert their will on the world. Only the reeves, who patrol on enormous eagles, still represent the Guardians' power. And the reeves are losing their authority; for there is a dark shadow across the land that not even the reeves can stop.

A group of fanatics has risen to devour villages, towns, and cities in their drive to annihilate all who oppose them. No one knows who leads them; they seem inhumanly cruel and powerful. Mai and Anji, riding with a company of dedicated warriors and a single reeve who may hold a key to stopping the deadly advance of the devouring horde, must try, or the world will be lost to the carnage. But a young woman sworn to the Goddess may prove more important than them all . . . if they are not too late.


Spoilers. Read more... )
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
[personal profile] renay
cover and metadata )

I have a serious thing for companion animals stories. I still love His Dark Materials (and all associated AU fanfic), Zoo City was amazing, and Temeraire meets the qualifications even if I tend to prefer the non-fantasy animal side of things most of the time. This book should have been right up my alley! Bioengineered humans and animals connected via mental link! A pleasure planet created before a war tore apart an entire space-faring civilization. A planet that's lost to history! The technology that made the planet so palatable to people who wanted to challenge themselves by experiencing "serious" wilderness adventures destroyed! Until someone finds it.

I should have loved this book. Disappointed. :( Read more... )
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
[personal profile] renay
Just when I think that Teen Wolf has gone over too many sharks and I'm going to shunt it aside for more quality television, they do something like "117". It's like finding a treasure chest or a health pack right before a surprise mini-boss. I had fun this episode, and thus, I am appropriately terrified for "Muted", which I'm sure will take all the good feelings this episode engendered, turn them into shards of my hopes and dreams, and sprinkle them at my feet.

Teen Wolf does amazing things when it embraces that its premise is silly and departs from that place rather than trying to manufacture drama. As long as it keeps its eye on the prize of "Maximum LOLs" or "Maximum TEARS", episodes tend to be enjoyable. It's obvious that Jeff Davis wasn't the main writer on this episode because although it gets lobbed at our eyeballs like a 45 minute youtube video by someone who's just learned how to use jump cuts, it manages to stay mildly cohesive. I know zilch about critiquing screenwriting, but seriously, the last ten minutes were exhausting. I want to ask Eoghan O'Donnell if this was on purpose. I had narrative whiplash. O'Donnell wrote "Galvanize", too, which was one of the excellent, tense episodes at the start of Season 3B, but I don't remember it being quite this high-strung. Even more guilt for Derek Hale. )
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
[personal profile] renay
cover and summary )

I love when my social media folks give me surprise recommendations that I love. Pretty sure I owe [twitter.com profile] fozmeadows for this one. I had completely forgotten about this book until her recommendation.

This book reminded of of all the contemporary romances I read as a teenager with bonus SF elements. These Broken Stars is the first book in the loosely connected Starbound trilogy. Tarver, a very young war hero who earned rank through military action and Lilac, the daughter of the head of LaRoux Industries, get thrown together when the spaceship falls out of hyperspace.

They're saved by Lilac's rebel engineering skills and their escape pod rams into a unknown planet. Tarver and Lilac, at odds due to Lilac's determination to be an asshole to all men because of ~mysterious~ reasons she convinced will save their lives, have to survive and seek out rescue. With their communications systems destroyed and hoping for a miracle, they make their way to the utter wreckage of their spaceship on a terraformed planet that shouldn't even be there. They handle the wildlife, the weather, Lilac attempting a multi-day hike in heels, and also Lilac hearing eerie voices. Best camping trip ever!

For some reason I thought there was going to be more romance-in-space happening, but it's not really in space. Space is just the glue that sticks Tarver and Lilac together and hurtles them toward their ~destiny~. This reminded me of a wilderness adventure story. There's a lot of roughing it, a lot of walking, tons of post traumatic stress, and disembodied voices in the shadows. It was probably only scary because I find woods inherently terrifying at night, but yeah, I totally turned on extra lights. I learned my lesson from House of Leaves.

75% of this book is angst. The majority of it comes from Lilac, not Tarver, who is pretty well-adjusted and calm until the last quarter of the novel. Congratulations, book! You surprised me. Tarver and Lilac were a great match. I was rooting for them for the very beginning, through all the snark and yelling and wild rescues and slow development of trust. I didn't expect to like Tarver, because I am coldhearted and unyielding to the boys and men in YA fiction a lot of the time because I find them unbearable. But he was really fantastic, a solid support for Lilac. He never attempts to undermine her or make her feel broken or useless.

Although I liked Lilac's sections of the book more than Tarver's, the quick hits of the interrogation between the alternating chapters were where he really shines. The book really subverts the insolent, asshole trope by showing us Tarver when he's presenting a front to the world, and then showing us the Tarver who just wants to keep himself and Lilac alive. They're both hugely self-sacrificing. It's pretty adorable.

This book is either doing some really fascinating things or else I am just reading too much into the narrative, as I am wont to do when I latch on to something I love. The amount of parental control here is scary. Lilac's friends are people set by her father to watch her or bodyguards hired to protect her. Her freedom is limited, even among so-called peers, and the autonomy is nonexistent. There's a scene in the beginning of the book where Lilac, spurred on by her flock of friends because she knows they'll rat her out, viciously cuts Tarver down for daring to want to spend time with her. And perhaps it would be less affecting if I hadn't been on the receiving end of that sort of peer pressure, where there's something you want to do, someone you want to reach out to, but social necessity and severe personal consequences won't let you. Hello, all the cute girls I could have been making out with over the years! I'm sorry I was a dick to you just because my friends didn't like you/were scared of associating with lesbians. D:

light spoilers for book undertones/bad guys )

The book also raises the question I hated most from my philosophy classes about what makes a person the same person they were before some kind of catastrophic event — their body or their memories. I had so many screaming debates with friends about this with diagrams included (and at one notable debate, when a professor joined our discussion, called him a pretentious gasbag...yeah, I'm super classy). We were totally those annoying freshman having loud philosophical discussions about the integrity of memory, how energy couldn't be destroyed but only redistributed, and what cloning really means for personhood in the middle of the cafeteria or library lobby. I wish I could give this book to my younger self; she would have obsessed.

Definitely a fun, thinky ride. I'm a little disappointed that the next book in the trilogy is about a different set of characters, but I will hope for a tiny cameo/name drop from the authors just so I know Tarver and Lilac are doing okay (THEY BETTER BE DOING OKAY, AUTHORS.).

I want there to be fanfic of Lilac getting hired by a rival industry to build sexy interstellar ships and teaching Tarver how to hotwire hotrod spaceships. Can that be a thing now? Because I'm so there.

Other reviews )
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
[personal profile] renay
Warnings )

cover of The Tainted City


Dev is a desperate man. After narrowly surviving a smuggling job gone wrong, he’s now a prisoner of the Alathian Council, held hostage to ensure his friend Kiran — former apprentice to one of the most ruthless mages alive — does their bidding.

But Kiran isn’t Dev’s only concern. Back in his home city of Ninavel, the child he once swore to protect faces a terrible fate if he can’t reach her in time, and the days are fast slipping away. So when the Council offers Dev freedom in exchange for his and Kiran’s assistance in a clandestine mission to Ninavel, he can’t refuse, no matter how much he distrusts their motives.

Once in Ninavel the mission proves more treacherous than even Dev could have imagined. Betrayed by allies, forced to aid their enemies, he and Kiran must confront the darkest truths of their pasts if they hope to save those they love and survive their return to the Tainted City. (source)


Spoilers for The Whitefire Crossing.

Last time on Renay Has Explosive GIF-laden Feelings About a Book, everything was painful and heartbreaking. Courtney Schafer is THE WORST. Surprise! She still is.

everything hurts and I'm dying


Pain — noun
1. physical suffering or distress, as due to injury, illness, etc.
2. mental or emotional suffering or torment Read more... )

Other Reviews )
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
[personal profile] renay
cover of The Whitefire Crossing


Dev is a smuggler with the perfect cover. He's in high demand as a guide for the caravans that carry legitimate goods from the city of Ninavel into the country of Alathia. The route through the Whitefire Mountains is treacherous, and Dev is one of the few climbers who knows how to cross them safely. With his skill and connections, it's easy enough to slip contraband charms from Ninavel - where any magic is fair game, no matter how dark - into Alathia, where most magic is outlawed.

But smuggling a few charms is one thing; smuggling a person through the warded Alathian border is near suicidal. Having made a promise to a dying friend, Dev is forced to take on a singularly dangerous cargo: Kiran. A young apprentice on the run from one of the most powerful mages in Ninavel, Kiran is desperate enough to pay a fortune to sneak into a country where discovery means certain execution - and he'll do whatever it takes to prevent Dev from finding out the terrible truth behind his getaway.

Yet Kiran isn't the only one harboring a deadly secret. Caught up in a web of subterfuge and dark magic, Dev and Kiran must find a way to trust each other - or face not only their own destruction, but that of the entire city of Ninavel. (source)





Subtle — adj
1. not immediately obvious or comprehensible
2. difficult to detect or analyse, often through being delicate or highly refined: a subtle scent
3. showing or making or capable of showing or making fine distinctions of meaning
4. marked by or requiring mental acuteness or ingenuity; discriminating

The Whitefire Crossing struggled with subtly. It stood, said, "Come at me, bro!" and got hammered directly in the face. Read more... )

Other Reviews )

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